UC Not Dangerous


Another excellent argument against the mind control thesis of Hassan, Singer and company is by J. Gordon Melton. "J. Gordon Melton is the director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and is a research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California. He is the author of more than twenty-five books, including several encyclopedias, handbooks, and almanacs on American religion and new religious movements. Melton is also an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He lives in Santa Barbara, California." He writes:

Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory

by J. Gordon Melton

Dr. J. Gordon Melton's Introduction to the forthcoming book The Brainwashing Controversy: An Anthology of Essential Documents, edited by J. Gordon Melton and Massimo Introvigne, to be published in several languages. Notes are at the end of the text. (http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton.htm)

In the United States at the end of the 1970s, brainwashing emerged as a popular theoretical construct around which to understand what appeared to be a sudden rise of new and unfamiliar religious movements during the previous decade, especially those associated with the hippie street-people phenomenon. Most of the new groups were of Asian origin and located on the fringe of the evangelical Christian-based counter cultural movement, the Jesus People, although a few quasi-religious groups such as est and Lifespring were also brought into the controversy. While there had been a few scholars interested in new religious movements over the previous decades, especially in Japan where new religions had flowered in the 1950s, with the sudden appearance of a host of new groups in the United States following the rescission of the Asian Exclusion Act in 1965, a number of new scholars appeared ready to devote a significant amount of their research and writing to the issue of an understanding of the role of new religions in late twentieth century society. The first academic organization to focus research primarily on the many new religious groups was incorporated in 1969.

While these scholars explored with interest the many similarities of the new religions with older religious groupings, both familiar American groups and different groups seen in other lands, in the early 1970s movements appeared to oppose these new religions. The leaders of these groups, primarily parents of young adults who had joined the groups, focused upon the dissimilarities they saw between these new groups and the religions with which they were familiar. They were strange, but more than strange, they were quantitatively different, and their distinctive nature included a sinister element. Through the 1970s, as people struggled to articulate the strangeness they felt from these new religions, the term "brainwashing" became the symbol of the threat they represented.

While many objected to their son or daughter joining any religion different from that in which they had been raised, parents were particularly upset by those new groups who sought the full-time commitment of recruits, accepting them not just into membership but into a career either as an administrator, teacher, or missionary for the group, or a resident of a commune or monastic-like community. The brainwashing idea came as a godsend to parents who had been objecting to their offspring's joining one of the new movements, as it offered what appeared to be a scientific rationale for their son or daughter's actions.

Joining the new religion, at least to all outward appearances, included a radical change in lifestyle, social relationships, and career trajectory. Joining the groups usually included the individuals' assigning religion a significantly higher priority in their lives. Parents were often at a loss to explain what they saw as an unexpected change, though examination of the recruits usually revealed that the visible changes had come only after a period of time in which they had felt some dissatisfaction with their life in general and their religious life in particular.

In reaching out for some reason why a young adult would radically reject the way which parents had prepared for them to fine a successful (and by their standards, normal) life, parents tended to place the blame upon the group that s/he had joined, and increasingly upon the leader of that group. The several organizations founded in the early 1970s drew upon the literature developed primarily by American Evangelical Christian writers that referred to the new religions as "cults." (1) Through the early 1970s, they began to seek the assistance of law enforcement agencies and various professionals, primarily mental health professionals, to intervene in the life of the new believers. Police and courts were generally unable to assist parents whose child had joined a cult, a "cult" being defined as it was in Evangelical literature merely by its espousal of a radically different set of beliefs. The situation changed in the late 1970s largely as a result of (a) the discovery of involuntary deprogramming as a technique that had some positive results in persuading members to drop their affiliations to new religions, (b) the emergence of the concept of brainwashing in the trial of millionaire heiress Patty Hearst, and (c) the death of some 900 people at Jonestown.

First, the original parental groups found a major ally in the person of Theodore "Ted" Patrick who stumbled upon the process of deprogramming after being alerted to the dangers of cults when one of his relatives became briefly associated with the Children of God. In 1976 he authored a popular volume, Let Our Children Go,(2) describing his kidnapping of several people and the application of various forms of physical and emotional stress in an attempt to force them to sever their relationship to the group, be it the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna, The Divine Light Mission of Guru Maharaj Ji, or one of the several new Evangelical Christian groups.

Then, in 1975, media-empire heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, and disappeared into the Symbionese Liberation Army, a self-styled leftist revolutionary political group. Some months later she was photographed carrying a rifle and participating in a bank robbery. When she was finally captured by the police, she was tried for her role in the robbery, and her defense lawyers tried to argue a new concept, that she had been brainwashed by the SLA and having lost her free will was not responsible for her actions during the robbery.

As the story of her life in the SLA was revealed, it became obvious that during the weeks immediately after her capture that she had undergone a horrible ordeal that included being locked for long periods in a closet, physical rape, and a period of indoctrination into the political theories of the SLA. Overtime, she began to identify with her captors and eventually became a convert to the SLA cause. At her trial, several people came forward to testify on her behalf, most prominently, Louis J. West and Robert J. Lifton. However, one more-obscure expert, Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer (though she did not testify on brainwashing at this time), would later emerge as the key figure in the brainwashing debate.(3) While the jury turned back any leniency for Hearst based on the brainwashing argument (in spite of her case bearing some analogy to the situation of the Korean prisoners of war), other juries were found to be more attuned to the concept.

At the time of the Hearst case, the parental movement against the new religions seemed to be running out of steam and was splintered into a variety of independently minded local organizations. However, in November 1978, an event in a small South American country would change everything. Jim Jones was the pastor of the Peoples Temple, a large California congregation of the prominent liberal Protestant denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Jones had become an advocate of a radical form of Marxist liberation theology, then a popular perspective in liberal Protestantism. However, while he was praised within his denomination and other Protestant churches, for his social outlook and work on racial harmony, he was not without his harsh critics. In 1977, he moved with hundreds of his church members, mostly African Americans, to Guyana, where the church had previously established a small agricultural colony.

In Guyana, a communal lifestyle emerged, and the group considered suicide as one alternative to the public's lack of acceptance of their Marxist ideology. Then in November 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan visited as a response to the controversy stirred by the church. Though seemingly completing his visit on a highly positive note, he and his party were brutally murdered just before they were to catch their plane back to the United States. Several hours later, almost all of the residents of Jonestown were dead, some committed suicide, others were murdered. Overnight, the Peoples Temple emerged as the epitome of the "cult." (4) The parental groups, divided and possessed of intense local loyalties to their group, found themselves unable to make a response at the level they believed that the Jonestown event demanded. However, over the next few years, they hammered out an national organization originally known as the Citizens Freedom Foundation (the name of an early group in California) and eventually assumed the name, Cult Awareness Network (CAN).

CAN emerged in the early 1980s prepared to fight the cults. It was equipped with a program to help parents who had lost a son or daughter into a cult (i.e., deprogramming) and what appeared to be a secular scientific understanding of the danger that cults posed (i.e., brainwashing). While CAN assumed the activist role serving families who desired the disassociation of one of their family members from a new religion, a sister group, the American Family Foundation (AFF) emerged to carry on an educational and research program designed to alert the public to the threat posed to the social order by the cults and the danger of cult life to its members. AFF leadership was largely constituted by professionals-with mental health professionals and lawyers constituting the largest segment. While pursuing separate roles, the efforts of the two organizations were coordinated by interlocking boards and the active role many people assumed in both CAN and AFF, and through the mid-1980s, professionals would largely replace parents on CAN's board By the end of decade, both organizations consisted of a small number of professionals leading a constituency of parents, anti-cult activists, and lay people concerned about the cult issue.

The Brainwashing Controversy

The idea of brainwashing came out of the misunderstanding of the Chinese indoctrination program directed at American Armed Forces prisoners during the Korean War. Many Americans were offended that some of their soldier prisoners had made anti-American statements during their prison days and that a few had even chosen to remain behind when prisoners were liberated at the end of hostilities. In the context of the public's coming to grips with the insult of the prisoners' actions, a journalist, Edward Hunter (later revealed to have been a undercover CIA agent), proposed that a new process of indoctrination had been developed by the Chinese Communists, that they had discovered an intense manipulative process that has insidious power to actually alter the mental outlook of those who fell victim to it.(5)

As soon as the Armistice was signed, a team of psychiatrists and psychologists were dispatched to Korea to interview the returning prisoners. Prominent among the group were Robert J. Lifton and Edgar Schein, and several years later the results of their research began to appear.(6) They concluded that in many ways the experience of the prison camps did not really test Hunter's accusations, as the prisoners were not really subjected to a systematic re-education program. Prisoners were subjected to pressures to engage in collaborative behavior rather than appeals to convert to Communism. Lifton and Schein noted that the thought control process occurred in the context of the prisoners physical confinement under the harshest of conditions, conditions in which necessities such as food and warm clothing were scarce. Positive results in the process were most often pulled out of prisoners who had faced severe deprivation and were offered such things as more comfortable sleeping quarters, better food, a sweater, or a blanket. They also noted that the process, in spite of the publicity given several prisoners who had made "unamerican" statements, was actually quite ineffective in changing any basic attitudes.(7) In spite of these results, the term "brainwashing" entered the public consciousness, and many people adopted Hunter's original perspective as truth.

However, soon after the Armistice, the Chinese government also began to release a number of prisoners, Americans and other foreigners (missionaries, students, doctors, businessmen) caught in China when the Korean War began, as well as a few Chinese who had not been arrested but had been encouraged to attend "voluntarily" one of the thought reform institutions set up throughout this period. When they emerged from captivity into freedom in Hong Kong, several made public statements to the effect that they had been American spies, that their arrest and detention was just, and that they deserved any punishment they had received. Given the seeming falsity of the statements they were making, possibly they were true victims of what Hunter had called brainwashing, that the sophisticated Pavlovian process of thought reform utilized by the Chinese was so effective that the victims subjected to it had become little more than a puppet or robot. Thus Schein, Lifton and their colleagues began a new round of research. While some such as William Sargent (8) and Joost Merloo (9) initially accepted Hunter's perspective, Lifton's (10) and Schein's (11) careful analysis of the prisoners accounts led them to reject Hunter's view.

Lifton, Schein, and their colleagues concluded that in fact coercive persuasion, in which a mixture of social, psychological and physical pressures are applied to produce changes in an individual's self-perception, beliefs and attitudes, does occur. However, they also concluded that a necessary condition of its occurring was the physical element-confinement or its equivalent, As Schein put it, "... the coercive element in coercive persuasion is paramount (forcing the individual into a situation in which he must, in order to survive physically and psychologically, expose himself to persuasive attempts)." (12) They also concluded that it was successful only on a minority of those subjected to it and its end result was very unstable, the individuals so coerced tending to revert to their previous condition soon after the coercive force was removed. (13)

By the time of the Hearst case, a popular anti-cult movement had been energized by the practice of deprogramming, an activity that included the forceful detention (and occasionally an actual kidnapping) of a member of a new religion and the subsequent application of pressure for the member to withdraw and return to a "normal" life. When legal authorities failed to respond to their requests, deprogramming offered parents one way to intervene in their offspring's life and hopefully end their foray in a new religious group. During the 1970s, parents also placed their hope in a second, closely associated, tactic, the placing of their child under a court conservatorship during which time pressure for their leaving the group could be applied without the questionable coercive activity involved with deprogramming.

In the years immediately after the Hearst case, several psychiatrists, most notably UCLA Professor Louis J. West and Massachusetts psychiatrist John Clark, were active in applying theories of brainwashing to new religious movements, however, it was Margaret T. Singer, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California, who became the leading theoretician and the most prominent exponent of the theory in court situations. Her position was initially established in several articles, most notably "Coming Out of the Cults," that appeared in Psychology Today, a widely circulated newsstand periodical designed to convey psychological insights to a popular audience.

Much of the article was devoted to discussing the harm suffered by the ex-members of several of the new religions. Symptoms included depression, indecisiveness, the blurring of mental acuity, uncritical passivity, and fear. The discussion of the mental health of group members would be a continuing theme in the literature. However, slipped into the discussion was the more important theme of coercive persuasion which Singer admitted needed a "long and sophisticated explanation of social and psychological coercion, influence and control procedures." (14) However, she did accuse the "cults" of maintaining the loyalty of their members through the use of "social and psychological pressures and practices that, intentionally or not, amount to conditioning techniques that constrict attention, limit personal relationships, and devalue reasoning.(15) She also noted that even trained therapists "may fail to be aware of the sophisticated high-pressure recruitment tactics and intense influence procedures the cults use to attract and keep members," and may rather see in the symptoms signs of a long-standing psychopathology originating in the days prior to cult involvement.(16)

In several subsequent articles, Singer would develop more completely her idea of "conditioning techniques." For example, in 1980, in an article co-authored with Louis J. West, she noted that cults use drastic techniques of control:

"... techniques that in some respects resemble the political indoctrination methods prescribed by Mao Tse Tung during the communist revolution and its aftermath from 1945 to 1955 in China. These techniques, described by the Chinese as 'thought reform" or ideological remolding were labeled "brainwashing' by the American journalist Edward Hunter (1951, 1958). Such methods were studied in depth after the Korean War by a number of Western scientists (Lifton, 1961; Schiein, 1961)." (17)

Further she added that the use of these techniques led members to become incapable of complex, rational thought, responses to questions become stereotyped, and the ability to make decisions difficult. Much that was asserted in articles such as these resonated with the finding of new religions scholars in general who studied what were seen as "high demand" religions within which a variety of, to borrow a phrase from Rosebeth Kantor, "commitment mechanisms" to encourage and hold group members.(18) However, critics noticed that Singer consistently employed the language of brainwashing and Pavlovian conditioning. While quoting her mentor Edgar Schein, she largely avoided discussions of two key issues: the necessary element of coercion involved in the process of coercive persuasion and the issue of the overriding of the free will of people upon whom the persuasive techniques are used.

However, in her court testimony she consistently moved beyond her published articles to assert that social and psychological techniques had been used by the new religions on their members, and that these techniques had effected the members ability to think clearly and make decisions, but went on to asset that, in fact, the end result of the process was (a) the overpowering of the person's free will in making critical decisions and (b) the group's gaining control that was virtually total. Singer's articles offered several possibilities of interpretation. One, the social influence approach, accepted that new religions, just as other groups, influenced members, and that cults simply did it somewhat more. The other, known as the robot theory, from the use of that term by Edward Hunter, suggested far more. That the free will of the person had been inhibited and that they actually remained a member of the group against their will because they were controlled by the group.

While a cursory reading of Singer's writings through the 1980s could reach the conclusion that she was simply articulating a social influence approach, the articles served to provide a foundation from which the so-called "robot" theory could be asserted in court. This latter assertion was essential if court cases directed against new religions were to have a claim of action that justified the multi-million dollar judgments that were being sought. Thus, it was in the depositions and court transcripts that what became known as the "Singer hypothesis," the application of the "robot theory" of brainwashing to cults was largely articulated, and it became necessary to consult these documents to create a full respond to her thought.

However, what Singer said in court was being said more openly in public statements by others. For example, social worker Jean Merritt, one of the AFF's early employees, said of members of some "authoritarian" groups she had interviewed, that "their free will has been given up by the isolation, lack of sleep, sexual acts, poor eating and the sophistication of the psychological manipulations of leaders."(19) Among the most widely circulated statements of support for Singer came in the book Snapping, authored by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. Snapping was the name they gave to the effect upon cult members when the brainwashing process took over. As they put it:

"Inevitably, under the cumulative pressures of this sweeping physical, emotional, and intellectual blitz, self-control and personal beliefs give way. Isolated from the world and surrounded by exotic trappings, the converts absorb the cult's altered ways of thought and daily life. In a very short time, before they realize what is happening, while their attention is diverted to contrived spiritual conflicts and further weakened by lack of food and sleep, the new cult members slide into a state of mind in which they are no longer capable of thinking for themselves." (20)

As these opinions became known at the end of the 1970s, they produced a storm of comment and through the mid 1980s the issues were fully aired at various scholarly gatherings, and a significant scholarly consensus that the brainwashing model used by Singer and her colleagues was woefully inadequate emerged. That consensus, most clearly stated in the negative responses to the report that Singer and her colleagues would prepare for the American Psychological Association, would in turn be injected into the court process in the late 1980s and lead to the rejection of the "Singer hypothesis" by U.S. courts and a series of reverses by the Cult Awareness Network and indeed the whole anti-cult movement in the 1990s.

The Response to the Brainwashing Hypothesis

The articles which appear below represent the major scholarly reactions to the Singer hypothesis by social scientists (both psychological and sociological). Soon after the Hearst trial, in 1977, a pop book advocating the use of brainwashing terminology against new religions was authored by California psychiatrist Paul A. Verdier.(21) Simultaneously, support for the application of brainwashing theory to the new religions came from legal and sociological sources. (22)

In the meantime, Singer had become involved in a trial in which parents of five members of the Unification Church sought a conservatorship for purposes of "deprogramming" them from their allegiance to the Church's belief and practice. Singer testified that the five were in need of treatment and recommended the facilities of the Freedom of Thought Foundation,(23) an establishment that specialized in talking people out of new religious affiliations. They had been victims of coercive persuasion (the term she used from her former mentor Edgar H. Schein), and need the "reality therapy" provided by the Foundation. The court granted the conservatorship, but in what became a landmark case, Katz v. Superior Court (1977), the California Appeals Court reversed the decision. This case although it largely ended the hope of using conservatorship laws in cult cases, did have the effect of publicizing the idea of cultic brainwashing to the general public.

