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Essay/Term paper: Cults

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Religion

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Cults 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 interested? 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 psychoanalyst. 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 reasonable. 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 Unified 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 defense 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 society.  

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