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World of Religions

What Is A Cult

If the term "cult" brings images of a group of dazed people totally isolated from the world and worshipping some guy pops in your mind, then you are not alone. However, you would be very misguided.

"Cult" has a wide variety of meanings from the shortened word "counterculture" (a culture created by and for the alienated people for a social interaction in opposition of traditional society's norms) to "cult" fan genres (those who get a bit too wrapped up in Star Trek, Dr. Who, The Osbournes...) to the standard dictionary meaning to which most people think when you use the word "cult" - 1. a. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. b. The followers of such a religion or sect. [American Heritage Dictionary] It is this last term this article is about.

The average person has no idea what it is like to be in a cult, how people come to be involved in a cult or what it takes to leave. This ignorance results in an insensitive treatment towards people dealing in recovery from cultic abuse as well as the person may unknowingly become involved in one of these dangerous groups.

George Orwell wrote a novel called "Animal Farm" where the animals gathered together with a common purpose and had good intentions to make a better life for themselves. The pigs were in charge and became mad in their power, twisting and distorting the principles of the group to suit their greed. One pig spoke out against them and was made to be the enemy of the group and was banished from the Animal Farm. The pigs became unrelenting tyrants and the other animals were in fear and abused by the leaders who originally were out to protect them. This is how a cult works.

Some people are born into these cults and others join as adults. People from all walks of life are potential members for a cult. A cult can be religious (Bible based, Eastern thought), or business (Amway), or racist (KKK, American Nazi Party), or street gangs (Disciples, Saints), or any conceivable group of people can become a cult.

A cult exhibits total devotion to a person, group of people, idea, or thing. It uses unethical methods to exercise control over a person through use of persuasion and control. These groups work in a gradual way so you rarely realize that you have become hooked. New members are led through a behavior/thought changing program unaware of the full agenda of the cult.

A cult has been dismissed by people who think, "all religions are cults" or what they consider to be false as a cult or even the idea that all religions start out as cults until society accepts them. And these are insulting to those who have been psychologically or physically harmed by an actual cult.

Dr. Margaret Sanger outlined methods of mind control which are used by cults:

Techniques such as isolation from former friends and family helps keep new recruits from valuable feedback from loved ones who may see they are walking into a trap. Although in many cases the isolation is not physically separating the recruit from the family, it can be in the form of keeping the recruit so busy with group activity they have no time to touch base with their former life.

Cults hold up a person or a group of people in the top position as the leader. It is from the position of leadership that really defines the cult. When the leaders do not allow members to question their authority and set themselves up as the sole authority on all aspects of members lives, they have become cult leaders.

Cults use deceptive means when it comes to recruiting new members. Many times they will not come right out and say what group they are representing and will dodge the question if you ask. If they ask for a donation, you may be misled as to how the funds will be used. For instance, a cult member may hand you a free religious pamphlet and ask for a donation to continue on their work to the Lord. In reality, that cult member is being reimbursed for their purchase of the material they buy to distribute. The cult member could take a loss in their investment, but their purchase will go to the cult leaders.

Cults gradually expose new members to words and phrases only known among the group. People on the outside have no idea the meaning behind some of these words, but it is what bonds the members into this subculture. Gangs have certain hand signs or colors, religious groups may recite a certain passage, business cults may have terms that have no meaning in the real world of business. The purpose of the language change is to terminate independent thought. By repetitive use of these terms, one further isolates themselves in thinking from the "evil" outside world.

A great indicator of a cult is their views of the absolute. Everything is either good or bad. There are no shades of gray or room for anything in between. To be in the group, you are part of all that is good. Outside of the group, all is evil, wrong, to be feared, something you want to avoid. The environment and the communication of this group is then controlled according to the strict guidelines of the leaders. There is no room for error or question.

Ideas of the cult leaders are held up as sacredly as many hold up the word of God. When anyone questions the leaders, the member is subjected to punishment sometimes physical or emotional or both. The person who question is put on the spot and made to feel there is something wrong with them and not the other way around. When it becomes that unsafe to question your leader that you can no longer trust your common sense, you have no choice but to believe everything they say without question.

If a cult leader wants to change their mind on a principle, they can twist things around and claim a "new light" or "revelation" from God and if anyone dares question this new found thought, they are questioning God.

