Brainwashing as a Scientific Concept (Benjamin Zablocki, 2001)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 5th chapter of Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, entitled, Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of Brainwashing.


What I am presenting here is not a ‘new’ theory of brainwashing but a conceptual model of the foundational theory developed in the mid-twentieth century by Lifton, Schein, and Sargant as it applies to charismatic collectivities. Because its scientific stature has been so frequently questioned, I will err on the side of formality by presenting a structured exposition of brainwashing theory in terms of eight definitions and twelve hypotheses. Each definition includes an operationalized form by which the trait may be observed. If either of the first two hypotheses disconfirmed, we must conclude that brainwashing is not being attempted in the cult under investigation. If any of the twelve hypotheses is disconfirmed, we must conclude that brainwashing is not successful in meeting its goals within that cult.

I do not pretend that the model outlined here is easy to test empirically, particularly for those researchers who either who either cannot or will not spend time immersing themselves in the daily lives of cults, or for those who are not willing, alternatively, to use as data the detailed retrospective accounts of ex-members. However, it should be clear that the model being proposed here stays grounded in what is empirically testable and does not involve mystical notions such as loss of free will or information disease (Conway and Siegelman 1978) that have characterized many of the extreme ‘anti-cult models.’

Nor do I pretend that this model represents the final and definitive treatment of this subject. Charismatic influence is still a poorly understood subject on which much additional research is needed. With few exceptions, sociology has treated it as if it were what engineers call a ‘black box,’ with charismatic inputs coming in one end and obedience outputs going out the other. What we have here is a theory that assists in the process of opening  this black box to see what is inside. It is an inductive theory, formed largely from the empirical generalizations of ethnographers and interviewers. The model itself presents an ideal-type image of brainwashing that does not attempt to convey the great variation among specific obedience-inducing processes that occur across the broad range of existing cults. Much additional refinement in both depth and breadth will certainly be needed.


EE 2018

D1. Charisma is defined, using the classical Weberian formula, as a condition of ‘devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him’ (Weber 1947: 328). Being defined this way, as a condition of devotion, leads us to recognize that charisma is not to be understood simply in terms of the characteristics of the leader, as it has come to be in popular usage, but requires an understanding of the relationship between leader and followers. In other words, charisma is a relational variable. It is defined operationally as a network of relationships in which authority is justified (for both superordinates and subordinates) in terms of the special characteristics discussed above.

D2. Ideological Totalism is a sociocultural system that places high valuation on total control over all aspects of the outer and inner lives of participants for the purpose of achieving the goals of an ideology defined as all important. Individual rights either do not exist under ideological totalism or they are clearly subordinated to the needs of the collectivity whenever the two come into conflict. Ideological totalism has been operationalized in terms of eight observable characteristics: milieu control, mystical manipulation, the demand for purity, the cult of confession, ‘sacred science,’ loading the language, doctrine over person, and the dispensing of existence (Lifton 1989: chap. 22).

D3. Surveillance is defined as keeping watch over a person’s behaviour, and, perhaps, attitudes. As Hechter (1987) has shown, the need for surveillance is the greatest obstacle to goal achievement among ideological collectivities organized around the production of public goods. Surveillance is not only costly, it is also impractical for many activities in which agents of the collectivity may have to travel to act autonomously and at a distance. It follows from this that all collectivities pursuing public goals will be motivated to find ways to decrease the need for surveillance. Resources used for surveillance are wasted in the sense that they are unavailable for the achievement of collective goals.

D4. A deployable agent is one who is uncritically obedient to directives perceived as charismatically legitimate (Selznick 1960). A deployable agent can be relied on to continue to carry out the wishes of the collectivity regardless of his own hedonic interests and in the absence of any external controls. Deployability can be operationalized as the likelihood that the individual will continue to comply with hitherto ego-dystonic demands of the collectivity (e.g., mending, ironing, mowing the lawn, smuggling, rape, child abuse, murder) when not under surveillance.

D5. Brainwashing is an observable set of transactions between a charismatically structured collectively and an isolated agent of the collectivity, with the goal of transforming the agent into a deployable agent. Brainwashing is thus a process of ideological resocialization carried out within a structure of charismatic authority.

The brainwashing process may be operationalized as a sequence of well-defined and potentially observable phases. These hypothesized phases are (1) identity stripping, (2) identification, and (3) symbolic death/rebirth. The operational definition of brainwashing refers to the specific activities attempted, whether or not they are successful, as they are either observed directly by the ethnographer or reported in official or unofficial accounts by members or ex-members. Although the exact order of phases and specific steps within phases may vary from group to group, we should always expect to see the following features, or their functional equivalents, in any brainwashing system: (1) the constant fluctuation between assault and leniency; and (2) the seemingly endless process of confession, re-education, and refinement of confession.

D6. Hyper-credulity is defined as a disposition to accept uncritically all charismatically ordained beliefs. All lovers of literature and poetry are familiar with ‘that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith’ (Coleridge 1970: 147). Hyper-credulity occurs when this state of mind, which in most of us is occasional and transitory, is transformed into a stable disposition. Hyper-credulity falls between hyper-suggestibility on the one hand and stable conversion of belief on the other. Its operational hallmark is plasticity in the assumption of deeply held convictions at the behest of an external authority. This is an other-directed form ogf what Robert Lifton (1968) has called the protean identity state.

D7. Relational Enmeshment is a state of being in which self-esteem  depends upon belonging to a particular collectivity (Bion 1959; Bowen 1972; Sirkin and Wynne 1990). It may be operationalized as immersion in a relational network with the following characteristics: exclusivity (high ratio of in-group to out-group bonds), interchangeability (low level of differentiation in affective ties between one alter and another), and dependency (reluctance to sever or weaken ties for any reason). In a developmental context, something similar to this has been referred to by Bowlby (1969) as anxious attachment.
D8. Exit Costs are the subjective costs experienced by an individual who is contemplating leaving a collectivity. Obviously, the higher the perceived exit costs, the greater will be the reluctance to leave. Exit costs may be operationalized as the magnitude of the bribe necessary to overcome them. A person who is willing to leave if we pay him $1,000 experiences lower exit costs than one who is not willing to leave for any payment less than $1,000,000. With regard to cults, the exit costs are most often spiritual and emotional rather than material, which makes measurement in this way more difficult but not impossible.


Not all charismatic organizations engage in brainwashing. We therefore need a set of hypotheses that will allow us to test empirically whether any particular charismatic system attempts to practise brainwashing and with what effect. The brainwashing model asserts twelve hypotheses concerning the role of brainwashing in the production of uncritical obedience. These hypotheses are all empirically testable. A schematic diagram of the model I propose may be found in Figure 1.

p. 186This model begins with an assumption that charismatic leaders are capable of creating organizations that are easy and attractive to enter (even though they may later turn out to be difficult and painful to leave). There are no hypotheses, therefore, to account for how charismatic cults obtain members. It is assumed that an abundant pool of potential recruits to such groups is always available. The model assumes charismatic leaders, using nothing more than their own intrinsic attractiveness and persuasiveness, are initially able to gather around them a corps of disciples sufficient for the creation of an attractive social movement. Many ethnographies (Lofland 1996; Lucas 1995) have shown how easy it is for such charismatic movement organizations to attract new members from the general pool of anomic ‘seekers’ that can always be found within the population of an urbanized mobile society.

Hieromonk Ephraim & Kids

The model does attempt to account for how some percentage of these ordinary members are turned into deployable agents. The initial attractiveness of the group, its vision of the future, and/or its capacity to bestow seemingly limitless amounts of love and esteem on the new member are sufficient inducements in some cases to motivate a new member to voluntarily undergo this difficult and painful process of resocialization.

H1. Ideological totalism is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the brainwashing process. Brainwashing will be attempted only in groups that are structures totalistically. However, not all ideologically totalist groups will attempt to brainwash their members. It should be remembered that brainwashing is merely a mechanism for producing deployable agents. Some cults may not want deployable agents or have other ways of producing them. Others may want them but feel uncomfortable about using brainwashing methods to obtain them, or they may not have discovered the existence of brainwashing methods.

H2. The exact nature of this resocialization process will differ from group to group, but, in general, will be similar to the resocialization process that Robert Lifton (1989) and Edgar Schein (1961) observed in Communist re-education centres in the 1950s. For whatever reasons, these methods seem to come fairly intuitively to charismatic leaders and their staffs. Although the specific steps and their exact ordering differ from group to group, their common elements involve a stripping away of the vestiges of an old identity, the requirement that repeated confessions be made either orally or in writing, and a somewhat random and ultimately debilitating alternation of the giving and the withholding of ‘unconditional’ love and approval. H2 further states that the maintenance of this program involves the expenditure of a measurable quantity of the collectivity’s resources. This quantity is known as C, where C equals the cost of the program and should be measurable at least at an ordinal level.

The resocialization process has baffled many observers, in my opinion because it proceeds simultaneously along two distinct but parallel tracks, one involving cognitive functioning and the other involving emotional networking. These two tracks lead to the attainment of states of hyper-credulity and relational enmeshment, respectively. The group member learns to accept with suspended critical judgement the often shifting beliefs espoused by the charismatic leader. At the same time, the group member becomes strongly attached to and emotionally dependent upon the charismatic leader and (often especially) the other group members, and cannot bear to be shunned by them.

Hidden in the dark

H3. Those who go through the process will be more likely than those who do not to reach a state of hyper-credulity. This involves the shedding of old convictions and the assumption of a zealous loyalty to these beliefs of the moment, uncritically seized upon, so that all such beliefs become not mere ‘beliefs’ but deeply held convictions.

Under normal circumstances, it is not easy to get people to disown their core convictions. Convictions, once developed, are generally treated not as hypotheses to test empirically but as possessions to value and cherish. There are often substantial subjective costs to the individual in giving them up. Abelson (1986: 230) has provided convincing linguistic evidence that most people treat convictions more as valued possessions than as ways of testing reality. Cognitive dissonance theory predicts with accuracy that when subject to frontal attack, attachment to convictions tends to harden (Festinger, Riechen et. al. 1956; O’Leary 1994). Therefore, a frontal attack on convictions, without first undermining the self-image foundation of these convictions, is doomed to failure. An indirect approach through brainwashing is often more effective.

Scott Nevins.

When the state of hyper-credulity is achieved, it leaves the individual strongly committed to the charismatic belief of the moment but with little or no critical inclination to resist charismatically approved new or contradictory beliefs in the future and little motivation to attempt to form accurate independent judgments of the consequences of assuming new beliefs. The cognitive track of the resocialization process begins by stripping away the old convictions and associating them with guilt, evil, or befuddlement. Next, there is a traumatic exhaustion of the habit of subjecting right-brain convictions to left-brain rational scrutiny. This goes along with an increase in what Snyder (1974) has called self-monitoring, implying a shift from central route to peripheral route processing of information in which the source rather than the content of the message becomes all important.

H4. As an individual goes through the brainwashing process, there will be an increase in relational enmeshment with measurable increases occurring at the completion of each of the three stages. The purging of convictions is a painful process and it is reasonable to ask why anybody would go through it voluntarily. The payoff is the opportunity to feel more connected with the charismatic relational network. These people have also been through it, and only they really understand what you are going through. So cognitive purging leads one to seek relational comfort, and this confort becomes enmeshing. The credulity process and the enmeshing process depend on each other.

The next three hypotheses are concerned with the fact that each of the three phases of brainwashing achieves plateaus in both of these processes. The stripping phase creates the vulnerability to this sort of transformation. The identification phase creates realignment, and the rebirth phase breaks down the barrier between the two so that convictions can be emotionally energized and held with zeal, while emotional attachments can be sacralized in terms of the charismatic ideology. The full brainwashing model actually provides far more detailed hypotheses concerning the various steps within each phase of the process. Space constraints make it impossible to discuss these here. An adequate technical discussion of the manipulation of language in brainwashing, for example, would require a chapter at least the length of this one. Figure 2 provides a sketch of the steps within each phase. Readers desiring more information about these steps are referred to Lifton (1989: chap. 5).

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The Stages of Brainwashing & Their Effect on Hyper-credulity and Emotional Enmeshment

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H5. The stripping phase. The cognitive goal of the stripping phase is to destroy prior convictions and prior relationships of belonging. The emotional goal of the stripping phase is to create the need for attachments. Overall, at the completion of the stripping phase, the situation is such that the individual is hungry for convictions and attachments and dependent upon the collectivity to supply them. This sort of credulity and attachment behaviour is widespread among prisoners and hospital patients (Goffman 1961).

H6. The identification phase. The cognitive goal of the identification phase is to establish imitative search for conviction and bring about the erosion of the habit of incredulity. The emotional goal of the identification phase is to instill the habit of acting out through attachment. Overall, at the completion of the identification phase of the individual has begun the practice of relying on the collectivity for beliefs and for a cyclic emotional pattern of arousal and comfort. But, at this point this reliance is just one highly valued form of existence. It is not yet viewed as an existential necessity.

H7. The symbolic death and rebirth phase. In the death and rebirth phase, the cognitive and emotional tracks come together and mutually support each other. This often gives the individual a sense of having emerged from a tunnel and an experience of spiritual rebirth. The cognitive goal of this phase is to establish a sense of ownership of (and pride of ownership in) the new convictions. The emotional goal is to make a full commitment to the new self that is no longer directly dependent upon hope of attachment or fear of separation. Overall, at the completion of the rebirth phase we may say that the person has become a fully deployable agent of the charismatic leader. The brainwashing process is complete.

H8 states that the brainwashing process results in a state of subjectivity elevated exit costs. These exit costs cannot, of course, be observed directly. But they can be inferred from the behavioural state of panic or terror that arises in the individual at the possibility of having his or her ties to the group discontinued. The cognitive and emotional states produced by the brainwashing process together bring about a situation in which the perceived exit costs for the individual increase sharply. This closes the trap for all but the most highly motivated individuals, and induces in many a state of uncritical obedience. As soon as exit from a group (or even from its good graces) ceases to be a subjectively palatable option, it makes sense for the individual to comply with almost anything the group demands–even to the point of suicide in some instances. Borrowing from Sartre’s insightful play of that name, I refer to this situation as the ‘no exit’ syndrome. When demands for compliance are particularly harsh, the hyper-credulity aspect of the process sweetens the pill somewhat by allowing the individual to accept uncritically the justifications offered by the charismatic leader and/or charismatic organization for making these demands, however far-fetched these justifications might appear to an outside observer.

H9 states that the brainwashing process results in a state of ideological obedience in which the individual has a strong tendency to comply with any behavioural demands made by the collectivity, especially if motivated by the carrot of approval and the stick of threatened expulsion, no matter how life-threatening these demands may be and no matter how repugnant such demands might have been to the individual in his or her pre-brainwashed state.

H10 states that the ‘brainwashing process results in increased deployability. Deployability extends the range of ideological obedience in the temporal dimension. It states that the response continues after the stimulus is removed. This hypothesis will be disconfirmed in any cult within which members are uncritically obedient only while they are being brainwashed but not thereafter. The effect need not be permanent, but it does need to result in some measurable increase in deployability over time.

H11 states that the ability of the collectivity to rely on obedience without surveillance will result in a measurable decrease in surveillance. Since surveillance involves costs, this decrease will lead to a quantity S, where S equals the savings to the collectivity due to diminished surveillance needs and should be measurable at least to an ordinal level.

H12 states that S will be greater than C. In other words, the savings to the collectivity due to decreased surveillance needs is greater than the cost of maintaining the brainwashing program. Only where S is greater than C does it make sense to maintain a brainwashing program. Cults with initially high surveillance costs, and therefore high potential savings due to decreased surveillance needs [S], will tend to be more likely to brainwash, as will cults structured so that the cost of maintaining the brainwashing system [C] are relatively low.

Holy Archangel Monks socializing over wine

Characteristics of a Good Theory

There is consensus in the social sciences that a good inductive qualitative theory is one that is falsifiable, internally consistent, concrete, potentially generalizable, and has a well-defined dependent variable (king, Keohane et. al. 1994). I think it should be clear from the foregoing that this theory meets all of these conditions according to prevailing standards in the social and behavioural sciences. However, since brainwashing theory has received much unjustified criticism for its lack of falsifiability and its lack of generalizability, I will briefly discuss the theory from these two points of view.

The criterion of falsifiability, as formulated primarily by Popper (1968), is the essence of what separates theory from dogma in science. Every theory must be able to provide an answer to the question of what evidence would falsify it. If the answer is that there is no possible evidence that would lead us to reject a so-called theory, we should conclude that it is not really a theory at all but just a piece of dogma.

Although Dawson (1998) and Richardson (1993) have included the falsifiability problem in their critiques of brainwashing; this criticism is associated mainly with the work of Dick Anthony (1996). Anthony’s claim that brainwashing theory is unfalsifiable is based upon  two related misunderstandings. First, he argues that it is impossible to prove that a person is acting with free will so, to the extent that brainwashing theory rests on the overthrow of free will, no evidence can ever disprove it. Second, he applies Popper’s criterion to cults in a way more appropriate for a highly developed deductive theoretical system. He requires that either brainwashing explain all ego-dystonic behaviour in cults or acknowledge that it can explain none of it. But, as we have seen, brainwashing is part of an inductive multifactorial approach to the study of obedience in cults and should be expected to explain only some of the obedience produced in some cults.

With regard to generalizability, cultic brainwashing is part of an important general class of phenomena whose common element is what Anthony Giddens has called ‘disturbance of ontological security’ in which habits and routines cease to function as guidelines for survival (Cohen 1989: 53). This class of phenomena includes the battered spouse syndrome (Barnett and LaViolette 1993), the behaviour of concentration camp inmates (Chodoff 1966), the Stockholm Syndrome (Kuleshnyk 1984; Powell 1986), and, most importantly, behaviour within prisoner of war camps and Communist Chinese re-education centres and ‘revolutionary universities’ (Lifton 1989; Sargant 1957;  Schein 1961). There exist striking homologies in observed responses across all of these types of events, and it is right that our attention be drawn to trying to understand what common theme underlies them all. As Oliver Wendell Holmes (1891: 325) attempted to teach us more than a century ago, the interest of the scientist should be guided, when applicable, by ‘the plain law of homology which declares that like must be compared with like.’

Cats of St. Nektarios


Cultural Contention over the Concept of Brainwashing (Benjamin Zablocki, 2001)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 5th chapter of Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, entitled, Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of Brainwashing.

That Word ‘Brainwashing’

The word brainwashing is, in itself, controversial and arouses hostile feelings. Since there is no scientific advantage in using one word rather than another for any concept, it may be reasonable in the future to hunt around for another word that is less polemical. We need a universally recognized term for a concept that stands for a form of influence manifested in a deliberately and systematically applied traumatizing and obedience-producing process of ideological resocialization.


