Read S. Hassan's Book: Do JW's really fit the cult mold?

by simon17 67 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • simon17

    First time I got a chance to read his book, "Combatting Cult Mind Control" and was interested to see if JW's fell into the cult mold. My opinion after carefully reading and having left the Witnesses after almost 30 years is... no, they don't. However, I would add that they wish they were but are simply too big and unwieldy to really pull it off.

    I think its an interesting case because very little of the physical cult experience described in the book fits a typical witness (no physical isolation, no sleep deprivation, no public humiliations, they don't seem to have the right type of money hungry charismatic cult leader, no constant fundraising efforts, no chanting/hypnosis/etc, etc etc. Reading anyone of the many case studies in there fits what I would generally have pictured as a cult. The Witnesses don't fit any of that.

    However, its also the case that most of the mental aspects of how a cult gets people into their drapped physical existence is very similar to the Witnesses, if not exact (attempted information control, attempted behavior control, attempted emotional control, attempted thought control, no acceptable exit, guilt/fear tactics, etc etc etc).

    But ultimately, the Witnesses do NOT have physical control over their members. Most members still go home and spend about 160 of the 168 hours of the week on their own away from the group if they please. Now at best, the GB sends out the message trying to ask or guilt people into behaving like a cult member in the 95% of the time they are away from the Kingdom Hall, but thats impossible. Witnesses are too free and outside direct control that asking them to control it all themselves is, for most, a losing battle. They're trying: higher education, friends, workplace flirting, TV, video games, music, sports, clubs, Internet, dating, movies, sex, alcohol, drugs, and on and on. If they had a way to actually control all these things they would probably do it, but its not feasible with such a large group. Some people take it all in and burn themselves out police themselves, but almost every Witness I've met is willfully failing at being controlled in some of these aspects. The traditional "police state" experiences of cults is there when with Witnesses, sure, but there is just too much time Witnesses are out of that police state.

    Some other aspects in the book make Witnesses sound cult like. They call their doctrine "The Truth" and while they take this more seriously than most, every religion does the same. Ultimately, I would say they are no more a cult than... Islam.

    I will agree maybe with the term "high control group" maybe more than cult.

  • jookbeard

    The wTS is far worse then any High Control Group or cult or sect, how many have needlessly died by obeying their murderous evil blood policy? their perverted filthy evil dirty leaders past and present have the blood of many thousands on them.

  • LostGeneration

    Cult...high control group. You say pota-toe, I say pota-to.

    Different strains of the same poison. The reality is that a full-on JW simply cannot think for themself in a healthy way. There are literally dozens of silly little rules and regulations that aren't even mentioned in the bible that they obey just because their masters tell them that they must, or else die at Armageddon (or be hauled into the back room at the KH to answer for their transgression).

    The best to do regarding the word "cult" is to never say it to an active JW. It simply feeds their persecution complex and makes them resist their true personality.

  • IsaacJ22

    Simon, I think it depends on how high a bar you set for a cult. I suggest you be a bit careful when talking about this issue as people have different opinions and some hold to their opinions very passionately. Words like "cult" are tricky, because they're basically bad things, yet the meaning of the word is a little hard to pin down. It's hard to put an exact definition on the word "religion," for instance. As far as I know, some experts agree with you, some do not.

    You feel that physical control of members is necessary to consider a group to be a cult. Many of us don't think that's the necessarily the case, and this is one of those areas where people will debate over what a cult really is. I would agree that the Society probably isn't as bad as a cult that does assert physical control over its members.

    Emotional control, for me, is an adequate substitute for physical control. So for me, the bar is a bit lower than it is for you.

  • Georgiegirl

    I met Steve Hassan this past summer and had a very interesting conversation re JWs/cult definitions. When he wrote CMC, he had very little knowledge of JWs. In fact, because of their size and integration with society, he would not have considered them as "fitting the mold." After his book came out, he was inundated with letters and calls from current and exJWs. He did alot of research, working with several exJWs (including Dogpatch from this board), and revised his opinion. One of the challenges is that the common perception of a cult is a small group, living in a commune, and isolated from society. Cults, however, are all about control - and the JWs do certainly fit. I have not read it yet, but I understand Releasing the Bonds (follow up book to CMC) does discuss JWs.

  • OnTheWayOut

    Not all cults are the same. But on your points, physical isolation is not quite like the cult compound situation. Still, they are to shun former members and limit association with the world, including family. They are to avoid holidays that typically bring family together- birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving.

