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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

 

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The Group Psychological Abuse Scale

The Group Psychological Abuse (GPA) scale was developed from a factor analysis of 308 former cult members’ characterizations of their groups. Four subscales were derived: Compliance, Exploitation, Mind Control, and Anxious Dependency. Reliability and validity findings suggest the GPA should be useful in characterizing the varieties of abuse and in differentiating cults from innocuous groups.

GPA Scale and Geronda Ephraim’s Monasteries

This inventory is designed to evaluate certain aspects of religious, psycho-therapeutic, political, commercial, and other groups. Please rate, as best you can, the degree to which the following statements characterize the group under consideration. Rate each item according to your experience and observations (in retrospect) of how the group actually functioned. If your group had different levels of membership (within which the group’s dominant features differed), please apply the ratings to the level with which you have greatest familiarity. Circle the best answer, using the following ratings:

 1 = not at all characteristic

        2 = not characteristic

        3 = can’t say/not sure

        4 = characteristic

        5 = very characteristic

The correct numbers are in bold on the scale.

 1.[R] The group does not tell members how to conduct their sex lives.

  1        2        3        4        5

Not at all characteristic. The group, via the ecclesiastical canons of the Orthodox Church, dictate how members should conduct their sex lives. Only carnal unions between heterosexual couples who have been married in a canonical Orthodox Church are permitted. Carnal unions are not allowed on fast days or before Holy Communion. Carnal unions are limited to basic heterosexual intercourse; masturbation, oral sex, homosexual/lesbian sex, sex during menstruation cycles, pre-marital sex, etc. are forbidden and punishable by penance of no Communion for long periods of time. For the monastics, penances of no Communion are extended to accepting carnal fantasies (i.e. the stage after dialogue before the actual act). As well, spiritual children have to ask blessings for who they can or cannot date. Usually, the spiritual Father will want to meet this person first, but in some cases, after looking at a photograph, a spiritual child has been forbidden to date the individual.

2. Women are directed to use their bodies for the purpose of recruiting or of manipulation.

                1        2        3        4        5

Not at all characteristic. Sexual promiscuity is discouraged. Women at the monasteries have to be well-covered from head to toe. The men also are forbidden to wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts, etc. Monastics live a celibate life and couples are expected to try and live like brother and sister after they stop having children so they can develop into more spiritual people (i.e. less carnal and worldly).

3. The group advocates or implies that breaking the law is okay if it serves the interests of the group.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Though this would be more characteristic of white-collar crime and simple frauds, forgeries, etc., not so much in violence or burglaries. In some cases, individuals with warrants out for their arrest in Canada were kept hidden at St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona. A common justification for breaking the law if it’ll help an individual is from the life of St. Dionysios who hid his brother’s murderer from an angry mob, which in turn brought him to repentance and a Christian lifestyle. A common justification for the white collar crimes is that the laws in America are the laws of men and not God’s laws, thus irrelevant. Geronda Ephraim is a saint. the monasteries are God’s work, so it’s blessed to bend rules to further the advancement of his work.

4. Members are expected to postpone or give up their personal, vocational, and educational goals in order to work for the group.

                1        2        3        4        5

Characteristic. This really depends on the individual. When one joins a monastery, they give up, or rather renounce, everything of their former life (all debts are paid so as not to have anything tying them to the world, bank accounts are closed, jobs are quit, and any other plans are cancelled). Before joining a monastery, some monastics have been told to get their degree first and then come to the monastery. Others, have been told it’s not necessary. One former monastic who originally wanted to get a degree first was told, “You can choose the university of the world or the university of the desert, but you have to make your decision now. If you choose the world, you can’t become a monk.” Again, each case is different. The one common factor is that though the individual has “free will” and can choose to listen to or ignore the advice of the spiritual Father, the advice is in essence an obedience, the individual has usually cultivated the mindset that this advice is God’s will for him/her and not heeding (i.e. disobeying) this advice can lead to drastic consequences for the individual.

5.[R] The group encourages ill members to get medical assistance.

1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Medical issues are taken seriously in the monasteries. A sick monastic tends to burden the monastery: it’s one less body available to work, and in some cases, it takes other monastics away from potential important work that needs to be done, if they’re tending to a sick monastic. Of course, if one is sick but lacks a fever, they can still work. If one is injured, then less labor intensive work is found for the individual. Overall, there really is no excuse for a monastic not to work. There is always some form of work that has to be done in the monastery. Unless a monastic is in excruciating pain or bed-ridden with valley fever or something of the sort, then they’re capable of work. And this is why medical issues are taken seriously, so things do not progress to the point where a monastic becomes an useless burden to the monastery.

