Anyway, the keywords are all well and good, but the really interesting stuff are the incoming keywords on blog searches. Today, I had one come in under "First Amendment", so I ran the search myself, and came across an article with an interesting title: How Christian Mind Control Works. Needless to say, between the potential that the person might have some interesting insight into the workings of the religion I follow, and the potential for some serious conspiracy theory crackpottery, I had to click forth.
Here's the only "too long, didn't read" warning you're going to get. The original post was quite sizeable, and being a rebuttal in full to the concepts contained within the original, this post will quite likely be even longer.
I certainly didn't go into this with my eyes closed. Any post at a site entitled ExChristian.net was certainly going to have an obvious slant, but I really did want to give the writer a fair shake. After all, being a Christian, I still want people to give me the benefit of the doubt as an individual before they start in on their perception of the religion as a whole.
After a solid explanation of coercion, and how mental coercion is as or more effective than physical coercion, the writer gets into what he refers to as the "seven main tactic types found in various combinations in the Christian Coercive Persuasion program."
The first tactic mentioned is the attempt to increase a person's susceptibility to suggestion, particularly through use of "audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills (anything that is "moving" to the emotions as well as to the mind, i.e., worship music, dancing, embraces, stirring preaching or instructional teaching from a pulpit)". Now, I'm not going to try to say this isn't a common or effective tactic, but consider this: What really differentiates common scriptural reading, say, or a common public confession of sins from a group of people in a ballpark standing and singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame"? I mean, really, consider that song for a minute... "I don't care if I never get back", "Root, root, root for the home team" (the Cardinals have gone so far as to just replace 'home team' with 'Cardinals', other teams may well have done the same). Sure, you can say a person would have to be nuts to call "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" a first step in the indoctrination of fans who attend the sport at stadiums, but taken in the context of looking into indoctrination, doesn't it fit pretty well? The same could be said for commercials, the tone of which, if not the actual words, boils down to "Life is better with this, you shouldn't be without it."
The second tactic is the carrot and the stick method, or rewards and punishments. "...efforts are made to establish considerable control over a person's social environment, time, and sources of social support. Social isolation is promoted ("You are not of the world", "Christ can to bring a sword"). Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share church-approved attitudes. Psychological and emotional dependence on the group is fostered." I'm really not sure which churches the writer partook of, but over the years, I've been either a member or a consistent visitor of several different churches in a couple of different denominations, and I have never felt this trend to establish "considerable control" over my "social environment, time, and sources of social support". More to the point, I rarely (though not never) attend functions outside of normal Sunday services, and while the option is always open to go, the offers made to me are couched as "We've got (whatever) event coming up, it'd be great if you could join us." I don't know about you, but to me, that's a very soft-handed sell. Really, the hardest sell I've had in regards to church-related activities are the repeated requests that I rejoin the choir, since they are consistently short on male singers, and I have a loud voice and don't sing off key (too) often.
As to the concept of choices of social support, I've got my family first and foremost, followed by my friends. I do understand that many people do count the church as a first rung of support for issues in their lives, but consider as well that many people count any number of other organizations in that area as well. Support organizations come to mind as an obvious example.
The concept of social isolation seems to have been taken out of context, as far as I can tell. The term "in the world, but not of the world", as I'm given to understand it, refers not to the idea that Christians should withdraw themselves from non-Christian peoples or places, but that they should refrain from personally engaging in immoral or "unChristian" acts. Now, a fair argument could probably be made as to that being a source of indoctrination in and of itself (I'm commenting on this article as I go, so the concept may well come up later), but consider the kinds of things that the religion is attempting to keep its adherents from doing with the "in the world, but not of it" concept: Murder, theft, lying, adultery, and so forth. In other words, things that are against the law of the land, and that people in general, not just Christians, consider to be bad things. Certainly, if extraneous commands originating from the pastor or ruling body of the church in question, not based on actual command from scripture are added on top of these things, the idea can get out of hand in a hurry, but the actual intent of it is by no means isolationist.
The very first sentence of the third tactic is... interesting. And I don't particularly mean that in a good way. "Disconfirming information and nonsupporting opinions are prohibited in church communication." Again, the experience the writer has had in church (or churches) is wildly different from my own. If anything, the statement would read more truly when applied to something like global warming supporters, who go to great lengths to downplay or even discredit and destroy people who hold viewpoints antithetical to their own. Unfortunately, the writer does not go into any specific circumstances surrounding this statement, so it is difficult at best to comment upon such situations (having none in my own experience to draw on).
"Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders." This seems pretty open-ended on the face of it, but aside from going back to the application of the "in the world, but not of it" premise, I can't think of a general set of rules for permissible topics of discussion. And even then, those same rules would apply to people within the church as well as those outside of it. If the statement is meant to refer to proselytization, it is, from my experience, patently false. The actual sharing of faith with an "outsider" consists both of the promises and the requirements of the religion. In other words, the general concepts of Christianity are all laid out up front.
"Communication is highly controlled, especially communication from God. God's communication is one-way, via the bible, and nothing is to contradict that communication." This sentence certainly follows certain concepts in Catholicism, but it is not true of protestant Christianity. The difference is the requirement of the intercession of priests in the Catholic faith, while protestants take the view that anyone at any time can avail themselves of prayer and thus communion with God.
As to the concept of an "in-group language", what group of people with similar interests does not develop such terminology. Certainly, I use a lot of specific terminology amongst my friends and fellow fans of Japanese animation and manga that would be incomprehensible to people without an understanding of at least Japanese, and often the actual subject matter at hand. For instance, to this "in-group", the word "Moe" is not always a man's name. (More likely, it never means a man's name, unless the Three Stooges are being mentioned, and is not pronounced like the name, but instead as the name, followed by the letter A.) Instead, it refers to a nebulous concept of a character's inherent cuteness and likability. Similarly, someone who is not an initiate of the baseball "in-group" would be stumped by such terminology as a "six-four-three double play", or a "ground-rule double". In any such case, people slowly learn such language upon their inclusion in the group in question.
Quoting the fourth tactic: "Frequent and intense attempts are made to cause a person to re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control, and defense mechanisms as well as getting them to reinterpret their life's history, and adopt a new version of causality."
This isn't wrong, to begin with. Frequent and intense attempts are made to get people to re-evaluate their experiences and prior conduct. The concept of them being in a negative light flows from a realistic concept that people are not perfect. Who hasn't made mistakes? What is necessarily bad about reflecting on the past and looking for ways to improve, or desiring not to repeat bad behaviors? Again, the variation here comes from the behaviors that the scriptures themselves are actually attempting to proscribe versus what gets tacked on by overzealous people, or through misunderstandings or misinterpretation.
What can be called an effort "designed to destabilize and undermine the subject's basic consciousness", etc, can also be called efforts at realism. Consider, plenty of study has been done on human consciousness and memory, and the tendancy of people to modify their memories to put themselves in a better light. In general, people don't want to consider their mistakes, or to see that they have, in fact, acted poorly in the past. Actually taking an unvarnished look at one's past can fairly be said to be a reinterpretation of one's life history, but the fact that something is a reinterpretation does not necessarily end in the fact that such a reinterpretation is necessarily false.
Again, the fifth tactic includes "intense and requent attempts", this time, to "undermine a person's confidence in himself and his judgment, creating a sense of powerlessness. The only power that can help is God, or more precisely, the specific church's or Christian group's version of God. The eldership, church leaders, or "advanced" Christians are usually relied upon to understand the bible and for "encouragement" to "have the mind of Christ."".
Again, the writer has the gist of the thing, while missing the actual idea. While Christianity does instill a sense of needing the help of God, the concept is actually in reference to the necessity of being saved because no person is perfect on their own, and thus cannot stand up to the requirements of perfection in the law. Setting aside the law as stated in scripture, it is highly unlikely that an person has even perfectly kept all man-made laws, whether breaking them through willfulness or ignorance (consider various laws relating to driving, for starters). And while "the eldership, church leaders", etc, are relied upon for understanding the Bible, they are not, in the protestant traditions, put forth as infallible sources. Again, this differs from traditions such as Catholicism, with their belief in the essential infallibility of the pope.
On the matter of non-physical punishments, the writer has this to say in his sixth point: "Nonphysical punishments are used such as intense humiliation (private and public confession of sin), loss of privilege (suspension or excommunication from the church or Christian group), social isolation (from the world and the "unbelievers" as well as from erring or heretical Christians that doesn't agree with their church or group..."
While there can fairly be said to be an element of humiliation to confession of sins, the actual idea stems from the ability to be free of these worries after offering them up to God. Also, the point seems to go back to an aversion to admitting to mistakes.
Suspension (or excommunication) is an interesting topic, and, as part of the "in-group" language discussed above, is quite probably one of the more misunderstood concepts in Christianity. It is actually an extreme step taken to attempt to convince a person of their mistakes after other measures have been exhausted. The idea being that if all reasonable means of helping a person to see the error of their ways fail, that they should instead be allowed to continue those ways outside of the group until such time that they come to an understanding that what they are doing is wrong. Actually, this contrats sharply with general cult behavior, wherein such a person would generally be taken more sharply into the group and focused on more specifically for further indoctrination. While it can be said to be an extreme punishment, what differentiates a suspension is the lack of further attempts on the part of the church to deal with the individual's transgressions.
