The popular conception of the typical cult disciple is of a person of low intelligence - after all, they must be to be taken in by a cult guru. In addition, they are often thought to be down-and-outs, accepting the weirdness and discipline of the cult because it is better than the streets.
A study in the 1990s by Eileen Barker shattered this perception, and confirmed what cult watchers had long known to be true. She showed that the vast majority of cult members were intelligent and middleclass. So how could they be ‘brainwashed- if that is the term - so easily?
If an intelligent person looks at the world around him and doesn’t feel like he belongs, he will inevitably search for meaning in his life. To such a person, non-meaning deflates the personality. And as the search proves futile, the point comes when any meaning will do.
If a guru comes along and offers the meaning he craves, the person is open to influence, and in no time at all, his life has been turned upside down and put back together again in the cult. And once inside, the life he used to lead becomes an alien country.
(c) Anthony North, Jan 2007