Thursday, October 29, 2009

Update on Recommended Online Books on Spiritual Abuse

In the right side of this blog, there is a widget "Recommended Online Books on Spiritual Abuse." Since GeoCities was closed 3 days ago, the two links that I had there stopped working - those for "Chapters from Twisted Scriptures by Mary Alice Chrnalogar (in html)" and "A Summary of The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson & Jeff VanVonderen (in html)" because these books were published in GeoCities websites. Fortunately, both websites were saved in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and these books can be found there. I changed the links in the widget. However, it is somewhat complicated to find each chapter of Twisted Scriptures in the Internet Archive. These chapters were also published in CAIC website, but there is the same problem. In another blog, I posted lists of the links to each chapter in both websites:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Polls and Guestbook

I wonder how many visitors of my blogs have been in cults or abusive churches and how many of them have their significant others (family members, relatives or friends) there. Also, I am interested to know how many of those who were in cults had any therapy or counseling after they left. So, I created three polls with these questions in my other blog: I did not post them in this blog because it would be quite complicated. All the polls are completely anonymous. I will be thankful to all the people who will vote.

Also, in that blog, I created a guestbook: Although I enabled comment posting below each post in both both blogs, I think that visitors may have some general comments, not related to any specific post, such as general questions or subjects for discussions in the line of both blogs. So, I provided a special place for such comments. In blogs in WordPress, it is possible to make not only posts like in blogs, but also pages like in websites. So, it was much easier to make a guestbook in that blog than here.

Update. Since in less than 2 weeks I got 46 spam comments sent to the guestbook, I changed its URL in order to make it harder for spammer robots to find it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My New Blog

I started a new blog: In that blog, I will post information about some materials that I consider to be helpful for ex-members of cults. Since in this blog, there are many posts on various subjects, I think it will be more convenient to have a separate blog to post information about helpful books, articles, videos, and so on. Of course, I am going to continue this blog as well.

One of the things that attracted me in WordPress is that the blogs there actually combine features of blogs and sites. To me, it seems quite convenient.

The description of the new blog which I published there:

In this blog, I publish information about articles, books, and videos that in my opinion might be helpful for the post-cult recovery (psychological and spiritual) of ex-members of cults, especially, of Bible-based cults (abusive churches and cults of Christianity). Mainly, I consider resources that are available freely in Internet. I hope that this information will be helpful for ex-members of cults in their recovery.

However, I do not encourage anyone to read or watch all these materials uncritically. In my opinion, it is very good to read as much as possible on a certain subject (for example, on the recovery from cults), compare different opinions, and make one’s own conclusions. I think it is especially helpful for ex-cult members in order to recover the ability of independent and critical thinking.

Visitors of this blog are also welcome to visit my blog in Blogger and my site in Google Sites.

I am interested to know the visitors’ opinions and suggestions regarding this blog. Anonymous comments are allowed here (it is not mandatory to fill out name, e-mail, and website in the comment form when you post a comment). However, in order to prevent spam, I have enabled comment moderation, so all the comments will be published after my approval – the same as in my blog in Blogger.

I am not a mental health professional or an ordained Christian minister. I am just an ex-cult member who has some knowledge and experience.

Margaret Singer's Writings Available in Internet

In this post, I am publishing a list of Dr. Margaret Singer's works which are available in Internet. I think her works are helpful for ex-members of cults. Since Rick Ross's website ( does not work now, I am posting links to Google cached copies of the documents from his website.

1. Excerpts from Cults in Our Midst:
1) From Introduction
2) From Chapter 3 (Google cache)
3) From Chapter 6 (Google cache)
4) From Chapter 7 (Google cache)
5) From Chapter 11 and part 1 of Chapter 12 (Google cache)
6) Part 2 of Chapter 12 (Google cache)
7) Part 3 of Chapter 12 (Google cache)

2. Articles, Lectures, and Interviews
1) Coming Out of the Cults (Google cache)
2) Mental Health Issues (Google cache)
3) The "Not Me" Myth: Orwell and the Mind (Google cache)
4) An interview with Margaret Singer on Undue Influence (Google cache)
5) Coercive Persuasion and the Problems of Ex-Cult Members (Google cache)
6) Group Psychodynamics and Cults (Google cache)
7) How the United States Marine Corps Differs from Cults (Google cache)
8) Thought Reform Programs and the Production of Psychiatric Casualties (Google cache)
9) Intruding into the Workplace (Google cache)
10) Coping with Post-Cult Trauma
11) Issues in Diagnosis and Treatment of Cult Victims
12) Margaret Singer's Interview on Heavenly Gates - Part 1
13) Margaret Singer's Interview on Heavenly Gates - Part 2
14) Margaret Singer's Interview on Heavenly Gates - Part 3
15) Six Conditions for Thought Reform
16) Thought Reform Exists: Organized, Programmatic Influence
17) Excerpts from "Crazy" Therapies: What Are They? Do They Work?
18) Undue Influence and Written Documents: Psychological Aspects
19) Book Review of Churches that Abuse
20) Attacks on Peripheral versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact of Thought Reforming Techniques

3. Materials based on Margaret Singer's writings
1) Post-Cult After Effects
2) Coercive Influence Continuum
3) Some Persuasion Techniques Used by Cults
4) Coercive Mind Control Tactics
5) How Thought Reform Works
6) Common Questions and Answers on Mind Control
7) Conditions for Mind Control

4. Videos
1) Recovery from Cults
2) Margaret Singer's Interview on Falun Gong - Part 1
3) Margaret Singer's Interview on Falun Gong - Part 2

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

How Long Does It Take To Recover from Cults?

Somehow, many people believe that it takes many years to completely recover from cult mind control. Some ex-cult members who left cults 20 or more years ago say that they are still recovering. It seems that a number of people believe that if a person was involved in a cult, it will take practically the whole life to recover and that it will take much counseling and therapy.

In Cults in Our Midst, chapter 12, Margaret Singer writes:
Not all former cult members encounter all the problems listed on Table 12.1, nor do most have them in severe and extended form. Some individuals need only a few months to get themselves going again. After encountering some adjustment problems to life outside the cult, they make rather rapid and undeventful reintegrations into everyday life. Generally, however, it takes individuals anywhere from six to twenty-four months to get their lives functioning again at a level commensurate with their histories and talents. Even then, however, theat functioning may not reflect what is still going on insed them. Many are still sorting out the conflicts and harms that grew out their cult experience long after two years have gone by. Each former member wrestles with a number of problems. Some need more time than others to resolve all the issues they face, and a few never get their lives going again.

Then, she wrote:
Coming out of the cult pseudo-personality is about reeducation and growth. Self-help through reading can be invaluable for those who live far from knowledgeable resources such as exit-counselors, cult information specialists, former member support groups, and mental health professionals.

According to Margaret Singer, the time of recovery depends on the person. She did not write about 20 years or longer. Instead, she wrote about several months, 2 years or longer. In addition, she did not write that is is necessary to get a counseling or a therapy in order to recover.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Book on Post-Cult Recovery

For quite a long time, I tried to find something like a textbook on the post-cult recovery. Most books on cults are mainly focused on the cult involvement and only in the end there are some recommendations on the cult recovery. Well, the Bible says: "Seek and you will find." Yesterday, I found Recovery from Abusive Groups by Wendy Ford. This book is a handbook on the cult recovery - both for ex-cult members and their families. In my opinion, this is a very helpful book for ex-cult members. Actually, I found some new things for myself there that I even did not think about.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Myths about Post-Cult Recovery

In the article Dispelling the Myths: The Psychological Consequences of Cultic Involvement, Dr. Paul R. Martin writes about six myths concerning cultic involvement. Here I will write down these myths with my comments. In this article, Martin uses the word "cult" mainly for denoting Bible-based cults, that is, mind controlling groups that use the Bible (abusive churches and cults of Christianity).

MYTH ONE: Ex-cult members do not have psychological problems. Their problems are wholly spiritual.

Many Christians and ex-members of Bible-based cults believe in this concept. I agree with Martin that this is wrong. Many ex-members of Bible-based cults have both psychological and spiritual problems. Ex-members of various cults have similar psychological problems regardless of their belief system and whether the cult is religious or not. This is because the psychological damage is caused by the wrong practices of these groups (mind control and authoritarianism) and not by the obviously heretical teachings.

