Study of cults is one of the branches of theological study especially apologetics. Since people of TPM do not understand the jargons used in biblical theology, the word “cult” is new to them, of which they have no understanding. Naturally, they take offence too. So was it for me when I was a TPM die-hard fanatic. My relatives used to tell me that TPM is a cult, but since I was unaware of the meaning of the word CULT, I never asked them what is meaning of the word CULT. Rather I used to argue with them saying that TPM might have some wrong practices but it is not a cult.
Gradually I started understanding what is a cult. I started observing other cults, other than TPM, and finally, I understood TPM is one of them. Therefore based on my past experience, we at fromtpm.com have decided to start a new series on cults. In this series, we will bring to light, various cults around the world, not only Christian ones but also that from other religions, so that readers may get an idea of why TPM is considered a CULT.
CULT – From the Latin “cultis” which denotes all that is involved in worship, ritual, emotion, liturgy and attitude. Therefore it is generally applied to belief and practices of a specific smaller group within a larger group; this specific smaller sub-set group, usually has its own exclusive set of beliefs, which are uniquely different from orthodox/historic belief system of the larger group.
For example, consider Christianity as the larger group, where people have nearly the same belief rooted in two thousand years of history and orthodoxy of the Christian religion. Now if a small group arises (say seventh day Adventist), which is centred on one man/woman’s new revelation (Ellen G White), who said that Jesus will return in so and so time and Saturday should be the day of worship and not Sunday because she received a vision in which 4th commandment was shining brighter than rest of the laws of Moses, then this new revelation which has no historic grounding, which was not believed by millions of Christians who are part of 2000 years of historic Christendom, and the new revelation is considered as strange by a larger group of people following the same religion (Christianity in this case), then this new group which is a subset of the larger group, tends to become cult, having new culture within the larger culture.
The cult is distinct from the sect because the problem is not that the newer group has a different opinion, but that the leaders, who preside over these smaller sub-set group, tend to be authoritarian, trying to control people, by manipulative techniques, in order to maintain their power over the mass, that they have managed to deceive by their novice teachings. They use the word “obedience to leaders” as a de-facto sign of faithfulness and try to induce fear in the minds of members, by exalting their leaders as divine representatives. Questioning leaders, the dissent of opinion, is considered as a threat and strongly criticized. The group may involve in heinous crimes like drug, mafia, sexual scandals, but nothing is more serious than disobedience to leaders. This is the trait that makes a cult distinct from a sect.
The end result of a person trapped inside a cult is that he is completely brainwashed and looses his power to reason. He is hard-wired to think in the language and practices of the cult, even when he is not part of the group. The cult and its belief system get so hard-wired within the person that even if he escapes out due to various reasons, he gets so confused and mentally depressed, that it takes time to attain normalcy. The cult manages to suck everything from him, leaving him of little or no future. This effect is seen more visibly on them who are more deeply involved with whole body and soul with ideologies of the cult.
Before we begin our study on cults around the world, we will list very few basic common characteristics of a cult, which we have discussed above, so that these will help you relate and understand cult better.
- Newer belief system averse to the larger religious group. Teachings of the cult group are usually derived from the founding leader’s divine encounter and supposed revelations.
- Questioning is strongly criticized, because it is sort of blind faith centred on one man’s divine status, and not on the scriptures of the religion (twisting scriptures).
- Disobedience to leaders is the greatest crime (news of every other major crime is suppressed and seen as secondary to disobedience). We are not talking about TPM only but all cults.
- Rules are framed to keep members away from the information of the outside world and tactics are employed in name of holiness, purity and preservation from the corruption of the outside world. Strict adherence to leaders even at cost of families are strongly enforced.
- Knowledge of history/orthodoxy is usually not discussed to avoid members from realizing and diagnosing that something is weird or to avoid alternative option to choose from.
- Those outside the cult are labelled as far from the truth. Non-members are discriminated/despised as lower grade or lower destiny.
- Mental trauma to weaker members who try to show even a small trace of disobedience to control freak leaders.
Although we have a longer checklist in our former articles on the cult, these above are major ones for easy diagnosis.
Now as we are diving in-depth of this subject, let me show you why and how the cult is different and distinguishable from normal denomination arising out of the difference of opinion of scriptural understanding. See the table below to understand the difference between cult and sect/ denomination.
