To go back and forth between the questions and the answers for
Alcoholics Anonymous, click on the numbers of the questions and answers.
The Guru is always right.
The Guru, his church, and his teachings are always right, and
above criticism, and beyond reproach.
In some cults, the guru is dead, but the principle
is the same. I use the word "guru"
loosely here; in many cults the charismatic leader has the title
of minister, priest, yogi, swami,
prophet, or all-knowing wise man. Or even, "Chairman Mao."
In any case, the leader is always right.
Likewise, the teachings of the guru are always right, and when he dies,
his writings become holy scriptures, infallible and unquestionable. And the
guru's church is always right, and the guru's successors are always right,
and everything about the cult is always right.
Jeffrey Masson had this to say about phony gurus:
Every guru claims to know something you cannot know by yourself
or through ordinary channels. All gurus promise access to a
hidden reality if only you will follow their teaching, accept
their authority, hand your life over to them. Certain questions
are off limits. There are things you cannot know about the guru
and the guru's personal life. Every doubt about the guru is a
reflection of your own unworthiness, or the influence of an
external evil force. The more obscure the action of the guru,
the more likely it is to be right, to be cherished. Ultimately
you cannot admire the guru, you must worship him. You must obey
him, you must humble yourself, for the greater he is, the less
you are — until you reach the inner circle and can start abusing
other people the way your guru abused you. All this is in the
very nature of being a guru. My Father's Guru, Jeffrey Masson, 1993, page 173.
(Please note that there is another kind of "guru" — the genuine kind.
Jeffrey Masson was writing about his own experiences with a
"spiritual teacher" — Paul Brunton — who was a fraud and a fake.
But there are some real ones around, even if they sometimes seem
as rare as hens' teeth.)
"L. Ron" Hubbard
The degree to which the cult glorifies the leader is often absurd.
L. Ron Hubbard, the leader of Scientology, was lauded as the most
magnificent person who had ever lived — indeed, he was single-handedly
the greatest cause of human advancement in all time, because he had
been reborn in lifetime after lifetime, returning to Earth again
and again, each time bringing yet another great discovery or
advancement to humanity. It seemed that L. Ron Hubbard had been, in
successive reincarnations, most all of the greatest and most
famous men who had ever lived, throughout all of human history.
The Scientology organization publishes a series of 20 books — the
"RON series" —
which exalt L. Ron Hubbard in all of his aspects:
RON the Filmmaker, RON the Master Mariner, RON the Auditor,
RON the Philosophy of Administration,
RON the Adventurer/Explorer, RON the Artist, RON the Photographer,
RON the Writer,
RON the Humanitarian, RON the Horticulturist,
RON the Music Maker, RON the Poet/Lyricist, etc...
Hubbard's practice was to dabble in something a bit, like sailing
a sailboat for the summer, and then declare himself a Master
of the art, deserving of another book...
In many of the cover photographs on those books, Hubbard gazes
upwards, towards Heaven, to tell us that he is a spiritual visionary
who is above mundane earthly concerns.
Coincidentally, on the cover of the Hari Krishna (ISKCON) book
The Science of Self Realization, the creepy fraudulent
guru A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada strikes exactly the same
lofty "spiritual" Heaven-gazing pose.
Those phony gurus sure do like to gaze up towards Heaven a lot.
(Perhaps because they know that that's about as close to Heaven as
they are ever going to get...)
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
L. Ron Hubbard
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
L. Ron Hubbard
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Not to be outdone, Moon's Unification Church claims that Sun Myung Moon and his
wife are "The Perfect Parents," the only two perfect people on the
planet Earth. And Moon is the new Messiah,
here to finish the work that Jesus Christ didn't quite manage
to get done right...
Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his wife, and some
The Reverend Sun Myung Moon is boss of the Unification Church, more
commonly known as the "Moonies".
Now into his eighties, the South Korean sage proclaims that the
Virgin Mary was not a virgin and that he and his wife — the
"True Mother" — are Christ's heirs, on earth to finish
Christ's work and unite all Christian churches into his. He has also
done time in a US penitentiary for tax evasion.
It just goes on and on.
In cult after cult, the leader is just the greatest thing.
"Ultimately you cannot admire the guru, you must worship him."
If you have any doubts about whether the cult worships the guru,
just ask a member, "What are the 10 biggest mistakes that
the guru made in setting up the organization and formulating its
doctrines?" True believers will give you a look of horror
and insist that the guru has never made any mistakes...
"The very idea is unthinkable."
There is one big disadvantage for the guru when the cult declares that
he is perfect — he has to act that way, and at least do a good job
of faking it. If he is found to be stealing all of the money and
screwing all of the girls, it can hurt his believability.
A few cults have a clever work-around that spares the cult leader
from having to be perfect: Somebody Else, like a dead
saint, or an angel, or Jesus, or the Virgin Mary, is the perfect one,
and the cult leader merely "channels" the Perfect Master's
messages. In that way, what the leader says is still unquestionably
true and unchallengeable, because it comes from a Higher Power,
but the cult leader can indulge in all of the pleasures of the flesh
himself without creating a contradiction. After all, he never
said that he was perfect, or any more holy than anybody else. He is
just more attuned to the Higher Spheres, and able to hear the Voice
of a Higher Power...
Oh, and of course the received messages will suit
the leader's whims. Suppose, for instance, that there is a cute young
woman whom the leader fancies, but she has gotten involved with
another male member of the group. Well, suddenly the Angel or Ascended
Master is criticizing that other fellow for indulging in base desires,
and telling him to knock it off and have nothing to do with women.
Then, when the cult leader jumps on the same young woman, the Ascended
Master has no criticism of him... Funny how that works. You can use your
own imagination to dream up another dozen similar tricks.
The Church Universal and Triumphant used that technique. There were supposedly
seven Ascended Masters, including St. Germaine, Jesus, and Buddha, and
they chose to only speak through one person — Elizabeth Claire Prophet.
What she said was supposedly infallible, because it was the Masters speaking.
You are always wrong.
The individual members of the cult are told that they
are inherently small, weak,
stupid, ignorant, and sinful.
Cult members are routinely criticized, shamed, ridiculed,
discounted, diminished, and told in dozens of ways that they are not good enough.
This cult characteristic
is sometimes expressed in the infantization of the cult members:
They refer to the leader as "Father",
while he refers to them as "my children."
Cult members are also told that they are in no way qualified to
judge the Guru or his church. Should you
disagree with the leader or his cult about anything, see
Cult Rule Number One.
Having negative emotions about the cult or its leader is a "defect" that
needs to be fixed.
A corollary to this rule is the practice of lowering members'
self-esteem by a variety of methods:
Elders or higher-ranking members will berate the newer
members and tell
them that their work or their spirituality isn't good enough.
Again, the beginners are abused by the guru and his henchmen
until they reach the inner circle, at which time they can
turn around and do it all to someone else who is just beginning.
It is almost a universal cult characteristic that, in the
opinion of the cult leader and other elders,
newcomers cannot think correctly.
They are too "new", or "unspiritual",
and they haven't been members long enough,
or they haven't prayed or chanted or meditated long enough,
or they haven't been off of drugs and alcohol long enough,
or something... It's always something.
Members will criticize themselves and confess all of their
sins and faults, sometimes engaging in public self-criticism or
confession sessions. This is used by everybody from Maoist
Chinese Communist groups to Christian cults.
Sometimes other members will attack them and criticize them
in "group therapy" sessions, or
Since mind control depends on creating a new identity within the individual,
cult doctrine always requires that a person distrust his own self. Combatting Cult Mind Control, Steven Hassan, 1988, page 79.
In Scientology, if you say that you are angry at someone else, a
Scientologist will ask you, "What did you do to him?" The
assumption is that you cannot be angry at someone else without having
committed an "ethical violation", because anger is
"down-scale" — down the "emotional tone scale".
So if you are angry because someone else has wronged you, you have to
figure out what you supposedly did wrong.
Scientologists are trained to believe that whatever happens to them
is somehow their own fault, so much of the discussion in the Hole [a Scientology prison]
centered on what they had done to deserve this fate. The possibility
that the leader of the church might be irrational or even insane was
so taboo that no one could even think it, much less voice it aloud. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief,
by Lawrence Wright, page 266.
The development which takes place is best described as
a "resocialization process." The individual is, in a fashion,
"brainwashed" to give up his old deviant patterns. The Tunnel Back, Synanon, Lewis Yablonsky, page 261.
Prof. Yablonsky seems to have really gotten a kick out of watching
tough old thugs beating up on the wimpy newcomers — he just gushes
with praise for their skill in tormenting the newcomers:
Attacking the Criminal Past: A "Haircut"
The criminal-addict's self-concept makes him inept and keeps him
on the wrong side of the law. A postulate at Synanon is that this
face to the world must be changed and a new one developed.
At Synanon, this is vigorously attempted. It involves a
"180-degree" turn from the offender's past patterns
Charles "Chuck" Dederich
Chuck [Dederich] described part of Synanon's resocialization
process in this area to my graduate class in Social Welfare
"First you remove the chemical. You stop him from using
drugs, and you do this by telling him to do it. He doesn't
know he can do it himself, so you tell him to do it.
him he can stay and he can have a little job. We tell him
we have a lot of fun and he might get his name in the newspapers.
