Thursday, July 29, 2010

Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult – Conclusion

Over the past several weeks I have posted eight articles describing the eight marks of a mind control cult. As I have noted, these posts are not the definitive works on this subject and can be found in Robert J. Lifton’s Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and Steven Hassan’s book Combating Cult Mind Control. This post is going to be a little longer than I normally will be posting. I want to give some practical advice on avoiding getting mixed up in a cult or a high-control group that is an offshoot of an established religion, especially on that calls itself Christian.

When it comes to high-control Christian groups what are the warning signs? This is a question that has a great number of answers, and by no means should this list be considered exhaustive. Let’s begin our exploration. As with cults, high control Christian groups have an unhealthy focus on the founder of the group to whom the members of the group must display an unquestioning loyalty. There are two Christian groups that come to my mind in regards to this. Both were founded in the same year, and both have charismatic leaders. The difference is that one does not speak of their founder as having been an indispensable part of the salvation of the members of that group, while the other does to the exclusion of the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.

Second, the group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. The reason is that as people grow in their Christian walk they see the manipulation and lack of biblical warrant for teachings and techniques used by the leadership.

The group is preoccupied with finances. Often the leaders of this group will make giving an issue of salvation. You will hear 20 minute mini-sermons on giving that are designed to manipulate the emotions of the members to give. You might even hear how there is a “curse” on you if you do not tithe. If that is the case, then Christ did not fulfill the law, and His death was worthless.

Questioning, doubt or private dissent is discouraged if not punished outright. Dissent against the God dishonoring doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church are what created the great Protestant movements, and vicariously the Pentecostal movement of the early 1900s.

They employ mind-numbing techniques like chanting, singing the same song verse repeatedly, or speaking in tongues. I want to take a moment here and state that I do believe in the perpetuity of the spiritual gifts. However, what is passed off as speaking in tongues in most Pentecostal churches is unbiblical and done in a way that is against scriptural mandate. Hence, I do not view this activity as it is done in that context as the true gift of speaking in tongues.

High control groups often hold denunciation sessions in which those with doubts in the leadership or who have left the group. I experienced this one time in my Christian walk, and it was the most uncomfortable thing I was ever involved in. This sort of event has no scriptural warrant for its practice, and should not be performed in a church that names itself as a gathering of followers of Christ.

Leadership with these groups often dictates how the members should think, feel and act. They will determine who gets married, they will break-off engagements, they tell members where to live, how to discipline children, etc. In other words, they employ the mark of Demand for Purity that minimizes the conscience of the member in favor of the thoughts of the group’s leadership.

The group has an “elitist” mentality. In which they claim a special exalted status, or that they are the ONLY group effectively doing whatever ministry they do. The group’s leader is often viewed as a “messiah” by the rank-and-file. Often the leader and lower tiered leaders do not show deference and humility to those that they are charged by scripture to care for, rather they “lord” their position of leadership over the members by demanding service and subjection from them.

The leadership often claims extra-biblical revelation. God communicates directly to the leader. I once heard a sermon in which Matthew 22:20-22 was ripped from its context in order to form a cultic pretext for giving. The preacher began his sermon by stating that he had a “revelation” from God regarding this verse. In employing this technique, he can dismiss any critical analysis of his sermon and how it had been based on bad biblical interpretation. Further, this use of “revelation” is often a tool in which the group’s leader can bring in an idea that replaces the message of the Gospel. If the group you are involved in places any idea above the preaching of the Gospel, i.e. that Jesus died for sinners, then there is danger that your group may be a high control group.

High control groups often exhibit an “us versus them” mentality. Members have little or no contact with other Christians or worse yet with those that are most in need of hearing the Gospel.

High control group leaders often have no accountability to anyone, in or out of the group. Many of these groups are based on the unbiblical “senior pastor” form of church government. In this form of church government the senior pastor has no one that functions as a “check and balance” to his power. The lay leaders under the pastor merely function as “yes men” for the pastor’s whims. Often these churches are marked by the "senior pastor" model, which is not Biblical. The Biblical model appears to be a plurality of elders ruling over the local church.

