The Cult Test
Questions 61 to 70

(To go back and forth between the questions and the answers for Alcoholics Anonymous, click on the numbers of the questions and answers.)

61. The Guru Is Extra-Special.

The guru is the Messiah, or is God. The guru is the only one in the world who knows the new Truth. The guru deserves the best of everything. The guru deserves all of the money, all of the women, and all of the drugs, because he is extra-special.

"The Lord of the Universe", Guru Maharaj Ji
"The 14-year-old Perfect Master"

And the Rajneeshees raved that Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was actually God Himself returning to Earth in Poona, India — "Bhagwan" is actually a title that means "embodiment of God" — and they bowed and swooned in ecstasy when he did his daily "drive-by", riding very slowly past them in one of his many Rolls Royces...

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Rajneesh's teachings included, "sex is fun, materialism is good and Jesus was a madman," and the claim that he was "the world's greatest lover." Materialism was so good that he had to spend millions of dollars just to build a huge garage to house all of his Rolls Royces. (By 1985, he had 93 of them.)
      From his commune in rural eastern Oregon, his people launched the only germ warfare attack on the USA since the Revolutionary War (when the British deliberately infected Gen. George Washington's troops with smallpox). The Rajneeshees infected the salad bars of several restaurants in The Dalles, Oregon, with salmonella just before election day, in an attempt to make everyone but their own people too sick to vote, so that the Rajneeshees could take over the county government. Rajneesh finally fled back to India to avoid prosecution on a number of charges.

Bhagwan Rajneesh had a cute stunt: He claimed that his nose was so sensitive that no one could come into his presence wearing perfume or scents of any kind, lest his sensitive nose be offended. People who wanted to hear one of his lectures, or have a darshan with him, had to line up and submit to the "sniff test", where one of Bhagwan's lieutenants would sniff and examine the people who hoped to come into the Bhagwan's presence. Even just having bathed with a perfumed soap that day, or having used a perfumed shampoo, was cause for rejection. Notice how that made people accustomed to submitting themselves to humiliating treatment, while promoting the idea that the Bhagwan was extra-special.

It just goes on and on. In cult after cult, the leader is just the greatest thing, and is so extra-special:
"Ultimately you cannot admire the guru, you must worship him." (== Paul Brunton, My Father's Guru)

Likewise, in cults, the guru is worshipped more than the principles or doctrines that the cult espouses. Principles and doctrines fade into a vague, flexible, shifting morality that the guru can change on a whim.

Cult leaders often impose very strict rules on their followers, while breaking those same rules themselves. Both the EST leader Werner Erhard and the People's Temple leader Jim Jones felt entitled to control and prohibit the sexual activities of their followers, while they enjoyed lives of unlimited non-stop sexual indulgence themselves. Jim Jones even considered everybody in the cult — women, men, and children — to be fair game for his bedtime recreations, while he accused others of being sinful and disgusting, even if they only had sex with their husbands and wives.

The cult leader is basically antinomian — meaning that he declares that the rules do not apply to him. Often, the excuse is that the guru has already "made the grade", and doesn't need to follow such rules any more. The rules are just for those spiritual students who have not been "saved" or "enlightened" yet — which means everybody but the guru.

At least one phony guru who teaches yoga has actually stopped practicing yoga himself and is turning into a fat slob. He declares that he doesn't need to do yoga any more — he "has arrived spiritually" — he just teaches yoga to the youngsters.

If you have any doubts about whether the cult worships the guru, just ask a member, "What are the 10 biggest mistakes that the guru made in setting up the organization and formulating its doctrines?" True believers will give you a look of horror and insist that the guru has never made any mistakes... "The very idea is unthinkable."

62. Flexible, shifting morality

The leader or his group defines and redefines the standards of morality.
Previously illegal or immoral activities become okay because the leader or the group says that they are okay.

