MindShift

Is Evangelicalism a Cult?

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Is Evangelicalism a cult? What are your thoughts on this question. About 6-8 months ago, I was watching a series on the Crime + Investigation channel here in the UK featuring the testimonies of many cult survivors. What struck me immediately was how similar their stories were to mine, coming out of fundamentalism. Both in terms of the psychological trauma and the recovery process, the parallels were too similar. So I've been researching on this topic and podcasting on it since January.

 

If you're interested, here's an article I wrote recently on Medium on this subject: https://medium.com/@clintheacock/is-evangelicalism-a-cult-5bb25448bc26

 

And my first podcast episode in January connecting evangelicalism to the world of the cults. https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/051-exploring-connections-between-evangelicalism-world/id1199559501?i=1000427481013

 

I'd be very interested to hear people's thoughts. From what I can tell, and what I've experienced so far, a big part of the reconstruction process is to "unpick the conditioning" as it were, which is very helpful in working out exactly how we may have been controlled, manipulated, coerced, traumatized, etc.

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I started studying the cults back as a believer in the 80s to try and learn the differences between Christianity and "them". When I described how they often get converts through love-bombing, a friend asked me how that was different from what we were doing. That made me pause. But mostly I just assumed that we had it right and the big difference was what we believed, not the entire mindset of making belief critical instead of demonstrable facts. 

 

Whenever I spoke with JWs or Mormons at the door, it was always about doctrines or exposing the corruption of their leadership rather than going after faith in myths being critical to a god's judgment of my life. I was a strong believer for 30 years, the last 9 of which were spent promoting a particular preacher from the south who claims thousands of outstanding miracles, the most notable being several people raised from the dead. While I promoted him and defended him online against critics, I brought up comparisons to the faith we put in the Bible where we didn't see those miracles either but have no doubt they happened. I pointed out that everything he preached was biblical, that he was going to "the least of these", and showed a life of utter commitment to Jesus. 

 

Then one day I caught him making up a long involved tale about a witch coven challenging the power of god at one of his services in Germany. I had just watched those services on video, and no such thing happened. His translator had trouble understanding his southern accent, that was all. But he turned it into a huge tale about witches falling under the power of god and all getting born-again. That was the slap in the face I needed. It began a year of questioning why he would need to make up anything. Keep in mind, I had felt power in his services, the body shaking and trembling like electricity was coursing through my body. That was unique from all the other church involvement I'd had. But this fact staring me in the face couldn't be denied. During this year of questioning why, the evening news was reporting about the Oklahoma polygamous cult and I wondered out loud "Why would anybody believe such crazy stuff?"  Then I realized with chagrin that I had believed some outstandingly stupid things. Then I asked the most important question, "I wonder what else I've believed that is a lie?" I had a visceral reaction to that question, actually squirming, because I knew it struck at the root of my own faith. But I persisted in the question, and lots of other buried questions began resurfacing. Why is the god of the bible such an arrogant asshole? Why are all the obvious myths of the bible "true"? Why is the church divided instead of filled with almighty power and doing miracles? Why are most prayers for healing completely ignored? Why is hell not mentioned in the old testament? On and one the questions came.

 

I revisited why I had first believed. It was out of a childish fear of monsters. When I'd see a monster movie (not the campy Godzilla ones) that monster was real and waiting for me in the dark hallway. When I saw an advert for The Exorcist, I felt a cold fear to the core of my being and read the Bible looking for protection. That was it. A stupid childish fear led to 30 years of committed belief, thousands of hours or praying to no one, tens of thousand of dollars given away to promote the cult, my own sexual life messed up with rules and fears of demons and judgments. I went searching online for "ex-christian" and found this site. I realized in short order that these folks had the same kinds of experiences, and I then posted my own realization that I was no longer a Christian. 

 

I was part of a cult called Christianity, and the last decade was part of a more classic cult with a charismatic leader that couldn't be questioned by his closest "fellow missionaries". It took an emotional shock to get me to even start questioning the faith. I also realized that reality hadn't changed at all by my deconversion, but that I had taken off a blindfold or filter through which I had interpreted reality. The same question "I wonder what else I've believed that is a lie?" still applies daily because I spent so long assuming I had things right. It applies to culture, politics, and science because where people are involved, there can be falsification of evidence, people seeing personal wealth at my expense, and so on. 

