Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Might Be In A Cult If...

Recently I've written some about Doctrine Over Person, one of eight elements which make up Robert Lifton's model for Thought Reform/Mind Control - practices used both wittingly and unwittingly by cultic groups. We've seen it epitomized recently in the tactics and philosophy of the Steadfast Daughters website, and by default that would extend it to the Vision Forum affiliated movements and churches these women are a part of. The line becomes so blurred between the individuals involved and the collective mind of the movement that there ceases to be a distinction, which is especially troubling in a group that claims Christ. The model of the body of Christ (the church body) as outlined in scripture speaks to an extremely diverse array of skills, opinions, and individuals working together toward the common goal of advancing the message of the gospel and living out the love of Christ. When you strip away individuality, when the doctrine of the group takes precedence over the people of the group, not only does the group become Pharisaic (everything Christ spoke against) in nature, but the diversity of the body becomes lost in the role-playing that's defined and determined by the doctrine and dogma - not by the giftings of the Holy Spirit. A collection of arms. Or legs. Or belly-buttons. But not arms and legs and belly-buttons. You're left with something very cultic.

The first element that Lifton outlines is Milieu Control...described in chapter 22 of Lifton's "Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism" this way...

The most basic feature of the thought reform environment, the psychological current upon which all else depends, is the control of human communication. Through this milieu control the totalist environment seeks to establish domain over not only the individual's communication with the outside (all that he sees and hears, reads or writes, experiences, and expresses), but also - in its penetration of his inner life - over what we may speak of as his communication with himself. It creates an atmosphere uncomfortably reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984.

Lifton goes on to say...

Such milieu control never succeeds in becoming absolute, and its own human apparatus can - when permeated by outside information - become subject to discordant "noise" beyond that of any mechanical apparatus. To totalist administrators, however, such occurrences are no more than evidences of "incorrect" use of the apparatus.

Does that sound like anything we know? Say, perhaps the message of the proponents of the patriarchal paradigm? If we're to believe them, it's NEVER the system that breaks down. It's the PEOPLE that break down in the application of the system. You see, if the system were to be considered faulty and something less than perfect, their entire world would crumble. Therefore, it's the PERSON, not the DOCTRINE, that's at fault.

Notice Lifton's mention of "discordant noise" which results from the intrusion into the paradigm of outside information. This is what's known as Cognitive Dissonance, which Christy Stouffer recently blew off as psycho-babble for "I'm confused". It goes so much deeper than garden variety confusion. When you've been indoctrinated to believe certain things, usually from birth, and everything about your life has been engineered toward reinforcing and perpetuating that indoctrination, but then upon stepping outside of the milieu control, even the slightest bit, you see that the things you've been taught simply don't add up and may in fact be wrong, THAT's Cognitive Dissonance. It's especially troubling when your indoctrination has emphasized the evils and grim outcomes in alternative views. When so much of what you've been raised to believe proves to have no foundation, merit, or integrity once the wind has blown against it, you do your own emotional and spiritual health/experience no favors by writing it off as "confusion". It isn't YOU that's the problem. I once used the following analogy to demonstrate Cognitive Dissonance...

"These men desire to eat oranges, and given God's relative silence about oranges and orange trees, they're coming up with their own methods and speaking on his behalf. The problem is, in their prideful ignorance they're planting lemon seeds. A little orange paint to create the illusion that the lemons are oranges, talk about things like "biblical" oranges and "godly" orange juice loudly enough and with feigned authority, and you can fool some of the spectators. All while the people forced to drink this "orange" juice, err, "godly orange juice", have puckered lips, because what they taste is sour. Their hearts and minds are distressed because orange juice is supposed to be sweet, and they MUST accept that what they're drinking is "godly" orange juice from "biblical" oranges or be labeled rebellious and face emotional retribution, but their taste buds are screaming "No mas!!!"

That's a bit more than confusion. That's spiritual, mental, and emotional abuse of someone having to deal with the inconsistencies of cultic doctrine and dogma.

This is why the patriarchal/quiverfull/dominionist groups treat their children as seeds planted in a jar. Follow the formulas outlined by the doctrines to produce a person defined and dominated by the doctrine - and preferably one who has been shielded by the jar from the outside elements which produce the "discordant noise". Milieu Control. A faithless approach.

