Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cults: Mind Control and Heresies

Psychological definitions of cults usually include mind control while theological definitions usually include heresies. Of course, mind control and heresies are completely different things. However, there is a book The Heresy of Mind Control by Stephen Martin . It can be downloaded freely in pdf .

Stephen Martin says that there are two kinds of heresies:
1) heretical doctrines;
2) heretical practices.
He considers mind control techniques as heretical practices and thus he considers mind control to be heresy.

In this book, he actually combines theology and psychology. He follows Lifton's model of thought reform and biblically refutes the abusive and authoritarian teachings and practices of the leaders of abusive churches.

As far as I know, in Wellspring, they prefer Lifton's model. So, there is nothing strange that he chose this model. In my opinion, his usage of Lifton's model might be too stretched which might reflect the usage of this model in Wellspring. Among the mind control models, Lifton's model is probably the most strict and non-stretched. It does not include everything, so there is a temptation to stretch it. On the contrary, Hassan's BITE model and his version of the Three Stages are probably too stretched already.

Since Stephen Martin has a theological education, in his book, there is much more theology than psychology. In my opinion, the way how he refutes the teachings of abusive church leaders is very good.

Actually, I would say that the main idea of this book is: How to be really free in Christ. So, the opposition of mind control is not only freedom of mind, but also freedom in Christ. I agree with that.

In another post I quoted his words from Ronald Enroth's Recovering from Churches that Abuse (p. 32):

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."

Actually, in The Heresy of Mind Control, Stephen Martin does not teach any hermeneutics. In my opinion, it is helpful to combine both things - the refutation of the authoritarian and abusive teachings and the instruction in study methods and the interpretation of the Bible. In my opinion, these two things should go together because there is still a possibility that ex-members of abusive churches can take Stephen Martin's words uncritically as a new ultimate truth - in the same way as they used to take the words of their former leaders. Hermeneutics helps to develop abilities to think independently and critically. A person who knows hermeneutics does not need somebody to interpret him or her the Bible. In my opinion, this is very important for ex-members of abusive churches. However, ex-members also need to reconsider the biblical verses that were twisted in their groups. There are some doctrines that they need to refute. Stephen Martin's book gives good clues to what doctrines should be refuted and what verses should be reconsidered. So, I think it is good to combine his book with hermeneutics.

There are many good books on hermeneutics. In my opinion, the study of hermeneutics as well as independent study of the Bible is very interesting. I posted something about hermeneutics in my blog last December and in my website . Of course, there are many more things that can be said about this subject.

There are different methods of the interpretation of the Bible. I personally prefer so called historic-grammatic aka literal aka normal method. This method is commonly accepted in evangelicalism and, in my opinion, has a number of advantages. This method pays more attention to the text of the Bible itself than other methods. Conclusions about what a Bible verse means are drawn from the Bible itself. The Bible verses are interpreted allegorically only when there is an indication that it should be done so. Thus, the interpretation of the Bible is more objective than when other methods are used. An interpreter first tries to find an answer to the question: "What did this verse mean to the author?" and only then he/she tries to find an answer to the questions: "What does this verse mean now? What does this verse mean to me?" The answers to the second and third questions are based on the answer to the first question. In order to answer this question, the three things are used:
1) linguistics (grammar and lexicology);
2) literature (literature genres of the Bible books);
3) history (historical situation and culture in the biblical times).

Other main methods of the interpretation of the Bible are allegoric (and typological) and theological. The problem of the allegorical method is that the text of the Bible is considered to be an allegory. So, an interpreter uses his/her fantasy and imagination to invent a new meaning of the text. Typological interpretation is different from allegoric interpretation in one point. An interpreter considers that the Bible has two meanings - literal and allegoric. Theological interpretation is when an interpreter has his/her theological system and interprets the Bible according to this system. If a Bible verse contradicts this system, it is reinterpreted in order to match this system. Both allegoric and theological interpretations can be easily used to twist the Bible and they are actually often used this way in abusive churches and Bible-based cults.

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