How Should We Look at Cult Members?

Those who observe the behavior and belief system of cult members from an outsider’s point of view will often make assumptions about those people.

I admit that I often make these assumptions myself.

Let’s examine the first assumption on my list when examining a cult member.

You can’t possibly believe that shit.

The level of absurdity, the lack of supporting evidence, and the illogical nature of religious doctrine will appear simply impossible to believe to an outsider. We often think that the subject must be aware that what he is saying is a steaming pile of crap but he is pretending to actually believe it to serve an ulterior motive.

There are certainly cases in which a person would be motivated to feign a belief in a doctrine that they do not really have. Exploitation — religion is big business and a lucrative one. Opportunistic con artists have been using religion in order to gain money and power from their followers, probably as long as religion has been part of human civilization.

Some people will pretend to go along with religious beliefs in order to please family members. There are people for whom admitting that they don’t really believe such bullshit would deeply hurt those who are close to them and so they go along with it to spare the feelings of others.

Adaptation of religious fanaticism has been used as a tool for criminals in order to demonstrate how they are rehabilitated and ought to be released from prison. Unfortunately parole boards fall for this sort of lie way too often.

In very religious societies a person may feel compelled to go along with a belief system merely to fit in. We are social animals and most of us have an innate fear of being outcasts.

Except in rare cases, humans have a natural sex-drive, particularly powerful in young folks. If Junior thinks that believing in the Great Pumpkin is going to get him laid — he will believe in that Great Pumpkin. You may want to look at information about David Berg’s Children of God cult in which the female members hit the streets and literally prostituted themselves for Jesus. “Flirty fishing” is what they called it.

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

The list is far from exhaustive, there are many reasons that a person would have the desire to pretend to believe in something that they really don’t believe in, however, the majority of people who claim to believe in ridiculous bullshit really truly believe that bullshit.

With that in mind, we can’t make the assumption that a cult member is pretending to believe something that they do not really believe. It is probably more realistic to assume the opposite — they really do believe what they claim to believe. Most cult members are sincere and they have, through indoctrination and reinforcement, created a mental construct in which the nonsensical makes sense to them. If we examine history we have no choice but to conclude that there is nothing that is too far fetched for people to believe.

You are crazy, senseless, out of it, gone-down-the-road, wacko!

The next assumption that we often come to in response to the irrational beliefs of a cult member is that the subject is insane. There is no doubt that some of them are. Religious cults do have a natural appeal to some people who suffer from mental illness. The reason for this is that cults offer an environment in which irrational thought process and bizarre behavior is normalized.

We can also examine the process of indoctrination and how it will, after a period of time, induce delusional thinking that is on the level of an individual who is afflicted with severe schizophrenia. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from a article called An Inquisition, by Dr. Jeffery Shcaeler (http://www.morerevealed.com/library/horror-stories/dr-jeffrey-a-schaeler-an-inquisition.html):

As an example, let’s take people who use LSD — their imagination of the world, what they “see” under the influence of LSD, is believed as literally true. That verges on what we in psychology and psychiatry label as psychosis. A person who can’t, or won’t, is incapable of, or somehow fails to differentiate what they imagine about the world from what is literally true, is said to be experiencing psychosis. In religious experience, something similar happens. If I say, God is speaking to me, that’s something I imagine, and that I assert is true. However, because that’s a socially acceptable delusion, I’m not going to get into much trouble. If I say, Martians are walking around on the ceiling, I will be labeled as psychotic because that’s a socially unacceptable delusion. Qualitatively, there’s not much difference, it’s a matter of which delusion is more popular. So, we could say that people who have religious delusions are psychotic, or we could say that people we label as psychotic are, basically, having religious experiences.

Normal and abnormal beliefs are determined by the society in which a person resides. Delusional thinking can be normal if a person lives in a community in which most members of that community share the same delusion.

let’s take a look at the Unarius Society, one of the first UFO cults founded in 1954. Among their beliefs about a universal interconnectedness and eternal life the leaders of this cult have claimed telepathic communication with intelligent beings on other planets and a false prediction of a meeting with the “space brothers” who were supposed to have landed on Earth in 2001.

This is a relatively small group and most people would consider the Unarians to be, if not barking mad, at least some goofy-ass motherfuckers.