Another element of Milieu Control is the control of information and perception, including the control of the literature that members of the group access. Group approved literature and sources of knowledge are stressed. In a recent article, Stacy McDonald relied on Webster's 1828 dictionary to define the word "abuse". Why is that? Milieu Control. Control of the source of information. My friend Jeanette pointed out the following description of Webster's 1828 via Vision Forum...

“This gigantic, oversized, heavy book is perhaps second only to the Bible in terms of importance in your home. When Noah Webster first published this book, he understood that whoever defined the words of a culture would capture that culture. So he sought to give the American people a dictionary in which words have meaning in terms of their relationship to Jesus Christ. In fact, this is the only comprehensive dictionary of the English language in print that seeks to communicate a distinctively biblical worldview, even to the point of using Scriptures in the definitions.

Your children can join the ranks of those generations of American leaders who were weaned on Webster. Our book is sturdy and well bound with acid-free paper and a gold foil stamp. A worthy investment."

Group approved. I would expect so, considering Webster's personal authoritarian views on state, society, religion, and family. But, seeing as how Webster himself revised the 1828 before his death, and also published his own translation of the bible, the Common Bible, where he "corrected" the grammar errors of the KJV, and deleted words that were no longer relevant, it seems strange. Oh my God!!! The man deleted words based on modern cultural relevance?!!! God help us all!!! As such, it seems more than a little purposefully ignorant that the patriarchal cult has determined to rely on a two century-old original dictionary version that even Webster, if he were alive today, would no longer rely on. But, thankfully for the cult, the 1828 wasn't influenced by the Great Whore and Satan of modern psychology. I mean, you can't even find a currently relevant definition of the mental aspect of "denial". How convenient is that for the P/QF cult?

In Christy Stouffer's recent review of Quivering Daughters, she diminishes the emotional and spiritual abuse suffered by Hillary McFarland and most QDs to "self-pity and discontent". In Stacy McDonald's recent article which "defines" abuse, she attempts to distinguish between "common abuse" and "damaging abuse" in an effort to diminish the abuses suffered by QDs, convincing them that what they've experienced are merely the trials associated with common, everyday life. In other words, "You're the problem here! Suck it up and get over it!"
This attempt to cast guilt on the abused is the defensive attempt to elevate doctrine over person and to reestablish Milieu Control in the arena of debate - "The system didn't fail. You did." I have to wonder...Is abuse "common" in their homes and churches? I mean, if it's "common" and all...

Professor Eileen Barker has done extensive studies on cults and abusive movements. Her cult checklist looks like this...

  1. A movement that separates itself from society, either geographically or socially;
  2. Adherents who become increasingly dependent on the movement for their view on reality;
  3. Important decisions in the lives of the adherents are made by others;
  4. Making sharp distinctions between us and them, divine and Satanic, good and evil, etc. that are not open for discussion;
  5. Leaders who claim divine authority for their deeds and for their orders to their followers;
  6. Leaders and movements who are unequivocally focused on achieving a certain goal.

Apply this to P/QF, to Steadfast Daughters, to Vision Forum, to ATI, and the like.

Scary, isn't it?

Much more to come on this subject.


  1. Yes, Lewis, it IS scary.

    I know I have written this before, but when I first started home schooling (1990s) people acknowledged that one WEAKNESS of home schooling that was must COUNTER was social isolation. Seriously, in my little corner of the home school world, people looked for ways their children could interact with the community: community league sports, scouting, church youth groups, lessons open to the whole community- even putting their children in after school care so they could make some friends.

    Sure there were the weirdos among us, the ATI crowd, but they had little to do with the rest of the community at the time. They had their own version of a support group, fathers only of course. :\

    We looked for home schooling resources everywhere: local museums, parks, public libraries. We used books and materials that were culturally relevant: watching Magic School Bus, organizing American Girls doll clubs, setting up a Girl Scout troop that met in the daytime. No one was hiding. We weren't afraid.

    And then someone showed me the Pearl's book. I thought it was hooey, and NEVER expected it to gain a cult following. Someone showed me a copy of Above Rubies magazine, and I thought who wants to pretend to live in the 18th century? Ugh. Next I started hearing that American Girls dolls were too worldly and that Girl Scouts was a feminist plot. Huh?

    About this time I was pushed out of the Christian home school circles, and moved from my more reasonable state to North Carolina- the heart of religious idiocy, or so it seemed at the time. Now I realize it was a nation wide takeover, and things were getting sick all over.

