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Cults and Crazy Thinking

by John Edmiston

This is a simplified and "Christianized" model of three dimensions to ethics and mental health. The Love-Hate dimension is probably better labeled Unconditional Love vs Paranoid Thinking. The key test is the question "How do they treat their enemies?'. A paranoid group goes from suspicion to suspicion, living in fear and employing "guilt by association" to mark people as those to beware of. A paranoid cult group is preoccupied with its fortress mentality, its thought life is disproportionately centered around warding off evil rather than pursuing good. While guarding against sin and compromise is an essential part of the Christian life being paranoid is not! Jesus was sinless - but He still loved His enemies and prayed for those who persecuted Him.

cults diagram

The second dimension is that of Wisdom versus Foolishness. More technical names might be "embracing Truth wherever it can be found" versus "idiosyncratic reality". Cults tend to create "worlds of their own", bizarre conspiracy theories, quaint world-views, mystical and other-worldly perspectives. While the man or woman of faith will sometimes see life very differently they do not disregard the insights of others. The fool says "my system is all I need". There is no searching for objective Truth, rather there is a loud and clamant glorying in one's own "wisdom". Such people are among those that bombard the Internet with posts all in caps and full of strange sounding jargon that sets you on edge when you read it. Their claims are often untestable as they may be set in the future or in dreams or visions that the reader has no way of verifying. When their claims can be checked out, they generally prove to be inaccurate.

Cults limit the outside information available to recruits and enmesh them in this alternate reality. It is often the quest for objective truth that causes some recruits to question and finally to leave the cult.

The third dimension is that of mercy versus cruelty. These terms are quite accurate in my view. All you need to do to be cruel is to think exclusively of yourself. People in cults don't "hate" their families in general - they just do not see them, care for them, or meet their needs. Cults develop a very inward form of thinking where the recruit spends most of their time either working for the cult or pondering their own deficiencies. This phenomenal self-absorption can cause parents to neglect their children and several have died as a result of parents refusing basic medical treatment on religious grounds. Jesus never asked anyone to throw away their medicines!

Cults neglect the needs of the outer world and their social action programs are practically non-existent. Where they do exist they tend to focus on cult members or be thinly disguised recruiting mechanisms. The "mainline churches" are extensively involved on caring for those outside of their membership and many of the best hospitals, schools and rehabilitation programs are run by tem. Though cults are large (about a quarter of the size of the mainline churches) their contribution in these areas is small indeed.

Let's consider someone like Jim Jones or David Koresh. Both had well-defined "enemies" which they guarded against and were pre-occupied with. Both had their own reality that they followed in total disregard of objective Truth and biblical wisdom. Both were cruel men who isolated others from their families and eventually caused the death of their followers. Hitler again had his own strange truth, a concoction of Neitzsche and Schopenhauer and others. Hitler was cruel and expected cruelty of others, and Hitler was pathologically paranoid and filled with hate. Whether it be Hitler, Stalin, or cult leaders this model points out their pathology quite clearly.

On the other hand we have Jesus - full of mercy, wisdom and love. He is at the exact opposite corner of the diagram from Hitler or David Koresh. A cult like the Branch Davidians may be Christian in name but in nature it can be shown to the polar opposite of Christianity when this model is used.

I hope you find this model helpful and useful. It is meant to stick in your minds and be a simple and usable tool for evaluating the dynamics of a religious group.


© Copyright GlobalChristians.Org 1997

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.