When one hears of a cult, one thinks of organizations such as the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and small fanatical groups such as the Assembly of God. According to Robert J. Lofton, author of Letters to an Elder, there are two kinds of cults; those that use mind-control, and those that do not. Lofton describes eight characteristics of destructive mind-control cults, saying, “If any group exercises all eight of these control elements, they are, in fact a destructive mind control cult”.
Lofton’s characteristics are Environmental Control’, Mystical Manipulation’, Demand for Purity’, Cult of Confession’, Sacred Science’, Loading the Language’, Doctrine over Person’, and Dispensing of Existence’. These eight characteristics are found not only in the organizations mentioned earlier, but also in more mainstream organizations. The Roman Catholic Church exhibits all eight characteristics very strongly, making it fit the profile of a destructive mind-control cult.
Lofton’s first characteristic, Environmental Control’, refers to the manner in which the cult keeps its members from becoming disillusioned about the cult though outside sources or ex-members. Members “can be physically separated from society or they can be warned to stay away from media that might provoke critical thinking. ” In 1934, the Catholic Church formed “The Legion of Decencyto combat immoral movies”. The Legion of Decency rated movies, periodicals, and other such materials and set the standard for Catholics across the world.
The Legion condemned such movies as “Jesus Christ” for blasphemy and heresy, as well as recommending against many other movies of questionable nature. The Legion controlled the environment of Catholics and isolated them from media that was critical of the Church or was deemed inappropriate for viewing by Catholics. The second characteristic of destructive mind-control cults is Mystical Manipulation’. “Leaders [of the cult] become mediators for God the cult and its beliefs become the only true path to salvation”.
By providing the only way for members to reach salvation, the cult becomes a necessary and inescapable part of the member’s life. In the Catholic Church, the Pope is said to be in contact with God, and to have a greater measure of communication with him than the other members of the Church. On a local level, each priest is the congregation’s connection to God. The individual priests, teach their congregations the way to salvation’ based on what they themselves have learned from the teachings of the Pope, Archbishops, and Bishops.
Members believe that to hear God’s word, they must attend church, and listen to their priests. Third on Lofton’s list, Demand for Purity’ “Calls for the radical separation of pure and impure or good and evil within an environment and within oneself. The world is depicted as black and white, with little room for making personal decisions. One’s conduct is modeled after the ideology of the group as taught in its literature”. By portraying the world as either evil or good, the cult is able to more easily influence the members by telling them which category thing fall into.
Catholicism is rife with cut and dry distinctions that fit this characteristic. The Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins, for example, are very clear guidelines for good Catholic behavior. Every Catholic is expected to follow the Ten Commandments and not commit any of the Seven Deadly Sins. These rules for behavior are found in the Bible and are an important part of the teachings of all Catholic priests. By making the definition of immoral or un-Catholic behavior so cut and dry, the Church not only makes moral decisions simpler, but also makes the priests duty at confession much easier.
Fourth on Lofton’s list of characteristics is the Cult of Confession’, which states that in a destructive mind-control cult “Serious sins (as defined by the organization) are to be confessed immediately. Members are to be reported if found behaving contrary. The confession process often has its own structure”. If a member of the Catholic Church commits a sin’, he or she is required to come to confession with a priest and be absolved of their sin’ through penance. The sins’ are defined by the Ten Commandments and by the Seven Deadly Sins.
Catholics are told that if they have un-confessed sins at the time of their death, they will not go to heaven. The Cult of Confession allows the Catholic Church to mold its members into what they consider model members of Catholic society. Lofton’s fifth characteristic is Sacred Science’, in which the cult instills the belief that “the ideology is too sacred’ to be called into question, and reverence is demanded for the leadership. It claims absolute truth with no contradictions”.
In the Catholic Church, the Bible, the Ten Commandments, The Seven Deadly Sins, the Creed, and many other behavior control systems are far too sacred’ to be questioned. The Pope is the closest person to God, and commands the respect and honor of all members of the church. He is believed to be infallible when speaking ex cathedra (from his official position). Members of the church are conditioned never to doubt the Bible, the Pope, and even his subordinates the archbishops, bishops, and priests.
To doubt one of these is to doubt the entire Church and that would be heresy, a crime previously punishable by death. The sixth characteristic is called Loading the Language’, which consists of “functional member vocabulary [becoming] simplified with the use of thought terminating cliches, expressions or words designed to end the controversy or conversationthey tend to stop discussion or prevent further consideration. There is always some simple cliche or slogan to answer a complex issue or difficult question”.
When a member or a religious of the Catholic Church is confronted by a question or a disbeliever who confounds them or comes to the boundary of their knowledge or faith, they fall back on the cliche that that is one of the Great Mysteries’, or a matter of faith. There are seven Great Mysteries of Faith, and the Catholics claim that if you take these seven things on faith, all of the rest of their religious beliefs are logical.
Catholics commonly fall back on these Mysteries as a way of ending controversial conversations or cutting off lines of questioning that may lead to a flaw in their arguments. Seventh in Lofton’s list is Doctrine over Person’, in which “Human experience is subordinated to doctrine, no matter how profound or contradictory such experiences seem to beCommon sense perceptions are disregarded if they are hostile to the ideology”. The tenets of the cult supersede any and all contrary experience or thought, no matter how obvious the experience or thought may be.
The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia states that “To submit one’s understanding to a doctrine supposed to be Divine and guaranteed to be infallible is undoubtedly more consistent than to accept prevailing postulates of science, or national doctrines, or a passing public opinion”. The Catholics believe that trusting the Pope as an infallible source is a better idea than trusting in the scientific knowledge that is currently accepted as fact. To Catholics, because the Pope is considered infallible he will never be wrong while scientific knowledge is changing constantly, so is very likely to frequently be wrong.
Lofton’s eighth characteristic is Dispensing of Existence’, in which “the organization decides who will perish in the final battle of good over evil”. The Catholic Church teaches that some will go to heaven and some will go to hell. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”.
The Catholic Church has specific rules outlined in the Catechism which describe who will be granted entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, who will spend some time in Purgatory before moving to Heaven, and who will languish in Hell for eternity. The Catholic Church, having satisfied all eight characteristics, is, according to Robert J. Lofton, classifiable as a destructive mind-control cult. However, one must step back and take a good hard look at these characteristics, because they describe nearly all Christian denominations, as well as other mainstream religions.
When a church or religious group attains a certain membership, it passes into the mainstream and society stops seeing it as a cult. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church are good examples. As they have grown in size and membership, the world has begun to view them less as cults and more as conventional religions. One should consider wisely before assuming that just because 190,000,000 people belong to a religion, it is not a cult.