How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults

14 Apr

I was a few months into my new job and really enjoying my position and co-workers.  I was taking a quick break and jumped on a computer in the break room to check email.  After checking email, I decided to click over to the SGMSURVIVORS board for current and former member of the cult I used to be a part.  I was just about to wrap it up when one of my newest co-workers came up and enthusiastically asked what I was reading.   AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!  Do I just kinda fudge it and say nothing while I quickly close the page?  Or do I just tell the truth?

I hesitated and she asked “What?”-you know, the kind of one word question that says “did I just say something wrong to you” sort of what.

I breathed deep and said, “I was checking on a Survivors blog  for former members of an abusive church I used to attend…..a cult.”

My co-worker looked surprised and said “But you’re smart, how did you end up being a part of a cult?”  Without getting too deep into the details, I explained that I was raised Christian, and while at college I attended some churches to try to stay involved with my faith.  Unfortunately, I ended up at a church that seemed so friendly and nice at first;  but after being involved for years, came to realize that they would suck people into their relational network, only to threaten to take it away if you dared to disagree with church leadership.

It took me years to admit it….but it’s true.  I was part of a cult.  And you know why it took me years to admit it…pride.  You see, only gullible and naive people get sucked into cults, right?  I mean, if I admit that I was part of a cult, than what does that say about me?  That I’m gullible and naive, of course.  And what intelligent person wants to admit that there a sucker…I certainly didn’t.

Emotional Creatures Are We

The experience of getting sucked into a cult has taught me something-we are emotional creatures first, rational creatures only when forced to change.  This is a generalization of course, but I think it holds true and is why thinking people get caught up into cults.

From my experience, I can look back now and see how the church I attended would Love Bomb visitors and then exploit the relational needs or vulnerabilities of these folks.  They would draw their new-found recruits into a deeper relational network composed of only members of the church.  Once someone became intertwined in the church, that’s when the additional demands (both doctrinally and practically) would be trotted out.  At this point, I am forced to make a choice.  Do I reject this new doctrine/demand and risk losing  my new-found relationships, or do I try to make a go of it so that I can continue to enjoy the relationships that I now depend on for support and self-worth?

It’s this exploitation of our emotions that makes leaving a cult so hard.  It hurts like hell, in fact.  All of the sudden, people you thought you could depend on are treating you like you’re a criminal.  Or acting as if you don’t exist anymore.  All the while, you thought you were building relationships to last a lifetime, only to see them washed away in one fell swoop.

It’s then that you realize that all the phone calls, the meals when you were sick, the invites to hang out as couples all hinged on you being a part of the “best church” since the New Testament was written; maybe even better.  Now that you’ve voiced some concerns, or pointed out an area where they do not practice what they preach, you become “persona non grata”.

And that’s it in a nutshell.  It almost doesn’t matter what the particulars of the belief system are.  It’s the fact that you will be punished through your relationships, with cruel efficiency and forethought by people you love.  It’s this threat of relational banishment that holds current members in fearful check, while those being banished find themselves overboard and drifting on a sea of emotional turmoil and confusion.  Have I mentioned it hurts like hell?  Well just in case you missed it, it hurts like hell.

15 Responses to “How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults”

  1. Freedom April 16, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Another great post! You are absolutely correct about how people get sucked in (starting with the love bombing) until their lives are only connected to the people in the cult. Later, as the dark side shows it self and people have to make a choice – “submit” to their cult leaders or lead and risk losing your entire support system (since by this point, any support system outside of the cult has been exorcised) or leave the cult.

    • christianagnostic April 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

      Exactly….I never realized how insidious this was until I faced this choice myself. I still grieve some of the friends I’ve lost to the cult.

  2. Freedom April 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    I lost a lot of friends too – I know what that is like!

    The whole love bombing/get everyone into one support system/no support system outside of SGM is something that is done on purpose. The founders knew exactly what they were doing when they put that whole system into play. Those in lower ranks don’t realize that it is being done on purpose until they leave.

    That whole system was taken directly from the Sheparding cult movement of the 70’s. Larry and Ceej knew EXACTLY what they were doing when the put it in place. Those two never had an original thoughts on structure, etc. They just took pieces of what other groups where doing and gave it a fresh coat of paint to make it look “new” and changed a few words here and there so the perception was that they weren’t a sheparding cult.

    And if you ask about the Sheparding influences (which I did), you are told that “No, we don’t do that. We don’t tell people when they can go on vacation or ask permission to move to accept a new job”. Which we know is an outright lie and the pastors know it.

    • christianagnostic April 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      yep…I was told that too. Amazing, the lies that passed through the pastoral lips…

  3. randallslack April 18, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    The problem is that most people just aren’t willing to think for themselves. They are too lazy to search out the matter for themselves. So thy end up believing whatever comes out of the “leaders” mouth.