Among the first, and certainly the most important response to the early writings of Singer and her associates came in the article by Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, "The Limits of 'Coercive Persuasion' as an Explanation for Conversion to Authoritarian Sects," the first article to appear below,(24) originally published in the Summer 1980 issue of Political Psychology. While admitting the possible limited use of a "coercive persuasion" model in the study of new religions, Robbins and Anthony argued that the use of such arguments as a justification of deprogramming and legal action was illegitimate. Such extended uses, they argued, ignored the significant differences between different religious movements, wrongly equate the voluntary affiliation operative in religious groups with the physical constraint working on government operated totalistic institutions (such as prisons camps), lack any evidential support that persons subjected to "coercive persuasion" failed to exercise free will, and rely too heavily on the testimonies of ex-members whose account of life in the group had previously been effected by the work of deprogrammers and/or sessions with a therapist. (Singer had noted in her Psychology Today article that her view of the new religions had been almost totally formed by her sessions with ex-members, the great majority of whom had come to her only after being deprogrammed.)

Beginning with the Robbins/Anthony article, the issue raised by Singer and her colleagues became a matter of intense debate among sociologists and religious studies scholars. While many tried to separate that debate from the public controversy over "brainwashing" (a term which Singer tried completely to avoid), such was not possible. Singer's most substantive presentation of her position had been placed in a newsstand publication, and legal colleague Richard Delgado followed his initial publication in a law review (25) with an article for the New York Times. (26) Those scholars who studied new religions were regularly interviewed by the press concerning their observations. The debate took place amid the weekly occurrences of deprogrammings, a series of civil lawsuits brought by former members against several new religious groups that resulted in multi-million dollar judgments, and what appeared to be a growing popular prejudice against any group labeled a "cult." Those who wrote about new religions did so knowing that every word would be scrutinized for its position vis-a-vis the controversy.

Among the issues rarely discussed was the assumption that many (hundreds if not thousands) of the new religious movements existed but data about and attacks upon "cults" was limited to a relative few groups. Only five groups, the Unification Church, the Divine Light Mission, The Way International, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and Church of Scientology, were regularly mentioned with less than twenty additional groups also cited on rare occasions.

As the controversy progressed, it was noted that primary support for the brainwashing/coercive deprogramming position came from psychological clinicians, and that they tended to bolster their attack upon the new religions with claims that cult life produced pathology. Various reports had suggested that members of cults had inherited problems from their dysfunctional families and joined a new religion to escape from the demands of autonomy. John Clark, one of the earliest exponents of the brainwashing perspective made broad claims that most cult members were "substantially and chronically" disturbed. (27) Clark's claim produced two different responses. First, those who supported such claims implied, if they did not state, that new religions were best understood as psychological phenomena rather than religious organizations. If his perspective were to be adopted, it would be assumed that the large amount of scholarly work on new religions was as best irrelevant and in fact, worthless.

Second, others, including Singer, even though she shared a distaste for the new religions with Clark, rejected Clark's perspective that cults recruited psychologically damaged individuals. In 1980, she and West asserted to the contrary that the great majority of adolescents and young adults who joined new religions were not disturbed before joining. This position allowed them to emphasize that the symptoms which they observed in ex-members were the effect of converting and remaining in a new religion. Others also expanded upon what they saw as group-generated pathology.(28)

In 1982, the psychological literature, both that critical of new religious groups and that more supportive, was surveyed and evaluated in an important article by professor of psychiatry Marc Galanter (later expanded into a book).(29) Adopting the more neutral term "charismatic religious sects," he discussed issues around the attraction felt by people who experience a high level of distress (both pathological and nonpathological) prior to joining a religious group, the process of conversion, and the effects of long-term membership and of leaving an alternative religious group. Galanter discussed the psychological issues around new religions apart from the emotionally charged language of brainwashing and the manipulation of images of prisoner of war camps, and objectively assessed the presence of psychopathology in some potential recruits and the role that conversion, mystical experiences and group membership played in the over coming of the initial distress.

More importantly, Galanter pointed out the major problem of approaching members of new religions using categories had been developed to deal with mental illness, i.e.. the problem of medicalizing the discussion of new religious groups. He further notes that the process of joining, being a member, and leaving a new religious group is best described not as a matter of personal pathology but of social adaptation. For example, experiences that in a secular setting might be considered pathological are, within some religious settings, perfectly normal. While psychological categories were created to discuss individual dysfunctional behavior, the behavior of group members must be seen in light of group norms. Thus what may be considered disturbed behavior in a secular setting may be perfectly functional and normal within a group context.

Galanter's analysis had the effect of reducing the significance of the observed abnormal behavior reported among former members. He also suggested an alternative means of understanding otherwise inexplicable behavior in members and ex-members without considering them as suffering from psychopathology. Galanter's work, along with that of several other psychiatrists who saw members of new religions in nonpathological terms,(30) provided the substantial challenge to the Singer hypothesis from the psychological community.

While Galanter's work was being read by psychiatrists and psychologists, on a popular level, Conway and Siegelman were making broad sweeping claims of pathology among the members of the reputed thousands of cults operating in the West. Though lacking any medical or psychological credentials, in Snapping, they posed the existence of an as yet unknown disease caused by membership in a cult. This "information disease," as they termed it, was produced by the manipulation of information by cult leaders. In essence, they suggested that the individual nervous system is fed by information flowing into it. The practice of various spiritual disciplines (from prayer and meditation to chanting and yoga) shut off the flow of information for long periods of time and created a disorder of awareness. Going even further, they suggested that the amount of time needed in rehabilitation was directly related to the amount of time a member had spent in group rituals and spiritual practices.

Conway and Siegelman stated in blatantly popular language what Singer had been saying in much more staid terms: membership in cults caused significant pathology and former members required extensive psychological therapy. And while the approach of Galanter and others suggested nonpathological perspectives for understanding ex-members, clinicians such as Singer continued to see pathology in most ex-members. This pathology was initially seen as an "atypical dissociative disorder" and also as similar to the "delayed stress syndrome" often experienced by Vietnam War veterans. (31)

If Conway and Siegelman's work did anything, it spurred research in that most difficult of work areas, ex-members. While members of new religions could be contacted and studied relatively quickly, former members tended to fade into the larger population and required some effort to locate. However, researchers quickly noted that Conway and Siegelman's samples, like those used by Singer, had been drawn from that relatively small group of former members who had associated with the anti-cult movement, some because they had left due to a bad experience in the group, but the great majority because they had been deprogrammed. These people constituted but a tiny percentage of former members (10 to 15%), and were drawn from the same relatively few groups upon which the anti-cult movement was focused.

Attempts to survey and study ex-members was pioneered by J. T. Ungerleider, D. K. Wellisch, Trudy Solomon and Stuart Wright, whose works helped to break many of the stereotypes of former members. Ungerleider and Wellisch (32) were among the first to point out significant differences between ex-members who left voluntarily and the those who were deprogrammed, the later group usually going on to become involved with the anti-cult movement and in the practice of deprogramming others. Solomon and Wright extended the consideration pointing out that those former members involved with the anti-cult movement represented only a very small percentage of former members. Solomon, found in her study of former members of the Unification Church, that attitude toward the Church were directly related to their method of severing membership (voluntary or forced) and their subsequent level of contact with the anti-cult movement (low to high), with the later option correlating with a negative assessment of the Church. (33) In like measure, Wright found that those who voluntarily left the various controversial new religions rarely adopted brainwashing language to discuss their experience. (34)

Then, spurred by Conway and Siegelman's rather blatant assertions James R. Lewis and David G. Bromley took the research one step further and tested the claim of harm done to members by cults in their study of ex-members, "The Cult Withdrawal Syndrome: A Case of Misattribution of Cause" (1987), (35) reprinted below. This study largely laid to rest the continuing issue of pathology among former members of new religions. Using a more representative sample of former members, Lewis and Bromley measured the presence of the various pathological symptoms that Conway and Siegelman had discovered in their sample of former members (an extension of the symptoms discussed elsewhere by Singer). While disconfirming many of Conway and Siegelman's assertions, such as that people who had been in groups longer would show more symptoms, Lewis and Bromley were able to pinpoint the major source of dysfunctional symptoms among ex-members, the process of leaving the group.

Lewis and Bromley considered the presence of symptoms relative to the type of exit from the group. They divided the sample into those who left voluntarily and received no counseling by individuals associated with the anti-cult movement, those who left and then received some form of voluntary deprogramming (usually termed exit counseling), and those who were involuntarily deprogrammed. While the entire sample showed significantly lower levels of dysfunctional symptoms than the one reported upon by Conway and Siegelman, it did show a dramatic relationship between the method of leave-taking and the presence of symptoms. Those associated with the anti-cult movement had measurably higher levels of symptoms, but those who had been deprogrammed had a radically higher number of symptoms than the general sample.

The Lewis and Bromley study became a landmark study in shifting the onus of pathology experienced by former members of new religions from the religions to the coercive activity of the anti-cult movement. In the wake of this study (and other works that confirmed its findings), treating former members as people in need of psychological help has largely ceased. The lack of any widespread expressed need for psychological help by the tens of thousands of former members of new religions in the succeeding decade has itself become the strongest evidence refuting the early sweeping condemnation of new religions as causes of psychological trauma. (36)

From DIMPAC to "Fishman"

Through the early and middle 1980s, the brainwashing controversy generated hundreds of papers and several books. After considering all of the arguments put forth by the exponents of the Singer Hypothesis, and listening to the counter arguments, one point of overwhelming consensus had emerged, that brainwashing was an inadequate model for understanding the dynamics operative in new religious movements. That consensus was best stated in several documents that appeared as the decade drew to a close and was capped in the U. S. Federal Court decision in the case of U.S. v. Fishman. The events leading up to Fishman were launched in 1983 when the American Psychological Association (APA), the major professional body of psychologists in the United States formed a task force to study the theories of coercive persuasion as advocated by Margaret Singer. Appropriately, Singer was selected to chair the Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (generally referred to by its acronym, DIMPAC). She in turn selected several of her most sympathetic colleagues to assist her, including Dr. Louis J. West, head of UCLA's Psychoanalytic Institute, and Dr. Michael Langone, a psychologist, an executive with the American Family Foundation, and editor of the Cultic Studies Journal, published by the Foundation..

As DIMPAC set about gathering the material for its report, other events were occurring on the legal front. A number of former members, most of whom had been forcefully deprogrammed, filed suits against the more controversial of the new religions. One of these cases began with the deprogramming of David Molko and Tracey Leal from the Unification Church. They claimed that they had been deceptively recruited and were caught up in the brainwashing process before they really knew that it was the Unification Church with which they had become affiliated. When the case came to court in 1986. The judge dismissed the case against the Unification Church, but the decision was immediately appealed.

As the case was going through the appeal process, (37) the APA, through its board, decided to become involved in the case by submitting a friend of the court (amicus) brief. The brief suggested that the idea of brainwashing had no scientific backing. By the time it was submitted early in 1987, a number of individual scholars from a variety of academic disciplines who were knowledgeable of the issues involved also signed it. At a later date, the American Sociological Association also submitted an additional brief. These briefs became one symbol of the consensus that had emerged over the issue of brainwashing as it applied to new religious movements.

There was an immediate reaction by the members and supporters of the DIMPAC committee who effectively argued that it was not proper for the APA to submit a report that anticipated the finding of one of its own active committees. APA withdrew its name from the brief (though the brief remained as part of the court case due to the additional people who had signed it). Within weeks, however, on May 11, 1987, the APA's Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility issued its official response to DIMPAC based upon four reviews of the last draft of its report. (38) The reviews were uniformly negative, and the resulting memorandum to Singer and her cohorts read:

"BSERP thanks the Task Force in Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control for its service but is unable to accept the report of the Task Force. In general, the report lacks the scientific rigor and evenhanded critical approach necessary for the APA imprimatur.

The report was carefully reviewed by two external experts and two members of the Board. They independently agreed on the significant deficiencies in the report. The reports are enclosed for your information.

The Board cautions the Task Force members against using their past appointment to imply BSERP or APA support or approval of the positions advocated in the report. BSERP requests that Task Force members not distribute or publicize the report without indicating that the report is unacceptable to the Board.

Finally, after much consideration, BSERP does not believe that we have sufficient information available to guide us in taking a position on this issue.

The Board appreciates the difficulty in producing a report in this complex and controversial area, and again thanks the members of the Task Force for their efforts."

(A more complete discussion of the events surrounding the APA memorandum and the memorandum itself with the two publicly released enclosures are reprinted below in this book.) The APA documents further stated the scholarly consensus of the inadequacies of the coercive persuasion hypothesis as developed by Singer and applied to new religious movements.

By the time of the APA decision concerning the DIMPAC report, several scholars had already reached the conclusion that a more definitive refutation of the Singer hypothesis was needed especially as it had been developed in [by that time] her more than thirty legal depositions and court appearances. Several researchers began to assemble a set of her testimonies. However, it was psychologist Dick Anthony who in the end produced the most thorough study of Singer's views and offered what has remained the most important response to them: his lengthy paper, "Religious Movements and 'Brainwashing' Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony" that appeared in the second edition of the textbook, In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America (1989). (39)

Anthony noted the problem that he and others had in attempting to refute Singer. Her theory "has never been published and thus has not been available for scholarly evaluation and critique. Indeed, review of her testimony in these cases reveals that her trial testimony differs quite significantly from the views expressed in her publications in this topic." (40) As her position had evolved, Singer had come to refer to the "Systematic Manipulation of Social and Psychiatric Influence" (SMSPI) which, as utilized by cult groups, could deprive individuals of their free will in the absence of physical force or threats. Singer argued this point in, for example, the Robin George case [a case against the International Society for Krishna Consciousness], and grounded her testimony by reference to the body of material built up during the study of the prisoners from the Korean War and the Chinese thought reform institutions as studied by Robert J. Lifton and her own professor, Edgar Schein. In the cases in which she testified, Singer argued that cults exerted such influence on the mental processes of their recruits that their power to exercise their free will was overridden.

It is this very idea, popularly called brainwashing, which had been discredited by the work of Lifton and Schein, and had never gained any scientific credibility. And was this very idea that she had avoided stating in many of her published works, as had, for example Conway and Siegelman. Anthony appears to have been the first to note the gap between her published articles and her testimony, to gather the relevant documents, and to pursue the idea in several articles and court documents.

Anthony's article responds to Singer's testimony in relation to the Kelley-Frye Standard, which is the rule determining the admissibility of expert testimony in the courts in California. To meet the Standard, such testimony must be an application of a theoretical foundation which has been generally accepted in the relevant scientific community. Previously Singer had claimed that her theory was primarily based upon the research on communist thought reform by Lifton and Schein. Anthony argued in his article that Singer's testimony confused two different approaches to evaluating Communist Chinese interrogation and indoctrination methods which were actually antithetical to each other, i.e. the brainwashing paradigm which had been rejected by a consensus of qualified scientists, on the one hand, and the views of Lifton, Schein and other recognized experts on the other.

According to Anthony, the brainwashing paradigm was and is actually pseudoscience. It began as a propaganda ploy which was developed by the American CIA to counter Communist propaganda that clamed that Western POWs in Korea and civilian prisoners on the Communist mainland were converting to Communism. The "brainwashing hoax", as it was referred to by one researcher, claimed that the Communists had invented scientific techniques of coercive persuasion capable of forcing people to convert to Communism against their wills. The essence of the brainwashing notion is that people are put into a hyper-suggestible altered state of consciousness through hypnosis, drugs, debilitation or other means, and then their worldviews are transformed against their wills through conditioning techniques.

Anthony demonstrated that Lifton's and Schein's research refuted the brainwashing paradigm in eight major respects. For instance none of their subjects actually converted to Communism at any point. Rather they had merely behaved as if they were being influenced by Communist propaganda because of the plausible threat of extreme physical coercion. Moreover, those few of their subjects who had been slightly influenced by Communist indoctrination differed from the great majority of their subjects because of motives and personality characteristics that existed prior to their Communist indoctrination which predisposed them to respond favorably to totalitarian propaganda, rather than because they had been placed in an altered state of consciousness and then been conditioned to change their worldviews. The bottom line is that the brainwashing paradigm is actually the polar opposite of the theories of Schein and Lifton in that their research indicates that the Communists did not have techniques capable of converting individuals to Communism against their wills whereas the brainwashing idea claims the opposite. In his article, Anthony quoted repeatedly from Singer's testimony in cultic brainwashing cases and demonstrated that her testimony was based upon the discredited brainwashing paradigm and was not based upon the views of Lifton and Schein. Consequently, Anthony argued Singer's testimony was not based upon a generally accepted scientific theory and thus she should be excluded under the Frye Standard from testifying in cultic brainwashing cases.

