Religious Cultism Effects In Modern Day Society
To examine religious cultism and its effects on modern day society, it's necessary to become familiar with its history. The various nuances governing believers following a particular charismatic leader or sect often have wide-ranging implications, stemming from simple basic observations drawn on life reflections. Defining a cult and what it stands for, is a far cry from what the affiliation can evolve into under particular personalities and leadership direction.
For the purposes of this examination, religious cults will be designated as "religiously based, very high intensity, controlling groups that have caused or are liable to cause loss of life among their membership or the general public" (Robinson, "Doomsday, Destructive Religious Cults", 2000). Given this definition, it's important to understand that from tens of thousands of new religious groups worldwide, only a few meet this particular criteria. Reasons for this loss of life scenario include a variety of cause-effect variables. The Heaven's Gate membership was definitely a suicide. Possessing little self-will, members were convinced they would evolve to a higher level of existence. Yet, deaths within the Ugandan Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments and many Solar Temple deaths were actually murders to cover leadership financial fraud.
If religious cults are supposed to provide beneficial, unified effort for achieving specific goals on the way to higher planes of existence, where does murder enter the picture? For the answer to that, viewing cultism's historical perspective is in order.
From mankind's earliest existence, nature's forces seemed in control of everything. Day and night followed one upon the other, playing out some vast celestial panorama for keeping humans in perpetual fear of the unknown. These were things that defied any attempt to command adherence to earthly control. At some point, intelligence behind such creation was discerned and recorded in the Bible. Then, as events unfolded historically through subsequent books and chapters, various deities became supplanted by one Supreme Being, or God, in the minds and hearts of mankind. God bore the brunt of responsibility, in people's pre-Christian minds, for every ill-timed coincidence or event that beset them on a daily basis. Nature's fury in the form of earthquakes, atmospheric storms, water tempests, and fiery conflagrations all came to be associated with the Supreme Being's supposed psychological or emotional bent at any given moment.
During this entire tumultuous period of "single God recognition" and "blame placement" for life's events, one group, the Wiccans, continued to flourish as a separate religious cult. Also known as "the Craft of the Wise" or "witchcraft", Wicca is a religious belief system with roots dating back more than 8000 years ("A brief (ancient) history of Wicca," 2001). Society was based on agriculture in those days. Plant and herb knowledge, including growth and preparation, was a very important survival skill. Those, more learned and experienced in medicinal herbal lore, enjoyed more respect and were often sought for help in matters of distress. These wise folk, often elderly women of a village, tribe or locality, were the midwives, doctors and pharmacists of their time. In such a matriarchal society, these women flourished, being seen as icons of spirituality and life force. The image of Creator for them was the female, mother image and this goddess image was given various names in different parts of the world. No matter what name she was known by, her creative powers were believed to bring about manifestation of the Wicca's desires. By creating proper energy flows through spells, or modified prayers, future outcomes could be influenced. This was the earliest recorded history of religious cultism throughout the world.
The Wiccan rede, or underlying principle behind all witchcraft, rests on "an' ye harm none, do as ye will". A witch's purpose is never to harm anyone or anything, believing that whatever is put out into the world will come back to the individual three-fold. Despite these basic principles, society throughout history has persecuted witches as Satan worshippers bent on destruction of God's principles in all living things. In actuality, according to the true Wiccan believer, Satan is not involved in any aspect of their religion. Casting spells, or modified prayers, is done for the good of all, and if anyone were to be harmed, then the spell would dissipate. The Wiccans are merely channeling the creative forces of existence to their own good ends.
Where lies the harm in sending out prayers in this manner to help others? The answer clearly delineates the basic error between the cult's original premise and its modern day counterpart in current society. Faced with overwhelming forces of nature, and not cognizant of God's revelation of Himself through historical events, group reliance on combined wisdom and experience was an effective survival tactic. However, any continuance of placing individual collective willpower as an imposition on God's creation today would be deemed laughable if the results of such diverse cult leadership weren't so tragic. The Supreme Being's logic and ways have very little to do with mankind's understanding or presumed methods of controlling them. Yet, even today, thousands of years after the first stirrings of God-centered lifestyles, the corruptive influence of religious cults continues to flourish.
Are all religious cults alike? Obviously not, or a means to combat one particular group could be applied to every cult, bringing the whole business down like a stack of falling dominoes. Though belief in a Supreme Being may be a central drawing point for new recruits, intent on achieving deeper union with eternal forces, opinions diversify on how that's best achieved.
