Not all cults are necessarily "doomsday" in nature. Some are, in fact, perfectly benevolent, and have the ability to enrich the lives of their followers (and the bank accounts of their leaders).
I recall my first stepdad, Gary. He followed a dubious new-age cult called EckankarTM, led by the charismatic and intellectual "Sri"TM Harold Klemp, the MahantaTM, the living ECKTM Master (no, really). Mr Klemp is, in fact, listed in the International Who's Who of Intellectuals. EckankarTM is called the "Religion of the Light and Sound of God,"TM and is entirely cheerful and pleasant (and faintly fictional) in nature, believeing in things like "Soul TravelTM," and spouting the eminently Buddhist view that all religions are part of a whole, everyone needs to find their way to God, yadda yadda yadda. If you're happy to pay $130 membership a year for the privelege and an additional $50 for all the recommended books, more money to enlist with your local Master, more for Mr Klemp's casettes, more to visit the Temple of ECKTM in Chanhassen, Minnesota, etc etc etc.
I found the whole thing unutterably funny. EckankarTM has a long list of trademarks. The bottom of its website's homepage (URL: http://www.eckankar.org) lists six words, and the caveat "among others," as being its trademarks, evidently in an attempt to deter other cults from disowning it through their own publication. I have to wonder how lucrative it would be if the Pope, or the Archbishop of Canterbury tried to copyright The Bible, making words like Christ and Pentecost trademarks.
Gary introduced me to an elderly couple (the Howells) who followed EckankarTM. A perfectly normal and, in fact, extremely nice couple - did lots for the local community, good old-fashioned English eccentrics, etc. But they didn't get this out of EckankarTM - this was down to their personalities, as they acknowledged. The cult was an important, but not dominating, part of their lives, and they made no attempt to force their beliefs on me.
Gary was different. EckankarTM confirmed to him that he was a wonderful person, a benevolent child of God whose nature had been transformed by joining EckankarTM (I think that they should join with the Church of Scientology - have two-for-one offers and so on, could be a money spinner for them). Gary was, in fact, a violent, disturbed drunkard who beat my mother and once stabbed her. God (whichever you believe in) alone knows what he was like before his nature was "transformed."
Some cultists find refuge and peace in their cult (no matter what the price, financial or spiritual), like the Howells. Some distort the cult's "teachings" to justify or even deny their shortfalls, even to the exclusion of the feelings and safety of others (flashback - Gary yelling at my mother and kicking the dog shortly before putting on a tape and calmly chanting "HU"TM to himself over and over again) - but this is the case with all religions. Some cults are undeniably twisted, some are not - although I suspect all of them exist to generate money for their "benevolent" (= "wealthy") leaders. I think that it is a part of human nature to want to be a part of a community and to have a belief concerning spirituality - to the horror of some atheists, atheism is listed as a religion in British censa. Some cults are good, some are bad; the good ones should just be allowed to get on with their business (and I do mean, "business"), the bad ones undoubtedly need to be controlled or stopped. As an Anglican christian I have my own beliefs about God, but I do not see why otherwise normal individuals should not be allowed to follow their expensive, mildy barmy cults in relative peace and seclusion.
As to EckankarTM, I was actually quite interested (academically) to read into it a little. It is a mixture of "New Age" and ancient spiritual beliefs, and is, as I said, quite pleasant and benevolent in nature, at least in its presentation to the outside world. In fact, the philosopher and "cult-buster" Prof David Lane has written a lengthy expose on EckankarTM, which can be seen at http://www.geocities.com/eckcult/. He has been threatened with legal action by the cult on several occasions. Other websites list psychological threats, fraud and other nasties as being among EckankarTM's tactics.
Forgive the proliferation of TMs, just wanted to emphasise the point.