CultsEach year, hundreds of North Americans join one of the increasing,
estimated 3000 unorthodox religions that exist across North America. The
increasing number of cults, to date in North America, is due to the fact
that cults are a social movement that attempts to help people cope with
their perceived problems with social interaction. Cult recruiters target
those who perceive themselves as different from the rest of society, and
give these individuals the sense of belonging that they crave. Cult
literature lures potential cult members by appealing to their desperate
need to socially fit in. Cults provide a controlled family environment
that appeals to potential cult members because it is a removal from the
Cult recruiters prey on those who see themselves as alienated from the
rest of society, and give these people the sense of conformity that they
desire. A common method of recruiters, to obtain new members, is through
chat lines on the internet. A recorded conversation between a member of the
Divine Light Mission, Fire-Shade, and an 18-year old boy, Jay 18, was
obtained off of the site, IRC Teen Chat.
Jay18: I am a really great poet, but all of the kids in my
class are pretty warped about it. I basically hide it from them
because I don’t need that hassle.
Fire-Shade: My family has a great respect for the artist inside
us all. I know you live in Michigan, and our family could
always use new operatives all over the world. You have to
understand what our family is about, it is about always fitting
in and never hiding the truth to be liked or cool. Are you
Jay18: Well maybe
Fire-Shade: Give me your phone number we really shouldn’t
talk about this here.
Jay18: I would rather not give my phone number out. You give
me yours, I won’t be able to talk for long though.
Fire-Shade: Trust is very important in our group. Do you trust
me? You can’t call us, unfortunately because we are not in a
position to be accepting phone calls.
Jay18: Well then you can just e-mail me. OK.
The cult member makes the young boy feel as though he does care about
his problems, and wants to make this boy’s life better. Fire-Shade
conveys his family as an entity not as many different individuals. After
feeling alone for many years the only persuasion some individuals need
is the assurance that they will be part of a society and accepted
unconditionally. Cult members know what type of individuals feel most
alienated and alone, says Dr. Lorna Goldberg, a New Jersey
No one plans to join a cult unless they see that cult as a possibility
for a family, or a better society. Cults target people in transition–
college students away from home for the first time, people who have moved
to new cities for jobs, those who have just been divorced or widowed.
Usually individuals 16 to 25 or 35 to 40. The vast majority of members
are merely looking for a sense of community and belonging, during a
difficult time in their lives.2
Cults provide an ersatz social unit, which takes them in, nurtures them
and reinforces the cult’s worldview. By the time that most cult members
realize that this cult isn’t what they had expected, it is too late,
because they are already too afraid to leave. Recruiters are not the
only way that potential members are enticed into cults, often their
literature is powerful enough.
Cult novels, pamphlets and websites draw in potential cult members by
appealing to their desperate need to socially fit in. Often if a piece
of cult literature is written correctly it convinces the most logical
mind of the most absurd reasoning, like this pamphlet by the Heavens
The generally accepted “norms” of today’s societies – world over – are
designed, established, and maintained by the individuals who were at one
time “students” of the Kingdom of Heaven- “angels” in the making- who
flunked out” of the classroom. Legends and scriptures refer to them as
fallen angels. The current civilization’s records use the name Satan
or Lucifer to describe a single fallen angel and also to “nickname” any
“evil presence”. If you have experienced some of what our “classroom”
requires of us, you would know that these “presences” are real and that
the Kingdom of God even permits them to “attack” us in order for us to
learn their tricks and how to stay above them or conquer them.3
This particular piece of heavens gate literature can be found printed in
not only their pamphlets and novels, but also on their website. In this
single passage this cult has enabled the alienated individual to feel
accepted and feel that they are not the only person who feels helpless,
alone and disliked by society. It not only reassures the potential cult
member that they are welcome somewhere, but it makes them feel superior
to the society that they feel has betrayed them their entire life.
Often, to fully convince a potential recruit of their ideals, cult
literature will diverge on continuously about how society’s ideas and
morals are deranged and that the cults are reasonable.
In other words, they (these space aliens) don’t want themselves “found out,”
so they condemn any exploration. They want you to be a perfect servant to
society (THEIR society — of THEIR world) — to the “acceptable
establishment,” to humanity, and to false religious concepts. Part of
that “stay blinded” formula goes like this: “Above all, be married, a
good parent, a reasonable church goer, buy a house, pay your mortgage,
pay your insurance, have a good line of credit, be socially committed,
and graciously accept death with the hope that ‘through His shed blood,’
or some other equally worthless religious precept, you will go to Heaven
after your death.4 It is at this point that, through their literature,
unbeknown to the reader the cult begins to strip away at everything the
individual believes in. The cult starts to present the individual with
the words that they want to hear, which are; that they are normal, and
that there is a place where they are wanted. Although there are few
distinct similarities shared between cults, the use of communes is a
remarkably common trait.
Cults provide a separate society that appeals to potential cult members
because it is a removal from the exterior world. Usually when guests
visit for the first time to a commune they witness displays of
unconditional affection and kindness.
