They want you! Cults step up recruitment drive

The incident with a group of doomsday cult followers who have barricaded themselves inside an underground bunker in Russia's Penza region has once again raised concerns about the influence of totalitarian sects.

Russian Today/November 27, 2007

Talks with 29 religious fanatics, including four children, who are holed up in an underground bunker waiting for the end of the world, have failed so far.

Meanwhile, the sect's leader Pyotr Kuznetsov, who earlier agreed to co-operate with the authorities, now refuses to help take the people out of their voluntary confinement.

Members of the so-called 'True Russian Orthodox Church' have shut themselves in Russia's Penza region for about two weeks now.

Others are now living in a house in nearby Nikolskoye, built by Pyotr Kuznetsov.

"Pyotr Kuznetsov is a very wise man. He interprets the Bible so well that we believe he's a prophet," Nikolay Ponedelnik, a cult member says.

The cult members have rather unusual beliefs: they don't like to handle money, they refuse to watch television, and they say bar codes and tax codes are a sign of the anti-Christ.

According to their leader Kuznetsov, they've burnt their passports as they contained the number 666, the Number of the Beast.

"To believe in Doomsday, you'd have to understand the meaning of the codes and the numbers," Ponedelnik says.

Zurab Kekelidze from Serbsky Psychiatric Institute says he is concerned about the four children.

"We don't really know what's happening down there. We'll have to keep communicating with the underground sect to determine their state of mental health," he says.

Are you safe from sect members?

You may consider yourself rational and not susceptible to persuasion – and thus completely safe from getting into the net of a religious sect. Sometimes, though, even strong people can't resist the promise of better life. And those in despair, when suddenly offered salvation, just find it very difficult to say no.

Members of religious sects look for people who are less social, unsure of themselves, or simply going through a difficult time. But where is the line between offering a shoulder to lean on and complete psychological domination?

Journalist Aleksandr Egortsev says that people are often not even able to understand that, in fact, they are being urged to abandon everything dear to them:

"They are given so much attention and support, but at the same time are subtly encouraged to remove themselves from their former lifestyle. They're persuaded to leave behind family and friends and end up in a total information vacuum, surrounded only by like-minded people".

What's more, nearly everyone is a potential candidate, regardless of background or education.

Lev Semenov from the Association of Religious Studies is a serious scholar with a special interest in the history of religions.

"Six years of my life were given to a totalitarian sect the Unification Church. How I got in is a perfect example of their schemes to draft people in. I was invited to a conference which basically turned out to be a recruiting seminar. They appealed to my interest in religious studies," Semenov recalls.

Most sects put on a religious front in order to achieve their ends, which they sometimes don't even conceal. As Scientology founder Ron Hubbard said - if you want to make a million dollars, build your own religion.

The other key motive, at times stronger than the lust for money, is the lust for power. Indeed, a sect leader gets enormous power over the followers, who forget their own ego for the promise of a better life.

Still, the line between traditional religion and cult organisations is thin. Many define it by the affects had on the people within the organisation rather than by details of belief or conduct.

Be it collective hysteria or self-imposed imprisonment, the actions of those under the influence of cultist ideas often become self-destructive.

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