How to recognise a dangerous cult


Following the Shaka Hola massacre in Malindi, Kenya, where around 109 people have so far been found dead, with the search still going on, questions over what constitutes a cult have emerged.

In the case of Shakahola, there are claims that the leader, Pastor Paul Mackenzie, lured followers to dispose their property, abandon their homes and work to seek Jesus by fasting.

With a television station that would broadcast his message and agents to emphasise it, the controversial ‘man of God’ convinced his dozens of followers to do what many find bizarre.

Could this be one of the dangerous cult operating around?

Cults by definition are actually very common but not all of them are dangerous.

Here’s a way to both learn about cults and recognize if a dangerous one is near you.

  1. Charismatic, centralised leadership.

Even in cases where there is a leadership structure, the manipulative cult leader will always be the only visible leader, with others remaining in the background playing supporting roles.

In this structure, every decision is made at the top and communicated to those at the lower level who implement it without questions.

  1. Related to the leadership is a tendency to magnify personal image of the leader and reverence to make they appear larger than life and more important than they really are, and even associate them with great things and concepts.
  2. The person at the top of the organization has a kind of absolute ruling authority.
  3. As a way of stamping their authority, the founder may be named an avatar, master, guru, Bodhisattva, genius or other highly attained person.
  4. A system to earn money from its membership as opposed to looking beyond. This is mostly exploitative and to the detriment of members, for the gain for the leader.

In some instances, members have to continuously pamper the leaders with money and assets to remain relevant in the organisation.

  1. A key message that is always repeated to members, who are often also taught to repeat certain practices, rites, methods and techniques without any room for others.

To ensure they remain focused on these practices, members are not allowed to get adventure into practices by other groups.

  1. Members suffer intellectual limitation, as outside ideas or interaction with nonmembers is discouraged, hence depriving them an opportunity to stretch their imagination. Instead, they focus on key principles or myths.
  2. For members, intensive practices that could result in mental stress are commonplace among cult members. These include long meditation, fasting, intense workouts or other things. The members earn certain levels of mystique and privilege by adopting the said practices.
  3. For members who don’t abide by all practices, there are punishments or repercussions which include shunning, “time out”, isolating or demotion.
  4. There is a good deal of secrecy on some of the practices, often manifest in coded language used when it comes to them.

It is very difficult, if not impossible to leave their society. The aim is to make the new person addicted to or so familiar with the cult that the person loses the ability to be independent, or their fears of repercussions are too. There is an amount of secrecy surrounding the beliefs or inner workings of the organization as opposed to transparency .All actions committed by members are justified or will be praised. M

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