User:Rursus/The structure of cult thinking

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Summary: cult thinking is a logical patch-work of shamelessly borrowed statements constituting a gravity-well trap structure, where the gravity-force is an induced paranoic fear of a defined "enemy", dominating the "outside". "Survival" is explained by the cult to be equal to remaining in this gravity-well bottom.

[note 1]

In my experience not everyone can be persuaded to enter a cult. Former cult members use to say otherwise, but I've been on the border of cults and not being sucked in based on some kind of "repelling gut feeling" on a lower cognitive level than my intellect, while others were sucked up to produce semantic garbage from their mouths. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm immune (maybe I'm a cultist by myself, who knows?!) just that I have some inbuilt skeptical circuits that make myself much harder to convert to their kind of cultism.

Theoretically, if a person's capability of logical inference and comparison of cult statements with experience and "gut feelings" (intuition?), superseeds the rate at which those cult statements are made, then the person will reject the cult. I believe it is much easier to avoid a cult if you already have another "cosmology", such as a catholic universe, a radical atheist scientistic universe or some similar – it doesn't matter very much whether complete or correct in every detail, it just need to function good enough to be usable and integratable into the current cultural environment.

The cult system funnel metric[edit]

I've also been involved in partaking in "debunking" a certain cult's thinking, but I was so repelled by the illogics, that I didn't manage to assist. My intuitive way of globalizing the individual logic strands to a certain pattern of cult thinking was not accepted by those I was intending to help. Also when they used cultic thinking to debunk cultic thinking, I explained my mind without diplomacy. I'll instead list the specific traits of cult thinking here:

  • logical patchwork: the logic of the cult thinking is shamelessly borrowed from elsewhere, so that for example creationists see no problems in using Fred Hoyle's arguments against chemical emergence of life to defend supernatural creation – despite that Fred Hoyle opposed Big Bang (the scientific counterpart to the "creation"), and claimed that life propagated in an infinitely aged universe by residing in interstellar space wherefrom it invaded the planets (the Panspermi Hypothesis);
  1. the cults (obviously) don't have the intellectual capacity to produce the logic themselves, so then they must borrow,
  2. the cults perpetuate an idiosyncratic malformed cosmology, so therefore they must be shameless in how they use their logic fragments,
  3. and also they don't care if the full patchwork is composed by patching together stolen logic fragments by lousy logic[note 2];
The shamelessness is constituted by crippled citation habits – using serious statements from respected scientists by for example:
  1. reinterpreting statements,
  2. using statements out of their intended context,
  3. only using half sentences,
  4. omitting words, changing the meaning completely, a.s.o..
  • exclusivizing/antagonizing: the logical patchwork, though shamelessly borrowing logic fragments from outside, don't adher to any outside theory, or if they have stolen large fragments, the cult generally claims to have discovered them itself, or that the outside theorists are really (silent) adherents of the cult; the cult presents its base logic as a discovery that is surpressed by the ignorant outside, and the logic is successively loaded with emotions of "grand revelation", "outside oppressive forces" and "the ultimate all-problem-solving truth" in such a manner and rate as to not antagonize the intended proselyte; the proselyte learning of the logical patchwork proceeds from a state where most of the logical fragments used are connected to the thinking of the outside, and this is done just in order to present the cultic logic, when the cultic logic is learned, the connection to the outside is cut off, so that the cult group logic presents no way out; the emotional loading now transforms from mostly "grand revelation" to "outside oppressive forces" and paranoia; the cult thought system can be imagined to be like a gravity "funnel", where the upper rim of the funnel connects to the surrounding universe (culture), but the social dynamics acts like "gravity" dragging away the adherent from the rim down to the gravity well of a very restricted symbolic thinking that is not usable for ordinary life[note 3]; from this exclusivizing process stems the antagonism against the outside that the adherents are expected to exhibit, as a measure of their membership and status within the group; in (at least) some cultic systems there is a clear transition layer from outside thinking to quite unwarranted cult logic, [note 4], a specific time and a specific place in a book, which could be called the whack layer;
  • idiosyncratization: the cultists thinking and feelings are severely controlled in areas that may threaten the cult and its perpetuation:
  1. any individual theory of the cult must be sufficiently aberrant from the normal culture thinking, so that the adherent of the cult is met by scorn – which according to the cultic thinking is a "sign that the adherent is elected/a martyr" – but which ascertains the isolation of the cult system and thereby its survival,
  2. dichotomization by fallacious chains of equivocations and associations that satanizes the outside to scare off the adherents from outside contact, except as to confront it,
  3. obeisance to the cult leaders and their thinking is socially obligatory[note 5],
  4. intellectual frustration regarding the "spiritual matters": a prohibition against asking too complicated questions, a prohibition against "running farther" than the leadership, intellectual stop devices such as thought stopping clichés and circular reasoning in very long chains, a mode of literal thinking that impossibilizes symbolic interpretations that the leaders cannot handle;
the net effect of the system is a dysfunctional pseudo-intellectual sadomasochism, where the cultists in various ways confront the outside and receive the consequential retaliations, thereby creating a cultural isolation of its thinking from the outside in order to "build a society" – a dysfunctional such – where fantasies replace common sense and normal life. The psychiatrical secondary profits from the cult to the cultist are
  • a sense of belonging to somewhere,
  • a sense of being important (in the narcissistic sense), and
  • a very false sense of social safety, based on the delegation of all thinking and all doubts to a prophetic teacher.

