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Registered User
(1/8/04 8:24 am)
What is a Cult?

Studies have shown that today's cults use a stronger form of control than those of 50 years ago. The advent of new psychological experiments in the 60's and 70's have produced the modern methods of mind control which are far more sophisticated than the BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION TECHNIQUES and THOUGHT REFORM developed by the Chinese. To understand mind control you need a basic understanding of BEHAVIOUR MODIFICATION TECHNIQUES.

What is "behaviour modification?

Simply described, it is "reward or punishment for actions" association. It was used on you as a child whenever you were being commended or otherwise for your behaviour.

Taking away a privilege is usually a sure-fire method to persuading a child to change its behaviour when that child is old enough to understand the process. Praising a child for doing good is another method of changing behaviour, especially in the child who is anxious to please.

The rod of education applied to the seat of learning is another method of bringing about a desired behaviour change.

When behaviour modification techniques such as these are applied in a loving, caring and consistent way, the child changes their behaviour without holding feelings of resentment. However, if these techniques are perverted in any way, damage is done to the child's psyche, their emotions. e.g. the abused child syndrome. Cults use a sophisticated and perverted form of behaviour modification, which damages an individual's emotions.


Leon Festinger is a psychologist who studied groups that predicted the end of the world. He found that most members became stronger than ever when the prophecy failed. His investigation revealed that members had to find a way to cope psychologically with the failure. They needed to maintain order and meaning in their life. They needed to think they were acting according to their self-image and values. Festinger described this contradiction, which they had to overcome as what has become known as the "COGNITIVE DISSONANCE THEORY." The three components he described are:


Each component has a powerful effect on the other two: CHANGE ONE AND THE OTHERS WILL TEND TO FOLLOW. When all three change the individual undergoes a complete change. Festinger summarized the basic principle:

"If you change a person's behaviour, his thoughts and feelings will change to minimise the dissonance."

When there is a conflict between thoughts, feelings or behaviour, then those in conflict will change to minimise the contradiction. This is because a person can only tolerate a certain amount of discrepancy between these components, which make up his identity. In cults this dissonance is created to exploit and control them.

Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, added a fourth component to Festinger's:


By controlling the information one receives you can control and restrict the individual's ability to think for himself. You limit what he is able to think about.

BEHAVIOUR CONTROL - The control of an individual's physical reality.

This can include control of where he lives, what he eats, his clothing, sleep, job, rituals etc. This is why most cults have a stringent schedule for members. There is always something to do in destructive cults. Each cult has its own distinctive set of behaviours that bind it together. This control is so powerful that the cult member will actually participate in their own punishment and come to believe he actually deserves it! No one can command a person's thoughts, but IF YOU CAN CONTROL BEHAVIOUR THEN HEARTS AND MINDS WILL FOLLOW.

THOUGHT CONTROL - The control of an individual's thought processes

The indoctrination of members so thoroughly that they will manipulate their own thought processes. The ideology is internalised as "the truth". Incoming information is filtered through the beliefs, which also regulates how this information is thought about.

The cult has it's own language which further regulates how a person thinks. This puts a great barrier between cult members and outsiders.

EMOTIONAL CONTROL - The control of the individual’s emotional life

This manipulates a person's range of feelings. Guilt and fear are used to keep control. Cult members cannot see the control by guilt and like other abuse victims are conditioned to blame themselves when things are wrong, even grateful when a leader points our their transgressions.

Fear is used to manipulate two ways. The first is to create an outside enemy (we vs. them) who is persecuting you. The second is the fear of punishment by the leaders if you are not "good enough." Being "good enough" is following the ideology perfectly. The most powerful emotional control is phobia indoctrination. This can give the person a panic reaction at the very thought of leaving the group. It is almost impossible to conceive that there is any life outside the group. There is no physical gun held to their heads but the psychological gun is just as if not more powerful.

INFORMATION CONTROL - The control of the individual’s information sources

Deny a person the information needed to make a sound judgment, and he will be incapable of doing so. People are trapped in cults because they are denied both the access to the critical information they need to assess their situation. The psychological chains on their minds are just as powerful as if they were locked away physically from society. So strong is this psychological process they also lack the properly functioning internal mechanism to process any critical information placed in front of them.


Mind Control is a PROCESS of eradicating former beliefs and instituting new beliefs in their place through the use of COERCIVE persuasion. It is a PROCESS that is designed to break a person's independence and individuality and replace it with the ideology clone. The Chinese called this process "thought reform" which was poorly translated into English as "brain-washing".


Brainwashing is now considered to be a different process to thought reform or mind control. In brainwashing the victim knows who is the enemy. An example is American Patty Hearst who was kidnapped by a terrorist group. Through physical abuse she finally became a member of the group and took part in terrorist activities and bank robberies.


Thought control is subtler. The victim doesn't know who is the enemy because the enemy seems like their best friend who only has their best interests at heart.

Cults practice a more refined form of thought control than that used by the Chinese. Leading psychologist, Dr Margaret Singer, said cults do it better than the Chinese because it is easier to get people to do what you want through manipulating them with guilt and anxiety.

During this process the prospective recruit is re-educated and will abandon the precepts he has learnt from life for the "truth" or "enlightenment" offered by the group. In some cults this is done over a long period of time; other cults can bring about this change within 48 hours. Whichever way the process takes place the results are the same. The individual has undergone a total change in personality and is often unrecognisable by their family.

The process of thought control has been documented by Robert J. Lifton who researched what happened to the American prisoners of the
Communist Chinese. He labeled the steps that have become the standard by which to judge whether a group is using "brain-washing" or "thought reform" on its recruits.

