March 8 by The Running Son
Definition of a Cult – by Michael Langone
Cult experts estimate that there are about 5,000 cultic groups in the United States today and that about 10 to 20 million people have at some point in recent years been in one or more of such groups (Langone, 1993). The Cult Awareness Network reports that it receives about 18,000 inquiries a year (Tobias and Lalich, 1994).
Michael Langone (1993), a psychologist who has worked with approximately 3,000 families of cult members, defines a cult as: a group or movement that, to a significant degree,
1. exhibits great or excessive devotion or dedication to some person, idea, or thing,
2. uses a thought-reform program to persuade, control, and socialize members (i.e., to integrate them into the group’s unique pattern of relationships, beliefs, values, and practices),
3. systematically induces states of psychological dependency in members,
4. exploits members to advance the leadership’s goals, and
5. causes psychological harm to members, their families, and the community (p. 5).
I would add to this definition that a religious cult is led by a person who claims to have reached human perfection or unity with the divine, and who claims therefore to be exempt from social or moral limitations or restrictions. Within this autocracy, the leader is not held to normative societal standards of conduct and is not subject to any system of checks and balances. Behavior that would in any other context be considered amoral, if not psychopathic, is idealized by devotees as indicative of the leader’s transcendent perfection and enlightenment.
Definition from: Langone, M.D. (Ed.) (1993). Recovery From Cults. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
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[ Selection from “Traumatic Abuse in Cults: An Exploration of an Unfamiliar Social Problem” originally posted at: http://www.thezensite.com/non_Zen/Traumatic_Abuse_in_Cults.html#what ]