Handling of cults[edit]

I don't exactly know: I have no experience. The only thing that can be said is that "debunking" them doesn't work: the thought stopping clichés and other logical dysfunction of the cultists by far overwins any logic of a debunker's argument. A method that actually might work, is presenting adherents with alternative approaches relating to their daily lifes that are generally laborious and unsatisfying to themselves.


Logical consistency checking is only usable against cults insofar that it vaccinates potential proselytes from joining the cult. It is also usable when mapping system flaws and therefrom designing argumentation clusters shaking the lifestyle logic within the cult. The design of such argumentation clusters should reveal and address the unsatisfying inner life of the cult, which then needs to be investigated too.

Logic is however crucial since it originates in the language. The trouble with evaporating cults is that the system prohibits mental logic, while promoting an acting logic which is sanctioned by the leadership. In principle a non-believing expert in the belief system could step by step evoke contradictions, from the cult thought bottom upwards, so that the "gravitational well" of the cult is elevated. However, since most logic in the system is emotionally loaded, the non-believing Wallraffing expert would release the emotions at each step, risking aggressive attacks and expulsion. The natural countermeasure to this is authority: the cult adherents are individuals who have in some sense abandoned (or never recognized) their own intellectual responsibility, for the authority of a person fitting their emotional pattern of superiority. However: the non-believing subverting expert within the system have the eyes of the charismatic cult leaders on him/herself, like every member of the cult has – authority goes on the emotional channels and jealous cult leaders will very soon sense any threat to their artificial authority.

The fate of cults[edit]

The cults usually don't conquer the world, although there are a few examples of originally possibly cults that have been transformed into worldwide religions. The most common fate of a cult is to expand, stagnate and then slowly disintegrate. Cults are not a major long-term threat to humanity[note 6], since a cultural "evolution" makes dysfunct cultures unsuccessful and therefore unattractive when facts of conduct are put onto the table. The individuals that don't ethically care if intellectually unfit individuals are trapped into a malintellectual prison, can safely ignore cults as irrelevant for their own survival. That's not me: I'm over-empathic, and cannot accept even idiots to be mind-trapped, even if they should "deserve it".


A cult system may be pseudoscientific, or it may be perfectly whacko in every logical aspect without having any scientific pretensions. The pseudoscientificity might be needed to make the cultic system believable for the proselyte, but not in any large degree for the brainwashed acolyte, who just need to be coherently and consistently whacko and to separate daily working from the inner universe – this means that a meat-automaton that acts according to the leader imposed behavioral pattern will do as well as a cheated useful idiot.

