Cults and new religious movements
Levels of belief coercion within religious groups.
imaginary high-demand religious groups.
Levels of belief-coercion within religious groups:
Essentially all religious groups require their members to conform to specific beliefs; they attempt
to restrict members' behaviors to certain norms. But faith groups vary greatly in the
level of demands and the degree of control that they maintain over their membership:
At the "low control" end might be a congregation of the Unitarian
Universalist Association where members are not required to believe in and follow a
specific creed. They are encouraged to critically investigate all sources of spirituality
for themselves. A main role of the minister and the rest of the congregation is to help each member to develop his or her
own ethical and belief systems.
The vast majority of the 1,500 or so religious organizations in North America place
greater demands on their members than the Unitarian Universalist Association, but
in no way can be considered high-demand groups. In the more
conservative denomination, pressure for the individual to belief is a natural outgrowth of
some of their theological beliefs; they often teach that only a select few who trust Jesus
as Lord and Savior will be saved; the vast majority of humans
will remain unsaved and spend eternity in Hell. This teaching places considerable
pressure on the member to believe. Some denominations use the threat of excommunicating or
disfellowshipping members in order to enforce conformity. Those members who obtain their
entire spiritual, religious, and social support from the faith group frequently find exile
to be very disruptive.
- At the higher end of the spectrum might be a Roman Catholic convent or monastery that
requires its members to adhere to a strict schedule of sleep, work and prayer, a limited
diet, poverty, celibacy, total acceptance of decisions by those in authority, etc.
- Next would be actual mind-control groups. These are often small, local, new, Christian
groups who make extremely high demands on their members, and are often led by a single
charismatic individual. Their total membership is quite small.
At the "high demand/control" end would be the destructive doomsday cults which so completely control their members that they
have occasionally led many to their deaths through suicide and murder.
One definition of a Mind-Control group is
"A religious group that engages in extreme spiritual, physical, mental, and
emotional manipulation of its members in order to control closely their beliefs, thoughts,
emotions and behavior"
The critical word here is "extreme".
There have existed (and continue to exist) many truly abusive mind-control groups in
North America. Usually, these are headed by a single leader who uses manipulative
techniques to control his/her followers. The group is tightly knit and often remains
hidden unless some criminal act is discovered. Almost all are Christian (probably because
about 75% of the North American population follow this religion). The Anti-Cult
and Counter-Cult Movements rarely target these groups, perhaps
because their activities are not publicly known. Also, they are invariably to be local
groups with a small membership. They are virtually undetectable unless some criminal
activity brings them to the attention of the police and press.
Sometimes these mind-control groups become known because of their use of physical
abuse, particularly of children. A massive study
of child abuse funded by the US federal government did uncover a troubling level of what
they called "religion-related abuse". Much of this abuse probably occurs
within mind-control cults. The study identified three main forms of child abuse:
During 1995, two instances of unintentional deaths during exorcisms were widely
publicized in North America. One occurred in California; the other in Ontario Canada.
Similar deaths have been extensively published since, at the rate of about one per year.
One can reasonably assume that there was much unreported abuse during exorcisms that did
not lead to death of the victim. Accounts of children needlessly dying of treatable
diseases surface from time to time in which the church group required that prayer be used in place of medical intervention.
There is one group that up to 90% of Americans believe exist: an inter-generational,
underground, international Satanic conspiracy which kidnaps
children, abuses them physically and sexually, ritually kills them, eats their flesh and drinks their blood. This
is perhaps the longest lasting urban folk tale in existence, having been circulating since
about the 2nd century CE. There are a whole range of myths that have arisen about these
groups: they allegedly keep thousands of women in concentration camps to generate babies
for sacrifice; they kill about 50,000 infants in the United States every year; their rituals are
inverted, sacrilegious parodies on Christian religious practices, etc.
Belief in Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) became widespread in the
1980s, partly triggered by the publishing of the book "Michelle
Remembers." Many therapists began experimenting with
Recovered Memory Therapy which generated
false "memories" of abusive events in clients' childhoods. Some
of these memories reinforced beliefs about SRA. By the
mid-1990s, due to the lack of physical evidence of childhood
abuse, beliefs in SRA declined.
No hard evidence
has ever been found to support any of these beliefs. Many of the myths are traceable to the "burning
times" during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, when many tens of thousands of
people suspected of selling their souls to Satan were routinely
rounded up, tortured and executed.
- D.B. Bromley, A.D. Shupe, "Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare,"
Beacon Press, Boston, (1981). This book describes the anti-cult movement that had its
origins in the late 1970's. It explodes the "brainwashing" scare.
D.G. Hill, "Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults,",
- "Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario",
Ontario Government (1980)
S.J. Gelberg, "On Leaving the 'Hare Krishnas'", Communities, Issue 88,
Fall 1995, Route 1, Box 155, Rutledge MO 63563. Cost is $4.50 in the US, US $4.50
elsewhere. This article describes a member's gradual disillusionment with the movement,
which lead up to his departure from the group.
S.V. Levine, various articles, cited in: S.B. Ferguson et al, "New Dictionary of
Theology", Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL (1988), Page 460-461.
Eternity On-line Magazine has an essay: "How Cults Manipulate
People" at http://www.ultra.net.au/
Copyright © 1995 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally published: 1995-SEP-11
Latest update: 2008-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson