In, or Out
“I began to see that cults form and thrive not because people are crazy, but because people have two kinds of wishes. They want a meaningful life, to serve God or humanity, and they want to be taken care of, to feel protected and secure, to find a home. But this is the wrong way home.”
“The Wrong Way Home” Arthur Deikman
Margaret Singer, famed cult researcher, stated that over ten percent of Americans will cycle through a sociological cult, and ten percent of those that leave a sociological cult will join another.
Statistics show that twenty percent of these group members do not willingly leave a cult but leave only if the group is disbanded. Arthur Deikman claims that these group members have two wishes. The wish to serve God or humanity and a wish to feel protected and secure, that is to have a home.
A Problem That Still Exists
It is unfortunate that sociological cults are not just a remnant of the bygone era of the 1970s and 1980s, but actually have a higher membership in this century than the last.
One example of this is the Quiverfull Movement; a supposedly leaderless grass-roots movement that appears to have sociological cult like qualities. I was made aware of this group by one of the blog’s kind editors.
This Quiverfull Movement has the requisite leaders, norms, and transcendent aspirations among other things, required for being a sociological cult. The leaders are less visible (having perhaps learned what happens to group leaders who led from the front) than other sociological cult leaders; but they exist none the less. One such leader of the movement is the now disgraced Douglas Phillips. Another leader of this movement is Bill Gothard accused of sexual harassment and disciplined by the board of his ministry. Gothard has been charged with a legalistic approach to Christianity by critics.
What I find so disheartening about The Quiverfull Movement, and its associated churches/ministries, is that the its tactics and outcomes are the natural conclusion of MCM’s lofty Christian Reconstructionist goal of the 1980s.
In the service of that goal the Quiverfull Movement has tried to harness sex and female reproduction to bring Christ’s kingdom to earth. According to one interview the, “Quiverfull mission is rooted in faith, the unseen, its mandate to be fruitful and multiply, and to raise up Christians and leaders to implement God’s mandate on earth.” In pursuit of this goal the movement has now entrapped thousands of women, and girls, in a cult focused on fertility, sex, and the control of reproduction. Inevitably, as one might have guessed, this focus on sexual repression has led to accusations (and admission) of rape and sexual abuse by men in the forefront of the movement.
It is clear that this group has many of the tendencies identified twenty-five years ago by Lalich and Singer in the 1980s. Incredibly though, it now is the parents who are ensnaring their children, while the grown children, born into the movement, are leaving and then helping their siblings escape.
Fueling the growth of the Quiverfull Movement, are the authoritarian fundamental Christian Churches, that also use all the tactics of classical sociological cults. I suppose Aristotle had it right when he said that, “Nothing changes but change itself.” In some ways the way these sociological cults manifest themselves have changed in the early twenty – first century; but fundamentally their nature has NOT changed.
These churches exist to fulfill the leadership’s goals and aims with no regards for the individual group members or sheep. The ends continue to justify the means. And the ends, no matter how noble seeming at the start, are tragic.
The appeal of groups like the Quiverfull Movement, and the related authoritarian fundamentalist sects, show that there is something wrong in current culture, or that mainline churches are failing to offer something people need. MCM grew out of Bob and Rose’s view that mainline churches did not have the commitment required to bring the great commission to pass. The Quiverfull and the associated Fundamentalist Reconstruction Movement grew out of similar concerns, that modern values (such as feminism) had infected both church and society, and that “true” Christianity would be swamped. Therefore, these groups are taking action, in the name of Christ, to reverse these trends. Their tactics are to overwhelm the opposition with gigantic families. Their weapon is the female member’s womb and NO, I am NOT making this up!
Regardless these groups have the transcendent belief system common to all sociological groups. And sadly the outcome is to entrap entire families; especially young women, in a cesspool of abuse and despair.
Back to the question then: “If these groups are so terrible, why do members stay in them?”
