See also: Cult Definition. The term ‘cult’ has a precise definition — or rather, several precise definitions. Which definition is the right one largely depends on the context in which the term ‘cult’ is applied. Learn more about the definition ...
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Religious lies, conmen, and coercive control: How cults corrupt our desire for love and connection and more...

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Religious lies, conmen, and coercive control: How cults corrupt our desire for love and connection

How cults corrupt our desire for love and connection

See also: Cult Definition

The term ‘cult’ has a precise definition — or rather, several precise definitions. Which definition is the right one largely depends on the context in which the term ‘cult’ is applied. Learn more about the definition of the term cult at

Young women members of the Charles Manson family kneel on the sidewalk outside the Los Angeles at Hall of Justice March 29, 1971, with their heads shaved.
Wally Fong/AP

Shane Satterley, Griffith University

Project Mayhem is an all-male cult – but unlike the real cults that Sarah Steel writes about in Do As I Say, Project Mayhem is fictitious. It comes from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk in his masterpiece novel Fight Club, a dark exploration of contemporary masculinity that describes how a group of men come together to form a fringe group with fringe ideas – and how this can go wrong.

Review: Do As I Say: How cults control, why we join them, and what they teach us about bullying, abuse and coercion, by Sarah Steel (PanMacmillan)

Project Mayhem exhibits many key elements of what we see in cults.

In Do As I Say, Steel (creator of the podcast Let’s Talk About Sects) explores how cults usually exhibit some of the following attributes: they have unique in-group language, they require intense work schedules of members, their leaders will often deliver endless sermons, and they will restrict access to media. Members are directed not to ask questions, and professional help or healthcare and outside information are restricted.

Perhaps most importantly, cults use a method that experts now refer to as coercive control – an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim into conforming.

This form of psychological manipulation is a key part of the fabric of domestic abuse relationships.

Triggering events

Steel reveals members of cults usually experience a triggering event prior to joining. This is backed up by various scholarly sources who’ve written about religious conversion and those who join extremist groups.

A triggering event may be something like a divorce, the death of a loved one, or another event that’s traumatic, or perceived as traumatic. These themes have been noted by sociologists such as Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, who wrote about how fringe religious groups come about during times of societal unrest.

For Durkheim, religion (and other social norms and values) act as a kind of social “glue”. In times of rapid social change, existing rules, habits and beliefs no longer hold. This produces an environment ripe for exploitation – usually by a charismatic man with all the answers to your problems.

Durkheim referred to this personal feeling of change (loss of existing rules, values, beliefs) as “anomie”, which basically means everything in your life has gone to shit, producing a desperate need to find meaning, belonging and control again (or perhaps for the first time).

Cults and control

This is where the study of cults gets interesting and even controversial. As Steel outlines with countless examples, cults often seek to control every aspect of one’s mental and physical existence.

Unless one is born into the group, as Steel also notes, people (overwhelmingly women) choose the group for themselves, albeit without information about its darker aspects. The question is: why on earth would anyone find groups like these appealing?

The need for order, structure and certainties are part of the answer. These have been shown to be common psychological traits for those who lean more to the political right. However, research is showing these factors are growing universally common.

This is the tragedy of cults and other extreme groups: as Steel notes, they exploit freedom of belief, freedom of association and freedom of religion – with often abusive and damaging outcomes.

Everyone loves freedom, for good reason. It’s the foundation of liberal democracy. But unrestrained freedom without a sense of structure, meaning, and order is psychologically unstable – for societies and individuals.

Take, for instance, the feminist issues Steel raises in relation to cults: curtailment of reproductive rights and rights for children, and issues with problematic male leadership. Within many cults, Steel notes, women’s rights are severely curtailed through controlling relationships, limited choices and subservience to the often-male leader, or men in general.

As Steel explains, Australia has been clear that when it comes to immigration, if imported misogynistic belief systems clash with Australian values, Australian values (including women’s rights) should win. But cults appear to slip through the cracks, as they can hide behind freedom of religion.

Where women’s rights should prevail, according to Steel, there appears to be less appetite to investigate and prosecute woman’s rights violations within religious organisations. Steel also provides some social commentary around the “problematic” way we raise young men as leaders. But there are some other factors worth considering.

Cults and the appeal of ‘family’

Why do ostensibly free individuals join these types of restrictive and often damaging groups, obsessed with female reproduction and sex?

