thoughts-are-things
by Fred W. Anson

Personally, I find it helpful to get the “Is the LdS Church a cult or not” discussion out of the arena of doctrine and theology. After all very often arguing doctrine with religionists ultimately always seems to come down to a “my opinion v. your opinion” stale mate.

So let’s see if we can put the question on a more objective, dispassionate plane.

Instead why don’t we choose to label “cults” based not on doctrine, but whether or not the group exercises the mental and sociological control elements common in cults and recognized by secular counter-cult experts.

There are many sociological aspects we can examine to determine if a group fits the criteria of a “cult,” but one of the easiest models to use in evaluating cult mind-control is given by Steven Hassan. In his book “Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” Mr. Hassan calls his mind-control model, “BITE“, which stands for “Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions.” This diagnostic model was based primarily on Robert Lifton’s work but also draws from research from Margaret Singer, Leon Festinger and many others. It doesn’t target any group in particular and can be applied to any group be they religious, political, secular, etc. It just doesn’t matter. Here is the Steven Hassan BITE Model:1

“Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” by Steven Hassan

“Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves” by Steven Hassan

BEHAVIOR CONTROL
• Regulation of individual’s physical reality
• Major time commitment required for indoctrination sessions and group rituals
• Need to ask permission for major decisions o Need to report thoughts, feelings, and activities to superiors
• Rewards and punishments (behavior modification techniques positive and negative)
• Individualism discouraged; “group think” prevails
• Rigid rules and regulations
• Need for obedience and dependency

INFORMATION CONTROL
• Use of deception
• Access to non cult sources of information minimized or discouraged
• Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
• Extensive use of cult generated information and propaganda
• Spying on other members is encouraged
• Unethical use of confession

THOUGHT CONTROL
• Need to internalize the group’s doctrine as “Truth”
• Use of “loaded” language (for example, “thought terminating clichés”). Words are the tools we use to think with. These “special” words constrict rather than expand understanding, and can even stop thoughts altogether. They function to reduce complexities of experience into trite, platitudinous “buzz words.”
• Only “good” and “proper” thoughts are encouraged.
• Use of hypnotic techniques to induce altered mental states
• Manipulation of memories and implantation of false memories
• Use of thought stopping techniques, which shut down “reality testing” by stopping “negative” thoughts and allowing only “good” thoughts
• Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism. No critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy seen as legitimate.
• No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, or useful

EMOTIONAL CONTROL
• Manipulate and narrow the range of a person’s feelings
• Make the person feel that if there are ever any problems, it is always their fault, never the leader’s or the group’s
• Excessive use of guilt
• Excessive use of fear
• Extremes of emotional highs and lows
• Ritual and often public confession of “sins”
• Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about ever leaving the group or even questioning the leader’s authority. The person under mind control cannot visualize a positive, fulfilled future without being in the group.

Steven Hassan

Steven Hassan

BITE Anayses by Former Latter-day Saints
Mr. Hassan recommends that the BITE Model analysis be done by former members as they have the greatest insight into the group’s formal and informal behavior. Furthermore, since one aspect of Mind Control Cults is lying, deceit, misinformation, “spin” and other obfuscating techniques for hiding “insider” secrets, active members and official group resources (such as websites, tracts, and other public facing materials) typically only allow an investigator to see a false, friendly facade rather than true, harsh internal reality. So with that in mind, here are links to the BITE analyses that have been completed by former Mormons. I would politely suggest that these analyses answer this nagging question rather nicely – and I will leave it to the reader to decide the answer for them self what that answer is:

The BITE Model and Mormon Control
by Luna Lindsey (an ExMormon)
http://www.rationalrevelation.com/library/bite.html (retrieved 2012-09-25)

The BITE model applied toward Momonism’s two-year missionary program as submitted by an ex-Mormon
https://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=372 (retrieved 2014-08-09)

The BITE model applied toward Mormonism as submitted by an ex-Mormon https://freedomofmind.com/Info/infoDet.php?id=370 (retrieved 2014-08-09)

Below: Steven Hassan speaking at the Ex-Mormon Foundation Conference in 2008.

NOTES
1 Steven Hassan, “Releasing the Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves”, Ch.2.  Also see http://www.freedomofmind.com/Info/BITE/bitemodel.php.

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