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What Is The Appeal Of Doomsday Cults?

952 words - 4 pages

On November 18th, 1978 an unspeakably horribly atrocity occurred when 918 people committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. All 918 people who died, a third of whom where children, were members of the People's Temple Agricultural Project, a cult lead by Jim Jones.1 For many years people have been shocked and dumbfounded at why this would happen, and who would ever want to participate in such a thing? Through the inquiry method, it can be seen that masses generally chose cult membership to attain a sense of belonging and security, to satiate a desire for sense of meaning and become party to salvation from the apocalypse, and finally because the person seeks hope and opportunity offered by the cult.2,3 Indeed, it initially isn’t clear why people would voluntarily choose to join a harmful cult, especially if the harm is visible to the person upon joining. Upon investigation, it became clear that almost all doomsday cults investigated met Micheal D. Langone, PhD’s reasons why people are susceptible to recruitment by cults; these including dependency, gullibility, idealism, ignorance of manipulation and cultural disillusionment.3 Below is a further explanation of the three core psychological and sociological draws to cults.

To begin, one of the most enticing factors of cult membership is the promise of prosperity and a bright future, doubly so when those who are recruited are down on their luck.4,2,3 Similar to Hitler's promises of restored economic power to the impoverished people of Germany post World War I, its hard to turn down a cult's pledge of freedom from persecution and hardship, as was the case for Jim Jones's ill fated followers. Upon further examination, the National Socialist Party's principals do not deviate far from what Micheal Shermer describes as some of the basic characteristics of cults.4 The Führerprinzip translates into leader principal, and means that “the Führer's word is above all written law”, similar to how Shermer describes cults treating their leaders as omniscent beings who can never be wrong. Because of this lack of questioning, disciples of cults will take the words of their leaders literally as gospel and can be enticed into absolute commitment to the cult.2 Cults often appeal to the entire spectrum of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but especially to the upper tiers of Love/Belonging, Esteem and Self Actualization.3 Since most vulnerable, hopeless people lack access to the needs contained in those categories, these people are prime targets for cults who promise them.

Secondly, the offer of salvation and deeper meaning is also a key draw for members of cults.2 The Heaven’s Gate cult committed ritual suicide in order to reach what they believed was a UFO passing by to rescue them from the impending apocalypse. They believed that suicide was...

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