By the time Anthony's article appeared he had used its basic arguments in a several lawsuits involving Singer's testimony. Actually, he had initially articulated this argument in the sections of an amicus curiae brief, written at the invitation of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion [SSSR], which was submitted in 1987 in the appeal of the trial verdict in George v. ISKCON, a case in which an ex-member had initially won a $10,000,000 judgment largely on the basis of Singer's testimony that she had been brainwashed. In this effort Anthony collaborated with sociologist James T. Richardson who contributed a section comparing Singer's research (negatively) to current research on new religious movements. The appeal was largely successful, and thus Singer's brainwashing testimony in this case was largely nullified.

Over the next few years, Anthony's argument was used in a variety of cases as the basis for either appeal briefs or for motions in limine with the result that Singer's testimony was largely nullified by this approach, either because the trial judgment was overturned on appeal, as in Kropinsky vs. Transcendental Meditation, or because the case was settled out of court as soon as the argument was submitted in the form of a motion in limine.

Anthony had made his assessment of Singer's thought as the Molko/Leal case was proceeding and where it appeared that the legal status of her theoretical construct would be decided. However, before that confrontation occurred, the Molko/Leal case was settled out of court and the scene of the critique shifted to another case, which unlike many of the previous cult-related cases was a criminal, not a civil, case. Stephen Fishman was standing trial on charges of mail fraud. A former member of the Church of Scientology, Fishman pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He did the deeds enumerated in his indictment only because, he claimed, he had been brainwashed in Scientology. Singer and her colleague Richard Ofshe, a professor of sociology at the University of California-Berkeley, submitted briefs on behalf of the defense.

In the Fishman case Anthony wrote several lengthy documents expanding his critique of the Singer hypothesis and the contradiction it had with its claimed theoretical foundation, i.e., Lifton's and Schein's research. Both the APA and ASA briefs originally submitted in the Molko/Leal case and the SSSR brief in the George case were also submitted. Anthony then argued that the fact that these three leading professional organizations had produced these briefs countering Singer's theory was additional indication that this theory was not generally accepted in the relevant scientific communities, and hence should be excluded under the Kelley-Frye Standard..

Also submitting a declaration in U.S. v. Fishman was Perry London (d. 1993) the distinguished professor of psychiatry and dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychiatry at Rutgers University. His deposition in the case, reproduced below, reaffirmed the APA response to the DIMPAC report and Anthony's assessment of Singer and Ofshe's use of the robot brainwashing theory which they confused with Schein's coercive persuasion approach, but made an additional contribution in its detailing the lack of empirical evidence that had been accumulated by Singer and other proponents of her theory over the fifteen years they had been proposing it. Singer had acknowledged in a paper submitted in the Fishman case the lack of controlled studies.

London drives home the failure to provide supporting evidence of such a unique theory as that offered by Singer and Ofshe, one that has been almost uniformly rejected in the scientific literature. In this regard, he conducted an independent search of the previous fifteen years of psychological literature covering 1400 journals in 29 languages. His search yielded "no empirical studies" supportive of her position and only a modest number of speculative/ theoretical articles. London's work drove another nail in the coffin into which the Singer hypothesis had been placed by the APA and then by Anthony's work. Echoing Anthony, he concludes most forcefully, "... that what I have called the Robot Theory, meaning any theory of social influence processes and/or irreversible social influence processes and/or subversion of the will as a result of these social influence processes, does not present an argument which is generally accepted in contemporary scientific psychology. That is the main reason I believe that this topic has not been the object of scientific study and research in general and is not widely discussed in the literature of the social, behavioral, or medical sciences." These closing words again states the consensus which had been reached by the scholarly community.

Based on Anthony's several documents and London's declaration, attorney's representing the government moved to exclude the testimony of Ofshe and Singer. The court granted the motion.

The complete published ruling excluding Singer's and Ofshe's testimony is reproduced below. It offers both an insight into American law, and the principles upon which expert testimony is admitted into court, and the careful consideration given by the judge in making his ruling. The court concluded:

"Although Dr. Singer and Dr. Ofshe are respected members of their fields, their theories regarding the coercive persuasion practiced by religious cults are not sufficiently established to be admitted as evidence in federal law courts."

A further argument was introduced concerning Fishman's reputed "diminished capacity," an attribute that differs from insanity but also suggested that he was not totally responsible for his actions. Again, the Court excluded Singer's and Ofshe's testimony as what they would offer relative to diminished capacity would be drawn from their previously rejected theory of coercive persuasion.

The 1990s

Following their exclusion from the Fishman case and the publication of the ruling, Singer and Ofshe tried to present testimony in other cases, but, with the appearance of the arguments and documents from the Fishman case, they were systematically challenged and excluded (or in cases where a negative ruling on their appearance seemed forthcoming withdrew). Both were at this time devoting a considerable amount of their work time, in Singer's case almost all, to preparing for and testifying in various court cases. The widely reported exclusion of Ofshe and Singer from testifying both hurt their professional standing and cut into their income. In reaction, the pair filed a lawsuit in Federal Court charging that they had been the victims of a conspiracy by the APA and a number of individual scholars to destroy their reputations and income.

The suit was dismissed before coming to trial, but within weeks a substantially similar suit claiming defamation was filed in the state of California. Again, the suit was dismissed at the initial hearing, however, in this case it was dismissed with prejudice and additionally, the judge accepted a counter motion, termed a SLAPP motion) by the defendants that ordered Singer and Ofshe to pay their considerable legal fees. SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws were put in place to prevent defamation lawsuits that have no proper basis but are designed to suppress free speech because of the prohibitive cost of defending against them In order to succeed on a SLAPP motion, the defense has to show that the grounds of the lawsuit are so far-fetched that the plaintiffs have to be aware that they could not succeed and are filing the suit only to suppress free speech (in this case discussion of the inadequacies of the Singer hypothesis).

Through the 1990s, the challenges to testimony by experts on brainwashing theory has led to significant alteration in civil litigation by ex-members against new religions (and the other organizations that, according to Singer, practiced coercive persuasion). Most importantly, it ended the series of cases against New Religions that began with a member of the group being forcefully deprogrammed and then turning on the group and suing it. After Fishman, there was a marked decline in forceful deprogramming (it being replaced with a more acceptable non-coercive exit counseling) and served as a warning to those organizations that supported it. While the number of involuntary deprogrammings had dropped significantly, they still occasionally occurred. In those cases, should a deprogramming fail, and subsequently the deprogrammers were arrested and tried, they often pleaded that their questionable actions were justified in their attempt to halt the damage being done by cult brainwashing. However, in the wake of Fishman, any prospective deprogrammer had to face the possibility that s/he would be left without help from experts like Singer as a legal shield from criminal laws against kidnapping and confining a person and civil laws against violating that individual's civil rights.

Deprogrammer Rick Ross found himself in just that position after he failed in his attempt to deprogram one Jason Scott, a member of the United Pentecostal Church, a large Christian denomination. In suing Ross, Scott also named the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), the major group advocating efforts against new religious movements. Though the Cult Awareness Network publicly stated that it was not directly involved in any deprogramming activity, Scott charged it with being the referral agent that allowed his mother to get in touch with Ross. The jury agreed and, without the ability to argue that the church had "brainwashed" Scott, both Ross and CAN received hefty judgments. The million dollar judgment forced CAN into bankruptcy and eventually some of its assets, including its name, were purchased by a coalition of a number of the groups it had specialized in attacking. That decision has been sustained on appeal. That coalition now operates a new Cult Awareness Network. (41) The fall of the Cult Awareness Network was a major setback for the anti-cult movement in the English-speaking world.

Current Status (42)

Since the late 1980s, though a significant public belief in cult-brainwashing remains, the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies-have shared an almost unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis proposed by Margaret Singer and her colleagues in the 1980s is without scientific merit. To date, no one has come forward to refute the arguments, especially those advanced by Dick Anthony a decade ago, nor has the situation that Perry London found concerning articles providing an empirical base for the theory been reversed. Through the 1990s, it has been difficult to locate any scholar in the English-speaking world who has been willing to attempt a defense of it, and even Singer herself has appeared to back away from her earlier position. (43) After the fall of the Cult Awareness Network, only one American organization, the American Family Foundation, continued to offer any support for the coercive persuasion argument. Early in 1999, a second organization, The Leo J. Ryan Foundation, has emerged to fill the vacuum left by the former CAN. Almost all of the small cadre of scholars in North America who have persisted in their belief in the brainwashing theory are affiliated with one of these two organizations. (44)

While the scholarly community largely put further discussion of the brainwashing question aside in the late 1980s, public interest and discussion has continued and it has been an issue that has continued to crept into court cases, especially family court cases. It was most visible in media articles written by reporters unfamiliar with the history of the discussion in the 1980s who adopted the idea from their contact with anti-cult activists, most notably around the time of the tragic incidents surrounding the Branch Davidians at Waco, the deaths of the leaders of the Solar Temple, or the gassing of the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo. These more recent incidents provided the context of a set of lectures by psychologist Newton Malony. Malony, the senior professor at the famed Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, was invited to deliver the Seminary's annual Integration Lectures in 1996. Having spent a considerable amount of time studying the issue over the previous two decades, he chose "Brainwashing and Religion" as his subject. The complete text of the three lectures are included below, as they not only provide a fresh discussion of the case against the idea of brainwashing as applied to religious organizations, but offers a picture of the manner in which the term "brainwashing" still pops up as a label to denigrate unpopular minority religious groups. Additionally, Malony presents a more positive psychologically-grounded perspective of the manner in which religious groups work to transform the lives of adherents..

Malony argues, with the mass of social and psychological literature to back him up, that "social influence" occurs. That while he personally (along with the entire field of clinical psychology) aims at producing individuals with strong egos, capable of individual self-determination, he cannot escape the fact that none of us can escape from the effects of personal interactions with others and social organizations (from nations to families) to which we belong. There is no act that is totally autonomous. That people have the privilege and responsibility to determine their life for themselves, complete self-determination is at best a heuristic goal. At times, individuals make decisions which most (family members, neighbors, friends, fellow employees) consider unwise, including the choice to join an unpopular religious organization. Malony goes on to emphasize that continuing problems with individuals who join new religious movements can be most fruitfully discussed in the light commonly accepted understandings of differing levels of social influence apart from any need to refer to any extraordinary theories such as brainwashing.

Malony is also aware that there is evil in the world and that religious groups (be they old or new, mainline or fringe) are not immune to its presence. Thus, religious groups are not to be supported when either corporately, or through individual leaders, psychological harm or physical violence is perpetrated on group members or society. Psychologists have been most aware of the many cases of child abuse that have come to light in a spectrum of groups ranging from the Roman Catholic Church to The Family. However, the problem of people suffering because of evil activity by a religious organization is by no means simply a "cult" problem, as has been amply demonstrated, for example, by recent incidents of terrorism in Northern Ireland, the Islamic targeting of Salmon Rushdie, or the massacres in Rwanda. Such activity is to be condemned wherever it occurs, but the fact that some new religions have perpetrated such acts is no justification to condemn the many others who have been free of any hint of illegal or violent activity.

By the time Malony delivered his lectures on "Brainwashing and Religion," the issue in America had become one basically of informing a new generation of the previous debates on the subject and insuring that future generations would not repeat the mistakes of the past. However, just as the concept of brainwashing as proposed by Singer and others in the 1980s had been largely resolved in the United States (and simultaneously through the English-speaking world), several European countries were deeply affected by the violent incidents perpetrated by the Solar Temple and Aum Shinrikyo, and many were led to consider the possibility that there might be something to the old brainwashing hypothesis, now recast as a theory of "mental manipulation." Since the major debates had occurred in the English-speaking work, many Europeans have been unaware of the earlier debate and until now the major documents were unavailable in any but the English language.

Thus, in recent years, legislators, urged on by proponents of the "mental manipulation" theory, have been asked to create new laws, regulations, and government agencies aimed at curbing minority religious communities. At the same time courts have been asked to bring in negative rulings based upon testimony of experts in the now rejected brainwashing or "mental manipulation" perspective. It is to this contemporary reemergence of brainwashing theory in Europe and the possible legal implications that sociologist and lawyer James T. Richardson closes out this section of material on the brainwashing debate with his 1996 article, "Brainwashing Claims and Minority Religions Outside of the United States." He makes note of the status of the brainwashing theory and points out the possible dangers to religious freedom should it be utilized by governments attempting to react to the smaller religious groups in their midst. Richardson thus points to a sense of urgency and additional rationale for the publication of this anthology.

In Conclusion

As stated earlier, the brainwashing debate in the United States produced hundreds of articles and a number of books, and this anthology does not pretend to be even a representative sample. If space had allowed, a number of additional highly insightful papers could have been included. However, choices had to be made, and those papers which were chosen were those that proved most important, both because of their timeliness in moving the debate forward or in their initially treating key points in the debate, or in clearly stating the position that has been assumed by the community of scholars who have given their time to the problem. My apologies to those of my colleagues whose additional worthy papers also stand in need of translation and further circulation.

Apologies aside, it is also my hope that the selection of papers chosen will make available to our German-speaking colleagues the treatment given to the idea of brainwashing as it applies to religious groups during the last two decades. In presenting this work, it is our hope that this anthology can provide helpful insights as the question of "sects" in Europe is pursued. A new religious world is now being created by a new generation of religious adherents in the post-secular environment emerging at the twentieth century comes to an end. During the last generation, the Western world has made a quantum leap beyond Christendom and the secular society that has replaced it toward the development of a new religious order that includes significant Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu communities joining the older Jewish and Western Esoteric groupings. The future task for cultural leaders is the creation of structures in which these very different religious communities, some large, some small, can live and work with the older Christian Churches and mutually contribute to the welfare of the nations in which they find themselves. In such a context, freeing ourselves from labels such as "brainwashing" and the suspicions it arouses seems a necessary component of arriving at a harmonious future.

J. Gordon Melton

March 1999


As this anthology was being put together, sociologist Benjamin Zablocki, who had been an active participant in the discussions on brainwashing in the aftermath of the APA decision to submit a brief in Molko/Leal case, emerged with a call for a new dialogue on the issue of brainwashing and proposed what he saw was a more concise and "scientific" statement of what he termed the brainwashing conjecture. While he has yet to offer a detailed presentation of his approach along with the empirical data to back it, he has suggested a new definition of brainwashing As he states it,

"The core hypothesis is that, under certain circumstances, an individual can be subject to persuasive influences so overwhelming that they actually restucture one's core beliefs and worldview and profoundly remodel one's self conception. ... The more radical sort of persuasion posited by the brainwashing conjecture utilizes extreme stress and disorientation along with ideological enticement to create a conversion experience that persists for some time after the stress and pressure have been removed ..." (45)

While devoid of Singer's understanding of the importance of the recruitment process, at first reading Zablocki appears to be offering yet another restatement of the essence of the older rejected brainwashing hypothesis with a focus upon the activity of the group as a change agent operating upon an essentially passive individual. At the same time he has specifically attempted to distance his defense of the term from Singer's egregious statement about brainwashing overriding freewill. (46) Zablocki has subsequently authored several additional papers on the subject (47) though it is yet to be seen whether he will be able to attract any additional support within the academy.

Soon after the appearance of Zablocki's initial article, a brief but significant statement, "On Using the Term 'Cult," by two leading spokespersons for the American Family Foundation, Herbert Rosedale and Michael Langone (who had set on the DIMPAC task force), was included in the Fall 1998 AFF Newsletter. (48) This article which quote several sociologists on the issue of cults (including Zablocki) offers a position striking different from that traditionally associated with AFF. Specifically, Rosedale and Langone distanced themselves from the idea of a necessary connection between groups previously labeled as "cults" and the thought reform process. They suggest that groups exist on a continuum from those that might practice coercive persuasion (in the more common manner that people such as Richard Ofshe and Margaret Singer have defined it) to those that do not. They also suggest that groups may vary both geographically and through time. (49) That is, a group in one location may practice coercive persuasion while elsewhere it does not and a group that at one time practiced coercive persuasion may drop the practice.

The writings of Zablocki (including his stated willingness to discard the label "brainwashing") and this most recent statement from the AFF suggest the possibility of a new dialogue which focuses upon what almost all would agree are the remaining important issues, the degree of danger that new religious groups pose, the nature of that danger, the ability we have to distinguish destructive groups from more benign groups, and the integration of our knowledge of newer smaller religions into our knowledge of the older larger ones.


1 During the 1970s, concern over new religions also developed in Europe. However, European writers have generally not worked with the two categories of "cult' and "sect" by which to distinguish new religious movements ("cults") from the older church movements that dissented from the larger mainline and state-supported churches ("sects"). Thus, all new religions have been considered as "sects" and the eighteenth and nineteenth century sectarian groups have frequently been lumped together with the newer Eastern and occult groups. Some German writers distinguished the new groups as "youth religions," religions that led youth on flights of fancy that would prevent their becoming contributing members of society. However, only in the 1990s did a form of the brainwashing hypothesis gain a significant audience, primarily in French-speaking countries.

2 Ted Patrick and Tom Dulack, Let Our Children Go! (New York: Ballantine Books, 1976).

3 At the time of the Hearst case, Singer was a relatively minor figure who had previously appeared as a junior co-author on several of Edgar Schein's articles that had drawn upon his research on the Korean prisoner's of war. Singer had not actually participated in direct research on the prisoners, and she moved on before Schein completed his more important research on the victims of Chinese thought reform.