Robert J Lifton's research showed that: "These criteria consist of eight psychological themes which are predominant within the social field of the thought reform milieu. Each has a totalistic quality; each depends upon an equally absolute philosophical assumption; and each mobilises certain individual emotional tendencies, mostly of a polarising nature. Psychological theme, philosophical rationale, and polarised individual tendencies are interdependent; they require, rather than directly cause, each other. In combination they create an atmosphere which may temporarily energise or exhilarate, but which at the same time poses the gravest of human threats." (Thought Reform & the Psychology of Totalism p 420)

The eight marks noted by Lifton are:

1. MILIEU CONTROL - Control of the Environment and Communication

The control of human communication is the most basic feature of the thought reform environment. This is the control of what the individual sees, hears, reads, writes, experiences and expresses. It goes even further than that, and controls the individual’s communication with himself - his own thoughts.

Everything other than their beliefs is excluded. The organization appears to be omniscient. They seem to know everything that is going on. Reality is their exclusive possession. In this environment the individual is deprived of the combination of external information and internal reflection required to test reality and to maintain a measure of identity separate from his environment. The individual can feel victimised by his controllers and feel the hostility of
suffocation - the resentful awareness that his striving toward new information, independent judgment and self-expression are being thwarted.

EXAMPLE - Jehovah's Witnesses are a classical example of a closed community living within and mixing with the wider community. Because they are so well known we have used them as an example.

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

- You could "go beyond the 'truth' - beyond what they taught. This showed you were thinking for yourself and put yourself above leadership. Those moving ahead of the Organisation are counseled.
- No gatherings other than those allowed or organised by organization (1982).
- Not making comments from your own thoughts at the meetings. Only comments from the study articles are permitted. No independent thinking is permitted.
- The organization always seemed to know what was going on in your congregation and article appeared in Watchtower publications just at the right time ("food at the proper time"). This was done through Circuit Servants reports to Headquarters.
- Use of 'publisher record cards' etc. to monitor activities of members. Watchtower is aware of trends etc. by strict reporting and control of individual Witnesses activities.
- Report on fellow brothers & sisters (cannot get away from organisation)
- Monitoring or observation of disfellowshipped or marked people.
- Non-Witnesses are viewed as 'bad association'
- Worldly education discouraged - better to go door-to-door
- Employment that takes up time that should be devoted to Watchtower activities is also discouraged.
- Should be 'buying out the opportune time' in 'theocratic activities'.
- Taught to indoctrinate self!
- 'Shepherding' of those who fall behind.

2. MYSTICAL MANIPULATION - The Mystique of the Organisation

This seeks to provoke specific patterns of behaviour and emotion in such a way that these will appear to have arisen spontaneously from within the environment. For the manipulated person this assumes a near-mystical quality. This is not just a power trip by the manipulators. They have a sense of "higher purpose" and see themselves as being the "keepers of the truth." By becoming the instruments of their own mystique, they create a mystical aura around the manipulating institution - the Party, the Government, the Organisation, etc. They are the chosen agents to carry out this mystical imperative.

The pursuit of this mystical imperative supersedes all considerations of decency of immediate human welfare. The end justifies the means. You can lie, deceive or whatever to those outside the organization. Association with the "outside" is only to benefit their own cause in some way. Some cults like Moonies and Hare Krishna's call their deception "heavenly deception" or "transcendental trickery". Members believe in the ideology to such a degree that they rationalize these deceptions. Members are kept in a frenzy of cult related activities. There is little time or energy to think about their lifestyle.

"The psychology of the pawn" - This person feels unable to escape from forces he sees more powerful than himself. His way of dealing with this is to adapt to them. He learns how to anticipate problems with the organisation and to manipulate events to avoid incriminating himself. This is the person who has been in the organisation long enough, knows something is wrong, is on the verge of leaving then suddenly becomes very loyal. They sell out to the organisation and will turn in friends who may have confided in them.

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

- "Theocratic strategy" - If you don't have a right to know the truth it is OK to lie to you. (See "Insight" under 'Lie')
- Avoid telling prospects- No blood, holidays, family, friends, etc.
- Bring someone new each time they call so prospect gets to know the people at the Kingdom Hall when they attend. (Planned spontaneity)
- The ideology supersedes the welfare of the individual. They are not involved in charities outside the group [or in the group].
- Not helping fellow members to the detriment of promoting the ideology. This is more important than helping the sick & elderly.
- Prayers are general - for the organisation not the needs of the individual. See God as not interested in you as a person.
- Blessed only for effort in promoting the Kingdom.
- Ability of organisation to accomplish the 'preaching work' seen as evidence of Jehovah's blessing, direction and angelic help
- Jehovah 'sifts out' those not truly 'in the truth’; those without 'the right heart condition’, which is why, people leave or must be disfellowshipped. No one leaves legitimately.

3. DEMAND FOR PURITY - Everything is black & white

Pure and impure is defined by the ideology of the organization. Only those ideas, feelings and actions consistent with the ideology and policy are good. The individual conscience is not reliable. The philosophical assumption is that absolute purity is attainable and that anything done in the name of this purity is moral. By defining and manipulating the criteria of purity and conducting an all-out war on impurity (dissension especially) the organisation creates a narrow world of guilt and shame. This is perpetuated by an ethos of continuous reform, the demand that one strive permanently and painfully for something, which not only does not exist but also is alien to the human condition.

Under these conditions the individual expects humiliation, ostracism and punishment because of his inability to live up to the criteria and lives in a constant state of guilt and shame. Since the organisation is the ultimate judge of good and evil, this guilt and shame is used to manipulate and control members. The organization becomes an authority without limit in the eyes of members and their power is nowhere more evident that in their capacity to "forgive".

All impurities are seen to originate from "outside" (the world). Therefore, one of the best ways to relieve himself of the burden of guilt is to denounce these with great hostility. The more guilty he feels, the greater his hatred, the more hostile is his denouncement. Organizationally this eventually leads to purges of heretics, mass hatred and religious holy wars. The group will point to the mistakes of all other belief systems while promoting their own purity. This gives the impression that their organisation is perfect, clean and pure as a people or group.

