z. Cults – 20 Characteristics

Twenty Characteristics of a Cult  – Mike Muzzerall

1.  Absolute loyalty.  Cults cannot operate unless there is unquestionable loyalty and allegiance to the sect’s doctrine, rules, and format.   Enforcement of this rule can be through veiled threats or even actual physical punishment. The fear of eternal damnation is one of the strongest and effective tools used by the cult leader to demand 100% loyalty.  Punitive actions are quickly administered to those who question or revolt against the leader’s doctrines or authority.
Cults base their authority outside of acceptable Christian Tradition
Cults surpass any authority given to man from God.
Cult leaders claim special and unique authority given to them by God Himself.
Fear is one of the most powerful tools used by cults to control their members.
Fear of earning the displeasure or wrath of the cult’s deity.
Fear of NOT being considered enlightened
Fear of living in error
Fear of not being found worthy of the standards of the cult

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor 11:1-3)

2.  Exclusivity.  Being exclusive or unique is necessary to change the mindset of the initiate.  Outsiders are often viewed as spiritually inferior at the least and enemies of the cult at the most.  As in all secret organizations and societies, members view themselves as being “enlightened” and others as needing to be enlightened.  This creates a self-righteous “we” versus “they” attitude which strengthens the hold of the cult.

3.  Isolation from outside.   Diminished perception of reality results when one is physically separated from friends, society, and the rational frame of reference in which one has previously functioned.  Many cults will monitor outside influences closely.
Communal life is often advocated by cults
It is easier to control the life of the members if they all live together in a compound or commune.
It is easier to prevent unwanted outside interference if members are in a compound
-They control what literature is read
-They control whom they speak to
-If they speak to outsiders it is usually in teams
-If they speak to outsiders they are told to let the senior member speak until they have “grown” enough in the knowledge of the cult’s doctrines to be able to properly represent it.
They control what media they are exposed to and to what length.
-Most cults will represent all forms of media as tools of the devil
-They do not want the people to be influenced into thinking they need to leave or what they are   doing is wrong.
-It is easier to perform unacceptable religious acts without interference.
-It is easier for the cult leader to live off of the labor of the members

4.  Lack of privacy.  Lack of privacy reduces the opportunity for reflective, critical thinking.  In many cults members are seldom allowed alone time.   This is especially true of initiates or “troubled” members.

5.  Financial investment.  All or part of one’s personal assets may be “donated” to the cult.  The greater the investment in the cult, the less the chance of returning to a former vocation or lifestyle. With little or no financial resources available to the member, it’s harder to leave and make a new start.

6.  Doctrinal confusion.  Incomprehensive truths are more readily accepted when presented in a complex fashion that encourages rejection of logical thought.
Cults may totally disregard the authority of the Holy Scriptures
Cults may also supplement infallible Biblical Doctrines with fallible manmade doctrines.
Some cults present other books as having equal or greater authority than the Bible.
Cult leaders claim special and unique revelation.

7.  Love.  Love is a powerful feeling. Physical affection and constant contrived attention can give a false sense of brotherhood.  This desensitizes the member’s defensive mechanism and makes control easier.

8.  Assigned relationships.  In many cults, the leader must assign or agree to all relationships within the cult.  “Marriages” to another cult member (often assigned by the leader) lessens the chance of that member leaving the cult.  It is easier for a single member to leave a cult than it is for one who has to convince their spouse to leave or for them to leave their spouse in the cult.

9.  Newly defined family relationships.  The family structure is redefined so as to fully integrate one fully into the new “family” at the expense of the physical family ties.

10.  Behavior Modification: Behavior modification by alternating rewards and punishments lead to confusion, conformity, and co-dependency.  This forms the initiate into the cult’s mold.

11.  Peer pressure.  By exploiting one’s desire for acceptance, doubts about cult practices are lessened.  By offering a sense of belonging to an affirming community the member is more likely to accept the community’s system of beliefs and behaviors.

12.  Conformity.  Individuality is the enemy of cults.  Individuality may promote rejection of false doctrine. Conformity in dress, language, interests, and assigned names, takes on a uniformity that erodes individuality.

13.  Value rejection.  As a recruit becomes more integrated into the cult, he is “encouraged” to denounce the values and beliefs of his former life.  This is quickly filled with the cult’s values and beliefs.

14.  Blind acceptance.  Blind acceptance of all cult practices and beliefs are achieved by discouraging any questions or natural curiosity that may challenge what the leaders propagate.

15.  Hypnotic states.  When logic is bypassed, it is easier to accept the unacceptable.  Through chanting, repetitious singing, or prolonged meditation hypnotic states can be induced which produces a highly susceptible state of mind.

16.  Chanting and Meditation.  Objective intellectual input is often switched off by countering anti-cult questions with repetitious songs and chants. This is mostly evident in New Age cults.

17.  Sensory deprivation.  Fatigue coupled with prolonged activity can make one vulnerable to otherwise offensive beliefs and suggestions.

18.  Altered diet.  Our diet can affect brain function.  Many cults deprive the initiate of essential nutrients.  Many times this is done by following a low protein diet.  The end result is that the individual is easily disoriented and more susceptible to the cult’s control.

19.  Paranoia.  Fear is a powerful tool of cult leaders.  Many leaders instill a fear of the actions of non-members that cause them to rebuff and reject all who are not closely related to the cult.  In some cases those rejected were once close family and friends.  Taken to its extreme, this can lead to paramilitary assaults and or suicides.

20.  Eschatology.  In most cults, there is an over emphasis placed on the study and preparation for eschatological events.
Many “Last Day” cults state that they have a special or unique role to play in that particular generation.
Many see themselves as the primary agency by which God ushers in His Kingdom
By misinterpreting the Book of Revelation as well as other Eschatological books in the Bible, they can deceive their members into believing they have a crucial role in the last days that the Bible does not state.
Any over emphasis on end time events opens the door to error

Closing Thoughts

All cults have some or all of these characteristics operating.  Sadly, some Christian pastors have begun to use some of these same techniques in an attempt to control their church members.  They defend their actions by stating the ultimate goal is the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the local church body.  The ends never justify utilizing ungodly means.  Jesus told Peter, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.  Jesus, the Author and the Finisher of our faith will build His Church using Biblically accepted means and not through the manipulative means of the world.

2 Responses to “z. Cults – 20 Characteristics”

  1. ian vincent Says:

    A new page.

  2. ian vincent Says:

    Yet, on the other hand, how would the ‘apologetics ministries’ today assess the Church in the years after Pentecost, if they could travel back in time?

    My guess is that some would conclude that they were a cult, and vice versa; they would call mainline churches today cults.

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