How do you diagnose a (potential) religious cult?
A toolkit for diagnosing potential religious cult syndrome
Are there ‘symptoms’ which we could use to ‘diagnose’ the ‘religious cult syndrome’? I believe the answer is, yes. Let us first briefly examine what transpired in a selection of the most notorious cults.
In November 1978, 912 of Jones’ Peoples Temple cult followers were found dead – some were shot, others were forced to drink poison, most committed suicide. Survivors told of inadequate food and long hard-labour hours.
In April 1993 David Koresh’s Davidian cult leader engaged in a battle with state forces inTexas. 80 followers got burnt under unclear circumstances.
In October 1994, 53 of Luc Joret’s Solar Temple cult followers were found burnt inSwitzerland. Some had been shot and others stabbed.
In March 1995, Shako Asahara ordered his Doomsday cult followers to release nerve gas on theTokyo subway. Former members told of forced training that included hard labour and near-starvation.
Marshall Herff Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate cult followers gave up their possessions, their sleep was constantly subjected to interruptions, and ate the same food at fixed times. Communication was limited to ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know’. In March 1997, 39 followers were found dead. Most died of suffocation.
Joseph Kibwetere’s Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments’ cult followers surrendered their assets, became celibate, and swore to a vow of silence and use of sign language unless in prayer. They were constantly hungry, tired, estranged from family and largely cut off from the outside world. In March 2000 more than 500 members perished in a fire set from inside their locked church. Police found hundreds more murdered bodies hidden under houses or thrown down wells and latrine pits – some poisoned, others strangled; many stabbed.
The founders of the above cults often had a psychopathic history. They were initially very active members in society and had public-related ambitions, which they failed to achieve. The cult was a means to getting their way around the power, recognition and control they much desired.
Cult followers were subjected to total control – hard labour, poor nutrition, little sleep, isolation, poverty and celibacy. They lived under terror and met their ‘Armageddon’ through brutal murder or forced suicide.
Cult followers were usually vulnerable and insecure people – mostly very poor and/or with a history of persistent hardship. Some by their nature stopped thinking logically once they heard the word ‘God’. In their search for salvation from God (almost as their ‘last card’), they stumbled upon irresistible ‘lucrative offers’ made by the cult leaders.
Cult survivors talk of how they were initially unaware of its dangers, and of how they had no means of escaping from the ‘web’ in which they were entrapped.
The characteristics of cults that prey on the poor and vulnerable are often evident during their early stages – when sowing the seeds of destruction at our doorsteps. It is possible to identify these symptoms using a toolkit of indicators.
Sensitivity to public concerns – The location choice of traditional religions’ buildings for worship takes into consideration the fact that a congregation of followers generates noise during worship. Some sects on the other hand worship during unsociable hours and within the proximity of residential arrears without consideration about the neighbourhood. Some choose to ignore complaints from their neighbours.
Noise levels – Worship houses have poor acoustics. The use of wall-mounted loudspeakers enables worshipers at the extreme end, in demarcated areas (Muslim women) or outside the building to hear and follow the proceedings. However, when disco-type sound systems with portable multi-watt loudspeakers are used, the worshipping ceases being spiritual and becomes noisy entertainment at the expense of the neighbourhood.
Worship frequency – Standard committed Christians attend public worship once a week (Sunday/Saturday) because Monday-Friday are working days. Some sects request ‘forced voluntary’ daily attendance during working days, twice a day during the weekends, and occasional ‘transnight’ worship. Little consideration is given to a certain group of people, i.e. those with young families, who are expected to make arrangements for their children. This is a sign of control.
Worship length – There is a fairly standard length of worship for the different religious sects. Worshiping that persistently takes more than 3 consecutive hours should be cause for concern.
Time of worship – Christian religious sects mostly hold services in the mornings and early evenings. Muslims mostly worship in the early afternoon. Worshipping that is permanently scheduled deep into the night is suspicious.
Stereotyping – Certain sects proclaim their purity – the rest of the people are sinners who won’t survive doomsday! In real life however, some of the followers are thieves, embezzlers, fornicators, etc hiding under religion!
Think with your brains – We need to have a balance between religion which relies on faith, and science which hinges on tested and proven facts. For example, Gibert Deya Ministries’ followers claim he is able to help infertile women to conceive through the power of prayer. Deya’s wife was jailed for stealing children. Deya has a Kenyan warrant for trafficking babies. What do you conclude when you think with your brains?
Use the diagnosis toolkit to evaluate your place of worship, and get an indication of whether it could be sowing the cult syndrome seeds. Reason with your head and not your heart. If you find reason for concern, you are more likely to be right. Act now before you get entrapped in an irreversible web!