I remember the first time I was approached by a cult. I was having lunch, alone, in college and three people were suddenly sitting down around me. They were warm, friendly, and likely assumed their finely-honed pitch would work on me. And it probably would have, except I knew something that may very well have saved me from joining them – that is, I knew they were a cult the second they started talking.
Steven Hassan, the author of the important and engrossing book Combatting Cult Mind Control, did not, and he paid dearly for not being prepared when, in an uncannily similar circumstance, three people sat down around him one day when he was having lunch, alone, in college, around the same age I was. The result was that he joined the Moonies and nearly lost his life. And not just in terms of his identity – I mean he nearly died.
It’s easy to recommend this book just on the strength of its in-depth treatment of the psychology of cults, and not just to people who are already interested in the field. This is not a textbook but a kind of survival guide for all people, because if there’s one thing to take away from Hassan’s book, it’s that if we aren’t prepared to combat the disturbing and highly successful techniques cults, or any authoritarian system, use, we’re likely to become their next victim. Or, more simply put, if you think you’re too smart to join a cult, you’re in trouble.
Hassan makes that abundantly clear in the first section. Here, he describes in fascinating detail how exactly he morphed from a normal, intellectually curious kid to an empty slave to the Moonies, believing the most ridiculous lies and willing to cut himself off from his entire family. His recovery is equally fascinating and made me realize in a way I never had before 1) how dangerous cults can be, 2) how similar most of them are (whether political, religious, or something else), and 3) how fragile the human psyche is. That last lesson was the hardest to take and the most important.
You might never run into a cult yourself. And that would be great. But even if that doesn’t happen, this book will help you understand a phenomenon that continues to dominate our world today. Scientology comes to mind, but there are plenty of other dangerous groups out there, and part of the reason they are so dangerous is that they aren’t well-known. Recently, Past Light Monyeki of Grace Living Hope Ministries got his followers to voluntarily drink rat poison because he told them to. They weren’t idiots; they were just conditioned not to question the leader.
You’ll also understand yourself better and should you find yourself being manipulated by a charismatic figure or a powerful system that tells you how to think, you’ll stand a better chance of thinking for yourself, which is the best protection any of us will ever have.
So go read it. Now.