Tag Archives: cults

carnival of eating disorders, august 2008 edition

welcome to the august 2008 edition of the carnival of eating disorders! there is a lot of interesting material, so i’ll do the same that i do with the buddhist carnival and present the articles in two different posts. this first post will deal with anorexia. the second will deal with body image and overeating.

exorcism for anorexia?
good news – a religious cult which was curing anorexia with exorcism is in serious trouble. here are some of the strange goings-on at mercy ministries:

“the counsellor gave me a list of different demons – demon of anger, demon of unforgiveness, demon of pride, there were lots of them and i was told to go away and circle the demons i had in me or around me,” said smith.”i was really scared… they cast demons out of me, one by one, and they became quite excited and animated during the process, and spoke in tongues.

“it was the counsellors and myself and they put their hands on me and started praying one by one for each of the demons that were on the list to be cast out of me.

“after each demon was cast out i had to say ‘i confirm the demon of x has been cast out of me in the name of jesus and is unwelcome to return.’

“the whole time i was there, all i heard was that i’m demonic.

“even after the exorcism, when i had the next anxiety attack, i was told that they had already cast the demons out, so therefore i was obviously either faking it, or i had chosen to let the demons come back, in which case i was not serious about getting better.

anorexia and bulimia on social media
this post refers to an article that appeared last year but it’s probably even more important today than 12 months ago. eating disorders are rampant on social media, it says. that’s true. but so is the opposite. here on this blog, for example, we have the anorexia recovery forum where people speak actively against “the voice of ana”. for those of you unfamiliar with the term, “ana” is a sort of pet name for anorexia, as is “mia” for bulimia).

a drug for anorexia?
medusa reports on canadian research on a drug that might help some people with anorexia

a drug used to treat schizophrenia may be a new tool to help patients with anorexia gain weight and control their obsessive thoughts about food.

new canadian research has found that when anorexia patients take olanzapine, they gain weight, feel calmer and do not have the obsessive thoughts about weight and food that characterize the debilitating condition.

recovery milestones
angel has a beautiful post where she envisions recovery from eating disorders:

we have binged, starved, purged, and obsessed in an effort to manage unwelcome emotions. the solution to an eating disorder has to do with accepting our thoughts and feelings, and finding safe and responsible ways to express them. there is no magic about recovery. recovery means rebuilding trust with ourselves and others, taking careful risks to learn what is safe and good for us. when we can take responsibility for understanding our needs, and getting them met, then we will walk free.

from overeating to anorexia
in his article paul mckenna owes courtney love an apology, joshua seth says, “yes, it is possible to lose too much weight. there is such a thing as a healthy range. and unfortunately singer courtney love seems to have taken weight loss hypnosis a bit too far.” this is interesting because it brings up a host of misconceptions about eating disorders and specifically about anorexia. this is such an important topic that i’ll talk about that in a future article, some time before the next carnival of eating disorders.

i’ll post part 2 tomorrow, september 1. in the meantime, if you have an article you’d like to see here, please let me know, using this submission form.

are we a cult?

woman with car, a consumerist pose“to me, most of the current world civilization is a cult.” this is what my blogging friend alex said recently in a comment on one of my posts on cults.

is our civilization a cult? it’s an interesting question so let’s see what answers we can find. perhaps one way to start is to look for definitions of the term “cult”. the counselling department at caltech university offers this:

below are indicators that are found, to varied degrees and numbers, in all groups that are considered cults. to the basic question of ‘what is a cult?’, maybe the best answer is simply, a group in which there are many of these indicators:

extreme promises – e.g. unconditional, eternal love; financial security; complete certainty about life; answers to all questions

restricted freedoms – because these groups want control, they need to limit their members’ basic freedoms. this includes restricting physical mobility; forbidding doubts or questions; removing the right to choose whom to spend time with, and when; prohibiting the exploration of other ways of thinking and living.

assumptions of power – often restrictions of freedom can also become active abuses of power. the group leader, or others designated to have power, may require members to perform tasks, acquire money, perform rituals, and to provide sexual services. and rather than use outright authority, cult leaders will present these demands or requirements as “opportunities” offered to those in special favor.

a central leader – virtually all cults are headed by a single person (sometimes a couple or triad) who either claims special knowledge and status or who claims special access to it (contact with superhuman intelligence). a particular indicator of a cult is being told that this person knows what is best for you, regardless of your opinion or that of others you trust.

