“Showtime documentary revealing the shocking life of notorious cult leader Warren Jeffs, and the FLDS Church, who through brainwashing and abuse seized control of his followers’ lives and an organization worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While Jeffs is currently serving a life sentence for his crimes, he still exerts total authority over his flock. Features unprecedented interviews with Church insiders and victims, exposing the nightmarish hell of unspeakable crimes that still continue to this day. See more at biography.com on Warren Jeffs, The Daily Beast article, Huffington Post articles on Warren Jeffs, Lisa Liang on CNN, and others.”
So, how does this happen? What does this tell us about the nature of humanity, and the “mind” that we all possess? Is there any possible way of making sense of all of this? And more difficult, do stories like this call into question all beliefs. And how are we to really know what is true?
Are we all delusional? Are we all under some spell, some doctrine, some authority, and don’t even know it?
And what about the FLDS members who, by ignorance or by will, want the life they live? Is there any way to even stop it? Given the dynamics that are at play in cults, oppressing them only buttresses their beliefs and resolve. So, are we, as “outsiders,” by getting more involved only strengthening that which we want to see weakened?
Like all things, nothing is as simple as it seems. And as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, it becomes more complicated.
A few things that were mentioned at the end of the documentary are worth noting.
First, there is a difference between “brainwashing” and “indoctrination,” though admittedly the terms are used interchangeably; there being very little difference in popular connotations. However, there is a distinction. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “brainwash” as to “make (someone) adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.” “Indoctrinate” is defined as “teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”
But this is a catch-22. In order to be free from brainwashing and indoctrination, one must be free from “forced pressure,” and have the ability to be “critical.” Watching Prophet’s Prey illustrated this complication. To borrow a passage from the Gospel of John, even if light were to shine in the “darkness,” “people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Second, documentaries like this really do speak to the nature of humanity, specifically to our psychology. Once you believe something, it is very difficult to give that up completely, and that goes for all of us. While watching this film, I kept thinking about the variety of beliefs that are held to this day by what we would consider to be “mainstream” religions, beliefs that would for them be reasonable. Yet, at the same time, those people would chastise the FLDS church beliefs as strange or crazy.
I ask again. Are we all delusional? And how would we know?
Let us consider Robert Jay Lifton’s “Eight Criteria for Thought Reform” as laid out in his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. They are:
- Milieu Control — The control of information and communication, resulting in extreme isolation from the outside world.
- Mystical Manipulation — Experiences that appears spontaneous but are actually planned and orchestrated to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or other insight.
- Demand for Purity — The requirement to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. Guilt and shame are often employed.
- Confession — Ways to monitor the personal thoughts (“sins”) of individual members — which are then discussed and exploited by group leaders.
- Sacred Science — The idea that the group’s ideology is beyond questioning or dispute.
- Loading the Language — The use of jargon and terminology that the outside world does not understand as a means of gaining thought-control and conformity.
- Doctrine over Person — Subordinating all personal experiences to the ideology of the group.
- Dispensing of Existence — In order to be saved or enlightened, individuals must convert to the group’s ideology. If they are critical of the group, or decide to leave the group, they are rejected by all members.
In this list, not only do I see the FLDS, but every religion. I also see, citizenship and naturalization, military assimilation, and of course politics.
Nothing is as simple as it seems.