full transcript

From the Ted Talk by Janja Lalich: Why do people join cults?

Unscramble the Blue Letters

When Reverend Jim joens founded the Peoples Temple in 1955, few could have iamgenid its horrifying end. This progressive religious mevnmeot rose in popularity and gained support from some of San Francisco's most prominent politicians. But in 1977, amidst revelations of brainwashing and abuse, Jones moved with several hundred frowlloes to etasisblh the commune of Jonestown in Guyana. Billed as a utopian paradise, the colony was more like a prison camp, and when a congressional delegation arrived to investigate its conditions, Jones executed his final plan. On November 18, 1978, 909 men, women, and children died after being focred to drink piosoned Flavor Aid. That grizzly image has since been irmomzieatld as shorthand slang for single-minded cult-like thkining, "They dnark the Kool-aid." Today, there are thousands of cults around the world. It's important to note two things about them. First, not all cults are religious. Some are political, therapy-based, fscueod on self-improvement, or otherwise. And on the flip side, not all new religions are what we're referring to as cults. So what exactly defines our modern understanding of cults, and why do people join them? Broadly speaking, a cult is a group or movement with a shaerd commitment to a usually extreme ideology that's typically eomdbeid in a charismatic leader. And while few turn out as deadly as Jonestown or Heaven's Gate, which eendd in a mass suicide of 39 people in 1997, most cults share some basic characteristics. A typical cult requires a high level of commitment from its members and maintains a strict hierarchy, separating unsuspecting supporters and recruits from the inner wnkrogis. It climas to provide answers to life's biggest questions through its doctrine, along with the rrieqeud recipe for change that shapes a new member into a true believer. And most importantly, it uses both formal and inrfoaml systems of influence and cotrnol to keep members obedient, with little tolerance for iraenntl disagreement or external scrutiny. You might wonder whether some of these dtipinocesrs might also apply to established rieolgnis. In fact, the wlord "cultus" originally described people who cultivated the worship of certain gods by performing rituals and maintaining tplmees. But in time, it came to mean excessive devotion. Many religions began as cults, but integrated into the fairbc of the larger society as they grew. A modern cult, by contrast, satperaes its members from others. Rather than providing guidelines for members to live better lives, a cult seeks to directly control them, from personal and family relationships, to financial atsess and liinvg arrangements. Cults also demand obedience to human leaders who tend to be highly persuasive people with artuiaraothin and narcissistic skerats motivated by money, sex, power, or all three. While a cult laeedr uses personal charisma to attract initial followers, further expansion works like a pyramid smcehe, with early members rieuctirng new ones. cltus are skilled at knowing whom to target, often focusing on those new to an area, or who have recently ugnnredoe some pearsonl or poasfeornisl loss. Loneliness and a derise for meaning make one susceptible to fnierdly people offering community. The recruitment process can be subtle, sometimes taking months to establish a relationship. In fact, more than two-thirds of cult members are recruited by a friend, family member, or co-worker whose invitations are harder to reufse. Once in the cult, members are subjected to multiple forms of indoctrination. Some play on our natural inclination to mmiic social behaviors or flloow orders. Other methods may be more intense using techniques of coercive porsesauin iolnnvvig guilt, shame, and fear. And in many cases, members may willingly submit out of desire to belong and to attain the promised rewards. The cult environment discourages critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling absolute faith. The rsuntlieg internal conflict, known as cognitive dissonance, keeps you trapped, as each compromise makes it more painful to admit you've been diecveed. And though most cults don't lead members to their death, they can still be harmful. By denying basic fdrmoees of thought, speech, and association, cults stunt their members' psychological and emotional growth, a particular problem for children, who are deprived of normal developmental activities and milestones. Nevertheless, many cult members eventually find a way out, whether through their own realizations, the help of family and friends, or when the cult falls apart due to external pressure or scandals. Many cults may be hard to identify, and for some, their beeflis, no matter how strange, are protected under religious freedom. But when their practices involve hssmnaerat, threats, illegal activities, or asube, the law can intervene. bvneiielg in something should not come at the cost of your family and friends, and if someone tlles you to sacrifice your relationships or morality for the greater good, they're most likely exploiting you for their own.