A somewhat milder group, the House of Yahweh, in Abilene, Texas, has not resulted in a loss of life. But it appears to be a high risk doomsday affiliation, with potential development into a destructive cult, thereby posing an extreme danger to its members. This cult was organized by Jacob Hawkins, an American, who traveled to Israel in 1967 to work on a kibbutz. While engaged, his attention was drawn to an archeological discovery of a first century building that had "House of Yahweh" (in Hebrew) over the entrance (Robinson, "House of Yahweh® in Abilene, Texas," 2000). He came to believe that this name of a group had been specially selected by God in ancient times. Returning to the U.S., he built a sanctuary in Odessa, Texas, with that name. Members worshipped Yahweh and his son, Yeshua, holding religious services on the Sabbath, or Saturday. Members tithed 10% of their earnings and the group's leadership was from 12 disciples and 70 elders. Following the death of Jacob, the group became defunct.
Jacob's brother, Yisrayl, was an original member of the Odessa group. But he left in 1980 to form a second group in Abilene, Texas. The brothers had argued over the proper name for God and Yisrayl is currently the High Priest, assisted by elders, and male and female deacons. They celebrate the various Jewish feast days as outlined in Leviticus 23, but have added two more "Yashua's Memorial" and "Last Great Day." Such organization and minor disagreements within the group seem harmless enough. Yet, examining the group beliefs displays serious roots for dissension and destruction.
Some of their beliefs are that Satan, a female, has been in indirect control of all of the world's governments and religions by appointing all political and religious leaders. Catholicism and Protestantism are seen as evil faith groups, symbolized by the two horns of the beast mentioned in Revelation 13:11. Yahshua Messiah (Jesus Christ) and Yahweh (God) are two separate beings; the Trinity doesn't exist. Further, Yahshua Messiah was conceived late in the 1st century, B.C., and didn't exist from the world's creation. And finally, Yisrayl has stated that the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11 are himself and his deceased brother, Jacob. With this type of belief-formed faith, the group places major emphasis on an end of the world scenario and members performing vital roles in the War of Armageddon.
Analyzing the group's initial construct and its eventual rebirth as a more militant entity, certain basic issues seem to stand out as portents of future danger to members and society at large. There can be no objective, precise checklist of signs to watch for in religious cults and other groups. This makes it impossible to rate the danger level on any type of numeric scale, giving it a passing or failing grade. But the written guidelines, such as those previously listed for beliefs of the House of Yahweh, give a general idea of manipulation occurring internally among members.
A list of danger signs to be aware of in dealing with such organizations, as evidenced by a number of organizations who have lost membership through suicide or killing include:
The group follows a form of Christian theology (blending Christianity with another religion), but harboring major and unique deviations from traditional beliefs in end-time prophecy (Robinson, "Common Signs of Destructive Cults," 2000).
Can the House of Yahweh be considered a unique religious cult since the group has not embarked on militant engagement? It's unknown at this time the degree of censorship imposed by the group on external information. But one of the main confirmed beliefs centers around the War of Armageddon, and that definitely establishes a potential for development into a destructive doomsday cult, placing members at great risk.
Another modern-day cult focusing on the Apocalypse is the Concerned Christians cult, originally of Denver, Colorado. This is a group of at least 78 adults and children, led by Monte Kim Miller, who was born in 1954. A former Proctor & Gamble marketing executive, he formed Concerned Christians to fight the New Age movement popular in the 1980's, and what he regarded as the anti-Christian media bias (Robinson, "The 'Concerned Christans' Cult - Originally of Denver, CO," 2001). His newsletter attacked feminist spirituality, New Age trends in Evangelical Christianity, alternative medicine, Coalition on Revival, Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, the Roman Catholic Church, the World-Faith movement, and many other Christian denominations and organizations. In June of 1966, Miller announced that he spoke for God. Some followers were disillusioned by this and left, yet most remained.
Miller was convinced that an unspecified disaster would wipe Denver, Colorado, off the map on October 10, 1998. He then predicted that his own death would occur in Jerusalem in December, 1999. He expected to be resurrected three days later, and taught that his group possessed the only true Christians. Salvation could only be earned by repenting and following him. The remaining 6 billion people on earth would all go to hell.
After the Denver apocalypse failed to materialize, some group members emptied their homes, and relocated to Jerusalem. On January 3, 1999, Israeli police raided two homes in the Mevasseret Zion suburb, in the western outskirts of Jerusalem. Detaining eight adults and six children, the Israeli police discovered they had been living quietly, financing themselves on savings and donations from U.S. Brigadier General Elihu Benn-Onn. It was alleged that cult members planned to "carry out violent and extreme acts in the streets of Jerusalem at the end of 1999." Israeli police also alleged that the group planned a deadly shoot-out near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where the tomb of Jesus is believed to be located. Eleven members were deported back to the United States, three were temporarily arrested on suspicion of being involved in a conspiracy to violate a law which protects holy places.
Since that time, hindsight validates that none of Miller's predictions came true, and he hasn't been seen in public after predicting his death and "resurrection" three days later at the end of 1999. There is a nagging concern by many that Concerned Christians may be exactly what they claim to be: a peaceful group that awaits the imminent return of Jesus. The police have made public only accusations of violent plans. No solid evidence exists that indicated any murderous intent by members.