MYTH TWO: Ex-cult members do have psychological disorders. But these people have come from clearly non-Christian cults.

Writing about this myth, Martin mentions Flavil Yeakley's study. Yeakley found out that members of mind-controlling groups have similar changes of personality types regardless of their beliefs. Members of benign Christian churches do not have these changes. Probably, it is quite remarkable that members of ICC have these changes while members of mainline churches of Christ do not because both groups have similar doctrines, but different practices. Changes of personality types indicate undue psychological influence and, according to Martin, can be considered as psychological damage.

Members of Christian groups (and not only cults) may have psychological disorders. Christians are not protected from physical and psychological problems.

MYTH THREE: Both Christian and non-Christian groups can produce problems, but all of the people involved in the groups must have had prior psychological hang-ups that would have surfaced regardless of what group they joined.

I agree with Martin that both people who have psychological problems and those who do not can be recruited into cults. This is because people do not join cults by their own desire. Cults seek for the potential new recruits and recruit them, using deception. Cults also use deception and psychological manipulations (mind control) in order to keep people in cults.

MYTH FOUR: While normal unbelievers may get involved with cults, born-again believers will not. And even if they did, their involvement would not affect them so negatively.

Unfortunately, there are many born-again Christians who get involved in cults. God does not work in a miraculous way to prevent born-again Christians from getting involved in cults. God allows born-again Christians to suffer, to be sick, and to die. He does not rescue them miraculously from all the common human problems. In the same way, God allows born-again Christians to be recruited into cults and to suffer damage from the cult involvement.

MYTH FIVE: Christians can and do get involved in these aberrational groups and they can get hurt emotionally. But all they really need is some good Bible teaching and a warm, caring Christian fellowship and they will be fine.

Of course, reading and studying the Bible is very helpful. However, it may be not sufficient in order to deal with the specific psychological problems caused by cults. Also, many ex-members abhor the Bible and Christianity and turn away from any Christian fellowship because of their negative experience in cults. So, they need other means to deal with their specific problems. God does not always work in miraculous ways to heal physical and psychological diseases. He works through doctors and medicines which are also His provision. The same is with healing psychological and spiritual wounds caused by cults.

MYTH SIX: Perhaps the best way for these ex-members to receive help is to see a professional therapist such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health counselor

What Martin means here is that this therapist should be familiar with specific cult problems. So, ex-members should seek not just any therapist, but the one who is a cult expert. In a sense, it looks quite logical that a therapist should have special knowledges in the realm where his or her clients have problems.

Also, in another post, I quoted Enroth who says that ex-members of abusive churches should seek a therapist who is a Christian because he or she can understand their spiritual experience better. Again, this looks logical that Christians can get better help from those who are Christians themselves because Christians can easily understand Christians than non-Christians can understand Christians.

However, here there are several problems:
1. There are very few therapists who are also cult experts and Christians besides Martin himself.
2. In my opinion, not all the ex-members of cults need a therapist. Some can do quite well without any therapy. It depends. Sometimes, therapy may be even more harmful than helpful, for example, in some cases, the information about the possible post-cult symptoms can become a suggestion that causes these symptoms.
3. There are no proofs that therapy by a cult expert is more helpful than therapy by a common therapist. Again, it may depend. Ex-members may be helped by therapists who are not cult experts.

In this point, I disagree with Martin because I do not believe that all the ex-members need psychological counseling. According to Margaret Singer, ex-members of cults can get help from the literature about cults and mind control and from support of other ex-members. Therapy is not the only way for the post-cult recovery.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spiritual Recovery and Religious Freedom

In my opinion, it may be not so easy to clearly define what is spiritual recovery and what person can be considered as spiritually recovered.

I live in Russia. Although according to Russian Constitution there is no state religion and all the religions are equal, it is not really so. There is so called traditional religion for Russians which is Russian Orthodox Church. Most religious people in Russia (more than 75 percent) belong to this church. There is a very strong pressure in society that "if you are Russian, you have to be a member of Russian Orthodox Church" (or an atheist, but not a member of any other religious group).

In Russia, there are a number of rehabilitation centers for former members of cults that have a purpose to convert them into Russian Orthodox Church. In these centers, priests of Russian Orthodox Church and some psychologists work together to do so. According to their definition, a recovered ex-member of a cult is the one who is an active member of Russian Orthodox Church.

Since, as far as I know, most readers of my blog are not members of Russian Orthodox Church, they will disagree with this definition. I disagree as well. Actually, I never wanted to be a member of that church. I preferred and prefer evangelicalism. However, there are not so many evangelicals in Russia, only about 1 percent of the total population. They are definitely a religious minority.

Some national minorities in Russia are ethnic Muslims. So, there are about 10 to 15 percents Muslims among the population of Russia. For example, Islam is traditional religion for Chechens. Actually, as far as I know, there is even more heavy pressure on Chechens to become Muslims than on Russians to become members of Russian Orthodox Church. In Chechnya, people are required to keep some Muslim rules. Once, in a Chechen forum, I wrote about my Chechen ancestors. The first question they asked me was: "Are you a Muslim?" Again, there is the same principle of traditional religion: "If you are Chechen, you should be a Muslim."

I guess that most readers of my blog will agree that, having a mixed Russian and Chechen background, I do not need to become either a member of Russian Orthodox Church or a Muslim in order to be considered recovered from a cult and that I can be an evangelical. However, the problem is that a number of evangelicals consider that a person who is recovered from a cult, at least, from a Bible-based cult (a cult of Christianity or an abusive church), should be an evangelical. By the way, many Russian evangelicals think this way as well.

I think here there is some conflict between spiritual recovery and religious freedom. Well, I am completely for religious freedom. I believe that anyone can choose any religion or be an atheist. Can an ex-member of a cult make this choice or is he/she limited in his/her choice? I think an ex-member of a cult as well as any other person can choose any religion or atheism. This means that he or she can choose any other religion and leave Christianity completely or he/she can choose to be an atheist.

There is also another question. Does an ex-member of a cult need to come back to the same religious system that he or she had before joining a cult? For example, a person was a Christian. Then, he or she joined a cult. Does he or she need to become a Christian after leaving or he/she can become, for example, a Buddhist or an atheist? I think this person has a right to become a Buddhist or an atheist.

Then, there is a problem what is spiritual recovery at all. In my opinion, spiritual recovery is getting rid of the spiritual problems that are caused by the cult involvement and that frustrate spiritual quest and spiritual progress. For example, an ex-member of a cult may reject God because he or she was spiritually abused. He/she may still feel a need in God, but turn away from God because of memory of spiritual abuse. On the other hand, an ex-member may get rid of all the negative feeling toward God, but because of some philosophical reasons decide to choose atheism. These two situations are different, though they may look similar outwardly. I think that the first person needs spiritual recovery while the second one does not need.

The point is that not all the people who change their belief system, do that because of mind control or spiritual abuse. People do that because of various reasons, and these reasons may be completely philosophical and have nothing to do with any abuse or trauma.

For example, once, I read about a German who was a Christian, then, became a Jew, and later became a Muslim. As far as I understand, she was not in any cult. Just, being a Christian, she did not agree with the Christian concept of God (the Trinity). She became a Jew, but she did not like that Jews reject Jesus. Then, she contacted her neighbors Muslims and came to conclusion that Islam matches her concept of God (Muslims consider Jesus as a prophet and believe in one God, but deny the Trinity). So, her reasons of changing religions were philosophical. They were not caused by some experience of abuse.

So, I think a person needs spiritual recovery if he or she has some spiritual problems caused by the cult involvement that frustrate his/her spiritual life. However, any person, including an ex-member of a cult, may choose any religion or atheism and may change his/her religious system at any time. I think this is a distinction between spiritual recovery and religious freedom.

Distinction between Psychological and Spiritual Recovery

In the matter of post-cult recovery, I prefer to make a distinction of psychological recovery and spiritual recovery, though I know that many people do not make this distinction. The purpose of the psychological recovery is to get rid of the psychological damage caused by the cult involvement, while the purpose of the spiritual recovery is to get rid of the spiritual damage caused by the cult involvement.

To some extent, they interrelated. For example, an ex-member of a Bible-based cult left after traumatic experience. On the one hand, he or she may have (or may not have) depression or other symptoms of trauma. This is psychological damage that requires psychological recovery, for example, psychological counseling. On the other hand, the same experience may cause this person to completely turn away from God because of the memory of that trauma. This is a spiritual damage and it may require spiritual counseling. Non-Christian therapists will see no problem with a former Christian who became an atheist. The spiritual counseling may be get either from a pastor or from a Christian therapist.

However, since the same experience cause both psychological and spiritual damage, psychological and spiritual recovery will affect one another. When the memory of trauma fades, it can also cause two results. On the one hand, the person will be less depressed. On the other hand, he or she may become more positive to God. In this case, psychological and spiritual recovery may go together. There are also other cases, fore example, distrust to God and people as the result of feeling betrayed.

However, I think it is still better to distinguish psychological and spiritual recovery. For example, a former member of a Bible-based cult may have no psychological problems and thus be recovered psychologically. However, he or she still may reject God and be angry at God, though he or she was a Christian before joining a cult. Thus, this person is not recovered spiritually. On the other hand, an ex-member of a Bible-based cult may be a devoted Christian, that is, be recovered spiritually, but still have psychological problems, that is, be not recovered psychologically.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Some Aspects of the Spiritual Recovery

In Recovering from Churches that Abuse, chapter 3, (pp. 32,33) Ronald Enroth describes Wellspring program. As far as I understand, most part of this description is based on Paul R. Martin, Cult-Proofing Your Kids (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), though Enroth also quotes Peter Sommer, "High Pressure Christian Groups: The Broken Promise," unpublished paper, 1992 and personal correspondence with Stephen Martin. In my opinion, it is also interesting to compare it with Paul R. Martin, "Post-Cult Recovery: Assessment and Rehabilitation," in Recovery from Cults, ed. Michael D. Langone (New York: W. W. Norton, 1993) because there Paul Martin describes Wellspring program in a more detailed way.

Wellspring program is a combination of psychological and spiritual counselings. In this post, I am going to consider only the spiritual side of this program.

In Recovering from Churches that Abuse, chapter 3, (pp. 32,33) Ronald Enroth writes:
The first stage also must address the doctrines of the abusive church. It is important to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings. Most of the churches mentioned in this book are theologically orthodox, although nearly all would be guilty of distorting the Bible's message in some way. Peter Sommer observes, "These groups are rarely heretical in theory. They don't deny Christian basics; they tend to brush by them. Instead they focus on what makes them different from other churches or groups. They have lots of teaching, but it tends to be on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."

Stephen Martin, a staff member at Wellspring, considers instruction in sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible important. In abusive groups, twisted hermeneutics are often used to instill fear and guilt and thus become a form of spiritual intimidation. "Since leaders of abusive churches typically twist the Scriptures, education in hermeneutics would help the ex-member gain the right perspective on Scripture passages. In talking with former members at Wellspring, I have found a number of them who have difficulty with or even an aversion to reading the Bible because it has been misused by the group to abuse them. Learning the proper application and interpretation of Scripture goes a long way toward healing the wounds of abuse."

Sommer advises, "It may be wise not to read Scriptures that the group has emphasized; their interpretation may be deeply grooved into your thinking. Read instead the many texts that they did not teach you." I suggest that these people attempt to rediscover God's Word through the Psalms because those writings validate a person's individual spiritual life. Paul Martin feels it is wise for victims to use a different translation of the Bible from that commonly used in the group.

This section mainly deals with doctrinal matters and the Bible. It contains several recommendations:
1. Ex-members should "examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings." These unorthodox teachings are focused "on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."
2. Ex-members should learn "sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible."
3. Ex-members should avoid reading the texts that the group emphasized and use a different translation of the Bible.

Then, regarding the second stage, Enroth writes:
The abusive church experience is often a crisis of faith, as Paul Martin and others have pointed out. Victims must be able not only to rebuild self-esteem and purpose in life, but also renew a personal relationship with God. That can be difficult for those who have yet to resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" As Rachel, one former church member, puts it, "I had been taught that nothing was ever God's fault. The problem was that I was a true, believing Christian, but when I asked God for spiritual bread and water, look what I got. Was I praying to the wrong God? Was I dishonest? Secretly evil? Was I demonic, like the church kept telling me I was? How could an honest, sincere believer get tricked like this? How could God let this happen?"

People like Colleen and Rachel need the assurance that it is possible to have a rich relationship with God. In Sommer's words, the victim must be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him. Your break with the group is a step of obedience to the first commandment: No graven images!"

This section deals with the restoration of personal relationship with God. Here, there are two main points:
1. Ex-member should 'resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?"'
2. Ex-member should 'be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him."'

Abusive churches have a distorted image of God because they actually present Him as a very cruel and harsh God, not a loving and merciful God from the Bible. In my opinion, the turning from the distorted image of God follows refutation of specific abusive teachings of the abusive church. However, the question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" may not be so easy to answer. Actually, this question involves the theological problem called Theodicy.

Mainly, this is the question why God allows the evil things to exist. This question can be put into the following way:
1. God is omnipotent.
2. God is loving.
3. There is evil in the world.
4. If God is omnipotent, He is able to destroy evil. However, He does not.
5. If God is loving, He does not want people to suffer. However, people suffer.
6. So, proposed logical solution is that either God is not omnipotent or He is not loving.

Actually, this question cannot be completely solved in the logical way, though there were many attempts to solve it. I think the main reason for that is that God is much higher than a human being and there are many things about God that we cannot fully understand. Some other examples are the Trinity (God is one and three in the same time) and also God's predestination and human free will.

Regarding the question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" I think everyone should seek his or her own answer to it. My personal answer to this question is that through the cult experience we can learn something and then, after our own recovery and learning about what happened with us, we gain ability to understand others who had similar experience, sympathize with them, and help them.

Since I do not have English version of Recovery from Cults, I will just retell what Paul Martin writes there about spiritual recovery. There, he puts the main points of spiritual recovery into steps 2 and 3 of the recovery.

1. Requests for information
Ex-members have many questions regarding their group, the Bible, religion, and philosophy. However, if the new church or pastor reminds them their old church or pastor, it can be traumatic for them. So, Paul Martin advices to use another translation of the Bible and find the pastor and the church that contrast the previous ones.

2. Re-opening the gospel
Ex-members should re-open the gospel of the New Testament. Abusive churches tend to somehow distort some aspects of the gospel. These groups tend to consider themselves as genuine Christians, but their definition of what it means to be a Christian is not adequate. Then, Paul Martin gives his definition of what it means to be a Christian. According to his definition, Christian groups recognize, clearly express and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. They hold the main teaching of the church and believe in the authority of the Bible. However, cultic groups lose something regarding recognition, clear expression and demonstration the Gospel.

Many of these groups publicly declare sound doctrines and the most part of distortion is done in the inner circle. Here the leader reveals his own understanding and practice that he is able to justify because he says that the world is unable to understand them, but due to his own spiritual progress he is able to understand and apply these hidden mysteries. In this way, the leader tells the members that they can become a part of this inner circle of more enlightened and more spiritual people.

Some groups like ICC do not have obvious doctrinal deviations, but their authority structure emphasizes unquestioned submission to the leaders in all the areas of life that goes beyond commonly accepted biblical authority.

Many cultic groups believe in most of orthodox, fundamental, and evangelical doctrines. However, they live according to unbiblical standards imposed by the leader. These standards are often changed that creates destabilized environment and makes members more dependent on their leader.

Through the biblical gospel, ex-members regain the meaning of their life and self-respect. Paul Martin concludes this section, repeating the words of H. Bussel and Walter Martin that the clear understanding of the gospel is the most important point in ex-cultist recovery and immunity against getting involved in cults in the future.

I agree with Paul Martin that Bible-based cults distort the Bible in some ways (for example, teaching about submission to the leaders, consecration to the group, and separation from the world) and that ex-members should learn what the Bible really teaches. However, I do not agree with two points here. First, his definition that "Christian groups recognize, clearly express and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ" is actually quite vague and disputed. Many Bible-based cults may say that they do the same.

Second, I do not agree that "the clear understanding of the gospel is the most important point in ex-cultist recovery and immunity against getting involved in cults in the future." The problem is that there are Christians who get involved into Bible-based cults even after getting a degree in theology and having an experience of Christian ministry. Cults use deception in recruiting and in the beginning they teach only the orthodox doctrines. Also, many groups do not have obviously deviant doctrines. Martin himself writes about that in this section. So, just the knowledge of the orthodox doctrines is not sufficient. It is necessary to know how cults recruit and keep their members - the methods of mind control and deception.

