The word ‘cult’ was never benign in the history of religious movements. In terms of the text, a cult is defined as a group typically characterized by distinctive ritual and beliefs related to its devotion to a god or person, isolation from the surrounding “evil” culture, and a charismatic leader (Myers, 2015, p. 193). When a person hears that word, most likely they would refer to Charles Manson. Manson is a former cult leader and American criminal who led the cult called Manson Family, which committed a series of murders in the late 1960s. Manson is the quintessential example of how persuasion occurs in cults. Manson is the communicator of the cult which is one of the persuasive elements of cult persuasion. He could be described as a charismatic leader, who attracts and directs members in the cult. People began to trust in him and his credibility as a leader and decided to join the Manson Family.
In the article from Huffington Post titled “Trump’s America through the Eyes of a Cult Survivor”, Teddy Hose introduces his own thoughts about the current president based on his life in a cult called the Unification Church (now known as the Family Federation for World Peace). The Unification Church is now separated into smaller groups led by Moon’s family members. Just like Manson, Rev. Moon had the same charismatic trait that cult leaders are known for. Hose explains that people seeking security, respect, friendship and/or identity were suddenly welcomed into his community. In relation to President Trump, his supporters tend to focus more on how he makes them feel rather than his leadership. The mission of the church was ultimately to recruit members because the less privileged are more vulnerable to promise a better life. This is how Hose saw Trump winning the votes for the election. Trump’s role as the communicator of his messages during the presidential debates were targeted towards the lower class.
In the article “Self-chosen involvement in new religious movements: well-being and mental health from a longitudinal perspective”, two psychology researchers, S. Namini and S. Murken, explore what happens to cult members’ mental health prior to joining cults. A study was formed in which members were asked questions about their personal life and possible reasonings of why they joined a cult. Critics have concluded that NRM’s (new religious movements) specifically address and attract vulnerable individuals such as young and mentally impaired people (Namini and Murken, 2009, p. 563). They point out, for example, that one empirical study indicated that members display increased levels of psychopathology prior to joining the new religious movement. However, this does not support the notion that psychopathology is a precondition to joining. They have come across some evidence that shows that it is not the interest of groups to accept very emotionally unstable individuals as members (Namini and Murken, 2009, p. 563). Based on their studies, it is shown that membership in religious movements such as cults often happens because of a crisis that is occurring in the person’s life. From the participants, there were constant reports of emotional problems and frustrations, dissatisfaction with life and other psychological problems that affected their health.
Those who decide to leave a cult are most likely prime examples of those who experience problems with their psychological health. While inside the cult, there are a number of life changes that can happen: dropping out of college, having to remain celibate or giving up any personal pursuits, etc. In their study of members, the authors found cognitive, affective and relational “vulnerabilities” – that is, high insecurity in childhood attachment to parents, high (current) need for closure and depressive tendencies prior to joining the group (Namini and Murken, 2009, p. 564).
To conclude, the study done by the two researchers and the history of the Manson Family exemplifies the concept of cult persuasion and the effects of cults on member’s mental health. Being a part of a cult can be harmful which can have long term effects.
Hose, Teddy. (2017 March 23). Trump’s America through the Eyes of a Cult Survivor. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trumps-america-through-the-eyes-of-a-cult-survivor_us_58d1a510e4b062043ad4adc5
Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring Social Psychology (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Namini, S., & Murken, S. (2009). Self-chosen involvement in new religious movements (NRMs): well-being and mental health from a longitudinal perspective. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 12(6).