Still nagging questions remain surrounding the group's leadership plans for the next millenium. Does Miller continue to believe he is the voice of God in an age of ever-increasing dependency on electronic communication? If so, could he simply be hiding and plotting a more obtuse approach for replacing himself as Jesus in his own vision of mankind's Messianic day of salvation? The answers, unfortunately, cannot be known until Miller resurfaces, supposedly on his own terms.
An interesting observation in examining Concerned Christians was the apparent refusal by some members to acknowledge Miller as the voice of God. His pronouncement induced a split in believers, which indicates there might be a vestige of hope in discovering group tenet "cracks" that can be used to advantage in disbanding cults or at least their hold over the individual. This would have been very valuable information and could have saved many lives in one of the most bizarre modern-day cult suicide pacts in recent history.
During the 1950's, a man holding degrees from Indiana University and Butler University, ordained in the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ, founded a Christian destructive doomsday cult of over 900 members in Indianapolis, Indiana. His name was James Warren Jones. He structured The Peoples Temple as an inter-racial mission for the sick, homeless and jobless (Robinson, "The People's Temple (Jim Jones)," 2000).
In the beginning, he preached a social gospel of human freedom, equality and love, requiring members to help the least and lowliest of society. Later, however, his view became more explicitly socialistic, or communistic in Jones' own view, and white Christianity was seen as hyprocrisy while apostolic socialism became the main focal point.
When his supposed cancer, heart disease and arthritis cures came under investigation, the group was moved to Ukiah in Northern California. A nuclear war conflagration was imminent, according to Jones, and Ukiah was judged to be as safe as any city when it began. Still later, the congregation moved to San Francisco and Los Angeles, but after a magazine expose during the mid-1970's, suspicions of illegal activities within the Temple drove some members to Jonestown, Guyana. Jones developed a belief called Translation, in which he would join his followers in a
mass suicide, moving on to another planet for a life of bliss. An abuse of prescription drugs by Jones appears to have made him increasingly paranoid. When rumors of human rights abuses surfaced, Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November, 1978, for a personal inspection. The visit went well, at first. Then, on November 18, sixteen Temple members decided they wanted to leave with the visitors. This was a blow to both Jones and the movement. While waiting at the local airstrip, Ryan and the others were gunned down by heavily armed Temple members. The congressman and four others were killed; eleven were wounded. A concensus was made to commit group suicide, which included 638 adults and 276 children. Some committed suicide by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid, while others were murdered by poison injection or by being shot. Only a few survived by fleeing into the jungle.
The Peoples Temple organization did not survive the mass murder. Their former headquarters building in San Francisco was demolished by an earthquake in 1989. This loss of life involving over 900 people sent shockwaves through the world. Some surviving members claimed exposure to mind-control techniques while others saw the whole episode as the best experience of their life.
How could two such divergent viewpoints surface from a single cult's preoccupation with death and destruction? Looking back to the aforementioned Concerned Christians group, which historically occurred more recently, a glaring similarity surfaces for examination. In the former group, once the leader proclaimed he was speaking for God, members diverged into two memberships. The first continued its fatalistic attraction; the second broke away to rejoin more conservative religious sects in society. There appears to be a breaking point in idealistic devotion to religious cultic leaders, after which the individual is lost to zealotry or recognizes the folly in further blind obeisance to mere human direction.
What susceptibility factors influence people to blatantly give away personal freedom for such anarchistic organizations? In addition to the religious mind control techniques used so successfully by cult leaders, another factor would have to be societal dissatisfaction. Mores handed down for generations through family units, when dealing with class or gender distinction in society, often find reinforcement through religious pronouncements on various subjects. Women, perhaps more so than men, have suffered ravages of societal discrimination throughout their struggles for equality in voting rights, employment, abortion, child support and even church segregation to become ministers. A liberal turning away from such societal norms, to gain appeal with more open-minded women, seems to be a drawing point for some cults as well. Yet, as seen in the next example, liberalities can compound the splintering effect of some groups.
In 1989, Jeffrey Lundgren founded a destructive doomsday cult consisting of about two dozen members that broke away from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) (Robinson, "Mormon Splinter Group, Under Jeffrey Lundgren," 2000). The RLDS Church, with an approximate membership of 250,000, had previously split from the much larger Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when it moved to Utah.
Lundgren's splintered group left when liberal tendencies surfaced, allowing women to be ordained as priests. There remains suspicion that he had embezzled money from the Church as well.7 Members of the new group prepared for war to attack the original Temple in Kirtland, now preserved as a historical site by the RLDS. Strange sexual rituals and paramilitary training became the norm. Opposition by one family, the Averys, resulted in their execution and burial on the group's ranch. Lundgren was eventually sentenced to death for his crimes while his wife and son received long prison sentences. In this instance, liberal tendencies within an established religious group had a double-edged effect. It resulted in a resistance cult formed with even more liberal extremist tendencies to combat perceived breakdowns within the initial splintered group. Luckily, only five deaths can be attributed to this group.
