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Types of Cults, and How They Attract / Hold People

Updated on February 10, 2016

Heaven's Gate!

What drives people to commit such outrageous acts?  Love bombing.
What drives people to commit such outrageous acts? Love bombing. | Source

What is a cult? Basically, it is a mind control vehicle. It operates by presenting a set of beliefs that don’t work, yet traps members into continuing to believe in a system that has proven false. They usually continue to cling to such a system because they fear significant consequences if they admit it’s not working, and quit.

In my hub, “How Cults Work”, I focused on religion in general, and Christianity in particular. In my other hub, “My Experience in a Cult”, I pointed out that not all cults are extreme like the infamous People’s Temple or the Branch Dividians. Actually, most cults are not that extreme. “Cult”, ultimately, is a state of mind. How many people would willingly go off with some stranger to an isolated compound and drink poison Kool-aid? No one. You have to be brainwashed into it first, and that is a very gradual process.

Here’s an experience my brother had in the mid-seventies. He often hung out at UC Berkeley campus, hoping to attend college there someday. Once, some really nice people invited him to their house for dinner. It was a huge mansion, which turned out to be a commune. The delicious meal was vegetarian. Everyone was extremely warm and friendly.

After dinner, they had a talent show, where everyone performed terribly, but was enthusiastically applauded. They asked my brother to play guitar. Since he’s really good, he was too embarrassed to do so, but they kept urging him, so he finally played something really simple – and knocked their socks off.

They heartily encouraged him to return. Since they were so warm and loving, of course he did.

This is called love – bombing. It is a common practice among cults.

After returning a few more times, they told him of a seminar they were holding in the north woods. It was a place they called “Bambiland”, and they went there to “grow”. This is another common tactic cults use; isolate and trap people, then brainwash them. The purpose of the baby talk is to lull college freshman intimidated by newly acquired adulthood into a false sense of security. “I’m not sure I can handle being a UC Berkeley student, but I can certainly handle Bambiland!”

Fortunately, my brother is very much turned off by baby talk (it may have helped that he was also still in high school, and not yet intimidated by new adulthood status). He declined. So they said, “Think about it. While you do, here’s our Bible,” and they gave him a red book titled, KARP.

“You guys are Moonies,” he said, recognizing their bible.

“No we’re not,” they answered.

Here’s what’s really scary. They were Moonies; they just didn’t know it!

Ignorance, as well as vulnerability, plays a large part in recruiting cult members.

Many people are bitter against Christianity; however, it is extremely important to realize that rebelling against it is NOT the answer! If a particular religion, or set of beliefs, doesn’t work for you, feel free to walk away and investigate others. Rebelling against the church is actually a form of admitting you believe they’re right (after all, do you rebel against Santa Claus?). It actually takes FAR more courage to calmly disagree and walk away than to rebel! Fortunately, for most people, leaving a religious cult is just a matter of making up one’s mind. It may not be easy because of losing the social structure the cult provided, plus lingering fears the guru could be right, but it is possible. Ultimately, God and the universe are much too massive for the human mind to grasp – so no one has any right to claim they have The Answer.

Leaving Fishers
Leaving Fishers

This book tells the story of a lonely high school newcomer who is befriended by a cult recruiter. It does a great job of describing how someone can get lured into a cult.

 

Bear in mind not all cults are based on Christianity. Here are a few examples of religious, but non-Christian ones.

Muslim (Al Queda, the ones who attacked the World Trade Center, is a cult).

Buddhist (the terrorists who bombed the subway in Tokyo in 1995 are members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult).

Eastern Meditation: The Maharishi from the 1960s is an example of this. He exploited his followers by having them give up their money and worldly goods and live simple lives, while he spent their money living in luxury.

Generally, religious cults hold members by instilling the belief that they will experience rich rewards in heaven for holding fast to their faith no matter what, or eternal damnation in hell if they admit it’s a false belief and choose to quit. The members are taught they have special access to Ultimate Truth, and rejecting this privileged teaching will hold nasty eternal consequences.

Not all cults are religious. Here are examples of others.

Psychology: some primal therapy, designed to call up repressed memories, have been known to produce false ones, thus doing psychological damage and possibly ruining the reputations of innocent people.

Political: Many small extreme left or right wing political movements, which demand money, time, and absolute devotion of its members, are cults.

Corporate and Commercial: Several multi-level marketing companies are cults. They may hold seminars where members get hyped up emotionally to go out and make sales, blaming them for some particular fault if they fail. In reality, very few people are successful in these ventures, since anyone can go to the nearest store and buy laundry detergent, vitamins, and makeup.

Scientific: These cults either use unethical means in their research and experiments, or steal the work of others and claim them as their own. The results, rather than presenting the truth, are skewed to suit their interests. An example is the recently popular low carbohydrate diet fad.

