Why Cults Are Effective
Thu, October 21, 2021

Why Cults Are Effective

In 2014, Shin Ok-Ju, founder of the Grace Road Church, convinced over 400 people to move to Fiji, a country in the South Pacific, which she claimed was the “promised land” / Photo by: Coverly via Wikimedia Commons

 

In 2014, Shin Ok-Ju, founder of the Grace Road Church, convinced over 400 people to move to Fiji, a country in the South Pacific, which she claimed was the “promised land.” She said that, there, they would survive future apocalyptic events. Little did they know, Shin would hold them captive for many years.

The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, reported that one of the followers who was taken by the South Korean doomsday cult described how they were trapped in Fiji. Their passports were confiscated, medications were withheld, and all of their contacts were cut off. Those who attempted to escape faced brutal rituals. One of these rituals was called “threshing floors,” where people were beaten as punishment for sinful actions or to drive out evil spirits.

Earlier this year, Shin was arrested and found guilty on multiple criminal charges including violence, child abuse, and fraud. Videos of Shin calling her followers during her sermons and then hitting them in the face were shown at court. The Anyang sub-court of the Suwon district court said, “The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and considerable mental shock.” 

Despite the brutality and manipulation received not only by the members of the Grace Road Church but also other cults, it’s surprising that a lot of people continue to join these kinds of groups.

For instance, Heaven’s Gate believed that committing mass suicide would enable them to enter a spaceship of the Hale-Bopp comet. Scientologists are convinced that human beings are vessels for the ghosts of brainwashed aliens, while the leader of the Branch Davidians said he was the messiah and all women were his “spiritual wives.”

Cults, by definition, are religious sectors that are generally considered to be extremist or false / Photo by: FBI via Wikimedia Commons

 

How Cults Effectively Recruit

Cults, by definition, are religious sectors that are generally considered to be extremist or false. Their followers often live unconventionally under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader. Previous studies have revealed that women make upto 70 percent of cult members across the globe. They tend to join these groups because they are more likely to join social gatherings, either religious or otherwise.

Dr. Stanley H. Cath, a psychoanalyst and psychology professor at Tufts University, noticed that many people who join cults experience religion at some point in their lives, which they eventually reject. Dr. Cath suggests intelligent, young people become prime targets for cult recruitment because many of them “have a history of failing to achieve intimacy, of blaming others for their failures, and of constantly striving for perfectionistic goals.”

According to BigThink, a multimedia web portal that features a collection of interviews, presentations, and roundtable discussions with experts from a wide range of fields, cults use four psychological techniques to recruit members:

1 - Choosing the right target

Although cult recruitment targets all kinds of people, cults particularly focus on those who are emotionally vulnerable, stressed, living in adverse socioeconomic conditions, or have tenuous or no family connections. Also, they are more likely to recruit wealthy people who can work to forward the cult's goal and donate money.

2 - Love-bombing

Ronald N. Loomis, a cult awareness educator, described love-bombing as involving "a recruiter approaching the student and doing everything [they] can to make the student feel special and unique." Cult recruiters tend to flood their targets, who are emotionally vulnerable, with affection, flattery, and validation. 

3 - Isolation

Cults that have already enticed a person into joining their group would work to isolate them to ensure that the only reality that they believe is the one presented by the cult. Often, they isolate their recruits from friends and family members, immerse them in their ideology for a few days, and censor newspapers, books, TVs, and web access. 

4 - Keeping control

Cults take control of their recruits by increasing their dependence on the leader. They make sure that these people stay with them through subjecting the cult recruit to terror and love.

According to the South China Morning Post, cults also use techniques such as coercive persuasion, mind control, and thought reform / Photo by: Canadian Film Centre via Wikimedia Commons

 

How Effective Cults Can Be

A 2016 book titled “Terror, Love, and Brainwashing: Attachment in Cults and Totalitarian Systems” written by former cult member Alexandra Stein explained that cults use several techniques to keep members under their control. The most effective is brainwashing or the attempt to change the thoughts and beliefs of another person against their will.

According to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong English-language newspaper, cults also use techniques such as coercive persuasion, mind control, and thought reform. They use these tactics to disorient newcomers, break down their resistance, and condition them to depend on the group for all their emotional and physical needs. Cults

However, Dr. Joyce Chao Pui-han of the Hong Kong Psychological Society stated that cult members who have been extremely brainwashed can still change and regain their previous beliefs. “What has been found is that some people, through a coercive situation, have changed their beliefs, but when the coercive environment is removed, they no longer display those beliefs.”

Cults also tend to violate immigration laws, evade taxes, participate in fraud, and deny the children of cult members of appropriate education.