    And how can you say they have no constant fund-raising efforts? Members contribute for the literature and go out and try to collect money for the literature on a regular basis. Money is donated at the Hall and at the assemblies.

    But I don't even typically argue whether JW's are in a cult or high-control group. You say po-tay-toes and I say po-tah-toes. I go right to the more important aspect of whether or not they are a dangerous mind-control group.

    Steven describes the components of mind control as these four things (p. 59):

    (1) Control of behavior: “Each day a significant amount of time is devoted to cult rituals and indoctrination

    activities…In destructive cults, there is always something to do.” (p. 60)

    WTS has its members attend meetings on a weeknight evening and on a weekend. They are to attend assemblies and conventions that last for whole or several days. They are expected to hold home studies of the Watchtower literature and to participate in recruiting for a minimum amount of time every month and are always asked to expand from the minimum time. They are expected to read the Daily text every morning and read all the material including a Bible excerpt that will be covered in that week's meetings. They are also expected to read the magazines that they will use for recruiting. Plenty to do.

    Many are expected to clean the Kingdom Hall on a regular or semi-regular basis and to participate more fully in the meetings by having parts in them.

    (2) Control of thoughts: “All that is good is embodied in the leader and the group. All that is bad is on the

    outside. …A destructive cult typically has its own loaded language…” (p. 61)

    Do I even need to comment on (2)? Okay, Everyone and everything in the JW's is good and "the truth." Everything outside is "the world" and belongs to Satan. Trust the Governing Body, trust the elders, don't trust politicians and clergy and teachers and neighbors and people with good intentions if they are not JW's.

    As for loaded language, I think I can leave that one for you to think about.

    (3) Control of emotions: “Members are taught never to feel for themselves or their own needs but always to

    think of the group and never to complain. They are never to criticize a leader, but criticize themselves instead.”

    (p. 64)

    You are to feel guilty when missing meetings or recruiting. You are to consider how Jehovah is hurt when you don't do what the WT tells you to do. WTS defines all sins for you- smoking, holidays, patriotism, high school sports, college. WT mags are loaded with examples of people that don't complain but do all the recruiting and meeting attendance even if they are depressed or missing their legs or have to walk miles or etc. etc.... You are good-for-nothing slaves that should do more.

    (4) Control of information: “Information is compartmentalized to keep members from knowing the big picture.

    ..A member in one city will therefore not necessarily know about an important legal decision, media expose, or

    internal dispute that is creating turmoil in the group somewhere else. Cult members naturally feel they know

    more about what’s going on in their group than outsiders do…” (p. 65)

    JW's are discouraged from research outside of WT materials. They do not inform members about UN membership or legal settlements or any of that. Elders have separate information available, even members-only information is available through the Kingdom Ministry and WT study articles and books.

    Steven talks about how happiness in a cult comes through good performance (p. 81): “The love seems to be

    unconditional and unlimited at first, and new members are swept away by a honeymoon of praise and attention.

    But after a few months, as the person becomes more enmeshed, the flattery and attention are turned away

    toward newer recruits. The cult member learns that love is not unconditional but dependent on good


    Cult members are manipulated through fear. Steven says, “In every destructive cult I have encountered, fear is

    a major motivator…the more vivid and tangible a devil the group can conjure up, the more intense is the

    cohesiveness it fosters.” (p. 82) Referring to doctrine, Steven says, “…destructive groups change the “truth” to fit the needs of the situation

    because they believe that the ends justify the means…Legitimate organizations don’t change their doctrine to

    deceive the public. (p. 99)

  • IsaacJ22

    Or yeah, pretty much what LostGeneration said. :)

    BTW, while it's more or less true that most religions consider their beliefs to be "the truth," they don't impose this concept on their members to equal degrees. I know many Christians who go to various churches and who are more or less nondemoninational in their beliefs. Yet they suffer no consequences for this. JWs certainly would suffer consequences if they visited other churches or made any disagreement with accepted teachings very public.

    I always try to keep in mind the fact that people have funny ideas about religions they're not really a part of. You can't really understand a religion very well by reading about it. You have to try living it for a while. With that in mind, I'm not sure that all of your comparisons to other religions are very fair or realistic. I'm not sure I see your comparison here to Islam, either. (?) Not that you're trying to start something with Islam. I just feel like you're missing part of the picture when you made those references in support of your view that the WTS isn't a cult.

