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Commercial Cults

(1 Timothy 6:8-10 NIV) But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. {9} People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. {10} For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Cults aren't always religious. Destructive cults fall into several different categories, including:

1. Religious, 2. Therapy/Self-Awareness, 3. Political, 4. Commercial, 5. New Age, 6. Satanic/Ritual Abuse.

In this article we will deal with group 4 - Commercial cults. Because of Australian libel laws I am not able to identify and firms on line. I have replaced the names of firms in some extracts with the term "Business X" .

Here are some things to watch out for when a less than honest commercial cult approaches you:

* They are less than direct in naming their organization or their product.

* If meetings have a "religious fervor" and seem more like a church service than a business meeting. If hype heavily outweighs hard-headedness.

* If a clearly defined and intrusive hierarchy is part of the deal. Particularly if they are to be unquestioningly obeyed.

* They start encroaching on your time far more than was originally said.

* If "little extras" that you need to "be a success" keep on being introduced - (and they often start adding up financially).

* They tell you not to associate with certain people branding them as "negative", or as "losers". If they warn you about ex-members of the organization take special not and special care.

* The advice they give over-steps the mark on normal business advice and deals with issues that would normally be regarded as personal.

* The feeling that you are being surrounded by these people and that your normal friendships are diminishing as a result of involvement with this group. If the group tells you to lie to your friends in order to recruit them, or even to exaggerate your earnings, or if acceptance or rejection of friendship is dependent on purchasing the product or being involved in the business - then leave fast.

* Stand back and ask "What are these people living for?". If the answer is money and the "business" then the business has them - they don't have the business. You will probably end up in the same mess if you join them. Then ask the question about "intensity". Is this a normal intensity to live at or has this group made some sort of a time-consuming life-dominating fetish out of their company?

The Cult Personality

To put it briefly cults create a second-skin personality that slips on over the outside of a persons true self. The cult personality is very conforming and unthinking and has its critical faculties reduced to a minimum. There is a lack of "genuineness" and "realness" in the cult personality which frequently appears "plastic" and "always positive". A normal group has its grumblers, its misfits , its not so attractive people and they are accepted as part of the group life. When a group is always attractive, positive, smiling etc then something abnormal and unnatural is happening. If people all look, sound and dress the same then they are being conformed and have put their own personality to one side and slipped into the approved "cult personality". As one person has said:

"When you meet the friendliest people you have ever known, who introduce you to the most loving group of people you've ever encountered, and you find the leader to be the most inspired, caring, compassionate and understanding person you've ever met, and then you learn that that cause of the group is something you never dared hope could be accomplished, and all of this sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true! Don't give up your education, your hopes and ambitions, to follow a rainbow." -- Jenne Mills, former member of the People's Temple and subsequent victim of assassination a year following the November 18, 1978 Jonestown suicide/murders of 911 adults and children.

The Internet has many sites where the perils of belonging to commercial cults are discussed, here is an extract from one of them:

In his book "Fake It 'Till You Make It," Phil Kerns compares Business X to Jim Jones' People's Temple.

Page 57 I remember the telephone call I received from a woman in Salem, Oregon. She was calling me about my book on the Jonestown tragedy. I was new in the [Business X] business, having been in only a week.

"I hope that I am not disturbing you, Mr. Kerns. I got your telephone number from your publisher in Plainsfield, New Jersey. I read your book on the People's Temple, and I just wanted to give you my condolences on the loss of your mother and sister in Jonestown." Towards the end of our telephone conversation, she asked, "Oh, buy the way, are you aware of the Business X business?"

"Yes," I replied, but I did not tell her I was in the business.

"You know, every time I go to one of their meetings, it reminds me so much of your book--al the chanting and the way they malign and twist the holy scriptures for gain. I feel that this business is a cult. I think you need to tell the world about this company."

Inside I was chuckling to myself. "This is so far from the truth," I thought. "This is just a soap business--an opportunity."

I dismissed her statements from my mind because I felt they were unfounded and drifting somewhere between "Star Wars" and the "Twilight Zone."

However, today I know better; I wish I had not shunned this woman's notion to abruptly. I hope that if she read this books, she will call back so I may apologize.

Could this organization be classified as a cult? There are, without a doubt, many different characteristics utilized within this integration of salespersons which could lead many individuals to arrive at the same conclusions this lady did.

Now I realized there was more to this business than just soap and spin offs. There was POWER!

And here are a few more extracts from real live folks on Internet land who think Business X isn't as harmless as it makes out (they are as originally posted):

My wife and I are attempting to cope with our close friends in Business X.
Originally the idea was to become financially secure and in doing so provide
free time to visit friends such as us. Now all they can talk about are
*friends in the business*. Can't knock them for there motive for providing
for themselves but it becomes all consuming to the point that anything not
associated with Business X is not worth investing time in!

If they buy one more self-help/motivational book/tape I'm going to scream!!

Any suggestions??

>Maybe you should see about having them deprogrammed. I understand a lot of
>what they do to make a faithful sales force is like what the cults (David
>Koresh, i.e.) do to their initiates. Business X is like their new "religion".

My husband and I tried Business X - it sounded sure fire. But it turned out to
be too "cult-ish". The set up for ordering and seminars and training took
incredibly too much time - busy normal people with other parts to their
lives could not abide such day long affairs every month. Besides, the stuff
that was pushed for training emphasized glorifying your up-line, who often
was not smarter than you,... We didn't make money, despite spending a lot of time.
And we did try hard!! The clincher was the pseudo-religious tone, and sometimes outright Christian preaching, of the seminars. We are not Christian, and there is no reason for us to be in such a business if it is not non-sectarian. But Business X folks don't discuss things like that. My advice... try it - you won't like it.

A co-worker of mine has a gung-ho Business X rep for several years. One day we
were talking about my collection of Grateful Dead tapes which numbers over
450 (go ahead, take your cheap shots) and she said, "well, I'm catching up
to you--I've got 250 Business X tapes. The only difference is, you don't make
any money off yours." Well, there are lots of other differences, but I
ignored them and asked her to add up how much she had spent on all those
tapes, seminars, and various other Business X materials and compare it to her
Business X income. The next day she came in rather sullen-looking. After some
prying on my part she eventually admitted that she had taken my challenge
and discovered that she had lost a great deal of money due to her involvement
with Business X. Just how much she wouldn't say, but she allowed as how it was a
lot more than the cost of my tape collection.

When Does a Multi-level Marketing Organization Become a Cult?

The quick answer is when the profit motive is superseded by an ideological commitment. When people who are LOSING money don't get out. When its not a business but a all-encompassing lifestyle. When the business runs you instead of you running it. When those over you in the business take over your personal life. Business is just business. Business is not everything. When a business becomes everything then its no longer a business but a mammonistic philosophy.

Multi-level marketing does not always equal a cult. There are some firms that use multi-level marketing honestly and well. They are in the minority. There are also some businesses using conventional structures that are extremely exploitative and cult-like in their approach. Use the tests at the start of this article to gauge whether the group you know of is legitimate. Look at their actions, not at their words, their "invasiveness" not at their promises.

If you have problems with a particular group feel free to send me an e-mail at and I will do what I can to help.


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