The Truth about the Holy Mountain and its Monks (Dr Panagiotis Grigoriou, 2001)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs. http://www.psyche.gr/lgreekdiasyndpsyttheo.htm

ΝΟΣΟΚΟΜΕΙΟ
Halkidiki General Hospital.

I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).

The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.

With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.

Ιατρικής Σχολής του Πανεπιστημίου Αθηνών
Medical School of Athens University

Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?

Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.

Prozac

Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2

RESPONSIBILITIES

I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.

If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.

Thic Duc
On June 11, 1963, a Vietnamese monk named Thich Quang Duc shocked the world when he burned himself to death in public as a protest against the Vietnamese government, a gesture known as self-immolation.

The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5

DISORDERS

Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.

Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?

Caste system

I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7

As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12

The Town of Karye
The Town of Karyes

Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14

SCANDAL-MONGERING

Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16

We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”

Elder Makarios

Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18

Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!

AthosMap
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks.

NOTES:

  1. A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
  2. According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
  3. Most contemporary spiritual fathers are not against their spiritual children going to psychiatrists and, in certain cases, taking psychotropics. See http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/11/elder-epiphanios-theodoropoulos-on_11.html However, some spiritual fathers do not agree with monastics seeing psychiatrists or taking psychotropic drugs.
  4. It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
  5. Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
  6. This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
  7. Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
  8. As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
  9. Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
  10. Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
  11. In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
  12. Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  13. It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
  14. Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
  15. The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
  16. This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
  17. Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
  18. This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
  19. The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
  20. The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologist Melanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
  • Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
    Filotheou Brotherhood late ca. 80s/early 90s [Geronda Paisios of Arizona, kneeling far right, Fr. Germanos of NY kneeling opposite]
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The Confidence Game: What Con Artists Reveal About the Psychology of Trust and Why Even the Most Rational of Us Are Susceptible to Deception

NOTE: The following article was written by Maria Popova and was taken from https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/01/12/the-confidence-game-maria-konnikova/

“It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.”

theconfidencegame_konnikova

“Reality is what we take to be true,” physicist David Bohm observed in a 1977 lecture. “What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.” That’s why nothing is more reality-warping than the shock of having come to believe something untrue — an experience so disorienting yet so universal that it doesn’t spare even the most intelligent and self-aware of us, for it springs from the most elemental tendencies of human psychology. “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence,” Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman asserted in examining how our minds mislead us, “but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.”

The machinery of that construction is what New Yorker columnist and science writer extraordinaire Maria Konnikova explores in The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It … Every Time (public library) — a thrilling psychological detective story investigating how con artists, the supreme masterminds of malevolent reality-manipulation, prey on our propensity for believing what we wish were true and how this illuminates the inner workings of trust and deception in our everyday lives.

edwardgoreyfairytales_red4
Art by Edward Gorey for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

“Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours,” Carl Sagan urged in his excellent Baloney Detection Kit — and yet our tendency is to do just that, becoming increasingly attached to what we’ve come to believe because the belief has sprung from our own glorious, brilliant, fool-proof minds. Through a tapestry of riveting real-life con artist profiles interwoven with decades of psychology experiments, Konnikova demonstrates that a con artist simply takes advantage of this hubris by finding the beliefs in which we are most confident — those we’re least likely to question — and enlisting them in advancing his or her agenda.

To be sure, we all perform micro-cons on a daily basis. White lies are the ink of the social contract — the insincere compliment to a friend who needs a confidence boost, the unaddressed email that “somehow went to spam,” the affinity fib that gives you common ground with a stranger at a party even though you aren’t really a “huge Leonard Cohen fan too.”

We even con ourselves. Every act of falling in love requires a necessary self-con — as Adam Phillips has written in his terrific piece on the paradox of romance, “the person you fall in love with really is the man or woman of your dreams”; we dream the lover up, we construct a fantasy of who she is based on the paltry morsels of information seeded by early impressions, we fall for that fantasy and then, as we immerse ourselves in a real relationship with a real person, we must convince ourselves that the reality corresponds to enough of the fantasy to feel satisfying.

But what sets the con artist apart from the mundane white-liar is the nefarious intent and the deliberate deftness with which he or she goes about executing that reality-manipulation.

Konnikova begins with the story of a lifelong impostor named Ferdinand Waldo Demara, who successfully passed himself off as a psychologist, a professor, a monk, a surgeon, a prison warden, the founder of a religious college, and even his own biographer.

demara
Ferdinand Waldo Demara (Photograph: Corbis)

Considering the perplexity of his astonishing ability to deceive, Konnikova — whose previous book examined the positive counterpart to the con, the psychology of thinking like Sherlock Holmes — writes:

“How was he so effective? Was it that he preyed on particularly soft, credulous targets? I’m not sure the Texas prison system, one of the toughest in the United States, could be described as such. Was it that he presented an especially compelling, trustworthy figure? Not likely, at six foot one and over 250 pounds, square linebacker’s jaw framed by small eyes that seemed to sit on the border between amusement and chicanery, an expression that made [his] four-year-old daughter Sarah cry and shrink in fear the first time she ever saw it. Or was it something else, something deeper and more fundamental — something that says more about ourselves and how we see the world?

It’s the oldest story ever told. The story of belief — of the basic, irresistible, universal human need to believe in something that gives life meaning, something that reaffirms our view of ourselves, the world, and our place in it… For our minds are built for stories. We crave them, and, when there aren’t ready ones available, we create them. Stories about our origins. Our purpose. The reasons the world is the way it is. Human beings don’t like to exist in a state of uncertainty or ambiguity. When something doesn’t make sense, we want to supply the missing link. When we don’t understand what or why or how something happened, we want to find the explanation. A confidence artist is only too happy to comply — and the well-crafted narrative is his absolute forte.”

aliceinwonderland_zwerger13
Art by Lisbeth Zwerger for a special edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Konnikova describes the basic elements of the con and the psychological susceptibility into which each of them plays:

“The confidence game starts with basic human psychology. From the artist’s perspective, it’s a question of identifying the victim (the put-up): who is he, what does he want, and how can I play on that desire to achieve what I want? It requires the creation of empathy and rapport (the play): an emotional foundation must be laid before any scheme is proposed, any game set in motion. Only then does it move to logic and persuasion (the rope): the scheme (the tale), the evidence and the way it will work to your benefit (the convincer), the show of actual profits. And like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more we struggle, the less able to extricate ourselves we become (the breakdown). By the time things begin to look dicey, we tend to be so invested, emotionally and often physically, that we do most of the persuasion ourselves. We may even choose to up our involvement ourselves, even as things turn south (the send), so that by the time we’re completely fleeced (the touch), we don’t quite know what hit us. The con artist may not even need to convince us to stay quiet (the blow-off and fix); we are more likely than not to do so ourselves. We are, after all, the best deceivers of our own minds. At each step of the game, con artists draw from a seemingly endless toolbox of ways to manipulate our belief. And as we become more committed, with every step we give them more psychological material to work with.”

What makes the book especially pleasurable is that Konnikova’s intellectual rigor comes with a side of warm wit. She writes:

“Religion,” Voltaire is said to have remarked, “began when the first scoundrel met the first fool.” It certainly sounds like something he would have said. Voltaire was no fan of the religious establishment. But versions of the exact same words have been attributed to Mark Twain, to Carl Sagan, to Geoffrey Chaucer. It seems so accurate that someone, somewhere, sometime, must certainly have said it.

