The Cult Test|
Questions 41 to 50
by A. Orange
(To go back and forth between the questions and the answers for
Alcoholics Anonymous, click on the numbers of the questions and
Disturbed Guru, Mentally Ill Leader.
The S.O.S. Europe web page says
Cult leaders are often charming, charismatic figures with
The "charismatic charmer" is one their false faces
— a pseudo-personality.
Many cult leaders suffer from borderline, disassociate or multiple
Members feel honored to be with, and be seen, around them. But their
personality can change dramatically in a flash. Cult leaders are always
very disturbed individuals. They are usually victims
turned persecutor, having a history of involvement in
other social, political or religious cults and/or suffering the effects
of a traumatic childhood. Behind their strong and confident exterior
(pseudo-personality) they need their leader position to compensate for a
very fragile sense of self-worth, self-esteem and self-identity.
This is also shown by the fact that they cannot "hack it" in the real
world and need to live in a cult/sect environment to live out their
problems. Their past histories show social marginality and a tendency to
drift from one cause to another, one cult to another, one job to
another, one marriage to another, etc. They spend their lives dedicated
to their cause (also, increasing through the Internet, now). They are
obsessive-compulsive, fanatical and manipulative.
Nothing will stand in
the way of their visions, schemes and self-glorification — not even the
well-being of their partners or children. They manipulate the minds of
vulnerable members, extorting money and sexual favors and/or abusing
them psychologically, physically and/or sexually.
Steve Hassan reported that Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the
Unification Church, would play the role of the charismatic charmer,
lavishly praising his followers in public, honoring them for all of
their hard and faithful work, and then Moon would take them to his
palatial estate, where he would switch personalities, and play the
role of judge and executioner, attacking and denouncing those same
followers for not working hard enough.
Werner Erhard, the leader of the est "human potential"
training hoax, was a vicious woman-hater with an unstable personality:
Even more troubling was the darkest side of Werner Erhard that
neither Murphy nor most other est outsiders ever managed to glimpse
at all. In public, Erhard was almost always the picture of charm
and good manners, able to use his warm and energizing smile and
penetrating pale-blue eyes to create an unnerving sense of charisma
that helped, in large part, to explain the enthusiastic devotion
of so many est adherents. Meeting him for the first time,
many insisted they had been in the presence of no less than a
Some were dazzled by what they insisted was an aura of light
surrounding him and overwhelmed by his seeming sincerity.
One of his aides, a woman deeply imbued with a sense of
spiritualism, attributed the Erhard mystique to a "sense
of grace" that seemed at times to pervade the premises
of Franklin House where he lived and worked.
But there were uglier incidents, moments of a flashing temper
and vulgar behavior, that defined Werner Erhard and the est culture
he created around him.
Behind the scenes at some of his Franklin House feasts, Erhard
turned into a raving tyrant, provoked by the slightest miscue
On another occasion, in 1976, an angry Erhard lit into one of his
aides, Jack Rafferty, for not following Erhard's precise orders
to clean up a closet where he kept some of his clothes. Yelling
at Rafferty while he angrily tore the closet apart, flinging
its contents around the room, Erhard did not let up even
though he knew Rafferty's mother was seriously ill at the time.
"I don't give a shit if your mother dies!" Erhard
Werner Erhard seemed to reserve his fiercest hostility for some
of the women who were part of the est culture. Though the
feminist movement in the United States roughly paralleled the
rise of est, Erhard rarely hesitated to make demeaning remarks
about women who worked for him. He would deride women as
"snakes," and insist that men were the source of
power, leaving women to fill subservient roles. Once, when
one of his aides walked into a meeting to let him know his
next appointment was scheduled to begin in a few minutes,
Erhard glanced at the busty woman and then chortled to others
in the room, "Pretty good, a clock with tits."
At other times he tossed around crude remarks, telling one
employee, for example, how nice she looked in the "fuck-me
shoes" she wore to work that day.
But his demeaning attitudes toward women did not stop with his
verbal insults. Though he was insulated by a layer of protective
personal aides, there have been persistent reports that Erhard
allowed his quick and sometimes violent temper to spill over
into physical abuse of women. Though he could be seductively
charming, Erhard also possessed a deep-seated resentment of
Now, as the mystique of est conferred upon Erhard still more
power over the lives of his most faithful followers, he
carried his behavior and attitudes toward women to even
more disturbing depths.