There is an “ends justify the means” mentality within the leadership. In other words, what ever emotional manipulations that can be used to attain certain results are fair game as long as they get the results that are desired. This can be seen in the way high control groups pleads for finances from its members.

The leadership of these groups employs fear and guilt in order to manipulate and control the members of the group. This is often done in the area of giving to the group in terms of tithing. Many churches teach that those who do not tithe are cursed, which means that Christ’s death only partially fulfilled the Mosaic Law, and that Christians are still under this segment of the Law.

The members’ subservience to the leadership of the group often leads them to cut ties with family and friends in order to fulfill the group’s vision. Often members will give up personal goals or hobbies because they are not keeping the group’s cause first and foremost in their lives. One last thing, church does not count as a hobby, neither does Bible reading or prayer as these are things we do if we truly love Christ.

Lastly, there is a social segregation in which members are “strongly encouraged” to live and socialize exclusively within the group. If a person names him/herself as a follower of Christ then it is necessary for him/her to have a circle of influence outside the church. To not have a circle of friends that are not Christian is to not be living a missional life.

These are some marks of high control Christian groups that need to be exposed because these groups are actually throwing more shame on the cross of Christ. Further, if a Christian is involved in a group like this, then they must be warned in order to end the cycle of spiritual abuse that the leadership of these groups heap upon their members. Lastly, if you are a lay leader of a group like this or the leader of a group like this, then I pray that you repent of these abusive techniques, and begin to seek the biblical way to leading Christ’s church.

In this final post we also want to give some practical warning to those that are in healthy churches. First, people have to be careful of self-serving biases. In other words, be careful of thinking that you are smarter than the average person, better looking than the average person, more skilled than others, or that you will outlive your peers. Scripture teaches us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to (Romans 12:3). No one is immune from deception. That is why being involved with a community of other followers of Christ is such an important part of Christianity. As I mentioned in part one of The Eight Marks series, the cults are trained to seek out and focus on people that are vulnerable in the middle of highly emotional tragedies. The support that we get from fellow believers in these times is invaluable.

Secondly, most people think they are immune from cult influence. This is just not true, especially when cults do not expose themselves fully to recruits. Others think that only people with “low self-esteem” join cults. Again, this is just not true as I have seen all sorts of individuals, from persons with advanced college degrees to the performer of the most menial work, get duped by cults. Others think that only people with major psychological problems join cults. Again, studies show that only 5 to 6 percent of cult members had a preexisting psychological problem that predisposed them to cult involvement. The point that I want to emphasize is that you have to cult-proof yourself by thinking that while involvement in such a group is not something you are looking for, there is the possibility that it could happen. This is kind of like the alcoholic that determines that today he will not drink, but that realizes that within him is lies the possibility to drink.

In my time as a JW, I never had success with a Christian that not only knew what they believed but why they believed it. It’s not enough to know that Jesus rose from the dead, but why you believe that he rose from the dead. It’s not enough to know that you believe in the Triune God, but why you believe in the Triune God. It’s not enough to be a part of a good church, but to know why you belong to a good church. Ultimately the believer must become an expert in his/her beliefs. Because by becoming an expert in what you believe then you have a basis upon which to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult – Part Eight

Welcome to the final post on the series The Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult. In this post we will be reviewing the mark called “dispensing of existence.” The purpose of the series is not to give the reader an exhaustive discussion of these marks, but to whet the appetite of the reader into doing further research to engage in further counter-cult ministry, identification of these sorts of groups and how they recruit, and lastly as a warning to leaders of groups that may be employing these techniques. If the reader desires a comprehensive discussion of these eight markers, then I recommend the following: Robert J. Lifton’s work Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism and Steven Hassan’s book Combating Cult Mind Control.

