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Introduction

Cults are any groups, religious or otherwise that have not received official approval by the government or officially recognized as a religion. But lately from a modern perspective, a cult is seen as any religious grouping that does atrocities to and is dangerous to its members and or the community. This paper will discuss cults in America and concentrate on the scientology cult.

Cults

A cult is a group of people whose religious beliefs and practices are considered to be bizarre and have not received approval by the necessary authorities such as the state as recognized religions. Many cults have controlling and even destructive tendencies and the beliefs and practices of some of them are either potentially dangerous to its members or the society.

Significance

There are some common characteristics that all cults have in common and that in a big way separate them from other mainstream churches and religions. One of them is that of adherence to a leader who commands total following and who is not questionable. Members who question their leaders or express doubts about them are punished. The cult members are kept under control and banned from engaging in some activities. They are discouraged from thinking by themselves in even simple activities. More often than not, the sect members cut ties with their families and distance themselves from their society. In some cults, the leader sexually abuses its members like by the Raelism, and People's Temple. (Dray, S. 2010).  

Some common features are shared by almost all cults. One of the major features that are characteristic among cults is the adherence to one leader who typically commands total commitment and is not questioned. In cultic organizations, members who either express doubt or show dissent are normally punished for deviating from the path that is marked by their leader; this punishment may be obvious and at times these members who have strayed may be banned from certain activities. Members of a cult are often discouraged from thinking for themselves and acting unilaterally even in the simplest of aspects such as; the aim of this is to enable the leader to have full control of his or her followers.

Cults are also characterized by extreme secrecy and members will more often than not cut ties with members of their families and go on to distance themselves from society. In some cases, sexual abuse and gratification between the cult leader and its female members becomes an integral part of their practice; a good example is the Peoples Temple and Raelism (Dray, S.).

Identification

The Unification Church, also known as "The Moonies" which was founded by Sun Myung Moon is one of the most famous cults in the United States. The cult instructs its members to abandon their families and jobs if need be so as to serve the church. This has been quite controversial and has resulted in cases of neglect and abandonment. Their leader, Moon, identifies himself as the "second coming of Christ" and he calls for active recruitment and arranges marriages among church members (Dray,S-eHow)

Cult Practices and Life

Many cults in America are a mixture of religions that have oriental roots and with Judaeo-Christian flavor. Loneliness and boredom among the youths are among the factors that make the youth more susceptible to joining cults. People also tend to join cults when they run out of strength and endurance to deal with the hardships of life. Many of those who worship a cult leader have more often than not been exposed to some form of "personal trauma that" that has set them out of balance emotionally. The victims of a cult cannot dare question either the actions or life of their leader.

The Children of God

It is also known as the Family of Love. It is reported to be one of the most radical of the contemporary cults. Its founder is David Brandt Berg also known as Moses David. Berg claims that "a child of God believes that his leader receives regular divine intervention from God. Through the so called 'Mo Letters', Berg puts these regulations and practices into writing for his disciples. To a member of this cult, a 'Mo Letter' carries the same significance as the bible, possibly even more important. Berg goes on to claim that "you can even rebuke the devil in the name of David and he will flee. No power in the world can stand against the power of David." The children of God believe that they are given divine authority not to follow either moral or legislated law. Their view of the world is that it is rotten and is only comparable to Egypt during the time of the Pharaoh. Its members consider themselves to be "at war with the rest of the world; they are exempt from rules". The so called 'Mo Letters' have been reported to use "foul or pornographic language" and Berg advocates "shocking sexual behavior". Polygamy is condoned in this sect whereas the moral conduct of Christianity and the American social order are disregarded (Papademetriou, G, C)

Christian Cults and Violence: Modern America

In 1992, seven leaders of the Temple of Love church in Florida including Yahweh ben Yahweh, their supreme leader, were convicted of murdering 14 church defectors and other critics. He taught that people would have to kill a white person so as to become part of his "inner circle". He ordered his followers to kill defectors and anyone who dared oppose the churches plans to buy community property.

In 1978, in Jonestown Guyana, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple were found dead. Jim Jones, the founder, proclaimed himself to be a prophet of God and performed miracles such as healing cancers in an effort to prove this. Former members of the cult however reported child abuse, odd sexual activity and the fact that members had to surrender all income and assets to the church among other strange happenings. Members of that cult committed mass suicide by ingesting a mixture of cyanide and fruit drink as Jones announced that it was time for them to "meet in another place". About 300 children died as a result. (About.com)

Scientology

The church of scientology is a cult that was started and created by Ron Hubbard otherwise known as Elron in 1952. The cult started as an outgrowth of the founder's earlier self-help system that was Dianetics. This cult and organizations that promote it have since remained very controversial. According to some sources, journalists, courts and some governments have stated that the church of Scientology is just but an unscrupulous business enterprise that abuses its members and harasses its critics. Governments, journalists and religious groups have called the church of Scientology a cult. This is from reports and allegations by these groups (Waldeck, V.).

In the late 1940s, the founder of Scientology had declared that if one wanted to make a million, then the best way to start his own religion. And this he did, he started his own religion in 1954 and called it "Church of Scientology". According to the founder, Scientology brings about peace and greater peace and happiness because man's situations need a solution and Scientology is that solution. Thus the quest of this greater happiness and peace forms the major part of Scientologists' life. The aim of this cult is to achieve a world with no insanity, crimes or war.  The founder boats in his book that it is the only religion that provides essential answers to life and makes it possible for other religions to achieve their goals hence calling themselves the religion of religions (Waldeck, V.)  

