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Essay/Term paper: Cults

Essay, term paper, research paper:  College Papers

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Each year, hundreds of North Americans join one of the
increasing, estimated 3000 unorthodox religions that exist
across North America. The increasing number of cults, to date
in North America, is due to the fact that cults are a social
movement that attempts to help people cope with their perceived
problems with social interaction. Cult recruiters target those
who perceive themselves as different from the rest of society,
and give these individuals the sense of belonging that they
crave. Cult literature lures potential cult members by
appealing to their desperate need to socially fit in. Cults
provide a controlled family environment that appeals to
potential cult members because it is a removal from the
exterior society. Cult recruiters prey on those who see
themselves as alienated from the rest of society, and give
these people the sense of conformity that they desire. A common
method of recruiters, to obtain new members, is through chat
lines on the internet. A recorded conversation between a member
of the Divine Light Mission, Fire-Shade, and an 18-year old boy, Jay
18, was obtained off of the site, IRC Teen Chat.

Jay18: I am a really great poet, but all of the kids in my
class are pretty warped about it. I basically hide it from them
because I don't need that hassle.
Fire-Shade: My family has a great respect for the artist inside
us all. I know you live in Michigan, and our family could
always use new operatives all over the world. You have to
understand what our family is about, it is about always fitting
in and never hiding the truth to be liked or cool. Are you
Jay18: Well maybe...
Fire-Shade: Give me your phone number we really shouldn't
talk about this here.
Jay18: I would rather not give my phone number out. You give
me yours, I won't be able to talk for long though.
Fire-Shade: Trust is very important in our group...do you trust
me? You can't call us, unfortunately because we are not in a
position to be accepting phone calls.
Jay18: Well then you can just e-mail me...OK.
Fire-Shade: [disconnects]1

The cult member makes the young boy feel as though he does care about
his problems, and wants to make this boy's life better. Fire-Shade
conveys his family as an entity not as many different individuals.
After feeling alone for many years the only persuasion some individuals
need is the assurance that they will be part of a society and accepted
unconditionally. Cult members know what type of individuals feel most
alienated and alone, says Dr. Lorna Goldberg, a New Jersey

No one plans to join a cult unless they see that cult as a
possibility for a family, or a better society. Cults target people in
transition--college students away from home for the first time,
people who have moved to new cities for jobs, those who have
just been divorced or widowed. Usually individuals 16 to 25 or
35 to 40. The vast majority of members are merely looking for
a sense of community and belonging, during a difficult time in
their lives.2

Cults provide an ersatz social unit, which takes them in, nurtures them
and reinforces the cult's worldview. By the time that most cult members
realize that this cult isn't what they had expected, it is too late,
because they are already too afraid to leave. Recruiters are not the
only way that potential members are enticed into cults, often their
literature is powerful enough.

Cult novels, pamphlets and websites draw in potential cult members by
appealing to their desperate need to socially fit in. Often if a piece
of cult literature is written correctly it convinces the most logical
mind of the most absurd reasoning, like this pamphlet by the Heavens
Gate cult. The generally accepted "norms" of today's societies - world
over - are designed, established, and maintained by the individuals
who were at one time "students" of the Kingdom of Heaven- "angels" in
the making- who flunked out" of the classroom. Legends and scriptures
refer to them as fallen angels. The current civilization's records use
the name Satan or Lucifer to describe a single fallen angel and also to
"nickname" any "evil presence". If you have experienced some of what
our "classroom" requires of us, you would know that these "presences"
are real and that the Kingdom of God even permits them to "attack" us
in order for us to learn their tricks and how to stay above them or
conquer them.3

This particular piece of heavens gate literature can be found printed
in not only their pamphlets and novels, but also on their website. In
this single passage this cult has enabled the alienated individual to
feel accepted and feel that they are not the only person who feels
helpless, alone and disliked by society. It not only reassures the
potential cult member that they are welcome somewhere, but it makes
them feel superior to the society that they feel has betrayed them
their entire life. Often, to fully convince a potential recruit of
their ideals, cult literature will diverge on continuously about how
society's ideas and morals are deranged and that the cults are

