Today, we are continuing our series examining the 8 tactics of cults and other authoritarian/abusive groups from book "The Heresy of Mind Control." The second tactic is called "Mystical Manipulation." The paragraphs below are taken from the book and explain this technique. Have you ever seen this at the Honor Academy?
In summation of “Mystical Manipulation,” what begins as a deceptively awe-inspiring group and leader, leading the participants to believe that they are in an elite group, turns insidiously toward abusive manipulation and a loss of freedom. The factors (listed below) combine to make the member fearful of leaving the group because the deceived members are led to believe that to leave the group is to abandon God’s work, and thus to abandon God.
- An awe that inspires devotion to the leader (misguided devotion)
- Euphoria-inducing techniques
- Power and the sense of Higher Purpose
- Submitting to Abuse
- Submitting to Exploitation
An awe inspiring group and its leader stimulate excitement and subsequent devotion to the cause and mission of the group. This in itself is not wrong, but a cult leader will exploit this zeal and faith within the followers to the point where the mission is given more importance than the immediate needs of the members. The members eventually accept and endorse this “importance” of the mission as their own, even coming to the point where they feel it is necessary to submit to pain and abuse by the leader or by his commands in order to fulfill the “higher purpose.” The member, now a victim, is encouraged to accept these painful manipulations on a basis of ultimate trust or faith. The paradox of many destructive groups is how they can be so abusive and yet lead the follower to only see it as a kind of necessary discipline and loving care.
Under these experiences, trust can give way to mistrust. But at this point, the victim feels unable to escape from these forces that are (or seem to be) more powerful than himself, so he gives in, subordinating everything to adapting himself to them. Lifton calls this the “psychology of the pawn.” Consider what Paul said in his 2 Corinthians 11:20:
In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.
Can you imagine that? What is Paul talking about? He is talking about the exploitations and abuses which resulted from the false prophets who crept into the church. It is these false apostles whom Paul had been speaking about in this passage (v12-23). I had never understood what this passage meant or what was going on until I heard dozens of stories from different ex-cult members who’ve been under mind control and received physical blows from their leaders. Such abuse obviously existed even way back then.
Members are led or pressured into giving much or most of their time to the group. They achieve this through various implications and messages that gradually equate the group with God, and thus the group becomes their god. Members believe that they are truly serving God, whereas they are actually being exploited. Practically every possible moment that could be free time is given to “the cause,” “the overriding mission.” As a result, the members may very well become exhausted. What keeps the members going is the “care” shown by the leader and the positive reinforcement for doing hard word, and negative reinforcement (often rebukes) for slacking off at any time. This may take the form of manipulative arguments such as, “Which is more important: taking it easy for a while or doing God’s work?
Another form of manipulation is the frequent terminology that a group uses such as “100% commitment to God” or “total commitment to God.” What this really means usually is total commitment to the group and total obedience to the leaders.