Characteristics Of Cults

A cult is usually founded by one person, who is the ultimate leader. He (it is almost always a male) makes all the decisions. They are “self-appointed, persuasive persons who claim to have a special mission in life or to have special knowledge” (8). “Cult leaders tend to be determined and domineering and are often described as charismatic” (8). “Cult leaders center veneration on themselves. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders, and leaders of genuinely altruistic movements keep the veneration of adherents focused on God, abstract principles, or the group’s purpose. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus of love, devotion, and allegiance on themselves. In many cults, for example, spouses are forced to separate or parents forced to give up their children as a test of their devotion to their leader” (8).

“Cults tend to have a double set of ethics. Members are urged to be open and honest within the group and to confess all to the leader. At the same time, members are encouraged to deceive and manipulate nonmembers. In contrast, established religions and ethical groups teach members to be honest and truthful to all and to abide by one set of ethics…For example, one large group introduced the concept of ‘heavenly deception,’ another introduced ‘transcendental trickery,’ and some of the neo-Christian groups introduced terms such as ‘talking to the Babylonians’ or referred to outsiders as the ‘systemites.’ Language such as this is meant to justify a double set of ethics, making it acceptable for members to deceive nonmembers” (9).

“Cults tend to be totalistic, or all-encompassing, in controlling their members’ behavior and also ideologically totalistic, exhibiting zealotry and extremism in their worldview. Eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, most cults expect members to devote increasing time, energy, and money or other resources to the professed goals of the group, stating or implying that a total commitment is required to reach some state such as ‘enlightenment.’ The form of that commitment will vary from group to group: more courses, more meditation, more quotas, more cult-related activities, more donations. Cults are known to dictate what members wear and eat and when and where they work, sleep, and bathe as well as what they should believe, think, and say. On most matters, cults promote what we usually call black-and-white thinking, an all-or-nothing point of view.

“Cults tend to require members to undergo a major disruption or change in life-style. Many cults put great pressure on new members to leave their families, friends, and jobs to become immersed in the group’s major purpose. This isolation tactic is one of the cults’ most common mechanisms of control and enforced dependency” (10).

Cults In Our Midst fragments

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