Sex, society, standard religious intolerance, greed and anger have all been indoctrination drawing points with the cults that have been examined so far. These are powerful forces to be confronted and dealt with at any stage of a person's life. However, children, teens and adults alike, have all been drawn into the downward spiral of cultism's influence, with no regard for an individual's sense of responsibility. Could this be the main susceptibility factor governing mind control over the human psyche? Denying or replacing a mature sense of ego with an almost childlike cowardice of personality seems an easy out for individuals wanting group responsibility for any action or retribution. Safety in numbers becomes a valid maxim for ousting personal strength of will for cult accountability.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the extreme unified group called The Family led by Charles Manson. Born on November 11, 1934, Manson assembled a destructive doomsday cult around himself, using his unusual ability to dominate others. At one point, their number was in excess of 100 members at the Spahn Ranch, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, California. He was referred to as both "God" and "Satan" by his followers. Claiming to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, Manson concerned himself with environmental damage and pollution. He once commented: "Your water's dying. Your life's in that cup. Your trees are dying. Your wildlife's locked up in zoos. You're in the zoo, Man. How do you feel about it?" (Robinson,"The Family (Charles Manson)," 2000).
Using portions of the Beatles' song Helter Skelter, and portions of Revelations in the Bible, he outlined a devastating future race war between blacks and whites. Manson planned on taking over the surviving Afro-Americans only after they had exterminated the whites. Then, selectively murdering several high-profile people, he would trigger the "final days" conflict. It has never been proven that he killed anyone directly, but his orders to followers for the famous Tate, Labianca and other murders were effectively carried out.
The first series of murders occurred at the home of Sharon (Tate) Polanski on August 9, 1969. Three victims were shot and/or stabbed multiple times. Two individuals, Sharon Polanski (8 months pregnant at the time) and Jay Sebring were stabbed, then hung by a rope over a rafter. Two days later, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were found stabbed to death with dozens of wounds. Finally, Donald Shea, a former stuntman and hired hand at the Spahn Ranch was found murdered. Police were stunned at the mass murder crime scenes and couldn't locate clothing worn by the murderers. A television news crew later located the missing items.
When Susan Atkins, a Family member, was arrested for prostitution in November, 1969, she talked to her cellmate about her involvement with the Tate murders. Subsequently, Manson and three of his followers were charged with the Tate/LaBianca murders. For the trial, Manson spent much of his time with his back to the judge, his actions being repeated by co-defendants and other followers. He shaved his head and carved a swastika on his forehead. Other Family members followed suit. All four were sentenced to execution, which was later commuted to life imprisonment when California laws were changed in the 1970's.
One follower, Lynette "Red" "Squeaky" Fromme was tried, convicted and imprisoned for life in 1975 after attempting to assassinate then president Gerald Ford on September 5. Her motive was evidently to publicize Manson's request for a retrial, and his environmental concerns. She remains in maximum security at a medical facility in Carswell, Texas.
Manson was transferred in August, 1997, to the Pelican Bay State Prison, a tougher facility than Corcoran State Prison, for a drug bust. He was later returned to Corcoran on March 26, 1998, where he remains eligible for parole, although chances are slim for being freed. Total body count stands for this group with Christian beliefs stands at eight.
So, despite an almost overwhelming charismatic hold over individuals, cult leaders tend to exercise such control diabolically, never for the good of others. Safety in numbers becomes group insensibility to the horrific acts of inhumanity that leaders drive individuals to perform. Maddening draughts of power corrupt absolutely everything in their game path to destruction.
With increased technological proficiency in modern day society, it would seem such irrational acts of violence could be more easily predicted and limited in their effects. In actuality, scientific exploration and accomplishment have only bred new methods of terrorism for cult leaders to tap into, unleashing even more unholy anarchy in the name of religion.
The Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult, centered in Japan, fits this composite to a tee. The name is a combination of Aum which is a sacred Hindu syllable, and Shinri Kyo which means "supreme truth" (Robinson, "Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth)," 2000). Founded in 1987, the cult combines elements of Buddhism with Christianity, but has been rejected as a legitimate Buddhist faith group by leaders in Japan.
The group's leader, Shoko Asahara, born the son of a tatami straw mat maker in 1955, was partially blind at birth and attended a school for the blind. As an adult, he became an acupuncturist, opening a folk medicine shop in the early 1980's. He later established a school for yoga, travelling to the Himalayas to study Buddhism and Hinduism. This led to the creation of the Aum Shinri Kyo.
