A short time ago, I commented on cults in response to another comment on this post
at Atheist Revolution
. I have been thinking about this off and on for a long time. As I stated in the comment, what defines a cult as opposed to mainstream cultural religion is often a matter of degree.
On the face of it, there are many things that differentiate a cult from generally accepted religions. This is mainly because these common religions have two faces, the one that adults see, and the one in the back rooms, that the children see. This other face goes by many names, I’ll just call it Sunday School for simplicity’s sake. This is where the cult-like indoctrination takes place. While the parents are attending church services, they are condoning the practice of techniques on their children that they would probably not condone if practiced against an adult. As far as I can discern, there are two main reasons for this. First, children are naïve, and have instinctual deference to large adult authority figures. They have not developed the critical thinking skills, or the experience-born cynicism that would cause them to question what they are told. Because of this, the more overt methods of mind breaking and mind control that would brand the religious organization a cult are not necessary. Second, the parents themselves practice forms of the same techniques to control their children. The ethical implications are rarely examined, and as often happens, are rationalized away with the, “end justifies the means” argument. Humans are fallible. If these small deceptions and abuses of trust prevent the parent from losing self-control and resorting to violence, then perhaps the end does justify the means.
According to howcultswork.com
, there are seven main mind control techniques that differentiate a cult from mainstream religion. These techniques are: deception, exclusivism, fear and intimidation, love bombing and relationship control, information control, reporting structure, and time control. To this list I add an eighth technique, identity blurring. Examined one at a time, one can see how some of these techniques are unnecessary, and how some have more subtle alternatives when practicing the induction of children.
Deception, as practiced by cults, is defined as having different beliefs and practices than are described to new recruits. The underlying assumption is, that the actual practices are harmful or undesirable, and are therefore hidden from the recruit until such time as they are drawn in too completely to turn back. This form of deception is unnecessary with children. Their parents have decided for them that this is desirable. They have absolutely no idea that they are being recruited into an organization that expects them to make a lifetime commitment of time and money to support it. There are other forms of deception practiced in the early stages of induction. If you were raised in a Western Christian atmosphere, can you remember when you thought Santa Claus was real? How about the Tooth Fairy? La Befana? The Easter Bunny? There are many parallels in other societies. The point is, you believed it because your parents told you so, and you had no reason or ability to doubt their word. Now, how old were you when you first heard the story of Adam and Eve (or insert your creation myth here)? Noah’s Ark? Jesus/Mohammed/Moses? Did the adult authority figure have to give you any evidence the first time you heard it? Subsequently, did you learn about the concept of faith, and were you shown a book wherein “it is written”? What if I were to write a book, and tell you that God told me to write it and therefore everything in it is true? Oh wait, that’s been done
, and people do believe it. Deception is practiced differently on children. They are not drawn in against their will because they have no will in these matters.
“Exclusivism” is defined as a cult’s typical insistence that theirs is the only way to salvation/enlightenment/whatever. The differentiating factor here between a cult and mainstream religion is that mainstream religion does not have a huge problem with you if you decide to jump ship and join another church. There are exceptions that move some churches into a gray area. The Roman Catholic Church will have no problem if you want to move from St. Barnabus to St. Ignatious, but will tell you that you are endangering your alleged immortal soul if you switch to the First Presbyterian. I’m not sure, but I think there are parallels in the various Islamic factions. The overt practice of exclusivism is unnecessary in Sunday School. This is a captive audience. Children are introduced to this world at such a young age that they are unaware that any alternative exists. No threat is required to hold them in place; they are there at the will of their parents. They have no right to refuse.
Fear and intimidation are a lot simpler to accomplish against children as well. The relative size, physical power, and authority of adults give the adults a distinct advantage. Children are instinctively insecure when they know that they are overmatched. The earliest stage of moral development is fear of consequences. Religious indoctrination with its arguments from authority feeds right into this developmental stage. Cults use character assassination to break down resistance. This is hardly necessary when the child’s character is not yet fully formed. The only fear necessary is the fear of being singled out of the group. Not accepting, or questioning the authority of the adult in control can be turned into examples of “bad” behavior or thinking. The adult does not even have to supply well-reasoned arguments to support his or her position against a child that cannot well articulate their objections. The natural tendency of the other children in the room is to keep silent and side with the authority figure. In a faith-based environment, it is also common for the instructor to resort to inducing guilt over the lack of faith demonstrated by the student’s doubt. This is just a subtler form of the Ad hominem attack used by cults.
Love bombing and relationship control allows cults to secure exclusive influence and obedience from their members. Cults using this form of mind control offer their members all they could ever want to fill the basic human need for belonging and companionship. This love and friendship is contingent on conformity however. The group is trained to withhold their ego-stroking behaviors at the first sign of disagreement. To quote howcultswork.com, “This unspoken threat influences your actions in the cult. Things that normally would have made you complain will pass by silently because you don't want to be ostracized.” The world in which children live is not the same as the world of their adult parents. Children live in the world of the schoolyard, and this point in their development is all about establishing pecking order and finding one’s relationship to the group. The threat of ostracism looms very large to children, and is intimately tied to basic fears of abandonment. The child is still highly dependent on the adult community for nurture, and easily feels threatened. No further engineering is necessary to obtain conformity in these early groups than that discussed in the previous paragraph. The other ingredient to relationship control is the cult’s ability to cut the member off from previous relationships. They do this by asserting that previous relationships with family and friends were actively inhibiting the member from obtaining salvation/enlightenment/whatever. This step is unnecessary in the Sunday School recruitment environment. The parents are willing participants in the process. The regional nature of the church community will insure that Sunday School classmates are also schoolmates. The bonding process is just occurring, so there is little or no need to break preexisting bonds. There is a greater probability that your early school friends will be some of the people in your Sunday School class simply because they are more familiar to you. This is because of the Sunday School equivalent to time control.
To be continued.