OBSERVATIONS OF A FORMER “MOONIE” – from Steven Hassan’s book “Combatting Cult Mind Control”
The following are some excerpts copied from a book by a man who was recruited into the Moonies while he was in college. He rose fairly high in the Moonie organization. He is now a cult exit-counselor, which is different than a deprogrammer. He says, “People will always choose what they think is best for them …on the basis of their information and experiences. The member permitted himself to be indoctrinated in the first place only because he believed the group was wonderful and that he had something to gain from it. People inherently move in a direction that will support and encourage growth.” So he tries to facilitate that growth and give people information they lack rather than try to get them to leave their group. He also thinks society is served by making people aware of mind control methods, so as to be able to protect themselves. Here are excerpts from his book:
“I believe the only solution to the damage done to people in destructive cults is to “immunize” the general population against mind control groups. The most effective way to do so is to expose people to information about how the groups work. A person’s resistance them becomes higher because he’ll know what to watch out for if he encounters a recruiter. (p.5)
“Moonies believe the world’s only salvation lies in Moon and in the establishment of a theocratic form of government which will replace secular democracies. (p.9) “When I told Phil what it was like to be in the Moonies, I especially tried to convey what it felt like to be around Mr. Moon–the excitement, the honor, the awe….Imagine what it feels like to be a Moonie who believes that Moon is ten times greater than Jesus Christ, to feel the incredible honor of living on earth and seeing the Messiah in person. (p.164)
Telling about how he got involved with the Moonies: “I enjoyed the stimulating conversations and energetic atmosphere at the meeting. These people related to each other as easily as brothers and sisters and clearly felt they were part of one global family. They seemed very happy with their lives. After my depression of the previous month, I was invigorated by all that positive energy. I went home that night feeling lucky to have met such nice people. (p.13)
“I was elated at the thought that I was “chosen” by God and that my life’s path was now on the only “true track”. I was emotionally high on the thought that God was actively working to bring about the Garden of Eden. No more war, no more poverty, no more ecological destruction. Just love, truth, beauty, and goodness. (p.19)
“We truly identified with the early Christians: the more people opposed us, the more committed we felt. It was as if we were God’s army in the middle of a spiritual war – the only ones who could go to the front lines and fight Satan every day. (p.24) “Every person but us was being controlled by Satan. We truly believed that we were saving the world from Satan and Communism by selling those products, and that we were giving people the opportunity to help the Messiah create the Garden of Eden on earth. (p.26) [The author of the book fell asleep at the wheel, had an accident and broke his leg. He stayed with his sister, and his parents decided to have him deprogramed.] “I could slow down and think, being away from the group’s constant reinforcement… The Moonies do a very thorough job of convincing people that former members are satanic and that even being in their presence could be dangerous.” (p.3) “As a committed member, I fought to keep from hearing their words. I wasn’t going to allow my faith in God to be broken by Satan. I knew that what I had been doing was right. I knew that God wanted me to remain in the group. I knew the Divine Principle by heart. What did I have to fear? Besides, I believed that I could prove to my parents once and for all that I wasn’t brainwashed… The former members were not at all what I expected. I assumed, because of my training, that they would be cold, calculating, unspiritual and abusive. They were warm, caring, idealistic, and spiritually minded, and they treated me with respect. As former members, they should have been miserable and guilt-ridden. They weren’t. They were very happy that they were out and free to lead their lives as they were doing. All of this was very perplexing… The fantasy I had used to inspire myself day after day and month after month was gone. I was sad and missed my friends in the group, particularly my “spiritual children”, the people I recruited. I missed the excitement of feeling that what I was doing was cosmically important. I missed the feeling of power that singlemindedness brought. I was broken. I felt tremendous embarrassment about having fallen for a cult… I read for months. For me, the burning issue was how the Moonies had ever managed to convert me and indoctrinate me so thoroughly that I could no longer think for myself. (p.29)
“It was my ideals and my own fantasy of an ideal world that had lured me into the Moonies. Those ideals ultimately enabled me to walk out and publicly condemn mind control. (p.33)
“A destructive cult distinguishes itself from a normal social or religious group by subjecting its members to persuasion or other damaging influences to keep them in the group. (p.37)
“Indeed, the sheer number of sincere, committed members whom a newcomer meets is probably far more attractive to a prospective convert than any doctrine or structure. The large cults… indoctrinate members to show only the best sides of the organization. Members are taught to suppress any negative feelings they have about the group and always show a continually smiling, “happy” face…
“Often, people look at a cult victim and say mistakenly, “What a weak-minded person; he must have been looking for a way to escape responsibility and have someone control his life.” In that way people deny the reality that the same thing could happen to them. This kind of behavior is called blaming the victim. (p.43)
“In cults, members are systematically made to be phobic about ever leaving the group. They implant vivid negative images deep within members’ unconscious minds, making it impossible for the member to even conceive of ever being happy and successful outside of the group. When the unconscious is programmed to accept the negative images, it behaves as if they were true. The unconscious mind is made to contain a substantial image-bank of all of the bad things that will occur if anyone should ever betray the group.(p.45.)
