Identifying A Cult
There has been much confusion about cults and how to ‘pick em’.
Some have difficulty identifying a cult because it is not so easy to identify one that is not even religious. For this reason, over the years, different definitions of what actually is a cult have developed to make it easier when you know little about their beliefs.
Three different definitions:
CULT - From the Latin “cultis” which denotes all that is involved in worship, ritual, emotion, liturgy and attitude. This definition actually denotes what we call denominations and sects and would make all religious movements a cult.
CULT - Any group which deviates from Biblical, orthodox, historical Christianity. i.e. They deny the Deity of Christ; His physical resurrection; His personal and physical return to earth and salvation by FAITH alone.
This definition only covers those groups which are cults within the Christian religion. It does not cover cults within other world religions such as Islam and Hinduism. Nor does it cover Psychological, Commercial or Educational cults which do not recognize the Bible as a source of reality.
CULT - Any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at the top. The group will claim to be the only way to God; Nirvana; Paradise; Ultimate Reality; Full Potential, Way to Happiness etc, and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members.
This definition covers cults within all major world religions, along with those cults which have no OBVIOUS religious base such as commercial, educational and psychological cults. Others may define these a little differently, but this is the simplest to work from.
The ‘Orthodox Bible-Based Cult’
A group is called a cult because of their behaviour - not their doctrines. Doctrine is an issue in the area of Apologetics and Heresy. Most religious cults do teach what the Christian church would declare to be heresy but some do not. Some cults teach the basics of the Christian faith but have behavioural patterns that are abusive, controlling and cultic.
This occurs in both Non-Charismatic and Charismatic churches. These groups teach the central doctrines of the Christian faith and then add the extra authority of leadership or someone’s particular writings. They centre around the interpretations of the leadership and submissive and unquestioning acceptance of these is essential to be a member of good standing. This acceptance includes what we consider non-essential doctrines e.i. not salvation issues (such as the Person and Work of Christ.) The key is that they will be using mind control or undue influence on their members.
An excellent book on this subject is “Churches that Abuse” by Dr Ronald Enroth.
Using these guidelines of definition, Bible-based, Psychological, Educational and Commercial aberrations can easily be identified.
Other Identification Marks
(a) The group will have an ELITIST view of itself in relation to others, and a UNIQUE CAUSE. e.i. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES RIGHT - everyone else is wrong. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES DOING GOD’S WILL - everyone else is in apostasy.
(b) They will promote their cause actively, and in doing so, abuse God-given personal rights and freedoms. This abuse can be THEOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL, SOCIAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL.
How They Do This
Some Abuses Of Rights And Freedoms:-
1. Abuse Of Individuality: They adopt a “groupness” mentality. They are not permitted to think for themselves apart from the group and only accept what they are told.
2. Abuse Of Intimacy: Relationships with friends, relatives, spouses, children, parents etc are broken or seriously hampered.
3. Abuse Of Finances: Pressure to give all you can to the group. In non-communal groups, members usually live at the lower socioeconomic strata, not because of a lower income level, but because they are always giving money to the group for some reason.
4. “Us Versus Them” Mentality: Isolation from the community in general. Anyone and everything outside the group is seen as “of the devil” or “unenlightened” etc. Their enemies now include former friends; the Christian church; governments; education systems; the media - the world in general. Those who are involved with these in any way see such involvement as a “means to an end”.
5. Abuse Of Time And Energy: The group controls and uses almost all the members time and energy in group activities. They are usually in a constant state of mental and physical exhaustion.
6. Abuse Of Free Will: They must unquestioning submit to the groups teachings and directions and their own free will is broken. Their “will” actually becomes the groups “will” without their realizing it. This is done either by coercive methods including low protein diets and lack of sleep, or over a period of time through intimidation. Both methods make heavy use of “guilt”.
Results Of This Abuse
1. Personality Changes
Relatives will say they no longer recognize the person. From a warm, loving personality will come heaped abuse, rejection and feelings of hate. The cult member sees himself as “righteous” in comparison and this comes across in their attitude toward all outsiders.
2. Loss Of Identity
They cannot see themselves as individuals apart from the group. Some even change their name as a rejection of their former life.
3. Paranoid - We Are Being Persecuted
Any time you say anything negative about the group, whether justified or no, it is regarded as “persecution”. Any criticism of the individual is also seen as persecution only because they are the “true Christian” or “enlightened” one - not because they, as an individual, have done the wrong thing. However, at the same time they will feel free to criticise whatever you believe, say and do because they are “the only ones who are right”.
4. Social Disorientation
They lose their ability to socialize outside the group. This can go so far as to not being able to structure their time or make simple decisions for themselves when they leave.
Their world-view alters and they perceive the world through their leaders eyes. They become very naive about life in general.
5. Severe Guilt Complexes
They are made to feel guilty of everything they did before entering the group and are to strive to be “good” and “worthy” for “eternal life”. Misdemeanors are made into “mountains” so that members are in a constant state of guilt for infringing even the most minor rules. Guilt comes because they aren’t doing enough; entertaining doubts or questions; even thinking rationally for oneself.
This guilt is piled upon pile with new rules constantly being laid down about what is sinful and what is not. Illness may be seen as lack of faith - more guilt. Emotional illness may be seen as proof of sin in your life - more guilt.
Not all these points will be found in every cult, but all cults will have some if not most of them, although these may vary to some degree.
Copyright 1985, 1995 Jan Groenveld
This article originally appeared on the Cult Awareness & Information Centre out of Australia, which was run by the late Jan Groenveld. The article is reproduced as it was seen on Jan's site with some formatting changes.
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