Posts Tagged ‘FLDS’

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front coverby Chaz Bufe, author of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

Of late, critics often accuse Donald Trump and his followers of being a cult. The problem is that they seemingly never define what a cult is, never define the characteristics of a cult, and of course never see how well Trump & co. match such characteristics. It’s time to do so.

Before I began writing AA: Cult or Cure?, I spent well over a year on research, much of it involving religious and political cults. I discovered that all cults, whatever their nature — religious, political, commercial (e.g., multi-level marketing scams) — have many characteristics in common. By the end of my research, I had discovered 23 separate characteristics common in cults; some cults exhibit almost all of them.

(Robert Jay Lifton in his groundbreaking and influential Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism lists eight cult-like characteristics; while I included Lifton’s characteristics in the list I compiled, I strongly believe that his book would have been better if he had included more such characteristics — ones I believe are obvious.)

Let’s see how many of the 23 Trump and his followers exhibit:

1) Religious orientation. Are Trump and his followers religiously based? Yes.

Trump’s core followers are conservative evangelicals. He received the votes of 81% of them in the 2016 election, and that level of support remains virtually unchanged. As well, Trump — who’s about as religious, and has about as much knowledge of the Bible, as the average poodle — routinely panders to evangelicals, flattering them endlessly and doing his best to ram through anti-choice, anti-LGBT judges and repressive, religiously inspired laws.

2) Irrationality. Are Trump and his followers irrational, do they discourage skepticism and rational thinking? Emphatically yes.

Trump and his followers are characterized by their ignorance of and contempt for science and rationality. The examples of this are manifold, with climate-change denial being the most obvious and dangerous. Climate scientists — who arrived at their conclusions through massive, decades-long research and application of the scientific method to the data they’ve gathered — are virtually unanimous in the conclusions that climate change is due to human activity (especially the burning of fossil fuels) and that it’s a dire threat to humanity. Trump and his followers irrationally and dangerously deny this.

3) Dogmatism. Are Trump and his followers dogmatic? Yes in the case of Trump’s followers, no as regards Trump himself.

Trump’s most fervent followers, evangelicals, Bible literalists, are by definition dogmatists. They believe (or at least insist that they believe) that a 3,000-year-old book written by Iron Age slaveholders is inerrant, true in every respect. This leads them to insist on absurdities, such as that the Earth is only 6,000 years old; that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time (or that the devil placed fossils in the earth to mislead humans); that, for that matter, the devil actually exists; that the sun stood still; that a dead man arose after three days and walked out of his tomb . . . The list of dogmatic absurdities goes on and on. In contrast, Trump himself is an amoral opportunist with no apparent beliefs who will say and do anything as long as he thinks it’s in his self-interest to do so.

4) “Chosen People” mentality. Do Trump and his followers have such a mentality? Yes.

Trump’s evangelical supporters routinely and self-flatteringly refer to themselves using terms such as “God’s people,” “the elect,” and “the righteous.” They also consider themselves above other people, especially atheists and muslims, with a great many evangelicals (and other conservative religious folk) saying they would never vote for an atheist or muslim for public office. Trump himself is a very privileged rich kid with a massive sense of entitlement. He was a schoolyard bully as a child; he believes he has the right to grope women — and has bragged about that groping; and seems to abuse almost everyone unfortunate enough to come in contact with him. Only someone who thinks he’s better than other people, who thinks he’s entitled to do such odious things, would do them. One might also mention “American exceptionalism” here, a belief apparently held by almost all of Trump’s followers and, perhaps, by Trump himself.

5) Ideology above all else. Do Trump and his followers elevate their ideology over experience, observation, and logic? Yes, absolutely.

Again, the most obvious example is climate-change denial. But other examples abound, such as the insistence that grossly ineffective abstinence-only sex “education” is the only type that should be taught in public schools; that a few cells the size of a pinhead are, somehow, a “person” (apparently in the same manner that an acorn is an oak tree); that massive tax cuts for the top 1% are somehow good for the bottom 99%; and that America is the land of “equal opportunity” in the face of gross differences in wealth and income and equally gross differences in the quality of education for the rich and poor.

6) Separatism. Are Trump and his followers separatists? No.

We might be better off if they were. Instead of being separatists, they want to impose their beliefs on the rest of us through the coercive apparatus of the government.

