When most people hear the word “cult” they think of Jim Jones and the mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, or the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. Those are a couple of the more extreme cases that led over a thousand people to their deaths, but in a much larger sense cults are doing damage to millions of people every day by feeding them spiritual poison, and for the most part the world pays little attention.
Several characteristics are commonly seen with cults.
- The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as truth.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
- Mind-altering practices such as meditation, chanting, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader.
- The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
- The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
- The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
- The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
- Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
- The group is preoccupied with making money.
- Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
- Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
- The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave the group.
There are several definitions of the word “cult”. The broadest definition would be any religious system with set beliefs and practices. A narrower definition would be a religious group that adheres to a theology that distorts or discards the essential doctrines of the Christian faith (for “Christian” cults), or a religious group that formed and formulated its belief system within the past few hundred years (for non-Christian cults).
Eckankar – A religion of Eastern mysticism founded by pulp fiction author Paul Twitchell in 1965.
Human Potential Cults (Scientology, Erhard Sensitivity Training (est), Silva Method)
Krishna Consciousness – Hindu-based pantheistic religion originated in New York City in 1966.
Rosicrucianism – Mystic religion dating back to the early 17th century, combining occultism, Jewish mysticism, and Christian Gnosticism.
- Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) – Founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879. Emphasis on faith healing. Their doctrines include 1. The material world isn’t real, and therefore sickness isn’t real 2. God is “mind” 3. Jesus was the “way-shower” rather than “The Way”
- International Church of Christ – An off-shoot of the Church of Christ denomination founded in Boston in 1979 by Kip McKean. While they appear orthodox at first, in no time it becomes clear that they are a mind control cult, with a strict hierarchical discipleship structure that leads members to believe that there’s no other way to salvation.
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons or LDS) – Founded by Joseph Smith who wrote The Book of Mormon in 1830. Originally taught and practiced polygamy (discontinued in 1904). They believe in 1. The pre-existence of the soul 2. Three levels of heaven (Whereas the Bible teaches three heavens consisting of the sky, the planets, and the heaven where God’s throne exists, Mormons teach that the celestial heaven itself has three levels). 3. Exaltation (deification of the believer)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) – Founded in the late 1870s by Charles Russell. Their doctrines include 1. Rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity 2. Annihilation of the wicked (hell doesn’t exist) 3. No other belief system will provide salvation. Members are discouraged from reading non-JW material.
- The Way International – Founded in 1942 by Victor Paul Wierwille. They appear at first to simply be an orthodox Charismatic group, but the differences soon become apparent. They have a hyper-grace view on salvation. As a result they don’t oppose abortion, and are extremely tolerant of smoking, drinking, and other moral vices. Doctrines include 1. Rejection of the Trinity 2. Rejection of the pre-incarnate Jesus 3. Jesus was born September 11 in 3 B.C.
- Unitarian Universalist Church – Created in 1961 through the merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. They have no set doctrines, other than the belief in ultimate reconciliation (the eventual salvation of all beings) and rejection of the Trinity.
- Unity Church – Founded in 1889 by Charles Fillmore. Closely associated with New Thought and Christian Science, Unity has no set theology but emphasizes peace, positive thinking, and acceptance of all people.
- Unification Church (Moonies) – Followers of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Moon, who claimed that Jesus appeared to him when he was 16 and asked him to complete the work left unfinished because of the crucifixion. Doctrines include 1. Spiritualism (communication with the dead) 2. Jesus should have married and procreated 3. Rev. Moon is the “third Adam”