    Our worst fears about home schooling have been realized. Our critics said all along that the biggest danger of home schooling was isolation and the domination and control that IS child abuse would go unchecked and unreported. Stacy McDonald, Vision Forum, and much of the rest of the home school business empire have actively encouraged and supported that which thoughtful and caring home school proponents resisted and were on guard against: total milieu control.

    I have certainly come full circle. I can't believe that once I was an active salesperson for HSLDA, as I saw them as a balanced organization defending home school freedom. Now I would happily speak to a group of social workers on the other side of the spectrum, educating exactly what to look for in a home investigation: what authors and magazines encourage emotional and spiritual abuse, what social activities are no more than cult reinforcement- like "Keepers at Home", for example. I would instruct them to look specifically for the code words "family integrated church", that such a church is not a social outlet but an extension of parental control through a community of like-minded people. I would tell them to be very suspicious and look more closely if the family belongs to a support group with a "statement of faith" and strict dress code.

    Religious freedom? Sure. God bless American. Freedom to dominate and control your home schooled children? I don't think so.

  2. Thanks for bringing up the Webster Bible. Iirc, he also made a point of sanitizing the KJV's language to make it more acceptable for his consumer base. I think his 1828 dictionary shows that he'd mastered the art of advertising to Christian consumers: Add Bible verses and Christianese feel-good phrases, and your product suddenly becomes more holy than any before or after!

  3. Off topic but not that far off.

    Patriarchy/Quiverfull destroys daughters.
    But not just daughters.
    It destroys mothers, sons, and, yes, even fathers.

    I love Lewis's blog because it, along with Hillary's book, champions the cause of Christ in setting the captive daughter free.

    But who will set free the mothers, sons, and fathers?
    Jesus, of course.
    But what vessels will He use?

    Hope someone comes up with, or points out to me resources for sons and fathers.

    I want to point out one champion for the mothers, like the misguided Abigail from the SD.
    My friend, Charis. She has compassion for Abigail and can afford to give it to her because she used to be a SD Abigail herself. Now she's a Biblical Abigail and doesn't submit to her husband's foolishness.

    All right. Now back to our regularly scheduled program of defending, releasing, and empowering the captive daughter of God's people.

  4. I realized something today.

    My little brother is 7. He constantly, every day, teases my 4 year old nephew. He absolutely will not leave him alone. However, he never actually hurts my nephew, just says things like "You're a baby" "I'm going to take your car" "My mom isn't your grandma"

    Which makes my nephew scream like a banshee and cry. :-P So the tendency is to stop the noisemaker - the nephew. Sometimes, yes, he screams when there is no reason to, but my brother specifically goes out of his way, dogmatically, to make him scream. The real problem is not the one speaking up, "causing a ruckus", but the one causing them to.

    Behind every QD is someone who mistreated them in some way. Them speaking up about it IS NOT THE PROBLEM. The problem is what is behind their speaking. If there were NO problems... nobody would have a problem with it. The issue isn't "Stop these people from talking" but "Why are they saying these things? What is behind this?"

    Perhaps some real truth could be uncovered if VF/SD/ATI/whatever else could admit - even perhaps - that their doctrine could be wrong.

    Have you seen any winged pigs lately?

  5. Jeanette: "Have you seen any winged pigs lately?"

    Along side the road.
    It was a piece of sculpture standing next to a Centaur statue and a Griffin statue.

  6. Great post Lewis. You nail it every time.

  7. This is a great post from another blog...

    "We make sure that pedophiles are kept away from children. We no longer keep booze in the presence of alcoholics. We keep our drugs locked up around addicts. We take temptations away from those that are tempted to the BEST of our ability!

    The one that is asked to be the craftsman to put that [broken] plate back together? That would be the responsibility of the plate.

    Why does that make sense?"

    "The fleeing feet caused the fracturing of the family, and not the flying fists and sinful actions of the abuser!"

  8. I realized today just how much I was programed against romance. Like totally. It wasn't just romance novels (they were supposedly a woman's version of pornography - emotionally), or the promotion of "courtship," or the talk about "saving your heart," or the suspicion cast on you if you so much as said hi to a person of the opposite gender, or the lack of sex education; it was all of the above and more that I can't put into words.

