Why do people join cults? – Janja Lalich

When Reverend Jim Jones founded
the Peoples Temple in 1955, few could have imagined
its horrifying end. This progressive religious movement
rose in popularity and gained support from some of San Francisco’s
most prominent politicians. But in 1977, amidst revelations
of brainwashing and abuse, Jones moved with several hundred followers to establish the commune of Jonestown
in Guyana. Billed as a utopian paradise,
the colony was more like a prison camp, and when a congressional delegation
arrived to investigate its conditions, Jones executed his final plan. On November 18, 1978, 909 men,
women, and children died after being forced to drink
poisoned Flavor Aid. That grizzly image has since been
immortalized as shorthand slang for single-minded cult-like thinking, “They drank the Kool-aid.” Today, there are thousands of cults
around the world. It’s important to note two things
about them. First, not all cults are religious. Some are political, therapy-based, focused on self-improvement, or otherwise. And on the flip side, not all new religions are what
we’re referring to as cults. So what exactly defines our modern
understanding of cults, and why do people join them? Broadly speaking, a cult is a group
or movement with a shared commitment to a usually
extreme ideology that’s typically embodied
in a charismatic leader. And while few turn out as deadly
as Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate, which ended in a mass suicide
of 39 people in 1997, most cults share some
basic characteristics. A typical cult requires a high level
of commitment from its members and maintains a strict hierarchy, separating unsuspecting supporters
and recruits from the inner workings. It claims to provide answers
to life’s biggest questions through its doctrine, along with the required recipe
for change that shapes a new member
into a true believer. And most importantly, it uses both
formal and informal systems of influence and control
to keep members obedient, with little tolerance for internal
disagreement or external scrutiny. You might wonder whether
some of these descriptions might also apply to established religions. In fact, the world “cultus”
originally described people who cultivated
the worship of certain gods by performing rituals
and maintaining temples. But in time, it came to mean
excessive devotion. Many religions began as cults, but integrated into the fabric
of the larger society as they grew. A modern cult, by contrast, separates
its members from others. Rather than providing guidelines
for members to live better lives, a cult seeks to directly control them, from personal and family relationships, to financial assets
and living arrangements. Cults also demand obedience
to human leaders who tend to be highly persuasive people with authoritarian
and narcissistic streaks motivated by money, sex, power,
or all three. While a cult leader uses personal charisma
to attract initial followers, further expansion works
like a pyramid scheme, with early members recruiting new ones. Cults are skilled at knowing
whom to target, often focusing on those new to an area, or who have recently undergone some
personal or professional loss. Loneliness and a desire for meaning make one susceptible to friendly people
offering community. The recruitment process can be subtle, sometimes taking months
to establish a relationship. In fact, more than two-thirds
of cult members are recruited by a friend, family member, or co-worker whose invitations are harder to refuse. Once in the cult, members are subjected
to multiple forms of indoctrination. Some play on our natural inclination to
mimic social behaviors or follow orders. Other methods may be more intense using techniques of coercive persuasion
involving guilt, shame, and fear. And in many cases, members may
willingly submit out of desire to belong and to attain the promised rewards. The cult environment discourages
critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling
absolute faith. The resulting internal conflict,
known as cognitive dissonance, keeps you trapped, as each compromise makes it more
painful to admit you’ve been deceived. And though most cults don’t
lead members to their death, they can still be harmful. By denying basic freedoms of thought,
speech, and association, cults stunt their members’
psychological and emotional growth, a particular problem for children, who are deprived of normal
developmental activities and milestones. Nevertheless, many cult members
eventually find a way out, whether through their own realizations, the help of family and friends, or when the cult falls apart
due to external pressure or scandals. Many cults may be hard to identify, and for some, their beliefs,
no matter how strange, are protected under religious freedom. But when their practices
involve harassment, threats, illegal activities, or abuse, the law can intervene. Believing in something should not come
at the cost of your family and friends, and if someone tells you to sacrifice
your relationships or morality for the greater good, they’re most likely exploiting you
for their own.

100 thoughts on “Why do people join cults? – Janja Lalich”

  1. Most people always want someone to tell them the truth! But, to me, the truth is something that only you can search!

  2. This isn't necessarily about religion, if you know anyone who is involved in a pyramid scheme, you will notice day exhibit the same behaviors discussed in the video. I really wish I could help a friend, and this video has helped me see and understand his mindset

  3. To be honest as many people who are saying oh so Mormonism is a cult. I wouldn’t say it is. I have a few close friends who happen to be Mormons and they’ve never shut down anyone else’s ways of thinking or told me why I’m wrong for believing what I do. I’ve just asked questions out of curiosity and they’ve happily answered. I’d been invited to attend a service with my friend cause she was wondering if I’d like to see like how they were and I declined, and she never did anything otherwise, she just smiled and said that’s totally fine. They’ve also done some lovely things for the community as well like for example, my friend and her family went down to South Carolina with their church and spent the weekend building out new homes after a huge hurricane that hit.