We say, 'People come down and you can show off and have a fine
time as long as you don't shoot dope. You want to shoot dope
— fine — but someplace else, not here.' He stops using drugs.
Then you start working on the secondary aspects of the syndrome.
The next thing you do is attack the language. Eliminating their
criminal language is very important."
Language is, of course, the vehicle of culture and behavior;
and at Synanon, it is instrumental in shifting the behavior
patterns that the addict has used in the past.
He begins to use a new, still-undeveloped set of social-emotional
This shift is not accomplished by loving and affectionate
cajoling or by discussion of the criminal's symptoms of addiction
There is minimal symptom reinforcement of criminal patterns.
Behavior and thinking are modified by verbal-sledgehammer attacks.
The attack is modulated and tuned by the expert synanist.
The individual is blasted, then supported, and he seems to
learn to change his behavior as a result of this positive
An important method of attack therapy in Synanon is the
"haircut." This form of verbal attack employs ridicule,
hyperbole, and direct verbal onslaught. In part, the "haircut"
attack keeps the rug pulled out from under the recovering
addict. As Chuck [Dederich] describes it: "If he gets set,
begins to feel a little complacent, and feels he's in
control of himself — which, of course, he isn't — he may
even think he can reward himself with a little dope or a pill.
Then, of course — BLOUIE — he's dead again."
This, of course, is also the classic pattern of the rise and
fall of the alcoholic.
The elements of exaggeration and artful ridicule are revealed
in this "haircut." In addition, the pattern of
attack and then support is demonstrated. A typical "haircut"
goes beyond the bad behavior of the moment and into a more
serious problem, and this is also revealed in the session.
Unlike synanons, it is not interactional. A "haircut"
is usually delivered by several older Synanon members to younger
members. The Tunnel Back, Synanon, Lewis Yablonsky, pages 239-242.
So the new member is always kept off balance and the rug is constantly
pulled out from under him by the attacks of the elders. He is taught
that he cannot trust his own thinking, because he is just a criminal
All of that is in addition to the regular confession
sessions, called "synanons" and
and "The Perpetual Stew".
And that was supposed to brainwash the new member into being a
wonderful transformed drug-free person. Too bad
the technique didn't
Also note the assumption that the member never recovers.
He cannot ever be allowed to feel healed and in control of himself — he
must be knocked down every time he tries to stand up — which
leads to the next item, No Exit.
Incidentally, the pattern of behavior described there as a "positive
traumatic experience" — "blasted, and then supported" —
is actually a textbook example of the classic pattern of abuse called
"battering". It's what abusive wife-battering husbands do to their wives:
beat them up, and then sooth and comfort and reassure them,
and apologize and tell them
that it won't happen again, and then turn around and
beat them up again, then sooth and comfort and reassure them again...
And the effect it has on the wives is to paralyze them with fear and anxiety —
they never know what to do because they never know what's going to happen next.
They end up so confused that they don't know if they are coming or going.
And plenty of wife-beating husbands rationalize their actions by saying, "Well,
I had to teach her a lesson. It was for her own good."
And while Yablonsky was describing only nonviolent attacks on the junior
it didn't stay that way.
Later on, things got really bad.
As Chuck Dederich later said,
"Nonviolence was just a position we took. We change positions all of the time."
In the end, Synanon became very violent.
Dederich and two of his goons were
even arrested for attempted murder, to which they pleaded guilty.
They actually put a big old rattlesnake, minus rattle,
in the mailbox of a lawyer who was suing them, and it bit him.
He just barely survived, and his arm was crippled for life.
There is simply no proper or honorable way to leave the cult. Period.
To leave is to fail, to die, to be defeated by evil.
To leave is to invite divine retribution.
Members are often taught that all kinds of bad things will happen
to them if they leave: They will lose all of the spiritual progress
that they made while they were in the cult, or they won't be able
to get into Heaven, or the Devil or demons
will get them, or they will relapse and die of drugs and alcohol...
They say that world is a bad place — people are bad and it's the domain of Satan.
That is another standard cult characteristic:
The Group Implants Phobias,
and more of the usual threats and fears are listed under that item.
Obviously, if everybody leaves the cult, then the phony guru's game is over.
So he is the one who really has reason to fear people leaving.
There are often tremendous obstacles to leaving:
is usually some form of peer pressure, where loyal cult members will
work 'round the clock on any member who has doubts about the cult and
longs for his or her old life.
(The other cult members don't want to get left behind, and splitters shake their
The obstacles may be physical ones, like where
the cult lives communally in an isolated area, and the cult won't give
the member a ride back to "the evil other world".
Often, the cult has taken control of all of the members' checkbooks
and credit cards, and the member is literally penniless and will
have great difficulty getting out.
The only subject you could never talk about in Games was
splitting, for once you did, no one trusted you any more, and
your former brothers and sisters couldn't squeeze you out fast enough.
As [the cult leader] Chuck [Dederich] was fond of saying, "That's
just the way it is." Escape From Utopia: My Ten Years in Synanon, William F. Olin,
The Scientology "Code of Honor" includes these items:
2. Never withdraw allegiance once granted.
3. Never desert a group to which you owe your support.
And Scientologists who are members of the "Sea Org"
(sea-going organization) sign a billion-year contract,
swearing to serve the cult leader L. Ron Hubbard in all
future reincarnations for the next billion years.
How's that for not ever leaving the group?
A corollary to the "No Exit" rule is the demonization of those who leave:
They are evil, weak, and selfish.
They are stupid and foolish.
They are wandering in darkness, unable to see.
They are traitors, quitters, turn-coats, disloyal, deserters.
They have sold out.
They are Enemies of the Cross.
They have chosen Evil over Goodness.
They are losers, trying to throw stones at winners.
They didn't chant enough, or they didn't meditate enough,
or they didn't do enough yoga.
They weren't really trying.
They didn't follow the procedures correctly.
They were unable to resist the temptation to sin.
They hid their problems, and didn't reveal them to the group.
They couldn't overcome their cravings for sex, alcohol, or drugs.
They couldn't give up their attachments to money and possessions.
They couldn't be honest.
They were always stupid, real losers.
They never could get it right.
They are the spawn of Satan.
They were always trying to destroy our movement.
They were never a part of us to begin with.
We are much better off without their bad influences.
The musician Carlos Santana was an admirer of Sri Chinmoy for a while,
he said in a Rolling Stone interview, but, "Everything about
[Chinmoy] turned to vinegar." And he said that after he left, the group
When some people left Jim Jones' People's Temple commune in Guyana:
In a barrage of angry meetings, Jones vilified the defectors as "murderers"
— defectors not merely from Jonestown but from socialism, who would rather
"pay taxes which buy guns to kill black babies" than stand with the
poor and oppressed trying to build a better society in Jonestown.
With a no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy edge in his voice, he announced the beginning
of a campaign to fight dangerous bourgeois backslipping within the community;
and then fell silent for another few weeks. Awake in a Nightmare, Ethan Feinsod, 1981, page 142.
In some cults, members are told to absolutely avoid any contact
with people who have left the cult. They are told that
the departees are evil and dangerous, and must be shunned and ostracized.
Good Scientologists may not have any contact with people who have been
"declared Suppressive Persons." Jehovah's Witnesses may not
talk to or associate with those who have been "disfellowshipped."
Likewise, good Moonies may not communicate in any way with those who have
That is an act of self-preservation for the cult:
They don't want to risk their members being told some sensible
things by people who were lucky enough to get out.
Such ostracism also acts as a strong deterrent to people who may be thinking about leaving.
in "Mainstream Cults,"
makes the point that the fact that every member of the cult knows for certain
what will happen if they leave is a potent psychological threat.
It goes beyond a vague, remote, "you'll burn in Hell for eternity" threat.
It's an immediate, here-and-now threat:
"We will not associate with you ever again. You will be completely cut
off and totally alone."
No one wants to risk being completely ostracized by his or her friends.
And since most cult members associate almost exclusively with just other
cult members, such ostracism means being cast completely adrift,
and left totally friendless and alone.
Michael Rogge describes the dilemma of those who leave this way:
The true nature of the so-called friendships within the group
be revealed after a devotee has left the fold. Members have
seen this happen,
but did not give it a thought at the time, because it happened
to someone else.
But when they undergo the same fate themselves they will feel
the humiliation of not being greeted
anymore, marriage gone — even not being recognized by one's
own children anymore.
The outcast feels thrown in an abyss. He is cut off from social
contacts, his life in pieces.
The magnitude of this desperate experience should not be
under-estimated. The renegade will feel deep shame. He may have
confessed in the group intimate secrets,
which are now being ridiculed by his former so-called friends.
The expulsee, deeply hurt, may become embittered and even enter
into a suicidal mental state. ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SPIRITUAL MOVEMENTS,
A few cults, like Yogi Bhajan's 3HO,
specialize in kicking people out as a
means of practicing terrorism; you either instantly obey all
orders and believe everything you are told,
or you are gone, banished in disgrace. But that still isn't an
In the Jehovah's Witnesses,
Jehovah 'sifts out' those not truly 'in the truth', those without
'the right heart condition' which is why people leave or must be
"disfellowshipped". In the eyes of the cult, no one
leaves for legitimate reasons.
