#7 Post of 2013 – You Might Be In a Cult If…

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I watched a Dateline special the other night on the FLDS and the downfall of their “prophet,” who is now imprisoned for life. Here are some things I noticed about the FLDS that would apply to other cults as well. You might be in a cult if…

Your leaders tell you to never believe anything anyone says but them.

Your leaders tell you that everyone in the outside world are liars.

You are told to never question what your leadership tells you.

You are discouraged from reading any opinions about important topics outside your group.

You are told that certain things about reality that are obviously true are false.

You are discouraged from interacting with those who disagree with your beliefs.

You find yourself fearing or hating those who disagree with your beliefs.

You are absolutely 100% convinced that everything you’ve been taught by your leaders is true.

You believe that the more you learn on your own, the worse off you’ll be.

You believe that everyone outside your group has totally evil motives.

You have been told that even the smallest doubts about your beliefs will ultimately lead you to ruin.

  • sean

    There are some (though obviously not all) Christian groups that I think fall into this category. Do you agree? Certainly people can believe the right things for the wrong reasons and by the wrong methods, no?

  • Andrew Ryan

    “You are told that certain things about reality that are obviously true are false”

    Look at all of Zuma’s recent posts about the scientific view of the age of the earth and the universe all being wrong because they contradict scripture.

  • I see this list of cultishness as a continuum. A person who could answer “yes” to every one of the tests listed above would absolutely be in a hard-core, mind-controlling cult. The FLDS would fit the bill. Jim Jones’s group from the 1970’s would fit the bill. North Korea would fit the bill.

    Other groups may only exhibit some of these tendencies. Very few Christian groups that I am aware of, or have participated in, would exhibit these tendencies strongly. However, I admit that we Christians have to be careful because there are times when we lean toward shutting off the outside world. That is very dangerous, in my opinion.

    One mainstream non-Christian group I do see exhibit some of these tendencies would be the LDS or Mormon church, of which the FLDS is an offshoot. Many Mormons I have dealt with seem to be incredibly closed off from the outside world. They are actively discouraged by their leaders to read and study materials produced by non-Mormons about Mormonism. They are far less questioning of their leadership than most Christians are.

    I see similar cultish behavior among communist nations historically. There is almost always a very active campaign to indoctrinate the people. They are taught to never question their leaders, and to fear and hate the non-communist nations.

    Examples could be multiplied, but I think you get the idea.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Yes. Thanks Bill.

  • Hello Bill.

    Must all these conditions be simultaneously satisfied before having to conclude one is a cultist?

    Or does the truth of some of them suffices?

    If the latter is the caser, conservatism Evangelicalism does not look very good.


    „Your leaders tell you that everyone in the outside world are

    „You are discouraged from reading any opinions about important
    topics outside your group.“

    „You are told that certain things about reality that are
    obviously true are false.“

    „You are discouraged from interacting with those who disagree
    with your beliefs.“

    „You find yourself fearing or hating those who disagree with
    your beliefs.“

    „You are absolutely 100% convinced that everything you’ve been
    taught by your leaders is true.“

    are certainly true of many people within the conservative
    Evangelical camp.

    Now I suppose this is not your case but you should definitely
    spend more time combating the irrationality of many of your fellow Evangelicals.

    Otherwise I’ve a very dumb question: how can I systematically
    follow your blog?

    Lovely greetings in Christ.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • Lothar,
    I’m afraid you’ve been too heavily influenced by media portrayals of evangelicals. I know hundreds of evangelicals and they could not answer “yes” to most of these questions.

    Consider this. I just spent 8 years getting a seminary degree from one of the most conservative evangelical seminaries in the world.

    We were required to read the works of scholars from all over the ideological spectrum. We were encouraged to learn from these people. We were told that even though we may disagree with some of the things they say, that there was still wisdom that could be gained from them.

    Evangelicals, as a group, are very distrusting of ecclesiastical leadership. Remember the Reformation?

    In seminary and in my local church, I have always been encouraged to love those who are not believers, never to hate or fear them.

    Are there individuals and individual churches within evangelicalism who can answer “yes” to some of the cult tests in the post? Sure, but they are in the minority. They may receive a lot of air time in documentaries and TV shows that want to make evangelicals look bad, but I certainly hope that is not where you are getting your impressions.

  • Hello Bill.

