Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?)

* * *

 16. Self-Absorption. The primary focus of a cult is the cult itself. Whatever its ostensible aims, in reality a cult is overhwelmingly self-absorbed. Cults are prone to extreme gradiosity, to what could be termed organizational narcissism; and so a cult’s primary concerns are its own survival and expansion, with the ends justifying the means.

As an example, the Mormon Church, according to Robert Bridgstock in The Youngest Bishop in England: Beneath the Surface of Mormonism, spends approximately 1% of its estimated $5 billion to $6 billion per year annual income on “actual charitable giving.” (p. 184) The situation is similar in many, almost certainly most, other cults and mainstream religions, though a good many of these tax-exempt (in the U.S.) organizations  do no “charitable giving.”

17. Dual Purposes. This extreme self-absorption leads to what Margaret Singer [author of Cults In Our Midst] terms dual purposes–in other words, cults have their stated purposes and their real purposes. As regards individual members, cults present themselves as ways for members to meet their own needs, grow personally or spiritually, and/or to realize high social or spiritual goals. In reality, Singer notes, the purposes of cults is to subject their members to mind control techniques in order to control and exploit them.

The dual-purpose aspect of cults is also noticeable in their dealings with outsiders, and it’s particularly noticeable in their fundraising activities. Cults frequently raise huge sums of money which they allege will be used to alleviate social problems such as alcoholism, drug abuse, homelessness, and abandoned or abused children, when in relaity they spend all, or nearly all, of the money raised to support the cult. For example, in its fundraising materials, the People’s Temple routinely represented itself as a do-good organization caring for abandoned children.

Secular cults are every bit as self-absorbed as religious cults. Political cults have long been notorious for infiltrating social change groups and manipulating them for the benefit of the cults (usually for the purpose of recruitment), often destroying the social change groups in the process. In the 1960s, the trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (itself heavily infiltrated by the FBI) and the stalinist Progressive Labor Party wreaked havoc in the anti-war movement through this tactic; in the 1970s, the International Socialists and other sects targeted the women’s movement; and in the 1980s and 1990s, the New Alliance Party and the Humanist Party infiltrated environmental and other progressive groups. More recently, the LaRouche cult infiltrated the Tea Party disruptions of congressional town hall meetings in 2010 prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act; the LaRouchites were not there out of altruism.

Whether religious or political, the stated purposes of cults are not their actual purposes.


All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)



  1. […] Characteristics of Cults (Part VI) […]


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