Currently, brainwashing is the generally accepted term for this process, but I see no objection to finding another to take its place. There are in fact other terms, historically, that have been used instead, like ‘thought reform’ and ‘coercive persuasion.’ Ironically, it has been those scholars who complain the most about ‘the B-word’ who have also been the most insistent that none of the alternatives is any better. As long as others in the field insist on treating all possible substitute constructions as nothing more than gussied-up synonyms for a mystified concept of brainwashing (see, for example, Introvigne 1998: 2), there is no point as yet in trying to introduce a more congenial term.

An overly literal reading of the word brainwashing (merely a literal translation of the accepted Chinese term shi nao) could be misleading, as it seems to imply the ability to apply some mysterious biochemical cleanser to people’s brains. However, the word has never been intended as a literal designator but as a metaphor. It would be wise to heed Clifford Geertz’s (1973: 210) warning in this connection, to avoid such a ‘flattened view of other people’s mentalities [that] more complex meanings than [a] literal reading suggests [are] not even considered.’

Thus, please don’t allow yourself to become prejudiced by a visceral reaction to the word instead of attending to the underlying concept. There is a linguistic tendency, as the postmodernist critics have taught us, for the signified to disappear beneath the signifier. But the empirically based social sciences must resist this tendency by defining terms precisely. The influence of media-driven vulgarizations of concepts should be resisted. This chapter argues for the scientific validity of a concept, not a word. If you are interested in whether the concept has value, but you gag on the word, feel free to substitute a different word in its place. I myself have no particular attachment to the word brainwashing.

But if all we are talking about is an extreme form of influence, why do we need a special name for it at all? The name is assigned merely for convenience. This is a common and widely accepted practise in the social sciences. For example, in economics a recession is nothing more than a name we give to two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. There is nothing qualitatively distinctive about two such consecutive quarters as opposed to one or three. The label is assigned arbitrarily at a subjective point at which many economists begin to get seriously worried about economic performance. This label is nevertheless useful as long as we don’t reify it by imagining that it stands for some real ‘thing’ that happens to the economy when it experiences precisely two quarters of decline. Many other examples of useful definitions marking arbitrary points along a continuum could be cited. There is no objective way to determine the exact point at which ideological influence becomes severe and encompassing enough, and its effects long lasting enough, for it to be called brainwashing. Inevitably, there will be marginal instances that could be categorized either way. But despite the fact that the boundary is not precisely defined, it demarcates a class of events worthy of systematic study.

The Reciprocal Moral Panic

Study of brainwashing has been hampered by partisanship and tendentious writing on both sides of the conflict. In one camp, there are scholars who very badly don’t want there to be such a thing as brainwashing. Its non-existence, they believe, will help assure religious  liberty, which can only be procured by defending the liberty of the most unpopular religions. If only the non-existence of brainwashing can be proved, the public will have to face up to the hard truth that some citizens choose to follow spiritual paths that may lead them in radical directions. This camp has exerted its influence within academia. But, instead of using its academic skills to refute the  brainwashing conjecture, it has preferred to attack a caricature of brainwashing supplied by anti-cult groups for litigational rather than scientific purposes.

Ecological Fallacy

In the other camp, we find scholars who equally badly do want there to be such a thing as brainwashing. Its existence, they believe, will give them a rationale for opposition to groups they consider dangerous. A typical example of their reasoning can be found in the argument put forth by Margaret Singer that ‘Despite the myth that normal people don’t get sucked into cults, it has become clear over the years that everyone is susceptible to the lure of these master manipulators’ (Singer 1995: 17). Using a form of backward reasoning known as the ecological fallacy, she argues from the known fact that people of all ages, social classes, and ethnic backgrounds can be found in cults to the dubious conclusion that everyone must be susceptible. These scholars must also share some of the blame for tendentious scholarship. Lacking positions of leadership in academia, scholars on this side of the dispute have used their expertise to influence the mass media, and they have been successful because sensational allegations of mystical manipulative influence make good journalistic copy.


It’s funny in a dreary sort of way that both sides in this debate agree that it is a David and Goliath situation, but each side fancies itself to be the David courageously confronting  the awesome power of the opposition. Each side makes use of an exaggerated fear of the other’s influence to create the raw materials of a moral panic (Cohen 1972; Goode and Ben Yehudah 1994). Thus, a disinterested search for truth falls victim to the uncompromising hostility created by each side’s paranoid fear of the power of the other.

David with the Head of Goliath
David with the head of Goliath.

The ‘cult apologists’ picture themselves as fighting an underdog battle against hostile lords of the media backed by their armies of ‘cult-bashing’ experts. The ‘cult bashers’ picture themselves as fighting an underdog battle for a voice in academia in which apologists seem to hold all the gatekeeper positions. Each side justifies its rhetorical excesses and hyperbole by reference to the overwhelming advantages held by the opposing side within its own arena. But over the years a peculiar symbiosis has developed between these two camps. They have come to rely on each other to define their positions. Each finds it more convenient to attack the positions of the other than to do the hard work of finding out what is really going on in cults. Thomas Robbins (19888: 74) has noted that the proponents of these two models ‘tend to talk past each other since they employ differing interpretative frameworks, epistemological rules, definitions… and underlying assumptions.’ Most of the literature on the subject has been framed in terms of rhetorical disputes between these two extremist models. Data-based models have been all but crowded out.

Between these two noisy and contentious camps, we find the curious but disinterested scientist who wants to find out if there is such a thing as brainwashing but will be equally satisfied with a positive or negative answer. I believe that there can and should be a moderate position on the subject. Such a position would avoid the absurdity of denying any reality to what thousands of reputable ex-cult members claim to have experienced–turning this denial into a minor cousin of holocaust denial. At the same time, it would avoid the mystical concept of an irresistible and overwhelming force that was developed by the extremist wing of the anti-cult movement.

One of the most shameful aspects of this whole silly affair is the way pro-religion scholars have used their academic authority to foist off the myth that the concept of brainwashing needs no further research because it has already been thoroughly debunked. Misleadingly, it has been argued (Introvigne forthcoming; Melton forthcoming) that the disciplines of psychology and sociology, through their American scholarly associations, have officially declared the concept of brainwashing to be so thoroughly discredited that no further research is needed. Introvigne, by playing fast and loose with terminology, attempts to parlay a rejection of a committee report into a rejection of the brainwashing concept by the American Psychological Association. He argues that ‘To state that a report “lacks scientific rigor” is tantamount to saying that it is not scientific’ (Introvigne 1998: 3), gliding over the question of whether the ‘it’ in question refers to the committee report or the brainwashing concept.3 Conveniently, for Introvigne, the report in question was written by a committee chaired by Margaret Singer, whose involuntarist theory of brainwashing is as much a distortion of the foundational concept as Introvigne’s parody of it.

The truth is that both of these scholarly associations (American Psychological Association and American Sociological Association) were under intense pressure by a consortium of pro-religious scholars (a.k.a. NRM scholars) to sign an amicus curiae brief alleging consensus within their fields that brainwashing theory had been found to be bunk. This was in regard to a case concerning Moonie brainwashing that was before the United States Supreme Court (Molko v Holly Spirit Ass’n., Supreme Court of Calif. SF 25038; Molko v Holly Spirit Ass’n, 762 p.2d 46 [Cal. 1988], cert. Denied, 490 U.S. 1084 [1989]). The bottom line is that both of the associations, after bitter debate, recognized that there was no such consensus and refused to get involved. Despite strenuous efforts of the NRM scholars to make it appear otherwise, neither professional association saw an overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side. Both went on the record with a statement virtually identical to my argument in this chapter: that not nearly enough is known about this subject to be able to render a definitive scientific verdict, and that much more research is needed. A few years later, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion went on record with a similar statement, affirming ‘the agnostic position’ on this subject and calling for more research (Zablocki 1997: 114).

Although NRM scholars have claimed to be opposed only to the most outrageously sensationalized versions of brainwashing theory, the result, perhaps unintended, of their campaign has been to bring an entire important area of social inquiry to a lengthy halt. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that during the period of 1962 to 2000, a time when cults flourished, not a single article supportive of brainwashing has been published in the two leading American journals devoted to the sociology of religion, although a significant number of such articles have been submitted to those journals and more than a hundred such articles have appeared in journals marginal to the field (Zablocki 1998: 267)

Crime Scene Photo of Heaven's Gate Bodies Found in Rancho Santa Fe, CA (1)
Crime Scene Photo of Heaven’s Gate Bodies Found in Rancho Santa Fe, CA.


The erroneous contention that brainwashing theory has been debunked by social science research has been loudly and frequently repeated, and this ‘big lie’ has thus come to influence the thinking of neutral religion scholars. For example, even Winston Davis, in an excellent article on suicidal obedience in Heaven’s Gate, expresses characteristic ambivalence over the brainwashing concept:

‘Scholarship in general no longer accepts the traditional, simplistic theory of brainwashing… While the vernacular theory of brainwashing may no longer be scientifically viable, the general theory of social and psychological conditioning is still rather in good shape… I therefore find nothing objectionable [sic] in Benjamin Zablocki’s revised theory of brainwashing as ‘a set of transactions between a charismatically led collectivity and an isolated agent of the collectivity with the goal of transforming the agent into a deployable agent.’ The tale I have to tell actually fits nicely into several of Robert Lifton’s classical thought reform categories (Davis 2000: 241-2).

The problem with this all too typical way of looking at things is the fact that I am not presenting some new revised theory of brainwashing but simply a restatement of Robert Lifton’s (1989, 1999) careful and rigorous theory in sociological terms.

There are, I believe, six issues standing in the way of our ability to transcend this reciprocal moral panic. Let us look closely at each of these issues with an eye to recognizing that both sides in this conflict may have distorted the scientifically grounded theories of the foundational theorists–Lifton (1989), Sargant (1957), and Schein (1961)– as they apply to cults.

The Influence Continuum

The first issue has to do with the contention that brainwashing is a newly discovered form of social influence involving a hitherto unknown social force. There is nothing about charismatic influence and the obedience it instills that is mysterious or asks us to posit the existence of a new force. On the contrary, everything about brainwashing can be explained entirely in terms of well-understood scientific principles. As Richard Ofshe has argued: ‘Studying the reform process demonstrates that it is no more or less difficult to understand than any other complex social process and produces no results to suggest that something new has been discovered. The only aspect of the reform process that one might suggest is new, is the order in which the influence procedures are assembled and the degree to which the target’s environment is manipulated in the service of social control. This is at most an unusual arrangement of commonplace bits and pieces’ (1992: 221-2).

Would-be debunkers of the brainwashing concept have argued that brainwashing theory is not just a theory of ordinary social influence intensified under structural conditions of ideological totalism, but is rather a ‘special’ kind of influence theory that alleges that free will can be overwhelmed and individuals brought to a state of mind in which they will comply with charismatic directives involuntarily, having surrendered the capability of saying no. Of course, if a theory of brainwashing really did rely upon such an intrinsically untestable notion, it would be reasonable to reject it outright.

The attack on this so-called involuntarist theory of brainwashing figures prominently in the debunking efforts of a number of scholars (Barker 1989; Hexham and Poewe 1997; Melton forthcoming), but is most closely identified with the work of Dick Anthony (1996), for whom it is the linchpin of the debunking argument. Anthony argues, without a shred of evidence that I have been able to discover, that the foundational work of Lifton and Schein and the more recent theories of myself (1998), Richard Ofshe (1992), and Stephen Kent (Kent and Krebs 1998) are based upon what he calls the ‘involuntarism assumption.’ It is true that a number of prominent legal cases have hinged on the question of whether the plaintiff’s free will had been somehow overthrown (Richardson and Ginsburg 1998). But nowhere in the scientific literature has there been such a claim. Foundational brainwashing theory has not claimed that subjects were robbed of their free will. Neither the presence nor the absence of free will can ever be proved or disproved. The confusion stems from the difference between the word free as it is used in economics as an antonym for costly, and as it is used in philosophy as an antonym for deterministic. When brainwashing theory speaks of individuals losing the ability to freely decide to obey, the word is being used in the economic sense. Brainwashing imposes costs, and when a course of action has costs it is no longer free. The famous statement by Rousseau (1913, p.3) that ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,’ succinctly expresses the view that socialization can impose severe constraints on human behaviour. Throughout the social sciences, this is accepted almost axiomatically. It is odd that only in the sociology of new religious movements is the importance of socialization’s ability to constrain largely ignored.    

Geronda Ephraim (AZ)      

Unidirectional versus Bi-directional Influence

The second issue has to do with controversy over whether there are particular personality types drawn to cults and whether members are better perceived as willing and active seekers or as helpless and victimized dupes, as if these were mutually exclusive alternatives. Those who focus on the importance of the particular traits that recruits bring to their cults tend to ignore the resocialization process (Anthony and Robbins 1994). 4 Those who focus on the resocialization process often ignore personal predispositions (Singer and Ofshe 1990).

All this reminds me of being back in high school when people used to gossip about girls who ‘got themselves pregnant.’ Since that time, advances in biological theory have taught us to think more realistically of ‘getting pregnant’ as an interactive process involving influence in both directions. Similarly, as our understanding of totalistic influence in cults matures, I think we will abandon undirectional explanations of cultic obedience in favour of more realistic, interactive ones. When that happens, we will find ourselves able to ask more interesting questions than we do now. Rather than asking whether it is the predisposing trait or a manipulative process that produces high levels of uncritical obedience, we will ask just what predisposing traits of individuals interact with just what manipulative actions by cults to produce this outcome.

A number of the debunking authors use this artificial and incorrect split between resocialization and predisposing traits to create a divide between cult brainwashing theory and foundational brainwashing theory as an explanation for ideological influence in China and Korea in the mid-twentieth century. Dick Anthony attempts to show that the foundational literature really embodied two distinct theories. One, he claims, was a robotic control theory that was mystical and sensationalist. The other was a theory of totalitarian influence that was dependent for its success upon pre-existing totalitarian beliefs of the subject which the program was able to reinvoke (Anthony 1996: i). Anthony claims that even though cultic brainwashing theory is descendant from the former, it claims its legitimacy from its ties to the latter.

The problem with this distinction is that it is based upon a misreading of the foundational literature (Lifton1989; Schein 1961). Lifton devotes chapter 5 of his book to a description of the brainwashing process. In chapter 22 he describes the social structural conditions that have to be present for this process to be effective. Anthony misunderstands this scientific distinction. He interprets it instead as evidence that Lifton’s work embodies two distinct theories: one bad and one good (Anthony and Robbins 1994). The ‘bad’ Lifton, according to Anthony, is the chapter 5 Lifton who describes a brainwashing process that may have gone on in  Communist reindoctrination centres, but which, according to Anthony, has no applicability to contemporary cults. The ‘good’ Lifton, on the other hand, describes in chapter 22 a structural situation that Anthony splits off and calls a theory of thought reform. Anthony appears to like this ‘theory’ better because it does not involve anything that the cult actually does to the cult participant (Anthony and Robbins 1995). The cult merely creates a totalistic social structure that individuals with certain predisposing traits may decide that they want to be part of.

Unfortunately for Anthony, there are two problems with such splitting. One is that Lifton himself denies any such split in his theory (Lifton 1995, 1997). The second is that both  an influence process and the structural conditions conducive to that process are necessary for any theory of social influence. As Lifton demonstrates in his recent application of his theory to a Japanese terrorist cult (Lifton 1999), process cannot be split off from structure in any study of social influence.

Geronda Ephraim, Monks, Devotees

Condemnatory Label versus Contributory Factor

The third issue has to do with whether brainwashing is meant to replace other explanatory variables or work alongside them. Bainbridge (1997) and Richardson (1993) worry about the former, complaining that brainwashing explanations are intrinsically unifactoral, and thus inferior to the multifactoral explanations preferred by modern social science. But brainwashing theory has rarely, if ever, been used scientifically as a unifactoral explanation. Lifton (1999) does not attempt to explain all the obedience generated in Aum Shinrikyo by the brainwashing mechanism. My explanation of the obedience generated by the Nruderhof relies on numerous social mechanisms of which brainwashing is only one (Zablocki 1980). The same can be said for Ofshe’s explanation of social control in Synanon (1976). Far from being unifactoral, brainwashing is merely one essential element in a larger strategy for understanding how charismatic authority is channelled into obedience.

James Thurber once wrote a fable called The Wonderful (1957), which depicted the cultural collapse of a society that was free to express itself using twenty-five letters of the alphabet but was forbidden to use the letter O for any reason. The intellectual convolutions forced on Thurber’s imaginary society by this ‘slight’ restriction are reminiscent of the intellectual  convolutions forced on the NRM scholars by their refusal to include brainwashing in their models. It is not that these scholars don’t often have considerable insight into cult dynamics, but the poor mugs are, nevertheless, constantly getting overwhelmed by events that their theories are unable to predict or explain. You always find them busy playing catch-up as they scramble to account for each new cult crisis as it develops on an ad hoc basis. The inadequacy of their models cries out ‘specification error’ in the sense that a key variable has been left out.

The Thurberian approach just does not work. We have to use the whole alphabet of social influence concepts from Asch to Zimbardo (including the dreaded B-word) to understand cultic obedience. Cults are a complex social ecology of forces involving attenuation effects (Petty 1994), conformity (Asch 1951), crowd behaviour (Coleman 1990), decision elites (Wexler 1995), deindividuation (Festinger, Pepitone et. al. 1952), extended exchange (Stark 1999), groupthink (Janis 1982), ritual (Turner (1969), sacrifice and stigma (Iannaccone 1992), situational pressures (Zimbardo and Anderson 1993), social proof (Cialdini 1993), totalism (Lifton 1989), and many others. Personally, I have never seen a cult that was held together only by brainwashing and not also by other psychological factors, as well as genuine loyalty to ideology and leadership.

Arguments that brainwashing is really a term of moral condemnation masquerading as a scientific concept have emerged as a reaction to the efforts of some anti-cultists (not social scientists) to use brainwashing as a label to condemn cults rather than as a concept to understand them. Bromley (1998) has taken the position that brainwashing is not a variable at all but merely a peremptory label of stigmatization–a trope for an ideological bias, in our individualistic culture, against people who prefer to live and work more collectivistically. Others have focused on the observe danger of allowing brainwashing to be used as an all-purpose moral excuse (It wasn’t my fault. I was brainwashed!), offering blanket absolution for people who have been cult members–freeing them from the need to take any responsibility for their actions (Bainbridge 1997; Hexham and Poewe 1997; Introvigne forthcoming; Melton forthcoming). While these allegations represent legitimate concerns about potential abuse of the concept, neither is relevant to the scientific issue. A disinterested approach will first determine whether a phenomenon exists before worrying about whether its existence is politically convenient.

