The cult claims to have A Guaranteed Ticket To Heaven,
or A Simple Formula for Happiness and
Enlightenment, or a Simple Never-fails Cure-All for whatever ails you.
Just chant or
meditate or pray all of the time, they say, or just follow their 'simple' program,
and you will find happiness.
For every complicated problem there is a simple and wrong solution.
== H. L. Mencken
Scientology claims that it has a fool-proof new technology for fixing
your mind and restoring you to sanity and clarity, and giving you great
(And all they want in return is your life savings, your credit cards, your house, and all of
the money that you can borrow for the rest of your life.)
There is a way to handle every part of life with Scientology, and a way to exist that
is far beyond any dream that you could ever dream. All of my dreams keep becoming
realities and that's very exciting!
Kelly Preston on Scientology
The Hari Krishnas claim that by chanting their chants you will gain
spirituality and wisdom.
The Nichiren Shoshu / Saka Gakai Buddhists claim pretty much the same thing too.
And with TM® it's Transcendental Meditation that is the sure-fire
solution that will fix your mind and your life.
the Heaven's Gate cult claimed that it had the one and only guaranteed sure-fire
method of getting to Heaven — commit suicide, and then hitch a ride
on an invisible flying saucer that was hiding behind a comet.
Crazy Christian cults claim that confessing all of your sins and repenting will cure everything.
Progressive Indoctrination and Progressive Commitments
The cult starts off by asking for only small commitments from newcomers,
to avoid scaring the newcomers away. But the list of things that are
required of new members keeps growing, and becoming more expensive and
Steve Hassan wrote of his experiences in the Moonies' Unification Church,
where some pretty girls started off asking him to just attend a workshop
for an evening, and then they asked him to attend a seminar for a weekend,
and then a week-long seminar, and then a four-month-long one, and then
they finally ended up demanding his whole life.
Likewise, Scientology starts beginners off with small, inexpensive
commitments: just buy a book for $10, or take a course for $75.
But after you start their training process, everything becomes
progressively more expensive, until the last courses cost from $8000 to
$77,000 each, and you have to take many of them.
Willa Appel described how cult indoctrination progressively
changed members' minds:
Banishing thought strips away another layer of the personality,
another hunk of the individual's mode of operation developed
in response to long-term interaction with the "real" world.
The granting and withholding of approval comes to replace the complex
evaluation system that serves as the basis for behavior and
determines action. Subjects become more willing to
act on command from an external authority and less able
to act independently.
"Each time they'd ask me to do something more," David Wallace said of
the Divine Light Mission, "I'd sort of swallow my pride and try it.
Witnessing and soliciting are things I always felt queasy about.
But you do it. You eventually lose your gut feelings.
You're given directions and you follow them even though
you know they're wrong. Like the special charitable projects,
when you knew all the money was going for new toys for the Guru.
You know it's wrong, but you do it anyway." Cults in America; Programmed for Paradise, Willa Appel, page 90.
The cult claims that its panacea features mysterious, magical, unexplainable effects.
Do the cult's program, and you will get wonderful results, they say, in a
miraculous way that cannot be entirely explained.
For example, the "Nichiren Shoshu / Sokka Gakkei" sect proclaims:
In the Lotus Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha teaches that inside each one of
us a universal truth known as the Buddha nature. Basing our lives on
this Buddha nature enables us to enjoy absolute happiness and to act
with boundless compassion. Such a state of happiness is called enlightenment.
It's simply waking up to the true nature of life, realising that all
things are connected, and that there is such a close relationship between
each of us and our surroundings that when we change ourselves, we
change the world.
In the 13th Century, a Japanese priest called Nichiren (1222—1282)
realised that the message of the Lotus Sutra was summed up by its title,
NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO, which can be translated as the teaching of the lotus
flower of the wonderful law. Nichiren declared that all of the benefits
of the wisdom contained in the Lotus Sutra can be realized by chanting
this title NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO.
The goal of chanting NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO is to manifest the enlightenment
of the Buddha in our own lives.
It is true that the Lotus Sutra is a beautiful teaching, but it is absurd to proclaim
that all of the benefits of reading and following Buddha's teachings can be obtained
merely by chanting the name of the book. How is that supposed to work, anyway?
And did Buddha ever say that you could just chant "NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO"?
Buddha was quite specific about following an eight-fold path, and living right and practicing right livelihood
and being truthful, not just sitting on your ass and chanting a one-liner forever.
In some cults, members spend too much time on mind-numbing trance-inducing practices
like prolonged meditation, chanting, praying, or voodoo dancing.
Hypnosis, repetition, monotony, and rhythm are often used to numb
the thought processes of new recruits.
