Cult or Religion?
November 30, 2009
I am astonished to see the crowd already gathering in the hallway. I thought that I would be here early and be able to accomplish my Christmas tasks ahead of time. I had thought that the congregation would still be under the influence of every day life and would only start their period of reflection on Christmas Eve.
I was wrong. A somber throng is steadily gaining numbers. At least we are sheltered from the cold drizzle. The dark winter coats shuffle forward to make room for dismayed newcomers.
Parents make their way to the left of the cathedral-sized foyer. A childcare area has been set up and they crowd around a harrowed young man, thrusting their children towards him with pleading eyes.
“Take mine! Take mine!”
They go willingly. A label is placed on each small chest and their wrists and those of their parents stamped with tattoo-blue numbers. They go so trustingly, without a backward glance.
I notice that the elderly form the advanced guard. They seem to appear at the top of the queue as if by osmosis. I see a bird-like woman who arrived after me, shepherding her apologetic husband to the front.
A large man blocks the way. He wears the vestments of his profession, a blank expression, and the bearing of a bouncer. Most surprisingly, he holds a chunky walky-talky which every now and then, crackles to life. He turns his back on the crowd in a semblance of discretion and grunts important-sounding, but unintelligible words into it.
I wonder why a place like this needs someone straight out of the special forces? This group is clearly as docile as all the other pilgrims I have ever seen here.
There is nowhere else like this in the region and people visit from far and wide. They inhale the purified air and revel in its clean, orderly lines.
I can imagine living in a place like this. If I spend long enough here I can convince myself that this is how other people live. There is a utopian sense of well-being and community spirit. Smiling children wave from posters, ecstatic with whatever this noble institution has bestowed upon them.
The atmosphere is reflective and respectful. I can see that each person is filled with purpose. This is, after all, a time of year to think about family and remember what is important. This seems to be the place to come to do that. I can’t imagine why the wall of a man at the front needs a baton dangling from his belt.
Then I do. He steps aside and the crowd surges forward. The Bird Woman bolts out of the starting gates and ducks down a side passage, her husband scuttling after her. I follow, a few dozen people behind. My purpose should take me into the main part of the building but the tide is against me.
I watch couples separate in a carefully choreographed division of labour: trays and coffee cups, pastries and orange juice, before a perfectly-timed regrouping at the till.
Then I see the sign and understand.
“Ikea Breakfast 1euro!”