APwv 10/31 1234 Cults By CASSANDRA BURRELL Associated Press Writer PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Don'

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APwv 10/31 1234 Cults By CASSANDRA BURRELL Associated Press Writer PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Don't scoff at people who have been sucked into such religious cults as the Hare Krishnas or the Church of Scientology, because anyone can fall prey to them, say members of a nationwide anti-cult group. "To you and I ... it may seem absurb that someone can accept the baloney that groups like these tell their members, but it's a lot easier than you think," said Ron Loomis, president of Cult Awareness Network, a national group holding its annual convention in Pittsburgh this weekend. Loomis said recruiters from psychologically damaging groups often take advantage of emotional turmoil or personal tragedy, offering sympathetic companionship and a new set of friends. Former cult members say they were approached by recuiters at low moments in their lives, after the loss of a job or lover, for example, Loomis said. "Something has happened to make them feel less secure, less confident. That seems to be the common experience," he said. "Everybody has those moments." College students often fall prey to cults after being invited to join organizations that masquerade as Christian Bible study groups, said Loomis, who also is director of Cornell University's student union. The Cult Awareness Network does not object to any group's religious beliefs or spiritual practices, only to the unethical practices some use to recruit, hold and exploit their members, Loomis said. He said he labels groups cults if they use deception, mind control techniques or brainwashing on members. Cults also urge members to donate large amounts of money, make unreasonable demands on members' time and discourage contact with friends and family members who are not members, he said. Loomis said he counsels students to turn to familiar faces during times of crisis. "If you are feeling lonely or depressed or your self-confidence is low, don't respond to a stranger. Turn to an individual or group who has been there for you before," he said. Betty McConahy, founder of the Cult Awareness Network's Pittsburgh chapter, said when an information hotline was established in 1976, most calls came from parents looking for help in getting their children out of cults. But today, many calls come from husbands and wives who have lost their spouses to the groups, Mrs. McConahy, of New Castle, Pa., said. "They're panicking because they don't know what's going wrong," she said. "There's a lot of loneliness today, a lot of unhappy marriages and young divorces." The Pittsburgh hotline receives from 20 to 30 calls a week from people looking for deprogrammers or more information about groups like the Church of Scientology, Hare Krishna or the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, she said.

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