From the 1960s, the contraceptive pill for women (making it easier to choose pregnancy or not), the legalisation of abortion (which has just become complicated in the United States, of course, with the repeal of Roe v Wade) and easier access to divorce have meant new levels of freedom for women. More choice – for men and women – as to what a family might look like has also introduced uncertainty.

During this same period, there’s been a massive increase in fatherlessness and single motherhood. And in the US, 2019 Justice Department figures show 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions are fatherless. Cults are religiously conservative expressions of a wish to return to the time when sex was a huge deal, because the cost to both men and women was so high – and to return the man to inside the family unit (at any abhorrent cost).

Chuck Palahniuk has lamented that his book is one of only two works of fiction that address contemporary masculine issues and what it means to be a modern-day man (the other being Dead Poets Society). The main characters in Fight Club discuss whether they should get married. Jack says to Tyler, “I can’t get married, I’m a 30-year-old boy”. Tyler responds, “We’re a generation of men raised by women, I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need?”

Steel notes cults are a feminist issue – which they undoubtedly are. But women’s issues do not exist in a vacuum. The factors that have led to single-mother houses, with fathers absent, have been pervasive since the 1960s. Generations have experienced fatherlessness. And there’s a phenomenon of dad-deprived boys. So it shouldn’t be surprising cults mimic a family with a male leader.

The characters in Fight Club go on to create Project Mayhem, a cult in which you “do not ask questions”, with the catchphrase “In [cult leader] Tyler we Trust”. Sound familiar? Where Fight Club diverts from reality is that a cult or a terrorist group is never purely nihilistic, like Project Mayhem, a group with the anarchic goal of tearing down society completely and starting again.

Project Mayhem in the book (and film) Fight Club is essentially a masculinity cult.

Cults and terrorist groups differ in that the former seeks to control themselves and the latter seeks to control themselves and society. There is some overlap, as religious cults often have apocalyptic and doomsday “prophecies” – but they require members to have their own houses in order before the apocalypse, to avoid hellfire.

Do As I Say is a heartbreaking and compelling read for anyone interested in the way in which cults and extreme groups come to be, control and ultimately exploit the very freedoms we enjoy in the West.

Sarah Steel shows how our desire for meaning, love and social connection can have tragic outcomes when misdirected. This book should give us pause to consider how we can put meaning, order, and structure into our own lives without giving into religious lies, conmen and the most restrictive conditional love.The Conversation

Shane Satterley, PhD Candidate, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also: Cult Definition

The term ‘cult’ has a precise definition — or rather, several precise definitions. Which definition is the right one largely depends on the context in which the term ‘cult’ is applied. Learn more about the definition of the term cult at

Full story: Religious lies, conmen, and coercive control: How cults corrupt our desire for love and connection


Israeli cult leader, polygamist Daniel Ambash jailed for sex crimes, dies

Cult leader Daniel Ambash dies in prison

Convicted sexual abuser, cult leader and polygamist Daniel Ambash, who was serving a 26-year-sentence in the Ayalon Prison in Ramle, died suddenly on Friday morning, Israel Prison Service (IPS) Spokesperson's Unit announced. 

Dubbed the head of the "Jerusalem cult," Ambash was indicted on 18 out of 20 criminal charges back in 2013, including possession under slavery conditions, cruel treatment of minors, false imprisonment and severe sex and abuse violations, in Jerusalem as well as near Tiberias in the North. 

Ambash, a Breslov hassid, was supposed to be released in July 2039, in what has been characterized by police as one of the worst cases of abuse in Israel. He was married to six wives and had 18 kids.

Full story: Israeli cult leader, polygamist Daniel Ambash jailed for sex crimes, dies


Religion and Cult News, Saturday

  • The sentences of three German men found guilty for their leadership roles at the infamous Colonia Dignidad cult in Chile have been increased.

    The cult's founder, former Nazi Paul Schaefer, was sentenced in July 2008 for torturing children.[wpipa id="36637"]

    Schaefer -- whose followers thought he was "God on earth" -- preached an unnamed religion that said harsh discipline would draw them closer to the supreme being.

    The cult leader also followed the teachings of American preacher William M. Branham, one of the founders of the "faith healing" movement, and considered a heretic.

    In April 2010 Schaefer died in prison.

  • California state parole officials postponed a decision on setting free Patricia Krenwinkel, a follower of Charles Manson and convicted killer, after the woman's attorney made new claims that she had been abused by the cult leader or another person.
  • Emma Donoghue's novel The Wonder delves into the cult of fasting girls

    Anorexia is not a new disorder. The compulsion to refuse food stretches as far back as Ancient Greece and into the Middle Ages, when Catholic saints such as Catherine of Siena would eschew meals as a symbol of their piety. Unlike contemporary sufferers of anorexia nervosa, those with anorexia mirabilis (the miraculous loss of appetite) were celebrated for their ability to exist without earthly pleasures.

