Friday, 11 January 2019

The Devil and Bruce Wayne

posted on 1/11/2019 by the Salt City Sinner

“So…why Satan?” he asked me.

It was a reasonable question – albeit a personal one. I am,after all, a Satanist. I’m not an evangelist, however, and people in the United States are socially conditioned to think of religion as an inherently expansionist, conquering influence. For example: even though Christians are instructed to “enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray” (Matthew 6:6) those rascals are obsessed with the spotlight – grabbing it, keeping it, brightening it. It’s why Evangelical Christians erect giant stonemonuments to their god on public land, why they  want to make your mind up for you on any number of subjects, because look at them (please, won’t you?), how good they are, don’t they know best?

Even when I was a Christian, I was a Catholic. While Catholicism is certainly a public-facing faith that has no problem whatsoever exerting political pressure on the saved and unsaved alike, the exercise of power by Catholics (like that exercised by Mormons) tends to be less flashy, less overt, subtler. A product of whispered conversations between powerful men in quiet rooms more than a freak-show of bright, clownish exhortation.

So why Satan? Why a literary, romantic Satan (not a material one, but a symbol of rebellion and liberty)? Why not take the atheistic path of the formal, the solemn, and the serious? Or, if mockery of our priestly rulers is the strategy of the day (and oh brothers and sisters, it most certainly is), why not pay obeisance to the slimy tendrils of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

“Do you remember,” I asked in reply, “why Batman chose to become a bat? I mean, Bruce Wayne isn’t just prowling Gotham by night wearing all black, or dressed like a solider. He wanted something theatrical. Why?”

“Well,” he replied, “bats scare Bruce Wayne, right?”

“That’s true, but only secondarily in my opinion.” In my defense, this was by far the neck-beardiest conversation I would have that day. Or week. “The real key was the line about criminals. That they are ‘a cowardly and superstitious lot,’ remember?” He did.

“So,” I said, “consider theocrats and agents of totalitarian religious control. Can you think of a more cowardly or superstitious lot?”

I think he started to understand. I’m not overly worried about it. As I’ve stated already, I’m a lot of things – but an evangelist, I am not.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Five Predictions For 2019

posted on 1/2/2019 by the Salt City Sinner
Hey gang! How was your New Years? Did you have fun getting arrested and beaten and maybe tased until you whizzed yourself and then locked in a box for a few days?

What’s that you say? You dodged Utah’s shiny new .05 DUI law by calling a Lyft after having two drinks rather than chancing it? Well will you have a look at that, I guess the system works!

I did no drinking whatsoever on the dreaded night in question and went to bed at (if I remember correctly) 8 PM, because I am a wild man and a party animal. To me, annual New Year celebrations have all of the bad baggage of a birthday – the march of time, a grim reminder of mortality – with none of the fun. Maybe it’s my temperament, maybe it’s the time of year, I don’t know, but for me it’s just a bummer of a holiday.

That said, the year ahead ought to prove interesting, and so I present to you my five predictions for 2019. Stand back as my listicles descend!

April 1, 2019: Donald Trump Accidentally Resigns 

Unfortunately for Trump, orders issued sarcastically are actually still quite binding. He is indicted immediately. Before he can be arrested, however…

Rise of the MAGAts
…a network of die-hard loyalists calling themselves the MAGAts sneak him out of reach of the law. They transport him via a network of RVs out of Washington D.C., and eventually…

We Don’t Send Mexico Our Best
…A coyote successfully smuggles Trump over the US/Mexico border, technically making him an undocumented emigrant. At this point…

Trump Tower Moscow Arrives At Last
…Trump makes his way from Mexico to the Russian Federation. Before 2019 is out, Trump will triumphantly (Trumphantly?) ascend to the penthouse (third story) of his brand new (dilapidated) Trump Tower Moscow (formerly the Moscow Central La Quinta)!

My Final Prediction
As fun as that little story was (not very fun), here’s my serious prediction for 2019: the biggest stories probably aren’t going to be the ones we’re focusing on right now. Things changed quickly in 2018, and they are likely to change even more quickly in 2019. If you want my advice, keep your head on a swivel, and if you can – support investigative journalism.

You can do that in Utah by donating here, or you can donate to the very excellent Reveal podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting here.

I hope you have a safe, productive, and happy 2019! 