  4. Isn't religion itself a cult. Tbh, democracy and communism also go near cult ish ideas. Of course not to that extreme, but some of the cult things are slightly present in the ways of leaderships we have today.

  5. Step 1: join the cult
    Step 2: meet the cult leadet
    Step 3: look at him in the eye and say "Look at me, look at me, i am the captain now'

  6. I'm sorry in advance, but this seems oddly similar to alot of christian/catholic churches where i live 😔

    I've been to churches that encourage their people to remove people with different beliefs from their lives, and with no alternative opinion, and being guided to think in a particular way, they are basically stuck.

  7. The distinguishing feature between a religion and cult is what happens when you try to leave it ?
    If a 'religion' punishes an individual with death for apostasy , it is a cult

  8. Several comments say "a cult never admit to be a cult"
    Well, this is dangerous to say because this way every group of people can be accused to be a cult, no matter what they do.

  9. its funny most organisations and things that can bring people together etc can come across like joining a cult cause everyone who joins all have the same purpose but of course that depends what that is. Scary..

  10. its like PC Culture to me thats very cult like, cause like that want you to say and do an think certain things…thats just weird

  11. Think for your self. Escape from religious thought controllers. Trust your inner instincts and common sense. Free your mind. Free your self from bad groups.

  12. I'm from Guyana, and its been 40 years plus since the Jim Jones cult happened. So happy that they are tapping into history in other countries.

  13. I think ppl need to belong to something, we are hardwired for some sort of discipleship or discipline, and Augustine says it's the intellect's job to tone the will and in turn the appetite, that it's like a muscle that need be excercised in order for tone. If it's not something conciously adhered too, or rejected somehow, the subconcious need will start making decisions for you. We are social animals and we are hardwired for social cohesion, and there are many opportunistic-also a social function-elements that will seek to take advantage. I think that speaks a lot to the idea of civility and the civil culture and world in Scandanavia and other disciplines that may be religious or philosophical in nature, whatever the case may be, we are hard wired to commune socially and we do seem to need the tonic of a discipline. There is civically and socially an answer too, the natural inclination and inclination most natural to our make up is that of individual (survival), family, community, state, region, country. You will see the most passive and vehement followers of tolerance gets gritty in Scandanvia and Europe when it comes to ribbing each other in the region, much the way we would in America with state or regional football or athletics. Conversely, you will also see them stick together regionally, eventhough they may ribb amongst themselves, like family, that's because that is the natural social order of allegiance. It's inherent in the social make up and order. There are opportunists and even predators that will overpledge to their individual survival, and that is where ideologies often form and spread anyway. Mhhm. Just musing. I mean those types use power as survival, and then attach their vehemence or allegiance to survival of their theme, right? That's what manipulates all the passion and defense around it, question is, is it a legitimate form of social cohesion? A legitimate form of allegiance? Does it follow a natural order for everyone? Does it stand up to logic? If it's tested will it stand up to logic? Which is different then just facts too. There are also varying levels of social cohesion and moral codes, or discipleship to be fufilled. It's complicated right? Point being we are sociallyt hardwired for such belonging and discipline too. A moral code is a discipline, a philosophy is more attuned to a moral code then say a social ideology.

  14. I think the illuminati made a cult of survival. And everyone not part of their cult…? Well. Survival isn't a cult. I think they tried to regionalize it too.

  15. Cognitive dissonance. I think there's more than few acolytes out there suffering from cognitive dissonance. And I think they forcing it on the massess too. I think they're forcing the world to experience cognitive dissonance. That's what happens when the world doesn't conform to utopia. Suprise!

  16. If you are rebuked for questioning the organization's ideal, there's your sign. When you are encouraged to isolate yourself from the outsiders who formerly knew you, again, there's your sign. Leave.

  17. Lot of religion is like that too though. Many christian insist you need to choose faith over your own family child because it goes against their belief, etc etc.

  18. "New Kadampa Tradition aka NKT = CULT"
    People Please {Watch:☆'An Unholy Row' BBC Documentary, Network East ☆ } 1998 about this New Kadampa Tradition – NKT, International Kadampa Buddhist Union – IKBU, DSRCS, SSC, WSS, ISC, etc, etc.

    Please Also { Watch: ☆ 'The Real Truth Behind the Shugden Demonstrators' ☆} On here. Thank you.

  19. for school, I had to choose 2 out of 5 videos one of them
    why do people join cults my thinking: Why would this be an option?

  20. I like his approach. You often see atheists jaded by religion whining about its existence without proposing an olive branch and refusing to coexist. There are over 5 billion theists on this planet. They're not going away over night. The fact that Mormonism and Scientology still exist in 2019 proves that the cult to mainstream religion formula works very well. People will always come up with a way to rationalize the chaos of the universe. The least we can do is encourage them to help us explore it.

  21. Jehovah's witnesses are a very sophisticated and manipulative cult. It's almost easy to miss the red flags because they are so nice and innocent people.

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