Monday, 5 June 2017

Murderino Mondays: You're in a Cult; Here's Why You Should Call Your Dad!

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Cults are a psychologists worst nightmare. The manipulation and brainwashing that goes into cults is what makes them so scary. As humans we are made with an ability to think for ourselves, we have bodily autonomy, we are our own people – cults strip all of that away and it’s terrifying. The girls have touched upon them and even birthed the famous quote “You’re in a cult: Call your dad!” – this post will tell you exactly what a cult is so you know when to call your dad.

 A cult is like a religion or a university society, it’s a place for people who share something in common to get together such as a philosophical or religious idea. Seems harmless enough, religious churches and after school clubs follow this premise and are successful and safe, so why are cults so different?



Cults are different. The word itself comes from the Latin word for worship – something religion is based on – the worship of a higher entity/God; however not all cults are exclusively religious. The two definitely overlap, and cults do get confused with religious sects or denominations, but the key differences prevent the two from being the same. Sects and denominations of a church are open, people are not manipulated or controlled by the predominant belief system; they are allowed to come and go as they please, all aspects of the religion are open knowledge, participation and opportunity to move up in status within the church are equal among members and  individual freedom is respected – commitment isn’t a case of choosing between family/friends or the church.

The confusion between a cult and a sect is that they can form without being a part of a religious ideology. They are new religious groups but cults can believe in something completely different, whereas sects are a branch of a denomination which is a branch of a church. Cults don’t advocate religion in the way we know, but they bring something new to the table or something forgotten – like an ancient scripture or an entirely new one altogether (see: Scientology).


There are varying schools of thought on what defines a cult, with different sociologists coming up with different diagnostic criterion for them. Bruce Campbell's explanation of Troeltsch’s checklist is by far the easiest to comprehend on what a cult is overall, but there are also diagnostics on what type of cults there are. Below are Roy Wallis’ and Stark and Bainbridge’s types of cults.

Troeltsch's three ideal type of cults:

1.       Mystically-oriented illumination type.
2.       Instrumental type – inner experience is sought solely for its effects.
3.       Service type – Focus on aiding others.


Stark & Bainbridge (Classified on basis of levels of organisation or client involvement)
Roy Wallis (Classified based on view/relationship with the world).
Audience Cults – Hardly any organization because participants lack significant involvement
World Rejecting Movements – View social order as a perversion of a divine plan. See the world as evil or materialistic.
Client Cults – Service-providers are relatively organised compared to clients. Relationships between clients and leaders resemble that of patients and therapists.
World-accommodating Movements – Distinctly separate spiritual and worldly planes. Few or no consequences for their clients lives, they adapt to the world.
Cult Movements – Seek to provide services that meet all of their clients spiritual needs.
World-affirming Movements – No rituals or ideology. Lack most characteristics of a religious movement. Affirm the world and want to unlock clients’ hidden potential.

Looking at these tables with no prior knowledge of how dangerous they can potentially be, cults don’t seem to be that harmful. Some have argued that the disdain and anti-cult movements that were present a few decades ago were discriminatory and choosing to degrade and put down a group because they believed something different – which of course is wrong! It’s discrimination, if you were to do that to a specific religious belief then it would be classed as xenophobia, but the dangers of cults come in when they use psychological manipulation tactics to recruit and control members – something that has been documented far too many times.
One of the major identifiers of a cult is that they don’t believe in a divine entity like a god the same way religions do. Many of them tend to have a leader that is used as a vessel to god (ie. A reincarnation of Jesus Christ himself) or believe in something completely different (see: Scientology and the weird sci-fi story they believe in. Honestly. Treat yourself to a laugh today). The leaders are charismatic, strong and persuasive, and that persuasion and charisma is exactly what leads the vulnerable people to join the cult and be manipulated.


A great example of a cult is the Rajneesh Movement. Harmless on the outside – the 10 commandments are wholly good and honestly a great way to live life (I remember one being as “Do not swim – Float, like how great is that!? Or The only true God is life itself, HELL YEAH IT IS!), but upon further investigation there was a lot of problems with the movement. One is on the idea of marriage, people of the cult were discouraged to have children or get married since it was seen as a form of self destruction – which is a fair belief but in cults it’s very much an ‘all or nothing’ approach. You could agree with the principles, but if you were to get pregnant or wanted children (which Is deep rooted biologically within women), women were advised to abort or even get sterilised, and I cannot imagine what were to happen to them if they didn’t.

Another example of how the cool Rajneeshi ideology could be classed as a sinister cult is the isolation it forced upon its members. Like many other cult leaders (David Berkowitz and Jim Jones just to name a few), isolation was a key manipulative tactic used. Members of the cults were made to cut off communication with the outside world – anything outside their little community. A key feature of cults is that they cohabitate, separate from the rest of society and create their own little world – which is a great opportunity for cult leaders to manipulate and govern without anyone getting involved and stopping them – because they know what they’re doing is wrong. Isolation is a key abuse tactic and it’s no different in this case – in relation to marriage and children in the Rajneesh cult, many parents abandoned their children to join as they felt the cult belief of children and families was not only correct but more important – something that Shree Rajneesh would have not discouraged.


