reprint from the Sep/Oct 1995 Free Minds Journal

Myths and Facts About Cult Involvement

by Randall Watters

MYTH:

People in cults are brainwashed.

Brainwashing implies the unwilling indoctrination of alien principles or beliefs, which are enforced through overt as well as subtle control mechanisms (typical of Communist Chinese and Soviet military techniques used during WWII). Once removed from this environment, one returns to a default set of beliefs, though not completely due to confusion and disillusionment. Yet this is a form of mind control rarely used in cults today.

If I know my Bible, I can help someone out of a cult.

Since the cult problem is not generally a doctrinal problem, this approach is very limited, since one can only prove their belief wrong or non-traditional, but may not be equipped to help them discern the nature of their indoctrination and where they went astray. The Bible is rarely effective as an initial approach, due to programmed responses in the cult member. Try getting to know them and starting to dissolve the walls of communication first! Authority issues come second, then doctrine when they can reason correctly or logically.

Cults are the unpaid bills of the Church.

While many churches are negligent in providing education about cults and programs to get people involved in community activities, there are other reasons people get involved in cults. Though cults often provide the means of satisfying one's loneliness, sense of community responsibility and self-worth, they also provide a fulfillment of certain desires that the church actually should not meet, such as elitism and exclusivism, pride, power over others, and self-determination.

Cult members are generally uneducated.

This premise ignores the fact that people are selective in what area they apply good sense and critical judgment. A rocket scientist may take dangerous risks in driving home; a chemist may use harmful drugs; an honor student may associate with the wrong crowd. Similarly, cult members have suspended judgment in one area of their lives.

Cults seek the idealistic and well-educated above all, for they are looking for leaders ("assets"), not the slow to learn or handicapped ("liabilities"). Only the churches tend to seek the unwanted little people.

Once indoctrinated, however, cult members are dissuaded from any form of "secular" higher education, for fear they will become aware of their own selective indoctrination. Intelligence and leadership qualities are welcome as long as they are used for the cult's own purposes.

Certain types of people are predisposed towards cults.

While it is true that those untrained in critical judgment are more vulnerable to the reasoning of the cult ideology, that doesn't mean their needs will be fulfilled by the cult involvement; it just means that they may seem more or less convinced by the arguments. Whether or not they are motivated to actually get involved is another issue entirely. People do not get involved in cults primarily due to ideology. True idealists rarely find a cult satisfying due to its inconsistencies in thought or practice, as well as their own independent nature. They are more likely drawn to beliefs or patterns of thoughts unconnected with an organized religion. (see FACT: Anyone can be a victim.)

FACT:

People don't generally get involved in cults primarily due to doctrine.

Cults usually provide some service to the individual that they desire, such as friends, community, absolutes to live by, security, enhanced self-esteem, power over one's own life and that of others, etc. Some are raised in a cult and remain in it due to family reasons, comfort and security. Others may seek an escape from an oppressive situation that renders them powerless, hence giving them power over one area of their lives and that of others. (e.g., marriage mate or child in a controlling environment.)

People in cults are cooperators in their own programming.

"Coercive persuasion" is a term that more aptly describes the cult indoctrination method. The cult offers something attractive or desirable to the individual, and the individual decides to suspend normal critical judgment in this area in order to obtain this "carrot" representing the fulfillment of their desire. Because this process involves mutual and willing cooperation, and the victim views all decisions as their own, it is a more binding form of mind control that is harder to undo. They wanted to believe it, it fulfills a "need," and it is "their decision." The only effective way to undo this form of programming is to review the indoctrination process with the individual, forcing a reexamination of the cult. Hopefully, something greater (i.e., Christ) is seen as a replacement for the cult involvement.

Anyone can be a victim.

People have been known to join the Watchtower after years of:

Additionally, scientists, doctors, movie stars and even political figures have been converted.

Why?

We are not always consistent in our treatment of others, and do not always have the energy or desire to be an "opponent," especially true when one's own sense of identity or control is wavering, such as when one:

During such times, one's critical judgment skills are often suspended, and the cult moves in.

"The most important thing is to get them out of the cult." Ask yourself why you believe this.

Is the cult physically dangerous to the person?

Is it spiritually dangerous to the person?

Inadequate or non-existent views of Christ, salvation and grace are common in the cults. However, getting them out does not guarantee a change of belief or even a desire to be a Christian! Nor does cult involvement necessarily prevent them from finding Christ or relating to Him.

Are they wasting their life away?

Cults rob a person of their own creativity and individuality. The most common reason for anger against a cult by a former member is the "wasted years" that could have been used otherwise. Since higher education is discouraged once one joins a cult, the likelihood of obtaining a good paying job later in life is greatly diminished. Lasting friendships and important family ties have been neglected or have been destroyed over time. Good reasons to extract them soon!

Steps to Take

DO NOT...

... attack them verbally (or physically!), creating walls to communication. They have a persecution complex inherited from the cult, believing that all non-members are agents of Satan. Don't feed the complex! Have a curious yet cautious attitude, striving to get them to see things from another perspective (not necessarily yours).

... argue the Bible (the most common mistake). Their problem is not lack of knowledge, but the inability to process it correctly! They must be taught how to process the facts consistently, and before you can teach them, you need to gain their confidence and respect. A barrier erected by your own ego (i.e., the need to be right, to prove them wrong, etc.) will almost always prevent this from ever happening, necessitating the need for outside intervention.

DO...

... educate yourself in the area of cult mind control techniques, through books and seminars. Talk to former members of any group, as cult techniques are all quite similar. Be wise before you embark on such a risky endeavor- you may only have one chance.

... enlist the help of others, either professionals in the field, or by educating friends and family members and soliciting their support. Long-time friends of the victim are the most effective.

... pray for them. Ask God that if it be their time to get out, He grant you the wisdom and circumstances to accomplish the intervention, and that if it turns out they are not yet ready, that He grant them the circumstances necessary to prepare them for disillusionment with the group and the desire for something better. Ask for patience and wisdom for yourself as well! ###


back to psychological issues