What is the difference between a cult and a religion? Perhaps not much. There are a lot of questions in this world, and people start asking at a young age. When a baby with a rattle bangs it on the table, it learns that the rattle makes noise. The baby is fascinated by cause and effect. That’s why they like to pull your hair and feel the tension in the strands. It’s why they are always throwing things from their high chairs.
Not everything is quite as simple – the older you get, the larger and more complicated the world becomes and as psychologist and writer Maria Konnikova points out, cause doesn’t always link up with effect. The world is often arbitrary in its motions, and there isn’t always meaning to be found. This gap in meaning is where con artist, cult leaders and spiritual advisors walk in. Konnikova has spoken before about con artists, and how they work. One big thing she pointed out is that con artists listen, and “solve” people’s problems by giving them what they desire.
That is a cult leader’s method too. These are people who seek out opportunities in others. Cults are as scary and as morbidly fascinating as it gets, because rather than losing mere money in a scam, people who fall into cults can lose everything about themselves – and then a fair amount of money, too.
Konnikova points out that organized religion works on the same psychological principles. People in the world have questions. Big ones, that have been around for thousands of years. And the scoundrels of the worlds have been around just as long, coming up with the answers, getting rich and powerful thanks to the hard-wired trust within humans. Surely many of the world’s religious and spiritual leaders are honest and good, and they truly believe in their cause. But the foundations of religion may be where one can find the deviants, who are still swimming around in organized religions up to this day.
Maria Konnikova’s book is The Confidence Game.