This is the first draft of a project I'm working on for my Sociology of the Family class. Thought you guys might enjoy reading it. I would like to credit Quentin for the JC image. Quentin: I figured you wouldn't mind my using it on this forum since you've already posted it here. Otherwise, the only person who will see this is my sociology teacher. If you have any issue with this, please let me know.
The Sociology of the Cult Family
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Leader
There are many misconceptions about cults. When people hear that term they envision Jonestown or Heaven's Gate: a bunch of wacky people who go off to live on a commune and marry 13-year-olds and drink poison. These things can and do happen in a variety of cults.
These do not, however, constitute the definition of a cult and cults did not disappear after the 70s. Many cults are alive and well in the United States. The members dress like regular people. They live in your community. They are often friendly and intelligent.
Cults are not necessarily religious. They can be built around businesses, self-help groups or politics. I will be focusing on my experience with a religious cult There is a difference between cults and legitimate religions. These can be difficult to discern from the outside.
Cults like to propagate the myths mentioned above. They convince their members that they are not a cult because no one has asked them to shave their head and have sex with the leader. They rely on people's ignorance of mind control tactics to convince them that they are legitimate.
You'd have to be under mind control to tap that.
Mind control itself sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel. It's nothing supernatural or magical, but a set of psychological techniques that covertly influence people. The only way to combat mind control is to become aware of it and how it is used. I will list some techniques and tell you how they were used with effect on me.
One of the most obvious tools a cult uses is deception. If people knew all of the practices and doctrines up front, they would never join. Members are coached to use weasel language in recruiting more members.
For instance, the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) teach that all of humankind, with the exception of their own members, will soon be destroyed by God. However, if someone outside the group asked, "Do you think God is going to destroy me?" their response would be something like, "Well, only God can read hearts."
People would never join if they knew up front that the organization could disfellowship you (excommunicate you) for such crimes as disagreeing with the organization, associating with disfellowshipped friends or relatives, accepting medical care that goes against current doctrine (blood transfusions, organ transplants, etc), attending another church, artificial insemination, political involvement, use of pornography, oral or anal sex (within marriage) or celebrating holidays.
Not once did we inform someone that if they converted to us from whatever Christian group they were currently in, Jesus would no longer be their mediator (in fact, probably about 75% of JWs aren't even aware of this doctrine).
Unpalatable doctrines are introduced slowly, after the individual has already accepted the fluffy teachings. Paradise on earth? I get my own pet lion? Where do I sign up? People are told that until that happens, the JWs are experiencing a spiritual paradise, full of happy, united families. In fact, JWs have one of the highest divorce rates of any religion and only 37% of children raised as JWs remain in the cult. Any who leave are cut off from their families.
What you hear when JWs are at your door:
"Greetings. We are out speaking to our neighbors, encouraging Bible reading. Did you know that the Bible promises an end to the many bad things we see going on in the world? [Reads some scripture; probably Revelation 21:3, 4] So you see that God will make the earth a paradise and you can live forever with your family and your own pet lion. If you want to know more about this, you should read the Watchtower. By the way, we accept donations."
What you would hear if JWs told you their beliefs up front:
"Greetings, I'm a member of the great crowd of other sheep with no heavenly hope trying to gain greater privilege in my congregation by spending a certain number of hours knocking on doors, regardless of whether I actually speak to anyone. We are warning people that all religions except ours are false and evil. You think you're Christian, but you're not. God hates everyone but us so if you don't join us, he's going to kill you and your family very, very soon. I plan on living in your house. Here's a Watchtower, where you can learn more about how to slave away for a publishing company and give up all personal freedoms and joys. By the way, we accept donations."
We told people that they should always examine what they are taught with a critical eye. Don't be afraid to ask your preacher tough questions. If he can't answer them, how could that possibly be the true religion? Once these people are baptized as JWs, the opportunity for questions is closed. You do NOT question your leaders. You do what you are told and you will be thankful for it.
The most heinous deceit is that the Governing Body (GB) of JWs speaks in behalf of God. Once a person is induced to believe that, they will do anything they are told. If the thread of that belief can be tugged out, the whole cult would unravel. When I spoke to someone from Watchtower headquarters on the phone and discovered that these men did not have any special backing from God, I ended my membership on that very day.
The second tool is exclusivism. It has become a more common belief in the world that there are many paths to God, if not among all religions, than at least among the different denominations of a particular religion. Cults do not allow for this leeway. Their group alone is the path to salvation. It is not enough to share the belief system of the group. You must have active membership to receive the benefits of salvation.
"To hold to the headship of Christ, it is therefore necessary to obey the organization that he is personally directing. Doing what the organizations says is to do what he says!"-Watchtower 1959 5/1.
