There are some famous (or infamous, if you please) names associated with cults in this country.
Charles Manson. David Koresh. Jim Jones. I'm sure I could Google that and come up with a dozen more if I wished. All of them dangerous, all of them, once exposed, horrified the average citizen with what a cult could make a perfectly normal person do once under the influence of the cult's leader. They made us wonder why people would put up with the things they were forced to do. In fact, many of the people once under the influence of a cult would tell you they were seldom actually forced to do anything, but did what they were expected to do voluntarily.
There are studies that explain the psychological reasons why people do those things and fall under the influence of cult leaders. I'm sure they are mostly done well and are most probably adequately peer reviewed, too.
But I've got another point of view.
You'll notice that most cults are religious in nature - that is, they begin as a group that seems to worship in accordance with an established religion - or at least one that has an attraction to a certain kind of person. Some are often counter-cultural.
Some are nationalistic. Take North Korea, for instance. There, an entire family has been the subject of what has become a religion.
First, a disclaimer. I am NOT a Sociologist. I'm not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist. This is merely my opinion, and not the result of any professional study or theories.
Got it? Just my not-so-humble opinion. (Hey, I'm a blogger - we don't DO humble!)
A majority of people across this wide wonderful world we have profess a belief in one religion or another. Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Hinduism. Jainism. Buddhism. There are thousands of local versions of these and other, older religions held by indigenous people all over the globe. I'm sure I missed a hundred other 'minor' religions too. There's a web site that professes to list as many gods as we can claim to know about, including those historically known but no longer worshipped. Some eight thousand, the last time I looked.
Every single one has one thing in common with all the others. They all are included in a theology that includes elements which one can only confirm by dying. Which, as we all know, is a one way street. Or, well, MOST of us know that - some folks have a belief that one can go around multiple times.
With, I might add, not much proof.
Which, in the greater scheme of things, makes a belief in the supernatural a perfectly normal state of mind.
Think about that. No matter what you, personally, believe, there is a very large chunk of humanity that, in your mind, believes in superstitious bunk. Richard Dawkins has a point he makes about that. He notes, fairly accurately, I think, that the only difference between a religious believer and an atheist is the belief in just one god.
To those of us who are atheist, the rest of you are delusional, to be moderately nice about it.
To you, WE are the delusional ones, even worse than the other folks who believe in the wrong god.
Which, in the greater scheme of things, means that your belief, and the propensity of every other theist on this Earth, allows the very dangerous cultists to exist under the protective coloration of religion. Since they profess to have actually founded a religion, at least in this country, they are allowed to be protected and can operate with the protection of the law, so long as they do not violate weapons laws or something similar.
Even if they coerce their members to give their possessions to the cult. Even if they are coerced by the cult to give up even their women to the leader to do with as he wishes. Even if their daily practices are bizarre and strange and psychotic, as long as they don't stray into illegal territory like child molestation or stockpiling illegal weapons, they will get away with it.
Because, you see, religion is NORMAL. To believe in a supernatural being, no matter how strange in its demands upon its adherents, no matter how bizarre its rituals, somehow, simply the fact that it is tagged a religion puts it Off Limits to scrutiny or criticism.
Yes, I know, all those others are kooks. And the ones of your religion who are more extremist or more liberal aren't TRUE members of your religion, are they?
If that's your attitude, Google the phrase "No True Scotsman". Here, I'll do it for you!
That brings back 4,200,000 results. Go read some of it, the first is, predictably, Wikipedia.
As a defense that is, frankly, bullshit. Exactly the same thing can be said about YOU by the other guy, because HE interprets your holy scriptures differently, and in HIS mind, it is YOU that is crazy and reading it all wrong.
To me, you are both crazy.
You are because your belief in a supernatural being (no matter how real to you) allows every other normal human being to engage in the same exercise, with predictably different results that allow them to claim everybody else is the crazy one.
And everybody thinks this is normal.
The truly sad thing is that it IS normal. To think that over six billion human beings see as normal that one can believe in a non-material, invisible being who can, nevertheless, affect the normal material world, and can, if enough devotion is displayed, be persuaded by the prayers of billions of us to do a trillion contradictory things.
All at once.
This species has a lot of growing up to do.