Part 1 of Recognizing Cult Talk/Patterns started with a quote from psychologist Margaret Singer, noting that it is actually quite easy for someone to be drawn to a cult. They [leaders of cults] are always overly charismatic, always full of promises for a better future if you but follow their ways, always just what the hopeless person is seeking – attention, love, brotherhood, companionship, financial reward, and most importantly, promises of eternity. <-Insert Hook->
At this point you could say…that describes nearly every religion out there, and to a degree, it certainly does! Yet, there is a point in which a group tips the balance from open faith to controlling behavior, exhortation becomes authoritarianism, reproof turns into punishment.
It would be valuable to take a moment to describe, what is a cult. As with all things, there are degrees of severity. In the book, Kingdom of the Cults, it becomes clear that the common denominator amongst all organizations that become known as cults is that they are founded by one radical, charismatic leader who comes enlightened with a revelation only he/she had access to, and that then turns into a cult following, or infatuation with that leader.
This new revelation is always two parts truth, eight parts new interpretation, new ideas, a better revelation than was available before. This leads to the leader becoming a prophet/prophetess, led by God, deified in the eyes of the followers.
This infatuation is what leads to events such as the People’s Temple mass suicide in 1978 (my birth year!) in which 918 people utterly controlled by Jim Jones died willingly. Parents poisoned their children, and then themselves. Leaders poisoned other leaders before poisoning themselves. Sickeningly, they all lined up in rows laying on the ground to die together.
Then there are the less severe, common religious organizations that simply take it a step too far. This doesn’t necessarily turn into the sinister, such as sexual depravity, or willingness to kill/be killed for the sake of the leader/group, yet they follow the base patterns of cults. Exposing these saves people from them and thus, disallows them to grow into another People’s Temple.
So let’s continue with the Talk & Patterns of a Cult, to be used as early warnings signs or eye openers. They were for me!
6. All my friends are in the group/church
The entire social circle of group members is, you guessed it, in the group. Outside friendships are frowned upon. Outside scrutiny isn’t taken very well in cults. Most members are taught not to listen to anyone outside of the group who may hold various or opposing opinions. Family members who are not in the church should be loved, but still fellowship is guarded. You are taught not to allow your kids to spend time with them, definately not unsupervised.
When I left a church I now believe to be following the patterns of a cult, my best friend (in the church) begged me not to leave because he was tired of losing friends. (Red flag?) Another friend had scheduled a lunch date with our two families, but upon learning I was not going to attend that church any longer, lunch was canceled.
If a member is seen spending time with people, not in the group, leaders, and members find this very disturbing, and start talking about that person, saying things like “I wonder what’s going on with so and so….he/she has been spending a lot of time with so and so.” Cults believe they [outsiders] will poison the mind of the member of the group. Leaders will then call the member in for counseling, and question their allegiance and behavior.
It is a natural human behavior to congregate with like-minded people. We’ve all heard the old adage birds of a feather flock together. Yet, when you cannot (by order of the group) be friends with others (outsiders), or you feel compelled to cancel a public lunch date with an outsider [me], you are in a cult.
“Close minded leaders, close minds.”
7. Secrecy – Don’t tell people everything…yet
One of the most disturbing aspects to cults is their level of secrecy. Some organizations have materials that only top officials can read or view because of how ‘holy’ it is. Other organizations shroud evidence of their behaviors and patterns so as not to scare potential converts away early in their indoctrination process.
By way of example, my previous affiliation controlled many aspects of the follower’s lives, including but not limited to who you date, how long you can date that person, if/when you can get married and how long your engagement can/can not be.
Imagine how few converts would enter the group if, during the initial phases of coming in, something like this happened;
“You know Bob, Suzy, you are going to love this place! Not only will the pastor/leader love you like family, he will actually rule over your family! Isn’t that special? You won’t have to worry about who your kid’s date, or marry, no no, he is going to take care of that for you! Why, even down to how the marriage ceremony is allowed to happen, and what flowers you use, what dress can be worn, what invitation cards can say! It’s like you don’t even have to think here!”
Now, I coated that with a little sarcasm, for my benefit, and by experience, but believe it or not, these things happen. You would never join up if those red flags were placed on the table at the beginning for you.
Other patterns you would hear in a cult style organization/church would be publicly announcing things like, ‘Don’t tell women guests they can’t wear makeup or jewelry, or pants, or get a tan, or dye their hair! Let the Spirit of God (meaning the Pastor down the road) lead them into those truths.’ Teaching secrecy is the antichrist, and thereby you know, you are in a cult.
8. We are Independent
Run, ok? Just run.
When a group declares themselves an offshoot, independent, no oversight group, you have found a perfect imbalance in the force. (Sorry George!)
What you have discovered, or will discover in these groups, are self-proclaimed authoritarian leaders who will constantly use phrases like I’m not saying this for my benefit, but for yours! Translation: Do what I say, because I have declared myself your authority and God will bless you for doing exactly what I say, no questions asked.
