Dangerous Cults -
What To Look For

This is part 2 of the article. Part 1 Part 3

More differences

The language or jargon used in dangerous cults will differ from other groups as well. After all, they need something to differentiate themselves from outsiders! The language allows them to feel superior, confirming that they know stuff the outsiders do not.

However, closer inspection often reveals that groups have the same ideas but just put different words around them. 'Heavenly deception' and 'transcendental trickery' allow 2 different groups to lie and cheat to outsiders to recruit them, or as the members believe, 'to influence them for their own good'.

One group says it operates at the level of ontology (the study of being) while another offers the chance to find the 'authentic self', another offering the 'ideal you'. It's the same ephemeral doctrine with different words to describe it.



Cultic groups have evolved in recent years such that the standard idea of dangerous cults with people dressing the same, living in a commune, being vegetarian, no longer applies. There are a huge variety of different types of cults nowadays - commercial cults, religious cults, therapeutic cults, martial arts cults, weight lifting cults, horse cults, hair dressing cults, and so on.

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And nowadays cults themselves will evolve. If it is in the interest of a group leader to change (because it will attract more members or make more money, or because someone has exposed him for the psychopath that he is!) he will change in whatever manner suits him.

For example, a leader says his teachings are not spiritual, but later it becomes obvious that many people in his neighborhood are talking of spirituality, then all of a sudden his teachings are spiritual! Or it becomes advantageous for a leader to move his group elsewhere, or to change from a psychotherapy to an NLP group, or to move from working in the personal development field to expand into the business world.

And these changes are reinterpreted for the followers as beneficial for them, so they are quickly accepted.


Robert Lifton

Robert Lifton, who studied the effects of the Chinese brainwashing programs in the 1950s, says he is happy to use the term cult when there are three conditions present:

  • there is a totalistic or thought reform set of practices
  • there is a shift from worship of broad spiritual practices to worship of the leader
  • a genuine spiritual quest from below (the members are genuinely seeking something) exploited from above ( i.e., by the leadership).

So while dangerous cults may have very different belief systems, and may appear different, they all have a central theme. And the theme is that the belief system is being used and abused by the leader to satisfy his own desires, needs and hidden agendas.

The belief system can be sufficiently worthwhile or noble to keep the members united, at the same time the leader is using it as a tool for his own benefit, at the cost of the individual members.

Read Part 3 - what else happens in destructive cults and how they affect society... (Part 1)

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