Asahara is considered to be Christ by his followers. Using the Book of Revelation and the writings of Nostradamus, a sixteenth century Christian astrologer, the leader predicted major disasters to occur in the final years of the millenium. The group eventually reached a peak membership of approximately 20,000 worldwide. Many became entranced with the hope of developing supernatural powers while others were drawn by the group's rejection of modern Japan's corruption and materialism. Emphasis was placed on a siege mentality; outside groups, including federal governments, were seen to be intent on destroying the organization. Asahara's claim to have traveled through time to 2006, after a supposed World War III, directed the group to fight in a final world revolution against Japan's enemies, including the U.S. To this end, the cult established a number of chemical factories and stockpiled various chemicals as preparation for Armageddon.
A New York Times study revealed there were at least nine biological attacks by the group on different installations in Japan. Targeted for destruction were the Legislature, the Imperial Palace, and the U.S. base at Yokosuka. Attacks consisted of spraying microbes and germ toxins from rooftops and truck convoys, but the attempts failed, since the germs lacked sufficient virulence.
Counter-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, campaigning on behalf of some cult members' families, revealed details of the group's illegal activities in a 1989 interview with the Tokyo Broadcasting System. The interview was never broadcast. A week later, a source stated that he, his wife and child were kidnapped and murdered by Aum members who later confessed to the killings. On trial, prosecution witnesses said cult members entered the home while the family was sleeping, injected them with lethal doses of potassium chloride and strangled them.
Asahara was put on trial in June, 1996, for spreading the nerve gas, Sarin, in a Tokyo subway station on March 20, 1995. The attack killed eleven passengers and injured over five thousand. Testimony by U.S. Senate officials revealed that if errors hadn't been made in preparation and dispersion of the gas, many thousands of innocent subway patrons would have been killed, and untold thousands injured. Over one hundred Aum members are presently on trial with the process expecting to last up to ten years.
Group retribution in a court of law definitely dispels any notions of safety in numbers where acts of terrorism are concerned. Integrating germ warfare into a cult's modus operandi (method of operation) seems a far cry from any original intent to escape from modern day societal corruption or materialism. In fact, it seems just the opposite has occurred. Bending mankind's ultimate scientific knowledge for destruction against a parallel hope for survival, pits physical and spiritual planes of existence against each other on an earthly battlefield that may not survive the ensuing holocaust. Fighting intense psychological battles within themselves that might have been resolved early in life, given proper diagnosis and counseling, cult leaders have repeatedly dragged others into self-induced visions of Armageddon.
Has reality finally replaced religious fervor in modern society, given the track history of such death-directed cults? As recently as March 23, 1997, the answer remains negative. Twenty-one women and eighteen men committed voluntary suicide in three groups on three successive days beginning on that date. They were part of the Heaven's Gate cult, which two months later prompted suicide attempts by two additional members. This group was the latest of three organizations founded by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie "Ti" Lu Trusdale Nettles, a.k.a. "The Two." The first group, Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM), was organized in 1975. Traveling to the Colorado desert, members waited for the arrival of a UFO. None arrived. Bonnie died of cancer in 1985. Applewhite then went on to organize a second group called Total Over-comers Anonymous (TOA) in 1993. According to this group's tenets, present-day civilization was about to be "recycled." This cult moved to San Diego County, California, and was renamed Heaven's Gate.
Following a syncretistic religion, the group combined elements of Christianity with strange beliefs about the nature of UFOs. Passages from the four gospels and the book of Revelation were interpreted as proof of UFO visitation. They look upon earth as being in the control of evil forces, perceiving themselves as an elite force who would attain heaven. Souls are held to be superior entities, only housed temporarily in a body. Applewhite claimed that bodies were "the temporary containers of the soul…The final act of metamorphosis or separation from the human kingdom is the 'disconnect' or separation from the human physical container or body in order to be released from the human environment" (Robinson, Heaven's Gate, Christian/UFO believers," 2000).
Heaven's Gate members called themselves brother and sister, looking upon each other as monks and nuns, and living communally in a large rented California home they called their monastery. Contact with families or neighbors was held to an absolute minimum. Many were successful professionals before entering the group. Some even abandoned their own children before joining, however all were free to leave at any time. Unisex garments formed the uniform of shapeless black shirts with Mandarin collars and black pants. Everyone was required to commit to a celibate lifestyle. Eight male members, including Applewhite submitted to voluntary castration. This was to be a form of preparation for the another level of existence, free of gender, sexual identity and activity.
