How To Become A Cult Leader: Real-Life Stories To Make Us Think

How to Become a Cult Leader

How To Become A Cult Leader: Real-Life Stories To Make Us Think by @SRobbinsAuthor #cult #cultleader #religion

When I started writing my novel, one of the things that I worried about was trying to get my point across without offending my readers.  My intent was to put my own beliefs, biases, and questions into the story to make the readers think, not to try to convince anyone of my own ideas.

John Lennon had it right when he wrote, “Whatever gets you through the night.” If each of us would be willing to let the other person have a right to their own faith (so long as it doesn’t infringe on other people), wouldn’t the world be a better place?

Let’s Discuss The Netflix Series, How To Become A Cult Leader

I discovered a fantastic TV series that really spoke to me while doing research for the follow-up book to The Healer’s Miraculous Discovery. I won’t give away the plot of this upcoming new novel, but admit that it does deal with the topic of “Is it a cult or is it a religion?”

The new series on NETFLIX I strongly recommend is a mind-challenging one for anyone who has given any thought or had any interest in comparative religions, cults, or mind control. The series of six half-hour episodes is titled “How to Become a Cult Leader,” narrated by Peter Dinklage, whose subtle sarcasm makes it special.

It’s an amazing series that is part funny, part scary, part tongue-in-cheek, and totally thought-provoking.

Dinklage tells the story of several of the major cult figures of the last fifty years in his own sarcastic but truthful way. He starts with Charles Manson and works through Jim Jones, Jaimie Gomez (Buddahfield), Marshall Applegate (Heaven’s Gate), Shoko Asahara (Aum Shinrikyo), and Sun Myung Moon.

Certainly, these are just a few of the famous personalities that come to mind when dealing with the topic, but the series draws out the high-level common characteristics of these leaders and their groups without getting into an academic analysis of their psychological profiles.

This simple approach is what makes it so scary; you walk away thinking, “Why do people fall for this stuff?”

A quick review of a few of what I would call “Dinklage’s Six Profiles in Crazy” will demonstrate the point:

Charles Manson:

Manson was a very troubled person who had been abused, imprisoned, and a frequent user of LSD. He became a guru-type figure in Haight Ashbury and developed a loyal following of people, largely women, who would do his bidding.

He convinced them of an impending race war, as well as an imminent apocalypse. At his direction, they committed a series of infamous murders.

Jim Jones:

Jones was an ordained Christian minister from Indiana. He founded “The Peoples Temple”, which combined Christianity, socialism, and communalism. His message of social justice and equality attracted thousands of followers. In 1977, the Peoples Temple moved to Jonestown, a remote commune in Guyana.

Jones believed that Guyana would be a safe haven for the Temple members from the evils of the outside world. However, conditions at Jonestown were often harsh, and the members were subjected to strict discipline and surveillance.

When word got out to several relatives of members who alleged abuse, US Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate the group. Jones felt the pressure and ordered a mass suicide, which took over 900 lives.

Shoko Asahara:

The founder of doomsday cult Aum, Shinrikyo is a bit less well known in the US than Manson or Jones but was just as dangerous and deranged.  Through his mix of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, he assembled followers in Japan and convinced them that he had special powers, such as the ability to levitate, and that he was their only path to salvation in light of the coming apocalypse.

Like Manson and Jones, in the end the group became violent, carrying out attacks on innocent people with deadly sarin gas in Japan that injured thousands.

How To Become A Cult Leader: Real-Life Stories To Make Us Think by @SRobbinsAuthor #cult #cultleader #religion

How and Why Do People Join Cults?

What this series does is show how otherwise “normal” people can come to believe that some central figure who claims to have all the answers will lose all perspective and rational thinking. Dinklage identifies the common traits and tactics used by these “saviors” to show how they seem to be reading from the same playbook.

The scary part is that if you watch the series with an open mind, those same rules and strategies could be identified in any of our more “mainstream” religions. What about Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism? Or Jesus? Or the prophet Mohammed? Or Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha)?

If you watch the series, think about how similar it is to almost any established and accepted religion. It might have you reconsidering what you hold to be unquestioned truth.

I’d love your thoughts on the subject! Please respond below.


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The Healer’s Miraculous Discovery is highly recommended for libraries looking for crossovers between sci-fi and fictional representations of personal and social change. Its plausible possibilities create many insights and reflections that readers won’t see coming.”

Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review 

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