New Identity — Redefinition of Self — Revision of Personal History
You must adopt a new identity — getting a new self-concept — a new ego.
You must redefine yourself and your life in cult terms.
As the new member brings his thinking into conformity with the
cult's thinking, and absorbs the values of the cult, he
will redefine himself with cult terms and cult concepts,
and also reinterpret his memories of his previous life in cult terms.
Essentially, he will build himself a new ego which is "good cult
member", and he will see himself and the world through the
eyes of a cult member. This is a standard part of the conversion
process — any conversion process, cult religion or otherwise.
Dr. Schein called this "New Identification", and
included it as one of his
five steps of mind
Andrew Meacham discussed this in his book Selling Serenity:
In The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas
Luckman link political indoctrination and aspects of psychotherapy with
religious conversion. In extreme cases, they write, an individual
joins a religious community, and through socialization, discovers
the "plausibility structures" that make the new world
coherent, fully tangible and fully believable.
As an individual blends into the religious community, or an equally
potent community espousing a kind of political or therapeutic transformation,
he redefines his past in terms of the new present.
The formula for reinterpretation of the past is, "Then I thought...
now I know."13
Moreover, Berger and Luckmann write:
Prealternation biography is typically nihilated in toto by
subsuming it under a negative category occupying a strategic position
in the new legitimizing apparatus.
"When I was still living a life of sin,"
"When I was still caught in bourgeois consciousness,"
"When I was still motivated by these unconscious neurotic needs."
The biographical rupture is thus identified with a cognitive separation
of darkness and
12 Berger, P.L. & Luckmann, T. (1966)
The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 157. 13 Ibid., 160. 14 Ibid. Selling Serenity, Life Among The Recovery Stars,
Andrew Meacham, page 118.
... The Oxford Group, however, has the most natural way of introducing one to the
supernatural and, in their skillful hands, God's miracle of changing lives seemed
no more unnatural than the many natural or physical phenomena we are
accustomed to observe.
With this change — but not before — could I see the reason for my former failures.
It was as if I had stepped all at once from the ordinary world of three dimensions
into a fourth-dimensional sphere. ...
In ordinary terms, therefore, I can only say that I had been unable to see light
because I stood in my own way. I had, as you may remember, suspected that there
might be some supra-sensible kind of spiritual light, just as there were ultra-violet
rays of sunlight and invisible beams of knowledge which flow into our minds. I
now found that this was so....
I seemed, in other words, to reach a "critical point" in sensibility.
On the one side was self and social-consciousnesss and moral blindness.
On the other side stood God-consciousness and moral vision. And I passed from one to the other
as suddenly and definitely as water brought to a critical point passes into steam. I Was A Pagan,
V. C. "Vic" Kitchen, pages 41-43.
Vic Kitchen went on to compare his old self and his new Oxford Group self:
IN MY OLD LIFE
IN MY NEW LIFE
I most liked:
Liquor, tobacco and almost every other stimulant, narcotic, and form
[That was a typical Oxford Group exaggeration. Mr. Kitchen was a semi-respectable citizen
in his former life, not a dope fiend. He just had a drinking problem.]
Anything which gave me pleasure, possessions, power, position and applause,
or pumped up my self-esteem.
To be left largely to myself.
My wife — because of the comforting and complimentary way she treated me.
I most like:
Time alone with God.
The fellowship of the living Jesus Christ.
The stimulation of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God's guidance.
My wife — because of the things God now enables us to do for each other.
Communion with others who are trying to lead the same kind of Christ-centered life,
and the witnessing to all of what Christ has come to mean to me.
I hated most:
Poverty (for myself).
People who disapproved or tried to interfere with me.
The Oxford Group even made Vic Kitchen hate himself? How sad.
(By that brain-damaged Oxford Group logic —
'"I" is the middle letter of SIN' —
he should also hate Saints and Salvation,
because "S" is the first letter of SIN.)
As newcomers become indoctrinated believers in their cult, they will come
to feel that they are now different people:
I am a Sanyasin. (ISKCON, the Hari Krishnas, and also the Rajneeshees)
I am a Clear, or I am an Operating Thetan. (Scientology)
I am a Yogi. (3HO)
I am a real Christian. (many cults)
I am a Born-Again Christian. (many cults)
I am a Buddhist. (Soka Gakkai, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism)
I am one of The Chosen. (many cults)
I am one of The Saved. (many cults)
I am one of The Changed. (Frank Buchman's Oxford Group)
I am one of the select 144,000 who will be taken up in the Rapture. (Jehovah's Witnesses)
I am a member of the Away Team. (Heaven's Gate cult)
I am a Gratefully Recovering Alcoholic. (A.A.)
