Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cults and Mind Control, no such things

I grew up in the 70's, when the papers were filled with sensationalized stories about "the Moonies" using protein deprivation, sleep deprivation, and love bombing, to turn college kids into glazen eyed zombies, selling flowers in the streets 18 hours a day.

Then I actually got to know a few of them.

I sat down for discussions over meals, (first myth out the window - protein deprivation), and found out for myself how their minds work. I found them to not only be very devoted to their organization and willing to make great personal sacrifices in building it up, but also to be thoughtful, intelligent, and fully in control of their own free will.

I came to see brainwashing for the fairytale that it is, right then and there.

To me, it is utterly absurd to think that a human being can be reduced to an unthinking automaton by psychological manipulation, but as I observed in a previous entry, what people want to believe commonly dictates what they do believe. Many display a strong desire to believe lurid tales, (usually about places they have never been, and people they have never met), so they unquestioningly hang on every word told by someone who "escaped the cult".

Ironically, this same thought process in people involved in purported "cults" is viewed as evidence that their ability to think for themselves has been compromised.

Someone who has never been involved will read a book containing the horror stories of a disgruntled ex-member, along with their explanations of what the organization teaches (selected facts, carefully chosen so as to create a negative impression). They will then go to their friend or family member with the damning evidence. When that person rationalizes it all away, they become convinced that their loved one is under some evil cult leader's spell.

In reality, just as people are inclined to accept with little questioning that which fits their pre-conceived notions, it is also a normal human response that any person, when presented with information which stands in apparent contradiction to what they hold to be true, will look for reasons to dismiss it. "You have been programmed if you can't you see the obvious truth", is essentially the same as saying, "If you look at same facts as I do, yet don't draw the same conclusion, you must be cognitively impaired”, an incredibly arrogant position to take.

Indeed, all this cult hysteria does not foster reasonable thinking, and that is exactly what the people who throw that term around want. They have no desire for you to come away with a clear and accurate understanding of what the group in question is all about, they just want to foment fear.

Sadly, the public typically does fall for it. They will (foolishly) look at a group differently after hearing someone brand it as a cult.

It's a safe bet that many who read this are saying to themselves, "but there are cults". Yes, I'm sure that there are religions you do not like, but take a minute to ask yourself what they all have in common?

I personally think the world would be better off had L. Ron Hubbard, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and Bob Larson never come to any position of public prominence. But I'm not about to lump very different individuals together, or try to frighten you into staying away with loaded words chosen to manipulate you into an emotional response.

To an Evangelical, a cult is "a group that claims to be Christian, but does not adhere to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith". (Because they did not claim to be Christian, Heaven's Gate and The Order of the Solar Temple, who committed mass suicide in 1997 and 1994 respectively, would not qualify). A secular person will gave you a completely different definition. The fact is that there is no firmly established meaning, it's a meaningless pejorative term that scares people. Any person who knows this, yet continues to proclaim that there are such a thing as cults (and cult brainwashing), is either unreasonable or dishonest.


I just discovered this. Can anyone honestly say that this guy shows any indication of not being able to think for himself?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Raising the bar

"We cannot send you on a mission to be reactivated, reformed, or to receive a testimony. We just don't have time for that". -Elder M. Russell Ballard

Some claim that the LDS Church is hemorrhaging members. In large part, I think that the notion of devoted adult members leaving in droves is the wishful thinking of those with ill feelings toward the church. For most of us, periods of inactivity come and go, disturbing facts are discovered and trouble us until we can find a reason to dismiss them, but once committed intellectually to the Mormon world view, people generally stay. Nevertheless, this commitment (also known as conversion) is not automatic. We do have a problem, at least in one sense.

I was surprised by the recent study which put the LDS retention rate at 70%. My own observation is that half of the people I have known who were raised in Mormon households no longer consider themselves Mormons as adults.

The church really does need to make time for them.

When it comes to their Missionary Program, I honestly don't think that the Mormon hierarchy knows what they have.

The vast majority of people who come in contact with LDS Missionaries have no idea who Joseph Smith was before, and have no idea who Joseph Smith was afterward. Contacting strangers door-to-door, and in public places, are simply not an effective way of spreading a message. On the contrary, what these practices are effective in doing is creating a public impression that your church is pushy and confrontational, closing a lot of minds that could have been reached through television and other less intrusive and intimidating means.

This said, I'm not arguing that Mormon Missionaries should stop proselytizing and go build houses for the poor. The Missionary Program takes young people and focuses them exclusively on religion, every waking minute, for a year-and-a-half to two years. I'm not knocking the good work done my Habitat for Humanity, the Missionary Program just has a different purpose. It exists to foster conversion, and while the ratio of man hours spent vs. baptisms achieved is not what would be considered productive by anyone in the business world, it is very effective at converting one group of people: the missionaries themselves.

I have no doubt that many I have known, who are wholeheartedly dedicated to the church, would either be lukewarm members, or would have dropped out of the church, were it not for their missionary experience. My life would have turned out much different had I spent that portion of it in the Army, or some other place, and not for the better.

No doubt the General Authorities realize that there is a lot of immature behavior going on in the mission field. Had one of them paid an unexpected visit to the Missionary Training Center dorms during the evening, especially the night we had a big war, throwing M&M's at each other like they were buckshot, we would have all been in a lot of trouble. By "raising the bar", they must have felt that they were doing something to curb the horseplay and rule violations, and to eliminate the slackers who would drag their companions down. But can you really expect anything different from young adults not long out of high school, especially at the beginning of their term of service?

I'm a big fan of Richard Dutcher's movies (if you've never seen "States of Grace", you've GOTTA go buy it, I don't recommend "Falling", though). His first, "God's Army", is the story of a young man called to serve in Los Angeles, who arrives uncertain as to why he decided to go and whether he would stay. The movie details his initial struggles, which lead him to gain strength through adversity, and catch the vision, laying the foundation for a successful mission and a successful life. It is a masterful depiction of what a mission can do for a youth from a troubled family, going through difficulties as he enters adulthood.

I was a mess when I was handed my high school diploma, completely unprepared by the California public education system to productively function as an adult in society. I registered for classes at the local community college, but accomplished very little. At 19, I joined the LDS Church. Two psychologists were assigned as my home teachers, (they were no doubt given all the "problem members" of the ward). As the first anniversary of my baptism approached, they suggested I consider submitting papers to serve. It is said within the church that a mission will be the best two years of your life. While this was hardly the easiest and most enjoyable time of my life, it was certainly the most productive in terms of personal growth. Of all those I served with, I was probably the one that needed this life changing experience the most. But that was before they "raised the bar".