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TS155 – Contemporary Religious Movements

TO: REV. ADRIAN VAN LEEN

FROM: DAVID LIM HUNG HENG

24-May-98

BRIEF ESSAY ON “WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR FACTORS THAT MAKE
CULTS ATTRACTIVE TO PEOPLE TODAY?”

Introduction

People today are quite disillusioned with secularism especially when it reduces
everything to thing and function. At first, there was an incredible freedom to do as you like,
without being affected by relationship or meaning. However, the freedom turned into boredom
and more consumerism didn’t satisfy. The modern men began to realize that secularism
marginalise human intimacy (love, trust and joy) and transcendence (divine love, divine trust
and divine joy). Hence, there seems to be an increased interest in spiritualism. Perhaps the
modern men have realised that the root of all life is spiritual i.e. everything we see is formed by
what we do not see. In the midst of materialism and spiritual depression, people now want to
know about God and about meaning and purpose, right and wrong, heaven and hell.
However, many are being led astray by cults for many reasons. I would like to examine these
reasons under the various main headings:

• Societal factors
• Emotional /Psychological factors
• Intellectual Factors
• Physical Factors
• Religious factors

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TS155 – Contemporary Religious Movements

Societal Factors

As mentioned in the introduction, the modern men are disillusioned with gross
materialism and have turned to seek for spiritual truths. From the societal perspective, cults
are becoming an alternative to the present age for the following reasons.

General Disillusionment. When men do not find fulfillment in his family, work, society, main-
stream church and so-on, he is attracted to try out other “spiritual trips” which promise him
different and mystical experiences. Cults are known to offer such diversion or promises for
the disillusioned.

Family Disintegration.. In the world today, the traditional family unit (husband, wife, with or
without children) is under attack not only from the option of too many new family alternatives
but also from an erosion of confidence in its traditional values. Some argue that this idea of
nuclear family is dead. Also, tremendous forces in the modern world have conspired to
disintegrate the attributes of family traditions and norms. For example, many now want
“family without risk”, no-fault divorce, cohabiting couple, etc. This breakdown of the
traditional basic community life is a major crisis of the modern age. Without this social
control, we become vulnerable to ourselves as well as to strangers around us. We become like
“homeless minds” looking for meaning and purpose in life. Cults often offer the apparent love
and care of a family-oriented group that seem to be very closely knitted. Cult members are
always ready to play the roles of the ideal parents, brothers and sisters that the new prospects
never had. They even provide new identities for these new people to encourage them to
forget their roots which are denounced as evil.

Dehumanisation in Society. The definition of society has changed many times throughout
history. At first, it meant to be a companionship. Then it became an entity to which all
belonged (civic society) as distinct from the state. Now it means a nation-state which
embodies a territory with a single governance and the people who live in it. Today, individuals
in modern society or city feel overwhelmed especially in their factory workplace which
alienated one worker from the other. They are also treated like digits and machines whose
purposes are to fulfill certain functions. Hence, the communal lifestyle of a cult and its
apparent cohesiveness often has a certain attraction for the modern men.

Attractive Programs. Cults are quite clever in exploiting all forms of media to promote their

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programs or courses. Often, their “missionaries” are well-trained in the art of sales
psychology and use deceptive methods to win new members. Rewards and promotions are
given to their “missionaries” who are successful in bringing more members (+more income)
and conversely, punishment or guilty are imposed on those who failed.

Emotional /Psychological factors

Apparent Love and Care of Cult Members. Cults are very proficient in showing apparent
love and care to new prospects at the initial phase. They will give full attention to the needs of
these new prospects with the aim of making them a part of the cult. Methods such
psychological and physical stroking, flattery, compliments, hugging, kissing, care letters, etc.
are exploited to achieve their objectives. They even become the apparent ideal parents that the
prospects never had but always longed for.

Appealing Lifestyles. Through impressive public promotion and propaganda on all available
media eg. TV, newspaper, magazines, books, etc., cults portray themselves as having the ideal
lifestyles that modern men had missed out in a cold and uncaring world. Often they use the
names of certain professionals, dignitaries, politicians, authorities, with or without consent, to
further the promotion of their organisations. Each cult often claims to have the right
philosophy of life that can provide the members with the assurance they are looking for.
Inevitably, they will not hesitate to use money or power politics to discredit those who
opposes them.

Peer Pressure. Once a person is bait into a cult community by its apparent love/care and
appealing lifestyle, it is common for a cult group to use many emotional, psychological and
physical apparatus to make the person stick with the group. One way is to introduce extensive
studies for the new “convert” in a group setting, together with experienced members. These
are long, demanding programmes where distorted facts, half-truth quotes, self-generated
material, esoteric jargons, vague but complex doctrines, new twists to familiar terms,
monologues, repetitive indoctrination, etc. are exploited by the existing members to “brain-
wash” the person. Another method is the employment of repetitive chantings/singings in
foreign languages to empty or bypass the mind/intellectual faculty. A more aggressive method
is to remove the inhibitions of the new people by pressuring them to join in the group
activities, games and conform to group standards or attire. When out of steps, the new

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members will be rejected or punished by the group leader. They even use sex to coerce certain
behavior or submission.

