Memes - the origins of the term.
Although Richard Dawkins coined the term, the idea of contagious mind-viruses goes back at least to the late nineteenth century, when Winston Churchill described Islam as being as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog.
Brainwashing-cults are self-perpetuating and self-referential belief systems that contain within themselves the instructions for their own propagation. Memes are often described as the cultural equivalents of computer viruses.
A meme carries exactly the same fear-driven psychological motivation as a chain letter - "If you propagate me then something nice will happen, if not then something horrible will happen". In order to justify themselves against attack by reason, memes place absolute reliance on faith, which is seen as being superior to reason. They also contain self-referential or circular claims to the truth such as "This meme says it is the divine truth. Since it is the divine truth whatever its says must be true. Therefore it must be divine truth because it says so and all competing memes must be the work of the Devil".
These two types of self-referential statement "propagate me" and "I am the only truth" provide the driving force for memes to invade the minds of their hosts. In addition, many memes contain the instructions "Help people who believe in this meme, attack people who do not". These commands being the ultimate cause of all religious hatred, wars, pogroms and persecutions throughout the centuries.
The science of the study of memes, their internal structures and modes of propagation is known as memetics (by analogy to genetics - how biological entities propagate themselves).
More detailed analysis will usually show the following features:
Like a virus such as rabies a successful meme must perform two actions:
- Overpower the resistance of its host.
- Bring about the conditions for its spread.
To establish itself in the mind of its host it will use some or all of the following mechanisms:
 Promise heaven for belief. This may involve frustrating the host's normal sexual urges and redirecting them into sexual fantasies of the hereafter.
 Threaten eternal punishment in hell for disbelief.
 Boost the believers' egos by telling them they are 'chosen' or superior to believers in false memes. Incite permanent hostility to carriers of rival memes.
 Disable the faculties of disbelief ('immune response') by claiming that faith is superior to reason.
 Establish itself as the One True Meme, usually by some sort of holy book containing a circular self-referential argument such as:
X is the one true meme. We know X is the one true meme because The Source of Universal Truth has approved X. We know The Source of Universal Truth has approved X, because X contains statements which say so. We know what X says is true because X is the one true meme.
Once it has parasitised the mind of its host, a meme needs to propagate itself. A successful meme will contain instructions for some or all of the following:
 Holy war - convert or kill all unbelievers.
 Intimidation and terrorism - threaten and discriminate against unbelievers.
 Enforced social isolation or even death to apostates. (An apostate is a host which has cured itself of a meme-infection. It is especially dangerous to the meme because it might pass on meme-resistance to others).
 Fecundism - encourage true believers to breed faster than believers in false memes.
 Censorship - prevent rival memes from reaching potential hosts (a theological doctrine known as 'Error has no rights') and forbid rational analysis of the meme itself.
 Disinformation - spread lies about rival memes.