Cultic Studies Journal, 1993, Volume 10, Number 2, pages 203-206.
An Exit Counselor’s Perspective
I was personally introduced to Dr. Aagaard through Neil Duddy of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, when I was working with Tony Cox on a film project called “Vain Glory.” Tony is the former husband/film producer of Yoko Ono, and former member of The Walk, the same cult that I belonged to in the early 1970s. I met Dr. Aagaard in 1983 at the Dialog Center, which is located at Aarhus University in Arhus, Denmark. I was impressed with the Center’s library on the New Age and Eastern/occult groups, the largest I had ever seen. I considered Dr. Aagaard the most up-to-date scholar on those kinds of groups that I had ever met.
Having been a seminary student myself at an orthodox conservative institution, I was stimulated by his perceptive theological insights and his appreciation of the intrinsic destructive nature of mind control influences that are a growing threat to free societies. He also warned about the deterioration of Western culture and the growing paradigm shift from the old Western worldview to the shifting and changing new global worldview, which is not just a superficial fancy. Dr. Aagaard sees a much deeper and fundamental meaning to these changes. I have seriously weighed his evaluations and consider them worthy of our attention.
As the chairperson of the AFF Exit Counselor’s Guidelines Study Group, I have come to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of our concerns about destructive cult mind control and the deed versus the creed concept. Over the years we have come to respect qualified experts who have researched the cult phenomenon, as well as having direct knowledge and experience with it. I have been thoroughly impressed with the diverse nature of the interdisciplinary scholarly and academic backgrounds of religious and secular experts on the subject of cult mind control. I am also impressed with the common ground we find with experts and knowledgeable others who have worked so hard together with such diverse backgrounds.
Before I give my somewhat limited exit counselor’s perspective on the points raised in our discussion, I would like to note that I was privileged to travel to India with Dr. Aagaard, where I had a firsthand look at Eastern and New Age cult groups and movements. I had the opportunity to observe the serious human tragedy this influence is causing, to see the raw environment close up, not the sanitized Western packaging that is used to seduce through bait-and-switch manipulation. Talking directly with those who have been so profoundly affected was a worthwhile effort, to say the least. It gave me insights that will serve me for a lifetime, thanks to Dr. Aagaard’s invitation. That experience has served me well in my work with others whom I have met since my India tour.
The vast majority of families who solicit exit counseling assistance from me have a very limited knowledge of their own religious or spiritual background. It is interesting to note that when people join mind control cults, they give up the religious identity of their upbringing.
Mind control groups actively alienate their members from the religion of their family’s orientation by systematically discrediting the sources of information and values, and by focusing selectively on problem areas and personal conflicts without applying the same standards to them-selves. They also redefine the past to fit it into their new agenda. Mind control cults are not satisfied with rejection of former religious affiliation and family. They solicit compliance as well as generate emotional alienation and hostility toward the spiritual orientation of the natural family. Emotional compliance is orchestrated by the cults as they exploit and amplify members’ problem areas.
Most former cult members whom I have worked with did not have a detailed accounting of the official positions and teachings of their family’s religious affiliation. Instead, they focused on disappointment and personal conflicts based on their own experiences and observations. Thus, during their cult involvement there is a serious difficulty of double standards, which the family does not usually identify. Reevalua-tion after the cult experience removes the double standard and renews interest in sorting out and in many cases investigating options, as well as seeking the deeper meaning of deficiencies once assumed to be less than worthy.
With regard to the New Age redefinition of basic terminology, it is more productive to focus on methods and practices that have harmful outcomes to the individual. Exit counselors must demonstrate that they are competent, know where they are coming from, and have had direct experience with cultic situations. A detailed academic or scholarly deliberation can be counterproductive in this context. Advocates of these new religions may not have the patience for this approach and also perceive such detailed analysis as nitpicking and dissecting of spiritual experience. Analyses they perceive as dry and boring are ineffective; the “pizza effect” is much more attractive and feels better.
I do believe we must be completely honest and forthright when it comes to the relationship between creed and the manifestation of deed. We must point out that there is an inside relationship of creed to deed, as well as an outside, or “apologetic,” relationship designed for outsiders. It is important to remember that cult members believe they must be open and honest with the group but are permitted to deceive and manipulate outsiders. Why the double ethic? I believe the thought reform model goes a long way toward explaining this double standard ethic.
The thought reform model also sheds light on the issue of choice. How did the choice come about? What were the circumstances that led up to the changes? Was the choice a result of unethical, uninformed psycho-logical coercion or fully informed consent? True freedom of choice is based on the concept of fully informed autonomous consent without unethical undue influence or hidden agendas, including the bait-and-switch manipulation.
Creed is based on content, which affects deed, which is process. But when you are dealing with the victimizing nature of cult conversion, it is vital to examine the methods or techniques employed. The central issue is the ethical relationship between content, or creed, and process, or deed.
Did the group use deception and carefully orchestrated information to cause change? If so, content, or creed, may mean one thing early on and take on an inner, double meaning later. Doctrine can thus have a double ethic thread to it. What the insider sees is not what the outsider understands because of the double meaning of doctrinal words.
People who leave a cult may cling to some of the content, and may not fully appreciate the unethical methods employed by the group to cause and change the nature of cult adherence.
Because there are so many variations of the creed/deed relationship, the exact relationship of creed versus deed ultimately has to be decided on a group-by-group and case-by-case basis.