deception and totalitarian views are other components of cults. we may notice that what is told to “recruits” and “outsiders” is different than what is professed within the group. this sort of lie can be as basic as soliciting money for the group under false pretenses. also, “black or white” or “we and they” thinking is common.

alex referred to “most of the current world civilization”; i’d like to draw the circle just a tad smaller; how about the consumerist world as it is presented by mass media to the english-speaking western world. i’m talking about the images and narratives found in mainstream TV and magazines and their relatives on the internet. the world that a fashionably dressed, well worked-out, perfumed, sexy woman lives in, sitting in a car, ipod in her ears, on the way to stop by burger king for a quick big mac after a week’s work at IBM, later to meet with her buddies at a bar well-stocked with heineken and tequila. not an unfamiliar image, right?

extreme promises? you bet. we are all promised that we can either be or have that woman (let’s call her barb), complete with accessories.

restricted freedoms? that’s a tricky one. no-one forces me to wear the types of clothes barb wears, or forces alex to buy her a beer at the bar. in fact, freedom is one of the products that’s being sold here (in the image above, barb’s hair is probably blowing in the wind: clear evidence of freedom!) it’s just that – weeelll, if you want to hang out with that crowd and you don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car, maybe you won’t get that many invitations to the next party. restriction by exclusion.

assumptions of power? our politicians and CEO’s certainly do require us to perform tasks (go to war), acquire money and perform rituals (e.g. spend the recently acquired money on ridiculously expensive weddings).

a central leader? that’s something that is absent from our culture. however, what we do have is an almost impenetrable web of power mongers and bureaucracies. they do NOT tell us what’s best for us – but they often act like it.

deception and totalitarian views? again, these words are harsh, and i would be crazy to say that we westerners live in totalitarian regimes. at the same time, deception is so much part of our system that we are as used to it as we are to violence on TV and video games. politicians, we say, “of course they lie to us!” TV and news? “of course it’s all made up!”

is our culture a cult? what do you think?

(image by fernando meyer)


during the blogathon, one of the entries was about about a woman leaving a cult. coincidentally, just a few days later, one of my stumbleupon friends pointed me to steven hassan’s work. interestingly enough, this also led me to another article relevant to a blogathon post about guru shopping.

from what i’ve seen so far, i quite like steven hassan’s approach, which is informed by his own experience in the moonie cult. his organization is

dedicated to respect for human rights, spirituality, and consumer awareness. we endeavor to be a safe and responsible place where you can turn to for resources, news and information about destructive cults, and mind control techniques, as well as learn how to help yourself and others. steven alan hassan is a nationally certified counselor (ncc) and also a licensed mental health counselor (lmhc) in the commonwealth of massachusetts and is an expert on destructive mind control issues. he offers a unique method of specialized counseling, called the strategic interaction approach.

here is some information on this approach, which again sounds good to me – it is respectful of the whole individual; i.e. it looks like it does not replace one form of brainwashing with another:

the strategic interaction is a customized approach that encourages everyone to develop positive, constructive patterns of communication. … the goal is to restore the creative, flexible, interdependent adult. we want the cult member to understand what happened to him by helping him fully digest and integrate the cult experience. …

the strategic interaction approach liberates and then integrates the parts of the pre-cult identity that were co-opted by the cult identity. in addition, we draw out the individual’s “authentic,” or higher, self and enlist its help to make new associations with the cult self. for example, we recognize that idealism is an integral part of our loved one’s authentic identity. by pointing out discrepancies between cult doctrine and hypocritical cult policies, the idealistic component of the cult identity can be encouraged to begin the questioning process.

by taking an oppositional, “i’m right, you’re wrong” approach, deprogrammers and exit-counselors often unwittingly create a win-lose mentality. strategic interaction encourages adaptability and creativity by widening one’s experiential base, which results in a win-win environment. for instance, if family members have never meditated and their loved one is in a meditation cult, then i encourage them to experience meditation. …

i urge you to scrutinize the beliefs and affiliations of people who offer to rescue your loved one from a destructive cult. many of these people will seek to impose their own ideological perspective. the ethical approach is to avoid imposing any ideological or theological viewpoint on a mind control subject.

if you’re interested in getting a closer look at steven hassan, watch this video:

blogathon: leaving a cult

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

losing the the way – a memoir of spiritual longing, manipulation, abuse and escape is about kristen skedgell’s intense 15-year involvement in a christian cult. it shows how easily an idealistic young person can be swept away by a spiritual quest and manipulated through the quiet malevolence lurking beneath the religious exterior.

