- Religion and Philosophy
Types of Cults, and How They Attract / Hold People
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.
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:
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!
This is a humorous story about an alcoholic in recovery who has an encounter with a cult.
© 2013 Yoleen Lucas