the Bondage of Re-Victimization: A Response to "Overcoming
the Bondage of Victimization,"
by Robert and Gretchen Passantino
by Paul R. Martin, Ph.D. and Lawrence A. Pile
with Ron Burks, M.A. and Stephen D. Martin, M.Div.
In their article
long-time cult researchers Bob and Gretchen Passantino
criticize the radical concept of cult conversion which
says that many people’s lives are drastically
and negatively altered by powerful and sophisticated
thought reform techniques. They assert that this is
an erroneous theory, but is used by exit counselors
and professionals to explain the changes seen in cult
members, and most people accept its validity without
question. The purpose of the Passantinos’ article
is, they say, to "look behind the assumption of
the mind control model and uncover the startling reality
that cult mind control is, at best, a distorted misnomer
for cult conversion and robs individuals of personal
moral responsibility." Then they go on to say,
"while mind-control-model advocates rightly point
Out that cults often practice deception, emotional manipulation,
and other unsavory recruitment tactics, we believe a
critical, well-reasoned examination of the evidence
disproves the cult mind control model and instead affirms
the importance of the informed, biblically based religious
The present article,
however, will show that the Passantinos’ assertions
are incorrect and misguided. Specifically, this article
will demonstrate that mind control is more than cult
conversion; that, while mind control does not rob people
of moral responsibility, it mitigates it; and that there
is no conflict between biblical theology and the reality
of mind control.2 We contend that theological considerations
inform our understanding of the sociological and psychological
destruction caused by cults. Cults distort one’s
perceptions of both natural reality (sociological and
psychological) and spiritual reality. Since the former
is supposed to reveal the latter, as in the Christian
tradition, those interested in spiritual issues must
address both sides in order to minister adequately to
article begins with a description of a fairly typical
exit counseling. The authors cite former Unificationist
and now exit counselor Steve Hassan as stating that
the average fee for exit counseling is $3000 plus expenses
for about four days of exit counseling. That is probably
not too far off the mark. In spite of the authors’
implication that exit counselors make good money, we
don’t know of any who has made over $35,000 a
year. Because of the nature of their work, exit counselors
have to be on call virtually 24 hours a day, like firemen
and paramedics. So if they make $3000-4000 they may
be on one case a week or a month. A lot of their time
is spent in research and preparation, and they have
to be willing to move when time demands. Considering
the total expenses necessary to a thorough exit counseling,
we believe the reaction to the fees charged by mind
control experts is a bit unwarranted.
write, "Of course, there were no guarantees: some
ex-cultists needed additional inpatient counseling at
a special ‘recovery center’..." The
implication of this statement seems to be that exit
counseling is pretty unreliable, and maybe some other
method is preferable, namely what the authors describe
as "a scripturally legitimate response to cult
conversion: biblical apologetics and preaching the gospel"
(footnote 4). Aside from the inherent denial in this
statement of psychological distress that needs to be
treated professionally, our response is two-fold. First,
I [PRM] have conducted extensive research comparing
the psychological state of cult members both before
and after exit counseling. My research is conclusive:
we demonstrated that, as effective as exit counseling
is in persuading cult members to leave their cults,
it does not usually relieve all the psychological distress.
Though it may in some cascs, my evidence doesn’t
strongly support this. To my knowledge there has only
been one study done on deprogramming failure rates,
and it is based (I believe) on anecdotal evidence. No
previous studies have looked at the differential effects
of post-cult stress relative to method of exit. Recovery
typically entails more than exit counseling. Therefore,
it seems there is some ethical necessity on the part
of post-cult recovery providers to offer the necessary
follow-up care, or at the very least, to refer clients
to others who are qualified to provide such care.
Second, the Passantinos
imply that this entire field of post-cult recovery is
a very expensive undertaking. They state that post-cult
rehabilitation after exit counseling is an additional
expense, and imply that it is most likely unnecessary.
However, no one has become rich in the post-cult rehabilitation
business. In the case of Wellspring Retreat and Resource
Center, the expenses needed to pay four full-time and
five part-time workers, and maintain a lodge and office
building, has led to one conclusion — that there
is no great financial incentive for working in this
field. The financial picture of all previous post-cult
rehabilitation centers was typical. Sadly, due to the
financial difficulties of operating such rehabilitation
centers, all but Wellspring have ceased to exist.
One of the first
problems that impressed us in reading the Passantinos’
critique is the "all-or-nothing" fallacy.
This is all the more remarkable in that the Passantinos
discuss this fallacy in their book Witch Hunt. Under
the heading "It’s Not Always Either/Or"
they write, "Another problem Christians often have
in discerning between good and bad is the tendency to
miss some of the options."3 The article under consideration
in this response amply illustrates this point from the
Passantinos’ own writing. Primarily, this is expressed
by the authors’ discussion of those who hold to
the mind control model as though every one of them holds
the identical view, and specifically that they all believe
every cult member is completely under mind control,
and totally and always unable to think for him/herself.
This assertion is untrue, and is essentially a "straw
man" set up by the Passantinos as an easy target.
The following passage from their article is illustrative:
In this approach
sociological and psychological terminology has been
substituted for Christian terminology. Cult involvement
is no longer described as religious conversion but as
mind control induction. Cult membership is not characterized
as misplaced religious zeal but as programming. And
the cultist who leaves his group is no longer described
as redeemed but as returned to a neutral religious position.
And rather than evangelism of cult members, we now have
have been replaced by cognitive dissonance techniques.
A parent’s plea has changed from How can my adult
child be saved? to How can my adult child revert to
his/her precult personality? Biblical analysis and evangelism
of the cults has become overshadowed by allegedly "value
neutral" social science descriptions and therapy-oriented
Later the authors
The cult mind control
model is based on a fundamental conviction that the
cultist becomes unable to make responsible and rational
choices or decisions (particularly the decision to leave
the group) and that psychological techniques are the
most effective way to free them to make decisions once
more. This foundation is nonnegotiable to the mind control
model and is at the root of what we consider so flawed
about the mind control concept.5
We know of no one
who holds the mind control model who would subscribe
to the version described by the Passantinos. At least,
prominent scholars Robert J. Lifton, Margaret Singer,
and Louis J. West hold no such view. In Thought Reform
and the Psychology of Totalism Lifton wrote:
Behind this web
of semantic... confusion [regarding the definition of
thought reform] lies an image of "brainwashing"
as an all-powerful, irresistible, unfathomable, and
magical method of achieving total control over the human
mind. It is of course none of these things, and this
loose usage makes the word a rallying point for fear.
resentment, urges toward submission, justification for
failure, irresponsible accusation, and for a wide gamut
of emotional extremism.
In her recent book,
Cults in Our Midst, Margaret Singer writes:
[thought reform] programs do not change people permanently.
Nor are they 100 percent effective. Cults are not all
alike, thought reform programs are not all alike, and
not everyone exposed to specific intense influence processes
succumbs and follows the group. Some cults try to defend
themselves by saying, in effect, "See, not everyone
joins or stays, so we must not be using brainwashing
techniques." Many recruits do succumb, however,
and the better organized the influence processes used,
the more people win succumb.7
Finally, in an
essay entitled "Persuasive Techniques in Religious
Cults,"8 West wrote:
techniques used by totalist cults to bind and exploit
the members, while not magical or infallible, are sufficiently
powerful and effective to assure the recruitment of
a significant percentage of those approached, and the
retention of a significant percentage of those enlisted.9
But of course,
the "experts" cited by Bob and Gretchen perpetuate
the myth that mind control model advocates believe that
the Manchurian Candidate actually can be created by
cultic mind control. One of the "experts"
cited is British sociologist Eileen Barker, others are
David Bromley and Anson Shupe.
failed to mention in their article, however, that Ms.
Barker has been co-opted by the Unification Church,
with the result that her former Organization, INFORM,
had its funding yanked by the British government after
a storm of protest from churches, parents and former
cult members. Singer’s book Cults in Our Midst
documents this, citing a press release from a member
of the Houseof Commons.10 Singer also refers to a 1989
Religious News Service report11 revealing that Barker’s
book The Making of a Moonie was actually funded by the
Unification Church, as were "all her expenses to
attend 18 conferences in Europe, New York, the Caribbean,
Korea, and South America. ‘My univer~ity and the
SSRC (a U.K. government grants council) regarded this
attendance necessary for my research,’ she said.
‘They thought if the Moonies paid the bills it
would be a big savings for the taxpayer.’"
Singer adds, "Not everyone felt that way. One member
of Parliament said, ‘Any academic who allows themselves
[sic] to be manipulated to lend credence to a cult does
harm to families all over the world.’" One
may say, "What’s the big deal?" The
big deal is that this is tantamount to permitting an
allegedly "independent expert" investigate
the Exxon Valdez oil spill on a grant from Exxon. Or
to allow an "outside researcher" prepare an
in-depth report on the Ku Klux Klan using money supplied
by the Klan. How objective can we really expect such
"researchers" to be?
Singer also refers
to Bromley and Shupe, who, in their book Strange Gods:
The Great American Cult Scare, point their accusing
fingers, not at the cults, but at former cult members,
for allegedly creating the "hysteria" concerning
cults. Bromley and Shupe, along with Barker and others,
seem to think that the only people who are truly reliable
to give the straight dope about the cults are those
who are current members. Again, this is as logical as
to believe that only members of the Nazi Party could
be trusted to tell the truth about what went on behind
the gates at Auschwitz.
The second paragraph
in the section headed "Assumptions of Mind Control"
in the Passantinos’ article contrasts biblical
apologetics with psychological techniques. The Passantinos
seem to be saying that post-cult recovery involves merely
getting somebody converted, but that those who hold
the secular mind control model are concerned only with
helping somebody recover his or her pre-cult personality.
The Passantinos imply that these two notions, the biblical
and the secular, cannot be reconciled. They assert that
mind control adherents do away with theological concerns.
Again, as cited above, the Passantinos write, "Biblical
analysis and evangelism have been overshadowed by allegedly
‘value neutral’ social science descriptions
and therapy-oriented counseling." We wish to state
here that this all or nothing dichotomy is not characteristic
of the program we offer at Wellspring, or that others
proceed to list eight "categories" which they
say represent "the principal assumptions of the
cult mind control model’.. They then summarize
these eight assumptions, the first of which is:
ability to control the mind supersedes that of the best
military ‘brainwashers.’" In a footnote,
the authors mention two factors offered by proponents
of the mind control theory to account for the cults’
greater success: "(1) greater levels of sophistication,
technology, and psychological knowledge; and (2) the
addition of hypnosis techniques to the practice."
Not mentioned, however, is one factor we believe is
perhaps more significant than either of these two, namely,
that in military brainwashing the subjects were unwilling
participants, and in fact antagonists of the brainwashers
(at least in the most well-known instances, Chinese
Communist brainwashing of Korean War POWs), whereas
in cultic mind control the subjects are generally favorably
disposed toward the cult members and indeed toward the
teachings with which they are being indoctrinated. This
factor must not be ignored.
The second category
listed by the authors is: "[c]ult recruits become
unable to think or make decisions for themselves."
This is another example of what we might call "totalist"
or "all-or-nothing" expression. We reject
the implied assertion that we accept this statement
as it is written. We are well aware that many cult members
do retain the ability to think for themselves in many
areas of life, even perhaps in matters religious. We
have always recognized that there are many degrees of
mind control, depending on numerous factors. Among these
factors are (1) the type and severity of any pre-cult
spiritual or psychological problems; (2) the degree
of divergence of the cult’s teachings and practices
from the cult member’s prior religious affiliation;
(3) the intensity of the cultic indoctrination; (4)
the degree to which the cult severs the cult member
from his or her previous connections (family, friends,
activities, etc.); (5) the kind and degree of any corrective
or disciplinary measures exercised by the cult on members
who step out of line. Other such factors could be mentioned.
Having said this,
we hasten to add that in the nine years of Wellspring’s
operation we have seen enough ex-cult members who did
have difficulty thinking for themselves and making decisions
that we know it to be a real and serious problem, and
not one to dismiss as a "pre-cult problem."
One girl who came to Wellspring from a well-known "shepherding
movement" would sit at the dinner table and wait
until she received permission to eat any item on her
plate before she would do so. A great many cult survivors
we have seen have recognized this problem in themselves
and have requested help in decision making.
list as the third category of mind control assumptions
"[c]ult recruits assume ‘cult’ personalities
and subsume their core personalities." Again, most
ex-cult members who come to Wellspring recognize this
very thing about themselves while they were in their
particular cult. They tell us that while they were in
the cult they became more aggressive or more passive,
more self-assured or more confused, more judgrnental
of others or more arrogant. They’ve told us they’ve
lost touch with their own feelings, become emotionally
numb, while putting on a happy front when with parents
or non-cult friends. We have seen these things ourselves
in ex-cultists, and we’ve seen the dramatic changes
when they’ve reverted to their normal, pre-cult
But again, we would
acknowledge degrees of this "personality replacement."
Not every cult member changes to the same degree, and
in fact some already have a personality that meshes
with the cult, and so they will not change much, if
Category four listed
by the Passantinos is: "[c]ultists cannot decide
to leave their cults." We don’t know anyone
who would make such a blanket statement. It is manifestly
contradicted by the hundreds or thousands of ex-cult
members who have left their cults of their own volition.
