The Cult Test
Questions 71 to 80

(To go back and forth between the questions and the answers for Alcoholics Anonymous, click on the numbers of the questions and answers.)

71. We Have The Panacea.

The cult claims to have A Guaranteed Ticket To Heaven, or A Simple Formula for Happiness and Enlightenment, or a Simple Never-fails Cure-All for whatever ails you. Just chant or meditate or pray all of the time, they say, or just follow their 'simple' program, and you will find happiness.

The cult characteristic "Sacred Science" and "Unquestionable Dogma" kicks in here, so the panacea is also considered unquestionably true, and "cannot fail".

For every complicated problem there is a simple and wrong solution.
== H. L. Mencken

Scientology claims that it has a fool-proof new technology for fixing your mind and restoring you to sanity and clarity, and giving you great mind-powers. (And all they want in return is your life savings, your credit cards, your house, and all of the money that you can borrow for the rest of your life.)

There is a way to handle every part of life with Scientology, and a way to exist that is far beyond any dream that you could ever dream. All of my dreams keep becoming realities and that's very exciting!
Kelly Preston on Scientology

The Hari Krishnas claim that by chanting their chants you will gain spirituality and wisdom. The Nichiren Shoshu / Saka Gakai Buddhists claim pretty much the same thing too. And with TM® it's Transcendental Meditation that is the sure-fire solution that will fix your mind and your life.

Likewise, the Heaven's Gate cult claimed that it had the one and only guaranteed sure-fire method of getting to Heaven — commit suicide, and then hitch a ride on an invisible flying saucer that was hiding behind a comet.

Crazy Christian cults claim that confessing all of your sins and repenting will cure everything.

72. Progressive Indoctrination and Progressive Commitments

The cult starts off by asking for only small commitments from newcomers, to avoid scaring the newcomers away. But the list of things that are required of new members keeps growing, and becoming more expensive and all-encompassing.

Steve Hassan wrote of his experiences in the Moonies' Unification Church, where some pretty girls started off asking him to just attend a workshop for an evening, and then they asked him to attend a seminar for a weekend, and then a week-long seminar, and then a four-month-long one, and then they finally ended up demanding his whole life.

Likewise, Scientology starts beginners off with small, inexpensive commitments: just buy a book for $10, or take a course for $75. But after you start their training process, everything becomes progressively more expensive, until the last courses cost from $8000 to $77,000 each, and you have to take many of them.

Willa Appel described how cult indoctrination progressively changed members' minds:

      Banishing thought strips away another layer of the personality, another hunk of the individual's mode of operation developed in response to long-term interaction with the "real" world. The granting and withholding of approval comes to replace the complex evaluation system that serves as the basis for behavior and determines action. Subjects become more willing to act on command from an external authority and less able to act independently.
      "Each time they'd ask me to do something more," David Wallace said of the Divine Light Mission, "I'd sort of swallow my pride and try it. Witnessing and soliciting are things I always felt queasy about. But you do it. You eventually lose your gut feelings. You're given directions and you follow them even though you know they're wrong. Like the special charitable projects, when you knew all the money was going for new toys for the Guru. You know it's wrong, but you do it anyway."
Cults in America; Programmed for Paradise, Willa Appel, page 90.

73. Magical, Mystical, Unexplainable Workings

The cult claims that its panacea features mysterious, magical, unexplainable effects. Do the cult's program, and you will get wonderful results, they say, in a miraculous way that cannot be entirely explained.

For example, the "Nichiren Shoshu / Sokka Gakkei" sect proclaims:

In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that inside each one of us a universal truth known as the Buddha nature. Basing our lives on this Buddha nature enables us to enjoy absolute happiness and to act with boundless compassion. Such a state of happiness is called enlightenment. It's simply waking up to the true nature of life, realising that all things are connected, and that there is such a close relationship between each of us and our surroundings that when we change ourselves, we change the world.

