The Cult Test
Questions 11 to 20
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 answers.)

11. Insistence that the group is THE ONLY WAY.
The group is the only way to Heaven, or world peace, or enlightenment, or clean and sober living, or do-it-yourself psychotherapy, or whatever the goal is supposed to be.

There are corollaries:

  • Only the faithful will be saved.
  • Only members of our church will be raised when the Rapture comes.
  • Only our sect will survive Armaggedon.
  • Only our church has the correct interpretation of the Scriptures.
  • Only we have the knowledge.
  • Only our version of God will save you.
  • Only our church has The Answer.
  • Only our Holy Book is true.
  • Only our group understands.
  • Only our leader has the New Wine for the New Bottles.
  • Only our leader has the New Technology of the Mind.

For instance,

  • "In the last days of the world, the people will be divided into the Servants of the Lord, and the Servants of the Anti-Christ. Members of our church are the Servants of the Lord, and we will be taken up into Heaven during the Rapture. Non-members will be listed in the roll call of the Anti-Christ." [Jehovah's Witnesses]
  • "Only our church has received this special new revelation from the Lord."
  • "Our leader is the only one with the magic formula for World Peace."
  • "Only our group is going to Heaven." [Heaven's Gate cult]
  • "Our God gives us a place in Heaven. What does your god offer you?" [Pentacostals]
  • "Our leader is the anointed Messenger from God. And yours isn't. So there."
  • "Only we have The Game and the great new social organization that reliably produces clean and sober man-days." [Synanon]
  • "Only our leader has discovered 'the secrets of the Ancients'."
  • "Only our church has the correct understanding of the Bible."
  • "Only our church follows the commandments of the Lord correctly."
  • "Only our leader fully understands this new technology, this great new science of the mind." [Scientology]

Scientology regards Scientologists as the only sane people on the planet. They are "Operating Thetans", which is something like "functional intelligences", or more like "immortal god-like functional intelligences." All of the rest of the people on Earth are considered to be so brain-damaged, non-functional, and insane that they are hardly worth dealing with. But Scientology is working tirelessly to rescue as many people as possible, by bringing them into the cult and "auditing" them into new Operating Thetans.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Likewise, the founder-leader of the Hari Krishna cult declared:

This age of Kali is called a fallen age. At the present moment, people are short-living and very slow at understanding self-realization, or spiritual life. They are mostly unfortunate, and as such, if somebody is a little interested in self-realization, he is misguided by so many frauds. The only actual way to realization of the perfect stage of yoga is to follow the principles of the Bhagavad-Gita as they were practiced by Lord Caitana Mahaprabhu. This is the simplest perfection of yoga practice.
... No other process can be successful in this age.
The Science of Self-Realization, "His Divine Grace" A. C. Swami Prabhupada, page 131.

And there, Prabhupada also shows several other cult characteristics

Marshall Herff Applewhite
Heaven's Gate leader "Do"
Members of the Heaven's Gate cult believed that they had the ONLY way to get to Heaven: commit suicide and hitch a ride on a flying saucer that was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet. They made video tapes ("exit statements") just days before their mass suicide, where they talked about how they felt just unbelievably fortunate to have been born on the right planet, at the right time and place, to have been able to meet and learn from the cult leaders "Ti" and "Do" (Bonnie Lu Trousdale Nettles and Marshall Herff Applewhite), and get prepared for the Big Journey to Heaven (suicide). And all of the other people on Earth, who wouldn't be committing suicide and making the trip to the Hale-Bopp comet and the flying saucer hiding behind it? Well, sadly, they just missed the boat, and they won't be going to Heaven... They weren't wise enough, or lucky enough, to follow the right teacher.

And those people who committed suicide even had special patches sewn onto their sleeves that read, "Away Team". Yep, we're really special. We're on the Away Team. Out of the entire population of the planet Earth, only 39 people made it onto the Away Team, and we are those 39. We're that special.

12. The group and its members are special.

Brother, do they ever believe they are special:

  • "We are different from ordinary people."
  • "Only another cult member understands."
  • "We are special because we belong to the right religion."
  • "We are special because we have the new technology."
  • "We have the new dispensation."
  • "Our leader is the new messiah, and only he has the new wisdom, which he is giving to us."
  • "Our organization is a wonderful new movement that is sweeping the world. We will usher in a new age of peace and enlightenment."
  • "Our organization is the latest manifestation of God's generosity towards mankind." [Moonies]
  • "We are God's Chosen Children."
  • "We are the wave of the future."
  • "We have been trained, processed, audited, purified, tested or prepared in ways that no one else has."
  • "No non-Scientologist has ever seen a thetan, much less checked it for electricity, so how could anyone possibly disprove this [L. Ron Hubbard's] theory?"1
  • "Our group is so special that only another group member can even understand how wonderful it is."