Supporting themselves by designing WWW pages for a profit, they also used the Internet as a recruitment tool, with a site called Heaven's Gate. Applewhite was gay, and rumors exist that he had one or more affairs with male students when he was teaching music. He supposedly checked himself into a hospital at one point to overcome his homosexual feelings, but therapy was unsuccessful. One proposed theory is that he couldn't accept his sexual orientation which motivated him to live a celibate life and encourage others within the group to emulate him in suppressing sexual behavior. Among many UFO groups, belief holds that the interstellar spaceships are operated by extra-terrestrial beings who have no vocal chords, an atrophied digestive system and no sexual organs. This is symbolic of three common religious disciplines: silence, fasting and celibacy. However, the Heaven's Gate members have a belief not shared by other UFO groups: that by committing suicide together at the correct time, eventually their spirits will be grafted onto an extraterrestrial. This creature, existing on a level above human, was already on board a UFO spaceship that was believed to be behind the Hale-Bopp comet. A video tape taken shortly before their suicides showed them to be excited about the future. The final total death count of 41 sadly chronicles another chapter of fanatic misplaced belief in a modern day religious cult. A few surviving group members still maintain a website at http://www.heavensgate.com, distributing materials and information left behind by those who "left."
So far, the preceding history of religious cults has shown a variety of different beliefs and practices that occur within each sect. These differences reach a particular weakness in individuals fed up with conventional religious or societal values. This, in turn, opens a viable path to assimilate otherwise normal people into craftily designed engines of death in communities across the globe. Rich and poor alike have been drawn into the cults by different susceptibility factors, and the devastating effects on friends, families and society at large continue to the present day. Why, then, haven't the cults been completely obliterated by God-fearing Christians and those targeted for death by the groups? The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" ("Amendment I," 2001). Despite the anger, deceit and destruction that exists within each cult, hiding behind religion guarantees them protection under the law. They are free to establish anti-societal group mentalities to attack the same justice that granted them existence in the first place. Should this apparent discrepancy be addressed to prevent any greater dangers being posed to society? Or do most people simply ignore the daily news items about such movements as something that couldn't possibly affect them? The apparent lack of government control over cults and their activities does continue to point out a societal danger that shows no signs of abatement anytime soon.
The group that became known as the Branch Davidians can be traced back to a splinter sect that broke away from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (SDA) in 1942 (Robinson, "Branch Davidians, a.k.a. Students of the Seven Seals," 2000). The breakaway sect, founded by Victor Houteff, became convinced that Christ's return would only occur when at least a small number of Christians had been purified. Houteff believed himself to be a messenger sent by God to conduct this cleansing process. There were only two tasks to accomplish.
First, reveal the secret information contained in the scroll described in Revelation, Chapter 5. The scroll, written on both sides and protected by seven seals, contains a description of events to occur upon Christ's return and the world ends.
Second, a small group of Christians needed to be purified, thereby triggering the second coming of Christ to Jerusalem. Following this, the end of the world would occur and the Kingdom of David would be established.
Houteff founded the Mt. Carmel Center near Waco, Texas, with 11 followers in 1935. Membership recruitment yielded only moderate success. He broke completely away from this group in 1942 over a battle to gain conscientious objector status for members during World War II. The name Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists was then chosen for the organization, and recruitment began internationally after the war. Upon his death in 1955, control passed to his wife Florence. She moved the group to a new location farther from Waco, prophesying that the Kingdom of David would be established on April 22, 1959. When that day came and went, only a few dozen members remained with the group. Many left to form the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association which remains active today. Florence left in 1962.
Control passed to Benjamin Roden who renamed it the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, proclaiming himself successor to King David. Following his death in 1978, his wife, Lois, revealed she had been having visions that God was both male and female, that the third person of the trinity (Holy Spirit) was female, and that Christ would assume the form of a woman at his/her second coming. Strangely enough, a power struggle developed between Lois and her son George.
Vernon Howell joined the group in 1981 as a handyman. In 1984, he married the 14-year-old daughter of a prominent community member, which resulted in a series of power struggles. George Roden had Howell thrown off the property. Later, Roden had a 25-year-old corpse dug up and placed in the chapel, declaring that the next leader would be whoever could return the corpse to life. When Howell and his followers sneaked into the compound, a resulting gun battle saw Roden wounded and later imprisoned for violating a restraining order and for contempt of court. Once Roden was out of the way, Howell took over control. He and his followers found an illegal drug laboratory on the premises which manufactured methyl amphetamine, and a large quantity of pornography. Both were removed.
In 1985, a major international recruitment drive was made, aimed at SDA members, bringing in members from Australia, Canada and Great Britain. The group called themselves "Students of the Seven Seals," derived from those studying the scroll protected by seven seals. The term "Branch Davidians" (BD) was derived from Roden's expression "Get off the dead (Shepherd's) Rod and move onto a living Branch." This name, though popularly used by the public and media, was not generally used by the membership. From 1990 to 1992, Howell changed his name to David (of the Israelites) Koresh (Babylonian King Cyrus) and renamed Mt. Carmel "Ranch Apocalypse" because he believed Armageddon would start at the BD compound.
The BDs at Waco led a communal, highly regulated and disciplined life, assembling large supplies of arms; one source estimation stood at 11 tons including antitank rifles. Ranch Apocalypse was now a powder keg, just waiting to be lit. At the approach of 76 heavily armed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on February 28, 1993, a shot was heard. It may have been an accidental firing by an ATF agent, or an intentional or accidental discharge from within the buildings. In any event, the resultant firefight left 6 Davidians and 4 ATF agents dead, with at least one Davidian and 24 agents wounded.
