Why do people join cults? – Janja Lalich

When Reverend Jim Jones founded
the Peoples Temple in 1955, few could have imagined
its horrifying end. This progressive religious movement
rose in popularity and gained support from some of San Francisco’s
most prominent politicians. But in 1977, amidst revelations
of brainwashing and abuse, Jones moved with several hundred followers to establish the commune of Jonestown
in Guyana. Billed as a utopian paradise,
the colony was more like a prison camp, and when a congressional delegation
arrived to investigate its conditions, Jones executed his final plan. On November 18, 1978, 909 men,
women, and children died after being forced to drink
poisoned Flavor Aid. That grizzly image has since been
immortalized as shorthand slang for single-minded cult-like thinking, “They drank the Kool-aid.” Today, there are thousands of cults
around the world. It’s important to note two things
about them. First, not all cults are religious. Some are political, therapy-based, focused on self-improvement, or otherwise. And on the flip side, not all new religions are what
we’re referring to as cults. So what exactly defines our modern
understanding of cults, and why do people join them? Broadly speaking, a cult is a group
or movement with a shared commitment to a usually
extreme ideology that’s typically embodied
in a charismatic leader. And while few turn out as deadly
as Jonestown or Heaven’s Gate, which ended in a mass suicide
of 39 people in 1997, most cults share some
basic characteristics. A typical cult requires a high level
of commitment from its members and maintains a strict hierarchy, separating unsuspecting supporters
and recruits from the inner workings. It claims to provide answers
to life’s biggest questions through its doctrine, along with the required recipe
for change that shapes a new member
into a true believer. And most importantly, it uses both
formal and informal systems of influence and control
to keep members obedient, with little tolerance for internal
disagreement or external scrutiny. You might wonder whether
some of these descriptions might also apply to established religions. In fact, the world “cultus”
originally described people who cultivated
the worship of certain gods by performing rituals
and maintaining temples. But in time, it came to mean
excessive devotion. Many religions began as cults, but integrated into the fabric
of the larger society as they grew. A modern cult, by contrast, separates
its members from others. Rather than providing guidelines
for members to live better lives, a cult seeks to directly control them, from personal and family relationships, to financial assets
and living arrangements. Cults also demand obedience
to human leaders who tend to be highly persuasive people with authoritarian
and narcissistic streaks motivated by money, sex, power,
or all three. While a cult leader uses personal charisma
to attract initial followers, further expansion works
like a pyramid scheme, with early members recruiting new ones. Cults are skilled at knowing
whom to target, often focusing on those new to an area, or who have recently undergone some
personal or professional loss. Loneliness and a desire for meaning make one susceptible to friendly people
offering community. The recruitment process can be subtle, sometimes taking months
to establish a relationship. In fact, more than two-thirds
of cult members are recruited by a friend, family member, or co-worker whose invitations are harder to refuse. Once in the cult, members are subjected
to multiple forms of indoctrination. Some play on our natural inclination to
mimic social behaviors or follow orders. Other methods may be more intense using techniques of coercive persuasion
involving guilt, shame, and fear. And in many cases, members may
willingly submit out of desire to belong and to attain the promised rewards. The cult environment discourages
critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling
absolute faith. The resulting internal conflict,
known as cognitive dissonance, keeps you trapped, as each compromise makes it more
painful to admit you’ve been deceived. And though most cults don’t
lead members to their death, they can still be harmful. By denying basic freedoms of thought,
speech, and association, cults stunt their members’
psychological and emotional growth, a particular problem for children, who are deprived of normal
developmental activities and milestones. Nevertheless, many cult members
eventually find a way out, whether through their own realizations, the help of family and friends, or when the cult falls apart
due to external pressure or scandals. Many cults may be hard to identify, and for some, their beliefs,
no matter how strange, are protected under religious freedom. But when their practices
involve harassment, threats, illegal activities, or abuse, the law can intervene. Believing in something should not come
at the cost of your family and friends, and if someone tells you to sacrifice
your relationships or morality for the greater good, they’re most likely exploiting you
for their own.

