What is a Cult?


WHAT IS A CULT? – Key Facts You Should Know About Cults and Mind Control

– A concise definition of a “cult,” Dr Robert Lifton’s 8 Criteria of Cultic Mind Control with Questions you can ask to test a group for cultic tendencies

A cult is any group that sets itself up as the supreme authority between God and Man. Cults claim the following:

  1. The Bible is seen as an insufficient guide for spiritual truth. Cult members are told to use the cult’s literature for the proper understanding of God’s truth.
  2. Group leaders are seen as God’s “channel of communication” to man. They equate loyalty to the group as loyalty to God.
  3. They foster a “we/they” mentality to the world, claiming that only inside the group can one find truth and ultimate salvation, and that outside the group is “Satan’s world.”
  4. Doubt and criticism of the group or leaders are disallowed. They often claim that “independent thinking” is evidence of “pride,” and is seen as questioning God and His arrangement for life.
  5. Adherents dispense personal identity for the group mold and take on the personality and characteristics of the totalistic environment of the cult.

How Cults Manipulate with Mind Control

Chart: Four Ways Cults Manipulate Followers:  This chart was developed from secular cult exit-counselor Steven Hassan’s BITE (Behavior-Information-Thoughts-Emotions) model found in his book Releasing the Bonds—Empowering People to Think for Themselves, Freedom of Mind Press 2000

Members are told how and where to live The Bible is viewed as an insufficient guide. Cult leaders define “truth” for members. Cults foster a “We/They” mentality to the world and claim spiritual superiority over those outside the cult. Emotions are manipulated to the point of excessive happiness and/or sadness; Or Emotions are completely shunned to foster a stoic personality.
Association outside the group is limited to non-existent Information is withheld or distorted. Words unique to the cult are used to enforce cult ideology. Fear and Guilt is used to Manipulate Behavior.
High commitment of time and/or finances Sources critical of the group and non-cult sources are downplayed Thought-stopping techniques are employed in response to criticism of group ideology.  The prophetic failures of the cult’s leadership are blamed on the followers’ supposed “unworthiness.”
Food, drink, dress, and/or hairstyles are dictated

The spiritual and/or physical health of a member is threatened if he or she leaves the group.

High level of supervision and reporting. 

Click here to read an experience of someone who was involved in the International Church of Christ cult.

.:Dr Robert Lifton’s 8 Criteria of Cult Mind Control from his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Mind Control – Questions You Can Ask:


A group starts with two people. Individuals can find themselves embroiled in many of the fundamental destructive group dynamics that large organizations and cults fall pray to.

NOTE: This quiz has no scientifically predetermined number of “yes” answers to indicate a destructive group. However, answering “yes” to any of the above questions means you may need to examine your group and its influence in your life in these areas:

MILIEU CONTROL: Control of internal and external information, isolation from society, non-members and ex-members are considered unspiritual and even Satanic.

  • Is your group secretive to outsiders about its inner workings, teachings, activities or beliefs?
  • Does your group withhold information from new converts?
  • Is communication within, into and out of your group controlled or censored in any manner?
  • Do you see less and less of your family and friends who do not belong to your group or who do not subscribe to your group’s belief system

MYSTICAL MANIPULATION: Leaders claim to be the agents “chosen” by God to carry out the “mystical imperative” (group purpose), the pursuit of which must supersede all other needs.

  • Does your group have a totalitarian structure: a strict, top-down centralized control?
  • Does your group or belief system think they have (or are) the only or highest “truth,” or have the solution for the world’s problems?
  • Do members of your group feel specially chosen, superior, exclusive or elite?
  • Does your group use frequent public testimonials or confessions that reinforce the group’s mission or agenda?
  • Do members seek approval or get permission from group leader(s) for personal life choices?
  • Do you feel pressured to give a portion of your income to the group, or spend money on courses, books or special projects?
  • Are the group’s financial needs more important than your own economic well-being?
  • Do you put-off or ignore your personal needs in order to meet the needs of the group?
  • Do you place your group’s mission or agenda above your own goals and ideals? Do group interests come before your own interests?

DEMAND FOR PURITY: The experiential world is sharply divided into two categories—good and evil as defined by the group. The control devices of guilt and shame are employed to bring the subject into strict conformity to the standards and ideals of the group.

  • Does your group equate purity and goodness to being in your group, and impurity or evil to those outside your group?
  • Do you find yourself thinking in a we-they, us-versus-them mind set?
  • Does your group/system have a clear outside enemy?
  • Does your group discriminate against anyone regarding race or gender?
  • Do you feel pressure to attend and participate in group meetings, events, lectures and seminars? Do you feel guilty if you don’t attend?

THE CULT OF CONFESSION: Forced confession of sin (as defined by the group) becomes a means of exploiting, rather than consoling the individual.

  • Does your group have a system of punishment and reward for behavior?
  • Does your group publicly humiliate or criticize members?
  • Does your group criticize, shun, abandon or demean individuals who leave the group?

THE SACRED SCIENCE: Group doctrine is considered the ultimate “Truth” beyond any doubt or criticism.

  • Are your leader’s ideas or belief system considered beyond reproach or sacred?
  • Do you follow a particular individual or belief system that requires unquestioning obedience and loyalty?
  • Does your group discourage doubts, criticism or ideas that differ from the belief system of the group?
  • Do you tend to rationalize whatever the group does even when it goes against your sense of right and wrong?
  • Are doubts viewed as a lack of faith, dedication, commitment or disloyalty?
  • Have “your thoughts” become “the enemy?”

