Father Images In Cults:
Why They Have So Much Control
by Randall Watters
location: the South American Socialist country of Guyana in 1977, the new home of over 900 American followers of pastor Jim Jones, most of whom just migrated from San Francisco. Meetings are held at night to discuss their perceived enemies, and the discussions are fraught with paranoia.
Jim Jones asks his people, "What do you think should be done to your relatives [who have left the church]?"
male voice: "I’d like to KILL my so-called brother and Bill Aarons for the crap that both of them have caused over the years since they’ve left."
female voice: "Sandy knew that this was the last hope for many people including children and when she wants to ally herself with people who wish to destroy this place, I think she should be wiped out."
female voice again: "...If her skull was split it would serve a good purpose."
Parental bonds are not just a social phenomena, they are very primal. The mother is the nurturer, the father is the protector and also serves to provide the direction and "religion" of his children. If a child is abandoned or rejected by his mother or father, no amount of corrective reasoning can take away the emotional pain that is experienced by the child, and it does not go away with age.
The family unit also includes many primal experiences, so that if one’s family is missing one or more of such experiences, a distinct need may be felt to take part in what one has missed along the way. Among such primal family experiences are the following:
• a heirarchy (chain of command)
• a strong leader over all
• common enemy to rally against
• something sacred (a "religion")
• exclusivity (family pride)
• customs and taboos
• justice and punishment
Such aspects of family life are not "evil," they are normal and present in all human societies as well as in the higher animal kingdom. Good parents promote healthy experiences that become part of one’s personal identity and style. The trouble begins when a parent abuses his authority and commands others to their harm. Physically and sexually abusive fathers, dictatorial attitudes and harsh rules designed to legislate the actions of all without regard to their personal needs or desires are quite common. Negative experiences such as these also become part of one’s identity, hence the need for therapy groups dealing with children of alcoholics, the physically and sexually abused, etc.
The human psyche will look for ways to fill this "family void." Perhaps we are still looking for that father image we longed for as a child. Perhaps life has become too uncertain; we just lost a job, a mate, or moved away to a strange place, and we need something more secure to put faith in. Maybe we are tired of being a "nobody," and wish to tap into the power of a charismatic leader, and share in their limelight. Maybe we just want to live a good life away from drugs or alcohol, and a new family with a strong father will help us do that through the strict guidelines that are practiced.
People don’t join cults over doctrine; they. commit to the group because they want a new family. Doctrine merely becomes part of the family baggage.
Cults as Extended Families
Cults are simply extended families with a new hierarchy. There is a father image in most all of them, or in a few cases a very strong mother image instead. The "pecking order" in this extended family is obvious once one is initiated, the direction or goals become very clear, and the common enemy is preached against constantly. There is no question among the initiates as to what is sacred and what is profane. Such is learned through both written and verbal instruction, as well as observing and experiencing the rod of the judicial system of the group. Favoritism is unavoidable, but when coupled with the abuse of power it is oppressive.
The difference between the family experience and the cult experience is generally found in the degree of abuse experienced, as well as in the use of deception. Ministries and individuals who attack the concept of "modern cults using mind control" are missing the point when they say it doesn’t exist. In reality, it is their straw-man concept of what "mind control" means that is out of date, i.e., the picture of the cult that uses brainwashing techniques to change a person against their will. Such brainwashing techniques are really not that powerful in the long run and have been abandoned for the most part; whereas the "extended family" scenario with its complex and subtle forms of absolute control, deception and abuse is by far the most classic and powerful form of cult mind control. It is also a model that is much easier to understand, assuming one has been raised in a family of their own, especially an abusive one. The concept of "cults" is no longer mysterious or strange, but is quite predictable and readily observed in society.
Religion (as a belief system) is often cited as a major devisive force, both in ecumenical as well as political matters. In actuality, however, doctrine is only one of the many forms of control within the extended family. Most of the abuse and deception actually has its origin in the father figure who is the leader, rather than whatever "scriptures" are held in esteem. In the case of abusive father figures who use the Bible, all sorts of distorted concepts are taught using the Bible, where passages are usually taken out of context or totally misinterpreted. Why? For the sake of control, and for pretending that one has all the answers. Aren’t fathers supposed to have all the answers? Many people think so, and go looking for a system or ideology that provides simple answers to complex subjects. What they don’t realize is that for every over-simplified belief system (whether a religion or secular ideology), there is an abusive father image behind it.
the Evil Cult Model
Few natural fathers are intentionally evil, if you define evil as being morally bad or wrong. Abusive fathers justify their behavior as necessary to keep the family in line. More gentle and heartwarming ways of guiding a family are not even seriously considered. A "firm hand" is believed to be the only way to bring them up.
The root of such thinking lies in the lack of trust of the family members and the lack of candid communication with them. An abusive father may know very well the behaviors and tendencies of his family, but rarely becomes intimate with the individual members in a vulnerable setting, unless it is to use it as a further tool to abuse them. Since he doesn’t know them well, he can’t trust them, and ascribe all sorts of evil motives to them. His personal guilt over his own moral failure complicates it even further, making him less and less vulnerable to his family. He must provide a strong, invincable outward appearance so that the family will always respect him, lest the members of the family learn something that can be used against him as a form of revenge.
Using the "God" card is the ultimate tool; if the father is supposedly being guided by God in his actions, the family simply cannot question his actions or motives, and they will be labeled as fighters against God for doing so. This is intended to make them feel too guilty to question "dad."
Leaving the family due to the abuse is always portrayed as a moral flaw on the part of the member who leaves, not the father. Guilt and fear thus prevents most from leaving or even complaining. The father, lost in his own moral depravity and mistrust, cannot fathom how life could continue any different. He does not understand the concepts of grace, forgiveness and love, and seldom has any true empathy for others. He understands guilt and fear, the two most powerful forces motivating him, and so uses this power to control others in like manner. Whether he eventually becomes a monster such as Jim Jones or not will depend largely on circumstances and the degree of power he eventually accumulates.
If you want to experience the power of a cult leader over his family, I highly recommend the cassette tape, "Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown" (on our materials list). It was assembled from the many hundreds of cassette tapes (900 hours of preaching) found after the Guyana massacre in Jonestown, and edited into one tape, complete with the authentic expressions of individual members, such as those at the beginning of this article. Put yourself in the audience, thousands of miles away in a jungle, totally separated from family and society as we know it, and you can imagine how you, too, might have eventually succumbed to such a monster. Education is ultimately the best protection. Just being a Christian or good moral person is not; many of these died under the spell of Jonestown. Many Christians are even now being outwitted by an extended family or church, as they don’t understand the abuse scenario.
Educating people as to correct versus incorrect doctrine is not the ultimate answer, and will do little to confront the abuse of a father/leader. The victims of his abuse, while still under his spell, will always stick up for him in an argument with strangers. That is the nature of this type of control. Some call it hypnotism and some call it mind control, but it is primarily the power of a father image. Satan and his demons, hypnotic spells and black magic are not even needed for such control to work effectively. You are wasting your time discussing doctrine in such cases. While many ministries focus on teaching the cult member correct doctrine, or spend much of their time trying to sell you books on passages of scripture and how they are twisted by cult leaders, they often miss the boat by a mile. If a wife or child is being beaten by their natural father, you expose the abuse first, and later when you have time you can investigate the reasons the father gives for his crimes. Similarly, once the victim of an abusive father image is freed, it will be quite easy to discern how the abuser twisted the Bible, though it may require a little help from friends who can demonstrate proper study habits.
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