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

-        Dress and grooming have been laid down at various times:

No pantsuits for ladies         No beards or moustaches
Short hair on men                         No coloured shirts for men
No gold rimmed glasses         Certain styles of clothing

These rules change at the whim of the leaders.

- Only 2 organisations: Jehovah's and Satan's. You cannot be part of both.
- World has no conscience - all dishonest
- Must keep clear of worldly celebrations (Christmas, Easter, Birthdays, Mother's & Father's Day, Thanksgiving etc)
- Loyalty displayed through meeting attendance and participation, field service, choice of marriage partners [strong 'in the truth'], shunning disfellowshipped relatives and friends.

4. CULT OF CONFESSION - Reporting to leadership

This is closely related to the demand for purity. Confession is carried beyond the ordinary religious, legal and therapeutic expressions to the point of becoming a cult in itself. In totalist hands, confession becomes a means of exploiting, rather than offering solace for these vulnerabilities.

Totalist confession is an act of self-surrender, the expression of the merging of the individual and environment. There is dissolution of self, talents and money. Conformity.

The cult of confession has effects quite the reverse of its ideal of total exposure; rather than eliminating personal secrets, it increases and intensifies them.

The individual becomes caught up in continuous conflict over which secrets to preserve and which to surrender, over ways to reveal lesser secrets can be revealed and ways to protect more important ones.

The cult of confession makes it virtually impossible to attain reasonable balance between worth and humility.

e.g. In Jehovah's Witnesses

- Confessing infringements to an Elder.
- Putting in field reports (test of spirituality) [A monthly report of one's activities for that month. How many hours door knocking; number of books and magazines sold; number of people one studied doctrine with etc]
- Accept orders without question. Ask "How high" when told to jump.
- Any who are aware of another's sin must put this one in to the elders or the guilt will rest on their shoulders.
- Congregation is made aware of the sin through talks and restrictions placed on guilty ones.

5. SACRED SCIENCE - Absolute "Truth"

Their "truth" is the absolute truth. It is sacred – beyond questioning. There is a reverence demanded for the leadership. They have ALL the answers. Only to them is given the revelation of "truth".

The ultimate moral vision becomes the ultimate science and the person who dares to criticise it, or even think criticism, is immoral, irreverent and "unscientific".

The assumption here is not so much that man can be God, but rather that man's IDEAS can be God.

This gives sense of security to the member. They are confident they can get the answer to the most difficult problem or question.

e.g. In Jehovah's Witnesses

- You can be disfellowshipped (kicked out) for daring to question what is taught in their publications.
- Watchtower demands full devotion of members. Must not question the Organization (= questioning God)
- There is an answer to everything, if you cannot find it in the publications you must 'wait on Jehovah' and not 'push ahead'.
- Organisation itself will survive Armageddon but individual Jehovah's Witnesses have no such assurance.

6. LOADING THE LANGUAGE - Thought terminating clichés

Everything is compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorised and easily expressed.

There are "good" terms that represent the group’s ideology and "evil" terms to represent everything outside which is to be rejected. Totalist language is intensely divisive, all-encompassing jargon, unmercifully judging. To those outside the group this language is tedious - the language of non-thought.

This effectively isolates members from outside world. The only people who understand you are other members. Other members can tell if you are really one of them by how you talk.

This narrowness of the language is constricting. The individual is linguistically deprived because language is central to the human experience and his capacities for thinking and feeling are immensely restricted.

While initially this loaded language can give a sense of security to the new believer, uneasiness develops over time. This uneasiness may result in a withdrawal into the system and he preaches even harder to hide his problem and demonstrate his loyalty. It may also produce an inner division and the individual will publicly give the right performance while privately have his own thoughts.

Either way, his imagination becomes increasingly disassociated from his actual life experiences and may even tend to atrophy from disuse.

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

- Theocratic strategy - "ark of salvation" - "new light"
- "meat in due season" - "faithful & discreet slave" - "apostate"
- "The anointed” - Book study - Christendom
- "Christ Jesus" instead of "Jesus Christ"
- 'back calls' now called 'return visits' (terminology changes indicate who might be falling behind or who is not really a member)
- "Jehovah will take care of it in his due time."
- "It's the truth" - doesn't matter if they make a mistake
- Where else is there to go?
- Worldly - Governing Body - New System of Things

7. DOCTRINE OVER PERSON - Doctrine supersedes human experience

The ideological myth merges with their "truth" and the resulting deduction can be so overpowering and coercive that is simply replaces reality. Consequently past events can be altered, rewritten or even ignored to make them consistent with the current reality. This alteration is especially lethal when the distortions are imposed on the individual's memory.
They demand character and identity of a person be reshaped to fit their clone of mentality. The individual must fit the rigid contours of the doctrinal mould instead of developing their own potential and personality.
The underlying assumption is that the doctrine - including its mythological elements - is ultimately more valid, true and real than is any aspect of actual human character or human experience. The individual under such pressure is propelled into an intense conflict with his own sense of integrity, a struggle which take place in relation to polarized feelings if sincerity and insincerity.

The group demands absolute sincerity, yet this must be put to one side when changes take place the individual has to deny the original belief ever existed. Personal feelings are suppressed and members must appear to be contented and enthusiastic at all times.

Some cults believe that all illness is a result of lack of faith and evidence of sin in your life. These things have to be prayed away and medical attention is ignored as a "sign of faith."

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

- "There is no life outside the organisation” so when they see people who have made a life outside they revert back to doctrine over what they see.
- If an experience doesn't fit, it must be demons.
- Will ignore needs of others because doctrine overrides human experience. i.e. will ignore needs of disfellowshipped or marked persons no matter how serious those needs are.
- Those who were JW's before 1975 and are still JW's will deny they ever believed Armageddon was due that year - even those who sold homes, delayed medical treatment etc.
- Watchtower has final authority even over personal experience.
Blood transfusions, etc. Conscience matters are discussed only in the light of Watchtower doctrine (not left to individuals' consciences).

8. DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE - Who is worthy to live

They have the right to decide who is worthy of life and who isn't. They also decide which history books are accurate and which are not.
Those in the organisation are worthy of life; those outside worthy of death. The outsiders can be permitted to live if they change and become an insider. Members live in fear of being pronounced "dead". They have a fear of annihilation or extinction. The emotional conflict is one of "being vs. nothingness".

Existence comes to depend upon creed (I believe, therefore I am), upon mission (I obey, therefore I am) and beyond these, upon a sense of total merger with the organisation. Should he stray from the "truth" his right to exist may be withdrawn and he is pronounced "dead".

e.g. - In Jehovah's Witnesses

- "Sheep and goats" - how one responds to "Christ's brothers" decides their future. ("Christ's brothers" are those who rule the organisation. How you respond to their message as carried by their messengers decides your eternal future).
- Elders decide who is worthy of life at Judicial Committee meetings.
- They decide who is worthy of a resurrection - (Sodom & Gomorrah).
- Disfellowshiping 'sinners' denies them any hope for a future outside the Organisation.
- They will blatantly lie to achieve goals and consider this to be "theocratic strategy".
- Any information contrary to the Watchtower 'system' is not considered worth listening to or reading.
- Witnesses are forbidden to discuss such information, especially if is considered 'apostate' [put together by former members]


The more clearly these eight points are obvious, the greater the resemblance to ideological totalism. The more an organisation utilizes such totalist devices to change individuals, the greater its resemblance to thought reform.

Remember, a group does not have to be religious to be cultic in behaviour. High demand groups can be commercial, political and psychological. Be aware, especially if you are a bright, intelligent and idealistic person. The most likely person to be caught up in this type of behavioural system is the one who says, "I won't get caught. It will never happen to me. I am too intelligent for that sort of thing."

Written by Jan Groenveld
Internet Address: py101663@mailbox.uq.oz.au
Fidonet Address: 3:640/316
(c) Cult Awareness & Information Centre, PO Box 2444,
Mansfield 4122, Australia,

May be distributed freely providing it contains the above identifying information and the text is not altered in any way.

Registered User
(1/8/04 8:25 am)
Re: What is a Cult?

There has been much confusion about cults and how to 'pickem'.

Some have difficulty identifying a cult because it is not so easy to identify one that is not even religious. For this reason, over the years, different definitions of what actually is a cult have developed to make it easier when you know
little about their beliefs.

The different definitions:


CULT - From the Latin "cultis" which denotes all that is involved in worship, ritual, emotion, liturgy and attitude. This definition actually denotes what we call denominations and sects and would make all religious movements a cult.


CULT - Any group which deviates from Biblical, orthodox, historical Christianity. e.i. They deny the Deity of Christ; His physical resurrection; His personal and physical return to earth and salvation by FAITH alone.

This definition only covers those groups, which are cults within the Christian religion. It does not cover cults within other world religions such as Islam and Hinduism. Nor does it cover Psychological, Commercial or Educational cults which do not recognize the Bible as a source of reality.


CULT - Any group which has a pyramid type authoritarian leadership structure with all teaching and guidance coming from the person/persons at the top. The group will claim to be the only way to God; Nirvana; Paradise; Ultimate Reality; Full Potential, Way to Happiness etc, and will use thought reform or mind control techniques to gain control and keep their members.

This definition covers cults within all major world religions, along with those cults which have no OBVIOUS religious base such as commercial, educational and psychological cults. Others may define these a little differently, but this is the simplest to work from.


A group is called a cult because of their behaviour – not their doctrines. Doctrine is an issue in the area of Apologetics and Heresy. Most religious cults do teach what the Christian church would declare to be heresy but some do not. Some cults teach the basics of the Christian faith but have behavioural patterns that are abusive, controlling and cultic.

This occurs in both Non-Charismatic and Charismatic churches. These groups teach the central doctrines of the Christian faith and then add the extra authority of leadership or someone's particular writings. They centre around the
interpretations of the leadership and submissive and unquestioning acceptance of these is essential to be a member of good standing. This acceptance includes what we consider non-essential doctrines. i.e. not salvation issues (such as
the Person and Work of Christ.) The key is that they will be using mind control or undue influence on their members.

An excellent book on this subject is "Churches that Abuse" by Dr Ronald Enroth.

Using these guidelines of definition, Bible-based, Psychological, Educational and Commercial aberrations can easily be identified.


(a) The group will have an ELITIST view of itself in relation to others, and a UNIQUE CAUSE. i.e. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES RIGHT - everyone else is wrong. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES DOING GOD'S WILL -everyone else is in apostasy.

(b) They will promote their cause actively, and in doing so, abuse God-given personal rights and freedoms. This abuse can be THEOLOGICAL, SPIRITUAL, SOCIAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL.


1. Their leader/s may claim a special, exclusive ministry, revelation or position of authority given by God.

2. They believe they are the only true church and take a critical stance regarding the Christian church while at the same time praising and exalting their own group, leader/s and work.

3. They use intimidation or psychological manipulation to keep members loyal to their ranks. This could be in the form of threats of dire calamity sent by God if they leave; certain death at Armageddon; being shunned by their family and friends etc. This is a vital part of the mind control process.

4. Members will be expected to give substantial financial support to the group. This could be compulsory tithing (which is checked); signing over all their property on entering the group; coercive methods of instilling guilt on those who have not contributed; selling magazines, flowers or other goods for the group as part of their "ministry".

At the same time bible-based cults may ridicule churches that take up free-will offerings by passing collection plates and/or sell literature and tapes. They usually brag that they don't do this. This gives outsiders the intimation that they are not interested in money.