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Godless Blasphemers Swarm Downtown Library! No Ancient Alien Spared!

Illustration by Miguel Ángel

posted on 12/16/2018 by the Salt City Sinner
The Religious Education Series is has proved to be an interesting and welcome addition to life in Salt Lake City. Since 2017, Executive Director Megan Kennedy has presented a series of free public lectures on topics including religion, anthropology, and archaeology. On Saturday, RES (in conjunction with the Godless Rebelution Podcast, which sounds like a lot of fun based on the name) presented the seventh lecture in the series, “Delusions of the Gods: The Colonial Racism of Ancie1nt Aliens, Mormon Anthropology, & Other Pseudohistory.” Recordings of all of the RES lectures can be found here for free, which is mighty generous of them.

Now, I was not in need of a debunking on this subject. I absolutely did not subscribe to the “ancient aliens” theory going in, and have long considered it to be both nonsense and not a particularly rich vein of nonsense at that (although I have a lingering affection for horror pioneer and hideous racist H.P. Lovecraft). But considering that my sister’s boyfriend is an “ancient aliens” enthusiast, further considering that “Jupiter Ascending” made $184 million USD and "Prometheus" $403 million, and even further considering that I had a big plate of nothing in front of me for Saturday afternoon, off to the downtown public library I went. It turned out to be well worth it.

“Delusions of the Gods” may have been lecture number seven for the RES, but it was only number two for me – earlier in 2018, I attended “GodHates Us All: The Religiosity of Heavy Metal Culture,” which I cannot recommend highly enough (that particular lecture was sponsored in part by the Satanic Temple, of which, full disclosure, I am a member). As with “God Hates,” this was a top notch lecture, both accessible and as in-depth as time would allow, well researched and backed up with slides and a great deal of research and preparation.

The nut of Director Kennedy’s presentation is that there’s a long line of racist, colonialist ideas about history and conquest going back to Europeans’ first contact with indigenous peoples, and that the “ancient aliens” conspiracy theory is simply the latest version of the Atlantean or Aryan or Nephite/Lamanite stories. That is to say: that native peoples “couldn’t possibly have built” the pyramids or other structures “on their own,” and thus “needed help” from aliens / long dead white people / lizard men.

This fits into a larger pattern of historical erasure and literal whitewashing that helps prop up colonialism and white supremacy: since indigenous peoples have been established to be lesser and in need of assistance from aliens to build those impressive structures surely the natives won’t mind a little “help” from white people now, right? (It’s worth noting as an aside that the author of Chariots of the Gods, the guy widely considered the father of the “ancient aliens” theory, Erich von Däniken, is a racist who has said some things that will make your goddamned jaw drop.)

I find Kennedy’s argument compelling. She also had some very depressing things to say about the financial rewards for bullshit archaeology and anthropology offered by shows like “Ancient Aliens” versus the funding available for real archaeologists. Speaking of real archaeologists, if you or someone you know have questions about the pyramids or the Mayans and supposed contact with aliens, Kennedy provided a list of Twitter handles for people you can ask:

Anyway! The lecture was extremely well-attended, by which I mean 80 people, maybe more. Lots of college kids (by the sound of it), but a fairly diverse mix of people overall. The Religious Education Series appears to be gathering steam, which dovetails interestingly with Salt Lake County’s new status as a minority-Mormon area. After all, the Nephites and “reformed Egyptian?” Joseph Smith would have been a die-hard ancient aliens fan.

I look forward to dropping in on more of these lectures, and I’d encourage anyone to do so who is interested in atheism, religion, or any of the related topics being discussed.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Does Jerome Corsi Know When He's Making Stuff Up?

posted on 12/14/2018 by the Salt City Sinner
I first wrote about Jerome “Dr. Dimples” Corsi almost a decade ago, in 2009. When he popped up in connection to the Mueller investigation it was, like so much of conservative politics these days, a little like watching a band I’d seen when they were small-time favorites finally make it big. There’s a feeling of pride, but also covetousness: “Hey, this weird conspiracy-minded corner of the right wing used to be my thing – now Rachel Maddow is smirking and chuckling about it on the MSNBCs!”

Yes, it seems that Dr. Jerome may have finally flown too close to the sun. It’s one thing to lie to the readers of WND or the radio-signal-receiving dental fillings in the mouths of InfoWars fans, but lying to the FBI, it turns out, may – sometimes, maybe – actually have consequences in the real world!

