In the "Cults, Sects, and New Religions" Forum, there's a link to an excellent article on cult methods. I'm only quoting the main points here, as it's a bit long -- but it's really worth reading the whole article.
-------------Beginning of Quote------------------------------------------People have an overwhelming desire to believe in some- thing. Become the focal point of such desire by offering them a cause, a new faith to follow. Keep your words vague but full of promise; emphasize enthusiasm over rationality and clear thinking. Give your new disciples rituals to perform, ask them to make sacrifices on your behalf.
THE SCIENCE OF CHARLATANISM, OR HOW TO CREATE A CULT IN FIVE, EASY STEPS
Having a large following opens up all sorts of possibilities for deception; not only will your followers worship you, they will defend you from your enemies and will voluntarily take on the work of enticing others to join your fledgling cult. This kind of power will lift you to another realm: You will no longer have to struggle or use subterfuge to enforce your will. You are adored and can do no wrong.
You might think it a gargantuan task to create such a following, but in fact it is fairly simple. As humans, we have a desperate need to believe in something, anything.
This makes us eminently gullible: We simply cannot endure long periods of doubt, or of the emptiness that comes from a lack of something to believe in. Dangle in front of us some new cause, elixir, getrich-quick scheme, or the latest technological trend or art movement and we leap from the water as one to take the bait. Always in a rush to believe in something, we will manufacture saints and faiths out of nothing.
Do not let this gullibility go to waste: Make yourself the object of worship. Make people form a cult around you.
The great European charlatans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mastered the art of cultmaking. They lived, as we do now, in a time of transformation: Organized religion was on the wane, science on the rise. People were desperate to rally around a new cause or faith. The charlatans had begun by peddling health elixirs and alchemic shortcuts to wealth.
Moving quickly from town to town, they originally focused on small groups-until, by accident, they stumbled on a truth of human nature: The larger the group they gathered around themselves, the easier it was to deceive. In a group setting, people were more emotional, less able to reason.
Had the charlatan spoken to them individually, they might have found him ridiculous, but lost in a crowd they got caught up in a communal mood of rapt attention. It became impossible for them to find the distance to be skeptical.Any deficiencies in the charlatan's ideas were hidden by the zeal of the mass. Passion and enthusiasm swept through the crowd like a contagion, and they reacted violently to anyone who dared to spread a seed of doubt.
Simply follow the five steps of cultmaking that our charlatan ancestors perfected over the years.Step I: Keep It Vague; Keep It Simple.
To create a cult you must first attract attention. This you should do not through actions, which are too clear and readable, but through words, which are hazy and deceptive. Your initial speeches, conversations, and interviews must include two elements: on the one hand the promise of something great and transformative, and on the other a total vagueness. This combination will stimulate all kinds of hazy dreams in your listeners, who will make their own connections and see what they want to see.
To make your vagueness attractive, use words of great resonance but cloudy meaning, words full of heat and enthusiasm. Fancy titles for simple things are helpful
, as are the use of numbers and the creation of new words for vague concepts. All of these create the impression of specialized knowledge, giving you a veneer of profundity. By the same token, try to make the subject of your cult new and fresh, so that few will understand it. Done right, the combination of vague promises, cloudy but alluring concepts, and fiery enthusiasm will stir people's souls and a group will form around you.
As a corollary to its vagueness your appeal should also be simple. Most people's problems have complex causes: deep-rooted neurosis, interconnected social factors, roots that go way back in time and are exceed ingly hard to unravel. Few, however, have the patience to deal with this:most people want to hear that a simple solution will cure their problems.
Step 2: Emphasize the Visual and the Sensual over the Intellectual. Once people have begun to gather around you, two dangers will present themselves: boredom and skepticism. Boredom will make people go elsewhere; skepticism will allow them the distance to think rationally about whatever it is you are offering, blowing away the mist you have artfully created and revealing your ideas for what they are. You need to amuse the bored, then, and ward off the cynics. The best way to do this is through theater, or other devices of its kind. Surround yourself with luxury, dazzle your followers with visual splendor, fill their eyes with spectacle. Not only will this keep them from seeing the ridiculousness of your ideas, the holes in your belief system, it will also attract more attention, more followers.
Appeal to all the senses: Use incense for scent, soothing music for hearing, colorful charts and graphs for the eye. Use the exotic-distant cultures, strange customs-to create theatrical effects, and to make the most banal ordinary affairs seem signs of something extraordinary.
Step 3: Borrow the Forms of Organized Religion to Structure the Group. The lofty and holy associations of organized religion can be endlesslv exploited. Create rituals for your followers: organize organize them into a hierarchy, ranking then in grades of sanctity, and giving them names and tides that resound with religious overtones; ask them for sacrifices that will fill your coffers and increase your power.
Step 4: Disguise Your Source of Income.
Your group has grown, and you have structured it in a churchlike form. Your coffers are beginning to fill with your followers' money. Yet you must never be seen as hungry for money and the power it brings. It is at this moment that you must disguise the source of your income.Your followers want to believe that if they follow you all sorts of good things will fall into their lap. By surrounding yourself with luxury you become living proof of the soundness of your belief system. Never reveal that your wealth actually comes from your followers' pockets; instead, make it seem to come from the truth of your methods. Followers will copy your each and every move in the belief that it will bring them the same results, and their imitative enthusiasm will blind them to the charlatan nature of your wealth.
Step 5: Set Up an Us-Versus-Them Dynamic.
The group is now large and thriving, a magnet attracting more and more particles. If you are not careful, though, inertia will set in, and time and boredom will demagnetize the group. To keep your followers united, you must now do what all religions and belief systems have done: create an us-versus-them dynamic.First, make sure your followers believe they are part of an exclusive club unified by a bond of common goals.
Then to stregthen this bond, manufactre the notion of a devious enemy out to ruin you. There is a force of nonbelievers that will do anything to stop you. Any outsider who tries to reveal the charlatan nature of your belief system can now be described as member of this devious force.If you have no enemies, invent one.
Given a straw man to react against your, your followers will tighten and cohere. They have your cause to believe in and infidels to destroy.
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Much in this article reminded me of SGI:
1. A large group is more effective...look at riots and looting. People who are part of a mob will do things that they would never do alone. People somehow just believe that if a lot of other people are doing something -- it must be a good thing to do.
2. The need for drama and spectacle and multisensory activities-- We've discussed SGI's huge conventions --- music, dancing, dramatic speeches, frantic excitement, guys making human pyramids on roller skates! Travelling so far, coming up with the money to make the trip, rehearsing....and again, huge numbers of members attend these meetings. This all creates excitement, and focuses people's minds on SGI and the convention. Months before a convention and months after -- people are thinking about the convention, and SGI.
3. Simple answers to complex problems. All you have to do is chant and do things for SGI, and take Ikeda as your mentor -- and you can do, or have anything you want!
4. Disguise your income. Or just refuse to disclose any information about it. Ikeda has certainly got this one down pat.
5. Create enemies to unite the members. That was Nichiren Shoshu in the past; now it's members who question the organization, and ex members.
6. Use glorious sounding, but cloudy language. Every January, SGI had a name for the new year -- "the Year of Glorious Victory, or some such pretty, empty phrase. The Year of Glorious Victory -- what does that even mean?