Jacob Needleman, a pioneer in the field wrote, “….many [sociological cult] groups offer methodologies, in addition to belief systems.” What Needleman means is that in our society, which is so focused on the person, competition and ego satisfaction, these groups offer a community that incorporates common values and a singular mission. That is a place, as Deickman puts it, “…where a person can both belong and be part of.”
Group membership requires commitment to the methods, tactics and vision of the group. Whether the method is the discipline tactics of the ICOC or MCM, or living one’s entire life by the [supposedly] literal interpretation of the Bible, is almost irrelevant. More to the point the commitment to the methodology (discipline) provides the glue that keeps members committed to the cause, and, as one blog reader pointed out, keeps members too tired to think reflectively or cogently. In addition, the group’s vision is almost always a positive one. Ironically, like the society portrayed in George Orwell’s book 1984, the output of the group’s mission is usually the opposite of the one proclaimed. Big Brother, at least, had the courtesy to proclaim that “Slavery is Freedom.” The Quiverfull movement does not advertise itself as a place where woman are slaves of men, where children are abused, and member’s wombs are used as weapons in a battle with evil.
The tactics, mission, and the resulting sense of community help keep members within the group. Sanctions are leveled on members when they fail to effectively use the tactics, or live up to the ideals, of the group’s mission. With modern society focused on the mantra, “If it feels good do it,” then this life of “If it does not feel good then too bad,” can feel satisfying. As my own story shows sociological cult members experience self-fulfillment that they have never had before.
It is dangerous to regard sociological cults are as one-offs that are like nothing else in our society.
We accept the Marines (per my earlier post) which have some of the characteristics sociological cults, and serve a larger (than the individual) to enable a larger goal. MCM was full of fanatics like my shepherd Marty. Fanatics have their place in society. For example, W.E.B Dubois (of the NCAAP) and Martin Luther were fanatics by any measure. But there is a difference between the NCAAP, Martin Luther’s reformation movement, and the Marines, as I mentioned in my last post. People are recruited into sociological cults (recruited using their own desires) but afterwards their real identity is suppressed/changed to control their thoughts and to ensure automatic compliance to the group norms.
Another reason people stay in a group, according to Steve Hassan, are the phobias foisted on members about the fate of apostates. The crazy thing about these groups is that members are told (either implicitly or explicitly) that certain behaviors can get them expelled from the group. However, at the same time members are told, “Why no you can never leave.” Cognitive dissonance reigns, the purpose of which is to repress reflective and cogent thinking in these members.
Because of the group’s purposeful isolation from mainstream society crimes (such as rape and pedophilia) go un-reported and are routed to the group’s extra-judicial internal process. One need look no further than the Duggar family’s experience for an example of this. Hasson writes on his site, “..the answer is that no person in volitional control of reality… would ever allow a crime like that to be committed and not be appalled… or call the police…much less lie about it… but lying is a major piece of mind-control [sociological] cults”.
The identity change (inward) that members experience renders them unable to see these crimes, abuse, or both, for what they are. Instead members see the abuse or crime(s) as something they deserve since they are (they think) sinful and rebellious. Per my earlier post this same acceptance of abuse as something deserved is what keeps battered spouses in terrible marriages.
Non-members, especially family, without benefit of understanding the nature of the identity change undergone, and the group’s cultural milieu, are appalled that their loved ones continue in the group.
In summary members stay in because of a number of reasons including:
- Participating in a mission that is larger than a single person and being part of a group dedicated to such.
- Constant use of tactics by the group that serve multiple purposes; including reinforcement of the member’s identity with the group, including keeping the member so busy and tired that they are incapable of reflective, and not reactive, thought.
- A culture that provides real, or imagined, sanctions should a member violate group norms or rules.
- Acceptance of any abuse as a deserved punishment because of the actions or sinful nature of the member.
- Safety and security that the group seemingly provides, reinforced by the fear/phobia of what happens to apostates who leave.
