Saturday, March 17, 2007

Beware of Imitations, Part 2.


Welcome to Part 2 of my previous post, where I’ll be exploring the similarities between mainstream religious indoctrination and cult behavior. Previously, I discussed deception, fear and intimidation, love bombing and relationship control, and information control. The last four of what I consider to be the most damaging weapons in the cult indoctrination scam are, information control, reporting structure, time control, and identity blurring. Mapping these unethical activities onto the childhood world of religious indoctrination through Sunday School is not difficult at all.

Information control is accomplished by cult leadership by isolating members and restricting their access to information to “approved” channels. Socially accepted forms of child rearing do the same thing to a large extent. The method, in general, in Western society is to, “protect a child’s innocence.” This means, as far as I can tell, keeping a child ignorant of things that might cause fear, or cynicism, or knowledge of human reproductive nuances. I could debate the relative merits of this child rearing strategy, but the point is, this represents information control. It is by no means perfect. Parents (and “concerned” groups that are constantly telling parents what they should think), are constantly clamoring to plug the leaks in their ability to “protect” children from adult reality. One of the purposes that this serves is to prevent children from forming opinions that would be critical of the status quo. This partial vacuum of controversial topics gives churches and schools the opportunity to dictate opinion. One can argue that children are not qualified to have an opinion on broad social mores and beliefs, but that is really. in part, an argument for a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Reporting structure varies in different religious organizations. Cults encourage members to report undesired activity on the part of other members (like independent thought?) The leadership then uses this information to look smarter than they really are. They either come off looking clairvoyant, or they approach the situation obliquely, and work the victim until they wring out the confession that they know is in there. Catholics are encouraged to spill their own guts. I am not a Catholic, so I don’t know if Priests use information gained in this way against young accomplices. There is however, a similar tactic used against children and the occasional criminal. The interrogator pretends to know that which they only suspect in order to panic the suspect into admissions of guilt. It’s a cheap trick, but it works on a naïve mind with a guilty conscience.

Time control is used to make sure the cult member does not have time to encounter outside influences or think too much. This is accomplished through endless consecutive meetings, rituals, and planned activities. Small children, in most cases, have no control of their time. They are seldom unsupervised in social situations. Children are segregated in modern US society into peer groups of their own age. A cult of fear has been established concerning “strangers” and older kids. Some of these individuals really are a threat, but the end result is an atmosphere of mutual distrust where no adult can approach an unfamiliar child without creating suspicion. The current solution to the problem of dangerous people creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. The paradigm criminalizes social behavior, so now, only criminals engage in that behavior. I was once lost in a suburb of Chicago, and stopped to ask a kid where Lincoln St. was. All the streets had President’s names, so I was close. I did not get out of my car, nor did I ask the kid to approach the vehicle. I was talking out the passenger side window to a kid 10 feet away from the car. He ran. A child’s life consists of school, home life, Sunday School, and play activities with friends. More and more, children’s play time is taken up by supervised activities like team sports. Home life varies widely, and includes input from television. Most children’s television, post early childhood, is non-educational. It is a huge time waster geared to promote and sell toys. The point is, a child’s time is most often occupied and directed by outside parties that tailor the information given to children to conform with their beliefs as to what the child “should”, know, or “is ready” to know. This information very often serves the purpose of the giver, without any determination made as to the desires of the receiver. Whether or not you think that there is anything wrong with this model, it fits the definition of time control.


The final dirty cult trick that I would like to address is identity blurring. The cult leader will some times give a follower a new name, or convince the followers that their life up to the point of “full acceptance” in the cult was meaningless or counter-productive. This is a subtle but insidious form of ego diffusion. It throws into question and/or doubt every decision and thought that the follower has had up to that point in their life. Furthermore, it helps to throw into doubt any new independent thought the follower might have, as originating with the “old” personality and “unworthy” of the new one. This form of trickery is unnecessary when dealing with children. They are unsure of themselves, and their personalities have not formed to the extent of certainty. In other words, they lack experience, and therefore there is nothing that needs to be erased. Some analogues or vestiges of this practice do exist in mainstream religions. Some sects of Christianity take the whole “born again” craziness to a level that approaches identity blurring. Judaism has a tradition of tribal (re)naming surrounding the Bar-Mitzvah/Bat-Mitzvah rite-of-passage ceremonies. This could be a vestige of ego breaking used to help create willing and zealous followers.

The separation of adult and child populations in church and temple congregations suggests that a form of indoctrination is being employed on the children that is considered unnecessary or inappropriate for the adult population. Many of the objectives of cult-like forms of indoctrination are either unnecessary, or greatly simplified when dealing with children who lack experience and self-assurance. The implementation of these practices has become traditional, and it is quite likely that the people employing them have never examined the utility or the ethics of their methods. Since the adults in question have very likely gone through the same indoctrination that they are now perpetuating on the next generation, they too have been conditioned to believe in the rightness of what they are doing without question.

2 Comments:

At 10:25 PM, Blogger L>T said...

When I was a *shudder* Sunday school teacher for a few years in a huge Pentecostal denomination Assemblies of God& having been raised in the same environment. I saw exactly what you've been talking about.

Every bit of literature is handed down from the main office, all teaching materials, everything...it's a very controlled environment. We also had a childrens club kinda like a scouts program the girls club was called missionettes this is where we welcomed the "non-churched" kids. Alot of parents saw it as a free baby-sitting service, but really for the church it was about conversion.

 
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