An Interview with Ronald Enroth

To get a current assessment of cult growth and influence, CHRISTIANITY TODAY interviewed Ronald Enroth, professor of sociology at Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of four books about cults, including Youth Brainwashing and the Extremist Cults (Zondenvan, 1977) and The Lure of the Cults (Christian Herald, 1979). He also is a widely traveled conference speaker on the subject of cults.

Why have cults found such fertile ground for growth in the U.S. in the last 25 years?

In general, new religious movements in the past have emerged during times of cultural upheaval and social change. The past few decades have been characterized by a great deal of change and uncertainty. That is a primary factor. Coupled with that, there has been no nationwide focus of thought for young adults in the last decade such as we had in the 1960s. There has not been anything like the civil-rights or antiwar movements. Consequently, many young people have channeled their idealism into the religious sphere.

Another reason is that there is a spiritual vacuum. Many young adults are very naïve spiritually. They are spiritually illiterate. The Judeo-Christian religious and cultural base has eroded. The new religious movements are exploiting this vacuum and erosion.

These new groups also meet basic human needs. There is so much emphasis on the recruitment, alleged brainwashing, and mind control in the cults that we fail to recognize that they appeal to large segments of people simply because they meet the kinds of needs we all recognize: the need for authority, for community, fellowship, commitment, family wisdom, and a sense of mission and purpose. It is obvious that spiritual needs are at the heart.

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