In spite of the fact that the individual cult members are often told by their higher-ranking mentors and superiors that they are very stupid and foolish, the cult members are also told that they were very smart and very lucky, on the whole, to have joined the cult: "The vast majority of the human race is stupid and lost. Only these few select ones had the good fortune and wisdom to come here."

Frequently, the cult members even regard themselves as The Chosen — the elite, chosen people who will do something grand like save the world, usher in the New Age, or go to Heaven.

Cult members believe that what they are doing is of a higher purpose than anything anyone else is doing. Other people are just living — breathing, working, paying the rent, surviving — but the cult members are transforming, building, achieving, doing great things, even saving the world.

Evil cult leaders find it easy to manipulate their followers by telling them that they are special, chosen by God, and that what they are doing is of special importance, that they are doing the Will of God as they work for the cult for free. And the cult leader will tell his followers that they are much smarter and more honest and spiritual and moral than the outsiders who won't join the cult. What the cult leader is doing is, of course, manipulating people by appealing to their egotism and vanity.

The attitude of specialness naturally reinforces the cult doctrine of "you can't ever leave the cult", because if you do, then you won't be special any more, and you won't be doing the Will of God any more.

Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi leader who was the head of the Gestapo and SS, told his SS troops:

"Never forget we are a knightly order, from which we cannot withdraw, to which we are recruited by blood."

An unrepentant widow of a senior SS officer, Florentine Rost von Tonnigen, declared,

"Himmler was a man of vision and out of this vision came the Wewelsburg [the castle that was the headquarters of the 'knightly order' of the SS]. The SS is the true absolute elite of all that has been. The world today considers us criminals, but there is no purer, more intense, and intellectually higher body than the SS. Thank God there are still a few German people who know something of the Wewelsburg."
The BBC TV program Hitler's Search for the Holy Grail

Marjorie Harrison, in reporting on the Oxford Group, said that they considered themselves to have "a special something":

Time after time you hear new converts saying that they were first attracted to the Group because "these people have something that I lacked". This little something some others haven't got is usually described as happiness or joy. The truth is that that "little something" is a happy capacity for a facile credulity. The majority of those who are attracted by the teaching have this capacity in some measure, whether they are aware of it or not. Otherwise there would be a very small Group and a much better one.
Saints Run Mad; A Criticism of the "Oxford" Group Movement, Marjorie Harrison (1934), page 86.

The specialness of the cult is frequently expressed by contrasting the cult with "everyone else out there." Those other people weren't smart enough or good enough to join the cult. A mindset of us versus them is encouraged. There is almost always a distinction, usually aggrieved, between "us" and "them".

In Amway, a commercial cult, members are often contrasted with non-members by emphasizing how much the wealthy members who are at the top of the pyramid enjoy lives of leisure. The "Diamonds" (rich high-ranking members) enjoy luxurious vacations in Switzerland where they go on "buying trips" — not shopping trips, buying trips — where they buy expensive diamond jewelry, while ordinary Americans — impoverished non-members — are forced to go camping in the USA for their vacations, and "squat in the woods".

Michael Rogge describes the specialness of a cult this way:

Uniqueness of the movement

Movements will usually extol their superiority over others. After all, there should be a strong reason to select that particular group. Some present themselves as being the sole way towards salvation, or being God's chosen people. Others promise a benefit that is reserved solely for members of that sect. To divert attention, some pride themselves in not having a teaching, or for their openness and democratic rules.

In short, new movements will advance a variety of reasons for their uniqueness. Herewith a few:

  • Never before has mankind been offered this discipline / interpretation / insight of our leader.
  • Do not pour new wine in old bottles.
  • God's, or a celestial, new message to mankind for this particular time.
  • Impending disaster (pollution, atomic explosion) calls for drastic measures. Salvation reserved, only for faithful members.
  • Fresh interpretation of holy book thanks to insight / revelation of founder.
  • Esoteric tradition, once accessible to adepts only, now revealed.
  • New channel for teachings of esoteric lodge / brotherhood.
  • New doctrine / insight based on latest scientific discoveries, reveals truth.
  • Only those following this particular work on self, discipline, or belief, will reach eternity, be released from earth's satanic attraction, cycle of rebirths, etc.
  • Preparatory group to make way for the coming of the new messiah / world-teacher / avatar.

Noteworthy is the vehemence with which groups stress differences between each other. The more closely movements share an outlook, the more virulent the attacks on their rivals become, much more so than on other groups which follow completely different beliefs. This manifests itself especially when groups split. In [medieval] Christianity, one could not stoop too low in attacking other followers of Christ who held a slightly different opinion of things. It resulted in disastrous wars. [The Twenty Years War, The Forty Years War, The Hundred Years War.]