  • Top 5 'heresies' of 2016: 'One God,' biblical authority and more

    What is heresy?
    What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith?
    What is a cult of Christianity?

  • The hunt for FLDS cult leader Warren Jeffs' lost child brides: Three girls married off to Warren Jeffs aged 12 and 13 are still missing 12 years later as polygamist father who has 145 children goes on trial for arranging ceremonies
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church: 49 of every 100 new members eventually leave.

    Theologically this religious sect is considered a cult of Christianity.

  • What if you could become God, with the ability to build a whole new universe?

    That question is skillfully addressed by Zeeya Merali in A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes.

    "This mind-boggling book reveals that we can nurse other worlds in the tiny confines of a lab, raising a daunting prospect: Was our universe, too, brought into existence by a daring creator?"

    Marali is a journalist and author who has written for Scientific American, Nature, New Scientist, and Discover, as well as published two textbooks in collaboration with National Geographic.

This post includes highlights from Religion News Blog's Twitter feed. Join 19.700 subscribers for up-to-date religion and cult news.

Also: You are welcome to embed this news feed on your blog or website

Full story: Religion and Cult News, Saturday


Religion & Cults News – Wednesday

Berlin truck attack

  • The Berlin attack is right out of the terror handbooks

    The world's deadliest terrorist groups are increasingly open about their intentions, tactics, and targets. Last month, Rumiyah, the slickest terrorist magazine on the Internet market, was very precise. The "most appropriate" killing vehicle, the Islamic State publication advised, is a "load-bearing truck" that is "double-wheeled, giving victims less of a chance to escape being crushed by the vehicle's tires." It should be "heavy in weight, assuring the destruction of whatever it hits." It should also have a "slightly raised chassis and bumper, which allow for the mounting of sidewalks and breeching of barriers if needed." And it should have a "reasonably fast" rate of acceleration.

    In the same issue, Rumiyah urged Islamic State members, or sympathizers anywhere in the world, to hop in vehicles—steal them, if need be—and attack outdoor markets, public celebrations, political rallies, and pedestrian-congested streets. "All so-called 'civilian' (and low security) parades and gatherings are fair game and more devastating to Crusader nation," the magazine, which is published in several languages, said. [...more...]
    - Source: The New Yorker

    Islamic State calls Berlin attacker a 'soldier' as manhunt for killer resumes

    Berlin attack: Police hunt Tunisian suspect after finding ID papers in truck

    Analysis: intelligence has limits in preventing truck-borne terror

    See: Islam and Terrorism

  • Interview with living members of Heaven's Gate UFO suicide cult

    In March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide inside a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, California. Police discovered their bodies on March 26. It was the largest mass-suicide in U.S. history.

    But the group's website is still available -- and is maintained by two ex-members. Troy James Weaver contacted them:

    So why maintain the website? Obviously if you still believe it, you are a proponent/member of something, right? The reason I ask about suicide, is because if Do and Ti were the only Next Level Members, what does that say about the others who took their own lives? They were human, correct? Not inhabiting a human body, but human? I'm confused by this and what I've read. I'm just trying to understand more clearly. Also, what is a task partner?

    The website is to provide information for their future return. We are designated to maintain and care for it.

    Humans are not to commit suicide. Those 38, and those 38 only, we allowed to shed their human body, take on space-capable, Next Level bodies and depart this planet. No human can do that or would be allowed to do that. We know you are confused about this but those individuals did not commit suicide. They broke the bond of human connection and quickly switched to a Next Level one.

    [Ed. note: Reports showed that there were 39 bodies, suggesting that Heaven's Gate does not include Marshall Applewhite a human.]
    - Source: Fanzine

    More about Heaven's Gate

  • Ex-Scientologists tell disturbing stories about David Miscavige, the 'pope of Scientology,' on A&E series

    Scientology Aftermath

    The dwindling Scientology cult can't get a break nowadays. It is exposed to daylight on the internet, on television, on YouTube, on countless blogs and websites, in new book after new book, and by more and more ex-members -- including those who held high ranks and/or were inside for significant amount of time.

    And then there was actress Leah Remini.