In the 13th Century, a Japanese priest called Nichiren (1222—1282) realised that the message of the Lotus Sutra was summed up by its title, NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO, which can be translated as the teaching of the lotus flower of the wonderful law. Nichiren declared that all of the benefits of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting this title NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO.   ...   The goal of chanting NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO is to manifest the enlightenment of the Buddha in our own lives.

It is true that the Lotus Sutra is a beautiful teaching, but it is absurd to proclaim that all of the benefits of reading and following Buddha's teachings can be obtained merely by chanting the name of the book. How is that supposed to work, anyway?

And did Buddha ever say that you could just chant "NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO"? (No.) Buddha was quite specific about following an eight-fold path, and living right and practicing right livelihood and being truthful, not just sitting on your ass and chanting a one-liner forever.

74. Trance-Inducing Practices

In some cults, members spend too much time on mind-numbing trance-inducing practices like prolonged meditation, chanting, praying, or voodoo dancing. Hypnosis, repetition, monotony, and rhythm are often used to numb the thought processes of new recruits.

75. New Identity — Redefinition of Self — Revision of Personal History

You must adopt a new identity — getting a new self-concept — a new ego. You must redefine yourself and your life in cult terms.

Dr. Edgar H. Schein, in his book on brainwashing and thought control, listed "give the victims new identities" as a critical part of the process of "changing" peoples' minds.

As the new member brings his thinking into conformity with the cult's thinking, and absorbs the values of the cult, he will redefine himself with cult terms and cult concepts, and also reinterpret his memories of his previous life in cult terms. Essentially, he will build himself a new ego which is "good cult member", and he will see himself and the world through the eyes of a cult member. This is a standard part of the conversion process — any conversion process, cult religion or otherwise. Dr. Schein called this "New Identification", and included it as one of his five steps of mind control.

Andrew Meacham discussed this in his book Selling Serenity:

In The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman link political indoctrination and aspects of psychotherapy with religious conversion. In extreme cases, they write, an individual "switches worlds,"12 joins a religious community, and through socialization, discovers the "plausibility structures" that make the new world coherent, fully tangible and fully believable.
      As an individual blends into the religious community, or an equally potent community espousing a kind of political or therapeutic transformation, he redefines his past in terms of the new present. The formula for reinterpretation of the past is, "Then I thought... now I know."13 Moreover, Berger and Luckmann write:
Prealternation biography is typically nihilated in toto by subsuming it under a negative category occupying a strategic position in the new legitimizing apparatus. "When I was still living a life of sin," "When I was still caught in bourgeois consciousness," "When I was still motivated by these unconscious neurotic needs." The biographical rupture is thus identified with a cognitive separation of darkness and light.14

12 Berger, P.L. & Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 157.
13 Ibid., 160.
14 Ibid.

Selling Serenity, Life Among The Recovery Stars, Andrew Meacham, page 118.

In his book of praise of Dr. Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult, Vic Kitchen described his conversion:

... The Oxford Group, however, has the most natural way of introducing one to the supernatural and, in their skillful hands, God's miracle of changing lives seemed no more unnatural than the many natural or physical phenomena we are accustomed to observe.
      With this change — but not before — could I see the reason for my former failures. It was as if I had stepped all at once from the ordinary world of three dimensions into a fourth-dimensional sphere.   ...
      In ordinary terms, therefore, I can only say that I had been unable to see light because I stood in my own way. I had, as you may remember, suspected that there might be some supra-sensible kind of spiritual light, just as there were ultra-violet rays of sunlight and invisible beams of knowledge which flow into our minds. I now found that this was so....
      I seemed, in other words, to reach a "critical point" in sensibility. On the one side was self and social-consciousnesss and moral blindness. On the other side stood God-consciousness and moral vision. And I passed from one to the other as suddenly and definitely as water brought to a critical point passes into steam.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 41-43.

