Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult

anagrammy Nov. 2012

Today one of my daughters called me and asked me to give her the single most important element that makes a religion a cult.

I told her all religions are cults, there are just more familiar and less familiar, more damaging and less damaging.

The one element I selected was this:

Having an indoctrination program which devalues the member's personal power and undermines self-confidence in order to induce obedience to the cult leaders. It is an emotional highjacking.

What do you think?


Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I think it might be not allowing the members to criticize leaders in any way. I just watched the video that Jesus Smith posted about the BYU 25. The president of BYU said that part of the honor code was that one must not criticize church leaders. That means any decision or policy that is part of BYU is not open to scrutiny unless you want to be kicked out of the university. The church is the same way. Not being able to criticize leaders is what then leads to loss of free speech and free thought.

Loss of these two things means loss of freedom and loss of individuality.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Threats. Any organization that controls through fear of consequences here or later. Mormonism isn't just run if the mill religious fire and brimstone.

Mormonism threatens loss of family and treasure if you don't pay money. They threaten tha bad things will happen if you don't cough up the money. They threaten you with never seeing your loved ones again in the next life or through unofficial but suggested shunning. They threaten you with not being loved by God if you don't obey. They threaten you with failure in this life and the next. They threaten and condemn people who were born gay and can't change.

Fear makes a cult.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Admire the brevity and precision.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Manipulation and lying.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Not allowing them to question, criticize, or speak out against authority or doctrine.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
The most important element in DANGEROUS cults is the very unique idea that the leader speaks for GOD.

Mormons accomplish this with the vanilla watered down happy little saying of, "When the prophet speaks the debate is over"

Follow the prophet
Follow Jim Jones
Follow the _________ . (insert cult leaders name here)

Can't argue with the man who speaks for god himself.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
You may not recognize it, but it's still there.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I think the most damaging element of a cult is the teaching and belief that another person knows better than YOU how you should live YOUR life coupled with punishment when you don't do as you're told by the people who are in charge.

The one-size-fits-all "follow the profit", coupled with his lame "advise" doesn't work for everyone but when you don't do what the prophet says people shun you. You are then forced to decide between doing something you don't want to do to be fully accepted by other church members or not doing it and being shunned. Many people need the support of the group so they submit to the "will of the profit" so they are accepted. This being forced to do something you don't want to do is what leads to depression.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
We are by nature social animals. We join together in family groups, to accomplish a mutual goal, for spiritual or religious observances, we join others who share our political or social views, and to root for our favorite sports teams. Whatever its purpose, an ethical organization does not use deception to recruit and retain members. Most will take great care to ensure that a potential member makes a fully informed decision.

Legitimate organizations allow their members the freedom to read whatever they like, talk to whomever they choose to and decide for themselves the best course for their life. Members are free to leave at any time, for any reason. Destructive cults, however, because they believe that the end justifies the means purposefully use rhetorical manipulation and unethical deception to gain the interest and trust of potential members.

Once an individual is recruited into membership, the group and its leaders will continue to use manipulative rhetoric and tactics to retain control over the individual’s life and keep the member from leaving. Destructive groups use similar deceptive rhetoric regardless of the differences in their individual dogmas.

Unorthodox beliefs or practices are not what classify a group as destructive. Movements cross over from benign to dangerous when a member is required to cede near complete control over his life to the group’s leader(s). “A group becomes destructive when its leader actively uses such power to deceive members and to rob them of their individuality and free will” (Hassan, Releasing the Bonds 4).

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Yeah, this. Combining the "not allowed to question" and this... When religious leaders don't simply advise but command, it's a cult.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
The level of control they exert on the rank-and-file cult members. If they can control you right down to your underwear, not to mention the color of shirt you can wear on Sundays, what you can eat, what you can drink, how much money you have to give them, what you can watch on TV or at the movies, and all kinds of other stuff that has nothing whatsoever to do with anything important, they can easily pull a Jim Jones on their members.

I think you were saying authoritarianism
Authoritarianism is what defines all cults/sects/regimes IMO.

They all share certain similarities.
1. There's a pyramidal, hierarchical head with ONE non-democratic supreme leader at the top, selected BY the hierachy.
2. There's a contrived rigid "truth", a creed, a "little red book", that subjects are supposed to revere, which is actually a proxy to make it look like they're revering some high ideal by revering the leaders. This leads to an expected orthodoxy. You're a vain heretic if you bend or break their "truth".
3. There's censorship and propaganda control, which are unneccesary in a truly open democracy with nothing to hide, where the leaders pretend no special powers or prestige.
4. There's oppression, prejudice, paranoia. There's a "satan" out to get them. There's something to direly fear. Someone wants to hurt them only to spite them. There's an eternal enemy, something alien, something unhuman, something demonic, an enemy that it's treason to sympathize for. Thus, there are tattle-tale networks and sanctions and punishments for non-crimes contrived as treasonous.
5. The hiearchy is living comfortably off the system and they rationalize that the system is necessary for stability.

At least.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Control, manipulation, blind-faith, a leader that requires total obedience (see BYU 25), no free expression

CA girl
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
If you want to put it into Mormon-speak, it was Satan's plan in the pre-existence to demand exact obedience and complete control from his followers while Jesus allowed for free agency and choice. Therefore, by their own teachings, Mormons should find the control, demand for obedience, being forbidden the right to question or criticize all the most damaging elements of a cult or of Mormonism. Because their fundamental doctrine about how and why the world was created and who they are in this life by who they followed in the pre-existence... ALL that point to obedience/control/lack of free agency being Satan's plan and, by ready transfer, shows them following Satan more than their "Savior".