    Remini left the 'Church of Scientology' in 2013 — after 35 years as a devout member — and ever since, she has been on a crusade to expose the controversial organization's secrets. Including those persistent stories about cult leader David Miscavige.

    This Washington Post article talks about her ongoing A&E television series, 'Scientology and the Aftermath.' It also highlights the way the 'church' can't help but shoot itself in the foot by -- time and again -- engaging in a hate campaign against those who left the destructive cult.

    As usual, A&E put up a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode and between each act break, given the religion's leaders harshly condemned the series and denied many of the claims. The church also has called Remini an "obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist" who is angry that she was expelled from the church, and that she's doing the series for money; they also said the show is "doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career."

    Scientology likes to call itself a 'church' and a 'religion.' At Apologetics Index, we call Scientology a hate group.

    Here's how the cult destroys friendships, families and other relationships.

Full story: Religion & Cults News – Wednesday


Shincheonji “New Heaven and New Earth” cult infiltrating churches

Man-Hee Lee

UK: Churches warned of 'deceptive cult' linked to South Korea infiltrating congregations

Hundreds of British churches, including some of the UK's largest congregations, have been warned against possible infiltration by a group accused of being a "cult" promoting "control and deception".

The Church of England has issued a formal alert to almost 500 parishes in London about the activities of the group known as Parachristo.

The organisation, a registered charity, runs Bible study courses at an anonymous industrial unit under a Botox clinic and a personal training company in London Docklands.
But it is understood to be linked to a controversial South Korean group known as Shinchonji (SCJ) — or the "New Heaven and New Earth" church (NHNE) — whose founder Man-Hee Lee is referred to as God's "advocate".

It is claimed that some of those who become involved gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives [...]

A companion article, titled The Korean religious leader on a collision course with the Church of England notes:

Organisers insist Parachristo exists solely to help "understand the Bible more deeply". [...]

Former attendees of Parachristo study groups have claimed that existing members effectively pose as new students.

Shinchonji teaching documents seen by The Telegraph instructs these "maintainers" to "arouse curiosity" of newcomers and "try to be close to each other until the student relies on you fully".

They are told to "take notes of the conversation with the student" and report back to the group leader.

Shincheonji -- Cult of Christianity

According to the SCJ, their leader - Manhee Lee - is the Messiah or the spokesperson of the Messiah ("Promised Pastor").

Lee Man-Hee claims that Jesus appeared before him as a "bright heavenly figure." Some see him as God's "promised pastor" who holds the key to avoid impending judgement. Followers believe that Lee Man-Hee is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Reportedly the church teaches that Lee Man-Hee is the angel referred to in Revelation 22:16:

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

The church also believes that Revelation 7:2 refers to South Korea (East) and to Lee Man-Hee (angel):

Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.

According to the group's promotional literature Lee Man-Hee is the only person who can testify to the mysteries of the Book of Revelation -- which he claims already has been fulfilled. He is said to teach that the world has already ended, and that we are currently living in the afterlife.

Shincheonji denies the biblical teaching that people are saved by faith in Jesus Christ -- and not by works.

The church denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

Shincheonji's teachings contradict essential doctrines of the Christian faith, thus identifying the group as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

Sociologically Shincheonji has many cult-like characteristics as well.

Front Groups; Alternative Spellings

Note the different spellings of the name of the group: Officially it is Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). Commonly referred to as Shincheonji, but the name is sometimes spelled without the 'e' -- Shinchonji.

Likewise, the name of the cult's leader is Lee Man-Hee, which is sometimes written as Man-Hee Lee or Manhee Lee.

Lee Man-Hee founded Shinchonji in 1984.

Other names related to this movement: Mannam Volunteer Association/Mannam International Youth Coalition (MIYC), International Peace Youth Group (IPYG)/Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ).

World Peace... and Deception

Like similar cults, Shincheonji claims it promotes world peace -- but its deceptive nature tends to backfire, like it did when the cult organized the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit (WARP). Wikipedia:

From 17-19 September 2014 Shincheonji organised their SCJ 6th National Olympiad. It is the major event for SCJ which they hold every four years, and it coincides with Lee's birthday.[3] On this occasion, they also invited many international guests who all believed they were attending a secular "World Peace Summit". As the two events took place simultaneously and in the same venue, it led to significant confusion and embarrassment for international guests who had been misled.

Here's one blogger's experience at a similar event: "We thought we were going to a world peace festival...turned out to be a religious cult sort of thing."

See also:

Full story: Shincheonji “New Heaven and New Earth” cult infiltrating churches


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