In other words, they (these space aliens) don't want themselves "found
out," so they condemn any exploration. They want you to be a perfect
servant to society (THEIR society -- of THEIR world) -- to the
"acceptable establishment," to humanity, and to
false religious concepts. Part of that "stay
blinded" formula goes like this: "Above all, be
married, a good parent, a reasonable church
goer, buy a house, pay your mortgage, pay your
insurance, have a good line of credit, be
socially committed, and graciously accept death
with the hope that 'through His shed blood,' or
some other equally worthless religious precept,
you will go to Heaven after your death.4
It is at this point that, through their literature, unbeknown to the
reader the cult begins to strip away at everything the individual
believes in. The cult starts to present the individual with the words
that they want to hear, which are; that they are normal, and that there
is a place where they are wanted. Although there are few distinct
similarities shared between cults, the use of communes is a remarkably
common trait.
Cults provide a separate society that appeals to potential cult
members because it is a removal from the exterior world.
Usually when guests visit for the first time to a commune they
witness displays of unconditional affection and kindness.
In major cities across throughout the world, The
Family, sometimes called the Unification Church, has houses which are
typically both communal living places for young, single members, and
meeting places for a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening meeting. A
pleasant, lively circle of perhaps twenty or twenty-five people, mostly
young, will make the guest feel at home. He will be given a hymn book
containing religious songs in folk and popular style. Someone will play
a guitar, and the circle will sing for some thirty minutes.5 This
tranquil, peaceful setting, purposely contrasts with that of the world
outside of the compound. In order for a cult member to be adequately
convinced of a cults merits they must see how much more pleasant life
will be inside the compound. Cults, like the Hare Krishna, remind
members how chaotic the outside world is, and maintain impeccable order
inside their compounds to maintain purity.
The details of life are closely regulated by the
Spiritual Master.
He insists that each devotee take two showers daily, and take a cup of
warm milk before retiring; these customs are scrupulously followed.
Devotees live an idyllic rural, communal, devotional, and vegetarian
life.6 In cults an individuals daily routine is decided for them, their
entire life-style is chosen for them, this appeals to individuals
because they can't make mistakes if they just do as the leader
instructs. In the society outside of the cult decisions must be
constantly made, and society's expectations are that those who can not
succeed in their decision making are failures. The complexity and
ambiguity of life is something that cult members do not want to
endure. Different doctors have varying opinions on why people join
cults. Dr. J.Gordon Melton is attempting to prove that cult members
have not chosen to join cults, they have an actual medical disorder.
Melton has found that cult members are emotionally vulnerable and
suffering from significant emotional distress.
...the average cult member has been in three or four other groups,
a sign of what he calls the "seeker syndrome," a spiritual quest among
young people free to experiment. These "seekers" generally move on as
soon as they become bored or disenchanted. Melton suggests cults serve
as "holding tanks" for young people rebelling against overprotective
parents.7 Other experts believe that certain classes, races, and ages
are particularly susceptible to the allure of cults. A survey performed
at the Bethany Hills School found that when asked 'Would you join a
cult if it would offer you what you believed to be a better life?', 7
out of 24 respondents said that they would. Of these 7 respondents, 5
were between the ages of 16 and 19"8 This age group has been
established as susceptible to cults because of the pressure placed upon
adolescents by their peers. "3 of the 7 respondents were members of a
single, employed, parent houshold."9 Stress on a single income family
can potentially be greater than that of a dual income family because of
the potential for a higher net family income, and possibly less
financial difficulties. This family stress could inherently cause an
individual to search for a more stable home environment, and find
refuge in a cult. These are the lesser known, and not as accepted
theories on why people join cults.
The idea that any specific social-class is more susceptible to
cult membership is false. As history has shown cult members'
social class can not be generalized.
Social Status is no indicator of susceptibility and no
against it. For instance, while many of the dead a Jonestown were poor,
the Solar Temple favors the carriage trade. Its disciples have included
the wife and son of the founder of Vuarnet sunglass company. The Branch
Davidians at Waco came from many walks of life. And at Rancho Santa Fe
they were paragons of the entrepreneurial class, so well organized they
died in shifts.10 The reason for cult membership is obviously not
entirely due to social class. Different people are drawn to different
cults, just as different cults prey on different individuals. The
research done at the Bethany Hills School is also not entirely accurate
because the population is so small that 24 surveys cannot accurately
represent most cult members. Although Dr. Melton's research provides an
interesting viewpoint, his claims are still being experimented and have
never been fully substantiated. His claim that cult members are young
people rebelling against their parents is statistically inaccurate
since 35 to 40-year-olds are one of the most common groups of cult
members, and make up a large portion of the hundreds of men and women
who join cults each year.
Cult enlisteers target those who view themselves as a deviant
from the rest of society, and give these individuals a false
sense of family. Cult literature lures potential cult members
by convincing them that society is an anomalous entity and
that they are healthy and sound. The controlled family
environment of cults appeals to potential cult members because
they have all of their decisions made for them, and do not
risk failure. No one is beyond the possibility of joining a
cult, applicants require only a hopeless feeling of social
inadequacy, a condition apt to strike anyone at some point in
life. Undoutably, many cults are malicious and violent, but
they do send a clear message that something is very wrong when
sane, healthy people would rather burn, poison, and shoot
themselves to death rather than live another moment in


1. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22 1997)
2. Graebrener, William. The American Record. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc. New York. 1982.

3. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven's Gate, The Novel. Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)

4. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven's Gate The Novel. Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)

5. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book Company, Inc. NewYork. 1965.

6. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.

7. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects [False Prophets Attract the Vulnerable]. (April 7, 1997)

8. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.

9. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.

10. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal: The Lure of Cults [Why Ordinary People Join Cults]. (April 1, 1997)


1. Applewhite, Marshall Herff Heaven's Gate, The Novel. Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)

2. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book Company, Inc. NewYork. 1965.

3. Bugliosi, Vincent. Helter Skelter. Bantam Books. New York. 1975.

4. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects [False Prophets Attract the Vulnerable]. (April 7, 1997)

5. Graebner, William. The American Record. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc. New York. 1982.

6. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22 1997)
7. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.

8. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal:The Lure of Cults [Why Ordinary People Join Cults]. (April 1, 1997)

9. Porter, Anne. Farewell to the Seventies. Thomas Nelson and Sons. Don Mills. 1979.

10. Smith, Michelle. Michelle Remembers. Pocket Books. New York. 1980.

11. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.


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