CultsRecently I read an article about the Heaven’s Gate Cult, and I wondered why on earth would someone get involved in a cult whose purpose seemed so ridiculous. How can you make sense out of the suicide of 39 people? How can you explain behavior that seems so strange? Should we just assume that people who follow this kind of cult are weirdoes, stupid, insane, evil, or is there something more to it?
I decided to do a little online research to find out a little more about cults. I found out that cults are really not all that uncommon, and that almost anyone can fall victim to a cult. Most people do not set out to join a ‘cult’. They get involved with a group of interesting people. These groups usually promise to fulfill a person’s individual needs or to compensate for societies failures. These groups may promise to heal sickness, foretell the future, or enhance a person’s life in some way. The leaders of these cults usually promise to have all the answers to whatever problems these people have. These groups become cults when they are seen as deceptive, dangerous, or they oppose the basic values of society.
Usually people get involved with cults when they are at a vulnerable period in their lives. People who are at a transitional period in their lives, like people who recently lost a job, or someone who just moved to a new area may be susceptible. Another reason why people get involved with these groups could be that they are unsatisfied with their religions, their education, or their social lives. The cult seems to fill the void of whatever is missing in a person’s life. People find instant friendships, a caring family, an identity, safety, security, and an organized agenda for every day life.
Most people who are recruited into cults are recruited by people they feel they can trust, in a setting that is familiar. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or teachers often do recruitment. Recruitment often takes place in familiar places like school, home, work, churches, workshops, or (as in the case of Heaven’s Gate) over the Internet. This makes the cult feel safe and comfortable. People don’t feel like they are getting involved in a “cult” instead they feel like they are joining the crowd.
Cult leaders offer simple answers to the complex problems of everyday living.
They claim to know a simple path to happiness, to success, and to Salvation. . People who follow their simple rules and simple lifestyle will be on this path. Cult leaders give members very simple directions on how to think, act and feel. In return a member gets all those things that may be missing from their lives. What these leaders claim to know seems so simple and easy, that some people feel they can participate with little hesitation it seems like a perfect solution for those people who feel that they are powerless in their lives. Each new member contributes to a leaders power by trading their own freedom for the illusion of security that each group has. The madness of a cult leader becomes normalized as members embrace it. It becomes a members belief system.
Cults like Heaven’s Gate are unusual however; there are many different kinds of cults around. Some cults can be more dangerous than others. Some are money or power oriented, while others are spiritual centered. A money, or power-centered cult can become dangerous when it manipulates members into contributing large amounts of money or personal sacrifice. A member may be asked to spend large amounts of time earning money for the cult. They may be asked to beg, borrow, or steal money. A spiritual based cult can also become dangerous. Theses religious cults claim that they know all of lives unanswered questions. Typically members of these cults become isolated from the world around them. They are expected not to talk to anyone who is not a member.
Is there anyway we can prevent cults from forming? I guess to answer that we would have to look behind the messages behind cults. Usually cults form because there is something missing from society. We would have to find a way to make our society make up for everything that is missing. We would have to find ways to make our society deliver on the many things that cults promise.