Paul Derengowski, ThM
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone in a cult and been absolutely confused by the responses given to some of the questions you were asking? Or maybe you have watched and listened to someone else interview or argue a particular point of doctrine or belief with a cultist and you were taken aback by what was being said in defense of the cult’s position. You were wondering to yourself “What does this have to do with anything?” or “Where does he get that from?” or maybe “Why cannot this guy see that what he’s saying is totally ridiculous?” To you the cultist’s whole line of reasoning borders on insanity. Yet, did you know, much of it is by design, although a fallacious design at best?
That’s right. Those involved in the cults are often programmed in what might be called Cultogetics 1 or a defense of cult beliefs. In fact, all of the cults have a systematized way of defending the aberrant, which is why they are frequently successful in spreading around the confusion when they are engaged in a conversation. The problem, though, is that all the effort spent by those in the cults to defend their “faith” is predicated on common logical fallacies. Therefore, this article will point out some of the most common “defenses” used by those in the cults, stemming from 30 years of dealing with cultic argumentation. The goal will be to provide a primer of what to look for should you, the target of cult recruitment and proselytization, come into contact with a cult member only too willing to make his case for his particular eccentric belief system.
There is no particular order to these common fallacies, nor do all the fallacies necessarily apply to each and every cult member. Most cultists have their preferred set of arguments that they use on people, and some are better at causing confusion than others. What is presented are those arguments most commonly used by cult members, along with a suggestion or two on how to dispel the confusion and guide the conversation back on track. Ultimately, once the cultist knows that someone has dismantled his fallacious attempt at defense, and possibly recruitment, then he also knows that it’s time to be moving on. In other words, knowing the tactics of the cults, and then countering them with a solid argument is sure-fire way of keeping the cultist at bay. Plus, depending on how God is working, it may lead the cultist to leave the cult altogether, be converted, and be free from the restraints of the cult. Therefore, without further introduction, let’s look at the first fallacious method of Cultogetics, and that is the Bible Bash.
1. Bible Bash
The Bible Bash method of defending a cult or false religion is not so much about any particular statement found in the Bible (that will come later). It is more about simply trashing the Bible as both a literary text, as well as a source of authority in matters of faith and practice. In the first instance arguments are typically raised to try and demean the Bible as an infallible source of history, ethics, morals, or doctrine. The Bible is full of errors and contradictions is usually the way the argument starts, none of which is really substantiated, and then the argument devolves from there. The believer is charged by the cultist with idolatry for upholding the Bible, and then extra-biblical revelation or human reason is introduced as the remedy to unshackle the believer from his reliance upon the Bible, as well as clear up all the Bible’s discrepancies. More often than not this is at the behest of the cult leader, who believes he has some kind of inside track unto the Divine, where he has received a special “revelation” alerting him to waywardness of the Bible. The Book of Mormon, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, the Urantia book, the Divine Principle, and the Qur’an are just a few of the extra-biblical texts than have been produced by men to aid in the Bible bashing session.
Interestingly, though, most of the Bible bashing cults often speak about how Bible-centered their particular group is. Jehovah’s Witnesses laud the wonders of the Bible and boast how there is no other text that they follow to develop their doctrine. What the Jehovah’s Witness does not tell people is that their particular version of the Bible, the New World Translation, has been perverted to reflect Watchtower doctrines and beliefs. The Local Church of Witness Lee does a similar thing, except the text itself has not so much been tampered with as the inclusion of hundreds of notes in the biblical text to make the reader aware of its special understanding of the text from a Local Church doctrinal perspective. The Mormons are another group which regularly misleads the public into thinking that the Bible is central to their eccentric form of “Christianity,” even going so far as to change their public relations campaign to have missionaries bring a copy of the Bible rather than the Book of Mormon to people’s doors. Yet, the Mormon Church has regularly and historically denounced the Bible’s inerrancy and authority, and has placed it behind the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine & Covenants, and the declarations of the Mormon prophet as more authoritative than the Bible itself.
Bible Basher Suggestion: When one comes across someone using a Bible Basher argument as their means of defending their cult a person can do one of two things. The first thing one can do is remind the basher that reputable Bible scholars and critics have concluded that although we may not know with 100% precision what every word in the original version was, that in no way detracts from the Bible’s total reliability. Why? Because from textual critical efforts we know within about a 99% accuracy rate what was in the original text, and the remaining less than one-percent has absolute zero impact on any major belief or doctrine. In other words, we know what God inspired and preserved, and only those with a prejudicial bias against the Bible would state otherwise. Hence, the Bible is authoritative on its own and not in need of extrabiblical commentary from highly questionable sources to correct its central message.
