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Why sects are so attractive

  • Sects are attractive to people who are full of anger.
  • Sects help focus people's anger on outgroups.
  • Sects help people not focus on the people who have actually hurt them.

The Most Hated Family in America

Recently I watched a video entitled, The Most Hated Family in America about the Phelps family that expresses their religious beliefs by campaigning against homosexuality all over the United States.

As I watched the interviews I was struck by how happy the family was to express their anger at outsiders. They enjoyed name-calling, calling the people who they disagreed with stupid, and especially how much they enjoyed telling people they were going to hell. They laughed when their patriarch Gramps called the interviewer stupid.

I was also struck by how traumatized the children were in the family. These children listened with wide eyes as they were regaled with sermons that included references to killing and eating children. The daughter of the family who runs things now warned against being rebuked by Gramps: "Nothing quite like it in the world."

Fortunately even the worst of the Churches of Christ are not as bad as the Phelps family church. However there are some similarities.

Diatribes instead of sermons

The hardline churches of Christ tell their members to invite their friends and neighbors to weeklong "gospel meetings" in which they are regaled with insults and threats about their own religious beliefs. They are told that they are "spitting in the face of God" for practicing unauthorized worship. They are told they are going to burn in hell for belonging to other religious bodies that do not practice what the churches of Christ practice.

They are also invited to attend debates. Debates were a mainstay of past decades, but there are very few preachers of other religious groups that are willing to be roped into a debate these days. Reading the published debates or listening to recordings of debates, you will hear the same insults and demeaning attitudes of the Phelps family toward any outsiders who are so stupid as not to understand the Bible the way we do.

Traumatizing Children

The way to keep the sect going is to make sure that each successive generation is as angry and fearful as the last: angry because they have been knocked from pillar to post by their parents: screamed at, hit, scared, demeaned, mocked, and emotionally abandoned. And scared: scared to ever confront the real culprits of their abuse lest they lose what little love they have left.

Then each Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night they meet together and focus their anger on someone in the outgroup.


It is also important to keep one's children solidly blue collar and disenfranchised, because sects are only attractive to the disenfranchised. The ones who were converted to the Churches of Christ, and those who remained the most hardline conservative, were those who were the poorest and least educated. It was frontier farmers who could barely read that embraced the Restoration Movement and insisted they were superior to any church the rich people attended. And it was poor white slaveowners that insisted there be no piano or organ in their church.

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The Phelps family



The leader of the Phelps cult








The way to keep the sect going is to make sure that each successive generation is as angry and fearful as the last.




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