5. There will be great emphasis on loyalty to the group and its teachings. The lives of members will be totally absorbed into the group's activities. They will have little or no time to think for themselves because of physical and emotional exhaustion. This is also a vital part of the mind control process.

6. There will be total control over almost all aspects of the private lives of members. This control can be direct through communal living, or constant and repetitious teaching on "how to be a true Christian" or "being obedient to leadership". Members will look to their leaders for guidance in everything they do.

7. Bible-based cults may proclaim they have no clergy/laity distinction and no paid ministry class - that they are all equal.

8. Any dissent or questioning of the group's teachings is discouraged. Criticism in any form is seen as rebellion. There will be an emphasis on authority, unquestioning obedience and submission. This is vigilantly maintained.

9. Members are required to demonstrate their loyalty to the group in some way. This could be in the form of "dobbing" on fellow members (including family) under the guise of looking out for their "spiritual welfare".

They may be required to deliberately lie (heavenly deception) or give up their lives by refusing some form of medical treatment.

10. Attempts to leave or reveal embarrassing facts about the group may be met with threats. Some may have taken oaths of loyalty that involve their lives or have signed a "covenant" and feel threatened by this.

Refugees of the group are usually faced with confrontations by other members with coercion to get them to return to the group.

Registered User
(1/8/04 8:37 am)
Re: What is a Cult?
I. Behavior Control

1. Regulation of individual’s physical reality

a. Where, how and with whom the member lives and associates with
b. What clothes, colors, hairstyles the person wears
c. What food the person eats, drinks, adopts, and rejects
d. How much sleep the person is able to have
e. Financial dependence
f. Little or no time spent on leisure, entertainment, vacations

2. Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals

3. Need to ask permission for major decisions

4. Need to report thoughts, feelings and activities to superiors

5. Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques- positive and negative).

6. Individualism discouraged; group think prevails

7. Rigid rules and regulations

8. Need for obedience and dependency

II. Information Control

1. Use of deception

a. Deliberately holding back information
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying

2. Access to non-cult sources of information minimized or discouraged

a. Books, articles, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio
b. Critical information
c. Former members
d. Keep members so busy they don’t have time to think

3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines

a. Information is not freely accessible
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who "needs to know" what

4. Spying on other members is encouraged

a. Pairing up with "buddy" system to monitor and control
b. Reporting deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership

5. Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda

a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audio tapes, videotapes, etc.
b. Misquotations, statements taken out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession

a. Information about "sins" used to abolish identity boundaries
b. Past "sins" used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

III. Thought Control

1. Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as "Truth"

a. Map = Reality
b. Black and White thinking
c. Good vs. evil
d. Us vs. them (inside vs. outside)

2. Adopt "loaded" language (characterized by "thought-terminating clichés"). Words are the tools we use to think with. These "special" words constrict rather than expand understanding. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous "buzz words".

3. Only "good" and "proper" thoughts are encouraged.

4. Thought-stopping techniques (to shut down "reality testing" by stopping "negative" thoughts and allowing only "good" thoughts); rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. (I disagree with this one.)

a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
b. Chanting
c. Meditating
d. Praying
e. Speaking in "tongues"
f. Singing or humming

5. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate

6. No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful

IV. Emotional Control

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings.

2. Make the person feel like if there are ever any problems it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s.

3. Excessive use of guilt

a. Identity guilt

1. Who you are (not living up to your potential)
2. Your family
3. Your past
4. Your affiliations
5. Your thoughts, feelings, actions

b. Social guilt
c. Historical guilt

4. Excessive use of fear

a. Fear of thinking independently
b. Fear of the "outside" world
c. Fear of enemies
d. Fear of losing one’s "salvation"
e. Fear of leaving the group or being shunned by group
f. Fear of disapproval

5. Extremes of emotional highs and lows.

6. Ritual and often public confession of "sins".

7. Phobia indoctrination : programming of irrational fears of ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.

a. No happiness or fulfillment "outside"of the group
b. Terrible consequences will take place if you leave: "hell"; "demon possession"; "incurable diseases"; "accidents"; "suicide"; "insanity"; "10,000 reincarnations"; etc.
c. Shunning of leave takers. Fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family.
d. Never a legitimate reason to leave. From the group’s perspective, people who leave are: "weak"; "undisciplined"; "unspiritual"; "worldly"; "brainwashed by family, counselors"; seduced by money, sex, rock and roll.

Registered User
(1/8/04 11:05 am)
Re: What is a Cult?
In response to several other current threads on the issue of fear and guilt, I was going to post these elsewhere, but this may be an appropriate spot. I had mentioned before, finding a stash of old Center Department Bulletins, and being surprised to see how the "Loyalty" issue was presented. I had thought it was a later phenomenon. Without further commentary, here are two experpts:

From SRF Bulletin for Centers and Meditation Groups, No. 73, April, 1978. These words are quoted from a prior convocation talk given by Bro. Ramananda:

"There is only one guru uniquely the devotee's own. But if you turn away from the emissary of God, He silently asks: 'What is wrong with you, that you foolishly leave the one I have sent to help you learn the divine science of the soul? Now you shall have to wait long, and prove yourself, before I shall respond again.' He who cannot learn through the wisdom and love of his God-ordained guru will not find God in this life. Several incarnations at least must pass before he will have another such opportunity."

From the Center and Meditation Group Bulletin No 74, Oct., 1978. (no individual attribution):

In truth, we have only one spiritual head: our Guru--and his chosen representative on earth, Sri Daya Mata, who is in complete attunement with him....

As you know, Paramahansa Yogananda created Self-Realization Fellowship/Yogoda Satsanga Society of India with a Board of Directors of his own choice.....Loyalty to the Guru, the society which he created, and the spiritul channel he chose, are prerequisites for attaining liberation and union with God on this path.....

