Reality is stranger than fiction: A&E's 'Cult and Extreme Belief' is a must watch

'Cult and Extreme Belief' explores the beliefs and unwavering conviction of some of the biggest cults in history and the darkness that lurks underneath the surface

                            Reality is stranger than fiction: A&E's 'Cult and Extreme Belief' is a must watch

If you are a fan of documentaries and live for the thrill of binge-watching crime shows on TV because you secretly imagine you're an investigator, you absolutely cannot afford to miss A&E's latest docu-series 'Cults and Extreme Belief'. The series explores the stoic beliefs and unwavering principles of some of the biggest cults in history and the darkness that lurks underneath the surface.

Emmy award-winning journalist Elizabeth Vargas goes on a search to uncover how these sects use their influence to prey upon people’s desperation to create powerful and often destructive belief systems. Some of the revelations that the former members and, in some cases, the torchbearers make, will chill you to the bone.

Crisp and extremely immersive, each episode tackles a different cult or sect. And, unlike every other documentary with an agenda, 'Cults and Extreme Belief' tends to only hold up a mirror to the crimes that go unpunished yet makes you want to get off your couch and do something - something every good documentary should. 

The cults 

For their debut episode, the series discusses one of the most recent stories that broke out in the media — the twisted selfhelp group called NXVIM. A former member and recruiter Sarah Edmondson opens up about what really goes on in the organization that not only recruited people by the million but also made a ton of money while doing so.

In excruciating detail, she describes the rampant sexual abuse that went on during her 12 years in the organization and the frightful experiments that they conducted on their members.

Sarah was one of the many who was tricked into getting the founder Keith Raniere's initials branded onto her abdomen. The episode speaks very little about Allison Mack's involvement with the case but that's probably because of its an ongoing investigation.

However, one thing is clear, she had a major hand to play in Keith's sick fantasy. Sarah describes her a partner in crime. A&E's investigation makes its way through the dark alleys and terrifying experiences of near-starvation diets, sexual assault, forced branding, pseudo-slavery, and blackmail. 

Among the ideologies explored is also the infamous Jehova's Witnesses, the cult that came under the scrutiny of the world in the early 2000s. Former Jehovah’s Witness Romy Maple–a survivor of child sexual abuse–embarks on a journey to uncover why her pleas for justice were systematically ignored by top members of the organization.

"I just want people going in, to know, this really is going on in here," she says, as she goes on to describe how Seniors turned a deaf ear to her pleas. She reveals that she "was hurt over a 100 times" while in the organization. While the grim future of the children who become part of the sect is frightening to say the least, the aftermath that follows is even darker.

Vargas also speaks to the leader of World Peace and Unification Sanctuary, a church that recently came under the spotlight after they held a get together that featured AR-15 rifles, the same ones used for the Parkland shooting in February this year. The feelings over the incident were still raw, but they held the ceremony undeterred and were insensitive to the disaster that had taken place.

In an extremely disturbing interview, self-proclaimed messiah Sun Myung Moon and leader of the church, explains to the journalist why guns are necessary for worship. This episode is sure to make you wonder where humanity is heading. 

Other cults that have been discussed and featured in the documentary series are Children of God, The Twelve Tribes as well as the United Nation of Islam. Amy Bril, a survivor and a former COG member shares the horrifying accounts of pedophilia and “religious” prostitution that ran rampant amongst the cult. Born into the sect, she reveals that former members are so traumatized by what they have seen that their free lives almost always ended up in suicide — because the trauma was deep and they felt like there was no way out. 

The UNOI episide explores the organization through the eyes and experiences of Elijah Muhammad, who is robbed of his childhood by being subjected to labor, extreme physical abuse and terrible living conditions.

The upcoming episode titled FLDS finds out what really went on in the President of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). Warren Jeffs, the president of the church, is a convicted felon and child molester who is currently serving a sentence of life plus 20 years. His prison term is the result of being convicted in 2011 of two felony counts of child sexual assault. The episode airs Tuesday 3 July at 10 pm on A&E. 

Binge-worthy or bogus?

This show is 100 percent binge-worthy. Each episode leaves you disgusted at how the powerful prey on weak minds and how gullible one becomes in the face of religion. The show isn't preachy and each episode leaves you full of questions. 'Cults and Extreme Belief' is a must watch!