"I have sworn upon the Altar
eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson
InFormer Ministry is a volunteer, non-sectarian religious order. It was established to educate the public about dangerous cults, and to assist ex-members, their families and those recovering from involvement with fanatical groups. We give guidance and support to individuals attempting to integrate back into society after having been divorced from reality as a result of participation in such groups.
... to steer people away from involvement in cults and dangerous groups through education and informed guidance.
... to help individuals who have been victimized by cults begin to re-establish a normal, healthy, balanced life for themslves..
... to provide common-sense, practical guidance for those who have been segregated from society in cults.
... to abstain from any attempt to convert or coerce the acceptance of dogma.
... to encourage the logical exploration of diverse ideas so those affected by cults can come to their own conclusions.
... to help individuals regain the ability to reason for themselves.
... that there is goodness and worth in the world outside the cult and one should try to better the real world rather than alienating oneself from it.
... that finding one's own sense of direction and fit in the real world is part of recovering from a cult.
... that the process of redeeming one's mind and soul after having given over control to a false prophet, a harmful ideology or a malicious leader requires some exceptionally thorough soul-searching, a bit of benevolent guidance and perhaps even God's mercy to be successful.
Public inspection disclosure documens now "widely available."
"You who build these
To sacrifice these children,
You must not do it anymore.
A scheme is not a vision ..."
- Leonard Cohen
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dennis Erlich.
I consider myself a man of neither great scholarship nor wisdom. With the possible exception of common sense gained by repeatedly surviving my own life-destructive mistakes, I claim to no particular qualifications whatsoever. But in the course of time I have come to believe my God-given, religious calling is to help those affected by cults in any way I can.
I created the inFormer Ministry to provide insight into the workings of fanaticism and where possible mitigate its effects on victimized followers and their families. It is difficult for anyone who hasn't "been there and done that" to understand that ordinary people can be transformed into unthinking instruments of power and destruction by submitting themselves to certain types of leaders, organizations and ideologies. Those who have been in cults have a different and perhaps even harder understanding to achieve: how it was done to them - what made them vulnerable to fanaticism in the first place.
The ministry has existed since the mid-80's when I began trying to understand how people were affected by cultic encounters, and to assist with counseling, writing and publishing public service material about cults. In 1990 others joined in the ministry's work contributing written articles, musical collaborations, recovery support and help to distribute the ministry's newsletter. In 1997 we registered in California as inFormer Ministry: a religious/educational corporation. The name "inFormer" was suggested by one the newsletter's staff writers in the early '90s. It signified in our minds that we formerly were "in" and now are out.
As to how many people have been helped by the ministry's outreach, publications, events and personal counseling ... you'd have to ask around. I don't think the number will be in the millions ... but who knows? I've been told that on the internet more than one person can be helped at the same time. This is our hope and my personal prayer.
Assisting with counseling, recordings, publications, collaborations, public events, and in other countless ways, the ministry has been blessed with board members and friends for whom I am eternally grateful. Without their care it's likely neither the ministry nor I would have survived to do this work.
This website is intended to provide insight into cults. If you are looking for information on a specific one, enter the name of the group in the google search box, in quotes (like "people's temple") and click the search button.
If you want to see what has been posted about that group to a public discussion on the subject (called a Usenet Newsgroup), click here and type in the name. If you want to read postings to a newsgroup relating to cult recovery, click here.
In my humble opinion the most sensible way of dealing with a cult is to read as much as you can from what is available on the subject. Read not only what the scholars, the therapists, and the reformers have to say about cults. You should also read the postings from members and ex-members of that group on the public Usenet Newsgroups and ex-member message boards. If there are likely to be newspaper articles, you can probably track them down at your with the help of the librarian at your local library, or find them somewhere on the internet using a search engine like the one to the left.
In the meantime, here's a partial booklist about cults and high-demand groups to get you started.
But by all means remain calm. Don't allow yourself to become frantic or carried away in some desparate crusade. Try to stay composed and methodical. In this way you'll be able to guide yourself, your family or a friend away from dangerous groups and ideologies with your loving care and informed concern. That is my prayer for you.
May God bless you and keep your loved ones safe.
Rev. Dennis L. Erlich
"Once there was a little
Used to wonder what she'd be
Went out into the big wide world
Now she's just a memory"
- Mark Knopfler
A Search for Answers
By Rev. Dennis Erlich
(first published in Magazine of the Midlands, 1984)
Most people at one time or another in passing from infancy to old age, will seek to answer basic questions about life like "Why am I here?," "Why aren't things better in the world?" and "What, if anything can I do about it?"
These questions may not be put into words, but I believe they are examined nonetheless.
Everyday social experiences may not be sufficient to provide some with satisfactory answers to these questions. Most will hopefully look for the answer in study and education; in travel or alternative lifestyles. Others may turn to drugs to chemically block out their confusion. Many eventually turn to religion for the answers to these questions.
For some of those who turn to religion, the mainstream religions will not provide satisfactory answers. So they may turn instead to practices with which they are less familiar, in the hope that unfamiliar ideas might satisfy their needs.
Traditionally the family, through instruction and example, has provided acceptable answers to questions about the purpose and meaning of life. With the breakdown of the family in most segments of modern society, the duties and responsibilities of such instruction are increasingly left to the media, the state, or to chance.
A great many people are looking for answers to their confusion and pain. These are the very ones cults attract.