Vic Kitchen went on to compare his old self and his new Oxford Group self:

I most liked:
  • Myself.
  • Liquor, tobacco and almost every other stimulant, narcotic, and form of self-indulgence. [That was a typical Oxford Group exaggeration. Mr. Kitchen was a semi-respectable citizen in his former life, not a dope fiend. He just had a drinking problem.]
  • Anything which gave me pleasure, possessions, power, position and applause, or pumped up my self-esteem.
  • To be left largely to myself.
  • My wife — because of the comforting and complimentary way she treated me.
I most like:
  • God.
  • Time alone with God.
  • The fellowship of the living Jesus Christ.
  • The stimulation of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God's guidance.
  • My wife — because of the things God now enables us to do for each other.
  • Communion with others who are trying to lead the same kind of Christ-centered life, and the witnessing to all of what Christ has come to mean to me.
I hated most:
  • Poverty (for myself).
  • Prohibition.
  • Work.
  • People who disapproved or tried to interfere with me.
  • Any betrayal of my inner thoughts or emotions.
I hate most:
  • Sin.
  • Self, because "I" is the middle letter of SIN.
  • Sins that separate me from God.
  • Sins that separate me from people.
  • Anything that falls short of God's plan for me.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 89-90.

The Oxford Group even made Vic Kitchen hate himself? How sad.
(By that brain-damaged Oxford Group logic — '"I" is the middle letter of SIN' — he should also hate Saints and Salvation, because "S" is the first letter of SIN.)

As newcomers become indoctrinated believers in their cult, they will come to feel that they are now different people:

  • I am a Sanyasin. (ISKCON, the Hari Krishnas, and also the Rajneeshees)
  • I am a Clear, or I am an Operating Thetan. (Scientology)
  • I am a Yogi. (3HO)
  • I am a real Christian. (many cults)
  • I am a Born-Again Christian. (many cults)
  • I am a Buddhist. (Soka Gakkai, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism)
  • I am one of The Chosen. (many cults)
  • I am one of The Saved. (many cults)
  • I am one of The Changed. (Frank Buchman's Oxford Group)
  • I am one of the select 144,000 who will be taken up in the Rapture. (Jehovah's Witnesses)
  • I am a member of the Away Team. (Heaven's Gate cult)
  • I am a Gratefully Recovering Alcoholic. (A.A.)

As the new member changes his own thinking to make it conform with the cult's thinking, he will reinterpret his memories of his previous life in cult terms, viewing them through the tinted or distorting lenses of his new value system. He will often decide that former friends are now enemies because they do not approve of the cult or share his new values. In extreme cases, converts denounce their parents and other family members as "servants of Satan", or some such thing.

The same thing even happens in political conversions. Imagine the historical case where a German Communist converted to being a Nazi. He believed one thing, and yammered the slogans and buzzwords of the Communists, and saw himself as a good Communist, and was a good Communist, until he suddenly "saw the light" and converted to being a good Nazi, yammering a new set of beliefs and slogans, and he then saw himself as a loyal, patriotic, Nazi. He simply shrugged off his previous years of being a Communist as "youthful foolishness."

Adolf Hitler met one such young man, who confessed to Hitler that he had been a Communist before joining the Nazi Party. Hitler said, "So, before you were a Communist, but now you are mine...", and the young man answered, "Yes, my Führer!" Hitler smiled and walked on.

Perhaps you remember Patty Hearst, the daughter of the Hearst Publishing heir, William Randolph Hearst III. She was kidnapped, tortured, and brain-washed by the terrorist Symbionese Liberation Army until she believed everything they said. She became "Tania" the revolutionary. And then she denounced her father on the radio for being a rich creep who had never cared about the poor people, and then she went and robbed banks for that radical "liberation army". She had just reinterpreted her memories, knowledge, and self in that cult army's terms, and built herself a new ego, going from being "a soft, spoiled, selfish rich kid" to being "a dedicated heroic revolutionary", and then she went and acted out her new beliefs. (Incidentally, Patty Hearst was a textbook example of the Stockholm Syndrome, where a prisoner comes to identify with her captor, and converts to his beliefs, and sympathizes with his problems. I think that the government was very wrong to have prosecuted her and put her in prison for her activities after she got "converted".)