It is also not enough for them to promote themselves as the best: they must denigrate everyone and everything else as evil, Satanic, "worldly." A common refrain to one who wishes to leave is "Where else would you go?" To the cult member, there is no other option. Life outside of the cult is perceived to be some kind of living hell. Members are given anecdotes of others who left and were possessed by demons or experienced a debilitating accident--or died without chance of repentance.
The desperate longing this creates to remain part of the group makes it easy for them to control your behavior. I, for one, was terrified of what life would be like if I ever left the JWs.
A related tool is fear and intimidation. The leaders (GB) speak for God. The local leaders speak for the GB. To disagree with them is to disagree with God and risk death at His hands. They will absolutely bully you into submission. Privileges will be revoked. Kangaroo courts held. Sanctions placed upon you. Toe the line, or else! I have experienced all of these things.
"We've heard that you give your husband oral sex. We'll need to know every dirty detail about this before we disfellowship you."
Guilt also goes along with this tool. You are never good enough. You must be perfect. You must never do, say or think anything imperfect. Grovel before God (and your leaders) when you do. All your time and effort must be spent in furthering the cult's interests. You spent 100 hours in the recruiting work this month? Why aren't you doing more?
Guilt was a part of me. The day I left the JWs it evaporated. It's a cliché to have a weight lifted off of you, but that's really what it felt like.
The next tool is love bombing and relationship control. Love bombing is when a new recruit or potential new recruit is brought into the fold and the members smother him with friendliness. People love that kind of attention. "I've really found a family among these people."
What they don't realize is that after the vows have been made and they are officially a member, the attention ends. They are alone amidst a group of cold people who are obsessed with recruiting. JWs are told by the leaders that they are the happiest people on earth and because they don't know better, they believe it. They are some of the most miserable, gossipy, backbiting people there are. This is a generalization but I feel comfortable making it because I was one of the bitchiest among them. The group grooms you to be self-righteous and judgmental.
Relationship control begins with the very first study with JWs. You will be told that your friends and family may try to prevent you from studying and that these people have been influenced by Satan to do so. Of course, when your friends and family express dismay or outright disapproval at your studying with the JWs, you realize that the JWs are right. It is suggested that you limit contact with such people.
This is easier if you already believe your relatives are Satan.
Even if your family approve or are neutral, you are eventually persuaded to limit contact with them because they are "worldly" and "bad associations." The same goes for friends and workmates. Your association should come only from other members.
Because JWs are taught that all nonbelievers, including an unbelieving spouse, will soon be killed by God at Armageddon, many such spouses have difficulty maintaining positive feelings toward their mate. How do you love someone who is "wicked" and worthy of God's annihilation?
Eschewing the celebration of holidays is another form of relationship control. JWs are given complicated and dishonest reasons for why they don't celebrate holidays. What it comes down to is this: holidays, especially birthdays and Christmas, are an opportunity for people to come together and have fun. The GB does not want their members associating with non-JWs (they might see them as normal, nice people, rather than evil) and they prefer the JWs to be down-trodden and miserable (easier to control).
If one of your friends or family are disfellowshipped from the JWs, they must be shunned. You must never speak to them. I've known parents to kick their disfellowshipped teenagers out of the house. I've known people who've had to find out third hand that their JW parents are dying. This weapon is the harshest one in the Watchtower's arsenal and it is what keeps the majority of their members from quitting.
One does not necessarily need to be officially disfellowshipped. Sometimes, just the suggestion that you are "bad association" is enough to cause members to shun you. I am guilty of doing that to friends.
Another insidious tool is information control. As mentioned earlier, the JWs want you to research your prior religion, but do not bother researching them unless you're willing to do so in their own (current) publications. They argue that you cannot get reliable information from someone who has never been a member, nor from someone who used to be a member but is now "bitter." This reasoning is ridiculous, but many people are not trained in reasoning skills and can be persuaded by the JWs' smooth arguments.
Who are you gonna believe? Me or your own lying eyes?
A JW must never, EVER speak to an "apostate" or read their literature or websites. Apostates apparently have magical powers. If you listen to them, you will be unable to know true from false. Just take the GB's word on this. If you, as a person who has never been a member, were to confront them with negative facts about their history or doctrines, they would assume that you have been speaking to apostates. Therefore you are dangerous and they must stop speaking to you. Paranoia runs rampant.
JWs are told that the only reason someone leaves is because they are sinful, wishing to experience things God disapproves of such as fornication or drugs. Or they leave because (although they know it to be the truth) they are prideful and wanted more power in the organization. No one leaves because they find the doctrine to be false. There is never a valid reason to leave.
One of the odder and more disturbing forms of information control involves their own literature. Because JW doctrine is subject to change over time, they do not want you to read older publications. These are referred to as "old light" (which was never wrong, just misunderstood, even if it was the opposite of current beliefs) as opposed to "new light" which may also change at some point but to question or doubt it is worse than committing adultery, assault, rape, child abuse or murder.
