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12/22/2012 7:25 am  #1

What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

Cult (totalist type): A group or movement exhibiting a great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing and employing unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control (e.g. isolation from former friends and family, debilitation, use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment, promotion of total dependency on the group and fear of leaving it, etc.), designed to advance the goals of the group's leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members, their families, or the community. (West & Langone, 1986, pp. 119-120).
ICSA/UCLA Wingspread Conference on Cultism, 1985.

First, defining the word.

Merriam-Webster dictionary definition -
1: formal religious veneration : worship
2: a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents
3: a religion regarded as unorthodox or spurious; also : its body of adherents
4: a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>
5a: great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work (as a film or book); especially : such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad
b: the object of such devotion
c: a usually small group of people characterized by such devotion

From Wikipedia: The word cult in current popular usage usually refers to a new religious movement or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered abnormal or bizarre. In the 1930s cults became the object of sociological study in the context of the study of religious behavior.

Social scientists in the 70s/80s adopted the term "new religious movements" or 'NRM' for use in the world of academia and scientific research.
A good article on the subject:

Checklist of Cult Characteristics

• The group displays zealous and unquestioning commitment to a leader and his belief system, ideology and practices as 'the Truth', as law.
•‪ Questioning, doubt and dissent are discouraged or punished.
•‪ Mind-altering practices (like meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions and debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leaders.
• 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.
• The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders 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 other types of leaders like teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
• The group believes and teaches that its exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. Members may participate in behaviors and activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group. For example, lying to authorities, family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities.
• The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and 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.
•‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
•‪ Threat and fear of devastating consequences for leaving the group and that there can be no life outside the context of the group. Fear of reprisals to themselves or others if they leave.
• 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.

Adapted from Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships by Janja Lalich and Madeleine Tobias (Berkeley: Bay Tree Publishing, 2006).

The bottom line - it's about controlling members, not about the belief system.

Unhealthy cult/'New Religious Movement' warning signs

► No legitimate religion needs to lie to you or mislead you about what they practice or believe.
► Any group that says you must belong to their organization to be saved is almost certainly a cult.
► Group members are fearful of disobeying or disagreeing with leadership. Healthy organizations are not threatened by openly debating issues.
► Beware of instant friends. Remember that true friendships develop over time.
► Beware of a group who tells you who you can and cannot see.
► If you are instructed not to read information that is critical of the group, that is a sign of a cult. Legitimate groups have nothing to fear from their members reading critical information about them.
► Is information you expected to be kept confidential reported to leadership? Is so, this is a cult.
► Never-ending compulsory meetings and tasks is a sign of a cult.
► Research the group independently of the group.

Cult leadership is feared. To disagree with leadership is the same as disagreeing with God. The cult leaders will claim to have direct authority from God to control almost all aspects of your life. Questioning the leaders or program is seen as a sign of rebellion and stupidity.

Guilt, Character Assassination and Breaking Sessions. Guilt is used to control for disobeying any of the cult's written or unwritten rules. Maybe the reason you're not able to understand is because "your heart is prideful and full of sin". It can never be error of the leadership, group or belief system, so it has to be you. It's always your fault, you are always wrong, you must try harder!
Breaking sessions are when one, two or more cult members and leaders attack the character of another person, sometimes for hours on end. Some cults will not stop these sessions until their victim is crying uncontrollably.

You decide ~


12/26/2012 11:44 pm  #2

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

I always say: if it walks ike a duck, sounds like a's a duck....

Matthew 5:16
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

12/29/2012 10:28 pm  #3

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

The flock of ducks seems to be growing....


12/31/2012 6:15 am  #4

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

Religion - promotes spirituality on an individual basis. Individuals are free to choose the degree of involvement, commitment and investment.

Cult/sect - promotes a spiritual organization over the individual and personal needs. There is no choice of degree of commitment. It's all or nothing.

The difference between a cult and a religion

Within a healthy religious environment, family bonds are upheld and even strengthened, questioning of the leader and basic tenets is accepted, and the leader lives in a similar manner to the followers. One is offered all the information necessary to make an educated decision about joining, and once involved, people can choose the amount of involvement that feels right to them.

A cultic environment tears families apart, does not accept any questioning, and has a leader who claims to have an exalted position and to be above reproach. The cult is designed to solely advance its own goals, to abuse the members’ trust, and to use fear and shame to manipulate the followers. It freely utilizes deceptive techniques while recruiting new members and fundraising, misuses scripture, and declares other belief systems as false. Because it is not under the umbrella of a recognized religion, there is no governing body and the leader is, therefore, free to do as he or she pleases.

source: Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services


So where is the bright line which marks the divide between cults and religions?

Cults are typically defined by five characteristics. First, cults tend to centralize power in the hands of a single individual or small group that is considered beyond questions. Second, they treat all questions about the group and its beliefs as intolerable challenges to the group's authority and authenticity. Third, they demean all those who do not share their beliefs and sow fear and mistrust amongst their believers about all such people. Fourth, they typically cut off all or most opportunities for members to interact freely with those outside the group. And finally, they take revenge upon those who choose to leave the group, in ways which include, cutting them off from all relationships with those who remain inside, confiscation of material goods and even physical harm.

The fact that pretty much every religion has done all of these things at some point in history of the group means that while the line between cults and religions is clear, it is not fixed or static. In fact, most cults have the capacity to move past the kind of ugly behavior which defines them as a cult. And more importantly, most religions can and do slip into cult-like behavior from time to time. When they remain steadfast in such behavior, however old their tradition, or however popular, they become a cult.

"Thin Line Between Religions and Cults."

"The only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own."  - Frank Zappa

Last edited by Hythlodaeus (8/20/2013 3:10 am)


12/31/2012 12:17 pm  #5

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

Well said!!! - right on the money, honey!

Matthew 5:16
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

1/13/2013 12:44 am  #6

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources


Last edited by Admin (1/13/2013 12:49 am)

     Thread Starter

8/20/2013 3:18 am  #7

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

Ernst Troeltsch's church-sect typology, upon which the modern concept of cults, sects, and new religious movements is based.
"NRM" is New Religious Movement. An alternative to the word "cult" accepted by academicians.


8/28/2013 7:39 pm  #8

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

North Carolina State University has great advice for students on its website.



9/01/2013 1:48 am  #9

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

I have heard jake say "I don't know what a cult is a all about.." Then turn around later in the conversation and say that he believes baptist churches and other churches that practice Christianity are cults because "they are not true believers of God" Christians these days do not know what it takes to truly give yourself to The Lord. Umm 'scuse me sirs, but just because you read your bible 12-20 hours a day doesn't make you any better than me. Plus I receive my own message from the bible, I do not wait for a man to tell me how to see it.


9/02/2013 12:00 pm  #10

Re: What's a Cult? - Definitions, exit strategies, resources

So much hypocrisy! And when they do quote the Bible it is all out of context thus we have families being shunned!


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