“Members are so conditioned to suppress their real selves that they aren’t even aware of their desire to leave. They think they are so happy in the group that they would never want to leave. Such people can’t generate positive images of themselves after leaving the group. Members truly believe they will be destroyed if they leave the safety of the group. They think there are no other ways for them to grow – spiritually, intellectually, or emotionally. They are virtually enslaved by mind control.(p.46)
“When I lecture at colleges, I usually challenge my audience with the question “How would you know if you were under mind control?” After some reflection, most people will realize that if one were under mind control, it would be impossible to determine it without some help from others. In addition, one would need to understand very clearly what mind control is. (p.53)
“The essence of mind control is that it encourages dependence and conformity, and discourages autonomy and individuality. …seeks to undermine an individual’s integrity in making his own decisions. (p.55)
“The three basic components of mind control (as described by Festinger, psychologist) are control of behavior, control of thoughts, and control of emotions. Each component has a powerful effect on the other two: change one, and the others will tend to follow. However, from my experience in researching destructive cults, I have added one additional component which is vital: control of information. If you control the information someone receives, you restrict his free ability to think for himself… Cognitive dissonance refers to the conflict which occurs when a thought, a feeling, or a behavior is altered in contradiction to the other two. A person can tolerate only a certain amount of discrepancy between his thoughts, feelings, and actions. If any one of the three components changes,the other two will shift to reduce the dissonance. The important thing to remember about cult groups is that they deliberately create dissonance in people and exploit it to control them. (p.59)
“In totalistic cults, the ideology is internalized as “the truth”, the only “map” of reality. All that is good is embodied in the group. All that is bad is on the outside. The doctrine claims to answer all questions to all problems and situations. A member need not think for himself because the doctrine does the thinking for him. A destructive cult typically has its own “loaded language” of words and expressions… which puts up an invisible wall between believers and outsiders. The language helps to make members feel special and separates them from the general public. It also serves to confuse newcomers, who want to understand what members are talking about, and think they merely have to study hard in order to “understand” the truth. In reality, by incorporating the loaded language they learn how not to think. They learn that understanding means believing.
“Another key aspect of thought control involves training members to block out any information which is critical of the group. A person’s typical defense mechanisms, includes denial (“What you say isn’t happening at all”), rationalization (“This is happening for a good reason”), justification (“this is happening because it ought to”), and wishful thinking (“I’d like it to be true so maybe it really is”).
“If information transmitted to a cult member is perceived as an attack on either the leader, the doctrine, or the group, a hostile wall goes up. Members are trained to disbelieve any criticism. Critical words have been explained away in advance as “the lies about us that Satan puts in peoples’ minds”. Paradoxically, criticism of the group confirms that the cult’s view of the world is correct. The information presented does not register properly.