What we would assert, however, is that many cult members
find it difficult to leave their cult, even when they
may want to. This is often due to fear of the threatened
consequences of leaving — e.g., forsaking God,
being condemned to hell, suffering divine wrath in the
form of accidents or disease, etc. Even the thought
"What if the cult leader really is a prophet of
God or the messiah?" can hold a cult member in
a cult long after the bloom has faded. One female member
of the Branch Davidians being interviewed for an Australian
television broadcast was asked, "Do you believe
David Koresh is the Messiah?" Her response as she
smiled up at the camera: "I hope so." She
was one who stayed and perished in the final conflagration.
As category five
the authors state that those who hold the mind control
model believe that "[a] successfull intervention
must break the mind control, find the core personality,
and return the individual to his/her precult status."
We would qualify this assertion by acknowledging that
most abusive organizations have some redeeming qualities
— few are all bad. In cults it is possible to
learn the value of giving oneself to a cause, to learn
the benefits of hard work, of getting along with others
in a working environment, etc. Further, we would emphasize
that if the cult in question is a Bible-based organization
on the order of the "shepherding" movement
or what we refer to as a taco (a totalist aberrant Christian
organization) which teaches orthodox biblical doctrine
while committing emotional, spiritual, and behavioral
abuses, then clearly not everything of the cult needs
to be stripped away. Whatever was accurate, orthodox,
and healthy can remain, while the inaccurate, aberrational,
and unhealthy must be excised. Probably no cult (except
some satanist cults) is all bad, therefore one of the
most important, and difficult, tasks of the counselor
is helping the ex-member winnow out the bad from the
Category six is:
"[p]sychology and sociology are used to explain
cult recruitment, membership, and disaffection."
Another blanket statement, this is worded so as to exclude
other disciplines as sources for explanations, specifically
theology. While many secular proponents of the mind
control model might reject the role of theology in seeking
such explanations, we do not, nor do other evangelical
proponents of the mind control model with whom we are
familiar. later in the article the authors quote from
an official description of "Wellspring’s
Approach to Cult Rehab":
that cult mind control renders its victims virtually
unresponsible for their actions or beliefs:
[T]he process whereby
he or she was drawn into the cult was a subtle but powerful
force over which he or she had little or no control
and therefore they need not feel either guilt or shame
because of their experience.12
While the Wellspring
statement might be slightly overstated, the Passantinos
overstate it further in their summary. By itself, the
Wellspring statement could be broadly interpreted, as
the Passantinos have chosen to do. However, the original
context is concerned specifically with joining a cult.13
It was not a blanket statement concerning anything and
everything Cult members may have done after they joined.
Regardless, our experience, as a result of treating
more than 300 former cultists and interviewing hundreds
more, is that most people who join cults think they’re
joining a good group, a righteous group, a moral group.
But this is largely because they have not been afforded
full information about the group they’re joining.
We would agree that those who join cults are "guilty"
of not asking all the right questions, of not examining
cult claims thoroughly enough against the records of
history and Scripture, and of not adequately applying
the rules of logic to cult teachings and explanations.
In other words, cult recruits are "guilty"
of allowing themselves to be deceived. But is that a
sin? Should we rebuke the victim of a con artist for
allowing himself to be victimized? Do we blame the battered
wife for continuing to love and protect her abuser?
In addition, we
feel it is crucial to distinguish between true guilt
and false guilt. Cult members are constantly made to
feel guilty for actions and thoughts which neither society
nor the Bible or other sacred scriptures would consider
sinful. In such cases the guilt is false and one needs
to understand and accept that and move beyond it.14
Where truly sinful, immoral, or illegal actions have
been committed they need to be acknowledged and owned
by the perpetrators. We insist, however, that to the
extent such actions are committed while under mind control,
to that extent the perpetrator must be held less culpable
(not totally innocent).
Under mind control
a man may be persuaded to believe or do things that
would have normally violated his conscience. His conscience
may tell him that such an action or belief is wrong,
but what the cult leader has persuaded him of has so
strongly influenced him that it may override his conscience.
He may be led to believe that the promptings of his
conscience are really of his "lower nature,"
"of the flesh," and that the mission of the
group is of a "higher purpose," that the thoughts
of his conscience are doubts that show lack of faith
or signs of rebellion. Thus he may still have a conscience,
but through the powerful influence of the group he has
seem unable to conceive of non-coercive mind control
that does allow for some measure of "free will."
No one drags people into a cult. They do join freely
most of the time — when they don’t, it’s
the rare exception rather than the rule. The point here
is not whether these people are acting as free, volitional,
rational beings. The point is they don’t join
a cult — i.e., they don’t see the group
as a cult. They don’t see the fine print. This
is why we have laws regarding defective products. That’s
why we have "truth in advertising" laws. This
is why law recognizes the concept of undue influence
and coercion. The same principles hold here. The ways
in which we are attracted to friends, how we are attracted
to groups, how we are attracted to religious groups,
don’t vary. The initial stages of cult conversion
are usually similar to other types of conversion.
don’t seem to realize that human beings operate
by certain laws of human behavior. Consider the case
of a Christian college student who goes out and buys
a used car, considering herself to be very responsible.
Later she finds out that the car is not as "perfect"
as the salesman told her it was. In fact, it throws
a rod on her way to work. She goes back to try to have
the car fixed, but the salesman informs her that the
warranty is also not exactly what he told her when she
bought the car. So now the unfortunate girl is left
with a lemon on her hands. The Church would not castigate
her as having some sort of spiritual problem because
of this plight, would it? However, if the Passantinos
were entirely consistent, they would blame the girl’s
problem on lack of discernment.
If the same girl
would go out and start attending a Bible study that
later turned out to be a Way "twig," then
they would put a spiritual twist on it, impugning her
motives or her spiritual state that would lead her into
a "heretical" Bible study group. But if she
buys a car that breaks down, they would hold her innocent.
There seems to be double standard here.
One other thing
regarding the Wellspring statement quoted above by the
Passantinos. By broadly interpreting the statement they
have misrepresented us. I [PRM] have testified in a
criminal case15 of a cult member who participated in
the killing of five people. We didn’t argue that
the cult member was innocent and need not feel guilt
or shame. We argued that the young man was guilty. The
defendant was Danny Kraft, Jr., who had been a member
of a small cult led by Jeffrey Lundgren, who killed
a family of five in Kirtland, Ohio.16 Nevertheless,
in this case we agreed that Danny was guilty. But we
also argued that there were mitigating circumstances,
namely, that Danny was under the influence of Jeffrey
Lundgren through the process of mind control. Therefore
he was not acting entirely as a free moral agent because
he was suffering from a mental disorder. In other words,
he was made to believe something that was not true,
namely, that Jeffrey Lundgren was the prophet of God,
and thus whatever he said was divinely inspired.
The court unequivocally
concurred that these techniques were those of mind control.
The court agreed that Danny did indeed suffer a dissociative
disorder, identified by the DSM-III-R and DSM-IV as
scientific. The term "coercive persuasion"
is used in the DSM-IV to describe an established technique
also called mind control. The processes that constitute
coercive persuasion can produce a mental disorder cal
led "dissociative disorder not otherwise specified."
Typically, we hear former members lamenting what they
had done in the cult. At the time, they did not realize
what they were doing was wrong, but after they left
the cult they recognized their errors. Yet these same
people never intended to do such wrongs (lying, etc.)
when they joined. But through the thought reform process,
lying, for example, may appear to be justified.
Along this line,
the Passantinos write:
that the cult mind control model (which he has adopted)
is incompatible with the traditional philosophical and
Christian view of man as a responsible moral agent:
First of all, accepting
that unethical mind control can affect anybody challenges
the age-old philosophical notion (the one on which our
current laws are based) that man is a rational being,
responsible for, and in control of, his every action.
Such a world view does not allow for any concept of
We are not so sure
we agree with Hassan on this point. First of all, "our
current laws" do recognize "diminished capacity"
in the commission of crime as exculpatory. Secondly,
the biblical world view also recognizes exculpation
by reason of diminished capacity due to mental under-development
1:39) or demonization. So neither Western secular
philosophy nor Judeo-Christian doctrine views man as
always fully rational and responsible for his actions.
In addition, the apostle Paul writes, "You foolish
Galatians, who has bewitched you...?" (Gal. 3:1,
New American Standard Bible) The word translated "bewitched",
baskaino, means "bewitch, as with the ‘evil
eye’",18 "to bring evil on one by feigned
praise or an evil eye, to charm, bewitch one, ...; hence,
of those who lead away others into error by wicked arts..."19
It is doubtful that in the Galatians reference Paul
is expressing belief that the Christians have
actually had the
"evil eye" directed at them. However, in conjunction
with the word "foolish" (anoetos = "not
thinking" or "mindless") it seems evident
that Paul recognizes that they have been victimized
to the point where they are no longer thinking clearly
or properly. In other words, the Galatians are under
a fornt of mind control!
But more B propos
to a discussion of category 6 is the Passantinos’
citing only the one sentence they did from the Wellspring
article, while ignoring the following:
When cult members
leave their cults voluntarily it is often because they
have recognized a few of the serious problems that exist
in the group, but have failed to aclcnowledge or come
to grips with others of equal or greater import. More
importantly, they usually do not recognize the fundamentally
invalid and harmful philosophy and methodology that
typically underlie the cult’s teaching and practice
and give it its reason for being. Thus such a person
may leave the cult feeling disgruntled or disillusioned
about some aspects of the cult, and yet still hold to
other, and more basic, ideas and thought patterns of
the cult that will continue to hamper them and prevent
them from enjoying a truly satisfying life. In addition,
those who have been in a "Bible-based" cult
are often So burned by their unpleasant experience that
they want nothing more to do with God, the church, or
Christians of any type. Some of these people still sense
a need for a spiritual dimension in their life, but
don’t know how to overcome their lack of trust
in God or ministers, and may actually feel that they
have failed, that somehow their own inadequacy prevented
them from being able to measure up to the high standards
of the group. For such individuals rehabilitative counseling
of one form or another is imperative.
The plight of people
like this was addressed during the International Congress
on Totalitarian Groups and Cultism held in Barcelona,
Spain on April 23-24 this year . One of the speakers,
"Hero Lucas, from Greece’s Egregorsis Educational
Society, cited the dangers of a totally non-judgmental
attitude towards the belief system of a destructive
cult and spoke of treating human beings as integrated
biopsychosocial-spiritual systems requiring a comprehensive
approach and the combining of psychiatry with religion."20
In other words, to be most effective, cult rehab counseling
must deal with the ex-cultist as a whole individual,
considering his or her biological, psychological, social,
and spiritual health and the interrelatedness of these
facets of the person. With over seven years of experience,
we at Wellspring are likewise convinced that a wholistic
approach works best in rehabilitating the victims of
destructive cults and spiritually abusive organizations.
The contents of this counseling and education deal with
the dynamics of abusive groups, how these dynamics affect
one’s personality and emotions, and how these
groups distort and abuse the teachings of the Bible
or other relevant sacred texts.
The core of Wellspring’s
program consists of psychological counseling and instructional
sessions on cultic dynamics and religious and spiritual
issues. We emphasize, however, that we fully respect
the client’s wishes with regard to any spiritual
content in counseling or workshops. The majority of
our clients thus far have been former members of "Bible
based" groups and have wanted to discuss biblical
doctrine with us, which we are happy to do.21
This should make
it obvious that Wellspring clearly recognizes the importance
of the spiritual dimension in cult involvement and takes
We accept categories
7 and 8 as written ("(7) Religious conversion and
commitment may be termed mind control if it meets certain
psychological and sociological criteria, regardless
of its doctrinal or theological standards" and
"(8) The psychological and sociological standards
which define mind control are not absolute but fall
in a relative, subjective continuum from ‘acceptable’
social and/or religious affiliation to ‘unacceptable’").
Bob and Gretchen
conclude this section by saying, "According to
most cult-mind-control-model advocates, no one is immune
to the right mind control tactics used at the right
time. Anyone is susceptible." After a quote Hassan,
they quote from my [PRM] book, Cult-Proofing Your Kids:
"But the truth of the matter is, virtually anyone
can get involved in a cult under the right circumstances....
Regardless of one’s spiritual or psychological
health, whether one is weak or strong, cultic involvement
can happen to anyone."
Claiming to state
the views of mind control model proponents, the Passantinos
write, "Cult mind control must be distinguished
from ‘mere’ deception, influence, or persuasion.
A main distinguishing characteristic at the core of
mind control is the idea that the individual is unable
to make autonomous personal choices, not simply that
his or her choices have been predicated on something
is a further instance of the authors’ fundamental
misunderstanding of the mind control model as propounded
by most of those who hold it. Advocates acknowledge
that those under mind control can make autonomous personal
choices on occasion, but also that this ability differs
from individual to individual. The quote from Barker
included here compounds this misconception by attempting
to separate deception from mind control. But mind control
includes deception as one of. its common elements. It
is precisely because of this that the individual finds
it extremely difficult to make autonomous personal choices.
One’s ability to make such choices is diminished
by deception, but beyond this one’s environment
is also manipulated to this end. This is a crucial point.
