American Cults / Open Lines

Hosted byIan Punnett

American Cults / Open Lines

About the show

In the first half, ordained minister and theology scholar Jim Willis joined Ian Punnett (Twitter) to discuss some of America’s most notorious, eccentric, and unusual cults. Although cults and religions share some of the same characteristics, Willis noted, he provided some features that set a group apart as a cult: a manipulative, egotistical leader who won't tolerate criticism or dissent; followers who willingly suspend their own judgment and reasoning in order to stay in the group; and physical and social isolation from friends and family members, for example.

Hundreds of cults have existed in various forms and across the globe throughout recorded history, Willis added. He cited some more contemporary examples, including Jane Whaley's Word of Faith Fellowship, David Koresh's Branch Davidians, and Westboro Baptist Church. Most recently, members of a cult in Kenya were found to have starved themselves to death in the service of the group's leader. Such groups are conditioned to believe that they're the exclusive followers of some spiritual truth, so that opposition, persecution, and conflict are to be expected from outsiders.


During the Open Lines that followed in the second half, Josh in Texas shared the story of his father's strange experience while giving a stranger a ride in the 1970s. When the man asked to be dropped off in a remote area, Josh said, he vanished after getting out of the car. Josh's father came to believe the stranger was an angel, sent to test his kindness toward others.

Calling from Florida, Steve expressed his disgust with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Why, he wondered, were artists like Dolly Parton and the Jackson 5 inductees, while those he liked —Asia, REO Speedwagon, and Kansas, for instance— left out? For him, 97 percent of current inductees aren't even rock music.

Greg, a listener in California, recalled finding a wallet one night at his local bowling alley. Unable to find the wallet's owner, he stopped in to a nearby store to purchase a lottery ticket. There he overheard two men ahead of him in line, talking about the wallet one of them had lost. In Greg's estimation, his returning the wallet to its owner was, in a way, the story of a guardian angel: himself.

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