Geronda Ephraim baptism

Obtaining Members versus Retaining Members

The fourth issue has to do with a confusion over whether brainwashing explains how cults obtain members or how they retain them. Some cults have made use of manipulative practices like love-bombing and sleep deprivation (Galanti 1993), with some degrees of success, in order to obtain new members. A discussion of these manipulative practices for obtaining members is beyond the scope of this chapter. Some of these practices superficially resemble techniques used in the earliest phase of brainwashing. But these practices, themselves, are not brainwashing. This point must be emphasized because a false attribution of brainwashing to newly obtained cult recruits, rather than to those who have already made a substantial commitment to the cult, figures prominently in the ridicule of the concept by NRM scholars. A typical straw man representation of brainwashing as a self-evidently absurd concept is as follows: ‘The new convert is held mentally captive in a state of alternate consciousness due to “trance-induction techniques” such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, self-hypnosis, visualization, and controlled breathing exercises … the cultist is [thus] reduced to performing religious duties in slavish obedience to the whims of the group and its authoritarian or maniacal leader’ (Wright 1998: 98).

Foundational brainwashing theory was not concerned with such Svengalian conceits, but only with ideological influence in the service of the retaining function. Why should the foundational theorists, concerned as they were with coercive state-run institutions like prisons, ‘re-education centres,’ and prisoner-of-war camps have any interest in explaining how participants were obtained? Participants were obtained at the point of a gun.5 The motive of these state enterprises was to retain the loyalties of these participants after intensive resocialization ceased. As George Orwell showed so well in his novel 1984, the only justification for the costly indoctrination process undergone by Winston Smith was not that he love Big Brother while Smith was in prison, but that Big Brother be able to retain that love after Smith was deployed back into society. Nevertheless, both ‘cult apologists’ and ‘cult bashers’ have found it more convenient to focus on the obtaining function.

Geronda Ephraim with child

If one asks why a cult would be motivated to invest resources in brainwashing, it should be clear that this can not be to obtain recruits, since these are a dime a dozen in the first place, and, as Barker (1984) has shown, they don’t tend to stick around long enough to repay the investment. Rather, it can only be to retain loyalty, and therefore decrease surveillance costs for valued members who are already committed. In small groups bound together only by normative solidarity, as Hechter (1987) has shown, the cost of surveillance of the individual by the group is one of the chief obstacles to success. Minimizing these surveillance costs is often the most important organizational problem such groups have to solve in order to survive and prosper. Brainwashing makes sense for a collectivity only to the extent that the resources saved through decreased surveillance costs exceed the resources invested in the brainwashing process. For this reason, only high-demand charismatic groups with totalistic social structures are ever in a position to benefit from brainwashing.

This mistaken ascription of brainwashing to the obtaining to the obtaining function rather than the retaining function is directly responsible for two of the major arguments used by the ‘cult apologists’ in their attempt to debunk brainwashing. One has to do with a misunderstanding of the role of force and the other has to do with the mistaken belief that brainwashing can be studied with data on cult membership turnover.

The widespread belief that force is necessary for brainwashing is based upon a misreading of Lifton (1989) and Schein (1961). A number of authors (Dawson 1998; Melton forthcoming; Richardson 1993) have based their arguments, in part, on the contention that the works of foundational scholarship on brainwashing are irrelevant to the study of cults because the foundational literature studied only subjects who were forcibly incarcerated. However, Lifton and Schein have both gone on public record as explicitly denying that there is anything about their theories that requires the use of physical force or threat of force. Lifton has specifically argued (‘psychological manipulation is the heart of the matter, with or without the use of physical force’ [1995: xi]) that his theories are very much applicable to cults. The difference between the state-run institutions that Lifton and Schein studied in the 1950s and 1960s and the cults that Lifton and others study today is in the obtaining function not in the retaining function. In the Chinese and Korean situations, force was used for obtaining and brainwashing was used for retaining. In cults, charismatic appeal is used for obtaining and brainwashing is used, in some instances, for retaining.

A related misconception has to do with what conclusions to draw from the  very high rate of turnover among new and prospective recruits to cults. Bainbridge (1997), Barker (1989), Dawson (1998), Introvigne (forthcoming), and Richardson (1993) have correctly pointed out that in totalistic religious organizations very few prospective members go on to become long-term members. They argue that this proves that the resocialization process cannot be irresistible and therefore it cannot be brainwashing. But nothing in the brainwashing model predicts that it will be attempted with all members, let alone successfully attempted. In fact, the efficiency of brainwashing, operationalized as the expected yield of deployable agents  per 100 members, is an unknown (but discoverable) parameter of any particular cultic system and may often be quite low. For the system to be able to perpetuate itself (Hechter 1987), the yield need only produce enough value for the system to compensate it for the resources required to maintain the brainwashing process.


Moreover, the high turnover rate in cults is more complex than it may seem. While it is true that the membership turnover is very high among recruits and new members, this changes after two or three years of membership when cultic commitment mechanisms begin to kick in. this transition from high to low membership turnover is known as the Bainbridge Shift, after the sociologist who first discovered it (Bainbridge 1997: 141-3). After about three years of membership, the annual rate of turnover sharply declines and begins to fit a commitment model rather than a random model.

Membership turnover data is not the right sort of data to tell us whether a particular cult practises brainwashing. The recruitment strategy whereby many are called but few are chosen is a popular one among cults. In several groups in which I have observed  the brainwashing process, there was very high turnover among initial recruits. Brainwashing is too expensive to waste on raw recruits. Since brainwashing is a costly process, it generally will not pay for a group to even attempt to brainwash one of its members until that member has already demonstrated some degree of staying power on her own.

Geronda Ephraim & Geronda Paisios

Psychological Traces

The fifth issue has to do with the question of whether brainwashing leaves any long-lasting measurable psychological traces in those who have experienced it. Before we can ask this question in a systematic way, we have to be clear about what sort of traces we should be looking for. There is an extensive literature on cults and mental health. But whether cult involvement causes psychological problems is a much more general question than whether participation in a traumatic resocialization process leaves any measurable psychological traces.

There has been little consensus on what sort of traces to look for. Richardson and Kilbourne (1983: 30) assume that brainwashing should lead to insanity. Lewis (1983: 30) argues that brainwashing should lead to diminished IQ scores. Nothing in brainwashing theory would lead us to predict either of these outcomes. In fact, Schein points out that ‘The essence of coercive persuasion is to produce ideological and behavioral change in a fully conscious, mentally intact individual’ (1959: 437). Why in the world would brainwashers invest scarce resources to produce insanity and stupidity in their followers? However, these aforementioned authors (and others) have taken the absence of these debilitative effects as ‘proof’ that brainwashing doesn’t happen in cults. At the same time, those who oppose cults have had an interest, driven by litigation rather than science, in making exaggerated claims for mental impairment directly resulting from brainwashing. As Farrell has pointed out, ‘From the beginning, the idea of traumatic neurosis has been accompanied by concerns about compensation’ (1998: 7).

Studies of lingering emotional, cognitive, and physiological effects on ex-members have thus far shown inconsistent results (Katchen 1997; Solomon 1981; Ungerleider and Wellisch 1983). Researchers studying current members of religious groups have found no significant impairment or disorientation. Such results have erroneously been taken as evidence that the members of these groups could, therefore, not possibly have been brainwashed. However, these same researchers found these responses of current members contaminated by elevations on the ‘Lie’ scale, exemplifying ‘an intentional attempt to make a good impression and deny faults’ (Ungerleider and Wellisch 1983: 208). On the other hand, studies of ex-members have tended to show ‘serious mental and emotional dysfunctions that have been directly caused by cultic beliefs and practices (Saliba 1993: 106). The sampling methods of these latter studies have been challenged (Lewis and Bromley 1987; Solomon 1981), however, because they have tended to significantly over-sample respondents with anti-cult movement ties. With ingenious logic, this has led Dawson (1998: 121) to suggest in the same breath that cult brainwashing is a myth but that ex-member impairment may be a result of brainwashing done by deprogrammers.

All this controversy is not entirely relevant to our question, however, because there is no reason to assume that a brainwashed person is going to show elevated scores on standard psychiatric distress scales. In fact, for those for whom making choices is stressful, brainwashing may offer psychological relief. Galanter’s research has demonstrated that a cult ‘acts like a psychological pincer, promoting distress while, at the same time, providing relief’ (1989: 93). As we shall see below, the brainwashing model predicts impairment and disorientation only for people during some of the intermediate stages, not at the end state. The popular association of brainwashing with zombie or robot states comes out of a misattribution of the characteristics of people going through the traumatic brainwashing process to people going through the traumatic brainwashing process to people who have completed the process. The former really are, at times, so disoriented that they appear to resemble caricatures of zombies or robots. The glassy eyes, inability to complete sentences, and fixed eerie smiles are characteristics of disoriented people under randomly varying levels of psychological stress. The latter, however, are, if the process was successful, functioning and presentable deployable agents.

geron Efraim1

Establishing causal direction in the association between cult membership and mental health is extremely tricky, and little progress has been made thus far. In an excellent article reviewing the extensive literature in this area, Saliba (1993: 108) concludes: ‘The study of the relationship between new religious movements and mental health is in its infancy.’ Writing five years later, Dawson (1998: 122) agrees that this is still true, and argues that ‘the inconclusiveness results of the psychological study of members and ex-members of NRMs cannot conceivably be used to support either the case for or against brainwashing.’ Saliba calls for prospective studies that will establish baseline mental health measurements for individuals before they join cults, followed by repeated measures during and afterward. While this is methodologically sensible, it is impractical because joining a cult is both a rare and unexpected event. This makes the general question of how cults affect mental health very difficult to answer.

Fortunately, examining the specific issue of whether brainwashing leaves psychological traces may be easier. The key is recognizing that brainwashing is a traumatic process, and, therefore, those who have gone through it should experience an increasing likelihood in later years of post-traumatic stress disorder. The classic clinical symptoms of PTSD — avoidance, numbing, and increased arousal (American Psychiatric Association 1994: 427) — have been observed in many ex-cult members regardless of their mode of exit and current movement affiliations (Katchen 1997; Zablocki 1999). However, these soft and somewhat subjective symptoms should be viewed with some caution given recent controversies over the ease with which symptoms such as these can be iatrogenically implanted, as, for example, false memories (Loftus and Ketcham 1994).

In the future, avenues for more precise neurological tracking may become available. Judith Herman (1997: 238) has demonstrated convincingly that ‘traumatic exposure can produce lasting alterations in the endocrine, autonomic, and central nervous systems … and un the function and even the structure of specific areas of the brain.’ It is possible in the future that direct evidence of brainwashing may emerge from brain scanning using positron emission tomography. Some preliminary research in this area has suggested that, during flashbacks, specific areas of the brain involved with language and communication may be inactivated (Herman 1997: 240; Rauch van der Kolk, et. al. 1996). Another promising area of investigation of this sort would involve testing for what van der Kolk and McFarlene (1996) have clinically identified as ‘the black hole of trauma.’ It should be possible to determine, once measures have been validated, whether such traces appear more often in individuals who claim to have gone through brainwashing than in a sample of controls who have been non-brainwashed members of cults for equivalent periods of time.

elder ephraim pascha

Separating the Investigative Steps

The final issue is a procedural one. There are four sequential investigative steps required to resolve controversies like the one we have been discussing.these steps are concerned with attempt, existence, incidence, and consequence. A great deal of confusion comes from nothing more than a failure to recognize that these four steps need to be kept analytically distinct from one another.

To appreciate the importance of this point, apart from the heat of controversy, let us alter the scene for a moment and imagine that the scientific conflict we are trying to resolve is over something relatively innocuous — say, vegetarianism. Let us imagine that on one side we have a community of scholars arguing that vegetarianism is a myth, that nobody would voluntarily choose to live without eating meat and that anyone who tried would quickly succumb to an overpowering carnivorous urge. On the other side, we have another group of scholars arguing that they had actually seen vegetarians and observed their non-meat-eating behavior over long periods of time, and that, moreover, vegetarianism is a rapidly growing social problem with many new converts each year being seduced by this enervating and debilitating diet.

It should be clear that any attempt to resolve this debate scientifically would have to proceed through the four sequential steps mentioned above. First, we would have to find out if anybody ever deliberately attempts to be a vegetarian. Maybe those observed not eating meat were simply unable to obtain it. If nobody could be found voluntarily attempting to follow a vegetarian diet, we would next have to observe him carefully enough and long enough to find out whether he succeeds in abstaining from meat. If we observe even one person successfully abstaining from meat, we would have to conclude that vegetarianism exists, increasing our confidence in the theory of the second group of researchers. But the first group could still argue, well, maybe you are right that a few eccentric people here and there do practise vegetarianism, but not enough to constitute a social phenomenon worth investigating. So, the next step would be to measure the incidence of vegetarianism in the population. Out of every million people, how many do we find following a vegetarian diet? If it turns out to be very few, we can conclude that, while vegetarianism may exist as a social oddity, it does not rise to the level of being a social phenomenon worthy of our interest. If, however, we find a sizeable number of vegetarians, we still need to ask, ‘So what?’ This is the fourth of our sequential steps. Does the practice of vegetarianism have any physical, psychological, or social consequences? If so, are these consequences worthy of our concern?

Each of these investigative steps requires attention focused on quite distinct sets of substantive evidence. For this reason, it is important that we not confuse them with one another as is so often done in ‘apologist’ writing about brainwashing, where the argument often seems to run as follows: Brainwashing doesn’t exist, or at least it shouldn’t exist, and even if it does the numbers involved are so few, and everybody in modern society gets brainwashed  to some extent, and the effects, if any, are impossible to measure. Such arguments jump around, not holding still long enough to allow for orderly and systematic confirmation or disconfirmation of each of the steps.

Once we recognize the importance of keeping the investigative steps methodologically distinct distinct from one another, it becomes apparent that the study of brainwashing is no more problematic (although undoubtedly much more difficult) than the study of an advertising campaign for a new household detergent. It is a straightforward question to ask whether or not some charismatic groups attempt to practise radical techniques of socialization designed to turn members into deployable agents. If the answer is no, we stop because there can be no brainwashing. If the answer is yes, we go on to a second question: Are these techniques at least sometimes effective in producing uncritical obedience? If the answer to this question is ye (even for a single person), we know that brainwashing exists, although it may be so rare as to be nothing more than a sociological oddity. therefore, we have to take a third step and ask. How frequently is it effective? What proportion of those who live in cults are subjected to brainwashing, and what proportion of these respond by becoming uncritically obedient? And, finally, we need to ask a fourth important question: How long do the effects last? Are the effects transitory, lasting only as long as the stimulus continues to be applied, or are they persistent for a period of time thereafter, and, if so, how long? Let us keep in mind the importance of distinguishing attempt from existence, from incidence, from consequences.

To be continued…


Do We Need to Know Whether Cults Engage in Brainwashing? (Benjamin Zablocki, 2001)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the 5th chapter of Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, entitled, Towards a Demystified and Disinterested Scientific Theory of Brainwashing.


Nobody likes to lose a customer, but religions get more touchy than most when faced with the risk of losing devotees they have come to define as their own. Historically, many religions have gone to great lengths to prevent apostasy, believing virtually any means justified to prevent wavering parishioners from defecting and thus losing hope of eternal salvation. In recent centuries, religion in our society has evolved from a system of territorially based near-monopolies into a vigorous and highly competitive faith marketplace in which many churches, denominations, sects, and cults vie with one another for the allegiance of ‘customers’ who are free to pick and choose among competing faiths. Under such circumstances, we should expect to find that some of the more tight-knit and fanatical religions in this rough-and-tumble marketplace will have developed sophisticated persuasive techniques are known in the literature by the controversial term ‘brainwashing.’ This chapter is devoted to a search for a scientific definition of brainwashing and an examination of the evidence for the existence of brainwashing in cults. I believe that research on this neglected subject is important for a fuller understanding of religious market dynamics.1 And, ultimately, research on this subject may yield a wider dividend as well, assisting us in our quest for a fuller understanding of mass charismatic movements such as Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism.

Do We Need to Know Whether Cults Engage in Brainwashing?

The question of why people obey the sometimes bizarrely insane commands of charismatic leaders, even unto death, is one of the big unsolved mysteries of history and the social sciences. If there are deliberate techniques that charismatic leaders (and charismatically led organizations) use to induce high levels of uncritical loyalty and obedience in their followers, we should try to understand what these techniques are and under what circumstances and how well they work.

This chapter is about nothing other than the process of inducing ideological obedience in charismatic groups. Many people call this process brainwashing, but the label is unimportant. What is important is that those of us who want to understand cults develop models that recognize the importance that some cults give to strenuous techniques of socialization designed to induce uncritical obedience to ideological imperatives regardless of the cost to the individual.

Obedience is Life

The systematic study of obedience has slowed down considerably within the behavioural sciences. Early laboratory studies of obedience-inducing mechanisms got off to a promising start in the 1960s and 1970s, but were correctly criticized by human rights advocates for putting laboratory subjects under unacceptable levels of stress (Kelman and Hamilton 1989; Milgram 1975; Zimbardo 1973). Permission to do obedience-inducing experiments on naive experimental subjects became almost impossible to obtain and these sort of laboratory experiments virtually ceased. However, large numbers of charismatic cultic movements appeared on the scene just in time to fill this vacuum left by abandoned laboratory studies. Being naturally occurring social ‘experiments,’ obedience-induction in such groups could be studied ethnographically without raising the ethical objections that had been raised concerning laboratory studies.

Social theorists are well aware that an extremely high degree of obedience to authority is a reliably recurring feature of charismatic cult organizations (Lindholm 1990; Oakes 1997). But most social scientists interested in religion declined this opportunity. For reasons having more to do with political correctness than scientific curiosity, most of them refused to design research focused on obedience-induction. Many even deny that deliberate programs of obedience-induction ever occur in cults.

The existence of a highly atypical form of obedience to the dictates of charismatic leaders is not in question. Group suicides at the behest of a charismatic leader are probably the most puzzling of such acts of obedience (Hall 2000; Lalich 1999; Weightman 1983), but murder, incest, child abuse, and child molestation constitute other puzzling examples for which credible evidence is available (Bugliosi and Gentry 1974; Lifton 1999; Rochford 1998). However, agreement on these facts is not matched, as we shall see, by agreement on the causes of the obedience, its pervasiveness among cult populations, or the rate at which it decays after the influence stimuli are removed.

AZ - Monastic Procession with bishop

But given the fact that only a small proportion of the human population ever join cults, why should we care? The answer is that the sociological importance of cults extends far beyond their numerical significance. Many cults are harmless and fully deserving of protection of their religious and civil liberties. However, events of recent years have shown that some cults are capable of producing far more social harm than one might expect from the minuscule number of their adherents. The U.S. Department’s annual report on terrorism for the year 2000 concludes that ‘while Americans were once threatened primarily by terrorism sponsored states, today they face greater threats from loose networks of groups and individuals motivated more by religion or ideology than by politics’ (Miller 2000:1).