7) Exclusivity. Do Trump and his followers present themselves as the exclusive holders of the truth. Yes.

Trump’s core evangelical followers, biblical literalists, by definition consider themselves the exclusive holders of the truth. (The same holds for his Mormon and conservative Catholic backers.) Trump, with his constant blather about “fake news,” insistence that he’s the only source of the truth and should always be believed (despite his near-constant and blatant lying), and his bald-faced statement to his followers, “don’t believe what you’re reading or seeing,” is equally if not more guilty of this.

8) Special knowledge. Do Trump and his followers claim to have special knowledge that will only be revealed to the initiated? No.

Not unless you count Trump’s for-profit “university” scam, and that would be a stretch.

9) Mind control. Do Trump and his followers employ mind-control techniques? No.

Even Trump’s most hardcore followers don’t employ mind-control techniques such as sleep deprivation, deliberate near-starvation, hypnotic chanting, and thought-stopping techniques (e.g., reciting a mantra over and over again to ward off unwanted thoughts).

10) Thought-stopping techniques. Do Trump and his followers employ thought-stopping language? Not really. 

The childhood religious indoctrination of Trump’s religious-believer backers (evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Mormons), in which children are routinely warned that doubt comes from the devil (and, from my childhood, that you should pray the rosary to ward off doubt), is as close as you’ll get to thought-stopping language in the Trump movement.

11) Manipulation through guilt. Does Trump manipulate his followers through guilt? No.

Rather, Trump manipulates his followers through fear, hate, bigotry, and scapegoating. His appalling attacks on Mexicans and his fear-mongering about an “invasion” of immigrants is only the most obvious example.

12) The cult of confession. Do Trump and his followers use confession for purification and to tie believers to the movement? No. 

The closest any of Trump’s followers come to this is the practice of conservative Catholics who use that “sacrament” for purification and to tie themselves to the church.

13) A charismatic leader. Is Trump a charismatic leader, and do his followers treat him as one? Clearly, yes. 

I’d use many other terms in place of “charismatic,” but the adoration of the Dear Leader by his glassy-eyed followers is all too obvious. The fact that by their own lights he’s moral garbage matters not a whit to them. Nor do his constant, obvious lies and boasting, frequent self-contradiction, bullying behavior, and shameful self-serving. All too many of Trump’s followers worship him no matter what.

14) Hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Do Trump and his followers belong to a hierarchical, authoritarian structure. Yes, several of them.

First and most obviously, the Republican Party, which has been on a decades-long crusade to restrict individual rights (notably reproductive and LGBT rights), and which has likewise been on a decades-long crusade to entrench itself in power via gerrymandering and voter suppression on a mass scale — that is to entrench itself in power by destroying what passes for American democracy. As well, Trump’s conservative Catholic and Mormon followers (and to a lesser degree the evangelicals) belong to clearly hierarchical, authoritarian — “thou shalt”; “thou shalt not” — religious structures.

15) Submission of the individual to the “will of God” or God’s appointed representatives. Do Trump and his followers insist on such submission? Yes.

Trump, hypocritically so. But all too many of his followers are sincere in wanting to use the coercive apparatus of the state to force everyone to submit to that “will” (as they define it).

16) Self-absorption. Are Trump and his followers self-absorbed? Yes.

Trump’s narcissism and self-absorption could hardly be more obvious. It’s almost equally so with his Republican Party, with its phony, preening nationalism, and its amoral, ends-justify-the-means mentality that pursues permanent entrenchment in power no matter how foul the means nor how much damage to the country. The current attempt to steamroll the installation of a blustering, bullying, highly partisan, alleged (have to get that alleged in there) sexual predator and apparent perjurer on the Supreme Court is only the latest instance of the Republican Party’s self-absorption.

17) Dual purposes. Does the Trump movement have dual purposes, are its real purposes other than those it presents to the publicYes, absolutely.