Paramahansaji said, "You should be proud of the work and loyal to it, that the blessing of God may flow through you. He who is not loyal to his own organization and the work that God has sent is not loyal to God.

There, of course, are the guilt and fear in spades. It still makes me sad to read through it, as it is such a travesty of the profound sense of possibilitiy and renewal many of us felt upon first reading the AY. Additionally, after realizing the distinction between Paramahansa Yogananda, and SRF as it has become after him and Rajasi, the upsetting question remains, where there's smoke is there fire? Did Yogananda intend anything like this? I have not seen it explicitly in those few writings I take as "authentically" his (first AY and red Whispers), but reading these phrases still makes me uneasy. Are all the words and sentiments attributed to him in such passages pure fiction?

Registered User
(1/8/04 11:29 am)
Re: What is a Cult?
Hunh. Thanks for all this. My experience with Orthodox Judaism was cult-like...scary...

Ranger20, I have the same question about Yogananda. All I can say is that I don't think he originally intended it to turn into the 'loyalty' issue, but experiences over time caused him to react in strange fashion concerning the issue of 'what church' people could belong to. Shelley has said that the SRF organization in the 40's has serious problems. He referred to it as an insane asylum and left, while keeping up a private relationship with Yogananda apart from SRF. He literally wanted nothing to do with SRF and warned Kriyananda (the Chicago one) about the same issues he had seen in Yogananda's org.

Registered User
(1/8/04 12:19 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?

Sri Ramakrishna said something like, "the moment you think of God again, He is there." No waiting. If we leave any certain guru or "one" sent by God, there is always another guru, if we so desire, who is there waiting for us, to pick up the pieces.

I posted the information about the Jehovah's Witnesses because I used to be one, and everything in that first post on this thread is so true. No wonder I feel so much guilt about talking against SRF or even Yogananda. It doesn't just come from not wanting to hurt his devotees, which I don't, but from religous guilt as well.

In Yogananda's own handwriting, SRF presents evidence that Yogananda had indeed said, "100 percent loyalty to SRF." In his lessons and lectures he talks about being loyal to one's country, etc. so loyalty issues were deeply engrained in him. He also speaks about treachery as being the biggest evil or sin, whatever, maybe he used the words, the "worse" thing a person can do. If you ask SRF for the leaflet or article in refute of what Don Walters has said about SRF, you will find this (his handwriting)in there. Now, the only thing I can say about it is, "Did they fabricate his handwriting?" The only other thing I have to go on is old SRF magazines where he tells us to go to the church or temple of our choice. He also, by the way, in his "own" handwriting, says to just read his books, and that is in that same article.

It is very cult-like for any organization to demand loyalty or to tell you to not go to other churches or read other books, which is why I left SRF, beside their treatment of Yogananda's direct disciples when they disagreed with the changes SRF was making to the teachings after Yogananda passed on. It reminded me too much of my own experience as a Jehovah's Witness. You learn through experience sometimes.

Edited by: chela2020 at: 1/9/04 5:04 am
Registered User
(1/8/04 12:43 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?
Chela, I sometimes think that my experiences with the Lubavitchers was blessing because now, when ever I encounter the same type of subtle coercion and control, I recognize it.

Don't feel guilty over religion, seek God instead.

Registered User
(1/8/04 1:04 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?

Thank you. I know that I learned great lessons from the Jehovah's Witnesses, and so as soon as I saw an inkling of what they did as a cult, in SRF, I begin questioning and put on my running shoes at the same time. I think maybe SRF caused me to feel guilt over questioning an organization or a guru, because I didn't have that much guilt when I left the Jehovah's Witnesses, just pain and rejection feelings which made it hard to come back to God and which took 25 years to do.

This, for me, was the most harmful thing that the Jehovah's Witnesses said to me: "You are dead in God's eyes." From the first post of this tread, I quote:"Members live in fear of being pronounced "dead". They have a fear of annihilation or extinction. The emotional conflict is one of "being vs. nothingness".

I agree that one is to seek God. Had I not experienced Him once in meditation, I would have left religion again after my experiences in SRF. My experiences as a Jehovah's Witness turned me into an atheist, but my experience in meditation made me a believer. No one can ever again cause me to believe that I am "dead in God's eyes" because I now know that He/She loves everyone no matter what they do.

And never again will I join another organization, or at least I don't think so. I am a free spirit, free to believe what I want, read what I want, go to whatever church or temple I desire. Free to even run when need be.

But I have to admit that I was nagchampa2. Guilt over putting down Yogananda caused me to desire to not be Chela, because some people always saw her as being too kind. And so I still struggle with not putting him down and deleting whenever I have, even about SRF. (It didn't matter what username I used.) I now know certain things about him to be true, and so he is not my guru, and I now don't consider that he ever was because I never really knew him in person, in the flesh.

Edited by: chela2020 at: 1/8/04 1:32 pm
Registered User
(1/8/04 1:28 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?
If you read the lectures in "Man's Eternal Quest" and "The Divine Romance" Yogananda often speaks of "these teachings of Self-realization..." not Self-Realization Fellowship Church in particular. The message is clear (to me at least) to be loyal to the eternal religion, sanatan dharma. A metaphor given is the hive and the honey (outward organization & teachings of self-realizaition or self-realization). Analogies help understand things better, but they are not perfect. If you were to destroy all temples, churches and all organized religion, spiritual laws would still exist. Your body, as the true temple, would still exist.

To view organized religion as either completely wrong or completely right is a mistake. It has some value for some, but not for everyone. Different religions (outward organizations and churches) are for different people at various levels of development, for different periods of time bla bla bla.

An imperfect analogy: Say one person drives to work, another takes the bus, another rides a bike, yet another walks -who's to say they are right or wrong to be used to get to their destination? One can crash his car, another can get run over walking, or they can all safely reach their destination (some sooner than others).

Registered User
(1/8/04 1:38 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?