In his recent study of a Japanese apocalyptic cult, Robert Jay Lifton (1999: 343) has emphasized this point in the following terms:   


‘Consider Asahara’s experience with ultimate weapons…With a mad guru and a few hundred close followers, it is much easier to see how the very engagement with omnicidal weapons, once started upon, takes on a psychological momentum likely to lead either to self-implosion or to world explosion…Asahara and Aum have changed the world, and not for the better. A threshold has been crossed. Thanks to this guru, Aum stepped over a line that few had even known was there. Its members can claim the distinction of being the first group in history to combine ultimate fanaticism with ultimate weapons in a project to destroy the world. Fortunately, they were not up to the immodest task they assigned themselves. But whatever their bungling, they did cross that line, and the world will never quite be the same because, like it or not, they took the rest of us with them.’

Potentially fruitful scientific research on obedience in cultic settings has been stymied by the well-intentioned meddling of two bitterly opposed, but far from disinterested, scholarly factions. On the one hand, there has been an uncompromising outcry of fastidious naysaying by a tight-knit faction of pro-religion scholars. Out of a fear that evidence of powerful techniques for inducing obedience might be used by religion’s enemies to suppress the free expression of unpopular religions, the pro-religion faction has refused to notice the obvious and had engaged in a concerted (at times almost hysterical) effort to sweep under the rug any cultic-obedience studies not meeting impossibly rigorous controlled experimental standards (Zablocki 1997).On the other hand, those scholars who hate or fear cults have not been blameless in the pathetic enactment of this scientific farce. Some of them have tried their best to mystically transmute the obedience-inducing process that goes on in some cults from a severe and concentrated form of ordinary social influence into a magic spell that somehow allows gurus to snap the minds and enslave the wills of any innocent bystander unlucky enough to come into eye contact. By so doing, they have marginalized themselves academically and provided a perfect foil for the gibes of pro-religion scholars.

Brainwashing is the most commonly used word for the process whereby a charismatic group systematically induces high levels of ideological obedience. It would be naively reductionistic to try to explain cultic obedience entirely in terms of brainwashing. Other factors, such as simple conformity and ritual, induce cultic obedience as well. But it would be an equally serious specification error to leave deliberate cultic manipulation of personal convictions out of any model linking charismatic authority to ideological obedience.

EE & Nuns in NA

However, the current climate of opinion, especially within the sociology of new religious movements, is not receptive to rational discussion of the concept of brainwashing, and still less to research in this area. Brainwashing has for too long been a mystified concept, and one that has been the subject of tendentious writing (thinly disguised as theory testing) by both its friends and enemies. My aim in this chapter is to rescue for social science a concept of brainwashing freed from both mystification and tendentiousness. I believe it is important and long overdue to restore some detachment and objectivity to this field of study.

The goal of achieving demystification will require some analysis of the concept’s highly freighted cultural connotations, with particular regard to how the very word brainwash became a shibboleth in the cult wars. It is easy to understand how frightening it may be to imagine that there exists some force that can influence one down to the core level of basic beliefs, values, and worldview. Movies like The Manchurian Candidate have established in the popular imagination the idea that there exists some mysterious technique, known only to a few that confers such power. Actually, as we will see, the real process of brainwashing involves only well-understood processes of social influence orchestrated in a particularly intense way. It still is, and should be, frightening in its intensity and capacity for extreme mischief, but there is no excuse for refusing to study something simply because its frightening.

EE Planting Trees

The goal of establishing scientific disinterest will require the repositioning of the concept more fully in the domain of behavioural and social science rather than its present domain, which is largely that of civil and criminal legal proceedings. It is in this domain that it has been held hostage and much abused for more than two decades. The maxim of scholarly disinterest requires the researcher to be professionally indifferent as to whether our confidence in any given theory (always tentative at best) is increased or decreased by research. But many scholarly writers on this subject have become involved as expert witnesses, on one side or the other, in various law cases involving allegations against cult leaders or members (where witnesses are paid to debate in an arena in which the only possible outcomes are victory or defeat). This has made it increasingly difficult for these paid experts to cling to a disinterested theoretical perspective.

In my opinion, the litigational needs of these court cases have come, over the years, to drive the scientific debate to an alarming degree. There is a long and not especially honourable history of interest groups that are better armed with lawyers than with scientific evidence, and that use the law to place unreasonable demands on science. One need only think of the school segregationists’ unreasonable demands, fifty years ago, that science prove that any specific child was harmed in a measurable way by a segregated classroom; or the tobacco companies’ demands, forty years ago, that science demonstrate the exact process at the molecular level by which tobacco causes lung cancer. Science can serve the technical needs of litigation, but, when litigation strategies set the agenda for science, both science and the law are poorer for it.

My own thirty-six years of experience doing research on new religious movements has convinced me beyond any doubt that brainwashing is practised by some cults some of the time on some of their members with some degrees of success. Even though the number of times I have used the vague term some in the previous sentence gives testimony to the fact that there remain many still-unanswered questions about this phenomenon, I do not personally have any doubt about brainwashing’s existence. But I have also observed many cults that do not practise brainwashing, and I have never observed a cult in which brainwashing could be reasonably described as the only force holding the group together. My research (Zablocki 1971; 1991; 1996; Zablocki and Aidala 1991) has been ethnographic, comparative, and longitudinal. I have lived among these people and watched the brainwashing process with my own eyes. I have also interviewed people who participated in the process (both as perpetrators and subjects). I have interviewed many of these respondents not just one time but repeatedly over a course of many years. My selection of both cults and individuals to interview has been determined by scientific sampling methods (Zablocki 1980: app A), not guided by convenience nor dictated by the conclusions I hoped to find. Indeed, I have never had an axe to grind in this field of inquiry. I didn’t begin to investigate cults in the hope of finding brainwashing. I was surprised when I first discovered it. I insist on attempting to demonstrate its existence not because I am either for or against cults but only because it seems to me to be an incontrovertible, empirical fact.

Although my own ethnographic experience leads me to believe that there is overwhelming evidence that brainwashing is practised in some cults, my goal in this chapter is not to ‘prove’ that brainwashing exists, but simply to rescue it from the world of bogus ideas to which it has been banished unfairly, and to reinstate it as a legitimate topic of social science inquiry. My attempt to do so in this chapter will involve three steps. First, I will analyse the cultural misunderstandings that have made brainwashing a bone of contention rather than a topic of inquiry. Second, I will reconstruct the concept in a scientifically useful and empirically testable form within the framework of social influence theory. Third, I will summarize the current state of evidence (which seems to me to be quite compelling) that some cults do in fact engage in brainwashing with some degrees of success.

To be continued…

St. Nektarios Xenonas

Pagans, a Pope, & the Fall of Sauron: How We Got New Year’s Day (Dwight Longenecker, 2013)

NOTE: This abridged article is taken from

The earliest records of a New Year celebration are from Mesopotamia around 2000 BC. Then about the time of Father Abraham, the new year was heralded not in mid winter, but at the Spring equinox in mid-March. Following these already ancient customs, the first Roman calendar had ten months and also recognized March as the beginning of the year. This is why September, October, November and December have their names: from March they were the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months.

The second king of Rome, Numa Pontilius added January and February to the calender1 and in 153 BC we have the first record of January first being celebrated as New Years’ Day. The change was decreed for civil reasons (the consuls began their term at that time) but many people still recognized March as the start of the year.2


When Julius Caesar replaced the old lunar based calendar3 in 46 BC with a solar calendar,4 he also formally established the beginning of January as New Year’s Day. As the Empire fell and Europe transitioned to the new religion and rule of Christianity, the vestiges of pagan culture were purged. New Years’ Day at the beginning of January was officially eliminated at the Council of Tours5 in 597,  and across Europe the start of a new year was celebrated variously at Christmas, Easter or most significantly March 25.

The date of March 25 not only connected with the most ancient celebrations of the new year at the Spring equinox, but in the Christian calendar March 25 is the celebration of the Annunciation–the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son. The date of March 25 was determined by the Jewish belief that great men were conceived on the same day of the year as their death. Jesus Christ died on March 25, (so the theory goes) which means he was conceived on March 25. Incidentally this is also the origin for the traditional date of Christmas–nine months from March 25.

Medieval Christians understood that the beginning of the life of the Son of God in the Virgin Mary’s womb was the beginning of God’s work among mankind, the restoration and redemption of the world and the beginning of a new creation. It was therefore theologically fitting that March 25 or Ladyday (in honor of the Virgin Mary) should be celebrated as New Years’ Day. And so it was for a thousand years.

Then in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII tinkered with Julius Caesar’s ancient calendar. Because of imprecise calculations, the date of Easter had been drifting and the pope decided it needed fixing. Part of the reform was to re-establish January first as New Years’ Day. Seeing this as papal presumption, the Eastern Orthodox rejected the reform.6 Seeing this as not only papal presumption, but paganism restored, the Protestants also rejected the new Gregorian calendar. The British did not adopt the new calendar until 1752. The Greeks held out until 1923. The monks of Mt Athos still hold on to the Julian calendar.7

13 days

What about the fall of Sauron—the nemesis in The Lord of the Rings? J.R.R.Tolkien was very sly in the way he wove Christian symbolism into his epic myth. He records the dates of the great events in the cycle of the ring, and we discover that it is on March 25 that the ring of power is cast into the fires of Mount Doom, and so the destruction of Sauron heralds a new beginning for Middle Earth. Thus Tolkien gives a nod to the medieval Christian tradition that March 25 is the true New Years’ Day.

As you celebrate New Years’ Day remember that for one thousand years the welcoming of a new year was not just a calendar event, but a culturally religious event which linked the renewal of nature with the redemption of the world.


  1. By tradition, Numa promulgated a calendar reform that adjusted the solar and lunar years, introducing the months of January and February (Livy’s History of Rome, 1:19).
  2. The January Kalends came to be celebrated as the new year at some point after it became the day for the inaugurating new consuls in 153 BC. Romans had long dated their years by these consulships, rather than sequentially, and making the kalends of January start the new year aligned this dating.
  5. In AD 567, the Council of Tours formally abolished January 1 as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on December 25 in honor of the birth of Jesus; March 1 in the old Roman style; March 25 in honor of Lady Day and the Feast of the Annunciation; and on the movable feast of Easter. These days were also astronomically and astrologically significant since, at the time of the Julian reform, March 25 had been understood as the spring equinox and December 25 as the winter solstice. Medieval calendars nonetheless often continued to display the months running from January to December, despite their readers reckoning the transition from one year to the next on a different day.
  7. Though all the monks on Mt. Athos follow the Old Calendar, there is a divide between those under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (new calendar) and those who adhere to other ecclesiastical jurisdictions not in communion with the churches that follow the new calendar.

The Greek Community of Toronto (GCT) vs. Metropolitan Sotirios et. al. (Lauren Pelley, 2017)

NOTE: The following article is taken from CBC News. A pdf of the lawsuit can be found here. 

Sotirios Athanassoulas has been Metropolitan, or archbishop, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto since 1996.

Sotirios Athanassoulas has been Metropolitan, or archbishop, of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto since 1996. (Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto website)

A civil lawsuit filed against some of the most powerful members of Canada’s Greek Orthodox community includes allegations of verbal and physical abuse by priests, money for a sick baby stolen from a church fundraiser, and sex offenders placed in Toronto churches — a controversy some say is part of an ongoing Greek “turf war.”

The board of directors for the Greek Community of Toronto (GCT), a non-profit charity representing more than 150,000 Greek Canadians, filed the lawsuit against the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto, its metropolitan — the Greek Orthodox equivalent of an archbishop — as well as four priests, several members of one priest’s family, and other individuals connected with the church community.

It’s the latest chapter in a complicated, years-long dispute between the GCT and the four Toronto churches it owns, which are staffed by priests appointed by the metropolis.

The GCT, which has roughly 6,000 paid members, has strived to ensure financial accountability and transparency surrounding donations made at those churches “with very little success” over three years of mediation efforts, said spokesperson Gina Tassopoulos.

“That’s led us to believe the funds are being misappropriated.”

In the statement of claim, the GCT alleges the Greek Orthodox Metropolis and Metropolitan Sotirios Athanassoulas have personally benefited from a share of church donations, without declaring the money “as a taxable benefit or income to the Canada Revenue Agency.”

Gina TassopoulosThe Greek Community of Toronto, which has roughly 6,000 paid members, believes church funds ‘are being misappropriated,’ says spokesperson Gina Tassopoulos. (Jon Castell/CBC News)

Allegations ‘wholly without merit,’ says lawyer

Also in the statement, filed on Oct. 18, the GCT alleges that thousands of dollars in money raised through a 2012 fundraiser for a baby with a serious heart condition may not have reached the child’s family. Donations totalled well over $50,000, the GCT alleges.

Fundraising efforts for Baby Alexander made headlines that year; the eight-month-old needed urgent transportation from Greece to Toronto for heart surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children.

The GCT alleges the metropolis announced that $10,000 was being sent to the charity Global Angel on behalf of the child’s family, without disclosing the “actual total amount of the collected donations.”

“In fact, Global Angel only received the paltry sum of $1,450,” continues the statement of claim, which alleges the metropolis “unlawfully and fraudulently” used the remaining portion of the donations for their personal benefit or the benefit of other charities.

But Gail Courneyea, founder of Global Angel, told CBC Toronto the charity’s records show it did indeed receive $10,000 from the Metropolis.

“I really don’t know where the numbers are coming from … We were surprised that was mentioned, that we didn’t get it,” she said.


The civil lawsuit’s statement of claim alleges a priest at St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church, just north of Danforth Avenue in the heart of Toronto’s Greek community, would regularly ‘verbally abuse and physically assault’ members of a women’s group at the church. (Jon Castell/CBC News)


The statement of claim also alleges a priest at St. Irene Chrisovalantou Greek Orthodox Church, just north of Danforth Avenue in the heart of the city’s Greek community, would regularly “verbally abuse and physically assault” members of a women’s group at the church. The GCT would not elaborate on the nature of the alleged abuse.

Along with St. Irene, the GCT owns the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Cathedral Church in Parkdale, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Thorncliffe, and St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox church in Scarborough.

Within some of the churches, the GCT alleges there is a “history of inappropriate conduct by priests negligently appointed by the Metropolitan or the Metropolis.”

In 2015, for instance, a priest at St. John helped place a Romanian Orthodox Priest, Ioan Pop, at the church, the statement of claim alleges. Athanassoulas knew that Pop “was a sex offender on bail, at that time,” it alleges.

George Karayannides, lawyer representing Athanassoulas and the metropolis, told CBC Toronto that both are aware of the lawsuit but have yet to file a statement of defence.

The allegations in the statement of claim are “wholly without merit and the claim will be zealously defended,” Karayannides said.

Terry Maropoulos, a staff member with the metropolis, told CBC Toronto that the organization won’t comment.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

Baby Alexander

In the statement of claim, the GCT alleges that thousands of dollars collected in a 2012 fundraiser for an infant with a serious heart condition may not have reached the family of Baby Alexander. (Global Angel website)

GCT, Metropolis tension goes back 40 years

“The GCT is simply seeking to uphold the recognized principles of transparency, accountability, responsibility and governance and to ensure compliance with the Charities Act, Canada Revenue Agency regulations and other laws and regulations of Canada,” reads a statement from the organization.

“This is a fair and reasonable expectation.”

George Gekas — a former president of the GCT who says he left the post within weeks — feels the situation is less clear cut.

He believes the lawsuit is part of an ongoing “turf war” between the community organization and the church, two interconnected groups both woven into the fabric of Greek Orthodox life.

“The relations between the [archbishop] and the Greek community of Toronto has been, at best, problematical at times,” he said, adding the religious organization often encroaches on the community organization, and vice versa.

Tassopoulos said issues between the GCT and the metropolis go back decades, and she hopes the lawsuit leads to a settlement and “some sort of peace.”

“It would put a lot of things to rest that have happened over the last 40 years, hopefully,” she said.


The Orthodox Church’s Stance on Abortion in Cases Involving Rape and Incest

The following article is taken from Orthodox Pro Life: Abortion Information Center. The essence of all these patristic teachings is, “There is no excuse whatsoever for an abortion.”

“. . . the willful abortion of children is an act of murder, and the sinful character of that act always remains, even when conception has taken place in the most tragic circumstances.” – Metropolitan Theodosius, Orthodox Church in America, 1980

* * * * * * *

“The Church affirms that life begins at the moment of conception, and once this new life has begun in a woman, even in cases of rape or incest, she can no longer think solely of herself. Her life and the life of the baby are in the hands of the Lord. While rape and incest are grievous sins, the Church does not permit one sin to be resolved by allowing for an even greater sin to follow.” – Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia

* * * * * * *

After the Turks entered Cyprus and the rapes which occurred, the Cypriot Church allowed abortions for these circumstances. So someone asked Elder Epiphanios (Theodoropoulos) if this was correct or not. And he answered:

“No! It is not correct. If the raped woman was worldly, then no question is posed – she will not ask the Church what to do, anyway. If, however, the girl is faithful, then she will keep the fruit of her rape and when she appears before God, she will tell Him: Because of the words of Your lips, I kept harsh ways (Psalm 16:4). That child was my disgrace, my martyrdom, my cross. I kept it and did not transgress Your will. Think with what boldness such a woman will stand before the throne of God!”

The questioner then said to the Elder: “What is higher though: life or honor? I think honor. So precisely so, that such a girl can avoid public mockery from the birth of an illegitimate child, it would be good for her to proceed to abortion.”

The Elder responded: “There is however, a big difference, which you are not taking into consideration: You do not have the right to keep your honor, taking away the life of someone else, as is the conceived embryo. Life and honor can consequently be compared but only when they coincide in the same person.”

Counsels for Life: From the Life and Teachings of Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos

π.Επιφάνιος,από Σεβασμιώτατο Εδέσσης
Elder Epiphanios was strict in applying canons to himself, but recognised the need for oikonomia for others, and could bend the rules where needed for pastoral work.

* * * * * * *

Parents, who themselves have been violated by their child being violated in instances of rape or incest, often want the solution that seems to offer the quickest solution for the child and all involved. Choosing abortion, while it may seem to be the quickest of choices, in fact itself leaves many more scars for the person already victimized. The author is very mindful of the violation that has taken place, and offers the wisdom of the Church as a possible means to real healing. It is the belief of this author that the person violated by rape or incest, is again violated through abortion and that by carrying and bearing the child and offering the child up for adoption to a loving couple can very well be a source of healing and strength at this most difficult time. In any of the instances above, the choice to abort or not to abort has much to do with those surrounding the young person and what they counsel and support. Fr. John Kowalczk reminds all of us surrounding those dealing with a crisis pregnancy: Any involvement in an abortion; having one, performing one, condoning one, is an action against God. Abortion can be termed a hostile act of rebellion against God’s very work of creation. And do not the words “hostile rebellion against God” sum up the very essence of the work of Satan? (Moral and Ethical Issues Confronting Orthodox Youth Across North America by Archpriest Joseph F. Purpura)

* * * * * * *

“If abortion were illegal, what about victims of rape and incest?”