13. Induction of guilt, and the use of guilt to manipulate cult members.
Cult members can be faulted, and made to feel guilty, for anything and everything, from their sexual desires to their weakness in getting tired and making mistakes after 16 hours of working for the cult for free. Many cults use public confession or self-criticism sessions to induce more guilt. Errors and sins committed in the past are also a fertile ground for inducing guilt, especially since the cult member can not now do anything to change or fix the past. This guilt can, in turn, be used to control the minds of cult members: "You thought that was a good thing to do? Your mind is useless. Your mind is corrupted. Just do what you are told, and quit trying to think so much."

The cult also induces guilt by holding up an ahuman, impossibly lofty standard for the perfect member. The members can't ever live up to the standard, so they always feel guilty and inadequate. See the item An Impossible Superhuman Model of Perfection for more.

Guilt induction is a very powerful tool for manipulating people's minds. In his study of Communist "brainwashing" of American and British prisoners during the Korean War, Edward Hunter wrote:

The Reds had found that the easiest way to subdue any group of people was to give its members a guilt complex and then to lead them on from self-denunciation to self-betrayal. All that was required to put this across was a sufficiently heartless exploitation of the essential goodness in people, so that they would seek self-sacrifice to compensate for their feelings of guilt. The self-sacrifice obviously made available to them in this inside-out environment is some form of treason.
Brainwashing, From Pavlov to Powers, Edward Hunter, page 169.

For example, the brainwashers would criticize a white prisoner for having lived a live of luxury, never caring about the fate of the poor Negroes, being just an uncaring heartless monster who went along with the Capitalist agenda because he personally benefited from it, even if it was killing others. Then the confused white fellow had to confess all of that in public self-criticism sessions. Then, to make amends, he had to do something like snitch on a fellow prisoner, or memorize and espouse Communist dogma. And then it went on and on like that until a few prisoners had switched sides.

Prof. Margaret Thaler Singer also wrote that one of the essential ingredients of any effective brainwashing or mind control program is "Create a sense of powerlessness, covert fear, guilt, and dependency."

Thus, any cult that combines guilt induction with confession and self-criticism sessions has a good start on a mind-control or brainwashing program. The cult will simply offer the member some other form of self-sacrifice, usually a life spent fund-raising or recruiting or working for free.

14. Unquestionable Dogma, Sacred Science, and Infallible Ideology.
The cult has lots of it to teach you. Dogma can also be defined as doctrine, beliefs, convictions, teachings, precepts, or tenets. And they are all true, always. No critical questions about the leader, doctrine, or policy are seen as legitimate, "because God gave our leader these teachings, so of course they are absolutely right and infallible. Anybody who criticizes our leader's teachings must be an agent of Satan."

"Unquestionable dogma" is also called "Sacred Science", which is one of Dr. Robert J. Lifton's Eight Conditions of Thought Reform. The cult's "truth" is the absolute truth, sacred and beyond questioning. The cult's laws, rules and regulations are absolutely correct, always, and therefore to be followed automatically.

There is a reverence demanded for the leadership. They have ALL of the answers, they say, and only to them is given the revelation of "truth". The ultimate moral vision becomes the ultimate science and the person who dares to criticize it is considered immoral, irreverent, and "unscientific". A Moral Re-Armament slogan was,

"MRA, scientific medicine for the moral ills of the world."

(There was, of course, nothing "scientific" about Moral Re-Armament.)

Another aspect of cult dogma is how cults will make sweeping arbitrary groundless statements that are based on no commonly-accepted facts at all. For instance, the 3HO cult says that the reason that men have beards and women do not is because men have an energy center in the middle of their chin that must be protected from the feminine lunar energy or else the men will become hysterical and act like women. Say what? Where did that come from?

Similarly, the "Hari Krishna" cult (ISKCON) declared that Swami Prabhupada was the Earth's guru for the next 10,000 years. Who says that the earth even has just one guru, never mind the idea that one guy gets to monopolize the position for 10,000 years, even after he dies?

Where do they get such stuff? Well, they just make it up.

Relatively new members rise in status and confirm their membership in the group by showing their skill in attacking dissidents and critics with the standard dogma and arguments — that is, by showing their skill in parroting the party line.

Often, the cult will claim that it possesses some great new discovery, invention, or revelation from God.

  • "Never before in history has mankind had this great new blessing which our guru has brought to us..."

  • The cult leader claims, "God has revealed to no man before what He has revealed to me."

  • The cult declares, "God has given us the 'new dispensation'."

  • The cult declares, "God has chosen to speak to us in this age like He spoke to other nations in the past."

  • The cult leader claims, "No one understood the true meaning of the Scriptures before I saw the light."

  • In Scientology, the leader L. Ron Hubbard bragged that he had made breakthroughs in human psychology that no person had ever accomplished before, and that he had then developed a new technology of the mind unknown to humankind before. (And you couldn't prove him wrong about anything because you weren't an advanced Scientologist — you are so primitive and brain-damaged, they say, that you cannot even see the truth that Hubbard saw.)