The invocation of Mark Twain is especially apt — one of America’s first great national celebrities, he was the recipient of some outrageous con attempts. That, in fact, is one of Konnikova’s most disquieting yet strangely assuring points — that although our technologies of deception have changed, the technologies of thought undergirding the art of the con are perennially bound to our basic humanity. She writes:

“The con is the oldest game there is. But it’s also one that is remarkably well suited to the modern age. If anything, the whirlwind advance of technology heralds a new golden age of the grift. Cons thrive in times of transition and fast change, when new things are happening and old ways of looking at the world no longer suffice. That’s why they flourished during the gold rush and spread with manic fury in the days of westward expansion. That’s why they thrive during revolutions, wars, and political upheavals. Transition is the confidence game’s great ally, because transition breeds uncertainty. There’s nothing a con artist likes better than exploiting the sense of unease we feel when it appears that the world as we know it is about to change. We may cling cautiously to the past, but we also find ourselves open to things that are new and not quite expected.

[…]

No amount of technological sophistication or growing scientific knowledge or other markers we like to point to as signs of societal progress will — or can — make cons any less likely. The same schemes that were playing out in the big stores of the Wild West are now being run via your in-box; the same demands that were being made over the wire are hitting your cell phone. A text from a family member. A frantic call from the hospital. A Facebook message from a cousin who seems to have been stranded in a foreign country.

[…]

Technology doesn’t make us more worldly or knowledgeable. It doesn’t protect us. It’s just a change of venue for the same old principles of confidence. What are you confident in? The con artist will find those things where your belief is unshakeable and will build on that foundation to subtly change the world around you. But you will be so confident in the starting point that you won’t even notice what’s happened.”

thebiggreenbook_gravessendak7
Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

In a sense, the con is a more extreme and elaborate version of the principles of persuasion that Blaise Pascal outlined half a millennium ago — it is ultimately an art not of coercion but of complicity. Konnikova writes:

“The confidence game — the con — is an exercise in soft skills. Trust, sympathy, persuasion. The true con artist doesn’t force us to do anything; he makes us complicit in our own undoing. He doesn’t steal. We give. He doesn’t have to threaten us. We supply the story ourselves. We believe because we want to, not because anyone made us. And so we offer up whatever they want — money, reputation, trust, fame, legitimacy, support — and we don’t realize what is happening until it is too late. Our need to believe, to embrace things that explain our world, is as pervasive as it is strong. Given the right cues, we’re willing to go along with just about anything and put our confidence in just about anyone.”

So what makes you more susceptible to the confidence game? Not necessarily what you might expect:

“When it comes to predicting who will fall, personality generalities tend to go out the window. Instead, one of the factors that emerges is circumstance: it’s not who you are, but where you happen to be at this particular moment in your life.”

People whose willpower and emotional resilience resources are strained — the lonely, the financially downtrodden, those dealing with the trauma of divorce, injury, or job loss, those undergoing major life changes — are particularly vulnerable. But these, Konnikova reminds us, are states rather than character qualities, circumstances that might and likely will befall each one of us at different points in life for reasons largely outside our control. (One is reminded of philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s excellent work on agency and victimhood: “The victim shows us something about our own lives: we see that we too are vulnerable to misfortune, that we are not any different from the people whose fate we are watching…”) Konnikova writes:

“The more you look, the more you realize that, even with certain markers, like life changes, and certain tendencies in tow, a reliably stable overarching victim profile is simply not there. Marks vary as much as, and perhaps even more than, the grifters who fool them.”

Therein lies the book’s most sobering point — Konnikova demonstrates over and over again, through historical anecdotes and decades of studies, that no one is immune to the art of the con. And yet there is something wonderfully optimistic in this. Konnikova writes:

“The simple truth is that most people aren’t out to get you. We are so bad at spotting deception because it’s better for us to be more trusting. Trust, and not adeptness at spotting deception, is the more evolutionarily beneficial path. People are trusting by nature. We have to be. As infants, we need to trust that the big person holding us will take care of our needs and desires until we’re old enough to do it ourselves. And we never quite let go of that expectation.”

Trust, it turns out, is advantageous in the grand scheme of things. Konnikova cites a number of studies indicating that people who score higher on generalized trust tend to be healthier physically, more psychoemotionally content, likelier to be entrepreneurs, and likelier to volunteer. (The most generous woman I know, who is also a tremendously successful self-made entrepreneur, once reflected: “I’ve never once regretted being generous, I’ve only ever regretted holding back generosity.”) But the greater risk-tolerance necessary for reaping greater rewards also comes with the inevitable downside of greater potential for exploitation — the most trusting among us are also the perfect marks for the player of the confidence game.

thebiggreenbook_gravessendak9
Art by Maurice Sendak for The Green Book by Robert Graves.

But the paradox of trust, Konnikova argues, is only part of our susceptibility to being conned. Another major factor is our sheer human solipsism. She explains:

“We are our own prototype of being, of motivation, of behavior. People, however, are far from being a homogeneous mass. And so, when we depart from our own perspective, as we inevitably must, we often make errors, sometimes significant ones. [Psychologists call this] “egocentric anchoring”: we are our own point of departure. We assume that others know what we know, believe what we believe, and like what we like.”

She cites an extensive study, the results of which were published in a paper cleverly titled “How to Seem Telepathic.” (One ought to appreciate the scientists’ wry sarcasm in poking fun at our clickbait culture.) Konnikova writes:

“Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.”

mauricesendak_junipertree_grimm5
Art by Maurice Sendak for a special edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

The skilled con artist, Konnikova points out, mediates for this mismatch by making an active effort to discern which cues the other person is using to form judgments and which don’t register at all. The result is a practical, non-paranormal exercise in mind-reading, which creates an illusion of greater affinity, which in turn becomes the foundation of greater trust — we tend to trust those similar to us more than the dissimilar, for we intuit that the habits and preferences we have in common stem from shared values.

And yet, once again, we are reminded that the tricks of the con artist’s exploitive game are different only by degree rather than kind from the everyday micro-deceptions of which our social fabric is woven. Konnikova writes:

“Both similarity and familiarity can be faked, as the con artist can easily tell you — and the more you can fake it, the more real information will be forthcoming. Similarity is easy enough. When we like someone or feel an affinity for them, we tend to mimic their behavior, facial expressions, and gestures, a phenomenon known as the chameleon effect. But the effect works the other way, too. If we mimic someone else, they will feel closer and more similar to us; we can fake the natural liking process quite well. We perpetuate minor cons every day, often without realizing it, and sometimes knowing what we do all too well, when we mirror back someone’s words or interests, feign a shared affinity for a sports team or a mutual hatred of a brand. The signs that usually serve us reliably can easily be massaged, especially in the short term — all a good con artist needs.”

In the remainder of the thoroughly fascinating The Confidence Game, Konnikova goes on to explore the role of storytelling in reality-manipulation, what various psychological models reveal about the art of persuasion, and how the two dramatically different systems that govern our perception of reality — emotion and the intellect — conspire in the machinery of trust. Complement it with Adrienne Rich on lying and what “truth” really means, David deSteno on the psychology of trust in work and love, and Alice Walker on what her father taught her about the love-expanding capacity of truth-telling.

