People who go to cult churches are not stupid‚ says religious studies expert

16 March 2018 - 12:28
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
 Prophet Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples Ministries in Soshanguve‚ Pretoria‚ had his congregants eating snakes.
Image: FILE PHOTO DESPERATE PEOPLE GO TO CULT CHURCHES Prophet Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples Ministries in Soshanguve‚ Pretoria‚ had his congregants eating snakes.

People who go to cult churches are not necessarily stupid or gullible but desperate‚ says an expert on the sociology of cults and sects.

Professor Maria Frahma-Arp from the department of religious studies at the University of Johannesburg made the argument at a round-table discussion aimed to address the confusion‚ concerns and pains caused by some religious organisations whether they are called a church‚ sect or cult.

She highlighted the high youth unemployment rate‚ the economic disenfranchisation of the majority‚ the rise in witchcraft and the looming development of Pentecostal type churches as some of the key reasons why people participate in cultist churches.

"People are not stupid or gullible. They are strategic. When you are desperate you want to do something extraordinary so that God can see you‚" she said.

She also spoke of the idea of self-sacrifice for prosperity. "What the pastors are saying is that if you eat a snake you will be prosperous. And we know that in Africa people open churches for financial prosperity‚" said Frahma-Arp.

Though it's not definitive‚ Frahma-Arp said a number of signs could be used as a framework for understanding what a cult practice is.

A church is potentially a cult if it is "opposing critical thinking. Isolating members and penalising them for leaving. Emphasising special doctrines outside scripture. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders. Dishonouring the family unit. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behaviour and separation from the church."

The conversation took place at the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural‚ Religious‚ and Linguistic Communities (CRL) in Johannesburg on Friday.

In her opening remarks commissioner Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said that Christianity was in a state of emergency‚ "because right now you can do practically anything with everyone".

The rolling discussion will explore the psychology of people who are in a cult‚ and political dynamics in South Africa that may allow or promote cults.