6. Gaining political power is a major goal of the group.

                1        2        3        4        5

Can’t say/Not sure. Although gaining political power does not seem to be a goal of the monasteries–not to mention antithetical and anti-canonical for monastics–some of Geronda Ephraim’s spiritual children are getting involved in low-level politics across the country. As well, Geronda Ephraim as spiritual children in all levels of government, finance, law enforcement, etc. Interestingly, after Fr. Silouanos left St. Anthony’s Monastery (after 20+ years of being a monk) he immediately became a Loan Administrator at Flushing Savings Bank. After 3 years, he moved on to the I.R.S., where he has been a Tax Examining Technician for the last 5 years. In short, for the last 10 years, this man has had access to large amounts of sensitive personal information that could be very useful for the monasteries.

 7. Members believe that to leave the group would be death or eternal damnation for themselves or their families.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Once a monastic is tonsured into the Rassaphore degree, they are taught that it is now for life. A Rassaphore is taught that if they leave the monastery, they will lose their soul. It will no longer be possible to find salvation. Interestingly, though this is the theological precepts for a Great Schema Monk/Nun–as they make vocal vows to God during the Liturgy before the Angels–there are no real concrete canons and teachings for the Rassaphore degree who, in essence, are still considered novices by the Church Fathers. The Rassaphore rank is a later innovation that wasn’t originally recognized or accepted by the early Church Fathers. Thus, many rassaphore monastics are misled, being given the burden of the Great Schema, without actually having put on the Great Schema.

 8. The group discourages members from displaying negative emotions.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. There are very high penances for monastics who display negative emotions (yelling, anger, back talk, jealousy, etc.), especially if this is done in front of lay people. The image of angelic perfection to lay people is expected. Amongst the monastics, there is expected to be love, respect, courteousness, tact, etc. The only monastics exempt from this are the superiors (and sometimes designated monastics who have a blessing to yell at and humble younger monastics “for their spiritual benefit”). Though, in some monasteries, there are monastics who refuse to talk to or look at one another, not to mention monastics who “play Geronda” and bully and humble the other monastics.

 9. Members feel they are part of a special elite.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Geronda Ephraim teaches the monastics (via personal homilies, recorded homilies, and fax letters) that “we are the monks of the last days”. The monastics feel that they are part of a special elite as they believe that Geronda Ephraim is the holiest saint in the history of the Orthodox Church and now God has counted them worthy to be one of his monastics. Also, in his homilies,  Geronda Ephraim has related a vision in which it was revealed that those who stay under his obedience until the end (i.e. do not throw away their rassa and abandon the monastic life) will be saved.

10. The group teaches that persons who are critical of the group are in the power of evil, satanic forces.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. As the monasteries are taught to be God’s will and work, those who oppose them are considered under the influence of demonic energy. In 1998, Geronda Ephraim gave a brief homily to the monks about the new monasteries being built that year. He related a story about Gerondissa Markella traveling on an airplane. She and another nun encountered a Greek man who started questioning them about where Geronda Ephraim got all his money and he suggested criminality or demonic means. Gerondissa Markella reacted strongly, defending her Elder’s honor, and told the man he had to go to Geronda Ephraim, repent and ask his forgiveness. The old adage is true for the monasteries, “Those who are not with us are against us!”

11. The group uses coercive persuasion and mind control.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. This is such an integrated part of the monastic life. The levels and layers of manipulation run very deep as they have had a couple thousand years to perfect them. The teachings are expounded around the clock via readings during meals, personal readings (only monastic literature allowed), and services. Technically, the stance of a superior will be, “You’re not a prisoner, no one can force you to do something you don’t want” giving the illusion of free will, however, monastic teaching is every form of self-will is demonic, every protest has a danger of demon possession, disobedience is the death of the soul and leads to eternal damnation. Life within the monasteries is based on fear, guilt-tripping, psychological manipulation, ego-smashing, and bullying. Essentially, it is a struggle of wills and the monastic’s ego. The Elder has to orchestrate a radical form of therapy to humble the monastic and smash their ego. In modern terms, the Elder has to break the individual–this can result in a complete mental breakdown or a series of mini-breaks until the monastic has no more resistance and is totally pliable. The result is the Elder can now take this broken individual and rebuild–or rather remold–him/her into a “new man in Christ.”