 

Characteristics Associated with Cultic Groups (Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., 2006)

NOTE: This article is taken from the book, Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships. It was adapted from a checklist originally developed by Michael Langone.

cults

Concerted efforts at influence and control lie at the core of cultic groups, programs, and relationships. Many members, former members, and supporters of cults are not fully aware of the extent to which members may have been manipulated, exploited, even abused. The following list of social-structural,
social-psychological, and interpersonal behavioural patterns commonly found in cultic environments may be helpful in assessing a particular group or relationship.

Compare these patterns to the situation you were in (or in which you, a family member, or friend is currently involved). This list may help you determine if there is cause for concern. Bear in mind that this list is not meant to be a “cult scale” or a definitive checklist to determine if a specific group is a cult. This is not so much a diagnostic instrument as it is an analytical tool.

St. Anthony's Monastery Feast Day (early - mid-2000s)

[x]  The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. [Blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings is the foundation and essence of his “family.” Many times, he is equated with Christ, and more emphasis is placed on his books and cassette homilies than the Bible].

Disciples are taught that blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings are a prerequisite for salvation.
Disciples are taught that blind obedience to Geronda Ephraim and his teachings are a prerequisite for salvation.

[x]   Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. [Questioning or talking negatively about Geronda is equated with Luciferian egoism. Both acts are punished with prostrations, the Lity and in some cases, the other monastics will be instructed they have no blessing to talk to the dissenter].

[x]  Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). A monastic, and lay person if possible, must ceaselessly recite the Jesus Prayer 24/7, either mentally or vocally. Within the monasteries, there is also the daily 1/2 hour-3 hour breathing/meditative exercise of Prayer of the Heart. Work hours are long and excessive with the purpose to “exhaust the flesh and carnal desires.”

[x]   The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). Though the dictation of one’s life, thoughts and feelings is much stricter for monastic disciples, lay spiritual children under Geronda Ephraim still need blessings for minute details of their lives–dating, getting a job, how to discipline children, etc. The spiritual Father has the last say–he can order one to break up with someone, not take a job, buy a car, house, etc., all for “the spiritual benefit of their spiritual child.”

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[x]  The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). [Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are the “last bastion of authentic, traditional monasticism in the world.” It is generally taught and believed that “Geronda Ephraim is the holiest man in the world, and the last great saint of the Orthodox Church.” Spiritual children are taught that after the “False Union” that is coming, and especially in the days of the Antichrist, one will only be able to find true Orthodoxy in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries; “everywhere else will be apostate, unionist, pseudo-Orthodox churches.”

[x]   The group has a polarised us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. “Those who aren’t with us are against us.” Essentially, the ecumenist and mainstream hierarchs, priests, Archons, AHEPA, freemasons, Zionists, CIA, etc. are inspired by demons to stop the salvific work of the monasteries and end Geronda Ephraim’s Apostolic work here.

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[x]  The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). Though technically accountable to his Hierarch, it is generally accepted in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries that because he is a saint, he is not really bound by Canons, obedience to worldly hierarchs or jurisdictions. Anytime he overrides a hierarch or synodal canon/decree, it is generally accepted that he either received an obedience or a blessing from the Panagia, or Christ Himself.

[x]   The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviours or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). A book can be written about all the white collar crime, falsified  documents, lies, cover-ups, lawsuits, etc. A monastic can average lying once to a dozen times a day, all blessed via obedience. This is even more so for the monastic who answers phones. The Gerondissa or Geronda many times will instruct them, “If anyone calls, tell them you don’t know where I am or I am out of the monastery for the day, and take a message.” Meanwhile, they’re in their cell all day. The one answering the phone knows this, but lies, or rather does obedience, and says whatever they are told.

TX 1998

[x]   The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. The superior “rebukes in and out of season,” namely, one gets humbled, insulted and yelled at when they’ve erred, but also when they’ve done nothing wrong, as a test. Private confessions are revealed to other monastics at the “discernment” of the Elder, whether in a group setting to humble the individual, or without the individual’s presence and more as gossip.

[x]   Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. This is a requirement of all monastic novices. Though certain monastics have special privileges and can keep close familial communications and connections.

[x]   The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. More with pilgrims–monastery tourism. In the first years, there was a drive for monastic recruitment but that has dwindled due to all the problems and issues that have occurred in the various monasteries. “In the beginning it was about quantity, now it is about quality.”

Fundraising Event held on January 13, 2013 by Friends of the Monastery from St-Mary's Antiochian Orthodox church in Montreal.

[x]   The group is preoccupied with making money. The monasteries are all incorporated and they function like corporations. Besides the dependency on donations, the monasteries have all ventured into various business endeavors and projects to help earn more profits to help build bigger and better buildings and chapels.

[x]  Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. This is non-negotiable for the monastics. With lay people, if they want to remain in the monasteries good books, they should comply to any favor asked of them. Noncompliance brings about passive aggressive guilt tripping. Continual noncompliance or making excuses when help is needed can result in the monastery distancing themselves from the individual.

[x]   Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialise only with other group members. “Bad company corrupts good habits.”

[x]  The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. Geroinda Ephraim has stated that those who stay with him until the end will be saved; this is based on a vision. Monastics are taught and believe that if they leave the monastic life, there is no hope for salvation for them. Lay people are taught that Geronda Ephraim and his father confessors are the only ones in America with the spiritual experience to help guide them to salvation and theosis.

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 https://www.scribd.com/doc/260450299/Cults-102-Commonly-Used-Thought-Reform-Tactics

Coercive Mind Control Tactics (Margaret Thaler Singer, Ph.D)

Terminology note:
Today Mind control or brainwashing in academia is commonly referred to as coercive persuasion, coercive psychological systems or coercive influence. The short description below comes from Dr. Margaret Singer professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley the acknowledged leading authority in the world on mind control and cults.

quote-the-public-takes-care-of-their-fear-by-thinking-only-crazies-and-stupid-people-wind-up-in-cults-margaret-singer-267253

a short overview

Coercion is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as:

1. To force to act or think in a certain manner
2. To dominate, restrain, or control by force
3. To bring about by force.

Coercive psychological systems are behavioral change programs which use psychological force in a coercive way to cause the learning and adoption of an ideology or designated set of beliefs, ideas, attitudes, or behaviors. The essential strategy used by the operators of these programs is to systematically select, sequence and coordinate many different types of coercive influence, anxiety and stress-producing tactics over continuous periods of time. In such a program the subject is forced to adapt in a series of tiny “invisible” steps. Each tiny step is designed to be sufficiently small so the subjects will not notice the changes in themselves or identify the coercive nature of the processes being used. The subjects of these tactics do not become aware of the hidden organizational purpose of the coercive psychological program until much later, if ever. These tactics are usually applied in a group setting by well intentioned but deceived “friends and allies” of the victim. This keeps the victim from putting up the ego defenses we normally maintain in known adversarial situations. The coercive psychological influence of these programs aim to overcome the individual’s critical thinking abilities and free will – apart from any appeal to informed judgment. Victims gradually lose their ability to make independent decisions and exercise informed consent. Their critical thinking, defenses, cognitive processes, values, ideas, attitudes, conduct and ability to reason are undermined by a technological process rather than by meaningful free choice, rationality, or the inherent merit or value of the ideas or propositions being presented. How Do They Work?