This is very obvious in very many ways. Trump — who received over $400 million from his dad — presents himself as the champion of the working man, yet he’s intent on squeezing money from the poor and working classes, and what’s left of the middle class, and transferring it to the top. He just gave the largest tax cut in history to (primarily) the top 1%; he opposes raising the federal minimum wage; he opposes labor unions; he and his minions in Congress have partially dismantled Obama’s (grossly inadequate) healthcare plan and have offered nothing to replace it; and he opposes extending Medicare to all Americans, thus ensuring that tens of thousands of poor and working class Americans die from medical neglect annually. His “family values” followers by and large support his vicious policy of ripping apart immigrant families at the border and throwing children into cages. And Trump and those same followers demand “religious freedom” which really means the “freedom” to discriminate against LGBT people in public accommodations. The hypocrisy of Trump and his followers, their “dual purposes,” is simply nauseating.

18) Economic exploitation. Does Trump economically exploit his followers? Yes.

Sometimes directly, as with Trump “University,” more often via government economic and taxation policies which work to the advantage of Trump and his billionaire buddies and against the rest of us.

19) Deceptive recruiting techniques. Do Trump and his Republican Party use deceptive recruiting techniques. Yes.

In addition to hypocritically presenting himself as the working man’s champion, “Cadet Bonespur” Trump presents himself as the embodiment of patriotism. But Trump’s “patriotism” is the exact opposite of real patriotism, which is trying to do what’s best for the country and following one’s own conscience, doing what’s right in the face of disdain and abuse. For Trump and his followers, patriotism seems to consist of making a fetish of the flag (instead of honoring what it supposedly stands for), robotically engaging in submission rituals at the start of baseball and football games, military worship, impugning the patriotism of those with opposing political views, bullying dissenters, and, of course, “patriotic” bumper stickers. One might also mention the deception of Trump and other Republicans in posing as guardians of morality when they themselves are moral sewers.

20) Possessiveness. Does the Trump movement go to great lengths to retain members? No.

Cults often go to great lengths to retain members, doing such things as threatening permanent disconnection of family members who leave the cult. Trump doesn’t do this nor does he advocate it.

21) A closed, all-encompassing environment. Has the Trump movement created such an environment? No.

Many cults (e.g., Rajhneeshees, Branch Davidians, People’s Temple, FLDS) set up isolated environments in which they control all aspects of members’ lives. The closest Trump’s followers come to this is having a single primary news source (Fox News for 60% of them) and being immersed in the Facebook echo chamber where they hear almost nothing but views they already agree with. But this is a far, far cry from Jonestown.

22) Millenarianism. Does Trump prophesy the end of the world? No.

The closest he comes is dire warnings about what will happen if the Republicans lose power. But some of his followers, hardcore evangelicals, do prophesy that the end is near and are actively trying to bring about Armageddon (through enthusiastic support of Israeli militarism and expansionism) so as to usher in “the rapture.” Still, Trump is definitely not a millenarian himself.

23) Violence, coercion, and harassment. Do Trump and his followers engage in or encourage these things? Yes.

Recall Trump’s remarks that some of the murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Then recall his attacks on the press as “enemies of the people” and his encouragement of violence against protesters at his rallies. Then recall the huge uptick in racist violence by his alt-right/neo-Nazi supporters since he took office. Finally, let’s not forget that some of Trump’s “right to life” supporters routinely stalk, harass, threaten, and occasionally bomb or shoot abortion providers.


So, do Trump and his followers constitute a cult? Many of the cults I studied while researching AA: Cult or Cure? exhibit almost all of the above characteristics: the Moonies 22 out of the 23; the Church of Scientology and People’s Temple 21 of the 23; and Synanon 20 of the 23. In contrast, community-based Alcoholics Anonymous only exhibits 11 of the 23, “institutional” AA  (the 12-step treatment industry, which I dubbed “Cult Lite”) exhibits 16 of the 23, and the Trump movement exhibits 13 of the 23, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that the Trump movement is a full-blown cult, though it does have distinct cult-like tendencies. However, and disturbingly, almost all of the cult-like tendencies exhibited by Trump and his followers are also characteristic of fascist movements.

by Chaz Bufe, author of The American Heretic’s Dictionary

Religious fundamentalists  — all of them, Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Hindu — are a threat to our freedoms, our families, our economic well-being, their own children, the environment, and human survival.

I’m not exaggerating.

This threat is not the result of particular religious beliefs; it results from the very nature of fundamentalism.

