Tell-tale signs you are walking into the arms of a cultic leader

When we discussed the activities of Pastor Makenzi last week, the full extent of his atrocities had not yet emerged. It is now turning out that this was clearly a macabre massacre that has claimed over 100 lives. It is unfathomable how an individual could mete out such atrocity upon innocent people and yet remain totally sober and sane. The picture of a smiling and waving Makenzi as he got into a police vehicle at his recent arrest has completely refused to leave my mind. The man must be totally deranged to preside over the deaths of so many people, and especially children, and yet go home to sleep soundly and eat well - for there was no evidence that he was on the verge of starving to death like his victims.

Questions abound on this massacre: What is the make up of such leaders? How can one identify and keep off such death traps being peddled as legitimate worship centres? How and why do people continue to follow murderers such as these? Should there be regulation to stem the spread of such groups? Well, whereas cults can be difficult to identify, here are some tell-tale signs that you may have fallen victim of a cult or are following a dangerous cultic leader.

Cult leaders often present themselves as having divine or special powers. They become more dangerous if indeed they can perform some miracles. It however must be remembered that performance of miracles is not necessarily a mark of spirituality. Jesus made it clear that in the last days, many will come in His name, and even perform miracles, to deceive many.

Loyalty is another indicator. Cult leaders demand absolute loyalty and punish disobedience severely. To control their followers, they often use tactics such as isolation from friends and family, sleep deprivation, absolute fasting, and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Exclusivity - the claim that they are the only legitimate teachers and theirs is the only truth - is another sign. They disparage others as inferior or fake.

Financial exploitation is another indicator that you could be in a cult. Such leaders demand significant financial contributions from members. Unfortunately, such contributions are often for the personal gain of the leader, with little or no financial accountability. Members are never told how much has been collected and how it was utilised.

One of the most common signs of a cult is their beliefs. Cults propagate strange teachings or doctrines - often outside of the Bible. In some cases, such beliefs are published by the pastor, and the pastor requires members to purchase such publications. Cult members are often trained to use deceptive or manipulative tactics to recruit new members. They often target vulnerable individuals who are going through difficult times in their lives.

Narcissism is yet another indicator that you could be dealing with a cult. Leaders of cults often seem to enjoy the suffering of other people. As they make extreme demands on members, such leaders actually rejoice. Why so? Because such leaders often come from a negative childhood background. For example, abused children often distance themselves from others and compartmentalize (or disassociate) painful issues. But later, such trauma may manifest in extreme narcissist behaviour. Josef Stalin was brought up in an abusive and alcoholic father who beat his wife and young son. Hitler, Mussolini, and Castro are also reported to have experienced considerable childhood distress. Such backgrounds predispose a leader to destructive tendencies.

According to Padilla and others, destructive leaders glorify their negative life stories, which distorts their perspective of and role in the world. Such stories of traumatic childhood can dispose individuals to destructive leadership. Studies show that, childhood powerlessness is associated with using coercive influence techniques. It is therefore well possible that Makenzi and company may have been brought up in such deprivation - which they now project on their victims.

What then? Many Kenyans have called for the regulation of religious bodies. Though controversial, the demand for some form of regulation is rising. It is for this reason that the main Church bodies - NCCK, KCCB, EAK and others - have mooted the need for self-regulation. No doubt, this is a matter that should be explored with speed.