A case for introspection.

Nine hundred people die in the jungle of Guyana.” The headline is still fresh in our minds. Death on this scale was tragic enough, but the idea that so many people would take their own lives voluntarily seemed scarcely conceivable. Charges of brainwashing were quick to follow, in an attempt to fathom how this could occur.

Since the Jonestown incident, People’s Temple has lost most of its followers. But fears of mindless obedience to cult authority figures are kept alive by accounts of coercive conversion to other cults and by concern for the welfare of the countless thousands who have joined them.

Do cults really engage in coercive conversion and brainwashing? Can their tactics be successfully resisted? How can the church prevent loss of its members to such unchristian groups? To answer these questions requires first some familiarity with the procedures cults use to win converts. To clarify the nature and operation of these procedures we have taken elements common to such cults as People’s Temple, the Unification Church, The Way, the Children of God, and the Hare Krishna movement and have developed a fourphase model.

1. Impression management. Someone attending a cult meeting for the first time quickly finds himself the object of attention and loving regard. Feelings of warmth and acceptance are experienced as the group—which may initially refrain from disclosing its true identity—presents itself as a closely knit family bound together by ties of affection and common purpose. The messages refer to some basic problem in the individual and/or society that the group promises to resolve. Such problems range from evil to ignorance, while the effects attributed to them encompass the full range of human suffering. ...

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