From: Bernie@bernie.cncfamily.com (Bernie)
Subject: Re: What is a cult?
Date: Sat, 30 Nov 1996 00:21:33 GMT
“Cult” is a pejorative word aimed at groups who display an excessive and exclusive behavior. The efforts made by anti-cult group to distinguish between a “cult” and a “legitimate religion” have twarted their effort to bring forth a sensible definition. A group, whether religious or not, can be more cultish at one time and less so at another, so to have a definition that would apply to a group as opposed to another one is very difficult, if not impossible.
It is therefore more important and more practical to define what the cultic mindset is. The cultic mindset could be said to be the unquestioning acceptance of a simplistic set of doctrines aimed at providing definitive answers in a context of separation between self and others (just a tentative definition).
The reason why religious groups are more subject to the cultic mindset is because religions tend to address the most basic fears and hopes of Man, and therefore increase the importance of what is at stake.
Taking various definitions from Lifton, Singer, CAN, Bonnewits, etc, removing some of the dubious criteria, and mixing the whole thing with my own experience, I delineated five main slots in which cultic characteristics can fall:
In the case of an extreme group that could be labeled as a cult, these five elements translate as:
Totalitarian world view
1. Absolute authority
Authority is absolute and often appears through a self-appointed prophet who alone has a direct channel to the source of supreme wisdom. He is charismatic, infallible, and irreproachable. There is no appeal outside his dictates. His doctrine is sacred, innovative, exclusive, and absolutely true. The doctrine solves all the problems and explains everything.
2. Total dependence
The importance of being in the group or following the group’s precepts in order to be ‘Saved’ for eternity is phenomenal. Everything outside the group is corrupt. Fear and guilt are being played upon heavily.
3. Unquestioning obedience
The supreme authority is not to be questioned. Any doubt or criticism can only come from the devil or from one’s own evil acts or failings. Censorship is instated to protect the members against ignorant information from the outside and against corrupting contacts from friends, family and society. Outgoing news is disseminated through propaganda.
4. Radical commitment
There can be no greater purpose in life than belonging to the group and bringing in a maximum number of persons. The power of the group is measured by its number of members, its wealth and its external political influence. Every aspect of the member’s life is submitted to the higher precepts presented by the group or its leader. The member is rewarded by group and individual encounters, experiences, and catharsis that confirms the leader’s wisdom and power.
5. Totalitarian world view
The members’ higher purpose supersedes the laws of society and give them special rights to act against their real or imagined enemies. They don’t realize that their actions are in total contradiction with their own ideal. The more opposition is encountered from the outside, the more the member is confirmed in the evil power of their opponents and the sanctity of their
The cultic mindset can also be seen in a less dramatic and more subtle enactment of the above points. Mainly through the unquestioning acceptance of authority, the dependence of a fixed pattern of thought or behavior, and a willingness to rationalize unethical behavior.
The antidote against the cultic mindset is the willingness to question any accepted ideas, a priority given to truth over personal wishes, and a refusal to justify means over ends.
The best way to beat a cult mentality, is to be aware of what a cult is, then make sure you are not part of that mentality
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