  1. Excellent and nuanced overview of intersectional feminism. Also helps explain Trump derangement syndrome.

  2. "The cult environment discourages critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling absolute faith." I would imagine this happens with religions too..?

  3. Here in the Philippines, Pastor Quiboloy and his movement is the greatest cult! Quiboloy claims to be THE CHRIST and the OWNER OF THE UNIVERSE. He sends hundreds of his followers into different country to ask for charity.

  4. I do have one question: vegans seem to be one big dietary cult, they verbally abuse others who don't share their views, they are willing to harm themselves for their "faith"…

  5. The point after 5:50 is wrong, as you should only reject your family and friends if they refuse to allow you to accept Jesus Christ as your saviour!

  6. DANIEL 12:9 During that time Miʹcha·el will stand up, the great prince who is standing in behalf of your people. And there will occur a time of distress such as has not occurred since there came to be a nation until that time. And during that time your people will escape, everyone who is found written down in the book!

  7. REVELATION 12:7 And war broke out in heaven: Miʹcha·el and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven.

  8. I love TED-ED and appreciate your videos, but can you not at least use an accurately detailed map of the world? The world map from 1.30 on has a big chunk of Greece, the whole of Turkey, and Cyprus missing. I mean considering these lands are the cradle of civilization of the ancient west, you'd think that they'd be put in a video talking about the historical significance of cults, religious or otherwise.

  9. What started as a cult will always be a cult deep down because you don't get grapes from an apple tree. So religion is a cult in its core. Right?

  10. I feel like many catholic churches work like cults.. Am I right?
    Also, cults never refer to themselves as a cult. So answer if u aint catholic plz

  11. I used to be in one. Right after leaving an abusive marriage. When you first join it seems cool. You were lonely and hurting and now you have a group of people treating you nicely. My leader acted like he cared so much. You never know it’s a cult until you’ve been there for a while. Mine didn’t involve killing or severe punishment thankfully. There were a lot of rituals that involved some disturbing acts. I remember when certain things were happening that it clicked and I realized it was a cult. Thankfully it was easy to leave.

  12. An ex Moonie or as it's now called Unitilarian church developed a model for identififying cults called BITE – which stands for the four areas in which it controls it's members – Behavioural, Information, Thought and Emotional – it's worth looking into cults don't have to be run by a individual – Jehovah's Witness and the Church of Later Day Saints (aka Mormons) count as cults. The don't have to be small – Scientology definitely counts or recent some would say the Catholic church does.

  13. Trump supporters seem to be in his cult! And i believe that if he asked, they would drink the cool-aid!😂

  14. The cult like mentality in far right/left ideologies should be obvious to anyone that pays even a little attention to politics.

  15. "Only the devotees or the people in this cult are those who will be brought to heaven"

    That certain cult that members don't believe it's fake

  16. Reminds me of how I started hanging out with online “friends” and next thing you know my patterns of thinking are twisting around to be more like theirs, I’m afraid of doing something wrong and them getting upset with me, and being afraid to to respond when they make disturbing violent comments, so I’d just try to look past it, and all of those negative feelings I would get from hanging out with them, and their incessant complaining about stuff, in some cases, even stuff I like, like I remember praising a tv show I liked and then next you know they’re all complaining because it doesn’t meet their ridiculously high standards I guess
    And it’s not like people aren’t allowed to complain but when they keep on doing it even when you have said you like the thing it starts to feel like they’re punishing you for having bad taste or something

  17. This was exactly I was being forced to join a group. I won't mention the name but it is actually very famous. I was invited in a seminar and they were acting like wow this is so important it means a lot in everyone's life. And later on, my friend called me to ask about my joining I told him I was not interested he tried to convince me that it is for the greater good but I told him I already am good. Few days later their group members started calling to influence me but I told them that Im not at all interested , they started foreceing me. And because of that I abused them soo badly and their group that they would never dare to call someone in life.

  18. When being in a cult is alien to you because you are an introvert and you are not even trying to go to a party not to mention cults lol.

  19. Cults act as a shelter that provides food, clothes and a false sense of security as well and people get in where they fit in,Some people need some type of enlightenment but are merely looking for love in all the wrong places.

