Slightly over a year ago, I wrote a post about Getting Things Done (GTD) — how it seemed to me to be “the right thing” and yet I couldn’t make myself actually implement it.
In the intervening 13 months I still believe that I should try it, and I still haven’t in fact tried it. Also, in the intervening 13 months there has been much general discussion of this book, its recommended methodology, and the activities of its author, David Allen. Recently the discussion has focused on Allen’s religion, of all things. I’m sure nobody would care if he were Baptist or Catholic or Jewish, and most Americans probably wouldn’t care if he were Mormon or Muslim — well, I guess there are altogether too many who would care, but I would like to think that Americans are above such religious prejudice. But Allen is none of these; he belongs to the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness. As far as I can tell from their website, this religion is a form of new-age Buddhism, and I guess it seems “weird” to mainstream Americans. In particular, it seems like a cult, like Scientology.
Several questions come to mind. Should we care what David Allen’s religion is? Should we perhaps care if it’s a cult, but not if it’s a real religion? What is a cult anyway? Is GTD merely a front for promoting MSIA?
To some Americans, a cult is merely any unpopular non-mainstream religion. Many people outside of the Boston area think that Christian Science is a cult, even though it’s fairly mainstream here. Some think that Hasidic Judaism is a cult, or certain branches of evangelical Protestantism. What about the Moonies? Remember the Hare Krishnas? David Koresh’s Branch Davidians? est? Those last four groups certainly do seem like cults. Our local Twelve Tribes is a cult in some observers’ eyes, but not in others’.
Michael Langone describes the enormous difficulties that arise when trying to define the word “cult.” There is certainly no consensus, but Langone cites a definition that he considers to be reasonable:
A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community.
Some say that MSIA is a cult under the terms of this definition, but I have no way of knowing for sure.
It’s worth reading Brenda No-last-name-given’s recent well-balanced summary of the surrounding issues concerning David Allen and whether GTD is a cult. The opening quotation is particularly nice as an example of biased language: “David Allen admits to being a member of the group.” [That’s not Brenda’s language; she’s quoting someone else.] I have to give more thought to the whole issue. Unfortunately I still don’t know whether MSIA is a cult, and I’m still not sure whether that would disqualify GTD from being a methodology worth following even if it’s true.