The late twentieth century witnessed a dramatic "rise in the number of obscure cults and the increasingly fevered pitch of their rantings."
Three cults that grew in popularity throughout the 1970s through 1990s, having a particular impact on American culture, include The Unification Church, The Church of Satan, and Heaven's Gate. These three cults had nothing to do with one another and in fact their central belief systems can on some specific points be considered contradictory with one another too. However, their ideologies seem trivial superficialities that obscure the elements they share in common. These three cults demonstrate remarkably similar structures and modes of recruitment. Their historical context shows that both sociological and psychological factors impacting their growth and development were similar, too. Cults like the Unification Church, the Church of Satan, and Heaven's Gate tend to be populated by "people who shared little more than a willingness, or a need, to suspend disbelief."
Cult-sponsored webs of complex and politically expedient lies are used to cleverly if not covertly foster the willing suspension of disbelief. The lies are designed to recruit new members and solidify the loyalty of existing ones. Other features shared in common by these three cults in particular if not all cults by definition include the charismatic leadership that provides a central managerial strategy; the use of creative marketing tactics; and the employment of theatrics, ritual, and costume: all of which symbolize conformity and belonging to a fringe group. In fact, cult members seem to enjoy being "on the fringe of the socially acceptable."
Not all points are shared in common among the Unification Church, the Church of Satan, and Heaven's Gate. However, the Church of Satan seems to stand apart more from the other two than they do from the trio of cults. The Church of Satan, for example, did not practice any formal means by which to isolate members from their families or the community at large. The Unification Church and the Heaven's Gate cults, on the other hand, systematically prevented their members from fraternizing with non-cult members including friends and family. The cutting...
Moreover, cutting off people from their community and loved ones creates a strong in-group vs. out-group mentality. The cult becomes the new family, which is to be trusted far more than any other network in the outside world. The Church of Satan did not use isolation as a strategy in the same way that the Unification Church or Heaven's Gate did.
Another issue that makes the Church of Satan stand part from the Unification Church and Heaven's Gate is its core belief system and ideology. Unlike either the Unification Church or Heaven's Gate, the Church of Satan promoted a self-centered and self-indulgent ideology that promoted carnal desires. Yamamoto notes that self-abnegation was encouraged in the Unification Church, causing believers have poor dietary and sleep habits.
In the Heaven's Gate cult, "renouncing sex, drugs, alcohol, their birth names and all relationships with family and friends, disciples could become ready to ascend to space."
In the Church of Satan the opposite was true; disciples were actively encouraged to cultivate and act out carnal lust and desire. Church of Satan rituals, known as Black Masses, were in fact sometimes but not always sexually charged.
"We believe in all the lustful thoughts that motivate man because this is man's natural feeling. If you're going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block," is a famous statement uttered by the founder of the Church of Satan himself, Anton Szander LaVey.
LaVey emphasized that members of the Church of Satan should not fight their base natures, but indulge them and stated in an interview with the History Channel for a documentary on Satanism: "If you are going to do something naughty then do it, and realize that you're doing something naughty and enjoy it."
In spite of some ideological differences, the Church of Satan does share in common with the Unification Church and Heaven's Gate several core elements of cultism. For one, the Church of Satan eschewed Christianity completely while still capitalizing on Christian symbols and motifs. Black…
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