On the other hand, some other cults, like
Scientology, are extremely possessive: they won't allow members
to leave at all, under any conditions. Some cults, including Scientology,
will even track down and physically retrieve runaways.
Scientology actually maintains fortified and armed
prison camps where out-of-favor Scientologists are hand-cuffed,
chained, and imprisoned, like the
"Gold Base" — the Gilman Hot
Springs Scientology base, and
the "Happy Valley" camp near Hemet, California.
Members who attempt to run away are sent there for
"RPF" — "Rehabilitation
In the earliest days of Alcoholics Anonymous, the alcoholics
were all just a part of the Oxford Group cult.
Clarence Snyder had gathered a group of alcoholics in Cleveland, Ohio,
who made the weekly trek to Akron to attend the Oxford Group meetings there.
Then he decided that the alcoholics would be better off separated from
the Oxford Group.
When Snyder announced that the Cleveland alcoholics
would henceforth be holding their own independent meetings, the Oxford Group attacked:
Clarence said, "I made the announcement at the Oxford Group that
this was the last time the Cleveland bunch was down as a contingent —
that we were starting a group in Cleveland that would only be open to
alcoholics and their families. Also we were taking the name from the book
"The roof came off the house. 'Clarence, you can't do this!' someone said.
"'We've got to talk about this!'
"'It's too late.'
"The meeting was set for the following week [May 11, 1939]," Clarence said.
"I made the mistake of telling these people the address. They invaded the house
and tried to break up the meeting. One fellow was going to whip me. All in the name
of pure Christian love!" Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, page 164.
Note that the anonymous A.A. staff who wrote "Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers" were
falsifying history there. Clarence Snyder did not take the "Alcoholics Anonymous" name from the book.
The book did not exist then, and the writing of the book would not be even started until late 1939.
Bill Wilson wrote chapter 5 with the
12 Steps in December of 1939, so there was no way that Clarence Snyder could take the name "Alcoholics Anonymous"
from the book in May of 1939.
The truth is the other way around. Clarence Snyder created the "Alcoholics Anonymous"
name for his group when they separated from the Oxford Group.
In April of 1940,
Bill Wilson used that name for the book and the whole organization,
but Bill Wilson didn't like to share the credit for anything with anybody, so he rewrote history to deny
Clarence Snyder any credit for the name, and now we get this false story that Clarence Snyder took the name from the book.
Clarence's wife added,
"As a matter of fact," Dorothy said, "at one of our very first
meetings, all the strict Oxford Group contingent came up from Akron and was very bitter
and voluble. They felt we were being extremely disloyal to everyone in doing this.
It was quite a step to pull away from Akron." Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, page 165.
The A.A. members who wrote the book Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers
were falsifying history a bit there — this is exactly backwards:
"Also we were taking the name from the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous.'"
Actually, it was Clarence Snyder who made up and first used the name "Alcoholics Anonymous"
for his group.
The book got the name from Clarence Snyder,
not the other way around, but the true believers in New York City
who were busy perpetuating the A.A. mythology didn't
want to give too much credit to Clarence Snyder, because Clarence Snyder dared to
criticize Bill Wilson's financial dishonesty. The A.A. leaders even purged Clarence Snyder's story from the fourth edition
of the Big Book, and made Clarence into a Stalinesque "non-person".
This was William Olin's exit experience. First, he spoke to the
group about the problems that were making him think about leaving
Synanon, and the cult's response was harsh:
There once was a time, however, when I had been convinced from the
top of my pointed head to the soles of my flat feet that we did
have a very important answer — the Synanon Game.
I had been a true believer in its almost limitless possibilities,
as I used to ponder a big mural in the Oakland House which depicted
a circle of Game chairs superimposed on the United Nations building.
Ever since moving in, however, my enjoyment of and trust in the Game
had gradually diminished until the root beer incident
[when Chuck Dederich poured
a can of root beer on a woman who disagreed with him], when both took
a nosedive. The magic circle had deteriorated into a monodimensional
psychic cattle prod for keeping us troops in line — especially
regarding whatever the Founder's latest fad was. If you didn't like
it, of course you could scream yourself blue in the face, but that
wouldn't affect policy one iota. The Synanon Game had become a placebo
and I felt disenfranchised. I supposed that newcomer Games still
served their original purpose of positioning animals fresh off the
streets as well as giving them a chance to vent their spleen.
But that didn't do much for me personally — not at this point in
Besides, the torrent of newcomers had become just a trickle as our
population steadily dwindled. Although the doors were still nailed
open, character-disorders who had even one cylinder working peeked
inside at the madness awaiting them and opted for the program down the
block, which usually resembled Synanon in the early sixties.
The decline in popularity held
true for squares as well. ...
...Game Club attendance was way down, and consequently, so was the
influx of new lifestylers.
Over the years, the box had obviously
flipped on us, but since nobody was willing to admit this, the
movement seemed doomed. Instead of thoughtful dialogue, all I heard
from the little Chucks were silly rationalizations laced with the
latest buzzwords like, "Pressure always reduces quantity but
improves quality" and "At this time, we are tacking towards
population compression." Bullshit, Synanon was dying of
I expressed misgivings about the explosive combination of no-think
and extremism — especially in light of current directions in Chuck's
"great conversation," such as childlessness and physical
violence. Young men clamoring for vasectomies so they could lay their
balls on the line for Synanon and their devout female counterparts
gaming about abortions did not entirely thrill me. Worst still was
singling out anyone "standing in our way" — either a
bureaucrat like the county planning director or a simple soul like
Gambonini — as an "enemy of Synanon."
Nobody had been more positive about self-protection than I was,
but once again, we had "gone right past the money."
Did anyone in the Temple really know what the hell we
were up to anymore? Not only had my faith in the Game process
diminished, but my trust in the entire movement was rapidly
disintegrating, and I suspected that everything was not being made
public, as I had once so naively believed. Instead of stirring
slogans like "Character is the only rank," the well-worn
chestnut about the corruptive propensities of power kept running
through my head like an old song.
A newer dopefiend, who had taken an open chair to talk to his girlfriend,
got visibly agitated as I babbled on. Finally, he blurted angrily,
"Hey, motherfucker, if you don't like it here — why don't
you just get the fuck out?" After thanking him for his astute comment,
I admitted that the question he raised was the very one that had
plagued me for a year.
... Before long, Phyllis [Olin] returned from her break, looking
as white and drawn as when she had left. Apparently, she hadn't
slept very much. Several of the stewers immediately positioned her
with, "Your asshole husband says he's going to split. How about
you?" She neither flinched nor answered directly, but instead
used her Stew to talk about the black cloud
that had hung over our marriage for so long and
how she had looked forward to this moment with both anticipation
and dread. Even though she had watched me suffer for months and
knew what was on my mind, this would be our very first conversation
about the possibility of my leaving Synanon — God, how straight
we had played it.
After a fitful nap in the Stew Dorm, I boarded a Synacruiser for
my return to the Homeplace, where I had work to do. Was it my
imagination, or did I pick up a certain coolness from my fellow
passengers? Well of course! I already knew that part of my Stew
had been broadcast, and no communal gossip traveled faster than
What turned out to be an abbreviated stay at the Homeplace was
positively unreal. It began the moment I picked up my farbus
(now filled with drawings and papers) and headed for the Connect
to check in. The Lodge door opened and out popped a long-stemmed
beauty wearing a T-shirt I hadn't seen before. Emblazoned in red
across her chest were the words, "I Love It Here."
My knees jellied and I had to fight the impulse to jump back on
the jitney. Everyone's automatic smile seemed more mechanical
than ever and their "hihowareya" greetings even more
perfunctory. I felt like an undesirable alien in an island of
Things were no better at the translator's office. Old friends were
unmistakably distant — especially Bob Greenfeld. After brief
conversation about a couple of projects, he disappeared and I lost
myself in the familiar narcotic of work for the rest of the afternoon.
Not surprisingly, I found myself in a Game with Bob that night.
He immediately let me have it with both barrels. I had never seen
him so angry. Apparently, after I had "spilled my guts" in
the Stew, he had been decimated in a Big-Shot Game for his "sick
contract" with me. The specific indictment had been that his
lust for my translator skills had blinded him to the obvious truth
that "I was no longer on Synanon's side — just a sour,
ungrateful asshole on the way out the door."
Bob got lots of support in our game, and I was urged to leave in
a rich variety of rhetoric. Betty, a sweet woman who had once
worked with Phyllis in the School, was especially scathing in her
remarks. Two weeks later, she was gone herself. A Synanon truism
was that "All projections are valid."
Charles "Chuck" Dederich
For some reason, Chuck wasn't inviting me to lunch these days.
I couldn't even look at him — I felt like such a traitor.
After hurriedly eating with two of our cooks whose table conversation
ranged from vegetable roughage to mid-term abortions, I slipped off
to the bunkhouse to read and think.
