What almost any organization working to alert the public to cult tactics will tell you is essentially what I’ve quoted here from FACTnet:
A destructive cult tends to be totalitarian in its control of its members’ behavior. Cults are likely to dictate in great detail not only what members believe, but also what members wear and eat, when and where members work, sleep, and bathe, and how members think, speak, and conduct familial, marital, or sexual relationships.
A destructive cult tends to have an **ethical double standard. **Members are urged to be obedient to the cult, to carefully follow cult rules. They are also encouraged to be revealing and open in the group, confessing all to the leaders. On the other hand, outside the group they are encouraged to act unethically, manipulating outsiders or nonmembers, and either deceiving them or simply revealing very little about themselves or the group. In contrast to destructive cults, honorable groups teach members to …act ethically and truthfully to all people in all situations.
A destructive cult has only two basic purposes: recruiting new members and fund-raising. Altruistic movements, established religions, and other honorable groups also recruit and raise funds. However, these actions are incidental to an honorable group’s main purpose of improving the lives of its members and of humankind in general. …
A destructive cult …]leader claims to be **breaking with tradition, offering something novel, and instituting the ONLY viable system **for change that will solve life’s problems or the world’s ills. …
A destructive cult …leader is regarded as the supreme authority. He or she may delegate certain power to a few subordinates for the purpose of seeing that members adhere to the leader’s wishes. There is **no appeal outside his or her system **to a greater system of justice. For example, if a schoolteacher feels unjustly treated by a principal, an appeal can be made to the superintendent. In a destructive cult, the leader claims to have the only and final ruling on all matters.
A destructive cult’s leader is a self-appointed messianic person claiming to have a special mission in life. …
A destructive cult’s leader centers the veneration of members upon himself or herself. Priests, rabbis, ministers, democratic leaders, and other leaders of genuinely altruistic movements focus the veneration of adherents on God or a set of ethical principles. Cult leaders, in contrast, keep the focus …on themselves…
A destructive cult’s leader tends to be determined, domineering, and charismatic. Such a leader effectively persuades followers to abandon or alter their families, friends, and careers to follow the cult. The leader then takes control over followers’ possessions, money, time, and lives.
…This editorial opinion provided by FACTNet, Inc.
Bold script and undelines mine. I’ve elipsed some for brevity.
It’s a useful place to start if you’re concerned.
I find huge differences between the Catholic Church and cults. RCIA uses very respectful, pressure-free means of communication. The absence of paranoia and fear-mongering is refreshing compared to almost any religious, political or philosophical/self-help/therapeutic type of organization or gathering with which I have experience. Everyone encourages me to keep up all my old relationships, on any basis that remains moral and reasonably safe. Offerings are quiet and discreet. No one harangues us about how we must give however much or any of that.
I’m getitng more and more worried that some of the people in my old church are becoming the beginning of a cult. At least one friend who is still there has independently mentioned that as well. I’ve asked her to look around for another church. Praying for my friends there.