A cult is defined as "A small, closeknit group of people who share a belief system that, to outsiders, might be considered strange and possibly dangerous."
Most major religions in the world started as cults, but developed over time to become less strict or demanding of their members. Cults often demand extreme loyalty from members in order to maintain them. Usually a cult does this to maintain its existence due to its small size. Some cults are not dangerous to members and these groups are usually referred to as New Religious Movements.
Despite popular belief, cults rarely practice brainwashing to obtain members. Most members join willingly, albeit usually not aware of the grooup being a cult. People join cults for a variety of reasons including: lonliness, in need of direction in life, or questions to lives mysteries. Cults closeknit nature can cure lonliness, can provide a purpose by serving the cult leader, and has religious beliefs that answer their questions.
Cult leaders are often very charismatic, meaning they have magnetic personalities that attract people to them. There is also a tendency of Cult leaders to have difficult childhoods and often behave very unsociable in their youth. Cult leaders also tend to have mental problems, thus making them a danger to their followers.
Groups like the Scientologists, the Moonies, Hare Krishna and others could be classified as New Religious Movements. In other cases the situation is less clear. Anti-cult organizations can see the Jehovah's Witnesses as a cult. Many Christian Fundamentalists appear cult-like to outsiders. This is particularly noticeable in the Bible Belt of the United States. Within the Bible Belt relativlely small rural communities are often dominated by religious fundamentalists and residents may know little about alternative viewpoints.
- Religious cults are over the top in demanding unquestioning obedience to the Cult leader or cult organisation.
- Religious cults seek to separate members from Non-Members and alternative viewpoints. Recruits may be under pressure to break relationships with former friends and even close family members. Former cult members are shunned.
- Religious cults demand that members focus their whole social life round the cult avoiding or limiting outside social activity.
- Religious cults require heavy sacrifices from members. Members are required to give large amounts of money or time to the organisation.
Cults may also be recognized through the easy to use BITE model.