Many people feel that cults are nothing more than a nontraditional religion, because of beliefs, organization, and interest. Cults are much more than just little religions. They are a dangerous, and in the United States there is little we can do about it.
The term cult has many different meanings. According to Jan Groenveld, a cult researcher and author, Christians define a cult as anything that differs from traditional orthodox teachings, but the general definition is that, a cult is defined as a pyramid structured group with a single, often charismatic leader. If the cult is religious in nature then often the group will claim to be the one true religion (Groenveld).
In order for cults to continue to exist they persuade people to join, at any cost. In trying to persuade people, leaders use both physically and emotionally techniques. Margaret Thaler Singer is a clinical psychologist and professor of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has been a cult researcher and teacher for fifty years. According to Dr. Singers investigations, members of cults are often subjected to unhealthy persuasion techniques.
Excessive physical activity is used and leaves the person tired so that they dont have the time or the energy to think for themselves. Former members of one particular cult have said that the cult leader would pass among the followers pressing on their eyes until the optic nerve caused them to see flashes of light. This was called “bestowing divine light” by the leader. In this same group members were told to push on their ears until they heard a buzzing sound, which they thought it was divine harmony (Singer)
Other forms of persuasion are used to keep a member in the cult from leaving. Often, members of certain cults are made to refuse outside medical treatment. It is believed by experts that this is done out of fear. Cult leaders fear that they seeking treatment will be brainwashed away from the group. Refusing medical treatment can allow a little illness to become a major one. If left untreated the illness may affect other members of the cult, thus allowing disease to run rampant within the cult (Groenveld). In some cults, members are made to sign that they will be members of the cult until death. Any attempt to leave the cult will mean physical harm (Singer).
In some cases when the cult leader feels that their power is threatened they might order a mass suicide of the cults members. Jim Jones, the founder of the Jonestown cult, did this. According to Mary McCormick Maaga, whos Ph.D. dissertation was on the Jim Jones Cult, when Jim Jones got scared that more people would begin to leave Jonestown and that his power would be less, he ordered the mass suicide of more than 900 people. This mass suicide allowed Jim Jones, at least in his eyes, to keep the power he had.
Cults sometimes are able to escape the normal rules of law because they claim to be a religion. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.(Cornell)
This amendment is what allows cults to exist easily within the United States. Cults simply claim that they are a religion, making difficult for any legal action to be taken against them.
Their leaders, who are often crazy, may say they are God. The leaders of these cults want the money, power and sex that come with their position. Jim Jones is again a good example of this.
Most of these cults, at least when they started, were really religious groups. Since most people read bible for themselves it is normal to disagree.
Many people feel that the people who join cults are stupid, crazy or weak. This is not true says Michael D. Langone, a Ph.D. and Editor of the Cultic Studies Journal. He says that research and clinical evidence suggests that most cult members are normal people. They are young, old, wealthy, poor, educated, and uneducated. Langone says that the main reason that people turn to cults is that they cant deal with stress.
Cults are nothing new, some are just self-help, and others are destructive and dangerous to society. As long as the First Amendment exists it appears that little can be done to stop the leaders of these cults before something bad happens.