By Valerie Protopapas, Executive Secretary and Educational Director of Orthodox Christians for Life

Cases of rape and incest very rarely lead to pregnancy for a variety of reasons. In cases where they do, we must remember that the child in the womb is not guilty of any crime but is also a victim. As we do not ask the death penalty for the actual criminal of rape or incest, why should we demand it for the second innocent victim?

Also, abortion leads to increased trauma as the victim will suffer the emotional and possibly physical damage which is common to all abortions. Between 50 and 80% of all women who have had abortions suffer mild to severe psychological trauma although it may take up to 8 or 10 years before manifesting itself. This is simply piling the trauma of abortion upon trauma of rape or incest. A woman who carried through such a pregnancy may indeed wind up far better off physically and psychologically than a woman who chooses to abort.

Finally, we must remember that, as Christians, we are obligated to offer God’s compassion to the woman, not “the compassion” that is of the world. The world says that the woman would be much better off killing her child. This so-called “compassion” is wicked and leads to spiritual, moral, and sometimes physical death. God’s compassion has more respect for the sufferer, offering the suffering of His Son as an example in our distress and the promise of His eternal love and constant support in times of trial.  


* * * * * * *

When man is in pain Christ visits him. Some say: “Geronda, is this not cruel? Why did God allow this? Does He not suffer seeing us in pain?” Geronda answered: “God is in pain, too, seeing men tormented by illness, demons, barbarians… but He has great joy knowing the heavenly reward that He has prepared for them.” (Geronda Paisios of Holy Mountain, On Pain and Suffering)  

* * * * * * *

There was a time in my life when I spoke to a great deal of troubled women, counseling them and trying to help them through their pain and difficulty. Battered women, abused women, rape victims, former child molestation victims, etc. One theme that came back to me from these women again and again was that carrying the baby through to pregnancy actually helped healing and brought good out of the darkness, shame, fear, and horror of rape or incest. Another theme [from those victims that did choose abortion] was shame and deep sorrow at having put their baby to death. But this is the side nobody will tell, [our society] doesn’t care to listen to what these women have to say, they don’t care even if they did listen. It contradicts the story line they want to tell, it conflicts with their politics, and so it doesn’t count.

* * * * * * *

It is necessary to provide women who are pregnant respect. They need our protection. This is also very true in the case of the single mother who has been abused and violently raped. This is what happened during the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974. On one hand we have the tragedy of women being raped and on the other we have a life in the womb, a living man who is not in fault and who is part of the woman’s body. Who knows what that person will be become because in each case man is made with the hope that he can become like God.  (Fr. George Metallinos, University of Athens, Professor of Theology)

* * * * * * *

Men forget to find shelter in God because their faith is not strong. They forget that God promised to protect them and asked them not to despair… (Priest Dionysios Tatsis, Periodical Orthodox Typos, March 25 2011)

* * * * * * *

A pregnancy after rape is very rare. Many believe that abortion is the only solution to a pregnancy after rape. This idea is used by many to support the efforts towards legalization of abortion.

1. The mother who has the abortion is temporarily relieved from the pain that rape caused her. But she is left with the tragic remembrance of the murder of her child. How can we justify the decision to kill an innocent living person?

2. The mother should have support from her immediate environment [family, Church, Society]. She may decide to give the child up for adoption. The woman who patiently endures the nine months will receive a peaceful conscience knowing that she courageously decided to accept the life which lives inside of her even though this life was conceived without her will and under tragic events.

(Fr. Savvas Michailidis, Greece)


* * * * * * *

Shouldn’t Abortion be Legal in Cases of Rape or Incest?

There are two answers to this objection. First, a child conceived through rape or incest does not deserve the death penalty for his or her father’s crime. Second, research shows that the victim of either crime is likely to suffer more if she resorts to abortion.

One large-scale study of pregnant rape victims found that approximately 70 percent chose to give birth. Many sexual assault victims see giving birth as a selfless, loving act that helps bring healing from the horrific experience of the rape itself. Women who abort children conceived through rape often report that they didn’t feel that they had any other choice, since everyone around them assumed that they would not want to give birth to the rapist’s baby.

The case against abortion for pregnant victims of incest is even stronger. Incest victims hardly ever voluntarily consent to an abortion. Rather than viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the victim of incest is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way to get out of the incestuous relationship because it exposes the abusive sexual activity that family members are either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge. The pregnancy poses a threat to the perpetrator, who frequently attempts to coerce his incest victim to have an unwanted abortion.

The idea that the violent act of abortion is beneficial to victims of rape and incest is simply unfounded. On the contrary, evidence shows that abortion in such cases compounds the unspeakable pain that victims experience.

Moreover, given that one-third of one percent of abortions are performed under such circumstances, we might ask why this question is so frequently raised. Do these extremely rare cases justify tolerating the other 99.67% of abortions? Would those who raise this objection really be willing to ban abortion if exceptions were made for rape and incest?


  • Johnston, Wm. Robert. Reasons Given For Having Abortions In The United States.  
  • Mahkorn, “Pregnancy and Sexual Assault,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. Mall and Watts (Washington, D.C., University Publications of America, 1979) 55-69.
  • Maloof, “The Consequences of Incest: Giving and Taking Life” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, eds. Mall and Watts (Washington, D.C. University Publications of America, 1979) 84-85.
  • Reardon, David, PhD, Julie Makimaa, and Amy Sobie. 2000. Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions, and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault. Battle Creek. Acorn Publishing.


* * * * * * *

Pregnancy resulting from Incest

excerpts from ‘The Psychological Aspects of Abortion’

the following is taken from a secular text on the psychological affects of abortion on victims of incest:

Most pregnancies from incest have a very different dynamic than from rape and must be counseled in a very different manner. Even strongly pro-abortion people, if they approach an incest case professionally, must be absolutely convinced before advising abortion, for abortion is not only is an assault on the young mother, but it may completely fail to solve the original problem. It is also unusual for wisdom to dictate anything but adoptive placement of the baby.

In incest, is pregnancy common?

No. “Considering the prevalence of teenage pregnancies in general, incest treatment programs marvel at the low incidence of pregnancy from incest.” Several reports agree at 1% or less.

How does the incest victim feel about being pregnant?

For her, it is a way to stop the incest; a way to unite mother and daughter, a way to get out of the house. Most incestuous pregnancies, if not pressured, will not get abortions. “As socially inappropriate as incest and incestuous pregnancies are, their harmful effects depend largely upon reaction of others.”

Source: G. Maloof, “The Consequences of Incest,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, University Publications of America, 1979, p. 74, 100

Idaho state Rep. Pete Nielsen (R) claimed women who are victims of rape or incest are less likely to get pregnant than if they had consensual sex

* * * * * * *

There is a case in America of a girl who was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and was held captive for 18 years. She was raped and sexually abused by her kidnapper who was out on parole for a previous rape conviction at the time of her kidnapping. While in captivity she became pregnant twice and carried both pregnancies to term. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at age 14. She gave birth to her second child, another daughter, three years later. She breast-fed them and raised them and taught them herself while in captivity. After her rescue in 2009, and after the conviction of her kidnapper/rapist (who received a conviction of 431 years in prison), she eventually began to speak about her experience. What she endured is utterly horrific, yet she has great love for her daughters in spite of how and by whom they were conceived. When asked how she survived those 18 years, she said, “I had my girls to give me strength.” When commenting on the birth of her first daughter she said, “My baby girl came into the world when I was fourteen years old and very, very scared. Recounting that day, I can’t believe it was me that went through this. How did I not go insane with worry? How do you get through things you don’t want to do? You just do. I would do it all again. The most precious thing in the world came out of it… my daughters.” (Jaycee Dugard, 2011)

Jaycee Duggard

* * * * * * *

Rebecca Kiessling: Abortion Survivor Who was Conceived in Rape

Rebecca Kiessling is an example of someone who was conceived in rape and escaped an abortion death. Her story is included here because she offers a valuable testimony in defense of the unborn who are considered ‘the hard cases.’

About Rebecca Kiessling:

  • · Abortion Survivor who was Conceived in Rape
  • · Adoptee
  • · Married and the mother of 5 children (two oldest are adopted)
  • · Has adopted three children including a child born with special needs who died at 33 days old.
  • · Gave birth to three biological children (second-generation abortion survivors.)
  • · Family law attorney with four pro bono cases of international attention all involving the protection of preborn human life, including the “frozen embryo” case in Michigan. Two of those cases involved rape and abortion. Also, represented a woman sued for not aborting.
  • · International Pro-Life Speaker
  • · Stopped practicing law in order to home-school her children and do public speaking
  • · National Spokeswoman for Personhood USA and for National Personhood Alliance
  • · Testified before many legislatures on abortion bans, Personhood Amendments and statutes, and on removing the rape exception from the laws


Rebecca’s Story:

I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I’d never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, “Well, except in cases of rape. . . ,” or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: “Especially in cases of rape!!!” All these people are out there who don‘t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage — that I was disposable.

Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. I would never say anything like that to someone. I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.” But that is the reality with which I live. I challenge anyone to describe for me how it’s not. It’s not like people say, “Oh well, I‘m pro-choice except for that little window of opportunity in 1968/69, so that you, Rebecca, could have been born.” No — this is the ruthless reality of that position, and I can tell you that it hurts and it’s mean. But I know that most people don’t put a face to this issue. For them, it’s just a concept — a quick cliche, and they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child of rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.

I’ve often experienced those who would confront me and try to dismiss me with quick quips like, “Oh well, you were lucky!” Be sure that my survival has nothing to do with luck. The fact that I’m alive today has to do with choices that were made by our society at large, people who fought to ensure abortion was illegal in Michigan at the time — even in cases of rape, people who argued to protect my life, and people who voted pro-life. I wasn’t lucky. I was protected. And would you really rationalize that our brothers and sisters who are being aborted every day are just somehow “unlucky”?!!

Although my birthmother was thrilled to meet me, she did tell me that she actually went to two back-alley abortionists and I was almost aborted. After the rape, the police referred her to a counselor who basically told her that abortion was the thing to do. She said there were no crisis pregnancy centers back then, but my birthmother assured me that if there had been, she would have gone if at least for a little more guidance. The rape counselor is the one who set her up with the back-alley abortionists. For the first, she said it was the typical back-alley conditions that you hear about as to why “she should have been able to safely and legally abort” me — blood and dirt all over the table and floor. Those back-alley conditions and the fact that it was illegal caused her to back out, as with most women.

Then she got hooked up with a more expensive abortionist. This time she was to meet someone at night by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Someone would approach her, say her name, blindfold her, put her in the backseat of a car, take her and then abort me . . . , then blindfold her again and drop her back off. And do you know what I think is so pathetic? It’s that I know there are an awful lot of people out there who would hear me describe those conditions and their response would just be a pitiful shake of the head in disgust: “It’s just so awful that your birthmother should have had to have gone through that in order to have been able to abort you!” Like that’s compassionate?!! I fully realize that they think they are being compassionate, but that’s pretty cold-hearted from where I stand, don’t you think? That is my life that they are so callously talking about and there is nothing compassionate about that position. My birthmother is okay — her life went on and in fact, she’s doing great, but I would have been killed, my life would have been ended. I may not look the same as I did when I was four years old or four days old yet unborn in my mother’s womb, but that was still undeniably me and I would have been killed through a brutal abortion.

According to the research of Dr. David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, co-editor of the book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault, and author of the article “Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths,” most women who become pregnant out of sexual assault do not want an abortion and are in fact worse-off after an abortion. See  .

Rebecca kiessling

So most people’s position on abortion in cases of rape is based upon faulty premises: 1) the rape victim would want an abortion, 2) she’d be better off with an abortion, and 3) that child’s life just isn’t worth having to put her through the pregnancy. I hope that my story, and the other stories posted on my site [], will be able to help dispel that last myth.

I wish I could say that my birthmother was with the majority of victims and that she didn’t want to abort me, but she had been convinced otherwise. However, the nasty disposition and foul mouth of this second back-alley abortionist, along with a fear for her own safety, caused her to back out. When she told him by phone that she wasn’t interested in this risky arrangement, this abortion doctor insulted her and called her names. To her surprise, he called again the next day to try to talk her into aborting me once again, and again she declined and was hurled insults. So that was it — after that she just couldn’t go through with it. My birthmother was then heading into her second trimester — far more dangerous, far more expensive to have me aborted.

I’m so thankful my life was spared, but a lot of well-meaning Christians would say things to me like, ”Well you see, God really meant for you to be here!” Or others may say, “You were meant to be here.” But I know that God intends for every unborn child to be given the same opportunity to be born, and I can’t sit contentedly saying, “Well, at least my life was spared.” Or, “I deserved it. Look what I’ve done with my life.” And millions of others didn’t? I can’t do that. Can you? Can you just sit there and say, “At least I was wanted . . . at least I’m alive” or just, “Whatever!”? Is that really the kind of person who you want to be? Cold-hearted? A facade of compassion on the exterior, but stone-cold and vacated from within? Do you claim to care about women but couldn’t care less about me because I stand as a reminder of something you’d rather not face and that you’d hate for others to consider either? Do I not fit your agenda?


In law school, I’d also have classmates say things to me like, “Oh well! If you’d been aborted, you wouldn’t be here today, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?” Believe it or not, some of the top pro-abortion philosophers use that same kind of argument: “The fetus never knows what hits him, so there’s no such fetus to miss his life.” So I guess as long as you stab someone in the back while he’s sleeping, then it’s okay, because he doesn’t know what hits him?! I’d explain to my classmates how their same logic would justify me killing you today, because you wouldn’t be here tomorrow, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?” And they’d just stand there with their jaws dropped. It’s amazing what a little logic can do, when you really think this thing through — like we were supposed to be doing in law school — and consider what we’re really talking about: there are lives who are not here today because they were aborted. It’s like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” Well, yeah! And if a baby is aborted, and no one else is around to know about it, does it matter? The answer is, YES! Their lives matter. My life matters. Your life matters and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

The world is a different place because it was illegal for my birthmother to abort me back then. Your life is different because she could not legally abort me because you are sitting here reading my words today! But you don’t have to have an impact on audiences for your life to matter. There is something we are all missing here today because of the generations now who have been aborted and it matters.

One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that the rapist is NOT my creator, as some people would have me believe. My value and identity are not established as a “product of rape,” but as a child of God. Psalm 68:5,6 declares: “A father to the fatherless . . . is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” And Psalm 27:10 tells us “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” I know that there is no stigma in being adopted. We are told in the New Testament that it is in the spirit of adoption that we are called to be God’s children through Christ our Lord. So He must have thought pretty highly of adoption to use that as a picture of His love for us!

Most importantly, I’ve learned, I’ll be able to teach my children, and I teach others that your value is not based on the circumstances of your conception, your parents, your siblings, your mate, your house, your clothes, your looks, your IQ, your grades, your scores, your money, your occupation, your successes or failures, or your abilities or disabilities — these are the lies that are perpetuated in our society. In fact, most motivational speakers tell their audiences that if they could just make something of themselves and meet this certain societal standard, then they too could “be somebody.” But the fact is that no one could ever meet all of these ridiculous standards, and many people will fall incredibly short and so, does that mean that they ‘re not “somebody” or that they’re “nobody?” The truth is that you don’t have to prove your worth to anyone, and if you really want to know what your value is, all you have to do is look to the Cross –because that’s the price that was paid for your life! That’s the infinite value that God placed on your life! He thinks you are pretty valuable, and so do I. Won’t you join me in affirming others’ value as well, in word and in action?

For those of you who would say, “Well, I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe in the Bible, so I’m pro-choice,” please read my essay, “The Right of the Unborn Child Not to be Unjustly Killed — a philosophy of rights approach” which is linked on the menu. I assure you, it will be worth your time.

For Life,


article source:  

link to Rebecca Kiessling’s philosophical essay on abortion:  


* * * * * * *

Abortion, Politics, and the “Rape and Incest” Exception

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

Coming soon to a podium near you: local politician Bluster K. Fluster, running for re-election, asserting his deeply held personal belief that abortion is wrong. There’s an exception, of course: cases where the woman conceived due to rape or incest.

A lot of his audience is nodding in agreement. Their reaction is typical; across the nation, polls show that approval of anti-abortion laws rises dramatically when this exception is made. According to a 1999 Wirthlin poll, for example, 62% of Americans would endorse a law prohibiting abortion except in cases when the pregnancy would kill the woman, or when it was caused by rape or incest. Remove that last clause and agreement drops thirty points.

It seems like common sense. Sexual violence is a nightmare. Dragging it out for nine months of pregnancy seems an added cruelty. Then there’s the child, for whom the truth about his father could be devastating. Fluster’s audience is sure abortion is the most compassionate course for the victims of sexual violence.

But did anyone think to ask the victims themselves?

In the new book, “Victims and Victors” (Acorn Books, 2000), editors David Reardon, Amy Sobie, and Julie Makimaa draw on testimonies of 192 women who experienced pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, and 55 children who were conceived in sexual assault. It turns out that when victims of violence speak for themselves, their opinion of abortion is nearly unanimous — and the opposite of what the average person expects.

Nearly all the women who conceived due to rape or incest, then had abortions, said that they regretted it. Of those giving an opinion, over 90% said that they would discourage other victims of sexual violence from having an abortion.

On the other hand, of the women who conceived due to rape or incest and carried to term, not one expressed regret about her choice. Of those giving an opinion, 94% of rape victims and 100% of incest victims said abortion was not a good option for other women in their situation.


“I feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest,” says Kathleen DeZeeuw, whose testimony is included in “Victors and Victims.” “I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.”

Her side of the story starts with skipping a church meeting to go with a girlfriend to a local coffeehouse. The sixth of eight children, Kathleen was raised in a Christian home with strict rules against associating with anyone outside their congregation. So perhaps Kathleen was naive when she agreed to go to a movie with a young man she met at the coffeehouse.

Soon after her head was being bashed against his car window until she was too weak to resist. Somehow she knew the rape that followed would make her pregnant. “I remember screaming this over and over again. This only served as a terrifying source of hideous laughter.” He threw her out of the car, with a warning that he’d hurt her worse if she told anyone. She made her way home feeling shattered and dirty.

Kathleen, only 16, kept the secret until it couldn’t be concealed. When the pregnancy became obvious, her parents were distressed and her siblings were disgusted. “Because I wouldn’t talk about it, many rumors started about me and everyone had his own interpretation of what must have ‘really’ happened.” She was sent to a maternity home a thousand miles away.

But something had begun to change in her heart. At first, she was repulsed at the thought of carrying “this man’s child,” yet as she felt the baby kick and move, her horror began to change to sympathy. “I began to realize that this little life inside me was struggling too…I was no longer thinking of the baby as the ‘rapist’s’… I now thought of this baby as ‘my baby.’ My baby was all I had. I felt abandoned by everyone. I had only this life inside me to talk to.”

