A cult, particularly a destructive one, is almost any kind of organization whose followers have been deceptively and unethically recruited and retained. They use manipulative techniques, which are imposed without the informed consent of the recruit and are designed to alter personality and behavior. These groups are only concerned about advancing the mission or business of the group, and not the well being of the individual members. They pose great dangers not only against the society among whom they live but also against their own followers. Our modern history contains records of cults’ threats and human tragedies that have shaken the world. Talking on the tragic end the followers of a destructive cult might be led to Margaret Thaler Singer has said: Twice in less than fifteen years we have been shown the deadly ends to which cult followers can be led. In 1978, aerial photos of 912 brightly clad followers of Jim Jones, dead by cyanidelaced drinks and gunshots in a steamy Guyanese jungle, were shown in magazines and on television, reappearing with each subsequent anniversary of the end of Jonestown. And in early 1993, television news programs showed the Koresh cult’s shoot-out, then several weeks later its flaming end on the Texas plains. 1 They are only an example of many countless instances. As reported recently, Texas police raided a gated compound outside the tiny Texas cattle town of Eldorado built and run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Reportedly, more than 400 children and teens had been rescued and taken into temporary state custody while the authorities continued investigating allegations that girls at the compound were being sexually abused by men. The number of active cults only in the US is estimated to range from 3,000 to 5,000. It is hard to get a precise number as cults change their names, splinter off into other groups, or shut down in one area only to open back up in another. Unfortunately, there are approximately 180,000 new cult recruits every year and the cults are developing more sophisticated techniques to form and establish new aliases. They originally start under religious and political covers and it is only after getting totally involved in the cults that the followers come to recognize the real intention of the cults. One way to avoid being entrapped by the cults is to learn to recognize common cult-recruitment tactics and situations. The people who have suffered tensions or are in search of Utopia are most vulnerable to be recruited by the cults. In general, cults follow nearly the same tactics for deception and misrepresentation to recruit, retain and achieve cult-related ends. Today, it is really a hard task to distinguish a cult from another legal group but in the past decades there have been attempts to help people in cult prevention. There are identical factors shared by majority of cults which can be of great help to recognize a cult. Referring to important characteristics of a cult Robert Jay Lifton observes: First, all cults have a charismatic leader, who himself or her- self increasingly becomes the object of worship, and in many cases, the dispenser of immortality. Spiritual ideas of a general kind give way to this deification of the leader. Second, in cults there occurs a series of psychological processes that can be associated with what has been called “coercive persuasion” or “thought reform,” as described in some detail in this book. And third, there is a pattern of manipulation and exploitation from above (by leaders and ruling coteries) and idealism from below (on the part of supplicants and recruits). 2 Thus, the characteristics to mark a cult are three: 1. Charismatic and self-appointed leader who claims divinity or special knowledge and demands his followers unquestioning and total loyalty and obedience. 2. An organized structure of totalitarian hegemony with the leader at the top
3. Planned thought reform and brainwashing techniques to induce a state of high suggestibility and dependency on the group and self-alienation.
To determine how dangerous a cult might be, Bonewits draws a Cult Danger Evaluation Frame which can be a good help to determine just how dangerous a cult or group might be in comparison with other groups. The factors indicated by Bonewits include:
1. INTERNAL CONTROL 2. WISDOM CLAIMED by leader(s3. WISDOM CREDITED to leader(s) by members 4. DOGMA 5. RECRUITING6. FRONT GROUPS 7. WEALTH 8. POLITICAL POWER 9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION 10. CENSORSHIP11. DROPOUT CONTROL 12. VIOLENCE13. PARANOIA 14. GRIMNESS 15. SURRENDER OF WILL16. HYPOCRISY 3
It seems that Bonewits has developed a good understanding of cults’ menace in the modern world which is shared with other researchers. A look at Dr. Robert Jay Lifton’s criteria for a destructive cult is a precise approbation:
1. Authoritarian pyramid structure with authority at the top
2. Charismatic or messianic leader(s) (Messianic meaning they either say they are God or that they alone can interpret the scriptures the way God intended.
3. Deception in recruitment and/or fund raising
4. Isolation from society — not necessarily physical isolation, but this can be psychological isolation.
5. Use of mind control (Mileu Control, Mystical Manipulation, Demand for Purity, Confession, Sacred Science, Loading the Language, Doctrine Over Person, Dispensing of Existence) 4
Considering signs that distinguish a destructive cult, a precise evaluation of MKO well crystallizes it as one of the most destructive and visible examples of a cult that jeopardizes the security and thought well-being of the people among whom it takes refuge under the cover of a pro-democratic, political group. Far beyond being recognized as an alternative to Iranian regime as MKO claims, it is an alternative to a destructive cult sharing their characteristics. For sure, no sensible people consent to a dangerous cult to steer the country.
References: 1- Thaler Singer, Margaret; Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, p. 3.
2- Ibid, XII.
4- www.refocus.org Research Bureau, Mojahedin.ws, April 9, 2008