    To me, it's less about what they teach than it is about how they act, what sort of attitudes and behaviors they encourage in their members, and so forth.

  • Band on the Run
    Band on the Run

    Cult is too loaded. Emotional control can be far more dangerous than physical control. I recall when the Moonies emerged that a Congressperson remarked how they are so isolated. He added, however, that his sister was a cloistered Roman Catholic nun who entered the convent at age fourteen. All contact with her family was completely cut off. HIs parents were not allowed to communicate with her in any way. So the Moonies are crackpots but Roman Catholicism is a respectable tradition. The behavior is the same.

    I don't think any group is going to meet all criteria definitively. The Witnesses seem to me to have a cluster of behaviors that cumulatively make it a cult by any other name. My legal background makes me absolutely shocked at the overreaching and intrusiveness. Nothing that they preach in doctrine, aside from the WTBTS being God's only organ, requires such control. It appears to be control merely for control's sake. I recall discussing monastic traditions in college and church. The idea is that you gain greater freedom by giving up a portion of control. Jesuits, Franciscans, etc. -- monastic people have always been controlled. It is the whole point. If cardinals walk around the Vatican in red garb of precious fibres and emrboidery and lace while JWs wear polyester, I wonder if it is a value judgment against polyester. I don't know for certain but I believe people should be aware of that factor.

  • sabastious
  • poopsiecakes

    Well, let's see...JW's claim that everything they teach is based on the bible but here are some rules that have no biblical support to back them up:

    Extracurricular school activities
    Joining any organization other than theirs
    Bringing a recording device or taking notes during your judicial committee
    Education beyond high school unless it’s for the WT’s purposes
    Getting a piercing anywhere other than the earlobes
    Accepting a blood transfusion
    Giving blood
    Eating foods with ‘by-products’ in the ingredients, esp. hot dogs
    Celebrating any holiday or birthday, including Thanksgiving and Mother’s/Father’s Day
    Certain sexual acts even with your spouse
    Mentioning a disfellowshipped person in a prayer – even in private
    Playing music of any kind, other than kingkom melodies, for a wedding in a kingdom hall
    Having your palm read
    Serving in military service of any kind
    Having a job at the UN
    Reciting the pledge of allegiance
    Singing the National Anthem
    Children must abstain from anything involving any holiday at school or elsewhere
    Running for class President
    Attending your high school Prom or other dance/social function
    Carrying a firearm, even as a policeman or security guard
    Dating or marrying a non-Witness
    Dating before the age of 18
    Breaking off an engagement
    Divorcing your spouse if they’ve committed adultery but you’ve had sex with them after they’ve confessed
    Attending another church
    Hang gliding
    Sky diving
    Bungee jumping
    Paint ball
    Smoking or chewing tobacco
    Owning a cross, whether as decoration or as a piece of jewellery
    Maintaining friendships with non-JWs
    Studying the Bible or Watchtower literature in small groups in someone’s home
    Wearing trousers to bethel, a meeting or an assembly if you’re a woman
    Wearing short skirts at any time
    Wearing ankle length skirts to JW functions
    Wearing a skirt made of denim to JW functions (including a bethel visit)
    Wearing running shoes or sneakers to JW functions (including a bethel visit)
    Growing a beard if you’re a man
    Sideburns for men must be kept short
    Wearing anything other than a white shirt if you’re a man giving a talk
    Men giving talks must wear suits – no sport jackets
    Women giving talks can only be in twos and speak to one another, never from a lectern
    The length of men’s hair must not grow past the top of their shirt collar
    Reading anything deemed to be ‘apostate’
    Owning a Ouija board
    Dying your hair if you’re a man
    Wearing makeup of any kind if you’re a man, unless you’re ‘acting’ in a drama
    Attending a congregation other than the one assigned to you based on where you live
    Stringing lights on your residence for decoration
    Costume parties – even if only JW’s are present
    Hiring a magician to perform at a wedding, or other social function
    Saying hello to a disfellowshipped person
    Questioning doctrine Not turning in a spouse, family member or friend to the elders if any of the above is violated

    Seems kinda 'culty' to me...and this list could go on and on. Every aspect of personal choice and behavior is regulated in some fashion and infringing on these rules automatically makes you suspect and 'questionable association'.

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