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Nobody Joins A Cult

Most experts agree, though, that whether the joiner is young or old, certain predisposing factors may facilitate attraction to a cultic system, the success of recruitment and indoctrination efforts, and the length and depth of involvement. These factors include:

General profile of cult member (some or all of the following):             Disenchanted with conventional religious establishments.
            Intellectually confused over religious and/or philosophical issues.
            Sometimes disenchanted with society as a whole.
            Has a need for encouragement and support.
            Emotionally needful.
            Needs a sense of purpose.
            Financially needy.
            A desire to belong
            Unassertiveness (the inability to say no or express criticism or doubt)
            Gullibility (impaired capacity to question critically what one is told, observes, thinks, and so forth)
            Low tolerance for ambiguity (need for absolute answers, impatience to obtain answers)
            Cultural disillusionment (alienation, dissatisfaction with the status quo)
            Susceptibility to trance-like states (in some cases, perhaps, due to prior hallucinogenic drug experiences)
            A lack of self-confidence
            A desire for spiritual meaning
            Ignorance of how groups can manipulate individuals
            Rich, poor, educated, non-educated, old, young, previously religious, atheistic, etc.


A wide range of human susceptibility emerges when we combine the list of predisposing factors with the potential vulnerabilities mentioned above. The stereotype of a recruit is a young person worried about leaving college or uncertain about “facing life.”

The reality, however, is that anyone, at any age — in a moment of confusion, personal crisis, or simply a life transition — may become attracted to or drawn in by a cult’s appeal.

“New in town, lost a job, recently divorced, a friend or family member just died, need a career change, feel a little blue?” The unstable and anxious feelings experienced at such times make a person vulnerable, whether that person is twenty or seventy years old.

If a vulnerable person happens to cross paths with a cult advertisement or personal recruiter putting forth even a mildly interesting offer, then that ad will likely pay for itself and that recruiter will stand a good chance of making her mark.

According to Michael Langone, “Conversion to cults is not truly a matter of choice. Vulnerabilities do not merely ‘lead’ individuals to a particular group. The group manipulates these vulnerabilities and deceives prospects in order to persuade them to join and, ultimately, renounce their old lives.”

While we are at it, let’s shatter another myth: people who join cults are not stupid, weird, crazy, weak-willed, or neurotic. Most cult members are of above-average intelligence, well adjusted, adaptable, and perhaps a bit idealistic. In relatively few cases is there a history of a pre-existing mental disorder.

Anyone is capable of being recruited (or seduced) into a cult if his personal and situational circumstances are right. Currently there are so many cults formed around so many different types of beliefs that it is impossible for a person to truthfully claim that he would never be vulnerable to a cult’s appeal. Cult recruitment is not mysterious. It is as simple and commonplace as the seduction and persuasion processes used by lovers and advertisers. However, depending on the degree of deception and manipulation involved, the resultant attachments can be even more powerful.