Cults Part Two: Why Even Smart People Fall Prey

In my previous article I posted in length Scott Peck’s characteristics of a cult which gave the word a broader meaning. Now let’s try to answer the question: Why do even smart people fall prey to the lies and manipulations of a charismatic cult leader?

Before we proceed, I must give the same warning I gave in Part I:

This may be a sensitive topic depending on the reader’s religious membership. I did not say ‘religious views’ because if the reader has any real views of his/her own not based on dogma, this is actually a very enlightening article. Moreover, as much as this is my personal blog and I am like a god here who can say anything he wants, I am a kind and loving god to my readers and so I’ll try to write this as gently albeit objectively as possible so as not to offend anyone. Of course, I’m not omnipotent so please forgive any shortcomings.

According to Scott Peck, the following are some of the things to watch out for in an organization:

1.) A living, self-appointed leader generally esteemed as God’s representative on Earth having the sole right to interpret the scripture, who commits serious ethical violations like preaching against wealth yet buys expensive cars – with the cult members’ money.

2.) The use of controlling techniques like hell- and salvation-based fear, where independent thinking and questioning of any sort are highly discouraged or actively suppressed

3.) Social and physical isolation – a sharp distinction is drawn between members and those outside the cult, and there is pervasive distrust for everyone except the “saved” cult members

4.) Extremist or fanatical behavior like compulsively and constantly trying to convert everyone by threatening them with eternal damnation

5.) Management secrecy – refusal to produce financial records and unethical fund raising using front groups

There are more extreme examples in Part I, and although there are no black and white answers or exact gauges, I guess the more of these characteristics are present in an organization, the more likely it is a cult. The bottom line is that people are being manipulated to the excessive financial and political advantage of the leader.

So why do even smart people fall prey? Growing up in predominantly religious environments, a lot of people fear and obey God without question lest they be cast into the eternal Lake of Fire where their souls will burn for all eternity while their family and friends rejoice and feast in Paradise. The punishment is just too great to risk it. So when someone who looks decent and credible enough claims to be a special messenger from God, a lot of people do not dare to question. Especially if he assures them of salvation from Eternal Hell.

The fact that this ‘messenger’ is self-appointed without any official endorsement from God Himself escapes even the supposedly smart people and they often believe this ‘representative’ when he says that God ‘revealed’ something to him.

Here is what the deists have to say about ‘revelation’:

In the religious sense, revelation usually means divine revelation. This is meaningless, since revelation can only be revelation in the first instance. For example, if God revealed something to me, that would be a divine revelation to me. If I then told someone else what God told me it would be mere hearsay to the person I tell. If that person believed what I said, they would not be putting their trust in God, but in me, believing what I told them was actually true. (deism.com)

Moreover, can anyone imagine a loving and merciful God who would punish His own creation for the imperfections He Himself caused? If a boy makes a kite that won’t fly, probably the most he will do is throw it away and then make another. He will not burn it – much less for all eternity. Well a sadistic kid with the makings of a sociopath might do that, but is that what God is supposed to be – a sadist?

Sadly, many still fall for these self-appointed ‘representatives’ and give up or at least suspend their reason in favor of blind faith because, as the ‘messengers’ say, that’s the ‘order of God’. Sadder still, these ‘appointed ones’ talk about a Kingdom of God in Heaven while building their own material kingdoms here on Earth – using their members’ money of course. inner minds


6 Responses to “Cults Part Two: Why Even Smart People Fall Prey”

  1. September 17, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    maybe these “smart” people are not really smart. LOL

  2. June 8, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    if you know that you are not infallible, then where is the point of preaching? you also commit mistakes. shut up na lang!

  3. October 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    There is a problem with your article in that it ignores the fact that the greatest cults of our era were political/ideological movements which promised temporal collective salvation through political and/or military action in contrast to the individual other-worldly salvation promised by religions. Movements German philosopher Eric Voegelin called “Modern Gnosticism” The greatest and most murderously destructive cults of the 20th century were, of course, communist socialism, national socialism (Nazism), democratic socialism, and communitarian socialism.

    Further, my personal experience and the result of my studies has been that the people most vulnerable to falling into cults are people who came from not particularly religious backgrounds. Indeed, traditional religion seems to help inoculate people from falling into cults. The one person I knew personally who joined a hippie commune came from a not-particularly religious family. In Radical Son, David Horowitz discusses his parents who were irreligious Jews, but who were fanatical members of the Communist Party U.S.A. Also, among those most vulnerable to cults are people who grew up with a background in traditional religion but who lost their faith. I think it was C. S. Lewis who commented that Christians who lose their faith don’t come to believe in NOTHING; they come to believe in ANYTHING.

    Ancillary to a book I am attempting to write, I am trying to come to an understanding of why people fall into such things. For example, I just finished reading Festinger, et. al. When Prophesy Fails which covered a small flying saucer cult back in the 1950s. The book was unsatisfying as it failed to attempt an analysis of why those people fell into that cult and gave insufficient background on them so the reader could judge for himself. A long time ago I read a book, Crazy for God written by a fellow who fell into a cult following Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Maybe I should re-visit it.

    At any rate, there seems to be a flaw in the character or personality of many people that leads them to seek the simplistic belief system, immersion in a collective, and Great Noble Holy Perfect Leader, that mark a cult. But I know for myself, more research is needed.

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