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Each year, hundreds of North Americans join one of the
increasing, estimated 3000 unorthodox religions that exist
across North America. The increasing number of cults, to
date in North America, is due to the fact that cults are a
social movement that attempts to help people cope with
their perceived problems with social interaction. Cult
recruiters target those who perceive themselves as
different from the rest of society, and give these
individuals the sense of belonging that they crave. Cult
literature lures potential cult members by appealing to
their desperate need to socially fit in. Cults provide a
controlled family environment that appeals to potential
cult members because it is a removal from the exterior
society. Cult recruiters prey on those who see themselves
as alienated from the rest of society, and give these
people the sense of conformity that they desire. A common
method of recruiters, to obtain new members, is through
chat lines on the internet. A recorded conversation between
a member of the Divine Light Mission, Fire-Shade, and an
18-year old boy, Jay 18, was obtained off of the site, IRC
Teen Chat.
Jay18: I am a really great poet, but all of the kids in my
class are pretty warped about it. I basically hide it from
them because I don't need that hassle.
Fire-Shade: My family has a great respect for the artist
inside us all. I know you live in Michigan, and our family
could always use new operatives all over the world. You
have to understand what our family is about, it is about
always fitting in and never hiding the truth to be liked or
cool. Are you interested?
Jay18: Well maybe...
Fire-Shade: Give me your phone number we really shouldn't
talk about this here.
Jay18: I would rather not give my phone number out. You
give me yours, I won't be able to talk for long though.
Fire-Shade: Trust is very important in our group...do you
trust me? You can't call us, unfortunately because we are
not in a position to be accepting phone calls.
Jay18: Well then you can just e-mail me...OK.
Fire-Shade: [disconnects]1
The cult member makes the young boy feel as though he does
care about his problems, and wants to make this boy's life
better. Fire-Shade conveys his family as an entity not as
many different individuals. After feeling alone for many
years the only persuasion some individuals need is the
assurance that they will be part of a society and accepted
unconditionally. Cult members know what type of individuals
feel most alienated and alone, says Dr. Lorna Goldberg, a
New Jersey psychoanalyst.
No one plans to join a cult unless they see that cult as a
possibility for a family, or a better society. Cults target
people in transition--college students away from home for
the first time, people who have moved to new cities for
jobs, those who have just been divorced or widowed. Usually
individuals 16 to 25 or 35 to 40. The vast majority of
members are merely looking for a sense of community and
belonging, during a difficult time in their lives.2
Cults provide an ersatz social unit, which takes them in,
nurtures them and reinforces the cult's worldview. By the
time that most cult members realize that this cult isn't
what they had expected, it is too late, because they are
already too afraid to leave. Recruiters are not the only
way that potential members are enticed into cults, often
their literature is powerful enough.
Cult novels, pamphlets and websites draw in potential cult
members by appealing to their desperate need to socially
fit in. Often if a piece of cult literature is written
correctly it convinces the most logical mind of the most
absurd reasoning, like this pamphlet by the Heavens Gate
cult. The generally accepted "norms" of today's societies -
world over - are designed, established, and maintained by
the individuals who were at one time "students" of the
Kingdom of Heaven- "angels" in the making- who flunked out"
of the classroom. Legends and scriptures refer to them as
fallen angels. The current civilization's records use the
name Satan or Lucifer to describe a single fallen angel and
also to "nickname" any "evil presence". If you have
experienced some of what our "classroom" requires of us,
you would know that these "presences" are real and that the
Kingdom of God even permits them to "attack" us in order
for us to learn their tricks and how to stay above them or
conquer them.3
This particular piece of heavens gate literature can be
found printed in not only their pamphlets and novels, but
also on their website. In this single passage this cult has
enabled the alienated individual to feel accepted and feel
that they are not the only person who feels helpless, alone
and disliked by society. It not only reassures the
potential cult member that they are welcome somewhere, but
it makes them feel superior to the society that they feel
has betrayed them their entire life. Often, to fully
convince a potential recruit of their ideals, cult
literature will diverge on continuously about how society's
ideas and morals are deranged and that the cults are
In other words, they (these space aliens) don't want
themselves "found out," so they condemn any exploration.
They want you to be a perfect servant to society (THEIR
society -- of THEIR world) -- to the "acceptable
establishment," to humanity, and to false religious
concepts. Part of that "stay blinded" formula goes like
this: "Above all, be married, a good parent, a reasonable
church goer, buy a house, pay your mortgage, pay your
insurance, have a good line of credit, be socially
committed, and graciously accept death with the hope that
'through His shed blood,' or some other equally worthless
religious precept, you will go to Heaven after your death.4
It is at this point that, through their literature,
unbeknown to the reader the cult begins to strip away at
everything the individual believes in. The cult starts to
present the individual with the words that they want to
hear, which are; that they are normal, and that there is a
place where they are wanted. Although there are few
distinct similarities shared between cults, the use of
communes is a remarkably common trait.
Cults provide a separate society that appeals to potential
cult members because it is a removal from the exterior
world. Usually when guests visit for the first time to a
commune they witness displays of unconditional affection
and kindness.
In major cities across throughout the world, The Unified
Family, sometimes called the Unification Church, has houses
which are typically both communal living places for young,
single members, and meeting places for a Sunday afternoon
or weekday evening meeting. A pleasant, lively circle of
perhaps twenty or twenty-five people, mostly young, will
make the guest feel at home. He will be given a hymn book
containing religious songs in folk and popular style.
Someone will play a guitar, and the circle will sing for
