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?