Let’s take a look at a belief common among some denominations of protestant Christianity — the rapture. According to this mythology, at any given moment Jesus Christ will come to Earth and then return to heaven with all his faithful believers, leaving the infidels to suffer a terrible life on Earth, as the faithful are kickin’ it on Big Rock Candy Mountain. Believing in the rapture is just as insane as believing in the space brothers but the former has a greater level of social acceptability merely because there are so many more people who engage in that delusion than their are those who believe in the latter. Both delusions are equally irrational.

Most cult members are able to behave rationally in other areas of their lives and then go Tom Cruise when they are practicing their religion. The cult members who have a kind of double life — a rational view of the world in most circumstances and a delusional world view within the framework of their religion, we can reasonably assess that such a person is not suffering from an organic mental disorder.

I believe that Shaeler makes a good point on a philosophical level, in that his analogy does demonstrate the correlation between the experiences of the mentally ill, those who are under the influence of a hallucinogenic drug, and those who have been indoctrinated into a religious cult. We treat the three types of delusions differently in our society because of the way that our society functions, not the level of absurdity of the delusions. Cult members can and do recover from the symptoms of indoctrination just as those who are on drugs or mentally ill can and do return to a state of so-called “normalcy.”

The point being that we cannot assume that a cult member is insane, even though they say things that suggest they are buggy as a flop-house blanket, such folks, most of them, are merely complying with the culture they are part of and embracing the delusions that they have been taught to believe.

You are dumb as a fucking fence post.

It is common to assume that a person who embraces an ideology that is just too stupid to be believable must be an idiot, incapable of the cognition required to see the obvious.

I do not think that John Travolta is a stupid man. I think he’s actually quite intelligent. Scientology is stupid — any way one wants to look at it — it’s stupid.

In much the same way that cults attract mentally ill people, they attract dumb people. So there are certainly cases in which the observation is accurate, not always. William Lane Craig is not an idiot — he’s just an asshole. Kirk Cameron is dumb as a fucking fence post.

Generally anti-intellectualism is a necessary component to religious cults. Exceptions are few and far between. Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism are a couple of cults that espouse a pseudo-intellectual philosophical stand. For the most part a religious cult will praise ignorance and blind following. A person who is not particularly gifted in the area of analysis and cognition will find such a social structure appealing — their stupidity is rewarded.

If you examine the stories of those who have left a cult you will see that many intelligent people have become indoctrinated into a limited and overly simplistic mode of thinking and then broke away from it. Some stories are from people who were born into cults and then discovered on their own the there is a larger world out there. Some joined a cult later in life and then came to realize that they had been led to believe things that simply are not true.

A while back one of the posters on Ray Comfort’s Atheist Central aka The Swamp, asked me why it is that we almost always see de-conversion stories from those who were involved in very rigid and extreme religious cults and then became completely non-religious.

The answer I gave at the time still rings pretty much true to me. The extreme religiosity to total lack of religion is not, of course, the only de-conversion or re-conversion scenario there is. This scenario, however, does represent the most profound change in thinking — therefor the subject will have an incentive to write about their experiences. It is an extreme life-changing experience.

No doubt there are Methodists who choose to join a Presbyterian church, for example, but the change is subtle, and the subject is not as likely to want to share the experience with the world. There are plenty of people who were raised in mildly religious families and abandoned what little religious attitudes they had later in life, but again, a subtle change that can go unnoticed. A person may have spent a week checking out the Hare Krishnas and decided that it was not their cup of tea, but would hardly feel compelled to publish a book called, My Life With the Krishnas.

I would be interested in the reactions to this post from people who are currently involved in a religious organization.

Ray Comfort’s Necrophilia

Necrophilia

Not too long ago ray Comfort posted a piece about Andy Rooney. The gist of Ray’s report on Rooney was that he did not trim his eyebrows, he was an atheist, and — in accordance with the belief system of Ray’s cult — we can assume what Ray only implied — Rooney is burning for eternity in the mythical lake of fire.

I did not know that Andy Rooney was an atheist. I don’t care. I do not give a flying fuck or a rat’s ass whether or not someone believes in a deity. I did not know much about Andy Rooney. After his death I learned that he was a military journalist, wrote for Stars and Stripes during WWII, saw the victims of Nazi concentration camps first hand, he started working in television in 1949.

This man remembered the world when it was a very different place than the one I grew up in. That is what I find interesting. His life, not his death, is what I would want to focus on. Unlike Ray and gang, I am not a necrophiliac.