We can’t put an either/or on mind control when
it is properly understood. It is not either deception
or inability to make choices. Mind control is deception
that affects making choices — i.e., the target
of the cult recruiter is gradually manipulated to the
point where other options are no longer considered viable.
ultimate choice turns out not to be the ideal that attracted
the person in the first place. lii other words, the
full or real agenda of the group is concealed, and the
facts concerning other choices and options are distorted
by various techniques of thought reform — for
example, the restriction of information or the interpretation
of events to make them seem mystical. Over time one
is gradually drawn farther into the mind control environment
in which information is more and more controlled, in
which there is a systematic effort to restructure the
self, in which there is a clear program of rewards and
punishments, and in which there is a constant demand
to confess (via group and peer pressures) ideas, thoughts,
or actions contrary to group dogma, and as a result
choices are "funneled" or constricted The
broader arena of choices, then, for the cult member
is limited by a number of factors: lack of information,
fear of considering certain choices, and perceptual
narrowing due to the dissociative processes typically
practiced in such groups, e.g., prolonged singing, chanting,
tongue speaking meditating, listening to charismatic
THE BRAINWASHING CONNECTION
begin this section of their article by alleging a "contradictory
embrace and rejection of the brainwashing connection"
to the mind control model on the part of its advocates.
The mind control model advocates say, according to the
authors, that the early methods of mind control were
ineffective; the later methods are more effective and
require less coercion and also employ techniques like
hypnosis. The Passantinos write, "However, it stretches
one’s credulity to believe that what highly trained
and technologically supported CIA, Russian, Korean,
and Chinese experts could not accomplish under extremes
of mental, emotional, and physical abuse, self-styled
modern messiahs like David Koresh (high school dropout),
Charles Manson (grade school dropout), and Hare Krishna
founder Prabhupada (self-educated) accomplished on a
daily basis and on a massive scale with control methods
measurably inferior to those of POW camp torturers."
In a footnote (number 20) the authors add that they
are not alone in their skepticism, citing Bromley and
Shupe as also sharing it.
However, the citation
from Hassan two paragraphs earlier offers the response
to this objection. Hassan points out that "[m]ind
control... is more subtle and sophisticated. Its perpetrators
are regarded as friends or peers, so the person is much
less defensive. He unwittingly participates by cooperating
with his controllers and giving them private information
that he does not know will be used against him. The
new belief system is internalized into a new identity
Structure..."22 The subtlety of mind control is
the key to its effectiveness, and "love bombing"
is the key to its subtlety; the overwhelming "friendliness"
of the cult recruiter tends to disengage the potential
recruit’s defenses, catching him off guard, and
luring him into the net.
clearly would be absolutely shocked if they ever really
saw or heard the evidence that indicates that Manson,
Koresh, the Hare Krishnas and many others actually have
done a lot better job than these CIA, Russian, Korean,
and Chinese experts did. One factor contributing to
their skepticism is their failure to realize that the
early brainwashing literature didn’t concern only
prisons and torture and sleep deprivation. It also describes
the revolutionary colleges that operated in China and
the mass conversion of Chinese citizens to the Communist
system. Theodore E. H. Chen, for example, amply documents
that half a million Chinese Christians signed pledges
of allegiance to Mao.23 Lifton’s best-known research24as
actually largely about the effects of these revolutionary
colleges that practiced thought reform. There was no
physical restraint or confinement in those environments.
There was very little overt coercion, and yet there
was massive thought reform. Edward Schein also found
that the Communists effectively used thought reform
without using physical restraint or coercion.~ The Passantinos
seem to assume the earlier techniques of thought reform
were completely in the context of coercive physical
confinement and torture. However, there were some early
non-physically coercive methods like those of the revolutionary
colleges that were highly effective.~
Hypnosis as a factor
in cult involvement is dismissed by the authors in toto.
They miss an important point in their own references.
In their notes (footnote 5) they quote the Encyclopaedia
hypnosis should not be considered as a technique for
achieving supernormal performance or control. Rather
it is a collaborative enterprise in which the inner
experience of the subject can be dramatically altered.27
The dramatic alteration
of inner experience is precisely what cults hope to
effect by their efforts. A predictable internal experience
can be induced on willing participants and then cosmic,
supernatural or spiritual significance can be ascribed
to it. Then, what is actually a physiological process
takes on a cosmic perspective. This is essentially what
Lifton called "mystical manipulation": "If
you do what we say, this good thing will happen, to
you or in the universe." We would suggest that
mystical manipulation is a prime pathway to the other
seven criteria listed by Lifton. Profound control can
then be achieved and maintained by appealing to the
initial event of dramatically altered "inner experience.
It is thus not without reason that, for example, cult
recruiters tell their prospective converts to ask God
for a "sign" as to whether their movement
is the true path to enlightenment or their church the
true church. Those who see the "divine light"
or receive the "burning in the bosom" as a
result of their earnest prayer easily interpret it as
the sought-for "sign."
conclude this section with an apparent attempt at humorous
sarcasm: "Do we really believe that what the Soviets
couldn’t do to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn during years
of forced labor and torture in the Gulag, Sun Myung
Moon could have done by ‘love bombing’ for
one week at an idyllic wilderness retreat?" In
their support, they once again cite Bromley and Shupe,
who express disbelief that "these diverse and unconnected
movements had simultaneously discovered and implemented
highly intrusive behavioral modification techniques."28The
techniques of mind control, however, are not such that
they must be studied and carefully and deliberately
applied. It is thus not necessary to assume that cult
leaders are more sophisticated than the "CIA, Russian,
Korean, and Chinese highly trained and technologically
supported experts." And more fundamental to thought
reform than "behavior modification" is "milieu
modification" (the former typically is brought
about by the latter). Perpetrators of mind control are
interested in followers who want to be under their control.
They cannot use sound reasoning, intellectual precision
of argument, and legitimate appeal to emotional sensibilities
to hold followers. They must employ psychological and
social coercion and manipulation of "inner experience"
in order to prepare the seeker to follow blindly. In
other words, those who have come to see must be blinded
before they can be led.
We insist the authors
have misunderstood the mind control model in their assertion
that (according to mind control model proponents) brainwashing
happens against a person’s will — that is
not in fact what proponents of the model argue. The
Bromley and Shupe quote only highlights this misunderstanding.
Especially telling is their reference to "claims
that such rapid transformation can routinely be accomplished
by neophytes against an individual’s will."
Again, the fact is the transformation is not against
an individual’s will. He no longer sees things
as he once did, he does not have adequate information
to make an informed choice, and he has been manipulated
emotionally to make the choice chosen for him by the
cult. The cult recruit is brought to the point where
he gives up his own will in order to be taught and directed
by someone (the cult leader) who knows better than he.
As former Children of God member Rick Seelhoff said
in the Moore Report program "Thy Will Be Done",29
wanted to put myself over onto someone that knew better
than I did... I willed to not will."
shows that coercive persuasion can occur in the absence
of physical restraint, and so the comparison between
Moon and the Gulag is inapt. The authors should be comparing
Moon vtith the revolutionary colleges in China discussed
at great length and detail by Lifton.
The citations the
authors offer throughout this section in evidence of
the alleged contradiction in the writings of mind control
model advocates do not support their contention. The
Langone quote is not a rejection of any connection of
mind control with brainwashing, as we read it; it is
only a rejection of the misrepresentation of mind control
model advocates as asserting that cult mind control
produces mindless robots B la The Manchurian Candidate.
Langone is not saying there is no connection, only that
the extreme view is not representative of mind control
model supporters. By the same token, the Passantinos
misread Dr. Singer if they think she is "embracing"
a brainwashing connection to mind control. We believe
she would agree that there are significant differences
between brainwashing and cultic mind control, while
at the same time there are similarities.
THE DETERMINISTIC FAULT
objection as expressed in this section is also grounded
on their fundamental misunderstanding of the mind control
model. In short, the Passantinos misstate the fundamental
concepts of mind control, imply that many counter-cult
workers do not support the mind control theory and maintain
that the mind control concept is counter to or incompatible
with biblical Christianity. We have previously defined
what we believe mind control to be and have contrasted
this with the Passantinos’ formulation. And do
their claims that many counter-cult workers do not support
mind control have any justification? How have they determined
this? We do not know of any polls taken on what views
are held by counter-cult workers. In addition, truth
is not decided on the basis of majority vote. And as
for the position that the concept of mind control is
Counter to biblical Christianity, we have already offered
evidence, and will offer additional arguments, to demonstrate
why we believe the two concepts are not incompatible
Part of the marvelous
power of the human mind is its ability to analyze information
and make value judgments about that information. However,
as with electronic "minds" (computers), its
conclusions are only as good as the information it receives.
When the mind receives erroneous information about a
subject in the absence of correct information about
that same subject, it will make erroneous value judgments.
The mind can also discount its own abilities in favor
of the abilities of another mind it believes to be more
trustworthy. It will then tend to reject conflicting
data, not because it is illogical or fails to correlate
with previous experience, but simply because it does
not line up with the external mind it has "freely
decided" to trust. It has then made decisions about
itself and the nature of reality that leave it no longer
free in any meaningful sense.
The authors state
that "many cults have made deceptive claims, used
faulty logic, misrepresented their beliefs, burdened
their followers with unscriptural feelings of guilt,
and sought to bring people into financial or moral compromise
to unethical demands. Yet it does not necessarily or
automatically follow that these pressures, practices,
or demands remove an individual’s personal responsibility
for his or her actions."30 But choices that "have
been predicated on something false"31 are not truly
free choices. The outcome is predetermined by the skill
of the information provider, not the ethical or even
rational faculties of the agent making the "choice."
What sense can be made of "free agency" when
choices are based on false data? If "free choices"
result in the agent’s being Cut off from any further
source of information for a lifetime, is the agent free
in any meaningful sense? Further, in what sense can
an agent make a free choice to return to a life in which
it will continue to be deceived? Might the agent’s
capacity to make informed choices (his mind and will)
be under the control of the one who controls the information?
If an agent responds to personal experience or outside
data on the basis of false information about the consequences
of certain actions, is the agent making free choices
when he rejects true data on the basis of lies? In what
sense is such a person truly responsible for his or
We are reminded
of a couple of biblical passages. While hanging on the
Cross Jesus said, "Father forgive them for they
know not what they do."32 Jesus also said, "that
slave who knew his master’s will and did not get
ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive
many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed
deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few."33
In other words, the moral responsibility taught in the
Scriptures is based on how much one knows. If one has
been deceived, if one has been pressured, if one has
been denied access to information, or if the truth has
been made to seem like a lie, then one is held either
completely guiltless or regarded as only partly culpable.
There is a degree of diminished capacity or less culpability
than with the person who knew what he was getting into.
We have yet to meet one person in 9 years of working
in this field full-time who says, "I knew what
I was doing; I knew I was joining a cult. I knew it
was wrong, but I did it anyway." That is exactly
what the Passantinos are attempting to force the ex-cult
member to admit — "I knew it was wrong"
and so if the ex-cult member denies that he knew it
was wrong then the Passantinos are faced with the unfortunate
dilemma of saying, "You are either lying or you’re
deceived." The morally realistic response is to
conclude that the Passantinos have defined mind control
in an extreme way that makes the defense of mind control
intolerable. As a consequence of holding this extreme
view of the mind control model, they turn around and
create an extreme view of human culpability with regard
to joining cults which in our view is frankly unbiblical.
position, by way of extrapolation, would hold every
battered wife responsible for ending up married to an
abusive husband. To be consistent, the Passantinos would
have to argue that these women knew what they were getting
into. I [PRM] have explained the dynamics of thought
reform to hundreds of former cult members and have asked
them, "Did you know that this was what your group
was doing when you decided to join?" The ex-members
have all answered "No." I then ask them, "Would
you have joined if you knew they practiced thought reform???
Again their answers were all "No."
We must take issue
with the authors? conclusion in their statement quoted
above. As already mentioned, there are degrees of culpability,
even in biblical tradition. If a person has been lied
to, defrauded, or pressured into doing something, there
are consumer protection and other anti-fraud laws that
offer recourse. There is major culpability on the part
of the con man or cult leader, only minor culpability
on the part of the person conned or the cult member,
in situations like this. lack of knowledge has, throughout
the history of law, been used to reduce a person’s
culpability, and the same is true in the case of cultic
deception and mind control. We feel Bob and Gretchen
have confused bearing responsibility with facing consequences.
An investor who is conned into committing resources
to a fraudulent enterprise must face the consequence
that those resources may never be recovered. The investor
is in every sense a victim of the con. It is, however,
not the investor but the con artist who is morally and
legally responsible for the investor’s flawed
decision. Those of us who are interested in encouraging
legislation believe that those who use the free marketplace
of ideas in a fraudulent way must also be held morally,
and eventually legally, responsible.
In the current
legal climate, a con artist who cheats investors out
of $20,000 faces prison, fines, and/or Court ordered
restitution, but a cult leader who precipitates wrongful
death by discouraging or prohibiting medical care on
the basis of false or misleading information faces no
legal penalty. It seems the Passantinos would absolve
the cult leader of his or her responsibility in such
a case, laying it completely at the feet of the follower.
The injustice of the present legal system, we hope,
eventually will be rectified in spite of such reasoning,
but the psychological damage caused by blaming the victim
may never fully heal.
THE DOUBLE BIND
The first paragraph
in this section is puzzling. The authors write, "Hassan
provides no means of knowing, testing, or proving whether
people who are under emotional pressure, personal Stress,
or actual deception are in fact not responsible for
their actions or are not making free choices."
It seems to us that it should be self-evident that such
people are not making free choices. How can one make
a free choice "under emotional pressure, personal
stress, or actual deception"? Do we really need
a test to determine this? This section on the double
bind or circular reasoning is rather curious. The Passantinos
assert that the exit counselor provides no proof to
the cultist that his or her group uses coercive persuasion.
The authors say, "If you leave the cult as a result
of deprogramming (or exit counseling), that proves you
were under mind control. If you return to the cult,
that proves you are under mind control."
To illustrate the
weakness of this objection let’s say there is
documented, scientific proof that the local swimming
hole is contaminated — there are chemical toxins
in the water that will be absorbed through the skin,
and if the local kids continue to swim there they will
develop some serious neurotoxicity that may render them
brain damaged or paralyzed. So you get the neighbors
together and present them with evidence that they are
in danger of being poisoned, and as a result of your
information a lot of people leave the pond. The ones
who don’t leave but go back and swim in it do
so for various reasons. Maybe they don’t believe
the evidence, even though it was overwhelming; or they
say, "I don’t care, I like the swimming hole.
I’m going to die anyway, I might just as well
die here"; or, "Yeah, I know it’s poisonous,
but so what, they’ll find a cure for it someday";
or, "I’m pretty tough. I don’t get
sick much and it will probably kill everybody else,
but it won’t kill me." The point is that
the reasons people go back to the swimming hole are
similar to the reasons an exit counselor would say cult
members return to their cult — they still don’t
see the danger.34
One problem with
the Passantinos’ argument is that it assumes the
exit counselor does not present objective facts when
he asserts that the group in question does indeed practice
mind control. In other words, the implication is that
the exit counselor simply makes accusations without
the kind of hard evidence to back them up that Robert
Lifton had when he described the techniques and practices
of the Chinese Communists. However, this implication
is simply an assumption (or perhaps a presumption) on
the part of the authors that is itself unsupported by
evidence. It is the role of the exit counselor to provide
the evidence that the organization in question has created
an environment in which mind control does exist, and
that the group member is being manipulated by that environment.
The authors are
simply mistaken when they say, "The standard for
determining mind control is not some objective evaluation
of mental health or competency, but merely the assumed
power of mind control the critic accords to the cult."
However, exit counselors arrive on the scene with suitcases
full of evidence. Good exit counselors will have documentation
on the practices of the group and how those practices
relate to principles of mind control. Such documentation
may take the form of personal testimonies of former
members of the group, relatives of members or former
members, or of law enforcement officials who have investigated
the group or otherwise had dealings with it. The documentation
may be from news reports on the activities of the group,
or the case notes of mental health professionals. Exit
counselors will also have a history of how the cult
member has changed his/her personality since joining
the cult. Exit counselors will note the member’s
reactions to their presentation of information about
the group and its practices. For example, contrary information
may be met by the cult member with a response such as,
"All this stuff is just a bunch of lies of the
devil." A good exit counselor will show the cultist
that such remarks really do not settle the issue of
whether the information is correct. The exit counselor
will challenge the cultist to examme the evidence, to
put the evidence to the test of veracity.
The next part of
this section in the article has to do with definitional
issues. The authors say that Ronald Enroth’s 1977
book, Youth, Brainwashing, and the Extremist Cults,
reflects a basic acceptance of the mind control model,
and then they quote a recent letter from Enroth to the
effect that he has not "had time nor inclination
to update" his position in this area. We are a
little troubled here by the Passantinos assertion that
what they identify as Enroth’s "reluctan[ce]
to be perceived as a mindcontrol-model-advocate"
indicates that he has "problems reconciling a classic
cult mind control model with other religious considerations..."
We question this representation of Enroth’s position.
In the next few
paragraphs the Passantinos quote some of the authors
from the book Recovery From Cults, edited by Michael
Langone35 — namely, Zimbardo, Andersen, and Galanti,
Zimbardo, et al. do seem to muddy the waters a bit.
It appears that sometimes they imply that mind control
is a synonym for persuasion, and at other times it’s
persuasion plus manipulation. The Passantinos are on
target when they complain that we don’t define
our terms well. We would insist that mind control is
not simply a matter of influencing someone to do something
against his will. It does include persuasion and manipulation.
There is an element of deceit involved, and there’s
an element of restricting information. We must not simplify
the concept of mind control, because if we do we create
something that will invariably get us into the dilemma
of having, on the one hand, nothing but persuasion,
or, on the other hand, nothing but some sort of technique
that takes away the will. There is something in the
middle, and it’s called mind control.
In regard to Galanti’s
visit to a "Moonie indoctrination center, where,
contrary to expectations, she was allowed plenty of
sleep and food," etc., this is also what we would
expect to find were we to make a similar visit, particularly
if the Unificationists knew who we were. The visitor
or new recruit is not usually permitted to observe the
inner workings of most cults right away. Mind control
is not only subtle, it is also gradual. The cult conceals
its true nature from visitors and new members at first.
In the case of the Peoples Temple newcomers were escorted
into a separate room for introductory sessions, rather
than to the sanctuary where Jim Jones was. Thus the
new members could not witness what Jones was doing to
the longer-term members, who had been subtly and gradually
deceived and manipulated over a period of time.36
next paragraph is worth quoting:
A definition of
mind control that removes its involuntary component
is intrinsically at odds with the prevailing teachings
of Singer, Hassan, Martin, and others that cult victims
are unable to think for themselves or make decisions.
Instead, it is more in agreement with the case we have
been arguing — that cult members are capable of
independent thought and rational choice, but because
of factual arid spiritual deception, faulty presuppositions,
fallacious reasoning, and improper religious commitments,
they make unwise choices and adopt false beliefs instead.37
Again, there is
a little truth with error here. We reiterate: we do
riot believe Singer, Hassan, and others hold this robotic
view of mind control that the Passantinos attribute
to them — certainly, we do not. Further, the authors1
description of cult dynamics in the above quote fails
to recognize that through spiritual deception cult members
have been taught that "independent thought and
rational choice" are "rebellious," "factious,"
"divisive," and/or "of the devil."
This is not to say that cult members are totally incapable
of independent thought — on the contrary, in many
areas most are still able to make their own decisions;
but these are typically areas in which the cult has
not made rules or pronouncements. We would also expand
the authors’ description of cult dynamics to be
more specifically applicable to spiritually legalistic
or restrictive cults. Such groups present a form of
religious legalism (rule-keeping) which, through cunning
and clever reasoning, a "spiritual leader"
is able to persuade his followers is indeed the will
of God. The cult member, convinced that this is of God,
is driven by guilt and fear to the point of exhaustion.
Such an environment can lead to severe depression, anxiety,
or even, in some cases, nervous breakdown and attempted
or successful suicide.38
In addition, how
do the Passantinos know that cultists’ problems
are solely because of spiritual deception, faulty presuppositions,
fallacious reasoning, improper religious commitments,
and unwise choices? Have they interviewed hundreds of
ex-cult members? Do they have evidence? Where do they
get this list? This sounds incredibly like "blaming
the victim." If a person joins a cult, according
to the Passantinos, he’s been spiritually deceived.
Well, how do the authors know? Have they talked to him?
The Passantinos may respond, "Well, yeah, we did,
but he denies he’s deceived." So the Passantinos
could end up in circular reasoning themselves. If the
ex-cult member admits he was spiritually deceived, then
the Passantinos are right. But if he denies he was spiritually
deceived, the Passantinos are still right because it
seems like they have embraced these beliefs about how
people are lured into cults on the basis of their own
presuppositions. Bob and Gretchen would say, "Well,
they must be spiritually deceived." Maybe the question
of why people join cults is an empirical issue that
has to be decided by looking at the facts. If one looks
at the facts in these cases, as I [PRM] have for nine
years, these people are not simply spiritually deceived.
They were searching for God, many were born-again Christians
from good Christian homes, raised in evangelical churches.
Some were graduates of some of the finest seminaries
in our land, and yet they ended up in cults or abusive
churches. We believe this poses a problem for the Passantinos.
The last paragraph
in this section says that "mind-control-model advocates
want to have the best of both worlds. They want to distinguish
cult recruitment from normal socialization activities...
But as soon as anyone asks for concrete evidence and
qualitative definitions, mind control becomes just another
term for the myriad forms of noncandid persuasion. To
one degree, mind control is non-candid persuasion, but
it entails much more than this, namely, a systematic
program of changing one’s beliefs and behavior
in a controlled environment through subtle and unethical
manipulation. When people ask me [PRM] what a cult is,
I give a very simple definition: a cult is a group that
practices mind control, that has all the criteria of
THE BRAINWASHING EVIDENCE
In this section
the authors argue that all the relevant literature shows
that brainwashing is not particularly effective. This
is very curious. Are the Passantinos saying there is
no such thing as brainwashing, or are they saying there
is brainwashing, but it doesn’t work very well?
Are they saying, "Brainwashing does work, but only
on a few people"? It seems like they have jumped
from one thing, saying there can’t be any brainwashing
because people have free agency, but on the other hand
the research evidence says, "Yes, it works, but
it doesn’t work ver" well." If it works
on one in a million people, then there must be something
to it. In other words, it seems like the Passantinos
are suddenly jumping from presuppositional arguments
against brainwashing of any kind to admission on empirical
grounds that there is brainwashing of an involuntary,
robotic Manchurian Candidate type, but that it doesn’t
happen very often. Which way do the Passantinos want
it? Do they discount brainwashing on biblical and other
presuppositions? If so, then they can’t allow
for even rare cases of brainwashing on the basis of
They go on to State
that basically a lot of the Koreans and Chinese used
extreme forms of physically coercive persuasion, but
very few individuals changed their basic worldviews
and commitments. However, the footnote attached to this
remark (number 36) quotes psychologist Gary Collins
as writing, "Fewer than 15% of the prisoners in
Korean detention camps collaborated with the enemy.
When the war was over and prisoners were given their
freedom, only a few chose to remain in Communist China.
Of these, several later rejected the Communist way of
life and returned home."39 The figure of 15% seems
to us, however, to be staggeringly high considering
that this was a time when the older brothers and uncles
of these same soldiers had just overcome the "evil"
Axis Powers. It was a simpler time when Americans "could
do no wrong." In fact, so effective were these
techniques that in Vietnam twelve years later, military
intelligence warned troops not to resist them. Instead
GI’s were told to do whatever it took to stay
Further, what about
the huge numbers who were radically transformed in the
revolutionary colleges mentioned earlier? What about
the large segments of the Chinese Christian community
that succumbed to Mao? What about the classified military
experiments that were discontinued because those conducting
them could not devise effective means to resist brainwashing?41
Why would mothers in Iran during the Ayatollah Khomeini’s
regime send their eight-year-old children into the mine
fields to explode mines so that the soldiers could then
cross the fields? History is replete with examples of
this horrendously irrational behavior that people engage
in when under the influence of mind control. We have
talked to many women who, while members of the Children
of God, willingly engaged in "flirty fishing"
at the urging of their leaders. When they came Out of
the group’s mindset they said, "I just can’t
believe I did that. I wasn’t in my right mind."
Any historian can document the most radical things that
have ever been done in history, especially current history,
had been done by men who had put masses of people under
mind control. We only have to look at Hitler, Stalin,
Khomeini, Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Jeffrey Lundgren.
I [PRM] have heard hundreds of desperate parents tell
me, "Our son isn’t the person we once knew.
We don’t know what has happened to him."
If mind control doesn’t exist or is ineffective,
I would hate to see something that is effective.
state further that Korean and Chinese "techniques
of torture, beatings, and group dynamics", and
the CIA experiments with drugs, all failed to produce
even one potential Manchurian Candidate, and the CIA
program was finally abandoned. They have chosen the
most infamous examples of failed attempts of using mind
control, and then try to use them to debunk the effectiveness
of all methods of mind control. This seems like another
instance of the authors’ violating one of their
own cautions from their book Witch Hunt, namely, "Similar
Does Not Prove Same."42 They have failed to take
account of West’s study of downed American pilots
in Korea and how many of those were led to believe that
the US was engaging in germ warfare — well over
50% of the American pilots not only signed statements
that America was engaging in germ warfare over Korea,
but they believed it. We don’t call 50+% success
ineffective. If the Passantinos are going to Cite the
mind control literature, they should cite all of it,
including the studies that point to the remarkable successes
of some mind control programs.
say, "Some mind-control-model advocates bring up
studies that they feel provide objective data in support
of their theories. Such is not the case. These studies
are generally flawed in several areas: (1) Frequently
the respondents are not from a wide cross section of
ex-members..." This is not true in my own [PRM]
studies; in fact, they never cited mine. I have now
studied more than 300 people. I have people in my samples
from a wide variety of different categories. The data
is limited because controlled experiments would not
be ethical. However, I have cited a number of good studies
in the article "Post-Cult Symptoms as Measured
by the MCMI Before and After Treatment."43
continue: "[A] disproportionate amount [of those
included in studiesj are people who have been exit-counseled
by mind-control-model advocates who have told them that
they were under mind control" — again, not
true. A good third to half of the people who come to
Wellspring are walkaways and they know hardly anything
about mind control. They just sort of figured out on
their own that they were in a cult.
and former cult member Jerry MacDonald published a seminal
piece in the Cultic Studies Journal44 in which all be
did was interview people who bad no exposure to anything
having to do with mind control, brainwashing, "cult,"
or anything. Yet he found the same results, i.e., ex-members
tend to describe their experiences in ways that are
similar to those who received exit counseling. What
is very interesting is that my results show that the
distress levels of the people who come to Wellspring
are virtually identical whether they have been exit
counseled, deprogrammed, or just walked away. About
a third of my sample is from each type of cultic group,
so I would say that my samples are very representative
of many age ranges, religious backgrounds and other
demographic characteristics. In addition, Wellspring
has treated former members from over 120 different cultic
continue: "Frequently, the sample group is so small
that results cannot be fairly representative of cult
membership in general." But what is small? Yeakley1s
study involved nearly 1,000 members of the Boston Church
of Christ.45 My studies have involved well over 100
people in one study and well over 100 people in another
study. When one looks at clinical research, for example
in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,
one observes that the average of the study size is usually
fewer than 50. We have studies now using hundreds of
people. The American Family Foundation has conducted
research on approximately 9000 former cultists.46
also say that it is "almost impossible to gather
data from the same individuals before cult affiliation,
during cult affiliation, and after cult disaffection."