Dispensing of Existence

Basically this is when the organization determines who has the “right” to exist and who does not. There are Greek Orthodox cults that view Bolsheviks, Turks, and Jews as unworthy of existence. Outsiders in general are unworthy of existence unless they join the particular organization. There are “border security” groups that view “anchor babies” (children born in the USA to illegal alien parents) as unworthy of existence. This sort of “dispensing of existence” is seen in the current rhetorical extremism that dominates political discussion in the USA. However, the most extreme example of “dispensing of existence” is seen in The Church of Scientology and its “fair game” doctrine.

This “fair game” policy was defined by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as a policy and practice to punish and harass critics of Scientology both within and without the Scientology organization. This policy has resulted in the infiltration of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and other U.S. governmental agencies in the 1970s. “Fair game” has also been responsible for private investigations, character assassinations, and legal action against the church’s critics.

Another example of “dispensing of existence” can be found in the Jehovah’s Witness technique they call “theocratic warfare.” This “theocratic warfare” is the withholding of truth from those that are unworthy of receiving it, and/or blatantly lying to outsiders when it is deemed necessary. This can be seen in divorce cases where one of the spouses is a JW and the other isn’t. The Watchtower was an internal document, and legal staff that specialize in these sorts of cases. The document encourages children and adults to lie to the court about what the Watchtower teaches regard children’s participation in sports and higher education. While JWs and the Watchtower place a high degree of importance on personal honesty in their lives, the extent of that honesty ends when the reputation of the Watchtower comes into question.

The organization decides who will and will not perish at the final battle of good and evil. I can remember the sleepless nights I had when I first left the Jehovah’s Witnesses over my doom in the battle of Armageddon. In this climatic battle, all who are not active (participating in the various meetings and door-to-door work) Jehovah’s Witnesses are destroyed by Jehovah-God.

The leadership of the cult determines what books are accurate and which books are biased. For instance, The Watchtower has used the translation of the spiritualist Johannes Greber in the past because this particular translation agreed with Watchtower doctrine. It was used as support for the Watchtower’s New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures rendering of anti-Trinitarian mistranslation of John 1:1. Greber admitted that he believed that spirits “helped him in his translation.” It is interesting to note, that the Watchtower and rank and file JWs fear anything even remotely linked to the occult so much that many refuse to buy items from neighborhood yard sales out of the fear that they may be “demonized”.

Further, family members that leave the cult are often completely cut-off from any contact with the family that remains in the group. These people, in the JW paradigm, are spiritually dead, and will eventually meet physical death either by natural causes, accident or in the battle of Armageddon. These persons have no hope of salvation for any person outside the world of the JWs.

Because of this radical cutting off that many members actually fear being expelled from the group. I am aware of a number of individuals within the JWs that while no longer believing any of the Watchtower’s teachings will not leave the group due to the radical shunning that the JWs employ on former members.

The dispensing of existence can also be seen in some extremist political groups. If a person does not “toe the line” of the leadership they are deemed as less than a true believer in that particular political view. It’s actually quite comical to see this sort of mindset being played out on the various cable television news outlets on either the left or right of the political spectrum. You often hear that you must believe one political dogma or another in order to be a true member of that particular group.

This is the last of the eight marks. However I will address some practical issues in the next post relating preparing yourself to combat these techniques.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult – Part Seven

The eight marks of a mind control cult is important for a number of reasons, primarily it is preventative. What I mean by that is that the information in this series is designed to help readers become aware of the techniques cult and high control religious groups use in order to recruit and keep members. Secondly, it is a way of helping people who may be involved in these sorts of groups out of them and back to leading a normal life in society. Thirdly, these posts are a way for leaders in churches to become introspective and review the techniques they employ that are described in these posts and to end their use within the group they are leading. Of course, the big question, in relationship to church leadership, is whether or not they are willing to reform. My fear is that too many of these leaders are too proud or too attached to these techniques to change. However, that is another topic for another post, and now back to the eight marks.

I am not going to review the previous seven marks that I have posted. I ask the readers to go back and review the posts for themselves. As always comments, good or bad, are welcome, so long as they deal with the topic, and are not vulgar.

