Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Handy List to Evaluate Probability that an Organization or Movement is Cultic

In an era of severe deception in the visible church, it may be useful to have a convenient comparison-guide to use to evaluate whether an organization is more than just a little wonky.

Studying the truth benefits you by way of definitions. Anything that is contrary to God's Word is error, and if it's not obvious at first, it'll manifest itself eventually.
1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.
Studying what is false has some benefit (and should only be attempted after you know the truth), in that from doing this you can gain descriptions. Definitions are broadly applicable, but sometimes it can be challenging to identify what qualifies as adherence to or deviation from the definition. That's why the Bible admonishes church leaders to specifically call out false teachers, so that the flock will avoid them. What follows is something in the vein of describing cult characteristics, and not attempting so much to define what they are in general. Being familiar both with definition and description can help you discern between truth and error more effectively than an approach utilizing only one or the other.

For example, if you know that anything that denies the Trinity is a heresy, would you be able to say for certain whether or not TD Jakes is heretical when he talks about "one god, in three manifestations?" You have the definition right. But if you were armed with the useful description, "anyone avoiding the use of the term persons and using manifestations instead is a modalist," helpfully offered (paraphrased) by Tim Challies, then you would much more quickly and with more certainty determine that his viewpoint is heretical.

After the jump, you'll simply find a long list of things that characterize religious cults. It's a general list, and doesn't give any examples, as a result. So the information can be used and applied to any organization for the purpose of determining, "are they a cult?" Examples of organizations you might enjoy evaluating with the help of the list below would be political organizations, media groups, various advocacy organizations, religious groups, etc and etc.

As a clarifying note, just because something displays characteristics coinciding with the points given does not mean it is a cult, automatically. But organizations that are cults will have characteristics in common with the points listed. It's an issue of correlation.

I should mention that the first two parts of the list were gotten from different sites, which I've since forgotten--so that content is not totally original. The third part is my own contribution.

The following is a description of what cult is:
1. A cult is a religious group with extreme beliefs and practices - beliefs that are often contrary to science and logic but they are believed as "obvious" truth by the cult members.
2. The members of cults often isolate themselves from friends, family and society and use deceptive and unethical recruiting techniques
3. Use manipulative methods to control the minds of followers
4. Venerate a human leader or leaders
5. Recruiting work is performed by all of the members
6. People are not allowed to criticize the leader, the doctrine, or the organization, or read information that is critical of the cult.
7. Members are trained to reject and disbelieve criticism of the cult as lies from Satan.
8. Members spy on one another and report improper activities or comments to leaders.
9. Members are taught to suppress anything which might reflect negatively to outsiders about the cult.
10. The doctrine is absolutist and the ideology is internalized as "the Truth."
11. Members are told to avoid contact with ex-members or critics, even their relatives.
12. Members are instilled with a deep fear about ever leaving the organization, and anyone who does depart is of the devil and sometimes severely punished.
13. Members are emotionally controlled and warned of being caught and punished.
14. Disciplinary action is administered by group leaders, which may involve excommunication for such things as questioning organization policy or doctrine.
15. People are encouraged to sacrifice education, career and family interests to serve the interests of the cult.
16. Advocate socializing only with other members in the organization and avoiding outsiders.
17. Eschatological belief in an apocalypse and Dooms Day.

More after the break:

•  Cults teach their members elitism, meaning that by being a member of the group, you are elite. You are special.
•  Cults often require their members' unquestioning obedience.
•  Cults teach their members that life outside the group is miserable and confusing.
•  Cults are preoccupied with bringing in new members.
•  Cults are usually profit oriented.
•  Cults require their members to pledge everything they have to the group.
•  Cults require many sacrifices from their members, including time and money.
•  Cults teach their members that they have a special mission to save the world from some evil.
•  Cults teach undying loyalty to their leaders and founders, who have a divine calling. The leader is to be obeyed at all costs and his word is law, even above the laws of the land.