On more than one occasion, it became the task of one
of his closest aides and confidants inside Franklin House to
be ready with an ice pack and some soothing words to treat a
blackened eye and comfort another of Erhard's victims. Werner
Erhard's seductive charm sometimes had a habit of giving way
to the back of his hand.
The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile,
Steven Pressman, pages 97-99.
"Word is that
Werner is not a male chauvinist", huh?)
Werner Erhard was a spectacular example of a
"Disturbed Guru, Mentally Ill Leader",
a "charismatic charmer whose personality can change
dramatically in a flash". Erhard was a raving textbook
case of it. He was a heartless psychopath without any compassion or
empathy, incapable of considering the feelings of others,
and he didn't care whom he hurt in his pursuit of wealth, power,
and ego-aggrandizement. He even took more than $60 million
that was supposed to buy
food for the poor, starving people
of the world. That was literally taking food out of the mouths
of babies. You have to be one really cold-hearted monster to do that.
And to think that Werner Erhard took in countless
millions of dollars by claiming to teach people how to be sane.
Narcissistic vampires believe they are so special that the rules don't apply to them.
They expect the red carpet to be rolled out for them wherever they go,
and if it isn't, they get quite surly.|
They don't wait, they don't recycle, they don't pay retail, they don't stand in line,
they don't clean up after themselves, they don't let other people get in front
of them in traffic, and their income taxes rival great works of fiction.
Illness and even death is no excuse for other people not immediately jumping
up to meet their needs. They aren't the least bit ashamed of using other
people and systems for their own personal gain. They boast about how they
take advantage of just about everybody.
Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry,
Albert J. Bernstein, Ph.D., pages 135-136.
Werner Erhard was also a megalomaniac who insisted that everything
was about him:
At the end of 1975, during a four-day staff meeting, a
new staff member stood up to be introduced to the rest of
"I'm happy to be joining the staff," said the new
employee. "I'm happy that I will be able to bring my
professional skills to bear."
Erhard cut him off sharply, yelling at the new employee, "Stop!
I don't want your goddamn professional skills. I don't give a
crap about your goddamn professional skills. You're not here
because of your professional skills. You are here to re-create
me." In Werner Erhard's world, est employees were there to
imitate the boss, to reflect his image in everything they did.
Outrageous Betrayal, The Dark Journey of
Werner Erhard from est to Exile, Steven Pressman, page 86.
But it was far worse than just that:
Erhard's heavenly aspirations may have reached their climax in
the fall of 1977 when he appeared at a meeting of est seminar
leaders at a beachside retreat near Monterey. Flushed with
enthusiasm about the transforming power of doing Werner's work,
some of the leaders asked Erhard where he placed himself on the
spectrum of human transformation. Swept up in the fervor of the
discussion, one of the seminar leaders got to his feet with a
serious look on his face.
"The question in the room that nobody is asking,"
the man told Erhard solemnly, "is 'Are you the messiah?'"
The room grew silent as Erhard looked out to the curious faces
of some of his most devoted disciples. After a few moments he
replied, "No, I am who sent him." Undoubtedly, there
were many in the room who were sure they had just witnessed the
ultimate transformation of a man; Werner Erhard wanted them to
believe he was on par with God.
Outrageous Betrayal, The Dark Journey of
Werner Erhard from est to Exile, Steven Pressman, page 147.
Warning: Werner Erhard is gone, but his racket is still continuing under
"The Landmark Forum",
"The Landmark Educational Forum",
They like to specialize in so-called "corporate training".
Marshall Herff Applewhite, a.k.a. "Do"
The Heaven's Gate logo from their web site
Another example of a disturbed, mentally-ill leader:
Marshall Herff Applewhite, leader of the Heaven's Gate cult, preached
that individuals had to rise above "sensuality" and other
Yet the origins of that doctrine became clear only in the days
after Applewhite and 38 other cult members who committed
suicide were found dead March 26 in a mansion outside San Diego.
