21 May 2009

On Cults and Cultists

An organization called the International Cultic Studies Association has been studying cults for a very long time and two of its members, Dr. Janja Lalich and Dr. Michael D. Langone, came up with fifteen criteria used to determine whether an organization is a cult or not. These criteria were the characteristics they found common to all cults that they had studied and are now commonly used to determine if an organization is a cult.

The Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups are:
  1. The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.

  2. ‪Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

  3. Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

  4. The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).

  5. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

  6. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

  7. The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

  8. The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).

  9. The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt iin order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

  10. Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.

  11. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

  12. The group is preoccupied with making money.

  13. Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

  14. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

  15. The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

I am not an expert on cults by any stretch, but I have spent some time investigating organizations that I believed to be cults out of general curiosity and because I was cyber stalked by some for criticizing their cult. These fifteen criteria agree well with a list of ten that I developed for my own use. In my opinion, the Lalich and Langone criteria are an excellent tool for judging whether an organization is a cult.

So now that we have a tool we should try using it. The first target will be the Church of Scientology (CoS). I could type thousands of words explaining in great detail how the CoS meets every single criterion. In fact, if you ignore all other cults one would think that this list was created just to describe the behavior of the Cult of Scientology. The list of characteristics describes them exactly.

Note that calling Scientology a Cult is not intended as an insult. It is simply a useful description of the behavior of individuals associated with the organization. Scientologists (Scienos) do not tolerate their 'church' being called a cult. In fact they react very belligerently whenever anyone refers to Scientology as a cult. When it comes to their belief system they have zero tolerance for criticism or dissenting opinion (see item 2). People that are not Scienos are considered vastly inferior to Scienos and are referred to as wogs and raw meat (see item 5).

One could write an entire book describing in great detail all of the ways that Scientology meets all fifteen criteria. If no one else does, I may do that some day. The evidence is readily available on the web for anyone interested. The place to start is Operation Clambake. This site provides links to all, or nearly all, of the documentation of the actions and studies of Scientology that have been gathered by critics. Operation Clambake has been maintained by Andreas Heldal-Lund since the 1990s and by all accounts he is an outstanding fellow. He has personally helped scientologists to leave the cult when they asked for assistance.

Operation Clambake also offers the complete text to many books written about Scientology. For people wanting to learn about Scientology there are three I consider essential reading. The first is Paulette Cooper's The Scandal of Scientology which was the first exposè on Scientology written in the 70s. The CoS nearly destroyed Paulette's life trying to prevent this book from being published. Next is Jon Atack's book on Scientology and biography of L. Ron Hubbard titled A Piece of Blue Sky. Last is Russell Miller's excellent L. Ron Hubbard biography The Bare-Faced Messiah. If you read these three books you will know far more about Scientology than most people and you will know things that even scienos don't know because cult members have a disturbingly cleaned up and fictionalized version of Mr. Hubbard's biography and there are many aspects of the CoS that are hidden from members.

Mark Bunker maintains Xenu TV where he has gathered hundreds of hours of videos that he has produced of interviews of ex-scientologists such as Tory Christman and Jason Beghe as well as videos he has taken at anti-scientology protests and public Scientology events where you can see scienos being scienos up close and personal. They like to ask what your crimes are a lot. The Christman and Beghe interviews are highly recommended.

Steven Fishman wrote a book, Lonesome Squirrel, describing his life in the Church of Scientology from beginning to end. The entire book is available to read on the web at the link given. It is a fascinating story.

The next target for our tool shall be the Republican party also known as the Grand Old Party or the Greedy Obstructionist Pricks. On 9 May 2009 CNN's Bill Schneider said "The Republicans aren't a party, they're a cult." This prompted Kevin Drum at Mother Jones to observe:
Well, today's GOP does seem to check most of the boxes in the International Cultic Studies Association's "Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups." Except for this one: "The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members." That doesn't seem to be much of a priority for them these days.

I very much appreciate the snark of Kevin's observation and I did literally laugh out loud when I read it. What really shocked me was I hadn't thought to apply this tool to the GOP sooner and how many of the criteria they really do meet. I don't agree that all but one are met, but I don't think Kevin was serious. When I consider the criteria seriously, I check 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15 which is nine of the fifteen. This is more than I would have expected. Maybe it isn't just a good joke. Maybe the GOP really is a cult. Let's hope they don't find a leader to replace their dead leader St. Ronald.


  1. Git, while you're recommending books, be sure to warn everyone to stay away from L. Ron Hubbard's fiction. BLEAH! Such trite and ridiculous crap should not be fed into human minds.

    Indeed, it is my personal opinion that Hubbard created $cientology with the long-term purpose of assuring his back catalog of manure would have a literary 'legacy' -- followers would buy his shit, in other words.

    And it is shit. The book "Battlefield Earth" sucks every bit as bad as the movie.

  2. Matt -

    I agree. I don't think he was a very good science fiction author unless you want to count all of the dianetics and scientology tomes. Also you would have to judge the books quality only by copies sold.

    There is supposed to be a scifi book he wrote that is very good. I don't recall the title and I've never read it. I've never been able to get through any of his scifi books. There is so much good scifi out there I see no reason to read garbage. I never finished "Battlefield Earth" but the one third or so of it I read I thought sucked *worse* than the movie. The movie was an improvement. The story was pure recycled drivel. Compared with novels like "Vacuum Flowers" or "Neuromancer" the story was comic book at best. Oops, I think I just insulted comic books.

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