If Knowledge Is Power, Then What Is Ignorance?
Coercive persuasion is often used in gaining and keeping recruit in politically active Religious Right groups beyond the empire of Rev. Sun Myung Moon. We see cult practices at work in both Catholic and evangelical entities as well. My purpose in this post is not to delve deeply into the details of issues related to cults or to enumerate which groups use them. Rather, I want to surface this as an area of knowledge in which many of us, certainly myself, are deficient, even as the cultic aspects of politically oriented cults are serious. The zealotry we often see, is often less because of belief in particular doctrines so much as cultic control by leadership.
These things said, just because a group is religious and politically conservative, does not make them a cult. I do not believe that and I know that Steve does not either. He offers rigorous, scientifically founded characteristics cults. He also points out that cults are not limited to religious groups or to conservatism. There are business, political and psychotherapy cults as well. Indeed, anti-democratic cultic influences can disrupt the normal functioning of well established organizations, as Marshall Ganz ruefully revealed about the way the therapy cult Synanon essentially took over and largely destroyed United Farm Workers.
While his whole book is about the characteristics of cults and what people can do to help friends and loved ones come out from the totalist control of such groups, the short definition of a cult, he writes is: “an authoritarian group headed by a person or persons with near complete control.” He also discusses how groups use specific techniques to gain influence and control over people. Broadly speaking, he says this is accomplished by what he calls “destructive mind control.”
Cult influence is designed to disrupt a person’s authentic identity and replace it with a new identity. By immersing people in a tightly controlled, high-pressure social environment, destructive cults gain control of members’ behavior, thoughts, and emotions. They limit their access to outside information. They literally take control of their minds.