3. Personality and religion
Cults often teach black and white thinking, emphasizing the Christ's commandments to "deny yourself" and "reject everything." For many recovering ex-members, the understanding of Christ's words is an urgent need. Ex-members who want to be Christians may ask whether God really requires limited version of our "selves". Why did He create us with all the rich talents, interests, and temperaments only to tell us that this all is evil? Is it impossible that they can be used for God's glory and kingdom? Is it possible for us to be received by God on the basis of our good works? Is it possible for us to reject everything, deny ourselves, take the cross, and have higher righteousness than Pharisees by fulfilling strict requirements? A recovering ex-cultist may ask like Peter after the rich man left: "Who then can be saved?" Christ answered: "It is impossible with men, but everything is possible with God."

The healthy spiritual life is distorted without realization of the two things. First, it is impossible to reconcile with God without His eternal unconditional love and His desire. Second, we should acknowledge ourselves. God does not require us to lose our talents and personalities in order to be accepted by Him. The act of mercy creates two miracles: love toward God and love toward oneself. Clarification of what is "self" and that God receives and strengthens people helps to focus on career, education, and problems of one's own identity.

I think it is a very good point.

How to Distinguish between Healthy and Unhealthy Churches

Rereading Ronald Enroth's Recovering from Churches that Abuse, I found an interesting material in chapter 1 (pp. 13-15) on how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy churches. The questions are from LaVonne Neff, "Evaluating Cults and New Religions," in A Guide to Cults and New Religions, ed. Ron Enroth et al (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1983). The comments were written by Enroth. I added my own comments after his comments.

1. Does a member's personality generally become stronger, happier, more confident as a result of contact with the group?

In an abusive church, the use of guilt, fear, and intimidation to control members is likely to produce members who have a low self-image, who feel beaten down by legalism, who have been taught that asserting oneself is not spiritual. A leader in one group mentioned in this book used to tell members, "God never meant for you to be happy in this life." This is not to say that all members of authoritarian churches are unhappy, guilt-ridden people. However, one of the first disturbing characteristics to be reported by relatives and friends of members of these churches is a noticeable change in personality, usually in a negative direction.

I agree that cults and abusive churches use guilt, fear, and intimidation and that the members lose their self-confidence. However, they still can feel quite happy because they believe that they were specially chosen by God, they are a part of "elite" and have a great mission in their life. Also, since cults use some emotional manipulations and trance-inductive techniques, members can feel very happy at some times.

2. Do members of the group seek to strengthen their family commitments?

Nearly all unhealthy churches attempt to minimize commitments to family, especially parents. Young people may be told that they now have a new "spiritual" family, complete with leaders who will "re-parent" them. Church loyalty is seen as paramount, and family commitments are discouraged or viewed as impediments to spiritual advancement.

There are cults and abusive churches that attempt to minimize commitment and contacts with family. However, there are also cults that have a goal to recruit the whole families. Then, they, of course, pretend that they care for members' families - in order to recruit them.

3. Does the group encourage independent thinking and the development of discernment skills?

Control-oriented leaders attempt to dictate what members think, although the process is so spiritualized that members usually do not realize what is going on. A pastor or leader is viewed as God's mouthpiece, and in varying degrees a member's decision making and ability to think for oneself are swallowed up by the group. Pressure to conform and low tolerance for questioning make it difficult to be truly discerning.

Cults and abusive churches suppress independent thinking. In religious groups, of course, the leaders use spiritual terminology to promote submission and conformity. In non-religious groups, they use different ways. However, the result is similar.

4. Does the group allow for individual differences of belief and behavior, particularly on issues of secondary importance?

A legalistic emphasis on keeping rules and a focus on the need to stay within prescribed boundaries is always present in unhealthy spiritual environments. Lifestyle rigidity in such groups increases a member's guilt feelings and contributes to spiritual bondage. This rigidity is often coupled with an emphasis on beliefs that would not receive great attention in mainstream evangelicalism.

Cults and abusive churches require conformity to the group rules and do not tolerate any differences of belief and behavior.

5. Does the group encourage high moral standards both among members and between members and nonmembers?

In intense, legalistic churches and religious organizations, the official, public proclamations usually place special value on high moral standards. In some instances, however, there is a double standard between those in leadership and those in the rank-and-file membership. For example, abusive churches tend to have incidents of sexual misconduct more often than most conventional churches; leaders sometimes exhibit an obsessive interest in sexuality. Unhealthy relationships and confused thinking often result for the members.

Double standards are quite common in cults and abusive churches. For example, usually, leaders expect members to be honest with them, but encourage them to lie to potential recruits about their group.

6. Does the group's leadership invite dialogue, advice, and evaluation from outside its immediate circle?

Authoritarian pastors are usually threatened by any expression of diverse opinions, whether from inside or outside the group. Displaying an attitude of spiritual superiority, they will reject any invitation to genuine dialogue and will often make a conscious effort to limit influence from outside the church. When outside speakers are given access to the pulpit, they are carefully selected to minimize any threat to the leadership's agenda. Coercive pastors are fiercely independent and do not function well in a structure of accountability. For the sake of public relations, they may boast that they are accountable to a board of some sort, when in actuality the board is composed of "yes-men" who do not question the leader's authority.

Leaders of cults and abusive churches usually attempt to restrict the members' access to critical information about their group. Instead of an open dialogue with the outward critics, they attempt to suppress the criticism. The same is true when a member expresses disagreements. The leaders make them feel that there is something wrong with the critics, not with the leaders or the group. Also, the leaders try to isolate inside critics from other members, for example, through excommunication of critics and prohibition for other members to contact them.

7. Does the group allow for development in theological beliefs?

Another hallmark of an authoritarian church is its intolerance of any belief system different from its own. I am not referring to clearly heretical teachings and doctrines that contradict the historic Christian faith as it is expressed, for example, in the Apostles' Creed. Indeed, abusive churches are usually very orthodox in their basic beliefs. The problem is that pastors in such groups are likely to denounce and discredit other Christians' beliefs and their expression of them. Authoritarian pastors tend to be spiritually ethnocentric-that is, they tend to measure and evaluate all forms of Christian spirituality according to their own carefully prescribed system, adopting an "us-versus-them" mentality.

Bible-based abusive groups may be either quite orthodox or have deviations from orthodox Christian doctrines. However, probably, the common point is their "us-versus-them" mentality. They consider their group to be a kind of spiritual "elite" and blame other Christian churches for the lack of spirituality.

8. Are group members encouraged to ask hard questions of any kind?

A cardinal rule of abusive systems is "Don't ask questions, don't make waves." A healthy pastor welcomes even tough questions. In an unhealthy church, disagreement with the pastor is considered disloyalty and is tantamount to disobeying God. People who repeatedly question the system are labeled rebellious, unteachable, or disharmonious to the body of Christ. Persistent questioners may face sanctions of some kind such as being publicly ridiculed, shunned, shamed, humiliated, or disfellowshiped.

Cult leaders hate hard questions. Instead of answering questions, they make people who ask them feel that their questions indicate that there is something wrong with them.

9. Do members appreciate truth wherever it is found, even if it is outside their group?

Whether they admit it or not, abusive churches tend to view themselves as spiritually superior to other Christian groups. This religious elitism allows little room for outside influences. There can be no compromise with external sources, who, the leadership will really don't understand what is going on in the ministry anyway. The only way to succeed in an abusive organization is to go along with the agenda, support the leadership, ignore or remove troublemakers, and scorn detractors and other outside critics who seek to attack the ministry.

Bible-based cult leaders require their members to separate themselves from other churches. They do not want any outward influence on their group, especially, other teachings.

10. Is the group honest in dealing with nonmembers, especially as it tries to win them to the group?

Sometimes abusive groups illustrate what I call "split-level religion." There is one level for public presentation and another for the inner circle of membership. The former is a carefully crafted public relations effort, the latter a reality level experienced only by the "true believers." Recruitment tactics are usually intense; even if they are not actually deceptive or fraudulent, they can be manipulative or exploitive. Sometimes high-pressure religious groups are evasive about their true identity: "We really don't have a name; we're just Christians." A healthy Christian group should have no qualms about revealing who it is and what its intentions are.

This is quite remarkable that many abusive groups say: "We really don't have a name; we're just Christians." This is a way to hide their real identity.