Bit by bit a portrait of Applewhite emerged as a man so tormented
over his own homosexual drives that he had himself castrated
to put an end to them.
Applewhite did not condemn homosexuality more than heterosexuality,
however. In one videotaped session he compared
heterosexuality to apples and homosexuality to oranges and said
that both hindered advancement to a higher state of
being. In addition to Applewhite, several other members who
committed suicide had been castrated, apparently in an
effort to end all sexual drive.
Deadly Denial, Advocate, 04/29/97,
Issue 732, p13.
It's interesting to compare Marshall Herff Applewhite and
Dr. Frank Nathan
Daniel Buchman, both of whom were crazy cult leaders, and
also homosexuals who were tormented by sexual desires
which were considered very socially unacceptable in their time.
Mind you, homosexuality does not usually drive men to become
insane cult leaders — it almost never does — but in the case
of those two nuts, it was certainly a contributing factor.
As a Lutheran minister in 1902, it was simply totally unacceptable
for Buchman to be a homosexual, and
Marshall Applewhite was fired from his job in 1970 as a music
professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston after
school administrators learned that he had an affair with a male student.
Both were probably insane anyway, or heading that a' way,
for other reasons, but those negative experiences just helped
to increase their sense of isolation and loneliness, and push
them further into their madness... Tragic.
The Victorian Board of Inquiry into Scientology, in Victoria,
Australia, investigated Scientology and its leader Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, and
in October, 1965, diagnosed L. Ron Hubbard as "a paranoid schizophrenic
of long standing, with delusions of grandeur. He claims to have twice
risen from the dead."
L. Ron Hubbard was described by a Scientology insider — one of his personal aides
called "The Messengers" — like this:
He had long reddish-grayish hair down past his shoulders, rotting teeth,
a really fat gut ... He didn't look anything like his pictures.
The Messengers went everywhere with LRH. We chauffeured him, we
followed him, we followed him around carrying his ashtray and
cigarette lighter, and we also lit his cigarettes for him. LRH would
explode if he had to light his own cigarette.
"L. Ron" Hubbard
I found LRH was very moody, and had a temper like a volcano. He
would yell at
anybody for something that he didn't like, and he seemed mad at one thing
or another 50% of the time. He was a fanatic about dust and laundry.
The Messengers, at the time I was there, were also doing his laundry.
There was hardly a day that he wouldn't scream about how someone used
too much soap in the laundry, and his shirts smelled like soap, or how
terrible the soap was that someone used (though it was the same soap used
the day before), so someone must have changed the soap ... I was
petrified of doing the laundry.
He is also a fanatic about cleanliness. Even after his office had just been
dusted top to bottom, he would come in screaming about the dust and how
"you are all trying to kill me!" That was one of his favorite
lines — like if dinner didn't taste right — "You are all trying to
A Piece of Blue Sky; Scientology, Dianetics, and
L. Ron Hubbard Exposed, Jon Atack, 1990, pages 40-41.
A person with
Narcissist Personality Disorder...
has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations
of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his
or her expectations...
DSM-IV-TR == Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision;
Published by the American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC. 2000;
And of course, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Herff Applewhite were such
crazy lunatics that they actually led their followers into mass suicide...
And Jim Jones was such a monster that...
Mama died [of cancer] in Jonestown ten days before the massacre, with
Larry never leaving her bedside. She died without pain medication because
Jim [Jones] had consumed it himself. For two months Larry watched our
mother drift away from life without any relief from her agony until she
finally succumbed to her lung cancer.
Seductive Poison, Deborah Layton, 1998, page 297.
You mean Jim Jones took a dying woman's pain-killers so he could get
high on them himself? In a word, yes. Now that is cold, really cold.
(Yes, but so is making 914 people, including their children and babies,
commit suicide for you.)
Ironically, the People's Temple had passed itself off as
a successful drug and
alcohol rehabilitation program for a while,
saving people's lives by picking them up off of the streets and
and turning them into praying Christians and true believers.
They really did do that, for a while.
But in the end, Jim Jones was a vicious, insane monster who was
whacked out on stolen drugs all of the time.