76. Membership Rivalry

Members vie with one another for the guru's attention, and for status within the group. Everyone is trying to become part of the favored inner circle. The leader plays the members off against each other in order to maintain his hold over the cult.

77. True Believers

The committed members of a cult are true believers, as described by Eric Hoffer in his priceless little book, The True Believer, where he described the psychology of mass movements, which is what successful popular cults are. (See Hoffer's descriptions of hatred as a unifying force and effective cult doctrines.) Hoffer also said:

The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race, or his holy cause.

A man is likely to mind his business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people's business.
The True Believer, Eric Hoffer

Such true believers are characterized by an intense desire to believe in some great cause or some grandiose dogma, often with little or no rational or logical reason to believe such things. Such people are driven by a desire to believe more than by actual belief in something. They don't really believe, they just want to believe. (And often, they fear that something terrible will happen to them, like that they will go to Hell forever, if they don't believe, so they really want to believe.)

"You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe."
== Carl Sagan

The phony prophet Arthur Bell set up a cult called Mankind United back in 1934. When he began to get into legal trouble for defrauding his followers, he made outrageous claims to divert attention:

The debonair cult leader was ready with new revelations. He told the [state legislative] committee that he could go into a trance and be whisked anywhere in the world. "Once I went to sleep in San Francisco and woke up aboard a British merchant vessel in the middle of the Atlantic," he explained.
      Such public pronouncements by Bell did not scandalize his followers. The wily leader knew what he was about. The cult was now more than seven years old. The dilettantes and curious had deserted. Too, the peculiar law unique to all cult movements was fast at work: the more money, time and effort a cultist devotes to his Cause, the less concerned he is with the tenets and beliefs of the Cause. Bell's followers, by now, were so immersed in their dream and its fulfillment that he could have announced he was the Devil Incarnate and they'd have accepted it blandly.
God Is A Millionaire, Richard Mathison, page 199.

William F. Olin wrote about how the more aware and thoughtful people in Synanon worried that it might turn into a fanatical cult of true believers (which it did):

After a break for aerobics, the Stew wrapped up the subject of religion with an examination of its possible dangers. Guy Endore was quoted from his book, Synanon, as warning against the eventuality of our zeal turning into "that horror of horrors, religious fanaticism." I couldn't agree with him more, offering my own thoughts on what I called the "true believer syndrome," where followers become automatons with numbed minds. They cannot distinguish symbols from the things symbolized — words become realities, the menu becomes the meal — and their only compass is a blind loyalty. In such a mental state, emotions can be so inflamed and polarized that the box of reason itself is flipped and nice people form lynch mobs. Impassioned self-rightousness does not allow for opposition — loyal or otherwise. Non-believers are infidels, dropouts are heretics, and critics are persecutors and, literally, damned enemies, while thugs and murderers who wear the right uniform become canonized as saints and martyrs. Too often in our history, holy causes have justified every conceivable excess in the name of all that's good — from Inquisition tortures and witchburnings to kamikaze attacks and Nazi ovens.
Escape From Utopia, William F. Olin, pages 210-211.

In Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult, Peter Howard was a good example of a true believer. First, Howard was a street-fighting thug for Sir Oswald Mosley's New Party, which morphed into The British Union of Fascists. Then, when Peter Howard switched obsessions, from radical politics to radical religion, he joined Dr. Frank Buchman's Oxford Group, and Howard soon wrote a whole book of praise of Frank Buchman, talking about how wonderful Frank Buchman was, declaring that Frank Buchman couldn't possibly be a fraud or a charlatan, before Peter Howard had ever met Frank Buchman. Peter Howard just wanted to believe, so he did. Howard didn't let a little thing like lack of any actual personal knowledge or experience with Frank Buchman get in the way of Howard's worshipping of his new favorite hero.

