I have dear friends who have experienced first-hand the emotional and spiritual turmoil of religious (spiritual) abuse from a church that I would label a cult! Some of the churches I was involved in during my childhood and adolescence were also cult-like, if not outright cults. I wish to express my regret for being offensive, self-righteous, judgmental, arrogant, and generally without grace and love in my dealings with others and I ask your forgiveness if I have done this to you. Be aware that my heart was indeed sincere in wanting what I was taught (and believed) to be the best thing for me and you, however my presentation and deliverance of such sincerity and truth was marred and muddled by my own misunderstandings and lack of grace. I am truly sorry, please forgive me.
I know many will scold me or be angry that I am labeling certain things in my past as cults, but I'm looking at the facts! Given my personal experience, and that of many others I know, the facts point to my prior religious/business connections as cults. It is not my goal to hurt or shame or offend anyone, but I am seeking out the truth. Truth of what I've been taught to believe compared with actual practice of those beliefs, and critiqued by the truth of the very Scriptures these beliefs and practices are supposedly based on.
The truth is concrete! It never changes, but my understanding of those truths and my practical application of them is now coming into maturity. Now I have freedom to think for myself, to search out a matter, to ask questions without fear of being condemned by those who claimed to love me and want God's best for me. I can read the Bible for myself, and study its meaning in context with the culture and language in which it was written, thereby understanding more clearly its application to my life and culture today. The foundation of what I have always believed, the nuggets of moral absolutes and eternal truths, have not changed. How I practice these beliefs in my life and present these truths to my children and others has most definitely changed, and I hope will continue to change! I no longer yield my mind and heart to others to control. I do not unthinkingly, unquestioningly submit to or obey every command presented by a religious leader or organization. God gave me a strong mind and spirit and I intend to use it. The Holy Spirit is present in my life to lead and to guide and to make known His truth to me. Jesus, the Living Truth, is my foundation and my authority, and I have direct personal access to Him.
So how do you know if you are in a cult or not? What if your group or organization is cult-like, but not an outright cult? Let's take a look at some of the signs of a cult:
Cults have many faces. Various types of cults exist, but they use similar methods. Some types of cults are religious, commercial (such as mlm and pyramid sales), self help & counselling, and political (think Hitler's Nazis). Although their purposes may vary, the ultimate goals are the same: power, through mind control and behavior control. Deception, fear & intimidation, relationship control, information control, time control, pressure selling, etc... these are all marks of a cult. In all cults, mind control is used and its major techniques are as follows:
- Exclusivity is used as a threat, it controls your behavior through fear (Be very suspicious of any group that claims to be better than all the others. A religious group may say that other groups following the same religion are OK, but we are the ones who have a better grasp of the truth and we are superior to the rest. This is often just a subtle version of exclusivity.)
- Guilt, Character Assassination and Breaking Sessions
Guilt will be used to control you. Maybe the reason you're not making money is because you're not "with the programme". It's always your fault, you are always wrong, and so you must try
harder! You will also be made to feel very guilty for disobeying any of
the cult's written or unwritten rules.
- Character Assassination is used to help create the guilt in you.
Character Assassination is a type of false reasoning used by people and
groups who have no real arguments. The technical name for Character
Assassination is "The Ad hominem Fallacy". This is how it works. Imagine if you will a conversation between two men, Ford and Arthur:
- "One plus one equals three", says Ford.
- "No I don't think so. You see, when I have one thing and I have another thing, then I have two things not three", replies Arthur.
- "I see your point, but what you must realize is that one plus one when calculated in relation to this complex number domain, which I just invented, and then squared by the sum of the ninth tangent in the sequence of the Fibonacci series results in three!", stated Ford triumphantly.
- Ok, Ford is wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that Ford tried to answer Arthur's reasoning with more reasoning of his own. This is the healthy way people and groups debate subjects.
- Now lets see what would have happened if Ford had used Character Assassination:
"Arthur I have been a mathematician longer than you. How dare you disagree with me! You are obviously a very smug and prideful person. I think you are disagreeing with me because you are jealous of me, and to be honest with you Arthur your rebellion has really hurt me and a lot of other people too", stated with Ford's face intimidatingly close to Arthur's.
- Here Ford didn't answer Arthur's argument, instead he attacked his character. If you are not aware of how Character Assassination works then it is a powerful way to exert control over you.
Breaking sessions are when one, two or more cult members and leaders attack the character of another person, sometimes for hours on end. Some cults will not stop these sessions until their victim is crying uncontrollably. Cult members are usually very fearful of disobeying or disagreeing in any way with their leadership.
This one has been put up by Rick Ross, Expert Consultant and Intervention Specialist. Let me outline for you what he says are "Ten signs of a safe group/leader":
- A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
- A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
- A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
- A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
- A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
- A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
- A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
- A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
- A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
- A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.
I know I still have a long way to go, but I am well on the road and enjoying my journey!