Just as I was about to go running,
Jady Dederich's dog-robber came by to inform me that my presence
was requested in a Game that was already in process. Oh-oh, I
thought, I'll bet this is it! I put my pants back on,
jogged over to the 'Big Game' room, and took a seat, surrounded
by 'Homeplace heavies'.
After the wrap-up of some weighty action between our princess/director
and her commoner consort, the focus shifted to me.
Someone began an indictment about the gross impropriety of my sour
presence at the Homeplace, when Jady imperiously interrupted and
positioned me unambiguously, "I want to hear your answer to
one question — right here and right now and I don't give a shit about
anything else you might have to say. Are you making plans to split
... I heard my own voice from far off somewhere, intoning, "Yes...
I am." The Game shifted off me immediately, and after a few
minutes I left and went for my run.
Bob Greenfeld invited me to supper, where he announced that my services
were no longer required at the Homeplace. In Synanese, I was 'being
shipped out on a door.'
The following afternoon, I jitneyed over to the Executive Offices
at the Ranch for my appointment with Dede [Chuck Dederich Jr.].
I was surprised to find
that Pete was there too. They asked me if what they had heard about
my splitting was true. All true. What, in God's name, did I have
waiting for me out there? Nothing — except, perhaps, my freedom.
They both laughed and agreed with each other that I had gone totally
crazy. Freedom to what — starve? Die of loneliness — or maybe,
boredom? Yeh, I admitted, it did look a little rough, but I'd survive.
[A few days later...]
A few hours before departure time for San Francisco, an old friend
served me with divorce papers from Phyllis. I hadn't expected that.
Upon a moment's reflection, though, I should have. A real Synanite
doesn't muddle around indecisively for very long but takes a strong
position — Boom, just like that! And Phyllis was certainly one of
the most loyal soldiers of them all. Escape From Utopia: My Ten Years in Synanon, William F. Olin,
pages 248-249, 251-252, 254, 255-256, 257, 258.
Bill Olin's reward for ten years of selfless service to Synanon was
that they hated him for leaving, and harshly condemned him for it.
Of course. The departure of a respected elder shook
of the true believers, and planted doubts in their minds,
and made them ask themselves what they were really doing and why
they were doing it.
They couldn't tolerate that, so they angrily blamed Olin for
Olin's story also illustrated several other common
cult characteristics, besides No Exit:
The Guru is always right. Everything Chuck Dederich said was
always right, period. His orders, or his latest fad, were to be
followed without question, even if it meant being sterilized or
aborting a much-longed-for baby.
You are always wrong. Olin actually felt bad — guilty — for
standing on his principles and speaking up for what he believed
was true and right,
and choosing to not participate in the evil any longer.
He was made to feel like a deserter and a traitor for choosing
right over wrong, truth over falsehoods, and freedom over slavery.
"I couldn't even look at him [Chuck Dederich] — I felt like
such a traitor."
That "You are always wrong" attitude also clearly
shows in the demonization of those who choose to leave.
Likewise, the cult members gave us lots of examples of
Ad Hominem and
"You are a piece
of dirt if you dare to criticize our cult, the Founder, or his
wonderful teachings. And you are insane if you are thinking about
leaving the wonderful cult."
When Olin criticized the faults of the cult, they responded by
calling him a "motherfucker" and an "asshole".
And Dede and Pete agreed that Bill Olin "had gone totally crazy"
when he decided to leave Synanon.
Grandiose claims and bombastic idealism.
"We are special.
We are the wave of the future.
The United Nations could learn something from us.
Only we have a style of life worth living.
Everybody else is dying of loneliness and boredom,
while we build Heaven on Earth."
"We have the new technology, the panacea,
that will save the world — The Synanon Game."
"The Game" and "The Stew" were just modified confession
or self-criticism sessions, very similar to the Red Chinese brainwashing
self-criticism sessions where they reversed the logic and everyone had
to criticize someone else. In The Game and The Stew, everyone
ganged up on one person at a time, and ripped them to shreds. Then they
would "flip the box" and lavishly praise the person they had just
crushed. Then they would rotate the target to someone else and repeat the
routine until everyone had had his ego destroyed.
You can voice your opinion, and even scream it in
Game sessions, but your opinion doesn't really matter and will actually
Royalty and The Inner Circle — "Saint Charles"
Dederich, "Princess Jady Dederich", 'Prince Dede',
the "Homeplace heavies", and "The Big-Shot Game".
Any purported "equality" in the cult is a hoax. Everybody is equal, but some people are more equal than others.
And the slogan was "Character is the only rank",
but that wasn't how things really worked.
Which brings up,
Synanon began as an idealistic drug and alcohol rehabilitation program,
and ended up being whatever Charles Dederich said it was. Lastly,
he said it was a religion and a research project exploring how Synanon
could supply the leaders with rich, luxurious, elegant lifestyles.
(No joke. That's the literal truth. That's what he said.)
At the end, "fine dining" — two-hour, multiple-course dinners of
the finest available cuisine — was one of the inner circle's major daily tasks.
Isolationism or separatism. The cult has a siege mentality
of "us versus them out there." And there is no reality
outside of the cult. Life outside of the cult is seen as absurd,
shallow, lonely, hard, boring, and pointless.
Anybody who won't do what the cult wants is an
enemy of the cult. Olin mentioned the county planning director,
whom Olin found to be an okay guy when he went and talked with him,
or Gambonini, the rancher next door,
who had done nothing to Synanon. --Which, in turn, revealed the growing
paranoia of the cult.
And even the old-timer Synanon member William Olin himself was labeled
"no longer on Synanon's side" for
telling the truth about some of the faults of Synanon.
"Pressure always reduces quantity but improves quality."
"We are tacking towards population compression."
"All projections are valid."
"Take a strong position."
"Flip the box."
Denial. True believers
deny the truth, and
cannot tolerate any criticism.
Isolation, ostracism, and shunning of splitters.
A system of
rewards and punishments. When Olin announced
his desire to leave, all respect, praise, and positive feedback
vanished. He was subjected to numerous rounds of
torment and torture,
verbal assaults and psychological attacks, as well as
ostracism and shunning.
Olin was also punished by the group attacking his co-worker,
Bob Greenfeld, for Olin's "crime" of leaving.
reversal of reality.
Even though William Olin was a non-addict
"lifestyler" and a successful architect who had joined
Synanon because he had believed in it as a utopian social movement,
and even though Olin had given
Synanon his life savings and had worked for Synanon for free for
ten years, the cult claimed that Synanon had given him everything,
and that he was
"just a sour, ungrateful asshole."
Note the statement that Olin would starve outside of Synanon. There
was no recognition of the reality that he was a competent
non-addict architect who was quite capable of making a living
and taking care of himself outside of Synanon.
That little "you will starve" slur also smacks of
Phobia Induction — trying
to make Olin afraid to leave. And, it may also be the other cult members
giving voice to their own suppressed fears that they
would starve if they tried to leave the cult.
Conditional friendships and conditional love.
Your "true friends for life"
who give you "unconditional love" will withdraw their
"love" in a
flat minute if you violate the cult's rules, and fall out of favor,
by doing something stupid like saying that you
want to leave. Your own wife might even immediately divorce you.
Members get no respect. They get abused.
The rank-and-file membership worked more than full time for wages that
ranged from $2 to $25 per week,
while the inner circle explored elegant lifestyles and fine dining.
And still, the leader Chuck Dederich often berated the members by saying that
he was forced to support all of their incompetent lazy asses.
That's another example
of "You Are Always Wrong.", and it's also an example
of "You Owe The Group".
And then Synanon was extremely
intrusive, and violated
people's personal boundaries and invaded their private lives to an unwarranted degree,
even for an organization that was supposedly a drug and alcohol rehabilitation
The leader Dederich said that he didn't want any more children
around, and he actually felt entitled to order all of the men (except himself) to get
vasectomies, and the pregnant women had to get abortions — even women who
really wanted their babies, and had been trying to get pregnant for years.
No one ever learns as much as the
Guru knows; no one ever rises to the level of the Guru's wisdom,
so no one ever finishes his or her training, and nobody ever
As Synanon degenerated from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program into a crazy cult,
The End of "Graduation".
Other changes also influenced Synanon's growth and development.
The end of the policy of "graduation" in 1968, for example,
implied an end-of-the-road mentality for dope fiends that was not validated by
the many splittees who had experienced success on the outside.
Every Synanite knew about these happy outcomes. Many also knew that a
major reason for the policy change was a renewed focus on containment and
a resentment toward Synanon "graduates" who took positions with other
The end of graduation was particularly ironic in light of the de facto graduation
program established for juvenile offenders in the mid-1970s. The Rise And Fall Of Synanon; A California Utopia, Rod Janzen, page 226.
Sometimes the wording of "graduates" is deceptive.
In Werner Erhard's "est" "human potential"
cult, people were
called "graduates" as soon as they had completed their
first 2-weekend course of "training." But then they
were immediately pressured to take another course, so that the
"benefits" of the first course would really take hold.
