A cult can differ from religion in two specific ways:
- The leader believes that he/she is a divine being him/herself, and possesses the holy traits of a God.
- Group uses power and control to corral their believers into total oblivion, forcing them to think a certain way without an alternative or a choice to leave.
I will explore some cults that currently exist in North America.
Unity School of Christianity
Dates Back From: 1889
Original Leader: Charles and Myrtle Fillmore
Spiritual Teaching: God is not an actual being, but an energy force who presents Himself as love, residing inside all humans. Thus, positive emotions that people emit such as care, joy, and understanding are forms of God emerging from the body.
Why a Cult?
The Unity School of Christianity, or for short “The Unity”, believes that every man and woman is holy, but it is up to us to figure it out. Followers eventually come to an epiphany that they are God themselves, through processes of enlightenment and understanding; in addition, discovering one’s “self-God” is how one attains salvation. However, salvation does not lead to an eternal life in heaven- the Unity believes in reincarnation (Fun tid bit: Fillmore believed he was a reincarnated Apostle Paul). So this religious sect is a form of “syncretism”, where they push certain facts from different religions all together, such as Hinduism, Buddism, and Catholicism, to form one supersized belief system. To top it all off, they allege that pain, illness, and even old age are not real, but fictitious elements in the world that can be overcome through denial.
Christian Identity Movement
Dates back from: 1915 (derived from the Ku Klux Klan, mid 1940))
Original Leader: William Simmons (Ku Klux Klan: Wesley Swift)
Spiritual Teaching:The “true Israel”, Whites, and Europeans are God’s chosen people, and thus, are superior to all other nonwhite races, such as Jews, Blacks, and Native Americans.
Why a Cult?
Derived from the Klu Klux Klan, this religion stems from the very conservative, right-wing extremist view of the Christian Bible. Followers believe that minorities, as well as homosexuals and those of other religions, are inferior creatures that possess no soul, equating to an animal. The CIM also believe in Armageddon, where God will re-present Himself upon Earth, where He will support the white race to ensue a war, taking up arms against those that do not belong to the Aryan group, as part of a cleaning process. Although their theoretical ideas are, to put lightly, derogatory, it is not what deems them as “cultic”. Their recruitment process entails approaching potential followers with questions regarding more common issues, such as government funding and drug policies. After gaining one’s interest and trust, the slow presentation of their core teaching is ensued. Once part of the cult, leaders prevent their believers from accessing most forms of media such as television, radio, and all government-run lines of communication. This binding control gives the leaders full mental and spiritual custody over those that follow them.
Dates back from: 1965
Original Leader: Paul Twitchell
Spiritual Teaching: The soul can travel through different realms of reality by using one’s consciousness, in order to travel to God, the origin of the soul.
Why a Cult?
The leader of Eckankar is called the Mahanta. The Mahanta claims that he is God on Earth, and can personally converse with the God of all Gods (The Sugmad) through a state of awareness higher than others. Not only does the leader claim to be divine, all knowing, and infallible, but that those who are in Eckankar can one day achieve this status as well. Through teachings of Twitchell, followers can spiritually gain higher power of understanding until they come to realize that they, too, are a holy being. All students (also called chelas) will come to terms that they are “God-conscious”; that all men and women are, in actuality, a god themselves. Finally, it also has their followers believe that one can gain a religious experience through dreaming, holding various seminars and providing excessive Eckankar material to aid in interpretation.
Mormon/The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Dates Back From: 1820
Original Leader: Joseph Smith
Spiritual Teaching: Similar to Christianity, except for the belief of the Holy Trinity
Why a Cult?
Although the general spiritual teaching of the Mormon religion seems innocent enough, it’s the lengths leaders go through to keep their followers from straying. They play upon fear and exclusion to prevent believers from thinking about an alternative. For example, one’s mind is played upon when problems arise in life, such as marriage or financial issues. The LDS group state that any problems or difficulties befallen upon them are only due to their own inabilities and shortfalls as human beings. This attacks their sense of self worth, causing them to wonder how they can manage on their own- a fully dependency is what these cult leaders look for. Members are also forbidden to look at documents that criticizes their organization, blurring out any reason to leave. Finally, they promise exclusivity of their religion by stating the need to know secret passwords and symbols in order to get to heaven: the use of withholding information is enough to persuade members to not waiver, or be forced to face the consequences.
Dates Back From: 1931 (Original: 1876, “Bible Student Movement”)
Original Leader: Charles Taze Russell
Spiritual Teaching: Main differences from Christianity include the disbelief of the Holy Trinity and of Hell. They do not celebrate holidays, vote, or stand for the national anthem, believing that participating would be a form of worship other than for God (Jehovah).
Why a Cult?
Jehovah Witness’s teach that those who do not specifically call God “Jehovah” or are part of their group exclusively cannot attain eternal salvation. This input of fear into its members may not seen very different from other religions. However, what separates Jehovah’s Witness from other Catholic religions is the practice of disfellowship. If a member decides to remove themselves from the group, they will be forever shunned by the Jehovah’s Witness community, including from their family and friends. Relatives are forbidden to speak to the ex-member for any reason. This exclusion and detachment affects one’s entire life. The control had extended with the inability of Jehovah members to accept blood transfusions, vaccines, and organ transplants; however, this has currently changed (this notes the lack of reliability of constancy of their doctrine.)
Dates Back From: 1952
Original Leader: L. Ron Hubbard
Spiritual Teaching: Belief that the human body is comprised of three parts: the body, mind and soul. The latter (also called the “thetan”) is the most important, along with spiritual awareness; these are they keys to salvation.
Why a Cult?
Aside from the great lengths this organization takes to prevent the speaking against Scientology, it’s the toll they have on followers that is harmful and controlling. Before being emitted into the religious group, a flawed personality test is taken, in which the test giver urges one that they are in need of help with morality or are unable to positively communicate with others. They promise to help “reconstruct” him/her, forming a person who will be ready to face society. There have been many instances where one is forced to reverberate a tragic/painful event in their lives, over and over- a process that is torturous for some to abide by. The constant emotional attack on its members force them to believe that they are incompetent without this organization, and can no longer survive independently. But most importantly, it is the requirement of followers to fork over dollars upon dollars to purchase Scientology “self-help” material, that have left many near broke and reaching the edges of depression.