For over two decades, I've had a curious interest in cults. If you look around the US, Europe, Asia and the world.....almost weekly, there's some cult story....some deaths associated with a cult....and people who comment on how they escaped from a cult. It's a regular thing now.
A month ago, I came across this odd piece of history....revolving around Belgium. You see, back in the mid-1990s....Belgium came to grasp that they had a festering problem with cults. The authorities....the leadership of country....wanted to understand it completely. So they had a commission go out and build up a 670-page document on cults (published 28 Apr 1997). The group listed out 189 cults that were up and running in some fashion.
Now, you go and read over the 189 groups and realize that some are mainstream groups that you wouldn't normally label as a cult....like the Amish or the Mormons. So, I sat down and did critical thinking....this involves facts, not opinions.
The commission that the Belgium government formed sat there and defined cults. They didn't published the defining causes, but then you have to have characteristics to be a cult. For example, you need authoritative leadership, exclusive tendencies, and the desire to feel isolated. No cult exists without these. I've yet to find a single cult that appreciates critical thinking....all cults tend to frown on such intellectual processes. I've also found that virtually every single cult that I've come across....has this odd thing about pushing people out of the cult who have questioned it or suggest replacing some of the rules of the cult.
So, after a fair amount of critical thinking....I've come to my list of ten requirements for a cult to exist. There might be more requirements, but I've trimmed this to ten points for simplicity.
One. A defining document as inspiration. Someone, perhaps the creator of the cult/religion....has written a source document that drives the agenda, the purpose, and the inspiration. They might start the source document at the very beginning of the cult process, or later as they drive for more members....but in the end....every single cult needs something written down and used as the basis for 'rules' or 'stories' of the cult.
Two. Cults need enthusiasm and commitment to the leader of the organization. Oddly, the guy might be alive or dead.....this angle doesn't matter. You have to cite this individual, in quotes or verses, and do so with great appreciation of his purpose in life. The perfectness nature of the leader will be a repeating process....over and over. The perfect leader has never made a mistake, nor can he been disciplined by anyone for any issue.
Three. The cult's leadership is never accountable to any government, any law, or people. Accountability is something that is not ever a problem. It's impossible to find any cult that cites governmental laws, constitutions, privacy laws, or human rights....as part of their existence. In most every single case, when required....they leave one land that is hostile, to find another that will simply accept their not-accountability requirement. The laws of the land can forbid murder, mayhem, or assault....but it'll be sat to the side because of the leadership characteristics.
Four. Guilt and shame are always a tool of a cult and used to influence it's members or ensure their participation in the craft of the cult. Guilt ensures compliance. Shame ensure peer pressure within the group. To arrange for weekly meetings, or even
Five. Questions, skeptics, and doubt are forbidden (always, you can't find a cult without this behavior). You revert back to guilt and shame as the tools to combat this ill behavior. You can also revert back to lack of accountability.....if requiring the death of the skeptic.....to reinforce behavior control over membership.
Six. Your lifestyle and living companions are determined by the cult. Rules or understandings will be developed by every single cult to ensure you hang out with the 'right' people and avoid the 'wrong' people. Your clothing choices, hairstyles, abstinence to alcohol or tobacco, or life-partner will be determined by the cult. Again, you can't find any cult that always free living styles. The more rules over lifestyle....the more control of the membership. Skeptics of a lifestyle? You get peer pressure or shame put upon you.
Seven. Cults consist of elite members. Non-members are not elite. One gets the favors of the cult end-result (whatever is promised), and the non-members get the worst of the worst as they pass on. You can't exist as a cult, without some elite status granted to membership. Anything can be promised as an end-result....thus making your end seem worthy in the eyes of the cult.
Eight. Time always matters to a cult....the more they can make a member consume in favor of the cult's mission....the more you are induced to participate and believe in the cult. If they can drag you off to twenty-eight prayer sessions a week.....it consumes your time and makes you a willing participant. If they can mandate you do seven days of intensive training once a year for some privilege within the cult.....it helps to motivate you to be a better member. You can't find a single cult where they don't manipulate or induce time as part of the gimmick.
Nine. Using sessions at the cult to change behavior or establish an altering experience as a regular experience....thus getting routine in place and behavior repeated as often as possible. Chants work in this case. Meditating helps to establish a repeated behavior. It's like basketball players who get pumped up prior to a game, you need a mass of people thinking and reacting in the same fashion.
Ten. Mystic situations, mystic figures, mystic rituals, mystic chants.....are absolute requirements of every single cult in existence. Figure X is as good as Superman. Figure Y is as good as Captain America. Miracles, return-from-the dead episodes, talks with invisible beings, participation of angel-like creatures, demons, and magical words....are all part of the gimmick.
Bottom line? Society ought to be wiser and more skeptical of things introduced to them. Without open minds and questions....we are inviting danger into our lives and cultures.