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Off the narrow path

PODCAST | Understanding the cult mentality

People’s Temple leader Jim Jones (right) and an unidentified man on Nov. 18, 1978. Hours later, some 900 cultists died in a murder-suicide. Greg Robinson/ San Francisco Examiner/AP

Off the narrow path
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Naomi Wright seemed like a pretty normal kid. Growing up, she lived in Western New York and went to a public school. But she had an unusual number of siblings—15 of them. She also had to wear long skirts, even in gym class, and her dad was rarely home. No one in Naomi’s middle-­class neighborhood suspected that her ­family belonged to a polygamist cult.

Cults can be hard to spot. A podcast called Cultish, which tells Naomi’s story, might be able to help.

First released in 2018, Cultish, produced by Apologia Church, examines the difference between Christianity and cults. In each of the nearly 200 episodes, hosts Jeremiah Roberts, Jeff Durbin, and Andrew Soncrant interview experts and ex–cult followers like Naomi, many of them now believers in Christ. Cultish has covered topics from Jehovah’s Witnesses to the Jim Jones–led People’s Temple movement. The hosts also discuss conspiracy theories such as Sasquatch and the Illuminati.

Cultish does not pull punches or refrain from exposing groups that ­masquerade under the umbrella of evangelicalism. One episode features a discussion on “The Cult of Right-Wing Politics,” and warns listeners about the danger of deifying any political figure.

The podcast is well-produced and has a true-crime feel, and the hosts do a good job of analyzing cult practices in light of God’s Word. A word of caution: Cultish gets pretty heavy. The episodes about Charles Manson, for example, contain violent descriptions. A few segments contain explicit sound bites, and there are references to psychedelics, the Burning Man Festival, tarot cards, and other things that might not be suitable for young ears.

It can be hard to understand the mentality of those who literally “drank the Kool-Aid” or believe they are from another planet, but Cultish examines human nature apart from God. The podcast defines a cult as a movement that promotes the worship of a man characterized by “separation from family and outside influences and demands physical or monetary commitment.”

As image-bearers of God, humans were made to worship and belong, and cult leaders capitalize on those needs. Believers who understand the world of cult followers may be better prepared to share with them the true gospel.

And where the world often views cult followers with derision, Cultish promotes compassion, acknowledging that no one is beyond the Lord’s redemptive grace.

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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