The Watchtower publications have been proven (by those conniving apostates) to misquote sources in support of their own beliefs. Rarely do these publications make mention of whom they are quoting or where their statistics were derived for independent verification. JWs believe everything the organization prints. They are discouraged from looking into outside sources, even when these are quoted by the Watchtower.
Another tactic the JWs use is a reporting structure. Members are expected to be on the watch for any sort of "uncleanness" in the congregation and report it to the local leaders. These leaders will take the appropriate response of disfellowshipping (if it is a rank and file member) or covering it up (if it involves an influential leader). Many witnesses, particularly teenagers but including adults and whole families, are induced to living a double life. Family members will turn one another in, so long as they do not believe this will negatively affect their status or power in the congregation.
Time control is an important technique. The members are kept so busy with meetings, assemblies, reading literature and the magazine work that they don't have time to do anything normal (that might convince them that this world isn't so bad).
JWs are constantly told that the end is coming soon. It's on the horizon. We are in the last seconds of the last minutes of the last days of this system of things (actual quote). Our work is urgent!
Don't buy green bananas.
The hours they spend in recruiting aren't actually about finding new members (although that's a bonus). If they really wanted to recruit, there are so many more effective ways of doing this. When JWs go door-to-door, this puts them in the position of defending their beliefs and the organization, both to others and themselves. After all, it's difficult and highly unpleasant work. They wouldn't be doing it if they didn't really believe it's the truth, right?
If you spoke to a JW, they would deny almost everything I've said (and proudly agree with a few things). They do not believe they are a cult because they've been led to believe the misconceptions about what cults are.
They have also been trained to put a good face on the organization no matter what. If a doctrine or practice is unflattering, fudge it. JWs are masters of taking scriptures out of context to support their beliefs. I was once quite skilled at this. It makes you feel very intelligent.
And of course, many members are simply unaware of some of the stranger doctrines. These doctrines are said to be "deep" but really they are just so wacky or unpalatable that the organization doesn't push them very hard. And yet, to be a member is to be bound by the doctrine. If anyone should question or doubt, they are removed.
These two people are trying to figure out how they are part of the same "generation."
Unfortunately, most of the information on how to help yourself or others exit a cult is directed toward individuals, not families. Many cults find it easiest to recruit young, single adults and the experts tend to focus on helping such individuals (though they recognize the existence of other kinds of cults).
Cult experts suggest that the family is key in helping the individual remove the cult personality and return to the pre-cult personality. However, in cults where whole families join together and children are raised as members, there is no pre-cult personality. Leaving can be especially difficult when there is nothing to go back to. It's even worse if only some of the family leaves while the others stay and shun you.
Many JWs, such as myself, have extended family outside of the cult, but this may not be much help if the family isn't close (either by proximity or relationship). Often, such family is not in a position to truly appreciate any alarming changes the cult member undergoes. They are saddened to lose contact, but there is little they are able to do about it.
Most people have no idea how to argue with a JW. JWs are highly trained in sales and argument tactics and people can be overwhelmed by this. Most people will come away from the conversation having been unable to thwart the JWs reasoning, but still convinced that they're nuts. Others are swayed and become new recruits.
Too many people want to argue unprovable doctrines, such as the Trinity or hellfire. JWs are very well trained to argue against these and frankly, they're not important! No one is going to quit their religious system because you swayed them to believe that God roasts people in a fiery hell.
On second thought . . . nah.
Most JWs have to experience a personal crisis before they will critically examine their religion. This is what happened to me. To purposefully draw someone out requires a great deal of patience and cannot be done by directly attacking the doctrine or the leadership.
The enemy of the cult is information. The enemy of mind control is free thought. The greatest tool anyone can use to help cult members are polite, thought-provoking questions. How do you know that the GB are the "faithful and discreet slave" that Jesus was talking about? When Jesus inspected the Watchtower in 1919 what did he find? Why does the true religion require ongoing changes in doctrine? Does truth change?
It is very unlikely such questions will cause a cult member to immediately jump ship. Often, this must be a seed that takes root in the mind. When the person is ready (usually when confronted with personal difficulties in the cult) those questions will be there to help propel them out.
No one ever asked me such questions. Someone who has never been a Witness would be unable to ask such questions. Most people would have no idea what they're even referring to. But the answers to these questions are the simplest proof that the JWs are not the true religion. When a JW finally allows himself to examine these questions (usually with the help of apostates) they quickly become disillusioned.
It is this history that has led me to the early childhood development program. If I had been trained to think for myself, rather than blindly follow, from an early age, I never would have remained with the JWs. I would like to help children develop critical and creative thinking skills. I would like to guide them to become masters of their own destiny and forge a unique path in life. I would like to help families be cohesive units that foster self-esteem, rather than producing naïve, lonely and easily ensnared young people.