The Cult Test
Questions 41 to 50

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

41. Disturbed Guru, Mentally Ill Leader.
The S.O.S. Europe web page says it beautifully:

Disturbed Gurus
Cult leaders are often charming, charismatic figures with above-average intelligence. The "charismatic charmer" is one their false faces — a pseudo-personality.

Many cult leaders suffer from borderline, disassociate or multiple personality disorders. 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.

For example, 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 holy man. 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 or oversight.   ...   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 screamed.
      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 women...   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.
Outrageous Betrayal, The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile, Steven Pressman, pages 97-99.

(So, "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 the group.
      "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 names "The Forum", "The Landmark Forum", "The Landmark Educational Forum", and "Landmark Educational". 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 bodily urges. 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.

Lafayette Ronald
"L. Ron" Hubbard
      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.
      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 kill me!"
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; pages 658-661.

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 detoxing them, 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.

42. 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 contrary.

Wanting to believe is perhaps the most powerful dynamic initiating and sustaining cult-like behavior.
The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society, 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 Critics: "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 predictable fashion..."

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."

Or: "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 "unconditional love", 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, physically 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 before sundown.

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 and nuts...

43. 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 be wrong.
  • 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.

44. Dispensed existence
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 cult's rules.

  • 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).

45. 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 wearing blinders.

      "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.

46. 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.

47. Thought-Stopping Language. Thought-terminating clichés and slogans.

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

  • "Utilize, don't analyze",
  • "Stop Your Stinkin' Thinkin'",
  • "You have a thinking problem, not a drinking problem", and
  • "Your best thinking got you here"
to stop people from thinking. Those kinds of slogans are also known as "thought-stopping clichés."

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, for instance.
      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.

48. Mystical Manipulation

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. See Lowell Streiker's 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 Giggly Wonderfulness.

49. 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", and "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 — "not maximum".

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.

50. 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.

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Last updated 27 October 2015.
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