|The following is taken from the in progress manuscript
of the book Letters to an Elder by R. J. Sikorski. It outlines Robert
J. Lofton's defining cult characteristics and how the Jehovah's Witnesses
fit the"mind control" profile. It was written as a refutation
to the February '94 Watchtower article "Cults-What Are They?."
The Watchtower article, "Cults--What Are They?" presents encyclopedia and magazine references for the term "cult" and argues that they cold fit any religious organization. But when a clear definition is actually stated (I'm referring to the State of Maryland 100th Congress resolution), there is no clear attempt to prove why Jehovah's Witnesses don't fit it, or why they don't, in fact, use manipulative, deceptive or unethical techniques to recruit members or control followers.
The fact is: they do. The manipulative, deceptive and unethical technique is called "mind control." With the help of psychologists Robert J. Lofton and Steven Hassan, I'd like to prove how their use of it classifes Jehovah's Witnesses as a destructive cult.
In his definitive book on the subject, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lofton outlines the eight basic elements of mind control, whether they are used by political, religious or psychological cults. Let's examine them and see if the Jehovah's Witnesses employ them to gain recruits and maintain members.
The first is "milieu" or environment control. Lofton explains that cults control the environment around recruits in a number of ways. most always using some form of isolation. They can be physically separated from society or they can be warned to stay away from media that might provoke critical thinking. Any book, movie, testimony or ex-members, or anyone critical of the group, in any way, is to be avoided.
Ask yourself: doesn't the Watchtower explicitly say "avoid independent thinking". Isn't literature critical to Jehovah's Witnesses something to be avoided? Aren't Jehovah's Witnesses forbidden to associate with disfellowshipped members?
The second elemlent of mind control is "mystical manipulation." It is a systematic process planned and managed from above leadership. God is supposedly ever present in the organization. Leaders become mediators for God. God centered principles can be put forcibly and claimed exclusively so the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation. If one has not seen the light, and is not in the realm of the cult, one is in the realm of evil.
Doesn't the Watchtower claim to be the Jehovah's one true prophet? Doesn't it claim Jesus Christ returned invisibly in 1914 to establish his rule through the Jehovah's Witnesses? Don't Jehovah's Witnesses claim exclusive doctrine and enforce practices? Aren't they the only group that will survive Armaggedon? Aren't unbelievers in the realm of Satan?
Lofton cites the "demand for purity" as another defining element. Such a demand calls for the radical separation of pure and impure or good and evil within an environment and within oneself. The world is depicted as black and white, with little room for making personal decisions. One's conduct is modeled after the ideology of the group as taught in its literature. People and organizations are pictured as good or evil depending on their relationship to the group. Universal tendencies of guilt or shame are used to influence or control individuals, sometimes in a structured confession process.
Doesn't Watchtower literature say mainstream Christian religions are controlled by Satan? Isn't the Catholic Church called the "Whore of Babylon?" Isn't the modern day celebration of Christmas branded pagan? Aren't JW school children given specific rules for group participation?
Lofton's fourth element is the "cult of confession." Serious sins (as defined by the organization) are to be confessed immediately. Members are to be reported if found behaving contrary. The confession process has its own structure, usually the context of a small group. Sins could be caused by identification with one's prior existence. This tactic alows leaders from within to exercise authority over weaker or radical members.
Aren't JW transgressors ordered to report to a group of elders? Hasn't the process been used to reprimand and control? (You don't have to read Franz's Crisis of Conscienceto learn the above happens. There are many disfellowshipped Witnesses only to busy to testify.)
"Sacred science" is the fifth operating characteristic of a "mind control cullt". The cult's ideology becomes the ultimate moral vision for the ordering of human existence. The ideology is too "sacred" to be called into question, and reverence is demanded for the leadership. It claims absolute truth with no contradictions. Such a system can offer considerable security for the "searching" or vulnerable.