As the new member changes his own thinking to make it conform with the
cult's thinking, he will reinterpret his memories of his previous life
in cult terms, viewing them through the
tinted or distorting lenses of his new value system.
He will often decide that former friends are now enemies because they do
not approve of the cult or share his new values. In extreme cases,
converts denounce their parents and other family members as
"servants of Satan", or some such thing.
The same thing even happens in political conversions.
Imagine the historical case where a
German Communist converted to being a Nazi. He
believed one thing, and yammered the slogans and buzzwords of
the Communists, and saw himself as a good Communist,
and was a good Communist, until he suddenly
"saw the light" and converted to being a good Nazi,
yammering a new set of beliefs and slogans, and he then saw
himself as a loyal, patriotic, Nazi. He simply shrugged off his previous
years of being a Communist as "youthful foolishness."
Adolf Hitler met one such young man, who confessed to Hitler that he
had been a Communist before joining the Nazi Party. Hitler said,
"So, before you were a Communist, but now you are mine...",
and the young man answered, "Yes, my Führer!"
Hitler smiled and walked on.
Perhaps you remember Patty Hearst, the daughter of the Hearst
Publishing heir, William Randolph Hearst III. She was kidnapped,
tortured, and brain-washed by the terrorist Symbionese Liberation
Army until she believed everything they said.
She became "Tania" the revolutionary.
And then she denounced her father on the radio for being a rich
creep who had never cared about the poor people, and then she went and
robbed banks for that radical "liberation army".
She had just reinterpreted her memories, knowledge, and self in that
cult army's terms, and built herself a new ego, going from being "a soft,
spoiled, selfish rich kid" to being "a dedicated heroic revolutionary",
and then she went and acted out her new beliefs.
(Incidentally, Patty Hearst was a textbook example of the Stockholm Syndrome, where a prisoner
comes to identify with her captor, and converts to his beliefs, and sympathizes with his problems.
I think that the government was very wrong to have prosecuted her and put her in prison
for her activities after she got "converted".)
Members vie with one another for the guru's attention, and for status
within the group. Everyone is trying to become part of the favored inner circle.
The leader plays the members off against each other in order to maintain
his hold over the cult.
The committed members of a cult are true believers, as described
by Eric Hoffer in his priceless little book,
The True Believer,
where he described the psychology of mass movements, which is what successful
popular cults are.
(See Hoffer's descriptions of
hatred as a unifying force and
effective cult doctrines.)
Hoffer also said:
The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more
ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race,
or his holy cause.
A man is likely to mind his business when it is worth
minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs
by minding other people's business.
Such true believers are characterized by an intense desire to believe in some great cause
or some grandiose dogma, often with little or no rational or logical reason to
believe such things. Such people are driven by a desire to believe
more than by actual belief in something.
They don't really believe, they just want to believe.
they fear that something terrible
will happen to them,
like that they will go to Hell forever, if they don't believe, so they
really want to believe.)
"You can't convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not
based on evidence, it's based on a deep-seated need to believe."
== Carl Sagan
The phony prophet Arthur Bell set up a cult called Mankind United back in 1934.
When he began to get into legal trouble for defrauding his followers, he
made outrageous claims to divert attention:
The debonair cult leader was ready with new revelations. He told the [state legislative]
committee that he could go into a trance and be whisked anywhere in the world.
"Once I went to sleep in San Francisco and woke up aboard a British merchant vessel
in the middle of the Atlantic," he explained.
Such public pronouncements by Bell did not scandalize his followers.
The wily leader knew what he was about. The cult was now more than seven years old.
The dilettantes and curious had deserted. Too,
the peculiar law unique to all cult movements was fast at work:
the more money, time and effort a cultist devotes to his Cause, the
less concerned he is with the tenets and beliefs of the Cause.
Bell's followers, by now, were so immersed in their dream and its
fulfillment that he could have announced he was the Devil Incarnate
and they'd have accepted it blandly. God Is A Millionaire, Richard Mathison, page 199.
William F. Olin wrote about how the more aware and thoughtful
people in Synanon worried that it might
turn into a fanatical cult of true believers (which it did):
After a break for aerobics, the Stew wrapped up the subject of religion
with an examination of its possible dangers. Guy Endore was quoted
from his book, Synanon, as warning against the eventuality
of our zeal turning into "that horror of horrors, religious
fanaticism." I couldn't agree with him more, offering my own
thoughts on what I called the "true believer syndrome,"
where followers become automatons with numbed minds. They cannot
distinguish symbols from the things symbolized — words become realities,
the menu becomes the meal — and their only compass is a blind
loyalty. In such a mental state, emotions can be so inflamed and
polarized that the box of reason itself is flipped and nice people
form lynch mobs. Impassioned self-rightousness does not allow for
opposition — loyal or otherwise.