Peter Howard was also quick to attack "enemies" of the Oxford Group. Howard didn't hesitate to call other people liars for telling the truth about Frank Buchman and his cult, and at the same time, Howard didn't hesitate to tell lies for benefit of his newly-adopted cult. Peter Howard complained bitterly about all of the criticism that Frank Buchman and his organization received, and declared that such criticism came from the "morally defeated".

Sir Herbert Spencer wrote about true believers way back in 1866. Here, he was describing people who stubbornly cling to the idea of divine creation of individual species, in spite of all evidence to the contrary:

Is it supposed that a new organism, when specially created, is created out of nothing?
Is it supposed that the matter of which the new organism consists, is not created for the occasion, but is taken out of its pre-existing forms and arranged into a new form? If so, we are met by the question — how is the re-arrangement effected?
And thus it is with all attempted ways of representing the process. The old Hebrew idea that God takes clay and moulds a new creature, as a potter might throw a vessel, is probably too grossly anthropomorphic to be accepted by any modern defender of the special-creation doctrine. But having abandoned this crude belief, what belief is he prepared to substitute? If a new organism is not thus produced, then in what way is a new organism produced? Or rather — in what way can a new organism be conceived to be produced? We will not ask for the ascertained mode, but will be content with a mode that can be consistently imagined. No such mode, however, is assignable. Those who entertain the proposition that each kind of organism results from divine interposition, do so because they refrain from translating words into thoughts. The case is one of those where men do not really believe, but rather believe they believe. For belief, properly so called, implies a mental representation of the thing believed; and no such mental representation is here possible.
Principles of Biology, Herbert Spencer, Volume 1, pages 336-337, London, 1864-1867.

True believers in cults have just such mental problems. They do not really believe in something as much as they believe that they believe. Or they even just wish that they believed. (And then they often wish that they believed even more strongly, with fewer doubts).

They insist that they believe without question, but they will not and can not calmly, rationally, discuss the pros and cons of their beliefs, because that could cast doubts on their "faith". They just won't (and can't) allow any evidence to cast doubts on their beliefs, because if they do, their unexamined (and indefensible) belief structure could well fall apart. So they become dogmatic fanatics who will not tolerate any dissent, or any questioning of their beliefs, or any discussion of other ideas. And they are rarely open-minded to the idea that their beliefs may be less than 100% true.

The religious fanatic, for instance, wants to believe that he has a guaranteed ticket to Heaven, no matter whether he really does or not. He also wants to believe that he has all of the true answers to everything in life — he cannot bear to think that he might be wrong — so he often simply refuses to question his own beliefs:

  • "I'm right because I'm right, so there."
  • "My beliefs are all true and correct because I believe in the Word Of God, and anybody who disagrees with me doesn't believe in the Word Of God, so they are obviously wrong."
  • "Our beliefs are correct because our Master has brought us the one and only true New Dispensation."
  • "We Scientologists are right, and everybody else is wrong, because we have superior minds that have been made clear by LRH technology. (And I know that I didn't waste the $100,000 that I gave to Scientology.) Everybody who disagrees with us is just evil and A Suppressive Person."

And, unfortunately, true believers do not really want to know the truth, in spite of their claims that they have "The Truth". They just want to continue to believe what they think they believe. Their attitude is, "I won't allow my opinions to be changed by mere facts", and "I don't need facts to believe".

78. Scapegoating and Excommunication

Some cults specialize in scapegoating — periodically picking out one member and blaming him for all of the cult's problems, and kicking him out of the cult. Such terrorism helps to keep the other members in line. It is also a good way to get rid of those who were wavering, and doubting the cult and its leader — the cult can claim that the outcast was bad and had to be banished, rather than admitting that the deserter came to the conclusion that the cult was all wrong about everything.

Some cults routinely practice culling and expulsion of the doubters and the less than fully committed members. I have personally listened to Yogi Bhajan giving a lecture at the 3HO compound in Espanola, New Mexico, where Bhajan bragged that if people weren't completely complying with his commands, he would just "back the truck up to their house", and they would be gone — evicted.