some thirty minutes.5 This tranquil, peaceful setting,
purposely contrasts with that of the world outside of the
compound. In order for a cult member to be adequately
convinced of a cults merits they must see how much more
pleasant life will be inside the compound. Cults, like the
Hare Krishna, remind members how chaotic the outside world
is, and maintain impeccable order inside their compounds to
maintain purity.
The details of life are closely regulated by the Spiritual
Master. He insists that each devotee take two showers
daily, and take a cup of warm milk before retiring; these
customs are scrupulously followed. Devotees live an idyllic
rural, communal, devotional, and vegetarian life.6 In cults
an individuals daily routine is decided for them, their
entire life-style is chosen for them, this appeals to
individuals because they can't make mistakes if they just
do as the leader instructs. In the society outside of the
cult decisions must be constantly made, and society's
expectations are that those who can not succeed in their
decision making are failures. The complexity and ambiguity
of life is something that cult members do not want to
endure. Different doctors have varying opinions on why
people join cults. Dr. J.Gordon Melton is attempting to
prove that cult members have not chosen to join cults, they
have an actual medical disorder. Melton has found that cult
members are emotionally vulnerable and suffering from
significant emotional distress.
...the average cult member has been in three or four other
groups, a sign of what he calls the "seeker syndrome," a
spiritual quest among young people free to experiment.
These "seekers" generally move on as soon as they become
bored or disenchanted. Melton suggests cults serve as
"holding tanks" for young people rebelling against
overprotective parents.7 Other experts believe that certain
classes, races, and ages are particularly susceptible to
the allure of cults. A survey performed at the Bethany
Hills School found that when asked 'Would you join a cult
if it would offer you what you believed to be a better
life?', 7 out of 24 respondents said that they would. Of
these 7 respondents, 5 were between the ages of 16 and 19"8
This age group has been established as susceptible to cults
because of the pressure placed upon adolescents by their
peers. "3 of the 7 respondents were members of a single,
employed, parent houshold."9 Stress on a single income
family can potentially be greater than that of a dual
income family because of the potential for a higher net
family income, and possibly less financial difficulties.
This family stress could inherently cause an individual to
search for a more stable home environment, and find refuge
in a cult. These are the lesser known, and not as accepted
theories on why people join cults.
The idea that any specific social-class is more susceptible
to cult membership is false. As history has shown cult
members' social class can not be generalized.
Social Status is no indicator of susceptibility and no
defense against it. For instance, while many of the dead a
Jonestown were poor, the Solar Temple favors the carriage
trade. Its disciples have included the wife and son of the
founder of Vuarnet sunglass company. The Branch Davidians
at Waco came from many walks of life. And at Rancho Santa
Fe they were paragons of the entrepreneurial class, so well
organized they died in shifts.10 The reason for cult
membership is obviously not entirely due to social class.
Different people are drawn to different cults, just as
different cults prey on different individuals. The research
done at the Bethany Hills School is also not entirely
accurate because the population is so small that 24 surveys
cannot accurately represent most cult members. Although Dr.
Melton's research provides an interesting viewpoint, his
claims are still being experimented and have never been
fully substantiated. His claim that cult members are young
people rebelling against their parents is statistically
inaccurate since 35 to 40-year-olds are one of the most
common groups of cult members, and make up a large portion
of the hundreds of men and women who join cults each year.
Cult enlisteers target those who view themselves as a
deviant from the rest of society, and give these
individuals a false sense of family. Cult literature lures
potential cult members by convincing them that society is
an anomalous entity and that they are healthy and sound.
The controlled family environment of cults appeals to
potential cult members because they have all of their
decisions made for them, and do not risk failure. No one is
beyond the possibility of joining a cult, applicants
require only a hopeless feeling of social inadequacy, a
condition apt to strike anyone at some point in life.
Undoutably, many cults are malicious and violent, but they
do send a clear message that something is very wrong when
sane, healthy people would rather burn, poison, and shoot
themselves to death rather than live another moment in
1. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22
2. Graebrener, William. The American Record. Alfred A.
Knoph, Inc. New York. 1982.
3. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven's Gate, The Novel.
Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)
4. Applewhite, Marshall Herff. Heaven's Gate The Novel.
Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com)
5. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book
Company, Inc. NewYork. 1965.
6. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The
Topmost Yoga System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.
7. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects [False Prophets Attract
the Vulnerable]. (April 7, 1997)
8. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.
9. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998.
10. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal: The Lure of 

[Why Ordinary People Join Cults]. (April 1, 1997) Bibliography 1. Applewhite, Marshall Herff Heaven's Gate, The Novel. Received off of their internet site(www.heavensgatetoo.com) 2. Bright-Paul, Anthony. Stairway to Subud. Dharma Book Company, Inc. NewYork. 1965. 3. Bugliosi, Vincent. Helter Skelter. Bantam Books. New York. 1975. 4. Fennell, Tom. Time: Doom Sects [False Prophets Attract the Vulnerable]. (April 7, 1997) 5. Graebner, William. The American Record. Alfred A. Knoph, Inc. New York. 1982. 6. Lacay, Richard. Macleans: The Lure of the Cult (March 22 1997) 7. Lamaadar, Alia. Cults:Questionair. January 12, 1998. 8. Muller, Bill. The Edmonton Journal:The Lure of


[Why Ordinary People Join Cults]. (April 1, 1997) 9. Porter, Anne. Farewell to the Seventies. Thomas Nelson and Sons. Don Mills. 1979. 10. Smith, Michelle. Michelle Remembers. Pocket Books. New York. 1980. 11. Swami, Bhaktivedanta A.C. Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System. Iskcon Press. Boston. 1970.  


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