Characteristics of Cults (Part X)

Posted: October 15, 2014 in Cults, Mormonism, Psychology, Religion
Tags: , , , ,

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? front cover
(This is a slightly revised version of material from Chapter 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? )

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23. Violence, Coercion, and Harassment.  Coercion is routine in cults. Many cults, such as the People’s Temple and Synanon maintain(ed) goon squads to control their own members; and many, including Synanon, The Peoples Temple, and the Church of the Blood of the Lamb of God, have employed violence and even killings to intimidate and silence critics.  The most famous example of such violence was the 1978 rattlesnake attack on attorney Paul Morantz by members of Synanon’s goon squad. (They placed a rattler with it’s tail cut off in Morantz’s mailbox; it bit him, but he survived.)

Other cults, such as Scientology, utilize legal and (wtihin the law) physical harassment.  The within-the-law physical harassment the Church of Scientology employs involves sending private investigators to follow high profile critics, and members with video cameras to film them. Such harassment is sometimes a 24-hours-a-day affair. But in at least one case, that church has gone beyond lawsuits and within-the-law harassment.  In that case, Church of Scientology members, including very high ranking memvers of the church’s hierarchy, attempted to frame a critic, journalist Paulette Cooper, on felony bomb charges and very nearly succeeded. According to L. Ron Hubbard, Jr. and Bent Corydon (in L. Ron Hubbard: Messiah or Madman?), a Scientology agent who “befriended” Cooper during her ordeal reported to his superiors: “She can’t sleep again . . . she’s talking suicide. Wouldn’t this be great for Scientology!” (p. 170) Fortunately, Cooper escaped the Scientologists’ plot–after years of torment–and several of those responsible for the conspiracy against her were eventually sentenced to prison terms.

But the use of violence against nonbelievers is hardly a new phenomenon. Well over 100 years ago, John Doyle Lee, the Mormon elder who was scapegoated in 1877 for the 1857 massacre of 120 settlers (including many women and children) at Mountain Meadows, Utah, stated, in “Being the Confession of John Doyle Lee,” shortly before his execution:

[T]he people in Utah who professed the Mormon religion were at and for some time before the Mountain Meadows massacre full of wildfire and zeal, anxious to do something to build up the Kingdom of God on earth and waste the enemies of the Mormon religion . . . The killing of Gentiles [non-Mormons] was means of grace and a virtuous deed . . .

The Mormons believed in blood atonement. It is taught by the leaders, and believed by the people, that the Priesthood are inspired and cannot give a wrong order. It is the belief of all that I ever heard talk of these things . . . that the authority that orders is the only responsible party and the Danite [member of the Sons of Dan, the Mormon equivalent of the KGB] who does the killing only an instrument, and commits no wrong . . .

An even older example of the bloodthirstiness of some cults was provided by theologian and papal agent at the Beziers massacre of Albigensian heretics in 1209: “Kill them all. God will easily recognize his own.”

All Posts in this Series

  • Characteristics of Cults (part 1)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 2)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 3)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 4)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 5)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 6)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 7)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 8)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 9)
  • Characteristics of Cults (part 10)



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