Not that everything was easy. The first time Kathleen held her son she felt ‘revulsion,’ because he looked exactly like his father, a resemblance that remained as he grew. “The laughter of my little boy often reminded me of the hideous laughter of this guy as he had raped me.” But Patrick kept telling his mother she needed to forgive, as he himself had forgiven her sometimes pained reactions to him, as well as the actions of his unknown dad. In the end, forgiveness set Kathleen free.

Victims of sexual violence need counseling and care, Kathleen says, and plenty of time for healing. “To encourage a woman to have an abortion is to add even more violence to her life…Two wrongs will never make a right.”

Kathleen’s association of abortion with “even more violence” gives us a first clue to why victims of sexual violence would resist abortion. As Reardon points out, “Abortion is not some magical surgery which turns back the clock.”

What rape takes away from a woman, abortion cannot restore. Instead, though outsiders picture abortion as a quick and sanitary event behind closed doors, to the woman it is a second assault, one that disturbingly resembles the violence she has already endured.


“[M]any women report that their abortions felt like a degrading form of ‘medical rape,’” Reardon writes. “Abortion involves a painful intrusion into a woman’s sexual organs by a masked stranger…For many women this experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very strong…[W]omen with a history of sexual assault are likely to experience greater distress during and after an abortion than are other women.”

Second, Reardon says, post-abortion women typically feel guilty, “dirty,” depressed, and resentful of men, the same feelings which are common after sexual assault. Rape and incest victims who abort get a double whammy of these difficult emotions. “Rather than easing the psychological burdens of the sexual assault victim, abortion adds to them.”

For victims of incest the case is even stronger (and, of course, incest is often just a particular form of rape). For these girls, pregnancy can represent their only hope to get out of the abusive situation. They may have been threatened and beaten; they may have been told, for example, “If you tell Mommy, I’ll kill her.” But the girl knows that if she gets pregnant someone will have to see her plight and rescue her. To such a girl, pregnancy is not the problem; incest is the problem, and pregnancy may be the solution. Reardon writes, “Unlike pregnancies resulting from rape, most incest pregnancies are actually desired, at least at a subconscious level, in order to expose the incest.”

Reardon found that in virtually every case of pregnancy following incest, the abortion was not the girl’s decision. “In several cases, the abortion was carried out over the objections of the girl who clearly told others that she wanted to give birth to her child.” Instead, the abortion was planned by adults in her life, and frequently — for obvious reasons — by the perpetrator himself. Abortion turns out to be a great way to destroy evidence. It’s the best friend a sexual abuser has. And you’d be surprised how many people don’t ask any questions.


One woman writing under the pseudonym “Mary Jean Doe” recounts that when she was 12 years old, after some months of molestation by her older brother and his friend, she was late for a period.

“I turned to my Sunday School teacher for help…She gave me a hug and said I should go to Planned Parenthood…She never asked who the male partner was or why I was sexually active at that age.

“So my older brother took me to Planned Parenthood…No one expressed any dismay, concern or even interest that a 12-year-old girl needed a pregnancy test. I heard a lot of talk about ‘being responsible’ and ‘taking control of my body.’ Someone gave me a handful of condoms on the way out and made a joke about it being an assortment — red, blue, and yellow.”

No one asked the brother any questions, and he understandably refrained from getting chatty. Two days later the clinic phoned to tell Mary Jean that the test was positive and gave a time for her to return for an unspecified procedure. “The caller never used the word ‘pregnant’ or ‘abortion.’”

That evening her period started, so Mary Jean never kept the appointment. Only years later in biology class did she learn what sexual intercourse is — and that she had not been doing it. The abuse inflicted on her was not of a type that could result in pregnancy. Mary Jean was horrified to learn that she had been scheduled for an abortion none the less.

She concludes, “Abortion on demand, no questions asked, makes it easier for incest and child abuse to continue. Abortion for incest victims sounds compassionate, but in practice it is simply another violent and deceptive tool in the hand of the abuser.”


In a similar case in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Julio C. Novoa performed five abortions on three sisters who had been habitually raped by their father. The doctor didn’t suspect a thing. “When these patients came to my office, they came with a mother, and you, as a doctor, feel comfortable that the family knows,” he said. “They never, never made a mention or a hint” that anything was wrong. The girls were between the ages of 13 and 19, and their mother facilitated both the incest and the abortions. The situation ended only when the youngest girl scrawled at the bottom of a history test that she hated life and wanted to die. In the case of that young incest victim, speedy abortion with no questions asked did not set her free.

But surely a young girl who was pregnant shouldn’t be encouraged to have a baby, should she? She probably has unrealistic ideas that the baby will provide her with the unconditional love she craves. She may have naive fantasies that the child will be like a doll she can dress up and play with.

“It is precisely the young girl’s attachment to her baby, whether realistic or unrealistic, which insures with 100 percent reliability that she will be traumatized by the abortion,” Reardon writes. “To the young girl, the abortion is not an act of free will by which she is regaining her future. It is the destruction of her baby, her ‘baby doll,’ even…Which would the young girl rather have? A baby or a traumatic surgery wherein she is forced to participate in the murder of her baby?”


While a young girl should be spared pressure to kill her child, the most loving thing she can do next is to place him for adoption. Reardon cites Dr. George Maloof, who strongly recommends that children conceived in incest be adopted, not only for the child’s sake but so that the original family can begin to heal. (Incidentally, children of incest are not doomed to be victims of deformity due to “inbreeding.” Such problems emerge following repeated patterns of incest over several generations.) Maloof writes, “Only after having the child adopted can there be some assurance that this new life will not simply become part of the incestuous family affair. The family can be consoled by the knowledge that they have broken their incestuous pattern.”

That pattern is shown in the testimony of Dixie Lee Gourley, who remained in contact with her birth family throughout childhood while “boarding” with several other families. When she was 11 her visiting dad began to molest her, a horror she kept secret. It wasn’t until she was forty years old that she learned she wasn’t the only one. Four decades before he had also molested and impregnated another girl, the woman she’d always called her “stepsister.” This sister was also her mother, and her father was also her grand-dad.

Some women who had children after rape, then raised them, feel that adoption would have been the better course. Kathleen DeZeeuw, who has raised her son Patrick, writes: “I personally believe that for her child’s sake, she should strongly consider adoption. That may sound strange coming from me, but I know the emotional problems that can result from being daily reminded of the assault. In many case it may be truly better for the child that he or she not be subjected to this added turmoil.”


Sharon Bailey, who also gave birth after rape then raised her child, saw conflict over her daughter become one of the stresses that undermined her marriage. She believes that her daughter “would have had a more normal life” if she had been adopted. Nancy Cole, however, who raised a child after being impregnated by her own father, is satisfied with her decision. “[M]y daughter is now 18, loves the Lord, and is happy and well-adjusted. I have raised her all my life and I know I made the right decision.”

But back to our friend Fluster, beaming and bowing to applause. Does he have a point, when we’re talking about the public square? Remember how a “rape and incest” exception makes laws protecting unborn life much more acceptable to voters. How, strategically, should we approach the laws we craft?

David Reardon believes that it was softening of laws for “hard case” rape and incest pregnancies that paved the way for abortion on demand. Indeed, the Doe v. Bolton decision, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, stipulated that if abortion was legal in those cases it could not be withheld for any reason concerning a woman’s health, including her emotional condition or her age. Legalization of the hard cases is the “camel’s nose” in the tent, Reardon says, yet “[M]ost pro-life activists will continue to squirm and equivocate when asked about abortion for rape or incest pregnancies.”

The course of pro-life political strategy over the last decade was more complex than that. No pro-life activist believes that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest. While such a view has been popular with the public, pro-lifers believe that the child conceived in violence is obviously as worthy of protection as any other baby. She has done nothing deserving of death. Even someone who believed that every rapist should be condemned to death would balk at extending the sentence to the rapist’s child. The idea becomes even more appalling when we remember that it is, in reality, the rape victim’s child. Justice requires that innocent life be protected, and this unborn child is unquestionably an innocent bystander, if not a second victim, of the attack.

Yet, about ten years ago, some pro-life organizations began to encourage state legislatures to pass laws that allowed an exception for rape and incest. Their reasoning was simply pragmatic. The numbers of rape and incest abortions each year are relatively small, 1% or less of the total. Let’s write a law that the public will accept, the thinking went, and save 99% of the babies. That will give a platform to build on, and with further education, over coming years, we can come back for the rest. At debates, pro-choicers who brought up the 12-year-old incest victim would sometimes be stymied when their bluff was called: “Okay, if I agreed to let rape and incest abortions remain legal, would you agree to outlaw all the rest?”

Other pro-lifers objected vehemently to this strategy. You’re abdicating the very principle of the sacredness of human life, they charged; you’re creating a category of “second-class babies.” Visitors to the annual March for Life in Washington will no doubt recall that the theme almost every year reflected such a “No Compromises!” position. Advocates on this side would insist that such a concession dynamited the very foundation of the movement. They refused to be party to anything that would leave any baby behind. We can’t “come back” for the rape and incest babies later, they noted wryly. They won’t be there. They’ll be dead.

Those advocating what was called “the incremental approach” found this response unrealistic and frustrating. “Do you mean you’d let 99 children die in a burning building, just because you couldn’t get all 100 out?” was a frequent question. For several years this debate produced heated words almost any time pro-life leaders gathered, and led to no philosophical resolution.

Eventually, however, there was a practical resolution. Though a few states did pass versions of the “incremental” law, the Supreme Court soon made it clear that any such law was flatly unacceptable — exceptions or no exceptions. No prohibition of any abortion, under any circumstances, was allowed. The point was moot.

Thus in recent years there have been no pro-life attempts to outlaw abortion generally, either with or without exceptions. The attempt, in thirty states, to prohibit only one particularly gruesome method of late-term abortion, was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The only other initiatives have been narrowly crafted to hold clinics to safety standards or to ensure women are fully informed, to give parents a say in a teen’s abortion or to require a waiting period for reflection. None of these laws prohibit any abortion; they regulate it, like state liquor laws regulate sale of alcohol, without prohibiting anyone who can read the sign outside the store from buying as much booze as he wants. As such, these laws could end up backfiring on the pro-lifers who worked so hard for them. They may give the public the impression that, like liquor sales, abortion is now safe and tidy and reasonably regulated. Since pro-lifers fought for these laws, citizens may feel they should now politely go away. Pro-lifers got some of the pie and the pro-choicers got some, they might conclude, so everyone should be happy.

Saxonburg 1991 abortion monument

There isn’t much political application to the discussion of rape and incest abortion, when all abortions are absolutely legal. Yet the emotional, spiritual, and philosophical discussion continues. While it looks at first glance as if rushing victims of violence to an abortion clinic is the greatest kindness, when we listen to them we learn that it is not at all what they want. What they want is surprising, but most of all it includes not inflicting violence on another person.

“The victim may sense, at least at a subconscious level, that if she can get through the pregnancy she will have conquered the rape,” Reardon writes. “By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength, and honor. It is proof that she is better than the rapist. When he was selfish, she can be generous. While he destroyed, he can nurture.”

Perhaps the most poignant passages in “Victims and Victors” are from the testimonies of women who did instead what most Americans assume they should, and aborted their abuse-conceived children. The next time you hear Fluster express his “compassionate” views, think of these words from Patricia Ryan:

“[Abortion] only compounds the trauma and pain of rape and incest. I was an innocent victim of a horrible crime. I was not to blame for what the rapist did to me. But in choosing to abort, to kill the innocent child growing within me, I lowered myself to the level of the rapist. I too committed a crime against a defenseless baby who had done nothing wrong, who was also a victim of the rapist. That child may have been fathered by a criminal, but I was the mother, and I killed a part of myself when I had the abortion. It only compounded my pain; it didn’t solve a thing.”

Published in Citizen Magazine October 2000.

Rape meme

The Abbot’s Sexual “Right” In Pre-Modern Romanian and Other European Culture (Andrei Oisteanu, 2016)

NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Studies in the History of Religions XIXXX:317-351.


  • “Do as the Priest Says, Not as the Priest Does!”
  • “I Worship the Icons | My Eyes on the Matrons”
  • Men vs Women: Isolation And Discrimination
  • “The Abbots’ Right Over Gypsy Women”
  • Homosexuality and Pedophilia in the Monasteries


At the beginning of the 18th century, Romanian Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul created, through his Didahii (Sermons), a genuine “theology of sin,” setting the stage for the immorality of erotic voluptuousness. To him, women were “reprobate and tempting to evil things.” All vices, but especially sexual ones (“the bitter sweetness of foul fornication”) were demonized by the Metropolitan (“He who sins is from the Devil”), Hell being “the consummate payment for sin”:

“Think […] that you have defiled your soul with fornications, adulteries, sodomies, soblazne-s [= pollutions], with debaucheries and food galore; your hands, with foul fondling [= masturbation], with perversions and rapes [= sexual violations], with killings and others.” Didachies (Sermons), 1709-1716.

The metropolitan was speaking not only to Christian laymen, but also to clerics, handing them genuine “textbooks of the confessor.” The confessor had to know “how he will question” the wretched sinner during “confession” and “how to bring him back to the righteous path” (Teachings for Confession, 1710).1

…Most of the sins confessed into the priest’s ear were surely those of an erotic nature. As Michel Foucault put it: “sex has been the privileged matter of confession.”2 Compared to the rigorism of the clerics, the peasants’ mentality was more flexible, more permissive…Quite often, however, the confessors needed confessors themselves, as they were not immune to the temptation of sin either…More than that, “due to uninterrupted idleness and abundant food,” some clerics “are naturally more exposed to the temptation of the body than other people.”3

The sinner’s confession took place in the intimate and dark space of the confessional or, with the Orthodox Christians, in a less “hygienic” space, under the priest’s apron (patrafir, Neo-Greek epitrahilion = “around the neck”).4 The confessor (who played the role of the psychiatrist in ancient times) had to know relevant details, but he also wanted to hear them. Listening to countless illicit sexual exploits, told by their parishioners with hundreds of licentious details, the confessors saw them with the mind’s eye, becoming inclined towards erotic fantasies. They were prone to sin first “in thought” and then “in deed.” As an old Romanian proverb goes, which was recorded in a manuscript dating back to the middle of the 18th century: “The appetite for fornication is much whetted by gazing” (Mss. BAR no. 273, 1759)5 . “Gazing,” but also “lending an ear” whets “the appetite for fornication.” That is what Antim Ivireanu also said explicitly, at the beginning of the 18th century:

“You have defiled your ears with dirty songs and words […] you have [defiled] your eyes with impious sights and signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716).

“There are men who rape a woman with their eyes,” says a character from a novel by Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen, 1935)6. The sensory system plays a paramount role. The rest is a matter of the imagination. The main sexual organ is not the penis or the vagina, but the brain.

One of the first Romanian poets who addressed the hypocrisy of the Christian Orthodox priests was Alecu Văcărescu, around 1795: “Should a priest walk your way | He acts in a hallowed way | But he’s masked his face away.”7 When Eminescu wrote in a poem (Egipetul, 1872) about the “debauched clergy,” he was surely not referring only to ancient Egyptian clergymen. Presumably, he also had in mind contemporary Romanian, Christian Orthodox clerics. There are many debauched priests and monks in Romanian literature…

A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.
A caricature on the cover of a Romanian magazine, 1896, representing a hetero- and homosexual orgy of members of the clergy.

Even when they were married, some Orthodox priests would not refrain from bedding one of their women parishioners or from raping a maid. The following is the real testimony, from a complaint dating back to 1791, submitted to the Metropolitan’s office and probably signed by a neighbour, who bears witness to the way in which a certain Father Toma had raped and deflowered his young maid, Pena:

“(One evening), as he came back home drunk, [Father Toma] beat up his wife and threw her out of the house and then he turned upon this girl [Pena] and spoiled [=deflowered] her. And to prevent her from shouting, he gagged her. And he repeated that exploit twice that night.”8

Following the girl’s complaint, the Metropolitan’s office launched an inquiry, opening a “case.” The confrontation was, however, asymmetrical and unjust. The priest’s sexual privileges, even if they are not provided for (and are even banned) by law, through custom and use, became tradition, into lex non scripta: “[b]ut the legal battle did not give [the maid] a winning hand”, Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu rightly comments, “for the priest had on his side his friends from the slum, his prestige and his power. To denounce such a master involved much greater risks than keeping the secret: losing the job, dishonour, the impossibility of finding another job.”9

In their turn, abbots and monks from Christian Orthodox monasteries were not guileless either. On seeing a beautiful maiden, they feared they would be tempted to sin:

The poor monk’s desire, See his soul burning on fire […] Where he sees a maiden fair His frock is blown in the air, For his soul is in despair, Afraid a great sin to bear!10

Obviously, some monks got over their “fear to sin” and raped girls. One of them, in a monastery in Moldova, in 1739, tried (without success) to avoid sanctions (“beating” and “gaol punishment”), confessing that it had been a freely consensual act, not a sexual violation: “with the girl’s approval he committed fornication, not forcefully.”11

The monk and priest Eufrosin Poteca (1785-1858), the future prior of the Gura Motrului monastery, also suffered from “the disease of loving maidens,” being always “consumed by love” and feeling “in the depths of his heart, the fire of love” for fair maidens. These are almost innocent vices, which, he claimed, he had to experiment in order to be able afterwards “to bring others to the right path as well”: “I wanted to learn better the passion of love so that I might learn by trial and error how I might lead others to the right path, too.”12

Small wonder that the reformist theologian was deeply resented by the senior clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church. For the early decades of the 19th century, but not only, Eufrosin Poteca behaved at the limit of scandal and sacrilege. As to Prior Eufrosin Poteca, the Metropolitan was “full of rabid venom.”