Likewise, Charles "Chuck" Dederich, the crazy nut who ran
the drug-and-alcohol rehab program called Synanon,
was falling-down drunk
when the police came to arrest him and haul him off to
jail for attempted murder. He was so drunk that he couldn't even walk to a police car.
The police had to carry Dederich out on a stretcher. That's quite a performance
from the director of an alleged drug and alcohol treatment facility.
Disturbed Members, Mentally Ill Followers.
This one is tough. Some anti-cult pundits like to warn that cult leaders
are so slick and so clever that they can instantly hypnotize anyone,
and just suck them right into the cult.
Supposedly, in no time at all, the cult leaders can have newcomers
brainwashed and turned into drooling zombies and fawning sycophant
followers who mindlessly parrot cult dogma forever after.
Alas, it ain't necessarily so.
Baba Ram Dass stated that cult members actually con themselves —
A slick cult leader is good at reading body language, and seeing what excites
a member — sex, wealth, power, grandiose claims of spirituality,
big ego trips, possible immortality, or whatever — and then the con
artist cult leader will pretend to offer those things to members.
Likewise, the leader will see what members are afraid of, be it death,
shame, rejection, ostracism, embarrassment, weakness, or whatever,
and the phony guru
will use those fears to manipulate members' minds.
But in truth, the cult members still con themselves. It isn't like they
can't ever see that something is fishy, that things are not what
they are advertised to be, that the phony guru isn't delivering the
goods, that the guru and his cult are dishonest.
The members have to deliberately overlook a lot of contradictions
and discrepancies in order to become and stay true believers.
They have to rationalize and explain away a lot of stuff, and deceive
themselves about what is really going on.
So in the end, the cult members con themselves.
Deborah (Linda Berg) Davis mentioned this idea in the item about
Suspension of Disbelief.
F.B.I. Agent Fox Mulder on the TV show "The X-Files" had
a poster on his wall that read, "I Want To Believe."
That is the national anthem of a lot of cult members.
They just want to believe, in spite of any and all evidence to the
Wanting to believe is perhaps the most powerful dynamic initiating and sustaining
The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in
Arthur J. Deikman, M.D., page 137.
Some of the things that cult members believe are so extreme that
you can only conclude that they are insane. In Vernon Howell's
("David Koresh's") Branch Davidian cult, Howell
told his followers that he was the son of God, and that he had
to sexually take all of the women and girls in the cult and impregnate
them, in order to produce the "Grandchildren of God", and the
other male members actually believed it and handed over the women.
Even more extreme, cults like the Branch Davidians,
the People's Temple, Heaven's Gate, and the Solar
Temple actually convinced their members that they should
commit suicide. And they did it. Now that is undeniably nuts.
Some people want to know the truth, and some people just want to believe
in fairy tales. Cult members choose to believe in fairy tales.
They like to think that truth is identical to belief.
They like to imagine that their believing that something is true will
make it so.
They like to imagine that they are so powerful that their believing
something will change the world.
They like to imagine that they have magical powers — that their
chants, incantations, beliefs, and prayers will really have some
physical effect on the world.
They don't. Believing that the world is flat does not make it so.
They also like to imagine that their beliefs are very important;
that it will ruin God's whole day if they don't believe what God
needs them to believe, or that the world won't get saved if they
don't keep the faith. That's just a bit grandiose and egotistical.
Not all cult members are the same, of course.
Some may be just a little deluded or a little confused,
or "going to wise up eventually",
or maybe even "just visiting".
But some cult members are pretty crazy,
and they really want the con, the big illusion or delusion.
Some people don't get seduced or conned by the phony guru — they are eager
to join the cult.
It's love at first sight, because they love the black and white thinking,
and the absolute declarations that
"We are right and everybody else is
wrong. We have the Truth and you don't, so there!"
They will make remarks like,
"This is just what I've always been
looking for, all of my life. I've never felt so at home before."
They love the grand feeling of being special,
of being important, of being one of God's Chosen Children,
and of being on a big mission to save the world.
They love the spiritual make-believe, and they don't want
to be bothered with mere reality or mundane, ordinary existence.
They tend to become very angry if you tell them the truth and
try to convince them that the whole routine is all a big fat hoax.