Dr. Dimples is primarily known for being the father of the Birther conspiracy theory, but he’s a lot crazier than just that distinction would indicate. For the uninitiated (and that’s just about everyone), here are a few things that just I – your loveable and humble guide – have written about Jerome over the last near-decade. Forgive the writing, as my craft has evolved like a mighty genus since then.

Corsi Has a Unique Idea Of Where Oil Comes From (2012)

"Dr." Corsi is perhaps best known for two things: first, as the father of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and secondly, as the father of the 'Birther' movement. If you're not familiar with either, just keep in mind that he is the progenitor of not one but TWO pejorative political terms, "Swift Boating" (to unfairly lie and smear one's opponent with total fictions) and "Birther" (a term for one who holds to the conspiracy theory / racist crap that President Obama forged his birth certificate, or was born in Kenya, or can't be president because his father wasn't a U.S. citizen, or blah blah HE'S A BLACK AFRICAN MUSLIM FOR GOODNESS' SAKE!!).
 [Corsi is, as it turns out, also a supporter of a pseudoscientific conspiracy theory known as “abiogenesis,” or the idea that oil is formed from inorganic rock in the Earth’s crust.] Corsi (who is also a climate change denier) is so crazy, in other words, he doesn't just not believe the science of carbon's effects upon the atmosphere, he doesn't believe the science of how oil is formed in the earth. That's like going beyond young-earth creationism to believing that the Earth is, in fact, flat.

I Got Big Mad When C-Span Let Corsi Flog A Book (2009)

"Liberal Media" update: CSPAN's Book TV gave Jerome "Lying Piece of Shit" Corsi a whole segment to lie about his lying book in late October.  
These WND nuts are the scum of the earth. If you need to know how repulsive Corsi is, well, here's a link. The HuffPo has more on how Corsi is a shameless liar and his article is total trash (par for the course with Jerome "Swift Boat" Corsi).

Any old way, Jerome is back (again)! But that’s not necessarily surprising – Corsi is the herpes of conservative politics, and this might have just been another flare-up if he hadn’t decided to, first, play with the big dogs, and, second, bet all his chips on a presidential pardon when he got caught breaking the law.

A few weeks ago, Ari Melber interviewed Corsi. The interview (which is really worth watching in its entirety) is memorably headlined “KeyMueller witness: I lied and I’m ready to die in jail” and raises the question: does Jerome Corsi know the difference between fact and fiction?

This isn’t a shot at Dr. Dimples (although he deserves to take any and all shots) – it’s more of a legal and philosophical question. Given Corsi’s long, intricate background in charlatanism, lunacy, and religious delusion (including, as is always the case with these execrable frauds, delusions of Holy Persecution), can/should/will Corsi be held responsible for what he says, or is he essentially a well-funded, jowly iteration of the shrieking street preacher?

I suspect the legal system should gear up to deal with this question as it applies to more people than just Jerome Corsi.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Uncovering of Saintly Power and Control

posted on 12/6/2018 by the Salt City Sinner
A consistent theme present in many events from about 2008 until now can be summed up as “things as they have always been, but stripped of pretense and nicety.”

Whether you’re talking about the racial politics of the GOP or Jerome Corsi admitting (on camera!) that a lie isn’t really a lie when an evangelical tells it to a heretic*, these are things that we’ve all known were true all along yet more-or-less mutually agreed to bury beneath a blanket of bullshit, nonsense, and euphemism.

Ever so has it been, yea verily, in Zion. Anyone who hails from the land of Life Elevated knows that the LDS Church wields more cultural, political, and economic power than any other entity ever has (or probably will). Given our state’s history, the Church’s grip on Utah is understandable (if unconstitutional and colonialist) and has been the subject of much ink and many pixels from irritated, impotent nonbelievers such as myself. Having lived in both Utah and the Bible Belt, however, let me tell you: the way that the LDS Church used to exercise power here has, if not changed, become much more naked.

For those of you unfamiliar with the background levels of theocracy, however, here are a few examples of how power used to be exercised – and then two examples of how it’s done in 2018.

Seminary in Public Schools
When I was but a young, saucy spark of a lad not yet even fully sworn to Satan, I got in some serious trouble once by doing a paper on the Seminary (or “Released Time”) system in Utah public schools and why I thought it was a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

Since time immemorial (the early 20th century) students at public schools in Utah who sign up for “released time” spend one school period a day receiving religious education in a small building adjacent to the school (often with matching architecture and a paved path leading from one to the other).

