Comment on Steven Hassan, Combatting Cult Mind Control
Kluge makes reference to Hassan’s book, “Combating Cult Mind Control”. It is therefore appropriate for us to make some comments about this book and especially concerning its description of “mind control”.
The author himself was a member of the “Unification Church”, commonly known as the “Moonies”. After several years he left the group, since which time he warns people about this and similar cults. He apparently does quite well out of this business (by his own account (p.143) exit counsellors charge fees that range from US$250 to $1,000 a day. The average cost of an intervention lies between $2,000 and $5,000).
He comes from a Jewish background; there is no evidence that he converted to Christianity. He only deals with the psychological problems of groups. The content of the teaching is irrelevant for him. That is certainly very problematic when assessing a religious group, as the teaching is clearly the essential point to consider when assessing whether a group is based on the New Testament or not.
The author’s great concern for the freedom of people from every kind of manipulation is commendable and we fully share this concern. We reject any form of psychological manipulation, whether through hypnosis or group dynamics. It is perhaps possible to bind someone to a cult using psychology. But the church of God would not endure if it were based on psychological methods.
We do not, however, share Hassan’s concept of human nature, considering humans to be essentially defenceless against the manipulation of deceivers. We believe that God created people in such a way that they will not fall helplessly into the clutches of a deceiver.
Jesus said: ‘Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ (John 18:37b)
Thus, a truth-loving person need not fear deceivers, whatever his background, as long as he is searching for the truth.
We, too, have had contact with members of the “Unification Church”. In an open dialogue we always spoke with them about the teaching. In the end they were not able to refute clear biblical arguments. They did not especially attempt to use psychological tricks. They probably realised that these do not work on people who are only interested in the truth.
Hassan’s book may indeed be quite informative concerning the methods used by the “Unification Church”. Mr. Kluge, however, draws upon this book, presumably contrary to his better knowledge, in order to assess a Christian community, slanderously alleging that we use the same methods. His own article, however, shows that, at least in several decisive points, a comparison between the disciples of Mr. Moon and us is absolutely unfounded.
Hassan writes: “Since all destructive cults believe that the ends justify the means, they believe themselves to be above the law. As long as they believe that what they are doing is “right” and “just”, many of them think nothing of lying, stealing, cheating, or unethically using mind control to accomplish their ends. They violate, in the most profound and fundamental way, the civil liberties of the people they recruit. They turn unsuspecting people into slaves.” (p. 36)
We have only ever come across such practices among our antagonists from the established churches. There would be no room in the community anymore for anyone among us who even suggested such practices.
The principle, “The ends justify the means”, is in complete contradiction to the Bible:
“And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), ‘Let us do evil so that good may come’? Their condemnation is deserved!” (Rom 3:8)
As for lying, Mr. Kluge concedes:
“Despite the fact that the Group has such a clear picture of the enemy in their sights, you need not expect that you will be deceived by them. Members of the sect would rather not answer a question than be drawn into a lie”
From Acts 5:1-11 we can see how God condemns lying.
“Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practises falsehood.” Rev 22:15
In contrast to the institutional “churches” there is no room for liars in the church of God.
Kluge also acknowledges that other “typical sectarian characteristics” are absent among us, such as:
- the overwhelming importance placed on collecting money for the leader which results in the exploitation of followers
- a founder or current leader whose beliefs are seen as the most important aspects of that belief system and who is seen as the mediator between God and his disciples and is hence idolised as a cult figure
- the global (and economical) network of the sect, an empire of underworld organisations
- the expectation of an imminent end to the world.
Even a superficial knowledge of our fellowship ought to be sufficient for him to know that the following statement of Hassan does not apply to us:
“To my knowledge, there are almost no people with handicaps in cults, because it takes time, money, and effort to look after them.” (p. 50)
We offer the love of God to every person we meet and we have brothers and sisters with various physical disabilities. We are thankful for their valuable contribution toward the edification of the community. We follow Jesus and not the Qumran community who rejected the blind and lame.
Some further comments on the four components of “mind control” described by Mr. Hassan:
a) Behaviour Control
“Behaviour control is the regulation of an individual’s physical reality… where he lives, what clothing he wears, what food he eats, how much sleep he gets – as well as of the jobs, rituals, and other actions he performs. This need for behaviour control is the reason most cults prescribe a very rigid schedule for their members… Every hour of his day has to be accounted for… The chain of command in cults is usually authoritarian, flowing from the leader through his lieutenants to their sub-leaders down to the rank and file.” (pp. 60–61)
We strictly reject any regulations concerning clothing and food. How much a person sleeps is also dependent on his individual needs. Rituals are completely alien to our very essence. We have no hierarchy and therefore no “chain of command” either.
