Above: The Branch Davidian Complex in Waco, TX, on fire during an attack by the FBI

In our Essay, Smaller Religions & Modern Cults” we discuss movements such as The Branch Davidians, Cargo Cults, The Celestine Prophecy, A Course in Miracles, Falun Gong, Christian Science, Mormonism, The Hare Krishna Movement, Heaven’s Gate, The People’s Temple (Jim Jones), The Law of Attraction, the New Age Movement, the snake-handling sects of Pentecostalism, and several others.

Here are the characteristics that readers should look for in these religions and cults:

  • A handsome, charismatic, self-confident, narcissistic leader with an excellent voice.
  • The Leader and his lieutenants have Secret knowledge and powers that outsiders do not have. (e.g., the power to forgive sins).
  • A path that offers integrated, Earthly solutions to all the followers’ problems.
  • Offers a solution now, or at least soon (e.g., Jesus will soon return and lead a Kingdom of God on Earth).
  • Communal living. Everybody is equal (except the exalted leader and his lieutenants).
  • The Cult Leader often takes over the wealth of the followers.
  • The Cult Leader often takes over sexual access to the young and beautiful followers.
  • Promise of a special “rising up” (feeling carried away by a presence of God) that outsiders will not experience.

These features are also present in respected dystopian novels, such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and George Orwell’s novel, 1984.

There is great human capacity to believe all kinds of nonsense – The “vortexes” of Sedona Arizona, “auditing” in Scientology, the healing power of crystals, rejection of modern medicine, the Angel Moroni, the cult-like Communism of the Khmer Rouge, speaking in tongues, and the burning of witches.

Only the light of reason, critical thinking, and intellectual inquiry stands against such nonsense.