That is like studying post-traumatic stress disorder
with Vietnam vets. There was no way to study them before
they suffered PTSD, yet some excellent studies have
been done. We are trying to follow the same research
designs here. The Passantinos offer a very poor representation
of the studies on brainwashing and what we know about
these situations. It is very interesting, too, that
even the studies done by people who are more sympathetic
towards cults, like Marc Galanter47 still show that
former cult members have been harmed by their cult experience.
We have data from 120+ different cult groups, just at
Wellspring alone, so the authors have really not given
a fair treatment of what the literature indicates. Furthermore,
if the Passantinos’ theory of mind control is
correct, then those who join cults are also responsible
for the harm they received. Perhaps the Passantinos’
article should have been entitled, "Accepting the
Bondage of Total Responsibility."
LOW RECRUITMENT RATES
On page 37 of the
article the Passatinos raise an objection to the mind
control model on the basis of "low recruitment
rates." They write, "Studies show that the
vast majority of young people approached by new religious
movements (NRMs) never join despite heavy recruitment
tactics... Eileen Barker documents that Out of one thousand
people persuaded by the Moonies to attend one of their
overnight programs in 1979, 90 percent had no further
involvement, only 8 percent joined for more than one
week and less than 4 percent remained members in 1981,
two years later." In our opinion, the fact that
almost 4% stayed in the group after one overnight program
is remarkably successful! That is amazing compared to
Billy Graham’s crusades in which only about one
percent of the attendees come forward for counseling.
Thus Unificationist recruiting is 400 times more effective
than Billy Graham’s most effective evangelism
techniques; and he is considered one of the best evangelists
in history, in spite of the extremely low rates of conversion.
But again, no one
ever said that mind control is 100% effective on everyone
who comes under its influence. That doesn’t mean,
however, that there is no such thing. That is like saying
Tylenol is no good because not everyone who takes it
finds relief from his headache. Are the Passantinos
saying mind control must be 100% effective in order
to exist at all? Ale they again shifting from a presuppositional
position, saying that mind control can’t exist
because people can’t lose their free will, and
turning to an empirical argument, saying mind control
does exist, people do lose their free will, but it doesn’t
work very well because only a very few people succumb?
What do they really wish to say?
point to low rates of recruitment to cults as evidence
against the effectiveness of any attempts to use mind
control techniques on potential members. But how about
rates of recruitment to other thought reform systems?
Many scholars contend that thought reform was practiced
to a considerable extent in the former Soviet Union
and in Nazi Germany, and is practiced in countries like
Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and among fundamentalist Muslim
extremist groups like the Hezbollah. When one claims
recruitment rates are low, one must be reminded that
a significant portion of the world’s population
both has been and is being influenced by various kinds
and degrees of mind control. There are, to this day,
people in Germany who talk about how good Hitler was,
and Russians talking about how good Stalin was. We have
seen TV newscasts showing Russians marching for a return
of Communism, carrying posters of Joseph Stalin, and
lamenting the loss of the "good old days."
When the Passantinos talk about low recruitment rates,
what are they talking about? Low recruitment rates to
cults in America? Maybe so. Maybe it’s only 4%,
but that’s still 400 times more effective than
Billy Graham. Or are they talking about low recruitment
rates to totalistic political or social systems that
employ thought reform tactics? That’s not low
at all. A third to a half of the world’s population
is under the spell of thought reform of some kind.
Bob and Gretchen
say this "low rate of recruitment" is surprising
"if we are to accept the inevitable success of
cult mind control techniques." Again, we don’t
know which advocate of the mind control model believes
that absolutely anyone who comes within brain wave of
mind control is inevitably going to turn into a zombie.
In my [PRM] book Cult-Proofing Your Kids I wrote, "Why
do people join cults? Doctrinal issues.. .have little,
if anything to do with why most people join cults. The
three main reasons why people join are: (1) healing
for emotional hurts, (2) establishing friendships and
relationships, and (3) spiritual growth."48 Dr.
Margaret Singer elaborates on these reasons when she
According to their
own reports, many participants joined these religious
cults during periods of depression and confusion, when
they had a sense that life was meaningless. The cult
had promised — and for many had provided —
a solution to the distress of the developmental crises
that are frequent at this age. Cults supply ready-made
friendships and ready-made decisions about careers,
dating, sex, and marriage, and they outline a clear
"meaning of life."49
And in an extensive
paper describing the cult phenomenon and Wellspring’s
program, we wrote:
How is it possible
that seemingly firmly committed Christians could be
lured into cultic involvement? [Harold] Busséll
writes, "In all my discussions with people allured
by cults, 1 have talked to only one person whose attraction
centered on doctrine."50 This has been confirmed
over and over: most people are not attracted to cults
because of what the group believes and teaches, but
because of other factors. Basic human needs are met,
or apparently met, through membership in the cult or
cultic group: emotional, social, material, and sometimes
even physical needs. Such things as acceptance, belonging,
security, challenge, commitment to a cause, and assistance
in trouble are all offered by the cult to the individual
seeker. And virtually no one is immune to such enticement,
at least at some time in his or her life...
But young people
are not alone in their vulnerability to the cults. Anyone
who is idealistic, humanitarian, morally sensitive,
insecure, looking for direction, and currently uncommitted
to a cause but looking for one is a cult candidate.
Also, anyone recently shattered by a personal or family
crisis rnay end up looking to a cult for comfort and
In other words,
at least some of us who accept the mind control model
recognize that there are times when individuals become
more susceptible to mind control techniques than they
are normally. And this means (one would hope) that most
people are so vulnerable only during rare periods of
their lives. Thus low recruitment rates would be expected.
to consider in this regard is the non-religious attitude
of many in our society. Most cults exploit the desires
of people who choose to be religious. As numerous studies
have shown, most cult members were previously members
of traditional mainline churches — anywhere from
71% to 80%52 — and overall, 87% had some religious
affiliation in general before joining a cult.53 At the
same time, there are cults which appeal to the non-religious,
but would not appeal to the religious — "human
potential" cults, political cults, psychotherapeutic
cults, etc., which hold out promises not directly related
HIGH ATTRITION RATES
next objection is a corollary to this, namely, "high
attrition rates." The authors assert that the fact
that many people who join cults eventually leave them
within a year or two without outside aid is "deadly
to the mind control model." If mind control did
exist, they imply, no one would be able to break its
hold on them by themselves. What they’re really
saying, though, is if their misconstruction of mind
control exists, no one could break its hold on them
by themselves. The issue is not whether there are high
attrition rates or low conversion rates. The issue is
whether it exists or not. We know of no one who insists
that mind control is 100% effective. On the other hand,
if one looks at the history of the world one sees that
it is still horrifyingly effective. How else do we explain
the mass suicide of 912 people in Jonestown?55 What
kind of spell did David Koresh have over his followers
that made them stay in the building after the FBI started
spraying tear gas into it? They had from about 6 o’clock
in the morning till about noon to leave before the building
finally caught fire. They could have left. What kept
them in there? What made one woman run back into the
fire after she had run out of the burning building?
We could get story after story of similar incidents.
What led an innocent boy from a small town in Illinois,
Danny Kraft, to participate in the killing of a mother,
a father, a 13-year-old girl, an 11-year-old girl, and
an 8-year-old girl? What led the Nazis to gas Jews by
the millions? Mind control doesn’t exist? Objections
over low recruitment rates and high attrition rates
are beside the point. Does it exist, or does it not?
Is there unspeakable horror committed in the name of
God, or in the name of the dialectic of history, or
is there not?
Again, the authors
are assuming an extreme and total concept of mind control
that few if any proponents accept. To reiterate: the
effectiveness of mind control depends on numerous factors,
a few of which were listed above. By the same token,
the effects of mind control can be broken by numerous
factors, only one of which is deprogramming/exit counseling.
In a workshop at the CAN conference in New Jersey a
few years ago which she shared with me [PRM], psychotherapist
Madeleine Tobias mentioned a young woman in an ex-cult
member support group who described her own voluntary
exit. Every time she had a doubt or a question about
the group she would put it on an invisible shelf so
she wouldn’t have to deal with it. But then one
day "the shelf caved in." In other words,
eventually there were just too many doubts and questions,
and she was no longer able to ignore them; she had to
deal with them.
Another mind control
breaker, perhaps related to the last, is any traumatic
event that occurs either in the cult member’s
life, or in the group as a whole. This could be a beating
administered (or threatened) by the leader or another
member at the leader’s behest. Laura Haferd and
William Outlaw describe one such incident involving
Rose Watson Thomas, a member of an obscure cult named
the Christian Alliance Holiness Church. They write:
Rose was terrified
of what would happen when [an expected phone call from
the imprisoned leader] came through. Since the night
before, the commune residents had harangued her and
threatened her with punishment.
And she had seen
the punishment that Bishop Thomas [her father-in-law]
meted out to those who displeased him in his Christian
Alliance Holiness church — merciless bloody beatings
that left men and women with flayed skin on their backs
and flowing wounds for days afterward.
This time, Rose
felt sure, she was going to be the one who would be
...She was sure
the bishop’s next orders would deal with the punishment
to be inflicted upon her.
So Rose had decided
to take her son and run away from The Frontier [the
cult’s compound in eastern Ohio.]56
The ability to
leave a cult on one’s own is not necessarily a
sign of health, i.e., that the individual has been unaffected
by the group. To say and acknowledge that many people
do leave cults on their own does not address the question
of why they leave, or whether they have been detrimentally
affected during the time of their involvement, in spite
of the fact that they are eventually able to walk away.
We believe it is a gross error to assume that those
who leave cults on their own are as healthy psychologically
and spiritually (or even physically) as when they joined.
One thing we have
observed in those who come to Wellspring for counseling
is that it is much more common for "walkaways"
to be burned out on religion than it is for those who
have received some form of exit counseling. We have
no scientific data, but it may be that, in many cases,
those who leave cults on their own do so because they
have become thoroughly disillusioned with the group,
possibly because of physical, sexual, and/or financial
abuse in addition to spiritual abuse. As a result, they
may want nothing further to do with religion of any
kind; they are unable to trust religious leaders again.
If they haven’t quite reached that extremity,
they may still be looking for another group or church
that has elements of their former group that they haven’t
yet recognized as being harmful, but that doesn’t
have the things they have recognized.
However, when cult
members are exit counseled, most often they are able
to maintain their interest in spiritual things, because
exit counselors do not typically attempt to "break
the faith" of cult members or "take religion
away" from them — at least this true of the
several exit counselors we know personally.
We would like to
suggest that the power of mind control is not unlike
the pull of a whirlpool. Near the edge of the whirlpool
its attractive force is limited. However, as an object
(or person) is drawn farther into the vortex, the power
increases. The centrifugal force of the whirlpool doesn’t
affect every object to the same degree, however. The
size, shape, and weight of the object all determine
the force that the whirlpool will be able to exercise.
And ultimately, objects pulled into the center of the
whirlpool are expelled again, though often damaged or
In the case of
destructive cults, this process often takes many months,
years, even decades to come full circle with the "ejection"
of the cult member — often it never does, and
the member remains the rest of his or her life (which
may be unnaturally shortened by life in the cult.) To
recommend to parents, as the Passantinos would, that
all they need to do is preach the gospel to the cultist
son or daughter and he or she will be delivered, is
naive in the extreme. One father, known to Ron Burks,
was probably told that very thing and initially believed
it in 1972 when his daughter disappeared into a group
known to use female members as prostitutes. After 21
years she has still not managed to leave. Nor has he
managed to forget.
Attrition or not,
it still remains true that an estimated 5-15 million
people are currently involved in some religious and
other types of cults in America alone.58 Thus, whether
cults succeed in recruiting or retaining what some might
regard as a large percentage of those they contact,
the numbers they do recruit and retain are not insignificant.59
THE ANTI-RELIGIOUS BIAS OF MIND CONTROL ASSUMPTIONS
next objection to the mind control model is "the
anti-religious bias of mind control assumptions."
Basically the authors say brainwashing is a value judgment
rather than an analytical concept, and that the brainwashing/mind
control model almost inevitably arises from or creates
an anti-religious bias. They quote Thomas Robbins, a
well-known cult apologist, saying that the mind control
model derives from Enlightenment ideals that seek to
liberate man from religion. Then they quote William
Sargant, who argued that Christian evangelical preaching
techniques are similar to Communist brainwashing methods.
