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Cult suicide

Cult suicide is that phenomenon by which some religious groups, in this context often referred to as "cults," have led to their membership committing suicide. Sometimes all members commit suicide at the same time and place. Groups which have done this include:

Table of contents
1 Unification Church
2 Branch Davidians
3 Scientology
4 Martyrdom

Unification Church

After Jonestown, many claims surfaced in the media the members of the Unification Church would commit suicide, despite official church protestations to the contrary (i.e., suicides go to hell). I personally heard 5 church members say in response to a leader's question, that they would commit suicide to show loyalty to Rev. Moon. That leader explained firmly and somewhat testily that suicide is a sin and that the members shouldn't think like that (source: Ed Poor, private conversation) On the other hand, Rev. Moon has sometimes said that a woman faced with the threat of rape was better off killing herself than submitting to rape; this might be considered akin somewhat to the situation at Masada.

Branch Davidians

Some of the Branch Davidians committed suicide. Most of them died, either willingly or not, from fires set by their leadership. It is not clear that all cult members were willing to die or had any choice in that matter. Some claim that they were murdered by the U.S. government despite audio and thermal imaging evidence.


Scientology has been accused of causing a number of deaths through suicide or negligence. In its cover story on Scientology on May 5, 1991, Time magazine noted the case of Noah Lottick, who committed suicide by jumping from a tall building. The magazine stated that he clutched in his fist "practically the only money he had not yet given to the Church of Scientology." The organization is also embroiled in a legal battle involving the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson. (See for more information.)


Some argue that marytrdom, as found in religions such as Christianity and Islam, is tantamount to suicide.

In more recent times, also due to a sort of relevant cultural actions (that non faithfuls sometimes call propaganda), a concept is becoming more common that relates cult suicide with marytrdom. Suicides theferore call themselves "martyrs".

Mainstream Christianity has traditionally forbidden its faithfuls to take their own lives; martyrdom generally involves losing one's life at the hands of non-believers because of one's religious beliefs or practices. Effectively, in Christianism the concept regards those faithfuls that have suffered particular physical injures, that brought them to die, because Christians; marytrdom would be in this sense a passive acceptation of death as procured because of religion. Roman Catholic Church considers life as a gift whose sole "owner" would be God, the sole consequently legitimated to decide when interrupting it. Unique case allowed, to give one's own life to save another one's, but this is generally not considered as suicide in most cultures.

The Islamist movement has strongly encouraged many Muslims to accept a theology in which becoming a suicide bomber is not considered suicide, but is rather considered a form of "struggle"; therefore (in the Islamist view) a Muslim can effectively commit suicide without violating Islamic law.

Dozens of Muslims, primarilly Palestinians and Saudi Arabians, have died in the act of killing civilians in this fashion over the last decade, mostly in Middle East, and recently 19 in the United States (see September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack). Critics of these acts note that the term "suicide bomber" is a misnomer, as suicide by definition is when one ends one's own life, and is not a correct term for actually murdering others.

In a related way, mass suicide can occur as a means of escape when a religious group perceives itself to be hopelessly besieged by its enemies or other adverse external pressure. These external foes may be real or imagined.

See also: purported cults, cult homicides

discuss prevailing belief systems in such cults