I am not using the term ‘necrophilia’ in the sense that I believe Ray and his minions are out boffing corpses every chance they get. The term means literally — love of death. These are people who find death more interesting than they find life. These are people who consider dead people to be of greater value than living people.

The psychologist Dr. Charlotte Kasl writes about necrophilia from a feminist deconstructionist point of view. She points out how necrophilia is a vital component to a patriarchal, hierarchical, authoritarian, and dogmatic structure.

The focus and obsession with death combined with a hatred for life and the living is a fantastic method of mind control.

You are worthless

In accordance with the doctrine of most most cults, a person who is not immersed in the mindless adherence to that cult’s doctrine has absolutely no value. Your life has no meaning, has no value, you cannot be grateful for anything, you cannot have any real sense of morality until you do the only meaningful thing that a person can do — join the cult and unquestioningly embrace its bullshit.

But until that day you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human, fucking beings. You are nothing but unorganized grabastic pieces of amphibian shit!

Unlike the Marine Corps, cults expect you to be with them for the rest of your life. If you leave the cult they claim that you were never really one of them to begin with. You will be worthless and, according to them, you were actually worthless that whole time because you were just faking it or some such bullshit.

A person’s life is just a preparation for the afterlife. When Comfort provides a post such as the one he did about Andy Rooney, he is telling his followers how they must think. If a well-known person dies, the first thought should be — “Were they a member of my cult?” To those of us who are not indoctrinated this looks ghoulish, opportunistic, sleazy, revolting, etc. It is. It is all of those things on the surface but we can also look at the function of this kind of thinking. This is a tactic that is based on fear and hatred.

Andy Rooney died.

Andy Rooney did not believe in the Grand-cosmic-goo-goo-fuck.

Therefore Andy Rooney is being tortured for eternity in hell.

Ray and his gang of boot-licking bullshit believers have no obligation to express condolence for the man’s family and friends, the people who will miss him, admiration for his accomplishments, etc. Everything for a cult member must be thought of in terms of how it relates to their cult. Andy Rooney was not in their in-group, therefore Andy Rooney is not someone they have to care about because he was on their imaginary friend’s shit-list. While he was alive, he served no purpose, but as a dead man he does serve a purpose — he serves the purpose of bolstering the fear and loathing that keeps the sheep faithful.

The heaven problem.

Ray’s ass-kissers have no problem describing hell. The place of eternal torment and agony. Roasting forever in a lake of fire. They love to pile on the fear of this horrible place that, if it really existed, I think everyone would agree that it would suck to be there. But what about eternal bliss? This is a more difficult problem. You may notice that ult members do not describe heaven very often or in much detail — just that it is really really fucking wonderful.

Bliss is unlike utter anguish, in that, it is much more subjective. One person’s heaven would be another person’s hell. When they talk about basking in the glory of the creator, singing his praises forever and ever — sounds like being in church for eternity. Fuck that shit.

Are you a Nazi? Let’s Take the Test

Ray Comfort’s Moral Dilemma

Some time ago the Youtube commentator Thunderfoot and Ray Comfort had a recorded discussion in which Ray proposed to Thunderfoot a moral dilemma that went something like (this is from my memory):

You are a a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. You are forced to perform duties for the guards at the camp. You are ordered to use a bulldozer to bury the bodies of your fellow prisoners, some of whom, it is apparent, are still alive. The officer who commands you to do so has a gun pointed at you and he makes it clear that if you do not obey him he will kill you. Do you obey the officer or do you get killed?

Most people would say as Thunderfoot did, that they would tell Mr. Nazi officer to go fuck himself and — BLAM! I would like to believe the same of myself. That is the way most people would like to view themselves.

It’s easy to say you would do a particular thing when you don’t actually have a loaded pistol pressing against your skull. It is also easy to view things from the vantage of 20/20 hindsight. We have the advantage of examining Nazi Germany in terms of historical analysis, sociological phenomenon, and examination of collective morality. Had you been a citizen of Germany during the rise of the National Socialist Party, don’t you want to believe that you would be a voice of reason speaking out against the madness of mass conformity?  You probably do. So do I.

This is another aspect in which argumentum ad Hitlerum is effective:

X=Nazism,

I am morally opposed to Nazism,

Therefor I am opposed to X.

If you are not opposed to X then you are equal to those who did not oppose the Nazi Party  in Germany.

