It is easy to hear about a thousand people killing themselves at the suggestion of one man and dismisses them as being crazy. It is natural to hear of people committing suicide to board a spaceship and write them off as being gullible sheep. When one hears about a group of people living in a commune who would rather die in a fire than leave, it is simplest to understand that they were captive, under the malicious force of one evil man. However, cults are not made up of crazy, gullible people. The majority of cult members are never held against their will. Cults gain members using similar methods as many religions and social groups, and many members join for the same reasons they join mainstream religions and social groups. One Christian organization correctly answers a pressing question about cults and their members: Is there a certain type of person who is more likely to join a cult? No (Who Joins Cults, And Why?).
No cult wears its heart on its sleeve. Jim Jones didn't recruit people by saying, Hi, I'm going to hold people hostage in South America, and convince them to kill themselves. Care to come along? They start small, inviting people to non-committal, fun events, without advertising their beliefs. A cult might hold a social dance, game night, or dinner open to the public.
[...] Cult leaders use the power of having followers for personal gain. This abuse of power, and subsequent spiral into what an outsider would perceive as crazy behavior is gradual, and often not perceived by the cult member. There is essentially no such thing as brain washing. “Brainwashing experiments have all been unsuccessful. The CIA used drugs and electroshock during their investigations. Their experiments were failures; they failed to produce even one potential Manchurian Candidate” (Brainwashing by Religious Cults). Philip Zompardo drives home all the aforementioned ideas by saying simply “Cult methods of recruiting and influencing their members are not exotic forms of mind control, but only intensely applied mundane tactics of social influence [which are] practiced daily by all compliance professionals and societal agents of influence” (Brainwashing by Religious Cults). [...]
[...] However, cults abuse the power they achieve, and manipulate their followers. The process happens so gradually that the cult members do not realize it is occurring, and often will believe they are acting entirely of their own volition. In their mind, suicide does not seem any more of a jump in extremity as their initial agreement to go to a dinner party. Think of it this way: a choir of one thousand people would not seem any quieter if you removed one singer. [...]
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