Virtually all fundamentalists have the following in common:

  • They place faith (belief without evidence) above reason (which along with observation forms the basis of science). As Martin Luther put it in his “Table Talk”: “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has . . .”
  • They place their faith in ancient (Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Muslim) or modern (Mormon, Scientology) “holy” books and the cynical or simply delusional men who wrote them; they then place their faith in the founders’ interpreters and successors. Why? Because the books, their writers, and those who follow tell them the books and prophets are true.
  • They systemically engage in childhood religious indoctrination — an insidious form of child abuse — to spread their delusions to their children, who in turn will indoctrinate their children, who in turn . . . . . This results in generation after generation who disrespect and disregard rationality and evidence, and consider belief without evidence the highest virtue.
  • They place faith above family.
  • One of the primary, perhaps the primary, tenet of fundamentalists is that they must obey unconditionally, without question, the commands of their religion’s holy books and holy men. This makes fundamentalists very easy prey for manipulators, and very dangerous. They abdicate their decision-making responsibility and instead blindly follow orders, no matter how crazy or vicious.
  • They regard doubt as unholy, sinful, and, quite often, regard doubters as being in the grip of Satan.
  • They regard themselves as “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people,” who by virtue of their shared delusions are better than the rest of us.
  • Worse, virtually all fundamentalists believe that they have the right, indeed the duty, to impose their religious beliefs on nonbelievers, through violence if necessary. And they’ll feel righteous while doing so.

Evidence of all these things is abundant. A few examples, from a near infinite number:

  • American “faith healer” cultists routinely allow their children to suffer horribly and, in some cases, die unnecessarily rather than allow medical science to save them. (For information on this problem see the site of Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty [CHILD] and this article on them.)
  • One of the most horrible examples of childhood religious indoctrination is provided by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other groups of fundamentalist, polygamous Mormons), whose members follow the divine injunction to forcibly “marry” young girls (as young as 13 or 14) to much older men, who then rape them.  (See John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven for sickening details, or just google FLDS.) The great majority of girls, who do not escape this nightmarish abuse, then give birth to broods who continue this unutterably vile, “divinely ordained,” form of indoctrination/sexual abuse, which not incidentally also involves widespread incest.
  • “Disconnection” from “apostates” is common among fundamentalist families. It’s widespread among Mormons, Muslims, the Ultra Orthodox, and it seems to be the rule among Scientologists.
  • Fundamentalists are easy prey for manipulators, for transparent charlatans. There are millions of American fundamentalists who send massive amounts of money to televangelists, including “prosperity gospel” hustlers who tell their viewers to send “seed money” to them, which will then return to them tenfold or a hundredfold.
  • This proneness to manipulation — this lack of a bullshit filter — has real-world consequences for the rest of us. Donald Trump, as transparent and grotesque a con man as has ever appeared on the American scene, received the votes of 81% of American fundamentalists in the 2016 election. Why? Why would they vote for this grossly immoral–by their own standards–disgrace to humanity? Because he told them what they wanted to hear.
  • Fundamentalists seem especially prone to persecuting nonbelievers. This takes its current most flagrant form in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, with their floggings, torture, and beheadings of atheists and other infidels. This occurs not only in areas controlled by ISIS and Al-Qaeda, but also in countries controlled by Islamic fundamentalists, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. Here in the West, there were anti-blasphemy laws (and resulting imprisonment) well up into the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • Fundamentalists also want to control the most intimate aspect of daily life, and the punishments they inflict on those who don’t comply with their moral dictates are often barbarous, not only in Islamic countries, but also in Christian fundamentalist countries — e.g., Uganda’s “kill the gays” law, inspired directly by American fundamentalists. Here in the U.S., fundamentalists (and conservative Catholics and Mormons) are the driving force behind attempts to restrict reproductive rights, and those same forces are in many states denying people the right to end their own lives, even when in intolerable pain.

They feel proud of all this; they feel virtuous about it; and they’re intent on forcing their perverted beliefs on the rest of us.

As Clay Fulks said nearly a century ago:

Having fundamentalists in a nation is like having congenital imbeciles in a family–it’s a calamity. Allow their mountebank, swindling leaders enough control over society and though religious faith would flourish fantastically, society would revert to the sheep-and-goat stage of culture . . . Wherefore it is perfectly irrelevant whether your fundamentalist is honest or utterly hypocritical in his religious beliefs . . . It just doesn’t matter. The question of his intellectual integrity will have to wait until he grows an intellect. In the meantime, however, what the forces of reaction are doing with him constitutes a continuing calamity.”

Christianity, A Continuing Calamity


Things have been popping in the wild and wacky world of religion recently. Here are a few interesting, horrifying, and amusing things from the last few weeks:

  • Yes, there’s now MormonWikiLeaks, for whistleblowers who want to expose the LDS Church’s secrets. One particularly useful feature of the site (on its front page) is its detailed information on installing and using the Tor browser (for secure, anonymous browsing and communications).
  • Speaking of Mormons, reports six members of the horrific cult known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) reached a plea deal on Wednesday with federal prosecutors over a four-and-a-half-year SNAP (food stamp) scam in which FLDS members defrauded the federal government of over $12 million dollars in SNAP benefits, and handed them over to FLDS leaders who shockingly enough didn’t use them on food. The plea deal let all of the fraudsters skate, without jail time, probation or paying restitution. This might seem unjust, but one can rest assured that, in the land of “equal justice under the law,” the “punishment” would have been the same had the criminals been Muslims or atheists.
  • Truthdig has a good piece titled The Truth About Jesus, which explores the historical background of Jesus and his followers and considers the historicity of the deeds and words attributed to Jesus in the Bible. The piece relies fairly heavily on the work of the Jesus Seminar, a colloquium of over 200 Protestant Bible scholars, mostly employed by religious colleges and seminaries, who undertook in 1985 a multi-year investigation into the historicity of the deeds and words attributed to Jesus. They concluded that only 18% of the statements and 16% of the deeds attributed to Jesus in the Bible had a high likelihood of being historically accurate.
  • “Family values” South Carolina Republican representative and Confederate flag waver Chris Corley was arrested the day after Christmas for first-degree domestic violence. According to the arrest report, he beat his wife on the head and in the face with a closed fist before threatening her with a gun — in front of their eight-year-old daughter, who was recorded on the 911 call pleading, “Just stop Daddy. Just stop…Daddy, why are you doing this?” Earlier in the year, Corley voted to, yes, increase the punishment for domestic violence.
  • In another heartening example of religion inspiring ethical behavior, the Detroit Free Press reports that Eaton Rapids, Michigan resident Kyle Craig was arrested last month for erratic driving, hitting several vehicles, and hit-and-run involving injuries to victims. Why — and do we even need to ask? — did he act so irresponsibly? Craig was powerless — he said that the devil made him do it. The Free Press reports: “Craig said he didn’t get much sleep the night before the crashes because he was reading the Bible, and was ‘sucked right in’ while he was driving.” Craig also thanked God for saving him from injury even though he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Craig, however, had no explanation for why God didn’t save his victims from injury. (And yes, we know, God moves in mysterious ways — much as a blind, wildly swing swordsman moves through a kindergarten.)
  • Finally, in a story that has no obvious connection to religion, though it certainly seems that it should, Deadspin has published its annual list based on emergency room reports, “What did we get stuck in our rectums last year?” There are some real gems, both figurative and literal, in the list. Enjoy!

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

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20. Possessiveness. For financial and other reasons, cults will often go to great, sometimes illegal, lengths to retain members. The most extreme example of this tendency was provided by the People’s Temple Jonestown gulag, where members were physically prevented from leaving by Jim Jones’ heavily armed good squad.

Less sinister examples are provided by the Mormons and Scientologists. When a Mormon leaves the fold, the LDS Church never gives up its attempts to recover its lost sheep. It will trakc the apostate for decades, and it’s not unusual for LDS representatives to contact former members 30  or 40 years after they left the church in an effort to talk them into rejoining.

Similarly, the Church of Scientology apparently tracks its former members for decades and barrages them with promotional/recruitment materials. One former administrator at the Celebrity Center (who has never gone public) told me that more than three decades and moving ten times after she “blew,”  the Scientologists still inundate her mailbox with glossy church promo materials.

21. A Closed, All-Encompassing Environment. Again, the classic example of this is Jonestown. A more current example are the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) settlements in the geographically very isolated cities of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. These nearly 100% FLDS settlements, whose “prophet” is imprisoned child rapist Warren Jeffs,  sit across the Arizona/Utah border from each other, and church elders routinely follow any “gentiles” driving through the towns and  go to lengths to “shield” members from the “corrupting” influence of television and the Internet.

