[Fredric Rice, The Skeptic Tank: The authorship of these files on
cults has his or her own motivations for providing them and will
contain his or her own bias. What I find typical is that
individuals and organizations which report on cults are usually
themselves a competition cult yet like to think of themselves as
"a religion, not a cult." In actual fact, _ALL_ religions are
cults by the primary, secondary, and terciary usage definition of
the term. Some of the information you find here is inaccurate and
contains urban legend -- take what you find with a grain of salt.
If you wish to acquire a copy of the Law Enforcement Guide on
Occult Crime, contact myself at firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Skeptic
Tank (818) 335-9601 and I'll forward the address and information
The A-Z of Cults Scenes from 1995: a nerve gas attack on the Tokyo
subway that kills 12 people and leaves thousands vomiting; a federal
office blown to pieces in the Mid-West backwater of Oklahoma City
with up to 200 dead; shaven-headed, camouflage- wearing youths on
the march through Britain's campuses looking to 'save' souls.
Unrelated events, certainly, but perhaps there is a unifying theme
As we hurtle towards the third millennium, it seems our rationalist,
materialist culture is in danger of exhausting itself: running out
of reason, running out of resources. Add to this the anxieties that
have always lurked deep in the human psyche - 'why are we here?' 'I
don't want to die' -and we begin to see some of the reasons for the
rise in New Religious Movements(NRMs). Of course, the Aum cult in
Japan, the militias in the States who've turned the Branch Davidians
into martyrs and Middle England's Jesus Army are unrelated sects
with wildly varying aims. But, like the rest of the groups which
feature in this issue and over the following two weeks of Life, they
symbolise, in the most dramatic fashion, an abiding hunger for
extreme belief in an unbelieving world.
As traditional religion recedes in the West, unorthodox systems of
belief are increasingly moving into their stead. They need not be
religious, either, at least not in the conventional sense. Nor do
the vast majority have any interest in direct, still less violent,
action. Look at evangelical sales organisations that bring born-
again fervour to persuading the uninitiated to buy water filters;
the spiritual types meditating cross-legged in suburban sitting
rooms. They all stand on the margins of Western society, united
only in their conviction that they know the truth.
There is not a word which can encompass such a diverse spread of
beliefs and actions. Our use of 'cult' is limited to the general
dictionary definition: 'a system ofreligious belief: formal
worship: a sect: an unorthodox or false religion: a great, often
excessive, admiration for a person or idea: the person or idea giving
rise to such admiration: a fad' (Chambers). Even politically correct
sociologists have had trouble finding euphemisms. Their suggested
alternative, NRMs, has been widely ignored by media, public and
even other sociologists. Perhaps this is because cults do not
receive the protection that other minority views have enjoyed in
One public misapprehension about cults, though, that the experts are
keen to qualify is the question of money. In almost all cases where
a cult has found itself exposed in the press for financial
corruption and deceptive recruitment, it has come about because
the cult has grown in size beyond the control of its founders.
The seminal case is the Hare Krishnas, an organisation that was
started in the late 1960s by people who had until then forsaken
worldly ambition. They were in no way equipped for the bureaucracy
of running a body politic of thousands, nor of accounting for the
millions of dollars that began pouring into their coffers.
With the exceptions of L Ron Hubbard and Revd Moon, modern
visionaries do not appear to make good generals. The bottom line
for most broadminded liberals is whether the customer is satisfied.
If a person experiences a genuine and lasting feeling of enhanced
worth as a result of joining a cult, then doesn't that validate the
existence of that cult? What follows below is not an answer to this
question (hopefully you'll find that elsewhere in the series).
Neither is it comprehensive or comparative. It is, though, a random -
the alphabet apart - selection of groups of people whose beliefs
locate them on the edge of our understanding.
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