4 Among the better scholarly works on Jonestown are: Mary McCormick Maaga, Hearing the Voices of Jonestown (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1998); Rebecca Moore, ed., New Religious Movements, Mass Suicide, and Peoples Temple: Scholarly Perspective on a Tragedy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989); and John R, Hall, Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1987).

5 Edward Hunter, Brainwashing in Red China (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951).

6 See, for example, Robert J. Lifton, "Home by Ship: Reaction Patterns of American Prisoners of War Repatriated from North Korea," American Journal of Psychiatry 110 (1954): 732-39; or, Edgar Schein, "The Chinese Indoctrination Program for Prisoners of War," Psychiatry 19 (1956): 149-72.

7 Lifton also suggested another factor that might be working in the lives of those prisoners who gave into the thought reform process-prior ideological perspectives. That is, those prisoners who gave in had some leftist leanings prior to their encounter with the idea that their captors wished them to adopt. Cf. Robert J. Lifton, "'Thought Reform' of Western Civilians in Chinese Communist Prisons," Psychiatry 19 (1956): 173-95, and his later book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (New York: Norton, 1961).

8 William Sargent, Battle for the Mind: How Evangelists, Psychiatrists, Politicians, and Medicine Men Can Change Your Beliefs and Behavior (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1957).

9 Joost A. M. Merloo, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing (Cleveland, OH: World publishing Co., 1956).

10 Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism.

11 Edgar H. Schein, Coercive Persuasion (New York: Norton and Co., 1961).

12 Edgar H. Schein, "Brainwashing and Totalitarianism in Modern Society," World Politics 11 (1959): 430-441 (436).

13 Lifton also studied a different phenomenon, the effect of what he called a totalistic environment (outside direct physical coercion) on individual beliefs and attitudes. He studied this environment in early Red China and, later, in Nazi Germany. He emphasized that different individuals react differently to a totalistic environment based on their character and the effects of early education. In further works, he concluded that a totalistic environment may be replicated on a smaller scale by some religious movements or cults (see his The Future of Immortality and Other Essays for a Nuclear Age, New York: Basic Books, 1987: 209-219), and even agreed to write a cautious preface to Margaret Singer's book (written with Janja Lalich), Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in our Everyday Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995). Whatever his sympathies for various figures in the anti-cult camp, Lifton was, however, always careful not to lend support to any "robot" or "crude" theory of brainwashing, as such theories directly contradict his original research findings.

14 Margaret Thaler Singer, "Coming Out of the Cults," Psychology Today 12 (January 1979): 80.

15 Ibid., 75.

16 Ibid., 81

17 Louis J. West and Margaret Thaler Singer, "Cults, Quack, and Nonprofessional Psychotherapies," in Harold I. Kaplan, Alfred M. Freedman, and Benjamin J. Sadock, Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins, Co., 3rd ed., 1980): 2348.

18 Rosebeth Moss Kanter, Commitment and Community (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972).

19 Jean Merritt, "Open Letter," Return to Personal Choice, 1975. Return to Personal Choice was a precursor organization to the American Family Foundation.

20 Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change (New York: Lippencott, 1979):57.

21 Paul A. Verdier, Brainwashing and the Cults (No. Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Company, 1977).

22 See for example Richard Delgado, "Religious Totalism," Southern California Law Review 15 (1977): 1-99; and Ron Enroth, Youth, Brainwashing, and the Extremist Cults (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977).

23 In large part because of its involvement in deprogramming cases, in 1978 the Freedom of Thought Foundation was permanently closed by order of the court.

24 Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, "The Limits of 'Coercive Persuasion' as an Explanation for Conversion to Authoritarian Sects," Political Psychology 2, 22 (Summer 1980): 22-37.

25 Richard Delgado, "Religious Totalism," Southern California Law Review 15 (1977): 1-99.

26 Richard Delgado, "Investigating Cults," New York Times (Dec. 27, 1978).

27 John G. Clark, Jr., "Cults," Journal of the American Medical Association 242 (1979): 279-81.

28 See, for example: E. Shapiro, "Destructive Cultism," Family Physician 15 (1977): 80-83; or F. G. Maleson, "Dilemmas in the Evaluation and Management of Religious Cultists," American Journal of Psychiatry 138 (1981): 925-29.

29 Marc Galanter, "Charismatic Religious Sects and Psychiatry: An Overview," American Journal of Psychiatry 139, 12 (December 1982) 1539-1548.

30 See also, for example, Saul Levine, Radical Departures: Desperate Detours to Growing Up (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1984).

31 More attention was paid to Conway and Siegelman after the substance of their perspective of the damage caused by new religions appeared in a popular newsstand magazine, Science Digest, which, like Psychology Today, attempted to interpret science to a lay audience: Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, "Information Disease: Have Cults Created a New Mental Illness?," Science Digest (January 1982): 86-92. A scholarly response appeared soon afterward: Brock K. Kilbourne, "The Conway and Siegelman Claims Against Religious Cults: An Assessment of Their Data," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22 (1983): 380-85.

32 J. T. Ungerleider and D. K. Wellisch, "Coercive Persuasion (Brainwashing), Religious Cults, and Deprogramming," American Journal of Psychiatry 136 (1979): 279-82.

33 Trudy Solomon, "Integrating the 'Moonie' Experience: A Survey of Ex-members of the Unification Church," in Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, In Gods We Trust (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1981): 275-94.

34 Stuart Wright, "Post Involvement Attitudes of Voluntary Defectors from Controversial New Religious Groups," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 23 (1984): 172-82.

35 James R. Lewis and David G. Bromley, "The Cult Withdrawal Syndrome: A Case of Misattribution of Cause," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 26, 4 (1987) 508-22.

36 In relieving groups of the stigma from early psychological condemnations does not, of course, find them guiltless of occasionally causing harm to members that might later manifest as a need for counseling. For example, as with some of the larger religions, some new religions have been the sight of cases of both physical and sexual child abuse. Victims of such behavior, no matter where they have experienced it, may often require some extended counseling to recover.

37 In the end, the case was settled out of court when the Church produced strong evidence refuting the plaintiffs' claim that they did not know that they were joining in a Unification Church activity.

38 Singer and other members of the committee later claimed that the APA's rejection of the DIMPAC report was invalid as they had examined an early draft rather than the final draft that would have been much better. In fact, this was not the case. The reviewers did examine the final draft of the text that was missing only a few additional references.

39 Dick Anthony, "Religious Movements and 'Brainwashing' Litigation: Evaluating Key Testimony" in Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony, eds., In Gods We Trust: New Patterns of Religious Pluralism in America, 2nd ed., (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press, 1989): 295-344.

40 Ibid., 297. James T. Richardson, a sociologist who also has a degree in law, has been a major spokesperson against the Singer thesis and contributed a number of articles to the controversy. His early volume (co-edited with David G. Bromley), The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983) appeared in the midst of the debate in the academy, and assisted in the formation of current consensus. More recent contributions by Richardson include: "A Social Psychological Critique of 'Brainwashing' Claims about Recruitment to New Religions", in David G. Bromley and Jeffrey K. Hadden, eds., The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Religion and the Social Order, Vol. 3 (Part B) (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1993): 75-97; and "Sociology and the New Religions: 'Brainwashing', the Courts, and Religious Freedom", in Pamela J. Jenkins and Steve Kroll-Smith, eds., Witnessing for Sociology: Sociologists in Court (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1996): 115-134.

41 Officially, the Coalition that formed after the Scott decision pursued (and continues to pursue) the purchase of the assets of the bankrupt Cult Awareness Network and established the board that now controls the new CAN. However, it is also the case that the Church of Scientology has been the most powerful member of this coalition. Following the resolution of its problems with the American Internal Revenue Service, Scientology's leaders targeted the Cult Awareness Network. In this regard they supported individual church members who filed a variety of lawsuits against CAN, and through the many depositions taken in these suits acquired considerable data as to the internal workings of the network, especially the manner in which referrals were made to deprogrammers.

Following the filing of the Scott case, the Church encouraged one of the attorneys who had been active in a number of Scientology lawsuits, and who had taken many of the depositions in the recent CAN cases, to offer his service to Scott. He tried and won the case and has actively continued to participate in the on-going litigation growing out of it.

Additionally, although all members of the coalition have financially supported the new CAN, Scientology has been the largest financial backer. CAN operates in offices near to Scientology headquarters in Hollywood, California, and its new director is also a Scientologist.

42 Although this essay has focused upon the brainwashing debate in the United States, the debate was occurring in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia at the same time, and scholars from each of these countries also contributed their effort toward its final resolution. It was the case, however, that it was in American based professional groups (the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion) that the scholarly consensus were definitively stated and in an American court that the key decision on brainwashing theory published.

43 See the very weak presentation of a position on brainwashing developed in Singer's 1995 book written with Janja Lalich, Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in our Everyday Life.

44 Through the 1990s, a few articles have appeared in professional sources restating Singer's thesis, usually in the more ambiguous manner that typified her own published writings. Cf., Doni P. Whitsett, "A Self Psychological Approach to the Cult Phenomenon," Clinical Social Work Journal 20, 4 (Winter 1992): 363-74.

45 He goes on to add: "The brainwashing conjecture attempts to explain the life style modifications of a NRM participant as the behavioral result of an intensely focused and highly structured process of manipulative influence. The influencing agent is a cohesive normative group with total or near total control of the social and physical environment (often although not always communal in organization) acting at the behest of a charismatic leader. The target of the influence is always an isolated individual, frequently an adolescent or young adult." - Benjamin Zablocki, "The Blacklisting of a Concept: The Strange History of the Brainwashing Conjecture in the Sociology of Religion," Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 1, 1 (October 1997): 104. Zablocki's articles provoked immediate reactions from several colleagues, that were also published in Nova Religio. See especially, David G. Bromley, "Listing (in Black and White) Some Observations on (Sociological) Thought Reform", ibid., 1, 2 (April 1998): 250-266; and James T. Richardson, "The Accidental Expert", ibid., 2, 1 (October 1998): 31-43.

46 It is yet to be seen if Zablocki's restatement of the brainwashing conjecture, as he terms it, will have any effect on future court cases involving new religions.

47 Benjamin D. Zablocki, "Exit Cost Analysis: A New Approach to the Scientific Study of Brainwashing," Nova Religio 1,2 (April 1998): 216-249.

48 "On Using the term 'Cult" is taken from an AFF "Resource Guide," the complete text of which can be found on the AFF website: www.csj.org.

49 The obvious implication of the position articulated by Rosedale and Langone, that groups previously called cults exist along a continuum, is that prior to labeling any group a destructive cult, some actual study of the group has to be made. Given the fact that only a small percentage of the several hundred new religions have been studied at any depth, sweeping charges about all new religions being "destructive cults," or the assembling of a list of such groups based purely upon their unfamiliarity or minority status in the culture (as recently occurred in France) are meaningless and should be dropped.

Back to the CESNUR Page on Brainwashing and Mind Control Controversies

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]