11. Does the group foster relationships and connections with the larger society that are more than self-serving?

Sometimes it is difficult to discern the motives of a pastor or church group upon the first encounter. As in all of life, first impressions are not always correct. Sustained contact with an unhealthy church, however, will usually reveal a pattern that is consistent with the characteristics we have identified. Members will be requested to serve, to become involved, to sign up for a variety of activities that, upon closer inspection, appear designed to maintain the system and serve the needs of the leadership. Abusive churches thrive on creative tactics that promote dependency. Emphasizing obedience and submission to leaders, these churches often require a level of service that is overwhelming to members, resulting in emotional turmoil and spiritual breakdowns. Instead of serving God and their neighbors, members are robbed of relationships with family and friends, which hinders rather than nurtures their emotional and spiritual development.

In Bible-based cults, members may believe that they genuinely serve God. However, they are required to be fully obedient and submissive to the leaders in their service. This point indicated that they actually serve the leaders and not God.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can Cult Recovery Be Put into a Scheme?

Some people are trying to put cult recovery into a certain scheme. One of them is Lawrence Wollersheim, a former Scientologist, a co-founder and former executive director of anti-cult Factnet website, and executive director of New Age "Integrative Spirituality" website (a number of people consider that this New Age group is a mind-controlling cult).

Wollersheim wrote two versions of cult recovery schemes that he promotes in Factnet. The first version contains five steps, the second version contains seven steps.

Well, I disagree with the idea that cult recovery can be put into a definite scheme. Everyone is different, and everyone's experience of cult recovery is different because it depends on many factors such as pre-cult and cult experience, individual traits, and so on. In principle, Wollersheim can define some principles of his cult recovery, but it will be only his own experience.

Regarding his 5 steps, I am aware of his lawsuits against Scientology (step 3). However, I do not think that every ex-member has to sue his or her former cult. Moreover, this step may lead to unsuccessful lawsuits that can cause the cult's legal actions in turn and depression that will not help in the cult recovery at all.

Then, regarding getting specialized therapy (step 2), I do not think that all the former members need it as I wrote many times in my blog.

Regarding joining anti-cult activism (step 5), as I wrote in another post, there are some dangers when people join it soon after leaving their cults. Also, I do not think that all the ex-members of cults have to join this activity at all. I am not sure that this activity really helps in the cult recovery.

Then, regarding spiritual quest (step 4), again, I am not sure that it is absolutely necessary for psychological recovery. Well, on the one hand, it can be helpful. On the other hand, I do not think that people who do not have desire for the spiritual quest will never get psychologically recovered.

So, among Wollersheim's 5 steps, I definitely agree only with learning about cults and mind control (step 1).

His 7 steps are completely different. First of all, it is important to mention that he claims that he was "personally mentored" by Dr. Margaret Singer for 20 years as the ground for his expertise. However, this is simply not true. He was not "personally mentored" by Singer. Also, he claims that his 7 steps come from Singer while it is definitely not so. These 7 steps have nothing to do with Margaret Singer. In fact, many of the ideas for these steps (for example, step 6) come from the New Age cult where Wollersheim probably has a high position. So, these steps look like an instruction how to leave one cult in order to join another cult.

Wollersheim claims that he won 9.2 million dollars as a result of his lawsuits against Scientology. However, he always asks for donations for Factnet. Almost 2 years ago, I was quite concerned that a certain cult was using Factnet discussion board and that the only information people were able to read about that cult in Factnet was that cult promotion. I informed Wollersheim about this situation. He did not express any concern at this situation in his reply. His reply was: "Please consider making a significant donation to Factnet to help us cover our operational costs via pay pal. It is a good sign to us when someone is also supporting us financially especially in situations where considerable extra work is being requested." (This is a direct quote from his e-mail). Well, I guess it is a clear indication that he is for money much more than for anti-cult work.

Pavlov's Classifications of Brain Activity

Russian scientist Ivan P. Pavlov (who is famous for his experiments with dogs and bells) said that temperaments depend on the type of the central nervous system. The types of the nervous system depend on three factors:

* Strength of the nervous processes
* Balance of the nervous processes
* Mobility of the nervous processes

There are four types of temperament:

1. Sanguine temperament is characterized by a strong, balanced, and mobile nervous system.
2. Phlegmatic temperament is characterized by a strong, balanced, and inert nervous system.
3. Choleric temperament is characterized by a strong, unbalanced, and mobile nervous system.
4. Melancholic temperament is characterized by a weak, unbalanced, and inert nervous system.

In addition, he used another classification that was based on the activity of cerebral hemispheres and divided people into three types:

1. Thinking type is characterized by predominance of activity of the left cerebral hemisphere.
2. Artistic type is characterized by predominance of activity of the right cerebral hemisphere.
3. Middle type is close to the balance of activities of both cerebral hemispheres with insignificant predominance of one of them.

Considering these classifications, I think that all these differences will somehow affect cult recovery. For example, I belong to the thinking type. I like to think and analyze everything, using my logical abilities. So, what was the most important in my experience of recovery was to get the information and think it over and also to consider about my cult experience. I guess that for the artistic type people it may be different because they have picture-thinking, great emotionality, vivid imagination, and vivid perception of the reality, but they are not very skillful in logical thinking. This means that their way of cult recovery, probably, will be different.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How Do We Get Knowledge?

According to epistemology, there are four main ways of getting knowledge:

1. Empiric knowledge. This is the knowledge obtained through our senses and through experiments.
2. Rational knowledge. This is the knowledge obtained through logical thinking and considerations.
3. Aesthetic knowledge. This kind of knowledge comes from appreciation of beauty of creation and arts.
4. Knowledge gained from authorities. This is knowledge gained from teachers, books, mass media, and so on.

Since modern people have no way to check everything through experiments and logic, they learn most things from authorities. Cult leaders use this fact for recruiting and indoctrination. They present themselves as authorities and people tend to believe them and uncritically take the information gained from them.

After leaving cults, ex-members need to restore their capacity of independent thinking. This means that they need not just to take everything that authorities say, but to use their logic and sometimes their experience to check this information. Of course, it is impossible to check everything. However, I believe that it is necessary to do that in the matters that are important for them.

What is Faith?

Since there are many definitions of faith, first of all, I want to make clear that in this post I will use this word in religious way. There are two kinds of religious faith: objective (the objects of faith) and subjective (the act of believing).

Objective faith includes doctrines of a certain religious system and the contents that an adept of this religious system should believe in, that is, certain concepts of God, mankind, universe, angels, Satan, and so on.

Subjective faith is the person's act of believing. Of course, objective and subjective faith are related because subjective faith is the act of believing in the objects of objective faith.

By the time I left the cult, I completely lost my faith which, of course, means that I lost ability to believe. I know that some other ex-members of mind-controlling Bible-based cults had a similar experience. For quite a long time, I felt disappointed that I was unable to believe without any reasonings and doubts as I used to do. Then, I read something that really encouraged me.

There are two kinds of faith. The first is when you believe just because you follow what somebody tells you to believe. This is the imitative faith, and it is promoted in cults and cultic churches. The second is when you had your own considerations, examined pros and contras, and made your own conclusions. This is the reasonable faith. Actually, the second kind of faith is considered to be higher and more matured.

I realized that I do not want to just follow others. I want to consider and examine everything and make my own conclusions before believing in something. This means that I do not want to have just an imitative faith, but I want to have a reasonable faith.

More about Spiritual Recovery

The more I consider about spiritual recovery, the more I come to conclusion that spiritual recovery as well as psychological recovery are different for different people. All the people are different and have different experiences.

Also, there are some questions regarding what should be considered to be spiritual recovery and how to determine that somebody has recovered spiritually. I guess that it is commonly believed that a spiritually recovered person believes in God, reads the Bible, prays, and goes to church. He or she is supposed to be a member of a church.

On the other hand, the word "recovery" implies that a person is supposed to reach the same spiritual condition that he or she had before joining an abusive church or a cult of Christianity. Then, what about a person who was an atheist before conversion? Does he or she need to become an active member of some Christian church in order to be considered spiritually recovered?

Well, the more I think about these questions, the less I am clear what is the difference between spiritual recovery and after-cult spiritual quest. Is it the same thing or not? I do not know. I guess that if an ex-member of an abusive Christian church becomes interested in Buddhism or another religion, it can be considered to be spiritual quest and not spiritual recovery. But what about an ex-member of a Buddhist cult who becomes interested in Christianity? Is it spiritual recovery or not? I guess Christians will say that it is spiritual recovery, but Buddhists will say that it is not so. So, it seems that the concept of spiritual recovery depends very much on the belief system of the person who defines spiritual recovery.

