Are you being initiated into a cult, but don’t know it yet? An expert weighs in

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Cults have long been in existence and there are various ways to tell whether you’re being lured into one.

Anyone can become a victim, says Dr Alex Asakitikpi, an anthropologist and sociologist, who says it’s not easy to leave once you’ve been integrated.

From an outsider’s perspective, the general belief is that cults merely trap those who are gullible and weak-minded. That couldn’t be any further from the truth.

According to Asakitikpi, those who fall victim hardly ever know that they are being lured into a cult.

Shadowy organisations that we have seen recently include the doomsday cult in Kenya, where over 200 members were found dead after a pastor, called Paul Mackenzie, ordered congregants to starve to death, with the end-goal being to meet Jesus.

Another recent and closer example includes the secretive religious sect in Cape Town, dubbed the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which pretended to make members better Christians.

The church and its leader, Lee-Man Hee, have been marred by controversy, with members claiming they were warned against speaking of the organisation to family and friends.

It is, therefore, worthwhile to know how to identify a cult and how not to get sucked into one.

What is a cult?

The American Psychological Association defines a cult as “a religious or quasi-religious group characterised by unusual or atypical beliefs, seclusion from the outside world and an authoritarian structure”.

It adds that cults tend to be secretive, well-organised and, most times, hostile to non-members.

Asakitikpi says cults are a sectoral group that could be ideological, religious, philosophical or political, and tend to have radical views which are in stark opposition to mainstream ideals and ideas.

Key characteristics  

“There’s always a tendency to keep what they do outside of the public domain,” Asakitikpi says. “Once it is able to shroud its activities in isolation, it serves to do whatever it wants with their members.”

Another characteristic closely related to secrecy is isolation.

When unknowing members join a cult, leaders of the organisation work hard at ensuring that they are isolated from their family and friends. This makes it much easier to control the mind of the victims, both individually and collectively.

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