Fri, Dec 10, 1999


Cult Group Controversies:
The Anti-Cult Movement
Our coverage of the Anti-Cult Movement begins with the identification of major organizations and links to their web sites. Each link has an annotation that seeks to highlight important information about the organization and/or contents of the web sight. Over the next several months we'll first be adding a much more comprehensive set of annotated links to anti-cult organizations. This will be followed by the development of short profiles of the major organizations and their leadership. We hope you'll check back frequently and offer your suggestions for content to cover on this page. J.K. Hadden (06/24/99)
Major Anti-cult Sites
American Family Foundation With the bankruptcy filing of Cult Awareness Network, the American Family Foundation is the most influential anti-cult organization in the U.S. They publish The Cultic Studies Journal. The site also highlights the various outreach programs of the group which include education about, study of, and assistance for those involved in, groups determined by AFF to be cults. The group was founded in 1979. They offer information packets about the various groups by mail for a fee. http://www.csj.org
Cult Awareness Network CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy by a court decision requiring it to pay damages to a deprogramming victim. The organization's logo, files, post office box and other assets were purchased by a member of the Church of Scientology who then turned the organization over to the control of the Scientologists. The New Cult Awareness Network page, run by the Church of Scientology, focuses on promoting religious freedom and unbiased information about new religious movements. In a sense, it is now an "anti-anti-cult" group. http://www.cnn.com/US/9612/19/scientology/index.html http://www.cultawarenessnetwork.org
Margaret Singer's Home Page Margaret Singer is a favorite speaker and often cited 'expert' of the anti-cult movement. She was often called in to testify in trials over conservatorship where she often succeeded in convincing the court that cults practiced "brainwashing" and mind control techniques that could only be countered if the individuals were forcibly removed from the group. Recently courts have rejected the "brainwashing" theory of conversion under pressure from academics, but Singer continues to dominate anti-cult literature and theory. The The Margaret Thaler Singer Foundation is a site that is currently under construction, but should provide additional information and insight into Mrs. Singer's activities. http://www.singer.org http://www.irsociety.com/singer.html
Rick Ross Home Page Mr. Ross is a deprogrammer or 'exit counselor' deeply involved in the anti-cult movement. Mr. Ross was involved in the court case that drove CAN into bankruptcy. He has been featured extensively in the media on programs like 48 HOURS. The site, while comprehensive and helpful in understanding Ross's own theories, is extremely slow to load as it contains extensive sound and graphics capabilities. Rick Ross is a highly visible entrepreneur who has carved out quite a niche for himself as a self-proclaimed expert and counselor to families desperate to retrieve family members from new religions. His past has been called into question by the Church of Scientology which has uncovered evidence of alleged mental instability and an attempted robbery conviction (The Cult Awarness Network: Anatomy of a Hate Group). http://www.rickross.com
Steve Hassan Home Page Hassan is a former member of the Unification Church who has turned apostasy into a profession. Hassan is devoted to saving the world from "destructive cults" and "abusive mind controllers." His entrepreneurial tendencies are baldly evident on his home page. He has recently created the Resource Center for Freedom of Mind to further his cause. The Center for the Freedom of Mind provides information about "mind control" in cults based on Hassan's own writings.It rejects deprogramming in favor of exit counseling and provides links exclusively to anti-cult sites. Claims of 3,000 destructive cults in the U.S. are terribly exaggerated. His books include Combatting Mind Control. http://www.freedomofmind.com/ http://www.fom.org
Ex-Cult Archive Site contains little substantive information, but links together significant anti-cult resources. By no means comprehensive of anti-cult activity, this is nonetheless the best available resource for the novice interested in becoming familiar with anti-cult materials on the Internet. http://ex-cult.org/
F.A.C.T.Net 3 Home Page The site was built by Scientology apostates who have done battle with their former group both on the Internet and the courts. Lately they have taken some legal hits and the vast archive of material is not present at this site. Click on the name Lerma near the top and it will link you to lots of other anti-cultists. The FACTnet site does include links to current news articles pertaining to cults as well as links to the cults themselves. http://www.lightlink.com/factnet1/pages/index.html
Trancenet This site is managed by a non-profit California Corporation and focuses on Transcendental Meditation and groups associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Little else about the group's affiliation can be determined from the information they provide, but they are definitely an anti-cult group despite their claims to "unfiltered information." http://www.trancenet.org/index2.shtml
Cult Awareness and Information Centre - Australia This site is run by Jan Groenveld, a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon faiths, who has gathered his information primarily from parents with kids in cults. Groenveld maintains that cults use influence and mind control to obtain and retain converts. This page turns up repeatedly on virtually any search for anti-cult sites or for cults in general. Groenveld has compiled many links to other anti-cult groups but does not represent an organization himself. http://student.uq.edu.au/~py101663"
Cult Group Controversies:
The Brainwashing Controversy
| Links | Bibliography |
The concept "brainwashing" first came into public use during the Korean War in the 1950s as an explanation for why a few American GIs defected to the Communists. The two most authoritative studies of the Korean War defections concluded that "brainwashing" was an inappropriate concept to account for this renunciation of U.S. citizenship.
When several new religions came into high profile during the youth counter-culture of the 1960s and 70s the concept of "brainwashing" was again employed as a culturally acceptable explanation to account for the fact that some idealistic "flower children" came under the influence of "cult" leaders.
A quarter-of-a-century of scholarly research on why people join new religions has come to essentially the same conclusion as the Korean War studies-"brainwashing" is not a viable concept to describe the dynamics of affiliation with new religions. Defenders of "brainwashing" have used other concepts like "mind control" and "thought reform," but they have failed to produce a scholarly literature to support their claims. Thus, whatever euphemisms may be employed, the basic conclusion against the brainwashing thesis is not altered.
Still, the mass media continues to report claims of "brainwashing" as if the alleged phenomenon were real. And, as a result, the concept of "brainwashing" sustains considerable currency in popular culture. It is, to be sure, a powerful metaphor. "Brainwashing" communicates disapproval of influence by persons, or groups, the user of the term considers to be illegitimate.
Given the power of this concept to communicate ill-gotten influence, the concept of "brainwashing" will almost certainly remain a central component of the controversy about religious movements.
Discrimination, or legal action, against religious groups because someone doesn't like them is clearly a violation of the free exercise of religion, a human right increasingly recognized around the world. But the claim of "brainwashing" shrouds the discrimination by claiming that religious groups are victimizing recruits and potential recruits by employing powerful means of manipulation that are extremely difficult to resist.
Social scientists who study religious movements do not reject the general proposition that religious groups (old and new) are capable of having considerable influence over their members. Indeed, most argue that "influence" is ubiquitous in human cultures. But they argue, further, that the influence exerted in "cults" is not very different from influence that is present in practically every arena of life.
This section on the Brainwashing Controversy presents materials that will illumine the history of the concept, provide examples of materials that have fueled public debate as it has periodically raged over the past quarter-of-a-century, explore the scientific evidence that is pertinent to the debate, and offer an extended bibliography. The materials presented here will permit interested persons to explore the controversy in considerable depth.
My own perspective is squarely in the social science camp in opposition to the "brainwashing" thesis. Most persons and groups who promote the "brainwashing"/"mind control" perspective do not acknowledge the existence of a scholarly literature that challenges their perspective. Or, if they do acknowledge the existence of a scholarly literature, they dismiss it with ad hominem arguments. We offer ample writings that are representative of both scholarly and ideological perspectives and leave it to readers to weigh the evidence themselves.
I would also invite readers to explore my course lectures on topics relevant to this issue. The most directly relevant lecture is on the topic of brainwashing. A second lecture on influence highlights arguments set forth in a popular book by Robert Cialdini entitled Influence. The objective of this lecture is to raise students' consciousness of the prevalence of influence in every arena of life. Other lectures explore social science literatures that illumine the questions of why people join new religious movements and why most of them leave after a short period of time.
Let me also encourage you to write me with your suggestions for materials to be included in this section on the brainwashing controversy. Jeffrey K. Hadden Last modified: 11/26/00
Note: All offsite links open a new browser window.
Analytical Perspective (Neutral) .
Alligations of "Brainwashing" Within Religious Cults. Religious Tolerance Page essay. Includes important selected summarizing quotations from literature as well as links to on line resources.
Against Brainwashing Thesis.
"Brainwashing": Career of a Myth in the United States and Europe. Gordon Melton essay on Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) Page.
"Liar, Liar": Brainwashing, CESNUR and APA Massimo Introvigne essay on CESNUR Page.
Thought Control, Totalism, and the Extensions of the Anti-Cult Critique Beyond "Cults. Joseph Davis. Reprint of short monograph on this site.
A Critique of "Brainwashing" Evidence in Light of Daubert: Science and Unpopular Religions. Article by James T. Richardson and Gerald Ginsburg (1998).
Documents on Brainwashing Controversies documents that have contributed to shaping the legal status of the brainwashing controversy.
Tra brainwashing e libera scelta. Per una lettura psicologica dell’affiliazione ai Nuovi Movimenti Religiosi. Mario Aletti (Presidente della Società Italiana di Psicologia della Religione) e Claudia Alberico (Italian).
"Joining Religious Movements: The Brainwashing Model". Lecture by Jeffrey K. Hadden, University of Virginia for New Religious Movement Course. See also: Joining Religious Movements: Social Science Models
Affirmations of Brainwashing Thesis.
"Psychological Coercion and Human Rights" David J. Bardin, legal counsel for American Family Foundation argues that "Mind Control" ("Brainwashing") Exists. Academics who pretend otherwise condone human rights abuses.
"The Battle for Your Mind". A lengthly document by Dick Sutphen argues that brainwashing techniquest are being used on the public today.
"The Process of Brainwashing, Psychological Coercion, and Thought Reform". A summary table of Chapter 3 from Margaret Singer's book, Cults in Our Midst.
"Totalism in Today's Cults" This essay by Jan Groenvald of Cult Awareness and Information Centre in Australia. Groenveld begins by stating that "Studies have shown that today's cults use a stronger form of control than those of 50 years ago." The author employs Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance and Lifton's untested typology of a "totalist" environment as orienting perspectives. The assertion is repeated, but no evidence is offered.
"An Article on Brainwashing" The person posting this short article admits that he/she does not know the identity of the author. Regrettably, this is a fairly typical example of anti-cult literature. Ideology is much more important than evidence.
The Classic Korean War Brainwashing Studies.
Hinkle, Lawrence E. and Harold G. Wolff, 1956. "Communist Interrogation and Indoctrination of 'Enemies of the States.'" Chicago: American Medical Association. A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, Vol 76. pp.115-174.
Lifton, Robert J. 1989. Thought Reform: A Psychiatric Study of "Brainwashing," in China. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. (originally published 1961).
Schein, Edgar H. 197l. Coercive Persuasion. New York: W.W. Norton. (originally published 1961).
Affirmations of Korean Studies: Rejection of Brainwashing Concept.
Anthony, Dick. 1990. "Religious Movements and 'Brainwashing' Litigation." in Dick Anthony and Thomas Robbins, In Gods We Trust. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
Anthony, Dick, and Thomas Robbins. 1994. "Brainwahing and Totalitarian Influence," in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, Vol 1: 457-471.
Anthony, Dick, and Thomas Robbins. 1992. "Law, Social Science and the 'Brainwashing' Exception in the First Amendment." Behavioral Sciences & Law. 10: 5-30.
Anthony, Dick, and Thomas Robbins. 1991. "Law, Social Science and the 'Brainwashing' exception to the First Amendment," Behavioral Science Law. 10/1
Barker, Eileen, 1984. The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?. New York: Basil Blackwell. 305 pps.
Barker, Eileen, 1982. "Who'd Be a Moonie? A Comparative Study of Those Who Join the Unification Church in Britain." in Brian Wilson (ed.), The Social Impact of New Religious Movements. New York: Rose of Sharon Press.
Bromley, David G. 1983. "Conservatorships and Deprogramming: Legal and Political Prospects." in Bromley, David G. and James T. Richardson, (eds). The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. 267-293.
Bromley, David G. and James T. Richardson, Eds. 1983. The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. 367 pps.
Cialdini, Robert B. 1993. Influence: Science and Practice. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers. Third Edition.
Davis Joseph E., 1993. Thought Control, Totalism and The Extension of the Anti-Cult Critiques Beyond the "Cults". Dexter, MI: Tabor House. 77 pps.
Fort, J. 1985. "What Is 'Brainwashing,' and Who Says so?" in B. Kilborne, (ed.), Scientific Research and New Religions: Divergernt Perspectives . San Francisco: American Association for the Advancement of Science. 57-63.
Grinsburg, Gerald, and James T. Richardson, 1998. "'Brainwashing'" Evidence in Light of Daubert. in Law and Science: Current Legal Issues". Hellen Reece Editor, 265-288.
Richardson, James T. 1997. "Sociology, 'Brainwashing' Claims About New Religion, and Freedom of Religion. in P. Jenkins and S. Kroll-smith (eds.), Sociology on Trial: Sociologists As Expert Witnesses. New York: Praeger.
Richardson, James T. 1996. "'Brainwashing' Claims and Minority Religions Outside the United States: Cultural Diffusion of a Questionable Concept in the Legal Arena," Brigham Young University Law Review, No. 4, 873-904.
Richardson, James T. 1993. "A Social Psychological Critique of 'Brainwashing' Claims About Recruitment to New Religions." in David Bromley and Jeffrey K. Hadden, (eds.) The Handbook of Cults and Sects in America. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press. 75-97.
Richardson, James T. 1991. "Cult/Brainwashing Cases and the Freedom of Religion." Journal of Church and State. 33: 55-74.
Richardson, James T. and Brock Kilbourne. 1983. "Classical and Contemporary Applications of Brainwashing Theories: A Comparison and Critique" in David G. Bromley and James T. Richardson (eds.) The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy. New York: Edwin Mellen. 29-45.
Affirmation of Brainwashing Thesis.
Allen, Charlotte, 1999. "Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith," Linqua Franca. 8/9, (December/January): 26-36.
Galanti, Geri-Ann 1993. "Reflections on 'Brainwashing,'" in Recovery From Cults. Michael D. Langone Ed., New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 85-103.
Singer, Margaret T., 1995. Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. See especially Ch 3, "The Process of Brainwashing, Psychological Coercion, and Thought Reform," pp. 52-82.
West, Louis Jolyon 1989. "Persuasive Techniques in Contemporary Cults: A Public Health Approach," in Cults and New Religious Movements. Marc Galanter, Ed. Washington, DC: American Pyschiatric Association. pp. 165-208.
Also available in this site section:
Introduction Conceptualizing "Cult" and "Sect" Conceptualizing "Anti-Cult" and "Counter-Cult" The Anti-Cult Movement The Counter-Cult Movement Links Bibliography Other Resources
Go back to the top of this page. Last modified: 11/26/00 Copyright © the Religious Movements Page. All Rights Reserved.
Special Report: The Maryland Cult Task Force
Established religions have always viewed new religions with suspicion. Not infrequently, they have labeled new religions as doctrinally heretical and socially dangerous.
While the past fifty years has witnessed a growing acceptance of the principle of "universal human rights," this same period has ironically witnessed steady growth in opposition to new religions. Secularly grounded opposition has been added to traditional religious opposition.
This segment of the Religious Movements Page examines the issues and organizations that fuel the "cult controversies." The Religious Movements page is under active expansion and revision.
In addition to the topics indexed to the right and below, we invite you to examine the Controversial "Cult" Task Force proceedings in the State of Maryland. Over 95 documents from the proceedings have been archivered here. J.K. Hadden (02/11/22)
Cult Group Controversies: Maryland Cult Task Force
| Index of Task Force Documents | | Final Report Now Available |
During the Spring and Summer of 1999 a Task Force mandated by the Maryland State Legislature conducted hearings on the "effects of cult activities" on campuses in the state system of four year colleges and universities.
The proceedings were shrouded in controversy from the beginning. By the time the work of the Task Force was completed on September 15, 1999, the proceedings had drifted ever closer to the brink of acrimony and confrontation.
This page offers an archive of the Task Force proceedings. To date we have over 70 documents that are either officially a part of the record, or are public records of actors who have sought to influence the outcome of the proceedings.
While the final report is a much-watered down version of what the anti-cultists wanted, the submission of the Task Force Report to the Governor will not end the controversy.
The record of these proceedings is important precisely because the problem of "cults" will not go away. At the core of the heated debate is the question of what is it that is problematic. Hopefully, a comprehensive record of the Maryland proceedings will be helpful to others as they sort out and evaluate claims that are so disparate.
Those who are unfamiliar with the Maryland Task Force hearings may wish to begin with the overview essay entitled "Cult Wars in Maryland". It will be updated as soon as the final report is released. An index of materials appears immediately below this introduction.
Jeffrey K. Hadden 09/16/99
Index of Task Force Documents
House Joint Resolution 22 Hearings on House Joint Resolution History of Resolution by Legislative Date
Introduction "Cult Wars in Maryland: An Introduction to the Task Force to Study Cult Activities in Public Senior Higher Education," Jeffrey K. Hadden
Univ of Maryland President's Comments on Draft Final Report
Executive Summary and Final Report
Task Force Hearings May 25, 1999 June 7, 1999 June 29, 1999 July 14, 1999 July 27, 1999 August 9, 1999
Official Minutes of the Task Force
Testimony Before Task Force Transcripts of Testimony Before Task Force
Documents Submitted for the Record
Testimony in Open Session Transcripts of Testimony in Open Session
Legal Proceedings
News Coverage
Maryland Cult Task Force
| Taskforce Index | Cult Controversies Index | Religious Movements Home |
Will Maryland Lead U.S. into European-Style "Sectophobia"?*
Dan Fefferman
While the US is generally thought of as having an excellent record with regard to religious freedom, recent developments in the state of Maryland set an ominous precedent indicating that the US may be following Europe’s lead toward repressive measures and "Sectophobia."
The case in point is an act of the Maryland state legislature last year to create a "Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Educational Institutions." The Task Force, which is currently in formation, is required to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor of Maryland no later that September 30 of this year.
The resolution creating the Task Force stated that "college students who become involved with cults undergo personality changes, suffer academically and financially, are alienated from their families and friends, and are robbed of the very things universities were designed to encourage…" It does not, however, define the term "cult" or name any specific "cults."
Opponents fear the Task Force will be used to stifle the freedom of speech and expression of adherents to new and small religions, the very groups that most require protection. They point out that in Europe, government anti-"sect" commissions have named such groups as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic charismatic groups and even the YWCA as "dangerous."
A student at the University of Maryland stated: "All freshmen at the U of M have to fill out a questionnaire in which they are asked about their religious preference. Will some of us who provided this information now be placed on a 'black list?' Is this Task Force going tell us which religions are 'OK' and which are 'cults?'
Civil libertarians agree. They point out that the Task Force is unconstitutional on its face. Identifying certain groups as "cults" singles them out as less than legitimate, and US courts have consistently held that this type of discrimination is not permissible under the Constitution's stricture that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…" In addition, the guarantee of free exercise has been found in recent court cases (Employment division v. Smith) to mean that no particular religion or religions may be targeted by in legislation.