Upon the ATF withdrawal, the FBI took charge and a 51 day siege followed. A number of experts on new religious movements warned against aggressive action, indicating there would be a high probability of mass murder or suicide as a result. The FBI chose instead to take the advice of a number of psychiatrists, with no specialized experience regarding doomsday cults, and attacked the compound with tear gas. A group of fires started almost immediately at different locations within the compound, combining to form a huge conflagration. Eight followers managed to escape, but many were severely burned.
Koresh and approximately 75 followers died of stab wounds, gun shots and the effects of smoke and flames. Twenty-one children also died in the assault. Did the effects of this cult end within the smoldering ashes of the compound? On the second annual anniversary of the disaster at Waco, the federal office building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was bombed on April 19, 1995. Timothy McVeigh, charged and convicted as the primary person responsible, was motivated by a desire to avenge the government siege (according to a former army buddy). McVeigh allegedly believed the orders for Waco were issued from the building in Oklahoma City. This is a horrifying aftermath effect of one religious cult's far-reaching influence even after its demise.
Given the new millenium's entrance with no vision of Armageddon on the horizon, religious cults would seem to have played the last ace in the deck. Prophesiers through the centuries have predicted horrendous events would happen in their own immediate future. A violent and sudden end would terminate all life on earth. Major social and political upheavals would occur around the world. The war of Armageddon would take place and God would pour holy wrath on most of humanity and/or Christ would return in the second coming.
The year 2000 has come and gone. A lot of people predicted major events of cosmic proportion would happen. But no massive disaster actually struck. There were the usual number of earthquakes, civil disturbances, tornadoes, people of different religions trying to exterminate each other, but nothing of a cosmic nature. Still more events are predicted for precise dates in the year 2001 and beyond. Have enough cults come and gone to justify society's tolerance of such religious abnormality, putting such leadership under moral control of spiritual digression? Enlightened, educated people should be able to easily identify the historical roots of cults, and societal bonds that spurred on separatist activity and rebellion in the name of religious freedom. Dissension within sects for the sake of establishing anarchy, however, provides no "enlightened" religious direction for believers or the society that must deal with such behavior. Precautionary boundaries should be set, maintained and constantly updated in examining religious cults and their activities. The simple, God-fearing Christian of today bears little resemblance to the Biblical populace that relied heavily on unseen, supernatural forces to preserve their families for posterity.
New ways of thinking and reacting to the world around us places the preservation of society above the individual on almost every level in modern times. As a God-focused modern society matures, mankind needs to be seen as inhabiting more than just one little pigeonhole of creation. People are responsible for each other and leading one another to a closer union with God's higher authority and power. This is indeed a motivating factor in joining a cult. A sense of community and being needed to accomplish set goals of the organization can bring individuals together, but offers no guarantee of solid spiritual direction. And as evidenced by the examples formerly presented, usually results in death and destruction, based on the cult leader's diminished hold on reality. Each passing year without news coverage of a cult's disaster or plans to bring on Armageddon should be counted as a blessing in disguise. Potential cultists need a chance to examine what tendencies might drive them into a communal religious experience directed by unstable leadership. Out of sight, out of mind, seems to be the message of the day. Yet, has there been no major cult activity in recent months? Or has it simply been kept out of the news limelight for good reason? A final look at one last cult indicates there may be no end in sight for demented religious leaders or their ability to draw followers into destruction.
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, a Christian doomsday cult in Uganda, has claimed at least 924 members and is expected to climb to 1,000 (Robinson, "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, A Christian Doomsday Cult in Uganda," 2000). There is no clear date of the group's founding. Some reports give the year as 1989, others 1994, but the group was registered as a non-governmental organization in 1994. Estimates of membership before the murder/suicide range from 235 to 650. Founders include ex-communicated Roman Catholic priests: Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagar and Dominic Kataribabo; two ex-communicated Roman Catholic nuns; and Credonia Mwerinde, an ex-prostitute.
Most group members were originally Roman Catholic, however, leadership taught that the Catholic Church was an enemy, in need of reform. Their rules were supposedly channelled through Mwerinde, and allegedly came from the Virgin Mary. The Ten Commandments needed to be restored to their original importance. Medical care was discouraged. Conversation was kept to a minimum, using mostly gestures to communicate, from fear of breaking the commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour" (Exodus 20:19, KJV).
Members evidently anticipated being taken to Heaven by the Virgin Mary on March 17, 2000, expecting the end of the world at that time. Accurate information is not available for many reasons, including: the area is highly inaccessible for news gatherers, major cultural differences between reporters and local citizens hamper communication, and local forensic resources appear inadequate to handle the investigation.
