What Are Signs of Being in a Cult?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Cults are springing up more and more these days.  What are signs your child, your spouse or someone you know may be in a cult?  What are indications that a group is a cult?  What are the dangers?

What is a Cult?

The definition of a cult varies, depending upon the source.  Some describe a cult as a new religious movement, a group having bizarre or abnormal activities, a set of unusual rites or rituals, and consist of members that may live in a highly unconventional way.  Cults are certainly not always religious.  Some are anti-religious, some are satanic, and others offer communal living and a sharing of resources.  The cult’s location can often be secretive, very isolated, and private with no access for the general public.

Signs of Being in a Cult

Cults are certainly not always religious. Some are anti-religious, some are satanic, and others offer communal living and a sharing of resources.

Separation From Family and Friends

One sure sign of someone being involved in a cult is that there is a clear separation from family and friends.  There are secretive meetings and few things are known about the proceedings.  When a friend, spouse, child or a relative is being distant or quite about the group that they are involved in and when there is a real or perceived tendency of separation from you, something may be wrong.  There is a tendency to be defiant if there are any questions asked.  For example if you ask a question about what they did in the group that night and they get defensive, are vague in answering you, or they say nothing at all, then they might be protecting the group from some questionable practices or activities.

There is also a resistance to questioning the leader.  The leader seems to be right no matter how uncomfortable their actions are.  If the leader of the group is questioned by someone outside of the group, then the member gets angry and  highly defensive.  They have no tolerance for anyone asking too many probing questions about the group’s activities, agendas or about the group leader.  The group’s leader may be beyond reproach in their eyes.

The members of the group may also become increasing isolated from family and friends.  The frequency of attending the group meetings may increase dramatically and the amount of secrecy about the meetings becomes obvious.  There is a lack of trust for anyone outside of the group as well.  The groups may urge the member to distance themselves from or actually leave their families and friends.  The group becomes a “secret society” in a sense and all outside influences are screened or restricted.

Group Rules, Policies or Traditions Override Everything

When there are particular group policies and the group follow the procedures, even to the point of breaking a civil or moral law, they become a law setting group to themselves.  Some members may begin to question civil laws, that civic justice is not being carried out or that certain moral or biblical principles do not seem to be sufficiently enforced in society or do not go far enough.  Their own traditions, rules, or rituals may be thought of as more important than established civil laws and personal accountability.  Any attempt to inquire about the group’s financial records or practices is treated as strictly confidential.

Authoritarian or Totalitarian Leadership

When there is the tendency to have one person be in charge of everything and everyone and that the leader has absolute and total control, this is a strong indication that this may be a cult.  Most social and civic groups lean toward democratic principles and decisions are made by the group as a whole, but when there is only one person in charge and their actions or decisions can not even be questioned, then this group is at the mercy of only one person and the power of being that one person in that totalitarian position tends to corrupt them.  The saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is very true in cultic groups.  This corruption of power tends to reveal duplicity and have ethical double standards.  The leader may be able to do certain things but its members are never allowed to make such decisions or to do the same things.

Growth and Fundraising

A strong indication of a cult is one where the members are heavily invested financially. Their primary goal is to recruit new members and to raise funds through various activities, even if it is in a grey area or illegal.  The group might also begin to offer certain services that are usually available at businesses.  For example, the group or club might begin to offer their own meals, their own haircuts or their own line of clothing and they will tend to discourage the members from spending money outside of the group.

Cultist Beliefs

Cults often have a very apocalyptic outlook on the world.  They have a sense of dread about society and the way society lives and where it is headed.  They can begin to make arrangements for being in isolation in the event that the world collapses and this group would be the only safe harbor at the time.  There is usually a very charismatic leader and there is social encapsulation due to an abnormal paranoia about events in the world.  Cults are often very prejudiced against a particular group of people like certain races, religions, political parties, and any one that is not part of their group.

Rick Ross of the Rick Ross Institute (www.rickross.com) is an expert consultant on cults and has studied them profusely over the years.   Mr. Ross indicated that according to Margaret Singer, PhD, “Potentially unsafe groups or leaders come off very nice at first. They go for vulnerable people who are looking for answers, lonely, what you’d call ‘normal people.’ They’re very good at what they do and can get people to believe anything. You might think you’d never get taken in, but don’t bet on it.” [1]

The Jim Jones Guyana mass-suicide may seem like an extreme example of a cult but cults are often a law to themselves.  They set their own laws as being above civil laws of the state and even the federal government.  Former members that often relate their experiences are disparaged by the group and are often persecuted after they leave.  It might be hard to get into a cult, but it can be even more difficult to get out of one because the group may believe that they are going to expose them to the public and the press.  A great number of former members of cults are often harassed and often threatened with physical harm to them or their family and in a few cases, even death.  Some of the swearing in ceremonies makes it fearful for any current member to even consider leaving or reporting abuse to anyone outside of the cult.

From 5 to 7 million Americans and from 50 to 100 million people worldwide are involved in cults.  The number of cults in the world is conservatively estimated to be 15 to 50 thousand and in American alone, almost 200,000 new cult members are added every year.  Cults are a growing menace to society and to the members themselves.  If you know of someone in your family, in your circle of friends, your co-workers or even you want to know more about whether a particular group is a dangerous cult or not, please visit this website to help you in identifying the group that is under suspicion. The website has an extensive nationwide database of cults throughout the nation and in the world.  It’s a Cult Hotline and Clinic (http://www.cultclinic.org/resources.html) that can give you more details.  Cults can be dangerous.  A few extreme ones are even involved in terrorism and their forte is anarchy.  If you know of another sign of being in a cult, please add your comment so that others might also be warned.  Being forewarned is being forearmed.  We hope this has been of some help to those who know someone who might be involved in a cult.

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1.  (www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html)

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