In Synanon, which was supposed to be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, the leader Chuck Dederich relapsed and returned to drinking (he was a recovering alcoholic, a former member of Alcoholics Anonymous). So Dederich suddenly announced that alcohol was now okay for special ceremonial occasions. It wasn't very long before every day was a special occasion, and visitors noticed that a lot of the Synanon members seemed a bit tipsy, and were even walking around Synanon with beer cans in their hands.2

Cult members may become criminals. Previously law-abiding people sometimes become willing to commit serious crimes for the cult, all the while rationalizing their actions by saying,

  • "It's okay because the Guru says that it's okay."
  • "We're doing it for God."
  • "We're doing it for the greater good."
  • "The end justifies the means."
  • "We are only doing it to them for their own good."

Such rationalizations lead to abdication of personal responsibility for sins or crimes — cult members say,
"The group made me do it, or the Guru made me do it. So it isn't my fault."

In the Hari Krishnas, members were taught that cheating and short-changing people to get more money for the cult was perfectly okay and quite moral, because it's all God's money anyway, and they were just getting more of it for God.

In David Berg's "Children of God" cult, the women were taught that working as a prostitute to get money for the cult was okay, and even "spiritual". Their husbands were instructed to work as pimps, hawking their wives.

In Scientology, members learned that it was okay to break into U.S. Government offices and steal files on people, to get information that could later be used to blackmail opponents of Scientology. Several Scientology members, including the Founder's wife, went to prison for years for that.

In addition, the cult often has a Double Standard — one set of rules for the Guru, and another set of rules for everybody else. Likewise, a cult has one set of rules for cult members, and another set of rules for outsiders.

63. Separatism

  • The cult has a separate reality, a separate language, and a separate value system.
  • The cult has its own culture.
  • The cult occasionally has its own interpretation of history, or its own interpretation of the Bible or some other religion's holy book.
  • Cult members learn to value other cult members more than outsiders.
  • Cult members tend to associate with each other more than with any non-members.
  • Sometimes cult members physically separate themselves from society and isolate themselves in their own compound, temple, or commune.
  • Cult members learn to value only the cult's teachings. Outsiders' beliefs and moral standards are considered irrelevant.
  • As the cult develops its own separate idea of reality, it exhibits a loss of common sense.

A corollary to cults' claims of having The Only Way is the belief that "the other people" do not have The Way. "They" are all misguided and missing the boat, and "they" won't be going to Heaven, or they won't achieve Enlightenment, or they won't get whatever the declared goal of the cult happens to be. Thus the cult encourages an isolationist "us versus them" mindset, which is the heart of separatism.

64. Inability to tolerate criticism

Cults react strongly to even mild criticism. Cults have an overactive "circle the wagons" us-versus-them defensive mentality. When criticized, they often engage in ad hominem attacks on the speaker, rather than challenging the truthfulness of his statements, which are often correct.

When it comes to fighting back viciously when criticized, few if any cults are worse than Scientology. Scientology is notorious for attacking, suing, and harassing anyone who criticizes Scientology. Their official policy is to sue critics into bankruptcy by filing hundreds or thousands of lawsuits against the critics, who will not even be able to pay for the legal expenses of defending themselves. (The name of the anti-cult organization "Cult Awareness Network" became the property of the Church of Scientology that way.) But they go even further, hiring private detectives to investigate and harass critics, practicing terrorist tactics against critics and their families, and even framing people for crimes that they didn't commit.

John Atack, who wrote an excellent book on Scientology, A Piece Of Blue Sky, said of Scientology,

Another tenet of Hubbard's "scripture" is that all opponents of Scientology are criminals with undisclosed crimes. It should be a matter of some amazement to scientologists given this prediction that I have managed to criticise Scientology for twelve years without spending any time in prison or being charged with any crime. In that time, however, scientologists have been convicted in several countries.
      The phobic attitude towards critics and the refusal of dialogue characterize totalist groups or destructive cults. Scientologists are taught that anyone who seeks to dissuade them from Scientology is "suppressive". If the criticism cannot be silenced, then the scientologist should cease all communication with the critic, or "disconnect". Any criticism of Scientology is held to stem from undisclosed "overts" or moral transgressions. The critic is asked "what are your crimes?" This can be upsetting to the mystified parent of a raging scientologist.
Scientology: Religion or Intelligence Agency? The view from the lion's den, A paper by Jon Atack, delivered at the Dialog Centre International conference in Berlin, October 1995.

