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1. Christian Apologetics

Deprogramming, and the Cults

Why do people join cults? Are they brainwashed or do they make a free choice? Are cults sinister groups? How should Christians react to cult members? Is it possible to talk to them meaningfully, or must we resort to coercive deprogramming? These and other questions puzzle many people. On the one hand, most of us believe in freedom of religion. On the other hand, some of us are afraid that liberal attitudes toward extremist groups may destroy our democratic institutions.

Most of us have, at one time or another, met cult members. Often it seems impossible to have a reasonable conversation with them. Faced with probing questions, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, and other cult members seem to give stock answers and don't appear to take important questions seriously. To the annoyance of outsiders, cult members use unintelligible in-group jargon, and when they speak plain English, they don't use our language in quite the same way as we do.

These reactions are particularly frustrating for Christians who want to discuss theological issues. Cult members use terms such as redemption only to assign them meanings that are quite different from those used by Christians. Other phrases they often use, such as "go to your core" and "surrender yourself fully to the feeling from your core," resemble phrases used in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century "encounter" styles of Pietists, such as "inward piety of believers" and "the disclosure of the interior life." Given these differences in language fashions, many Christians doubt the sincerity of cult members and accuse them of deliberately deceiving people by giving words definitions that disguise the true beliefs of the cult. The suspicion that something must be hidden has led many people to conclude that cult members are brainwashed. We believe that this reaction is wrong and that communication with cult members is possible once we understand why they joined the cult and what they believe...