12. The group approves of violence against outsiders (e.g., ?satanic communists,? etc.).

                1        2        3        4        5

Not characteristic. In essence, Orthodox monasticism is non-violent. In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, it is taught that on Mount Athos, the only time a monastic can resort to violence is if someone insults his Geronda (thus one can blaspheme Christ or the Panagia and not be physically harmed, but not an individual’s Geronda). However, the Elders can orchestrate a group shunning of individuals if they step out of line. Though an Elder may not instruct violence to an outsider, his sadness at an event can initiate his spiritual children to take matters into their own hand. Such as when Geronda Ephraim was banned from Canada temporarily, and his spiritual children started making threatening phone calls, etc., to Bishop Sotirios.

13. Members are expected to live with other members.

                1        2        3        4        5

Can’t Say/Not sure. In the monasteries, that is a given. For lay people, it is encouraged for Orthodox to stick with Orthodox, even room mates, but it’s not always a mandate.

14. Members must abide by the group’s guidelines regarding dating and intimate relationships.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. The father Confessors at the monastery follow the Rudder and mainly the Canons of St. John the Faster which are very strict on dating, marriage and carnal unions within marriage. Deviation from these rules results in penances which for carnal sins is usually no Communion for a period of time (even up to 10+ years). For dating, it’s encouraged to get a blessing first. If a spiritual Father forbids the dating, one is expected to obey so that no negative consequences result.

15. People who stay in the group do so because they are deceived and manipulated.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Fear and guilt-tripping are utilized when one wants to defect. Geronda Ephraim is promoted as the holiest man alive, the safest guide to get to Paradise, and really the only option in America if one wants to find salvation. When monastics want to leave they are mainly told that there is no hope for them outside the monastery. They could possibly be saved but it’s almost impossible that they will be saved, etc. Some monastics have been given extreme dispensations (or condescension) in order to make them stay–though this is essentially letting the monastics do their own will which is also detrimental to their soul.

16. The group teaches special exercises (e.g., meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues) to push doubts or negative thoughts out of consciousness.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. A monastic is expected to yell the Jesus Prayer or recite it mentally ceaselessly, 24/7, until he/she acquires prayer of the heart. Daily in their nightly vigil, a monastic does prayer of the heart, which is a breathing exercise to help concentrate the nous and lower it into the heart. This could be anywhere from 1/2 hour to the entire 3+ hour vigil (if the monastic does their prayer rule before bed). All thoughts, images, fantasies, negative emotions, etc., are to be pushed with the Jesus Prayer and the cane.

17. Medical attention is discouraged, even though there may be a medical problem.

                1        2        3        4        5

Not characteristic. If medical attention is needed, it is usually taken care of. The monasteries also have pilgrims who are doctors and if they’re close spiritual children of the individual monastery, they usually are asked to do what they can, to save a trip to the outside world. It’s better for the monastics to be as healthy as possible so they can work and be useful.

18. Members are expected to serve the group’s leaders.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. That is the concept of blind obedience and submission. Most monastic superiors have a cell attendant who clean their cell, do their laundry, bring them coffee/drinks/snacks when beckoned, etc. These attendants are expected to drop everything they are doing when summoned and carry out the expected task. Actually, all monastics have this expectation. The superior is seen as an icon of Christ and whatever they do or don’t do to the elder is the same as doing it to Jesus Christ Himself. In turn, younger monastics are expected to have complete obedience to the older monastics (except in cases where older monastics are problematic or self-willed and the other monastics have been instructed not to pay attention to them).

19. Raising money is a major goal of the group.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Everything functions on donations so it is a very high priority. Thus all the dinners, feast day celebrations, arts and crafts, bake sales, etc. The monasteries have monthly bills (mortgages, hydro, phone bills, clothing, food, etc.). Multiply individual needs by 3-40 and it starts to get pricy.

20. The group does not hesitate to threaten outside critics.

                1        2        3        4        5

Not sure/Can’t say. Outside critics are usually dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed. Usually, something they said that was erroneous is capitalized on and becomes the buzzword of mockery. If the critic is a former monastic, they are discredited as deluded with mental issues (or even possessed). Though, in some cases outside critics of the monasteries have been threatened, there is no evidence to suggest that the Superior of the monastery instructed for this to happen.