And then they were supposed to take yet another course, and then
another and another (and each course cost hundreds of dollars,
of course). So they may have "graduated"
from the first course of training, but they were never
really finished with their expensive est
Scientology does the same thing too. First you are a
"pre-clear", and then you graduate and become a
"Clear", but then you need to
become an "Operating Thetan", but then you need to become a
higher-level Operating Thetan, working your way up through the
levels from "OT I" through "OT VIII",
which are increasingly expensive, many tens of thousands of dollars
for each of the higher levels.
(And, as long as the cult leader L. Ron Hubbard was alive,
they kept inventing yet another higher level.)
And then they have something else
called a "Class XII"...
Then you need to learn how to do it all to somebody else —
you need to learn how to be an Auditor, or a Case Supervisor (C/S),
and brainwash other people. There are many more levels of that.
It costs at least $375,000
to do all of the levels and all of the courses.
Only rich celebrities
like John Travolta and Tom Cruise could afford it all.
And even then, you still aren't quite clear enough to graduate and leave
The cult has its own language.
The cult invents new terminology or euphemisms for many things.
The cult may also redefine many common words to mean something
Cult-speak is also called "bombastic redefinition of the
familiar", or "loading the language".
is one of Dr. Robert J. Lifton's
Eight Conditions of
Thought Reform — an essential part of any effective
The cult-speak may include a bunch of well-worn
which Dr. Lifton called "thought-terminating clichés.
The special words constrict rather than expand human understanding,
and the slogans stop thought.
Beginners have to learn all of the new terminology in order to
fit in, and understand what is being said.
Then, the new language has the effect of separating the newcomer from
his old world, and from his old circle of friends.
His new cult friends will tell him that
"Only another cult member understands",
and it will be true.
When he babbles nothing but cult-speak, nobody but another cult
member will be able to understand.
Loading the language and redefining words has a long history.
Lewis Carroll described it very well in the Alice in Wonderland
sequel, Through the Looking Glass:
"... and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four
days when you might get unbirthday presents."
"Certainly," said Alice.
"And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's
glory for you!"
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,'" Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't — till
I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knockdown argument for you.'"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knockdown argument,'" Alice
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather
scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither
more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can
make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be
master — that's all."
Alice was too puzzled to say anything, so, after a minute, Humpty Dumpty
began again. "They've a temper, some of them — particularly verbs,
they're the proudest: adjectives you can do anything with, but not
verbs. However, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability!
That's what I say!"
"Would you tell me please," said Alice, "what that means?"
"Now you talk like a reasonable child," said Humpty Dumpty,
looking very much pleased. I meant by 'impenetrability' that we've had
enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention
what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here
all the rest of your life."
"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said
in a thoughtful tone.
"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said
Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."
"Oh!" said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.
"Ah, you should see 'em come round me of a Saturday night,"
Humpty Dumpty went on, wagging his head gravely from side to side;
"for to get their wages, you know."
(Alice did not venture to ask what he paid them with; and so, you see,
I can't tell you.) Alice in Wonderland &
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll,
Back in the "real world",
because leaving the cult is one of the worst crimes that a member can commit
(according to the cult), most cults have a special term for
leaving, like "going tai-tan", "backsliding",
"leaving the fold", being "lost in maya",
being "trapped in samsara", "straying
from the path", "falling from grace"
or simply "going out". When that
dreaded phrase is uttered, everyone knows what it means.
Sometimes euphemisms or redefined phrases can take on truly
evil dimensions. Adolf Hitler's
"special handling" of the Jews, and sending them to the
"final solution", are classic examples.
And this one is really gruesome: the poison gas Zyklon B,
with which millions of Jews were killed, was
called "material for the resettlement of Jews".
Likewise, Mao Tse Tung sent his enemies and critics to slave labor on remote
farms for "re-education" so that they would learn to
When Rev. Jim Jones gave the order to murder the 276 children
at the Jonestown People's Temple commune, he didn't say, "Kill those
kids" or "Give them the cyanide."
He asked, "Would someone help those children in crossing over?"
Throughout the entire second half of the twentieth century, various
United States Presidents used the term "police action",
rather than "war", to get around limitations on Presidential
powers, and to avoid having to tell the public that we actually were
in yet another war. President Nixon would not say that the U.S. and
South Vietnamese armies had actually "invaded" Cambodia;
it was only an "incursion".
"An important art of politicians is to find new names for
institutions which under old names have become odious to the
public." — Talleyrand.
Carl Sagan called such terminology "weasel words".
There are plenty of contemporary examples of loading the language,
or bombastically redefining words:
In many cults, "You must have faith" really means,
"You must believe what I'm saying."
"The Lord will reward you" really means, "I'm not going to pay you."
In one cult, "Sharing the love of God" means practicing
prostitution to get money for the cult, and "Allowing God to bless
others" means cheating people out of money which then goes to the
In David Berg's
"Children of God"
cult, "FF" means "Flirty Fishing", which means
women members practice prostitution to get more money and new
male members for the
Likewise, in The Children of God, "forsaking all and
following the Lord" means giving all of your worldly wealth,
including your house, to the church, and then obeying the orders of
which often includes the women practicing prostitution, and their
husbands pimping them on the streets, to get the cult more money.
And David Berg redefined "true spiritual freedom" and
"perfect love" to mean that all of the women in the
Children of God cult, even his own daughter, should freely have
To the Moonies,
means misleading, deceiving, and lying to nonmembers to promote the church's goals.
Scientologists are actually supposed to read Scientology
literature with the Scientology dictionary in hand. Any time they
read something that they do not understand, or disagree with, they
are supposed to look up the words in the Scientology dictionary to
get their new official meanings. Thus, the members allow Scientology
to redefine the whole language, and actually, to redefine reality.
In Scientology, "EOC" — "End Of Cycle" —
is church jargon for suicide.
Scientologists have actually been sent out as assassins,
with orders to kill critics of Scientology and then
EOC after the target was
Another feature of cult-speak is the misuse of language.
Cults often twist and mangle language in their own peculiar ways.
For example: Nounify verbs and verbify nouns.
That is, use verbs as nouns, and nouns as verbs.
That gives language a crazy sound that is jarring and stunts the growth of thought.
Scientology is especially notorious for this.
The "EOC" example above uses a noun as a verb.
Another aspect of loading the language is constant redefinition
or reinterpretation of anything and everything, whenever it is
convenient. For instance, you may be reading the teachings of a
phony guru, and find errors and logical inconsistencies in his
teachings, and point it out to members. The true-believer cult
members will answer, "Oh, you don't understand. What it
really means is..." And then they will explain
and reinterpret the guru's words until he sounds like a genius who
deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. Eventually, it seems like
everything means something else, and
nothing is as it appears...
Another twist on that constant redefinition game is that some
groups let words have two very different definitions,
simultaneously. Which definition will be used at any given time
depends on the circumstances. Thus, the very same sentence can have
different meanings at different times. This is especially true of
cults that hide the truth from newcomers. An innocent-sounding saying
may have an entirely different meaning after you learn
meanings of the words.
When it comes to sheer density of incomprehensible psycho-babble or
techno-babble, Scientology is hard to beat. This quote comes from
someone who quit Scientology, and is now criticizing it, but he
still hasn't quite "cleared" his language yet:
I sec-checked a new OT VIII completion from Spain on the subject
shortly after he completed OT VIII (I was ordered to sec-check him
despite that I was OT VII and he was OT VIII because I was the only
OT 7 Nots auditor there was...
I had given him his whole upper level bridge from OT Eligibility to
Solo Nots EP check. ...
Three people who were in their early 50's died of cancer, months after
completing new OT VIII. As a result, the New OT VIII C/S was RPFed
(Laura Wolfe, wife of Milton Wolfe who was jailed on behalf of the
GO and later ended up as CO FSSO (FSSO: Flag Ship Service Org, The
service org on board the Freewinds.) The replacement C/S, Sue Walker,
wife of Jeff Walker, one of the original Class XII who was Snr C/S Int
at the time (and who later blew and got declared I'm told — If he
got declared he should be contacted, he was a very good friend of
mine and we had much respect for each other. ...)
Wow. Can you believe that they talk like that all of the time?
"Sec-check" means "security check" — a process of
questioning a Scientologist while he holds the lie-detector tin cans,
to see if he is loyal enough and has the right beliefs. It's a kind of
inquisition, not unlike the Catholic Inquisitions of the Middle Ages.
That quote also reveals the extreme beliefs of Scientologists.
Scientology claims that when someone's mind has been properly processed
— they call it "auditing" —
that he will get mind over matter powers, even immortality.
Hence Scientology also teaches that dying of cancer is just lazy immoral
behavior. When those three very high-level Scientologists
(OT-VIII, Operating Thetan Level 8)
died of cancer, Scientology punished their trainers —
called "auditors" or "case supervisors" (C/S) —
for "unethical" behavior — for having failed to fix the clients' minds
properly, and for having failed to teach the clients how to be immortal.
RPF means "Rehabilitation Project Force", which means torment and torture,
even getting sent to the Scientology prison camp at Hemet, California.
Strange but true.
And notice the shifting of blame: When someone dies, it means that their
case supervisor has failed, not that the Scientology teachings are really
all a pack of lies from a paranoid schizophrenic. The Scientologists continue
to believe that nonsense even though the nutcase leader of Scientology,
Lafayette Ronald "L. Ron" Hubbard, up and died of a stroke.