“Whenever a cult member begins to experience a “bad” thought, he is taught to use thought-stopping to drown out the “negativity”, thus learning how to shut out anything that threatens his reality… any problem that crops up is assumed to be the fault of the individual member. He learns always to blame himself and work harder. Guilt and fear are necessary tools to keep people under control. (p.61-63)
“Loyalty and devotion are the most highly respected emotions of all. Members are not allowed to feel or express negative emotions, except toward outsiders. Members are taught never to feel for themselves or their own needs but always to think of the group and never to complain. They are never to criticize a leader, but criticize themselves instead. (p.64)
“In many cults, people have minimal access to non-cult information. This is partly because they are kept so busy they don’t have free time. When they do read, it is primarily cult-generated propaganda or material that has been censored to “help” members stay focused. Information control also extends across all relationships. People are not allowed to talk to each other about anything critical of the leader, doctrine, or organization. Members must spy on one another and report improper activities or comments to leaders. Most importantly, people are told to avoid contact with ex-members or critics. Those who could provide the most information are the ones especially to be shunned. Information is usually compartmentalized to keep members from knowing the big picture. A member in one city will therefore not necessarily know about an important legal decision, media expose’ or internal dispute that is creating turmoil in the group somewhere else. Cult members naturally feel they know more about what’s going on in their group than outsiders do, but in counseling ex-members I find that they often know the least. (p.65)
“If a person is kept in a controlled environment long enough, he will usually suspend his critical judgment and adapt to what he perceives everyone else is doing. In such an environment, the tendency within most people is to doubt themselves and defer to the group. The mind snaps into neutral and ceases to evaluate the material pouring in. The group has intentionally structured it that way. (p.68)
“The group now forms the member’s “true” family; any other is just his “physical” family. The new member is typically assigned to proselytizing duty as soon as possible. Research in social psychology has shown that nothing firms up one’s beliefs faster than trying to sell them to others. Making new members do so crystallizes the cult identity quickly… These experiences become a form of glorious martyrdom that helps freeze commitment to the group… Thus, the victim becomes victimizer, to perpetuate the destructive system. (p.72)
“Since my departure from the Moon cult, I have spoken with more than one thousand former members of cults of all kinds. The great majority were stable, intelligent, idealistic people… Many men and women have a genuine impulse to work together with others as a team for a variety of social or religious causes. Relatively few communities offer such organized activity to idealistic people. Cult life gives them just such an opportunity, along with the apparent benefits of the “togetherness” that comes from an intense group experience. (p.76)
“Whenever recruits leave the group environment long enough to discover revealing books, articles, or testimonies by former members, they almost always break away. The problem occurs when people rely on the group for all key information. Not knowing any better, they give the cult members or leaders the benefit of the doubt. They may assume that any problem is merely the result of one member’s idiosyncratic behavior, not the system itself. (p.78)
“There is no room in a mind control environment for regarding the group’s beliefs as mere theory… the doctrine is reality. Cult doctrine always requires that a person distrust his own self. The doctrine becomes the “master program” for all thoughts, feelings, and actions… The doctrine allows no outside group to be recognized as valid (good, godly, real) because that would threaten the cult’s monopoly on truth. There is also no room for interpretation or deviation. (p.79)
“Members are made to feel part of an elite corps of mankind. This feeling of being special, of participating in the most important acts in human history with a vanguard of committed believers, is strong emotional glue to keep people sacrificing and working hard. Ironically, members of cults look down on anyone involved in any other cult groups. “THEY are the ones who are brainwashed”. They are unable to step out of their own situations and look at themselves objectively. (p.80)
“One of the most attractive qualities of cult life is the sense of community that it fosters. The love seems to be unconditional and unlimited at first, and new members are swept away by a honeymoon of attention. But after a few months, the flattery and attention are turned away toward newer recruits. The cult member learns that love is not unconditional but depends on good performance. Behaviors are controlled through rewards and punishments. (p.81)
“Real friendships are a liability… of course, when anyone does leave the group, the “love” formerly directed to him turns into anger, hatred, and ridicule. Relationships are usually superficial within these groups because sharing of deep personal feelings, especially negative ones, is highly discouraged. This feature of cult life prevails even though a member may feel he is closer to his comrades than he has ever been to anyone before. Indeed, when cult members go through hardship or persecution, they do feel a depth of camaraderie and shared martyrdom that is exceptional. But because the only real allegiance is to the leader, a closer look shows that such ties are actually shallow and sometimes just private fantasy. (p.82)
“In a destructive cult, there is never a legitimate reason for leaving. Unlike non-cult organizations that recognize a person’s inherent right to choose to move on, mind control groups make it very clear that there is no legitimate way to leave. Members are told that the only reasons why people leave are weakness, insanity, temptation, brainwashing, pride, sin and so on. (p.84)
“Many mistakenly assume that people must live together in a closed community to be adversely affected by group involvement. Those persons who are forbidden to think “negative thoughts” or have contact with critics or former members, even though they may have outside jobs and live separately, may still be under mind control, though perhaps not as highly controlled as someone who is a full-time, completely devoted member. (p.104)
“The final criterion for judging a group is the members’ freedom to leave. To put it simply, members of destructive cults are psychological prisoners. Destructive cults plant phobias into members’ minds so that they fear ever leaving the group. By doing so they shut the door on free choice. People had the freedom to join, but people don’t have the freedom to leave a destructive group. In fact, in the eyes of a destructive cult, there is no “legitimate” reason for a person to ever leave the group. (p.104)
“In the case of destructive cults, being an educated consumer can save your mind. If you are ever approached by someone who invites you to participate in a program, you can ask some very specific questions which will help you avoid over 90% of all cult recruiters. These questions work best if you ask them in a very direct yet friendly manner and demand very specific answers. (p.106)
“Although most groups use deception, it is important to realize that most cult members don’t realize they are lying in the process of recruitment. For that reason, by asking these direct questions one after another, you can usually discover that either you are not being told a straight story, or the cult member doesn’t have the straight story to begin with.
