Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks with the Rev. Billy Graham during a visit to Graham’s home in Montreat, N.C., on Oct. 11, 2012.
Last week, directly following the momentous meeting-slash-prayer between Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and supervangelist Billy Graham, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed “Mormons” from its Web site’s list of cults. In a fell, Internet-mediated swoop, the BGEA legitimized a group that has been excoriated for decades as anathema to good ol’ American values. In a simple—and, perhaps precipitous—move, the BGEA has made Mormons like me normal.
I confess that I’m going to miss the cult lifestyle. Staying up all night. Carousing with ne’er-do-wells. Terrorizing farm animals. Plotting to destroy the constitution. I remember, like it was yesterday, worshiping Stephen R. Covey for my 16th sixteenth birthday. Sigh. Once they’re gone, those days don’t come back.
And I’ll miss my friends who still get to be cults: the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Moonies, the Unitarians, the Scientologists. They were a great bunch to hang with. I tell ya, we’d get together on Friday nights and there wasn’t a social convention, taboo, or Christian proscription that one or another of us wouldn’t cross. One time, it was pretty late, and we’d been privately interpreting the Bible and goin’ to church on Saturday, and stuff. Y’know, just knockin’ around. And, out of nowhere, the Jehovah’s Witnesses suddenly stop celebrating Christmas—right there in the parking lot. So, then, the Moonies love-bomb JW’s, and the Scientologists start jabbing the Moonies with an e-meter, and the needle goes F/N. I didn’t know what to do, so I gave up alcohol. We were all laughing so hard we couldn’t stand up.
Now I have to accommodate myself somehow to partying with Methodists.
My new life in the mainstream’s going to take some work. Now that I’m not in a cult, I’m going to have to get up at a reasonable hour on Sunday mornings. I’m going to have to comb my hair and put on the other airs of respectable society. I’ll have to be polite. That one’s going to be especially difficult. When I was a cultist, no one expected me to be polite. They rather expected me to be dark and gloomy, quick with a pessimistic or misanthropic word, and always ready to bite the head off a bat, because people in cults are, of course, wild-eyed sociopaths bent on undermining all that is good and true about a civilized society.
I’ve been in a cult so long, I don’t really know how to be a cheerful and well-mannered member of society. There’s that thing that normal people do with their teeth when they greet each other that the cultist me never had time to learn, for being too busy chasing down eye-of-newt and mandrake roots. I’ve been practicing a “good morning to ya” smile in my bathroom mirror. It makes my cheeks hurt, and I still can’t manage more than a grimace that doesn’t say “good morning” so much as “I’m thinking of biting you.”
But I will press on. By taking Mormons off of his cult list, Graham has given me a priceless gift that I am determined not to squander. I’ve already thrown out my pentagrams and broomsticks, and the goat head is coming down this weekend so that I can blend with the great, formless mass of the American mainstream.
I mean, I can always go back to biting the heads off things if Romney loses in a few weeks and Graham puts Mormons back on his cults’ list.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter at @fatsodoctor