Why don't more people join cults?

When the preacher Jim Jones founded the People's Temple in 1955, no one suspected what a terrible end it would come to. This progressive belief movement grew in popularity and was supported by influential politicians from San Francisco. However, after reports of abuse and brainwashing in 1977, Jones moved with hundreds of followers to Guyana and started the Jamestown Church there. Touted as a utopian paradise, the colony was more of a prison camp. When a state delegation arrived to see if everything was going well, Jones set his last plan in motion. On November 18, 1978, 909 men, women and children died after being forced to drink poisoned lemonade. This disturbing image burned itself into American vernacular. With the reference to rigid, cultic ideas one speaks of "drinking Kool-Aid". Today there are thousands of different cults in the world. As for them, two things are important: First, not all cults are religious. They can be political, therapeutic or self-help oriented. Conversely, not all new religions are what we call cult. So what defines our understanding of cults today, and why do we join them? In general, a cult is a movement whose members usually follow an extreme ideology, usually embodied by a charismatic leader. Although few are as deadly as Jonestown or Heaven's Gate, in which 39 people committed mass suicide in 1997, most cults have some basic features in common. A cult demands a high degree of devotion from its followers and follows a strict hierarchy to separate unsuspecting supporters and recruits from its internal functioning. His doctrine contains the answers to life's most burning questions and the necessary guidance for the change of character that will transform a new member into a true believer. Above all, however, he exercises influence and control over his followers through formal and informal mechanisms in order to maintain their obedience, regardless of differences of opinion or criticism from outside. You may be wondering whether parts of this description could apply to traditional religions as well. The word "cultus" originally referred to people who worshiped certain gods through rituals and temple care. But it soon signified an excess of devotion. Many religions began as a cult, but as they grew, they fitted into the structure of society. In turn, the modern cult isolates its followers. He does not give his members advice for a better life but tries to control them directly, both their personal relationships and their finances and living situations. He also demands absolute loyalty to human leaders, who are usually very persuasive, have authoritarian and narcissistic traits, and are driven by money, sex, power, or all three. If the cult leader still attracts the first followers with the help of his own charisma, the further growth takes place according to the pyramid system, according to which older followers recruit new ones. A cult cleverly chooses its goals. Often it focuses on newcomers, or those who have suffered a loss in their professional or personal lives. Loneliness and the search for a purpose in life can make you more susceptible to the offer of community. Recruiting is mostly subliminal and a sense of belonging often takes months to develop. More than two-thirds of cult members are recruited by friends, family members, or co-workers because it is harder to turn down their invitations. Once you become a member, you will experience several types of indoctrination. Some of them use our natural desire to imitate behavior patterns and obey orders. But there are also more radical methods in which coercion and the exploitation of feelings of guilt, shame and fear come into play. Many members also voluntarily submit because they long for belonging and the promised reward. The cult mentality rejects critical thoughts. This makes it harder to express doubts when everyone around you is demonstrating unconditional trust. The resulting internal conflict, also known as "cognitive dissonance", keeps you trapped because the more you sacrifice to the cult, the harder it is to admit that you have been set up. Even if cults do not usually bring their members to their deaths, they are nonetheless harmful. By curtailing fundamental rights such as freedom of thought and expression, a cult affects the spiritual and emotional growth of its followers. This is particularly problematic for children, as they are denied normal development and milestones. Nevertheless, many followers ultimately find a way out, whether on their own, thanks to the help of family and friends, or because scandals or external pressure shatter the cult. It is often difficult to identify a cult as such, and some insist that their belief, unusual as it is, falls under the protection of religious freedom. But if he is caught by harassment, threats, illegal activity, or abuse, the law can intervene. Faith shouldn't come at the expense of family and friends. And if someone wants you to give up your relationships or integrity for a greater purpose, chances are they'll take advantage of you for their own.