In an article that criticized the public school system, Jill Haunold clearly described the problem of stubbornly-held dogmatic beliefs and fervently-believed ideology:

      "I don't agree with you people," a teacher told me. "I don't believe that teachers intentionally harm children." Not that I had ever said teachers intentionally hurt children but this was apparently her interpretation of my story about the effect school disciplinary systems have on the behavior of children and adults. She conceded that school conditions were less than ideal for teachers or students. But, she concluded by saying given large class sizes, the little value our society places on children, teachers, and learning as well as other societal problems, which were unlikely to change, there was simply nothing teachers could do. Not wishing to antagonize her further, I simply said that I did not think teachers intentionally hurt children.
      But I have to question why a teacher would defend her position by telling me teachers don't intentionally do harm. Does this mean she knows teachers hurt children but it is unintentional? Does unintentionality excuse behavior that harms children? And does the unintentionality of the harm allow her to further believe there is nothing she can do about it since she is unaware of what she is doing?
      Lacan suggests once "illusion," or a myth that is universally accepted amongst the population of a particular culture, has taken hold, in this case that schools are fine but for a little tweaking, there is little hope for change because facts will simply serve to support the ideology behind the fantasy. That the teacher said she did not think teachers intentionally hurt children instead of simply saying that teachers did not hurt children, would not surprise Lacan. How can it be explained that teachers would continue to do something that causes harm? The popular belief is that if it is just pointed out what they are doing they would change. But using Lacan's logic, it is not likely that teachers do not know what they are doing, nor that they will change. Instead, they are making the choice not to do anything differently because they believe so strongly in the ideology defining what they do. The ideology is the illusion that transforms any knowledge into that which supports the myth itself (Zizek, S. 1999). Here we are speaking of the belief that outside of a few bad teachers, and a few problems that could be improved through better public support, school is essentially a good thing. Thus, what is done in the name of school is justifiable. The end justifies the means. Ideology filters any information that would contradict the "goodness" of school. Critical consciousness is required to remove the filters.

Zizek, S. (1999). "The sublime object of ideology." In J. Rivkin and M. Ryan (Eds.) Literary theory: An anthology. (pp. 312-327). Oxford: Blackwell.

It's about Time: Schooling as Oppression, Jill Haunold, Anarchy; A Journal of Desire Armed, No. 57, Spring-Summer 2004, Vol. 22. No. 1, page 45.

Irrationality in the group's beliefs and teachings is one of the big red flags to watch for. Another giant warning sign is the refusal to fix things that are wrong, and refusal to even admit that something is wrong. The cult will usually claim that all of its beliefs, teachings, and tenets are sacred and cannot be changed. If you find something that is wrong — even an obvious error — they will either deny it, and claim that it is right and you are wrong ("You don't understand"), because of some explanation that often involves redefining a bunch of words, or they will rationalize the error and say that it's all okay anyway and shouldn't be changed, for some reason or other. They simply will not modify their beliefs to agree with the facts. It's like the old saying, "I won't allow my opinions to be swayed by mere facts."

Some of the most outrageous cult tenets are statements that are unverifiable, unprovable, or unevaluable (at least, in this world). For example:

  • I have tested you before. We were both monks in ancient Egypt, and I was your teacher then. (Paul Brunton, see Jeffrey Masson.)
  • I am from Venus.
  • God spoke to me.
  • My real home is Sirius, and when I die, I will return there.
  • I was voluntarily, consciously, reborn on this planet to help get mankind through this crisis.
  • God is pleased when you follow these principles. (Dr. Frank N. D. Buchman and William G. Wilson)
  • The reason you feel all of that tension and stiffness in your neck is because the way you died in your last incarnation was you were beheaded.
  • The reason you feel such hostility towards her is, she killed you in your last incarnation.
  • Having sex with a negative person will damage your spiritual body.
  • Master is the Messiah. (Moonies, Rajneeshees, Premies, and many others)
  • Or, Our Master is the new prophet.
  • Or, Our Master is the new teacher with the new revelation, or the New Way. (Oxford Group)
  • The Devil is trying to get into your mind and influence your thinking, and lead you astray. (Moonies)
  • The only reason we are born in this world is to attain Self Realization. (ISKCON, the Hari Krishnas)
  • Buying these expensive trinkets for your dead ancestors will make them happy. (Moonies)
  • When we get one-third of the world chanting, we will achieve World Peace. (Nichiren Shoshu, aka Soka Gakkai)
  • There is a flying saucer hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet, just waiting to take us to Heaven. All we have to do is discard our physical bodies and go hitch a ride on it, to get to Heaven. (Heaven's Gate)
  • Ten generations of your ancestors are stuck at a lower level in the spirit world, and they are depending on you for their salvation. If you don't follow Rev. Moon, all of those ancestors will accuse you throughout eternity of failing your responsibility. (Moonies, see Hassan, RTB, p.236.)
  • Our leader has reincarnated time after time, throughout history, bringing mankind yet another great invention or discovery each time. He has been many of the greatest and most famous men in history. Without our leader, mankind would never have progressed beyond the dark ages. (Scientology, see John Atack.)