The tactics used to create undue psychological and social influence, often by means involving anxiety and stress, fall into seven main categories.

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TACTIC 1

Increase suggestibility and “soften up” the individual through specific hypnotic or other suggestibility-increasing techniques such as: Extended audio, visual, verbal, or tactile fixation drills, Excessive exact repetition of routine activities, Sleep restriction and/or Nutritional restriction.

TACTIC 2

Establish control over the person’s social environment, time and sources of social support by a system of often-excessive rewards and punishments. Social isolation is promoted. Contact with family and friends is abridged, as is contact with persons who do not share group-approved attitudes. Economic and other dependence on the group is fostered.

TACTIC 3

Prohibit disconfirming information and non supporting opinions in group communication. Rules exist about permissible topics to discuss with outsiders. Communication is highly controlled. An “in-group” language is usually constructed.

TACTIC 4

Make the person re-evaluate the most central aspects of his or her experience of self and prior conduct in negative ways. Efforts are designed to destabilize and undermine the subject’s basic consciousness, reality awareness, world view, emotional control and defense mechanisms. The subject is guided to reinterpret his or her life’s history and adopt a new version of causality.

TACTIC 5

Create a sense of powerlessness by subjecting the person to intense and frequent actions and situations which undermine the person’s confidence in himself and his judgment.

TACTIC 6

Create strong aversive emotional arousals in the subject by use of nonphysical punishments such as intense humiliation, loss of privilege, social isolation, social status changes, intense guilt, anxiety, manipulation and other techniques.

TACTIC 7

Intimidate the person with the force of group-sanctioned secular psychological threats. For example, it may be suggested or implied that failure to adopt the approved attitude, belief or consequent behavior will lead to severe punishment or dire consequences such as physical or mental illness, the reappearance of a prior physical illness, drug dependence, economic collapse, social failure, divorce, disintegration, failure to find a mate, etc.

lovebombing

These tactics of psychological force are applied to such a severe degree that the individual’s capacity to make informed or free choices becomes inhibited. The victims become unable to make the normal, wise or balanced decisions which they most likely or normally would have made, had they not been unknowingly manipulated by these coordinated technical processes. The cumulative effect of these processes can be an even more effective form of undue influence than pain, torture, drugs or the use of physical force and physical and legal threats.

How does Coercive Psychological Persuasion Differ from Other Kinds of Influence? Coercive psychological systems are distinguished from benign social learning or peaceful persuasion by the specific conditions under which they are conducted. These conditions include the type and number of coercive psychological tactics used, the severity of environmental and interpersonal manipulation, and the amount of psychological force employed to suppress particular unwanted behaviors and to train desired behaviors.

Coercive force is traditionally visualized in physical terms. In this form it is easily definable, clear-cut and unambiguous. Coercive psychological force unfortunately has not been so easy to see and define. The law has been ahead of the physical sciences in that it has allowed that coercion need not involve physical force. It has recognized that an individual can be threatened and coerced psychologically by what he or she perceives to be dangerous, not necessarily by that which is dangerous.

Law has recognized that even the threatened action need not be physical. Threats of economic loss, social ostracism and ridicule, among other things, are all recognized by law, in varying contexts, as coercive psychological forces.

Why are Coercive Psychological Systems Harmful? Coercive psychological systems violate our most fundamental concepts of basic human rights. They violate rights of individuals that are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and affirmed by many declarations of principle worldwide.

By confusing, intimidating and silencing their victims, those who profit from these systems evade exposure and prosecution for actions recognized as harmful and which are illegal in most countries such as: fraud, false imprisonment, undue influence, involuntary servitude, intentional infliction of emotional distress, outrageous conduct and other tortuous acts.

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http://www.psychologicalharassment.org/coercive-mind-control-tactics

One Way to Manipulate Someone’s Beliefs (Joseph Giovannoli, 2000)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Biology of Belief: How Our Biology Biases Our Beliefs and Perceptions,  pp. 47-51.

Biology of belief

One of the problems with the way our brains function has to do with the ease with which others can influence it. I am not referring to someone convincing us of something using reason; quite the contrary. This problem exists because the way our brains function makes it possible for us to be influenced by circumventing our ability to reason. In its simplest form we can be persuaded to accept someone’s suggestion about what is true. In its most severe form we can be brainwashed. In essence, the different ways in which our left and brain hemispheres deal with context, the nature of our different brain activity states, the ways in which our brains can be caused to malfunction, and other factors have made it possible for people to develop methods to manipulate what we believe without our realizing that it is happening. The degree to which this is possible varies from person to person, but, that fact notwithstanding, our control over our beliefs is not as secure as you might think. Most of us have seen demonstrations of hypnosis. Understanding what it is and how it works is essential to understanding neurolinguistic programming, persuasion techniques, and brainwashing.

hypnosis-forms

The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) found that dogs can be retrained easily after they have been stressed, physically exhausted, or deprived of sleep. One theory suggests that shared stressful activity has been a unifying force for our ancestors. For example, group activities like rhythmic chanting and clapping, drumming and music making, dancing, and rituals, such as those used in Voodoo ceremonies, when practiced to the point of exhaustion may have established common group beliefs using Pavlov’s conversion process.1

Although it is likely that we humans have experienced hypnotic trances throughout our history, it is relatively recently that hypnotic trances have been used by medical professionals for treating mental conditions, controlling pain and nausea, relaxing anxious patients, relieving post-surgical depression, and counteracting some sexual dysfunctions. Hypnotizeability is thought to peak between the ages of 10 and 12 years. People who achieve high scores on hypnotic susceptibility tests, such as the Stamford Scales of Hypnotic Susceptibility [ http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~kihlstrm/PDFfiles/Hypnotizability/SHSSC%20Script.pdf ], tend to have a history of imaginative involvement. Hypnotic trances begin with an “induction” and are “deepened” to increase the likelihood that hypnotic “suggestions” will be acted upon. Induction can involve relaxation, monotonous stimulation, involvement in fantasy, activation of unconscious motives, and initiation of aggressive behavior. Once a trance is induced, a rhythm at the approximate rate of the human heart-beat will increase its depth. Thereafter, suggestions can be “planted” with a command from an authority figure.2

brainmachine002_schem1

What is happening in the brain to make hypnosis possible? Sensors sensitive to weak electric fields, when placed on the scalp, register overall activity resulting from neuronal activity in the brain. Charts of brain electrical activity are shown in Appendix C. As neuronal activity changes with our mental state, electrodes on the scalp surface can detect electromagnetic wave patterns of different frequencies. The patterns range from ½ to well over 13 cycles per second (Hertz or Hz), and have been grouped and labeled with Greek letters. Brains oscillating at frequencies of 3 Hz and lower are in a delta state, at 4 to 7 Hz are in theta, at 8 to 12 Hz are in alpha, at 13 to 19 Hz are in beta, and at 20 to 100 Hz are in gamma. When we are in the waking state we usually have a high degree of beta activity. Passing from being awake to being asleep involves passing through a series of brain states. Although the states overlap and involve some complexities, the process begins with alpha immediately preceding sleep and ends with delta in the deepest sleep state. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, associated with dreaming, demonstrates a wave pattern similar to the post-alpha or beginning sleep state.3 Gamma wave activity at about 40 Hz has been associated with perception and learning arising from synchronized activity of clusters of neurons. Experiments suggest that the electrical peaks of large numbers of neurons may synchronize to unify recorded neural information into a coherent perception and recollection. According to Wolf Singer of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, gamma activity “could well be the mechanism that binds neurons into functionally coherent assemblies.”4

