A cult is a loosely organized religious group with practices and teachings outside the dominant cultural and religious traditions of a society, Although many people view cults negatively, some major religions (including Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) and some denominations (such as the Mormons) started as cults. Cult leadership is based on clwrismaiic characteristics (personal magnetism or mystical leadership) of the individual leader, including an unusual ability to communicate and to form attachments with other people. An example is the religious movement started by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a Korean electrical engineer who believed that God had revealed to him that the Judgment Day was rapidly approaching. Out of this movement, the Unification church. or "Moonies," grew and flourished, recruiting new members through their personal attachments to present members. Some cult leaders have not fared well, including [im Jones, whose ill-fated cult ended up committing mass suicide in Guyana in 1978, and more recently Marshall Herff Applewhite ("Do"), who led his 38 Heaven's Gate followers to commit mass suicide in 1997 at their mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Applewhite's followers were convinced that the comet Hale-Bop which swung by Earth in late March of that year, would be their celestial chariot taking them to a higher level (Newsweek, 1997).
Are all cults short-lived? Over time, some cults disappear; however, others undergo transformation into sects or denominations. For example, cult leader Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science church has become an established denomination with mainstream methods of outreach, such as a Christian Science Reading Room strategically placed in an office building or shopping mall, where persons who otherwise might know nothing of the organization learn of its beliefs during their routine activities.