Culture

Seven Simple Questions To Ask If You Think You Might Be In A Cult

As the saying goes: You're in a cult. Call your dad.

Confused lady meme, cult, zodiac by jo thornely

You’ll almost never hear anyone say “I’m in a cult”. Most people don’t know they’re in one until their compound gets raided, or they’re arrested for attempted murder, or they’ve sold all their possessions for an apocalypse that never arrived.

There’s always clues, though. If you’re in a group and you have any suspicions at all that you might really be in a cult, see how many times you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions.

When You Joined The Group, Were They Really, Over-The-Top Pumped To Have You There?

If you felt like the people already in the group loved the shit out of you, making your existing friendships and relationships seem lukewarm by comparison, you might be in a cult. It’s called ‘love-bombing’, and it’s designed to make you want to come back again and again, to re-reach the intoxicating self-esteem high it provides.

Come on. Take a long hard look at yourself. You’re alright, but those guys are a little too jazzed to see you. Something’s up.

Does The Head Of Your Group Have An Essential Role In The Group’s Story?

If the main narrative of the group is that it just couldn’t exist or be effectively delivered without the divine gifts or superior expertise of its leader, you might be in a cult.

Reverend Moon of the Moonies and Anne Hamilton-Byrne of The Family both claimed they were the new improved Jesus, and David Koresh from the Branch Davidians was 100% certain he was a lynchpin in an impending end-of-the-world scenario, which made him tops fun at parties.

There are lots and lots of people who have claimed to be God’s messenger, or at least the holder of life-changing secrets in the past, and the number of those who have turned out to be legitimate is zero. What are the odds that you’ve stumbled across the first one to get it right? Come on. You’re not that lucky.

Do You Give Money To The Group, Not For Goods Or Services Or Training, But For Access To Secrets?

In groups like Scientology (but obviously not Scientology, just groups like Scientology but without the expensive lawyers) it can cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy the textbooks to graduate from, effectively, Secrets of the Universe University.

If the secret or message is going to save the world or help humanity progress, then what kind of self-interested, mean-spirited asshole asks for money for that? Sure, people pay for self-improvement books and classes, but you have to remember that if you’re not seeing your money’s worth of improvement, then it’s not worth paying for, and if you have to keep paying for more and more of it, you might be in a cult.

Are You Being Told What Not To Read?

Look, recommending books is great. Recommending only books written by one person is less great. But if you’re being told not to read things because they contain dangerous information, you might be in a cult. David Berg from Children of God, an unsettling old perv, told his followers that the mainstream media was evil and that they should only read what he wrote.

You know, a bit like Donald Trump and the whole ‘fake news’ thing, depending on how broadly you want to malign unsettling old pervs. Cult leaders — and sometimes leaders of dictatorships, let’s be fair — don’t want their message diluted by irritating facts or differing opinions. If a group’s message is threatened by outside voices, the message can’t be much chop to begin with.

If You Don’t Do Specific Things, Will Something Terrible Happen?

Okay, if you don’t look both ways before crossing the street you might get hit by a car, granted. But if you’re being told that something very bad will happen if you either do things you’ve always done before, or don’t do things that you’ve always gotten by not doing before, you might be in a cult. Especially and of most importance: don’t let people tell you who you should have sex with, and don’t let people tell you that if you don’t inflict harm on somebody, bad shit will happen. Those people are bad people.

Are Your Friends Or Family Suddenly Bad People?

If you always thought your friends and family were fine, but now you think they might be bad for you even though they haven’t really changed, you might be in a cult. Cult leaders don’t want you to think anybody is better than them. You’re almost certainly in a cult if your friends and family keep telling you you’re in a cult.

See, because friends and family are always saying things like that to people who are in cults, cult leaders try to convince their followers that friends and family are liars and a bad influence on you. Paul Schafer of the horrific Colonia Dignidad cult wouldn’t let family members see or talk to each other, and was so jealous of anyone else being seen as a father figure that he pretended to shoot Santa Claus dead in front of the cult’s children. Paul Schafer was a bit of a bastard.

Finally, Is Anyone In Your Cult Claiming To Have Had Sex With Cloned Alien Robots?

Sometimes in cults like the Raelians, the leader claims to have had sex with cloned alien robots. There’s actually nothing wrong with that. Having sex with cloned alien robots is unbelievably cool.

If you’ve just realised you’re in a cult, then you should definitely tell somebody. Today. Tell somebody who isn’t in a cult that you’re in a cult TODAY.

If you’ve just realised that your gym isn’t a cult and you’ll have to find some other excuse to never go there, then yeah, sorry. Your book club is definitely suss, though.


‘Zealot: A Book About Cults’ by Jo Thornely is published by Hachette Australia, RRP $32.99. Jo is on Twitter @JoThornely.

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