Brain States 1

Of the various brain states, one in particular is significant regarding our beliefs. A trance is an altered state of consciousness, like sleepwalking, which involves the alpha state. Typical signs of being in an alpha trance are body relaxation, dilated pupils, and a high degree of suggestibility. A relaxed feeling results from an alpha-related release of opiate-like molecules such as enkephalins and beta-endorphins, introducing an addictive element to the alpha trance. We are much more likely to accept suggestions from an authority figure while we are in a deep alpha trance than in a fully conscious beta state. To varying degrees, when in this condition, our beliefs can be altered through commands or suggestions given by the person controlling the trance. And experiences during a deep trance might not be remembered unless you are instructed to remember.

presentation-on-endorphin-hormone-6-638

How is an eyes-open alpha trance induced? Recall that hypnotizeability varies from person to person, but a substantial part of the population is susceptible to an eyes-open alpha trance. Electrical measurements have shown that during a trance state the right brain hemisphere is much more active than the left brain hemisphere. In a simplified view the right hemisphere deals with emotions and imagination, and functions without the capacity to relate present experiences to the past or the future. This is quite unlike the left hemisphere, which is analytical and rational, and constantly strives to find meaning in experiences and to place them into an overall context. The left hemisphere, in attempting to ascribe meaning to events, often incorrectly links cause and effect, thereby creating a false memory of events and their meanings.5

ideal brain waves for hypnosis

Imperfect as it is, given the left hemisphere’s context evaluation of information, it is better able to detect charlatans and thereby protect the context-deficient, gullible right hemisphere. That electrical activity in the left hemisphere is low during alpha trances while the right hemisphere is active suggests that during alpha trances our connection with reality and the source of our skepticism is diminished and that we are much more likely to believe what we are told.

Regular meditation for at least an hour every day, for at least a few weeks, is very likely to cause a prolonged state of alpha with little strong beta. Excessive and continual meditation is part of some spiritual rituals, and the resultant stifling of virtually all left hemisphere rational thought and the resulting feeling of detachment from reality is perceived by some as disinterested wisdom and freedom from desire—or a higher state of consciousness. It appears to fit the description of Buddhist Nirvana. [Note: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, the monastics are required to do at least 1/2 hour of Prayer of the Heart daily. Monastics who do their prayer rule before bed, have their entire vigil (3+ hours) to do the meditative breathing exercises of Prayer of the Heart. As well, many monastics do rhythmic breathing while mentally reciting the prayer during the long church services. The excessive daily meditative breathing exercises, combined with long hours of labor and minimal hours of sleep broken up into two portions makes the average monastic a perfect candidate to be induced into an eyes-open alpha trance].

Meditation and self-hypnosis are voluntary activities. However, when alpha trances are induced involuntarily and a manipulator alters our beliefs, we call it brainwashing. Then again, if we agree with the manipulator, we may call it conversion, motivation inducement, or being born again. In other words, even though the induced alpha state subject is aware that his or her beliefs are being manipulated, others may agree that it is a good thing—if they believe in the purpose. Ordinary citizens are converted into single-minded military units by experiencing boot camp training. Criminals are rehabilitated when they experience religious “rebirth.” People are “healed” at revival meetings. Human-potential organizations use this kind of belief manipulation to help some to deal with their counterproductive and self-destructive beliefs. [Note: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, “conversion” is “voluntary” as the monastics struggle to renounce their own way of thinking in order to acquire the Elder’s way of thinking. As Geronda Ephraim teaches: One should say, “Whatever the elder believes, thinks, and decides, I also believe, think, and decide in exactly the same way”. monastics struggle, insult and reproach themselves, beat themselves with wooden sticks, and do various forms of mental and physical exercises to “acquire the fronima of Geronda.”]

NOTES

  1. Bower, Bruce, “Bridging the Brain Gap,” in Science News, November 2, 1996, Vol. 150, No. 18, p. 280.
  2. Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994, Vol. 2, pp. 197-9.
  3. Encyclopedia of Psychology, 1994, Vol. 1, pp. 183-4.
  4. “Neural ties that bind perception,” in Science News, February 20, 1999, Vol. 155, p. 122. More in Bower, Bruce, “Brain cells work together to pay attention,” in Science News, march 11, 2000, Vol. 157, p. 167.
  5. Gazzinga, Michael S., “The Split Brain Revisited,” in Scientific American, July, 1998, pp. 51-5.

To understand how belief manipulation and alpha-trance states work in zealotry and fundamentalism, as well as one of the more thorough descriptions that can be applied to the mechanisms of life in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, see:

manipulation puppet on a string marionette manipulated by bossy

A key concept in the above writing, as it pertains to monastic life in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, is:

A brainwasher’s objective is to change what you believe to what he or she wants you to believe. It can be accomplished in four steps—alertness reduction, confusion, thought stopping, and maintenance.

Alertness reduction: With the exception of Arizona–Geronda Paisios does not like his monks to eat sugar because it upsets normal brain chemistry–most of the Geronda Ephraim’s monastics eat desserts on a daily basis, sometimes in excessive amounts. This is allowed out of “economia.” The diets fluctuate from high carbs and high proteins depending on time period. A typical day of desserts for a monastic can be: Breakfast has a Nutella type snack. At 10 am, a monk brings honey buns to everyone. Lunch has a piece of baklava. At 2:30 pm, a monk brings around Oreo cookies. Dinner may or may not have a snack. After Apodeipno, the monastics gather for a large piece of cheesecake, or a bowl of 3 scoops of ice cream, etc. Many dairy desserts have been converted into fasting recipes with the help of Coffemate and other non-dairy products.

Fatigue associated with strenuous activity and sleep deprivation can impair your ability to reason as well: If a monastic is able to fall asleep on time, he/she can average 6 1/2 – 7 hours+ of sleep a day, which is broken up into two portions. This broken sleep, and lack of normal sleep, affects the circadian rhythm. Combine this with long work hours and strenuous labor, and it produces a monastic in a constant state of fatigue.

After your alertness has been reduced, programmed confusion can be achieved by overloading you with information, questions, guilt, self-doubt, or humiliation, perhaps in combination. Monastics are constantly bombarded with information: readings at lunch and dinner, requirements of spiritual reading, frequent homilies by the superior. This is also combined with frequent “tests” of insults and being humiliated. When in trouble, with rapid fire questions, accusations, and insults, etc.

