I don’t usually soap-box, but I’m going to for a hot sec since this has been on my mind:
Cults are getting better branding, prettier leaders, hipper-sounding cosmologies, and wider reaches due to social media. They’re not all deity-focused. Thoughtful, intelligent people can get sucked into them. Just…stay safe out there, guys. Do your research, look at all your options, and trust your gut, not your guru.
I’m glad this is resonating with people.
I do want to emphasize, again, that cults (and toxic groups with cult-like attributes, I’m using this term pretty loosely) don’t usually look like what you’d expect. A lot of toxic and dangerous religious movements are tiny and you won’t find much about them via Google. Cultish non-religious movements are the same way.
Start-ups, multi-level marketing companies, activist groups, fan groups, political groups, and internet gurus who run retreats can all be cult-like and dangerous. Tune your BS detector, ask family, friends, and experts for advice.
Here are some warning signs:
Pressure – pressure to make quick decisions, to give (or pledge) considerable amounts of money, to move in with a group, to abandon family or cut off friends.
Elevated Leaders – anyone claiming special insight, special powers, or that they aren’t human. Demanding special treatment (compared to other followers). Misuse of funds or money collecting at the top. physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Lack of accountability or oversight.
Isolation – encouraging (or requiring) members to cut off family relationships, friendships with those outside of the group, leaving jobs, moving to isolated areas, taking away communication methods. Strong “us-vs-them” mentality. Vilification of ex-members. Love-bombing.
Altered states of consciousness – long work hours, sleep deprivation, lack of access to adequate food or water. Otherwise unproblematic activities like meditation/prayer/chanting, but done for hours.
Discouraging doubt – discouraging or punishing doubt and critical thinking.
(Source 1, Source 2, Source 3)
If these send up red flags for you or loved ones, here are some collected resources: one, two.