New Age: They promote expensive seminars that use deceitful means of recruitment, then brainwash people. EST from the early 1970s is a perfect example of this. It has since changed its name to The Forum, then Landmark Education; currently, it is called Landmark Worldwide.

Most people who leave these cults do so with few nasty repercussions. At worst, they lose a lot of money and may suffer significant psychological damage. With proper therapy, they can be helped.

Listed below are the worst types of cults – the ones that can be life-threatening. Extreme abuse inside their compounds is common, and they generally hunt down and brutally murder anyone who tries to escape.

Hate Groups: Examples are the Ku Klux Klan and inner city gangs. These proliferate in financially deprived sectors of society. They function by blaming a certain group of people, based on ethnicity, social status, sex orientation, etc., for their troubles, believing that attacking them will improve their status. People who are lonely misfits or come from abusive backgrounds are most likely to be drawn to them. The cults come across as offering warm camaraderie, brotherhood and empowerment. They tend to be very sexist; they attract males through tactics such as video games with subliminal hate messages, relying on them to bring along their girlfriends (whose sole purpose is usually to breed for the cult). During times and places of severe economic turmoil, such as pre-World War II Germany, they can take over entire countries.

Satanic: This falls under religion. We’re all familiar with the horrific rituals performed at Satanic rites. Since Satanism aligns itself with dark forces, it is best to avoid it altogether.

How can you tell if an organization is a cult? In simple terms, cults tend to have 3 traits. They are 1) exclusive; “We’re the only ones with the Truth; everyone else is misinformed” (how likely is that with the world population topping 7 billion?): 2) secretive. Few people in the cult know what’s really going on; only the ones in the upper echelons of the society know: and 3) authoritarian. You obey the leader without question. The worshipped Deity could be a currently living person, or someone from the distant past for whom the guru serves as a “spiritual messenger” Where the guru got his divine revelation (who died and left him boss?) is usually not clearly explained.

This link also provides a test:

http://www.mudrashram.com/cultscale1.html

While leaving a cult is relatively easy, in some instances it can be extremely difficult if not virtually impossible. Still though, as Mark Twain once said, it is easier to stay out than to get out. Anyone who tries hard to persuade you to isolate yourself or spend money to join an organization, and threatens you with dire consequences when you either decline or spend time thinking about it, should be suspected as a cult recruiter. Likewise, anyone who rejects your friendship based on your refusing to kowtow to their belief systems is most likely trying to draw you into a cult.

People trapped in cults where the only way out is a protracted painful death usually require law officials knowledgeable about the situation to work with the person. Gang members who want to leave could get themselves arrested, transported to a jail far away, then released. In the case of an Islamic cult, more drastic measures have to be taken. In some cases, people have faked their own deaths. Members isolated in a commune are very difficult to rescue; they may have to be kidnapped, which means if they don’t have outside friends and family members aware of their situation, they could be doomed. It is for this reason that, above everything else, you must NEVER go to a “retreat” sponsored by a group you know nothing about.

Feel free to find your own path, and choose it with wisdom. With over 7 billion people on the planet, spread out among over 5000 nationalities, there is more than one way to think!

References:

http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2009/winter/children-of-hate#.UaRf0XZ6dMs

http://www.cultclinic.org/qa1.html

Irrational Fears (HB) *OP
Irrational Fears (HB) *OP

This is a humorous story about an alcoholic in recovery who has an encounter with a cult.

 

© 2013 Yoleen Lucas

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    • Say Yes To Life profile image
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      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks,Tony55!

    • tony55 profile image

      femi 2 years ago from Nigeria

      Membership in clubs might be voluntary or involuntary but the result the same, a manipulation of the mind set to a certain behavior or reality. A hard topic to discuss, keep up the good work.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      CG - I doubt HP employs mind control tactics! I agree it is highly addictive, but in a good sense. Thanks for the suggestions, by the way!

      VM – yes, “Cult” is definitely a state of mind. Any religion or organization can be a cult, depending on how it’s utilized. As for “hereditary” – I believe it is taught, rather than transferred genetically. Children who are raised to not question certain things naturally are attracted to cults.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very interesting hub on cults and cult recruiters.

      Cult is a mental setup and mostly hereditary. Following your own cult is better, unless you believe in some other cult to be more useful and better than your one after doing a lot of research on it.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Well done. You do a great job of explaining cults. I like writing on HP, but sometimes I feel like it has some cult-like aspects. At least, there is no poison Kool-Aid. I call HP my hobby. voted up++ and H+

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      You've very welcome, Say Yes.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks, Kristen Howe!

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      This is an interesting read about cult gatherings. You can get sucked and brainwashed and never come out. You hear and read about every day. This was a great hub. Here's an idea: you can link your hubs in this article, except of using dialogue quotes. It would draw more attention to it. Just my two vents. Voted up!

