Episode 66 – Cults

Jul 4, 2019


Although cults occasionally make the headlines through tragedy or scandal, the defining features of cults are inherently human and manifest on spectrums of both severity and size. The word cult is derived from culture. While culture refers to the overarching characteristics of a society, cult refers negatively to a marginalized subgroup. Cults tap into universal human feelings and desires, such as the need to belong and resonance to parental influence. Although as adults we are no longer dependent on family and tribe for physical survival, our psychological needs for safety and attachment remain powerful. Deb, Lisa, and Joseph consider today’s polarized political divisions, the power of a rock concert or Fourth of July parade, and other ways in which the tension between the opposites of belonging and individuation manifests.


“I am my current self with my current boyfriend, but I had just got married to a woman. This woman had a very powerful presence and felt radiant. She gave me a beautiful silver ring with a turquoise stone, but it didn’t fit properly so I kept losing it. Each time I found it, she would add to the ring and make it even more beautiful. I told my boyfriend that I married her and that I am very happy. He took it well and asked if we could still talk to each other and see each other every day. I said I didn’t think there was a problem with that.”

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  1. Joe

    Its the categorisation which has been problematic… Because all new religious movements have been categorised by various conservative and religious groups as cults simply because they weren’t Christian, or if they were based in Christianity.

    As interesting as the ‘cult phenomenon’ in the US is the anti-cult movement that arose in response – it wasn’t always as clear-cut as you seem to think.

    In many instances anti-cult groups made money from forced deprogrammings (these involved kidnappings) Steve Hassan, who you cite, was involved in these.

    CAN, The Cult Awareness Network was accepting kickbacks from hired freelance deprogramers who would forcibly remove people from these groups on behest of their families, for a hefty fee. CAN would have a list of groups it termed cults, and advertise these as dangerous groups in order to find clients.

    I think if you want to tell the story if ‘Cults’ in America you need to determine who is labelling these groups as cults in the first place – otherwise you run the risk of telling a one-sided story.

    Don’t get me wrong there are some groups that were and are absolutely detrimental to member’s money and health – but you should check who you are using as authority on this subject.

    A lot what was written at the time (and many of these people are still involved) was written by people who personally financially benefited from creating these labels.

    If you want more details, feel free to email me – the topic of NRMs in America is one I’m quite interested in.

    • Joseph23455

      We appreciate your informed comments, Joe. Feel free to share your resources here!

  2. Cheryl Sachnoff

    I’ve recently discovered your podcast and am fascinated by what I’m learning here. During this episode on cults Lisa quoted Carl Jung on the subject of finding identity in attaching to a cult. She cited chapter and verse — what was that?


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