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Purported cults

For this article to have the neutral point of view, it should say who considers each listed group a "cult" and why, balanced by similar info about those who disagree with the "cult" designation. Otherwise, it is just a list of groups that have somehow acquired a bad reputation.

This is a list of organizations, religious groups, and sects which are purported to be cults. As described in the cult article, there exist several different, conflicting, definitions of what a "cult" is, in widespread use. And even once a definition is agreed upon, there is still sometimes widespread disagreement as to what entities fit under that definition. Therefore, this page exists merely to list those which are commonly described as such without expressing any view on whether they do in fact fall under one or more of those definitions. Please add to the list, but do not remove items merely because you disagree as to their status.

See also Totalitarian religious group.

Table of contents
1 Amway
2 Anthroposophy and Waldorf Schools
3 Bruderhof
4 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
5 Church of Scientology
6 International Churches of Christ
7 Jehovah's Witnesses
8 Jews for Jesus
9 The Temple of Set
10 Unification Church
11 Others


Critics, many of them former Amway distributors, claim that Amway distribution networks (which technically are independent from the company itself) are cults or cultlike. They claim that the distribution networks encourage people to dedicate their lives to efforts that usually will make them little money, encourage people to not think for themselves, encourage unthinking fanaticism for Amway products, encourage people to deceive others and hide the truth from outsiders, and use mind control and psychological pressure to encourage people to join the organization and to discourage them from leaving.

On its Web site, the company denies that it is a cult. "No, Amway Corporation is a business and, similar to other large and established companies, has a distinct environment defined by shared business goals. Shared business philosophies should not be misinterpreted as a cult."


Anthroposophy and Waldorf Schools

The Anthroposophy movement of Rudolf Steiner, which sees itself as an applied philosophy, has been called a "cult-like sect" by critics. Especially the public funding of charter Waldorf Schools and of Waldorf programmes in public schools in the US has drawn criticism, since it is seen by some people as violating the Establishment clause of the First Amemdment of the US constitution. Waldorf proponents reply that while Waldorf teachers have to learn some Anthroposophy during their training, they do not have to believe in it and it is never directly taught to the children.



The Bruderhof is considered a cult primarily by its former members, though not all former members would agree with that designation.

Founded in 1920 by Eberhard Arnold, the Bruderhof is a totally communal organization, in which all property is owned by the church, and members' needs are met out of church resources. Revenues are generated from a number of businesses which the Bruderhof either runs or has financial interests in.

In structuring the Bruderhof, Arnold was inspired by the example of the Hutterites, a 16th Century Anabaptist group which pioneered the communal church form. The Bruderhof's relationships with present-day Hutterites has been stormy. The Bruderhof was accepted into the Hutterite Church in the 1920s, separated in the 1960s, re-accepted in the 1970s, and re-separated in the 1990s.

Former members sometimes claim that the Bruderhof uses techniques that amount to mind control to gain and retain members. The Bruderhof itself dismisses such charges.


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Christian countercult movement considers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon) a cult because the church rejects the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, has scriptures in addition to the Bible, and has various other unorthodox beliefs and practices. Stephen E. Robinson, an LDS scholar, responds that ad hominem labeling of the LDS Church and excluding it as Christian based on a sectarian concept of Christian (like that of the Christian countercult movement) is merely a way of saying that it is only a particular history, tradition, canon, doctrine, orthodoxy or sect that is justified when such justifications are debatable.

Some former Mormons make various charges of cultlike behavior, including group-thinking, fanaticism, secret initiation, adoration of charismatic leaders, and varying degrees of coercive conditioning and mind control.


Conditioning and mind control

Church of Scientology

The Church of
Scientology, founded by L. Ron Hubbard, uses a form of psychotherapy called Dianetics that some people claim is designed to hypnotize members into a more weak-minded and paranoid state. The church is said to persuade some members to become slaves. A sub-organization of the church -- known as the Sea Organization -- has paramilitary trappings, but is not armed. Critics also say the church seems to function as a for-profit organization, as it requires fixed-price donations for many of its services, which are required to advance in orders. An extensive discussion of the cult allegations against Scientology are included in the Wikipedia article on the church.

On its Web site, Scientology says it is not a cult but "a religion in the fullest sense of the word." It also says:

Scientology is unique in that it does not require or tell anyone to "believe" anything. Rather, Scientology believes every individual should think for himself. In Scientology, what is true for the individual is only what he has observed personally and knows is true for him. Scientology is not authoritarian, but offers a technology one can use and then decide whether it works for him.


International Churches of Christ

The International Churches of Christ is a Bible-based church claiming about 130,000 members (2001) that emphasizes total commitment to its teachings. It has been called a cult by both the Christian countercult movement and some secular critics. Although most of its theology is Evangelical, the Christian countercult movement has raised objections to its belief that it essentially is the only church following the true gospel. They and secular critics claim that the church is extremely aggressive in proselytizing, seeks to control its members, and exerts undue psychological pressue to keep people in the church. News reports indicate that some colleges have banned the church from proselytizing on their campuses.