Obviously, none of those statements can be tested to see if they are really true or not (not without dying, that is). Some cults spin huge webs of such vague fluff, until it seems like everything anyone in the group is saying is just more of the same indefinite and unprovable nonsense. In turn, that vague, insubstantial feeling about so many things helps to make the cult members more detached from reality.

Eric Hoffer, in his classic book The True Believer, described cult dogma this way:

The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth. It must be the one word from which all things are and all things speak. Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth.

It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand. A doctrine that is understood is shorn of its strength. Once we understand a thing, it is as if it had originated in us. And, clearly, those who are asked to renounce the self and sacrifice it cannot see eternal certitude in anything that originates in that self. The fact that they understand a thing fully impairs its validity and certitude in their eyes.

The devout are always urged to seek the absolute truth with their hearts and not their minds. "It is the heart which is conscious of God, not the reason." [--Pascal]   Rudolph Hess, when swearing in the entire Nazi party in 1934, exhorted his hearers: "Do not seek Adolph Hitler with your brains; all of you will find him with the strength of your hearts."
If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable. One has to get to heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine. When some part of a doctrine is relatively simple, there is a tendency among the faithful to complicate it and obscure it. Simple words are made pregnant with meaning and made to look like symbols in a secret message. There is thus an illiterate air about the most literate true believer. He seems to use words as if he were ignorant of their true meaning. Hence, too, his taste for quibbling, hairsplitting, and scholastic tortuousness.
The True Believer, Eric Hoffer, pages 79 to 80.

Indeed: "One has to get to Heaven or the distant future to determine the truth of an effective doctrine."
That makes it extremely difficult to prove that the phony guru is wrong.

15. Indoctrination of members.
Members have to learn and believe all of that dogma. The indoctrination can be anything from merely making people listen to sermons to prolonged intense study to industrial-strength brainwashing. Christian cults are notorious for having "Bible Study" meetings every night. Other cults listen to lectures by the leader, or meet to study his writings, or listen to his tapes, or watch videotapes...

16. Appeals to "holy" or "wise" authorities.
The authorities can be anything from the Bible or other religions' holy scriptures, to the words of someone deemed to be a knowledgeable authority on some subject, to the words of dead saints, real or imagined. And all of them are supposedly endorsing the cult.

Those endorsements can take on a wacky circular logic: the cult says that a certain man is wonderful and wise because that man says that the cult is wonderful and wise. For instance, Adelaide Bry wrote a book that glorified Werner Erhard and his "est" "self-improvement training" hoax which prominently featured not letting people go to the bathroom, and insisting that people "get it", without ever defining what "get it" actually meant. She described Erhard as a "genius", "a magnetic and attractive man with the body of a tennis player and the eyes of a prophet" (page 171):

      He is obviously brilliant and for some it may be more comfortable to label him a charlatan than to look at what he has to say and what he's doing. Anyone who has experienced the training and who also has knowledge about the mind of man, and the traditions of philosophy, theology, and psychology, cannot fail to see how Werner has pulled them all together in a meaningful way that people who aren't philosophers, theologians, or psychologists can grasp.
      It is easy, also, to write off what Werner is doing by seeing it merely as the sum of its parts: some basic Zen, a little Gestalt, a dash of Psychosynthesis, and some shrewd business management. That's like saying Picasso's work is merely the integration of all the brush techniques and stylistic devices ever created by all the great artists who came before him.
      This point of view fails to recognize the mark of genius. Werner's genius becomes evident when you see that what a lot of great thinkers have been saying for centuries is what est is essentially saying, too. The difference is that est doesn't say it. Werner has developed a way for people to experience truth through their own experience.
      With other teachers, you read what they have to say. With Werner you get it.
est, 60 hours that transform your life, erhard seminars training, Adelaide Bry, Avon Books, page 165.

Then Werner Erhard reviewed the book, and the publisher printed his comments on the front cover:

Adelaide Bry did a great job. The book is readable, accurate, and gives a balanced view of est. Adelaide has demonstrated her integrity as a writer by extensive research, verifying the quotes she uses, checking and rechecking her facts; and stating her opinion as opinion rather than as fact. I support the author.

Werner Erhard, founder of est
est, 60 hours that transform your life, erhard seminars training, Adelaide Bry, Avon Books, front cover.

So Werner Erhard "supports" the fawning, gushing, starry-eyed authoress who worships him. Gee, what a surprise.

17. Instant Community.
You get a ready-made extended family when you join the cult. Sometimes, you move into their living quarters upon joining, and really get an all-encompassing community. Or you just spend all of your spare time at the temple or center or meeting hall, only associating with other members, who are your new circle of friends.