Oh well, better luck in the next lifetime.
Group-think, Suppression of Dissent, and Enforced Conformity in Thinking
The cult has standard answers for almost everything, and members
are expected to parrot those answers.
Willfulness or independence or skeptical thinking is seen as bad.
Members accept the leader's reality as their own.
Ask a candid question,
Get a canned answer.
There are two corollaries:
A) Independent or critical thinking is discouraged,
especially critical thoughts about the leader or the group or the cult's teachings.
B) Positive thoughts and statements about the leader and
the group are encouraged.
In cults, no criticism of the leader, his teachings, or
his organization is seen as valid — such criticism is always automatically
wrong, just because it criticizes the guru, his teachings,
or his group.
(And of course such criticism of the guru or his group also breaks
Cult Rule Number One,
"The Guru Is Always
Dissent and disagreement are also seen as impolite and inappropriate. One should
"respect" the "traditions" and "ancient teachings".
"They are much older than you are. After all, what do you know? Just go along with it."
Cults also often try to equate critical questions and comments with hatred, bigotry, bias, prejudice, and unfairness.
Cults confuse "critical perspectives" with "hatred".
If you ask about serious problems in the church, the true believers respond with,
"Why do you hate our church?"
Cults also assert that questioning the group's doctrines will lead to bad results.
You might not get into Heaven, or you might not get enlightened, or your doubts will
make you backslide, or something like that.
Cults consider it immoral, or at least a serious spiritual failing, for someone
to think independently, rather than parrotting the standard slogans and text.
And actually criticizing the illogical or irrational aspects of the cult's
doctrines is considered a very serious moral offense.
Cults will even claim that you are harming other cult members by questioning
the craziness — you are keeping others from going to Heaven, or you are weakening
their faith, or you are leading them into temptation and
you are leading them to their downfall, causing them to become "lost souls".
So criticizing the cult is killing people, they say.
Cults almost invariably have strong contempt for the intellect, human intelligence,
and any attempt to think independently. They even use the word "intellectual"
as an insult.
The reason for such a strong anti-intellectual bias is simple:
critical and analytical thought is very
threatening to a cult's precepts. The cult's irrational dogma simply cannot
stand up to rational examination, so the intellect is treated
with scorn and contempt to try to preclude such examination.
Anti-intellectual attitudes, and contempt, fear, and hatred of the intellect — to the
extent that the very word "intellectual" is a term of abuse — are typical
of totalitarian regimes from Nazi Germany to Maoist China. They are also
common features of totalist cults.
Group-think is not restricted to cults. It is a common problem
throughout the world of groups and organizations.
In her youthful drunkalogue, Smashed, Koren Zailckas encountered it while she was a
football cheerleader who partied with the jocks:
The experts say that jocks are susceptible to "group-think," a
decision-making model that includes collective rationalization (i.e.: "There is no
I in TEAM") and the illusion that shit can't happen. Smashed, Koren Zailckas, page 128.
Many cults claim to have some divine, infallible teachings,
"The True Word of God",
"so of course any criticism of the guru or his teachings
is always wrong, and downright evil, because it is going against God."
...Or because it is going against The Spiritual Principles of the
Cosmos, or it is going against Nature, or whatever
the purported Higher Principle is...
In some cults, dissent is considered synonymous
with demon possession because
"Satan opposes the group's great works."
Criticism of the cult, the cult leader, or his teachings
is seen as proof that someone is dominated by evil forces.
In many cults, the attitude is, "Those who agree with us are 'saved'.
Those who disagree with us, or criticize our group, our beliefs, or our
leader, are "the lost", or "the unsaved"."
Likewise, in cults, there is a reversal of judgement.
The cult itself is never judged, or subject to judgement; rather, the people who comment
on the cult are judged by what they say about the cult.
People who say good things about the cult are deemed (by the cult) to be good people.
People who say bad things about the cult are deemed to be bad people.
Moral Re-Armament cannot be honestly opposed on intellectual grounds
because it is basic truth....
Opposition to Moral Re-Armament has special significance.
It always comes from the morally defeated. Remaking Men, by Paul Campbell and Peter Howard, page 66.
Dissenting members are advised to seek a consensus in all matters.
One fundamentalist Christian cult taught,
"In the abundance of counselors there is safety. He who
trusts his own mind is a fool."
Likewise, the Love Family cult told members who tried to
"What's inside your mind is lies. We are your
mind. The group is your
In the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief,
Lawrence Wright describes how one long-time Scientology member became disillusioned with
the Church of Scientology and began questioning it:
...Haggis began an investigation into the church.
What is so striking about Haggis's investigation is that
few prominent figures attached to the Church of Scientology
have actually looked into the charges that have surrounded their
institution for many years.
The church discourges such examination, telling its members that negative
articles are "entheta" and will only cause spiritual upset. In 1996, the
church sent CDs to members to help them build their own websites,
which would then link them to the Scientology site; included in the
software was a filter that would block any sites containing
material that vilified the church or revealed esoteric doctrines. Keywords
that triggered the censorship were Xenu, OT III, and the names of prominent
Although Haggis had never used such a filter, one already existed in his mind.
During his thirty-four years in the church he had purposely avoided asking too
many questions or reading materials that he knew would disparage his faith.
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief,
by Lawrence Wright, page 311.
As Synanon degenerated from a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program into a crazy cult,
dissent was suppressed:
In debates of Synanon policies on the floor, often too few representatives of
the commune were involved. And
once decisions had been made, it was dangerous to critique them.
Those who did so were silenced with accusations of whining, negativism, or lack
Such indictments were often accompanied by allegations of contracting with other
residents who felt the same way — other dissenters — though the very act of
dissent was an essential contract-breaking activity. There was, in other words,
no way one could effectively or appropriately disagree with decisions made by
top officials. One was caught in a Catch-22 net of conformity. As Bill Olin
described it, "The magic circle had deteriorated into a mono-dimensional psychic
cattle prod for keeping us troops in line."9
9. Olin, William F., Escape From Utopia, 249. The Rise And Fall Of Synanon; A California Utopia, Rod Janzen, pages 218-219.
Group-think usually means no real thought at all;
just repeat the buzz-words and slogans and follow the program.
And group-think usually just means that the group thinks
that the Guru is always right.
Jeffrey Schaler wrote in his paper
One way of testing the cult nature of a group is by challenging
the ideology binding the group together. We can discover something
about the nature of a group by how well its members tolerate
opposition to the ideology that holds the group together. How
well do members tolerate difference of opinion, opinion that
challenges the very ideological heart of the group?
Members of the cult are like a colony of insects when disturbed.
A frenzy of activity and protective measures are executed when
core ideologies are challenged. The stronger the evidence challenging
the truthfulness of the group ideology, the more likely members
of the cult are to either lash out in a more or less predictable
fashion, fall apart, or disband into separate cult colonies.
Another aspect of group-think is something that might be called
"group-feel." The cult dictates what feelings or emotions
good members are supposed to feel.
Usually, all members are supposed to maintain a cheerful disposition
all of the time, happily proclaiming that the guru and his teachings
are just wonderful and will save the world, or some such thing.
Anger is permitted only when criticizing non-conforming or
under-performing cult members, or when faulting outsiders — especially
when condemning "enemies" of the cult and other outsiders who criticize the cult,
and when condemning competing cults or groups.
Otherwise, everybody wears a smiley happy face.
Negative emotions about the cult or its leader are considered
especially bad — a sure sign that someone is failing the standards
The beliefs of the cult are irrational, illogical, or superstitious, and
fly in the face of evidence to the contrary.
The Hari Krishna
cult (ISKCON), for example, believed for many, many years that the Earth
was flat, in spite of our astronauts' journeys
into space, and all of those beautiful pictures of a big
blue round Earth taken from outer space, and from the Moon.
(An ISKON member recently told me that they finally abandoned
that particular belief.)
Scientologists believe that you can be harmed by memories of injuries
that happened to you during previous lifetimes. They also believe
that, if you pay enough money to Scientology and take enough courses of
treatment and training, you can become immortal — a fully-developed
spiritual being with mind-over-matter powers who is above physical death.
(Ignore the fact that "L. Ron" Hubbard, the crazy founder of
Scientology, died of a stroke.)
Scientologists also believe that you can be bothered by
"body thetans" and "clusters",
which are the ghosts, or clusters of ghosts, of millions of people
from another planet who were murdered here millions of years ago
by the evil Galactic Overlord Xenu.
Those ghosts are supposedly now clinging to your skin and trying to get
into your body and giving you all kinds of pain and troubles.
But for only $375,000 or more, Scientology will help you to get rid of those pesky
Many cults believe that God will answer all of their prayers and
rearrange the world to suit them. They imagine that they get
miracles from God on demand.
(Often, their theology isn't too clear about just why they get miracles
on demand when lots of other people obviously don't — like the
millions of sick and starving and earthquake-crushed and
tsunami-drowned and typhoon-killed people around the world.)
And many cults believe in faith healing — that somehow, one way or
another, God will answer their prayers and cure whatever ails them.
