The term "cult" is not a label most of us want to have applied to us. Sometimes, detractors use it to describe a person who is simply attempting to follow the teachings of the Bible. When confronted, these folks do not seem to be able to define just what a cult might be. Recently, I've encountered a questionnaire, compiled by John D. Goldenhammer, PhD, author of "Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics". Dr. Goldenhammer has listed common denominators for cultic behavior, and I thought it might be insightful to share them.
*Does your group discourage doubts, criticism or ideas that differ from their belief system?
*Do you tend to rationalize whatever the group does even when it goes against your sense of right and wrong?
*Do you often feel exhausted from lengthy group activities, meetings, and projects?
*Does your group have its own unique words, cliches, slogans, chants, prayers and doctrinal phrases that reinforce the group viewpoint?
*Are doubts viewed as a lack of faith, dedication, commitment or disloyalty?
*Have your thoughts" become "the enemy?
*Do you often find yourself doing more and more things in the group or because of group peer pressure that you would not have done on your own?
*Does your group publically humiliate or criticize members?
*Does your group have a system of punishments and rewards for behavior?
Group paranoia: Does your group obsessively think other groups or people with different beliefs are out to get them?
*Does the prospect of leaving your group seem scary, difficult?
*Do you feel the need to leave in secret?
*Have you been told something bad might happen if you leave?
*Does your group/belief system think they have/are the only or highest truth, or have the solution to the world's problems?
*Are your leader's ideas or belief system considered beyond reproach or sacred?
*Do you follow a particular individual or belief system that requires unquestioning obedience and loyalty?
*Do members of your group feel specially chosen, superior, exclusive, elite?
*Do you feel the need to save or convert others to your belief system or ideology?
*Is your group secretive to outsiders about its inner workings, teachings, activities or beliefs?
*Does your group equate purity and goodness to being in your group, and impurity or evil to those outside your group?
*Do you place your group's mission or agenda above your own goals and ideals?
*Do group interests come before your own interests?
*Do you find yourself thinking in a we-they, us-versus-them mind set?
*Does your group/system have a clear outside enemy?
*Do you see less and less of your family and friends who do not belong to your group or who do not subscribe to your group's belief system?
*Does your group use frequent public testimonials, confessions, or sharings that reinforce the group's mission or agenda?
*Is communication within, into and out of your group controlled or censored in any manner?
*Does your group criticize, shun, abandon, or demean individuals who leave the group?
*Do members seek approval or get permission from group leader(s) for personal life choices?
*Do you feel pressured to attend meetings, events, lectures, seminars? Do you feel guilty if you don't attend?
*Do you feel pressured to give a portion of your income to the group, or spend money on courses, books, or special projects?
*Are the group's financial needs more important than your own economic well-being?
*Does your group discriminate against anyone regarding race, gender, belief, or sexual orientation?
*Does your group have a totalitarian structure: a strict, top-down centralized control?
According to the author, this questionnaire has no scientifically predetermined number of yes answers to indicate that one might be part of a destructive group or cult. The author does caution that answering yes to any of the questions means you may need to examine your group and its influence in your life in those areas.