The church responds to such allegations on its Web site:

What, then, do we say to the charge that we are a cult? If the charge is the same that was leveled against the early church, then we are glad to be identified with them. "But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect" (Acts 28:22). If, however, the charge is the same as that leveled against destructive extremist groups in our day, then we say, "No!" We, the members of the International Churches of Christ, are nothing more than disciples of Jesus Christ who are attempting to restore the movement that God began in the first century. That movement turned the world upside down in its day, just as we expect it to do today.


Jehovah's Witnesses

Throughout their history, many have found the doctrines, beliefs, and practices of the Jehovah's Witnesses controversial. Responses have included mob action; government oppression, including being targeted in the Holocaust; and widespread criticism from Christians of other denominations. Such criticism has become an entire genre with the advent of the Web. Some Christians who are not Jehovah's Witnesses do not consider them to be a Christian organization because of the significant differences in beliefs. Some go so far as to label the organization as a heretical sect and/or cult.


Jews for Jesus

Some Jewish critics have called Jews for Jesus a cult or claim it uses cultlike tactics to seek converts. They claim that it often deceives people in saying who they are and exploits people's religious insecurities. Many of the critics sharply disagree with the organization's claim that it is possible to become a Christian yet remain Jewish.

The organization says in a letter to a member on its Web site that those concerned about Jews for Jesus being a cult have "been influenced by propaganda promulgated by those who would detract from the credibility of your witness and ours. Some Jewish community leaders spread this kind of misinformation in order to counteract Jewish evangelism, which they erroneously consider a threat to Jewish survival. ... If your friend finds Jesus as her Savior, she will measure our doctrine and our conduct in the light of the Scriptures. Then she will know that Jews for Jesus is not a cult."


The Temple of Set

Lupo LeBoucher, a former member, had this to say about the Temple of Set:

"More trivially, they are your typical mail-order cult in any number of ways. They require large amounts of participation on the parts of their members, to the extent that participation in the group becomes a central organizing principle in their lives. They sponsor getaway vacation/conventions which all members are required to attend. They have strict hierarchy, a charismatic leader and apocalyptic prophecy (the "Gifted of Set" are supposed to survive an upcoming apocalypse, according to their Seminal document "The Book of Coming Forth By Night" - though lately they have been making noises that this is only a metaphorical apocalypse [perhaps to avoid legal intervention in the wake of other post apocalytics, such as the Branch Davidians and the Solar Temple mass suicides, and the Aum nerve gas attacks; there was literal belief in this passage as prophecy in the not-too distant past]. They have a number of secret documents which one must have certain levels of "attainment" to read; much like the OT grade documents of Scientology. They have all manner of bizarre theories about atlantis, ancient astronauts, "Tesla Physics," a theory of creationism, holocaust revisionism, and so on..."


Note that a quick survey of Usenet posts and Internet web pages will likely show that those who disagree with Lupo LeBoucher are as numerous as those who agree with them. Further, while it is easy to find those who agree with him among past members of the Temple, it is equally easy to find those who disagree with him among past members of the Temple, as is the case with any purported cult.

Unification Church

The Unification Church has been called a cult for religious heresy, alleged corruption in its top leadership, mind control, and (in the past) fears that its members would commit mass suicide.

The church does have a novel view of the trinity (and of Jesus' divine nature), but is accepted as Christian to some extent. Allegations of corruption are based primarily on Rev. Moon's conviction in the early 1980s on charges of criminal tax fraud, although the amount allegedly underpaid was less than $7,500 and the case was initiated nearly ten years after the fact based on the first three returns Rev. Moon filed after coming to the US. The jury is still out on charges of mind control, with critics' accusations balanced by church insistence that its recruitment and indoctrination techniques are no different from any Christian denomination. Fears of mass suicide, played up in the aftermath of the People's Temple disaster of 1980, have not been realized in the succeeding two decades, and the church considers suicide a terrible sin (suicides go to hell).

Another criticism of the Unification Church is that it is centered to an extreme degree around its leader, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, whom the members of the Church believe to be the Messiah. Of course, if he really turns out to be the Messiah that would prove this criticism invalid.


Satisfied participants characterize Landmark, a derivative of est, as "just a business". Others, less charitably inclined towards the company, suggest that brainwashing might account for devotees' fanatical devotion to unpaid recruitment for Landmark seminars. The sometimes controversial reputation of founding guru (formerly known as "The Source") Werner Erhard often muddies debate on the alleged merits of Landmark's innovative (or psycho-babble) "technology".

The teachings, methods and results of Lifespring and its offshoots appear comparable to those of Landmark.

The exclusive branch of the Plymouth Brethren are considered as a cult by most other Christians, and non-religious observers as well.

The Church of the SubGenius has made numerous attempts to be included on lists of cults and controversial religious movements. This organization is widely seen as a humorous parody of religious cults, though members of the organization vehemently deny this; they state that while they are seen as a "joke disguised as a religion," in actuality they are a "religion disguised as a joke."

Holiday Magic combined personal development with commercialism, subsuming both Mind Dynamics and Leadership Dynamics within its organisation. It allegedly treated participants with extreme physical rigor. Erhard Seminars Training may have partially evolved from Holiday Magic.