kristen is a fellow blogger. some months ago we had a few conversations and it ended in her sending me her book. since a friend of mine is touched by a similar situation, i was particularly interested in the book. i raced through it, am writing about it today, and will then pass it on to J, whose whole family has been taken away by an aggressive evangelical ministry in bellingham.

the following excerpts trace a bit of the story. a teenager, lost between an alcoholic father, an emotionally absent mother and a hostile brother, finds “the way”, an evangelical ministry. the head of “the way” is dr. victor paul wierwille, who is also called “the doctor”.

the doctor also likes folksy tales of homespun poems. he read one called “the touch of the master’s hand” at the meeting. “joyful noise”, the way band, played in the background and by the time he was finished half the room was in tears. the poem described an abandoned violin that was going to be “auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd” until the master musician came and played on it, making it sound beautiful and more valuable than anyone could afford. i thought of my brother’s violin and how wonderful he made the instrument sound. i thought of my life and how much of a failure it was. how someone needed to pick me up and play on me as the master had played on that violin. god was the master.

one of the things that can quickly make me angry is what we might call “sentimental manipulation”. hitting those easy-to-reach emotional trigger points with hot-and-heavy black and white emotions and twisting them for irresponsible purposes. it usually involves a crafty way of mixing “beautiful” and “pure” emotions with guilt, grief and shame. and it seemed to have work just peachy for the good doctor. or, as it were, the bad doctor.

when kristen, now already deeply involved in the ministry of “the way”, goes to a fancy high school and then college, she starts experiencing hard-to-understand moods and has no idea what to do about them. again, the doctor has an answer (that’s what these people do, they have answers; questions, on the other hand, are NOT allowed). the answer is: it’s the devil!

when it comes to my own healing, i’m not even sure what to ask for. i don’t yet know the word for these debilitating bouts of depression. i only know that suicide is caused by a devil spirit and i don’t want to be possessed. i limp through my classes and delegate ministry responsibilities as much as i can. i pray in tongues often, and i sit on the roof, waiting for help.

through all of this, however, kristen still has lingering doubts, caused by her intelligence (she’s studying political science, for goodness’ sake!) and her mental health difficulties, which, in the doctor’s mind, seem to be either unimportant or of the devil. she also wonders whether having sex with the doctor is the right thing to do. not surprisingly, this sort of sexual abuse is sold to her as a special secret between the doctor and herself, never to be disclosed. understandably, she dissociates. after another such encounter (as usual, boring, unloving and clinical)

suddenly, something shifts deep inside me. now i get it: all things are pure to the pure. my mind can do anything. a great door has opened and the doctor has ushered me into the deeper mysteries of the world, where grace resides supreme. i promise the doctor that i will keep his secret. i promise i will be here for him whenever he needs me. i have successfully squelched my feelings and my renewed mind is in control. i am finally committed to the word. in the bright light of the coachman’s suite, i am initiated.

“all things are pure to the pure” is taken (stolen?) from the bible and used as a perfect pretext to engage in whatever the doctor and his minions feel like. since he is so pure, there is no problem, right?

being “committed to the word” means a commitment to a literal interpretation of the bible. which turns out to be the doctor’s interpretation. no-one is allowed to interpret anything for themselves. the successful squelching of the feelings is accompanied by a successful squelching of critical thought – indeed, the two go hand in hand.

kristen gets married to an equally unhappy, abusive man. she gets pregnant, and then …

but here he was, this infant, as honest and real and fragile as life itself. it was impossible to dissemble in his presence. his very existence demanded that i be honest. i had to come clean, to face my life in all its complexity and be real for once. i was not the useless, angry, depressed failure i thought i had become. i was not a thing to be used. i was a giver of life. a mother. a woman. a human being. i had participated in the greatest mysteries and god had allowed it. surely, if this baby had the right to exist, so did i. i was not here for something bigger, bigger than the god i knew. it overcame all my doubts. it loved me in spite of myself. and that is the gift this baby brought me. love.

reading this again, tears come to my eyes. kristen is saved by the child. ironically, the doctor de-emphasizes jesus. we can take the image of jesus-as-the-child, the quintessential babe-in-arms, we, perhaps, see in our hearts that it was jesus who liberated this woman from the clutches of a devilish church.