“Because members have been trained to avoid thinking negatively about the group, you will often receive less than direct responses. Among the more common strategies are vague generalities, evasive remarks, and attempts to change the subject. Vague generalities such as “We’re just getting together to study the Word of God” should make you suspicious. Evasive remarks such as “I understand you are feeling skeptical; I was, too, before I really came to understand” should also ring warning bells. Another common technique is to change the subject: you may hear a long monologue about how all the world’s great religious leaders have been persecuted. You may be told about Jesus having been accused of association with prostitutes, and so forth. Make sure you get a direct answer about the group, not a debate about Jesus. (p.107)
“Here are some of the questions I have found to be most effective:
How long have you (the recruiter) been involved? Are you trying to recruit me into any type of organization?
I like to find out very quickly who I am dealing with. A person who has been involved in a destructive cult for less than one year is less likely to lie, and his lies are not as convincing as those of a more experienced recruiter. If the person has been involved for many years, I expect to get concrete answers to all my questions, and will confront the person with an exclamation such as “You’ve been a member for X years and you don’t know the answer!” When confronted about recruitment, very often the recruiter will answer, “No, I just like you and want to share this with you. What you decide to do with the information is totally up to you.” If the group is a destructive cult, it will become obvious at some point that you are indeed being recruited. At that point, you can remember that the recruiter lied to you. Get appropriately angry and walk away.
What does your group believe?
If a person is not willing to summarize the key points of the group’s beliefs right then and there, you can be sure he is hiding something. Of course, he might say that he is just afraid you will get a misconception from a short description. Ask him for it anyway. Any legitimate group will be able to summarize its central beliefs. (Of course, cults have two levels of “truth”, bland generalities for the general public and new recruits, and “insider” beliefs that are doled out gradually , only as fast as the person is deemed ready to assimilate it.)
What are members expected to do once they join? Do I have to quit school or work, or cut myself off from family members and friends who might oppose my membership?
If you are being approached by a destructive cult, the person you meet may tell you that you will be expected to do little or nothing once you join. However, this question will make most cult members very uncomfortable and defensive. Watch the recruiter’s non-verbal reaction carefully when you ask this question. Ask the person what he did when he first met the group and what he is doing now.
Is your group considered controversial by anyone? If people are critical of your group, what are their main objections?
If you ask this question politely and with a smile, you will be surprised at how many times you will hear “Oh, some people think that we are a cult and that we are all brainwashed! Isn’t that silly? Do I look brainwashed?” To that question I usually respond, “Oh, how are people supposed to look if they are brainwashed?”
How do you feel about former members of your group? Have you ever sat down to speak with a former member to find out why he left the group? If not, why not? Does your group impose restrictions on communicating with former members?
This is one of the most revealing sets of questions you can ask any cult member. Any legitimate organization would never discourage contact with former members. Likewise, legitimate groups would support any member’s decision to leave, even though they might not like it.
Destructive cults, on the other hand, do not accept any reasons for person’s departure no matter what they are. Likewise, cult groups make sure to instill fear in members, insuring that they stay away from critics and former members.
What are the three things you like the least about the group and the leader?
