In last week’s post, we discussed cults and how to know if you or someone you know has ended up in one. This week in “How Cults Work,” I’ll reveal two more groups of people often targeted by cults and how cult members recruit them.
In last week’s post, Am I in a Cult? I gave you lists of warning signs to look for in both group leaders and the general membership. I also included a list of positive traits to look for in a group as well as their leader. I mentioned the type of folks that cults love to single out for recruitment – and they’re not kooky, marginalized, or even quirky people like you might expect, although they can be.
If you haven’t yet read that post, you can read it here.
Today, I want to finish up with the last two groups of people that are targeted by cults and how the cults attract these new members.
It may come as no surprise that the first group is college students. Most of these young people are away from home (for an extended period) for the first time in their lives. Often, they are very far from home as well; a continent away, or even on the other side of the globe, which makes them feel that much more isolated.
Alone in a strange new place and, if they’ve just arrived, probably friendless as well, they are vulnerable. In the eyes of a cultist these kids are easy pickings. The cult’s members stalk the cafeterias, walkways, tiny parks, dorms, and corridors and “just happen” to bump into other students, or need to ask directions, or any one of hundreds of otherwise legitimate reasons one might have for talking to a complete stranger.
Which brings up the point that, just because someone is friendly and welcoming, or asks directions or even bumps into you doesn’t mean they’re cultists on the prowl for their next victim. They may really be lost, friendly, or even clumsy.
How Cults Work
The college cult members will invite the potential victims to some type of meeting, study group or other get-together and – what hacks me off more than anything else – even perhaps, a Bible study group. I’ll get to why this makes me foam at the mouth in a moment. The point is, they’ll befriend them and may even “love-bomb” them.
The lists of warning signs and positive traits I gave on Am I in a Cult? on what to look out for in new groups and their leaders apply for the college student as well – they apply to anyone. But here is something else the student can do upon attending that first get-together or even before that, such as when first approached by someone. If they’re not interested in what the other students (or faculty) are offering and politely decline, the ones doing the offering or inviting should graciously back off.
Which is not to say that if those making the offer ask a counter-question or object in a friendly way (“Are you sure you don’t want to come? There’s going to be tacos!”), they’re automatically a cultist. On the other hand, the student who isn’t interested shouldn’t have to beat them off with a stick. If a second or third polite yet firm, “No thanks!” doesn’t do the trick, or if they back off but contact them later and continue to badger them, that’s a definite red flag.
Now I’ll elaborate on my earlier comment about why those who invite students to Bible study groups or church makes me foam at the mouth.
It isn’t the fact that they invite these students to Bible study groups. I don’t see that as being any worse than inviting a fellow student to sign a petition, attend a rally, or come to a party. In fact, it’s probably better than inviting them to a party, as they’re unlikely to get so bombed that they die of alcohol poisoning, or for the girls, end up getting raped thanks to a date rape drug slipped into their drink.
No, it’s not the invitation that gets me, as there are plenty of loving, caring, legitimate Bible study groups and churches out there filled with people who want nothing more than to shine God’s light into the lives of others and help their fellow students in any way they can. You know, like Jesus taught.
And if these legitimate Christian students invite others to a Bible study group or church or whatever and are firmly (yet hopefully, politely) told no thank you, they will almost always back off. If they don’t, it’s probably because they’re so new to their faith, they don’t know any better. In which case, if they were reminded that Jesus never pushed himself on anyone who didn’t want to listen to him, that would no doubt get the desired results.
But it’s the so-called “Christian” groups who get unsuspecting victims into their “Bible study” or church and then, once the new person feels welcome and part of the crowd, start slowly turning up the heat, like the proverbial frog in the pot of water.
The Bible studies may get longer and longer. Only about an hour at first, but then two hours. Then three. Eventually, many of these “studies” turn into all-night marathons and somehow the cultists make the new attendees feel as if it was their decision, and maybe even their own idea.
Then come the rules. Lots of rules. Tithe ten percent of your income. Then more. And more. Obey the rules. No need to go home during breaks to visit your family – you have “family” right here. Cut the ties. Eat this. Don’t eat that. Wear this. Don’t wear that. Hop up and down on one leg while picking wax out of your ears and singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, etc.
And on it goes until someone realizes it’s nothing more than a cult masquerading as Christianity.
God must be furious at this.
Now here’s a target group that was a surprise to me – those in the military.
I think this was surprising to me because I tend to think our military as our country’s protectors – and they are! But sometimes, even those who protect others could use a little protection themselves. And I found out about cults targeting the members of our military in the most interesting way.
I attended a local cult church.
Not on purpose, mind you. I was church-shopping and had spent a lot of time online, seeking out local churches and carefully combing through their websites, reading their “About” pages, statements of faith, and anything else I could find that might give me some idea if a church would be a good fit and hopefully even if was a cult.
Which would most certainly not be a good fit. Not that you can tell what’s underneath the surface from a website, but it’s a helpful place to start at least weeding out the most obvious ones.
I had made a fairly long list of possible candidates, ones who provoked reactions in my mind ranging from, oh, that one sounds great! to, meh – doesn’t sound stellar, but it may be okay…I’ll check it out. I arrived at one of the may-be-okay-I’ll-check-it-out churches and pulled into the small parking lot. I saw no one at the doors – not a good sign. But then, upon further inspection, it looked like I might have pulled into a lower parking lot, and perhaps the main doors were upstairs.
I heard music starting up as I opened the door. It did appear to be a sort of basement, with a lounge area and a kitchen, and I could hear music off to my left but didn’t see a door that way. What I did see, however, was a woman sitting on a couch and chatting with a couple of other people in the kitchen. Having seen me enter, I thought for sure at least one of them would greet me.
I stood there feeling out of place, thinking, okay, as soon as one of them finishes verbalizing their thoughts, they’ll say hello to me. I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, so I waited a few more moments. Although they glanced at me, none of them stopped talking long enough to offer so much as a “Hello,” so I left.
I would never want to become a part of such an unfriendly church and besides, I had that funny little feeling in my gut that I shouldn’t be there anyway.
How does this make it a cult church that targets the military? It doesn’t, and as far as I know, it wasn’t. Bear with me.
I left, frustrated because it was now 11 a.m. and in my experience, most church services start no later than that. I decided to give it one last try since I had taken the unusual step that morning of putting on makeup – something I usually do only on Sundays or other rare occasions, and I didn’t want to have gone to the trouble for nothing. So, I pulled over and started Googling churches, hoping to find one that I’d missed in my earlier internet searches, that started after 11 a.m.
And I found one, so close it was almost on the way home.
Stop by next week and find out how a creepy cult that targets military personnel tried to get their hooks into me as well!