THE CULT: A SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
By Dennis Erlich
Most people, while passing from infancy to old age, will
seek the answers to some very basic questions about life:
"Why am I here?", "Why aren't things better on Earth?" and
"What, if anything can I do about it?".
These questions may never be put into words but they
are examined nonetheless.
For some people, the normal, everyday social
experiences may not be sufficient to provide satisfactory
answers to these questions.
Some will seek answers in study and education, some in
travel, some in alternative lifestyles or drugs. Many will turn to
religion for the answers to these questions.
For some who turn for answers to religion, there will be
no answers in the organized religions, so they instead turn to
practices they are less familiar with in hopes that different
ideas might satisfy their needs.
Traditionally the family, through instruction and
example, has provided acceptable answers to questions about
the purpose and meaning of life.
Now, with the breakdown of the family in most
segments of modern society, the duties and responsibilities of
such instruction are increasingly left to the media, the state, or
We have many people looking for answers to their
confusion and pain. These are the very ones that cults try to
Cults recruit members in a very interesting and effective
way. Their newest members, eager to pass on their new-found
truths, are sent out to contact new prospects, interest them in
the cult and direct them into the organization.
The cult member, to be faithful to the cult, must show
the "outsider" the error of his ideas about life. This is not
particularly difficult when dealing with a young person who is
already confused and has a feeling of hopelessness. The
promise of relief from suffering is usually enough to create
If the cult member is unsuccessful in channeling the
outsider into the organization or getting him interested, he
simply looks for another to contact.Almost every cult has some sort of instruction and
training in its particular method of getting outsiders interested
enough to explore the cult.
Once the person enters the environment that the cult
controls, the entire indoctrination is choreographed to ensure
the proper result.
The outsider is treated with kindness, interest, care and
respect by his new-found friends to such a degree that, no
matter how lost and hopeless he felt before, he finally feels at
The group shows what seems to be genuine concern for
the things that trouble him, and they tell him that they, and
they alone, can truly help him.
Thus the newcomer becomes convinced that he is
dealing with a group of people with a higher level of integrity
and purpose than he has been in contact with outside the cult.
He is made to feel that he could fit into the group and some
day be like these wonderful, caring people. At the very least,
he is told, they can help him overcome his weakness.
From that point of acceptance on, mild social pressure
within the closed environment of the cult is usually enough to
enforce "proper" behavior and opinion or change each toward
that the group's norm.
The newcomer has found "his" answer to the questions
about life that so troubled him earlier, and he feels relieved of
the feelings of confusion and hopelessness. He is eager to
guide others, in their ignorance, toward "the Truth".
His family and friends are usually the first people he
tries to enlighten. Their responses are usually less than
enthusiastic, and at times openly hostile to the strange
This, unfortunately, drives the person further away from
society and into the safety of the cult.
Members consider themselves and their fellow cult
members to be very different from the rest of society. Their
group is the one who holds the Truth (and therefore the
salvation) for the rest of mankind, they believe. Outsiders are
unenlightened and not suitable as close friends unless delivered
There is no real communication between cult members
and outsiders. There is only pre-rehearsed rhetoric, designed
to "enlighten" the outsider.
The situation becomes frustrating and painful for the
family and close friends of the cult member.
Communication into the cult to its members is difficult
at best and usually impossible. It is nearly hopeless, using
legal means, to attempt to reason with a cult member about
his participation in the cult.
Some families, in their desperate concern for their loved
one, resort to the dangerous practice of forcible
deprogramming. This procedure is, in fact, another version of
exactly what was being done to the person while in the cult. A
new set of ideas is forcibly installed into the person's mind,
which he must accept in order to be free.
That was the cult's promise, too. In deprogramming,
the person is allowed to be free of the deprogrammer's control
once he has discarded the cult's ideas and accepted the
This is coercion and brainwashing. The former cult
member once again loses his right and ability to think, and this
is a factor of deprogramming that often leads to criminal
charges and lawsuits by children against their parents.
The cult's reaction to these practices is to become more
protective of its members and ideas. Cult leaders justify
further separating their members from society by citing act of
deprogramming as brainwashing and as serious violations of
the member's right of religious freedom.
The situation for the person still in the cult worsens as
he is shown how outsiders are actually dangerous to him. He
is now totally in the cult and has no real contact with society.
However, as time goes on, the cult member inevitably
sees flaws in the policies and practices of the cult and its
leaders. As he moves up in the organization he usually
becomes more cynical and is willing to ignore the now visible
contradictions between the cult's practices and its stated aims.
He comes to believe that for the good of the greater
purpose, such contradictions would best be ignored or
tolerated without comment.
Having been so sure of the rightness of his decision to
dedicate himself to the cult in the first place, the person is
hesitant to grant importance to anything that might indicate he
made a mistake.
All the hard work he has put into the cult, and all the
anguish he has caused to others with his new-found "truth"
combine to make him less inclined to reexamine his decision to
join the cult.
But ultimately the pressure of reality finally becomes
too great and the cultist reaches out to those things that have
been stable and true to him all his life: the love and care of his
family and friends, and the protection that this great country
provides for the right to think as one wishes.
If those who love and care for the former cult member
are smart, they will allow him to sort out the truth regarding
his involvement in the cult on his own.
If, on the other hand, his family now shows him just
how wrong he was (which he already suspects), he will simply
defend how right he was and this will further impair his ability
to think clearly.
If the person's contact with the cult has been anything
more than casual interest, after he returns to society it may
take him a quite a while to sort out the truth about the cult
and his involvement in it.
It generally takes longer still for him to adjust to living
in society and figure out what his role in it will be.
This period, after leaving a cult, can take years and is
often painful and upsetting because the person feels
purposeless, confused (again) and unsure about his ability to
cope with real life outside the cult.
Very little effort has gone into finding a way to alleviate
the suffering of the cult victims or their families. Society's
main concern is not for the victims of cults, but for the threat
cults may pose to the social structure.