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Totalitarian religious group

A totalitarian religious group is a religious denomination or cult whose members or adherents are not free to think on their own or to leave the group or criticize it. Outsiders accuse such groups of controlling the thinking and behavior of its members by regulating their conscious life down to the minutest details without their prior agreement or the possibility of a free choice.

Totalitarian groups are predominantly to be found among fringe denominations and fundamentalist groups, but they can also stick to a "normal" theologian framework and are problematic only with respect to the treatment of their membership. They may be large, well-organized bodies or just small circles.

Table of contents
1 Characteristics of totalitarian groups
2 Totalitarian control
3 How can I find out whether a group is totalitarian?

Characteristics of totalitarian groups

The following characteristics need not all apply to every case but the more of them do apply the more likely this is a totalitarian group:

Totalitarian control

This has four basic aspects:

These techniques make a mature, critical reflection of one's attitudes and the one-sided information given by the group largely impossible.

How can I find out whether a group is totalitarian?

This is not easy for the average person because the teachings and practices of a group often are presented incompletely or euphemistically and maybe the individual member is not conscious of the totalitarian control. There are a few points, though, which are relatively easy to examine, for example in a discussion with a member, and which at least provide a first clear indication that freedom of opinion might be suppressed:

A group that has friendly contacts with former members, that has differing views about its teachings, that accepts criticism of teachings and leaders and whose leadership openly acknowledge that they are not perfect - such a group will certainly not be totalitarian. If contacts with former members are reduced, if there is only one opinion and no room for criticsm - then freedom of opinion is most likely to be limited in this group, whether its members are aware of it or not.

No religious denomination will call itself totalitarian (just as no politically or psychologically orientated group will do). One also has to keep in mind that there is a wide continuum from total control to total freedom and there are countless possibilites between these extremes. But there are clearly some groups which are more often accused of having totalitarian structures than others, among them the following (see their individual articles for details):

See also: Mind_control