Friday, March 12, 2010


There is a psychological term for this gradual acceptance of something that would not otherwise be believed. It is cognitive dissonance theory. Leon Festinger described it in his book When Prophecy Fails. Festinger described three elements of social psychology, and behavior modification techniques, at work in group dynamics, and in the case described in his book, a cult milieu.

He said that if you can control Behavior, Thought, and Emotions, and, you can get a group of people to do very bizarre and wrong things. Festinger said that if one of the three elements is changed the other two would be powerfully influenced to come into agreement with it. People don’t like being hypocritical, after all. Steven Hassan, author of Combating Cult Mind Control, added a fourth criterion, Information, for the acronym BITE.

When someone is recruited into a mind-controlling cult their behavior and personality begin to change dramatically. Someone who has known this person for years will be struck with the significance of the change and comment that “they are just not the person I used to know. What happened?” It is commonly called brainwashing, but is also known as mind control and thought reform.

New recruits to totalistic groups experience this “thought reform” as the starting point in behavior modification. It begins with acceptance of a totally new premise underlying the cult worldview. That premise could be that all of current Christianity is apostate necessitating a restoration. Or, it could be that God only speaks to and through a particular chosen leader and you must listen to him to hear God. This premise then becomes the foundation that must be laid for the acceptance of the teachings and practices espoused by the group. If you have accepted the premise then follow-through on the secondary teachings and life style practices must follow or the recruit will be in a continual state of cognitive dissonance, or hypocrisy, in layman’s terms.

The elements of thought reform or mind control were laid out in the research of Dr. Robert J. Lifton who studied the returning POWs after the Korean War.

Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Mind Control

Milieu Control – the control of the environment including information, associations, time, and energy work to exclude any opportunity for opposition while also promoting the ‘party line’.

Mystical Manipulation – this is the ‘higher calling’ for the follower to be a part of a utopian goal which requires his full devotion. The followers see the leaders as having achieved this higher calling hence they are worthy to be followed.

The Demand For Purity – the utopian goal can only be achieved by purity of devotion. Any failure to succeed means impurity exists somewhere and will be searched out by those in control.

The Cult of Confession – Failure to succeed means confessions must be made. Any weakness or failures, real or perceived, are to be confessed for the sake of the group. Even confessions where no wrong was actually done can spur the group to more purity.

The Sacred Science – The ideology, doctrine and mission of the group are so sacred that they must not be doubted or questioned. To do so is one of the worst offenses possible. However, without the option of questioning, a lie cannot be uncovered.

Loading the Language – Certain words and phrases are so loaded with meaning that stark choices are implied leading to the end of critical thinking.

Doctrine Over Person – What you see, hear or think is irrelevant in the face of the group’s doctrine. You must submerge your opinions in the group’s worldview.

The Dispensing of Existence – Only those who are committed to the group are valued. Those who oppose or betray the group can be dismissed, defamed, disfellowshipped, or killed.


The antidote to this process is truth, unimpeachably presented. When a cultist sees the truth as truth then a similar process by which he was recruited begins to set him free. He doesn’t want to by a hypocrite after all.