Difference between a Cult and a Sect
|Cult/ Control Based||Normal religious denomination / sect Freedom based|
|Teachings of group are based on new revelation of the founder||Generally not exclusive teachings. Possible that new opinion is followed by group and new sect or a new denomination comes out; but it is never based on one man’s divine illumination, rather it is based on different opinion of written scripture. For ex: Pharisee was sect (Acts 15:5). Sadducees was a sect (Acts 5:17). Christianity itself was considered as new sect (Acts 24:5) as it was considered a based on teachings different from orthodox Jewish beliefs; but never did Christianity claim to be based on divine illumination rather it was founded on Old Testament promises and prophecies (Matt 5:17). Jesus recognized as founder was divine and knew from his birth [at least from his childhood] that he had business of his father to do. He claimed nothing new, but he claimed to be existent before Abraham.|
|Questioning is criticized. "Do what is said" is the control mantra.||Questioning is allowed. Members are free to believe otherwise. Questions are taken positively. Those with different opinion are not thrown out or disciplined. Example; Jesus answered many questions of Pharisees and scribes. Apostles asked church to be ready to answer (I Pet 3:15).|
|"Disobedience to leaders is the greatest crime" which is never tolerated.||Serious crimes like murder, drug mafia, sexual scandals, are given due weight (Ex. Matthew 23:15, 17, 24). Obedience & control under leadership is not even mentioned or criteria of sin (Luke 9:49-50).|
|Rules are framed for information control. Tactics are utilized in name of purity and preservation from corruption to control members from getting exposed to alternative information.||No rules to control movement of people and information. Example; Paul read pagan poems (Acts 17:28, Titus 1:12). He asked Christians not to consider fables as truth (Titus 1:14). Holiness, purity is advised and free choice of individual. It is never forced on people by means of rules legalism and disciplinary control (Col 2:16-23).|
|Knowledge of history/orthodoxy is usually not discussed to avoid members from realizing that this is something new.||People are motivated to study history and orthodoxy is discussed (Acts 17:11, John 5:39, 2 Pet 1:16, 19).|
|Strict adherence to leaders at the cost of families is strongly enforced.||Members are not separated from families, relatives (Mar 7:11, I Tim 5:4-8). Freedom, sharing, free choice is respected and encouraged.|
|Those outside the cult are labeled as far from the truth. Non-members are discriminated / despised as lower grade or lower destiny.||Sect group is not exalted as unique better than others. Others are not despised.|
The Cult of Brahma Kumaris
Having made clear in simpler language, what cult is, and how it is different from sects or denomination within a religion, let us see some cults of our times. Though there are many cults some deceptive and some very dangerous ones, some Christians and other non-Christians, we will start with the non-Christian cult of Brahma Kumari (Daughters of Brahma), which is very close in its appearance and operation with the one we are familiar with (Daughters of Zion).
Founded on Novice exclusive revelations of one man: The cult of Brahma Kumari, started when a man named Lekhraj Kripalani received visions and illumination. Just like TPM founder received a revelation in 1923 to start a new church by so-called god, so did dada Lekhraj received a series of visions from 1935 to 1936.
Celibacy: Brahma Kumaris are similar to TPM in enforcing celibacy and communal living.
Lifestyle: They have a similar lifestyle and daily schedule like TPM. Like TPM sisters and workers wake up early morning, and so does Brahma Kumaris wake up at 4 am and do meditation called as Amrit Vela. Then like TPM they have morning class at 6:30 AM.
Uniforms: Brahma Kumari wears white uniforms as a sign of purity, just like TPM has a white uniform (as outward show off of purity to deceive gullibly). Sisters wear white Sari and brothers white Kurta Payjama. They forsake families and live in the community.
Administrative/ Management Structure: Similar to TPM they have a hierarchical management structure, headed by Dadi, didi, zone in-charges, centre in-charges with Shivshakti (believers) followers at the bottom of control Pyramid, who supply fuel for leaders to keep the system. According to http://brahmakumaris.info/, this cult is the end of the world (millenarian) based spiritual group.
Discrimination with outside members: Just like TPM discourages fellowship of its members with Non-TPM, so do Brahma Kumari prefer to keep fellowship with Brahma Kumari only. They avoid fellowship with other Hindus, just like TPM workers avoid fellowship with other Christians and ministers. They have code word “Om Shanti” like TPM has “Praise the Lord” along with their white uniform and badge. In order to avoid confusion, they wear a badge and TPM sisters starch white their uniforms.
144,000 vs 9 lakh: Just like TPM has twisted scriptures and assigned 144000 seats of Zion to their exclusive members, so has BK 9 lakh Brahma Kumaris. For Brahma Kumari, this position in heaven can be achieved by donating money property free labour to the organization and unquestionable submission to leadership.
Abuses and Scandals: As said earlier, disobedience to leadership is the greatest crime. Like TPM covers sex scandals and other crimes, so also Brahma Kumaris have covered sex scandals, child abuse, suicides, financial corruption, demanding dowries, gold and jewellery from parents for virgins that are taken in as BK, and breaking in of family, especially husband and wife relationship by indoctrinating married women not to have sex with husbands. Finally, just like we have www.fromtpm.com to expose TPM, they also have a site by name http://brahmakumaris.info.