Social isolation is another mistaken representation of the ideals of a church. While Christians are called to be "separate", the concept is not of a physical separation, but rather of a separation where they attempt to live a life by the ideals set forth in scripture rather than those of the world at large. In fact, the idea of physical separation of believers from non-believers is antithetical to the mission and intentions of the church's mandate to propagate the spread of the faith. In other words, if Christians never had contact with non-Christians, this propagation would never take place.
The seventh and final tactic mentioned is again correct on its face, but incorrect in its application. "Certain psychological threats (force) are used or are present: That failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief, or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequence, (e.g. physical or mental illness given by God, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, worldliness, personal economic collapse, social failure, divorce, failure to find a mate, etc.)."
Certainly, there are implicit threats involved in Christianity. The simplest one is, "If you do not believe that Jesus Christ is your lord and savior, and that belief in Him is the sole manner of access for sinners to enter Heaven, you are going to Hell, a place of eternal damnation and torment." That's a pretty hefty threat, whether or not you believe it to be true. There are also matters of church discipline, relating to the activities of individuals. This latter category does actually involve punishments, the extreme of which, excommunication, is actually discussed above. On the other hand, I still haven't found the portion of scripture where people get the concept from that God is going to shower misfortune on them if they misbehave. Particularly, such examples as "the reappearance of a prior physical illness" or "failure to find a mate" fall into the realm of absurdity. This is not to say that God as believed in by Christians is incapable of such things, but rather, that He is not solely a God of fire, brimstone, and lightning bolts from the clear blue sky at the slightest offense. God is not, as my current pastor likes to say, "sitting in heaven with a lighning bolt in hand waiting for you to commit the tiniest sin, so he can say "Gotcha!""
From there, the writer goes on to quote another writer's eight points on Thought Reform and its relevance to cults. I'm particularly curious to see how this statement plays out: "If you are an exchristian or presently a Christian you will be able to see that every sentence of these following points are prevalent within Conservative, Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity."
Point one: ENVIRONMENT CONTROL. Limitation of many/all forms of communication with those outside the group. Worldly books, magazines, letters and fellowship with unbelieving friends and family are taboo. "Come out and be separate!"
This is essentially a reiteration of the second and third tactics listed in the writer's own list, as well as at various other points in the writing, and I'd like to think that I covered the inherent flaws in it fairly well in my discussion of those two points.
Point two: MYSTICAL MANIPULATION. The potential convert to the group becomes convinced of the higher purpose and special calling of the group through a profound encounter or experience, for example, through an alleged miracle or prophetic word or spiritual feeling while within the group.
Another statement that begins as "true, as far as it goes". (I'm getting really tired of saying that... It's almost enough to make a guy think that people are only looking at the parts of Christianity to fit their preconceptions of it, rather than the truth of it... But that would be judgmental, now wouldn't it? Heh...) Yes, there is a "higher purpose" or "special calling" involved in Christianity. However, that calling involves a great deal of work. Christianity is not a "get out of Hell free card", nor is it a "salvation and forget" kind of thing. The emphasis is often misplaced, however, when people start discussing Christian behavior in regards to salvation. Salvation is not a result of good behavior, of saying and doing the right things. Rather, these good behaviors, and sayings and doings come about because salvation happens first. Certainly, you can say, "That sounds mystical", but that's why we call it faith, not empyrical fact, after all.
Also, for every miraculous conversion story that you may hear, there are a great many people who never had any kind of inexplicable experience on their way to faith. This does not mean that their faith is any less, or any less valid. For instance, my conversion came about while I was talking to my cousin in bed one night when he was sleeping over... hardly equivalent to the original miraculous conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus.
Point three: DEMAND FOR PURITY. An explicit goal of the group is to bring about some kind of change, whether it be on a global, social, or personal level. "Perfection is possible if one stays with the group and is committed."
Didn't I just get done saying I was tired of these "starts out true, ends up false" statements? Well, this is another one. While Christianity's explicit goals are to bring about changes on all three levels mentioned, the concept that "Perfection is possible if..." is wildly inaccurate. Rather, Christianity explicitly says that human perfection is not possible in this world. Whether "one stays with the group and is committed" or not is essentially irrelevant. Now, if we're going to take the concept of the afterlife into account here, then perfection becomes possible, through the work of God, but again, this is not necessarily predicated upon remaining a member of any particular group or body of believers.