21.[R] Members are expected to make decisions without consulting the group’s leader(s).

                1        2        3        4        5

Not at all characteristic. Monastics almost always have to get a blessing from their superior before doing something. Though in some cases, the Superior may give a general blessing for certain things, or an individual monastic may be told they do not have to ask in the future. However, in general, everything needs the approval of the superior.

22.[R] Members are just as capable of independent critical thinking as they were before they joined the group.

1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Critical thinking is regarded as an act that can drive a monastic out of the monastery. Faith opposes Reason. Geronda Ephraim teaches that the disciple should acquire the mindset of their Elder and think, feel, believe exactly as they do; even if it is wrong or they do not agree. Opposing or questioning the elder can result in the Elder publicly shaming the monastic, humbling them in front of the other monastics, or giving the other monastics an obedience to ignore and act as if this individual does not exist (until they toe the line, repent and ask forgiveness for their egotism and pride).

23. The group believes or implies its leader is divine.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Geronda Ephraim is taught to be the holiest man alive on earth right now, and the holiest and greatest saint in the history of the orthodox church. “He’s the closest thing to Jesus Christ Himself.” He’s taught to be clairvoyant, can read hearts, can bi-locate to other places (physically and noetically), he can levitate, he is constantly rapt in divine vision, he’s seen God, etc.

24. Mind control is used without conscious consent of members.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Though there is a control that has been given conscious consent, i.e. via submission to the elder and setting out to do blind obedience, no novice really knows what they’re getting into. Geronda Ephraim characteristically tells his older monastics, “It’s not until 15 years or so, before a monk starts to get an idea, a taste of what he’s really gotten himself into.” There are so many layers of manipulation, which are not considered manipulation by the Elder, employed to make a monastic submit and toe the line.

25.[R] Members feel little psychological pressure from leaders.

                1        2        3        4        5

Not at all characteristic. The biggest fear of the monastic, which is daily reinforced via homilies and readings, is not to sadden the Elder, thus cutting themselves off from God. There is immense psychological pressure from the leaders, especially when a monastic starts straying via self-will and idiorythmia.

26.[R] The group’s leader(s) rarely criticize members.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. The leaders continually criticize members for their spiritual benefit. This is how they acquire the virtue of humility–by being humbled–and also it acts as a mirror so they can see their true inner state and what passions they have to work on. A member can hear things such as, “You’re useless,” “You have no brain,” etc. This could be in private, though many times it’s in the presence of other or all the monastics to have a sharper prick and be more effectual.

27. Recruiting members is a major goal of the group.

                1        2        3        4        5

Not sure/Can’t say. “In the beginning it was about quantity, now it is about quality,” an abbot once said. In the beginning, it was better to have lots of black to make a more serious statement, and to show that the monasteries were wanted, needed and served a purpose. Now that a large majority of those early monastics have returned to the world, the reins have been tightened somewhat. “Geronda Ephraim is not too eager now to make monks quickly.”

28. Members are expected to consult with leaders about most decisions, including those concerning work, child rearing, whether or not to visit relatives, etc.

                1        2        3        4        5

Very characteristic. Monastics don’t have children. they do have to consult with the leaders before talking to, writing, or visiting relatives. Incoming mail is read by the Elder, though if they don”t have time, they may get a trusted monk to read and relay the most important points afterwards (this happens with almost all mail from lay people unless they are close spiritual children). Outgoing mail is sometimes intercepted and opened. In some cases, both incoming and outgoing mail will be disposed of without reaching their destination “for the benefit of the monastic.” Phone calls are monitored either by the elder or a trusted monastic, either directly on another phone listening in, or standing beside the individual. Also, a monastic must obtain a blessing before making out going calls). Visitations are not always encouraged, especially if the relatives are problematic. Many times, the monastic only has a blessing to visit in the trapeza or an enclosed area where there are other monastics who can monitor the conversations and report back to the elder. This is also done to “strengthen” the monastic who will gain courage by being in the presence of other monastics (or intimidate them into not saying anything that will get them into trouble later).

Note: [R] items are reversed in scoring by finding the absolute difference between the rating and the number 6. Do not include the [R] designations when administering the test.

At this time the GPA Scale should be used only as a research instrument. We request that researchers wishing to use the GPA Scale contact Dr. Langone (AFF, P.O. Box 2265, Bonita Springs, FL 33959).

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For more information, see:

978-613-6-26402-8-full

Cycle_of_Abuse