Friday, May 20, 2005

Cult Checklist

I found this "Cult Checklist" online and I'd like to see how it lines up with Jewish Orthodoxies.

1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
3. The group is preoccupied with making money.
4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
5. Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and it's leader(s).
6. The leadership dictates- sometimes in great detail- how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders and members.
8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with wider society.
9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities, and the group teaches or implies that the supposedly exalted ends justifies the means.
10. The leadership induces feelings of guilt in order to control them.
11. Member's subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family, friends, and personal group goals that were of interest to them before joining the group.
12. Member's are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
13. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

So now, I'll go through it one at a time.

1. The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

Not so much in Modern Orthodoxy, but you do see this with the Ultra-Orthodox and their faith in the "Gedolai Hador." And of course this is eminently obvious with Lubavitch Jews.

2. The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

No, I wouldn't say this is a particularly strong element in any Jewish religious movement. Jews only tend to proselytize to other Jews. Messianic Judaism and Jews for Jesus do act like this, but they hardly count as a form of Judaism.

3. The group is preoccupied with making money.

No, this is also pretty much a negative. There isn't a "preoccupation" but some UO groups do tend to push a lot of doorbells and walk around asking for money alot.

4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Oh yeah. This is a big yes. UO groups are horrendous for this type of activity. Slifkin, anyone?MO is better, but even they pride conformity.

5. Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and it's leader(s)

No, not that I'm aware of. In some yeshivahs, the rabbis might yell and publically embarrass a student who "steps out of bounds" but really nothing that I would put under this category.

6. The leadership dictates- sometimes in great detail- how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).

100% yes! The Ultra-Orthodox have to ask a shaila about everything - and of course their rabbis are only too happy to give their scholarly advice. MO to a much lesser degree but still shows up every now and then.

7. The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leaders and members.

Again, absolutely! Many MO try to hide the Jewish supremacy but it's still very much there. UO don't even hide it. A goy is maybe just a step above an animal. And secular Jews are barely a step above them - if not worse. To the UO even the MO are semi-heretics. Just ask the Frum Teens Moderator.

8. The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with wider society.

To a 'T.' "Esav soneh at Yaakov." The entire UO worldview is the constant battle between Jews and the vicious antisemitic hordes of goyim. Non-Jews cannot be trusted, socialized with and must be avoided as much as possible. Indeed, the entire hedonistic wider society of America is traifa medina.

9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities, and the group teaches or implies that the supposedly exalted ends justifies the means.

No, this is mostly a negative. Except for some UO's appeal to emunat chachamim that can excuse leaders for any wrongdoing, this is not a factor I would use to describe any Orthodox Judaism. It might be there, but it's not strongly expressed.

10. The leadership induces feelings of guilt in order to control them.

Eh, not so much. Maybe a little but nothing really to speak of.

11. Member's subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family, friends, and personal group goals that were of interest to them before joining the group.

Well, a little but not to any strong degree. BTs may feel that they can't eat at their parents' homes but I don't think they cut ties as this check is saying.

12. Member's are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.

Oh, sure. Daven three times a day with a minyan. Long hours during the holidays and shabbos. Orthodox Judaism includes a huge time investment.

13. Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

Oh, this is a definite yes. This was like one of the others mentioned before. There is this us-vs-them mindset in the UO velt (and the MO velt too to a large but lesser degree). Socialization with goyim is seriously frowned upon.

So, now, what's the score?

I have seven yeses here for Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. For Modern Orthodox, I count maybe two or three strong yeses and then another three or four weaker yeses. The Modern Orthodox have a wide spread of beliefs about the wider world and their own religion and so on the right wing side they would be much closer to UO and have more checks but on the left wing they would have fewer checks.

Seven out of thirteen points for Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Seems like it's on the brink. It's not quite Heaven's Gate, but still pretty far out there.

9 comments:

hayim said...

re : 4. Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Come on now, that's silly. If you're Republican or Democrat, how much criticism is allowed ? I am unaware of any group that actually accepts openly (much less even encourages) dissent and questions. Conformism is the word, welcome to the human world.

Oh, and for those who pride on being tolerant, I once read the following sentence which I find is absolutely true : "tolerance is 9 parts of indifference and one of brotherly love".

Orthoprax said...

Hayim,

You can belong to a political party and say without fear of serious repurcussions that you don't agree with some important aspect of their official platforms.

There are Democrats who are anti-abortion and there are Republicans who are not.

And besides all that, there is _free travel_ between them and outside of either.

People conform to a political party because that's what they really think. The party doesn't force them to take on beliefs that they don't hold.

But if you start doubting some insignificant detail of orthodox dogma and you live in a UO community you are going to have problems. Maybe your kids won't be able to get married, maybe they'll ostracize you, maybe they'll label you.

There is a clear difference between this and the Democrats.

Enigma4U said...

9. The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities, and the group teaches or implies that the supposedly exalted ends justifies the means.

Don't be so quick to discount this one. For example, Aish Hatorah and similar kiruv organizations continue to use Torah Codes as a way to proselyte, knowing full well that Torah codes have been proven to be a fraud.

Mis-nagid said...

Jews only tend to proselytize to other Jews.

