In the first part of this series, we looked at what mind control is and is not. Mind control is not brainwashing. The human mind cannot be deprogrammed, reprogrammed or programmed against the will of the recipient. The recipient must be a willing part of the conversion process. Mind control is a process in which the recruiter employs a number of techniques that allows the recruit to willingly give over control of his/her thought process to the recruiter or organization.
We also explored the first of the eight markings of a mind control cult, milieu control. This can entail physical separation of the recruit from family and friends in a remote commune or compound, or by controlling what the recruit hears, sees or thinks about the organization. For a fictional account of mind control, I would suggest the book 1984 by George Orwell. For a full treatise on the subject of mind control please see Robert J. Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. To see the full treatment on how mind control is applied to cults, please see Steven Hassan’s book Combating Cult Mind Control.
There are two reasons why I believe this discussion on the marks of a mind control cult are important. First, it gives apologists an insight into how cults recruit, and subsequently how to be more effective in counter-cult ministry. Secondly, it’s a warning to any how think they are “too intelligent” to be recruited into a cult. As I will demonstrate in a future post, no one is “too smart” to be recruited into a cult.
In this post, I will look at the second identifying mark of a mind control cult: Mystical Manipulation. This mark can be seen in cults and high control groups within mainstream religions. This to me is the most unethical of all the techniques employed by cults and high control organizations because it is deceptive at its core. It leads the recruit and membership into the thought that God is truly in control of the particular organization.
The recruit is manipulated into viewing God as ever present in the workings of the organization. The organization constantly emphasizes incidents in which “angels” are working for the organization or the members. God is always doing great and miraculous things fro the organization. This type of manipulation gives the organization a “mystique” in the eyes of the recruit.
For example, my parents had a tape recording of a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Governing Body talk in which he told of one of the forced marches the Nazis employed on Russian prisoners during World War 2. As the Nazis marched them, in the dead of winter, the prisoners could only take what they could carry. If any of the marchers fell to the ground, the SS guards would shoot them.
This march included two JWs. One was already weak from starvation and sickness, and the other was younger and stronger. The younger one carried the older for a good portion of the march, but was soon exhausted. He then propped the older one against a tree, and trudged on dreading the expected gunshot. He never heard one. He walked back to the tree, and found his friend with bread in his hand. The young man asked him why hadn’t he been shot, and where he got the bread from. The older man said that he got the bread from a man. The younger man looked for the man, but never found him. He and his friend both ate the bread which miraculously strengthened them for the remainder of the march.
The JW relating this story paused in his address and asked the audience, who they though the man was. He then stated that it was an angel of Jehovah to which the audience erupted in ecstatic applause. He then went on to state that no other religion has the “protection of Jehovah” and how sad it must be for those outside “the truth” to be separated from protection like this. To which the audience responded with another round of ecstatic applause. I can’t tell you how many times my parents played that tape to people they were attempting to recruit to demonstrate that the JWs were the only organization with God’s special favor.
On the other hand, members who leave or are expelled from the organization are said to be under God’s punishment whenever bad things happen to them. I heard a number of these stories when I was growing up as a JW. For example, one elder in the congregation my family attended voluntarily left the JWs. This elder was involved in construction and real estate, and some months later he was forced to file bankruptcy and his wife divorced him. I remember my JW grandmother commenting that this was Jehovah’s punishment on him for leaving “the truth”.
During my research I discovered that this mystical manipulation was common, especially in high-control religions. For instance, there is an element within the Greek Orthodox Church that is high control. I read of an incident in which a Greek Orthodox Bishop died of a heart attack after refusing the assistance of the leader of a high control group within the Church.
Another part of this manipulation is getting the recruit to buy into the higher purpose of the group as soon as possible. This can be done a number of ways, but the most effective way is getting the recruit to limit his/her exposure to the world outside the organization as much as possible. This keeps the recruit’s exposure to the vision or goal of the leadership in the forefront of the recruit’s mind, and the exclusion of everything else.
Lastly, everyone in the organization is exploiting each other in order to further the goals of the organization. Experiences are engineered in order to appear spontaneous. For example, the temperature of a meeting room, the music, the lighting, the heightened sense of expectancy, etc. are all manipulated in order to make an experience appear divine. Music is the most effect tool of a person exercising control of a group. Music affects people in a very deep emotional fashion that does not occur with other forms of manipulation. This is why many “faith healers” have their audience repeat choruses over and over.
Worse still, this sort of repetition can actually put the participants into an altered state of consciousness. When this sort of experience happens in a Christian church the participants and leaders are actually violating Luke 10:27. Worship in the Christian context entails the whole person. Since this practice alters a participant’s consciousness, worship is not taking place in the mind (not that this is important since most churches that use this sort of manipulation have a low view of the life of the mind to begin with).
In my view, mystical manipulation is the most dangerous and unethical of all the mind control techniques employed by cults and high control groups because it causes engineered events and experiences to appear spiritual in the minds of the recruit and membership. It is also dangerous because many charismatic and Pentecostal churches employ these techniques in order to affect the congregation in ways that appear mystical. People must be aware of this sort of manipulation especially in a religious context as those who employ this technique are generally after two things, money or sex.
Next time: The Demand for Purity.