    Note that I spoke of “conservative” Evangelicals.
    Progressive Evangelicals like Randel Rauser, Rachel Held Evans or Greg Boyd are not concerned.

    I way myself previously an (unpersuaded) Evangelical and I have experienced with my own eyes and ears the very things you describe.

    I have grown convinced that the dogma of Biblical inerrancy (at least the Chicago version of it) is spiritually, morally and intellectually extremely harmful.
    As I explain here

    I’ve now concluded that the books within the Biblical Canon are NOT more inspired than books outside the Canon, what we call the Bible is largely the product of many human (often arbitrary) decisions.

    Friendly greetings from continental Europe.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • I know that you said conservative evangelicals, and I think that you are still wrong about them, as a group. Again, I am one. I am around these people every day. I attended seminary with them. I was taught by conservative professors, one of whom helped draft the Chicago statement on inerrancy.

    I am sorry that your experience was negative, but my experience has been extremely positive.

    It appears that you have abandoned orthodox Christianity, but I could be wrong about that. Do you agree with the essential doctrines of the faith as spelled out in this blog post (link below)?


  • Hi Bill.

    I think your definitions are way too restrictive.

    I give a definition of “Christian” here:


    I am certainly not “orthodox” as you understand the word but unlike liberals I am quite open to the reality of miracles and a supernatural world.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son


  • ricegf

    Having debated rather extensively with hard-core atheists over the past 30 years, I note that many would have to answer “Yes” to a majority of these questions. Apparently classic religion is not required to establish a cult. 😉

  • Andrew Ryan

    Presumably they wouldn’t answer yes to the one about avoiding interacting with people who disagree with them, if they’re taking the time to debate you! And of course atheism has no leaders or ‘popes’. No, Dawkins doesn’t qualify.

  • My definition is backed up by the biblical record, the earliest creeds of the church, the first 500 years of ecumenical councils of the church, and is largely agreed upon as a minimal definition by Roman Catholics, eastern Orthodox, and many Protestant denominations.

    What is your definition based on?

  • Absolutely true. Dogmatism and cultlike behavior is a universal human problem, and not one that just applies to followers of religions.

  • You mention the existence of obvious contradictions as evidence that the Bible is not inspired or inerrant. I have been studying alleged contradictions for almost 10 years now, and I have never found one that was irrefutable, as you claim. In fact, most of the alleged contradictions have simple explanations.

    There are some that I don’t have an answer for, but this doesn’t bother me that much. Here’s why. Something like 90% of the verses in the Bible are in perfect and plain synchronicity with each other and with our moral and intellectual reason. No problems with 90% of the text.

    In the cases where I have studied the difficult texts, I have found reasonable and plausible explanations for most of them (let’s say that gets me to 99% of the Bible being without serious difficulty).

    The final 1% which I don’t understand, I just assume that these difficult passages will be resolved some time in the future, by me or someone else. To me, it is unreasonable to give up the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture because I struggle with 1% of the text. Maybe if I had problems with 20% or more of the text, I would reconsider inerrancy and inspiration, but that just is not the case.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I just saw a similar list:

    Your Religion May Be Harmful…

    1) If it inspires inactivity when action is what is needed.
    2) If it teaches you to accept things as they are when they should be changed.
    3) If it conditions you to overly rely on subjective sources of decision-making.
    4) If it discourages critical thinking skills.
    5) If it teaches you to distrust science.
    6) If its other-worldly promises distract you from finding solutions to this-world problems.
    7) If it leads you to actively discriminate against others because of their gender, their sexual orientation, or their beliefs.
    8) If it teaches you to fundamentally distrust yourself and to view yourself as essentially broken, weak, or unable to think for yourself.
    9) If it sucks a significant amount of time or money from your life.

  • Donny

    (With a smile)…your list of reasons that one is in a cult, sounds like some organized religions to me. And I’ve had a direct experience regarding identifying cults.
    I was a participant with a particular group that I was warned to being a cult. It wasn’t!
    OTOH, I have found that most human beings have an innate need “to belong.” Whether it’s family, business, religion, sports, social organizations, education…or even gangs or cults.
    Almost everyone of us will be drawn to that which fulfills our need…at least temporarily. For many, it’s a life long search…with many of us going to our graves unfulfilled.
    Cutting to the chase, what turned my life in the right direction, was the advice and the courage to think for myself. An AHA!
    Happy Holidays

  • Nell Cannon

    I see these traits within Jehovah’s Witnesses.