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I grew up on the fringes of a lot of cults, and the occult, raging from simple pagan worship to some pretty horrific satanic stuff. But for the grace of God, I did not wind up drinking blue kool aid or dying with a roll of quarters in my pocket. As a kid you have very little power over your own circumstances.

I should mention, I never encountered a Christian cult. The cults and cult like behavior I am familiar with have to do with ideology, charisma, and malignant narcissism, usually orbiting a set of political ideals or a utopian vision for the future. I grew up under atheism in the 60’s, in a chaotic time of rejecting Christian values, not embracing them.

How do you identify a cult? Control, control, control. Compliance with the group, dependance on the leader, devaluing outsiders, and avoiding dissent. That devaluing of outsiders can be downright pathological and extremely paranoid. Cults thrive on keeping people isolated, therefore anyone outside the group is perceived as the enemy. Isolation is critical to social control. Hence, I did not go to school or church or have much contact with the outside world at all. Other people were perceived as the enemy, they would immediately begin to brainwash you, indoctrinate you, contaminate your thinking, put bad ideas in your head.

Cults crave followers and they tend to engage in love bombing, seductive recruiting strategies, combined with heavy handed conversion techniques. In other words, they try to mess with your head, toy with your psychology and biology, play you, so to speak. They’re very good at it too. People are so starved for attention, for love, for a sense of community, it’s ridiculously easy to exploit their desires. Once hooked, people will do anything to remain within the good graces of the group. It hits the reward centers of your brain, like an addiction. Being cast out, shunned, ostracized, or simply frowned on by others, begins to consume people and they start to do everything they can to avoid it. They comply, they conform, they bend the very nature of themselves seeking approval. There is nothing you can’t make people do, once you hold the strings, no line they won’t cross. Common sense, reason, have left the building.

I suspect that many of those who engage in acts of terrorism are being controlled by a cult like psychology.

Most cult leaders have a kind of charisma, a form of malignant narcissism, that really does have some dark spiritual things attached to it. I have looked into some of those empty soul-less eyes, eyes that actually burn when they look at you, and heard people’s praises of this person, and thought this just has to be demonic, there is simply too much cognitive dissonance going on here. It’s just not of this world.

There are religious cults in the world, no doubt about that, but religion is not the key component to cults. Anything can become a “religion” for the purposes of cult like control and a charismatic leader’s desire for validation and power. They are absolute experts at manipulation. They know precisely how to push people’s feelgood and feelbad buttons.

I have a powerful allergy to manipulation, social control, and charisma. (LOL, I should mention that there are some people who have a rather charming kind of charisma, that draws you towards them simply because they are delightful to be around. Those people are awesome and we need more of them in the world, but that is a kind of charisma that has no manipulation and control behind it, no desire to exploit others.)

Cult leaders often present themselves as the only game in town, the only people on Earth who possess the truth, who see the world as it really is, and have found the answer.  They are the only one’s in the Matrix that have taken the red pill and are now operating within true reality. I realize that some of these ideas could be translated to define Christianity, although there is a difference there, even within so called Christian cults. One identifying factor is that they tend to completely reject scripture and people’s personal relationship with Christ, because that than threatens the god like status sought by the leader. Thou shall have no other gods before me….including God Himself, in a cult. That’s the marker right there, Christ first, leadership second, and anytime that line becomes blurred, you’re in dangerous waters.

There are people in the world who believe that if you rid the world of religion you will rid the world of the manipulative psychological power of cults. Au contraire, cults and cult like behavior can absolutely thrive in the absence of organized religion. It can spring forth from anything, including various forms of political ideology and utopian ideals of a completely secular nature. The game of cults is about psychology, biology, and human nature, not religion. In fact for many, including me, religion is actually where freedom and healing is to be found, so don’t be trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because there is a historical precedent that suggests the odds of religion being replaced with something even worse are significant and predictable.