23 Aug 2014
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Are Doomsday Preppers a Cult? A Lehigh Valley Professor Says Yes

The doomsday prepping phenomenon is just beginning to be studied, but so far this Penn State-Lehigh Valley professor says it has all the markings of a cult.

Are Doomsday Preppers a Cult? A Lehigh Valley Professor Says Yes Are Doomsday Preppers a Cult? A Lehigh Valley Professor Says Yes

The end of the world is upon us ... again. 


They're joining  Facebook groups, they're f orming prepping communities. There are  websites with prepping gear to help you ready for the end of the world. 

And of course, preppers have their own show, "Doomsday Preppers."

The show, on the National Geographic Channel, shows several groups of survivalists (also called "preppers") getting ready for their definition of the end of civilization. According to  USA Today and  Wikipedia, it's also the most watched show on the 15-year-old cable channel. 

And according to Dr. Peter Behrens, preppers are buying into a cult. 

Dr. Behrens, a Penn State-Lehigh Valley professor who specializes in the history of psychology, abnormal psychology and personality psychology, says that the most recent form of Doomsday preparations have all the earmarks of an active, recruiting cult. 

"From a psychological perspective [Doomsday prepping] is bizarre. Members spend so much time and energy readying for the end of the world. Prepping is just people trying to control what is beyond their control."

Dr. Behrens believes that clusters of preppers and the movement as a whole has all the markings of a cult. 

"I think this is just a modern iteration of the phenomenon of people believing that the end is coming in their lifetime. That idea is so selfish, so self-centered, so narcissistic. It's mind control."

Dr. Behrens pointed out several ways the Doomsday preppers bear the marks of a cult, including: 

  • The group forms a single identity, especially around a specific person or event
  • The group is unable to accept contrary information
  • The group has their own shorthand, or in some cases language
  • It's very difficult to walk away from the group and often times leaders of groups set out to return people who "stray" back to "the path"
  • They take on an "us versus them" mentality
  • They find meaning and "signs" in ordinary, everyday occurrences that speak only to their group and reinforce "they are on the right path"
  • All their problems can be linked to one simple explanation (the world will end because of ...)
  • The members are in a constant state of distress

Not all Doomsday cults are suicidal, said Dr. Behrens. "In 1954, a small Doomsday cult believed the world would end on Dec. 21 when the world would be swallowed up by flood. It didn't happen, they were able to rationalize the fact that they lived -- they saved the world."

When asked about the date similarity, Dr. Behrens pointed out that Dec. 21 is the shortest day of the year, a point in the calendar year that would stand out to any group. "Doomsday prepping is cyclical."

Studying Doomsday preppers is just beginning, says Dr. Behrens. There's still a lot of research to be done into the psychology of Doomsday cults. "All this prepping, it gives people an identity, a group to belong to. But it definitely is emerging as the 'new kid on the block' as far as cults go." 

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