THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A RELIGIOUS CULT

By Akin Ojumu

Thousands of members of the Peoples Temple who followed “Pastor” Jim Jones into his remote agricultural settlement camp in Jonestown, Guyana didn’t think their charismatic leader, whom they so passionately adored, was a cult leader, nor did they know they belonged to a religious cult. 

These people considered themselves true worshipers of God and believed, without the shadow of doubt, they were committed adherents to the Christian faith. In their minds, they were just ordinary men and women seeking the Lord and desiring to serve Him.

Rather sadly, we know how that turned out. Compelled by their Dear Leader, close to a thousand members of the cult committed mass suicide after they were forced to drink cyanide-laced fruit punch. According to the Rolling Stone;

“Until the September 11th attacks, the tragedy in Jonestown on November 18th, 1978 represented the largest number of American civilian casualties in a single non-natural event. It is unfathomable now, as it was then, that more than 900 Americans – members of a San Francisco-based religious group called the Peoples Temple – died after drinking poison at the urging of their leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, in a secluded South American jungle settlement. Photographs taken after the carnage forever document the sheer enormity of the event: the bodies of hundreds of people, including children, lying face down in the grass. Nearly 40 years later, the infamous and horrific event continues to fascinate us through numerous books, articles and documentaries.”

Many church groups in Christendom today are no more than modern day religious cults. Popular places of worship that draw hundreds of thousands of followers are indistinguishable from religious movements such as the Peoples Temple, Children of God, Branch Davidians of the Waco Texas fame, Heaven's Gate, or the Manson Family. 

Spiritual mass suicide, with mass casualties, is taking place on a massive scale on a daily basis in today’s places of worship as charismatic religious cult leaders force spiritual cyanide-laced fruit punch down the throats of tens of millions of religious followers who will do anything their leader tells them to do. Masses of souls, caught in cultic webs, are being led astray into eternal damnation by the Dear Leaders of these cults.

Listed below are some of the characteristics of religious cults. While the list is by no means exhaustive, and the characteristics may not all apply to one single religious group, a combination of them are almost always recognizable within a typical religious cult.

1. The group is focused on a living human leader to whom members display unquestioning commitment, unbridled devotion, excess zealousness, and godlike worship. The leader is called “Papa,” “Daddy,” “Man of God,” “Mummy,” “Mother,” “Woman of God,” etc., etc.

2. The group uses indoctrination or education that is coercive persuasion or thought reform (commonly called "brainwashing").

3. The leader has a close relationship with God that no other member of the group enjoys and he hears directly from God, as God talks to him in person; he is God’s spokesperson to the people.

4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are condemned, discouraged, or even punished. Because the leader has direct access to God, and God communicates with him in person, to question the leader is to question God himself. Members quote Scripture such as, “Touch not my anointing,” to explain while it is wrong to question the Daddy or Mummy in the Lord.

5. When the group leader crosses Biblical boundaries of behavior and commits acts that violate the true faith, the members rationalize, accept, defend such behaviors because the leader can do no wrong.

6. The group's leader is not accountable to any human authority. To disagree with the leader on matters of faith is to disrespect God's anointed. You hear members often say, “Leave him to God, it is not for us to judge.” 

7. Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

8. The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).

9. The group is cliquish, clannish, and elitist claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).

10. The group has a polarized us- versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.

11. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities, using manipulation and coercion to get members to contribute money to the group.

12. The leadership induces feelings of unhealthy guilt, fear, and terror in the members in order to control them.

13. Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.

14. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.

15. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members. The group creates camps where members purchase lands to build their homes.

Some may be thinking, “my church is not a cult and I don’t belong to a religious cult.” Well, neither did the followers of Jim Jones who committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana more than 40 years ago. They too never thought they were members of a religious cult.

Let every man examine himself. You ought to look in the mirror and consider the image you see reflect back at you. If these characteristics describe your Church, you belong to a religious cult and if the religious group to which you belong exhibits any of the above cultic traits, you are a tithe paying member of a religious cult.

“Therefore, come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”

...Some of the characteristics listed were borrowed from multiple online sources...

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