Watch for the
Ad Hominems and
Personal Attacks On
"Oh yeh? Well you're just stupid and evil
and an atheist and don't know anything. You're working for the forces
of Evil, trying to defeat us in our great quest."
As Jeffrey Schaler said in his essay Cult Busting,
"One way of testing the cult nature of a group is by challenging
the ideology binding the group together. ... The stronger
the evidence challenging the truthfulness of the group ideology, the
more likely members of the cult are to ... lash out in a more or less
Or they react with fear, like,
"Oh my God! If the Guru is a phony, then what will I do with my
life? Who will tell me what to do? Where will I go?
How will I get to Heaven?
No, that can't be true. The Guru is a genuine saint."
"I refuse to believe that I wasted twelve years of my life in a cult,
practicing false teachings and worshipping a phony guru.
You are wrong."
Especially watch for the religious fanatics and true believers who
yammer endlessly about "universal brotherhood" or
and then explode in anger and hatefully lash out at you if you dare
to criticize their beliefs, their leader, or their organization:
"We are promoting World Peace. We offer Unconditional Love and
Acceptance to all. We are bringing in the Age of Aquarius.
Oh, by the way, don't fuck with us, or else you can end up dead,
Often, those crazy true believers form the innermost circle of
sycophants who surround a phony guru and act as his lieutenants,
keeping the rest of the troops in line. In cults like the People's
Temple and Synanon, such crazy true believers formed armed goon squads
who would beat up and even kill people whom the leader didn't like,
as well as anybody else who dared to criticize the leader.
In extreme cases, the true-believer followers put up with incredible
amounts of hardships, deprivation, suffering, and abuse, often at
the hands of the leader, and they still won't leave. When you see a
leader or his goons beating a follower, and the follower still won't
leave the group, but just says something like,
"Master is just trying to teach me to be more spiritual,"
then you know it's time for you to get the heck out of Transylvania
When you are investigating a group, just look around and ask yourself
how many of the members appear to be less than sane, and how many
appear to be mentally healthy and relatively "normal."
Any church can have a few neurotics, that is to be expected,
but cults collect more than their fair share of the fruits
Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, guilt, and dependency.
Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer lists this item as one of
the five essential criteria for
an effective thought reform or brain-washing program.
Cults create feelings of powerlessness, covert fear, guilt and dependency
in their victims in a variety of ways:
- Telling newcomers that their thinking is defective, and their morality
is hopelessly flawed. "You are selfish. Everything you do is just for yourself.
You have been defeated by sin, and your thinking is corrupted."
- Not allowing new inductees to do anything without permission from a superior.
- Taking control of members' money, credit cards, and bank accounts, and only
doling out tiny amounts of spare change to members. They never get enough money to
be able to leave.
- Using double-binds to trap members in failure — no matter what they do, it will
- Telling members that they are powerless over sin, or Satan, or drugs and alcohol,
or whatever the cult's bogeyman is.
- Having mentors, elders, "sponsors", or "uplines"
who constantly order the newcomers around. Members must constantly seek the approval
of their mentor in everything they say, think, and do.
- Making members publicly or privately confess all of their sins and failures.
- Public confession sessions or self-criticism sessions.
- Group punishment — no matter how good one member's behavior is, he can still
be punished for someone else's behavior.
- Telling members that everything is their own fault — that they created their
own miserable reality. Even if Daddy was a junkie and Mommy a prostitute, the child
still chose his own reality, and is responsible for it.
- --Which leads to: Super-human standards of perfection. The cult demands
such lofty standards of morality and perfection that no one can measure up — no one
is good enough.
- The leader or the elders randomly attack members for the most
trivial of offenses. Nobody knows when the next attack will come, or what
will set the leader off.
- Phobia induction — the cult
implants fears in members, particularly fears about what will happen to them
if they disobey the leader or leave the cult.
The cult decides who is worthy, and who deserves to live.
This item is one of Dr. Robert J. Lifton's
eight essential elements of a brainwashing program,
and one of
Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer's five required
conditions for a "thought reform" program.
The totalist environment draws a sharp line between those whose right to existence
can be recognized, and those who possess no such right.
