Monday, October 26, 2009

The Culture of Cults: 5 Characteristics of Cult Leaders

I wonder sometimes if people would just rather have their lives governed by someone else. Every year at tax time, I think it would be a lot easier if I just dropped out of society, grew a ponytail, and sold flowers in the airport. Come on, when the stress levels peak, who hasn't considered the value of moving to South America and living in a commune where you grow hemp in neat little farms? Anyone else? Nah, me neither . . .

But I've long been fascinated by the psychology of cults. In a previous post we looked at a helpful definition of cults and a distinction between theological and sociological cults.

The alarming thing is how easily devout, intelligent people can get caught up in a cult without even knowing it.

So, how do you discern the good groups from the bad? How do you know if the church you're attending, or the Bible study a member of your family is attending, is safe?

The folks over at have posted a helpful checklist suggesting 5 things to look out for in any group leader(s). This is not an exhaustive list and it's far from perfect, but it serves as a springboard for discernment:

  • [The leader(s) demonstrate an] authoritarian approach and intolerance of questioning or criticism. Lies about and insults opponents.

  • Leader(s) shows anxiety about the world, speaking of threats or conspiracies against the group or its leaders.

  • Leader(s) regularly accuse(s) dissatisfied members who leave of having something wrong with them, having personality disorders or being transgressor and deserters.

  • Ex-members have similar stories of abuse and ill-treatment by the leader(s).

  • The group/leader(s) is always right and followers never feel they can be "good enough".

Next we'll examine the appeal of cults - why do people join them?

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