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How and why people join sects
How and why people join sects

The stories of the sects excite and horrify in their cruelty: in 1978, in Guyana, about 1000 US citizens committed suicide by order of the leader of the Temple of the Nations sect; in 1969, several followers of the Manson sect killed the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, actress Sharon Tate. In 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo sect staged a terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway using chemical weapons.

It seems that not very educated people join such organizations, but in the course of investigations, the police find politicians, congressmen and entrepreneurs in the sects. We will tell you how and why people join sects, cults, and what happens to them there.

Sect, cult and religion - what's the difference?

At first glance, it seems that the difference between a sect or cult and religion is the same as between a patient and a psychiatrist in a clinic - whoever manages to put on the robe first is the doctor. However, everything is not so simple.

A cult typically involves worshiping and performing new religious practices, traditions, and doctrines. Such cults may be headed by new teachers and prophets, completely new religions may be formed, which will require their own attributes: temples, rituals, artifacts. “Wait,” you say. - But what about Christianity itself with the persecutions that believers were subjected to? Or a reformation?"


Many modern religions really began as cults, but they have successfully integrated into the social structure of society, these structures have a certain horizontal mobility within themselves: many clergymen can renounce their dignity and go into the world. Unlike religion, a cult and sect, on the contrary, isolate their followers from society.

The difference between a cult and a sect is that cults are built on a religious model, while sects can be political and ideological. Another difference lies in the religious plane - religious sects operate with the same practices, terms and rituals as traditional religion. But the leader and authorized person in the sect will be the leader, not a member of the complex church hierarchy.

Sects and cults try in every possible way to take control of their novices. Their common features were deduced by the psychologist Stephen Hassen, a consultant on the withdrawal from totalitarian and destructive sects, in his book "Fighting Cult Mind Control."

To maintain influence, cults use four points of control:

1) Information:

Figures and adherents of cults distort or hide information, interpret sources or give incomplete information, adapting it to their teachings.

2) Thought control:

Leaders and cultists in every possible way discourage critical thinking from their followers. For example, at the level of norms of behavior, it is forbidden to condemn and criticize the cult or its leaders, they limit the perception of any information from the outside.

3) Controlling emotions:

Leaders manipulate their followers through fear and feelings of attachment to the group. The fear of loneliness, the fear of the unknown, the loss of salvation in the afterlife, and so on, become the levers of pressure.

4) Behavior control:

Within the framework of the cult, connections are strictly controlled, the cult tries to cut off its followers from their usual environment and environment. It also monitors diet, sleep patterns, finances, appearance, and even sexual intercourse.

Why do people join sects?

Among the sectarians you can find movie stars, politicians and entrepreneurs, but still the majority of the followers of sects and cults are ordinary people.They perform rituals, often for a good purpose (which is broadcast by a cult or sect) they leave their families, transfer all their savings to the account of the sect, or commit crimes themselves: they engage in prostitution, human trafficking or drug trafficking.

The main target of recruiters is single people, for example, newcomers, who do not yet have any connections in a new place: no friends or relatives. Such people are much easier to "cut off" from the outside world due to their desire to be part of the group. Such a loner can be invited to a sect by a casual good-natured acquaintance or a new colleague.

At first, the group will seem friendly and supportive - this will continue until the first mistake, when the sect or leader will show their cruel face and methods to punish the unfaithful or disobedient. As a rule, in a sect, a person quickly becomes overgrown with rather strong social ties, besides, responsibility for himself, his neighbor, for the next incarnation and that guy over there, so that a person cannot simply take and break off all contacts and leave.

The sect is joined by people who want to become better. They may not be attracted to escape from loneliness, but the opportunity to change themselves or the world that leaders offer.

This is how support groups for addicted people operate, which replace addictive practices with religious ones, as well as groups that predict the end of the world and try to cancel it with prayers, orgies and "charitable" contributions.

The third main group of potential cultists are people who find themselves in a vulnerable state, faced with grief or loss. For them, the sect has prepared answers to basic questions about life, death, suffering, love, happiness, money. All answers are tailored to the doctrine of the sect and promise a person happiness and security, if only he observes all the rules.

The gradual loss of control over their lives, the pressure of the community, which forbids asking questions and criticizing, the fear of breaking the rules - do people who take their first steps towards the sect do not notice this?

In fact, they very much even see it. It's just that the first time being in a sect causes a person to feel a sense of relief, the so-called honeymoon, and then excitement and emotional swing are added to it, through which a person passes at the initiation stage, where, as a rule, trials await him. Scientists compare this to addictive practices. Being in a sect often causes cognitive dissonance among followers: it is born from disagreement with the ideas or words of the leader and the inability to challenge them. If such disagreement arises, then the ideal picture created by the leaders begins to crack, the person sinks deeper into his cognitive dissonance and, as a result, either even more actively begins to perform the prescribed rituals (so that he is not left out of the group or punished), or leaves the sect …

Leaving a sect requires more than just cognitive dissonance. In a 2017 study on the factors of joining and leaving cults and sects, scientists found that the reason for separation from the group can be conflict with the members of the sect or the leader, as well as the support of loved ones. People who kept in touch with relatives outside the sect, according to scientists, have a higher chance of leaving the sect or cult, although sometimes, in addition to the intention to do this, courage and good physical training are required (some sects persecute their fugitives), as well as the help of lawyers, police and psychologists.

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