Though for 35 years I was a member of an India-based religious organization headed up by a guru who was considered to be God in Human Form by his devotees, I didn't consider myself to have been in a cult.
But this morning I read these passages in the book I've been writing about recently, Jonathan Rauch's The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.
Cults -- religious, Marxist, Trumpist, and others -- enmesh their adherents in infinite, impenetrable loops of self-reinforcing beliefs. They encourage and often require their members to isolate themselves from outside ideas and authorities.
...Inside the cultic bubble, every question has an answer, every implausibility an explanation, even if the answer is a change of subject or the explanation that you cannot believe your own eyes and ears.
"Well, damn," I thought, "given this reasonable definition of a cult, it does seem like I was in one." Namely, Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB), a branch of Sant Mat (path of the saints, roughly translated).
Here's some reasons why I say that, referencing what Rausch says above.
Impenetrable loops of self-reinforcing beliefs. Here's an example. The guru, being divine, knows what is best for the disciple. That might mean inner progress through meditation that leads to visions of supernatural realms of reality. Or it might mean a lifetime of sitting in darkness and silence during the required several hours of meditation a day.
So whatever happens in meditation fits in with the RSSB teachings. There's no way for the disciple to say "this isn't working," because the guru knows what is supposed to happen to that person, not the person themself. Further, there's a prohibition of telling others about your spiritual progress, or lack thereof. Hence no possibility of learning from other people whether they're getting the promised results.
Isolate themselves from outside ideas and authorities. Faith in the guru is considered a requirement to make progress in meditation. Early on in the current guru's tenure, Gurinder Singh Dhillon said discussing the RSSB teachings on the Internet shouldn't occur. So he told RSSB disciples to isolate themselves from ideas that didn't come from official RSSB sources.
I ended up being fired as a speaker at RSSB meetings because I'd starting writing about RSSB on this blog. The reason that was given was that my blog posts were making people feel uncomfortable. Thus I was viewed as an unwholesome "authority" because I wasn't spouting the party line 100%, even though I'd written several books for RSSB and had been an authorized speaker for many years.
Every implausibility has an explanation. Ask why the RSSB gurus don't perform miracles if they're God in Human Form and you'll be told that the Big Man Upstairs has decreed that saints are forbidden to perform miracles because if they did, lots of people would want to be initiated by them in order to return to God, which would markedly reduce the number of souls in the physical creation, and that isn't supposed to happen. (RSSB believes in reincarnation.)
That's pretty much the same reason why the RSSB gurus forget people's names, make mistakes, get sick, and generally act like Non-Gods in Human Form. They have to disguise their divine nature or everybody on Earth would want to follow them.
What would be wrong with that, you may be thinking. Well, RSSB has the answer. When God created the physical universe, 90% of souls who were hanging out with God were eager to see what physical reality was all about. But 10% had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this universe.
Those 10% are destined to return to God after being initiated by a Perfect Living Master, which the RSSB gurus are despite not appearing perfect. So it's impossible for everybody to be God-realized, because most people on Earth are part of the 90%. OK, but how can you tell the difference between a 90% person and a 10% person? Ah, only the guru can tell. Which is why only some people end up following a RSSB guru, because they're part of the lucky 10%.
I could give more examples. But you get the picture. Of the cult I used to belong to.