Does this constitute sneaking right up to the line that separates church and state? Does it, in fact, constitute sneaking a big hairy leg right over that line? I believe so, yes. But at least the appearance of the separation of church and state is maintained.

Liquor Laws
While liquor laws did liberalize somewhat in 2009, Utah’s liquor laws have always been unique. They are, in fact, zany enough that they’ve made us a bit of a national punchline on more than one occasion. While it’s good that bars don’t have to be private clubs anymore (for an explanation of our previous, completely insane system, check here), there are still many regulations that stand out – perhaps none more so than the infamous “Zioncurtain.”

See that thing? That’s to stop children from witnessing the preparation of alcoholic drinks by bartenders. I’m not kidding (I wish I were). I guess the logic was that witnessing a snappily dressed professional blend a daiquiri would turn kids into raging alcoholics? But, again, these arguments were couched in “family” this and “public health” that. The illusion of separation of church and state – the polite agreement Saints made with the Sinners they rule over – these were maintained.

Usually, the political power of the LDS Church has chosen – wisely, in my opinion – to remain a power behind the throne, an obvious, ubiquitous, but SILENT power.

Enter this crab-faced PR flack for the Almighty.

Who is this guy?

He’s the former Speaker of the House of Representatives – and current chief lobbyist for the LDS Church! What, he couldn’t find more honorable work, like, say, playing the piano in a brothel? Its fine, let go of your pearls – for Marty has earned my ire:

“Follow the prophet,” Marty Stephens, the chief lobbyist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said during a South Jordan stake conference involving multiple congregations in the area. … “Some have even criticized members of the church for following the words of the prophets by saying they’re like sheep, simply doing what they’re told. To this, I plead guilty,” Stephens said, continuing by quoting remarks made by apostle Neil L. Andersen earlier this year: “Don’t be surprised if at times your personal views aren’t initially in harmony with the teachings of the Lord’s prophet. These are moments of humility. These are moments of learning, of humility, when we go to our knees in prayer.”
Now – congregations (Evangelical and Catholic ones, in particular) often engage in electioneering from the pulpit. It’s arguably the second-worst-kept secret in America, right behind white supremacy. Technically, this should mean that said congregations get their tax-exempt status yanked in a firm and sexy manner – but the IRS hasn’t enforced the no-politicking rule in decades, and some signs indicate that that’s a fight the Christian Right has been spoiling for since desegregation.

But, as I said, there are significant differences between how the LDS Church has traditionally understood and approached power and how the Christian Right and Evangelical communities more generally do. A subtle, softer, behind-the-scenes approach. 2018 has proven to be a marked departure from that tradition (as the Church’s involvement in the gay marriage fight in California previously did). 

Perhaps the most blatant and jaw-dropping move on the part of the Church didn’t happen before the vote on Proposition 2 this year, butafter it:

Medical marijuana advocates say they are exploring legal action challenging the Legislature’s move to replace Proposition 2 “at the behest” of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
Although Utah voters this month approved the medical cannabis initiative by about 52 percent-48 percent, lawmakers are expected to meet in a December special session to overwrite the measure with a marijuana proposal acceptable to Prop 2 opponents, including the church. In a Thursday letter, an attorney representing a faction of the medical cannabis community argued that the church’s fingerprints are all over the push.

Folks, if a church literally meeting with legislators to rewrite laws doesn’t constitute a state establishment of religion, I would ask you; what does?

The word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek apokalupsis: apo (un) and kaluptein (to cover). The power of the LDS Church in Utah politics might be entering its apocalyptic phase. Those of us who do not believe in the teachings of the Church (nor in its god) should watch very closely right now. I have no doubt that there is much, much more yet to be uncovered.

If I have any predictions for right now, it’s that this fits nicely into a larger, national trend of conservatives – and in particular, religious conservatives – completely abandoning the pretense of not only separation of church and state, but of the legitimacy of other institutions central to democracy. Ultimately, I believe they are abandoning the pretense of democracy itself.

This is a naked, ugly game of power and control.