Eufrosin Poteca promoted a sort of “erotic mysticism,” as George Călinescu dubbed it. In 1828, for instance, while in Pest, the Romanian monk and priest experienced a state of supreme spiritualization, of mystic de-materialization (“she seemed to have turned me all into spirit), making love to “a mystery maiden.” A very beautiful maiden, true, but who proved to be of light mores, “a harlot”:

“[The girl] was very pretty, indeed, like a fresh rose bud, like an angel, like a goddess […] We slept together in bed and we tasted a sweetness, a pleasure which to me, seemed a blessing from God […]. She seemed to have turned me all into spirit.”13

And all this, he confesses to the reader, not because he might have been a “virgin,” it was “as if he hadn’t known a woman before.” More than anything, the reformist priest-monk and Prior Eufrosin Poteca stood up against monastic asceticism. “He did not fast or bow down to the ground in church,” G. Călinescu wrote. He lamented his fate (and the fate of the monk in general) of leading a sad and unfulfilled life without a wife: “[t]his is a life against nature, against the consorting law, against God.”14


A whole chapter in the index of folk motifs by ethnologist Stith Thompson (Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 1932-1937; T330- T350) is devoted to the theme of folk tales and legends related to the sexual temptations of monks and hermits: T350. Anachorites under temptation.15

The monks in Buddhist monasteries were banned from all sexual activities: masturbation, sodomy, zoophilia, etc. As we have seen, it is precisely the bans of some practices that prove their existence. However, paradoxically, the greatest sin was the heterosexual sex act. A woman could not be penetrated by a monk in any of “the three impure orifices” (the vagina, the anus, the mouth). The erect penis was not allowed to penetrate inside “not even the length of a sesame seed,” according to the Buddhist texts.16

…For the Christian-Orthodox space, see Cânticul călugărului (The Monk’s Song), collected at the middle of the 19th century by Vasile Alecsandri17 and the song Călugăritul (Donning the Monk’s Frock), collected around 1868 from the repertory of the Bucharest Gypsy rhapsodists by G. Dem. Teodorescu18, a great admirer of Eufrosin Poteca19. The poor monk lived in a true state of schizophrenia, his eyes and his mind juggling “from icons to matrons”20 and “from (the pages of) the Bible,” to “fair maids”:

I was not good for the frock, For my heart is like a rock, Nor was I good for the cloth, But for love I am no sloth, ‘Cos I worship all the icons My eyes set on the fair matrons, As I read, the Bible fades When I watch the fairest maids, When a fair maid walks my track, My frock shivers on my back. The Monk’s Song, 1856. 21

Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.
Continuing the Orthodox tradition of hypocritical pietism, Fr. Luke Melackrinos was suspended for sending lewd selfies to a female parishioner.


Or, as one of those “matrons” sexually harassed around the nooks and corners of the church might say, the priest or the monk is “His mind all to the Kingdom come, his hands deep in my bosom.” That is a popular saying collected by the beginning of the 19th century “by Lord Governor (dvornic) Iordache Golescul” (Pilde i tâlcuirea lor (Parables And Their Meaning), c. 1832). 22 Sometimes, worshipping icons and reciting verses from the Holy Book could appease sexual impulses. In other cases, it did not work that way:

When to church I go to pray, My lover stands in my way, I try to worship the icons, My lover around me fawns, He beguiles me from my canons; I pray and I cross my heart, My lover thinks it is smart To think that hell won’t us part. Tulip leaves will entwine, Lord, it is no fault of mine: If my sins do make me blunt My lover should bear the brunt. La biserică (In Church), 1871. 23

The Christian icons (and the saintly women painted on them) are not always remedies that repress the erotic fantasies of the monks, secluded behind the walls of their monasteries. On the contrary, they even provoke fantasies, verging on blasphemy.  It is not by accident that Gustave Flaubert (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1872) imagines the Christian theologian Tertullian (early 3rd century AD) urging “the smashing of icons” (that was a long time before the iconoclastic crisis), as a proponent of asceticism and of the cultivation of values:

“Smash the icons! Cover the virgins with veils! Pray, fast, cry, make penance!”24

Even if the religious motivation is replaced by the sociopolitical one, we are not too far from the romantic revolt of Eminescu’s proletarian, who claimed the smashing of “all that entices their sick heart”, of all that sparks “the voluptuousness of the ribald orgy”:

Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows, Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust.Emperor and Proletarian, 1874. 25

…The monk Hans (Adeodatus, by his monastic name) – a character imagined by novelist Liviu Rebreanu (Adam şi Eva [Adam and Eve], 1925) – passionately falls in love with the icon of the Holy Virgin adorning his cell in the Abbey of Lorsch, near the town of Worms, in Germany: an icon which had accompanied all his trials as a young man, throughout his monastic life. Adoring the icon, he had started to notice the anatomical details of the painted body of the Holy Virgin, her “alluring and caressing” eyes, her “beguiling” smile, “(her) round bosom heaving under the silky gown,” etc. Eventually, due to his erotic fantasies, the monk’s love for the icon becomes carnal, bodily, sexual:

| “Adeodatus took the icon, with both hands, and kissed it rapturously, without realizing that his passion might be unholy. (…) The Virgin Mary seemed like any woman of flesh and blood, and he himself, without true faith in his soul. And they made love with a sinful love: they embraced each other passionately and bit their lips with such devilish pleasure that, waking up, he still felt for a few moments, in all his body, that damning voluptuousness. […] All day long, he flogged his body, but he dared not glance at the icon. And the following night, the dream repeated itself, even more wicked than before. (…) And the third night, the same.”26

…It might be that the apocalyptic state around him, the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere, is leading the monk towards such “Satanic” fantasies. It must be the millennium crisis situation, of a “world gone out of joint,” which motivated and pushed Rebreanu to insert that strange episode into his strange novel…

Obviously, not only the monks, but also the nuns – “the brides of Christ” – were (are) dominated by sexual impulses in the convent. “With a courtesan’s smile and a churchgoer’s eyes,” as Eminescu might say (Scrisoarea [Letter] V, 1881).27 Unbridled, these propensities can lead to the supreme sin, of replacing religious feelings with erotic ones. Even worse, to replacing their supreme “groom,” Jesus Christ, with a young, beautiful and very much alive layman, of flesh and blood:

“Woe betide the poor nun, For her heart is on the run, Where she sees a handsome lad, Her white veil will billow glad, Where she sees a youth, Her step’s small in sooth, For she would follow, smooth; Where she sees a dapper man She bends down as much she can To pray, like to Jesus then.”28

Obviously, the sin is lurking around the nun all the more so as to bring the sinning layman closer to her. As the popular saying goes, which was reported by Governor Iordache Golescu around 1832: “I tell him that I’m a nun and he unties my pants (to tell the brassy ones).”29

In the first decades of the 19th century, the custom had it that some of the daughters of the boyars from Moldova should take the veil, especially at the Agapia and Văratec convents in northern Moldova. That is how two younger sisters of Gheorghe Sion took that path. Around 1840-1841, Gheorghe Sion (then aged 18-19) led them to the Agapia nunnery. He spent three to four days there, and he met many novice nuns, all coming from aristocratic families:

“Some (young nuns) were so fair,” Gheorghe Sion reminisced, “and even, God forbid, so flirtatious, that, had I not feared to sin and had I not been naïve and shy (as I was at that time), who knows how many sins I would have burdened my soul with! (…) Besides the jams, cups of coffee, breakfasts and lunches I was treated to (by these nuns), I felt bathed in their charming glances and rocked in dreams of voluptuousness.”30

Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu associates this story with the fact that, at the same time (1 st May 1844), upon the express request of the Metropolitan, reigning Prince Mihai Sturdza issued an order for young unmarried men to avoid visiting the Agapia and Văratec convents, where they would have gone only to commit “misdeeds.” “In other words,” – the scholar concludes – “to twist the minds of the young nuns. Knowing the story of Anton Pann or of Barbu Mumuleanu, we also know why the Prince was right to be worried…” 31

In a well known apocryphal text, The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother, which has some eighty versions in the Romanian language, attested to the 18th -19th centuries, the “Pregesta” (The Holy Mother of God) visits Hell and sees the sinners doomed to infernal ordeals. The wanton nuns have a special place in “The River of Fire.” At some point, “The Holy Mother of God saw another place of great toil, and only women labouring there”: “These are the nuns which have slipped into fornication (…) and are led by their carnal desires, and who do not seek to redeem their souls from sins.”32

In an article dating from 1922, Tudor Arghezi raised his voice against the common mentality that perceived the monk as a “hypocritical libidinous man.” The great poet and publicist considered that it was just a stereotype, a bias, a mental cliché:

“Whoever sees in monasticism the permanently present image of sex, and nothing else, is making a simplistic and vulgar judgment.”33 However, Arghezi realized that erotic drives are hard to rein in during a prolonged monastic seclusion. In a poem also written in the 1920s, he tried to describe the sexual fantasies of an ordinary deacon, Iakint (a kind of Eufrosin Poteca). It is about the phantasms experienced by a deacon during the period of spiritual and food fasting which the other monks from the monastery observed before the Easter holidays:

While all the hermits, Lord, it grieves, Are punishing themselves, like thieves, With bitter fasting and obedience, In Holy Week, doing their penance, In his small cell (the deacon’s), last night, A real girl made darkness bright With her firm breasts and narrow hips Of Florentine lute, an ellipse. Mâhniri [Sorrows], 1927.34

The materialization of the deacon’s erotic vision was so strong, so concrete and real, that even the almighty God, “who sees all,” caught a glimpse of the girl, as she sneaked out from monk Iakint’s cell, in the morning.

The love of beauty, specific to God, can mitigate the guilt of some sins committed “willingly and unwillingly,” “in deed,” but also “in thought.” As we have seen, for the rigorist Antim Ivireanul, the eyes are soiled “with unbecoming views and with signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716). As Cantemir put it: “by day and night, he would punish and torment himself in his thought even worse and in a more terrible fashion than in his body” (Istoria ieroglifică [The Hieroglyphic History], 1705)…


In the sacred spaces of the temples, the meeting and the nearness of men and women were limited, if not altogether banned. The mere sight of a woman was considered to be apt to distract a man’s concentration from “the things holy.” An erection could even happen in the space of a church, as happens, according to the Romanian popular saying: “The poor man’s oxen won’t pull the cart, his bread falls in the mud and his cock gets a rise in church.” That is why special, isolated, places have been imagined and built for women in churches, synagogues and mosques. The idea is to isolate women, doubled by their discrimination. Not only did women sit completely separated from men in synagogues and in mosques (on a floor upstairs, behind a parting screen), but sometimes they also had separate entrances (like in the Choral Temple, built in Bucharest over 1864-1866). Sometimes, in the Jewish quarters of some mediaeval cities (for instance, in the judería from the city of Gerona, in Catalonia), there were so-called “women’s streets,” which they could use to get to the synagogue, without meeting men on their road.

The worshipping men used to sit (in the conservative regions they still do) separated from the women in the Christian Orthodox churches too, even if not on different floors. The men sat in front, in the naos, and the women at the back, in the pronaos.35 Or the men sat to the right side of the naos, while the women sat on the left. The gender considered “weaker” (the woman) was seated on the side which was considered “weaker” (the left)36. Exceptionally, following the Islamic (Turkish) model, even in some Christian Orthodox churches in Romania, the women sat on a different floor.37 As I have said, the separation of men from women goes hand in hand with the negative discrimination of the latter. In the synagogue, church or mosque, the place destined for women is always in a less favourable space, a “weaker” space from a symbolic and ritual point of view: behind a screen, on a higher floor (on a different floor than the altar and the officiating priest); in the pronaos or in the back (further away from the altar); in the naos, but on the left, etc.

Another way to limit the temptation of men (this time, of Christian monks) is the interdiction of women to enter the precincts of a monastery dressed in an “immodest” (“indecent”) way, or with their hair untied and uncovered. There are also other places where there are prohibitions for women, regarding “immodest clothes”: in the public space in some Islamic states, but also in the district of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, called Mea She’arim (“One Hundred Gates”).

In some monastic spaces, the presence of women is totally prohibited. The best known case is the monastic complex at Mt. Athos (20 monasteries and 12 hermitages), where the interdiction of women is total. “If women came here, – one monk from Mount Athos said, – two-thirds of us would follow them and would get married.”38 This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a significant one. From the so-called “ascetics of the wilderness” (3rd -4 th centuries A.D.) to the monks from Mt. Athos, the total repression of any sexual intercourse (happening “in thought or in deed”) was a steadfast rule: “Looking at a female, even at a chicken,” – as I. P. Culianu ironically said – “posed a great spiritual danger.”39

An old monastic parable – also reported by Culianu, – says much about the monk’s interdiction to look at (to admire) a girl, even accidentally. The hero of this story is Serbian Athonite monk St Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, who became the first archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and was later canonised. The parable attests to a test of monastic restrictions, of total erotic abstinence. Whoever failed the test was excluded:

“When the old Saba (= Sava) and a disciple walked on their way past a good-looking girl, Saba said that she had only one eye, and his disciple protested: he had seen that the girl had both eyes. That had been however, a trick of Saba’s, to see if his disciple had taken a good look at the girl. Then the disciple was driven away.”40


Besides the settlements of “princes’ gypsies” and of “boyars’ gypsies,” there were also gypsy slaves living around the monasteries in Wallachia and Moldova. They are the so-called “monastery gypsies”.41 In this case, the “abbot’s right” (that of the egumen, in Romanian: from the Neo-Greek igúmenos), worked just as the “boyar’s right” worked over “the boyar’s gypsies”.42 Speaking of the sexual privileges which the boyars arrogated over the young slaves, historian Radu Rosetti synthesized in a few lines the similarity of behavior with that of abbots in monasteries of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century:

“You should not believe that only the lay masters (the boyars) used royal rights over the gypsy women belonging to them: these slaves made up genuine harems for the abbots of the monasteries which the generosity of the pious donors had endowed with a great many gypsy souls. Especially the Greek abbots of the dedicated monasteries had a reputation of knowing how to build up seraglios of gypsy beauties, through exchanges (of slaves).”43

…It is not only the lord of the land that was entitled to ius primae noctis over the boyars’ slaves, but also the abbot, over the monastery slaves. Let us switch to the non-fiction area. Some documents attest to the existence of this situation until very late. In 1843 (and previously, in 1836), the slaves from the Râncăciov Monastery (Muscel county) sent a complaint to Wallachia’s ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu (and previously to ruling Prince Alexandru Ghica), exposing the “tyrannical” behaviour of the “famous abbot, Father David.” One of the complaints in the princely supplication went as follows:

“Our daughters who are of marrying age, if we want to marry them to a lad, the abbot hides them and he puts them under lock and key, with his armed guards, ordering us first to take the girls to his Holiness, to deflower them, and then only to be free to marry them”44

The supplicant slaves – who most probably were helped by a lawyer – note the fact that the abbot illegally applied this sexual “right” (“like a lawless man”), both from ecclesiastic and legal points of view: “a consequence totally alien to the church and political laws.” Moreover, as we saw how things happened with the boyars, the abbot’s erotic privileges did not stop only at the gypsy women slaves of the monastery, but extended over “the wives in the village with (whom) he has his pleasure.”

The sexual slippages of the priors and abbots were so usual that they could be invoked even when they did not happen. Blaming them was quite likely, even if the erotic abuses of the monks were not always real, but on occasion estaged. In the spring of 1785, for instance, a girl named Stana went to Prior Gavrilă (a confessor at the Radu-Vodă monastery in Bucharest) to pay the rent for the hovel on the monastery estate where she was living. The monk jokingly made some sexual innuendos to the girl, but nothing more. However, prodded by a neighbour, the young Stana sent a complaint to the Metropolitan, alleging that she was raped and deflowered, thinking that “she would get 300 thalers from the confessor”: “Then, at the moment of giving the money (for the rent), the said Prior (Gavrilă) allegedly took her in his cell and spoilt her virginity.”

Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas' feet.
Fr. George Passias inhaling Ethel Bouzalas’ feet.

To stay in the spirit of the age, we are not too far from the stories told by Marquis de Sade, in his novel Justine (Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu, 1791). The accusation brought against prior Gavrilă was easy to believe. It was plausible because, at the time, in the monastic environment, that was a fairly common sin. In order to be even more persuasive, Stana cut a chicken’s crest and, with the blood dripping from it, smeared her blouse, as a proof of the deflowering. Although some witnesses (especially women neighbors), conniving with Stana, defended her version, the Metropolitan council ruled in favour of Prior Gavrilă, also taking into account that the poor man was old, sick and impotent: “And even more vigorously as we have ascertained (Confessor Gavrilă) is also a man tormented by rupture (hernia) and he is also past his prime.”45

For her false statements and perjury, Stana was banished to the convent of Viforâta, near the town of Târgovişte (Wallachia).

This true story reminds me of a hagiographic legend from the collection Vieţile sfinţilor (The Lives of The Saints).46 It is an etiological legend about the genesis of the Gypsy people, told by Costache Negruzzi in 1839. Negruzzi’s text is titled exactly like this: Pentru ce ţiganii nu sunt români (Why Gypsies Are Not Romanians).47 It says that several heretics, some “lost sheep,” complained to ecclesiastic authorities that Bishop Gregory (Grigorie) was a sexual profligate and that he had a mistress, “a young and beautiful girl.” A priestly synod was sent to the place to look into the facts. And indeed, in the bishop’s bedroom, they discovered “a young girl,” in a state of “scandalous lack of clothing.” The bishop was sentenced to death. But in order to convince the priests that “he doesn’t know what the sin of fornication” is, St. Gregory “lifted the hem of his frock.” And then, “the gathering was dumbstruck, for the holy father was…like Abeilard [sic]”. In other words, he was castrated, just as had happened to French theologian Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), as a punishment for having deflowered his beloved Héloїse. St. Gregory was exonerated, and the heretics who had “badmouthed the man of God” were cursed to be “black skinned,” “to live from thieving,” and “in eternal slavery from father to son,” with their owner “having the right to sell them as beasts,” “to call them Gypsies,” etc. “The Romanians immediately rushed in and took them as slaves.” This is how the Gypsy population allegedly appeared in the world…48

Sifting through and reading the supplications kept at the Department of National Archives, researcher Constanţa Vintilă- Ghiţulescu found many important social history documents. Some of them are related to the subject under discussion. Here, for instance, is a case dating from the end of the 18th century, which happened in a monastery in Wallachia. The Butoiu Monastery (village of Potoc, Dâmboviţa county) was rebuilt in 1648-1649, under ruling Prince Matei Basarab, who also endowed it with a settlement of Gypsy slaves. At the beginning of the year 1799, some Gypsies belonging to this monastery mustered their courage and complained to father Climent (probably a bishop) and then higher up, to his Holiness the Metropolitan, alleging that Abbot Ignat lived with a young slave woman, Gherghina, and also committed other abuses. In their complaint, they alleged that “due to one woman called Gherghina the gypsy, we cannot live.”

