Reporter discusses tell-tale cult signs

Published on Friday, 13 September 2013 20:18 - Written by By Rebecca Hoeffner rhoeffner@tylerpaper.com

In an article in Wednesday’s paper, the parents of a 26-year-old girl are concerned about her involvement with a Cherokee County church. They described the church as “cultish.”

Cults are a scary thing, and it seems like the word is getting thrown around more and more lately. Some of them might be legitimate; some may not.

Here’s what to look out for when a group makes your alarm bells go off.

Cults are known for having a charismatic leader whom no one ever questions. Followers might not question them because they actually have bought into what they’re saying, or they may fear retaliation if they do speak up.

 The leader of a cult will often exert control over areas of followers’ lives that we usually would consider no one’s decision but our own.

Another tell-tale sign is if everyone in the group considers themselves better than outsiders. It’s an “us vs. them” mentality. This includes isolation from friends and family members.

“The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary,” reads the article. “This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group …”

No one makes it a life goal to join a cult, and anyone can get sucked into one by accident.

“A misconception is that there is a certain 'type' — usually imbalanced, weak — that not only finds themselves caught inside a cult but that isn't able to extract themselves from it,” writes Jayanti Tamm, author of “Cartwheels in a Sari: A Memoir of Growing Up Cult.”

“The truth is, there isn't one typical profile, 'type.' People with advanced degrees and people without any formal education are both equally likely to find themselves swaddled in orange robes or holed up in a compound. The urge to be a part of something is elemental, raw and natural. To have a defined goal, a purpose, offers meaning. Most people strive for acceptance within social groups and long for affirmation from others. Be it in an office or country club, adjustments are made to conform, to gain approval and to advance.”

It’s good to be informed about the signs of a cult, but that shouldn’t keep us from joining groups that will have a positive impact on our lives. Humans are social creatures, and we need each other. If you find that you’re in a group that tries to control you and makes the group the only thing important in your life, reconsider your involvement. But if you find a group of people who complement you and offer balance and community, you have found a wonderful thing.