Non-believers are infidels, dropouts are heretics, and critics
are persecutors and, literally, damned enemies, while thugs and
murderers who wear the right uniform become canonized as saints
and martyrs. Too often in our history, holy causes have justified
every conceivable excess in the name of all that's good — from
Inquisition tortures and witchburnings to kamikaze attacks and
Nazi ovens. Escape From Utopia, William F. Olin, pages 210-211.
In Frank Buchman's Oxford Group cult,
Peter Howard was a good example of a true
believer. First, Howard was a street-fighting thug for Sir Oswald Mosley's New Party, which
morphed into The British Union of Fascists. Then,
when Peter Howard switched obsessions, from radical politics to radical religion, he joined
Dr. Frank Buchman's Oxford Group, and
wrote a whole book of praise of Frank Buchman,
talking about how wonderful Frank Buchman was, declaring
that Frank Buchman couldn't possibly be a fraud or a charlatan,
before Peter Howard had ever met Frank Buchman.
Peter Howard just wanted to believe, so he did.
Howard didn't let a little thing like lack of any actual personal knowledge or experience
with Frank Buchman get in the way of Howard's worshipping of his new favorite hero.
Peter Howard was also quick to attack "enemies" of the Oxford Group.
Howard didn't hesitate to
call other people liars
for telling the truth about Frank Buchman
and his cult, and at the same time, Howard didn't hesitate to tell lies for benefit of
his newly-adopted cult.
Peter Howard complained bitterly about all of the criticism that Frank Buchman and his organization
received, and declared that such criticism came from the
Sir Herbert Spencer wrote about true believers way back in 1866. Here, he
was describing people who stubbornly cling to the idea of divine creation
of individual species, in spite of all evidence to the contrary:
Is it supposed that a new organism, when specially created, is created
out of nothing?
Is it supposed that the matter of which the new organism consists, is
not created for the occasion, but is taken out of its pre-existing forms
and arranged into a new form? If so, we are met by the question — how
is the re-arrangement effected?
And thus it is with all attempted ways of representing the process.
The old Hebrew idea that God takes clay and moulds a new creature, as
a potter might throw a vessel, is probably too grossly anthropomorphic
to be accepted by any modern defender of the special-creation doctrine.
But having abandoned this crude belief, what belief is he prepared to substitute?
If a new organism is not thus produced, then in what way is a new organism
Or rather — in what way can a new organism be conceived to be produced?
We will not ask for the ascertained mode, but will be content with a
mode that can be consistently imagined. No such mode, however, is assignable.
Those who entertain the proposition that each kind of organism results
from divine interposition, do so because they refrain from translating
words into thoughts.
The case is one of those where men do not really
believe, but rather believe they believe.
For belief, properly so called, implies a mental representation of the
thing believed; and no such mental representation is here possible. Principles of Biology, Herbert Spencer,
Volume 1, pages 336-337, London, 1864-1867.
True believers in cults have just such mental problems.
They do not really believe in something as much as they
believe that they believe.
Or they even just
wish that they believed.
(And then they often wish that they believed even more
strongly, with fewer doubts).
They insist that they believe without
question, but they will not and can not calmly, rationally, discuss
the pros and cons of their beliefs, because that could cast doubts
on their "faith".
They just won't (and can't) allow any evidence to cast doubts on their
beliefs, because if they do, their unexamined (and indefensible) belief
structure could well fall apart. So they become dogmatic fanatics who will
not tolerate any dissent, or any questioning of their beliefs, or any
discussion of other ideas.
And they are rarely open-minded to the idea that their beliefs may be
less than 100% true.
The religious fanatic, for instance, wants to believe that he has a
guaranteed ticket to Heaven, no matter whether he really does or not.
He also wants to believe that he has all of the true answers to everything in life
— he cannot bear to think that he might be wrong — so he often simply
refuses to question his own beliefs:
"I'm right because I'm right, so there."
"My beliefs are all true and correct because I believe in
the Word Of God, and anybody who disagrees with me doesn't believe in
the Word Of God, so they are obviously wrong."
"Our beliefs are correct because our Master has brought us
the one and only true New Dispensation."
"We Scientologists are right, and everybody else is wrong, because
we have superior minds that have been made clear by LRH technology.
(And I know that I didn't waste the $100,000 that I gave to Scientology.)
Everybody who disagrees with us is just evil and
A Suppressive Person."
And, unfortunately, true believers do not really want to know the truth,
in spite of their claims that they have "The Truth".
