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Drink the Kool-Aid


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But you WANT to stay

A cult (not to be confused with occult) is any religious or political group too small to to have its own army and navy[wp] or without political power. When used as a pejorative or snarl word, it can mean "a new religion, that isn't mine, which I don't like." In popular culture, the term is generally applied to religions that are controlling and extreme.

The media narrative is that cults are scary groups where lost children go to be raped and murdered, where the recruits wander through airports chanting various 'ohms', and of course where people are (ooga booga) brainwashed.

A bit more formally, the term is usually used to refer to religions (or other movements) whose beliefs or practices are heterodox and regarded by the larger population as bizarre. In the academic discipline of religious studies, recently developed religions have been called "new religious movements," or "NRMs," as a scholarly attempt to avoid the pejorative connotations of "cult."


[edit] Usage in recent decades

The term "cult" gained currency — and a deepened pejorative connotation — during the 1960s (e.g. Charles Manson) and 1970s. Various NRMs were considered to hold a coercive control over members' lives and were especially attractive to young people in search of meaning. Adherents often segregated from society, including from prior friends and family, and adopted non-mainstream lifestyles. Recruitment tactics like love bombing and offering an environment of stability via identification with, and dedication to, the group aroused alarm in non-adherents. The great majority of young people who join NRMs, however, do not stay for more than a year or two.

Anti-cult hysteria during the 1970s and since has had an air of moral panic. In at least two cases — the Branch Davidians and M.O.V.E. — this unreasonable fear led to preemptive law enforcement actions far out of proportion to any danger the group actually posed, if any, and ended in disaster. Moreover, the Satanic Panic mania of the 1980s and 90s infected law enforcement and prosecutors, leading to wrongful convictions of many for supposed ritual abuse of children, events which in all likelihood never occurred.

On the other hand, a few cults have posed a genuine threat to society or to themselves; well-known examples include the People's Temple and Heaven's Gate mass suicides, the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult under the orders of Shoko Asahara, the spreading of salmonella at salad bars in The Dalles, Oregon by the Rajneesh movement in order to influence local elections and take over the city, and criminal harassment of critics and ex-members by Synanon. On the other other hand, that there have been some few dangerous cults has led to an abusive overuse of the term, fed especially by the Internet. Any faddish self-help movement or new religious movement gets labeled a cult merely because it teaches unorthodox woo or other heterodox beliefs.

[edit] Warning signs of a potentially destructive cult

With that said, there are several warning signs that can be used to indicate when a religious group has gone from "harmless, quirky woo-meisters" to an active threat to its membership and even to others.[1]

[edit] Warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.

  1. Offers promises of a new life, a "spiritual resurrection," a rejection of former life which to many desperate people is simply irresistible. Therefore, it's easy to be pulled in.
  2. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative, or even evil. Therefore, extremely hard to leave.
  3. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.
  4. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.
  5. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement.
  6. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies, and persecutions.
  7. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.
  8. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.
  9. Followers feel they can never be "good enough."
  10. The group/leader is always right.
  11. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation; no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

[edit] Warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader

Rick Ross's Cult Education Institute lists the following warning signs:[2]

  1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.
  2. Individual identity, the group, the leader, and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused – as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.
  3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned, it is characterized as "persecution."[3]
  4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.
  5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.
  6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supersede any personal goals or individual interests.
  7. A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.
  8. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.
  9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.
  10. Former followers are at best considered negative or at worst evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted, and personal contact is avoided.

[edit] Groups considered to be coercive cults

Note: the groups listed below below are not necessarily cults, though they have been accused of being so.

[edit] Religious groups

[edit] Political groups

[edit] Self-help movements

[edit] Criminal organizations

[edit] Accused by fundamentalists

According to many Christian fundamentalists, any sect that does not agree with their doctrines is a cult, though they are less pernicious than many of the above groups. Examples of such sects include:

[edit] Cult of personality

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 secret speech "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" was the outing of the late Joseph Stalin as being a cult figure. The unfortunate Mao Zedong was to suffer a similar fate a few decades later.[6]

Oom Yung Doe, formerly known as Chung Moo Quan, is a chain of Taekwondo schools who promote a worship of founder John C. Kim. Students are encouraged to cut contact with friends or family members who criticize the school and are frequently threatened or humiliated by instructors who build a database of information on each student's personal lives beforehand.[citation needed]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF) BY Isaac Bonewits, useful since 1979
  2. The Cult Education Institute's warning signs
  3. See persecution complex.
  4. Unitarian Universalism Contender Ministries
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