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”