In order to be objective, I prefer the following definitions. Post-cult psychological recovery is the process that has a purpose to completely eliminate psychological damage caused by the cult. I guess many people will agree with this definition. I think that likewise, post-cult spiritual recovery is the process that has a purpose to completely eliminate spiritual damage caused by the cult.

This means that if a person was an atheist before joining a religious cult, he or she does not need to become a believer in order to be considered spiritually recovered. If a person was not an active member of a church before joining a mind-controlling Bible-based cult, he or she does not need to become an active church member in order to be considered spiritually recovered. For these people, conversion into Christianity or church membership would be spiritual quest or spiritual growth, but not spiritual recovery. This is, of course, just my opinion.

Then, what should be included into spiritual recovery? I think that psychological and spiritual recovery are quite related. For example, many ex-members of Bible-based cults reject God because they had very traumatic experiences in their cults when these experiences were interpreted as God's will. In my opinion, these people should deal with this problem in two ways. On the psychological side, they need to cure their traumas. On the spiritual side, they need to learn that their experiences had nothing to do with the actual will of God. They need to learn what the Bible, not their cult leader, says about God.

Then, many ex-members do not want to read the Bible because this reading reminds them about the doctrines used by cults in order to support their authoritarianism and abuses. Again, they need to learn what the Bible really says and reject these wrong teachings.

Also, many ex-members do not want to go to church because they do not trust other people and because they fear that they will be abused again. I think it is more a matter of psychological recovery - they need to learn to trust people again and learn how to identify manipulative and abusive churches. So, in my opinion, psychological recovery helps in spiritual recovery.

Well, I do not think that if a person is an active church member, he or she is completely recovered psychologically and spiritually. He or she may still have many problems. On the other hand, I do not think that if a person is not an active church member, he or she is not recovered. It depends on many factors.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mind Control Made Easy or How to Become a Cult Leader - Video

A video on mind control techniques with quite a bit of humor. Well, in spite of the humor, this video contains the information on many techniques, used by cults.

Mind Control Made Easy

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Friday, April 3, 2009

Post-cult After Effects: Independent Thinking Difficulties

In the beginning, I will point out again that not all the ex-members of cults and abusive churches experience all the post-cult after effects. It is normal to experience only some of them. If you did not notice that you experienced some post-cult after effects, do not try to find them out in your experience. You may never experience them.

As I wrote in one of the previous posts, I experienced independent thinking difficulties only in religious matters. In this post, I would like to share my experience in dealing with this problem.

Of course, it is good to read Christian literature and listen to sermons in order to learn sound Christian teachings. However, there is one problem. There is still a possibility to take others' words uncritically and think something like: "In the past, I believed in this and that because the pastor of the abusive church told us so. Now, I believe in so and so teachings because my new pastor tells so." In principle, there is not much change. Actually, this new pastor also can be equally abusive and may also distort the Bible.

There is a good biblical principle in Acts 17:10-11 (New King James Version):
Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

These Bereans questioned the teaching of Apostle Paul himself, and Luke, his co-worker and the author of Acts, praised them for that!

Westminster Larger Catechism, question 160, says:
Question 160: What is required of those that hear the Word preached?

Answer: It is required of those that hear the Word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine: What they hear by the Scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the Word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

Again, those who listen sermons are encouraged not just take what they here, but to examine what they hear by the Scripture. Neither the Bible nor Westminster Larger Catechism, highly respected among evangelicals say that Christians should take uncritically everything they hear in sermons. Rather, Christians are encouraged to use the Bible to check what they hear.

Then, how can we know what does the Bible say? By reading the Bible itself and studying it, using hermeneutics in order to interpret it. Personal Bible study is indispensable for Christians, including those who left abusive churches.

There is another problem. It is easy to take uncritically the words of a person who is considered to be a kind of authority or a person who you like. These two points are mentioned among Chialdini's six principles of influence applied to cults by Margaret Singer in Cults in Our Midst, chapter 7:
4. Authority. We have a deep-seated sense of duty to authority figures.
5. Liking. We obey people we like.

4. Authority. If you tend to respect authority, and your cult leader claims superior knowledge, power, and special missions in life, you accept him as an authority.
5. Liking. If you are the object of love bombing and other tactics that surround you, make you feel wanted and loved, and make you like the people in the group, you feel you ought to obey these people.

Actually, I like to consider and compare two or more views of the same matter. I realize that when there are two people who disagree with one another, it is easy to uncritically take the opinion of a person who you like more - just because you like this person and do not like the opponent. However, I prefer to use my logic ability to consider their arguments in order to make my own conclusion who is right. Sometimes, I agree with one of them. Sometimes, I agree with something that one of them says and something what the other says. Sometimes, I have my own opinion that does not match the opinion of neither of them. Of course, my opinion is not the most correct. I do make mistakes. However, I do like to make my own conclusions rather than to uncritically take others' opinions.

Studying the Bible, I prefer to do two things:
1. Apply the hermeneutics principles in order to understand what the verse or paragraph means.
2. Read different Bible commentaries that give different interpretations of this portion and then make my own conclusion which interpretation is better.

Actually, when I study Christian theology, I also like to read what different authors say and consider what teaching is more correct.

I found that this practice not only helped me to know the Bible and Christian theology better, but also helped me to develop my ability to think independently in religious matters and release my mind from the cult indoctrination.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What is a Cult?

This material was written by Jim Moran in his two articles - Character Traits of Aberrational Cultic Groups and What is a Cult? I think it is interesting how he combines theological and sociological definitions.

What is a Cult?

As we consider the definition of what a cult is, we must hold firmly to the conviction that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative Word of God, the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. The claims of Christians and the cults alike must be evaluated in light of the Bible. The founder of the Christian Research Institute (CRI), the late Walter Martin, articulately stated this premise.

    Our standard in examining the beliefs of the new cults is the Bible. It will be the final arbiter in the cults' challenge to Christianity. The Bible declares that certain articles of Christian faith are essential to salvation - namely, the Being and nature of God, the Person and work of Christ, His sacrificial death and bodily resurrection, man's natural condition and opportunity for salvation, the means of salvation, and Christ's ultimate return and reconciliation of all things to the Father. These are the areas we must examine in our journey through the labyrinth of cultic doctrine. Does the group support the doctrine of the trinity of God, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace, and the second coming of Christ? If, upon examining the literature of the group, we find that it denies these essential doctrines, then we must classify it as a cult, seriously at variance with God's Word.1

Walter Martin defines cults and cultism in his books, Martin Speaks Out on the Cults and The New Cults this way:

    By cultism we mean the adherence to major doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity, yet which claim the distinction of either tracing their origin to orthodox sources or of being in essential harmony with those sources. Cultism, in short, is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. A cult, then, is a group of people polarized around someone's interpretation of the Bible and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith....2

    By "cult," we mean a group, religious in nature, which surrounds a leader or a group of teachings which either denies or misinterprets essential biblical doctrines. Most cults have a single leader, or a succession of leaders, who claim to represent God's voice on earth and who claim authority greater than that of the Bible. The cultic teaching claims to be in harmony with the Bible but denies one or more of the cardinal doctrines presented therein.3

Former research associates of Walter Martin, Robert and Gretchen Passantino, set forth this definition of a cult in their book, Answers to the Cultist at Your Door:

    ...we define the general word "cult" to mean a group of religious people who follow teachings and practices that deviate significantly from historic Christianity and the central doctrines of the Bible. A cult is usually founded and led by a single person or a small and "spiritual" elite....We are not using the term "cult" in a derogatory sense, but only as it refers to aberrant teachings and practices - teachings and practices that are not Biblical. Cults either claim to be Christian and Biblical or say that they are at least compatible with Christianity.4

Dave Breese offers this definition of a cult in his book, Know the Marks of Cults:

    A cult is a religious perversion. It is a belief and practice in the world of religion which calls for devotion to a religious view or leader centered in false doctrine. It is an organized heresy. A cult may take many forms, but it is basically a religious movement which distorts or warps orthodox faith to the point where truth becomes perverted into a lie. A cult is impossible to define except against the absolute standard of the teaching of Holy Scripture. When contrasted to biblical truth, a cult is seen to have distinguishing marks by which it can be labeled as being fatally sub-Christian.