It is interesting that if a boyar had been in the same situation as the abbot, the civil authorities (“the lay judge”) would not have intervened at all. The boyar would not have infringed any rule, be it legal or moral. The sexual “right” of the boyar over the Gypsy women slaves from the settlements on his estate was tacitly recognized by everybody, even if it was based only on an archaic custom, on a lex non scripta. An unwritten law which dates back to the Greek-Roman Antiquity. Artemidorus of Ephesus, for instance, defined as being “links in keeping with the norm” (kata nomon) the sexual relations between a master and his slave, be the latter “a man or a woman.” “Unfit for the norm” (para nomon) would have been only if the slave had been the one who “possessed” the master, not the other way round: “It is no good to let yourself to be possessed by the slave: through his touch, he would show contempt towards you.”49

In the case of Butoiu monastery, however, the monk was not violating the lay norms, but those of the church. Even more, the actions of the abbot ran counter to the rules of monastic asceticism. In keeping with their own regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities were compelled to intervene, be it only to appease public opinion. Indeed, in the summer of 1799, the Metropolitan’s office sent a group of priests, led by Father Nicodim, to investigate the case and to propose possible sanctions, This is what the situation in Bucharest looked like, at the beginning of the 19th century:

“Besides the jail, besides the police prison from the dungeons of the Old Princely Court, and the vaults of the military governor and of the Aga, the Metropolitan also had a jail for priests.50

Returning to the case of the Butoiu Monastery, before the authorities, even the ecclesiastical, all the slaves from the settlement (except for the signatories of the complaint) were afraid to confirm the situation which was known to all the Roma community. Especially as they were accused of sending over the complaint. The fear of the authorities was a typical behavioural attitude for the traditional Romanian society. That psycho-social illness has tenaciously survived to date. For the collective mind, nothing good could come from the authorities. Be they administrative or ecclesiastical, central or local, police or financial, the authorities in the Romanian space have been high-handed, corrupt, abusive and punitive over the centuries. The situation was even more dramatic with respect to “aliens” (Romas, Jews, etc.). As such, the Romas under investigation at the Butoiu Monastery in 1799 shrugged in fear, insisting they knew nothing: “(We) had no idea, nor did we prompt them to make a complaint.” Eventually, it seems that Abbot Ignat was not found guilty of fornication with the Gypsy woman slave Gherghina. The only culprits were the elderly Gypsies from the settlement. Headed by their chieftains, Nedelco and Stan, they wrote (probably under dictation) and signed a deed whereby they pledged to make the younger slaves “more submissive”: “In duty being bound, we, the elders, to advise all the other younger ones to do good and to be submissive.”51


Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.
Seraphim Storheim, former OCA Archbishop of Canada, was convicted of sexually assaulting a young altar boy at a Winnipeg church has been demoted to a monk.

Exactly ten years later, in February 1809, things repeated at the same Butunoiu Monastery. This time, another abbot was accused by another two slaves of the monastery of other “frightening deeds,” including homosexuality, pedophilia and rape:

“For abbot Constantin there have been many a complaint against him, that for a while now he has fallen into fornications (…); also that for a young gypsy boy that he started to rape him.”

This was a copycat scenario: the dean sent an investigating commission to look into the case, and the Gypsies were herded “in front of the church” and investigated “one by one.” For fear of reprisals, they disassociated themselves from the two “rattling” plaintiffs. Eventually, the latter were the only culprits and they were sentenced to have their soles flogged. Afterwards, they were forced to sign a writ, whereby “they recognized their guilt and that they would desist.”

Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s.
Serial child molester, Archimandrite Stanley Adamakis, started abusing church members in the 70s.

Historian Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţescu is right when she wonders whether things really went that way at the Butoiu Monastery, in 1799-1809 (which is very likely), or if the Gypsy slaves had other misunderstandings with the two abbots of the monastery, and tried to have them punished, knowing that the worst accusations in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities were fornication, sodomy, pedophilia, rape and the exertion of the lord’s right, etc.52

It is common knowledge that heterosexual and homosexual (including pedophilic) relations were quite usual in the Christian monastic milieu, be it Orthodox or Catholic. I need not go into too many details; only a few examples from Romanian and world culture…

In the middle of the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1352) had the courage to raise the thorny issue of debauchery and carnal sins accomplished by “all” the Catholic cardinals, priests and monks. He wrote about sodomy, fornication, pedophilia, etc.:

“From the most senior to the most junior one, the (Catholic) priests were all sinning through carnal debauchery; and not only in those ordred by nature, but even in the debauchery of sodomy, without knowing the rein of repentance or shame, so much so that the most wicked women and the small children had the greatest appeal when it was about winning their favours” (The Decameron I.2).53

The homosexual relationships among monks are also present in Romanian literature, for instance, in Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. In one of his short stories (Chef la mânăstire [Revelry at the Monastery], 1952), which the writer presented as a “true story,” Father Iosafat, the abbot of a monastery in Moldova lives with a very young monk, Brother Minodor. The latter was “the abbot’s darling,” “a rosy-cheeked lad,” “a girlish boy,” “with long and sweet lashes,” who “was inclined more towards women’s sweet and liquor wines.” Everything happens under the complacent gaze of Father Dean Ilie, “the ecclesiastical head of the county,” who had come on an inspection at the respective monastery:

“The Abbot [Iosafat], heaving in his armchair, drew to him, holding him on a protruding knee, Brother [monk] Minodor, who, with his chubby cheeks, his languid blue eyes, and a semblance of black hairs on his upper lip, with rings of hair floating on his back and along his monastic frock, looked like an angel reclining on the chest of an old saint.”54

The defrocked monk Ion Creangă could speak volumes on this subject: “he had learned some of the secrets of life in a monastery.” He was always critical of the monks, the priests and other clergymen: “they burst out of their belts, pot-bellied as they are.”55 Creangă lived among priests and, as a teenager and as a young man, he lived in boarding houses of all kinds of “factories of priests,” such as the theological schools in Fălticeni and Socola. Small wonder that the only homosexual episode in his work has a priest as its hero, in his famous Poveste a poveştilor (The Story of All Stories): “And as he was whistling in surprise, the cock dashed with a smack! right in the priest’s ass! Then, the priest started to yell…”56

As an old popular saying goes, which was commented upon around 1832 by boyar Iordache Golescu: “Another one in the priest’s ass (used when something happens unawares, something irksome).” The same learned boyar wrote down another popular saying, which concerns a man who is in love with a priest: “One loves the priest, another the priest’s wife, and another the priest’s daughter (it shows the variety of pleasures).”57 Speaking openly about “the variety of (sexual) pleasures,” Golescu had a quite Liberal attitude for a boyar from Wallachia, in the first half of the 19th century. True, he was a boyar who had travelled across Europe.

Homosexuality and pedophilia are still big problems among priests and monks today, especially among the Catholic, problems that the Pope himself is at a loss to solve.58 The Vatican is being blamed for putting a lid on these forbidden sexual practices, for decades (centuries, actually).

Coming back to the illicit erotic relations between the Orthodox abbots and the slaves in the monasteries, we must say that homosexual, even pedophilic relations have been attested. Obviously, the latter did not go unpunished by the church authorities. Not only were the jails for priests – as we have seen above – special, but so were their punishments. It seems that for the crime of pedophilia, the clergymen got a special physical punishment, called “the iron child”:

“A device used to punish the priests, when they committed an immoral act, was the “iron child.” This “child” weighed 50-60 kg. The punished priest was forced to hold that weight in his arms for four to five hours.”59

At the end of the 18th century, it was proved that Abbot Teofil of the Căldăruşani Monastery (near Bucharest) “had committed sodomy with the Gypsies, but the Gypsies have committed sodomy with him.” On account of this “ill and wicked deed,” the abbot was demoted to the lowest rank, that of “simple monk.” Moreover, he was banished to the Tismana monastery, “to weep for his sins” there.60

Virtually, in the case of the abbot of the Căldăruşani Monastery, the law (glava (chapter) 333, titled “For Sodomy”), was applied in its letter and spirit:

“If it were that anybody from the church clergy is found to be a sodomite, he shall then be bereft of everything, as the law of the church writes, of all the good he will have had from the church and they shall take him and lock him in a faraway monastery; and they shall even more vigorously demoted him from his position…”

Exceptionally, in aggravated situations, the “sodomite” clergyman was handed over to “the lay judge,” who was supposed “to scold him with death, namely, to behead him.” (Pravila de la Târgovişte [The Codex from Târgoviște], 1652). As the folk saying goes: “Do as the priest says, not as the priest does!”

Perhaps all these illicit sexual practices – which sparked more or less public scandals – have hastened the moment of the liberation of Gypsies from slavery in the Romanian space, which happened around the mid-19th century. Or, at any rate, perhaps they did not push the liberation per se of the slaves from the monastic settlements (1844 in Moldova and 1847 in Wallachia) to happen around one decade before the liberation of the Gypsies owned by boyars (1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Wallachia). The big landowners (and implicitly owners of Gypsy settlements) blocked as much as they could the act of liberation of the boyars’ Gypsies. Although he was in an open conflict with the government of ruling Moldovan Prince, Mihail Sturdza, Kogălniceanu paid homage to the ruling prince for promulgating the law of the emancipation of the monastery Gypsies on 31st of January 1844:

“We, the youth from Moldova, – I speak only of those with whom I have worked – forgot that day our fierce fight against ruling Prince Mihail Sturdza for his abuses” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor, ştergerea privilegiilor boiereşti, emanciparea ţăranilor [The Liberation of the Gypsies, The Eradication of The Boyars’ Privileges, The Emancipation of The Peasants], 1891).

On 6 th of February 1844, a few days after the liberation of the Gypsy slaves from the monasteries, Mihail Kogălniceanu – who was fairly aware of the mechanism which had led to the decision to abolish slavery, “the most heinous social enormity,” – did not forget also to pay tribute to the Romanian Orthodox Church:

“Honour be to the Church, too, today, which has no slaves any longer; for it now shows itself as the true Church of Christ, who brought freedom on Earth, saying that before him there are no rich or poor men, no masters or slaves!” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor [The Emancipation of the Gypsies], 1844).61

Obviously, in the Catholic Middle Ages, too, the sacred space of the churches and monasteries could also become a place for the forbidden fantasies and love affairs, be they homo- or heterosexual. The nuns and abbesses from the Catholic convents were also subject to those types of sins. Boccaccio’s stories (The Decameron, 1352) abound in such erotic monastic prowess. 62

Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.
Adam Metropoulos, former priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor was sentenced Monday to 12 years in prison with all but 6½ years suspended for sex crimes involving children.


  1. Dan Horia MAZILU, Law and Sacrilege in the Old Romanian Society, Iaşi: Polirom, 2006, pp. 394-397.
  2. Michel FOUCAULT, Istoria sexualităţii [The History of Sexuality], Romanian translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Vest Publishing House, Timisoara, 1995, p. 48.
  3. Andreas Capellanus, Despre iubire (About Love), bilingual edition, translation and notes by Eugenia CRISTEA, study, introductory note, notes and bibliography by Anca Crivat, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2012, p.215.
  4. With Alexandru Macedonski: “Father Cioaca care on Christmas Eve to put his apron over our heads,” or in Dan Botta’s translation, with François Villon: “The Holy Apostles” are “Girdled with sacred aprons | To better seize the villains | who revel in their sins” (François VILLON, Balade şi alte poeme, translation by Dan Botta, presentation by Tudor Arghezi, the Publishing House of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Bucharest, 2006, p.47).
  5. Folclor vechi românesc (Old Romanian Folklore), edition, preface, notes and bibliography by C. Ciuchindel, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 246.
  6. Octav ȘULUȚIU, Ambigen [Ambigenous], novel illustrated with etchings by I. Anestin, Bucharest: Vremea, 1935, p. 26.
  7. Nicoleta ROMAN, „Deznădăjduită muiere n-au fost ca mine”. Femei, onoare şi păcat în Valahia secolului al XIX-lea, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2016, p. 37.
  8. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p. 55.
  9. Ibid.
  10. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  11. Dan Horia MAZILU, op. cit., 2006, p. 422.
  12. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.221.
  13. George Calinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature From The Origins to The Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p.121. Constanţa VINTILĂ- GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 219-220.
  14. G. CĂLINESCU, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature from the Origins to the Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p. 121.
  15. Stith THOMPSON, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends, revised and enlarged edition, vol. 5, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 379- 381.
  16. Bernard FAURE, Sexualités bouddhiques: Entre désirs et réalités, Paris, Flammarion, 2005, pp. 71 sq.
  17. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  18. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  19. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Viaţa şi operile lui Eufrosin Poteca (cu câteva din scrierile’i inedite), Academy Press, Bucharest, 1883.
  20. A similar saying is also attested by Dinicu Golescu, in 1832: “One eye on the icon and another near the icon” (Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese, [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 192).
  21. Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
  22. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 193.
  23. G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 393.
  24. Gustave FLAUBERT, Ispitirea Sfântului Anton [The Temptation of St. Anthony], Romanian translation by Mihai Murgu, preface by Irina Mavrodin, Bucharest: Univers, 1977, p. 68.
  25. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 67. English translation by Corneliu M. Popescu,  
  26. Liviu REBREANU, Adam şi Eva, edition supervised by Niculae Gheran, preface by Ion Simut, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 173.
  27. Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 164 (our translation).
  28. G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
  29. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 170.
  30. G. SION, Suvenire contimpurane [Contemporary Memories], complete edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2014, p. 372.
  31. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Patimă şi desfătare. Despre lucrurile mărunte ale vieţii cotidiene în societatea românească, 1750-1860 [Passion and Delight. The Small Things of Everyday Life in Romanian Society, 1750-1860], Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015, p. 353.
  32. Timotei OPREA, Rai şi Iad în cultura populară românească. File de apocalips (sec. XVIII-XIX) [Heaven and Hell in Romanian Folk Culture. Pages from an Apocalypse (18th -19th c.)], Buzău: Alpha MDN, 2005, p. 167.
  33. Tudor ARGHEZI, Opere, vol. V: Publicistică (1919–iulie 1928) [Works, vol. V: Journalism (1919-July 1928)], edited by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, preface by Eugen Simion,), Bucharest, National Foundation for Sciences and Arts & Univers Enciclopedic, 2004, pp. 132-134.
  34. Tudor ARGHEZI, Cuvinte potrivite [Fitting Words], preface by Liviu Papadima, anthology by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 13 (our translation).
  35. Nicolae IORGA, Istoria românilor în chipuri şi icoane [The History of the Romanians in Faces and Icons], Foreword by Andrei Pippidi, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012, p. 164.
  36. See the study by Andrei OIȘTEANU, „Stânga versus dreapta. Farmecul discret al dihotomiei” [“Left vs. Right. The Discreet Charm of Dichotomy”], in ID., Mythos & Logos. Studii şi eseuri de antropologie culturală [Mythos and Logos. Studies and Essays in Cultural Anthropology], second, revised and enlarged edition, Bucharest: Nemira, 1998, pp. 267-282.
  37. Under Turkish influence, ruling Prince Petru Cercel (1583-1585) built a balcony behind the naos of the Big princely Church in Târgovişte, above the entrance to the naos, where the Prince’s wife would sit during the mass, hidden behind a curtain. She got to that balcony in the church through a passageway built right from the Princely Palace.
  38. Robert DRAPER, “Chemarea muntelui sfânt” [The Call of the Sacred Mountain], National Geographic Romanian edition, December 2009, p. 104 (our translation).
  39. Ioan Petru CULIANU, Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor [Cult, Magic, Heresies. Articles from the Encyclopaedias of Religions), Romanian translation by Maria-Magdalena Anghelescu and Dan Petrescu, afterword by Eduard Iricinschi, Iași: Polirom, 2003, p. 120 (our translation).
  40. IBID., p. 188 (our translation).
  41. Neagu DJUVARA, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne (1800-1848) [Between East and West. The Romanian Principalities at The Beginning of The Modern Times], Romanian translation by Maria Carpov, Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995, p. 267 (our translation).
  42. See Chap. 27, “The Boyar’s ‘Right’ over Gypsy Women Slaves” in Andrei OIȘTEANU, Sexuality and Society. History, Religion and Literature, Iași: Polirom, 2016.
  43. Radu Rosetti, Amintiri. Ce-am auzit de la alţii, (Memories. What I Heard From Others). Edition and Preface by Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1996, p.155.
  44. Bogdan Mateescu, Căsătoria robilor. Între alegerea cuplului şi voinţa stăpânului, (The Marriage of The Slaves. Between The Couple’s Choice And The Master’s Will), Etnous Publishing House, Braşov, 2014; Bogdan Mateescu, „Căsătoriile robilor din Ţara Românească după 1830: reglementări ale Statului și ale Bisericii”, (“The Marriages of The Slaves in Wallachia after 1830: State and Church Regulations”), lecture delivered on April 14, 2014 at the New Europe College, as part of the project “Group of Reflection on Political and Social History (18th -19th centuries).” I thank researcher Bogdan Munteanu (a doctoral student at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy) for signaling the presented documents.
  45. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.49.
  46. The legend of St. Gregory, bishop of Agrigento (7th c. AD), is old. On a Byzantine thread, it penetrated the collection of The Lives of the Saints, translated in Wallachia.
  47. Constantin NEGRUZZI, Păcatele tinereţilor [The Sins of Youth], Iaşi: Adolf Bermann, 1857, pp. 271-285.
  48. O mie de ani de singurătate. Rromii în proza românească, (One Thousand Years of Loneliness. The Romas in Romanian Prose), Selection, notes and afterword by Vasile Ionescu, “Aven Amentza” Publhsing House, Bucharest, 2000, pp.74-84 (our translation).
  49. Paul Veyne, “Homosexualitatea la Roma”, (Homosexuality in Rome) in the volume Georges Duby et alii, Amor şi sexualitate în Occident, (Love And Sexuality in The West), introduction by Georges Duby, Romanian translation by Laurenţiu Zoicaş, Artemis Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994, p. 53 (our translation).
  50. Gr.I. Dianu, Istoria închisorilor din România. Studiu comparativ. Legi şi obiceiuri, (The History of Jails in Romania. A Compared Study) Laws And Customs) The Royal House Publishing House, Bucharest, 1900, p. 44 (our translation).
  51. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 163-164 (our translation).
  52. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp.164-166.
  53. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p. 78 (our translation).
  54. Vasile Voiculescu, Capul de zimbru, Povestiri, (The Aurochs Head, Stories) vol. I, Edited bby Victor Iova, Cartea Românească Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p. 147.
  55. Maria Luisa Lombardo, Erotica magna. O istorie a literaturii române, dincolo de tabuurile ei, (Erotica Magna, A History of Romanian Literature, Beyond Its Taboos), Western University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, pp.80/81.
  56. Ion Creangă, Povestea lui Ionică cel Prost (poreclit şi Irimiea) şi Povestea poveştilor (povestea pulei), (The Story of Ionica the Dumb (also nicknamed Irimiea) And The Story of All Stories (The Story of the Cock)), introductory study by Paul Anghel, edited by Nedic Lemnaru, „Roza vânturilor” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1990, p. 31 (our translation).
  57. Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, pp. 166, 176.
  58. This very day, as I am writing these lines (September 25, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI (meantime, the former Pope), while visiting Germany, said he was “moved and deeply troubled” after his meetings with persons / children and youths / who had been the victims of the sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests.
  59. Marian Munteanu, Folclorul detenţiei. Formele privării de libertate în literatura poporană. Studiu, tipologie, antologie de texte şi glosar, (The Folklore of Detention. The Forms of Freedom Deprivation in Folk Literature. Study, Typology, Anthology of Texts and Glossary), Valahia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 645.
  60. Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 162-163 (our translation).
  61. Mihail Kogălniceanu, Tainele inimei, (The Secrets of The Heart), selected writings, edited by Dan Simonescu, The Publishing House for Literature, Bucharest, 1964, pp. 205, 348 (our translation).
  62. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p.265; II, p.366, a.o.