Donnie Darko and the Divine (sort of) De-Mystified

I was recently prompted to watch Donnie Darko. It's one of those rare films that carry so much beneath the surface, daring the viewer to cast aside assumptions, observe, and dig in to see what's really there. A shallow or distorted reading of the film might even yield a negative message, but for the pure of heart and clear of mind, it's a profound, piercing, and potent work of art.

One of the threads in the plot explores the cult phenomenon. The classic elements are all there: a charismatic leader with a cleverly-crafted message, drawing in susceptible followers with his hypnotic spiel delivered on stage and through pricey videos and books. For me, it was interesting to note how the con was built from a seed of genuine truth – the dichotomy of Love and Fear – and subsequently inflated into hollow drivel with only the appearance of truth to the easily deceived. Even when the cult leader is fully exposed as a criminal deviant, the true believer refuses to accept reality, choosing to blame the scandal on a conspiracy to take down what she sees as a demigod-like messenger of salvation, “a wonderful man.”

A hallmark of those who are in the business of selling lies is that they cannot tolerate honest criticism. They will use every method at their disposal to deflect it and defuse the sparks of doubt. Open debate is not an option for them, because they know how deadly the truth is against deception on a level playing field. They will distort and reframe anything that threatens the lie in their own terms to try to preserve the illusion. They will use veiled psychological threats to keep their followers in line. Anyone who questions their dogma is “blinded,” “deluded,” “lost,” “confused,” “an agent of the enemy,” or some other handy descriptor. When undeniable facts come out, they will go into damage control mode to keep the core of the lie intact. But probably the cult leader's greatest weapon is the process of indoctrination that renders followers simply unable to break out of their programmed thinking. The herd instinct, carefully cultivated and stimulated, does the rest.

Of course there are positive aspects to being in a cult or cult-like community, from the member's point of view. Why else would they stay? Inside, they find purpose, direction, meaning. They are constantly reassured of the rightness and goodness of their belief system, and they can rejoice in having found the true way, the cure for their afflictions. The closeness and caring of the community, the pleasure of being in a group of like-minded people, the genuine friendships that form, the shared experiences. These are all powerful, positive things in a person's life, and there is certainly nothing wrong with having or wanting them. Moreover, the doctrine or “the way” itself may have very positive, even life-saving effects.

The troubles, however, are always present in some degree. For a naturally free-thinking individual, the ideology and the group-think can be restrictive to the point of annoyance and/or suppression of the inner self. The division between the membership and the outside world can take on pathological characteristics. The disconnect between programmed thought and reality can result in a variety of psychological maladies or other unfortunate side effects (for instance due to misapplication of an incomplete or faulty conceptual framework). Worst of all, the ones in leadership who knowingly promulgate the lie are invariably guilty of some combination of fraud, exploitation, and corruption, and, more often than not, are sexual predators to boot. There's no way to sugar-coat this awful reality. They are wolves in sheep's clothing and they have no conscience whatsoever, nor any regard for the human consequences of their actions.

It will be apparent to some that these thoughts, while intended as generalities, may also be read in the context of my former religious affiliation. However, it's not my intent to maliciously attack anything or anyone. My only motives are compassion and the desire for truth. I fervently pray that those with strength of spirit and eyes to see will be there to support their brethren and keep the light of truth. If nothing else, I would exhort such a one to seek and serve only the Divine, with all the integrity, honesty, patience, and love you can muster. Your Lord has given you something absolute, perfect, and real: his own Spirit, to dwell in your innermost heart. That Spirit speaks directly to you. When you open yourself, truly listen, and hear that still, small voice, you will KNOW it. Let there be no higher authority in your life than that awesome, living presence within. Let no words of man or thoughts of ego prevail against it.

Jesus gave one commandment: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. When you come to see the divine essence in all things, and live authentically in the Spirit of God, there is no need for commandments at all. Laws and punishments are for those darkened souls who lack or choose to ignore this inner guidance.

I had a dream today in which a simple and powerful key was revealed to me. This key was like flipping a switch inside oneself, and it led one effortlessly to inner peace and understanding and a more divine way of being. I fumbled around for that key after waking up – I remembered what it did, but I'd forgotten what it was. I do believe I later recalled it, in part, on a contemplative walk through the park. It was related to what I said in the beginning about watching Donnie Darko: the act of pure observation of what is, unburdened by one's own, pre-existing ideas. Allowing, not forcing. “This is what it is, not what I think it is or what it should be according to my beliefs.” This shift in consciousness brings about a sense of wonder, and opens one to the flow of authentic impressions that, over time, leads only toward truth – and the dawning delight of discovery.