Doctrine over Person

What this mark means is that human experience is subordinated to the group’s doctrine no matter how profound or contradictory such experiences may seem. As long as the member submits to the doctrine of the group, the member is “protected.” Of course this is contrary to clear biblical teaching where Paul makes it clear that the believer is to be ruled by his/he conscience and not the peculiar doctrines of the church he/she attends (Romans 14). If a believer follows his conscience over the doctrine of the group, he/she is viewed as disobedient to the group. Further any tragedy that befalls this person is viewed as appropriate discipline from God for that believer’s disobedience. Lastly, the leadership will deflect any rightly deserved criticisms, or flip the blame back on the person. For instance, in the years just prior to 1975, the Watchtower leadership wrote a number of articles and books indicating that something apocalyptic would occur in 1975. When nothing happened, and a number of Jehovah’s Witnesses left the group in disillusionment, the Watchtower leadership painted these persons as the ones with wrong expectations. Of course the entirety of Watchtower history is a sad testimony to failed expectations.

Secondly, the history of the organization is constantly changed in order to fit current doctrinal thinking. I really can go on and on regarding this point based on my knowledge of the Watchtower history however that would be contradictory to the purpose of this post. The point is that the way the Watchtower changes its doctrine is eerily similar to the way Big Brother manipulated the thought life of the population of Oceania in George Orwell’s book 1984. In other words, what was once believed and was abandoned as official dogma was to not even to be remembered by the average Jehovah’s Witness. This phenomena is occurring again as the Watchtower is once again changing its view on the 1914 generation.

Lastly, conscientious objectors are told that it is easier for them to change to fit the organization’s doctrine than it would be for the organization to change. This is especially true within cults, but it is also sadly true within Christian churches. The problem with this occurrence within the realm of Christianity, and Protestant Christianity, is that this attitude flies in the face of the words of Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms,

Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.

The cultic technique of doctrine over person is not Scriptural, and has no place in any church that names the name of Christ. Any church leadership that employs this conscience violating technique are not acting in accordance with clear scriptural teaching and are subject to God’s judgment. Regarding the cult’s usage of this technique, they do this in order to further dehumanize their membership and subject them to the whims of the cult’s leadership without suffering any negative backlash from the rank and file.

Next time on the Jude3blog: Dispensing of Existence.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult – Part Six

So far we have five of the eight marks of a mind control cult and/or high control group. It is important to understand that it is not cults that utilize these sorts of techniques to recruit and keep members. Political groups use these techniques also. A person may even find some of these techniques in a religious group that is part of a mainstream religion or denomination. The key to evaluating whether or not you are involved in one of these types of groups will be discussed in this post, and that is getting past the “loaded language” of the group.

However, before I begin with “loaded language” I want to take a few minutes to review our progress thus far. The first mark of a mind control cult is milieu control. This is either a physical or mental control of the member’s environment. The group’s leadership has ultimate control of all interactions the members have with each other and the world outside the group. The second mark is mystical manipulation. This is a technique in which the leadership makes things appear to God ever present in the workings of the organization. They also utilize techniques that amplify members’ emotions and heighten expectations through the use of music, lighting and temperature. The third mark is a demand for purity. This technique depicts the world outside the group in black and white terms with little room for the members to make conscience driven decisions. Often members with a conscientious objection to something the group is doing will receive flak for their stance because their objection hinders the movement of the organization. The fourth mark is cult of confession. This is the public confession of sin which allows the leadership to “whip” the members by knowledge of members’ sins. The fifth mark is “sacred science.” This is when the group’s leadership determines the value and existence of persons by their adherence to the vision of the group. Those outside the group’s ultimate vision are deemed to be the eventual recipients of God’s judgment or incapable of truly fulfilling the vision of the founder.

Loaded Language

Now we come to the sixth mark, “loaded language”. I stated at the beginning of this post that this is the key element that needs to broken down in order for any counter-cult worker to begin to have success. The reason is that “loaded language” is terminology that allows a group member to end conversations or thoughts that are controversial to the members. These words are easily memorized and can be readily used by the members. These terms also create a bond of camaraderie within the membership because they are understood only by members of the group and have little or no meaning to outsiders.

