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February 18, 2011 / Man in the Mirror

Cult Leaders: Money and gifts

By the insidious greed and power-mongering of the leader, and by the sense of mission and “higher purpose” of the group, members may be pressured or deceived into giving much of their money or property to the group or to the cause – far more than a tithe; in some groups, it may even be most or all of their money or property. However, most of the materials given do not go to benefit the needy in the group or anywhere else, but are simply exploited by the leader. As a result, the people end up in poverty and dependence and the despotic director is taking advantage of them. All along, the people are led to believe that they are humbly submitting to God’s will for the betterment of themselves and the group.

Members often feel guilty if they do not give to this extent.

If you do not give the amount as expected by the group, you are considered greedy, stingy, and lacking in faith.

Sadly I saw one member of the group being forced into giving away money because they felt compelled to. Many times they would express that they did not think that the amounts asked were justified and neither were the reasons; but since they did not want to fall out with the cult leader, they gave.

I also believed that neither the reasons nor the amounts were justified especially when the cult leader had means to make money, so did his family and he lived in a grand house. But since I had not been asked to give any money and it was the member’s own decision, I did not tell anyone nor did I try to force the member not to part with their own earnings.

The cult leader would also take favors such as spiritual trips from his members and he would market it as if God had ordained to take or send the cult leader.

Such generous giving should come from one’s own inner desire, not pressure, guilt, or manipulation from others

Besides money and property, members are led or pressured into giving much or most of their time to the group. They achieve this through various implications and messages that gradually equate the group with God, and thus the group becomes their God. In a group that really goes “all out for God” by giving most of their time to group activities, the members believe that they are truly serving God, whereas they are actually being exploited. Practically every possible moment that could be free time is given to “the cause”, “the overriding mission”. As a result, the members may very well become exhausted. What keeps the members going is the “care” shown by the leader, and the positive reinforcement for doing hard work, and negative reinforcement (often rebukes) for slacking off at any time? This may take the form of manipulative arguments such as, “Which is more important: taking it easy for a while, or doing God’s work?” This kind of reasoning is designed to keep their subjects working to the point of exhaustion.

This happened a lot at the members’ house. The cult leader would come over twice a week and stay into the late hours of the night, even on weeknights. He would require constant attention and none of the members were able to create a life for themselves outside of these gatherings. Many of the members would come back late from work to find the cult leader waiting for them and if any one of the members expressed how tired they were, they were taken onto a guilt trip. The cult leader would loudly state that out of all his followers, these members were the only ones he gave exclusive time to. He would go one to say that nobody could be more tired than he was because he had spent the previous night praying for these members and he had not thought of resting since he had made plans to be with his group. As a result, the members would feel guilty and try to entertain the leader and listen to his lectures.

Many times I remember almost falling asleep and being so exhausted that the cult leader would notice and try to bring it to everyone’s notice that I was not paying attention. He would make statements like: “X, did you hear what I said?”.

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