All forms of communication are controlled in an attempt to manipulate your inner voice of reason. Things the cult member observes through their sense or is communicated to them from the outside world is labeled by the cult leaders. What a person may think of a certain thing when not under cult control is now being dictated by the norms of the group. It could be in the form of outlawing the use of television or music or just certain aspects of these medium. Personal habits, dietary and even medical care is directed by groups as good or bad. Your friends, your marriage partner, your business associations could all be subjected to cult standards.

When members are taught to fear the outside of the group, isolation from other people is inevitable. Acceptable companionship is only among like-minded cult members. Cult members are known to flock to events such as seminars, lectures, assemblies, or meetings which are loaded in the language of non-thought. It becomes intense in these events and the fervor is at a frenzied pitch. Members then are "refreshed" with a new sense of purpose to the group and it makes leaving extremely difficult on a physical and psychological level.

Fear and guilt are used to keep these member trapped within this unhealthy lifestyle. Within the cult, they are unable to see this is unhealthy having someone dictate all aspects of their life and thought. They are in denial that things are that bad. To question otherwise would mean they were falling under an "evil" frame of mind and could be subjected to punishment from the group. They must suppress any negative feelings they have and be loaded with guilt for doubting. They are also in fear of not just punishment, but of being tossed into the outside of the group they have been taught was bad.

This is especially hard on those born into the cults. They do not know of a different way of life and are unable conceive of a life outside of the group. Most are discouraged from an early age to ask questions and accept everything at face value. They are raised in fear that the love from family and friends could be taken away if they dare to question the life. When a fear that even your own parent will have no further communication with you if you do not conform, you are hesitant to leave it. When you do leave a cult that you were born into, it can be a traumatic experience.

Sometimes it is doubt that eventually leads a member out of a cult. They may pick up on some patterns of discrepancies in the organization or may have been informed by an outsider of something that would cause their belief system to crash. This leads to not only disillusionment with the cult, but to the mainstream world as well. They may cling to cultic thinking, that there is something wrong with being on the outside of the group. They may still strongly distrust the world around them and have no one on the inside who wants them back unless they repent. They are on their own and very few people understand what they are going through.

Other times, a concerned family member may want to intervene to get their loved one back. Intervention comes in two forms, exit counseling and deprogramming.

Deprogramming is a very controversial method which could be worse than the cult itself. There are many issues in regards to the ethics and legality of this procedure. Deprogramming at times involved kidnapping the cult member and detaining them in a secret location to confront them with the reality of their cult group. Today it is mostly a voluntary procedure although the involuntary detainment methods still apply. Either way, coercion is the main method to force a decision upon the cult member. It is a very intense session to do in a matter of a few days what the cult has taken a few months to do.

Exit counseling was the result of the harsh criticism of the deprogramming methods. All exit counseling is voluntary. Nothing is ever forced upon the cult member. Many times, the family will be involved in these sessions to help the cult member feel safe when they start to question. The doors are always opened for a person to seek exit counseling. If it gets too uncomfortable, the person can leave and come back when they are ready.

With both forms of intervention, the goal is the same. To help the person look at what the group really is and to evaluate whether their association with this group is a beneficial or a tyrannical order. When the person is confronted with the reality of their group, they must make a serious decision to either leave the group or continue living within the structure of the cult.

Should a person decide to go back, there is not much an intervention team can do. In the case of those who force a decision on a person and detains them, it could result in massive lawsuits for the intervention team and the family who paid them as well as the person further separating himself from the real world.

A person who does go back to the group with doubts may eventually leave, but may need a little more time since fear may hold them in the group. While you may show them proof of the dangers of their group, it may not really sink in their minds that they are in any danger. They may justify it in their minds that it was a misunderstanding of an outsider or just a test from God. Some are in fear that if they leave, they may lose the only support system they have had for some length of time. A person born into a cult may have to cut off all ties with family and friends they knew all their life and have no one to support them outside of the group.

Even if an intervention team is successful in getting the person to leave the cult, a lot of progress depends on that person. In fact, if a person is starting to question the motives of their group, they may be able to get out by their own free will if they have a strong support system on the outside. A person must realize what is right for them and be committed to take control over their own life and mind. If these factors are not in place, chance are the person will have a hard time breaking free from the cult and they may return to the cult or embrace another cult or counter cult movement just to belong.

Just remember not to get too cocky when someone mentions they are in a cult and adopt an attitude, "It can never happen to me." Many people from all walks of life have been taken into these groups. Very few on the outside will ever understand unless they have been there, but it could happen to anyone. It happened to them.

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