So what is to be done?
The editors have forwarded to me three to four emails asking, “What can I do about my loved one trapped in a sociological cult?”
I can tell you (and this is backed up by experts like Lalich, Singer, Hassan among others) what NOT to do.
- Do not try to argue sense into them.
- Do not get into a theological or philosophical debate about the merits of the group.
- Do not point out their fanaticism, personality changes, crazy (new) habits, or anything else that you may find strange, or distasteful about their group.
None of these “Don’ts” are easy to abide by, that I am certain of.
It is important to remember that the member (assuming that they are at least eighteen) made a decision, a free-will one most probably, to join the group. Any insinuation that this is not the case, or that they have made the wrong choice, could put you on the outs.
I recently read of a father who spoke with his son, a member of Scientology once a month for over twenty years. The son was a fanatical scientologist, a member of the inner core Sea-Org. Unknown to his father he had many doubts about Scientology that grew over the years. Yet his father sensed that if he began questioning Scientology, or his son’s belief, that all contact would be cut off.
But because of regular contact with his non-threatening father the son knew his Dad was but a phone call away. That knowledge was important, because it gave this member somewhere to go if, or when, he finally decided to “blow” (as leaving is known in Scientology). He knew that if he called his father, that he would be there for him and help him get back on his feet. And that is what happened.
So what is to be done?
First, be there. Stay in contact. Talk about the weather if that is the only topic that is on limits and safe. Send gifts, food, but never judgement to the member. Stay available and stay in contact.
When the subject of the group comes up here are some some questions that can be asked (but only judiciously):
- How has the group helped you?
- What have you had to give up?
- Do you miss your old friends?
- How are you feeling about the leadership or the group?
- What do you like most about the group?
- What would you change about the group if you could?
For we should ask reflective questions, questions not designed to get the “right answer’, but rather to stimulate reflective thinking. Active listening is required. For reflective thinking in a cult is a rare commodity and is the enemy of group think. It is a gift that a non-member can freely give, without threat.
 Singer, Margaret and Lalich, Janja. Cults In Our Midst. Josey-Bass 1995
 Deikman, Authur. The Wrong Way Home. Beacon Press 1991
 The Atlantic. Toby Lester. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/02/oh-gods/302412/ accessed September 2017
 Doug Phillips’ Biblical Patriarchy Scandal Moves to the Courts. Julie Ingersoll – https://www.huffingtonpost.com/julie-ingersoll/doug-phillips-biblical-patriarchy_b_5151442.htm accessed September 2017
 More Women Sue Bill Gothard and IBLP, Alleging Sexual Abuse. Sarah Zylstra, Collin Hansen,Kate Shellnutt, Russell Moore,Costi Hinn .http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/january/more-women-sue-bill-gothard-iblp-alleging-sexual-abuse.html
 Venoit, Don and Venoit Joyce. A Matter of Basic Principles. 21st Century Press 2003
 Arrows for the War. Kathryn Joyce. https://www.thenation.com/article/arrows-war/ Accessed September 2017
 Christian Reality Show Star Sentenced To 40 Years For Child Rape.
Progressive Humanist – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2017/07/christian-reality-show-star-sentenced-40-years-child-rape/ Accessed September 2017
 My childhood in a cult is hard to imagine – but my survival is truly unbelievable .
Jenna Tracy. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/01/childhood-in-cult-hard-imagine-survival-truly-unbelievable Accessed September 2017
 Grew Up In A Fundamentalist Cult - ’The Handmaid’s Tale’ Was My Reality Haettinger – https://theestablishment.co/i-grew-up-in-a-fundamentalist-cult-the-handmaids-tale-was-my-reality-fae2f77263d9
 Needleman, Jacob. Why Can’t We Be Good?. Tarcher Perigree (Penguin) Books. 2007
 Deikman, Authur. The Wrong Way Home. Beacon Press 1991