Scientologists framed the freelance writer Paulette Cooper for conspiring to bomb the Scientology headquarters because they didn't like what she had written about Scientology in her book "The Scandal of Scientology".

In May, 1973, Paulette Cooper was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of making bomb threats against the Church of Scientology, and of committing perjury by denying the accusations. There were threatening letters on her stationery and with her fingerprints on them.

But then in 1977 the FBI raided the Scientology headquarters in several cities because Scientologists had been stealing many thousands of documents and records from several U.S. Government agencies (getting information on other people). That is when the FBI found proof that the Scientologists had faked the evidence against Ms. Cooper. It turned out that agents for Scientology had stolen some sheets of her stationery which she had touched, and then typed the threats against Scientology on the fingerprinted paper.

It also turned out that her lover, a man with whom she had shared her intimate personal secrets as well as her bed, was actually a Scientology spy who had participated in the frame-up, a spy who Xeroxed off her personal diaries while she was at work. He had even reported to the Scientology headquarters that she was depressed and contemplating suicide, and commented, "Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing for Scientology!"

Paulette Cooper said of Scientology spies: "Scientology sits on the stuff for years before revealing it. Jerry was gone for about 5 years before pages of my teenage diary he had photocopied started being sent anonymously to others."

Paulette Cooper

We are slowly and carefully teaching the unholy a lesson. It is as follows: We are not a law enforcement agency. BUT we will become interested in the crimes of people who seek to stop us. If you oppose Scientology we promptly look up — and find and expose — your crimes.
If you leave us alone we will leave you alone.
It's very simple. Even a fool can grasp that.
And don't underrate our ability to carry it out.

— L. Ron Hubbard (the founder and leader of Scientology)

Lafayette Ronald
"L. Ron" Hubbard

65. A Charismatic Leader
The group has, and depends on, a charismatic leader or leaders. The group is personality-driven, and everything revolves around the leader.

Note that the leader may now be dead. Cults do not suddenly stop being cults just because the leader dies. All of these cult leaders are now dead, and yet, all of those cults still have some true believers who maintain that it is or was the greatest thing:

  • Scientology found Lafayette Ronald Hubbard
  • The Universal Church ("Moonies") founder Sun Myung Moon
  • ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) founder Swami Prabhupada
  • The People's Temple founder Rev. Jim Jones
  • The Branch Davidians leader "David Koresh" (real name Vernon Howell)
  • The Solar Temple founders Luc Jouret and Di Mambro
  • Heaven's Gate founders Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles
  • Alcoholics Anonymous founders William Griffith Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith

66. Calls to Obliterate Self

The cult constantly demands that members abandon self, selfishness, self-seeking, self-centeredness, and ego. The cult declares that self and ego are very bad, and must be eliminated. The cult demands that members sacrifice themselves for the greater good.

For a detailed analysis of this item, see the discussion of demands for self-renunciation made by "A Course In Miracles", in the file on The Heresy of the 12 Steps.

67. Don't Trust Your Own Mind.

Members are taught that they cannot trust their own minds, that their thinking is somehow flawed. Almost invariably, a cult's answer to that problem that the cult members must let the cult leader or cult elders do their thinking for them.

  • Members are told that they have not prayed or chanted or meditated enough, or done enough yoga, or gotten enough "therapy" to straighten out their thinking.

  • Dissenting members are advised to seek a consensus in all matters. One fundamentalist Christian cult taught, "In the abundance of counselors there is safety. He who trusts his own mind is a fool."

  • Likewise, the Love Family cult told members who tried to think critically, "What's inside your mind is lies. We are your mind. The group is your mind."1

  • The Moonies tell their members that Satan has corrupted their minds, so they cannot trust their thinking, and they especially cannot trust any thoughts that are critical of Rev. Sun Myung Moon or his Unification Church.

  • Scientology teaches its members that their minds are crippled by memories of past injuries, and that they must purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of Scientology "auditing" therapy in order to recover.