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      May I suggest that evil is our separation from God. God is Good, always Good and does not deviate from Good. Evil exists in our minds and is projected outward from us, but is not a part of God. The trick is to avoid duality: good vs. evil. God is all Good, no evil exists in God.

      The theory is we will all judge ourselves like a reflection in a mirror. We will experience the pain we project onto others and eventually make corrections during several lifetimes. The pain we inflict on others will be reflected back to us. God is an objective mirror. See, "GOD DOES NOT CONDEMN, we judge ourselves in a mirror held by God".

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Well I will leave the reason why there is no evil for another day.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      LG - I can see what you mean about his behavior being cultish. I was raised on stories like his, and I included on his hub a similar experience my brother went through. I also included the aftermath, which is almost never discussed in Christianity. I certainly do not condemn him, though. He's doing the best he can, under his circumstances.

      Every time someone says there is no such thing as evil, I cringe. No doubt that's the excuse the Nazis used for the Holocaust. Would they have felt the same way if they were in the Jews' place?

      Good and evil do exist! As an agnostic, I no longer believe in an all-powerful, all-good, deity. God is either all-good or all-powerful; He can't be both. That is what people fail to understand, not the concept of good and evil.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      I did not say his hub was cultish, I said that he was behaving cultish. That is a big difference. There is no such thing as evil. That is all just a perception in our minds to try to explain things that happen to us that we do not understand.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I have read the hub, and I don't believe it was cultish. Well it was, in a way. The military is essentially a necessary evil. It has to be run like a cult. We need to protect ourselves against terrorists; Winston Churchill said, back during WWII, that all that is necessary for evil to prosper is for the good to do nothing. What if America had been namby-pamby about the Holocaust?

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      What he did was very cultish to say the last. What did you expect?

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Thanks for your input.

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Jay I just visited that hub and left a comment. He is not going to read the Bible now matter what scripture you give him. He is only going to listen to his clergy. That is the kind of person who is in a cult.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I would appreciate if one or more of you would comment on a site about whether the military is a "cult." The name of the Hub is, "Jesus Christ: What He has done for Me!"

      In my opinion Jesus never asked anyone to kill, but to love your enemies. The author of the site claims to be Christian, but does not understand the teaching, love your enemies, condemn not, etc.

      Thanks

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 2 years ago from West By God

      Oh I already knew about some of these and I am going to share this for yu too.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Jay C O'Brien - thanks for the site. Those are excellent questions.

      Regarding the military being a cult - I've heard of that before. Here's a link I found:

      http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread498797/p...

      I have mixed feelings about this. I once read a case where a shell-shocked Vietnam vet told this story; he and his comrades were eating lunch when a 14 year old girl wearing a backpack walked into the group. The commanding officer ordered, "Shoot her!" He thought that was cruel, but he had to obey immediately without question. All of them shot her dead. It was later discovered she was a suicide bomber, but he never got over that.

      The military uses cultlike tactics for a reason. However, it has its nasty side, too. Here's another link:

      http://www.salon.com/2013/02/14/inside_the_militar...

      The military is worst of all when it folds in on itself. This happens to men, too; I remember seeing the movie, "Full Metal Jacket", which includes what happens to men who just can't cut it.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I looked up the test for a cult at the following link:

      http://www.mudrashram.com/cultscale1.html

      This link was copied from above.

      Question: Can the military be considered a cult?

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Jay C O'Brien - I checked out the website. So far, it looks good - it combines Christianity with spiritualism and positive health practices. Since it's also aligned with Atlantic University, it is probably legit.

      Marsei - thanks so much for sharing this link on FaceBook! I really appreciate it!

    • Marsei profile image

      Sue Pratt 2 years ago from New Orleans

      Very interesting and well-researched hub. Thanks for the information. I shared the hub on FB because I think it's a good read.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 2 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Thanks, Jay C O'Brien, for commenting. I have not heard of those groups; I'll look them up, then leave my opinion here.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      This is a good Hub. I left a large church about 2 years ago because I did not agree with their teachings. I would not call it a cult, it was too open. The minister taught it is OK to use military force to promote your own religion. I know military force is used, but I do not think religion should openly back military force.

      What do you think of the group, "Association for Research and Enlightenment" or "Edgar Cayce Foundation?"

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Glad to be of help!

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 4 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      God and the universe are to massive for humans to understand...Finally,a ray of truth.Thank you thank you thank you.This is the very first hub I've shared...thank you.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image
      Author

      Yoleen Lucas 4 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      Glad it was of help! The subject of cults is still a relatively unstudied one, so many misleading stereotypes abound. Since they tend to proliferate during economic downturns and times of turmoil, it is important to know their true nature, so they can be avoided.

    • aravindb1982 profile image

      Aravind Balasubramanya 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India

      Very informative hub! Happy to have landed on your page. I was kept absorbed from the beginning to end. You have done a very methodical and detailed analysis.

      Voted up, interesting and useful. Following you too... :)

      God bless...