In his book The New Cults (Regal Books, 1980), Walter Martin features a list of ten character traits that spell out, in no uncertain terms, the sentiment of Walter Martin and his research staff in regards to cultic activity. Here are some brief excerpts:

    Cults, new as well as old, are usually started by strong and dynamic leaders who are in complete control of their followers. The power such leaders exercise is said to be supernatural and to come from either personal revelation or personal "anointing" from some idea of God....All cults possess some Scripture that is either added to or which replaces the Bible as God's Word....All of the cults we will examine in some way add to or change the Bible....The new cults have rigid standards for membership and accept no members who will not become integrally involved in the group....Those who dare to deviate from the cult's norm are immediately disciplined and, if unrepentant, ostracized completely from the group and its members....The primary prerequisite for becoming an important voice within a cult is, surprisingly, the ability to be a follower. One must obey each and every tenet of the cult and must exemplify, in every way, ideal cult membership. Then and only then is one in a position to rise within the organization....In harmony with Christian theology, the new cults all believe that there is continual, ongoing communication from God....The cults emphasize experience rather than theological reasoning, and new revelation is just one form of new experience....The new cults claim to have truth not available to any other groups or individuals. Usually this new truth is said to be a "restoration" of the "pure" Christianity which was, according to them, corrupted at some time in early church history. With this claim to exclusivity comes a definite aloofness from the rest of the world. The particular cult is the only bastion of truth, and as such is the only haven for truth-seekers. This logically develops to a dangerous state of isolation for the cult....The last major characteristic of the new cults concerns cultic vocabulary. Each cult has an initiate vocabulary by which it describes the truths of its revelation. Sometimes the "in words" of a particular cult are the words of orthodox Christianity, but vested with new meanings....At other times the cult may coin new words or phrases....Although different cult experts would perhaps add to or subtract from the above list of cultic characteristics, we have presented here all of the essential marks which distinguish many of the new cults from the rest of society and from the biblical Christian church. By using these warning signals, we can be prepared to identify and to evangelize these new cults which are springing up continuously in America today (pages 17-21).

Character Traits of Aberrational Cultic Groups

The following characteristics of aberrational cultic groups have been adapted in part, and expanded upon, from a presentation by sociologist Ronald M. Enroth and are typical of many aberrational groups. The character traits outlined here represent such an extreme departure from Scripture that fellowship with groups in which one or more of them are manifested can prove detrimental to one's spiritual well-being. It is noteworthy that even genuine born-again believers, for a variety of reasons, can involve themselves with individual churches, Bible study groups, denominations, cults, and aberrational movements which are characterized by them. When confronting members about the claims of their faith, it may prove helpful to ask them what their own definition of a cult is and then confront them with the conclusions others have come to. The detailed bibliography and further recommended reading substantiates them fully.

The control of the movement is vested in one or more persons who are accountable to no one else but God. These persons are to be considered absolutely above reproach! A system of checks and balances is non-existent. The sole responsibility of interpreting the Bible and the formulation of the group's beliefs and practices rests with them. Leaders and their teachings are never to be questioned. Questioning the group's leader(s) is tantamount to questioning God Himself. God speaks to and through these leaders by means of audible voices, inner leadings, and visions. These leaders may hold titles such as the apostle, bishop, deputy authority, father, mother, oracle, prophet, seer, and so on.

The beliefs and practices of the group will deviate sharply from orthodoxy. The essentials of the faith will be compromised. The nature of God, including that of the Trinity, will be maligned. God is humanized, man is deified, sin is minimized, the Scriptures are ostracized, a different Jesus is publicized, and a very different gospel evangelized. Salvation by grace is compromised. Familiar doctrinal terms may be redefined and new ones invented to support the beliefs and practices of the group. The group's more objectionable beliefs and practices may be veiled from the public eye. Group members may be subjected to immense indoctrination. The group may also prepare and distribute its own printed literature with the intent to propagate their heresy. Only safe reading materials are permitted and recommended to the membership.

The theology of a particular group may dictate following subjective experience over one's own knowledge, negating discernment skills, and placing into doubt the sufficiency of revelation found in the Scriptures. Group members may exalt personal emotion, feelings, enthusiasm, and their experiences over doctrine, creating their own standard of orthodoxy that becomes their sole means to judge others by. Expressions such as anointing, drinking, eating, enjoying, feeling, leading, and touching are taken to extremes and may be commonplace.

The movement believes that it stands head and shoulders above all other existing Christian groups. Some groups believe they represent the whole truth and nothing but the truth - they are the one true church, the only family of God, the only true expression of God and His work on earth today during this age. They believe that they are God's special chosen people. They believe that God will treat them favorably in this age and in the ages to come. No one outside of the group can be saved or expect to receive the full blessings of God that are available only as a member in good standing with the group.

Such groups, encouraged on by leadership, will harshly judge individual Christian churches, denominations, and organizations based upon their own beliefs and practices. Others are considered apostate, divisive, fallen, sectarian, enemies of God, and agents of Satan. One is also expected to suffer loss at the hands of others and must therefore burn all bridges behind them to remain completely faithful to God. This mentality usually results in the destruction of close family ties, existing friendships, previous lifestyles, and activities.

Such groups under controlled leadership develop a persecution complex and are told to expect it from the outside world. Persecution validates the truthfulness of the movement and its own messianic cause. Close family members and others who claim to be Christians are not to be trusted. They are to be thought of as the instruments of Satan who are caught up in the entrapments of this world system. Group members may develop acute cases of paranoia and will learn to size up those who enter their midst.

Group leaders may give excessive advice, care, and love to members to influence their decision- making and to bolster the leader's position of spiritual maturity, authority, and control over the group. Many will join such groups to receive this attention that is regrettably not obtainable elsewhere. In some instances they may welcome such given guidance and control. Members will be taken advantage of under the guise of perceivable spirituality by self-seeking leaders. Leaders may also employ unethical practices of behavior and conduct to gain and retain members.

Group members are expected to conform to certain standards of behavior and appearance. Fear, guilt, and peer pressure may be employed to obtain the desired level of conformity and commitment to the group and its cause. Activities may be structured to bring about desired responses. Loyalty to the group and its cause comes first. Individuality may be severely shunned. One's ability to think independently and clearly may be hampered and one may not be given adequate time to reflect upon what is taught. Weekly meetings and daily activities may leave little time for group members to associate with those outside the movement. Shared religious and social activities of the group will draw its members closer together, resulting in emotional bonding that strengthens the group's hold on its members. This results in the distancing of members from those outside the group. A tightly run communal environment further restricts contact with others and plays an important role in the shaping of one's behavioral pattern and style of living.

Groups may employ fear, guilt, intimidation, public humiliation, harsh language, and may even resort to abusive physical violence to bring and keep their members in line. One's illness may be perceived as the evidence of lack of faith or sinful living. Covenants, loyalty oaths, and pledges of support may be employed by the group and then later brought to light, should one part from the straight and narrow.

Those departing the true church may face hard adjustment elsewhere. They may have been taught, or fear, that leaving the group is tantamount to leaving God, His divine protection, and His favor. They have been programmed to stay in and may feel that they must settle for God's second best elsewhere. Members who have committed many years to the group must leave behind friends, social standing, and perhaps even financial security. Because they have been burned once already they will find it more difficult to trust others, including those in positions of church leadership, their families, and close friends they left behind. They may take with them the teachings of the group they belonged to and it may take many years for ex-members to re-adjust to the world they once left behind.


  1. Walter Martin, The New Cults (Regal: 1980) 15.
  2. Walter Martin, Martin Speaks Out on the Cults (Regal: 1983) 17-18.
  3. Walter Martin, The New Cults 16.
  4. Robert and Gretchen Passantino, Answers to the Cultist at Your Door (Harvest House: 1981) 14.
  5. Dave Breese, Know the Marks of Cults (Victor: 1986) 16.