Doesn't the Watchtower define who goes to heaven and who doesn't? Aren't the "anointed" the only ones allowed to be members of the governing body? Aren't the anointed the only ones who can receive the bread and wine at the Last Supper memorial? Doesn't the Watchtower lay claim to the absolute truth?
Sixth defining element is called "loading the language." Functional member vocabulary becomes simplified with the use of thought terminating cliches, expressions or words designed to end the controversy or conversation. They become the language of non-thought since they tend to stop discussion or prevent further consideration. There is always some simple cliche or slogan to answer a complex issue or difficult question.
Among Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, don't expressions like "the truth", the "new system of things", "apostates", and "worldly" carry with them automatic judgment of outsiders? How often does "the truth gets brighter" get used to explain away a doctrinal change (even though the WT claims absolute truth)? Or the terms "worldly" or "pagan" get used to justify non-participation?
Seventh operating characteristic of mind control is "doctrine over person." Human experience is subordinated to doctrine, no matter how profound or contradictory such experience seem to be. The history of the cult is altered to fit their doctrine of logic. The person is only valuable in so much as they conform to the role models of the cult. Common sense perceptions are disregarded if they are hostile to the ideology.
Doesn't the prohibition of blood transfusions in life threatening circumstances disregard common sense? Couldn't mass persecution of Malawi Jehovah's Witnesses have been prevented if only they had been granted permission for proper I.D. Haven't doctrinal turths been altered to fit history.
Lofton's eighth element of mind control is the "dispensing of existence." The organization decides who will perish in the final battle of good over evil. Leaders decide which history books are accurate and which are biased. Families can be cut off and outsiders deceived for they are not fit to exist.
JWs make no secret of the fact that only they will survive the battle of Armaggedon, or inherit paradise earth. Even family members are ostracized if disfellowshipped. Aren't textbooks that don't support JW doctrine or logic branded apostate, biased, worldly or somehow under the inflluence of Satan?
According to Lofton, if any group exercises all eight of these control elements, they are, in fact a destructive mind control cult. It doesn't matter how kind, credible, or self-righteous the group or its members appear to be. Rationalizing with biblical verses, Hasson would argue, is no excuse for impeding personal choice or violating personal freedom.
If the Watchtower article reviewed Jehovah's Witnesses in light of Lofton's criteria it would be hard pressed to deny the use of mind control or the consequent categorization of the JW organization as a destructive cult. The examples presented just scratch the surface.
As Hassan explains, mind control may not be a coercive form of thought reform like brainwashing, but it is still psychologically damaging. Perhaps the biggest problem is the disruption of a person's identity. "Under the influence of mind control a person's original identity, as formed by family education, friendships, and, most importantly, a person's own free choice, becomes replaced with another identity, often one, he (or she) would not have chosen for himself (or herself) without the social pressure of the group."
Mind control practiced by destructive cults is a social process involvng large groups of people. To function, in that social environment, one must shed his (or her) own identity and adhere to the identity desired by the group. Even if he (or she) gets along by play-acting at first, the act eventually becomes real, the totalistic ideology is internalized and prior belief systems superceded.
Hassan sums up "mind control" with this simple statement:
"The term mind control refers to any system that seeks to undermine an individual's integrity in making his (or her) own personal decisions."
There is no justifiable rationalization for the use of mind control. Ends don't justify the means. There is no excuse for undermining personal freedom. This country promotes and defends it in its "Bill of Rights." Even the Bible teaches that our Creator holds personal freedom so sacred that He will not take glory from any form of worship or honor unless it is given freely.
As spreaders of the Good News, protecting an individual freedom in choice of religion is just as much our responsibility as the execution of God's two greatest commandments.
Rick Sikorski holds a bachelor's and master's degree from Michigan State University's College of Communications, with a specialties in mass media advertising and consumer behavior. He's taught at the Univeristy of Washington as well as MSU and has held senior executive management positions in both advertisng and marketing. This father of four became actively involved in Catholic apologetics and the dynamics of cult mind control when he lost his wife to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Besides the book Letters to an Elder, he is currently working on The Jehovah's Witness Survival Guide for Catholics.
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