We could devote an entire chapter just to the insanity of some people's belief in
faith healing, and the circus side-show manner in which it is practiced,
but I'll just mention one thing: Haven't you ever noticed
how God only heals invisible ailments that cannot be verified?
God never instantly strips 200 pounds of ugly fat right off of
an immensely obese bikini-clad woman with a glandular problem,
right there on stage in front of the TV evangelist, the TV cameras,
and some independent witnesses.
God never puts new legs and arms on amputees and war veterans on Sunday Morning TV shows, or
on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
Nope, it's always cancer, arthritis, paralysis, gall bladders, blindness,
pinched nerves, or other things that the TV camera cannot see;
things where independent verification is not possible.
And, where verification is possible, like with the Viet Nam
Veterans who have been paraplegics since the Vietnam War, well, God doesn't bother
to fix any of them in faith-healing ceremonies. God never fixes their
broken spinal cords or replaces their lost arms and legs.
God doesn't seem to like the Vietnam Vets who have authentic medical
records. The Lord sure does work in mysterious ways.
Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists chanting and praying to a scroll called a
Gohonzon. The scroll is on the wall, just beyond the
left-hand edge of the picture. The priests in the far-left center
of the picture are bowing to it.
The Prayer Gohonzon
More irrational beliefs:
The Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists (Sokka Gakkai) believe that a printed scroll,
called a Gohonzon, will grant all of your
material wishes if you chant to it enough.
It's a real Santa Claus cult.
At every church get-together, people stand up and give testimonials
about all of the wonderful things they have gotten by chanting to a
Gohonzon, and then
they talk about what they are going to chant for next: a better job,
more money, a new car, a house, or whatever.
Their core belief is that if you just chant the name of an old book of Buddhist
wisdom, that you will get all of the benefits of the wisdom in the book.
You don't bother to actually read the book or practice the philosophy;
you just chant the name of the book:
"Nam myoho renge kyo".
(Is that judging a book by its cover? Or absorbing a book by its cover?)
They also believe that they can achieve world peace if one third of
the people on Earth chant their chant. They offer no explanation of how
this will happen; it is just a given. They happily ignore the obvious
possibility that even if one third of the world does chant peacefully,
the other two thirds can continue to gleefully slaughter each other and
blow each other off of the planet, just the same as usual, not at all
inconvenienced by the chanters.
, that is, Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church,
have a good racket going:
The main plank of their belief system,
as laid down in Moon's "Divine Principle",
is that you can help people after they die. So recruits are
encouraged to buy expensive trinkets from the church that,
they are told, will assist loved ones who are suffering
deprivations in the afterlife. A settlement of $150 million
was made to former members of the Unification Church in Japan
who claimed that they had been subjected to undue pressure to
buy the otherwise worthless artifacts.
The commercial cult Amway tells people that they can become rich by
having other people sell a lot of soap for them,
but they never explain that the mathematics of the Amway system cannot
possibly work — that it's completely illogical and irrational.
For someone to be living a life of luxury and wealth — to be a "Diamond" —
he must have approximately 1000 "downlines" working under him who are making little or nothing.
Those downlines work and slave and recruit and sell soap and constantly attend meetings
and motivational seminars and
conventions and listen to inspirational tapes in the hopes that they will one
day work themselves up to the top of a pyramid, too.
But they don't realize that it is impossible for all of the members of Amway
to have or get 1000 downlines working for them and making them rich. By definition,
all of those low-level downlines would need to get 1000 downlines
working under them too, to get rich, and then all of those downlines
will want their own 1000 downlines, so they can get rich too, and so on
and so on, ad infinitum.
There just aren't enough people on the planet. There aren't even
enough sentient beings in the entire physical universe for "The System" to work.
Whenever Amway saturates an area, the last to join are destined to have
few or no downlines, and
to make no money.
So it is physically impossible for everyone to succeed in Amway like they advertise.
"The System", as they call it, isn't a way for great numbers
of people to achieve prosperity and security and happiness and financial
independence — it can't be.
"The System" cannot possibly be anything other than a pyramid
that only benefits a few at the top while the vast majority suffers.
But that removes all incentive for the lowly grunts to stay in Amway and continue
working for free. So the structure collapses when the bottom layers learn the truth and quit.
As one critic said,
"Wake Up and Smell the Numbers!"
This is a cute brain-teaser puzzle:
Imagine that you have a bacterium that reproduces every minute, by
splitting in half and doubling its numbers.
You put one bacterium into a bottle of food at 8:00 AM, and let it grow.
You come back at noon, and notice that, at the stroke of noon,
the bacteria are just eating the last of the food and exactly filling
the bottle with bacteria. They have turned a whole bottle of food into
a bottle full of bacteria.
The question is: "When was the bottle exactly one-quarter full of
If you try to calculate the answer going forwards in time from one
bacterium, it is very difficult to solve.
But if you work backwards in time, the answer is pathetically easy:
At noon, the bottle was exactly full.
At one minute before noon, the bottle was half full.
At two minutes before noon, the bottle was one quarter full.
You can continue that sequence backwards a few more times, and find that at seven minutes before
noon, the bottle was only 1/128 full of bacteria — less than one percent full.
If they could have, the bacteria might have looked around and said to themselves,
"We have miles and miles of empty space and tons of food left. We can reproduce forever."
Little did they realize that they were only seven minutes from the end.
Amway says that it has not saturated America — no, not at all — that it has only one
percent of the market. So how many minutes before the end is it for Amway?
A corollary to all of this irrational nonsense is the implicit assumption that you
are not supposed to criticize the irrational nonsense.
Cults often demand that people stop thinking
logically and just "have faith".
Cults consider it immoral, or at least a serious spiritual failing, for someone
to say that the cherished tenets of the group are illogical and crazy.
Cults will even claim that you are harming other cult members by questioning
the craziness — you are keeping them from going to Heaven, or you are weakening
their faith, or you are leading them into temptation and to their downfall.
Suspension of disbelief.
The cult member is supposed to take on a childish naïveté,
and simply believe whatever he is told, no matter how unlikely,
unrealistic, irrational, illogical, or outrageous it may be.
And he does.
Fortunate coincidences are accepted as proof that God favors the
Guru and his cult:
"The Big Man upstairs is really looking out for us."
Superstitious, religious, or magical rituals and ceremonies are
performed without skepticism.
Some cults pray or chant incessantly for almost everything imaginable,
as if God were Santa Claus, and they actually believe that their amateur
magic ceremonies will really work, and will really change reality and
get them what they want.
If the Guru starts seducing all of the 14-year-old girls in the
religious community, you are supposed to believe that he is just
giving them spiritual lessons
If the guru claims that he is the Son of God, and has the right,
even the spiritual duty, to have, sexually, all of the
post-pubescent girls and women in the community, in order to create
the Grandchildren of God, you are supposed to believe it and hand
over your wife and daughter (Vernon Howell, a.k.a. David Koresh of
the Branch Davidians — the wacko from Waco).
And if the guru suddenly starts performing miracles, this is to be
accepted as believable (Rev. Jim Jones, People's Temple).
People's Temple children had seen the "miracles" Jim
Jones performed and had heard both their parents and him say he
was God. When they begged on the streets, they never took any
of the money, for Jones had warned them that if they did, he
would know it and punish them severely. One street-wise boy took
the chance, however, and stole ten dollars. He waited for Jones'
lightning. When nothing happened, he realized they were all being
duped, and left the church before the Guyana exodus. His cynicism
saved his life. The Children of Jonestown, Kenneth Wooden,
Jones believed that the end justified the means, which meant
that he was continually asking people in his movement to override
the boundaries of what they felt was appropriate
because it was "good for People's Temple."
Even outrageous behavior on the part of Jones was interpreted
as a lesson, and the people around him would ask "what is
he [Jones] trying to show us?" Hearing the Voices of Jonestown,
Mary McCormick Maaga, page 65.
Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis, the daughter of David Berg (a.k.a.
Moses David), the founder of the Children of God cult,
wrote a book about the cult which
contains a very perceptive explanation of the role of the
suspension of disbelief in the process of brainwashing new cult
She explains that we voluntarily suspend disbelief in order to
enjoy a movie like Star Wars. For a few hours, we allow
ourselves to believe in a fantasy world of spaceships and robots
and Jedi knights.
But we return to reality when the movie ends and we leave the
The person who joins a cult goes through a similar process.
In order to become one of the group, he must embrace all of
the beliefs and teachings of the cult,
so the newcomer suspends his disbelief and enters into the movie.
But the person who joins the cult doesn't leave the
Unlike the movie-goer, however, a cult victim who suspends his
disbelief doesn't necessarily come out of it. He stays in that state.
The cult and its doctrine become his reality. It is significant
that when we go to a movie theater we are already prepared to
suspend our disbelief. We fully intend to enjoy the movie.
So it is with the cult victim. In many cases he is ready to suspend
whatever mental reservations he has in order to "enjoy"
life. Stoner and Park, the authors of All God's Children,
write, "These young people are idealistic and are frequently
searching for a goal, a purpose, and a sense of community, so the
promises of the cults appeal strongly to them. Many are willing,
even anxious, to be persuaded."[Page 240.]
