What is the Appeal of Doomsday Cults?

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On November 18th, 1978 an unspeakably horribly atrocity occurred when 918 people committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. All 918 people who died, a third of whom where children, were members of the People's Temple Agricultural Project, a cult lead by Jim Jones.1 For many years people have been shocked and dumbfounded at why this would happen, and who would ever want to participate in such a thing? Through the inquiry method, it can be seen that masses generally chose cult membership to attain a sense of belonging and security, to satiate a desire for sense of meaning and become party to salvation from the apocalypse, and finally because the person seeks hope and opportunity offered by the cult.2,3 Indeed, it initially isn’t clear why people would voluntarily choose to join a harmful cult, especially if the harm is visible to the person upon joining. Upon investigation, it became clear that almost all doomsday cults investigated met Micheal D. Langone, PhD’s reasons why people are susceptible to recruitment by cults; these including dependency, gullibility, idealism, ignorance of manipulation and cultural disillusionment.3 Below is a further explanation of the three core psychological and sociological draws to cults. To begin, one of the most enticing factors of cult membership is the promise of prosperity and a bright future, doubly so when those who are recruited are down on their luck.4,2,3 Similar to Hitler's promises of restored economic power to the impoverished people of Germany post World War I, its hard to turn down a cult's pledge of freedom from persecution and hardship, as was the case for Jim Jones's ill fated followers. Upon further examination, the National Socialist Party's principals do not deviate far from... ... middle of paper ... ... from sin, versus those who are “racist and fascist” and outsiders. Because the feeling of importance and belonging is such a basic human need, the offer of a cult to readily fulfill that need and make a member feel valued, important and unique from “them” makes it difficult to say no to membership.8 In conclusion, cults draw members through exploitation of vulnerable people, the promise of prosperity and the comradeship and pseudo-purpose that the organization gives to its members. Even in cases where living conditions are horrible and suicide drills are a regular occurrence, people are willing to endure such hardships in order to reap these benefits that they could not otherwise find in society. These three draws, which appeal to basic human needs, also give reason to why the members of such cults can be enticed to commit such atrocities and find cults appealing.

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