* Re; Jerome Corsi, professional charlatan, late of WND – you’re out of your goddamned mind if you think I don’t have a much longer post about him coming down the pipeline.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Thought Reform, Then and Now (Part 2)

posted on 11/29/2018 by the Salt City Sinner

(You can find part one here)

Why does Robert Lifton’s Thought Reform matter? It was written in 1959, based on interviews conducted between 1954 and 1959, and first released in 1961. Is it still relevant?

It is, for better and/or worse. “Better” because what Lifton documented – and what the Chinese Communist Party developed through experimentation with Stalin-era Soviet tactics – is a form of applied political psychology that to an extent works, and can be used for good or ill (like any other tool). Now, as Lifton himself has been very careful to point out, there are enormous caveats to what thought reform can achieve and on whom it is effective (for example, thought reform is a mixed bag at converting religious believers).

Caveats or no caveats, its effectiveness means that some forms of thought reform-adjacent manipulation are more widely used in 2018 than you might think.

Thought Reform Is Still Going On In Chinese Prison Camps

For one thing, the practices that Lifton described in 1961 are still going on today. Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China, and one that the government appears to fear and loathe. The variety of “offenses” for which Uighurs are imprisoned is worth noting (Uighurs are jailed for “abstaining from cigarettes,” for example, or speaking their native languages in work groups or school).

Human rights groups estimate that one million Uighurs may currently be in these concentration camps, undergoing psychological manipulation much like that used by the Chinese state in the 1950s.

As depressing as that is, it’s not just totalitarian regimes abroad that are using the techniques developed there. Oh no, my friend.

Alcoholics Anonymous

I do not care for AA.

If you happen to be an AA devotee, please read this next sentence carefully: you DID NOT get sober “thanks to AA.” That has been scientifically debunked (over and over). Much like the courage granted the Cowardly Lion by the Wizard of Oz, the sobriety was actually inside of you all along (no, seriously)!

I think AA is a destructive organization, and has many characteristics of a new religious movement (NRM – the preferred term for what used to be called “religious cults”), although not all the characteristics that would define it as such. Usually, when someone doesn’t care for AA, they hedge their disapproval. “It works for some people,” they say, or “I had an uncle who got sober with AA – it’s the only thing that could have worked for him. It saved his life.” I will not hedge. I plan on expanding on this subject quite a pit in a forthcoming post, so save any objections until then.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call Alcoholics Anonymous – or any other 12-step program – a (largely?) benign form of thought reform. It hits every single box in Lifton’s criteria. (This is hardly an original thought on my part, although people usually just jump straight to “cult” and skip the interesting bits.) Importantly, it is often practiced upon captive audiences – those either required by a court to attend or “taking advantage” of the program while incarcerated.

Direct Sales Conferences and “Transformational Training”

First off, there’s a fantastic new podcast out called “the Dream” that takes listeners on a terrifying journey into the rotting innards of the American dream as it relates to multi-level marketing (which is currently trying to rebrand itself – again – as “direct sales”).  I highly recommend it.

If you are unfamiliar with what those are, will you please trade lives with me? No? Okay – they are Amway, Doterra, Herbalife, all that crap that your old friend from high school is constantly shilling on Facebook. Direct sales are a scam (a pyramid scheme, to be specific) and a great way to take on tens of thousands of dollars of credit card debt and ruin your life. Sound good? Great, you’re ready to head to a conference!

Now, I won’t go into all the ways that direct sales “training” is awful – or, more accurately, I will in a later, longer post. I just wanted to touch briefly on these conferences’ style. It’s confessional, it’s borderline – in some cases overtly – religious in tone. Often referred to as “transformational training,” and tagged as “large group awareness training” by psychologists, It’s meant to break you down and help you unlock the sales potential within you.

It’s thought reform.

Incidentally, the most egregious “sales training” I’ve ever heard of was hatched by one of the fathers of multi-level marketing, a sadistic and authoritarian hypercapitalist named William Penn Warren. At the zenith of his malignant reign, he created Leadership Dynamics. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary:

Michael Langone wrote in Business and Society Review that Leadership Dynamics was one of the first "transformational trainings.” The extreme form of human potential movement training led to a series of lawsuits for the company. This extreme training involved subjecting course participants to abusive practices such as beating, food and sleep deprivation, being placed inside of coffins, and degrading sexual acts.

