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Understanding of Reasons for Joining Cults


Religious cults have not recently been the trend of modern society and their representatives seem a little old-fashioned. The modern notion of “cult” usually refers to a religious group of people that express admiration for certain religious figures or objects such as the sun, the sky, or water. They mostly represent a system of religious devotion and idolatry, however, their regular practices often exceed the shapes of established social norms and covert rules. In other words, cults demonstrate an irrelevant and excessive adornment of certain people and their philosophy, and ideas. Therefore, such communities are often considered fascinating and scary at the same time. However, people continue to follow cult leaders, join their doctrines, and sometimes even show fanaticism. Scholars explain this phenomenon from psychological, psychiatric, and religious perspectives.

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Techniques of Attracting New Cult Members

Cults often implement various strategies for engaging potential candidates in becoming their members. According to Best, cults require obedience to leaders who possess strong persuasive skills and mostly follow authoritarian and narcissistic tendencies applied to money and power (14). The cult leader and its members are polite, friendly, and love-producing which strongly affects people with low confidence levels and those who experienced depression, traumatic past, or loss of faith. Such a charismatic leadership style is often considered to be one of the most effective tools in selecting candidates and attracting people due to the main figure’s seductive personality (Best 15). The organization offers love and friendship that broken and unsatisfied people usually strive for, therefore, the leadership practice might explain cults’ attractiveness and charm.

The cults’ community life may seem normal, even idealistic as people show an image of peace and care, and it is the moment where all psychological tricks and manipulation happen. Based on the interviews with former cult members it was concluded that most of them joined cults seeking personal development, spirituality, and trying to decrease life dissatisfaction (Rousellet et al. 8). Although those features can be achieved without joining the cult, many continue supporting those religious communities. Hence, it may be thought that other factors are provoking cult membership as well. In their research, Rousellet et al. state that former cult members showed a high rate and predisposition to psychiatric and addictive disorders such as addictions, and mood and anxiety disorders (5). Therefore, such factors mostly refer to the individual’s psychological state.

Predisposition to Cult Membership

It is well-known that parents influence children’s development and introduce specific behavioral models to infants and young adults. Therefore, the presence of a cult representative in the family may define the child’s predisposition to future cult membership as well as their spirituality. It was concluded that having a family member in a cult can affect children’s psychology and influence them with specific spiritual behavior (Rousellet et al. 9). It leads to the adolescents’ high acquaintance with cult policy, activities, values, and their imitation of the behavior observed during childhood (Rousellet et al. 9). Hence, people’s environment may have an impact on the individuals’ mental health, their world, and cult perception and encourage them to join those religious communities.

A rapid change in people’s beliefs due to some emotionally damaging situations or experiences can be one of the core reasons for joining a cult as well. For example, a religious conversion may be a reaction to continuing emotional stress that can have an impact on self-perception, sacred beliefs, and attitude toward society (Snook et al. 224). Therefore, some traumatic or essential events in people’s lives may lead to conversion and radical change of self-realization. Additionally, some individuals join cults looking for truth, information on religious world creation, and other controversial issues. Snook et al. explain that potential converts often consider themselves as “seekers” whose aim is to obtain information on universe creation from the cult leader (232). However, people usually join cults to learn only specific information about the world, space, and the cult’s main objective.

Characteristics of Cult Members

Cult members are usually conceived as addicted, fanatic, and dangerous, however, they show an opposite image to the world. After entering a cult, the mind of a new community member rapidly changes, they get convinced that atonement is fully connected to the cult and its leader. They are ready to defend their ideas, faith, and new family, therefore members express an aggressive attitude toward the outside world. When asked about reasons for not leaving the cult, the most common answer was the sense of protection, being part of a group, romantic relations in the cult, feeling of dependence on the cult leader (Rousellet et al. 10). Such relation or feeling of belonging encourages people, especially orphans and children from one-parent families, to enter the groups and stay inside.

Many members of such communities are scared of loneliness and consider themselves socially precarious outside of the group; therefore, it is a reason for joining cults and supporting them. According to Rousellet et al., many cult members abandoned their families, and left their studies and friends to join the community; hence the value of leaving increases due to ruptured social connections (10). It can be concluded that cults mostly attract lonely, unsatisfied, psychologically unstable people, who need guidance and a strong leader to repair their lives and abandon loneliness.

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The Ant Hill Kids Cult

One of the most severe cults is the Ant Hill Kids Cult established by Roch Thériault. Although this community may seem quite harmless to an unacquainted person, the cult practices abuse, torture, ant-like hard work, and insult. This organization demolished all understandings of equality or human rights due to its creators’ obsession with masculine authority (Thompson). Despite such conditions and treatment people stayed in the Ant Hill Kids Cult and accepted Roch Thériault as their God; however, there were several certain reasons for it.

Roch Thériault had strong persuasive skills that helped him by attracting and recruiting new cult members. Thompson claims that he forced his followers and admirers to abandon their families and homes by representing their beloved ones as corrupts and liars. Therefore, it can be stated that the cult creator possessed manipulative skills and a charming personality that allowed him to frustrate and insensibly involve others in the organization’s functioning. Additionally, Roch Thériault was known to show sadistic, maniacal, and men-dominating ideas. For example, he «married» 9 female members of the cult by impregnating them, and as a result, Thériault has got 20 kids who became new followers as well (Thompson). People and followers mostly stayed in the Ant Hill Kids Cult even after all the cruel things happening inside.

The majority of kids in the cult were Thériault’s infants, therefore, they had no chance to leave the organization due to family issues. The kids and other followers worked like ants, hence, despite the physical and psychological abuse they were too weak to escape (Thompson). According to Thompson. Roch Thériault even conducted diverse rituals for cult followers proving their loyalty and the ways of expressing support were usually sadistic such as breaking own legs with a hammer.


In conclusion, the cult members could not escape even if they desired to. Such an authoritarian regime implemented by the head of the community lead to ubiquitous fear and indisputable fidelity to the cult creator. This fact demolishes any hope for an adequate future for those children as the cult members get severe psychological, physical, and mental disorders due to abusive and murderous conditions.

Works Cited

Best, Jonica V. Carlton. Cults: A Psychological Perspective. 2018. Columbus State University, Bachelor thesis.

Rousselet, Morgane et al. “Cult Membership: What Factors Contribute to Joining or Leaving?Psychiatry Research, vol. 257, 2017, pp.1-24. Web.

Snook, Daniel, et al. “Issues in the Sociology and Psychology of Religious Conversion”. Pastoral Psychology, vol. 68, 2019, pp. 223-240. Web.

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Thompson, Emily. “The Ant Hill Kids”. MORBIDOLOGY, 2020. Web.

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