 

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Just about a year ago Mrs. MOHO was researching cults, which I have reported on here. This went on for about three weeks which does not sound like much, but when this woman sinks her teeth into something, she bites down hard and shakes it from side to side like a dachshund clutching a gopher it it's mouth. Anyway she reported a few things to me at the beginning of her research but, suddenly, all went quite. 

 

I don't remember how it began but we were having a discussion and the cult topic resurfaced. I suggested the possibility that she abruptly abandoned her investigative efforts because her findings were hitting a little close to home.

 

"I don't NEED to research cults anymore because I learned all I need to know!"

 

Yes Dear. That's exactly what I'm getting at. 

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3 hours ago, Fuego said:

I started studying the cults back as a believer in the 80s to try and learn the differences between Christianity and "them". When I described how they often get converts through love-bombing, a friend asked me how that was different from what we were doing. That made me pause. But mostly I just assumed that we had it right and the big difference was what we believed, not the entire mindset of making belief critical instead of demonstrable facts. 

 

Whenever I spoke with JWs or Mormons at the door, it was always about doctrines or exposing the corruption of their leadership rather than going after faith in myths being critical to a god's judgment of my life. I was a strong believer for 30 years, the last 9 of which were spent promoting a particular preacher from the south who claims thousands of outstanding miracles, the most notable being several people raised from the dead. While I promoted him and defended him online against critics, I brought up comparisons to the faith we put in the Bible where we didn't see those miracles either but have no doubt they happened. I pointed out that everything he preached was biblical, that he was going to "the least of these", and showed a life of utter commitment to Jesus. 

 

Then one day I caught him making up a long involved tale about a witch coven challenging the power of god at one of his services in Germany. I had just watched those services on video, and no such thing happened. His translator had trouble understanding his southern accent, that was all. But he turned it into a huge tale about witches falling under the power of god and all getting born-again. That was the slap in the face I needed. It began a year of questioning why he would need to make up anything. Keep in mind, I had felt power in his services, the body shaking and trembling like electricity was coursing through my body. That was unique from all the other church involvement I'd had. But this fact staring me in the face couldn't be denied. During this year of questioning why, the evening news was reporting about the Oklahoma polygamous cult and I wondered out loud "Why would anybody believe such crazy stuff?"  Then I realized with chagrin that I had believed some outstandingly stupid things. Then I asked the most important question, "I wonder what else I've believed that is a lie?" I had a visceral reaction to that question, actually squirming, because I knew it struck at the root of my own faith. But I persisted in the question, and lots of other buried questions began resurfacing. Why is the god of the bible such an arrogant asshole? Why are all the obvious myths of the bible "true"? Why is the church divided instead of filled with almighty power and doing miracles? Why are most prayers for healing completely ignored? Why is hell not mentioned in the old testament? On and one the questions came.

 

I revisited why I had first believed. It was out of a childish fear of monsters. When I'd see a monster movie (not the campy Godzilla ones) that monster was real and waiting for me in the dark hallway. When I saw an advert for The Exorcist, I felt a cold fear to the core of my being and read the Bible looking for protection. That was it. A stupid childish fear led to 30 years of committed belief, thousands of hours or praying to no one, tens of thousand of dollars given away to promote the cult, my own sexual life messed up with rules and fears of demons and judgments. I went searching online for "ex-christian" and found this site. I realized in short order that these folks had the same kinds of experiences, and I then posted my own realization that I was no longer a Christian. 

 

I was part of a cult called Christianity, and the last decade was part of a more classic cult with a charismatic leader that couldn't be questioned by his closest "fellow missionaries". It took an emotional shock to get me to even start questioning the faith. I also realized that reality hadn't changed at all by my deconversion, but that I had taken off a blindfold or filter through which I had interpreted reality. The same question "I wonder what else I've believed that is a lie?" still applies daily because I spent so long assuming I had things right. It applies to culture, politics, and science because where people are involved, there can be falsification of evidence, people seeing personal wealth at my expense, and so on. 