The difference between a cult and a religion, is that that behaviour would have been discouraged, and although great devotion is a great thing in any religion, abandoning family or doing anything that may deemed unethical to instead devote to the belief system is actively discouraged. I can’t imagine your local Priest or Imam finding it really cool that you’re going to abandon your children because you think your path to God is more important – they’d probably be really upset by it. Additionally, for the women who chose to abandon their children to join the cult – it would leave those children (and no matter what age, I can tell you) feeling like an unwanted burden and potentially leave a strong dent of neglect in their minds. The thought of being a hindrance to your parents and being the reason they can never reach their full potential is a harsh one, and something that this cult perpetuated. It not only hurt the followers it brainwashed but it hurt their loved ones, and I can tell you now religions do not do that (intentionally).


Another key abuse tactic that’s been used in these cults is sexual abuse. A lot of the time when you think of cults – you think of creepy communities, power crazy leaders, brainwashed followers and sexually abused children. This is one of the things that has turned the word cult into something derogatory. Jim Jones is an example of this, he used sex as a way to humiliate his followers, whether he felt threatened by them or was upset by them. Another well-known case is David Berg, leader of the Children of God – a cult known for child sexual abuse and something Natasha Tormey has talked about following her escape and even wrote a book about it. Another case worth mentioning is the Strong City cult case where Michael Travesser was convicted of sexual abuse against the children in the cult and made as a documentary on Netflix – Travesser had sex with his son’s wife and although very clearly upset about it, his son was forced to think it was okay because he believed his father had the right. THAT IS NOT OKAY, and something that CLEARLY upset his son, probably affected his relationship with his wife and his own mental health (think of all the stress and feelings of self-doubt or self-esteem issues it would’ve brought up!) and because of the views of this cult he is in, he was made to think it was okay! NOT OKAY.


These cults used these abuse tactics and more to “re-educate” it’s followers to believing in only the ideals of the group. Leaders used their charisma to teach these people to normalise sexual abuse – in the case of Michael Travesser and the things he did to the younger followers, many of the adults saw it as something normal, something amazing actually – and that manipulation worked. He got away with it for a very long time and hurt a lot of people by doing it. Similarly, Jim Jones: He manipulated people, he created the idea of a world, convinced people to give up their life savings and created this perfect socialist utopia, where he brainwashed them all into killing themselves. When you cross a road and see a car coming, what do you do? You run, you try to avoid getting hit – because you instinctually want to survive. These people all wanted to survive, looking at it, I couldnt’ve imagined anyone being very suicidal in the commune – it was a literal utopia. Jim Jones himself was a bit of a creep and probably did a few things that would’ve made you suicidal but not to all 918 people that died, and the fact that he had so much power of a group of people who willingly drank poison believing it was for the better good (or others believed it was another trial run and thought it was just Kool Aid), who weren’t suicidal. Even if they were, I can’t imagine poison would’ve been the way out they were thinking of.


The final aspect I’m going to cover is financial. Most of the time these things either being or end up as being a grand moneymaking venture for cult leaders. For instance, Shree Rajneesh had an absurd amount of Rolls Royces and yet his followers were made to live modestly. Jim Jones depended on his followers to get the funding he needed for his utopia, and although he may have contributed, he had a generous amount of help that he didn’t deserve – he used the LIFE SAVINGS of his followers (I mean, what!?), even Scientology – if you want to be able to reach the highest tier (or whatever you want to call it) you would have had to shell out millions before you could even be considered for the part – that’s not a religion, that’s a membership that you’re manipulated into following. I’ve never known a religion to drain you financially just so you can advance within it – If you want to be a priest in a church, I’m sure your financial situation does not play a role in it whatsoever! Money is a huge part of cults and most of the time leaders are secretive with what they do with it. Churches and religions are very open with what they choose to do with their funds (even though they’re not as open as we would sometimes like them to be, and they are not exempt from corruption), you never really know where your money is going in a cult; you don’t know if it paid for the roof over your head or the 57th Rolls Royce that your leader just loves to ride around in. Who knows!?


Like many cult leaders, Jim Jones, David Berkowitz and Michael Travesser destroyed any ability that these people had to think for themselves. They took their minds away and made them believe absurd things by manipulation, abuse and violence. They would lead you in with promises and then lock you in. Leaving is never an option in these situations (HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT HAPPENS TO PEOPLE WHO TRY TO LEAVE SCIENTOLOGY? You’re better off dead) which is why anyone who does manage to get out are often referred to as “survivors” who managed to “escape.” You never hear those words when you think of religions because there is an element of freedom within them. Your mind is still intact, you still have control over your own thoughts and body – these are things that are stripped away from you in a majority of cults. The minute you’re told to cut ties with your family or do something you are uncomfortable with for the good of your belief system, you’re in a cult. It’s no longer a religious belief or a cool after school club, you are in a cult and you should call your dad. 

Note: I'm too scared to make this post about Scientology because I know what they do to people. Seriously, have a look at it. It's scarier than any of these cults if I'm honest. I've listed a few books below that are worth reading if you're interested in the experiences of cult survivors! Buying from my links helps me fund this website and bring you the best content I can!

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