In thought reform, as in Chinese Communist practice generally,
the world is divided into the "people" (defined as "the working class,
the peasant class, the petite bourgeoisie, and the national bourgeoisie"),
and the "reactionaries" or "lackies of imperialism"
(defined as "the landlord class, the bureaucratic capitalist class,
and the KMT reactionaries and their henchmen").
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of
"Brainwashing" in China,
by Robert Jay Lifton, M.D.; W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1963, page 433.
The cult decides whether people are good or bad, and
the cult defines what "good" and "bad" mean.
The cult decides whether people deserve to live or not.
The cult decides whether people deserve to go to Heaven or not.
The cult decides what the truth is.
The cult has an elitist world view, and declares that only cult members
are "good enough", however the cult defines "good".
The cult dispenses conditional love and conditional approval,
often while simultaneously bragging that it offers newcomers
"unconditional love" and "complete acceptance".
The conditional approval depends on obedience and conformity to the
And of course the cult practices shunning and ostracism of those who
leave — "deserters"
who have committed "the ultimate sin" — leaving — which
the phony guru will call something like "betraying the cause".
Splitters are declared to be evil immoral people (who have no right to live).
Ideology Over Experience, Observation, and Logic
This item is one of
Dr. Lifton's 8 and Prof. Singer's 5
Criteria for Brainwashing or Mind Control —
"Doctrine over person", and "Implement group doctrine over personal beliefs".
Individual members' past experience and
values are invalid if they conflict with the new cult morality. Members are told to believe
what the leader tells them, rather than trust their own common sense, their
own thinking, and their own experiences.
Members are told that the leader sees another, higher, reality
which they cannot see. Doubts about the leader or his teachings are considered a sure sign of
moral failure in the follower.
That behavior is reinforced by the standard cult attitude that
newcomers cannot think right —
that newcomers suffer from mental, moral, or spiritual shortcomings that
prevent them from seeing clearly or exercising good judgement, so of course the cult is
right about everything and the newcomer is wrong.
Cult members also exhibit misplaced faith — like having faith in the
leader's interpretation of the "Word of God", rather than in
the "Word of God" itself, or in their own
understanding of those scriptures, or in the general opinions of most
other priests, ministers, and theologians.
Rather than trust and follow their own feelings and thinking, cult members
play follow-the-leader. Cult members even ignore their own experiences — they
ignore what they see happening with their own eyes —
whenever those experiences conflict with
the leader's proclamations and doctrines. It is as if the members are voluntarily
"I think an ideology comes out of feelings and it tends to be
non-thinking. A philosophy, on the other hand, can have a structured
thought base. One would hope that a philosophy, which is always a
work in progress, is influenced by facts. So there is a constant interplay
between what do I think and why do I think it...
"Now, if you gather more facts and have more experience, especially
with things that have gone wrong — those are especially good learning tools —
then you reshape your philosophy, because the facts tell you you've got to.
It doesn't change what you wish for. I mean,
it's okay to wish for something that's, you know, outside of your fact
realm. But it's not okay to confuse all that...
"Ideology is a lot easier, because you don't have to know anything
or search for anything. You already know the answer to everything.
It's not penetrable by facts. It's absolutism."
Former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill, quoted in
The Price of Loyalty, by Ron Suskind, page 292.
Keep them unaware that there is an agenda to change them
This is one of Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer's
Five Essential Conditions
for a brainwashing program:
Keep them unaware that there is an agenda to change them, and unaware
of how they are being changed, step by step.
Thought-Stopping Language. Thought-terminating clichés and
The cult has lots of slogans and thought-stopping clichés, and the
cult has its own language with plenty of redefined words.
This is one of
Dr. Robert J. Lifton's eight criteria
for a "thought reform", or "brainwashing" program.
Slogans are handy because they
can condense whole pages of dogma into snappy one-liners which are
easy to remember and easy to repeat.
Slogans are effective tools for stopping thought. When a simplistic slogan
is the answer, there just isn't much more to be said on the subject.
Alcoholics Anonymous uses slogans like
to stop people from thinking.
