Blog: You know you're in a cult if... - 2010-07-18

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F0.png You know you're in a cult if... July 18, 2010, Jefferson Hawkins, Leaving Scientology

The word "cult" is a controversial one, and there has been considerable debate as to what a cult is and is not. Some people (like the Church of Scientology) object to the use of the term at all. Others claim that all religions started as cults, and one should only use the term "new religions." And some people use the term so broadly that it could be used to describe everything from vegetarians to Miley Cirus fans.

All of which masks a very real problem. There have been and are real cults: the People's Temple, the Solar Temple, Aum Shinrikyo, Heaven's Gate, the Unification Church, and many, many others. Sometimes the true danger of these groups was revealed only after the worst happened – mass suicides or murders. But years of prior abuse went unnoticed, sometimes masked by slick PR.

So what is a cult? How do you spot one? And, most importantly, how do you know if you're in one? Well, I've been studying the subject, on and off, for the last five years, since I left the Church of Scientology. I've read a number of books and articles on the subject, trying to make some sense of it. Here's my own analysis of seven points that define a cult: