- Published on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 07:03
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 1903
Religious cults damage their members more than main-stream religions but there is an organization whose mission is "educate the public and help those who have been harmed". It's called the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) and it describes itself as "a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments." Although they are primarily interested in cults like the Hare Krishna and Moonies, they are also interested in psychological damage caused by main-stream religions such as the Catholic child abuse. They are based in Florida but they recently held their annual conference in Montreal. Members range from representatives of existing cults, to ex-members recovering, to organizations wanting to stop the abuse (e.g. police). In a religious context, a cult is simply an "off-the-wall' religion or set of beliefs but to ICSA, a cult is defined as: "… an ideological organization, held together by charismatic relationships, and demanding high levels of commitment." ICSA does not have a list of cults but instead try to focus on harmful practices rather than labels - but they do have a database of articles about various cults, currently at "1267 groups".
The good news is that the damage caused by cults is recognized and there are people working to repair the damage. The bad news is that such a group is needed. To me, that means there are a lot of sick people in this world who are susceptible to this nonsense.
The FAQs of the association are revealing; here are a few of them:
Why do people join cults:
People join cults for many different reasons; there are many ways to enter a cultic group. However, it appears that people are most receptive to joining when they are stressed or in a normal transition, when their normal way of operating in the world is not working for them.
How can cults harm people
People harmed by cults often will report feeling betrayed and abused, psychologically if not physically or sexually. They may feel traumatized, depressed, guilty, angry, anxious, distrustful, and confused. (More below).
What is the relationship of Law, Government and Cults
The relationship of law, government, and cults varies greatly from country to country….. Western, pluralistic democracies tend to be tolerant toward the existence of cults, generally reluctant to pass new laws, and generally unwilling to spend public money to respond to the problems that cults pose.
More detail on the harm in cults
Ex-members report the problems as:
- Sense of purposelessness, of being disconnected
- Grieving for other group members, for a sense of loss in their life
- Fear of going crazy
- Fear that what the cult said would happen to them if they left actually might happen
- Tendency to think in terms of black and white
- Tendency to spiritualize everything
- Difficulty making decisions
- Low self-esteem
- Employment and/or career problems
- Family conflicts
- Dependency issues
- Sexual problems
- Spiritual issues
- Inability to concentrate
- Re-emergence of pre-cult emotional or psychological issues
- Impatience with the recovery process.
In some cases, like Scientology, there is also physical abuse but mostly it's about losing control of your life. A cult member thinks their leader has all the answers but of course he doesn't. In many ways, cults are religions taken to extremes. You can see from this that main-stream religions also take control and tell you comforting lies - but since they are generally not so extreme, the danger is harder to see.
Although ICSA is reluctant to name cults, I am happy to oblige - but these are only the better known ones. Some have been discontinued and the level of abuse varies amongst them.
Blessed Family (Unification Church) (Sun Myung Moon)
Bountiful Polygamists (Winston Blackmore)
Branch Davidian (David Koresh)
Christian Coalition - Pat Robertson
Church of the Universe
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - Warren Jeffs
Hare Krishna (Srila Prabhupada)
Harold Camping and Family Radio
Jonestown (Peoples Temple) (Jim Jones)
L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology)
Moral Majority (Jerry Falwell)
Oral Roberts University, Roberts (Oral Roberts)
Seventh Day Adventists
Society of St. Pius X (Lefebvre) (Catholic breakaway)
Swaggart (Jimmy Swaggart Ministries)
The Family International (Children of God) (CoG) (David Moses Berg)
Toronto Mount Zion Revival Church of the Apostles
Unification Church (Sun Myung Moon)
Westboro Baptist - Fred Phelps
Worldwide Church of God, Church of God International - Garner Ted Armstrong
There are many more - mostly smaller.
You can see the full list of Groups at ICSA in this pdf here.
These groups are mentioned in articles that can be found on the ICSA site - as of July 8, 2012
To access articles, go to this page on their site, select the "group" from the list that you want to investigate and submit. Then select the article to read. It appears lower down the page.
Note that many of these are not religious - this list is really an index to articles about cults