Those kinds of slogans are also known as "thought-stopping
- "Utilize, don't analyze",
- "Stop Your Stinkin' Thinkin'",
- "You have a thinking problem, not a drinking problem",
- "Your best thinking got you here"
Dr. Robert J. Lifton, the author of the classic study of Chinese Communist brainwashing,
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of 'Brainwashing' in China,
said that thought-terminating clichés constrict, rather than expand, human
understanding. When the cult controls language, it also controls what people can
think, because words are the tools we use for thought. And such jargon has the
advantage (to the cult) that non-members simply cannot comprehend what cult
members are really talking about. This further isolates the cult members, and makes
them feel that nobody but another cult member really understands.
Slogans can also codify ideas which don't work well in other formats:
For example, Hitler's "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!"
sound bite (translation: "One people, one empire, one leader!")
wouldn't have the same zing if it were a long essay, especially because
it is actually an irrational emotional appeal to the people to abandon
democracy and embrace a fascist dictatorship.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that the average voter could not
handle any idea that took more than two sentences to express, and for
best results, the idea should be expressed in six words or less.
Hence all of his short slogans.
All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must
be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is
addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to
reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.
But if, as in propaganda for sticking out a war, the aim is to
influence a whole people, we must avoid excessive intellectual
demands on our public, and too much caution cannot be exerted
in this direction.
The more modest its intellectual ballast, the more exclusively
it takes into consideration the emotions of the masses, the more
effective it will be.
It is a mistake to make propaganda many-sided, like scientific instruction,
The receptivity of the great masses is very limited,
their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous.
In consequence of these facts, all effective
propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans
until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand
by your slogan.
Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler, pages 180-181.
This is one of
Dr. Robert J. Lifton's eight criteria
for a "thought reform", or "brainwashing" program.
Potential converts are convinced that there is a higher purpose within
the special group.
Everyone is manipulating everyone else, under the belief
that it advances the "ultimate purpose".
Experiences are engineered to appear to be spontaneous, when, in fact,
they are contrived to have a deliberate effect.
People mistakenly attribute their experiences
to spiritual causes when, in fact, they are concocted by human beings.
description of emotional religious conversion experiences here.
Mystical manipulation is the perception of coincidental or inevitable
events as spiritual signs. Recruits are taught that such signs reveal
the greatness of the group.
Members even occasionally degenerate into
The guru or the group demands ultra-loyalty and total commitment.
You can't just be a member of the group — your loyalty to the group must be
total. You must obey orders without question. You must devote the rest of your
life to the cult. They say that you must be willing to go to any
length and make any sacrifice to achieve the group's goals.
You must be willing to give the group everything you have, and to work for
the group tirelessly, for free.
They call members who are not obsessed with the cult, and who try to live
balanced lives with outside interests, "weak hands",
"wimps" and "fair-weather friends".
And they say the same thing about members who are not as extreme and radical as they are.
Here is where the hard-core true believers love to repeat slogans like
"If you aren't part of the solution, then you are part of the problem",
"Those who aren't with us are against us".
The Oxford Group accused anyone who wasn't totally dedicated to all of the
practices of the cult — especially, to following the dictates
of the cult's leaders —
And of course the group exhibits extreme possessiveness —
they don't want to ever let you leave.
In their opinion, you must stay committed to the group forever.
Demands for Total Faith and Total Trust
The guru demands that you have complete and total faith in him, and
believe his statements without question. The cult also demands complete
agreement with the leaders, and suppresses any dissent.
Cults demand absolute trust. Anything less is considered a gross
imperfection, disobedience, the sign of Satan or the enemy, and is often
a punishable offense.|
Take Back Your Life; Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships,
Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias, page 167.
Continue to questions 51 to 60...
- 1. The Guru is always right.
- 2. You are always wrong.
- 3. No Exit.
- 4. No Graduates.
- 5. Cult-speak.
- 6. Group-think, Suppression of Dissent, and Enforced Conformity in Thinking
- 7. Irrationality.
- 8. Suspension of disbelief.
- 9. Denigration of competing sects, cults, religions, groups, or organizations.
- 10. Personal attacks on critics.
- 11. Insistence that the group is THE ONLY WAY.
- 12. The group and its members are special.
- 13. Induction of guilt, and the use of guilt to manipulate group members.
- 14. Unquestionable Dogma, Sacred Science, and Infallible Ideology.
- 15. Indoctrination of members.