Since they define who is a Jew, that's a meaningless distinction. If they said all lefties are Jews, so we're not proseltyzing, would that make it so? The fact that Judaism changed from paternal to maternal linkage proves the point.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

Many of the social control tools have a monetary component. Kosher rules creating jobs for unskilled kollel guys and keeping the money in the cult. Encouraging people to donate only to Jewish (read: Orthodox) charities. Etc..

Mind-numbing techniques

That's related to the lack of widespread adult proselytization. Orthodox Jews are almost always brainwashed from birth, so there's no need for the extreme measures. Kids will believe anything their parents tell them.

The leadership induces feelings of guilt in order to control them.

Eh, not so much.


Say what?? That's the first one I've flat out disagreed with. Guilt and shame are a huge part of keeping Orthodox Jews in line.

BTs may feel that they can't eat at their parents' homes but I don't think they cut ties as this check is saying.

It goes deeper. Take a survey of people who have become (more) frum and see how strongly negatively correlated it is with maintaining family relationships. It definitely encourages a discord. Just ask "Tikva."

You gave it 7 of 13, but I think you were being generous. If you reasses the guilt one and add on the fractional points, you'd approach 10.

Orthoprax said...

Enigma,

While that may be an example where that type of activity does go on, I don't think you can then generalize any of the UO movements under that same brush.

I was trying to be as unbiased as possible and only giving checks to egregiously obvious cases where the statement is true.

Mis-nagid,

"Since they define who is a Jew, that's a meaningless distinction. If they said all lefties are Jews, so we're not proseltyzing, would that make it so?"

No no, I was just saying that as a side point. Jews tend to proselytize only to other Jews so that restricts their targets and on top of that I don't see that as a "preoccupation" with any Orthodox movement.

It is an interest, sure, but even then they'll be happy with just getting a secular Jew to put on tefillin without bringing them all the way into the UO community.

"Many of the social control tools have a monetary component."

Yes, that's true. But that's not the be all and end all for why they exist. They need money to spread torah or supply kosher food or whatever to propel frumkeit. Money for money's sake is (generally) not what's going on.

"Orthodox Jews are almost always brainwashed from birth, so there's no need for the extreme measures."

Maybe, but I'm just going by the checklist. It's not exactly scientific y'know.

"Say what?? That's the first one I've flat out disagreed with. Guilt and shame are a huge part of keeping Orthodox Jews in line."

You think so? I don't think things get that far in Judaism. And from how I see it rabbis typically try to show why frumkeit is good rather than scaring people that leaving is bad. Maybe that's just a MO thing and I'm out of my depth here.

"It goes deeper. Take a survey of people who have become (more) frum and see how strongly negatively correlated it is with maintaining family relationships. It definitely encourages a discord. Just ask "Tikva.""

Sure, discord develops naturally. But the group itself doesn't really say that they need to cut off all ties with their unconverted families. That's the idea that I think the list had in mind.

"You gave it 7 of 13, but I think you were being generous. If you reasses the guilt one and add on the fractional points, you'd approach 10."

Sure, maybe. But like I said to Enigma, I was trying to be unbiased and not stick on UO Judaism all that could just for the sake of calling it a cult. All by itself it got those seven easily without any innovations on my part.

mushroomjew said...

"The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members."

This is definitely true among Chabad and to some extent all Orthodox. NCSY, Chabad, and Gateways are mainstream, prominant Jewish organizations which exist mainly to proseltyze non-orthodox Jews. They will say half-truths, stuff you with great food, make you drunk, and anything else it takes to make you a believer.

shoegrl said...

I think this checklist is very faulty and you can put any religious faith in the box and receive similar (if not a greater) match -- let's try catholicism for example (as an ex-cath, I have some personal knowledge on this issue):

1. the pope
2. catholicism is not as ardent in proselytizing as other xtians, but they do missionize quite extensively
3. give to the church give to the church -- I'd say that is a yes
4. Doubt = death -- if you deny "the holy spirit" you are eternally damned--period (no teshuvah available); if you doubt or question, then you have "lost faith" and suffer the same fate
5. just express doubt to a nun in elementary school and see where this gets you; better yet, attend one of the required "retreats" as a teenager and you'll really get the "cultish" experience -- or you can rent the Mel Gibson movie (the most disgusting display I've seen in a long time which xtians, particularly catholics, claim "changed their lives" -- very scary)
6. not so much with catholicism as other xtian groups
7. "I'm going to heaven and you're not" (xtian to non-xtian)
8. see #7
9. see #1
10. original sin - 'nuff said
11. anyone who becomes more religious (whatever their faith) may run into this -- it is more of a relationship issue than a command from the group however
12. for those who actually do what you are supposed to do as a catholic, then yes, church every morning, catholic school, confession every saturday, church on sunday -- maybe not to the degree of orthodox judaism, but still long hours in "fellowship"
13. socialization with non-xtians definitely frowned upon (unless it is for missionary purposes), socialization with other xtian groups was seriously frowned upon up until the mid 70s I believe (remember) -- it's still not ok for a catholic to marry outside of catholicism unless you vow to raise your children catholic

So I think catholicism trumps orthodox judaism as far as cult characteristics go (but I bet JWs or mormons would get the highest scores)

Orthoprax said...

Shoegrl,

Actually I don't think it is faulty. The fact is, the more controlling and limiting of individual thought a religion is the closer it approaches cult status.

I'm not sure where Catholicism fits on the bar in relationship with Orthodox Judaism, but I have no qualms with seeing it somewhere on there.

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