Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cults and Social Control

Randall Carmicle

The melting pot effect – the blending of cultural and ethnic traditions to make America what it is – is also the breeding ground of cults. The different cultures and religious beliefs make America is fertile ground for the growth of cults.

The definition of a religious group as a “cult” depends on who defines it. For most first-century Jews, Christianity was a cult. However, Gamaliel had the right idea: If this be the work of men it will come to naught, but if it be of God, we cannot overthrow it.” (Acts 5: 38, 39)

A cult, by the most liberal definition, is any religious group based on the interpretation of an individual person, that is, personal revelation versus received tradition. By this definition, Judaism could be a cult, since rabbis teach their personal interpretations in the Talmud. They do not teach from the canonical text of the Bible which developed organically from ancient times.

Dr. Charlie Braden, author of Those Who Believe, defines cults as “any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expression of religion in our total culture.”

Walter Martin, a Baptist minister and teacher of Biblical Theology, simplifies this, defining a cult as “a group or people gathered about a specific person or person’s misinterpretation of the Bible.”

Deceivers Want Control

The problem with cults is the attempt by misguided and often deluded leaders to control. I do not condemn the followers. We are to love and have compassion for those who have been deceived by false prophets. These are people for whom Jesus Christ died. My argument is with the teachers of false doctrine who lead their flocks to the “second death” for money, for power, or to feed their own egos.

Christ warned about such as these. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring for good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 17:15-23)

The Growth of Cults

There are an estimated 17 million cult members in the United States alone. The average cult owes much of its existence to Christian terminology. Cult leaders often borrow material from the Bible, using it out of context. Biblical terminology is mixed with Evangelical clichés and used to the cult leader’s advantage.

The problem of evil is rarely discussed in cults as a matter of personal sin and the necessity of atonement by Jesus Christ for salvation. Instead the emphasis tends to be on the evil of those outside the cult, or on the love tolerance and forgiveness to be exercised by members within the cult. One gets the impression that only cult leaders and their followers have all the answers to life problems.

A cult generally begins with an authoritarian pronouncement from the founder. This is institutionalized by the cult and after the founder’s death becomes part of the dogmatic system that defines the cult. Cult members are required to adhere absolutely to the dogma which is held has having supernatural authority.

The Apostle Paul writes, “Deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ, and no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (II Corinthians 11:13-15)

Why People Join Cults?

Many people are cult ready” are those who feel themselves to be socially marginalized, disenfranchised, or on the periphery. They long to be part of something greater than themselves. They want to feel that they belong and that they serve a purpose. They are usually lonely people who have become isolated from family and friends or who come from dysfunctional families. Often they are jaded by the hypocrisy that they encounter in established forms of religion, blaming the religion rather than recognizing the fallibility of the human.

Absence from God’s love leaves an emptiness inside that some fill with earthly pleasures. Others may seek a more spiritual way to fill the void and these are often attracted to cults. Attachment to a cult can’t satisfy the inner longing, however. It may even have tragic results, as in the tragedy of Jones Town on November 18, 1978, when over 900 cult followers of “Rev” Jim Jones committed forced suicide. A note found on the body of one of the “commanders” reveals the despair and isolation of the People’s Temple. The sealed note was apparently written just prior to the ritual suicide and said, “Dad, I see no way out. I agree with your decision— I fear only that without you, the world may not make it to communion. For my part, I am more than tired of this wretched merciless planet and the hell it holds for so many masses of beautiful people—Thank you for the only life I’ve known.”

How Cults Recruit

The progenitors of false religions look for lonely people in homeless shelters, among drug abusers and in places where run-away children congregate. They show them kindness and generosity and give them a sense that they are loved. This draws them into the fold where they are then indoctrinated.

Some cults recruit by telling people what they want to hear. The message may excuse the person’s bad habits by blaming the corrupt government or self-serving religions. Recruits are told that they can find purpose, salvation, love and happiness only by following the message of the cult founder. Through involvement in the cult, they can become complete and the find inner peace that they have never known. Coming from a charismatic leader this message is very appealing. Once a cult has several followers others “jump on the bandwagon.” Members recruit others through personal contact. Once these are drawn into the cult, they are isolated from all outside influences.

The Psychological Structure of Cultism

In his book The Open and Closed Mind, Dr. Milton Rolceachs notes three reasons or “regions” of a belief system recognized by psychologists.

The first is that which encompasses the individual’s primitive outlook on the world and asks questions such as “Is the world a threatening or an accepting place?” The cult sets itself up as a safe and accepting place over against the world. The belief system is characterized by close mindedness.

The second region touches on the area of authority and asks questions such as, “What is an authority for me?” and “Whose word am I to accept as authoritative?” The cult interprets the world for potential recruits and members, invoking biblical texts and/or sayings of the founder as the ultimate authority. Rational evaluation of truth claims is discouraged or forbidden.

The third region is more peripheral but still important. It asks about the details of people’s daily lives in the cult. The cult member is committed to a way of life that sustains the community. The mindset of isolation can be extreme. This includes a strong element of dislike towards outsiders, which is one reason that rational dialogue with a cult member is difficult or nearly impossible.

All of the world’s religions have heretical branches that develop around a charismatic leader. In America cults have found fertile ground in moral relativism and in the liberal advocacy of “rights” whereby people justify personal choices in religion that can lead to harm and to the second death (Revelation 20).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

dr charles Braden book is called "these also belive"