They just want to continue to believe what they think they believe.
Their attitude is,
"I won't allow my opinions to be changed by mere facts",
"I don't need facts to believe".
Some cults specialize in scapegoating — periodically picking out one member and blaming him
for all of the cult's problems, and kicking him out of the cult. Such terrorism helps to keep
the other members in line. It is also a good way to get rid of those who were wavering, and
doubting the cult and its leader — the cult can claim that the outcast was bad and had to
be banished, rather than admitting that the deserter came to the conclusion that the cult
was all wrong about everything.
Some cults routinely practice culling and expulsion of the doubters and the less than
fully committed members. I have personally listened to Yogi Bhajan giving a lecture
at the 3HO compound in Espanola, New Mexico, where Bhajan bragged that if
people weren't completely complying with his commands, he would just
"back the truck up to their house", and they would be gone — evicted.
Many cults practice shunning and ostracism of those who leave the cult.
Cults just cannot tolerate people leaving voluntarily. There is a great danger that those who have
come to their senses and quit the cult will also lead others out by talking some sense to them,
so cults viciously denounce those who leave, and
instruct the remaining members to have no contact with those who have left.
The Jehovah's Witnesses call deserters and exiles "people who have been disfellowshipped",
and contact with such people is forbidden.
Scientology calls them "suppressive persons", and again, contact with them is forbidden.
The Moonies won't allow contact with splitters, either.
went so far as to attack the dropout Phil Ritter from behind in the dark
of night, cracking his skull with a baseball bat and nearly killing him.
And the Goon Squad called "The Angels", from
Jim Jones' People's Temple,
murdered the dropout Jeanne Mills and her husband and daughter after
she published the book Six Years with God that told what was
happening inside the cult.
It may occur to you that there is an apparent contradiction here: Some
cults routinely excommunicate doubters and slackers and keep their remaining
members in line by threatening to expell them, while some other
cults don't want to ever let anybody leave, not under any conditions, not for
Part of the answer is, "It's a matter of who strikes first."
A cult member who comes to his senses and says, "This is a crazy
cult and the leader is a liar and I'm leaving" is a great threat
to the cult because he may well instill doubts in other members.
He may cause some other members to wake up and smell the coffee, and
On the other hand, if the cult leader attacks first, and says,
"Joe is lazy and immoral and unspiritual and we must kick
him out before he contaminates others with his evil",
then anything that Joe says after that is just some sour grapes, and
not so much of a threat.
Promised Powers or Knowledge
The sect holds out the promise of obtaining powers or absolute knowledge
by the observance of the rules.
Cults often declare that members can achieve Wisdom or Enlightenment
through their practices. Some say that you will eventually be able to
access the Akashic Records, which contain all of the knowledge of mankind.
Others say that you will learn the Secrets of the Ancient Ones, or the
Secrets of the Ascended Masters.
Often, those alleged 'Secrets' include promises of occult or magical powers.
Many cults promise happiness and "Eternal Bliss" if you just do their
practices long enough.
Others promise mental clarity if you meditate or chant enough.
Many cults promise a guaranteed ticket to Heaven. The Heaven's Gate Cult
actually promised that their members would get a free ride to Heaven on
a flying saucer.
Cults sometimes make really extremely grandiose promises.
Scientology, for instance, says that when you have finally taken all of
their courses of auditing and been changed into an uppermost-level
Operating Thetan (OT-VIII), you will not only have great mental powers
and clarity, but you will be immortal because you will have absolute
mind-over-matter powers. (Thus there is no excuse for dying — people who do that are
just being lazy and unethical. Funny that the leader of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard,
died of a stroke.) (So they make an exception in his case: He didn't really 'die'; he is just conducting
advanced research in a higher dimension, they say.)
Commercial cults, like Amway, hold out the promise of wealth, freedom, financial security, and
a lavish, luxurious lifestyle.
Wealth and the ability to live however and wherever you wish is definitely a power.
It's a con. You don't get the promised goodies.
As you might have guessed, Scientology won't really give you immortality,
not even if you give them all of your money, and your house, and your credit cards,
and then recruit some more paying members for the cult.
And you don't get the promised benefits from any of the other cults, either.
You just get used and abused and taken (and then, often, when your money
is gone and you become disillusioned, discarded).
You never see the promised miracles. You never get the promised peace of mind, or clarity,
or happiness. People who were supposedly magically cured of cancer die anyway.
You never get the promised mental powers. The laws of physics still refuse to bend
to your will, and gravity still keeps you from flying or levitating.
And you still age. Neither the clock nor the Grim Reaper has any respect for your alleged