The Task Force may also run counter to UN and other international covenants to which the US is a signatory. Recent UN deliberations have clarified that the right to freedom of religion applies not only to mainstream groups, but especially to smaller and new groups, the very ones targeted by the Maryland Task Force. According to an official statement of the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted in 1993:
"Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions... The Committee views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community."
U.S. anti-cultists have claimed the creation of the Maryland Task Force as a triumph that should be duplicated in states throughout the nation. Promotional literature for a "CULTINFO" conference in Stamford Connecticut in January giddily declared: "This encouraging development will energize you and show how you can use this tool in your state legislature."
Results of anti-"sect" commissions in Europe have been criticized for creating an atmosphere similar to the McCarthyist red scare in the 1950s. In Germany, members of the Church of Scientology have been banned from membership in the major political parties. In France, a Unification Church center was bombed shortly after the government listed the church among 72 dangerous "sects." Members of minority religions in Europe have been denied employment and housing, had schools closed, have been passed over for employment, and even had bank accounts closed for no other reason than their faith.
The commissions have also been criticized for being wasteful. After months of investigation and substantial expenditures of money, a German official panel mandated to study "sects and psychogroups" concluded: "No generalized statements on the whole spectrum of new religious and ideological groups and psychogroups can be made. As a consequence of this fact, the Commission has decided to no longer use the term 'sect.'
The Maryland Task Force demonstrates how a tiny force of misguided or intolerant individuals fearful about "cults" can bend a state legislature's will by presenting one sided arguments and taking advantage of crowded legislative calendars to push through its agenda. The above-mentioned CULTINFO conference literature states that the Task Force resulted from the efforts of one woman, Sandra Stephon, who became distraught after her attempts failed to convince her son to leave the International Churches of Christ, which he joined while attending the University of Maryland. "Hear the story of how one angry mom took on the cults in the Maryland State Legislature and won!" the literature gushes, "Sandra has shown us a valuable weapon."
As for "taking on the cults in the Maryland State Legislature," when Maryland House Joint Resolution 22 was debated in the Appropriations Committee, the list of witnesses included nine proponents and one person who checked both "proponent" and "no position." Obviously, Mrs. Stephon and her allies in the Maryland legislature made no attempt to balance the debate. Both the House and Senate hearings on the resolution were stacked with "experts" from the anti-cult movement. No civil liberties groups testified, nor did representatives of the mainline religions who generally oppose such measures, nor any representatives of the groups who would be directly affected by the action.
Opponents of the resolution did not learn of its existence until it had already passed the lower house and was within two days of passing the Maryland Senate. By that senators were rushing to deal with hundreds of bills before the close of the session and few had even the slightest idea of the resolution's contents. When the resolution about to be voted on in the Senate, the clerk misread its title as a resolution to study "cultural activities" rather than "cult activities" on college campuses.
The Task Force will consist of a panel of educators, politicians, parents and students. Some positions remain unfilled as of this writing, but critics worry that the commission is already packed with appointees recommended by anti-"cultists" and that no civil libertarians or scholars of new religious movements have been named.
To express concern or request more information, write:
Governor of Maryland
Hon. Parris Glendening State House Annapolis MD 21401-1991
Speaker of the House of Delegates
Del. Casper R. Taylor, Jr. 101 State House Annapolis MD 21401-1991
President of the Senate
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller State House, H-107
Annapolis MD 21401-1991
Chancellor of the University of Maryland
Donald N. Langenberg 3300 Metzerott road Adelphi, MD 20783
* This article was published in International Feligious Freedom Report Vol 2, No 1 (April, 1999) and submitted for the record on June 7, 1999.
Cult Group Controversies:
Maryland Cult Task Force
| Taskforce Index | Cult Controversies Index | Religious Movements Home |
Defining Religion in American Law Presented May 15, 1999 at the Conference On The Controversy Concerning Sects In French-Speaking Europe Sponsored by CESNUR and CLIMS
Bruce J. Casino, Esquire Partner, Baker & Hostetler, LLP Adjunct Professor, George Washington University Law School President, International Coalition for Religious Freedom
This paper will seek to provide an insight into the issue of how "religion" is to be defined. This issue is crucial to international human rights law since the protections afforded religious freedom by the various international and national treaties, conventions, declarations and constitutions apply only to religious beliefs and actions. The American legal system has long been concerned with this definitional issue and has developed more case law and legal commentary on the subject than any other nation. Thus the insights provided by American law may prove useful as governmental agencies or courts in other nations or international tribunals consider the issue.
The analysis included in this paper of the United States Internal Revenue Service criteria for determining whether an organization is a "church" for purposes of tax exemption also serves to develop the definitional issue and, in particular, to explore the dilemma of developing narrow definitional boundaries for religion.
According to one American court, a "religious organization" is merely "an organized association of persons dedicated to religious purposes." Therefore, if the organization is animated by religious belief, it cannot, by definition, fail to be a religious organization. Ordinarily, however, the American government and the courts have been reluctant to examine the content of religious belief.
Neither this court, nor any branch of this government, will consider the merits or fallacies of religion. Nor will the court compare the beliefs, dogmas and practices of a newly organized religion with those of an older,
more established religion. Nor will the court praise or condemn a religion, however excellent or fanatical or preposterous it may seem. Were the court to do so, it would impinge upon the guarantee of the First Amendment.
Judges and IRS officials are "not oracles of theological verity, and the Founders did not intend for them to be declarants of religious orthodoxy." It is obvious, however, that proper application of the tax laws respecting religious organizations requires a definition, or at least guidelines, meeting constitutional standards. The first amendment would indeed become "a limitless excuse for avoiding all unwanted legal obligations" if all claims to religious protection were accepted merely because they are asserted. Therefore, at least a working definition of religion is needed, so that minimum standards can be discerned and applied to "religious organizations" claiming tax-exempt status. Attempts to develop a working definition of "religion" in the American context must begin with the language of the United States Constitution, the intent of the framers, and interpretation by the Supreme Court.
I. The Framers' Intent
The first amendment declares, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." The very terms of the Constitution render the definition of the term "religion" critical. The intent of the framers of the Constitution is a subject of much debate, and no consensus has emerged. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Roger Williams each influenced the drafters of the first amendment. Jefferson advocated total separation of church and state to protect the state from influences by churches. Madison believed that church and state could achieve best their respective purposes if each were free from interference by the other. Williams saw the need for the protection of religion from the control of government as the primary concern.
The framers thus did not share a single unitary notion of religion. Madison called religion "the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it." Jefferson, while theistic in outlook, embraced a much broader outlook concerning religion and what should be protected as religious. Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (in Virginia) "was meant to be universal . . . to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination." The framers, however, almost certainly did not foresee the problems that would emerge with the increase in the size and area of activity of government and the growing pluralism of the country.
II. Evolution of Supreme Court Efforts to Define Religion.
The Supreme Court made its first effort to define religion in 1890, ignoring Jefferson's universalistic approach in favor of the traditional theistic approach. In Davis v. Beason, the Court stated: "The term ‘religion’ has reference to one's views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will." This theistic notion of religion was dominant until the 1940's, when the Supreme Court, in a series of decisions, changed direction in regard to both the belief/action distinction and the theistic definition of religion. In United States v. Ballard, Justice Douglas, writing for the majority, embraced a much broader definition of religion:
Freedom of religious belief, is basic in a society of free men. It embraces the right to maintain theories of life and of death and the hereafter which are rank heresy to followers of orthodox faiths . . . . Men may believe what they cannot prove. They may not be put to the proof of their religious doctrines of beliefs. Religious experiences which are as real as life to some may be incomprehensible to others. Yet the fact they may be beyond the ken of mortals does not mean that they can be made suspect before the law.
As Judge Hand had asserted, religion need not be bound by reason and logic. In Everson v. Board of Education, the principles of voluntarism, essentially the notion that belief should be free and not coerced, and separatism, the belief that religion and government should not involve themselves in the other’s activities, were developed. These two purposes find expression in the contemporary understanding of the two religion clauses of the Constitution: the free exercise clause and the establishment clause.
In Torcaso v. Watkins, the Court broke the theistic mold which had theretofore restricted the American legal definition of religion. According to the Court, the first amendment precluded government from aiding "those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs." The Court noted that "[a]mong religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others." This expanded position reflected a recognition of the great diversity of religious beliefs in modern America.
While Congress has provided no definition of religion in the context of federal tax exemptions, it did so in the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1948. The Act’s provision allowing a military exemption for those conscientiously opposed to war due to religious credences defined religious training and belief as "an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation but [not including] . . . essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code."
In 1965, the Supreme Court interpreted this definition, in United States v. Seeger, to allow conscientious objector status to persons bound by a perceived duty to realities superior to man, but not affiliated with any orthodox religion. The Court found that Congress intended the term "Supreme Being" to encompass all religious but not purely political, sociological, or philosophical beliefs. Thus, the key determination was
whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of the respective holders we cannot say that one is in a relation to a ‘Supreme Being’ and the other is not.
In Welsh v. United States, the Court reinforced Seeger’s interpretation of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, finding that although Welsh could not characterize his beliefs as religious, they nevertheless "function as a religion in his life," and holding that he was therefore qualified for exemption under the statute. The Court distinguished registrants who do not have strong convictions, and "those whose objection to war does not rest at all upon moral, ethical, or religious principle but instead rests solely upon considerations of policy, pragmatism, or expediency."
In 1972, Wisconsin v. Yoder indicated that the test arising out of Seeger and Welsh would not, in fact, allow the first amendment definition of religion to encompass the broad spectrum of beliefs recognized as the functional equivalent of religion in Welsh. In other words, functional equivalence in the statutory sense did not necessarily mean equivalence in the constitutional sense. The Court emphasized that philosophical and personal beliefs were not protected by the first amendment religion clauses, declaring that "the very concept of ordered liberty precludes allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests." In support of its decision to allow the Amish to remove their children from the public education system after the eighth grade, the Yoder Court emphasized the "almost 300 years of consistent practice" of the Amish in this regard, as well as the fact that the beliefs were shared by an organized group. Using age and organizational structure as criteria is a highly dubious method of defining religion, but the Yoder court was probably indicating factors influential in its decision rather than attempting to provide a coherent definition.
The Court in Thomas v. Review Board again signalled that personal philosophical choice is not protected by the first amendment religion clauses. Chief Justice Burger stated that "[o]nly beliefs rooted in religion are protected by the Free Exercise Clause, which, by its terms, gives special protection to the exercise of religion." While not defining religion, the Thomas decision makes it clear that a constitutional definition should distinguish between religion and mere conscientious belief.
III. Alternative Definitions of Religion.
An attempt at a broader definition of religion which has met with some court approval is the "ultimate concern" test. In Seeger, the Court relied on this view of the renowned progressive theologian, Paul Tillich. Tillich defines faith as "the state of being ultimately concerned" and God as "the ground of all being." This "ultimate concern" approach is attractive because of its universality and has received support from some commentators. Under this view, no belief is more valuable than any other and respect for deeply held religious beliefs is emphasized.
Tillich’s approach does not provide any clarity for the legal process, however. An advocate of the "ultimate concern" approach points out that "civil religion in America," communism, Marxism, nazism, Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism might all fit into this category. While Tillich himself would distinguish concerns such as nationalism as idolatrous, claiming to be ultimate without really being so, this would be a difficult distinction for the legal process because it involves judgments as to whether an ultimate concern is "heretical" or "true." Each man’s conscience cannot make him a law unto himself. Furthermore, religious belief is not always ultimate in the functional sense, although its subject matter may be ultimate religious beliefs.
Under the ultimate concern test, the degree of concern is at issue; the test tends to protect those with much faith as against those of little faith. How concerned is "ultimate concerned?" How is concerned measured? Should not the churchgoer who attends services only on Christmas or Easter also be protected by the first amendment? As Justice Harlan stated: "Common experience teaches that among ‘religious’ individuals some are weak and others strong adherents to tenets . . . ." The ‘ultimate concern’ definition also creates a problem in that it would tend to benefit those with sufficient intelligence and ability to communicate how their beliefs fall within the protected category and discriminate against those without that ability.
Another commentator, Jesse H. Choper, outlines a different approach, which he describes as the "extratemporal consequences" criterion. This criterion would provide first amendment protection only for beliefs the violation of which involved severe spiritual repercussions. Choper argues that this "special cruelty" factor, which results from being forced to do something that will put one’s soul in jeopardy, is the best explanation of the justification for religion’s special exemption from governmental regulations. Choper himself acknowledges that the Universalist, Secular Humanism, Deism and Ethical Culture movements would fall outside this definition. Choper’s approach fails to acknowledge that the fact that psychic anguish may be at least as extreme for one who has violated what is "only" a moral scruple as it is for one who has violated a religious prohibition. Also, such an analysis constrains unnecessarily the definition of religion by focusing strictly on one narrow concept, eternal damnation or its equivalent, which is identified with only some religions.
An alternative solution which, while limited, at least moves us in the direction of a neutral definition is that provided in Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda. After a sensitive consideration of first amendment concerns, the court concluded:
[t]he inquiry in such a case is the objective one of whether or not the belief occupies the same place in the lives of its holders that the orthodox beliefs occupy in the lives of believing majorities, and whether a given group that claims the exemption conducts itself the way groups conceded to be religious conduct themselves.
This approach is imperfect in that it uses traditional religions as its staring point, and thereby retains too much of the prejudice inherent in the "I know it when I see it" standard. However, the court in Fellowship of Humanity discussed four seemingly reasonable and neutral factors which it said should be examined in determining whether a qualified "religion" is present: "(1) a belief, not necessarily referring to supernatural powers; (2) a cult, involving a gregarious association openly expressing the belief; (3) a system of moral practice directly resulting from an adherence to the belief; and (4) an organization within the cult designed to observe the tenets of belief."
Some commentators have argued that a dual system utilizing different definitions of religion for each of the two religion clauses should be used. Professor Tribe, for instance, seeks to avoid what he sees as an increasingly severe constitutional dilemma by using a bifurcated definition of religion. In Tribe’s view, the free exercise clause should be construed to protect all that is "arguably religious" while the establishment clause should not be applied to anything "arguably non-religious." Van Alstyne looks to the different purposes underlying the two religion clauses as necessitating dual definitions. This approach, while assisting in guaranteeing religious freedom, does not seek to define religion, but merely to set parameters. A unitary definition may prove more useful when, as in the case of tax exemption, both religion clauses are implicated.
An eminently reasonable definition of religious belief originates in the writings of the renowned French sociologist of religion, Emile Durkheim. Durkheim saw men experiencing two facets of life, the "scared" and the "profane."
The profane referred to the experience in everyday life, of which work and the workaday world was its most central and significant type case. The scared was residual to, and other than, this workaday sphere. It lay somehow outside the profane sphere and evoked an attitude of awe and reverence. Religion was the attitude characteristic of this kind of experience . . . .
Believers hold the world of the scared to be more deeply real and meaningful than the everyday worlds of the profane. The concept of the scared and the profane may provide a more flexible definitional approach, which would embrace all known religions yet exclude concepts such as communism, facism, and socialism which, while capable of encompassing comprehensive and deeply held beliefs, do not invoke a transcendent reality – the sacred. Systems of belief that are grounded in the profane, that is, in "observable facts, about which evidence can be gathered, experts consulted, empirical conclusions drawn, and policies made, fall squarely within the realm of traditional governmental decision-making." Because belief in the sacred or transcendent is, by definition, not knowable or verifiable in the physical world, government cannot dictate to or deny such beliefs or experiences and must refrain from regulating their expression.
The essence of any workable criteria that the courts and the IRS must use in determining whether an organization is a religion must be comprised of two elements: (1) a sincerely held belief in a sacred or transcendent reality and (2) an organization whose purpose and practice is to express that belief. This approach has the advantage of constitutionally required neutrality. The inclusion of the "sincerity," "purpose" and "practice" criteria would enable the courts to eliminate shams claiming to have a religious character. Any test can be applied in a biased fashion, but the proposed test stresses equal treatment of all organizations claiming to be religions, which is the key problem with the courts’ treatment of the mail-order ministries. It is less complex and would tend to include a greater variety of religions than would the IRS’ cumbersome fourteen criteria. Shams could be excluded by examining indicia of sincerity, practice reflecting belief, and related purpose. Sincerity is a legitimate inquiry.
IV. The IRS Criteria.
The IRS recognizes that the "statutory term ‘religion’ cannot be defined with precision" and the fact that "serious Constitutional difficulties would be presented if this section were interpreted to exclude even those beliefs that do not encompass a Supreme Being." The IRS nonetheless uses a subjective, highly questionable, fourteen point-test to determine whether or not an organization is a "church". Courts often use one or more of these criteria in determining that a mail-order ministry is not qualified for tax exemption. In general, the criteria tend to apply to large, formal, well-established churches but not to smaller and less traditional or established denominations. Indeed, because they discriminate between religious organizations, they would seem to violate the first amendment. The IRS, as is argued below, should abandon these criteria and use the test proposed above as its standard to determine whether or not an organization is, in fact, a church.