But there’s nothing unusual in all this. Almost  all cults attempt to provide a closed environment for at least some of their key members, and some attempt to provide it for all of their members. The less contact that members have with external reality, the more natural the hothouse atmosphere of the cult seems, the more natural the the very peculiar beliefs of the cult seem, and the more natural it seems that everyone should follow the orders of the charismatic leader or the controlling hierarchy. A closed all-encompassing environment also makes members totally dependent upon the cult for social support, economic support, and a sense of identity; and this tends to make leaving the cult a terrifying prospect. To put it another way, cults are like anaerobic bacteria–they thrive in the absence of cleansing breezes.

22. Millenarianism. Many cults, especially Christian fundamentalist cults, prophesy that the world is coming to an end. One of the most prominent millenarian cults, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), is, however, secular in nature. Rather than prophesying a biblical Armageddon, the RCP in the 1980s and 1990s prophesied a nuclear Armageddon unless, of course, it achieved power. And at least they had the good sense, unlike the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not to  announce a doomsday date. (Of late, they seem to have toned down their rhetoric a bit; a brief perusal of their web site revealed no apocalyptic predictions, just an exhortation to readers to join the RCP and become “emancipators of humanity.”)

Millenarianism also provides a powerful insight into the hold of cults over their followers. As mentioned above, some cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, have had the bad judgment to prophesy the date of doomsday, yet almost all such cults have managed to retain a majority of their blindly believing followers despite their failed predictions.  The Witnesses had predicted in the 1980s  that doomsday would arrive with the new millennium. But, having been burned many times by their false predictions, they backed away from that particular one.  So, Witness faithful no longer have a year-specified doomsday to look forward to. They simply have the assurance that doomsday is coming soon.


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)



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

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5) Ideology Over Experience, Observation, and Logic. Cults not only demonize doubt and doubters, but they are also nearly immune to experience, observation, and logic that contradict their claims. Cult leaders claim to have The Truth–and their followers believe them– so anything that contradicts that Truth must be wrong. The Catholic Church’s insistence that the Earth is the center of the universe, coupled with its persecution of Galileo and Giordano Bruno, and its attempted suppression of the Copernican view of the solar system (well supported by observational evidence, even in the early 17th century), provides but one famous example of this phenomenon.  To cite another, the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses–claiming inspiration directly from God–stated that doomsday would come in 1914, and then in 1925. Yet when the appointed days came and went, the Witnesses suffered relatively minor defections. When their claims are proven false, cult leaders normally either ignore the contradictory evidence or invoke the fathomless Will of God to explain the turn of events. Their flocks never seem to notice this.

6. Separatism. Cult members almost always view themselves as outsiders, as different from the rest of society. This sets up an “us versus them” mentality, and it’s common for cult members to believe that only they and their fellow cult members can understand each other.

One manifestation of separatism is the use of specialized terms; almost all cults develop a jargon peculiar to themselves. Another, though less common, manifestation of separatism is the abandonment of “old” personal names and the taking (usually the assigning by cult leaders) of “new” ones, as was done by The Source cult in Southern California. A third is the adoption of distinctive dress and/or other alterations in personal appearance. The practice of head-shaving among the Hare Krishnas and in Synanon, and the required wearing of read and orange hues by the Rajneeshees are examples of this.

And then there’s the matter of physical separation from the outer world. Many cults isolate their members in remote areas, making it physically difficult for members to leave. The People’s Temple Jonestown settlement is but the most lurid example of this. Other cults that have set up compounds in isolated areas include the Rajneeshees, the FLDS and other Mormon polygamous cults, the Moonies, Synanon, and the Church Universal and Triumphant.

7) Exclusivity. Cults invariably view themselves as the only path to salvation. Normally that salvation is spiritual, though, as with the LaRouchites and other political sects, it can be secular. Again, this leads to arrogance, dehumanization of nonbelievers, and an “ends justif the means” mentality. The Moonies have even adopted a “spiritual” term (for internal use only) for lying and cheating in pursuit of Church goals: “Heavenly Deception.”


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)