Support Our Sponsors -- Support Us!
Ad Info

No Way Out

Register your email address with URL-MINDER to receive automatic notification when we update No Way Out.

your email:

Cached from the Arkansas Democrat, October 15, 1995. Copyright 1995, Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.

* Back to Article Index

A primer on cults: Why they're different

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Staff Writer

She's heard it all too often, the voices tinged with disdain. "Only crazy, stupid people join cults. No one could ever talk me into anything like that."

"You wanna bet?" retorts clinical psychologist Margaret Singer, who has studied mind-control groups for nearly 25 years. "Neither age nor education is a vaccine against cults."

An estimated 3,000 cults exist in this country with anywhere from 3 million to 5 million members.

They range from the larger, well-known groups --the Unification Church (The Rev. Sun Myung Moon) and The Church of Scientology --to hundreds of smaller groups with only 10 to 20 followers. Both the Church of Scientology and the Unification Church deny that they are cults.

Cults are not, by definition, harmful. They may be based on religious beliefs, politics, self-improvement, martial arts, even flying saucers.

According to Singer, a cult "becomes destructive" when:

€ It isolates members from family and friends.

€ The group interferes with an individual's ability to think freely.

€ A charismatic figure dominates the group, claiming to have a direct line to God or some secret knowledge that makes the group elite.

€ The cult persuades members that the group goal is more important than individual needs, using guilt and shame to keep followers from questioning doctrine.

€ The leader instills fear that something dreadful will happen to anyone who leaves.

Cults are not a 20th-century phenomenon. They flourished after the fall of Rome, the French Revolution, the Civil War and World War I. In the 1960s, they attracted young people disillusioned by mainline churches and the Vietnam War, during a time sweeping cultural changes. "Anytime there is a huge breakdown in families and the structure of society, cults spring up to fill the gap," Singer says.

They have their strongest appeal during high-stress times when people are especially vulnerable: a job change, a divorce, a death, a transitional period such as going away to college, moving to a new town or retiring.

"If you are not imbedded in a meaningful group or relationship during this time, the cult can take over," Singer says.

The initial phase, cult experts say, is "love-bombing." Members compliment potential recruits, assuring them they are special. They become a constant, overwhelming presence, taking potential members to group meetings and calling them several times a day. Suddenly, the recruit feels wanted and secure within this new "family."

"There's so much deception involved at the point of pickup by almost every one of the modern-day cults," says the 74-year-old Singer, a retired professor from the University of California, Berkeley. She is co-author of "Cults in Our Midst, The Hidden Menace in Our Everyday Lives."

Recruiting need not be formal. Mothers with babies in strollers seek out other young mothers in shopping centers for a friendly chat. A neighbor invites the new family on the block to a get-acquainted dinner. Recruits are found at college bars, senior citizen centers and local theater groups.

Senior citizens are prime targets, says Herbert Rosedale, a New York attorney who has represented hundreds of former cult members.

"The elderly are lonely and cult members offer a degree of companionship," he said. "They'll visit with you, shop with you, run errands for you. And, of course, they also offer to manage your Social Security check and your bank account."

Rosedale represented a man from Albuquerque, N.M., who paid $60,000 -- his life savings -- for a series of business classes. The man discovered the classes were a front for an aggressive cult.

The victim insisted his attorney try to retrieve the money without a lawsuit because he was afraid his adult children would find out.

"The elderly are deathly afraid of admitting they've been scammed because it destroys their personal dignity," Rosedale says. "They are ashamed. They think they're weak, they're not what they used to be."

Women who are sexually abused in cults face similar feelings of shame.

"They don't want to tell their mothers or their fiances. It's hard to pursue legal remedies because of the personal vulnerability," Rosedale says.

Cults usually require members to attend frequent lectures and pay for books written by the cult founder.

"It's rare that a lower-educated person gets involved in a cult," explains Larry Pile of the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center in Albany, Ohio. Wellspring offers several cult counseling programs, including one for people who have left Bible-based cults.

"At least 90 percent of our clients have had some college or have graduated," he said.

Often cults are slow in parceling out information about the group's beliefs. Once a recruit is hooked financially and emotionally, the advanced classes gradually unveil the doctrine.

At that point, those who raise questions are considered traitors and are accused of betraying God -- not the group. They are intimidated and isolated.

"It's a very subtle process," Pile says. "If you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out. If you put a frog in cold water and gradually increase the heat, he'll stay there until he croaks." 

Send comments to news@ardemgaz.com.

*return to No Way Out home page

Internet Link Exchange

Member of the Internet Link Exchange

Please address any questions or problems you encounter on this site to Carol Van Drie. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of trancenet.net Society, its staff, volunteers, or donors. Neither trancenet.net Society nor its editorial staff conclude that any group discussed on this site is necessarily cultic in nature. We provide suppressed and alternative information and champion your right to make informed decisions for yourself. Copyrighted works are reprinted with permission as noted or are made available under the "fair use" exception of U.S. copyright law, for research and educational purposes only.
Please send letters to the editor to armywife@pa.net. All editorial correspondence becomes the property of trancenet.net -- unless requested otherwise -- and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space. trancenet.net relies solely on "sharefare" donations from readers like you at http://www.trancenet.net/trancenet/levels.shtml.

Except where noted, entire contents Copyright ©1996-1998 trancenet.net. Society.

A trancenet.net publication.

To comment on this or any other trancenet.net page, go to trancechat.

This page was last built with Frontier on a Macintosh on Tue, Jan 12, 1999 at 12:08:02 AM .