So; like it or not, thought reform is all around you. Lifton notes this in his book. He spends a chapter examining what does and does not comport with his definition of thought reform in seemingly anodyne places such as education, incarceration, and psychotherapy. And that’s where my main critique of Lifton’s book comes in.

I don’t think he looked quite deeply enough into American life and (even more specifically) American economic relations. I think he could have, for example, written an entire follow-up book about the use of thought reform in marketing – which in turn has had a major, major impact on American democracy, which is almost entirely an exercise in mass marketing at this point. Also, alarmingly, some aspects of American politics, especially on the right, are beginning to very closely match some parts of thought reform – the thought-terminating cliché, milieu control, it’s all getting very inward-looking and in-group obsessed.

Thus, the Sinner’s $.25 Psychic Self-Defense and Literature Review! When you feel the filthy fingers of one or another unsubtle brute fumbling at the fertile folds of your mind, remember; don’t react the way they want you to. Refuse the thought-terminating cliché. Question the sacred science. Don’t let them control your milieu (at least, to the extent that you have that option).

Even benign thought reform leaves a mark.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Thought Reform; Then and Now (Part 1)

posted on 11/26/2018 by the Salt City Sinner
Hello, and welcome to the first installment of what I hope will be an ongoing series; the Sinner’s $.25 Psychic Self Defense and Literature Review! Now: what on Lucifer’s black earth does that pretentious appellation portend?

For reasons that will be revealed over the course of these segments – like my hairy, enticing body parts appearing from behind fans during a fan dance – I have developed an interest in political psychology. More specifically, I’ve been mulling over applied political psychology, or what I’ve been whimsically calling practical psychic self-defense.

Now, a good jumping-off point for such ruminations is Dr. Robert Lifton’s 1961 psychology classic, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism; A Study of ‘Brainwashing’ in China. Lifton interviewed American, European, and Chinese men and women who had been imprisoned in the People’s Republic of China and subjected to totalitarian communist “thought reform.”

Lifton established eight criteria for what he considered thought reform, all of which are extremely unsettling to consider in relation to goings-on in the good old US of A these days, but there are two I consider most relevant; “milieu control” and the language of control -- in particular the ever-popular thought-terminating cliché.

When you’re discussing thought reform, milieu control is (I would argue) the most important of the eight criteria, and the one without which thought reform can’t take root. Milieu control is something that any person who has seen the inside of a psych ward, a rehab facility, a prison, or a “gay conversion therapy” camp will recognize immediately. 

It consists of strict control of an environment, up to and including all communication that takes place within the group. Books, pictures, information, all are tightly controlled in the interest of promoting cognitive change in group members. Milieu control creates a powerful in-group out-group dynamic, and can lead to feelings of intense in-group bonding. It can also lead to Jonestown -- or to Warren Jeffs.

the house that Warren Jeffs built

Lifton’s book is also well-known for its dissection of the language of control, in particular the concept of the ‘thought-terminating cliché. Now, this is something that we’ve all encountered (some of us – the multi-level marketers in particular – more than others), and it’s quite satisfying to have a nice, solid label. A thought-terminating cliché is a brief, usually folksy piece of “wisdom” that papers over cognitive dissonance – it is a phrase intended to stop thought and argument from proceeding further. Quoth Lifton:

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

Now, I’ve playfully used the word “cult” before, but when we get into the weeds with this stuff, it becomes difficult and problematic to differentiate between religious beliefs that don’t comport with those of the majority community and harmful “cults,” so I’m going to stick with the terminology “new religious movement” (NRM) here. Lifton’s book is a popular one with people who study NRMs, and (unfortunately) with so-called “deprogrammers,” sometimes-volunteers, sometimes-mercenaries who claim to “free people from cults.” I plan to devote an entire post to deprogrammers at some point – suffice it to say that, while I am hardly an apologist for NRMs, “deprogrammers” have quite a bit to answer for.

Lifton’s book – including his criteria – are commonly used by anti-NRM activists to suggest that (some) new religious movements are engaged in thought reform. I think that’s a hard assertion to argue with, although the degree to which someone can be reformed against their will is clearly limited as described in the case studies. I also think that NRMs are, while interesting, not the most interesting practitioners of thought reform in the USA right now.

a multi-level marketing (MLM) sales conference

A guru who tells you to give them your money and leave your family behind to find spiritual fulfillment is actually a relatively straightforward proposition compared to some of the more fashionable modern hustles.