Would you really have stood up against the Nazis?

The question has come up again and again. Why?

Why did so many German people look the other way, go with the flow, or actively support the Nazi Party despite the hatred and violence that they obviously perpetrated?

The psychologist Stanley Milgram set up an experiment in 1961 that most of us are familiar with:

– The subject was offered payment for participating in an experiment about “memory and learning.”

– The subject was told to administer electric shocks to the “learner” every time he gave a wrong answer, increasing the voltage each time an incorrect response was given.

– The learner would complain and then scream begging to be let go each time an increased shock was given.

– The director of the experiment demanded that the subject continue to administer the shocks.

– The shocks were not real, the experiment  was designed to test how much the subject would torture another person just in response to being told to do so.

Milgram’s investigation into obedience to authority demonstrated that people seem to have an innate predisposition to obey an authority figure. Milgram’s experiment on obedience demonstrated a very disturbing aspect of human nature. 65% of the subjects of the subjects administered as many shocks as they were told to. All of the subjects gave what would have been a harmful or lethal shock had the machine been real. Not one single participant refused to shock a person in response to merely being told to do so.

So, perhaps we don’t need to go all the way back to Germany during the second World war, but just to Boston in 1961.

If you were one of the subjects who participated in the Milgram experiment, do you think that you would have been the single one who said, “Go fuck yourself Mr. Experimenter, I will not torture a fellow human being for the sake of your research!”?

Hey, if you think that just maybe you would have been that lone maverick, the one who showed an extremely rare level of bravery and integrity, standing up for what you know to be right  — you are not alone.

If truth be told I would certainly like to think of myself that way too. I bet most people feel the same way.

I think that may be an interesting experiment to do now — repeat the same experiment that Milgram did. Most adults have learned about the famous experiment in one way or another and would recognize the set-up. Find out how many people would say — “NO!” right from the get-go.

Hindsight is always 20-20.

Meanwhile, Back on the West Coast

Let’s jump over to Palo Alto, California, 1967. A high-school history teacher named Ben Ross was asked the question by his students — Why?

He was teaching them about the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII.

How did they let this happen? Why did they let this happen?
“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
– Lily Tomlin

 

Ben Ross decided to use the students in his history class as subjects for a sociological experiment. He created a mock organization based on a level of authoritarianism and mind control similar to that of the Nazis.  It was called THE WAVE.

There was a movie made about this in 1981. Even though it is a made-for-TV movie, it is well-done. You can watch it on Youtube, the reproduction quality is not great, but I would say that it’s still worth a watch.

Almost immediately Ross started getting some answers to those tough questions. Some students joined up with his group the second they found out about it. He discovered that the social network that The Wave created gained an interest with students outside his classroom and soon started spreading throughout the entire school. The Wave became a social group and a sense of identity for some of the students. Animosity grew toward those who were openly critical of the new organization and sometimes toward students who merely didn’t have an interest in joining it and did not openly criticize it.

It became apparent that there were some students who functioned better under an authoritarian system. Some kids who performed poorly in class and had little interest in their peers changed a great deal after being part of The Wave . They became high-functioning academically and gregarious with other Wave members.

Despite the progress shown by some of the students, it became clear that Ross had to abort the experiment before it went too far. How far? Though I am a strong believer in gaining knowledge and finding out answers to questions by way of experimentation and observable reality — this is one case that I would rather remain a mystery.

180 — Ray Comfort’s 180th Blunder

I have not watched it.

First of all I will confess that I did not watch 180. I have read enough about it in order to get the gist of the picture. I figured that I have done my fundie-horror-picture-show duty having sat through Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and A Thief in the Night.

A Thief in the Night is a 1972 embarrassingly campy production that was used as a scare tactic aimed at children.

Expelled and 180 are fundie propaganda movies that employ an appeal-to-emotion tactic that has been a favorite of moronic propagandists for decades now.

From Wikipedia:

Reductio ad Hitlerum, also argumentum ad Hitlerum, (Latin for “reduction to” and “argument to” and dog Latin for “Hitler” respectively) is an ad hominem or ad misericordiam argument whereby an opponent’s view is compared to a view that would be held by Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. It is a http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignoratio_elenchi”>fallacy of irrelevance, in which a conclusion is suggested based solely on something’s or someone’s origin rather than its current meaning. The suggested logic is one of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilt_by_association”>guilt by association.