A common characteristic of this instant community attitude is, "We love you because you are one of us." The cult members will instantly love you, and consider you a beloved part of their family, because you chose to join their group. You are automatically one of the Good People because you joined the cult.

18. Instant Intimacy.
"Since we are all just one big happy family, we should not keep any secrets from each other."
"Get rid of all of your old mental garbage by talking it out. You can't take the power out of it if you don't talk it out."
"Your secrets will keep you sick."

This "instant intimacy" often takes the form of confessing all of one's sins and faults and dirty little secrets to the whole group, which can then of course be used for guilt induction or blackmail.

And that instant intimacy always requires that the cult member immediately reveal any negative thoughts about the cult or its leader or its practices — he cannot have any privacy, not even in his own mind. Such instant and constant intimacy makes critical thought very difficult: if someone must always reveal his every thought to the other cult members around him, then he doesn't even have time to crystallize negative thoughts about the cult before the other cult members are "correcting" his thoughts and changing his mind.

Also, confessing personal secrets to a group of strangers creates an illusion of closeness and brotherhood, because cognitive dissonance kicks in. Ordinarily, we only reveal our innermost secrets to our closest, most trusted friends. When we are pressured and pushed into revealing our secrets to a room full of strangers, it creates an inner conflict. The subconscious mind's answer to the problem is to come to believe that those people really are our closest, dearest friends, so there isn't any problem.

Scientology does it in a different way: all newcomers allegedly need "auditing" to clear their minds. In auditing sessions, the neophyte holds in his hands a couple of tin cans or other metal objects that are wired to a meter that measures galvanic skin response (skin resistance). If the neophyte is under stress, he sweats a little, which lowers the skin resistance, and it shows on the meter. The neophyte must reveal all of the times that he was injured, and all painful experiences in his life, and talk them out until the meter no longer shows an emotional response. Every little intimate detail must be revealed to the auditor, who then keeps a case file on the subject, which can be used for blackmail later. If the neophyte tries to quit Scientology, or criticizes Scientology, he can be threatened with revelation of what is in his case file.

19. Surrender To The Group.
New members are expected to hand over their minds, their wills, their lives, and sometimes even their souls, to the group. (And, often, also their credit cards, checkbooks, and the deed to their house.) This is often masked as surrendering to God or Jesus or "the Will of God", but since God isn't around to issue new orders, the cult will do it for Him. It's just like when the TV evangelist tells you to give your money to God, he instructs you to make the check out to his church, not God.

Part of surrendering to the cult is giving up on having a personal life or personal goals. Newcomers are instructed to abandon "selfishness" and to devote their lives to serving the master, his group, and their "great cause" (whatever that may be). "The Death of Self" is a commonly-stated goal of cults.

In David Berg's Children of God cult, followers were required to "Forsake All and Follow Jesus". That really meant "Give all of your worldly wealth to the cult, and obey all orders without question", even the orders to pimp and prostitute one's wife to raise more money for the cult.

Likewise, newcomers should give up on having their own minds or personalities. Any skepticism or reluctance to believe in the teachings of the leader is interpreted as a personal failing, a vice like selfishness or a lingering love of evil things. Questioning the guru is "negative." Devotion to the guru must be complete.

Vic Kitchen
Vic Kitchen described his conversion to a true believer in Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult:

      First, they said, I would have to make clean contact — much as in forming an electrical connection. In setting up aerials for the family radio I had scraped the ends of the copper wire often enough to know that. To get my contact points clean, they said, I would have to face up to my sins, and "sin" they defined as anything which came between me and any other person or stood between me and God.
[Translation: He would have to confess all of his sins to the Oxford Group.]
      Then they said I would have to surrender my will and make it subject to the will of God. I would have to give up entirely the old life of self-assertion and self-determination. There was, in other words, no use in clearing a telephone line to God if I was just going to sit back at my end of the wire and make up my own mind whether or not I wanted to do what He told me. They also said that, just as I would not trust a wilful child with an automobile, God would not trust me with any of his dynamic spiritual power unless He knew that I was going to use it as Jesus Christ would use it — for purposes of absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 56-57.

So what's wrong with that? Where is the hole in that logic?
It is this:
"Who decides what God is saying? Who decides what is the Will of God?"
In Frank Buchman's cult, it was Frank Buchman. Everybody had to do what he said, not what God said, because Buchman declared that no matter how much you polished your "spiritual wires", you still couldn't hear the Voice of God as well as he could.