Charisma of the Cult Leader. Strong charismatic leaders are the best catalysts to initiate
cultic formation. Although not normally trained in religion or psychology, these persons often
believe that they are the new messiahs or spokesmen of God. To hide their lack of theological
or relevant training, they often claim to be infallible and equal or even superior to Jesus Christ.
These claims are apparently supported by their special revelations, knowledge, insights,
powers from God outside of the Bible. They are also possessive in their demands of total
surrender, trust, obedience of their followers of all their teachings and decisions.

Intellectual Factors

Syncretistic Thinking Syncretism is a very popular position taken by many so-called religious
leaders of the world today. To the people of the world who have suffered much from religious
or racial conflicts, syncretism offer a political and social ideal in which the world could live in
harmony in spite of the existence of diverse or opposite religion and practices. Hence, cults
exploit this “ideal” and claim to worship the same “God”. When we examine their claims
further, it is not difficult to reveal their fallacies through many scriptural evidence eg. Matthew
7:15-23, Acts 14:1-18, Galatians 1:6-24, etc.

Naivete and Ignorance. Christians are just as vulnerable to the influence of cults as other
people. Some Christians are taken in by cults who seem to possess more genuine Christian
attributes than the established churches. Often then not, the Christians under attack failed to
use the Bible as a yardstick to validate the authenticity of their own impressions and
experiences. Another factor is the coldness of the established churches to true spiritualism.
Some are therefore attracted to the superspiritual characteristics of some cults.

Physical Factors

Ecological Deterioration. The human civilization, whether deliberate or accidentally, has
significantly altered the makeup and functioning of the world ecological systems which were
created by God. We take away substance from the earth thinking that the resources are

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inexhaustible. Even worse, we dump wastes back to the earth and sea which in the long run,
will end up as toxic in our body as well as in the animals’. Animist cults are very quick to
exploit this sad condition and preach the doctrine that everything in the universe eg. plants,
rocks, planets, etc. are inhabited by souls and spirits and they can be appeased by worship.

Religious factors

Apparent Growth of Cults. Deception and misinformation are common tools of the cults.
They seldom spare the expenses to produce impressive commercial advertisement and
propaganda to lure the public with deceptive and half-truths information. They would even
falsify the membership of their organisations just to show the unwitting public that they have
good followings. Once the new prospects are entrapped, they would use all sorts of techniques
to retain them within the fold, even against their will. Hence, their memberships seem to be
growing with inflow but little outflow. Their aggressive push for more members inevitably has
an ulterior motive which is to raise more money and more material assets.

Future Fright. It has been said that most of the past inventions were done in the last 50
years. The modern civilisation is generating more and more possibility about the future from
the material and physical perspectives. But to many of the people, there is still a big void in
the spiritual realm. All these have aggravated the fear of the modern man about the future
since deep down inside, he knows that the fundamental meaning of life can only be answered
from the spiritual perspective. The cults have capitalised on these fears to offer utopian claims
for the future. Each would claim that they have the answers to all the problems now and
beyond. It is not uncommon for them to claim full knowledge about the “new world” and the
way to enter this “new world” (their version of salvation).

CONCLUSIONS.

These discussions are by no means exhaustive. They are only indications to show that
the cults are indeed very aggressive in distorting truths/facts and using brain-washing
techniques to gain more membership into their folds. Many times, their main motivation is to
acquire more money and assets to enrich the founders. In the final analysis, even these
founders and leaders have been deceived by Satan in sowing deception and confusion to cast

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doubt that Jesus Christ is the Only Way to Salvation as intended by God. Scripture teachings
eg. 1 Peter 5:8, Matthew 13:39, John 8:42-47, etc. have been given to show the possible ploys
Satan uses to deceive people from the Truth.

In view of these, the world, including the Christians are at risk to the onslaught of
these deviant organisations. The best defence against these groups is the teachings from the
Bible which clearly state in Ephesians 6:12 that “For our struggle is not against flesh and
blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world,
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. Hence, the members of these cults
are NOT the real enemy and we should try to win them over from the cults and rehabilitate
them. Other biblical relevant passages to consider when confronting the cults are Galatians
1:6-9, Hebrew 1:1-2; 4:12, 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 3:10-17, Revelation 22:18-19, etc.
Integral to this biblical defence is the use of our thinking faculty and the maturity of our
Christian faith.

David Lim Hung Heng

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