"Yogananda often speaks of "these teachings of Self-realization..." not Self-Realization Fellowship Church."

I agree that he could have meant this, and I hope so. In the handwriting, it says, "100 percent loyalty to SRF." They could have added the F. It would be nice if someone called SRF and got that pamplet to see what I mean.

I think in joining an organization, one would have to realize that they are all imperfect, and then try to not get involved with the politics. I am beginning to see the wisdom of SRF's always saying that we should just meditate on God and forget the rest. But how could I? Things were just to obvious to pass over. I now feel that some organizations are better than others, but I don't want to join--partake, yes, but not sign my name on a piece of paper again.

Registered User
(1/8/04 2:15 pm)
Re: What is a Cult?
"Yogananda often speaks of "these teachings of Self-realization..." not Self-Realization Fellowship Church."

Various postings here, and on the Yogananda rediscovered website give 1960 as the date that exclusive "SRF Church membership" was made prerequisite for getting kriya. As late as the 1959 edition of the AY, there is a nice photo of Yogananda and Rajasi sitting cross-legged on the lawn at Encinitas that is captioned "A great Hindu yogi and a great Christian yogi." People on this board have quoted the Ananda copy of the Lake Shrine dedication talk, in which PY said he had "no interest" in founding a church.

Yet after having tried, I've largely given up on finding some "golden" textual passage that will resolve the question. It becomes a matter of inner attunement. Yet I cannot attune properly when trust is in question, so I assume it will take time and distance and an open mind.

chuckle chela
Registered User
(1/8/04 3:51 pm)
For Ranger
Ranger--I remember you posting about the stuff you had seen in the Center Bulletins and now you've supplied the quotes. As you've pointed out, it's Bro. Ramananda's stuff, and if you have known him since the 70s, you'll know loyalty has been a big deal for him. I remember having a talk with him once about loyalty. He had said "loyalty is a matter of the heart." That impressed me and we talked about it. I am quite content to leave it as a matter of the heart, a matter to be decided by each individual, and am willing to let most of this other stuff--"you must do this or that to be loyal or else"--be taken up by those who feel it works for them.

I've never felt my relationship to Yogananda as one defined by fear. It just doesn't work for me. If others chose such a relationship, that's fine. But I have one question for them: if fear is to be a defining parameter of such an important relationship for you, how does this impact on your relationships with other people, if it impacts at all?" I'd genuinely like to know what these people would have to say.

I think SayItIsntSo has it right: spirituality involves trust.

One other question, Ranger, about the words of Yogananda: "You should be proud of the work and loyal to it, that the blessing of God may flow through you. He who is not loyal to his own organization and the work that God has sent is not loyal to God."

My question: what's "the work?" what's an organization?

Okay, that's two questions. Actually, I have one more: what's loyalty?

Oops, sorry, I just thought of one more. Silly me. Who's this "God" person? Where is He, anyway? (I looked under the rug, so I know he's definitely not there).

chuckle chela
Registered User
(1/8/04 3:57 pm)
For chela2020
Hi, chela2020! Hey, it's great to have you back! How have you been?

I've read some of the stuff in your posts here about cults (I confess I haven't read it all--that's a whole lot of stuff you've posted here!), but I'm not sure what your point is. I'd love to hear from you.

. . . Okay, I've just managed to see your later posts. You've explained a bit about why you posted all the stuff you did.

Glad to see you mention you were nagchampa (didn't take long for some of the other walrusites to figure that out, did it?). I was touched by your "pendent ceremony." I thought that if someone is going to renounce Yogananda, that was nice, having a bit of a ceremonial send-off. Nice poem, too.

Someday, if you ever feel so inclined, I'd love to hear more about how that individual managed to convince you that Yogananda was a fraud.

Are you still following Vendanta? Best wishes.

Registered User
(1/8/04 4:10 pm)
Chuckle Chela
Chuckle Chela,

I am still following the vedanta teachings, but I have not joined any organization. I go to diffferent Christian churches and temples, whether Buddhist or Hindu.

Why the information on cults? Many consider SRF a cult, but if they read what a real cult is, using an example of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they will see that SRF is very mildly so. Sure, the ashram is rigid, all monastic orders are.

I have been told over and over again by monks and nuns that questioning is being disloyal, that owning original writings of Yogananda is being disloyal, the public relations department wanted me to send my original Yogota lessons to them to get them off the streets. I was told that I was disloyal for having a friend who was in Ananda, for even listening to what Donald Walters had to say about SRF, etc. Bro. Ramananda was one of the main ones who said something to the effect of, if you were loyal to SRF you would not listen to Walters. I said, "I am loyal to no one but God and guru," and at that moment he said that that was okay. It is good to hear him say that it is a matter of the heart. Because it is. If you have to tell people to be loyal to the guru or the organization, something is wrong. When fear enters the picture, people scream "loyalty." Loyalty comes from the heart, from respecting a guru or an organization, that is, if you even consider being loyal to an organization.

Why I changed my mind about Yogananda was through a collaboration of stories from three people. I had heard the story over two years ago and ignored it, then I heard it again from a very reliable source, and then next thing I knew I ran into an ex-SRF member who was in SRF back in 1950s, and he knew of these things. I just asked him what he knew about Yogananda after overhearing him mentioning his name to another man, who I learned was another exSRF member and now a Buddhist. I had not wanted to listen to Nerode and so his stories were always in question to me, but one of the man's, as well as the other's stories was the same as Nerode's, and these people had never heard of Nerode. One story Nerode denies to me ever happened, but two of my sources say otherwise; I go with them since one was there.

I don't really know how I have been. My mom died in November, my dog died the same week, and then I finally heard these things about Yogananda, so I felt pretty angry for a while. I think this month I have been recovering from it all.