    And those who live and teach the truth suffer along with those who don’t.

    • Freedom April 18, 2012 at 2:03 am #

      Randall – at SGM they brainwash the members to trust the leadership and not think for themselves. And they do it on purpose – the people in the lower ranks think it’s what God wants. Those higher up know exactly what they are doing.

  4. Freedom April 18, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    CA – did you read the AoR report? I posted a bit on Survivors, but I am not at all surprised at the content of the report. I feel bad for the ex-SGMer’s that actually had hope that the report would somehow change SGM. It’s not going to happen, SGM is not going to suddenly stop being a cult. They are a cult and the only thing that a cult wants is to take any external pressure off them. Cults don’t give a (insert colorful metaphor) about changing.

    Of course, SGM is the one that contracted AoR, who in turn are buddies with the cult leaders. And they seem to have the exact same interpretation of The Bible. They speak the exact same language and play the exact same game with using a calvinistic, puritanical, literal interpretation of The Bible. And they play the exact same games. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, all the way down to how the report described the dissenters to how they used a passive-aggressive (famously used in many cults and a trademark sgm move) approach to attack the blogs.

    I feel bad for anyone that really believes that SGM can be “fixed” and believes their prayers will bring God down from his throne in Heaven to “fix” SGM. Not going to happen. I think you and I can agree on that part, for different reasons, but we can agree (Prayer and God stepping into human history is a whole different subject, and I think much differently than the evangelical community on the subject).

    You can’t “fix” a cult, it doesn’t happen. What does happen is that one day the cult ends and it usually ends badly. If not the Waco or Purple Koolaid type of ending, it ends with people psychologically and emotionally damaged. Those that leave go through a type of post dramatic stress disorder. I know it was traumatic for me when I left and it took a long time for me to work though it and understand what happened.

    • christianagnostic April 18, 2012 at 6:08 am #

      Yeah…I didn’t think it would amount to much considering they were modeled on the Peacemakers.

      Some of the reports on SGM Refuge gave me hope that maybe SGM was going to get more than they bargained for….but it really does look like a whitewash.

      Ted Kober should consider changing his ministry name to Whitewash Inc. He basically gave the middle finger to all those “bitter” people on the blogs by making us out to be the bad guys for not wanting to play nice.

      You are exactly right, SGM is a cult in the classic sense. Only legal action and media exposure (including Blogs) will either force it to change or keep potential recruits from being duped. It is beyond reform in my opinion……

  5. christianagnostic April 18, 2012 at 6:15 am #


    I read your post over at TWW about your daughter….it mad me so mad! I used to be in Young Life as a kid and a leader. I hated the whole “go after the popular kids and the others will follow”.

    I actually went after the losers and soon had around 100 kids coming to club. And they weren’t the popular ones, for sure. We had more than one tense conversation with committee because we had a bunch of all out punk rockers (this was the 80’s) and we allowed them to smoke out front. I didn’t see any value in saying we were going to love kids as they were and then force them to be clean cut non-smokers.

    Anyway….I am so sorry for yours and your daughter’s pain. That is just so wrong in so many ways.

  6. randallslack April 18, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    CA: Unfortunately, this is the direction the “church” (Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, etc.) has been moving for years.

  7. Freedom April 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Randall – I just read your comments over at TWW, that is just insane. When I read that, I immediately thought of a part of a documentary where satanism in the Nordic countries is discussed. The movie is Metal: A Head Banger’s Journey (great film). In part of it, the film makers go to Norway to look at the satanic black metal movement. In it, they talk to a minister whose church was burned down by satanists. He talks about satanism in the Nordic countries and how it is a religion for the elites, the best and the strongest, not a religion for the weak or timid.

    That is exactly what groups like Young Life and most of the puritanical calvinist movement have done to Christianity – turned it into a religion for the best, the strongest, the beautiful.

  8. graceone April 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    I’m sorry for your pain, CA.

  9. christianagnostic April 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Thanks Graceone…..

  10. eternityisforeverer July 21, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    I too was involved in something similar. I have written a post about it on my blog, kind of as an outlet, but I will be doing another post on cults and how they work to show people that it isn’t only “poor dumb” people who get sucked in.
    It feels good to know that there are others out there who have had similar experiences and to know that I wasn’t going mad in the group I was in.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  1. where we came from « a time to rend - July 7, 2012

    […] I won’t link directly to the blogs or the organization, but here is a link to a post by a blogging friend who was at the same church I was, though we didn’t know each other at the time. He describes some of the cultish behavior in better detail. “Christianagnostic” on, How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults […]

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