Second, if one comes across the Bible Basher who argues that the Bible is full of contradictions, simply ask him to present one and then explain why he thinks it is an error or contradiction. Do not waste too much time, though, waiting for an answer. The reason why is stated below. In 30 years of hearing this accusation I have yet to have a Bible Basher ever present a coherent reason why he thinks this or that example is what he assumes that it is: an error or contradiction. Typically what one gets is a prima facie example that lacks real observation of the context from which the example was torn. Remember, a Bible Basher argument is a diversionary argument, and if the Bible Basher cannot present a coherent reason for why he is even bringing up his assault, then there is no need to get into a protracted discussion over Bible inerrancy, especially if the Bible Basher is just blowing smoke. Simply return to the real argument and leave this one wafting in the breeze.
2. Head Games
Remember your High School or college days, when you found who you thought was that special someone that you ended up dating, and later found out through experience that they loved playing head games? Say one thing, do another. Never-ending innuendos that you could never quite figure out what they meant. Or leading you to believe that you were special, only to find out they had their interests elsewhere. Well, when it comes to the cults and cultism, head games are regularly used as a defense mechanism. In Cultogetics, though, it typically takes two forms. The “Has God said?” argument and the “that ain’t official doctrine” argument.
The “Has God said?” argument is as old as mankind. Dating to the first time it was used back in the Garden of Eden, “Has God said?” is an attempt by the cultist to get his acquaintance to doubt a specific statement in Scripture from being believed. It is similar to the Bible Bash argument, with the exception that Head Games is a more subtle attack. It is all about confusion by dividing and conquering through doubt. Has God said thus and such about whatever is under discussion, or is that really something that one has learned from one’s pastor or Christendom, as dastardly as they are? Forget the fact that a plain statement has been made in Scripture, much less consider the context. Play the head game and cause as much confusion as possible to make it look as if God has not said what He did. That’s the goal.
The “that ain’t official doctrine” argument is the second form of head games that many in the cults love playing. The way it works is to deny explicit statements from cult leaders to avoid having to give an account of how those statements contradict biblical beliefs. Again, this is simply to cause as much confusion as possible and stunt constructive discussion. Those involved in Mormon apologetics frequently use the “that ain’t official doctrine” diversion to avoid something that either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young has said, because they know that as soon as they consider the commentary, then their overall Mormon apologetic dries up and blows away. Therefore, what frequently happens is that the cultist will attempt to shift the burden of proof to something written in say, the Book of Mormon. For if it isn’t written there, then there is no need to deal with it.
Head Games Suggestion: Just like your old High School or college days, when that special someone was playing head games, so it is when dealing with the cultist. First, put the person on notice that you don’t appreciate the games he is playing. You’re not stupid, so he needs to quit treating you as if you are. Second, give the cultist ample time to change. One has to remember that those in the cults are convinced that lying, deception, and manipulation are all acceptable methods to convince others to join their cult. Depending on how long the person has been in the cult will also depend on whether confrontation and time will lead him to change his behavior. Third, should the cultist persist in playing head games, either by denying the plain statements of Scripture or of their leadership, then simply tell them you have nothing left to talk about.
Does this mean you can’t be their friend or attempt to further befriend the cultist? One would be better off steering clear of such “friends,” if one knows what is good for them. For someone committed to a cultic head games is ever-cunningly training to overcome resistance. And unless you show that you mean business concerning his head games, then they might take your lack of resolve as an invitation to play more games of cunning deceit, whereby you could end up becoming a victim yourself. And those kinds of friends you really don’t need at all.
3. Script Spinning
If those in the cults are not bashing the Bible, because they think it’s full of errors, or playing head games by trying to make someone think God didn’t say what is recorded in Scripture, then they’re spinning a tale using biblical texts to prove a pretext. Sun Myung Moon did this years ago to try and prove that Jesus was a failure and that Moon came to finish the Son’s undone work. The Mormons do this in order to prove that Reformed Egyptian Jewish American Indians are the “other sheep” in John 10:16, and that instead of Jesus ascending into heaven after his resurrection, he made a visit to North America and had a chit-chat with the native Indians. But, thus far, the King of all script spinners are the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not only have they, over the course of their existence, predicted the end of the world numerous times by erroneously spinning the Scriptures, they have spun the Bible in a way to convince untold thousands of people to refuse blood transfusions—they were eating the blood if they did—to reject vaccines against deadly diseases and organ transplants, and to break up families through cold-hearted shunning.