LOADING THE LANGUAGE: Cults develop language terms unique to the group and only understood by those inside the group. Pseudo-Christian cults use Christian terminology with a twisted meaning.

  • Does your group have its own unique words, clichés, slogans, chants, prayers and doctrinal phrases that reinforce the group viewpoint?

DOCTRINE OVER PERSON: A member’s character and identity is reshaped – not in accordance with the person’s unique gifts and abilities – but to comply within the rigid contours of the uniform doctrinal mold.

  • Do you feel the need to adjust your “thinking” in accordance with the group’s standard answers?
  • Do you often find yourself doing more things in the group or because of group peer pressure that you would not have done on your own?
  • Do you often feel exhausted from lengthy group activities, meetings and projects?

DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE: An atmosphere where non-members or ex-members are considered worldly, unspiritual and Satanic, whose chief goal is to “persecute” those remaining in the group—the fount of all “existence” and salvation.

  • Do you feel the need to “save” or convert others to your group?
  • Does the prospect of leaving your group seem scary, difficult?
  • Have you been told something bad might happen if you leave?
  • Do you feel the need to leave in secret?
  • Group paranoia: Does your group obsessively think other groups or people with different beliefs are out to get them?


  • Have difficulty trusting others and forming new friendships and intimate relationships
  • Have low self-esteem, poor self-image or loss of identity
  • Have difficulty making simple decisions and choices
  • Feel like you are just now growing up, becoming a mature adult
  • Suppress emotions or have difficulty expressing them properly
  • Often feel depressed, anxious and nervous
  • Feel isolated, lonely, guilty, cynical
  • Have short-term memory difficulties
  • Feel you have nothing to believe in
  • Often feel anger and rage toward the group
  • Have nightmares or unpleasant dreams
  • Find it difficult or impossible to stop mental or other group ritualistic practices


God pursues a personal relationship with me

  • Revelation 3:20 – “I will come in to him and dine with him.”
  • Luke 15:1-7 – Shepherd leaves the 99 to find the 1 lost sheep
  • Luke 15:11-32 – Father runs after (pursues) His prodigal son

God cares about all the details in my life

  • Psalm 33:13-15: “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth–He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.”
  • Philippians 4:6-7 – Do not be “anxious” but pray about “everything.” (So he doesn’t need to feel guilty for praying about “little” things — God cares.)

I am secure in the hands of Jesus (John 10:28-29)

  • John 10:27-28 – Jesus sheep follow Him – will “never” perish
  • John 6:68 – To “whom” shall we go? = Jesus for eternal life
  • John 6:37 – “All” Father gives come to Jesus – not cast out

I am pure / righteous in Christ

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21- Jesus became “sin” for me
  • 1 Peter 2:24 – He carried my personal “sin” in His body

If Jesus paid for ALL of my sin, what sin can I commit that He didn’t pay for and would cause me to loose my eternal life?

  • Philippians 3:9 – I am righteous “in Him”
  • Romans 8:1 – There is NO condemnation for me since I’m “in Christ.”
    God’s Love for me is unconditional
  • Romans 8:38-39 – Nothing can “separate” me from His love
  • 1 John 4:18 – Perfect “love” casts out “fear”

My life “in Christ” is “filled” with hope, peace and joy

  • Romans 15:13 – “God of hope fill you with all joy and peace”
  • Romans 14:17 – Kingdom of God = righteousness, peace, joy
  • Joel 2:25 – God will “make up” (restore) lost years

If you or someone you know has been affected by cult influence, it is important that you educate yourself on the specific mind controlling methods used by your specific group to try to manipulate your thinking or that of your loved ones through fear, guilt and shame. Study the “authority” claims of your group and research their history. Once you learn the truth regarding the deception they are using to control the minds of their followers, you or your loved ones will be able to start breaking free of their mental and emotional hold as you will see them for who or what they are.

The key is to study everything you can get your hands on exposing the history and doctrines of your group. Talk to experts and ex-members alike and surround yourself with a network of support from such individuals. Then you can learn how to ask subtle questions to help your loved ones understand that they are being deceived. It is not a fast process to rescue someone from a cult. You will need to spend a lot of time in prayer and research to know the best way to approach them.

Keep your focus on the authority claims of the specific cult and look for ways to undercut those claims by discussing the “truth” claims of the cult and then presenting subtle questions to help your loved ones see that these claims do not stack up to reality. When it comes to doctrinal issues, keep your focus on the essential beliefs of the cult, particularly how they view Jesus Christ and the gospel. Learn everything you can from ex-members. Their stories will often guide you with deep insight into problematic doctrines or policies that are often covered up within the group. Then you can formulate a mental road-map to guide your loved ones on a spiritual road of discovery out of the cult and into the arms of a loving, grace-oriented Savior Jesus Christ, who alone is “the way, the Truth and the Life” (see John 14:6).

Christy Darlington Describes Cult Mind Control on the Faith in Humanity Podcast

For more information on Cult Recovery and How to Find a Good Church See:

For more information on Cults see:

bullets 3 Reasons Why People Leave Cults – What You Should Know When Talking To Them

bullets Are Mormons a Cult? A Mormon Response to our “What is a Cult?” Article

bullets Are Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower Followers) and Mormons (LDS or Latter-day Saints) Cults?

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