How to stop evangelism and other cults
Posted: 09 March 2008 01:08 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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It is important to understand that, in the spread of any cult, it is not the message that hooks people, it is the method of delivery. The message, dogma, or memeset of a particular cult is only instilled through indoctrination after the initial hook has been implanted and the veracity, provability, or complete stupidity and the goodness or evilness of the message has no bearing on how easily people are recruited.

What is this hook? It is what one book (appropriately titled “Snapping”) calls the “snapping” experience. It has been found that we do not have the kind of free will we would all like to believe we have. People are suggestible, even those with the strongest wills, and suggestibility increases under certain circumstances, which seem to involve either a significant excess or deficit of sensory input and/or emotional intensity.

In Sargant’s book “Battle For The Mind” he describes how the guy who started the methodist church converted thousands of people simply by preaching fire and brimstone. The intense fear/anger made his audience suggestible.

Many of these are “mind-stilling” techniques, that suspend your normal thought process to create an experience. People are sucked into hare krishna cults by the “snapping” experience brought on by chanting. People (including highly educated rational-thinking intellectuals who participate to prove it’s BS) are “possessed” by voodoo spirits in vood drum/dancing rituals. People “become one with the universe” through meditation. People “feel the power of jeeezus” by submitting their will to him. The techniques of scientology have similar roots and effects. Another area was “self-improvement” groups especially prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s which used many of these techniques. Sargant, who studied WW II soldiers, also found that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has its roots in the same place.

These things and other recruiting methods all utilize natural features of the human mind that all healthy human beings possess. That is to say, unless you are mentally ill, you too are susceptible to these mind-control techniques. The effect is the same, the heightened suggestibility, which then allows any kind of dogma to be implanted.

Why don’t people just avoid cults like the plague? People go to and find these cults because they are trying to find a “spiritual experience” and others who have had such an experience will swear by it, how deep and meaningful it is and how it has done wonderful things for their lives. Nobody suspects or understands that they have been manipulated, nor do I think those inside the group are even aware that anyone is being manipulated, these are reproducing mind-virii that have been evolving in a competitive environment and so any variations which allow higher recruiting/retention of members get selected for in future generations of the meme.

Anyway, given the recruiting techniques, people will not be innoculated from cults by simple skepticism and rationalism. Instead, I think the answer is to offer a “spiritual experience” that is completely detached from all the subsequent indoctrination, brainwashing, mind-control, and telling people how to live their lives and to believe in ridiculous fairy tale stories. I think something like this can be done. It would need someone with capital or the ability to raise capital, and someone who already has the ears of many people, such as Dawkins or Harris.

An organization that is something like “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or some other similar concept would offer a “spiritual experience” in the form of a service in which the congregation participates. The “services” (a different one offered each week, perhaps) could be any number of these “snapping” techniques, such as chanting or meditating or dancing/drumming, whatever else that people can do to bring on the “snapping” event and which is enjoyable and easy to participate in. Instead of following up with dogma, it’s followed up with something to allow people to come back to reality, (refreshed as many are by their sunday church experience, so I’m told) and mention that whichever imaginary object or magical creature was the focus of today’s service, is truly imaginary and does not really exist.

IMO something like this offers that which people seem to feel a lack of in their lives, and without filling it in with a bunch of superstitious nonsense that destroys lives and societies. With that type of thing available, there may be less need or no need to turn to the dangerous cults, and their influence and virus-like spread could be halted or reversed.

The two books I recently read which I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand the whole “technology of experience” and the physiology behind them are:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snapping

Battle for the Mind

Any comments are welcome. smile

post link edited by rab for formatting

[ Edited: 09 May 2008 03:19 PM by rab]
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Posted: 09 March 2008 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Very interesting analysis - I shall read up on ‘snapping’.  It makes sense to me because it’s not just about religion either, it is also about many other beliefs we hold dear - politics, family, work - our ‘reason’ doesn’t influence our decision making half as much as we would like to believe.

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Posted: 09 March 2008 06:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Serp - 09 March 2008 06:08 AM

In Sargant’s book “Battle For The Mind” he describes how the guy who started the methodist church converted thousands of people simply by preaching fire and brimstone. The intense fear/anger made his audience suggestible.

Many of these are “mind-stilling” techniques, that suspend your normal thought process to create an experience. People are sucked into hare krishna cults by the “snapping” experience brought on by chanting. People (including highly educated rational-thinking intellectuals who participate to prove it’s BS) are “possessed” by voodoo spirits in vood drum/dancing rituals. People “become one with the universe” through meditation. People “feel the power of jeeezus” by submitting their will to him. The techniques of scientology have similar roots and effects. Another area was “self-improvement” groups especially prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s which used many of these techniques. Sargant, who studied WW II soldiers, also found that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has its roots in the same place.

An organization that is something like “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” or some other similar concept would offer a “spiritual experience” in the form of a service in which the congregation participates. The “services” (a different one offered each week, perhaps) could be any number of these “snapping” techniques, such as chanting or meditating or dancing/drumming, whatever else that people can do to bring on the “snapping” event and which is enjoyable and easy to participate in. Instead of following up with dogma, it’s followed up with something to allow people to come back to reality, (refreshed as many are by their sunday church experience, so I’m told) and mention that whichever imaginary object or magical creature was the focus of today’s service, is truly imaginary and does not really exist.

