Cults are commonly defined as a group or organization (sometimes religious) that has independent beliefs and is usually isolated from the normal society. In some ways, cults tend to form their own structured society with a messianic leader guiding the group. The strategy in which cults entice and control their members is one of the most fascinating things about cults. Cults have significant social effects on American society. To some, these effects are positive, but to others, they are devastating.
Cults are groups that possess many characteristics. They use psychological persuasions to recruit, brainwash, and hold on to their members. Some form an egotist totalitarian society, which is founded by a self-appointed leader. This authoritarian leader is not liable and is believed, by members, to be messianic. The social structures of cults are organized like a pyramid, with the leader at the top. The group is usually isolated from the rest of society, which is believed to be negative. They tend to create their own world and limit outside influences. These are the four basic behaviors that are exhibited by cults.
Dr. Arthur J. Diekman, author of The Wrong Way Home, refers to cult behaviors as the dependency dream. There is a regressive wish for security that uses the family as a model, creating an authoritarian leadership structure (the parent) and a close-knit, exclusive group (the children) (Diekman 48). The group is vulnerable because the leader makes reality distorted. This allows the leader to offer protection like a parent offers a child protection. If opinions are voiced among the group and they disagree with the leader, it is viewed as disloyal and lacking in commitment. Among the group, there is a fear of disappointing the leader, which usually results in punishment. Rewards and punishments are intensified in cults.
There tends to be three different models of cult formation, which are the psychopathology model, the entrepreneur model, and the subculture-evolution model (Stark 171). The psychopathology model of a cult is created by individuals who suffer from mental illness. Through hallucinations, new beliefs are created which appear to be truthful, spiritually and religiously. These religious cults attract the most people who convert, usually because these people tend to suffer from a societal crisis and want a spiritual cure (Stark 175). The entrepreneur model is similar to a business. They provide products, which are bought by consumers. Some products that are sold are psychic powers, religious beliefs, etc. This business appears to be profitable and even fascinates its consumers. Finally, the subculture-evolution model is described as a cult with group interaction instead of an authoritarian leader. They work together as a social group, providing each other with therapy. As bonds strengthen, the social network becomes more thoroughly interconnected as previous distant persons are brought together (Stark 186). All three of these models are connected and some cults are found to exhibit a combination of the three.
There are many different types of known cults. One type that makes up the largest number of cults is the theosophical and spiritualist group. This group holds a strong belief of having a direct contact with the spiritual world. The next group is the psychic group that holds a belief in psychic powers in which its members can receive through proper training. Scientology is a cultthat falls into this category. Psychedelic groups were popular groups in the 1960s that used hallucinative drugs in order to stimulate religious visions. Groups that believe in spiritual contact with outer space, such as Heavens Gate, make up the group known as Flying Saucers. Ancient Tradition groups are those who perform rituals attempting to rekindle Pre-Christian ceremonies and faith, also known as witchcraft or magic. Finally, Jesus People, other wise known as Jesus Freaks, make up the last type of cult. This group was very popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Stark 197-199).
The area where cults are located is very important. Population differences play an important role in where cults flourish (Stark 191). In America, California has the highest number of cults and New York has the second highest (Stark 192). Cults tend to reside in areas were there isnt any hostility or opposition toward religious groups. The location in which most cults originated from is most likely the area where the national headquarters can be found. Scientology is a very large cult that has many groups located in different areas from coast to coast. This cult even has a ship in which Scientology members can be found.
Cults are known to use mind control techniques that range from peer pressure and hypnosis to sleep deprivation and verbal abuse. In order to persuade people to join, they create a warm loving atmosphere where the cause of the group is positive. In theory, people that have potential for recruitment are those who believe in supernatural or religious beliefs and are not a part of another religious organization. Researcher and sociologist Rodney Stark states that people for who life is going well continue to do as they have done and are unlikely to join (Stark 311). He set up an experiment in which his colleagues and he observed a certain amount of people who were exposed to the Moonies, also known as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. As a result he found that people do not the cult unless something is bothering them (Stark 311).
Once a member, rights and choices are taken away. Some members are found to be malnourished and their bodies are physically deteriorating due to mind control techniques. Couples are forced to form relationships with others, not only each other. Intelligence deteriorates as well, leading to poor judgement and loss of sense of humor. Children who are brought up in cults tend to be dismal and uneducated compared to children who are a part of society.
The outcomes of cults on its members and on society are significant. On the macro level, cults or groups with authoritarian leaders can have significant effects on society. For example, one well known cult known as the Branch of Davidians, led by David Koresh, had a momentous effected on the American nation. The cult lived in a complex in Waco, Texas where the resulting standoff turned into a fifty-one day siege that ended on April 19, 1993, when federal agents launched a new attack on the Davidian complex. A fire was somehow ignited , and over eighty Branch Davidians perished (Miller 157). Another authoritarian leader who effected the world was Adolph Hitler. He was a radical figurehead who gained power through influencing people and thus, exhibited cult behavior. His ideas effected the world and led to World War II.
Families are effected in ways that are devastating and usually permanent. Many families outside of the group rarely see their relatives who are members of cults. Cults demand members to devote large amounts of time, money, and energy to the groups activities (Deikman 5). Relationships outside of the group are difficult to maintain and contact with outsiders are discouraged. Outsiders are believed to be evil and threatening because they do not share the cults beliefs. Communication with families outside of cults are supervised: phone calls are tapped, letters censored, and visits are eliminated or chaperoned (Appel 106). Because maintaining relationships with families are criticized, members encourage the dismissal of families. It shows loyalty and commitment towards the rest of the group. Some cults justify hating parents by distorted reference to the Bible- the only true father is the Holy Father, and the only real parents are spiritual parents (Appel 106). If some members are having problems with family members outside the group, the cult resembles a structured family, where everyone appears to respect each other.
