Friday, October 30, 2009

The Culture of Cults: Why People Join

In any discussion of cults, the question inevitably arises: Why do people join them?

Could it be that cult members are simple-minded, weak-willed people? Let Us posts an interesting statistic on this (emphasis mine):

According to one research, 48% of cult members had been between the ages of 19 to 25 years old when they joined. 35% had been between the ages of 26 to 35. They are looking at those fresh out of high school or in college that are targeted. 26% were Protestant Liberals and 28% were Catholic. Many three years of college. This dispels the myth that cult members are uneducated and don’t know any better. Many are educated, but na├»ve to the religious world and its deceptions.

Rod Benson with John Mark Ministries posted a sermon he preached on the subject in which he lists the following 6 reasons he believes people join cults:

  1. Unfulfilled expectations of traditional churches. Benson calls cults "the unpaid bills of the church". Where the traditional church has failed to maintain and teach biblical doctrine, or where it's become ineffective, cults rush in to fill the vacuum.

  2. A sense of love and affection. We all need to experience a sense of love and care from friends and loved ones. Cults excel in this crucial area, because they know that meeting felt needs pays great dividends.

  3. A sense of belonging. People - especially young adults - increasingly join cults in order to find a family that gives them a sense of belonging they lack in their biological family due to the prevalence of divorce, single parenthood, generational conflict and child abuse.

  4. A sense of acceptance and self-worth. People who feel for one reason or another that they don't 'belong' in society (or in the church) are especially attracted to cult organisations - because they feel alienated, or isolated, or they lack a positive and healthy sense of personal identity. Cult members may believe the lie that they're now on God's side, or that they have "found the truth," and they develop contempt and resistance toward orthodox churches. Cults also encourage a high degree of lay-involvement, elevating the importance of the individual member, which many adherents find attractive.

  5. Idealism. Some people are attracted by the enthusiasm and personal sacrifice of cult members, or by their wholesome lifestyle in contrast to the relatively worldly lifestyle of the major culture and the traditional churches; the strict regimen and discipline of some cults is also attractive.

  6. Spiritual fulfillment. All people hunger for spirituality - for something beyond the material and the tangible. As our society becomes more technologically advanced and more secularised, that spiritual hunger becomes more apparent and focussed, and cults tap into that lack, filling the void.

I like this list and agree with his conclusions. It was interesting to me how all but #1 are also true of why people join legitimate, traditional churches. In fact, there seems to be a fine line between the true church and cults - much like there is a fine line between legitimate currency and a really good counterfeit. That's why it's important to know the truth and be ready to discern the false.

Heb 5:14 NIV
(14) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

I also think it's a legitimate argument that some cults are simply good groups gone bad. It's very possible that a cultish group started out as a legitimate, Bible-believing church that lost its moorings somewhere along the way. It may be that people entrenched in such a church are blind to its condition because the deterioration has happened so slowly, much like the analogy of the frog in a slowly-heated pot of water. Or maybe they've invested so much time and personal resources in an organization, they are loathe to admit the truth.

In addition to learning the truth of Scripture, lists are helpful in discerning. You can find the 5 Characterisitcs of Cult Leaders by clicking here. And in the next post, I'll share 10 things to look out for in a particular group.

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