IMO something like this offers that which people seem to feel a lack of in their lives, and without filling it in with a bunch of superstitious nonsense that destroys lives and societies. With that type of thing available, there may be less need or no need to turn to the dangerous cults, and their influence and virus-like spread could be halted or reversed.

A few comments: first off, it isn’t only a search for “spiritual experience” that leads some people to investigate groups that practice things like meditation, chanting, and so on.  Nor are the experiences that occur necessarily only transient and illusory—properly guided and carried out, a program of “work” can lead to real benefits.  The question is how a person can distinguish between mind control and legitimate mental/spiritual training.  That isn’t easy: Idries Shah relates a story in which a seeker who had been rejected by a sufi teacher asked the teacher whether or not he could tell how to recognize a true teacher.  The response was that no, he could not, but he could tell him how to recognize a false teacher.  The would be student said that would do, he could recognize the true by eliminating the false.  The sufi replied that it would not be that easy: “Anybody who would accept you, in the condition you are now, is a false teacher.” 

In Doris Lessing’s book The Sentimental Agents, one of the characters who is involved with a legitimate teaching, but has fallen into a false cult and then withdrawn, observes to his mentor: “Their methods are almost exactly the same as ours.”  The mentor replies: “That’s true—the difference is that with us, you choose.”

From personal experience, I was impressed when in the first training program I did with a “spiritual” group I was investigating, every exercise was introduced with the instructions not to get caught up in it, to remain aware and simply observe the effects of the exercise.  This promoted heightened awareness rather than conditioning.

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Posted: 10 March 2008 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Thought-provoking post serp.

SERP: “These things and other recruiting methods all utilize natural features of the human mind that all healthy human beings possess. That is to say, unless you are mentally ill, you too are susceptible to these mind-control techniques. The effect is the same, the heightened suggestibility, which then allows any kind of dogma to be implanted.”

Guess I’m mentally ill.
My brain ‘saw through’ the mormon mind-and-lifestyle-control techniques, just as it ‘saw through’  the ego-stroking techniques and sense of “not fitting in” ness that many young adults experience of this group of unwitting cultites going around trying to convince individuals they were “walk-ins” (part alien part human) who were here to change the world—this was a cult of some kind attempting to find recruits near the university in the late 80s early 90s. I just don’t think “all healthy human beings” are susceptible unless they are deliberately placed in a situation where they are first made mentally “unhealthy” or are already emotionally unstable.

(None of this is meant to take away from the good dr’s work, just an opinion based of experience.)


I have a saying: When the credulous gene meets the cult meme, brainwashing’s easy, just ask Ken Kesey.

[ Edited: 10 March 2008 11:18 AM by isocratic infidel]
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Posted: 11 March 2008 02:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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isocratic infidel - 10 March 2008 02:48 PM

Thought-provoking post serp.

SERP: “These things and other recruiting methods all utilize natural features of the human mind that all healthy human beings possess. That is to say, unless you are mentally ill, you too are susceptible to these mind-control techniques. The effect is the same, the heightened suggestibility, which then allows any kind of dogma to be implanted.”

Guess I’m mentally ill.

I was dragged to (a Christian Science) church and “Sunday School” every Sunday until I was 12. I never bought any of it either. I always took it as fairy tales and I was confused as to why the other people made such great efforts to pretend like they believed it.

I think you are taking “susceptible” to be the same as “will fall for it every time.”

Your “free will” (if we have any) is a product of physiological processes. Those processes are physically altered by certain techniques and situations. Therefore you are susceptible to losing your free will. Certain personality types have more resistance than others, and Pavlov found the same resistance by the same personality types with dogs. In the end you are not immune to all forms of mind control, maybe less susceptible to more common forms, but you are not immune to all of them.

But there may be ways to innoculate the human mind against some of these mind virii. Maybe some people happen to have some of these defenses in place already.

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Posted: 29 April 2008 01:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Well, I for one do not think we have any free will.  We are biological robots.  Sounds all sci-fi, I know.  Not denying it.  I also do not deny that the sensations we experience as our brains do their thing feels EXACTLY like free will.  I think…  I mean, if we don’t actually experience free will then how would I know what it feels like?

But I digress…

So yeah, no free will.  Some brains believe religious bullshit.  Some don’t.  Some start believing.  Some stop believing.  Some proselytize.  Some convert.  Some don’t.  But choice is not an option!  You have no control over what you “believe” to be true.

Ciao!

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cool hmm

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Posted: 30 April 2008 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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It’s our evolutionary history. We are pattern seeking, story telling, social primates. And our brains grew large and complex enough to develope consciousness. Cults are a natural for us as we do way better at group think. We are looking to be persuaded and then to persuade others the same. Thats why skepticism as a virtue and critical thinking are so hard for so many homo sapien. We really have to work at it.

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Posted: 09 May 2008 03:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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isocratic infidel - 10 March 2008 02:48 PM

I just don’t think “all healthy human beings” are susceptible unless they are deliberately placed in a situation where they are first made mentally “unhealthy” or are already emotionally unstable.

Interesting topic. I agree with the above statement. People are also easily lead to believing myths simple because they lack self-confidence in their own judgment and senses. They just doubt themselves and begin to fear that questioning those in authority makes them look inadequate or selfish.

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