However, since animal populations including the human cultures are (usually) moderately sane and not disintegrating into a mess of insanity, it is easy to assume that The Evolution[note 7] created sanity mechanisms in the workings of the animal brain (or some kind of emergent "sanity effect" because of the fitness of many a kind of correct reality foundations). A normal distribution on the forcefulness of these hypothetical sanity mechanisms in relation to symbolization and imagination processes will make easier-to-deceive and easier-to-manipulate potential adherents harder to find and convert. It could then be hypothetically inferred that pseudoscience is pretty commonly used in the systemic bodies of cultic thought systems, or that a pseudoscience, such as Velikovsky in its entirety constitute the cultic thought system in question.

It is also plausible to believe that a pseudoscience won't fare well without a cult to support it, since then it will easily be ripped to pieces by howling wolves (represented by us at Rationalwiki, scientists and other skeptics). Therefore my hypothesis about pseudoscience and cults is:

a pseudoscience that is vindicated by a group of persons implies the presence of an active cult

But not necessarily the other way around.

On the other hand I recently observed a crackpot atheist, that as an order of behavior derrogates religion, and still always attracts to pseudoscience and choses theories not on a skeptical deliberation, but on wishful thinking and belief in a certain kind of authority – using conspirational reasoning ("the environmental lefties") to dismiss opposing facts. So maybe it is some kind of intellectual deficiency and lack of objectivity that makes adherents to pseudoscience, or else my hypothesis inconveniently makes atheism vs. religion moot...

My hypothesis is therefore put in question by myself...

Alternative explanation[edit]

The pseudo-sciencers and cult adherents exhibit (according to my interpretation) indications of mythomany, which might actually be some intellectual counterpart to an obsessive-compulsive personality type, making repetitions not of newly learned facts, but instead of ideas that they're obsessed with, irrespective of supporting facts. C.f. David Icke.

While the adherents of a cult/pseudoscience are trapped into the social cult metrics mainly because of the cult metric itself, it might be the case that alongside the traditional narcissism normally attributed to cult leaders, they may also be severely afflicted by an obsessive-compulsive-styled intellect. (Just a speculation!)


  1. Poor suckers that are sucked up by the suckology! Sob!!
  2. foremost: negative proofs, argument from incredulity, association fallacies, equivocations, circular proofs (often immense circles which disallows adherents to see the huge circularity), and mind-stopping clichés
  3. normal religions and life philosophies (f.ex. tolerant agnosticism), usually are perplexing nonsense combined with thoughts that actually make it easier to live and endure hardships of life – in "psychological" terms this is due to the fact that the perplexing nonsense is used as "psychological defenses"
  4. such as the originally mostly-plagiarized (but later rewritten to cover up the original plagiat) The Great Controversy of the adventist "prophet" Ellen G. White, in which a perfectly ordinary history writing unexpectedly changes into preposterous claim of childrens' prophetic visions
  5. there is either an outright person control of the adherents, or there is some more subtile cultural (often called "spiritual") requirement to adher to a codex that rejects all kinds of opposition and criticism,
  6. the major destructive cults of 20th century were nazism and stalinist communism, which damaged the western societies much, but they essentially went extinct
  7. a.k.a. "the programming fingers of God", deny Evolution and you deny God! Creationists, repent or be barbecued!!

Nice guys who share my opinion[edit]

All guys who share my opinion are at least somewhat nice, for example

  1. Claim to an exclusive doctrine totally outside mainstream scholarship and the use of reason. (Obsession with disproved pseudo-science, etc.)
  2. A closed group headed by an over-controlling and exclusive leadership, in particular if they claim any supernatural relationships (direct revelations) or form of self-divinity. This wouldn't include an altering interpretation of scripture.
  3. Attempts to isolate their members from the public and normal every day life. Often secretive and closed to the public.
  4. Demonizing all other people outside their own select group. That is everyone else is in league with Satan, conspiracy theories, etc. Spends a lot of time proving everyone else has it wrong.