Vic Kitchen went on to describe how he gradually surrendered his life to the Oxford Group more and more, and God told him to go to parties:

      Before this, in other words, I had been passively obedient to God. I was now put actively and creatively to work for God. And while, with my first surrender, my life had been greatly altered, this new surrender completed the reversal and started me in a direction which lay absolutely opposite to all of my old ways. I took up a re-directed path, not only in the physical or sensuous environment, but in all the social-intellectual and spiritual-volitional areas of life.
      In the physical area, as already suggested, I used to be guided only by the pull of my desire for a sensual indulgence. I would boorishly, for instance, refuse to give or to go out for an evening party unless I saw there some chance to excite my senses through conquests at bridge, to dull my senses through the conquest of more alcohol than others could drink, or to gratify my senses through flirting with some lady who was not my wife. To-day I give parties or go to them, not because I hope for sensual excitement, but because God has told me to do so. And He tells me to give or go to a party because, at that party, He has some definite and creative work for me to do.
I Was A Pagan, V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 83-84.

The idea of surrender is confused in a cult. There is a phenomenon of surrender in real religious or spiritual training, but it gets distorted in a cult and gets turned into something like servile obedience to a dictatorial master. Baba Ram Dass wrote this about surrender in a relationship with a genuine guru or teacher:

In the spiritual literature, the true surrender is spoken of as the surrender that is no surrender. That is, one opens — through faith and trust — to a method such as a guru only when such faith resonates with truth at the depths of one's being. Then there is a readiness for such opening. If one is still rooted only in intellect or emotion, any act of surrender is but another act of ego and can, based on misjudgment, lead to horrendous consequences. So one cannot choose to surrender to the guru. But when the devotee and the guru have met at the depths of being then such surrender is not actually surrender to another person but, rather, surrender to one's own God-nature.
Miracle of Love: Stories About Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass, pages 300-301.

To repeat, you cannot choose to surrender. If you do surrender while you are still "wearing your ego", then it becomes just some more egotism: "Look at me. I'm one of the special people who is doing the will of God. I've surrendered to God, and you haven't, so I'm more spiritual than you are. So there."

And even worse: "Look at me. I am totally, unquestioningly, obedient to the Leader, and you aren't, so I'm more spiritual than you are. So there."

20. Giggly wonderfulness and starry-eyed faith.
The cult wallows in an anti-intellectual euphoria.

It just seems like there are always a few cult members around who giggle a lot, and proclaim that it's all so wonderful. "Praise the Lord! Sing hallelujah! Glory be! Thank you Jesus! It's a Miracle!" (or something similar) is their standard response to everything. It's like a giggly hysteria or mania. Those people have shut down their logical thinking minds for the duration, in trade for group acceptance and a world of spiritual make-believe.

You will notice that some members attribute every fortunate occurence to the deliberate actions of a God or some other powerful spiritual being who is looking out for and taking care of the cult members — "The Big Man is really looking out for us" — ostensibly, because the cult members are doing the right practices, the ones that please God. Every time something good happens, they proclaim that it's another miracle, as if God has nothing better to do than wait on them hand and foot all day long, and arrange events to make them happy, and rig football games to make their team win.

You will also notice a phenomenon where one member has an intense emotional or sentimental experience, and gets all choked up, and calls it a religious experience, and the other cult members are all happy to jump in and validate the experience, and rave about how wonderful this organization is, and how wonderful the leader is, and how wonderful God is, and how wonderful it is that they are all making such great progress in following the guru's teachings... Like sharks in a feeding frenzy, or cows in a stampede, the members happily egg each other on, and work themselves up into a real tizzy over nothing. (And they will really resent you if you rain on their parade by not playing along — by remaining calm and level-headed and being a little skeptical of the whole routine.)

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton called that whole process "Mystical Manipulation", and described it as:
  • Everyone is manipulating everyone, 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.

In the Oxford Group cult, the leader Dr. Frank Buchman encouraged giggly wonderfulness. He instructed people at meetings to confess their sins in a jocular manner that kept the audiences laughing. The slogan was, "Brevity, Sincerity, Hilarity". Frank Buchman also told his followers to make religion look like a lot of fun, a real laugh:

"You've got to get hold of that important pagan bunch. Play with 'em — show 'em what they're missing. Give 'em the feeling that religion's more fun than cocktail parties."
== Frank Buchman, quoted by Dr. H. Hensley Henson, the Bishop of Durham, and reprinted in The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament, by Tom Driberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965, pages 197-198.

The Oxford Groupers were all laughing so much, and showing off how much fun their religion was, that one contemporary critic, Geoffrey Williamson, commented, "I dislike their forced heartiness..."

