When one hears of a cult, one thinks of organizations such as the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and small fanatical groups such as the Assembly of God. According to Robert J. Lofton, author of Letters to an Elder, there are two kinds of cults; those that use mind-control, and those that do not. Lofton describes eight characteristics of destructive mind-control cults, saying, "If any group exercises all eight of these control elements, they are, in fact a destructive mind control cult". Lofton's characteristics are Environmental Control', Mystical Manipulation', Demand for Purity', Cult of Confession', Sacred Science', Loading the Language', Doctrine over Person', and Dispensing of Existence'. These eight characteristics are found not only in the organizations mentioned earlier, but also in more mainstream organizations. The Roman Catholic Church exhibits all eight characteristics very strongly, making it fit the profile of a destructive mind-control cult. Lofton's first characteristic, Environmental Control', refers to the manner in which the cult keeps its members from becoming disillusioned about the cult though outside sources or ex-members. Members "can be physically separated from society or they can be warned to stay away from media that might provoke critical thinking." In 1934, the Catholic Church formed "The Legion of Decency
to combat immoral movies". The Legion of Decency rated movies, periodicals, and other such materials and set the standard for Catholics across the world. The Legion condemned such movies as "Jesus Christ" for blasphemy and heresy, as well as recommending against many other movies of questionable nature. The Legion controlled the environment of Catholics and isolated them from media that was critical of the Church or was deemed inappropriate for viewing by Catholics. The second characteristic of destructive mind-control cults is Mystical Manipulation'. "Leaders [of the cult] become mediators for God
the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation". By providing the only way for members to reach salvation, the cult becomes a necessary and inescapable part of the member's life. In the Catholic Church, the Pope is said to be in contact with God, and to have a greater measure of communication with him than the other members of the Church. On a local level, each priest is the congregation's connection to God. The individual priests, teach their congregations the way to salvation' based on what they themselves have learned from the teachings of the Pope, Archbishops, and Bishops. Members believe that to hear God's word, they must attend church, and listen to their priests. Third on Lofton's list, Demand for Purity' "Calls for the radical separation of pure and impure or good and evil within an environment and within oneself. The world is depicted as black and white, with little room for making personal decisions. One's conduct is modeled after the ideology of the group as taught in its literature". By portraying the world as either evil or good, the cult is able to more easily influence the members by telling them which category thing fall into. Catholicism is rife with cut and dry distinctions that fit this characteristic. The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins, for example, are very clear guidelines for good Catholic behavior. Every Catholic is expected to follow the Ten Commandments and not commit any of the Seven Deadly Sins. These rules for behavior are found in the Bible and are an important part of the teachings of all Catholic priests. By making the definition of immoral or un-Catholic behavior so cut and dry, the Church not only makes moral decisions simpler, but also makes the priests duty at confession much easier.
Fourth on Lofton's list of characteristics is the Cult of Confession', which states that in a destructive mind-control cult "Serious sins (as defined by the organization) are to be...