“Emma’s Thoughts” – Photo by Scott Wylie
Tonight, I went to a meeting for both ex-cult members and family or friends of cult members. One of the men there, who’d never been in a cult, admitted to being downright confused as to how we could have been deceived so easily. “I just don’t get it,” he said. “How do people in cults end up believing such irrational things? And why is it that you can’t seem to dismantle their beliefs with logic?”
This is how I explained it to him:
When I first started hanging out with Arachne (my one-on-one cult leader), I was very sick with bulimia. One night, while we were just sitting on the floor talking, she said, “Give me your hands.” No explanation, no warning, nothing. But I gave her my hands anyhow.
Looooooong story short, as she held my hands, I felt like she’d opened an energetic channel between us; I started hallucinating vividly, seeing strange creatures and other galaxies and whatnot. It was intense, and beautiful, and unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
Somewhere during this experience, I had an epiphany about my eating disorder so profound that, from that night onward, I could not bring myself to engage in eating disordered behaviors anymore. Basically, the experience cured me of bulimia.
So here we had a person who could cause me to hallucinate by holding my hands and cure me of my eating disorder in a matter of moments. My conclusion? She must be God. Only a god could have supernatural healing powers like that.
And that was a logical explanation to me, at the time, given that the only reference point I had was the Pentecostalism I’d been raised with.
After I left both Pentecostalism and Arachne’s cult behind me, I had no choice but to re-evaluate the beliefs I’d avoided challenging until now. I educated myself. I read about DMT, a hallucinatory drug that causes spiritual experiences like the one I’d had. I read about manipulative tactics, such as the power of suggestion. I read rational theories as to how hypnosis works on people. I read about how abusive people prey on the vulnerable (I was underweight and malnourished, after all) because we’re easier to influence.
Now, 5 years after that spiritual experience, I have a different logical explanation of what Arachne did. And this is it: She was just a very, very skilled manipulator.
No, she didn’t have magical powers. And no, she wasn’t a god. Not even close.
In short, people develop beliefs, based on not only what information they have been exposed to, but also what information they have not been exposed to.
So instead of thinking of cultists as illogical, think of them as logical relative to their current base of knowledge.
Or, as Isaac Asimov once said, “Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense…. but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete.”
The Relativity of Wrong – Isaac Asimov
Nowadays, of course, we are taught that the flat-earth theory is wrong; that it is all wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely. But it isn’t. The curvature of the earth is nearly 0 per mile, so that although the flat-earth theory is wrong, it happens to be nearly right. That’s why the theory lasted so long….
Born to be Conned – Maria Konnikovadec
There’s an adage you hear most any time you mention con artists: You can’t cheat an honest man. It’s a comforting defense against vulnerability, but is it actually true?
No, as it turns out; honesty has precious little to do with it. Equally blameless is greed, at least in the traditional sense. What matters instead is greed of a different sort: a deep need to believe in a version of the world where everything really is for the best….