 

 

Your "preacher and the witches" story is amazing! What utter craziness! It takes a special type of person to come up with that type of brazen lie. I wonder what he was thinking?

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For m, the psychological coercion and manipulation I’ve witnessed firsthand, and (I’m ashamed to admit) participated in as a pastor, have many similarities between that and cults. I don’t believe that all evangelicalism is a cult; it’s too diverse and not a monolith. 

 

But the psychological recovery, religious trauma, etc., are just as real as what cult survivors report having to deal with.

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One man's religion is another man's cult. It seems to me that all religions are cults. Why do I say that?

 

An anointed leader has the Truth and understanding. He is deemed qualified to explain the universe and counsel personal behavior. He demands loyalty and money. The cult decides what is fit for consumption by its members. Certain amounts of participation in group activity are required. Non-compliance can result in expulsion. Believing the correct dogma is paramount. Outsiders are considered either fertile fields for recruitment or deemed harmful to the group. Members are urged to set aside rational thought in favor of blind acceptance of religious beliefs.

 

How else would you define a cult?

 

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Here's a handy evaluation list for cults:

 

Source:  http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html

 

The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
(version 2.6)

 

Factors:

 

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

 

Low                      High

1

Internal Control: Amount of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members; lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members.

1

_________________________

2

External Control: Amount of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ external political and social behavior.

2

_________________________

3

Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified and/or unverifiable credentials claimed.

3

_________________________

4

Wisdom/Knowledge Credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts.

4

_________________________

5

Dogma: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;” hostility towards relativism and situationalism.

5

_________________________

6

Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for all members to bring in new ones.

6

_________________________

7

Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially when connections are hidden.

7

_________________________

8

Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members.

8

_________________________

9

Sexual Manipulation of members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or choice of partners.

9

_________________________

10

Sexual Favoritism: Advancement or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s) of non-tantric groups.

10

_________________________

11

Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s).

11

_________________________

12

Isolation: Amount of effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family, friends and lovers.

12

_________________________

13

Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.

13

_________________________

14

Violence: Amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s).

14

_________________________

15

Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories.

15

_________________________

16

Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).

16

_________________________

17

Surrender of Will: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).

17

_________________________

18

Hypocrisy: amount of approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological, social, economic, military, or other gain.

18

_________________________

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8 hours ago, Tsathoggua9 said:

Your "preacher and the witches" story is amazing! What utter craziness! It takes a special type of person to come up with that type of brazen lie. I wonder what he was thinking?

 

In the video I watched (Kansas, I think) the church ate up his story and probably gave lots of money to his "mission". He was a great storyteller, so his many claims always seemed possible and amazing to those willing to believe (like I did until I caught him red handed). His compound in Mexico is run very tightly. The women are rather robotic, and the men very macho, only subservient to him. And the men seem to be all angry all the time,  part of the macho package. They are all serious believers, but it is a cult. I don't know if it will survive once he dies. I hope not. 

 

 

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11 hours ago, florduh said:

One man's religion is another man's cult. It seems to me that all religions are cults. Why do I say that?

 

An anointed leader has the Truth and understanding. He is deemed qualified to explain the universe and counsel personal behavior. He demands loyalty and money. The cult decides what is fit for consumption by its members. Certain amounts of participation in group activity are required. Non-compliance can result in expulsion. Believing the correct dogma is paramount. Outsiders are considered either fertile fields for recruitment or deemed harmful to the group. Members are urged to set aside rational thought in favor of blind acceptance of religious beliefs.

 

How else would you define a cult?

 

 

Yes, when you step back and look at it more objectively, like you’ve defined it, it starts to look suspiciously like all the classic definitions of a cult. 

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7 hours ago, sdelsolray said:

Here's a handy evaluation list for cults:

 

Source:  http://www.neopagan.net/ABCDEF.html

 

The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
(version 2.6)

 

Factors:

 

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10

 

Low                      High

1

Internal Control: Amount of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members; lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members.