Thought stopping involves placing you in a trance-like alpha state. It is achieved in stages. Focusing on a simple mental task such as meditation, chanting, or rhythmic marching or dancing at first calms you; if that focusing is prolonged, you will hallucinate. You will focus solely on your brainwasher’s agenda and will ignore everything else. And it will all be done within the context of the movement, cause, organization, or whatever wants to control your thinking. When you are under your brainwasher’s control, you will be taught the cult’s beliefs while any of your unacceptable pre-existing beliefs will be “washed” away. This, in essence, explains life in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries to a tee. “Besides the prayer, the only two phrases a monk should speak are ‘Na einai evlogemeno’ and ‘Evlogeson.’ Nothing else,'” as Geronda Ephraim teaches. All thoughts, feelings, emotions, ego, self-identity, etc., are eradicated through ceaseless recitation of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” and blind obedience. Anything other than Geronda Ephraim’s “fronima” (or mindset) is either demonic or worldly and has no place in the mind or heart of his monastics.

Control will be maintained through reinforcement at regular meetings or by your living with other converts, and you may be kept away from your family and others who are likely to interfere with the brainwasher’s agenda. Maintenance is intended to reinforce your new beliefs and to create a sense of belonging. These are the regular homilies, readings during meals, etc., as well as living in the monastery, constantly monitored and under the watchful eye of the Elder.

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Cults and Cultism in American Religion (Dr. Joseph Miller)

NOTE: The following are excerpts of an article from Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XVIII (2001), pp. 27-36. The Rev. Dr. Miller is Professor Emeritus and Former Dean of Student Services, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington.

The Wall

Cultists and cultic behavior have the following characteristics:

1) The most common feature—the trait of cultists most commonly observed—is the apparently insatiable desire to control, amounting to a compulsion, to control everything; people in particular, of course, adults and children, but also money, property, animals, automobiles, toys, the weather, society, and everything else. One man or one group of cultists, however, can only control within the limits of his or its energy and attention, and those limits are usually the limits of the cult. The great need to control is for the sake of power. Power attracts great temptations and is hence a danger to the cultic personality, something usually not realized by the cultic personality. No matter how philanthropic or God-loving a person may appear or think himself to be in such instances, this is still cultic behavior.

1984 - Brave New World

2) Persistent, systemic anger—anger displayed openly—is a certain sign of cultic mentality. This use of anger, sometimes simply careless and sometimes deliberate, is also related to other passions, usually fleshly passions, not under good control. The cultic personality cannot tolerate anything he cannot control, and in the presence of things he cannot control, his inner frustration comes out as anger. Anger, of course, is the primary and certainly most primitive means of control. It is primitive especially for Christians. The Apostle James tells us how to regard anger: …for the wrath [anger] of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (St. James 1:20). Angry people often take deluded refuge by a self-serving interpretation of what righteous anger is, that is, a spiritual trait that belongs to God and which has nothing to do with human anger or wrath.

Tips for Anger Management

3) Adherence to and dissemination of a particular doctrine, enunciated and interpreted by the cultist idiosyncratically. The cultic personality says, and this is my paraphrase, I alone possess the real, the whole truth. I have truth that will lead you to your best destiny. I have truth or a true explication of the truth that you cannot otherwise obtain. I alone can interpret this doctrine accurately. All others are impostors or renegades, or at least much inferior to me even if they agree with me, and I rightfully have dominion over them. There is continual self-justification. We impute this characteristic, by the way, to individual cult leaders, not to their followers.

Cult of Christianity

4) Ancillary to the foregoing is a decided appetite for money. Money, as you know, equates to power and to control. It is always necessary to understand that both good and bad cults rest on money and economics. All organizations need support. I am speaking here of the cult leaders love for money and misuse of it. The Church of Scientology and the Moonies are particularly clever, insidious, and aggressive about this. A man I know was asked to contribute heavily toward the publication of a book, whereupon he was forgiven for transgressing some rule of the cult—in his case for having an independent thought. That particular cult, not incidentally, was self-described as an Orthodox Christian group.

Greek-monks

5) Discounting, demeaning, denigrating, dismissing, and patronizing the rationality of followers, creating and exploiting self-doubt. The success of the cult leader depends on two elements: a) convincing people that their own rationality is insufficient, inadequate, or simply wrong; and b) finding insecure, emotionally needy people looking for certainty. Here also may enter the phenomenon known as ego destruction, so much used in extreme situations like prisoner of war interrogation, brainwashing, sensory deprivation, and induced stress. Your leaders have abandoned you, etc. Your friends no longer care about you. Your friends have given up on you. I am the one who truly cares about you, and Im the only one. The cult leader, by the way, will usually describe all possible rivals as brainwashed, ignorant, or spiritually inferior—if not directly, then often by innuendo. Ego destruction, let me hasten to add, is entirely perverse by definition to the Christian askesis of obedience.

Ego destruction and the breaking of the will, the cornerstone of monastic life, are conceptually and practically antithetical to each other. They are two entirely different things. Moreover, the breaking of the will is appropriate to monastic therapeutic protocols, not to the life led by laymen in parishes.

In Orthodox Christian religious life, voluntary submission is a fundamental and essential element of the breaking of the will, understood entirely within the context of the pleroma of Holy Tradition. Cultic ego destruction, as the term is used these days, is heavily coercive and dehumanizing, attacking the very soul itself.

Methods of Manipulation

6) The cultist arrogates to himself authority and powers which have no basis in commonly understood reality. The cultist perceives or feels threat, or experiences jealousy, in the presence of any other authority whatsoever, and will go to great lengths to circumvent, discount, or simply ignore other authority figures. The cultist, as you can understand, may have colleagues, but no friends who are peers. The cultic personality cannot tolerate true intimacy or equality.

7) Cultists want to isolate their devotees, so that their sources of information are more and more confined to the cultist. When you have questions about anything at all, come to me for the right answers. Avoid those outsiders. They don’t care about you the way I do. This refers to the insatiable need for power and control. Jim Jones moved his people finally to South America, so that they would not only feel, but be, dependent on him for everything, including daily subsistence. But he told them he was moving them away from pernicious influences. Any religious leader should warn others to avoid salacious and unhealthy contacts, of course; however, this is not in the context of making himself the only source of news and information.

Jim Jones and the People's Temple
Jim Jones and the People’s Temple

8) Manipulation of families and other emotional bond situations, inserting distrust into difficult family situations, not seeking to repair but to explore and exploit. Suggesting or encouraging divorces if there appears to be even a small rift between a husband and wife, for example. In Orthodoxy, this is a violation of the very sanctity of the Mystery of Marriage, even if the Church does grant, for very specific pastoral reasons, divorces—but again, not by the action of an individual Priest but a decision of the Bishop and a spiritual court.

Ecclesiastical Divorce

9) Manipulation of all followers, carefully designed use of disinformation, seeking out the vulnerable person and, in the vulnerable person, a precise weakness—casting doubt about other followers, setting one segment against another by Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass logic and semantics.

Alice entering the Looking Glass
Alice entering the Looking Glass

10) The cultist, in other words, seeks to weaken his followers, bend them to his will, and deprive them of their own wills, making them mindless automatons, puppets to the puppet master— Trilbys to Svengali—, by a variety of intentional techniques, thus intensifying their feelings of inadequacy and dependency on himself, building up his own ego at the expense of those who follow and support him. This is all done under the rubric of obedience, that supremely praised and much abused virtue. The Christian leader, on the other hand, seeks to strengthen in Christ those who follow him and are entrusted to him, to build up the sense of Christian self, so that they may be able to make informed, free, and self-responsible decisions, with his spiritual guidance, to follow the dictates of conscience and the love of God.