The IRS criteria are:
a distinct legal existence,
a recognized creed and form of worship,
a definite and distinct ecclesiastical government,
a formal code of doctrine and discipline
a distinct religious history,
a membership not associated with any other church or denomination,
an organization of ordained ministers,
ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed studies,
a literature of its own,
established places of worship,
regular congregations,
regular religious services,
Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young,
school for the preparation of its ministers.
Each of these criteria is fundamentally flawed. As to the first criterion, a religious organization should not be required to have a distinct legal existence, since a "church" may decide not to incorporate for reasons of its own. In addition, a denomination may have no formal organization. For example, the Plymouth Brethren believe that "such denominational structures are unscriptural and divisive. Locally, some are incorporated, some are not." This requirement "poses a special threat to ministers who serve the poor. Many such ministers lack the legal sophistication and resources to incorporate their churches even if such formal structure were consistent with their theology."
The second criterion is flawed because recognized creed and form of worship is sometimes imperceptible even in major denominations. The Unitarian Universalists, for example, a denomination of approximately 200,000 members, follows
No formal or central creed. Their ministers and members are not required to pass any test of faith. Freedom of belief among Unitarians is broad enough to include agnosticism, humanism, even atheism, on the one hand, and, on the other, a belief in God which can be manifested in a wide range of definitions - from that of a "personal god" to a an "Ultimate Reality." May Unitarians feel the word "God" a stumbling block to communication about the supreme matters of the spirit. They choose to avoid an excessive use of all words that stand in the way of, instead of encouraging, profound understanding.
Unitarians feel that "[t]here is clearly a pride in being creedless, in having open membership." Moreover, a religious body may believe only in doing "whatever is right." A "recognized" form of worship as a criteria immerses the IRS in intractable sectarian strife. The form of worship may vary significantly among churches within the same denomination.
Some forms of Unitarian worship resemble services in other Protestant churches. In one city, a Unitarian church may have the atmosphere of a Lutheran or Episcopalian or Congregationalist service. Each church is free to develop a service of worship that best serves its people, and Unitarian ministers through long tradition are accorded the right of a free pulpit. Unitarians employ many variations of the great human-divine theme of religion as expressed in meditation, music and poetry.
Furthermore, commentators note that a Quaker meeting for worship has no fixed,
pre-arranged character. It is held without ritual or an ordained minister, and with no outward sacraments or formalized program. It takes place in a meeting house without a steeple, stained-glass windows, alter, credos or organ . . . . It should be emphasized that the form of Quaker worship and ministry is not prescribed or uniform.
The Plymouth Brethren "oppose formalism in worship and have no liturgy."
The third IRS criterion also poses a problem. A definite and distinct ecclesiastical government is not a sine qua non of a religious organization. It may be that "any written organizational guide" would be anathema to a particular church. Churches in the Protestant Congregationalist tradition would not consider any polity beyond the local church. For instance, there are tens of thousands of local Baptist churches in the United States, "each one independent of the others." Each Unitarian Church enjoys full self-determination in all matters and "jealously guards its interests as an autonomous body." Plymouth Brethren are governed locally and "even this form of government is often informal."
The fourth requirement, that a church have a formal code of doctrine and discipline, may contradict a fundamental tenet of an organization that it have "no traditional doctrine." For example, the Quakers do not have a "written or spoken formal creed . . . . The Society never requires of its members the acceptance of any formula or belief." The Plymouth Brethren "oppose man made creeds as being human additions to the Word of God. Many other evangelicals share this view."
The problem with the fifth criterion is that a new religion, by definition, cannot have "a distinct religious history." "American civilization from the beginning and in each passing century has been continuously marked by extraordinary religious fertility and continues to exhibit this propensity to the present day." The emergence of new religions is a common occurrence in American history. "The first Amendment serves to protect all religions, old and new, against government harassment, intrusion, injury and discrimination." Baptists, Quakers, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses each experienced persecution in America when their churches were new. Although no one would dispute that this history is unfortunate, a similar dynamic is at work in the present attitude of many in government toward new religions. Moreover, even established religious groups might not have a distinct history. "Due to the informal nature of the Plymouth Brethren, their religious history is indistinct."
The sixth criterion, that a church must have a membership not associated with any other church or denomination, stems from confessional Christianity. It does not apply among Japanese, Chinese, or Asian Indians, for instance, who find it quite common to be members of and attend various religious services.
One of the best-known features of Chinese universalism is that the three religions - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism - are virtually treated as one. The religious allegiance of the average man is not related to one the three religions. He does not belong to a confession or creed. He participates unconcerned as to any apparent lack of consistency, alternatively in Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian rites. He is, by nature, a religious pragmatist.
One of the goals of the ecumenical movement is increased interaction and "association" between denominations and churches and their members. Religions such as the Bahai and Theosophy aim at unity of all religions.
Gandhi said that "[m]ore than all, people of all religions should learn to worship together on occasion." The Plymouth Brethren do not practice formal church membership because "they believe church membership has no basis in Scripture, divides Christians from one another and can be a crutch which leads to a false sense of salvation." The American tendency toward exclusive religious affiliation is by no means universal. A Japanese, for instance, may be married as a Shintoist and buried as Buddhist. "The Japanese never developed the idea, so prevalent in South and West Asia as well as the West, that a person had to adhere exclusively to one religion or another . . . Japanese were usually both Buddhists and Shintoists at the same time and often enough Confucianists as well."
The seventh, or "organization of ordained ministers," criterion has no relevance for churches that do not distinguish minister from congregant. Among Quakers "there is no division between clergy an laity, the vocation of every Friend is to be a lay minister." The Plymouth Brethren believe in the Reformation doctrine of the priesthood of all believers; the distinction between clergy and laity, practiced by many churches, it considered unscriptural. Also, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that all their members are ministers, that they are a "body of ministers."
The question posed by the eighth criterion - whether or not ministers are ordained after completing a course of study - is irrelevant. Paul, for instance, was "called" on the road to Damascus. Jesus called disciples without seminary training who were, among other professions, fishermen and tax collectors (perhaps all hope is not lost for the IRS). The historic significance of revelation and the mystical call to religious office is ignored by this criterion. The churches of the Appalachian mountains see the presence of "the uneducated preacher" as one aspect of the "fullest expression . . . of the mountain spirit and the mountain religious tradition."
[O]ne individual or another (usually male) among the people became convinced that God was calling him to preach and exhort. So he would set about establishing a church of his own, often on his property, either in his house or a separate building he might construct. Like a patron to his neighbors in a lonely mountain hollow, he invited them to join with him in seeking the Word and will of God.
In addition, most Unitarian Universalist' "[p]rofessional ministers have the burden to legitimate themselves by achievement rather than by an ascribed status." In some black churches, especially Baptist and Pentecostal, the majority of the pastors receive no formal training. "[A] man with a good voice and attractive personality, a sense of humor, and sufficient desire can find a church to serve without formal training." Finally, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that true ordination comes directly from God. "Jehovah through Christ ordains his witnesses to serve as ministers - John 15:16." This concept is common in evangelical denominations. "Those who preach in Plymouth Brethren assemblies are generally well-versed in the Word of God, but usually they have no formal seminary training."
It is unlikely that an ethnic or tribal religion will have "a literature of its own," as required by the IRS' ninth criterion. Oral tradition and participation are the means of transferring the religion between generations in such groups. Among the American Indians, there is an "absence of recorded dogma." One federal court has held that whether a religious organization has extensive literature is not constitutionally dispositive. If relied upon by the IRS, this test would tend to favor more established, traditional, articulate and intellectual churches.
The tenth standard, the "established places of worship" test, discriminates against new churches, since a newly formed church might not be able to establish a place of worship even if this is its top priority. Moreover, there are a number of religious organizations that do not believe in established places of worship. The Quakers, for example, have no sacred building in which religious services are held. Establishment of a "temple of stone" is not constitutionally required for a church to constitute a religion. Although most Plymouth Brethren have buildings for worship, many meet in private homes. Furthermore, for those religions that do not believe in deities, there is not "worship" and thus no "place of worship." The terms of the test itself indicate its bias.
The arguments against the eleventh criterion's requirement of "regular congregations" are essentially the same as those against the need for a separate church membership outlined above. Congregants who do not "regularly" attend services may nonetheless be considered practicing church members.
The twelfth criterion also excludes certain religious groups. For example, Quakers do not have a "religious service" in the strict sense of that term. Furthermore, services of some organized religions include only mystical contemplation and meditation, although these activities could be constructed as religious services.
The thirteenth requirement, that there be Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young, is clearly a biased criterion base on a mainstream Christian concept. For example, many faiths worship on days other than Sunday. Moreover, there are a number of churches which do not believe in establishing separate schools for religious education of their young. Sunday school is not a necessity and is not present in many cultures in which religion is a pervasive element in followers' lives. Some churches and synagogues focus on a "singles" ministry or a
"seniors" ministry. There are also some homosexual churches in which the presence of children may be less likely.
Finally, since, as outlined above, churches should not be required to have clergy, the existence of schools for the preparation of its ministers, as imposed by the fourteenth criterion, should similarly not be required. In a survey of 250 American denominations over ninety percent report no seminaries or schools of religion.
In summary, the IRS criteria are hopelessly flawed. They favor large, well-established, high or formal churches and discriminate against small, new, unconventional, informal or low churches. The Christian churches of the New Testament at Philippi, Corinth, and Thessalonica arguably would not meet the first through eighth, tenth, eleventh, and fourteenth criteria of the IRS test. The criteria are conceptually flawed and should be abandoned. In their place, the IRS should use a simpler, broader, and more constitutionally acceptable definition.
Cult Group Controversies:
Maryland Cult Task Force
| Taskforce Index | Cult Controversies Index | Religious Movements Home |
Will Maryland Lead U.S. into European-Style "Sectophobia"?*
Dan Fefferman
While the US is generally thought of as having an excellent record with regard to religious freedom, recent developments in the state of Maryland set an ominous precedent indicating that the US may be following Europe’s lead toward repressive measures and "Sectophobia."
The case in point is an act of the Maryland state legislature last year to create a "Task Force to Study the Effects of Cult Activities on Public Senior Higher Educational Institutions." The Task Force, which is currently in formation, is required to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor of Maryland no later that September 30 of this year.
The resolution creating the Task Force stated that "college students who become involved with cults undergo personality changes, suffer academically and financially, are alienated from their families and friends, and are robbed of the very things universities were designed to encourage…" It does not, however, define the term "cult" or name any specific "cults."
Opponents fear the Task Force will be used to stifle the freedom of speech and expression of adherents to new and small religions, the very groups that most require protection. They point out that in Europe, government anti-"sect" commissions have named such groups as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic charismatic groups and even the YWCA as "dangerous."
A student at the University of Maryland stated: "All freshmen at the U of M have to fill out a questionnaire in which they are asked about their religious preference. Will some of us who provided this information now be placed on a 'black list?' Is this Task Force going tell us which religions are 'OK' and which are 'cults?'
Civil libertarians agree. They point out that the Task Force is unconstitutional on its face. Identifying certain groups as "cults" singles them out as less than legitimate, and US courts have consistently held that this type of discrimination is not permissible under the Constitution's stricture that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…" In addition, the guarantee of free exercise has been found in recent court cases (Employment division v. Smith) to mean that no particular religion or religions may be targeted by in legislation.
The Task Force may also run counter to UN and other international covenants to which the US is a signatory. Recent UN deliberations have clarified that the right to freedom of religion applies not only to mainstream groups, but especially to smaller and new groups, the very ones targeted by the Maryland Task Force. According to an official statement of the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted in 1993:
"Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions... The Committee views with concern any tendency to discriminate against any religion or belief for any reasons, including the fact that they are newly established, or represent religious minorities that may be the subject of hostility by a predominant religious community."
U.S. anti-cultists have claimed the creation of the Maryland Task Force as a triumph that should be duplicated in states throughout the nation. Promotional literature for a "CULTINFO" conference in Stamford Connecticut in January giddily declared: "This encouraging development will energize you and show how you can use this tool in your state legislature."
Results of anti-"sect" commissions in Europe have been criticized for creating an atmosphere similar to the McCarthyist red scare in the 1950s. In Germany, members of the Church of Scientology have been banned from membership in the major political parties. In France, a Unification Church center was bombed shortly after the government listed the church among 72 dangerous "sects." Members of minority religions in Europe have been denied employment and housing, had schools closed, have been passed over for employment, and even had bank accounts closed for no other reason than their faith.
The commissions have also been criticized for being wasteful. After months of investigation and substantial expenditures of money, a German official panel mandated to study "sects and psychogroups" concluded: "No generalized statements on the whole spectrum of new religious and ideological groups and psychogroups can be made. As a consequence of this fact, the Commission has decided to no longer use the term 'sect.'
The Maryland Task Force demonstrates how a tiny force of misguided or intolerant individuals fearful about "cults" can bend a state legislature's will by presenting one sided arguments and taking advantage of crowded legislative calendars to push through its agenda. The above-mentioned CULTINFO conference literature states that the Task Force resulted from the efforts of one woman, Sandra Stephon, who became distraught after her attempts failed to convince her son to leave the International Churches of Christ, which he joined while attending the University of Maryland. "Hear the story of how one angry mom took on the cults in the Maryland State Legislature and won!" the literature gushes, "Sandra has shown us a valuable weapon."
As for "taking on the cults in the Maryland State Legislature," when Maryland House Joint Resolution 22 was debated in the Appropriations Committee, the list of witnesses included nine proponents and one person who checked both "proponent" and "no position." Obviously, Mrs. Stephon and her allies in the Maryland legislature made no attempt to balance the debate. Both the House and Senate hearings on the resolution were stacked with "experts" from the anti-cult movement. No civil liberties groups testified, nor did representatives of the mainline religions who generally oppose such measures, nor any representatives of the groups who would be directly affected by the action.
Opponents of the resolution did not learn of its existence until it had already passed the lower house and was within two days of passing the Maryland Senate. By that senators were rushing to deal with hundreds of bills before the close of the session and few had even the slightest idea of the resolution's contents. When the resolution about to be voted on in the Senate, the clerk misread its title as a resolution to study "cultural activities" rather than "cult activities" on college campuses.
The Task Force will consist of a panel of educators, politicians, parents and students. Some positions remain unfilled as of this writing, but critics worry that the commission is already packed with appointees recommended by anti-"cultists" and that no civil libertarians or scholars of new religious movements have been named.
To express concern or request more information, write:
Governor of Maryland
Hon. Parris Glendening State House Annapolis MD 21401-1991
Speaker of the House of Delegates
Del. Casper R. Taylor, Jr. 101 State House Annapolis MD 21401-1991
President of the Senate
Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller State House, H-107
Annapolis MD 21401-1991
Chancellor of the University of Maryland
Donald N. Langenberg 3300 Metzerott road Adelphi, MD 20783
* This article was published in International Feligious Freedom Report Vol 2, No 1 (April, 1999) and submitted for the record on June 7, 1999.
Cult Group Controversies:
Maryland Cult Task Force
| Taskforce Index | Cult Controversies Index | Religious Movements Home |
Cults on Campus: The Appeal - The Danger
a presentation on
Totalistic Groups and Mind Control
Ronald N. Loomis
Director of Education American Family Foundation (AFF)
Past President (The Former) Cult Awareness Network
Unless otherwise noted, source of information is: (The Former) Cult Awareness Network
Cults on Campus The Appeal; The Danger
Ronald N. Loomis
Director of Education, AFF Past President Cult Awareness Network (former)
To educate the General public regarding the harmful effects of Mind Control and psychological manipulation as used by cults and related groups
Help People understand cults Help families get loved ones out Describe harmful techniques Help others avoid cults and cultic relationships
Preventive Education
Do not judge doctrines or beliefs Concern is: deeds; not creeds Concern is: unethical or illegal practices Goal is: educating; not labeling Encourage only exit counseling, which is voluntary process Do not condone deprogramming; kidnapping
Historically Significant Events
Involving Cults and Mind Control
Peoples Temple
November 18, 1978 Jonestown, Guyana Jim Jones, Leader Deaths: 917 278 Children under age of 10 US Congressman Leo J. Ryan
Branch Davidians
April 19, 1993 Waco, Texas David Koresh, Leader Deaths: 4 Agents, 6 Cultists 2/29/93 80 Members, in fire 4/19/93 including 25 children
Order of Solar Temple
Oct. 1994; Dec. 1995; Mar. 1996 Switzerland, France, Quebec Leaders: Luc Jouret & Joseph di Marmbro Deaths: 53 in 1994 16 in 1995 5 in 1996
Aum Shinrikyo
March 20, 1995 Tokyo, Japan Shoko Asahara, Leader Sarin gas released in subway Deaths: 12 Injured: 5,500
Patriot Movement
April, 19, 1995 Oklahoma City, OK Timothy Mc Veigh, Convicted Terry Nichols, Convicted Bombed Federal Building Deaths: 169 Injured hundreds
Heaven's Gate
March, 1996 Rancho Sante Fe, California Marshall Herff Applewhite Deaths: 39 suicides To move to "The Next Level" aboard UFO following Hale-Bopp Comet
7 Types of Groups
Categories are for conveniences; serve as conceptual aids. Some groups fit more than one
7 Types of Groups
1.Religious 2.Mass Therapy / Meditation 3.Political 4.New Age 5.Commercial / Business 6.Patriot / Par-Military White Supremacist / Gangs 7.Satanic / Ritual Abuse
