Cult-proofing your kids

Why are people attracted to cults? Usually because the cult offers a strong sense of:

  1. Meaning.
  2. Purpose.
  3. Community.

The meaning is derived from shared beliefs and values. The purpose is derived from a sense of noble calling; ie. the world needs to be saved. The community is derived from everyone working together, united by meaning and purpose.

There is a seductive gravitational pull into a cult environment. Whether you are an impressionable, college freshman from a broken family or a drug addict trying to stay sober, being "love-bombed" by a crowd of enthusiastic young people is damn near irresistible. You don't even see the red-flags because you're so blinded by the promise of a New Life! With all these cool people!

In the early days of my childhood cult, I've been told that our church was thriving, transparent, authentic and enthusiastic. I was born a few years later, right around the time our church was becoming more organized and systematized.

Which is to say, right around the time MONEY started coming in.

Now that I've been out of the cult for ten years, I often think about how I can prevent my own kids from falling prey to the seductive promise of a cult--or even just a controlling relationship.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Build strong family ties. Many of the adult converts to our church came from broken families. In my experience, it wasn't really about whether divorce happened but whether the parents stayed involved with their children. Children who were neglected, moved around or who had alcoholic parents were prime bait for our church. Our church became their new family.
  2. Provide a solid religious education. I've heard parents say prefer to let their children "choose" their own religion. Or, worse, maybe they provide only a mediocre exposure to faith. I think both tactics are equally dangerous and increase a child's chances of falling prey to a cult-like group. Our cult had a bunch of poorly catechized ex-Catholic as well as zealous converts who came from non-religious homes. What was the common denominator? Parents who neglected giving their children a strong faith identity.
  3. Teach critical thinking skills. Strong, independent thinkers never lasted long in our cult. It's important to encourage questioning, conversation and research. Critical thinking isn't about arguing a point just to be RIGHT. It's about listening, weighing what the other person is saying and then doing your own homework to see if what they're saying is true.

Christian fundamentalism isn't the only cultish environment in America today. It's everywhere from Little League to corporate board rooms. Everywhere you look, someone is trying to impinge on your freedom. Why is this? Because there are enough people who like group-think. People like formulas. It's easier than thinking for yourself. Once you know the rules, all you have to do is perform according to your role.

Freedom is lonelier and harder.

The question you really have to ask yourself: is freedom worth it?