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 to chance.

We have many people looking for answers to their confusion and pain. These are the very ones that cults try to attract.

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 interest.

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 home.

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 doctrine.

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 from ignorance.

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 deprogrammer's.

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.