A cult is a group of people. They have a religion, often a new age religion or a set of beliefs. The word originally meant a system of ritual practices. It was first used in the early 17th century to mean homage paid to a divinity: its root was the Latin cultus, meaning "worship"
It is often a small, newly started religious movement. Cults have beliefs or practices that many people think of as being odd, or that have practices that most people in the world do not practice. More than that, cults have often been led by people who are not elected, and conrtol the group according to their own wishes. Some cult leaders have been dangerous criminals (Charles Manson; Peoples Temple) or even lunatics. Killings and mass suicides have occurred in cults (Order of the Solar Temple; Heaven's Gate). Of course, a "suicide" enforced by armed guards carrying sub-machine guns (Peoples Temple; Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God) is a suicide in name only; in fact it is a most terrible crime.
Whether a religious group is or is not a cult is a difficult problem. Personal opinions may change over time. What is at one point in time considered a cult may later be accepted as a religion and what at one point of time is considered an accepted religion may later become a cult.
Treatment of cult members [change]
Mind control [change]
Some form of persuasion or mind control is used to recruit and maintain members. The objective is to prevent the faithful from thinking critically, and making choices in their own best interest.
- People are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations;
- Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized;
- They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group;
- They get a new identity based on the group;
- They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled.
This view is disputed by some scholars such as James Gene and Bette Nove Evans. Society for the Scientific Study of Religion stated in 1990 that there was not sufficient research to permit a consensus on the matter and that "one should not automatically equate the techniques involved in the process of physical coercion and control with those of nonphysical coercion and control".
Management style of cults [change]
An oft-repeated criticism of cults is that their management style is dictatorial and exploitative. The following is one example:
- "The beliefs of all these cults are absolutist and non-tolerant of other systems of beliefs. Their systems of governance are totalitarian. A requirement of membership is to obey absolutely without questioning. Their interest in the individual’s development within the cult towards some kind of satisfactory individual adult personality is by their doctrines, very low or nonexistent. It is clear that almost all of them emphasize money making in one form or another, although a few seem to be very much involved in demeaning or self denigrating activities and rituals. Most of them that I have studied possess a good deal of property and money which is under the discretionary control of the individual leaders".
Related pages [change]
- OED, citing American Journal of Sociology 85, 1980, 1377: "Cults[...], like other deviant social movements, tend to recruit people with a grievance, people who suffer from a some variety of deprivation".
- See testimony of John G. Clark Jnr. M.D. to the Vermont legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives: 
- Galanter, 1989; Mithers, 1994; Ofshe & Watters, 1994; Singer, Temerlin, & Langone, 1990; Zimbardo & leipper, 1991
- Cordón, Popular Psychology 46–47
- Psychology 101, Carole Wade et al., 2005
- Gene G. James, Brainwashing: the myth and the actuality Fordham University Quarterly, Volume LXI, June 1986
- Novit Evas, Bette Interpreting the free exercise of religion: the Constitution and American pluralism, pp. 91–3, UNC Press, ISBN 0-8078-4674-0
- SSSR Council meeting on 7 November 1990 
Further reading [change]
- Chrnalogar, Mary Alice (2000). Twisted scriptures: breaking free from churches that abuse. Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-23408-5
- Jenkins, Philip (2000). Mystics and messiahs: cults and new religions in American history. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512744-7
- Singer, Margaret 2003. Cults in our midst: the continuing fight against their hidden menace. ISBN 0-7879-6741-6, ISBN 978-0-7879-6741-3
- Snow, Robert L. (2003). Deadly cults: the crimes of true believers. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-98052-9
- Tobias, Madeleine Landau; Lalich, Janja and Michael Langone. (1994) Captive hearts, captive minds: freedom and recovery from cults and abusive relationships. ISBN 0-89793-145-9
- Wohlforth, Tim & Dennis Tourish (2000). On the edge: political cults left and right. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-0639-9