trapped by cult
What is a cult exactly?

¥ How is the word "cult" defined?

Webster's Dictionary defines a cult as:

"1. A formal religious veneration 2. A system of religious beliefs and rituals also its body of adherents; 3. A religion regarded as "unorthodox or spurious."; 4. A system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator; 5. a: A great devotion to a person, idea, thing; esp.: such devotion regarded as a literary or intellectual fad, b: A usually small circle of persons united by devotion or allegiance to an artistic or intellectual movement or figure."

This definition obviously could include everything from Barbie collectors to old "Deadheads," "Trekkies" to diehard Elvis fans. American history might also include within such a definition the devoted followers of Mary Baker Eddy the founder of Christian Science, or the Mormons united through their devotion to Joseph Smith. Both these religious groups were once largely regarded as "unorthodox or spurious." However, the most important concern today is not simply who might be somewhat "cultic" in their devotion now or historically, but what groups might represent potential problems regarding personal or public safety. That is, groups that are potentially unsafe and/or destructive.

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who wrote the definitive book about thought reform (often called "brainwashing") also wrote a paper about cult formation. So what is a cult according to Lifton? He defined a cult as having the following three characteristics:

1. A charismatic leader, who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose power.

2. A process [is in use] call[ed] coercive persuasion or thought reform.

3. Economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

¥ Don't some groups once seen as "cults" often move more into the mainstream, becoming generally respected sects or religions?

Yes. There are certainly examples of groups that were once perhaps thought of as "cults" that have evolved into relatively mainstream sects or religions. Such examples as the Seventh Day Adventists once led by Ellen White, or the Mormons, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints.

But it is also important to note that some groups, which may have once been labeled as "cults" continue to be controversial due to their unsafe or destructive practices. Two examples of groups that continue to be problematic and often destructive are the former Russellites, now known as "Jehovah's Witnesses," that once prohibited organ transplants and still expects its members to refuse blood transfusions, which has resulted in numerous deaths. And the Christian Scientists founded by Mary Baker Eddy who often reject medical treatment, again resulting in the loss of life. Some groups may say they have renounced unsafe or destructive practices, only to be exposed later as guilty of the same extremes and abuses.

¥ Are all so-called "cults" unsafe?

No. Just because a group is "cultic" and its adherents are focused on unusual leaders and/or ideas is no reason to call them unsafe or destructive. There are groups centered on seemingly strange spiritualists, radical political concepts, the supposed power of crystals, UFO's, witchcraft or "Satanism," that may appear eccentric, but most often don't harm anyone. An unsafe group is not defined by what it believes, but by what it does. That is, the behavior that causes harm and injury to the members of the group and/or others in society.

¥ Do you ever find that complaints you receive about a group or person are false and/or unfounded?

Yes, there have been times that families have over-reacted to a group or situation that later proved to be benign and/or not dangerous or destructive. This has often occurred regarding claims about "Satanism" and/or so-called "Satanic ritual abuse". Such claims have often been based upon supposed "recovered or repressed memories" gathered through therapy sessions. This is a controversial practice and/or process that relies upon a theory, which has been increasingly rejected as unscientific and unproven in the courts and also rejected by many mental health professionals.

Again, it is crucial to understand that behavior is the issue and not belief. When those concerned about someone's group involvement find clearly destructive behavior, this is an issue for legitimate concern. But when a group is simply perceived as strange, eccentric and/or even personally repugnant, such as some adherents to "Satanism," this does not mean the group is destructive. Satanists, just as Christians, Jews and Moslems, have religious rights that are constitutionally protected. I have rarely found that the claims of horrific acts attributed to "Satanic" conspiracies can be objectively proven. And those destructive acts that were proven were rather examples of isolated and atypical groups. This has been substantiated again and again by law-enforcement reports and numerous studies.


So what is a cult? If still not sure, see here.
flexible Families Against Cult Teachings