This leads to control without evidence – there is no oversight. This harkens back to the days of absolute authority by monarchs. They ruled because they claimed they ruled. Any opposition to their rule was quickly dispatched. Banished, excommunicated, or killed. They (men) came, setup fiefdoms, the strong rose to the top and became King. And Kings don’t like other Kings. (Think of Herod and baby Jesus – he [Herod] murdered thousands of infant boys simply to nullify Jesus becoming King)
Independent groups will claim to have a board, or oversight committee, which is simply a group of hand picked adherents to the leader, there simply to satisfy the needs of the IRS (if in America) or public demand. Their independence gives them free reign to do as they wish without fear of repercussion. Sadly, this generally leads, at some point, to illegal behaviors which then become public knowledge due to scandals, law suits, and charges.
9. Leaders Infiltrate your Day to Day
Had I not experienced this, I really would not have believed it happens. As alluded to in #7 – Secrecy, the leaders of these organizations overwork themselves with being involved in the day to day personal aspects of the follower’s lives.
They want to know who are you talking to, what you are listening to, what you are watching and reading. I heard it said many times, “You need to have the attitude that the Pastor can come to your house anytime he wants and you would let him look through your closets and drawers and bookshelves.”
Taking vacation? You need to seek the leader’s permission first. Looking for a job change, purchase a new home, any life change needs to go through the leader. If it doesn’t go through the leader, and something falls through, this will be used to discredit your ability to make your own decisions. This is a cult attitude of dependency.
When I purchased my first home, and my current home, the pastor wasn’t part of my decision-making process. When that person found out about my purchase, he was upset and said I should have spoken with him first, he wouldn’t have wanted me to buy the house I bought. Why I ask? Is there divine wisdom only the leader has access to? Can I not pray and talk to my God on my own, and be led by the Spirit? This is a cult attitude of dependency.
If you need the leader to make any personal decisions, you are in a cult. That individual has control over your mind, where you live, what you purchase, where you work. Who you date is between you and God. Who you marry is between you and God. Sure advice should be sought, by parents, by mentors, even religious leaders. However, in a cult, the leader has the absolute say. If your friends and parents object, but the leader approves, all other influences are made irrelevant by the leader’s word.
10. Internal Cannabilization – The Leader Has an Army
My last and most insidious insight into the mind of a cult is how the members cannibalize one another. Each wants to be in the graces of the leader, and each wants to avoid the leader’s disproval. Thus, over time, by the dripping of indoctrination, they create a culture of eyes – eyes that are always looking, waiting to catch you slipping.
As mentioned in #6, if other members see you spending time with people outside of the group, they will immediately alert the leader to your behavior. Of course, this is sugar-coated with the idea that each is simply looking out for your soul.
By experience, I remember multiple times (guilty myself!) I had alerted the pastor if I heard a fellow member listening to non-Christian music, or reading fantasy books, things that were outlined by the church of what was allowed and disallowed. When I saw a young man and women (grown adults but didn’t have the leaders approval) kissing, step #1 was to start making phone calls and let people know…as if it was any of my business. The end result was both of them leaving the church due to their sinful ways. (kissing…)
As an inserted mental thought- these memories shame me. I am embarrassed to say that I have been a part of what I am telling you. Yet, by the experience I can identify these things as real, and true.
This is insidious because friends turn on each other for the sake of what the leader has taught them to do. If you alerted a friend to a struggle, something they would be considered a sin, in confidence you sought their advice, it was quite normal for that information to reach the leader within minutes. That way the leader could fix all of your problems. Again, this is the cult attitude of dependency.
Furthermore, cult leaders tend to have an arsenal of helpers. Not volunteers clearing the shrubs, mowing the grass, helping to fix things around the Church or buildings, but true conscripted servants.
In my past church, they called them Cadets. These young men were picked by the leader to do his bidding. Such things as running to the store when he was hungry, getting supplies for his office, running to his home to pick something up, watching during service for his every need, bringing towels, waters, books, delivering messages, etc. They were at his beck and call.
All of that was done with the cadets under the auspices of ‘ministry training’, learning how to be servants. But serving who? And a leader who creates a handful of servants that follow him around providing for his needs is a monarch, not a servant of Christ.
In conclusions, my sincere hope is that this is going to help someone in the future realize they are in, or to help them avoid a cult. Some may read this and think I have a vendetta, but I don’t. Not in the sense that I want to discredit or attack anyone, or any group with the intent to wish them harm.
My purpose is to clearly identify what a cult in the religious world looks like today. They are not following Christ’s example, or Paul’s, who followed Christ. Rather, they [the leaders] have setup their own mini-kingdoms, claiming Christ so they can identify with Christianity.
If after reading this, you are left wondering, wow, where did this guy come from?
The answer is #10 on Today’s Top 10 Christian Cults. Except, in this case, it was an independent offshoot as #8 outlines.