Finally, they refer to Conway and Siegelman, who criticized
fundamentalist Christians in the first edition of their
However, we fail
to see what relevance the anti-religious sentiments
of some authors have to do with the modern concept of
cult mind control as held in particular by evangelical
proponents of the model. Just because some people in
the field are biased against religion that doesn’t
mean the concept itself is anti-religious or necessarily
leads to such a bias. Mind control theories are value
free. They can apply to a religious setting, a psychotherapy
setting, a political setting, a business setting. The
question is not whether a group is religious. The question
is, does a group practice the techniques of mind control
and thought reform, or does it not? There’s nothing
either irreligious or religious about it. It’s
a concept that can be measured by whether or not a group
uses those techniques. Ron Enroth, well-known for his
evangelical convictions, cannot be accused of an anti-religious
bias when he says there are churches that abuse. Rather,
he speaks as a modern prophet against mistreatment of
God’s flock. Did the prophet Ezekiel have an anti-religious
bias when he rebuked the wicked shepherds who were exploiting,
harming, and destroying the people of God? The authors
have employed an ad hominem argument in this section
that is rather poorly thought out. If we were to employ
this form of reasoning, we might conclude that the Passantinos
are guilty of an "anti-secular" bias. It seems
the authors once again have violated their rule "Similar
Does Not Prove Same,"60 or guilt by association.
Thus, because some advocates of the mind control model
evidence an anti-religious bias does not mean that all
do, or that the mind control model either presupposes
or necessitates an anti-religious bias. And while the
authors cited may speak for many advocates of the mind
control model, they do not speak for all.
believe that the inability to draw a clear-cut line
between a legitimate religion and a cult is final proof
that mind control does not exist. Would they use the
same reasoning regarding domestic abuse? When does a
husband’s verbal criticism of his wife become
verbal abuse? When does spanking a child become child
abuse? Where are the clear-cut lines in these cases?
Or where is the clear-cut line between political authority
and dictatorship? If the authors can locate it they
will be in great demand all over the world.
The last paragraph
of this section is particularly troubling. The Passantinos
write, "In short, there is no objective, evidential
way to define groups that are ‘good’ (not
using mind control) versus groups that are ‘bad’
(using mind control)." But this is simply not true.
A group can be measured. Does it use certain techniques,
like Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform?
That is, does it use milieu control, mystical manipulation?
Does it have a sacred science? Does it practice doctrine
over person? Does it have a loaded language? Does it
have a "cult of confession", the demand for
purity? Does it dispense with the existence of non-members,
whether spiritually or physically?61
The last sentence
in this paragraph is particularly galling to me [PRM]
as an evangelical psychologist: "Although this
is not the focus of this article, we note here that
as evangelical Christians we openly admit that we make
religious judgments regarding the cults, and that those
religious judgments are based on the Bible, not on our
own subjective opinions or some consensus of social
science professionals." Their implication that
all mind control model advocates base their judgments
about cults on a "consensus" of social science
is without foundation. One can look at empirical facts
about the nature of these groups; one doesn’t
need a consensus. Is there evidence for mind control?
I believe the evidence is abundantly clear.
Right now, we at
Wellspring are conducting research on all the ways that
different ex-members have described their former groups.
We1re running this in a factor analysis design and demonstrating
the conclusions. Therets a consistent pattern that ex-members
report about the nature of their groups. Organizational
structure is objective fact that has been documented
in group dynamics and sociology and social psychology.
To say that there’s no way of defining groups
that are "good" versus groups that are "bad"
is simply not true. One can ask questions and clearly
discriminate groups that have open boundaries versus
those that have closed boundaries. One of the most famous
books in psychology deals with the open and the closed
mind and how these systems work.62 We have all kinds
of literature in the social sciences about controlling,
tight organizations versus loose organizations. There
are criteria in political science for what is a totalitarian
system. Can there not be criteria in other disciplines
for what is a totalitarian cult? The scientific methods
used in this field do not stand independently of the
kind of consensual objective observation, the fact that
it exists in political science and social sciences as
object to the mind control model because, they say,
it "creat[es] victims." We would argue instead
that it is mind control, not the mind control model
that creates victims. We would also argue that cult
survivors are re-victimized by those such as the Passantinos
who lay all or most of the blame for their plight at
their own feet.
The authors introduce
this objection by writing:
Many people who
join cults want to help the needy, forsake materialism,
or develop personal independence from their families
— not necessarily bad goals, although misguided
by false cult teachings. The cult mind control model,
however, attributes cult membership primarily to mind
control and thereby denigrates or discounts such positive
activities and goals, misaffiliated to cults as they
This is one more
evidence that illustrates the Passantinos’ failure
to clearly understand what mind control model advocates
actually say. Mind control is not exercised in a vacuum
— it needs information to work with, whether it
is cult-generated doctrine, or the hopes, dreams, fears,
and hang-ups of the potential recruit. Thus the goals
listed by the Passantinos above may be used by the cult
recruiter as "hooks" to draw the target into
the sphere of mind control. We do not denigrate such
goals at all. We applaud any positive aims and activities.
The problem is, these things can be used as lures to
attract new members, or as ploys to achieve legitimacy
in the community. Most of our clients at Wellspring
say, "This is why I joined the group. I wanted
to help the needy, forsake materialism, develop some
personal independence from my family, grow up. I wanted
to serve the Lord." Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple
took over nursing homes in the San Francisco Bay area,
significantly improving them to the benefit of the residents.
Peoples Temple members also helped drug addicts kick
their habits and obtain education. These and many other
activities of the Peoples Temple were highly commendable,
and regardless of the tragic end of 913 cult members,
those benevolences were worth doing — except to
the degree they led people to their deaths.
go on to say:
The mind control
model also fails to give proper weight to the role natural
suggestibility plays in making people vulnerable to
the cults. Highly suggestible people are especially
susceptible to religious salesmanship as well as many
other "sales pitches."64
On the contrary,
this is just the point we have made. Suggestibility
does make people more susceptible to mind control.65
Some people are naturally more suggestible than others
by nature, others go through periods in life in which
they are more suggestible than at other times. As stated
above, there may be times of crisis, bereavement, or
transition of some kind or another. And in such a condition
people may be victimized, whether by a con artist, a
Lothario, or a cult recruiter. It is not "[a]dopting
a victimization perspective" that "strips
the cult member of his capacity for rational activity."
Rather, it is the victimization itself which does this
— though we acknowledge that it does so to varying
degrees in different people according to the factors
Next they write,
"The cult mind control model instead focuses on
victimization, claiming that a cult member joins as
a result of mind control and not as a result of personal
choice." Again, the Passantinos return to their
straw man of mind control according to which the person
has completely lost his will. But the person hasn’t
lost his will; he has willed to choose something other
than what he had anticipated. (Remember Rick Seelhoff’s
statement cited earlier in this article.) In this response
he has become a victim — one who is still making
choices, but choices in regard to which he was unaware
of the consequences.
Further, we suggest
that the new recruit hasn’t yet really experienced
"full blown" mind control. He or she was drawn
into the cult by fairly standard techniques of influence
and persuasion, usually mixed with deception. It is
only after committing him or herself to the group that
mind control really begins in earnest. The stages can
be illustrated as follows:
" a good appearance;
" an acceptable appeal;
" "love bombing";
" manipulative and specious
seems to be
a good group
assert that "the cult mind control model epitomizes
a ‘victim’ mentality." They quote Hassan’s
remarks about the cult member being caught in a trap
as an illustration of this "‘victim’
mentality." We find it surprising that the Passantinos
should object to this in light of the Apostle Paul’s
admonition to the Colossians, "Make sure that no
one traps you and deprives you of your freedom by some
secondhand, empty, rational philosophy based on the
principles of this world instead of on Christ."66
In another place Paul reproaches the Christians of Corinth
for "...tolerating somebody who makes slaves of
you, makes you feed him, imposes on you, orders you
about and slaps you in the face."67 If these Christians
were not under mind control, they were nevertheless
not in their right minds! Therefore, from a Christian
perspective (i.e., the perspective of Bob and Gretchen)
there can be no objection to the possibility of people,
including Christians, being unwittingly trapped in a
situation not of their own making and from which they
may see no way out. After investigating the unspeakable
tragedy of Jonestown, and interviewing numerous former
members of Peoples Temple, seminary professor and minister
Mel White reported, "I learned what I didn’t
want to know. Jones’ victims were our brothers
and sisters. They grew up in Christian homes and churches...
and they were deceived."68
Next it appears
the Passantinos are digressing into a victim bashing
section in which they take potshots at John Bradshaw
and his dysfunctional family theory, adult children
of alcoholics, the various twelve-step programs, and
the claims of repressed memories.
Regarding the latter,
there have been several highly publicized cases of people
who have accused their parents of childhood abuse on
the basis of claims of alleged recovered memories, some
of which have later proved to be false memories. Some
would argue that it is only due to the exertion of mind
control by unethical or incompetent therapists that
false memories of abuse could be implanted. But is that
the only explanation? We would agree with the Passantinos
that just because a person develops false memories in
therapy doesn’t mean the therapist was practicing
thought reform. Yet ironically, false memories are sometimes
produced by thought reform. So the Passantinos pose
a dilemma: how can they believe in false memories (and
they strongly do) and yet deny the powerful influence
techniques such as thought reform? Also, the therapist
may have been practicing hypnosis or emotional manipulation
under which new memories" may have arisen. One
doesn’t need a cult or mind control to Create
new "memories," but with or without mind control,
false memory produces more than one victim: not just
the one(s) falsely accused of abuse, but also the one
in whom the false memories have been inculcated. Unethical
or incompetent therapists perpetrate the abuse, but
So do those who blame cult victims by labeling them
as "not truly defenseless victims."69
Then they write
that if mind control victimization really does exist,
how can you possibly "protect yourself or your
loved ones in the future?" The obvious answer,
of course, is that people need to be educated so they
can recognize the characteristics of mind control. This
is the whole problem to begin with — people don’t
know how mind control works, how it is used, how one
can be recruited. They don’t know how to ask questions
before joining new groups or initiating new affiliations.
But one is not helpless against it. One can be educated,
one can be trained to be healthily suspicious.
quote Eileen Barker again, who says, in the last sentence
of this quote, "Research has shown that, unlike
those who have been deprogrammed (and thereby taught
that they had been brainwashed), those who leave voluntarily
are extremely unlikely to believe that they were ever
the victims of mind control." This is precisely
what we would expect. If someone has no knowledge of
what happened to him, how can he conclude he was a victim
of mind control? One must be exposed to the information.
Barker’s conclusion is that this belief in mind
control is inculcated into hapless victims, that they
have been deceived again into believing that they were
under mind control. Another alternative, however, is
that these people are sufficiently responsible individuals
that when presented with information about the techniques
of mind control and examples of it they are able to
compare their own experience with that information and
reach their own conclusion that "that’s exactly
what happened to me."70
exited cult members attribute their cult involvement
to mind control or not is not the crucial matter. What
is crucial is the fact that many such people leave their
former cults with detrimental baggage they did not take
into the cult. A large number of former members still
believe the cult was right, but they simply couldn’t
"hack it." They believe that somehow they
were at fault for not being able to live according to
the group’s rules or standards, and thus in their
eyes they have "failed God." Often "walkaways"
have recognized some real problems with the group, but
not all, and they search out another group that offers
those unrecognized harmful aspects of the first group,
and are caught in a second trap.
It appears that
the authors are implying that exit counselors and others
who hold the mind control model are the real deceivers,
making cult members think they are victims when in fact
they are not. However, research conducted at Wellspring
and elsewhere has demonstrated that cult members who
go through exit counseling and a post-cult rehab program
like that offered at Wellspring are generally healthier
than those who walk away but don’t receive any
As for the authors’
allegation that "an improper victimization model...
does not provide the... mechanisms necessary to protect
oneself from further victimization,"72 we confess
we have difficulty following the logic here. The model
employed has little or no bearing on the issue of protection
or prevention. Whether one tells a person who has been
robbed that he was an innocent victim of a thug, or
that he was at least partly responsible for the mugging
because he carried his wallet in his hip pocket where
every thief would look, suggestions can still be offered
as to how he might prevent additional attacks. Similarly,
advocates of the mind control model also offer guidelines
for recognizing psychological and spiritual manipulation
and other techniques of mind control so the ex-cultist
can more easily avoid further victimization. And those
who insist that the cultist is responsible for his or
hcr own plight could also fail to offer such suggestions,
leaving the person to his fate. The particular model
employed by the would-be counselor does not determine
whether the latter gives or does not give help in protection
from future cult involvement.
attempt to separate cult victims from "true victims
— ... small children; victims of rape robbery,
or murder; those who truly are unable to predict or
prevent their victimization..." implies that cult
victims could have predicted their victimization, and
assumes that the trap was obvious right from the beginning.
This also implies that those who get caught by cults
have full, or at least adequate, knowledge about the
nature of the organization before they join. This is
patently absurd. Almost all cults deliberately hide
their full nature from potential recruits and new members,
often with the rationale that they are not sufficiently
"advanced" spiritually to understand or accept
the full truth, which is really for their own "good."
Then the Passantinos
assert that according to today’s pop psychology
"[e]veryone is a victim. One doesn’t need
to be saved from one’s own sins as much as from
the sins of others. Psychology and sociology have replaced
Scripture for understanding human behavior and developing
emotionally and spiritually healthy persons. Yet nowhere
in Scripture do we find support for the complaint first
voiced by Eve that ‘the devil — or the cult
leader — made me do it.’ One cannot remove
human responsibility without also destroying human morality."
