Cults Essay, Research Paper
I. Brief Introduction
Recently during our in class discussion we where introduced to the definition of a
cult. So unbenounced to myself I was unaware of the fact this paper was due. Which is
entirely my fault. This in turn peaked my interest to learn more of the cult and where this
term originated. So The past week I attempted to read many articles on such things as
Waco and the like.
The controversy surrounding new religious movements seems to be foremost
concerned with whether or not the members of these religions come of their own freewill
or if they convert as a necessary and inevitable response to coercion, or brainwashing
techniques employed by the cult leaders. I previously stated this in one of my Journal
entries. It seems that there is always one man in charge with all the power . With this
power he can inevitably induce a form of brainwashing .
The concept of brainwashing came into popular existence in the 1950 s as the
result of attempts to try and explain the behavior of some American GI s who defected to
the Communists during the Korean War (19 Oct 1999). Many people, including some
professionals, found brainwashing to be an acceptable explanation for the otherwise
unexplainable behavior. However, the brainwashing theory did nothing to explain why
hundreds of other captured GI s chose to remain true to their country even at the risk of
being tortured. It could not accurately account for the behavior of a select few GI s when
it did not offer any explanation for the behavior of the majority. This also ties in with
something we discussed early on in the quarter called shell shock . Many times
throughout history we tend to seek an easy answer for that which we do not understand.
Or rather that which we DO NOT want to understand. It is much easier for us as humans
to dismiss such things to brainwashing or shellshock rather then to seek the truth.
Since the 1950 s, the concept of brainwashing has faded in and out of public
consciousness with a tendency to flare up again in the face of public controversy. In the
1960 s and 1970 s the brainwashing debate again took center stage, this time in an
attempt to explain the behavior of so-called radicals who left behind a normal life and
opted instead for a cult existence. I believe James would have questioned this. What is
a normal life . He stood on the grounds of, (in Lamens terms) to each their own. Who
are we to say who is right and who is wrong? If this cult life where to better a person
and do good for a community who are we to judge?
Although scholars of new religious movements would agree that religious groups
often have substantial influence over their followers, they would also argue that the
influence exerted in “cults” is not very different from influence that is present in
practically every arena of life, (19 Oct 1999). Mainstream religions also exercise
influence over their members concerning matters such as lifestyle choices, familial
relations and monetary donations. Furthermore, most social scientists concede that some
degree of influence is inevitable in each culture and facet of life even outside the arena of
Despite the fact that there do not appear to be any studies that conclusively
provide evidence of brainwashing as a legitimate explanation for joining, and in spite of
the many studies that have refuted that brainwashing defense successfully, the
brainwashing theory continues to be debated regularly. Although we tend to put this
concept to rest at times, it shall inevitably rear its ugly head. Then once again we must
question and dispute is it brainwashing or rather a free choice? The concept of
brainwashing is still often relied on to account for behavior that is otherwise culturally
If brainwashing is not an appropriate explanation for the conversion of people to
NRM s than what is? A common theme on the anticult side of the conversion debate is
the argument that members are, to varying degrees, predisposed to becoming cult
members. This supposed predisposition is commonly thought to be a product of
depression, grief, loneliness and a life filled with successive failures. Often these cults
are funded by its followers giving their worldly goods . Although I can not quote this In
one of the many articles I read in one such case where a successful business man was a
main contributor to the cult. However, as recent studies have shown, this is not entirely
true. Although many people who seek out NRM s are suffering with depression or have
realized some setbacks the same could be said of some that seek out mainstream
religions for the same reasons, namely to feel better about themselves and to find purpose
and meaning in life. Once again I must reiterate James s thoughts. His judge no others
concepts often put these views into question.
Shelley Leibert, an instructor with the Unification Church, has discussed two
main types of people that pass through the UC camps (Dawson, 1996:204). Leibert
describes one type as being well rounded, successful and secure while the other is
described as being drug users, dropouts and drifters. Leibert concludes that it is the latter
that are most unlikely to dedicate themselves to the lifestyle of the UC. Proponents of the
predetermination theory often argue that it is these depressed and lonely people who are
susceptible, predetermined and often targeted victims of cult brainwashing. They make
these assumptions often lacking any firsthand knowledge of cult recruiting practices.
While it is true that at times some cult members appear to be more vulnerable to cult
recruiting (Dawson, 1996:205), it remains that vulnerability and predisposed are two
different concepts. Furthermore, many of those who are deemed to be vulnerable
(recent divorcees, the grieving, etc.,) frequently regard their cult experience as a positive
and therapeutic experience, even after leaving the cult environment (Dawson, 1996:205).
Although, as Dr. John G. Clark suggests, these seemingly vulnerable people join NRM s in an attempt to feel better about themselves (Dawson, 1996:207), the same thing can
be said of many who join mainstream religious organizations. Regardless of whether the
vulnerable person chooses to join a mainstream religion or an NRM, it is, nevertheless,
still a choice. The exercising of freewill, or choice, by cult inductees is evident but their
frequent church, or cult, hopping done in order to find a group whose beliefs and
practices best answer their questions (Dawson, 1996:205).
The brainwashing theory conveniently provides an outlet for the anti-cult
movement to answer to the question of why some people chose NRM s over mainstream
religions. It allows those who leave NRM s and regret their former connections to avoid
taking responsibility for their actions and takes the blame for their deviant behavior
away from them. In doing so, the brainwashing theory negates the plausibility of freewill.
In closing, it could be argued that, if brainwashing were a legitimate theory, the
anti-cult movement exhibits more mind control behaviors than do NRM s, when
considering their participation in action such as deprogramming and their consistent
use of propaganda and half truths. It must be stated that it is a CHOICE.
II Brief conclusion
Often times in paper we must state the facts and argue each case with out opinion. This
is why I enjoy the journal topics. It is extremely hard to put ones own personal thoughts
and feelings into a paper. As I am right now, I am just winging it . With out any pre
planned writing but just stating what comes to my head. So Like I said The reason I
chose this topic was because of what we discussed in class also how the case of Waco
stuck so profoundly in our heads. Hopefully I will write on James in my next paper.
Many of the things regarding cults could be argued by James. I enjoy his non
judgmental way of thinking. Such as you can believe in what you want, like mystical
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