By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.
“Culture and cult derive from the same word; what a culture worships defines it.” – Michael Knowles
Lately, we have seen several news headlines about a series of Senate hearings on an alleged cult based in Surigao del Norte. Since the Senate investigations started, several “horror” stories have come out about alleged abuses committed by cult leaders on its members, such as reported forced marriages, misappropriation of member funds, and the now trending “aroma beach” punishment. These stories have sparked renewed interest and attention on the phenomenon of cults. Questions on the nature of cults, the reasons for people joining them and their seemingly endless allure have been trending on many social media platforms.
Cults are generally defined as a small group of people extremely devoted to a person, religion, idea or even philosophy. Although the term cults today has a negative connotation often applied to religious or doomsday fanatics, there were many times in history when cults were integrated into the surrounding society.
Recently, there seems to be a generally held narrow characterization of cults. Apparently, many experts say that today’s cults have similar aspects. One, they have a charismatic leader who has control of the group abetted by able aides, a unifying terrifying vision or belief, rigid rules, isolation from society and often exploitation of members financially or physically.
There is a general opinion online that people who join cults are either desperate or suffering from mental illness. This is far from the truth. There have been several studies that indicate cult members can have various personalities depending on the cult. There is actually a method of targeting and converting so-called normal people into solid cult members.
Why do cults keep popping up? Actually, creating cults is an art and science that can be learned and applied by certain individuals. There are many theories on the best way to make a cult or a cult-like organization. These methods can be applied for various objectives and purposes. In general, as stated above the common element is the charismatic leader that can claim supernatural or something similar authority. The other common methods are the creation and reinforcement of a unifying ideology and a brainwashing technique that is done in isolation, proper identification of potential cult members, and making a unique financial structure.
So, are cults necessarily evil? Many communication experts feel that like anything else a cult is just a tool. Cults can be used for good or bad. I agree. A cult can be used for positive action against a prevailing toxic culture. For example, we can create a cult that promotes being kind to others online. In a world where the norm is to bash or cancel people who do not have the same opinions, perhaps this could be a good cult purpose.
This is my oblique observation.