These terms are called “the language of non-thought” in that they erect mental barriers that terminate conversations or prohibit any future thought on a controversial topic. The Watchtower uses terms such as “apostate”, “mother organization”, “worldly”, “opposes of the truth” and “Babylon the Great” as thought stoppers. These terms carry with them a judgment on outsiders. These terms also render the ideas of these persons unworthy of any consideration. Any person wishing to communicate with cult members must be able to scale these mental barriers in order to plant seeds of doubt in that member’s organization. This can be done by using another group or religion instead of pointing at that member’s group. This technique will be the topic of a future series.

It is also interesting to point out that politics has a “loaded language”. Today you hear the terms “liberal” and “conservative” tossed around by political pundits in this manner. While the use of these terms is legitimate as descriptions of political views, when they are used as a barrier to end conversations or to discredit the opposition they become a “loaded language.” One term that has increasingly become “loaded” is the term “Nazi”. Its usage has become so prevalent that its usage has become an informal fallacy in logic (Godwin’s law). Other thought stopping words in politics are “socialist,” “neo-con,” “reactionary,” “patriot,” “nativist,” etc. Again, these words have legitimate usage in debate and discussion. There use as conversation or thought-stoppers is what places them into the “loaded language” category.

Lastly, the use of “loaded language” further isolates members from the outside world and establishes further camaraderie with other members that only those “in the know” can be a part. I demonstrated this to my wife one summer. She had a hard time understanding the exclusivity of JWs. One summer weekend we both went to a JW convention in Long Beach. I was able to get JWs to think I was a part of the organization just by my use of terms such as “the truth,” “mother organization,” “spiritual food,” and other terms.

In conclusion, the use of “loaded language” serves two purposes. They stop conversations or thoughts that run counter to current group teaching. This “thought stopping” dismisses the other person in the conversation as being unworthy of future life in the group’s utopian future, and that person’s ideas as being unworthy of any future consideration. The second thing that “loaded language” gives members is a sense of unification because these words are generally meaningless to the world outside the cult.

In order to scale the language barrier, look for third party examples that are not threatening to the member in order to get them to think without these “thought stoppers” popping up in their mind. Only after laying a foundation that has not been prohibited from future consideration can a critical conversation proceed.

Next time – Doctrine over person.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Eight Marks of a Mind Control Cult – Part 5

So far we have reviewed four of the eight marks of a mind control cult. The first mark is milieu control, in which the cult either physically or mentally (through leadership decrees) control the environment of the recruit or member. The second mark is mystical manipulation, in which the leadership manipulates events or experiences to make them appear to the member or recruit as being from God or through angelic experience. Next is demand for purity. This is when the leadership depicts the world as black and white with little or no room for personal conscience. The last mark we touched on was cult of confession. This is how the leadership creates an intense “oneness” within the membership of the cult. This can be attained by group confessionals, as done by the Cleansing Stream seminars, or in internal disciplinary hearings. This is also attained by requiring members to inform on others that they see engaged in sins.

These eight marks were first chronicled by Robert J. Lifton in his book, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. This book looked at the “brainwashing” techniques of the Communist Chinese on American prisoners during the Korean War. These marks were later applied to cults by Steven Hassan, a former Moonie, in his book Combating Cult Mind Control. I would recommend that anyone who has loved ones involved in a cult, has an interest in counter cult ministry, or is concerned that the group they may be involved with may be a cult, read these books as they give a fuller exposition of these markers than what can be found here.