Open Cloze

When Reverend Jim _____ founded the Peoples Temple in 1955, few could have ________ its horrifying end. This progressive religious ________ rose in popularity and gained support from some of San Francisco's most prominent politicians. But in 1977, amidst revelations of brainwashing and abuse, Jones moved with several hundred _________ to _________ the commune of Jonestown in Guyana. Billed as a utopian paradise, the colony was more like a prison camp, and when a congressional delegation arrived to investigate its conditions, Jones executed his final plan. On November 18, 1978, 909 men, women, and children died after being ______ to drink ________ Flavor Aid. That grizzly image has since been ____________ as shorthand slang for single-minded cult-like ________, "They _____ the Kool-aid." Today, there are thousands of cults around the world. It's important to note two things about them. First, not all cults are religious. Some are political, therapy-based, _______ on self-improvement, or otherwise. And on the flip side, not all new religions are what we're referring to as cults. So what exactly defines our modern understanding of cults, and why do people join them? Broadly speaking, a cult is a group or movement with a ______ commitment to a usually extreme ideology that's typically ________ in a charismatic leader. And while few turn out as deadly as Jonestown or Heaven's Gate, which _____ in a mass suicide of 39 people in 1997, most cults share some basic characteristics. A typical cult requires a high level of commitment from its members and maintains a strict hierarchy, separating unsuspecting supporters and recruits from the inner ________. It ______ to provide answers to life's biggest questions through its doctrine, along with the ________ recipe for change that shapes a new member into a true believer. And most importantly, it uses both formal and ________ systems of influence and _______ to keep members obedient, with little tolerance for ________ disagreement or external scrutiny. You might wonder whether some of these ____________ might also apply to established _________. In fact, the _____ "cultus" originally described people who cultivated the worship of certain gods by performing rituals and maintaining _______. But in time, it came to mean excessive devotion. Many religions began as cults, but integrated into the ______ of the larger society as they grew. A modern cult, by contrast, _________ its members from others. Rather than providing guidelines for members to live better lives, a cult seeks to directly control them, from personal and family relationships, to financial ______ and ______ arrangements. Cults also demand obedience to human leaders who tend to be highly persuasive people with _____________ and narcissistic _______ motivated by money, sex, power, or all three. While a cult ______ uses personal charisma to attract initial followers, further expansion works like a pyramid ______, with early members __________ new ones. _____ are skilled at knowing whom to target, often focusing on those new to an area, or who have recently _________ some ________ or ____________ loss. Loneliness and a ______ for meaning make one susceptible to ________ people offering community. The recruitment process can be subtle, sometimes taking months to establish a relationship. In fact, more than two-thirds of cult members are recruited by a friend, family member, or co-worker whose invitations are harder to ______. Once in the cult, members are subjected to multiple forms of indoctrination. Some play on our natural inclination to _____ social behaviors or ______ orders. Other methods may be more intense using techniques of coercive __________ _________ guilt, shame, and fear. And in many cases, members may willingly submit out of desire to belong and to attain the promised rewards. The cult environment discourages critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling absolute faith. The _________ internal conflict, known as cognitive dissonance, keeps you trapped, as each compromise makes it more painful to admit you've been ________. And though most cults don't lead members to their death, they can still be harmful. By denying basic ________ of thought, speech, and association, cults stunt their members' psychological and emotional growth, a particular problem for children, who are deprived of normal developmental activities and milestones. Nevertheless, many cult members eventually find a way out, whether through their own realizations, the help of family and friends, or when the cult falls apart due to external pressure or scandals. Many cults may be hard to identify, and for some, their _______, no matter how strange, are protected under religious freedom. But when their practices involve __________, threats, illegal activities, or _____, the law can intervene. _________ in something should not come at the cost of your family and friends, and if someone _____ you to sacrifice your relationships or morality for the greater good, they're most likely exploiting you for their own.

Solution

  1. fabric
  2. recruiting
  3. mimic
  4. persuasion
  5. harassment
  6. undergone
  7. movement
  8. leader
  9. deceived
  10. control
  11. authoritarian
  12. jones
  13. ended
  14. tells
  15. informal
  16. shared
  17. followers
  18. immortalized
  19. drank
  20. scheme
  21. cults
  22. abuse
  23. resulting
  24. separates
  25. imagined
  26. professional
  27. streaks
  28. internal
  29. world
  30. refuse
  31. establish
  32. thinking
  33. claims
  34. follow
  35. beliefs
  36. believing
  37. poisoned
  38. focused
  39. living
  40. freedoms
  41. desire
  42. religions
  43. embodied
  44. required
  45. temples
  46. assets
  47. descriptions
  48. forced
  49. personal
  50. workings
  51. involving
  52. friendly

