IDENTIFYING A CULT
There has been much confusion about cults and how to 'pickem'.
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.
The 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
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 behavior - 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
behavioral 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. i.e.. 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
1. Their leader/s may claim a special, exclusive ministry, revelation or
position of authority given by God.
2. They believe they are the only true church and take a critical stance
regarding the Christian church while at the same time praising and
exalting their own group, leader/s and work.
3. They use intimidation or psychological manipulation to keep members
loyal to their ranks. This could be in the form of threats of dire
calamity sent by God if they leave; certain death at Armageddon;
being shunned by their family and friends etc. This is a vital
part of the mind control process.
4. Members will be expected to give substantial financial support to
the group. This could be compulsory tithing (which is checked);
signing over all their property on entering the group; coercive
methods of instilling guilt on those who have not contributed;
selling magazines, flowers or other goods for the group as part of
At the same time bible-based cults may ridicule churches that take
up free-will offerings by passing collection plates and/or sell
literature and tapes. They usually brag that they don't do this. This
gives outsiders the intimation that they are not interested in money.
5. There will be great emphasis on loyalty to the group and its
teachings. The lives of members will be totally absorbed into the
group's activities. They will have little or no time to think for
themselves because of physical and emotional exhaustion. This is
also a vital part of the mind control process.
6. There will be total control over almost all aspects of the private
lives of members. This control can be direct through communal
living, or constant and repetitious teaching on "how to be a true
Christian" or "being obedient to leadership". Members will look to
their leaders for guidance in everything they do.
7. Bible-based cults may proclaim they have no clergy/laity
distinction and no paid ministry class - that they are all equal.
8. Any dissent or questioning of the group's teachings is discouraged.
Criticism in any form is seen as rebellion. There will be an
emphasis on authority, unquestioning obedience and submission.
This is vigilantly maintained.
9. Members are required to demonstrate their loyalty to the group in
some way. This could be in the form of "dobbing" on fellow members
(including family) under the guise of looking out for their
They may be required to deliberately lie (heavenly deception) or
give up their lives by refusing some form of medical treatment.
10. Attempts to leave or reveal embarrassing facts about the group may
be met with threats. Some may have taken oaths of loyalty that
involve their lives or have signed a "covenant" and feel threatened by
Refugees of the group are usually faced with confrontations by
other members with coercion to get them to return to the
SOME ABUSES OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS:-
1. ABUSE OF INDIVIDUALITY
They adopt a "group-ness" 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 socio-economic 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 criticize 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
Copyright 1985 Jan Groenveld
Freedom In Christ, PO Box 2444, Mansfield, 4122, Australia
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