At some point, her dad met and married a woman, who happened to be in a UFO cult like this, where they thought many of them had been abducted or had had close encounters of various kinds. This woman, who I met many years later, was funny and kind and took care of my friend and gave her unconditional love in a way that she had never experienced and treated her like a daughter. Her real dad disappeared again and went off to Canada permanently, leaving her with the cult as her only family. It was a distinct step up as a family situation from how she was raised.
In 2000, when my friend was 17 or 18, the whole cult went off into a compound in the mountains waiting for the world to end and go off into space. My friend, who was super intelligent and curious, at that point was skeptical, but she went because it was the only family she had.
The world didn’t end, and she turned 18 and moved out on her own.
I met her a few years later, and we started dating, not knowing any of this back story — she was remarkably normal, all considering — and at some point, she told me the story of going off into the woods, and I laughed and just sort of assumed she was as cynical about that as she was about everything else — but her eyes flashed with anger and I realized I had stepped on a land mine.
It wasn’t that she really believed in aliens, or that she had been abducted by aliens as her foster mother had convinced her of, when she was younger. She just wanted to believe that this woman who loved her and had saved her wasn’t crazy, so she held open the possibility in her mind.
Cults are complicated, and so are families.
My guess, that it is nothing to do with her cynism or beliefs. You can be sceptical about Christian God, and at the same time you may be angry with people who make fun of sacred items and rituals. It was a real emotional experience for her and for others, it is something that you seem to miss, and your laugh offended all of that. The land mine was not a belief system, but a narrative, while you thought of that as of funny adventure of stupid people, she thought about people whom she knew empathically.
I think it's because we see our parents (usually) as ultimately good people, and when people criticize or ridicule our parents it feels like they are suggesting the parents are not good people, even if that's not what they mean.
On the contrary, I have seen that people in these groups often have the best intentions. For a long time, it was a mystery to me how these groups could end up going so wrong, often devolving into gun battles, suicides, or sexual deviance. A few years ago I found a book called "The Guru Papers" which does a fantastic job of explaining how these things occur, even in well-intentioned groups. If you have been involved in a group like this, or are just curious about the psychology involved, I highly recommend it.
It's a nice way of scoring some group to see how cult-like it is.
Steve Hasan's BITE model is a great framework for thinking about these things. In many ways, control of behavior, information, thoughts, and emotions is what all human organizations do, so it's more of a cost/benefit analysis than an either/or analysis that's called for. There are varying degrees of "cultiness". Recommended reading: "Combating Cult Mind Control".
An evolutionary analysis of these sorts of social structures is also fascinating. If you treat a cult like a superorganism that must compete for resources with other organizations in the culture, you can understand many of the pressures driving them. Jonathan Haidt has shown how "morality binds and blinds", and this is nowhere stronger than in cults whose distinct moral code both binds people together into a unit, and blinds them to the true nature of the group.
I'm pretty cynical, and I recognize how pervasive and successful these manipulation techniques are (so pervasive that it seems silly to talk about them as if they're particular to cults at all), but it seems wrong to say "all human organizations" seek to control. Unless you consider things like the following examples of control: disseminating information, saving lives or healing people, having fun, etc.
I think it would be much more accurate to say there's the potential for manipulation to seep into any human organization. But a weekend softball league isn't manipulating anyone.
Give humanity a little credit.
A weekend softball league might schedule games, which to a (yes, very minor) degree, is all about controlling who goes where and when for those who want to play softball.
Really, if an organization cannot expect voluntary compliance from its members on anything at all, is it even an organization? A single shared common belief is all it takes.
Examples of enabling control: Learning math was forced on me as a child (unlike reading, I hated doing problems), but its importance to my life cannot be overstated. I join exercise classes to control myself and make sure that I get healthier. Etc. While there is a lot of difference between these and a "cult", I think the point of the OP is that control isn't simply bad.
I grew up atheist, but ended up spending about 6 years in a cult-like, nameless, christian denomination. It wasn't until the results of their belief system became absurd that I started to question the entire system.
This is a double-edged sword in that it can both cut through the cruft of outdated ideas & bad practices, as well as cut off valuable experience gathered through generations.
Moreover a person with intelligence and deep experience in a particular subject runs increased risk of over-estimating own abilities in other, unrelated fields.
If you convince them that those axioms are true, than they are not intelligent nor rational.
Alchemy (from Arabic: al-kīmiyā) was an ancient branch of natural philosophy, a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practiced throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, originating in Greco-Roman Egypt in the first few centuries AD. It aims to purify, mature, and perfect certain objects. Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of "base metals" (e.g., lead) into "noble metals" (particularly gold); the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest, a universal solvent.
So, what was irrational with alchemy at the times Newton lived?
One of our friends joined, notwithstanding our advice. We remained off-and-on in touch, and he seemed happy, and up to cool stuff. But then he was one of the 1997 suicides.
In case anyone else was curious, the company is called Fort Hill Construction. Here's their website, where you can get a sense of just how well they've done:
That is a pretty hard turn but maybe a good lesson too about how in this day and age there is so little room for understanding that we struggle to think of anything else once we hear things that are objectionable.
Having kids end up immersed in cults and brainwashed is a real risk, and the costs that society has to bear once these kids "wake up" is immense. Not to mention kids ending up totally uneducated and unfit for adult life due to plainly incompetent parents and the follow-up costs of that.
100%, I personally have a story titled "how my grandmother got me involved with a Brazilian cult for a week", if you do a quick search for "John of God" you will probably immediately find it. It wasn't a doomsday cult or a massive incestuous orgy, but it was clearly one if these "oh this is actually a massive scam" with extremely loyal followers. My grandmother and her husband actually went to something he hosted in New York a year or so ago iirc.
EDIT: Holy shit just looked now and apparently he was arrested in January for having a BUNCH of child sex slaves and other stuff