In major cities across throughout the world, The Unified Family, sometimes
called the Unification Church, has houses which are typically both
communal living places for young, single members, and meeting places for
a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening meeting. A pleasant, lively circle
of perhaps twenty or twenty-five people, mostly young, will make the
guest feel at home. He will be given a hymn book containing religious songs
in folk and popular style. Someone will play a guitar, and the circle will
sing for some thirty minutes.5 This tranquil, peaceful setting, purposely
contrasts with that of the world outside of the compound. In order for a
cult member to be adequately convinced of a cults merits they must see how
much more pleasant life will be inside the compound. Cults, like the Hare
Krishna, remind members how chaotic the outside world is, and maintain
impeccable order inside their compounds to maintain purity.
The details of life are closely regulated by the Spiritual Master.
He insists that each devotee take two showers daily, and take a
cup of warm milk before retiring; these customs are scrupulously
followed. Devotees live an idyllic rural, communal, devotional,
and vegetarian life.6
In cults an individuals daily routine is decided for them, their entire
life-style is chosen for them, this appeals to individuals because they
can’t make mistakes if they just do as the leader instructs. In the
society outside of the cult decisions must be constantly made, and
society’s expectations are that those who can not succeed in their
decision making are failures. The complexity and ambiguity of life is
something that cult members do not want to endure. Different doctors have
varying opinions on why people join cults. Dr. J.Gordon Melton is
attempting to prove that cult members have not chosen to join cults, they
have an actual medical disorder. Melton has found that cult members are
emotionally vulnerable and suffering from significant emotional distress.
?the average cult member has been in three or four other groups,
a sign of what he calls the “seeker syndrome,” a spiritual quest
among young people free to experiment. These “seekers” generally move on
as soon as they become bored or disenchanted. Melton suggests cults serve
as “holding tanks” for young people rebelling against overprotective
parents.7 Other experts believe that certain classes, races, and ages are
particularly susceptible to the allure of cults. A survey performed at
the Bethany Hills School found that when asked ‘Would you join a cult
if it would offer you what you believed to be a better life?’, 7 out of
24 respondents said that they would. Of these 7 respondents, 5 were
between the ages of 16 and 19″8 This age group has been established as
susceptible to cults because of the pressure placed upon adolescents by
their peers. “3 of the 7 respondents were members of a single, employed,
parent houshold.”9 Stress on a single income family can potentially be
greater than that of a dual income family because of the potential for a
higher net family income, and possibly less financial difficulties. This
family stress could inherently cause an individual to search for a more
stable home environment, and find refuge in a cult. These are the lesser
known, and not as accepted theories on why people join cults.
The idea that any specific social-class is more susceptible to cult
membership is false. As history has shown cult members’ social class can
not be generalized.
Social Status is no indicator of susceptibility and no defense against
it. For instance, while many of the dead a Jonestown were poor, the
Solar Temple favors the carriage trade. Its disciples have included the
wife and son of the founder of Vuarnet sunglass company. The Branch
Davidians at Waco came from many walks of life. And at Rancho Santa Fe
they were paragons of the entrepreneurial class, so well organized
they died in shifts.10 The reason for cult membership is obviously not
entirely due to social class. Different people are drawn to different
cults, just as different cults prey on different individuals. The
research done at the Bethany Hills School is also not entirely accurate
because the population is so small that 24 surveys cannot accurately
represent most cult members.
Although Dr. Melton’s research provides an interesting viewpoint, his
claims are still being experimented and have never been fully
substantiated. His claim that cult members are young people rebelling
against their parents is statistically inaccurate since 35 to
40-year-olds are one of the most common groups of cult members, and make
up a large portion of the hundreds of men and women who join cults each
Cult enlisteers target those who view themselves as a deviant from the
rest of society, and give these individuals a false sense of family.
Cult literature lures potential cult members by convincing them that
society is an anomalous entity and that they are healthy and sound. The
controlled family environment of cults appeals to potential cult members
because they have all of their decisions made for them, and do not risk
failure. No one is beyond the possibility of joining a cult, applicants
require only a hopeless feeling of social inadequacy, a condition apt to
strike anyone at some point in life. Undoutably, many cults are
malicious and violent, but they do send a clear message that something
is very wrong when sane, healthy people would rather burn, poison, and
shoot themselves to death rather than live another moment in society.
1. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22 1997)
2. Graebrener, William. The American Record. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc.
New York. 1982.
3. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven’s Gate, The Novel. Received off
of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)
4. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven’s Gate The Novel. Received off
of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)
5. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book Company, Inc.
6. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga
System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.
7. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects . (April 7, 1997)
8. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.
9. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.
10. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal: The Lure of Cults . (April 1, 1997)
1. Applewhite, Marshall Herff Heaven’s Gate, The Novel. Received off of
their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)
2. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book Company, Inc.
3. Bugliosi, Vincent. Helter Skelter. Bantam Books. New York. 1975.
4. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects . (April 7, 1997)
5. Graebner, William. The American Record. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc. New
6. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22 1997)
7. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.
8. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal:The Lure of Cults . (April 1, 1997)
9. Porter, Anne. Farewell to the Seventies. Thomas Nelson and Sons.
Don Mills. 1979.
10. Smith, Michelle. Michelle Remembers. Pocket Books. New York.
11. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga
System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.