By George Smith — 12/18/2020

Are you a member of or have your ever been a member of a cult?

Cult — a misplaced or excessive “admiration for a particular person or thing.

A typical cult has a charismatic, unaccountable leader, persuades by coercion and exploits its members, economically, sexually or in some other way.

The word cult can be broadly defined as “formal religious veneration,” “a system of religious beliefs and its body of adherents,” “a religion regarded as ‘unorthodox or spurious,'” “great devotion to a person or idea” as well as “persons united by devotion or allegiance to an artistic or intellectual movement or figure.”

Think about it: These general definitions could potentially include everything from Barbie doll collectors to so-called “Trekkies” and die-hard Elvis fans.

According to a book (“Cult Formation”) by psychologist Dr. Robert Lifton on the “glue” that holds cult together, three factors must be present in destructive cults:

1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power. That is a living leader, who has no meaningful accountability and becomes the single most defining element of the group and its source of power and authority.

2. A process [of indoctrination or education is in use that can be seen as] coercive persuasion or thought reform [commonly called “brainwashing”]. The culmination of this process can be seen by members of the group often doing things that are not in their own best interest, but consistently in the best interest of the group and its leader.

3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Liftin states, “The destructiveness of groups called cults varies by degree, from labour violations, child abuse, medical neglect to, in some extreme and isolated situations, calls for violence or mass suicide.

“Some groups that were once seen as “cults” have historically evolved to become generally regarded as religions. Power devolved from a single leader to a broader church government and such groups ceased to be seen as simply personality-driven and defined by a single individual.”

Tipton gives 10 warning signs of a potentially unsafe group or leader.

• Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

• No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

• No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget or expenses, such as an independently audited financial statement.

• Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

• There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

• Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

• There are records, books, news articles, or broadcast reports that document the abuses of the group/leader.

• Followers feel they can never be “good enough”.

• The group/leader is always right.

• The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

Now, take a deep breath. Are you or someone you know a member of a cult?


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