Svengali hypnotising the innocent Trilby
Svengali hypnotising the innocent Trilby

11) The cultist is insensitive and disdainful of followers, uncaring toward them, but zealous in defense of his own perquisites. He is openly scornful and punitive toward those who leave, becomes sarcastic and mean-spirited towards them, and even vengeful.

12) The cultist, having denigrated and dominated everyone into submission, has thereby arrogated to himself the power to make all decisions, thus effectively depriving his group of exercising any voluntary choice. Voluntary choice, as we know, is essential to our being able to choose virtue over vice, and hence the freedom to choose salvation  and Paradise over sin.

The cultic person or cult leader will, over just a bit of time, exhibit most of these behaviors—though not necessarily every one of them.

In this context, is there, or has there been, such a thing as an Orthodox cult with spiritually damaging consequences to its members? The answer is obviously, yes.

Icon given to monastics under Geronda Ephraim. There is a blessing to pray to this icon to ask for Geronda's help in times of need
Icon given to monastics under Geronda Ephraim. There is a blessing to pray to this icon to ask for Geronda’s help in times of need

Cults are harmful in these respects:

1) To the groupies, cult life erodes or destroys freedom or perceived freedom of choice, takes away responsibility for self-direction, destroys self-confidence in ones own rational thoughts, and corrodes or destroys the whole personality. It is the polar opposite of theosis, or divinization, since its focus is solely on the human cult figure or cult personality rather than on Christ. The personality, of course, is the visible aspect of the human soul. Thus, even a Christian-based cult can be soul-destroying.

Prelest

2) It can lead the cult figure to prelest or plane (spiritual delusion or deception). Too often we think only of damage to cult members, whom we see as victims, without realizing that there is always damage to the cult leader also. Cult leadership makes for pride, a sense of infallibility, and opens the cult figure to many other temptations. It encourages him to think himself perfect, as the criterion of truth and the standard by which all others should measure themselves.

Who is susceptible to a cult? What one notices about those who agree to be in a cult is that almost certainly the individual has emotional or intellectual needs (or both) which have not been filled—some empty pockets. To speak of emotional needs frequently draws a frown from unlettered clergy or would-be theologians; but therein lies the key to understanding why cults are so attractive to some. This action of the mind is not unrelated to religious faith, because one always decides whether to believe or disbelieve, what to accept or not to accept. It is disheartening, sometimes, to realize how many presumed religious decisions are made on the basis of emotionality alone and without the moderating influence of rationality and cognition. It is disheartening, sometimes, to realize how many decisions are made by clergy responsible to and for the Church on a basis of emotion alone.

The desire (emotional need) for some structure for ones life, some sense of shared experience with others, some esteem, or love (or at least attention from others), for some experience which is transcendent or metaphysical, or that appears to be, some relief for the overpowering  Angst of meaningless existence—these things make one susceptible to cultishness. People who very noticeably and often painfully do not feel good about themselves suffer much from anxiety and loneliness, are depressed, dysfunctional to some degree, do not achieve what they might, have great difficulty setting a course in their lives, and do not use the personal gifts they have. What is so relevant, here, is that cult members almost universally come from among such people, from people who have never felt good about themselves. They are sitting ducks for a cult leader. They feel empty and unloved within. They are emotionally very vulnerable to anyone who is self- confident and appears to be a strong person, who has a program which will make them feel good about themselves, replacing some kind of uncertainty. Feeling good about oneself feels very good.

WI4

25 Years in an Eastern Orthodox Cult – How I Left the Cult – Where to Find Help Part 1 (Elizabeth Ann)

NOTE: This is a woman’s account of growing up in the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. For those unfamiliar with the background of this organization, Fr. Jonah Paffhausen wrote an article about the “Journey of the Holy Order of MANS / Christ the Saviour Brotherhood and the St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood into the Canonical Orthodox Church”:

Welcome. Please take a few moments to read a personal account of one family’s life after entering an Eastern Orthodox cult in America. This is a brief memoir about the serious consequences of blindly following a “spiritual father”, and what happened to a loving, normal family because of this. I also relate how it feels to be disowned by one’s own family for not being part of the cult. My hope is that this site will be of help to at least one other person coping with similar circumstances. I also hope it will serve as a warning to families: NEVER disown, abandon, or shun a person simply for believing differently.
Elizabeth Ann

St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool-for-Christ
St. Xenia of St. Petersburg, Fool-for-Christ

I am a former “Russian Orthodox Abroad” member; my “identity” was Xenia of St.Petersburg, a woman whose life I was told mine own should resemble, according to God’s will. A frightening thought, if you know how this woman lived. I was forced into the church by my parents, kept in complete control throughout my teenage and young adult years, and finally escaped: first, in my mind and soul, and then physically. I still suffer some PTSD symptoms, common with cult withdrawal; however, I am finding the faith of my childhood, something simple and bright, which is the first light I have seen in a long, long time. My wish is that this blog will help ONE person, somewhere, to have the courage to speak out and perhaps even say all alone, “The Emperor has no clothes!” (Hans Christian Andersen).
View my complete profile
http://www.blogger.com/profile/13289117518609567601
CONVERSION AND MIND CONTROL TECHNIQUES
As you read the personal story of my family and how we came to be part of this cult, please refer to two excellent resources: The Watchtower Expositor: Cult or Cultic (by Craig Branch); and Combatting Mind Control (by psychologist and cult expert Steve Hassan.) http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/destructive-cults/ and http://www.watchman.org/articles/cults-alternative-religions/cult-or-cultic/

Craig Branch, Watchman Fellowship,  Apologetics Resource Center.
Craig Branch, Watchman Fellowship, Apologetics Resource Center.

CONVERSION TECHNIQUES (Craig Branch)

Below are ten techniques of unethical thought reform and mind control (I quote), with some examples of how these were used by the Orthodox cult.
1) Focus on felt needs & defects, with exaggerated promises of fulfillment.
It was drilled into us over and over that we were spiritually “sick”, that our whole “mind-set” and way of life were evil, and that we were damned if we didn’t accept the new baptism and join the church. We were promised unending love from the church, help in any crisis, and spiritual fathers who would get us past the “toll-houses” and save our souls after we died. We were promised to always be the “right believers” who were the “elite and the elect of God”, and who would play a large role in the conversion of others before the final Tribulation.

St Herman of Alaska Monastery Entrance
St Herman of Alaska Monastery Entrance

2) Rigid Control of Time and Activities
Required to attend more and more services; demanded to read lengthy prayer books at home throughout the day; pushed to do the “Hours”; taught by book “Way of the Pilgrim” to constantly chant the “Jesus Prayer” at all times, even in school.

The Way of a Pilgrim, A highly recommended book in the monasteries
The Way of a Pilgrim, A highly recommended book in the monasteries

3) Information Control
Not allowed to read newspapers, magazines, or non-religious books, especially during the time as “catechumens.” Told that all new movies and T.V. programs and T.V. news were “of the devil.” Given more and more Orthodox “patrisitic” ( holy fathers’) writings to read and re-read. Told to cut off family, which my mother did by way of letters.

