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100 Must-Read Books About Life in Cults and Oppressive Religious Sects

Tara Isabella Burton. She is a Clarendon Scholar at Trinity College, Oxford, working on a doctorate in theology, and recently completed her first novel. Brought to you by Curio , an Aeon partner. Edited by Marina Benjamin. Cults, generally speaking, are a lot like pornography: you know them when you see them. Of course, they argued vehemently that they were not a cult. Less easy, though, is identifying why. Plenty of these movements were associated with young people — especially young counter-cultural people with suspicious politics — adding a particular political tenor to the discourse surrounding them.

The anti-cult networks believed that cults brainwashed their members the idea of mind control, as scholars such as Margaret Singer point out, originated in media coverage of torture techniques supposedly used by North Korea during the Korean War. The Baptist pastor Walter Ralston Martin was sufficiently disturbed by the proliferation of religious pluralism in the US to write The Kingdom of the Cults , which delineated in detail the theologies of those religious movements Martin identified as toxic, and provided Biblical avenues for the enterprising mainstream Christian minister to oppose them.

With more than half a million copies sold, it was one of the top-selling spiritual books of the era. Writing the history of cults in the US, therefore, is also writing the history of a discourse of fear: of the unknown, of the decline in mainstream institutions, of change.

Particularly gruesome anecdotes often told by emotionally compromised former members worked to place the entire religious movement beyond the bounds of cultural legitimacy and to justify extreme measures — from deprogramming to robust conservatorship laws — to prevent vulnerable people falling victim to the cultic peril.

This terror peaked when atrocity tales began outnumbering genuine horrors. This influential atrocity tale influenced the three-year case in the s against an administrator of the McMartin Preschool in Los Angeles and her son, a teacher, that racked up 65 crimes. The prosecution spun a fear-stoking narrative around outlandish claims, including bloody animal mutilations. The number of convictions?

But mass-media hysteria made Satanic panic a national crisis, and a pastime.

Must-Read Books About Life in Cults and Oppressive Religious Sects

And yet it is impossible to dismiss anti-cult work as pure hysteria. There might not be Satanists lurking round every corner, lying in wait to kidnap children or sacrifice bunny rabbits to Satan, but the dangers of spiritual, emotional and sexual abuse in small-scale, unsupervised religious communities, particularly those isolated from the mainstream or dominant culture, is real enough. It is also keenly contemporary.

And some groups are, without a doubt, toxic.

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Does such extreme disciplinarianism make the Remnant Fellowship a cult? Or does the question of labelling distract us from wider issues at hand? Such definitions also depend on who is doing the defining. They create an environment where you will feel uncomfortable and the only way to become comfortable is to join them. This is an application of controlled peer pressure. Intense Unrelenting Pressure They call repeatedly.

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  • Meet you on campus or outside your work. Trick you into coming for only an hour and then lead you into a long study, meeting or talk. They have to keep the pressure on, otherwise you might snap out of the mind control environment they are trying to immerse you in. They tell you that they are not a cult.

    You are here

    This is a preemptive strike against the warnings from friends and family members which they know will come. In fact some cults go as far to tell you that Satan will try and dissuade you by sending family members and friends to tell you it is a cult. So since the group predicted that would happen, the group therefore must true! Basically if any group tells you that they are not a cult, or that some people call them a cult, then for goodness sake find out why!

    The Internet should be your first stop if the group you are interested in or involved with has an international scope. Most of the larger cults will be mentioned by counter-cult organizations like Cultwatch, and commonly many ex-members will have posted their cult involvement stories on the net.

    Many of the larger cults hate the net since it allows their members access to information they deem subversive or evil. Also go to the search engines and type in keywords associated with the group, like the name of the group, the leaders or founders name, the titles of books they use and any peculiar words that the group uses. If the group is new or too small to have been exposed on the net then read stories of other people who were in mind control cults. The patterns may seem familiar to you. How Cults Work. Cults, wonderful on the outside, but are on the inside very manipulating. Cult leaders are desperate to trick you into joining.

    They are after your obedience, your time and your money. Cults use sophisticated mind control and recruitment techniques that have been refined over time. Beware of thinking that you are immune from cult involvement, the cults have millions of members around the world who once thought they were immune, and to this day still have not realized they are in a cult.

    And time control helps keep cult members away from friends and family. Here are some key warning signs to watch out for… Deception. No valid business needs to use deception.

    Super hyped meetings, books, tapes, videos, leaflets, products. Here are some key questions to ask the recruiter… Is it XZY group? Ask them if they are, or are involved with any of the well known commercial cults. Often the recruiter will admit to some connection, and in fact the clever recruiter will plainly state their involvement rather than having their deception uncovered later on.

    Could I see some properly certified audited accounts which demonstrate this business model working? Like any business they should be able to provide the hard numbers.


    Not stories of other people making it big, or generalizations about six figure incomes, or more enthusiastic claims that you can make it if you work hard enough. If this is a new business then you want a business plan, profit and loss projections for the next year, two years and five years. If they claim it is a successful established business then demand to see the books. These are not unreasonable demands, no successful business person would ever touch a venture without this basic information.

    Tell the recruiter that you want to run them past your own accountant, and perhaps your lawyer too. Times you are vulnerable. Experiential rather than logical. Fake friendship. End of world pressure. Pressure to do crazy things.

    Secret knowledge. Single charismatic leader. People always seeming constantly happy and enthusiastic. Especially if you discover that they have been told to act that way for the potential new recruits. Instant friends. If you are told who you can or cannot talk to or associate with. They hide what they teach. Say they are the only true group, or the best so why go anywhere else. Hyped meetings, get you to meetings rather than share with you. Asking for money for the next level. Some cults travel door to door during times when women are home alone. They, and this is rather sexist, think that women are easier to recruit and once they have the woman then it will be easier to snare the husband or partner.

    Saying that they have to make people pay for it because otherwise they will not appreciate it.