Many of the points Hassan lists in this section can, however, be found in the Rules of Catholic Monastic Orders. We will not prove that in more detail here.
b) Thought Control
“Thought control … includes indoctrinating members so thoroughly that they internalise the group doctrine, incorporate a new language system, and use thought-stopping techniques to keep their mind ‘centred’. In order to be a good member, a person must learn to manipulate his own thought processes… All that is good is embodied in the leader and the group. All that is bad is on the outside… A destructive cult typically has its own ‘loaded language’ of words and expressions. Since language provides the symbols we use for thinking, controlling certain words helps to control thoughts… Perhaps the most widely used and effective way to control cult members’ thoughts is thought-stopping rituals… Different groups use different thought-stopping techniques: concentrated praying, chanting aloud or silently, meditating, ‘speaking in tongues’, singing, or humming.” (p. 61 – 63)
It is true that we internalise the teaching of the Bible by often reading the Bible alone as well as talking about it a lot within the fellowship. Surely all fellowships that call themselves Christians would share the conviction that reading the Bible can only have a positive effect on someone.
When we study the Bible we want to use our minds, not turn them off. We are not interested in blind repetition, but in thorough contemplation that leads to responsible actions.
It is also true that the language of the Bible is reflected in our own speech. We do, however, consciously avoid developing a special language.
All that is Good, in our view, is embodied alone and uniquely in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ. As redeemed sinners we desire to approach His perfection continuously, conscious of the fact that we will never fully reach this perfection on this earth.
Our prayers are not thought-stopping techniques, but a personal conversation with God. We reject every form of ritual prayer. Speaking in tongues was a gift given by God to the first generation of Christians. In groups where this is practised today, it is in many cases emotional escapism.
Later Mr. Kluge reproaches us of the very opposite of escaping into emotions, saying that we seek safety in rationality. Rationality and thought-stopping are only compatible within an irrational system of thought.
How does Mr. Kluge fight against the thought-stopping ritual of praying the Rosary in his own organisation?
c) Emotional Control
“Emotional Control … attempts to manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings. Guilt and fear are necessary tools to keep people under control. Guilt is probably the single most important emotional lever for producing conformity and compliance… Loyalty and devotion are the most highly respected emotions of all. They are never to criticize a leader, but criticize themselves instead. Many groups exercise complete control over interpersonal relationships… People are often kept off balance, praised one minute and tongue-lashed the next… Confession of past sins or wrong attitudes is a powerful device for emotional control, too. Of course, once you have publicly confessed, rarely is your old sin forgiven in the true sense – or forgotten…The most powerful technique for emotional control is phobia indoctrination “… People are made to have a panic reaction at the thought of leaving: sweating, rapid heartbeat, …
“It is nearly impossible for an indoctrinated member to imagine security outside the group.” (p 63 – 65)
Guilt is a reality in the life of every person. If guilt is not dealt with it leads to fear, simply because it separates us from God and other people and finally alienates us from ourselves. That is why forgiveness and liberation from guilt and anxiety are such a significant part of Christianity. Our guilt is not repressed, but it is confessed and forgiven. In the power of God we experience freedom and are able to live with a clear conscience. Brotherly admonitions do not act as a tool of control, but help towards becoming free from guilt. We have an obligation to admonish one another, whether the sinner has been in the community for one week or twenty years. The aim of Christian admonition is to strengthen and solidify each other in what is good. Praise and criticism are complementary. Only when praise and criticism are separated from a specific situation, can they become a means of psychological manipulation, for example, when praise serves to strengthen unethical activities and criticism is used to produce feelings of guilt.
Christians are together so they can admonish and encourage one another (1 Thess 5:11). Tongue-lashing is not acceptable in the church of God.
No one who is motivated purely by fear can remain in the church of God permanently. The only motivation that binds us to the community is our love for God.
Indeed, there are some very severe warnings about apostasy in the Bible. We can assume that what the inspired authors of scripture were concerned with was not what Hassan terms “Emotional Control”, but a sincere warning of an actual danger. That is why we also warn people about the danger of apostasy, although we are always aware that above all their love should be roused.
d) Information Control
“In many totalistic cults, people have minimal access to non-cult newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio… Information control also extends across all relationships. People are not allowed to talk to each other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine, or organisation. Members must spy on each other … New converts are not permitted to talk to each other without an older member present … Destructive organisations also control information by having many levels of ‘truth’. Cult ideologies have ‘outsider’ doctrines and ‘insider’ doctrines.” (pp. 65 – 66)
In our community we have access to the literature of a wide range of groups and organisations. There is no restriction whatsoever on what we are allowed to read. It is self-evident that a Christian will avoid books and magazines which contain immoral content. Criticism is not prohibited, but desired – as long as it is constructive. In our common life we allow for a wide scope of personal interaction between the brothers and sisters, including those who are young in faith.
We know only one truth which we share with one another in the community and which we convey to the outside world.
Real information control can be observed in the excerpt already quoted above from the Rule of ‘Saint’ Benedict:
“And let no one presume to relate to another what he hath seen or heard outside of the monastery, because it is most hurtful. But if anyone presume to do so, let him undergo the penalty of the Rule. In like manner let him be punished who shall presume to go beyond the enclosure of the monastery, or anywhere else, or to do anything, however little, without the order of the Abbot.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 67)
We will leave it up to the reader to decide where the totalistic system really is.