Cult Comparisons

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I’ve been watching episodes of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath. So far, I’ve only gotten through the first season. Many of the experiences ex-Scientologists talk about are relatable to other religious institutions. Although I’ve never been a Scientologist (or wanted to go near a Scientology facility, for that matter), I can relate to some of what I see and hear.

That’s not a good thing.

One theme I’ve noticed is this notion that good or holy people should remain separate from the world. There’s this invisible boundary that marks where decent people ought to exist. Go outside, and terrible things will happen. In the fundagelical Christian context, it’s typically expressed by talking about being in the world, but not of it.

Another similar theme I’ve noticed is the concept that there exists true knowledge that is only knowable by people who are in an acceptable group. Be a good Christian, and the Holy Spirit will help give peace that surpasses all understanding. Apparently Scientology has just as good information as Christianity does. Regardless, exist outside of either group, and suffer the consequences of ignorance.

More than these two things, I’ve noticed how these teachings foster reliance on whatever group is doing the selling. The net effect of these and other messages are simple: join us and thrive, stay away and die. As a species dependent upon social conformity, the threat of isolation is powerful. I am still aware of this, as I still blog anonymously.

Is this a fair comparison?

Right now, I’m just noticing what I perceive to be patterns. I am curious as to whether there is intention behind it. Are these defining characteristics of unhealthy social groups?

I am aware that the answer is uncomfortable to many people out there. When I was a Christian, I didn’t think there was any similarity between other faith systems and Christianity. Christianity was real and true, and everything else was a misguided attempt to describe what I already knew. Oh, the hubris!

But if there is intention, if there is a pattern to manipulating people, then it means such manipulation involves a cause and effect. It means that there are necessary features to unhealthy groups which prey on members instead of promote them. Identify those features, and they can be guarded against.