Edited by: chela2020 at: 1/12/04 7:56 am
Registered User
(1/8/04 6:11 pm)
Re: For chela2020
Chela, wow. You've really had a hard time of it in the last couple of months. No matter what our relationship with our mother is, loosing her is tough. I wish you continued healing and am glad to hear that you are feeling a bit recovered.

I keep hesitating to include 'dog' with 'mother', for some reason, but that's not really like me, because I'm as close to my animals as I would be to my children, so, again, I'm sorry to hear about your dog, as well. One of my cat's was stolen by a couple of students in August (pet theft is rampant in Ann Arbor, oddly enough) so I can really relate to that loss. I now have a 5 month old baby, aka kitten (Willie Nelson, Jr.), though, so that helps. He's sitting on top of the computer right now, looking way cute and waiting for his older brother to come by so he can ambush him.

Keep hangin in there. It's sounds like you are doing much better.

Registered User
(1/8/04 7:56 pm)
Re: For chela2020

Thank you. I know what you mean by hestitating putting "dog" along with "mother", but my dog was like my child, especially since I never had children.

Sorry to hear about your cat being stolen. Hope she/he is okay even though taken. I have worried about cats I have owned whenever they disappeared, not knowing how they are or even where they are. Most of the time I always went out and got another one right away, but this time, I don't wish to have another dog and go through it again in years to come.

Edited by: chela2020 at: 1/9/04 5:12 am
Registered User
(1/9/04 5:43 am)
Re: What is a Cult?

You wrote:

"Yet after having tried, I've largely given up on finding some "golden" textual passage that will resolve the question. It becomes a matter of inner attunement. Yet I cannot attune properly when trust is in question, so I assume it will take time and distance and an open mind."

I am having a hard time understanding what the question is, but you may have mentioned it earlier on Walrus, and I just missed it. Can you explain a little more?

I do believe that Yogananda had a major interest in founding a church, after all, he built temples. He had Yogota in India and Self-Realizaton Church of all Religions here. I do agree with Ananda that the date was 1960 when you had to pledge to belong to SRF before getting Kriya. Who may have this information for you is Priscilla of Amrita Foundation:214-522-7533.

Registered User
(1/9/04 7:29 am)
bragging rights
Chela, I'm fairly certain that she's ok. The students that took her used to spend hours outside playing with her and even bought her her own toys for when she was there. I found out while searching for her in the days after she went missing that they were openly telling people in the neighborhood that she was their cat. My neighbors were surprised that she was actually mine. It took me a long time to grieve for her because there wasn't any closure. That was the worst of it.

Willie was born two weeks before she disappeared. His mother was a stray taken in right after she got pregnant, as was the mother of Clara and Lukey (the one I still have), so I'm glad I can give him a home. I no longer let my cats outside though. Lukey's not too happy about it, but Willie thinks the hallway is just fascinating for a change of scenery and has already discovered that if he batts his toys out under the front door, he gets to go 'outside' to find them.

He's of course the cutest thing that ever lived.

Registered User
(1/9/04 7:43 am)
bragging rights too

People will come on this thread and ask, what do cats and dogs have to do with cults? We will then think up an answer. By the way your post just before the Beatle song was funny, not that I am putting down Yellowbeard by saying that, because I like him; just that it was funny.

Well, my dog was 14 years old, and she never left either my husband's or my site. She knew over 50 words, and sometimes we would be talking to each other, and she knew what we were saying by how she responded. She probably picked up little words and just got up and did what we were talking about.

She got arthritis and was put on drugs that helped some. A horse ran into her and earlier some dogs, which didn't help matters. We thought she would get better;then the fires came, and the smoke inhalation didn't help her lungs. I knew she was dying when I left to go to my mom's funeral. My husband took her in to be put to sleep when she couldn't get up and was having convulsions. I wanted to say goodbye to her, but I didn't want to see her as she was, so maybe I just lucked out.

About three days after her passing, I heard two strange sounding dream barks in my sleep that woke me up, and I knew it was her just saying goodbye. After that I had a few other dreams where we were together.

I am glad that your cat was at least taken by people who loved her, but what a horrible thing for them to do to you. I had a cat when living in Berkeley in a three story apartment and that, on the third floor. One day I heard a sound in the other room, and in my mind's eye I saw her on the kitchen chair leaning against the window and her flying out the window. I went looking for her, but I couldn't find her anywhere; even took notices around the neighborhood. Months later a neighbor told me that their neighbor had her and had moved away, taking her with them. I was glad to know then that she was okay.

Registered User
(1/9/04 8:28 am)
Re: What is a Cult?
chela, you provide us with a lot of detailed definitions of a cult. I only want to comment on this part:

>(a) The group will have an ELITIST view of itself in relation to others, and a UNIQUE CAUSE. i.e. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES RIGHT - everyone else is wrong. THEY ARE THE ONLY ONES DOING GOD'S WILL -everyone else is in apostasy.<

If catholics claim only in their church you are saved -this would have to qualify for an elitist and unique view of itself. Clearly, an argument can be made for any religion or religious group being a cult. But one thing I would like to mention regarding Yogananda's teachings (as taught by Yogananda himself) and kriya as taught by Sri Yukteswar, is that it teaches that everyone is right, that is, every religion is true. In the autobiography Yukteswar initiates disciples of various faiths and advises them to stay in their outward religion while practicing kriya. Inner realization gives validity to religion and God reveals himself to the devotee in a way that is most dear to his heart (so a Christian sees Jesus or Mary, etc.) I've only been in Cali. once and very infrequently have attended servcies, so I am only a lay-disciple keeping a distance getting his teachings mainly from the written word and the internet (and I'm fine with that).

Registered User
(1/9/04 9:33 am)
Re: What is a Cult?

You are right in that Yogananda and Sri Yukteswar said that all religions lead to God. That is why I said that SRF is very mildly a cult--if you can call them a cult. I think of a cult more in line with the Jehovah's Witnesses.

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