* Cults engage in sabotaging other groups they perceive as threatening.
* To gain credibility, cults claim established status by attempting to prove the historicity of their faith.
* Cults attempt to claim great minds of history for themselves, thus making appeals to authority. The more popular the authority figures in the culture, the more effort is expended.
* Nevertheless, cults also strive to avoid resembling “your parents’ religion,” and fight to brand themselves as “cool,” “relevant,” “fresh and exciting,” novel and progressive.
* Cults attract followers by appealing to sense pleasures and selfish desires of human nature, such as food and drink, sexual lusts, material riches, a life of comfort, ‘networking,’ violent hatred and xenophobia, and the need for a scapegoat to blame for one’s lot in life, so as to rationalize one’s anger and avoid acknowledging that the problem lies within, rather than without.
* Other cults operate on the same principles, but instead appeal to people’s resentment of the culture by limiting or forbidding their fulfillment, which satisfies followers’ sense of elitist pride.
* Cults often have a formalized creed that states the group’s official beliefs. There may also be (sometimes falsely historical) ‘holy books’ from which cult members seek wisdom and guidance.
* Distrusting information from “the other,” cults will naturally establish their own centralized sources for “authoritative” knowledge of current events, and blindly listen to only those sources.
* Cults that have been around long enough will create their own version of history to teach to children, that validates their extreme beliefs. This is formally called Revisionist History.
* When small, cults will avoid integrating into society at large. When they reach a critical mass, however, they will seek to overthrow, overtly or subtly, the society and replace it with their own.
* The cult leaders usually know more than they tell their followers, and to keep their followers in line, engender cover-ups to hide the truth from the “lay members” of the cult.
* On some level, cult members know that there’s something wrong about the cult, but are strongly opposed to leaving, because it would be embarrassing to admit to being tricked for so long.
* To cement fervor in cult members, leaders will send cult members out into society in ways that will cause them to endure what they will perceive as “persecution” for holding their beliefs and trying to defend them in public, which causes the cult members who experience this to severely internalize their beliefs and “make it their own,” making them very thoroughly indoctrinated and “shielded/hardened” to future criticism. Such cult members have the potential to become leaders of the cult, and are very loyal because they now personally identify with the cult.
* Cults try to make their followers personally identify with the cult, so that when the cult is attacked, they feel personally attacked. This makes for very loyal followers.
* Followers who personally identify with the cult invariably develop resentment, anger, and eventually hatred and violent thoughts toward those who criticize their cult. This eventually leads to violent lashing-out against the perceived ‘enemy’ by cult members, which causes a backlash against the cult from the culture, which validates the feelings of persecution of all the other cult-members, inspiring more violence, and creating a runaway cycle where the cult and its critics become eternal enemies of each other. 


* To cement fervor by causing cult members to endure "persecution" for their beliefs -- Mormons do this very effectively, by sending out their children in groups of two as missionaries when they're about the age of 18 or 20 (the specific age doesn't matter). By facing ridicule for their silly beliefs, these 'missionaries' personally identify with their religion, so that whenever their religion is mocked, they feel personally attacked.
* Formalized Creeds -- your garden-variety American atheist is usually what you would call a secular humanist, and there is a creed that defines their values, called The Humanist Manifesto. There have been three, to my knowledge. The one I linked to is short. It might be interesting to read it and see what political ideals are espoused.
* Attempting to claim important historical figures for themselves -- The American Left has been phenomenally successful at doing so, with figures such as Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Galileo Galilei, and many others. Few people who grow up in the public educational system know--or are consciously aware of, at least--that MLK and Frederick Douglass were registered Republicans, for example. Or that not a single Democrat in either wing of Congress voted for the 14th Amendment.
* Appealing to sensuality -- Islam does this by offering eternal sexual bliss for its male followers. The Democratic Party appeals to people's selfishness rather than economic or moral principles.
* The belief in an impending doomsday -- the 'environmentalist' movement prophecies a global armageddon of natural disasters if their policies are not adopted. 
* Cults are profit oriented -- you don't become one of the richest people on the planet by living austerely. And that money comes from somewhere. Usually from committed followers who trust that their dues, their tithes, or their taxes will be spent honestly, in the service of the higher good that the cult claims to promote.

* Venerate a human leader or leaders -- Hitler is an excellent historical case study for how a politician comes gradually to be worshiped as an earthly messiah. And there are...some characters...in the realm of global politics today, who share remarkable similarities with that man.

- W

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