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Why People Join Cults

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I. Introduction

Thesis: The forces that draw individuals into cults can be explained by psychological doctrine.

II. What is a cult

A. Brief description

B. Types of cults

1. religious

2. psychotherapy or personal growth

3. political

4. popular or faddist

III. Popular cult groups

A. People's Temple

B. David Koresh

C. Heaven's Gate

D. The Family

IV. Charismatic group

A. Brief desciption

B. Characterization

V. Sigmund Freud's beliefs

A. Belonging to a group

B. Super-ego

VI. Thought Reform

A. Brief description

B. How thought reform works

VII. Effects of a cult

A. Stress

B. Isolation

C. New lifestyle

D. Dissociative

E. Anxiety

F. Personality disorders

VIII. Conclusion

IX. References


What makes a person join a cult? What happens in a person's life to make them completely change they way they used to talk and act? Many are puzzled about the mysterious happenings in a cult member's life. They wonder how one could become involved in such a group. The forces that draw individuals into cults can be explained by psychological doctrine. Many in the psychology field have sought to provide answers to the various questions that society has.

A cult is a structured group, most of whose members demonstrate unquestionable loyalty to a dynamic leader. The cult leader governs most, if not all, aspects of the lives of his or her followers, often insisting that they break all ties with the world outside of the cult. A definition that is standard of all cults is that they consist of a "group of persons who share in a special interest differing from the established majority or current religious, social, or cultural values, who meet regularly to continue and extend their purpose or mission independent of previous relationships with family, friends, religion, school or career, with beliefs, practices and rituals which reinforce cult values and norms" (MacHovec, 1989, p. 10). One category that cults fall into is known as a destructive cult. "A

destructive cult is a rigidly structured absolutist group usually under an authoritarian, charismatic leader which isolates itself from established societal

traditions, values, and norms, recruits members deceptively without informed consent, and retains them by continually reinforced direct and indirect manipulative techniques which cause personality and behavior change, deny freedom of choice, and interrupt and obstruct optimal personality development" (MacHovec, 1989, p.10).

Such groups are usually thought of in terms of religion, although other types of cults can and do exist. "Cults can be described by their major focus or function: religious, psychotherapy or personal growth, political, or popular or faddist" (MacHovec, 1989, p.10). Cults require strict adherence to a set of beliefs and, in turn, provide a sense of meaning and purpose to their followers.

Many well-known groups with these qualities have emerged throughout history. The People's Temple, a Christian destructive, doomsday cult was founded by James Jones. Followers of this cult left the U.S. and went to a jungle

in South America. While there, Jones persuaded members of his People's Temple group to commit a massive suicide by drinking poison.

David Koresh, led people to their death when he refused to be served with a search warrant in Waco, Texas. Koresh's followers believed that he was the Messiah. A 51-day stand-off occurred between federal agents and Koresh and his followers. When agents launched a tear gas attack to end the siege, a fire

burned the compound and killed the followers, probably in a deliberate mass suicide.

Bodies of similarly dressed men and women were found in San Diego, after a mass suicide led by Marshall Applewhite, cult leader of Heaven's Gate.

The deaths were triggered by the cult's belief that a flying saucer would take them home to a place above human level. Members of this group were recruited via the Internet.

Charles Manson is a person with an unusual ability to dominate others. He assembled a destructive cult around himself, which the media later called The Family. Manson was referred to both as "God" and "Satan" by his followers. As the family's guru, he claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The police and DA argue that Manson found sections within the Beatles' song Helter Skelter and within the last book in the Christian Bible, Revelation which he felt referred to a devastating future race war between blacks and whites. Although Manson is not believed to have killed anyone directly, he ordered his followers to commit the famous Tate, LaBianca and other murders.

Because cultic behavior underlies more than extremist religious sects, many psychologists refer to these groups as charismatic groups. "A charismatic group consists of a dozen or more members, even hundreds or thousands. It is characterized by the following psychological elements: members (1) have a shared belief system, (2) sustain a high level of social cohesiveness, (3) are strongly influenced by the group's behavioral norms, and (4) impute charismatic

(or sometimes divine) power to the group or its leadership" (Galanter, 1989, p. 5). Most psychologists would



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