The “Scientology” of Cults: Do You Know Someone Who’s Trapped?

All this talk about TomKat’s divorce stemming from Tom Cruise’s dedication to Scientology and Katie Holme’s fear that their daughter, Suri might soon be ensnared, got me thinking about the time when I was heavily recruited into a cult when I was just about to start college (I would learn later that this was a common tactic for cults). A girlfriend of mine was heavily entrenched at the time, and was working double time to get me in, because they were leaning on her hard that if her “old” friends were not converted, she would have to leave us behind.

I call it the “hotel church” because they always met at one hotel meeting room or another. At first, I was enamored at all the attention that lavished on me. On my birthday, they threw me a surprise party, complete with personalized cake and presents. But aside from my friend and the super-cute Armenian recruiter assigned to my brainwashing, I didn’t know a single soul. The hotel church had my friend hook, line, and sinker. They assigned her with two “disciples” who woke her up at 6AM for prayer and bible study, controlled every aspect of her daily schedule, encouraged her to give tithes even though she didn’t have a job, made her “confess” to every sin she’d ever committed (remember that, we’ll come back to it), told her she could only date and marry people within the church, and that all her outside friends and family who weren’t in the hotel church were doomed to Hell. Church gatherings were three, four times a week with weekend “gatherings” for new recruits. Hotel church folks would often stalk the exits to the university psychologist’s office to lure in the weak minded, homesick and friendless students.

I looked at all this in wonder, because frankly I make a terrible cult recruit. I’m too independent minded, and then there’s that pesky critical thinking skill…but my friend–she was lost to me for a while until she finally got out herself. In Steven Hassan’s “Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs,” you find a checklist of common tactics cults employ in order to maintain complete control of followers.

–Gain control over a person’s time, especially his thinking time and physical environment

–Create a sense of powerlessness, fear and dependency, while providing models that demonstrate the new, ideal behavior

–Manipulate rewards, punishments and experience to suppress the recruit’s former social behavior and attitudes

–Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member

–Report deviate thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership

–Unethical use of confession, past sins used to manipulate and control; no forgiveness or absolution

The hotel church met this checklist 100%.

Hassan also says that many of these same tactics are used in interpersonal relationships. If you know someone in such a situation get help…yesterday. Most cults aren’t as cray as that UFO group in San Diego, Waco, or those Kool-Aid drinkers, but can wreak emotional, financial and familial damage.