The word "Scientology" was invented by L. Ron Hubbard and according to him it means "the study of knowledge" this is to mean that having the ability to know so that man can understand himself better and bring peace and happiness to his earthly living. Thus it can be said to be the study of the spiritual man and his relation to the universe and the Supreme Being, to bring man to total freedom and truth about himself and the world. The doctrine of the church is that a lack of knowledge and awareness about self is a recipe for unhappiness. Those who practice scientology are deeply concerned about drug abuse because according to them, drugs prevent people from achieving mental clarity and hinder them from realizing their spirituality.

One or the aims of the church of Scientology is to realize a world without war, crime and insanity. Scientology considers itself a culmination of the Veda, the Tao, Christianity and other religions. According to Hubbard, "engram," is the term which he uses to refer to unconscious memories of either physical or psychological pain, are stored in the "reactive mind". They cannot just be said to be memories for they also function as "inexhaustible sources of power to command the body". When engrams are brought into consciousness, this process is called auditing and it happens in the "analytical mind". Even after his death, there is an emphasis on Hubbard aw being the only source of Scientology technology (Waldeck, V.).

From its earliest history, the claim by practitioners of scientology that it is a religion have been met with disapproval despite the fact that  its organization is authoritarian, hierarchical and has an ordained ministry. Some of the social stands Scientology has taken especially against the Internal Revenue Service and against the use of shock treatment and the use of drugs such as Ritalin used by psychiatrists and is a prescription for hyperactivity and also Prozac, which is a new anti depressant commonly used has caused quite a controversy. Scientology has been able to survive for over forty years, despite the death of its founder and there is reason to believe that it will continue to be part of new religions in future. An individual's association with scientology may range from just taking a single course to living out a whole career in the organization.  (Miller,T.)

The scientology founder made it his choice to publish books to convince more people into his cult. He published such works like Dianetics which later became a bestseller and Hubbard gained prominence in lecturing about his cult. The book offered a do-it-yourself for people who are interested in improving their health. He claimed that contrary to psychotherapy, Dianatics was accessible to common people and this seemed to interest many people some of whom became practitioners. Because Dianatics was successful, Hubbard founded the Hubbard Dianatics Research Foundation which offered classes and trained practitioners. According to "Church of Scientology", by 1950, some 750 groups were applying the new technique. Hubbard taking into considerations the number of practitioner's reports he postulated the existence of immortal essence and called it "thetan" which gave Dianatics a spiritual dimension to spring itself as a religion and they called it the religion of Scientology.

The first church of Scientology was first established in California, Los Angeles in 1954. In the same year, Hubbard then moved to Washington D.C. and established the founding church there. Controversy surrounded Hubbard as he moved from to shift from Dianatics to religion. But critics claim that his main agenda was politically and financially motivated. Hubbard moved to England in 1959 where he remained till mid 1960s (Waldeck, V.).

The organization of scientology

Scientology organizations are responsible to carrying out their missions like that of technology application, practice and training and social reform. These organizations consists of their own members that form part of the staff, practitioners and another organization that Hubbard formed later called the Sea org members. These members are paid in their own line of work. For example practitioners are paid on a basis of straight fees for training. Staff members are paid by working for the church as an exchange of their services which includes labour and that of auditing. The sea org members have the responsibility of administrative staff; these members work for long hours and get a nominal compensation from the church. They are meant to sign contracts which bind them wholly to the organization's services.  Each org in scientology has an ethics officer who ensures that the church is precisely administered according to the way it was developed by Hubbard. According to Gallacher and Ashcraft, the scientology operations are based on the various performance that are subject to constant reviews (Gallacher, E & Ashcraft, M. W, 2006).

Controversy surrounding scientology

There have been controversial issues surrounding the "church of scientology" in its mixture of science and technology, religion, business and therapy. This has created suspicion for the church and many more see it as a cult more than what they claim they are; a religious organization. Example is when regulatory agencies took action against the organization's members after allegations and claims that concerned the effectiveness of the practices such as healing. The cult was also entangled in administering a drug called Dianazene which they claimed treated radiation sickness. These drugs were seized by The Food and Drugs Administration (Gallacher, E & Ashcraft, M. W, 2006).

Practice and training organizations

Scientology practice and training are carried out depending on the level as there exists many levels. A striking and controversial feature of this org is that they are licensed as franchises. Missions worldwide and churches offer introductory level training and many of their members participate in the church at this level. The members offer practitioners a beginning level auditing on a set for fee services and retain a certain percentage to the mother church. They have the right to also sell church service if they can meet RTC and inspector general network standards. There exists a number of organizations above the church that offer advanced training like the Saint Hill Organizations that resembles train auditors who ministers and provides basic scientology services. The Sea Organization provides staff for all the org above the church level Gallacher, E & Ashcraft, M. W. 2006).

The basic teachings of scientology

As other religions in the United States of America, scientology religion reflects many important or essential American and western values such as individualism, freedom and democratic sacred beliefs. But interesting enough, The Scientology religion borrows very little from the biblical religions such as Christianity or Islam. But some similarities do exist between scientology and the Asian religions such as the Buddhism and Hinduism. It seems to incorporate some western esoteric traditions hence shares some features with the Gnoticism, new thought religions, theosophy and the Latter-day Saint religion. Scientology therefore can be said to be mixture of the unconscious mind and the life images after the life MEST experiences that are contained in the reactive mind are referred to by scientology as engrams (Neusher, J, 2009).

Scientology beliefs

The church of Scientology believes into three categories namely: the creed, therapy and mind purification and application (Jerome, B. et al, 2007).

Conclusion

In America today, there exists many cult movements and religions which have taken advantage of secularism in the country. Among the many cults is the "church of scientology" which was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954.  This was an outgrowth of his Dianetics self-help system. Journalists, governments and courts have alleged that the church is an unscrupulous means of harassing its members and to some extent some members of the larger community.  Scientologists are free to practice whatever they want but they have encountered opposition due to their strong arm tactics especially to members wanting to leave the organization.

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