Original Text

When Reverend Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple in 1955, few could have imagined its horrifying end. This progressive religious movement rose in popularity and gained support from some of San Francisco's most prominent politicians. But in 1977, amidst revelations of brainwashing and abuse, Jones moved with several hundred followers to establish the commune of Jonestown in Guyana. Billed as a utopian paradise, the colony was more like a prison camp, and when a congressional delegation arrived to investigate its conditions, Jones executed his final plan. On November 18, 1978, 909 men, women, and children died after being forced to drink poisoned Flavor Aid. That grizzly image has since been immortalized as shorthand slang for single-minded cult-like thinking, "They drank the Kool-aid." Today, there are thousands of cults around the world. It's important to note two things about them. First, not all cults are religious. Some are political, therapy-based, focused on self-improvement, or otherwise. And on the flip side, not all new religions are what we're referring to as cults. So what exactly defines our modern understanding of cults, and why do people join them? Broadly speaking, a cult is a group or movement with a shared commitment to a usually extreme ideology that's typically embodied in a charismatic leader. And while few turn out as deadly as Jonestown or Heaven's Gate, which ended in a mass suicide of 39 people in 1997, most cults share some basic characteristics. A typical cult requires a high level of commitment from its members and maintains a strict hierarchy, separating unsuspecting supporters and recruits from the inner workings. It claims to provide answers to life's biggest questions through its doctrine, along with the required recipe for change that shapes a new member into a true believer. And most importantly, it uses both formal and informal systems of influence and control to keep members obedient, with little tolerance for internal disagreement or external scrutiny. You might wonder whether some of these descriptions might also apply to established religions. In fact, the world "cultus" originally described people who cultivated the worship of certain gods by performing rituals and maintaining temples. But in time, it came to mean excessive devotion. Many religions began as cults, but integrated into the fabric of the larger society as they grew. A modern cult, by contrast, separates its members from others. Rather than providing guidelines for members to live better lives, a cult seeks to directly control them, from personal and family relationships, to financial assets and living arrangements. Cults also demand obedience to human leaders who tend to be highly persuasive people with authoritarian and narcissistic streaks motivated by money, sex, power, or all three. While a cult leader uses personal charisma to attract initial followers, further expansion works like a pyramid scheme, with early members recruiting new ones. Cults are skilled at knowing whom to target, often focusing on those new to an area, or who have recently undergone some personal or professional loss. Loneliness and a desire for meaning make one susceptible to friendly people offering community. The recruitment process can be subtle, sometimes taking months to establish a relationship. In fact, more than two-thirds of cult members are recruited by a friend, family member, or co-worker whose invitations are harder to refuse. Once in the cult, members are subjected to multiple forms of indoctrination. Some play on our natural inclination to mimic social behaviors or follow orders. Other methods may be more intense using techniques of coercive persuasion involving guilt, shame, and fear. And in many cases, members may willingly submit out of desire to belong and to attain the promised rewards. The cult environment discourages critical thinking, making it hard to voice doubts when everyone around you is modeling absolute faith. The resulting internal conflict, known as cognitive dissonance, keeps you trapped, as each compromise makes it more painful to admit you've been deceived. And though most cults don't lead members to their death, they can still be harmful. By denying basic freedoms of thought, speech, and association, cults stunt their members' psychological and emotional growth, a particular problem for children, who are deprived of normal developmental activities and milestones. Nevertheless, many cult members eventually find a way out, whether through their own realizations, the help of family and friends, or when the cult falls apart due to external pressure or scandals. Many cults may be hard to identify, and for some, their beliefs, no matter how strange, are protected under religious freedom. But when their practices involve harassment, threats, illegal activities, or abuse, the law can intervene. Believing in something should not come at the cost of your family and friends, and if someone tells you to sacrifice your relationships or morality for the greater good, they're most likely exploiting you for their own.