Once again, these remarks are based on their extreme
view of mind control and an "either/or" approach
to understanding human behavior — either psychology
and sociology, or the Bible. However, we do not see
the necessity of such a dichotomy, though we recognize
that some psycho-sociological and theological theories
and approaches leave much to be desired. Bob and Gretchen
seem to disallow any reference to prior abuse as even
a partial explanation for the current problems many
people experience. We believe this is both unfair and
detrimental to the individual’s healing.
Does not Ezekiel
indict the rulers of ancient Israel for victimizing
the people? He proclaimed:
the Lord GOD, ‘Woe, shepherds of Israel who have
been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed
the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with
the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding
the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened,
the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have
not bound up. the scattered you have not brought back,
nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and
with severity you have dominated them. And they were
scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food
for every beast of the field arid were scattered.’73
Would the Passantinos
blame the Israelites for their plight? It is clear that
One thing that
troubles us is that in some evangelical and fundamentalist
circles the Bible is viewed as the only textbook necessary
for psychology or mental health as well as for doctrine
and morality. But the Bible does not make such a claim
for itself. Are we to view it as the only textbook necessary
for geology, geography, or architecture? Shall we make
all engineering students study only the Old Testament
because it contains instructions on bow to build the
tabernacle or the temple and thus all construction must
be based on those models? Or shall we base medicine
only on what is in the Bible? Why all of a sudden are
human sciences suddenly limited to what is in the Bible?
Who drew this arbitrary line and said, "We can
study astronomy, geology, medicine, whatever, but the
Bible must be the only textbook for the human sciences"?
That is absurd. The facts refute this. Does the Bible
talk about manic depressive illness? Does the Bible
talk about psychotic depression? Does the Bible talk
about panic disorders or agoraphobia — what causes
them, how they are cured? Does the Bible distinguish
between organic and functional psychoses? Does the Bible
explain what learning disabilities are, what hyperactivity
is? Does the Bible explain what a personality disorder
is, how a dependent personality can be distinguished
from a borderline personality? This statement fails
to reflect reality. It is like barring a person from
attending medical school and then making him a doctor.
To believe a person can become knowledgeable about human
behavior without studying psychology and sociology is
mind boggling. But an engineer doesn’t have to
throw out the Bible to be an engineer. Neither do we
feel we have to throw Out the Bible to practice psychology.
about this section of the article is the authors’
attempt to use the writings of C.S. Lewis to justify
a position of extreme responsibility. In a typically
uncritical manner, they simply copy Em Griffin’s
mistake in his book The Mind Changers, in which he quotes
from Lewis’ classic volume, The Abolition of Man.
Griffin writes, as quoted by the Passantinos:
that a deterministic view brings about the abolition
of man. In an impassioned plea he argues that you cannot
strip men of autonomy without denuding them of responsibility:
"In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the
organ and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh
at honour and we are shocked to find traitors in our
midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."74
This passage appears
to add Lewis’ considerable credibility with evangelicals
to the authors’ unbalanced and simplistic views.
Griffin takes this passage violently out of its Context
and attempts to use it to attack any system that interferes
with personal responsibility. But Lewis is arguing in
this passage for the importance of trained emotions
to virtue. Without both thought and passion the heart
is cut out of morality. The context is virtue, not freedom
and responsibility. The truth is that Lewis had a rather
liberal view of responsibility. Ironically, a little
too liberal for most evangelicals if they understood
him. His views in this regard are developed in his book
Mere Christianity.75 With powerful examples, he argues
for a view of moderated responsibility. He suggests
that everyone can only be held responsible for the light
they have. Agree or not, his grasp of the complexities
of this most important issue is critical for informed
From a theological
standpoint, the Passantinos appear to undervalue the
role of deceit in the introduction of sin into the world
of humans. They write,
If the cult recruiter’s
skill and manipulation is considered so coercive that
members are not responsible for their own beliefs, actions,
or even the decision to join/stay in the cult, then
many biblical affirmations about personal responsibility
and decision making are jeopardized. To a secular mind-control-model
advocate, this may seem a trivial objection. But several
advocates are Christian Evangelicals and must come to
terms with the theological inconsistencies introduced
when the cult mind control model is adopted.
For example, in
the Garden, Satan personally appeared to orchestrate
the temptation of Eve — and who could be more
persuasive? Our first parents succumbed to the temptation
and were cast out of the Garden, and all of humanity
thereafter have been penalized by this primal sin. If
our fnst parents could be held morally responsible when
confronted by the ultimate tempter, how is it that we
seek to excuse ourselves or our offspring when confronted
by human tempters of far less power, skill, and charisma?76
The simple answer
to that is that the analogy between the serpent’s
beguilement of Eve in the Garden of Eden and what happens
in cult recruitment is inappropriate. It’s comparing
apples with chimpanzees. God had explicitly told Adam
and Eve in advance, "Don’t eat of this tree."
The tree was identified, the tree was located. They
knew what it was, they knew where it was, they knew
all about it. God had given them complete and adequate
information. To refer again to Our earlier example of
the girl who buys a car that breaks down, it would be
different if the girl’s father had said, "Don’t
go to this used car lot, and for goodness’ sake,
don’t buy that yellow Pontiac — it’s
a lemon. Don’t do it, you’ll be sorry."
Most of people we know who have joined cults did not
have anyone saying, "Don’t join this group,
it is evil, and here is the evidence." But that
is basically what God did with Adam and Eve. No such
thing occurs with people joining cults. It would be
just as if God put Adam and Eve into the Garden with
no forewarning. They see the fruit on the tree. It looks
so good, like the best fruit in the world. The serpent
is dangling from a branch and says, "This is good
fruit, eat it." They eat it and then God comes
along and says, "Hey, you two! You just sinned!"
They say, "What? We sinned? How did we sin?"
"You should have known better than to eat that
fruit." "Why should have we known better?"
"You were spiritually deceived." "Well,
you never told us not to eat that fruit!" "But
if you were more spiritual you would have known."
A major area of
weakness in the Passantino’s article is the notion
that all people need is the gospel and they will be
better. What about people who are already horn again
church-goers? The Passantinos fail to state that most
of the warnings in the Bible about false prophets are
given to the Church! The authors don’t deal with
the pastoral obligations towards those who have been
led astray, of a shepherd going after the lost sheep
or binding up the broken sheep. The straying or wounded
sheep needs a shepherd. Another thing is that the Passantinos
fail to say anything about the personality of cult leaders,
i.e., that one thing is consistently clear with regard
to cult leaders and abusive pastors. They are not like
the typical pastor down the road. The cult leader proves
to be a sociopath in almost every situation, and the
trouble is we have not trained our children to beware
This leads to another
thing: if this is a problem of spiritual deception,
then the sword cuts both ways. If the cult member is
deceived, then where is the Church’s discernment?
Where is the discernment of those not in cults? Why
hasn’t the Church been able to recognize the wolves
and warn the flock? Where was the Church speaking before
Jonestown? Where was the Church when Hitler came along?
Where was the Church when Mao Tse Tung came along? Where
was the Church when David Koresh came along? Where was
the Church when Jeffrey Lundgren came along? Who was
warning these people?
There was great
silence in the Church. There is still great silence
in the Church. So if it is onty a deception issue, then
we’re all wrong, we’re all deceived. Or
maybe we all are uneducated, or maybe we’re all
equally culpable. But to say that one group is more
deceived then the other when the Church has consistently
sat on its hands in the face of this cult problem and
has provided virtually no resources for cult victims
is to engage in self-righteous blame-shifting.
One of the most
shameful tragedies in the history of the Church is the
appalling neglect of the cult problem. Hardly anything
is taught about cults in seminaries and Bible schools.77
Pastors know very little about cults, apart from some
of the major doctrinal aberrations of the Mormons and
Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is only one cult rehab
center in the world currently, and that is Wellspring,
and it is not supported by a single church or denomination.
If we are going to talk about discernment, then we better
talk about the discernment of the Church and heeding
the prophetic voice that warns about cults and spiritually
abusive churches. That has not often been the case.
The Church usually speaks out only after the fact. The
responsibility for the appalling silence and even complicity
of the Church in Nazi Germany rests on the heads of
evangelicals as fully as it does on those of liberals
and Catholics. The appalling silence of the evangelical
Church with the rise of Red China rests on our heads,
too. We could just go down the list. The discernment
issue applies equally to other abuses besides those
relating to cults.
The last paragraph
of the article reads:
As Christians who
believe in an absolute standard of truth and religious
reality, we cannot ignore the spiritual threat of cults.
We must promote critical thinking, responsible education,
biblical apologetics, and Christian evangelism. We must
recognize that those who join cults, while morally responsible,
are also spiritually ignorant. The power of the gospel
1:16) erases spiritual ignorance and provides the
best opportunity possible for right moral and religious
choices. "So if the Son sets you free, you will
be free indeed" (John 8:36).78
agree that we "must promote critical thinking."
The authors, however, would blame the uneducated even
though those who should educate them have not done so.
Almost 3000 years ago King Solomon wrote:
Rescue those being
led away to death,
hold back those who are being dragged to the slaughter.
Will you object, "But look, we did not know?"
Has he who weighs the heart no understanding,
he who scans your soul no knowledge?
He himself will repay a man as his deeds deserve.79
Those who fail
to educate, warn, intervene, etc., when it is in their
power to do so are the guilty parties, along with those
who actually perpetrate the offense.80
We believe we have
shown that this is much more than an issue of spiritual
ignorance. Mind control works in fields outside of religion.
This is an issue that affects the entire Church, not
to mention society as a whole. A subject for another
paper at another time is to show that, on the contrary,
mind control (or thought reform, coercive persuasion,
or whatever one may call it) is not merely a secular
concept. It is also a biblical concept related to the
problem of evil and how all men and women are affected
by evil. There is no one group of Christians that is
any less immune to thought reform than any other, so
that there are different classes of Christians in regards
to discernment, spiritual or otherwise. What produces
discernment? Is it obedience, is it more Bible reading,
is it going to seminary? Is it education? But education
is not a uniquely spiritual issue. Are the discerning
more holy or righteous? Well, if they are, it is by
There are implications
in the Passantinos’ statements that affect the
Reformation concepts of the grace of God, the corruption
of sin, and justification by faith alone. They appear
to assume that humans are capable of unassisted evaluation
of data concerning God, and making unassisted free choices
in relation to spiritual matters. The biblical understanding
has been more accurately described as a motif of revelation
and grace. Humans may examine the universe and their
own nature to learn its complexities, but they may only
know about God as he has revealed himself, either in
it or to them directly. Furthermore, they may only make
free choices for or against that revelation by the grace
of God. Without grace, they are only capable of rejecting
whatever revelation they might receive. Any other view
denies the utter sinfulness of the human condition and
subverts the unmerited grace of God. Humans, then, are
only responsible for thoughtfully and purposely rejecting
revelation and resisting grace, not for making "flawed
choices from bad data."
Assuming that somehow
there is a spiritual hierarchy in which some are less
susceptible to cults than others, on what basis are
they less susceptible? If it is based on works (acquiring
information and critical thinking skills), then, according
to the Reformation tradition (and the Passantinos are
staunch Lutherans) it has no spiritual value.81 But
if cult-avoiding discernment is based on faith, then
all Christians have that. That gives the Passantinos
a grave problem, because the empirical evidence unequivocally
shows that numerous Christians have joined a variety
of cults. Where, then, does discernment come from? Is
it always a sin issue in the Scripture, or is it an
issue of education, knowledge, and awareness? Discernment
may be lost because one willfully chooses to sin, but
discernment may also be lacking because people have
not been trained, or warned, or whatever. Is one group
(cult victims) culpable but the other (the church or
society that fails to warn about cults) not? Is evil
the underlying process and factor with both kinds of
discernment deficits? In other words, is our ability
to be deceived part of the human condition, part of
our fallen nature? If so, and we believe it is, then
the cult victim and the silent Church and society alike
suffer from Adam’s fallen nature. But in saying
this we are not saying this is a sin problem per se
that must be dealt with evangelistically. Rather, the
cult problem for the Church and cult victim alike is
akin to the problem of physical disease. Illness, as
well as death, is a direct result of the Fall. But the
cure for disease is not evangelization leading to spiritual
redemption. The solution is via the avenues of medicine
and education. Through much of history the Church has
been largely responsible for the advancement of medical
science in the world. Likewise, the Church needs to
see the problem of cults fundamentally as a problem
of evil whose solution is, to be sure, bathed in the
prayers of believers, but realized via science and education
as well as theology.
conclusion is a call for evangelization of cult members.
But their vision in this regard is, in our opinion,
a truncated view of Judeo/Christian ethic and theology.
Christians and others have traditionally had an interest
in opposing sinful Systems as well as providing spiritual
comfort for those caught in them. The desire for the
salvation of the souls of those bound in the literal
chains of slavery was admirable, but without the courage
of Christian statesmen like William Wilberforce, strongly
supported by John Wesley and other Christian leaders,
we might still have slavery in Britain and America.
Evangelizing those "who have very real spiritual,
emotional, and social needs" and who 91are looking
for fulfillment and significance for their lives"
without working against the oppression that enslaves
them is hypocrisy. We believe God loves cultists and
wants us to work for their freedom, whether or not they
choose to follow him the way we do.