Its name is a variation on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum”>reductio ad absurdum, and was coined by an academic ethicist, Leo Strauss, in 1953. Engaging in this fallacy is sometimes known as playing the Nazi card,[1] by analogy to playing the race card. The tactic is often used to derail arguments, because such comparisons tend to distract and anger the opponent.[1]

It is effective as a distraction and angering device. Sure, when this puerile fallacy is employed, one may be inclined to begin a retort with something like, “ATTENTION YOU IGNORANT FUCK-BUCKET…” Argumentum ad Hitlerum would not be used with such frequency if it did not have some degree of efficacy. We see this crock used all the time. Again from Wikipedia:

Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies)[1][2] is a humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1990[2] that has become an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_humor”>Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limit_%28mathematics%29″>approaches 1.”[2][3] In other words, Godwin observed that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably criticizes some point made in the discussion by comparing it to beliefs held by Hitler and the Nazis.

It is indubitably the case that there are some topics that cannot be discussed in-depth without mentioning Hitler. If you are talking about WWII, German history, antisemitism,  or totalitarian dictatorships — Hitler would come up by necessity. If you are discussing woman’s right to reproductive choice or the scientific theory of evolution — Hitler is irrelevant.

This fallacy is effective merely because it pisses people off. The way that it is used by Ray Comfort and Ben Stein in their vile pieces of propaganda is nothing more than a grade-school playground insult.

Atheists have become the fundies’ pet scape-goat since the attention that the “new atheism” has been getting starting in the early 2000s.  Being that contemporary American atheists, as a group, don’t commit any dastardly anti-social acts — Ray and them resort the stupid — “just like Hitler” canard.

Those of us who are not currently indoctrinated into a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian-right cult can easily dismiss such horse-shit as a transparent, childish, ignorant, and desperate attempt to demonize a section of society for the purpose of stirring up hatred and bigotry against them. Hate sells.

The cult members are trained like bad dogs not to evoke anything similar to critical analysis when it comes the the assertions made by the cult leaders. Ray Comfort, Ben Stein, Pat Robertson, and them say that atheists are all latent Nazis — ergo — atheists are all latent Nazis. The evidence: “Because some fuck-tard said so.” In the mind of the mindless, if you will accept that oxymoronic but suitable description, that settles the issue.

I find such shallow and narrow-minded dogmatism frustrating. It closes communication. Dogmatic authoritarian structure is designed for the specific purpose of limiting the thought process of the adherents. Their thinking must stay on a simple-minded, dualistic, and child-like level if they are going to remain part of the group. One of the tenets of the fundie doctrine is that atheists, as a group, are to be feared and loathed. Why? Because they are all a bunch of Hitler clones. How do we know? They know because half of them (give or take) used to be atheists — they must therefor be experts on the subject.

Atheists worship Hitler?

I have read some statements written by radical fundies in which they proclaim that Adolf Hitler is some sort of hero to the atheist community. Whenever atheists are not busy worshiping Charles Darwin and praying to the theory of evolution they are aspiring to be the next Hitler-esque tyrant.

I do not believe in any sort of god and I am certain that I do not have any sort of admiration of the late German dictator on my personal agenda either. Really, I don’t, no matter how many Bible verses one can repeat that clearly and unambiguously state that I do, I’m sure that I do not.

There are those who do. Members of Neo-Nazi organizations do expressly and shamelessly state that they do, in fact, consider Adolf Hitler to be a heroic and enlightened historical figure, base their group tenets on the writings of Hitler and other WWII-era German Nazi propagandists, and do express a belief that the World ought to be controlled and dominated by a dictatorship based on the ideology of the long-defunct National Socialist Party of Germany.

I do not associate with any such organization. I have no intention of doing so. I have nothing to do with them, because, frankly, those fuckers scare the shit out of me.

Introduction

This is Godless Panther’s Wild Ride. I was posting regularly on Ray Comfort’s Atheist Central blog until Ray or one of his flying monkeys gave me the permanent boot. That’s cool, I know when I’m not wanted. I just wondered what the fuck took them so long. So rather than bypass the IP ban I figured I’d just do my own gig to discuss the idiocy of Ray and his blind believers.

 

Humans are strange critters and I find fundies to be a particularly interesting specimen. Let’s take that wild ride together and figure out just what makes those loonies tick.