- 16. Appeals to "holy" or "wise" authorities.
- 17. Instant Community.
- 18. Instant Intimacy.
- 19. Surrender To The Group.
- 20. Giggly wonderfulness and starry-eyed faith.
- 21. Personal testimonies of earlier converts.
- 22. The group is self-absorbed.
- 23. Dual Purposes, Hidden Agendas, and Ulterior Motives.
- 24. Aggressive Recruiting.
- 25. Deceptive Recruiting.
- 26. No Humor.
- 27. You Can't Tell The Truth.
- 28. Cloning — You become a clone of the group leader or other elder group members.
- 29. You must change your beliefs to conform to the group's beliefs.
- 30. The End Justifies The Means.
- 31. Dishonesty, Deceit, Denial, Falsification, and Rewriting History.
- 32. Different Levels of Truth.
- 33. Newcomers can't think right.
- 34. The Group Implants Phobias.
- 35. The Group is Money-Grubbing.
- 36. Confession Sessions.
- 37. A System of Punishments and Rewards.
- 38. An Impossible Superhuman Model of Perfection.
- 39. Mentoring.
- 40. Intrusiveness.
- 41. Disturbed Guru, Mentally Ill Leader.
- 42. Disturbed Members, Mentally Ill Followers.
- 43. Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, guilt, and dependency.
- 44. Dispensed existence
- 45. Ideology Over Experience, Observation, and Logic
- 46. Keep them unaware that there is an agenda to change them
- 47. Thought-Stopping Language. Thought-terminating clichés and slogans.
- 48. Mystical Manipulation
- 49. The guru or the group demands ultra-loyalty and total commitment.
- 50. Demands for Total Faith and Total Trust
- 51. Members Get No Respect. They Get Abused.
- 52. Inconsistency. Contradictory Messages
- 53. Hierarchical, Authoritarian Power Structure, and Social Castes
- 54. Front groups, masquerading recruiters, hidden promoters, and disguised propagandists
- 55. Belief equals truth
- 56. Use of double-binds
- 57. The group leader is not held accountable for his actions.
- 58. Everybody else needs the guru to boss him around, but nobody bosses the guru around.
- 59. The guru criticizes everybody else, but nobody criticizes the guru.
- 60. Dispensed truth and social definition of reality
- 61. The Guru Is Extra-Special.
- 62. Flexible, shifting morality
- 63. Separatism
- 64. Inability to tolerate criticism
- 65. A Charismatic Leader
- 66. Calls to Obliterate Self
- 67. Don't Trust Your Own Mind.
- 68. Don't Feel Your Own Feelings.
- 69. The group takes over the individual's decision-making process.
- 70. You Owe The Group.
- 71. We Have The Panacea.
- 72. Progressive Indoctrination and Progressive Commitments
- 73. Magical, Mystical, Unexplainable Workings
- 74. Trance-Inducing Practices
- 75. New Identity — Redefinition of Self — Revision of Personal History
- 76. Membership Rivalry
- 77. True Believers
- 78. Scapegoating and Excommunication
- 79. Promised Powers or Knowledge
- 80. It's a con. You don't get the promised goodies.
- 81. Hypocrisy
- 82. Lying. Denial of the truth. Reversal of reality. Rationalization and Denial.
- 83. Seeing Through Tinted Lenses
- 84. You can't make it without the group.
- 85. Enemy-making and Devaluing the Outsider
- 86. The group wants to own you.
- 87. Channelling or other occult, unchallengeable, sources of information.
- 88. They Make You Dependent On The Group.
- 89. Demands For Compliance With The Group
- 90. Newcomers Need Fixing.
- 91. Use of the Cognitive Dissonance Technique.
- 92. Grandiose existence. Bombastic, Grandiose Claims.
- 93. Black And White Thinking
- 94. The use of heavy-duty mind control and rapid conversion techniques.
- 95. Threats of bodily harm or death to someone who leaves the group.
- 96. Threats of bodily harm or death to someone who criticizes the group.
- 97. Appropriation of all of the members' worldly wealth.
- 98. Making cult members work long hours for free.
- 99. Total immersion and total isolation.
- 100. Mass suicide.
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Last updated 27 October 2015.
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