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Psychology of Destructive Cults

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Psychology of Destructive Cults Charismatic cult leadership can be found in the sarin (poison gas) attack on the Tokyo subways by the Aum Shinrikyo cult and the Sept. 11 terror attacks by the Islamic fundamentalists. Why did the people who followed the leaders feel compelled to obey their extreme instructions? Such cults have become prevalent in recent years with frightening results. The word cult has two distinct uses today. "The first sense in which it is used by some refers to doctrinal belief, that is, any religion whose teachings deviate from the doctrines of orthodox Christian belief is said to be cultic" (Paloutzian 166). However, we will focus specifically on the second definition provided: 'destructive cult' and it refers to a number of religious groups that are charged by their critics to seek to control and radically alter the personalities of their members. Paloutzian lists five ways that cults differ from mainstream religious groups. However, mainstream religious groups may contain one of these factors. The one of them is the presence of a charismatic leader who absolutely controls the group. Of all of the factors, this is the primary differing factor. In cults, the worship is focused more on a single spiritual leader than a body of doctrine. What has caused the recent upsurge in cults? Whitsett suggests that our society's changes are somewhat responsible for creating an environment in which cults may flourish. ...read more.


They made you feel that everything you experienced before joining the group was evil and disgusting. Only Ron could build you up and remold you in the image of God" (Gard n.p.). Cults perpetuate themselves by creating extremely strong bonds that make it difficult for members to extricate themselves. Furthermore, the cultist cannot maintain relationships outside of the cult. Cults completely control their members and every aspect of their lives. This pervasive control spans even to the reality that the members experience; "actions that may appear spontaneous actually are controlled by the leader" (Lamberg n.p.). This control extends to spiritual and scientific truth. Cult members who question the 'truth' also must accept a negative view of themselves. "Every year thousands of young people abruptly turn their backs on family, friends and future to join one or another of an estimated 2500 communal groups in North America whose values, dress and behavior seem totally alien to everything the joiner has stood for" (Levine 21-22). It is very likely that this trend will continue until potential cult members are identified and helped through the trauma that causes people to become recruits. In the following, we will discuss our subject further by comparing Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan and Islamic fundamentalists. The profiles of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States reminded me of Aum Shinrikyo members. ...read more.


Likewise, many of Aum's top figures, who played active roles in the cult's criminal acts, received high-level education in Japan. But why lean toward religion? Shimada says that one reason is the diversification of values that occurs as society loses a single, absolute identity. It has become increasingly rare for material success to be embraced by intellectuals as their prime objective in life. Likewise, a country's economic development, in which the young elite often play a central role, no longer seems to be everything, given the many social problems that surface when striving for economic growth. That in turn generates profound apathy toward society, a sort of identity crisis that can often turn people's eyes to the spiritual world, including religion. For those who joined Aum or al-Qaeda, religious fundamentalisms, which encourage an opposite lifestyle from that of mainstream society, most effectively filled the void in their minds. (Shimda 437-438) He pointed out that increasing interest in occultism and the spiritual world among the younger generation in Japan also symbolizes their dissatisfaction with materialism. Islamic fundamentalists and Aum members also have in common their material and sexual stoicism, which is naturally embraced from their hatred toward a mainstream culture that encourages materialistic values. We can say that the people in the changing society who lack their identity came across these religious fundamentalisms that can meet their needs for strong, absolute identity. ...read more.

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