Phil Kerns wrote a moving book that exposed Amway as a pseudo-religious commercial cult that falsely promises to make all of its followers wealthy. Phil and his friend Don, both ex-Amway distributors, went to an Amway distributors' rally in Portland, Oregon, to observe the event. He witnessed this:

      "Ladies and Gentlemen, the greatest leader who ever lived. Our BODY could not exist without a head like this. The most wonderful man in the world..."
      It suddenly hit me that this was how they had announded this leading dignitary! I had heard that sort of glorification at rallies all over the country. "But isn't Christ the head of the church body?" I thought.
      The crowd was now laughing. As I looked up, I could see this leader, who was exalted much like a god, moving even faster than before. Body gyrations and descriptive arm and head motions accompanied his every word.
      "Do you people out there want to be free?" The crowd now sprang to its feet and screamed back to him, "Yes! Yes!" Their arms were stretched outward and upwards, hands open, in a Pentecostal fashion. Many were swaying and waving their arms back and forth as they responded to the speaker.
      "How many of you want to tell the boss to kiss off?" Again the crowd screamed back, even louder than before. The applause now became rhythmic. They all stood and clapped in unison. Some stamped their feet while others beat on the tables! It just kept going on and on. This pseudo Christlike figure lifted his hands towards the heavens and nodded his head to each beat. It was an orgy of enthusiasm.
      Even after the crowd sat back down, their voiced responses continued. Each statement the speaker made generated more excitement in the crowd. The beating of the tables became more intense. Those sitting at the table closest to me stood again. Hundreds of enthusiastic followers all across the room followed suit. Each was fully engrossed in the leader's words. As I looked out into that sea of faces, every eye appeared to be fixed upon the speaker with a glassy stare. They seemed hypnotized.
      One black fellow directly across from me was beating the table so hard with his fist that the water goblets were beginning to spill. His face expressed utter jubilation, and his body was rocking to the throbbing beat.
      Hundreds were now screaming at the top of their lungs, encouraging the speaker on. Dozens of individuals stood on their chairs; some whistled while others took their napkins and twirled them over their heads like rodeo stars.
      I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It just wouldn't stop! For a moment the noise began to die down, and I thought they were going to quit. Instead the unified clapping took an intense upswing. They were whistling, stamping and beating on the tables faster than ever. The noise was deafening. Bodies were twisting, jumping and dancing to the beat.
      The speaker was dripping with sweat. His head was nodding with intense rhythmical sways. His hands, fists clenched, beat up and down as if striking invisible drums. He intermittently lifted his arms upward and outward in a victory like stance.
      "What do you need if you're going to succeed?" he roared into the microphone.
      The crowd responded instantly. They knew the answer, and without missing a beat they chanted loudly, "Books, tapes, rallies! Books, tapes, rallies! Books, tapes, rallies! Books, tapes, rallies! Books, tapes, rallies!"
      After what seemed like an eternity of chanting, the leader, much like the conductor of an orchestra, thrust his hands out slashing the air in an apparent signal for the crowd to stop. Instantly the room became silent. One could have heard a pin drop.
      Then, after a few moments, one could see that people were now looking at each other. Some were smiling. Others were laughing. The host for the evening's program was now making announcements of future events, and the black fellow near me, like many others throughout the room, went around and began to shake the hands of everyone within reach.
      "Ain't it great? Man, I'm excited!" he would exclaim to each person. Many, in turn, would acknowledge that they too, were excited.
      This fellow then came up to me and put his sweating palm into mine and with a gleaming smile asked, "Are you excited, Brother? Are you excited?"
      I really didn't know what to say, so I just returned the smile. He went on and shook another dozen hands, expressing the joy and delight that he felt that night.
      This same type of electricity was being generated all over the room. Don came and stood next to my side. I wondered what he was thinking.
      All of this allegiance shown to the leader reminded me of what Lee Brown, Diamond Direct, had told a crowd at a different function. He urged them on with words similar to the following:
      "Step out on faith now, not understanding, like I did not understand. I didn't know what it was all about, but I believed in my friend. I believed in my sponsor! And I stepped out in faith, not knowing what to do; but everything he suggested I did. But I also believed my sponsor and my friend would not do anything to hurt me. Do as your friend and your sponsor will do. Accept that on faith. And do what is suggested for you to do. And just follow these principles which are proven to work, to have whatever you want in life!"
      As I reflected on Brown's words, I felt Don nudge me. "C'mon, let's get out of here, Phil. All of this is making me sick. How could we possibly have been taken in by all of this at one time? We were so blind."
      I stood fast and took one last long look. I felt compassion. My heart ached for all those I was watching.
      "Phil, let's get out of here," Don pleaded. I surrendered to my friend's request. It seemed to me that reaching those people with the truth would be an insurmountable task, but I knew we had to try.
Fake It Till You Make It, Phil Kerns, pages 79-81.

That performance clearly displays several more standard cult characteristics:

Especially notice the repeated demands to "have faith", to "step out on faith", and to trust your sponsor and obey your sponsor, because you don't understand. That shows several more standard cult characteristics:

It is easy to see why Phil Kerns called Amway a modern-day Baal.

Continue to questions 21 to 30...


1) Cooper, Paulette, The Scandal of Scientology, page 149.

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Last updated 20 November 2013.
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