The “Sacred Science”

This is when the organization’s ideology becomes the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. Let me give you another example from my personal life as a former Jehovah’s Witness (JW). After God saw fit to save me at a Nicky Cruz evangelistic outreach, the next step was baptism. My father found out about this event and wrote me a letter in which he called my baptism “nauseating” and “disgusting”. He stated that I had taken my stand with “Babylon the Great” (JW terminology for Christianity), and in taking this stand I was now justifiably condemned to destruction at Armageddon (the final battle in which Jehovah destroys everyone who is not a JW). The fact that I had disavowed nearly all JW doctrines, and no longer identified as a JW was fine. This was because, at the time, I never voiced any disagreement with any JW doctrine to my JW relatives (many of which were involved in leadership in their respective local Kingdom Halls [the JW corporate meeting halls, similar to a church building]). However, the minute I was baptized by a Christian pastor and in a Christian church, I had abandoned the Watchtower’s ideology and was now unworthy of existence and deserving of destruction at Armageddon.

Secondly, the ideology of the cult is too “sacred” to be even called into question. One of the many images I have in my mind from my JW upbringing is a photograph in the Watchtower magazine of a woman dropping a piece of paper into a trashcan with a contemptuous look on her face. The caption under the photograph read, “Do you properly dispose of apostate material?” An apostate, in JW terms, is any person who has willingly left the Watchtower and is actively working against the organization. There was an event back in the late 1970s and early 1980s in which groups of workers at the Watchtower’s Brooklyn, NY headquarters were gathering to read and study the JW bible without the assistance of any Watchtower material. These groups caused a great deal of upset among the leadership of the Watchtower because these groups were “despising” the leadership of the organization by moving in this direction of independence. It is interesting to note, that my father who is currently an elder in his local Kingdom Hall, and also served as a substitute Circuit Overseer (an itinerate minister who oversees between 20-24 local congregations in a specific geographical region), in the same letter I referenced above stated that my “problem” was that in just reading the Bible without JW literature, I have become duped into believing in the Trinity, hell, the immortal soul, and a number of other Christian doctrines. My answer to him was, “Yes, I believe those, because the Bible clearly teaches them, and that the objections to those ideas can only be found on the pages of the Watchtower’s publications.”

Third, there is a demand for reverence of the leadership. Meaning that they can never be questioned or held accountable for anything they do. The JWs have changed their view on the beginning of the final generation before Armageddon nine times in their 130 year history. One instance was in the years prior to 1975. There were a number of publications that made a clear implication that 1975 would be the final year before Armageddon. Many JWs sold their physical possessions and moved areas in which there were few or no JWs in order to engage in the door-to-door witnessing work. These persons were commended as being focused on “spiritual things” in the final days of “this old system” (JW term for non-JW governments and economies). However, when 1975 came and went with no significant events and a number of JWs became disillusioned with the organization and began to leave the organization, the Watchtower magazine blamed them for “running ahead” of the organization, rather than blaming themselves for fostering the aura of expectation in the writings of their publications.

The organization, in its writings, often makes overblown claims to “airtight” logic. You will often read statements like, “A reasonable person will believe….” or “Spiritually minded people know that….” In employing these types of statements, the organization often makes their statements appear as absolute truth with no possible contradictions. The problem is that many of the claims are logically fallacious, in either formal or informal ways, and are too numerous to given specific examples of, but they range from appeals to authority to hasty generalization (I will be blogging on logical fallacies in the future). This sort of “logic” claims offer incredible security to people that may be experiencing emotional times of crisis in their lives. As I have noted in a previous post, cult members are especially trained to focus in on people going through these sorts of emotional crises. This is why community is such an important element of healthy Christianity. I cannot tell you how many JWs I personally know who were in the midst of some sort of emotional crisis that joined the organization.

“Sacred Science” in terms of cult groups is the concept that the ideology of the organization becomes the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. The extent to which one believes the ideology of the group determines the standing of that person in the organization. This ideology is too “sacred” to even be questioned, and any questioning of the ideology could lead to expulsion from the group. The leadership often makes exaggerated claims to “airtight” logic in its writings. This makes the writings of the leadership appear as absolute truth with no room for contradiction.

My primary prayer is that readers will be able to help facilitate the exit of cult members. I also pray that those persons will be able to see these marks in groups they are involved with. Lastly, I pray that leaders of these groups will repent from their abusive tactics.

Next time “Loaded Language”