  • The Oxford Group taught that people had been defeated by sin, and that their thinking was corrupted by sin. The cult leader Frank Buchman demanded that people surrender their minds and their lives to his cult and let him do their thinking for them.

  • Recovery cults declare that people's minds have been corrupted by drugs or alcohol, and that they too must surrender control of their thinking to someone else and let someone else run their lives, because their thinking is "alcoholic" or "addictive".

68. Don't Feel Your Own Feelings.

Just as members are told that they cannot trust their own thinking, members are taught that they cannot trust their own feelings.

  • They are told that they are just being selfish and self-pitying if they feel that they are being exploited or treated unfairly.
  • They are told that their feelings are wrong or evil if they feel that there is something about the cult that isn't quite right, and any resistance to cult indoctrination is opposition to "The Good". They are told that any doubts or suspicions about the cult are weaknesses and wrong thoughts. That is often framed as "The Devil is trying to turn you away from the Light." Or, "Your selfish desires die hard. They won't let go of you easily." Frank Buchman's cult used the slogan, "Don't forget that a hooked fish jumps, kicks, and runs."
  • They are told that their desires for a normal life outside of the cult are immoral and selfish (sometimes, desires put there by Satan).
  • And they are told that they are selfish for wanting to make a decent living and have a normal, comfortable home and good food.
  • Many cults tell their members that they should only feel Eternal Bliss or some such thing.
  • And of course many cults tell their members that their sexual desires are evil and impure.
  • They are even told that desiring to have a normal marital relationship with a spouse is selfish and wrong, and is a diversion from "The True Work".

It isn't just religious cults that teach people not to feel their feelings. The Nazis did the same thing. The Nazi teachings declared that a superior member of the Übermenschen does not show pain, and feels no sentimentality while killing Untermenschen, and takes joy only in those things which advance the Nazi cause. They produced hard, cold, unfeeling monsters who could kill a thousand people without flinching from the task. Heinrich Himmler bragged to his S.S. officers:

Most of you know what it means to see a hundred corpses lying together, five hundred, or a thousand. To have gone through this and yet — apart from a few exceptions, examples of human weakness — to have remained decent fellows, this is what has made us hard.
Heinrich Himmler, in a speech to SS Group Leaders, October of 1943

69. The group takes over the individual's decision-making process.

The group takes over the individual's decision-making process, and plans and runs his whole life for him. The cult reduces the individual to dependence upon the cult for all important decisions, and even for minor ones. It is common for members of cults to even have to ask permission to go visit their own family, or to go to a parent's funeral.

Many cults reduce their members to such helplessness that they are incapable of making the simplest of decisions without asking their mentor or leader for guidance. In one of his anti-cult books, Steve Hassan advised parents to watch out for hesitation on the part of their children when they ask the children to come home for a visit. An answer like
      "I'm not sure, let me see, let me think about it for a while,"
really means
      "Give me time to ask my mentor for permission to visit my old family."

70. You Owe The Group.
You owe everything to the group. The group says that it made you what you are, and gave you everything that you have, so now you are obligated to the group.

The third item in the Scientology "Code of Honor" is:

3. Never desert a group to which you owe your support.
— Meaning: after Scientology has taken all of your money, and all of your free labor, you still owe L. Ron Hubbard your life. And to that end, members of the Sea Org — the sea-going branch of the organization — would sign Billion-Year Contracts, swearing to serve L. Ron Hubbard in all future reincarnations for the next billion years.

Similarly, many other cults will claim that their practices like chanting or meditation gave you sanity and enlightenment, so you owe the group for that. Pseudo-Christian groups will claim that they saved you from Satan, so you owe them.

In Synanon, even though William Olin was a healthy non-addict and a successful architect who had joined Synanon because he had believed in it as a utopian social movement, and even though Olin had given Synanon his life savings and had worked for Synanon for free for ten years, when Olin discussed the problems with Synanon and announced that he was leaving, the cult claimed that Synanon had given him everything, and that he was "just a sour, ungrateful asshole."

Continue to questions 71 to 80...


1) Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, 1978, page 157.

2) William F. Olin, Escape From Utopia: My Ten Years in Synanon, 1980.

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Last updated 27 December 2013.
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