Cults recruit converts in an interesting and effective way. Their newest members, eager to pass on newfound truths, are sent out to contact prospective members, find a way to interest them in the cult and direct them into the cult's premises.
The cult member, to be faithful to the cult, must show the outsider the error in his ideas or behavior. This is not particularly difficult if the targeted recruit is a young person who is already somewhat confused or alienated. The promise that the cult's practices will bring relief from some private suffering is usually enough to create interest in such vulnerable young people.
If the cult member is unsuccessful in getting the targeted person interested or even physically herding the outsider into the organization, he simply looks for another potential convert to contact and convince. Almost every cult has some sort of instruction and training in its own particular method of getting outsiders interested enough to explore the cult or enter its premises.
Once the newly contacted person enters the environment that the cult controls, an indoctrination is choreographed by the members within, in order to ensure the recruit is induced or compelled to go along with the cult's program at all points.
The outsider is treated with kindness, interest, care and respect by his newfound friends to such a degree that, no matter how lost and hopeless he felt before, he finally feels at home. The group shows what seems to be genuine concern for the things that trouble him, and they tell him that they, and they alone, can truly help him.
Thus the newcomer becomes convinced that he is dealing with a group of people with a higher level of integrity and purpose than those with whom he has been in contact outside the cult. He is made to feel that he could fit in with and some day be like these wonderful, caring people. He is told at the very least, they can help him overcome his weakness and set him on a path toward whatever he is seeking.
Once the convert signs on to the group's program he submits his locus of control over to the group. From that point on, mild social pressure applied within the closed environment of the cult is usually enough to enforce "proper" behavior and opinion in the person, or to modify them back to the group's norm.
Secure in his ready-made support network, the newcomer has found answers to the questions about life that so troubled him earlier, and he feels relieved of the feelings of confusion and hopelessness. He is sure of himself and indeed eager to guide others, in their ignorance, toward "The Truth."
Pressure from the "Outside"
New converts usually first try to enlighten their family and friends. The responses they get to espousing a strange new doctrine are often less than enthusiastic, and at times openly hostile. This immediate rejection can unfortunately drive the newly-converted cultist further away from society and into the safety of the cult.
Cult members consider themselves and their fellow crusaders to be very different from the rest of society. They believe their group is the one who holds The Truth (and therefore the salvation) for the rest of mankind. Outsiders are unenlightened and not suitable as close friends unless delivered from ignorance.
Real communication between cult members and outsiders is problematic for those in a cult. They generally will substitute pre-rehearsed rhetoric, designed to "enlighten" the outsider, for any critical discussion. Failing to convert or pacify criticism, they may force a confrontation with an ultimatum designed to justify a rift and further separation. At times It can appear hopeless using legal means, to reason with a cult member about his participation in the cult.
It can be a very frustrating and painful situation for the family and close friends of the new convert.
Families in desperate concern for their loved ones have in the past resorted to the dangerous and sometimes illegal practice of forcible deprogramming.
In my opinion this thoroughly discredited procedure was just another version of what was done to the person in the cult. A new set of ideas was forcibly installed into the person's mind which he had to accept in order to be free. In forcible deprogramming the person was allowed to be free of the deprogrammer's control once he had discarded the cult's ideas and accepted the deprogrammer's. The former cult member once again lost his right and ability to think. It can amount to coercion and brainwashing. This was the factor in deprogramming which lead to criminal charges and lawsuits by grown children against their parents.
Cults react to practices like these by becoming more protective of their members and exerting even more control over communication in and out. Cult leaders justify further separating their members from society by citing acts of forcible deprogramming as serious violations of the member's right of religious freedom.
Under these circumstances the conditions for the people still in a cult worsen. They are shown outsiders actually intend to violate their rights. This situation causes members in such groups to shun all real contact with the rest of society.
Out from under the "ether"
In time the cult member will probably see flaws in the policies and the practices of the cult and in its leaders. As the person moves up in the formal hierarchy of the organization he will probably become more cynical and willing to ignore the visible contradictions between the cult's practices and its stated aims. At some point he may come to believe that for the good of the greater purpose, such contradictions should be ignored or tolerated without comment.
Having been so sure of the rightness of his decision to dedicate himself to the cult in the first place, the person will be hesitant to grant much importance to anything that might indicate he may have made a huge mistake. All the hard work he put into the cult, and all the anguish he caused to others with his newfound truth combine to make him less inclined to re-examine his decision to join the cult in the first place.
Ultimately, when the pressure of reality becomes too great, the cultist will reach out to those things that have been stable and true for him all his life: the love and care of his family and friends, and the protection this great country provides for the right to think as one wishes.
If the person's contact with the cult has been more than casual interest, after he returns to society it may take him a quite a while to sort out the truth about the cult and his involvement in it. Those who love and care for the former cult member should allow him to sort out the truth regarding his involvement in the cult on his own, while getting on with his life. It generally takes longer still for him to adjust to living in society and to figure out what his part in it should be. This period of readjustment after leaving a cult can take years and is often painful and upsetting. The person may feel purposeless, confused and unsure once again about his ability to cope with real life outside the cult.
Much more effort should go into finding ways to alleviate the suffering of former members or their families. But there a number of books on the subject of cult recovery in this booklist. And here is an excellent article on cult recovery.
Society's main concern has not been for the victims of cults, but rather for the threat fanatical cults may pose to the social structure.