1

_________________________

2

External Control: Amount of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ external political and social behavior.

2

_________________________

3

Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified and/or unverifiable credentials claimed.

3

_________________________

4

Wisdom/Knowledge Credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts.

4

_________________________

5

Dogma: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;” hostility towards relativism and situationalism.

5

_________________________

6

Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for all members to bring in new ones.

6

_________________________

7

Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially when connections are hidden.

7

_________________________

8

Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members.

8

_________________________

9

Sexual Manipulation of members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or choice of partners.

9

_________________________

10

Sexual Favoritism: Advancement or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s) of non-tantric groups.

10

_________________________

11

Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s).

11

_________________________

12

Isolation: Amount of effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family, friends and lovers.

12

_________________________

13

Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.

13

_________________________

14

Violence: Amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s).

14

_________________________

15

Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories.

15

_________________________

16

Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).

16

_________________________

17

Surrender of Will: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).

17

_________________________

18

Hypocrisy: amount of approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological, social, economic, military, or other gain.

18

_________________________

 

Thanks for the great resource. I hadn’t come across that before.

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21 hours ago, Fuego said:

The same question "I wonder what else I've believed that is a lie?" still applies daily because I spent so long assuming I had things right. It applies to culture, politics, and science because where people are involved, there can be falsification of evidence, people seeing personal wealth at my expense, and so on. 

 

This is a real good take away. You're there. You see it. That's why some of us discuss all of these other topics along with christianity. It is very much a human issue that can cloud just about every area of life - religious, secular or otherwise. But I would add that it's not necessary to live in a panic or stress too much over it. Not that you do, I'm just saying for general purposes. Understanding just how wide reaching uncertainty actually is, can be scary on one hand but beneficial on the other. 

 

 

 

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17 hours ago, MindShift said:

For m, the psychological coercion and manipulation I’ve witnessed firsthand, and (I’m ashamed to admit) participated in as a pastor, have many similarities between that and cults. I don’t believe that all evangelicalism is a cult; it’s too diverse and not a monolith. 

 

But the psychological recovery, religious trauma, etc., are just as real as what cult survivors report having to deal with.

 

After getting out of Seventh Day Adventism, I went through some studies by ex-SDA pastors who put it up against a cult identification framework. The only point that didn't seem to fit is encouraging members to leave their families. Every other point seems to fit. And the take away is that SDAism is far too close to a cult for their comfort. But having said that, let's turn for a moment in our bibles to Matthew 10:34. As to the general cult-like origins of christianity, enough said.  

 

Matthew 10:34-36 English Standard Version (ESV)

Not Peace, but a Sword

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.

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13 hours ago, Fuego said:

 

In the video I watched (Kansas, I think) the church ate up his story and probably gave lots of money to his "mission". He was a great storyteller, so his many claims always seemed possible and amazing to those willing to believe (like I did until I caught him red handed). His compound in Mexico is run very tightly. The women are rather robotic, and the men very macho, only subservient to him. And the men seem to be all angry all the time,  part of the macho package. They are all serious believers, but it is a cult. I don't know if it will survive once he dies. I hope not. 

 

 

 

Hey, weird, wild stuff, man!  Glad ya got the hell outta Dodge.

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5 hours ago, Joshpantera said:

 

After getting out of Seventh Day Adventism, I went through some studies by ex-SDA pastors who put it up against a cult identification framework. The only point that didn't seem to fit is encouraging members to leave their families. Every other point seems to fit. And the take away is that SDAism is far too close to a cult for their comfort. But having said that, let's turn for a moment in our bibles to Matthew 10:34. As to the general cult-like origins of christianity, enough said.  

 

Matthew 10:34-36 English Standard Version (ESV)

Not Peace, but a Sword

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.

 

Slightly off-topic but, my take on this passage, is a response to those who, at some point, began to call bullshit on xianity. Naturally, family members began to bicker and fight about this just like ours do. The power brokers (church leader) needed to explain away this phenomena and came up with Matt 10:34~36 as a result. 

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