We gladly agree
with the Passantinos when they bemoan the proliferation
of "victims" in our contemporary society.
There are multiple thousands of "pseudo-victims"
in America today, and there indeed does need to be more
emphasis on taking personal responsibility.82 Having
said this, however, we insist that victimization does
exist in the cult milieu. Deception of any kind, by
definition, produces victims.
1. Robert and Gretchen
Passantino, "Overcoming the Bondage of Victimization,"
Cornerstone, Vol. 22 Iss. 102-103, 1994, 31-42. Hereinafter
cited as "Passantino and Passantino."
2. In a letter
to the editor from Douglas Groothuis published in a
later issue of Cornerstone the writer demonstrates some
of the same errors of the original article. He focuses
on two points: first, "the mind control theory
is antithetical to biblical anthropology." We contend
that only in its extreme form as set up by Bob and Gretchen
as a straw man is it antithetical to biblical anthropology.
We agree that men and women are "responsible moral
agents", but we also contend that we can occasionally
and under the right (or wrong?) circumstances be led
into unwise, bad, or downright evil decisions for which
God will hold us, if not totally guiltless, at least
minimally culpable. We briefly refer to a few such instances
in this article, viz., mitigation of guilt by reason
of diminished capacity due to youthfulness (Dt. 1:39),
demonization, or other factors (one of those other factors
would be lack of full knowledge — see Matt.
11:20-24). Indeed, in some such cases God still
holds the individual guilty, but our point is he holds
him less so.
second point is what he calls a "crucial philosophical
distinction. People who join cults on the basis of propaganda
and psychological deception do so through their decision
making, although their decisions are ill conceived."
He says, "This is not equivalent to people losing
their ability to decide because they have become passive
victims of irresistible cult indoctrination. A poor
decision is still a decision; to call it a non-decision
because it is unwise is even more unwise." We are
afraid Groothuis has bought Bob and Gretchen’s
counterfeit mind control model.
3. Robert and Gretchen
Passantino, Witch Hunt (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,
4. Passantino and
6. Robert J. Lifton,
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Chapel
Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1961,
1989), 4. Emphasis added.
7. Margaret Singer
with Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst (San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 1995). 61. Emphasis added.
8. Louis J. West,
"Persuasive Techniques in Religious Cults,"
in Marc Galanter, ed., Cults and Religious Movements
(Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Press,
9. Cited in Margaret
Thaler Singer and Marsha Emmer Addis, "Cults, Coercion,
and Contumely," in Anthony Kales et al., The Mosaic
of Contemporary Psychiatry in Perspective (New York,
Berlin, etc.: Springer-Verlag, 1992), 130-142. Emphasis
10. A. Meale, "INFORM
— Cut in Funding by the Home Office," Nov.15,
11. A. Carley,
"Government Grant to Cult Watchdog Stirs flap in
Britain," July 10,1989, 6-7.
and Passantino, op. cit.
13. We believe
the Passantinos have failed to distinguish the question
of guilt regarding sin/crime from the additional matter
of whether the cult member should be held fully responsible
for joining the cult, staying in the cult, accepting
and obeying the teachings of the cult leader, and ending
up on the one hand confused, depressed, anxious, or
delusional, or on the other hand hostile to non-cult
members, exclusivistic, judgmental, or even heretical.
Consider the following scriptures:
Matthew 18:6 —
"‘...but whoever causes one of these little
ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for
him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck,
and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.’"
Matthew 18:7 —
"‘Woe to the world because of its stumbling-blocks!
For it is inevitable that stumbling-blocks come; but
woe to that man through whom the stumbling-block comes!’"
of these verses is that the one who leads someone else
astray from the truth, or otherwise misleads a person,
will be judged far more severely than the one misled.
And this is not talking about leading another into criminal
activity or sin in general, unless one includes believing
a lie in the category of sin.
Bob and Gretchen
did allow for some element of deception in their original
article — but that was all, and they still seemed
to hold the cult member responsible for allowing himself
to be deceived. A bit disingenuous, we believe.
14. The authors
imply as much when they refer later to "unscriptural
feelings of guilt" (Passantino and Passantino,
15. Case No. 90CR
012, Court of Common Pleas, lake County, Ohio. It is
worth quoting from the statement of the presiding judge
at the sentencing of Danny Kraft:
I hope this tragedy
and resulting sentence serves as a warning to all parents
and families on the destructive nature of religious
cults. That we, as a society, are mindful of the ease
with which it can destroy, just as we recognize the
destructive capacity of alcohol and drugs.
16. Lundgren was
a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints who split off from the RLDS Church
believing he was a true prophet of God.
and Passantino, 33.
18. A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature, edited by Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt,
and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1979), 137.
Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Joseph Henry
Thayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonde~an Publishing House,
11th printing, 1972), 98.
20. Edward A. Lottick,
M.D., "International Congress on Cultism,"
The Cult Observer, Vol.10, No. 5, 1993.
Approach to Cult Rehab," Wellspring Messenger,
Vol. 4, No. 5, November/December 1993,1.
22. Steve Hassan,
Combatting Cult Mind Control (Rochester VT: Park Street
Press, 1988, 1990), 56. Cited in Passantino and Passantino,
23. Theodore E.
H. Chen, Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals
(Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press [Oxford University
24. Lifton, Op.
25. See Schein,
E., Schneir, I., & Barker, C. H., Coercive Persuasion
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1961).
26. As an aside,
Jerry Walls, author of Hell, the Logic of Damnation,
remarked in a private conversation with Wellspring psychological
assistant Ron Burks that Lifton’s eight criteria
of thought reform are perversions of the normal conversion
process every individual goes through while changing
from one proposition to another in response to new evidence
Britannica, Macropedia, Vol. 9, 138. Cited in Passantino
and Passantino, 40.
28. David G. Bromley
and Anson 9. Shupe, "Public Reaction Against New
Religious Movements," in Marc Galanter, ed., Cults
and New Religious Movements: A Report of the American
Psychiatric Association (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric
Association, 1989), 325-26. Cited in Passantino and
29. WCCO, Channel
4 TV, Minneapolis, Minn., January 3, 1980.
and Passantino, 33. Their reference to "unscriptural
feelings of guilt" seems to contradict the general
implication of their article that cult involvement is
31. Op. cit. 32.
12:47-48a, New American Standard Bible. See also
34. There are probably
cases in which an exit counselor may say, "I don’t
believe he is under mind control, but he just doesn’t
accept our facts as credible."
35. Michael D.
Langone, ed., Recovery from Cults (New York: W. W. Norton,
36. Mel White,
Deceived II, (Muskegon, MI: Gospel Films).
and Passantino, 34.
38. To take an
obviously extreme example of such a cult, consider the
"Garbage Eaters," led by Jim Roberts, aka
"Brother Evangelist." They believe they are
more "spiritual" than others because (for
one thing) they seek not to depend on the "sinful"
world to meet their needs — hence their "dumpster
diving." Can anyone conceive of someone in his
or her right mind "choosing" to live this
way? If these people are not under mind control, what
are they under? They &e certainly not in their right
minds. They have been led to believe that this kind
of lifestyle is truly righteous and holy. After all,
they are not being conformed to the world and its systems.
It seems to us that "simple deception" is
inadequate to explain such behavior.
39. Gary Collins,
Search for Reality (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers,
1969), 148. Cited in Passantino and Passantino, 42.
40. Dr. Daniel
Langer (former military intelligence officer in Vietnam)
in personal conversation with Ron Burks.
41. See Louis J.
West, et al., Symposium No.4: Methods of Forced Indoctrination:
Observations and Interviews (New York: Group for the
Advancement of Psychiatry Publications Office, 1957);
Louis J. West, "Psychiatric Aspects of Training
for Honorable Survival as a Prisoner of War," American
Journal of Psychiatry, Vol.115, No.4, October 1958;
Louis J. West, "Brainwashing," in A. Deutsch,
ed., The Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Vol.1 New York:
Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963).
and Passantino, Witch Hunt, 111.
43. Paul R. Martin,
Michael 9. Langone, Arthur A. Dole, Jeffrey Wiltrout,
"Post-Cult Symptoms as Measured by the MCMI Before
and After Treatment," Cultic Studies Journal, Vol.9,
No.2, 1992, 219-250. See also my chapter in Michael
Langone, ed., Recovery From Cults.
44. Jerry Paul
MacDonald, "‘Reject the Wicked Man’
— Coercive Persuasion and Deviance Production:
A Study of Conflict Management," Cultic Studies
Journal Vol.5, No.1, Winter 1988, 59-121.
45. Flavil R. Yeakley,
Jr., The Discipling Dilemma (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate,
46. See Michael
Langone, ed., Recovery From Cults.
47. Cults, Faith
Healing and Coercion (New York and London: Oxford University
Your Kids, 41.
Out of the Cults," Psychology Today, January 1979,
72. Emphasis added.
Harold, Unholy Devotion: Why Cults Lure Christians (Grand
Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983), 15. Reprinted as By Hook
or By Crook: How Cults Lure Christians (New York: McCracken
51. Helping the
52. Walter Martin,
Cult Explosion (Hemet, CA: Jeremiah Films); J.L. Williams,
Identifying and Dealing with the Cults (Burlington,
NC: New Directions Evangelistic Association; Chambers,
Langone, Dole, and Grice, "The Group Psychological
Abuse Scale," Cultic Studies Journal, Vol.11, No.1,
53. Chambers, et
al., ibid., 93.
54. Some, to be
sure, like Transcendental Meditation, promote themselves
currently as non-religious, even though they are unavoidably
religious at root.
55. We are aware
that authorities later determined that as many as a
couple hundred of the cultists actually died of gunshot
wounds, including Jones himself. The question still
remains: if there is no such thing as mind control,
what was it that drove the 6 or 700 others to drink
the poison and administer it to their children?
56. Laura Haferd
and William Outlaw, "Out of the Wilderness,"
Beacon, the magazine of The Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio,
February 21, 1993, 5.
57. A fascinating
description of this process is contained in Edgar Allan
Poe’s tale "A Descent into the Maelstrom."
58. It is virtually
impossible to give an accurate count of cult members,
since many cultic groups do not keep such records, most
that do do not make them public, and there are any number
of differing definitions of "cult." The figure
given here is meant to give an idea of the usual range
of cult membership suggested, though some cult researchers
suggest lower, others higher figures.
59. Also to be
considered is the fact that a sizeable percentage of
those lost by one cult end up attracted by another.
Several former cultists who have sought counseling at
Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center had been members
of up to three and four different cultic groups.
and Passantino, Witch Hunt, 111.
61. It appears
that the problem for the Passantinos is that some of
their favorite Christian groups are indicted by the
mind control model, even though they claim to be based
on the Bible.
62. Milton Rokeach,
The Open and Closed Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1960).
and Passantino, 38.
and Passantino, 38-39.
65. In a footnote
(number 57) the Passantinos refer to Anthony and Robbins
for further support of their contention that most mind
control advocates discount human susceptibilities as
a factor in cult recruitment. However, this is a matter
for empirical study. Has there been research published
on it? How does one measure susceptibility? What are
they basing their point on here?
66. Col. 2:8, Jerusalem
Bible. Emphasis added.
67. 2 Corinthians
11:20, Jerusalem Bible. Emphasis added.
68. Mel White,
Deceived (Muskegon, MI: Gospel Films).
and Passantino, 39.
70. Ex-cult members
are not likely to say "I’ve been under mind
control", unless they know what mind control is.
A person who feels physically sick often does not know
the cause until he hears a doctor’s diagnosis.
71. Paul R. Martin,
et al., "Post-Cult Symptoms as Measured by the
MCMI Before and After Residential Treatment," 219-250.
and Passantino, 39.
74. Em Griffin,
The Mind Changers (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers,
1976), 29-30. Cited in Passantino and Passantino, 40.
The original Lewis quote is from The Abolition of Man
(New York: Macmillan, 1947). Either Griffin or the Passantinos
misquoted the passage, however. It actually reads: "In
a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and
demand the function. We make men without chests and
expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour
and we are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We
castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful" (Collier
Books edition, 1962, 35. The underlined words were omitted
from the passage.
75. C. S. Lewis,
Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1943, 1945,
and Passantino, 40.
77. Denver Seminary
in Colorado and Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte,
NC are two rare exceptions we know of that offer more
than a cursory glance at cults.
and Passantino, 40.
79. Prov. 24:11-12,
80. See also Obadiah
11 for an even stronger statement in this regard.
81. Works, or human
endeavor, in this sense have no spiritual value in relation
to one’s standing with God. Or the Passantinos
may argue that works are simply a religious requirement
of moral obedience. But moral obedience implies that
one knows what is moral or correct. But the problem
is that the uniform testimony of former cultists is
that there was absolutely nothing they saw that was
immoral, illegal, or suggestive of disobedience to God.
Consequently, the Passantinos have to answer the following
1) What moral or
doctrinal mandates have the cultists disobeyed?
2) Are these moral
and/or spiritual mandates sufficiently clear that any
reasonable person would still act knowingly in a reckless
and negligent manner to join a cult in spite of hearing
and understanding the mandates?
3) Who is responsible
to present these moral or doctrinal mandates to the
82. There have
been far too many cases of "pseudo-victims"
who are so ready to sue, for example, a manufacturer
for not warning them against every possible misuse of
their product, blaming the company for the consequences
of the individual’s own carelessness or even stupidity.
Such cases, however, do not discount the reality of
victimization by cults.