Many cults practice shunning and ostracism of those who leave the cult. Cults just cannot tolerate people leaving voluntarily. There is a great danger that those who have come to their senses and quit the cult will also lead others out by talking some sense to them, so cults viciously denounce those who leave, and instruct the remaining members to have no contact with those who have left. The Jehovah's Witnesses call deserters and exiles "people who have been disfellowshipped", and contact with such people is forbidden. Scientology calls them "suppressive persons", and again, contact with them is forbidden. The Moonies won't allow contact with splitters, either.

Synanon thugs went so far as to attack the dropout Phil Ritter from behind in the dark of night, cracking his skull with a baseball bat and nearly killing him.

And the Goon Squad called "The Angels", from Jim Jones' People's Temple, murdered the dropout Jeanne Mills and her husband and daughter after she published the book Six Years with God that told what was happening inside the cult.

It may occur to you that there is an apparent contradiction here: Some cults routinely excommunicate doubters and slackers and keep their remaining members in line by threatening to expell them, while some other cults don't want to ever let anybody leave, not under any conditions, not for any reason.

Part of the answer is, "It's a matter of who strikes first."

  • A cult member who comes to his senses and says, "This is a crazy cult and the leader is a liar and I'm leaving" is a great threat to the cult because he may well instill doubts in other members. He may cause some other members to wake up and smell the coffee, and quit too.
  • On the other hand, if the cult leader attacks first, and says, "Joe is lazy and immoral and unspiritual and we must kick him out before he contaminates others with his evil", then anything that Joe says after that is just some sour grapes, and not so much of a threat.

79. Promised Powers or Knowledge
The sect holds out the promise of obtaining powers or absolute knowledge by the observance of the rules.

  • Cults often declare that members can achieve Wisdom or Enlightenment through their practices. Some say that you will eventually be able to access the Akashic Records, which contain all of the knowledge of mankind. Others say that you will learn the Secrets of the Ancient Ones, or the Secrets of the Ascended Masters. Often, those alleged 'Secrets' include promises of occult or magical powers.

  • Many cults promise happiness and "Eternal Bliss" if you just do their practices long enough.

  • Others promise mental clarity if you meditate or chant enough.

  • Many cults promise a guaranteed ticket to Heaven. The Heaven's Gate Cult actually promised that their members would get a free ride to Heaven on a flying saucer.

  • Cults sometimes make really extremely grandiose promises. Scientology, for instance, says that when you have finally taken all of their courses of auditing and been changed into an uppermost-level Operating Thetan (OT-VIII), you will not only have great mental powers and clarity, but you will be immortal because you will have absolute mind-over-matter powers.
    (Thus there is no excuse for dying — people who do that are just being lazy and unethical. Funny that the leader of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, died of a stroke.)
    (So they make an exception in his case: He didn't really 'die'; he is just conducting advanced research in a higher dimension, they say.)

  • Commercial cults, like Amway, hold out the promise of wealth, freedom, financial security, and a lavish, luxurious lifestyle. Wealth and the ability to live however and wherever you wish is definitely a power.

80. It's a con. You don't get the promised goodies.

As you might have guessed, Scientology won't really give you immortality, not even if you give them all of your money, and your house, and your credit cards, and then recruit some more paying members for the cult.

And you don't get the promised benefits from any of the other cults, either. You just get used and abused and taken (and then, often, when your money is gone and you become disillusioned, discarded).

You never see the promised miracles. You never get the promised peace of mind, or clarity, or happiness. People who were supposedly magically cured of cancer die anyway. You never get the promised mental powers. The laws of physics still refuse to bend to your will, and gravity still keeps you from flying or levitating. And you still age. Neither the clock nor the Grim Reaper has any respect for your alleged spiritual powers.

It's a con. You don't get the promised goodies.

Continue to questions 81 to 90...

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Last updated 27 October 2015.
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