From: Keith Henson (email@example.com)
Date: Sun 02 Feb 2003 - 05:41:24 GMT
Most people know that Jim Henson (no relation I know about) died at age 53
from a serious, but treatable disease, Group A Streptococcus pneumonia. Jim
had been sick for days but had postponed going to the hospital until it was
six to eight hours too late. Part of the reason was his Christian Science
upbringing. While he didn't practice the faith, his wife stated in a
*People Interview* "it affects his general thinking," "Not that he mistrusted doctors, but he would rather just see it through by himself."
Christian Science is an older cult than Scientology, but there *are* parallels.
"In 1879, four years after the first publication of Science and
Health, Mary Baker Eddy and some of her students organized the church of
Christ (Scientist) in Boston Massachusetts. Of course, like all cults, it
claimed to be the restoration of the original New Testament Church.
"In 1881 she opened a metaphysical college and charged $300 for 12 healing lessons.
"The Church was reorganized in 1892, and the Church Manual was first issued in 1895 which provided the structure for church government and missions.
"She died in 1910, a millionaire.
The Mormons are a still older cult:
". . . . the church divided into two groups: One led by his [Smith's] widow
which went back to Independence Missouri. They are known as the Reorganized
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They claim to be the true
Church and lay claim to the legal succession of the church presidency which
was bestowed upon Joseph's son by Joseph Smith himself. The other group was
led by Brigham Young and they went to Utah where, in 1847, they ended up in
Salt Lake and founded Salt Lake City. Brigham had 25 wives and accumulated
My interest has shifted from the particular to the general in the last few
years. Scientology is the reason that I got into this area of study, but
it is far from the only such mind parasite infesting humans and not even
the worst of them (though it does rank high). I have become increasingly
concerned about the bigger picture of cults and particularly the aspects of
human nature that cults exploit.
I don't think anyone would disagree that we need to understand and if
possible to control such exploitation. Modern technology provides many
things besides large aircraft and chemicals that can be abused by those in
the control of a cult that subverts civilized behaviour. (Scientology
subverts the institutions of government.)
A general solution to cults, in analogy to the approach Pasteur and Koch
took toward disease-causing microorganisms, is needed. We still have
serious problems with microscopic parasites (like those that killed Jim
Henson) but at least the origin of our problems is well understood and,
relative to the times prior to Pasteur, we know how to deal with most of
them. (Provided *mental* parasites don't interfere with the application of
medicine they did for Jim Henson and Lisa McPherson.)
We now have the mental modeling tools to understand how human are
parasitized. Evolutionary psychology provides a basis for understanding
the susceptibility of humans to cults, related social movements, and even
addictive drugs. The view it provides is not at first particularly
encouraging because it indicates that the very nature of humans may have to
change to eliminate the problems. (Though, for better or for worse,
changing human nature lies not far beyond the current state of technology.)
Before we get to changing humans we may be able to take active steps to
immunize the population against cults. It is also possible that public
mental-health services may be able to test and identify the people most
susceptible to cults. Perhaps those most vulnerable could be recruited
into "designer cults" that satisfied the need for the attention that cults
provide and starve dangerous totalist cults such as Scientology for new
members. Or perhaps such people should be classed as handicapped. and
penalties akin to tripping blind people applied to those who defraud
them. (Financial fraud of the "Nigerian advance fee" kind seems to be
closely related to cults, with cult members being particularly sensitive.)
Existing cults/religions need a "Consumer's Guide" rating on how well they
provide social/attention rewards and at what cost. For example, if you
just *have* to join a UFO cult a little web searching indicates the
Raelians might be a better deal than the Scientologists.
Are we living in a time of rapid progress in understanding like that of
Pasteur's, or is it more like the time 40 years earlier of Semmelweis, who
was ridiculed to his dying day for his method (hand washing) that reduced
death from childbed fever?
It may not matter.
Even if we are living in a time more like that of Semmelweis, knowledge
advances faster these days. We should progress to a widespread
understanding of the human factors behind vulnerability to cults in a
decade or less.
Scientology, Christian Science and the LDS Church are at different places
along their evolution with rather different prospects.
Both Scientology and Christian Science have stuck slavishly to their
original sets of ideas. Both are stagnant or declining in membership, they
do a lot of damage, and they are badly out of sync with the evolving
world. The Mormons have tossed some of the more outlandish parts of their
meme set and membership wise are doing well. If it were not for the
impending technologically driven sea change that I expect to change the
world beyond imagination, I would give them a fair chance at long-term
Neither Christian Science nor Scientology has good long term prospects..
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