Harold Goldmeier
Harold Goldmeier

Insights Into Cult Children From Normal Families

By Dr. Harold Goldmeier. He is co-manager of an investment fund and business consultant. Today, Goldmeier writes for premium financial investment companies. His social and political commentaries appear on many websites and in print. Harold.goldmeier@gmail.com

Measure Your Mind By The Shade It Casts

Cults are frightening, fearsome, and loathsome. We do not understand what motivates normal people to join and stay in a cult? We intuitively tag a toxic connotation to the word. Dispel the notion that this will never happen in our family.

Our knowledge about cults usually comes from news reports and documentaries. We are outsiders looking in. Membership in most cults is dumbfounding and confounding to outsiders. The news is usually not good. Cult leaders are characteristically charismatic, highly articulate, persuasive, and enrapturing. The lifestyles range from consistently edgy to lurid.

If you want to know the story from the insider’s perspective read a new fictional biography by Rachel Saginsky, in Give Me A Second Chance (Gefen Publishing House, 2021). It is a recordation in the best traditions of solid social anthropology. The story is about a young family’s journey from rollicking bliss to its demolition. The couple wants security, love, and peace. They want to grow spiritually together. They want to fulfill God’s commandments. The pathos of their metamorphosis is exhausting and exasperating.

Pale Ink Is Better Than Memories Unwanted 

The husband searches out other teachers to lead them to a higher plane. He matches with ultra-Orthodox rabbis who share their knowledge, fill the husband’s personality voids, and whom he sees as the guide to the world to come. The husband and wife rarely question the demands of the rabbis to conform. It is all pleasing in the eyes of God. After all, the husband proclaims, “We’re living in the times of Moshiach,” that is, we are hastening the coming of the Messiah.

Strains and cracks in the family foundation begin to show. The guileless husband grows emotionally attached and devoted to the words of the rabbis. His wife wants to keep her husband “and the whole family happy.”

Outsiders—family and friends—are aware the wife is getting sucked into the manifestations of their lunatics’ imaginations. The outsiders are helpless. The wife describes her early encounter with one great rabbi who is “sitting at the head of the table. The lapels of his black, shiny frock were perfectly pressed, like the closed wings of a beetle… He didn’t look at me. It was the impurity on my hands. I was sure of it… I could see the gold flecks in his eyes flashing. My heart beat faster… Sheets of fire flickered over the Rav’s eyes. He was in a different place. Seeing things, we could not see. How lucky I was to be a part of his greatness.”

Eventually, the marriage unravels. The husband grows distant and is seldom helping at home. He is constantly on a quest for a holier rabbi. They transfer their love for one another to the rabbis who emanate a magnetic pull like bees to blossoms. The rabbis always make demands for more conformity. Ruthless and shrewd cult leaders use their power and control to get followers to fulfill hidden agendas. The leader of the cult NXIVM used females for sex and to sex traffic new members into the cult.

Hallmarks Of A Cult

A cult can be small or have millions of followers. There is the innocuous cult of celebrity. The top six celebrities each have over 200 million enthusiastic fanatical followers on Instagram. Manson had 50 devotees. Preacher Jim Jones had thousands. 918 in Jonesville committed murder-suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. The 76 religious Branch Davidians set themselves and 25 children on fire rather than surrender to U. S. government officers.

The Hasidic Lev Tahor cult shlepped to three continents to avoid authorities. Kidnapping children, abusing them, forcing females to be child brides and money theft charges follow them. Breslov Rabbi Berland, the charismatic leader of the cult Shuvu Banim, is a convicted rapist. He reportedly engaged single and married women whom he counseled. He professed to have healing powers for payment. His hundreds of supporters and political contacts helped him flee from country to country to avoid arrest and prosecution. A foremost Israeli rabbi talked about for the position of Israel’s Chief Rabbi claims to try to “aid (Berland) and ease his conditions.”

Daniel Ambash is a convicted sadist. He is serving 26 year’s sentence convicted for keeping women and children in slavery conditions, rape, administering electric shock punishments and beatings. Meantime, four of his 28 wives founded a pro-polygamy party that ran in a recent Israeli election. These are well-educated, normal, beautiful women.

Here is a sampling of the hallmarks of a cult:

  • Their religion moves from mainstream to zealousness crossing to depravity.
  • Followers isolate from family and friends because outsiders embody evil.
  • Followers conform and comply with demands by cult leaders.
  • Members are purposely kept stressed and tired.
  • They worship someone or something: the hunt, the moon, wilderness, trees, the righteous who embody the spirit of God.
  • Cult leaders intertwine communal sharing and love with their own definition of sexual boundaries.
  • Manipulating diet and drugs are tools used to activate high-spirited emotional commitment or quiescence.
  • Religious cults link dedication & worship to paranoid ideation about the outside world. Their quest is to satisfy a Higher Power and ensure one’s place in the world to come.
  • Promiscuity, rape, child abuse, and adultery are core characteristics.
  • Men dominate women in most cults especially religious cults.
  • Women must dress simply and alike.
  • They promote either a lavish lifestyle or ascetic existence.
  • Cults promote fear of government control and promote resistance.
  • Followers are to collect or donate money to the group.
  • Punishment breaches in actions and faith are extreme. Physical abuse is not uncommon. Bad members are ostracized or ex-communicated.
  • Uncompromising fidelity to the cult and its leader is the most critical hallmark. Members must be cleansed and purified to an ennoble state. The world is bad. We are good.

The Takeaway

Further research by other social anthropologists might yield more successful intervention tools and techniques. Why do religious and community leaders ignore, tolerate, and collaborate with the aberrational behavior of cult leaders? Family and friends of cult members are unarmed to intervene. What more might they do? Catherine Oxenberg made a Lifetime movie from her book, “Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult.”

Cult behavioral changes invariably begin with good intentions, with tiny footsteps, like erasing pictures of women from publications, demanding females cover all exposed skin in burka dress,  having children learn religious texts to the exclusion of all other educational materials. The inconvenient truth is that normal people are susceptible to the trappings of cults. There is a cult of ignorance and a strain of anti-intellectualism in the human DNA that nurtures false notions of good and evil. We cannot vaccinate against the power of cult leaders to mutate these false notions and infect our normal children.

About the Author
Dr. Harold Goldmeier manages an investment firm, is a former Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University, and teacher to international university students in Tel Aviv. He served in the administrations of US governors and the Surgeon General, works as a commerce and industry consultant, writer, and public speaker.