One word: control
How they control:

social pressure
fear of consequences (many of them imaginary)
diminishing the person's ability to think for themselves
shame and guilt
limiting access to information
breaking down boundaries (member promises to obey in temple--loses the right to say "no", interviews)

Once More
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I'm not sure you can reduce the most damaging element of a cult to one.

You need not just the demand for and expectation of Obedience, but also threats of consequences if the members are not obedient.

Obedience + Threats. Any number of damaging bits and pieces can be subsets of that double whammy.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I agree - convincing you that you are somehow unworthy. If they can do that (and they can) the rest is in the bag.

This is what Daniel Goleman says
Taboo topics: questions that can't be asked, doubts that can't be shared, misgivings that can't be voiced. For example, 'Where does all the money go?' or 'Does Yogi sleep with his secretary?'

Secrets: the suppression of information, usually tightly guarded by an inner circle. For example, the answers, 'Swiss bank accounts,' or 'Yes, he does - and that's why she had an abortion. '

Spiritual clones: in its minor form, stereotypic behaviour, such as people who walk, talk, smoke, eat and dress just like their leader; in its much more sinister form, psychological stereotyping, such as an entire group of people who manifest only a narrow range of feeling in any and all situations: always happy, or pious, or reducing everything to a single explanation, or sardonic, etc.

Group think: party line that overrides how people actually feel. Typically the cognitive glue that binds the group. Eg 'you're fallen, and Christ is the answer', or 'you're lost in Samsara, and Buddha is the answer', or 'you're impure, and Shiva is the answer'.

The elect: shared delusion of grandeur that there is no way but this one. The corollary: you're lost if you leave the group.

No graduates: members are never weaned from the group. Often accompanies the corollary above.

Assembly lines: everyone is treated identically, no matter what their differences; eg mantras are assigned by dictates of a demographical checklist.

Loyalty tests: members are asked to prove loyalty to the group by doing something that violates their personal ethics; for example, set up an organisation that has a hidden agenda of recruiting others into the group, but publicly represents itself as a public service outfit.

Duplicity: the group's public face misrepresents its true nature, as in the example just given.

Unifocal understanding: single world view is used to explain anything and everything; alternate explanations are verboten. For example, if you have diarrhoea its 'Guru's grace'. If it stops, it's also Guru's grace. And if you get constipated, it's still Guru's grace.

Humourlessness: no irreverence allowed. Laughing at sacred cows is good for your health. Take, for example, Gurdjieff's one-liner: 'If you want to lose your faith, make friends with a priest.'

And allow me to note that while all religions (and no few MLMs and societies) qualify as "cults" not all cults are toxic. The list above is referring to dangerous or "toxic" cults.

And one other note;
I posted this list on a Mormon heavy forum once and, oddly enough, was accused of being "anti-Mormon" even though I post this specific list because it makes no mention of the Mormons at all. Hit a little to close to home, I guess. :)
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
What is the worst most painful death anyone can experience? I would propose death by fire, which hit's every possible neuron there, causing excrutiating painful death. If you don't pay your tithing, even a full tithe, this is what you have to look forward to.

D&C 64:23
Behold, now it is called atoday until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I thought Steve Hassan cult def nails it:

"Is deception used to recruit new members and is there a legitimate way to leave?"

Resignations upon court order had to be accepted by COB in the 80's I remember.

The Mormon cult lies to its members.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
For me, the most telling attribute of a destructive organization is that there is no valid reason to leave.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
From Wikipedia:

In the opinion of Benjamin Zablacki, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, groups that have been characterized as cults are at high risk of becoming abusive to members. He states that this is in part due to members' adulation of charismatic leaders contributing to the leaders becoming corrupted by power. Zablocki defines a cult as an ideological organization held together by charismatic relationships and the demand of total commitment.

Cali Sally
Elements of a damaging cult
What has been said is spot on.

Questioning authority is a hallmark of healthy and mature reasoning processes. Religion uses shame by authority figures and peers to discourage the questioning of THEIR particular brand of authority. If a religion can get parents to teach their children that the religion is more trusted than even the parents themselves you have a formula for generations of cult followers. The earlier the indoctrination the stronger the religion becomes.

My salvation was not having been raised in Mormonism. After joining what I thought was a religion that taught a belief in free agency I eventually saw that I was expected to use my free agency as TSCC specified and not to trust my own reasoning abilities. This became intolerable and I just couldn't stop using my own reasoning abilities in favor of some nit wit bishop or other priesthood holder with little or no education just because he had a Mormon title assigned to him. I saw women with Ph.D.'s treated like naughty children for using their brains.

Benjamin Franklin admonished all Americans to "Question authority" and I intend to question ALL authority.

Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Yeah, see, but there's a difference between manipulation and coercion.

Of course, they're both evil.

Jesus Smith
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
> Having an indoctrination program which devalues the member's
> personal power and undermines self-confidence in order to induce
> obedience to the cult leaders. It is an emotional highjacking.

Along these lines, but perhaps not as powerful:

When manipulating (hijacking) our emotions and telling us these internal feelings are more valid than the external reality with verifiable facts.

Chicken N. Backpacks
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Subsuming one's self to the personality/ideas of another is the most basic thing I can think of; they tell you that you are special, yet you are only special because of them and their rules.
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
I thought the most important element of the LDS cult was AU 79, followed closely by Ag 47.
Re: Most Important Element of A Damaging Cult
Unthinking obedience...letting someone else make decisions for you...when a person turn off that part of the brain that weighs what is right/wrong, just or unjust.

The fallacy is people feel relieved they are no longer responsible for what happens and can always happily claim they're "following the prophet/commandments" even if they are causing harm to others.

I tell my 11yo DD all the time that our #1 gift is our brain and we need to know how to use it.

"Recovery from Mormonism -"