The enjoyment a prospective cult member seeks lies
on a much deeper level than mere entertainment;
he is hoping to find fulfillment, purpose, and direction
But like the movie-goer who attends Star Wars seeking enjoyment,
an individual joins a cult because he wants to enjoy the
movie of life. ...
When a cult recruit crosses the invisible barrier in his mind —
when he enters the world of the cult and its doctrine at some
point in his flirtatious sampling of the cult — he is tripping
the switch of his voluntary suspension of disbelief. Brainwashing
or mind control then occurs naturally, sometimes effortlessly.
In many cases the new cult member will struggle hard to
brainwash himself. He must do this in order to balance out
the guilt he feels. When doubts rush in like a flood, he tells
himself, "I am following the truth. The rest of the world
may be going to hell, but I am following the truth!"
Other brothers and sisters are there to encourage the new recruit.
He either accepts their help and counsel, or he rejects it.
If he rejects it, he doesn't stay around long. If he receives
their help, he goes deeper into the cultic doctrine. He will
sell flowers, chant, memorize, litness
[witness and raise funds with literature],
or read Mo Letters, whatever it takes, to the utmost of his ability
to prove to himself and others that he is right. The brainwashing
that occurs in cults is the finest, purest, and most effective
around. The Communists have something to learn from Moses David. The Children of God; The Inside Story,
Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis, pages 171-172.
Note the voluntary nature of the process. Deborah Davis makes the
point that joining a cult is not just a process of being fooled
by a slick phony guru or of being quickly brainwashed without knowing
what is happening.
On some level of his mind, the newcomer must voluntarily buy into the
game, or else he will leave the cult.
This leads to another cult characteristic:
Meaning: You really do need your head examined if you insist on staying
in a cult and believing in the proclamations of a phony guru.
Wanting to believe is perhaps the most powerful dynamic initiating and sustaining
cult-like behavior. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in
Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 137.
"The world longs for authority, finality, and conclusiveness. It is weary
of theological floundering and uncertainty. Belief exhilarates the human
spirit; doubt depresses."
quoted in Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on
America's Freedoms in Religion, Politics, and Our Private Lives,
Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, page 144.
Also see: The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in
Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 143.
Certainty (as Billy Graham testified) is one of the great benefits of religious
belief. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in
Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 144.
Part of the attraction of believing the leader's views and actions to be of
paramount importance is that the follower's own sense of importance is heightened. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in
Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 67.
So the suspension of disbelief is also another veiled ego game, where the follower
likes to believe that he is very important, involved in very important work, doing
the Lord's Will and saving the world... "If the leader
and his religion are saving the world, and I follow the leader, then I am
saving the world, which makes me very good and very important, and deserving of
a place in Heaven." ("But if the leader is a fraud and a con artist, then that makes me a gullible
fool who might not be going to Heaven. So the leader must be a saint,
because I'd rather not be a fool...")
Cult members are playing spiritual make-believe, and they sure don't want to hear
that their "guaranteed" ticket to Heaven is actually a counterfeit that they bought
from a con-artist ticket scalper.
Speaking of enjoying Star Wars movies, there was an uncanny coincidence
in the Heaven's Gate cult suicides. Remember
Lieutenant Uhura, the Communications Officer in the original
Star Trek series? She was played by
Nichelle Nichols. Well, the actress' brother,
Thomas Alva Nichols, was one of the Heaven's Gate suicides
in San Diego on March 26, 1997.
The actress Ms. Nichols just pretended to be an astronaut on a starship
for the TV cameras, but her brother believed in all of that spaceship
fantasy stuff so fervently that he committed suicide so he could go
hitch-hike a ride on a flying saucer and become an astronaut for real.
Now that's really never leaving the movie theater.
Denigration of competing sects, cults, religions,
groups, or organizations.
This is commonplace, and hardly needs any explanation.
What is curious is the degree to which the hatred of others is based
on similarity. That is, the closer two groups are in their beliefs,
goals, activities, philosophies, appearances, and everything else
that defines the group, the more they seem to hate each other. For
instance, two Christian cults may viciously attack each other for
only the tiniest of differences in beliefs, while neither has such
intense passionate feelings about the Democratic or Republican political
parties, both of which must presumably have some very large philosophical
differences from the Christian cults, on at least some issues.
Similarly, the extremist Protestants and Catholics in
Northern Ireland — Irish Christians, one and all — hated and killed
each other for the better part of a century, and yet, they had no such
vicious hatred of Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, or Communist atheists,
people with very different religious beliefs... Likewise,
during the Middle Ages in Europe, the Christian Catholics and Protestants
slaughtered each other by the millions, in the Twenty Years War and the
Forty Years War. Those vicious Christians also
waged war on Muslims in the Crusades, but the Muslims got off
easy, in comparison to the other Christians.
And Scientology has a pathological hatred of psychiatry and psychiatrists,
who offer a very different model of the human mind, and how to improve it,
than the model that Scientology sells to its members. Scientologists are
very vocal in denouncing modern psychiatry and its pharmacology.
(One reason for this is that Lafayette Ronald "L. Ron" Hubbard, the founder of
Scientology, was a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur who did not
like psychiatrists labeling him insane. Another reason is that modern psychiatry
rejects Hubbard's ideas about the human mind and how to cure insanity.)
Moon considers himself a messiah — "God's ambassador, sent to Earth
with his full authority," as he puts it. "Humanity's savior
... returning lord and true parent."
Moon has compared gay people to dung-eating dogs. He has told Jews that
the Nazi Holocaust was retribution for the murder of Jesus and that
they must "repent and follow and become one with Christianity" through him.
He opposes the separation of church and state, and he wants all religions
abolished as the world comes together under one faith led by —
wait for it — Sun Myung Moon.
Under Moon's rule, we would all speak Korean and be "assigned"
our marital partners. (He's famous, recall, for mass weddings.)
"Some find sushi, and Rev. Moon, hard to swallow"
Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2006.
Personal attacks on critics.
Anyone who criticizes the Guru, the cult or its dogma is attacked
on a personal level.
Rather than honestly and intelligently debating with critics,
using facts and logic, the cult will resort to low personal
attacks on the critic, using name-calling, slander,
condescending put-downs, libelous accusations, personal slurs,
accusations of bad motives, and casting aspersions on the critic's
intelligence and sanity --
"You are just an atheist, a liar, a dummy, a sinner, a drunkard, stupid, crazy..."
"You are only in it for the money."
"You are stupid."
"You have a low vibrational level."
"You are evil and working for the Dark Side."
"You are a moron."
"You are unenlightened and don't know the Master's Wisdom."
"You are a liar."
"You are selfish and just trying to get something for yourself."
"You have ulterior motives."
"You don't know what you are talking about."
"You are just one of the ignorant, unwashed masses."
"You are a pawn of Satan."
"You just want an excuse to keep on whoring and drinking and getting high."
"You are a Liberal, or a Socialist, or a Communist, or a Nazi, or a Tea Party nutcase."
"Your soul is damaged from years of sinful living."
"You are brain-damaged from years of drugs and alcohol."
"Your body is impure from eating the wrong foods."
"And you have bad taste in music and an ugly hair-cut, too."
Scientology calls critics "Suppressive Persons", and claims that they are
evil people who are trying to keep the human race enslaved
(—enslaved to the evil Galactic Overlord Xenu, that is).
The Scientology founder and leader, L. Ron Hubbard, instructed his followers to
attack critics any way that they could — to investigate them and discover any
crimes or dirty secrets that could be used against the critics,
and, "If you can't dig up any dirt, make something up."
"So BANISH all ideas that any fair hearing is intended
and start our attack with their first breath. Never wait.
Never talk about us — only them. Use their blood, sex,
crime to get headlines. Don't use us."
== Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, the founder of Scientology
The Moonies claim that their critics are Satanic and working for the Forces Of Evil.
Amway fanatics call those who have quit the cult and criticize it
"ex-distributors who couldn't make it"
"failures that got out of Amway"
Another red flag to watch for is how angrily cult members react when
the cult or its guru is criticized. Most ordinary or "normal"
people can tolerate some questioning and criticism of their organizations
and leaders without blowing up and insisting that the critic is
satanic, or working for the forces of evil, or part of a big
conspiracy to destroy the organization,
but cult members often cannot. They go non-linear very rapidly when you
point out too many faults or shortcomings of the group
or its leader — especially when they cannot refute that criticism.
It is just in the nature of
to demand absolute certainty in their beliefs.
They like black-and-white all-or-nothing thinking,
and they have little or no tolerance for doubts and uncertainty.
So they irrationally attack the speaker at the first hint of criticism.
True believers prefer simple certainty over uncertain complexity,
and they don't like shades of gray or subtlety.
Like George W. Bush said, "I don't do nuance."
(See Eric Hoffer,
The True Believer.)
1) See Outrageous Betrayal,
The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile,
2) See The Children of God:
The Inside Story, Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis with Bill Davis,
"Flirty Fishing" prostitution to get the cult more money
and members was so commonplace that Deborah devoted a whole chapter
Heaven's Harlots, My Fifteen Years as a Sacred
Prostitute in the Children of God Cult, by Miriam Williams.
The whole book is full of stories of prostitution done in service of