Those who control the information control the person. In a mind control cult any information from outside the cult is considered evil, especially if it is opposing the cult. Members are told not to read it or believe it. Only information supplied by the cult is true.
Those who control the information control the person. In a mind control cult any information from outside the cult is considered evil, especially if it is opposing the cult. Members are told not to read it or believe it. Only information supplied by the cult is true.

4) Language Manipulation
Besides being taught to laugh at certain words such as “the Latins” or “the West”, we were taught an exclusive new vocabulary for “insiders”, some of which is put in bold print in the posts at right. Our new names were to replace our real names, forever. The lovely name “JESUS” was seldom used.

1984 Cartoon

5) Discouraging Critical, Rational Thought and Questions

Obvious contradictions and questions were greeted with either long, convoluted, and evasive explanations, or we were told that “you will understand later when you have become an adult in the faith. Just become like little children.” I was laughed at when I pointed out specific verses in the Bible, which I knew very well. I was even called “that Baptist girl” in a derogatory way. We were told during the second liturgy that clergy and priests must ALWAYS be obeyed, EVEN IF THEIR PERSONAL LIVES WERE NOT HOLY (i.e. they had murdered a person!) I quote Br. B. Now I add (“even if they have sodomized your child.”)

Human Understanding Process
Human Understanding Process

6) Instruction in Trance Induction Techniques

One of the first things taught to us: how to stand completely still, stare at the icons, and say “Lord Have Mercy” in five different languages, sometimes amounting to 120 phrases at a time. Again, “The Way of a Pilgrim” was to be memorized and internalized, to learn how to breathe properly and chant simultaneously. Continuous repetitions during Complines, Matins, and then Liturgy, while staring at the icons, made me go into a kind of half-sleep–still able to listen intently and remember things.

Covert Hypnosis Cult Induction
Covert Hypnosis Cult Induction

7) Confession Sessions (a powerful tool to manipulate, blackmail, and emotionally bond you to the priest; a depersonalization or stripping of yourself–submission to the group.)

As explained at left. Confessions would be labeled “good” or “bad”, depending on how much we could come up with and whether we started “weeping”. The priests put each person under an intense “grilling” session, delving into EVERY thought and action.

Cult_3

8) Guilt and Fear (Weapons used to maintain group/church loyalty, suppress questions and defections.)

As I have already said, FEAR was the most powerful tool which made us listen to and believe every lie we were told. The Antichrist was ALIVE and about to begin his prophesied ministry; “it was later than we thought”, and unseen demons were constantly around us. The realization of our immense sinfulness (which was never relieved) caused terrible guilt. Some of us were made to feel guilty about going to the bathroom, because our pure guardian angels would have to watch this. Thoughts of going to another church, or none at all, caused immense spontaneous guilt.

Guilt and Fear

9) Control of Sexuality and Intimacy

In this cult, all sexual desires, normal sex in marriage, and physical love in marriage was “impure” and part of the “fallen flesh.” So it was severely restricted to only certain times during the week and the year. All was to be confessed.

Guru Cover 1/99

10) Excessive Financial Obligations (a form of complete submission to God.)

The only place for tithes and donations was cultic Orthodox churches or monasteries (the one in Dog Canyon never was built.) Later on, in a Russian Abroad Church in Sunnyvale, CA, I was pushed to give my monthly wages to dubious causes, such as the “compound” which was to be built, with greenhouses and all.

The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios (Eng)_

RECRUITMENT AND MIND CONTROL (Steve Hassan)

“…’mind control’ may be understood as a SYSTEM of influences that disrupts an individual’s identity (beliefs, behavior, thinking, and emotions) and replaces it with a new identity.” (p. 7, Combatting…)

“If deception, hypnosis, and other mind control techniques are used to recruit and control followers, then people’s rights are being infringed upon.” (p.37.)
Note: Steve Hassan’s FOUR COMPONENTS OF MIND CONTROL are best described and  connected with the Orthodox cults in the PSEUDO-PROPHET.org webpage. Personal family experiences are briefly recounted below:

Steve Hassan
Steve Hassan

1) BEHAVIOR CONTROL (includes control of environment: location, clothing, diet, sleep patterns, jobs, rituals..)

We learned to act like Br. B. and the other cult members. We learned how to fast, to celebrate feasts (on the proper old-Calendar days), how to cut off the outside world and even American holidays. (I LOVE AMERICA!!!–Elizabeth Ann.) We learned how to do all the prayer services; how to cross ourselves with three fingers, properly, at specific times during the day; how to
venerate icons. We learned how to speak, dress, etc.

Sociological Definition of a Cult
Sociological Definition of a Cult

2) THOUGHT CONTROL

Besides the new language, we learned “stop” wicked thoughts, or “blocking” techniques like chanting “Lord Have Mercy,” or the “Jesus Prayer” over and over, louder and louder. My parents and brothers still start to chant and talk “over a conversation”, which is VERY RUDE, if the person they are talking with questions their beliefs. We learned to feel the “unseen battle” and consider ourselves the “Church Militant”, as opposed to the “fallen outside world.”

thought-police-2 Constrict-Words-1984

3) EMOTIONAL CONTROL

Fear reigned supreme. Fear of other people not in the cult (almost the whole world! ), fear of imminent death, fear of the Apocalypse, fear of the living Antichrist, fear of PERSECUTION, fear of demons, fear of the consequences of leaving the cult–or questioning things like the “Holy Fire”. Oh, did I mention that ALL psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists were trained in satanic methods? Fear of the world conspiracies. At one point, my parents were certain that our phones were always “bugged” by the government, because of our foreign friends!!
GUILT. About supposed “bad thoughts” and made-up sins. Confessions.

Behavior Control

4) INFORMATION CONTROL

As I describe at right: no worldly newspapers, TV news, non-religious books or magazines; even old friends and family were shunned in case they would “draw us away from the faith.” We never again saw a movie in a theater together as a family (except for ‘Pinocchio’, once). The “Orthodox America” (http://www.roca.org/OA/) paper gave modern movie reviews, which almost always were negative and  demonic. All questions had to be through the “spiritual fathers” or clergy. Rational, critical thinking was abandoned.

Key_Point_8

THREE STEPS TO GAIN MIND CONTROL

b-combatting_cult

(These are explained on pp. 67 -72 of Steve Hassan’s book, Combatting Mind Control. Here I briefly connect them with my own experience.)

1) UNFREEZING

As my family “died” to our “old selves” and old lives, we were broken down physically, mentally, and emotionally. Fasting, sleep deprivation, rigorous prayer schedules, confessions, lectures, and lack of contact with old friends and family did this. We believed our former lives had been ALL evil, wrong, and deluded. We were the most pitiable creatures on earth–spiritually fallen.

mind-control2

2) CHANGING

We were given our new baptisms, new names, and new identities, with life instructions. More reading material, more lectures, and complete compliance with the behaviors of the cult members were required. We were “re-taught”.

2000px-Ingsoc_logo_from_1984.svg

3) REFREEZING

After being completely divested of our old selves and old lives, then “taught” how to live the “truth”, we BECAME the new people. We were now part of the family! Immediately, we were told to form a “mission” church, to bring in more converts (and their checkbooks.)

Well, that is a brief overview of the initial cult experience as it related to our involvement with the Russian Orthodox/St. Herman of Alaska/Old Calendar church. It didn’t end there.

1984_EXPERIENCE01