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How to Tell the Difference Between a Group and a Cult

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How can you tell a group from a cult.

During our lifetime, most of us will be a member of some type of group.  It might be a religious group, a twelve step program, a self help group, or a myriad of other groups.  How can one really tell the difference between a group or a cult?  Discovering whether you have or have not been in a cult is sometimes not as clear as one would think.

A story was told of a woman who began a spiritual study with a group.  One man taught classes and wrote books that were used throughout the group.  Everything that was studied or taught had to be approved.  There were many groups all over the world all using the same materials.  Some of the "teachers" were advanced students.  The teachers taught that the only way to achieve spirituality was from this particular method used in this particular group. 

It was also stated that if one chose to leave the group, he or she would never reach spirituality.  This particular woman was very disturbed by the behaviors she witnessed.  There were times when one of the students, who was teaching, was actually mentally and verbally abusive.  His method of teaching was to inform the students that they knew nothing and certainly had no clue of what God or spirituality was.  Only if they listened to the teachings of this group would they reach the goal. He used fear as a motivator.

The woman talked about what happened when a member decided to leave the group.  The instructor would tell others that the person just could not make it.  Those who make it are special.  Not everyone is capable.  The person would be diminished so they could no longer have any influence on the group.  It was almost as though it was a, "you are with me or against me," attitude.  The more she spoke about her experiences, the question kept coming to the surface.  Was this a cult?

Perhaps in truth, it does not matter whether or not this group technically falls into the category of a cult.  What really matters is that each individual constantly and consistently must make his or her own discernment.  Any time one is being abused verbally or threatened that if they leave they will lose something vital, it is time to take a closer look.  When a group pressures one to give up his or her individuality to merge with the group, discern.  When a group tries to tell you what you should read, and reading anything other than what they write, question.  When a group tells you to contribute ten per cent of your income, only to them, evaluate.

The more one searches, the more opportunity one has to get into questionable groups.  However, there is always a reason and lessons to be received from each encounter.  It is just up to each person to check it out.  Even if you check online and there is nothing specific, trust your gut feelings.  Sometimes groups are not seeking money therefore they are not picked up as cults as readily as those asking for large sums of money.  Yet, that does not mean that they are not using people to advance the agenda of the group. 

One of the most difficult things about leaving a group such as this, is that it is almost like a painful divorce.  These groups pull people in and take up all of their time.  So the member becomes friends with those in the group.  The group becomes the primary focus of the person's life.  That is the purpose.  The separation experienced is excruciating.

It is never easy leaving.  The woman who told her story was amazingly disappointed, disillusioned and saddened by the truth she discovered.  She had hoped with her heart and soul that this group was the real thing.  She had hoped it was what she had been looking for all of her life.  Yet the gift in all of it for this woman was that she realized the discovery of her spirituality was between her and the God of her understanding.

This experience solidified the thoughts she began to have as she moved through her studies.  She said she now feels more empowered to continue her spiritual search with a new found confidence.  Receiving the strength to leave renewed her faith in the Master of all life.  She feels that now she is free and ready to continue the journey wherever the road will lead.

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Marlene Bricker

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