“C.U.L.T.” – What are the warning signs?

“C.U.L.T.” – What are the warning signs? April 3, 2024

preacher in black suit holding Bible, choir members in background
Image by Adrian on Pixabay

“We lost eight members of our family……. now we have been given only four (bodies)”


The Kenyan government recently started the process of handing over the remains of 429 members of a doomsday cult to their family members. According to reports, the exhumed bodies showed signs of starvation and strangulation. Their leader, Paul Mackenzie, who now faces murder charges, reportedly told them to starve to death so they could meet Jesus.

Are cults a widespread problem?

Cults appear to be a worldwide phenomenon. There are 10,000 active cultic groups in the US alone, according to psychologist and cult expert Steve Eichel, who says most cults are small and try to stay under the radar. We often don’t know about them until something terrible happens. We hear the word “cult” and think about groups like the Branch Davidians and the Waco Texas disaster or Jim Jones and the Guyana Tragedy. More recent experiences include the Shakahola Massacre in Kenya (referenced above), which was described by CNN as bearing the “all the hallmarks of destructive cults, past and present”.


What are the hallmarks of a destructive C.U.L.T.?

There are several features that cults tend to have in common. Let’s review a few of them, using the mnemonic “C.U.L.T.”


Charismatic leader……. Control ………. Coercion……… Catastrophe

Underdog syndrome

Love bombing

Thought control


Charismatic leader……. Control ………. Coercion……. Catastrophe


A cult typically has a charismatic leader, who is very skilled at getting people to follow orders. The leader often displays narcissistic qualities.

Cult leaders tend to exert control over their followers. This could include control of their time and resources, especially their finances.

Cult leaders use coercion to exert this control, often threatening their followers with repercussions if they don’t “toe the line.”


Catastrophes such as the Shakahola Massacre, the Jonestown Tragedy and so many others are often the end result of destructive cults.


But… can these tragedies be prevented? Does it always have to end this way? What if we taught people the warning signs and empowered them so they would be less likely to become victims of cult leaders? Let’s take a look at some more red flags.



Underdog syndrome

You may be wondering what the “underdog syndrome” has to do with cults. Aren’t they usually led by charismatic, influential leaders? That’s exactly the point! Since the leader is elevated above everyone else, the followers are made to feel like and often treated like “underdogs.”

The leader is supreme, and in some cases, treated like God. He or she is never wrong and cannot be questioned. I once saw a video clip in which someone was describing his pastor (who happens to be his biological brother, no less), as “worshipable.” He actually said, “I wish I could worship him, because he is worshipable,” to which the crowd cheered. How appalling! Let’s compare this with the actual teachings of Jesus.


Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

  • Luke 4:8 (NIV)


Beware of any group that treats its leader like a god.


Love bombing

Love bombing is a term that is used to describe overly affectionate behavior, which can include showering a person with gifts and affection. It is a deliberate tactic to manipulate the person on the receiving end, which frequently happens when a person is new to a group. The newcomer is made to feel special and literally “bombarded” with what appear to be acts of love and kindness. Such techniques encourage newcomers to trust that the “recruiters” genuinely care for them and have their best interests at heart.

Thought control and thought suppression  


Cult leaders often discourage their leaders from thinking for themselves. Lack of critical thinking/independent thought is a significant factor in getting cult members to follow the leader. What often results is an unhealthy dependence on the leader and/or the group, isolation from friends and family and loss of autonomy. Thought control can involve being made to repeat certain mantras (which may include Bible verses) in a compulsive manner. If a person is always repeating the same phrases/mantras that someone else has “prescribed,” this interferes with their ability to process their own thoughts and come to their own conclusions.


This is just an introduction to the topic of modern-day cults. Even if you are certain you are not in a cult, you might be surprised at how many organizations (both religious and secular), while not fitting the exact description of “cult,” can at least be classified as “high control” environments, and can be just as harmful. That discussion will be saved for a future essay.

For more information on cults, here are some resources:









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