Many news analysts have recently observed that North Korea is not so much a “Communist state” as it is a personality-driven “cult.”

A dictatorial dynasty rules the country, which was first established by the current leader’s father

Noted psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, once studied the methodology of “education” used by North Korea within prisoner of war camps in the fifties. His conclusions were published within his seminal book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

What can easily be seen from Lifton’s writings is that North Korea has a long-standing and well-established expertise in what is commonly called “brainwashing.”

Its absolute authoritarian leader, Kim Jong Il, known now as “Great Leader,” controls all the media, military and environment. Lifton calls this “milieu control,” which is the foundation for a thought reform program.

Something called “Juche,” is the detailed dogma or ideology used to control the North Korean population, reports the Christian Science Monitor.

Lifton calls such an ideology the “Sacred Science” of Totalism.

Like many cult leaders Kim has exploited his followers, it is estimated that he holds $2 to $4 billion dollars in European banks. He also lives lavishly, while most of his people go hungry. During the 1990s mass starvation took the lives of 2 million in North Korea.

But North Koreans are still officially called “Kim Il Sung’s people.”

Sounds a bit like “Sci-fi cult” leader “Rael” calling his followers the “Raelians” or David Koresh and his “Davidians” doesn’t it?

This is what Lifton calls “Doctrine over Person.” That is, when the group uses its dogma to supercede and blur individual identity.

Kim’s regime is certainly a closed system not easily permeated by outside ideas; the country can be seen as little more than a giant cult compound.

One expert says that North Korea has “carefully constructed illusions.” And such cultic “illusions” often whither when subjected to an outside frame of reference and the free exchange of ideas.

According to recent reports there is now some critical “whispering” about the “Great Leader” within his nation compound. Perhaps “Kim Il Sung’s people” are beginning to consider the possibility of a future without a cult leader.

Lifton has written extensively about cults and “cult formation.” He lists three primary hallmarks that define a destructive cult.

1. A charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;

2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;

3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

Sounds just like North Korea.

Jehovah’s Witness parents in South Africa would have allowed their baby to die if not for a doctor’s actions and the ruling of a judge, reports South Africa’s Sunday Times.

Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusion for themselves and their children due to a policy proscribed by their Governing Body. This is based upon an idiosyncratic Witness understanding of scripture. Specifically, “Old Testament” injunctions regarding the “eating of blood” more commonly understood as dietary law.

However, increasingly the courts are interceding to save the lives of children threatened by extreme and dangerous religious beliefs. Many children have previously died due to medical neglect in such groups as Christian Science, Church of God Restoration, End Time Ministries and General Assembly Church of the First Born.

In some of these churches parents were charged criminally due to medical neglect and some were convicted and sentenced for manslaughter.

The Witness parents in Johannesburg, South Africa seemed relieved that the judge ultimately ordered the blood transfusion that saved their child’s life.

The baby’s mother hugged the treating doctor who initiated the action after the ruling. The father later said, “We thank God for placing our child in the care of such capable medical people and hope for a speedy and uncomplicated medical recovery.”

Their baby is now stable and doing well.

This is one Witness story about a near death medical emergency with a happy ending. But many others have ended in tragedy.

It is a scandal how many children needlessly die due to medical neglect as a direct result of the teachings of certain extreme religious groups.

Parents may believe whatever they wish, but a child’s right to life must supercede such freedom of religious expression.

Some groups called “cults” abruptly end or wither away after the founder dies. But Christian Science soldiered on after the death of its leader Mary Baker Eddy, though some say the church is now in decline.

In an apparent effort to raise its fading profile, the still wealthy organization spent $50 million dollars to build “The Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of Humanity,” which will open its doors this weekend. The museum includes an extensive archive of Eddy’s writings that one Harvard professor called a “gold mine,” reports the Boston Globe.

However, one book visitors won’t find while mining for material at the new edifice is “The Healing Revelation of Mary Baker Eddy” by Martin Gardener, 1993. Gardner exposed Eddy as a rather typical cult leader focused upon her own personal power. He also details her fascination with spiritualism, morphine addiction and hysterical fits of rage. Eddy apparently also liked to sue her critics and was something of a plagiarist.

Mark Twain once said of Eddy’s writings, “I am convinced, that the circumstantial evidence shows that her actual share in the work of composing and phrasing these things was so slight as to be inconsequential.”

Eddy’s teachings encouraged her followers to reject modern medicine. Subsequently, Christian Scientists have often refused medical care for themselves and their children. This has led to the criminal prosecution of some of the sect’s parents.

“The Religion that kills—Christian Science,” by Linda S. Kramer, Huntington Books 1999, explains this destructive aspect of Eddy’s religious creation. But again, Kramer’s book is unlikely to be found on the shelves of the Eddy library anytime soon.

His followers call Ariel Ben Sherman a “spiritual father,” but the leader of “New Life Ministries” is now charged with “aggravated child abuse and neglect” concerning the death of 15-year-old Jessica Lynn Crank. The girl’s mother Jacqueline Crank is also charged for medical neglect, reports Knox News.

The group does not believe in modern medicine and despite the child’s increasingly serious complications from cancer and a grossly enlarged tumor, she received no medical treatment.

Many children have died in religious cults and sects due directly to medical neglect. This has included such groups as General Assembly Church of the New Born, Church of God Restoration, Faith Assembly and End Times Ministries. Hobart Freeman the leader of Faith Assembly was sentenced to prison for his role in the death of a 15-year-old in 1984. It is estimated that more than 100 people died from medical neglect within that group alone.

A study conducted by the University of California Department of Pediatrics in San Diego concluded that 90% of the children studied who died as a result of withheld medical treatment for religious reasons, would have survived with proper care.

Two groups widely known to the general public, Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses likewise have been linked to children’s deaths. Christian Science parents often withhold medical treatment from their children in favor of prayer and Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions.

As Americans we are entitled to believe whatever we wish, but we may not do anything we want in the name of religion. Parents of children who have died due to medical neglect have been criminally charged and convicted.

Jesus said, “Suffer not the little children.” And overwhelmingly Christians who believe in the power of prayer do not preclude medical assistance. But unfortunate children like Jessica Lynn Crank who live within extreme groups and are dependent upon their family for help may receive no medical care.

Jessica Lynn Crank hoped for “new life” in the Sherman group, but instead she suffered a painful death.