Inside the cult, families are separated also. Families pose a threat to the leaders because they represent attachments and loyalties that challenge the leaders supremacy (Appel 106). One way to break up families is to break up marriages. In some cults couples are pressured to enter sexual relationships with other members encouraged by the leader. Some cults require members to play sexual musical chair and use orgies to break down inhibitions (Appel 110). In other cults sexual relationships are repressed. Sex is seen as sinful. Many couples are separated into one gender sleeping areas. This is one of the central ways to weaken a marriage.
Ties between children and their parents are weakened also. Children are put into communal childcare and contact between parents and children are restricted. In many communal homes, children are constantly moved from home to home. Because of this friendships between children do not exist. Also, religious cult leaders claim the children are the children of God (Appel 108). This again weakens the ties giving the feeling that children do not belong to parents. Weakened ties also strengthen cult dependency.
In some cults, child abuse exists. Fears of children are exploited in order to gain vulnerability. Some punishments of children involve being tied up, shunned by others for a period of time, and humiliating, public beatings. Many children receive little or no affection. They lack a sense of humor, creativity, and judgement. Most are malnourished and wear ragged clothes. Their education is filled with the teachings of corrupted morals and values, and they exhibit stunted mental growth.
It is very difficult to leave a cult. The effects cults have on ex-members once they are out are serious. Many cults threaten that if members leave, they will be killed. The longer the person is a member, the longer they need rehabilitation. However, rehabilitation time varies from person to person and from cult to cult. It has been reported, for example, that it takes almost twice the time for former Scientologists to feel fully rehabilitated as it does the members of other groups (Appel 159).
Because cults provide a social support system among all the members, it is difficult for people to leave. Once they are out, there is no support system. There is nothing for them to do. Also, if people joined the cult because of the lack of support in their own family, it is even more difficult to leave. Sometimes its better to leave them in the cult.
There are several techniques used for rehabilitation. One of the techniques used is deprogramming, where ex-members are deconverted. It is very difficult to deprogram ex-members because of all the programming that cults have done. People that were members of cults experience a difficulty in the flow of consciousness. Cults manipulate the central nervous system, which is normally always reacting continuously, by breaking down the minds ability to react. This leaves people with a dull, zombie like state. Critical thinking and the flow of thoughts deteriorate in cults and are one of the causes of poor intellectual abilities of most members. When people come out of cults, their consciousness is very empty or filled with hallucinative phenomena. The ordinary mental flow has been disrupted. They cant think as well, cant make decisions as well, and cant act as well (Appel 154). It is important for success in psychotherapy to talk about both positive and negative aspects in cults. This shows both sides of the two worlds.
As an outcome, ex-members usually feel guilt, shame, loss, depression, and humiliation about joining cults. It is very difficult for therapists to treat ex-members because they must deal with a lot of emotions. One former member of Scientology, a very large cult, describes the cult as devastating! I still tend to view the world in Scientological terms the only thing I got out of this scam was deep suicidal depression coinciding with the fear of death within five years after separation (Poulter 2). Ex-members also begin to understand why they entered the cult and what happened inside.
They need to reestablish their identity in order to deal with their life before joining the cult. Rehabilitation processes move even more smoothly if the family is involved. Strong family ties and a reliable support system help an individual who is trying to leave a cult. However, once out of the cult the individual must function in the normal society (Deikman).
In our society there is a lot of controversy about cults. Cults raise questions about the way our society is based. In a way it takes advantage of society. It over uses freedom of speech and freedom of religion, knowing that society cant do anything about it. Cults are born out of a certain social context, and they are a part of it (Appel 162). They isolate themselves from the rest of the world and they oppose normal society in their judgement, morals, and values. Cults have remained steady throughout history. However, today there are more cults then ever. They are more influential and wealthier. Because of the dependency of the members, cults have a strong social organization that can be destructive. Their effects on society are intimidating because they have a lot of control on their members. Cults will continue to exist if society allows certain groups to remain. In America, the freedom of speech and religion prevails. Therefore, society must tolerate cults.
Although cults affect their members greatly, its even more troublesome when they start to affect the society. Heavens Gate, for example, ended in a mass suicide. The nation sat and watched as several individuals died because of their beliefs. This was also the case with leader David Koresh and his followers. The nation had a standoff with the cult until the compound was in flames. These are all ways that cults and their beliefs and actions conflicted with society.
Cults should have the right to practice in their own way. However, as a nation we need to find ways to prevent the negative aspects of cults to occur. Solutions to negative cult action would be to influence people to stay away from cult belief. This is occurring at the moment. There are many organizations, such as anticults, that fight against cults and their ways of life. Yet, these organizations are not enough. Today there is cult awareness among schools, especially colleges, warning people that fall under the vulnerable category. There are also many organizations that help family members of people in cults.
Mass suicides, physically harming others, through starvation, physical or sexual abuse, and mentally abusing people are not positive ways to practice different religions. For example, Scientology is a very large cult that has several organizations located not only over the nation, but also the world. According to many ex-members, this cult is one of the most influential cults known. They use every technique possible to persuade their members. Many members were found, as described before, malnourished, physically and mentally deteriorated, and completely brain-washed. Many researchers have found that Scientology is one of the hardest cults to leave. Because of all the programming and auditing used to control members, its takes twice as long for them to become deprogrammed than it would with other cults.
The reason why cults are so controversial is because they raise questions about the way our society is based. They also over-exercise the right to religious freedom and freedom of speech. They are very influential. Because they live in America, they have the right to enjoy these freedoms. However, the way they use these freedoms conflicts with the rest of the society.With the end results of many cults in America, cults generally have bad reputation. Although they have rights to exercise their religion, hurting others in the act is abusing the freedom.