Dr. Ronald Enroth presented his lecture, Churches on the Fringe, at the 1989 Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism, co-sponsored by Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR) and Mount Carmel Outreach. Enroth's lecture is available in printed form in Contend for the Faith, a collection of papers presented at the conference, edited by Eric Pement of Cornerstone Apologetics Research Team. Enroth's own publication, Churches That Abuse (Zondervan, 1992), based upon his lecture and many years of thorough investigation is highly recommended. Cult Proofing Your Kids by Paul Martin (Zondervan, 1993) provides an excellent analysis of cult involvement. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen (Bethany House, 1991), describes in great detail the methods used by church leaders and others to bring and keep church members under strict control. Case studies presented reveal the significant amount of harm caused as the direct result of spiritual abuse. Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton (Oliver Nelson, 1991), focuses on how people set themselves up for failure and how they can be deceived by spiritually abusive churches and cults.

Actually, Jim Moran meant one particular group, writing these articles. However, many other groups have the same traits. Some groups may have just some of these traits. For example, some abusive churches may have no serious doctrinal deviations from the mainstream Christianity, though they still have practices mentioned here. These articles illustrate the principle that Jim Moran held - both doctrines and practices of the group should be considered.

Ronald Enroth about Wellspring

Ronald M. Enroth in Recovering from Churches that Abuse (in pdf), chapter 2, writes that some ex-members of abusive churches need counseling (p. 21):

Dr. Paul Martin, a Christian psychologist, believes that, although there may be obstacles such as a lack of finances standing in the way, a formal, systematic program of professional counseling is essential. A structured program enables victims of spiritual abuse to have a framework for dealing with their post-departure problems, thereby facilitating the recovery process. However, Martin points out, it is important that the counselor not be a secular mental health professional having a bias against religious beliefs, who would discourage the victim from giving any regard to religion whatsoever.

A Christian counselor is needed, whether a pastor or professional therapist. It must be someone who understands the dynamics of abusive systems and who, in a relationship of trust, can provide the warmth and caring necessary to support the victim. The survivor must be assured of God's unfailing grace and be able, in effect, to rediscover the gospel.

Then, in chapter 3, Enroth describes the rehabilitation program in the Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center (pp. 32-33):

According to Martin, the people he sees at Wellspring usually go through three stages of recovery after leaving a cult or authoritarian church.

The first stage of recovery involves "exit counseling" and confronting denial. Victims will tend to deny their experiences and blame themselves for what happened to them. They need to be shown that they were controlled by very clever, manipulative people.

Learning to trust others in authority without creating a new codependent relationship is one of the first issues that victims of spiritual abuse confront. They need to understand how the control mechanisms that were at work in the church continue to affect them even after they have left. They must experience true acceptance, love, and a sense of belonging. They need to understand what has happened to them emotionally and psychologically.

It is important to help victims experience positive fellowship. The intensity of relationships within an abusive group must be matched by intense relationships in a wholesome setting.

The first stage also must address the doctrines of the abusive church. It is important to examine and carefully refute any unorthodox teachings. Most of the churches mentioned in this book are theologically orthodox, although nearly all would be guilty of distorting the Bible's message in some way. Peter Sommer observes, "These groups are rarely heretical in theory. They don't deny Christian basics; they tend to brush by them. Instead they focus on what makes them different from other churches or groups. They have lots of teaching, but it tends to be on such themes as commitment, submission, and prophecy."

Stephen Martin, a staff member at Wellspring, considers instruction in sound study methods and the interpretation of the Bible important. In abusive groups, twisted hermeneutics are often used to instill fear and guilt and thus become a form of spiritual intimidation. "Since leaders of abusive churches typically twist the Scriptures, education in hermeneutics would help the ex-member gain the right perspective on Scripture passages. In talking with former members at Wellspring, I have found a number of them who have difficulty with or even an aversion to reading the Bible because it has been misused by the group to abuse them. Learning the proper application and interpretation of Scripture goes a long way toward healing the wounds of abuse."

Sommer advises, "It may be wise not to read Scriptures that the group has emphasized; their interpretation may be deeply grooved into your thinking. Read instead the many texts that they did not teach you." I suggest that these people attempt to rediscover God's Word through the Psalms because those writings validate a person's individual spiritual life. Paul Martin feels it is wise for victims to use a different translation of the Bible from that commonly used in the group.

The second stage of recovery from Wellspring's perspective is both a time of grieving and a time for regaining a sense of purpose. Tears will be shed over wasted years, missed opportunities, and severed friendships. It helps to talk about the past. Colleen comments, "Talking to others about what has happened to me has really helped me." Former members need a safe place to tell their story fully and freely, even if they feel confused and embarrassed.

The abusive church experience is often a crisis of faith, as Paul Martin and others have pointed out. Victims must be able not only to rebuild self-esteem and purpose in life, but also renew a personal relationship with God. That can be difficult for those who have yet to resolve the tough question, "Why did God allow this to happen to me when I was sincerely seeking him?" As Rachel, one former church member, puts it, "I had been taught that nothing was ever God's fault. The problem was that I was a true, believing Christian, but when I asked God for spiritual bread and water, look what I got. Was I praying to the wrong God? Was I dishonest? Secretly evil? Was I demonic, like the church kept telling me I was? How could an honest, sincere believer get tricked like this? How could God let this happen?"

People like Colleen and Rachel need the assurance that it is possible to have a rich relationship with God. In Sommer's words, the victim must be turned "to faith in the living God from faith in a distorted image of him. Your break with the group is a step of obedience to the first commandment: No graven images!"

For Wellspring, victims of spiritual abuse have reached the third stage of recovery when they begin to talk less about the past and begin to focus on the future: career pursuits, new relationships, and family. It is a time for picking up the pieces that are worth retrieving from life as it was before the abusive church experience.

Paul Martin describes his experience of retrieval this way: "Without question, parts of me died during those years in this group. I have been able to take the discipline that I learned in the group into my current career. But I constantly try to recover the parts of me that died during that involvement."

One woman tells of her having been forced to discard all her prized record albums of a certain kind of music upon joining the Jesus People USA. During her recovery she searched second-hand shops so she could replace those lost albums. The third stage also means coping with re-socialization and the practical matters which it entails such as managing time and money, relating to public agencies and institutions, learning parenting and other special skills, and adjusting to making decisions for oneself. Establishing credit, preparing a job resume, and even opening a bank account may be new experiences.

Wellspring exists because recovering emotionally, restoring a loving relationship with God, and re-entering society are not easily accomplished on one's own. The accounts in this book reveal how tortuous the path to recovery can be without professional, caring help. The tragedy is that for the victims of spiritual abuse, the options are disappointingly few. Not many programs are especially equipped, as Wellspring is, to treat victims of spiritual abuse. Moreover, the costs can be out of reach for people upon leaving a control-oriented group because they have few financial resources. It is also the case that beyond the sphere of Christian counseling, some psychologists and psychiatrists are biased against all religious beliefs and may encourage clients to rid themselves of all religious entanglements, proverbially throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I think it is quite interesting how they combine psychological and spiritual counseling. There is no contradiction between psychology and theology in their program. In my opinion, a Christian psychologist can understand not only psychological, but also spiritual problems of ex-members of abusive churches. So, I tend to agree with Enroth and Paul Martin that for ex-members of abusive churches a counseling from a Christian psychologist is better than a counseling from an atheist psychologist. Unlike Hassan, Enroth and Martin do not say that this psychologist should be a cult expert.

Then, I agree with Enroth and Stephen Martin that proper Bible study and biblical hermeneutics are important for spiritual recovery. Abusive churches as well as cults of Christianity twist the Bible in order to justify their unbiblical teachings and practices. Probably, all the abusive churches twist the Bible in order to prove their authoritarianism. They emphasize that the spiritual leaders have God's given authority and the members have to submit to them as to God. Another teaching that abusive churches have is the concept that if the members are not submissive enough, not diligent enough, not spiritual enough, not good enough, and so on, God will punish them. In addition, the abuse by the spiritual leaders is presented as God's punishment or God's discipline. This causes members and ex-members of abusive churches to believe that God is cruel. Then, abusive churches often have a teaching that their leader has some new revelation. He is viewed as an apostle or a prophet having a special commission from God for this age. Thus, their church is considered to be unique and the only approved by God. Abusive churches usually require deep commitment and consecration from their members. Their doctrines emphasize commitment to their church in order to fulfill God's will. They encourage members to reject everything that can frustrate their full commitment. Abusive churches usually have many detailed regulations about members' behavior. They tend to be very legalistic. Probably, these doctrines are common in abusive churches and they cause spiritual problems of members and ex-members of abusive churches. They should be refuted through the proper interpretation of the Bible.