Mind-Control vs. Indoctrination
The key to understand this web site is to realize the fundamental difference between the anti-cult approach of “cult mind-control” and that of “indoctrination”.
The “cult mind-control” line favored by anti-cult groups is a simplistic and dualistic approach, positioning on the one hand the evil cult leader and on the other hand the innocent victims – the first knowingly exploiting the second for money and power.
This approach has historically proven itself to lead to gross
human right abuses such as kidnapping and deprogramming of cult members,
discrimination towards minorities, and eventually tragedies on a large scale
such as Jonestown and
In contrast, the concept of indoctrination does not demonize the cult leader by portraying him as an evil brainwasher but instead views him as a victim of the cultic illusion himself.
Nor does it de-humanize cult members by portraying them as mindless robots but view them instead as unconsciously helping to feed the cultic illusion for themselves and others.
It also is important to note that this approach does not dismiss the content of the group’s teaching, but puts emphasis instead on the context that brings the group to act in a cultish manner.
The “cultic mindset” is at the core of the whole cult/anti-cult issue, and therefore of Scientology as well. If only the public would understand this one concept, they would understand everything ex-members and anticultists attempt to say. They would also understand, paradoxically, where anticultists go wrong on that issue.
There is, however, no simple definition. If there was, there would not be a controversy in the first place. I can only attempt to describe here my own understanding of that phenomenon, understanding born out of firsthand experience and years of involvement on both sides of the issue.
At the basis of the cultic mindset is an illusion. An illusion is to believe in something that in reality does not exist, or more exactly does not exist in the way it appears to, like a mirage in the desert. What the mirage depicts is a reflection of something real, but it is only a reflection, and the illusion is to take that reflection for the reality.
Likewise, cults offer a reflection of something real. It has a great appeal for those who seek, who have a deep thirst for true meaning in life, wandering in the desert of our society that only offers them material satisfaction and a superficial, sclerosised, institutionalized, spirituality. The cultic illusion kicks in when the member fails to realize the illusory nature of what is being offered, and when the group itself offers it in such a context as to present it as the real thing, the one and only real thing.
The group’s teaching, and therefore the group’s very existence, becomes the most important, the most vital, thing in the life of the member. It holds his eternal future, saves him from eternal damnation, and represents the only hope for the planet, doomed without it in a relatively short term. This mentality is reinforced by the context in which the teaching is presented. The teaching has to be preserved at any cost, especially towards a hostile and ignorant society that will do its utmost to destroy it. The cultic mindset, the end-justifies-the-means mentality, the us-vs-them mentality, kicks in.
The basis of truth at the heart of the cultic illusion is an important aspect that, as we will see later, makes the difference with the anticult approach. It also is what makes Scientology such an inextricable controversy, because it is actually a mixture of truths and fallacies.
This may hopefully become more clear through concrete application to both Scientology and the anti-cult movement.
Cultic Mindset and Scientology
Anticultists claim that Scientology is all crap and non-sense and they explain the reason people believe in it through “brainwashing” and “mind-control”. It is impossible to understand what the cultic mindset it through such a prejudiced approach. In fact, as we will see later, it itself is extremely cultic.
Quite on the contrary, Scientology does contain valid aspects. This much better explains why people believe and stick to it. At the same time, it also helps to better understand the cultic mindset.
The members only see the valid aspects of Scientology. They are unaware of their own cultic attitude, brought about by cultic suggestions they unconsciously accepted. Critics only see the members’ cultic attitude. They are unaware of the pull exerted by the truths contained in Scientology and therefore try to explain it through an equally cultish notion of “brainwashing”.
We therefore get in a situation of impossible mutual understanding, where each side is at the same time right and wrong.
Only through an “external” view of the controversy, away and beyond both extremes, is it possible to get a glimpse of what really goes on.
Cultic Mindset and Anticultism
We have seen in the above section that what makes Scientology cultic is the extension of a valid basis into unwarranted territories. The same phenomenon explains why anti-cult opposition to Scientology turns out about as cultish as Scientology itself.
Anti-cultists are basically right in their core arguments. They point to a mindset that turns what could be a genuine religious movement into a group that could easily derive into a totalitarian society and where individuals entrap themselves in a system that conditions and limits them, and may turn them into blind fanatics.
Where anti-cultists go wrong, however, is when they themselves build this basic truth into an absolute and intolerant believe system of their own.
To make the parallel more clear, I will follow the same pattern to explain that mindset as the one I followed to explain the cultic mindset of Scientology.
Once again it is important to realize that anticultists are not wrong when they point out to the cultic-mindset. They are only wrong when they extend this into their own set of cultic beliefs.
Tragedies like Jonestown and Waco can be directly traced to anticultists involvement that encouraged an hysterical reaction from authorities and the public, which in turn increased the cultic reaction of the groups involved and ended up in hundreds of atrocious dead of innocent people whose only “fault” was to seek out a better world.
Because the end result of the anticult theory as proven so dangerous, with kidnapping/deprogramming, hysterical mob reactions, witch hunts, and other gross human rights abuses, it is of utmost importance that the theory been debunked and scholars have done a tremendous job in this respect. It is not accepted as a justification for forcible deprogramming anymore, and groups like the FBI have now learned better than listen to anticult groups’ advices. Anticultists are still exploiting the ignorance of the public through a great amount of web site, the media, and social pressures, but as the public get more educated they learn to relativise the issue and to place it in a more realistic context.
This being said, scholars have not really addressed the issue of the cultic mindset. Anticultists may legitimately feel misunderstood because the truth they do see is not being addressed. An increased interest for that aspect on the part of scholars and a reform of the anticult movement to purge itself of its own cultic behavior would prove beneficial to everyone.
What is a Cult? - Taking various definitions from Lifton, Singer, CAN, Bonnewits, etc, removing some of the dubious criteria, and mixing the whole thing with my own experience, I delineated five main slots in which cultic characteristics can fall.
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