General Perspective
NOT just religious Issue Issue of human oppression Denial of individual freedom
Scope of Problem
3,000 - 5,000 groups 10 - 20 million victims Research studies based on nationally representative samples: 1 - 2 % of population in cults; 2 - 5 million people
International Problem
(No. of Cult Information Organizations) (29 Countries) Argentina - 2 Australia - 2 Austria - 2 Belgium - 5 Brazil - 1 Canada - 4 Czech - 2 Denmark - 1 England - 4 Finland - 1 France - 2 Germany - 3 Greece - 2 Hungary - 1 Ireland - 1 Israel;- 2 Italy - 2 Japan - 2 Kenya - 1 Korea - 1 Netherlands - 1 New Zealand - 2 Norway - 2 Poland - 1 Russia - 3 Spain - 3 Sweden - 1 Switzerland - 2
Definition of "Cult"
From Wingspread Conference on Cults
A group or movement exhibiting excessive dedication to some person, idea or thing. Uses unethically manipulative techniques of persuasion and control Designed to advance the goals of the groups leaders; but are actually detrimental to members, their families and the larger society
Characteristics of a Cut
Source: (former) Cult Awareness Network
Characteristics of a Cult
1.Charismatic Leadership 2.Deception 3.Mind Control 4.Alienation 5.Exclusivity 6.Exploitation 7.Totalitarian World View
1. Charismatic Leadership
Claim divinity, special knowledge. Demand unquestioned obedience.
2. Deception
In recruitment, Fund Raising; Use Front Groups
3. Mind Control
Use Manipulation, Coercive persuasion, Behavior Modification, Brainwashing;
Without Informed Consent
4. Alienation
Separation from family, friends, society.
Cult is "new family."
5. Elitism
Secret or vague about activities and beliefs. See group as special, having grandiose mission
6. Exploitation
Financial, Physical, Psychological, Sexual. Pressure for money; Inappropriate activities
7. Totalitarian World View
"Us" vs "them" syndrome; Group more important than individual; Unethical Activities
Mind Control Techniques
As described by former cult members. Some or all may be present to varying degrees.
Mind Control
1.Isolation 2.Peer Group Pressure 3.Love Bombing 4.Removal of Privacy 5.Sleep Deprivation & Fatigue 6.Games 7.Confession 8.Diet Manipulation 9.Guilt 10.Fear 11.Chanting & Singing 12.Dress 13.Elitism 14.Replacement of Relationships 15.Financil Commitment
1. Isolation
From family, friends, society & different points of view to prevent Critical Thinking
2. Peer Group Pressure
Hard to assert own ideas if everyone around you is totally convinced group beliefs are right
3. Love Bombing
Make you feel chosen by contrived flattery; cards, notes, touching, hugging, etc.
4. Lack of Privacy
Never left alone to think about doubts;
5. Sleep Deprivation
Spend excessive hours in training, study, recruiting; Causes fatigue, disorientaion. Reduces critical thinking
6. Games
Strenuous games with confusing rules; Dependence on leaders reduces self confidence
7. Indoctrination
Denounce current values and beliefs. Must accept "revealed truths" without question.
8. Confession
Pressured to reveal deepest secrets; past sins. Blackmailed into staying by threat to reveal secrets. "Sin Bank" or "Sin List"
9. Diet Manipulation
High carbohydrate; low protein. Reduces energy and critical thinking skills.
10. Guilt
About past sins, sorry state of world. Forces member to work harder and longer and to accept beliefs.
11. Fear
Negative thought or action proves you are wak; not a true believer. Threat of harm to you or family if leave group
12. Chanting / Singing
Constant repetition causes "thought stopping;" Induces semi-hypnotic state
13. Dress
Conformity in dress reduces individual identity
14. Elitism
Only we have "the truth." All others are misguided; controlled by Satan
15. Relationships
Reject family and friends. Group arranges dates and marriages
16. Financial
Donate: earnings; savings, material possessions. Fund Raise: by begging, selling Buy: books, tapes, fees for trainging programs
Not all cults use all techniques Not evil in / and of themselves They are abused and manipulated by cults System is destrucitive; not individual members
Group Psychological Abuse Scale (GPA)
20 page questionnaire 112 descriptive items Four sub - scales: - Compliance - Exploitaion - Mind Control - Anxious Dependency
(Langone, 1996)
GPA given to former members of:
International Churches of Christ (ICC> Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) Roman Catholic Church (RC)
Former members rated ICC much higher than other groups
ICC 105.60 (SD=13.69) RC 65.26 (SD=15.90) IVCF 46.91 (SD=8.10)
Subscale scores were also much higher for ICC< /p>< /p>< /p>< /p>< /p>< /p>
Members of ICC were told:
100 % Imitate discipler & leaders 95 % Non members are Satanic 95 % Must confess to discipler 93 % Trust leaders over self 90 % leaving ICC = leaving God 88 % Disobey leader = disobey God 88 % Please leader = please God 88 % Not in ICC = Not Christian 85 % Should sleep less 85 % Sell items for contributions 83 % Chastised: not imitate leader 77 % Chastised: not ask leader 73 % FAmily / friends are Satanic 73 % Move in with ICC members 70 % Inner thoughts are Satanic 65 % Grades declined
(Conway et al, 1986)
Experiences in cult:
5 % Had sex with leaders (60 % Children of God) 22 % Menstrual dysfunction 20 % Physical punishment
(Conway and Siegelman, 1982)
Experiences after cult:
52 % Floating 40 % Nightmares 21 % Amnesia 14 % Hallucinations 35 % Hard to stop chanting 14 % Violent 21 % Suicidal
(Langone, 1991)
Ex-members report experience:
77 % Very harmful or harmful to them selves 88 % Very harmful or harmful to others 72 % Group pressure made leaving very difficult or difficult
(Martin, Langone, Dole, Wiltrout, 1983)
Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) - Ex-members:
89 % Psychiatric disorder
Hopkins Sympton Check List:
Mean score Indicates need for psychiatric care
Deception: Front Names
Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP) Students for an Ethical Society World Family Movement Holy Spirit Associtation Professors World Peace Academy Women for World Peace
Unification Church
Moon Front Groups
Recruiting - 53 Religious - 40 Political - 44 Media - 53 Cultural - 97 Bands - 7 Business US - 523 Business 19 other countries - 435
Total: 1,252
(Deception:) (Front Names)
Alpha / Omega Campus Advance Campus Christian Association Christians Reaching Out Serving Students (CROSS) Daring Dreamers of Destiny (DDD) Focus Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE) Upside Down Club
International Churches of Christ (ICC)
Boston Movement
Celebrities Deceived
Oscar Arias (frmr Pres, Costa Rica) Rosalynn Carter (wife, frmr Pres, US) Bill Cosby (comedian) Luis Echevera (frmr Pres, Mexico) Gerald Ford (frmr Pres, US) Mikhail Gorbachev (frmr Soviet PM) Sir Edward Heath (frmr PM, GB Dan Jensen (Olympic gold medalist) Jack Kemp (frmr US VP Candidate) Coretta Scott King (MLK widow) Richard Lugar (frmr US Pres Cand) Brian Mulroney (frmr Canadian PM) Ralph Reed (Christian Coalition) Maureen Reagan (daughter, US Pres) Christopher Reeve (Actor) Sally Ride (Astronaut) Robert Schuller (TV Preacher) Edward Schreyer (frmr Gov Gen) John Silber (frmr Pres, BU) Barbara Walters (TV correspondent)
Sponsoring Groups
Family Federation for World Peace Wormen's Federation for World Peace Summit Council for World Peace True Family Values Ministries
All these groups offices & phones are in Washington Times building owned by the Unification Church!
How Deceived
All paid fees $ 50,000 - $ 1 M First class travel, food,lodging None knew sponsors were Moon Pictures taken next to Moon Some tried to withdraw; threatened with suits
Source: Washington Post
(Deception: Recruitment)
Cutls admit they use deception:
"Heavenly Deception" - UC "Transcendental Trickery" - HK "Divine Deceit" - Others
Deceptive Cults: "The end justifies the means"
Martin Luther King Jr.; "The ends we seek are predetermined by the means we use
Times of Increased Vulnerability
Times of Transition Traumatic Event
Vulnerable Times
Marked loss of status (Freshman or Senior) Leaving family for first time Job change or loss Loss of loved one though: illness; accident; death Growing up Personal Trauma; Divorce; Breakup; Job Loss Growing old
Warning Signs
Profound personality change Alienated from family & friends Deterioration of performance Excessive time involvement Exessive $ contributions Extreme changes in values Rejection of former values Criticism of others values Excessive proselytizing (recruitment) Group controls personal life Reduced critical thinking skills Physiological deterioration Psychological illness: anxiety, hallucinations, paranoia, dissociation
7 Types of Groups
(with group names)
Much media coverage Controversial Many inquiries & complaints Not necessarily cults Investigate carefully
1. Religious
Children of God (COG) Internatioal Church of Christ ISKON (Hare Krishnas) Opus Dei Unification Church The Way International Roberts Group
2. Mass Therapy / Meditation
Scientology (Dianetics, Sterling Mngt. Narconon) Landmark Education (EST, Forum) Lifespring Transcendental Mediation (TM)
3. Political
National Democratic Policy Committee (Lyndon La Rouche) Democratic Workers Party National Labor Federation (NATALFED) New Alliance Party
4. New Age
Church Universal & Truimphant (Elizabeth Claire Prophet) American Buddhist Movement (RAMA) (Frederick Lenz) Deepak Chopra "Ageless Body; Timeless Mind" Terry Hoffman (Dallas, TX
5. Commercial
The Billionaire Boys Club Anthony (Tony) Robbins
6. Para-Military / Patriot / White Supremacist
Church of the Lamb of God Covenant Sword & Arm of the Lord (CSAL) Millitias (all 50 states) Posse Comitatus Ku Klux Klan Gangs & Skin Heads
Satanic / Ritual Abuse
Matamoros Mexico Group Church of Satan (Anton LeVay) (Satanic Bible) Temple of Set (Michael Aquino) Pearl Mississippi Group
More About ICC
List of campuses which have:
denied them recognition, or banned them for violating campus regulations
Campus Banned ICC
American University (DC) Birmingham University (UK) Boston College (MA) Boston University (MA) Brown University (RI) Butler University (IN) U of California-Berkeley (CA) U of California-Los Angeles (CA) U of Cincinnati (OH) De Paul University (IL) Emory University (GA) George Washington U. (DC) Georgia Tech University (GA) Harvard University (MA) University of Kansas (KA) Keele University (UK) University of London (UK) Lowell University (MA) Manchester University (UK) Marquette University (WI) Mass. Institute of Tech. (MA) Meredith College (SC) University of Miami (FL) Northeastern University (MA) Queens College (NC) Queens College (SC) Rensselaer Poly. Inst. (NY) U of Redlands (CA) Smith College (MA) U of Southern California (CA) U of South Florida (FL) Stanford University (CA) U of Texas at Arlington (TX) Vanderbilt University (TN) Villanova University (PA) U of Wisconsing-Milwaukee (WI) York University (CAN) 37 Campuses in 14 States and 3 Countries National Union of Students (GB) advised All Student Governments to Refuse Recognition
Religions vs. Cults
(Rev. Richard L. Dowhower)
Religions: Respect Autonomy Religions: Meet Spirtual Needs Religions: Encourage Questions Religions: Personal Integration Religions: Conversion Internal Religions: View Money as Means Religions: No Sex with Leaders Religions: Cherish the Family Cults: Enforce Compliance Cults: Exploit Spiritual Needs Cults: Prevent Questions Cults: Good /Bad Person Cults: Surrender to External Cults: View Money as End Cults: Much sex with leaders Cults: The Family is the enemy
Leaving A Cult
Extremely difficult to leave on your own. Many do; they are called "Walk Aways"
Options for Getting Someone Out
Persuasion: - Ineffective: Cults Predict Criticism "They don't understand" "They haven't had the training" "Satan works through the ones you love"
No longer possible to obtain a court ordered conservatorship any state or province.
Exit Counseling:
Most are Former Members; Can establish rapport. Family persuades members; Usually 2 - 5 days Costs several thousand $ for fees, travel, lodging, food.
Prevention - Personal
What everyone can do:
Reach out to people around you who are in distress Listen; provide support; understanding
Prevention: Criminal
Criminal Convictions: Moon: Tax Fraud Rajneesh: Immigration Law LaRouche: Tax Fraud Others: Child Abuse
Prevention: Litigation
Sue for damages:
Dovydenas - won suit for fraud Molko - won suit for "intentional infliction of emotional distress"
Upheld by Surpreme Court
Prevention: Education
Present educaional programs in colleges, universities, schools, churches, synagogues. Use films, videos, brochures from AFF and International Cult Education Program (ICEP)
For Information or Assistance (US)
Ronald N. Loomis P.O. Box 1254 Washington, CT 06793 (860) 868-1629 rloomis@mail2.nai.net AFF / ICEP P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 33959 (941) 514-3451 aff@worldnet.att.net
For Information or Assistance (NE)
Cult Information Service NY/NJ P.O. Box 867 Teaneck, NJ 07666 (201) 833-1212 Cult Hot Line & Clinic 120 W 57thST. New York, NY 10019 (212) 632-4640
Cult Info Web Sites
General Information: http://
AFF: www.csj.org Watchman Fellowship: rampages.onramp.net/~watchman/
Former Members: http://
reFOCUS: www.nwrain.net/~reFOCUS REVEAL: (ICC) www.reveal.org
Thought Reform Consultants: http://
Carol Giambalvo: members.aol.com/carol2180/ Joseph Szimhart: www.users.fast.net~szimhart
Ronald N. Loomis Cult Awareness Educator and Consultant Director of Education, AFF
P. O. Box 1254, Washington, CT 06793 Phone: (860) 868-2182 Fax: (860) 868-9443 E Mail: rloomis@mail2.nai.net
Cults on Campus: The Appeal; The Danger
Ronald N. Loomis is an internationally recognized expert on cults and mind control who has been studying the cult phenomenon and educating others about it for over 20 years. He is a Past President of the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) and has over 35 years of professional experience in college union and student activities administration at the Universities of Minnesota and Wisconsin, Hamilton College and Cornell University, where he served as Director of Unions and Activities for 23 years. He is Director of Education for the American Family Foundation (AFF) and a Past President of the former Cult Awareness Network (CAN). He was a founding member of the Steering Committee of the International Cult Education Program (ICEP). He now travels throughout North America presenting cult awareness lectures and seminars, primarily at colleges and universities.
Mr. Loomis has been cited in numerous newspaper and magazine articles in such publications as The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Congressional Quarterly. He has also been interviewed on many radio and television programs including the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and The Today Show at the request of NBC News. He was widely consulted by the media following the Heaven's Gate suicides and during the Branch Davidian standoff; and was one of the few to predict that it would end with the mass deaths of David Koresh and his followers. He is featured in the educational video, Cults, Saying No Under Pressure, moderated by Charlton Heston and he authored a chapter in the book Cults on Campus.
Mr. Loomis offers several presentations during a typical campus visit, including a public lecture, and separate professional development workshops for student affairs and auxiliary services staff and campus and area clinicians and mental health professionals, as well as campus police and area law enforcement staff; focusing on satanic and ritualistic abuse as well the Patriot Movement and hate groups. He also speaks to classes. Iris campus engagements are frequently cosponsored by a variety of organizations, including student program board/lecture/current issues group, vice president for student affairs/student development/student life, dean of students, counseling center, academic affairs, auxiliary services, residence life, judicial affairs, campus chaplain/religious affairs, and campus religious organizations. Each contributes from their budget in return for having their staff or members participate in the workshops. A former cult member from the local area usually participates in his presentations, who describes their personal experiences in a cult.
In his presentations, Mr. Loomis reminds the audience of several tragic events which have occurred during the last 20 years which should cause everyone to be concerned about cults. He describes the several different kinds of cults and their characteristics and identifies the specific mind control techniques used by such groups to deceive, coerce, manipulate, exploit and psychologically entrap victims. Characteristics of individuals most susceptible to cult indoctrination and alternatives for getting someone out of a cult are also discussed. He provides knowledgeable insights into the mass deaths of members of the Peoples Temple and the Branch Davidians as well as Heaven's Gate and the Order of the Solar Temple and identifies other groups with that same potential. He discusses the implications of the lethal nerve gas attack on innocent citizens by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan and the bombing of the U. S. federal office building in Oklahoma City by domestic terrorists as a memorial tribute on the second anniversary of the death of 80 Branch Davidians. He monitors current events carefully and will discuss recent cult activities. He notes that nearly 20 years after the mass suicide of almost 1,000 people in Jonestown, cults are even more numerous and more dangerous today that ever, particularly on college and university campuses. Information about satanic activity among adolescents, its causes and appropriate responses is also discussed. Strategies and resources which would enable institutions to present preventive educational programs for their students are discussed.
Mr. Loomis has presented hundreds of lectures, seminars and workshops for colleges and universities, secondary schools and professionals in mental health, medicine, psychiatry, health care, education, law enforcement, religion, law and youth work throughout the United States and Canada. He has presented cult awareness educational seminars at many regional and national conferences of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the National Association of Campus Activities (NACA) as well as the Association of College Unions International (ACUI). He has received the Hall of Fame Award from the former Cult Awareness Network, citing: "His distinguished leadership and organizational skills, for building educational bridges in colleges and universities, for ongoing wit amidst arduous work, and for his tireless attention to individuals in need." He was also honored by the American Family Foundation "In appreciation for his activities protecting civil liberties by combating cults and coordinating those groups dedicated to the enhancement of each individual's liberty and freedom" He was selected by students as an Honorary Member in the Cornell University Chapter of golden Key Honorary Society.
Ronald N. Loomis was born in New Britain, Connecticut and did his undergraduate work at the University of Connecticut, majoring in sociology and psychology. He did graduate study in Educational psychology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Organizations Which Have Sponsored Lectures by Ronald N. Loomis
Colleges and Universities
Bainbridge College (GA) University of Pittsburgh (PA) Barnard College (NY) Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY) Baylor University (TX) University of Rochester (NY) Brock University (ON) Ryerson Technical Institute (ON) Casper College (WY) Skagit Valley College (WA) University of Colorado-Colorado Springs Southern Connecticut State University Columbia University (NY) State University of New York College at Buffalo Cornell University (NY) State University of New York College at Purchase Coming Community College (NY) Syracuse University (NY) Daemon College (NY) Temple University (PA) Dartmouth College (NH) University of Texas at Arlington University of Florida University of Texas at Austin George Washington University (DC) University of Texas at 'San Antonio Hofstra University (NY) Texas A & M University Humber College (ON) Texas Christian University Jefferson Medical Center (PA) Texas Tech University University of Maryland - College Park Tompkins/Cortland Community College (NY) University of Massachusetts - Amherst University of Toronto (ON) McMaster University (ON) Westchester University (PA) New York State Chiropractic Institute Northeastern University (MA) Willfrid Laurier University (ON) University of Wyoming University of North Texas York University (ON)
Higher Education Professional Organizations
Association of Campus Bar Managers (ACBM) (Canada)
Association of College Unions International (ACUI) - regional & international conferences College Student Personnel Association (CSPA) (NY) - several regional conferences International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (LACLEA) - conferences Ivy League Catholic Chaplains - annual conference
National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) - regional and national conferences National Association of Student personnel Administrators (NASPA) - national conferences
Organizations Which Have Sponsored Lectures by Ronald N. Loomis
American Family Foundation (AFF) - regional & national conferences
Bala Cynwood Middle School (Philadelphia, PA)
Benjamin Rush Psychiatric Center (Syracuse, NY)
Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) (NY) - many regional conferences
Broadway Junior High School Faculty (Elmira, NY)
Broome County Alcohol/Drug Abuse Center (Binghamton, NY)
Cayuga Area Counselors Association (NY)
Concerned Citizens (Bridgeport, CT)
Cortland Coalition of Concerned Citizens (NY)
Corning / Elmira Cult Awareness Council (CECAC) (NY) - several regional conferences
Cult Awareness Network (CAN) (former) several regional & national conferences
Finger Lakes Law Enforcement Training Academy (NY)
Finger Lakes Police Chiefs Association (NY)
Finger Lakes Task Force on Alcohol & Drug Abuse (NY)
First Congregational Church (Washington, CT)
Genessee Valley School Board Institute (NY)
The Gunnery School (Washington, CT)
Hornell Area Concern for Youth (NY) -,several presentations
Interfaith Coalition of Concern About Cults (New York, NY)
Livingston County Youth Bureau (NY)
New York State Association of School Nurses (NY)
New York State Association for Counseling and Development - regional conference
New York State Association of Law Enforcement, Fire & Insurance Investigators - conference
New York State Conference of Parents & Teachers - several state conferences
New York State Division for Youth - several state conferences
New York State Fire Chaplains Association - state conference
New York State Fire Prevention Association - state conference
New York State Parent Teacher Association - several state conventions
New York State Youth Bureaus - state conference
Ramapo Central PTA Association (NY)
Southeastern District PTA (NY) - several regional conferences
Syracuse/Onondaga County Youth Bureau (NY)
Tioga County Sheriff's Department Police Academy (NY)
Tompkins County Mental Health Association (NY) - several seminars
Twin Lakes Psychiatric Hospital (Dallas, TX)
Youth-at-Risk Program Crisis Team (Utica, NY)
(1998-99) (over)