I can’t remember how many times I have seen reporters and television hosts ask cult members whether they were brainwashed. The cult member usually smiles and says, “Of course not, that’s ridiculous.” It is absurd, however, to expect an objective answer from someone under mind control. A much better challenge for such people would be “Tell me three things you don’t like about the group.” If you get an opportunity to catch a cult member off guard and ask that question, I suggest you watch his face very carefully. The pupils will dilate, and he will act momentarily stunned. When he does answer, he will very likely say that their is nothing he can think of that he doesn’t like.
The clincher question is whether or not the person has taken the time to talk with former members and read critical literature in order to make up his own mind. A person under mind control might say that he would be willing to do this. However, I have often seen family members call the member’s bluff, and almost always the cult member doesn’t follow through. (p.107-111)
“The pattern of doctrine over person occurs when there is a conflict between what one feels oneself experiencing and what the doctrine or dogma says one should experience. The internalized message in totalistic environments is that one must find the truth of the dogma and subject one’s experiences to that truth. Often the experience of contradiction, or the admission of that experience, can be immediately associated with guilt; or else (in order to hold one to that doctrine) condemned by others in a way that leads quickly to that guilty association. One is made to feel that doubts are reflections of one’s own evil. (p.204)
“Former members report a variety of psychological difficulties after they leave a cult. Probably the most common is the depression they feel during the first few months after leaving. It is difficult to describe the pain of realizing that you have been lied to and enslaved in a mind control cult–when you discover your “dream” is really a nightmare.
“Many of the people I have met described the experience as having fallen deeply in love, giving every ounce of love, trust, and commitment to someone, and then finding out that person was a false lover and was just using them. The pain and sense of betrayal is enormous.
“Others describe the realization in more graphic terms: feeling as though they had been spiritually and psychologically raped. The sense of personal violation is indescribable. I myself came to realize that all of the love and devotion I felt towards Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han as my “True Parents” was totally one-sided. I realized after I left that they didn’t care about me personally at all. If they had, they would have tried to contact me to try to find out why I had left. Instead, I was automatically labeled “Satanic” and a traitor.
“When people are depressed, they tend to only see the bad side of things. Their pain can be so great that it blots out the hope of a positive future. It is essential that former members acknowledge and work through their pain, and go through the necessary grieving period. What seems to help the most is to enable people to realize that positive things did come out of their involvement, and to show them how they can now be much stronger because of the experience. (p.173)
“Former members need to learn how to trust themselves again. They have to realize that they didn’t choose of be lied to or abused. They are not at fault. Eventually, as they learn to trust themselves and their own inherent wisdom and instincts, they learn that it’s okay to begin trusting others. (p.182)
“At some point, the person may begin a voracious research project to find out everything he can about his group and answer every one of his questions, to his satisfaction. This is a very positive therapeutic step. Often, the number one priority of someone who has just left a cult is to help rescue the friends who were left behind. For cult members, their major regret in leaving is usually losing contact with people they came to know and care for in the group. It becomes particularly difficult when a former member realizes that the friendships he thought were so good were conditional on continued membership. A former member can quickly see the strength of mind control bonds when his closest friend in the group refuses to see him. (p.183)
“Eventually, when all the questions are answered, and all the cult issues are addressed, the ex-member reaches a saturation point. He gets to the point of saying “They’re not going to take the rest of my life!” and starts making plans for the future. (p.183)
“Why are destructive cults thriving? While the development of more sophisticated techniques of mind control has helped lead to increased group membership, the proliferation of destructive cults can also be attributed to the diminished sense of community that characterizes life in our present age. We no longer live and die within the same forty-mile radius; it is indeed common for an individual to move several times and many miles during his lifetime. This transience undermines the sense of community that I think human beings need in order to feel whole. I hear over and over again that a person is initially attracted because he or she enjoys being around a group of people acting like one big family; more than anything else, former members miss that sense of being part of a tight-knit community.
“Reliance on television for entertainment and information is also a factor in predisposing one to cult membership. Unfortunately, most television viewing does not stimulate our intellect, imagination, or higher aspirations. Instead, television encourages conformity and creates a distorted perception of reality… We become desensitized to our own values and lose the powers of creativity and discrimination.”
(The rest of the book is about strategies for recovery.)
The name of the book is “Combatting Cult Mind Control”, by Steven Hassan (Park Street Press)