The best current assessment of the situation is that about 530 members died in an intentionally-set fire that gutted their church in Kanungu, Uganda on Friday, March 17, 2000. Police counted 330 skulls in the church, some bodies were no more than ashes, and almost all were burned beyond recognition. At least 78 children were included in the conflagration. Five pit latrines were covered in fresh cement, which when one was opened, revealed five bodies on the surface and according to public health officer Richard Opira: "and when we shone a torch there were more underneath…They haven't been wounded so we think they were strangled or maybe poisoned." By March 21st, six bodies had been removed, three of which had their stomachs slit open and one had a crushed skull.
In another compound belonging to the group in nearby Buhunga, 153 bodies were discovered. Then, another 155 bodies were unearthed in a mass grave in a sugarcane field in Fr. Dominic Kataribabo's estate at Rugazi. Some had been stabbed, others had been strangled by pieces of cloth wrapped tightly around their throats. These appeared to have been dead for at least a month. Another 81 bodies, including 44 children were found on the farm of lay leader Joseph Nymurinda. A fifth compound was still under investigation as of April 3, 2000; police were waiting to collect proper equipment for the task. International aid has been requested in the form of expert forensic pathologists.
Allegedly, most of the deaths occurred in Kanungu, a small trading center. Joseph Kibweteere lured members inside the church and then set it on fire. Windows had been boarded up, then the doors were nailed shut with the members inside. After a few hours of singing, they doused themselves with gasoline and set themselves ablaze.
There is growing belief that failed prophecy precipitated the deaths. When the end of the world didn't occur on December 31, 1999, some sect members demanded their money and possessions returned. This may have triggered the deadly series of events. According to the New York Times on April 4, Uganda's vice president, Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe apologized for the government's failure to intervene before the deaths, saying: "These were callously, well-orchestrated mass murders perpetrated by a network of diabolic, malevolent criminals masquerading as religious people."
Deception, then, appears to be a common thread in the heart of religious cult leaders, as they assemble, organize and arm followers with weapons to accomplish their own ends. Religion is merely the pretense to obtain the means for mass destruction either within or outside the various groups. A close examination has shown that no method is beneath a cult leader in creating and maintaining positions of power. To bring the Virgin Mary into such warped religious fervor is sheer blasphemy. No one knows the exact hour or time of Armageddon, as revealed in Scripture, except God. Ex-communicated Roman Catholic priests and laity know this fact as surely as they know the many appearances of the Blessed Mother throughout critical points of history have undergone extensive scrutiny. She hasn't, and wouldn't presume to, reveal God's will regarding mankind. She tends to concentrate on human responsiveness to the blessings of creation, pointing out sinful arrogance that denigrates Christ's sacrifice of Himself for mankind's redemption. Her apparitions, even verified in 1968 on Egyptian television, have brought messages of peace to the world for centuries. As recently as 1981, she has been witnessed in Medjugorje, Bosnia, Yugoslavia. People see the sun changing color and pulsing, and this manifestation has been videotaped. Though war surrounds Medjugorje, the people and pilgrims who visit each year remain untouched by such atrocity (Pilcher, 1998).
Could the lack of human control over religious cults have summoned forth supernatural assistance from the Mother of God? Recording histories of religious cults and analyzing psychological behavior patterns of leaders and their followers doesn't begin to protect society from the explosive nature of such groups. But by examining such information, public accountability increases for allowing cult members to act outside the boundaries of normal society. If you know how a certain disease infiltrates the body's immune system, why wouldn't you try to control its initial contact point or at the very least, its ability to grow and spread throughout the body? Coloring everything in a person's psyche with effects, the disease would spin out of control, if left unchecked.
That same principle applies to religious cults. Their history, various types, susceptibility factors of people and effects have been documented. Ignoring the information changes none of its destructive ability or lethal consequences. Cults should, and must, be confronted with every control factor known to modern man and society. If, and sometimes before all else fails, there should be no hesitation to accept additional assistance, such as Church acknowledged apparitions of the Blessed Mother. Divine guidance provided supernatural assistance for mankind's survival throughout history as evidenced by Biblical documentation. Has man's society advanced to the point of disregard for life principles and consequences of misdirected actions? Judging from the barbaric atrocities of religious cults, point of origination and departure from life should be kept focused on the Creator behind it all. Relying on some cult leader who can't decide on a mainstream religion to satisfy longings for power is foolish. They definitely don't have any business deciding the spiritual paths of others.
Standard religious worship usually focuses on a higher level of thought or power. Death brings cessation of life and thought as we know and understand it. If a cult's primary goal is the end of days and entrance to a higher plane of existence, stay away from it. Worshipping God in and throughout life that He gave us remains the highest form of adulation for Him. From the Alpha to the Omega of time, a thanks-filled creation reflects life's glory back to the Creator. This was, and always will be, our main reason for being granted a part in God's plan.
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