Frequently Occurring Word Combinations

ngrams of length 2

collocation frequency
cult members 2

Important Words

  1. absolute
  2. abuse
  3. activities
  4. admit
  5. aid
  6. answers
  7. apply
  8. area
  9. arrangements
  10. arrived
  11. assets
  12. association
  13. attain
  14. attract
  15. authoritarian
  16. basic
  17. began
  18. behaviors
  19. beliefs
  20. believer
  21. believing
  22. belong
  23. biggest
  24. billed
  25. brainwashing
  26. broadly
  27. camp
  28. cases
  29. change
  30. characteristics
  31. charisma
  32. charismatic
  33. children
  34. claims
  35. coercive
  36. cognitive
  37. colony
  38. commitment
  39. commune
  40. community
  41. compromise
  42. conditions
  43. conflict
  44. congressional
  45. contrast
  46. control
  47. cost
  48. critical
  49. cult
  50. cultivated
  51. cults
  52. deadly
  53. death
  54. deceived
  55. defines
  56. delegation
  57. demand
  58. denying
  59. deprived
  60. descriptions
  61. desire
  62. developmental
  63. devotion
  64. died
  65. disagreement
  66. discourages
  67. dissonance
  68. doctrine
  69. doubts
  70. drank
  71. drink
  72. due
  73. early
  74. embodied
  75. emotional
  76. ended
  77. environment
  78. establish
  79. established
  80. eventually
  81. excessive
  82. executed
  83. expansion
  84. exploiting
  85. external
  86. extreme
  87. fabric
  88. fact
  89. faith
  90. falls
  91. family
  92. fear
  93. final
  94. financial
  95. find
  96. flavor
  97. flip
  98. focused
  99. focusing
  100. follow
  101. followers
  102. forced
  103. formal
  104. forms
  105. founded
  106. freedom
  107. freedoms
  108. friend
  109. friendly
  110. friends
  111. gained
  112. gate
  113. gods
  114. good
  115. greater
  116. grew
  117. grizzly
  118. group
  119. growth
  120. guidelines
  121. guilt
  122. guyana
  123. harassment
  124. hard
  125. harder
  126. harmful
  127. hierarchy
  128. high
  129. highly
  130. horrifying
  131. human
  132. identify
  133. ideology
  134. illegal
  135. image
  136. imagined
  137. immortalized
  138. important
  139. importantly
  140. inclination
  141. indoctrination
  142. influence
  143. informal
  144. initial
  145. integrated
  146. intense
  147. internal
  148. intervene
  149. investigate
  150. invitations
  151. involve
  152. involving
  153. jim
  154. join
  155. jones
  156. jonestown
  157. knowing
  158. larger
  159. law
  160. lead
  161. leader
  162. leaders
  163. level
  164. live
  165. lives
  166. living
  167. loneliness
  168. loss
  169. maintaining
  170. maintains
  171. making
  172. mass
  173. matter
  174. meaning
  175. member
  176. members
  177. men
  178. methods
  179. milestones
  180. mimic
  181. modeling
  182. modern
  183. money
  184. months
  185. morality
  186. motivated
  187. moved
  188. movement
  189. multiple
  190. narcissistic
  191. natural
  192. normal
  193. note
  194. november
  195. obedience
  196. obedient
  197. offering
  198. orders
  199. originally
  200. painful
  201. paradise
  202. people
  203. peoples
  204. performing
  205. personal
  206. persuasion
  207. persuasive
  208. plan
  209. play
  210. poisoned
  211. political
  212. politicians
  213. popularity
  214. power
  215. practices
  216. pressure
  217. prison
  218. problem
  219. process
  220. professional
  221. progressive
  222. prominent
  223. promised
  224. protected
  225. provide
  226. providing
  227. psychological
  228. pyramid
  229. questions
  230. realizations
  231. recipe
  232. recruited
  233. recruiting
  234. recruitment
  235. recruits
  236. referring
  237. refuse
  238. relationship
  239. relationships
  240. religions
  241. religious
  242. required
  243. requires
  244. resulting
  245. revelations
  246. reverend
  247. rewards
  248. rituals
  249. rose
  250. sacrifice
  251. san
  252. scandals
  253. scheme
  254. scrutiny
  255. seeks
  256. separates
  257. separating
  258. sex
  259. shame
  260. shapes
  261. share
  262. shared
  263. shorthand
  264. side
  265. skilled
  266. slang
  267. social
  268. society
  269. speaking
  270. speech
  271. strange
  272. streaks
  273. strict
  274. stunt
  275. subjected
  276. submit
  277. subtle
  278. suicide
  279. support
  280. supporters
  281. susceptible
  282. systems
  283. target
  284. techniques
  285. tells
  286. temple
  287. temples
  288. tend
  289. thinking
  290. thought
  291. thousands
  292. threats
  293. time
  294. today
  295. tolerance
  296. trapped
  297. true
  298. turn
  299. typical
  300. typically
  301. undergone
  302. understanding
  303. unsuspecting
  304. utopian
  305. voice
  306. willingly
  307. women
  308. workings
  309. works
  310. world
  311. worship