    Oh, and then Mr. G had the audacity to suggest that we should treat God like our boyfriend in order to learn how to love Him. You know, write notes to Him, think about Him, talk about Him, etc. Probably most girls would have no problem understanding how to do that, but I had no clue. He might as well have been talking in a foreign language. (Cognitive dissonance?)

    I'm so glad that God cares enough to pursue me with gentleness and respect for my opinions and decisions (even if He doesn't agree with them)! Because I have no idea how to love Him back.

    Just an example of how totally life-changing this kind of programming can be.

  9. What a great point about Webster and cultural relativity. Oh, the contradictions abound!

  10. Shadowspring, you said "I would tell them to be very suspicious and look more closely if the family belongs to a support group with a "statement of faith . . ."

    This really concerns me. Just because folks belong to this type of support group does not mean they have abusive tendencies. I think social workers should be looking for a number of clues/characteristics so as not to put innocent families through turmoil. And I know what social workers lean toward - guilty until proven innocent. I know this because I was a social work major. :(


  11. As the Bard puts it, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet." I submit that cognitive dissonance can't be dismissed by labeling it psycho-babble or something else, then downplaying its effects. Is it a small thing when there's a disconnect between what we've been told & how that conflicts with reality? People are ordering their lives around these people's "biblical" interpretations. In fact, I've spent most of my life watching myself perform from some sort of third person perspective following principles & formulas labeled "Christian" but somehow missing the relationship that is in Christ.
    Finally, I collapsed somewhat after my mother died of ALS. I had been looking after her, homeschooling 6 kids, & gave birth to a disabled child who later died (this after having a stillborn). I admitted to my husband how completely undone, unhappy, & overwhelmed I was. His response? Lower your expectations. How could I get any lower? I was taught to "give my rights to God" & steeped in guilt & shame. I had no real money or personal time & little support.Surprisingly, his words precipitated a wake up call. It was time to put away Gothard, Pearl, etc. They became viruses to me.
    Sorry if this is too long winded but what I'm trying to explain is that you can call my cognitive dissonance psycho-babble all you want, all I know is, my soul has reentered my body & it's precipitated change. For the first time, I've been able to have enjoyment without guilt, I've lost 40 lbs. & regained my health, & I actually enjoy spending time with my children.
    Yes, I'm having to renew my faith from the ground up & my marriage is shaky- I'm not sure it will last. But I see some change even there. At least my husband did the dishes today while I was out:).

  12. I have written two articles for No Longer Quivering/The Take Heart Project which compare these teachings to the characteristics of spiritual abuse:

    I'm currently working on a third which will be entitled: "Testing the Spirit of Quiverfull: Perfectionism and Elitism."

    I am interested in posts like this one, Lewis, because they give me more information along these lines, for further essays. Thanks!

  13. yikes...have you seen the comments about you in the newest post on SD? you're famous, Lewis!

  14. Hey Stacy! Thanks for the traffic!

    Lewis (aka The Hammer)

  15. Wow.....SD is just grasping at straws, aren't they? The thing I find interesting is that they are stealing images that are intellectual copyright of those that own them (ie: Lewis' picture) and also the blatant contradictions and double speak.

  16. Yay!!!! I got published!

    My "angry email" to their only contact number (quoted only one sentance, but the rest was better) seemed to strike a chord.

    Should I write more Stacy/Chrisendombuilder?

  17. For those of you hoping for a response from me to this newfound attention, my comment above will have to suffice.

    I simply don't have time for the massive edits, bio changes, scripture changes, host changes, and comment martial law it would require.

  18. seriously, engaging you in verbal ping-pong is what they want, so that they can take bits and pieces to spin to their satisfaction.

  19. Lewis- ZING! Your comment cracked me up!

    You do realize you could sue them for using your photo without permission, right? ;) *snickers*

  20. Lewis, you are one loved brother in Christ! Peace and good will to you in abundance, SS

  21. Ooh, I've got one: You might be in a cult if you write a blog post with names and pictures of everyone who's argued against your movement, and then accuse them of arguing ad hominem.

  22. Hey Steadfast Daughters - it's interesting that none of you are actually daughters. You're fathers and mothers. We've heard your story before and you don't speak for us. You have heaped together your own teachers to soothe your itching ears because you hate the truth.

    By the way, that whole "Christendom building" project didn't work too well last time. You might want to come up with a new moniker: