Cult Science is still in its infancy as a psychological practice, but it has given us some ways to identify the troubling ways we are being manipulated by actors in today’s world.
Jonathan David Faulkner
Let me be clear on something here, right off the bat, I almost left the Church because of totalitarian leadership. One of the desires I have as a pastor is to make sure no one goes through that kind of destruction like I did. I believe one can be a strong leader, but that strength has to come from the Holy Spirit and from Holy Scripture, not from my own need or lust for power. I saw up close and was a victim of one who was in the pulpit who should not have been. I was the teenager told to “shut up” by a red-faced totalitarian leader. Because of those experiences I have taken the time to educate myself about the tactics used by spiritual abusers and totalitarian leaders. I am not ignorant of these things but am speaking from an informed position.
When Lawrence Pile, Author of “Free At Last” first told me he could convince me, a sophomore in High School at the time, a quarter was worth a dollar and then explained to me the process used to warp my reality, I didn’t believe it could happen to me. Two years later, I was kicked out of the church I had attended from childhood by a totalitarian leader who had duped me until a conversation with a friend of College shook me out of my complacency. If you have read anything, I have written on this you know my story and my journey has been one of God’s love and healing and deconstruction and reconstruction. There is a reason it is a miracle I am a pastor right now.
But I am also not a victim, I am able to rise above it and make sure no one under my leadership has to experience what I experienced. By God’s grace I have been carried over to the other side. My objectivity, once stripped from 16-year-old me has been restored, have there been hiccups, the brain injury in 2015 being one such instance. God though has shown His faithfulness to me and I hope to share that faithfulness with others.
But part of going through something is learning to recognize it, those who do not are doomed to repeat it. Watching Social Media is like watching a behind the scenes documentary of how cults are formed. Those who study cults and mind control tactics tell us that there are eight specific tactics which Cult leaders and Totalitarian Leaders use to maintain control of their people. They also tell us that if any 3 of these tactics are employed at any given time in a group then the group qualifies as a minor cult. Less than 3 is still abusive and people should avoid those groups.
What concerns me, and why I am writing this piece, is that these eight tactics are being employed in the mainstream. That is, in many cases we are seeing six or more present in religious and political groups on both the right and the left. This Alt-Right and Alt-Left (Yes, there is an Alt-Left) Employ these tactics to control and manipulate you and your emotions in order to get you to participate in their outrage. This is commonly called “The Outrage Machine” and it is predicated on the use of emotional manipulation as Ed Stetzer pointed out in his book “Christians in the age of Outrage.” It is not “Both-sidism” to say that both sides employ these tactics, though it is true and historically documented that the right has a long history of using tactics like this. Most cults for the last 200 years have been right leaning including Nazi Germany, the Health and Wealth Prosperity Cults, Westboro, The Prophets of Kansas City, the New Apostolic Reformation and Reconstructionism. The Center for Cult Research tracks these groups and gives us updates about their activities. On the left the best examples I can think of right now are Jonestown and The Bernie Bros but these are not the only two, radical environmentalism (of the style that teaches that humans should go extinct) would also count.
Now though, what was once used by fringe groups has been adopted by the mainstream because fear is a powerful tool to get your point across. If you can create a boogeyman you can get people to do what you want them too. Monday in The Washington Post front page was a piece on how these far-right actors are engineering the “Anti-Restrictions” protests through employing these tactics. Now, I agree with Charlie Sykes of the Bulwark who said that there are legitimate reasons to think some of these government restrictions are overreaching, some of them in some states certainly are, but objectively there is a good reason for many of them and we should be able to peacefully protest those that are overreaching while adhering to those who are not. However, these groups gain their power from stripping you of your ability to think objectively, your ability to weigh evidence and consider arguments for and against. That is why they actively campaign against people like myself who sit in the political, emotional, socio-center who are able to present arguments and think critically about these issues.
These eight tactics, as employed in our current society can be found in Steve Martin’s book “The Heresy of Mind Control: Recognizing Con Artists, Tyrants and Spiritual Abusers in Leadership.” They are as follows:
- Thinking Inside the Box: Milieu Control
- Illusion to Disillusion: Mystical Manipulation
- Getting No Where Fast: The Demand for Purity
- Vocal Self-Degradation: The Cult of Confession
- Though Shalt Not Question: The Sacred Science
- The Language of Nonthought: Loading the Language
- Fitting the Right Mold: Doctrine over Person
- The Elitist: The Dispensing of Existence
What has been observed is that all 8 of these tactics have been employed both in the mainstream media and in both Alt-Right and Alt-Leftist groups through the internet. Sites like Reddit, 4Chan, Twitter and even Facebook are ripe with these things and when they get taken down, they pop up in other places. There are entire groups devoted to pushing false narratives or news that employ these tactics. To the trained observer they are very easy to recognize, but to the average person who has had their objectivity slowly stripped away they are candy. To the person who can no longer think for themselves and does not realize they have lost that ability, they are cocaine. They reinforce a pre-existing narrative that has played into the cult of self. That cult says that you are the paragon of all truth and everything you read should reinforce your narrative. You are part of a tribe, and purity is expected within that tribe and do not question or let anyone question the paragon of your truth. Nothing else exists but your framework and all language must confirm your basic foundational beliefs. In those above sentences are 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8.
Let me stop here to make a distinction between a strong group (like the one modeled by the early Church) and modern Tribalism. Tribalism employs mind control practices to maintain tribal purity (3) and the dissonant are forced to confess (5) their impurity or be punished severely. In a Strong Group system everyone is working together to take care of one another (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-38). Tribalism depends upon the dispensing of any individual existence (8) (something permitted in strong groups) and complete devotion to the doctrine (7) over and against the personhood of the person involved. Tribalism has its own language and with it, their own way of identifying a boogeyman (6) usually using the word or words outside of their historical context. The point is to make you afraid of a person, place or thing so that you will become dependent upon the leader for safety and thought (1) and the leader or doctrine is divinely inspired, sometimes claiming to speak for God himself (2, 7). In the a strong group model, the leader tends and cares for their flock and encourages them to care for one another. They do not abuse their power because they recognize that they actually do not have any, their authority is not their own, it is Christ’s and the Bibles.
As Christians, we are given a way to objectively evaluate and discern systems of thoughts and the actions and thoughts of leaders. That is the Person of the Holy Spirit who Jesus tells us in John 14-16 will “Lead us into all truth.” And who Paul tells the Corinthians will help them discern between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 2:6-18) because the Spirit knows the mind and heart of God. Because we have had almost two generations of pastors whose word is “Absolute” and who have leaned into authoritarian control and discouraged discernment and preached anti-intellectualism instead of the Gospel we now have two generations of Christians who have no ability to discern what is of God and what is of the World. Because we have been fed a steady diet of fear and whataboutism we are unable to think objectively and those who do are punished. What we claim is “Free speech” is actually pre-programing so deeply engrained we all need thought-reform therapy to see how we have been trained to think in these ways, someone to show us how we have been emotionally manipulated into acting as the leader and operator of the outrage machine expects us to behave.
Christians, I ask you to read this Facebook Post from a few days back. I ask that you consider what you are reading and listening to on the internet, evaluate how it is affecting you, what is it designed to stir up in you? Does it make logical sense or is it manipulating you?
I love you and pray for you.