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Are cult leaders believers or con artists skilled at psychological manipulation?

Source: josealbafotos

 

This is an area where social science is weak. The privately held views of historical figures cannot be studied in a convincing way because all sources could hold lies or truths. There is no way to independently validate a historical person’s stated opinions about internal thoughts. (Liars have incentives to be believed that can include playing complex mind games with source materials. Honest folks look just the same as a good liar by definition, and just because one is honest about spiritual convictions, it doesn’t mean one will be honest in any other aspect of life.) When no evidence can convincingly clarify any particular case, identifying social trends has a very soft footing to stand on.

cuginhamer

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I think there are a few metrics which could be used to measure commitment in a more indirect sense. Things like whether the person’s rhetoric continued even behind bars or with a lack of followers, whether their private correspondence and writing and behavior seems to demonstrate consistency with their professed beliefs, the extent to which they took personal benefit from their position and preyed on their followers for material or physical rewards, and so on.

Similarly, I absolutely wouldn’t preclude the possibility of somebody starting out to enact a scam and then getting more involved in what they were doing until they legitimately believed in it after a fashion. Social psychology has given us a great deal of insight into the ways that memories can be constructed retroactively, and in how a statement made, even if the person doesn’t believe in it, actually edges the person closer to the position of the statement. Being a part of a community of like-minded people, respected as a revelatory and superhuman figure, and given special privileges for a time, has to have an effect on you, beyond even the more mundane rewards you might be going for.

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L. Ron Hubbard reportedly expressed the following sentiment in various public situations before creating Scientology: “If you want to get rich, start a religion”. Seems pretty revealing.

WaxMannequin

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Anthony Stevens and John Price write in “Prophets, Cults and Madness” about how cult leaders manipulate and seek to control others in order to satisfy their own psychological desires (subconscious or intentional). They say the effectiveness of a cult leader is not so much a matter of their authenticity (if they really believe what they say) but if they exhibit what Weber calls “high charisma.”

Noumenology

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I hope you realize you’ve posted a false dichotomy. You fail to recognize that the cult leader could be a theist and still not be a true believer in his/her own cult’s dogma/doctrine.

A0220R

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Read Colin Wilson’s Rogue Messiahs.

Most “rogue messiahs” start out with some level of religious sincerity and even sometimes insight, but get seduced by power (and sex), often becoming paranoid in the process. Their second-in-commands tend to have more “doctrinal” interest and sincerity at that point.

There are counterexamples of cult figures that maintain a high ethical level throughout.

JoeBourgeois

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