Point four: CULT OF CONFESSION. The unhealthy practice of self disclosure to members in the group. Often (but not always) in the context of a public gathering in the group, admitting past sins and imperfections, even doubts about the group and critical thoughts about the integrity of the leaders.
Who, exactly, is the authority that has decided that the practice of self-disclosure of one's own faults to other people is "unhealthy"? Without any real frame of reference for this, attempting to offer an argumet against the point is meaningless.
Point five: SACRED SCIENCE. The group's perspective is absolutely true and completely adequate to explain EVERYTHING (A knowledgeable Christian can rebut any critical question presented and Christianity is the Truth and is capable to explain everything about life and spirituality). The doctrine is not subject to amendments or question. ABSOLUTE conformity to the doctrine is required. "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(Mat 7:28) And it happened, when Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were astonished at His doctrine." "(1Ti 4:16) Give attention to yourself and to the doctrine; continue in them, for doing this, you will both deliver yourself and those hearing you."
The idea that "a knowledgeable Christian can rebut any critical question presented" strikes me as fallacious, though I can't put my finger on it at the moment. And the doctrines as used in the church certainly are open to amendment or question, provided that such amendment or question is valid. In fact, this entire concept is what lead to the protestant split from the Catholic church.
Absolute conformity to true doctrine is, in fact, required. However, a distinction needs to be made here. While such conformity is required, it is not expected. This itself could be said to be part of doctrine, that being that man is inherently fallen and incapable of perfection. Now, this does not mean that a person should not strive for perfection and conformity, or that anything goes. Rather, it is a realistic acknowledgement of the fact that people are not perfect. And while there is discipline involved in the matter, it is not, in its actual form, a kind of retribution, acted upon in viciousness, but rather done in a manner of kindness and a purpose of instruction... No different, really, from giving a kid detention in school rather than letting him go out to recess because he's been misbehaving in class. As with any such punishment, of course, it can be misused, but what we're attempting to discuss here is correct usage, not misapplication.
Point six: LOADED LANGUAGE. A new vocabulary emerges within the context of the group. Group members "think" within the very abstract and narrow parameters of the group's doctrine. The terminology sufficiently stops members from thinking critically by reinforcing a "black and white" mentality. Loaded terms and clich�s prejudice thinking.
Again, we're not given specific examples to deal with, so I'll have to work at this in a "very abstract" way. Loaded language, as explained here, is hardly the sole property of cults and religions. You can see the usage and effects of it every day if you read the morning paper, get your news from the internet, listen to a politican's speech at the stump, or tune in to sports-talk radio on the drive home.
Point seven: DOCTRINE OVER PERSON. Pre-group experience and group experience are narrowly and decisively interpreted through the absolute doctrine, even when experience contradicts the doctrine.
The writer being quoted here says this, but again does not give any real points of reference, instead assuming that the reader can supply his own. I see this as being open-ended enough that, if I were to try to address it in all the manners I can consider the writer attempting to apply it, I'd be here for the next several days. Again, I don't want to go stabbing around in the dark trying to come up with a reply to the author's actual intent.
Point eight: DISPENSING OF EXISTENCE. Salvation is possible only in the group (Christianity). Those who leave the group are doomed.
The concept of the group is being accentuated here, when it is not actually the point. The group is a set of people who already believe. In other words, salvation is a characteristic shared by all the people in the group, much as physical fitness is a characteristic shared by people in the group called "athletes". (As a quick aside, this is why it makes no sense to me to call people such a racecar drivers athletes. While it is a preferred characteristic, it is not a required one in the way it is for, say, long-distance runners.) Likewise, leaving the group is not the cause of damnation (or being doomed, as the point puts it).
The writer of "How Christian Mind Control Works" then goes on to say the following: "Any group that has most or all of these points is a destructive mind control cult." I'd like to think that I've shown that most, if not all of these points do not apply to Christianity as it actually exists, but only to the strawman version of Christianity that the writer has put forth for the purposes of his article.
"The Christian mind cannot see its own blind-spots. It sees no contradictions, no dangers, no imperfections, yet this is the Matrix that is the Christian Coercion Persuasion Program." Again, this is true of the strawman Christianity, but not necessarily so of the religion as properly practiced.
The remainder of the article goes on to build on the points that the writer has attempted to set forth. Obviously, without believing that Christianity is fulfilling the criteria given, attempting to critique the remainder of the article is difficult at best. The essential point is that Christianity, being functionally a cult, should be overseen, and its first amendment protections removed because it does not act in the interests of a free society. However, this point is predicated upon a proof that Christianity is indeed a cult which relied not on actual Christianity to make its points, but a propped-up, idealized version of the religion which suited the author's purposes.
Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for staying for the entirety of the four-hour-long lecture. Class is dismissed.