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Allison Mack, a former Smallville actress, has been in the news recently for her alleged participation in a sex cult. She led other women to participate in physical mutilation, starvation, and sex acts.
How could someone end up convinced this is okay?
What is a Cult?
A cult is different from a religious movement such as a Christian church in one very important way. A cult has an underlying, intentional mission to exploit its membership for its own selfish gain. The leadership might be the only ones who benefit and the only ones aware of the full extent of the cult’s destructive agenda.
A healthy church, while never perfect, has an explicit mission to help, nurture, and strengthen its membership. God wants us to be committed to Him and His church but He never coerces us against our will.
A cult usually has three defining characteristics:
- Members are required to maintain an unquestioning commitment to the cult and its leadership.
- Members tolerate exploitative manipulation (whether they see it as such or not).
- Members harm other members and anyone outside the cult they can influence.
What Kind of Person is Attracted to a Cult?
To be attracted to a cult, a person must have a deep unmet need. Since this describes most if not all people, the person must also lack an absolute worldview and suffer from low self-worth. By absolute worldview, I mean a solid understanding of what life is all about, based on fact, not fiction.
Other factors leading to vulnerability to joining a cult include:
- Having a strong need to belong
- A desire for meaning and to make a difference
- Lacking boundaries – an inability to define oneself
- Lacking confidence – an inability to discern and confront questionable behavior
- Lacking independence – an inability to think for oneself and make one’s own decisions
- Acting with blind trust – a willingness to give up one’s identity and follow another’s
- Dissatisfaction with how life is going
Notice that many of the factors are good and normal. An empty person looking for an answer will be drawn to a cult because a cult has answers. A naive, desperate, and/or gullible person will not catch that the answers are evil; instead, they will see only superficial good intentions. Having an answer to the meaning of life is a core need. Without meaning, you’re extremely vulnerable to signing up for the first movement that comes your way.
The Perfect Protection Against a Cult
If you won’t stand for something good, you might end up following something evil. Invest your best effort to develop a confident identity which includes an absolute worldview. Knowing your worldview and identity keeps you safe. A worldview can’t be what you hope is true; it must contain some elements of what is actually true.
Life is demanding. To meet the demand, you must come to a greater knowledge of who you are. In particular, you must understand who God made you to be.
Don’t fall into the same trap as Allison Mack. Popularity and fame are poor substitutes for meaning and identity. You can’t have meaning without knowing your identity. Learn how to develop a Confident Identity.
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.