The Concept of Change in Cults

What is of great significance in most cults, especially if they are political cults, is to design programs to and develop techniques to induce radical changes in facets of a person’s world view and subsequently to generate great conformity to organizationally specified prescriptions for behavior. Generally, as Thaler Singer suggests, “Cults tend to require members to undergo a major disruption or change in lifestyle”. Many cults put great pressure on new members to leave their families, friends, and jobs to become immersed in the group’s major purpose. This isolation tactic is one of the cults’ most common mechanisms of control and enforced dependency.

No doubt, any group of specific political, philosophical and social nature somehow tries to induce its members and followers to become immersed in the group’s major purpose. However, cults follow the same line with the exception that their employed techniques are in absolute contradiction with legitimate social purpose. The change cults focus on and tempt the members to undergo violates human and social standards and is imposed on them against their will. The process is also dominating in some political parties and organizations whose focal point is certain ideologies as in some active leftist and social parties.

In many political groups, regardless of the members’ religious and ideological commitment as well as social class and life-style, the members engage in activities outlined according to the group’s doctrine and protocol to accomplish the group’s legitimate goals. It can be said that they reach a broad consensus on struggling for the accomplishment of certain social interest while preserving their own personal penchants and faiths. Unlike them, cults’ main focus is on followers’ self-renunciation and surrender; members are required to give up all personal attachments and regular life-style and accept and submit to whatever they are called for or compelled to do. A cult’s extremity of shalt and shalt not principles depend on its sphere of activity and ideological as well as, if any, political preaching and instructions.

Drawing a difference between cults (referring to them as mass movements owith a variety of origins) and practical organizations, Hoffer explicates that:

THERE IS A FUNDAMENTAL difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization. The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest. On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self. A mass movement attracts and holds a follower not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation. 1

Thus, it appears that cults insist to induce change more to advance their own ends which lead to further personal decline of the members. The process of the change begins with a gradual ideological diversion and proceeds with a complete behavioral change and ends at the point where the cult dictates the smallest private affairs:

Cults are known to dictate what members wear and eat and when and where they work, sleep, and bathe as well as what they should believe, think, and say. On most matters, cults promote what we usually call black-and-white thinking, an all-or-nothing point of view. 2

The process is fulfilled most appropriately if the members are cut off from the social atmosphere and family. Life in isolation is what most cults try to encourage believers to adopt since the rationality of the outside world ceases to discourage the accomplishment of the process:

Cults tend to require members to undergo a major disruption or change in lifestyle. Many cults put great pressure on new members to leave their families, mends, and jobs to become immersed in the group’s major purpose. This isolation tactic is one of the cults’ most common mechanisms of control and enforced dependency. 3

It will be much absurd if a cult stays passive in generating change in the members. Cults are totalistic in nature and nobody accents to be under their control unless they have been totally dominated through the process of change:

Cults tend to be totalistic, or all-encompassing, in controlling their members’ behavior and also ideologically totalistic, exhibiting zealotry and extremism in their worldview. Eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, most cults expect members to devote increasing time, energy, and money or other resources to the professed goals of the group, stating or implying that a total commitment is required to reach some state such as "enlightenment." 4

In general, a totalistic cult necessarily entails emphasis on an absolute boundary between the followers and the exterior social environment so they feel fundamentally separate from the outside world. As a result, a sense of relationship is attained by forming intense identifications with the cult and moral and ideological principles are internalized as absolutes. Impulses, fantasies, behaviors and opinions not fully approved by the cult are denied and dissociated.

References:

1. Eric Hoffer; The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, New York: First Perennial Classics 2002, p. 21.

2. Thaler Singer, Margaret; Cults in Our Midst: The Continuing Fight Against Their Hidden Menace, p. 10.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

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