In a majority of cases, those who join cults do not
necessarily hold to the beliefs of the cult. Rather, the
cult meets some needs or desires of that person. Meeting the
needs of a person can amount to many things. The following
is a summary of needs, encompassing both interactive and
1. Social needs. People need others to feel normal
and human. Interaction with others is a necessity
for a fulfilled and balanced person.
a. affirmation - the need to be recognized as
As Christians, we possess two kinds of affirmation.
Affirmation of the Spirit says that we have value
because of Christ's sacrifice. Affirmation of
Fellowship says that we have value to others,
because we recognize the value of others, due to the
sacrifice of Christ.
b. security - the need to have a consistent social
environment; a somewhat predictable
habit of social contact.
As Christians, we have security through Christ, who
is our environment, and who is a constant. Note the
theme of God's faithfulness and providership in Scripture.
c. attention - the need to have a personally
directed response to our thoughts
As Christians, we have a personal relationship with
Jesus Christ, who directs and affirms our thoughts
d. leadership - the need to have a goal or purpose;
sometimes a reason for life.
As Christians, our leadership is through Christ,
augmented through those appointed to lead us in
discipleship to Christ.
e. philosophical - the need to reason and find
rationale for what happens, or
what is perceived.
As Christians, we find our reasoning and rationale
in revelations, naturally occurring through God, and
in the nature and being of God.
f. power - the need to control and not be
controlled. The need for an aspect
of order in our own personal life.
As Christians, our lives are controlled by Christ,
who provides the order in our lives, and becomes
the enabler for our aspirations.
2. Physical Needs
c. health and medicine
Dependency upon God to provide is a consistent theme in
Scriptures. Note that God's faithfulness is constant,
while human faithfulness is not.
3. Emotional Needs
c. emotive social response/response to hurts
Emotional needs are met in the community of Christ,
where care and understanding are modeled in the first
chapters in the book of Acts.
4. Spiritual Needs
a. God-shaped emptiness within each person
As evidenced by the wealth and consistency of writings
throughout the ages, man has a need to worship and
acknowledge a constant. Some contemporaries that have
been examples of this need are Herman Hesse, Blaise
Pascal, Bonhoffer, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Joseph
The following techniques are actively used by all cults,
whether they be religious or political, to varying degrees.
1. repetitive recitation: makes responses automatic,
and is most closely affiliated with what has been
termed "brainwashing". It reduces the natural
inquisitiveness of a person to an automatic,
homogenous "parrot" of the ideas that are taught
in this repetitive way. Often, victims are told
to meditate on an idea, or become part of a group
that uses peer pressure to enforce the activity.
2. Scripture twisting: appeals to the need for rational
thinking, and depends on a pre-existing confidence
in Scriptures, or a possible confidence in
Scriptures. Misinterpretation, discouraging question
asking, and extreme authority are often utilized in
conjunction with Scripture twisting.
3. Emotional incentive: social needs are met only when
the "proper" response is given. Often coupled with
peer pressure, once a target is drawn into the group,
conformity to the group's ideas and "rules" is
enforced by providing and/or withholding emotional
4. Emotional teardown: breaking down the individuality
of a person encourages replacement of the individual
with the ideas and thoughts of another. Related to
ideas of self-esteem, emotional teardown consists of
a leader or group emphasizing negative traits in an
individual. Through this process, individuals with
low self-esteem, or have a low self-confidence, will
strive to satisfy the "new" attitudes of the group,
thereby reducing the group's concentration on the
individual's "negative" traits. Often, emotional
teardown is utilized when an individual can be
isolated from society, family, and friends. (i.e.
retreats, camps, "training" schools)
5. physical incentive: physical needs are met only
when the "proper" response is given. Conformity
is enforced by providing or withholding physical
needs. Often, the targets are not able to be
self-sufficient, or they have "lost" these skills
due to the influence of the group.
6. spiritual incentive: secret or mystic "truths" are
revealed only when the "proper" response is given.
Often, secret oaths and horrifying penalties for
the disclosure of these "secrets" are utilized,
although some groups are known to reveal "inner"
secrets only to those that have proven loyalty to
the group. A defined hierarchy of authority is
usually the case with these kinds of groups, with
the revelation of "secrets" used as a method of
7. physical teardown: a sensual experience is
generated through physical deprivation. Affects
emotional and rational needs. This takes
advantage of a medical phenomenon whereby an
individual becomes more suggestible under a
physically weakened state. Sensory deprivation
is also related to this, to a certain extent.
The most common occurrence of physical teardown
occurs when individuals are isolated, encouraged
to "meditate", and are fed at the end of long
intervals. Repetitive recitation often follows.
8. spiritual teardown: current belief system is
challenged and ridiculed. A new, or modified
belief system is proposed to replace it. The
technique plays on emotional and spiritual needs.
In pseudo-christian cults, scripture twisting
9. social incentive: social needs are met when the
"proper" response is given. An individual who
does not conform to the group is shunned, harassed,
10. peer pressure: needs are met when the expected
"proper" response is given. Acceptance of an
individual into a group is dependent on conformity
to group ideals and actions. This is often tied
to any and all of the incentive methods.
11. graduated indoctrination: the actual basis, or belief
system, is introduced to the target so slowly, the
victim assimilates information without checking
it against previous information. Most commonly,
truthful principles are utilized initially, then
the true beliefs and policies of the group are
intermingled. An individual may subjectively
perceive the new ideas of the group as being very
consistent with his/her own belief system, even
though those ideas were originally perceived as
being contrary to that individual.
The information presented here is a short summary of
some techniques used by known cults. Not all cult groups
use the same methods or appear to be using these same
devices for recruitment. The focus of all of these
techniques is the manipulation of individuals, with disregard
for personal choice in all stages of decision. For information
on groups that you may be concerned about, contact the Christian
Presented by: The Christian Counter Project
P.O. Box 957215
Hoffman Estates, IL 60195
Copyright 1989, 1990 The Christian Counter Project
Reproduction permitted only if text is intact, not within the body
of any other text, and is not sold for gain or profit. All
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the statement "Reprinted by permission of the Christian Counter Project."
Revision 1.1 February 1990