  20. Because some people are to scared to go through life thinking on ther own that's why some people believe in a god because they are scared of life

  21. If anyone reading this feels trapped in a belief system, your brain is free from ideology. Everyone lives a completely different experience from one another. We get a wild lifetime full of beautiful experiences, enjoy it and do good for others. There are no other rules. Much love.

  22. If a religion discourages its members from doing independant research about the religion other than whats on their website or in their books, or has to explain on their website why its not a cult then that should set alarm bells ringing. Any sort of truth should stand up to questions and no one should be scared of being shown information, the information about the religion is either true or its not, but being scared of looking in to it tells you something, it tells you about it being a high control group or cult. Remember a cult doesnt just have one leader, it can have 10 million members and have many men at the top making decisions, and remember that no one who is in a cult actually thinks they are in one even if they would recognise that cults do exist, they wont see theres as being one. Only years later if they leave can they see clearly often when they have done thorough research and thought in to it all.

  23. Because the magic man in the sky will send you to the depth of the earth if you eat shrimp or touch yourself, and depending on the case he might as well force you to wear a blanket on your head

  24. At 3:03 it reminds me of the scene from Far Cry 5:
    “You know what that means? It’s means the roads are all closed. It means the phone lines have been cut. It means there’s no signals getting in and out of this valley. But mostly it means we’re all screwed”

  25. I was in a cult for a few years. I was lonely and withdrawn. The cult helped me to socialize and genuinely helped to improve my life. But it wanted everything. All of my time, my money and wanted to choose who I marry. When I saw how they arranged marriages of some members I knew I had to leave. It was hard leaving. So many good people there.

  26. Making a cult organization is easy because it's just like just selling a candy to a kid and used the divinity to scare you.

  27. there is no such thing as a cult, this guy should have stated this.
    (and theres no such thing as brainwashing)

  28. One of my relative most likely join cult. And it hurts me somehow. She sold out few of her properties for the cult and even had quarrel with her children because their beliefs are different.

  29. So this is what fight club movie is about. A mentally depressed guy forms a cult because he hates the fabric of his society.

  30. This is what is happening right now in The Philippines! Rodrigo Duterte, is creating chaos and destroys democracy. DDS, or Duterte Die-hard Supporters, have cult-like mindset.

  31. In the beginning a cult was an answer to my life problems. It changed something. But later on the leaders started pushing me to sacrifice my relationships, education, mind. It was a very forceful gazlighting. But I managed to leave. It took years for me to get strong enough to leave.

  32. I'm from guyana and wat he did was very much outrageous🙁😌🙁do it in your own damn country 😌😌🙁for crying out loud

  33. When you said it's like a pyramid scheme, I remembered the time when I was invited to one. The new "members" or at least the ones invited were separated. We were seated at least 2-3 members apart, some of them were in uniform so you would know they were already a member, but some were not. During the speech of the founders, they encourage you to shout something while clapping when the founder said a certain word. Noticeably, people who were not members would not do that but people beside us would so they were trying to get us to do them. They we're trapping us as well. They wouldn' let us leave, people were blocking the doorways and people beside us will try to talk to us like "Oh wow this is such an amazing group" "you have to stay" or "It will get better, you have to be patient". I was still a student at this time and I was very annoyed because I still had school tomorrow and it was getting really late but they kept telling us that school will not do anything for us, that they just take our money and leave us hanging after we graduate. Also that we should join them so we can be successful like them. They would also tell stories about how they stole a bit of their parents money to invest and now they're rich so it's okay to steal because its for the better future, and I was like WHAT? I started to visibly and vocally turn against them because things they said before technically isn't bad but this time they were encouraging us to do crime. I mean speaking up in the hall was very dangerous but I don't think they would do anything in front new recruits. They were trying to get me to talk to them quietly in a corner but when I saw one of the new members getting to leave, I told them I will leave with that person because we live in the same neighborhood and it's not safe for a girl like me to go home alone. They let me leave with that person and oof I'm glad I got out of that safe.

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