Script spinning is based upon a bad interpretive method (aka hermeneutics). Instead of striving to understand what the Bible says according to the intent of the author, and then make a comparable attempt to live the principle derived from the interpretation, those in the cults start with their own preconceived beliefs and then cherry-pick references to support them. With such a hermeneutic in place the Jews can be seen as the scourge of the earth (Nazism or Islam), a certain guru or cult leader believes he has been chosen to hasten the coming Apocalypse (David Koresh and the Branch Davidians), or the only way to escape government oppression is by “stepping over” through group suicide and murder (Jim Jones and the People’s Temple).
What makes the script spinner especially dangerous are the number of half-truths told along the way. Again, the Jehovah’s Witness is adamant there is one God and can provide biblical support, like most monotheists, to back up his claim. Yet, that is only half the truth revealed by God. For as soon as one turns to the person of Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then the Jehovah’s Witness spins a theological garment so impressive that few people realize that it is actually a hangman’s noose originally developed seventeen centuries ago by a heretic named Arius. Jesus, all of the sudden, is Michael the Archangel or a demi-god, and the Holy Spirit has the personality of a light socket. Repeated references demonstrating that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are God as well are either ignored or spun away through one convoluted explanation or another. It has been said that a half-truth is worse than an outright lie, and in the hands of a script spinning Jehovah’s Witness, that basic axiom could not be more true.
Script Spinning Suggestion: Unless one is particularly adept at handling Scripture, or if one simply wants to experience the joy of having one’s mind bent, twisted, and contorted through a brutal abuse of basic hermeneutical principles, it is probably best to avoid the Script Spinner. Generally speaking the script spinning cultist looks forward to engaging the naïve or arrogant Christian who thinks he knows more than he actually does about the Bible, and by the end of the conversation, the Christian is left in such a state of confusion that before long he/she is seeking out the cultist to answer further questions. If a Christian ever progresses that far, then the cultist knows that it is simply a matter of time before he has himself a convert.
On the other hand, if one is adept at handling Scripture, and you have a couple of hours to waste on the best of script spinners, then a couple of suggestions will enhance your mind-bending enjoyment. First, do not let the cult member jump around from text-to-text to make his case. Although a game of Bible ping-pong can be invigorating, ultimately what the cultist is doing is hunting and pecking for an area of weakness whereby he can trip up the person he’s “dialoguing” with. By preventing this exercise the cultist is forced to either concede his dishonesty or simply give up the assault. Second, do not be afraid to ask the cultist what his interpretive method is. Why? Because most cult members have no idea what that means beyond receiving what the mother organization has to say. Illustrate to the cultist that if one was to write a letter to them, that by understanding the grammar and history of the letter, the cultist would have a better grasp of interpreting it correctly. If they are willing to concede the point, then return to the text in question and show them by observing the grammar and history your interpretation is more accurate than the one the cultist is offering. Third, and this cannot be stated strongly enough, be ready. Advanced preparation is not only biblical, it is the only way to keep oneself out of trouble, while attempting to rescue the cult member in the process. One should not only have a thorough grasp of the Bible and theology in general, one should have a good handle on what the cults believe as well. Failure in this area can only lead to failure in destroying the Script Spinners tenuous fortress he has erected to keep the truth out.
4. Snow Job
For several years of my life I lived in the northern states where every winter one could expect several large snow storms that would pretty much bog down a community. One year while living in Colorado I remember a particularly vicious Spring storm in April that dropped a couple of feet of snow that was whipped about by winds up to 70 miles per hour. After three days snow drifts six to twenty feet high had buried everything from cars to buildings. The only way anyone could get about was by walking, skiing, or by snow mobile. Needless to say, it took several days for everyone to dig out from the spring blast.
In Cultogetics one sees from some groups a similar type of thing occur from time to time as what may be expected weather-wise during the winter in the north: a snow job. A snow job defense is easily identifiable when cult members, instead of actually engaging the topic or discussion at hand, resorts to piling up meaningless referential material, that although might seem impressive, is actually irrelevant to the discussion. This is typically seen in written material produced by either the cultist or the cult itself.
What is particularly ironic about the cultist who uses the snow job defense tactic is that often he has not taken the time to actually read through all the material he is referencing to make his defense. In his mind, volume equals right. It doesn’t matter if it’s something as abstract and irrational as one of L. Ron Hubbard’s books or several lengthy quotes from the Early Church Fathers. So long as there is plenty of material, piled up high, then the cultist thinks he has done his job “defending the faith.” Ultimately, the goal of the using the snow job defense, though, is not to defend or enhance one’s argument, but to bog down the discussion. Stifle it, ultimately. Instead of promoting thought, the snow job becomes a thought stopper, whereby the cultist hopes that by burying his opponent in irrelevancy or minutia, then he may declare victory.
Snow Job Suggestion: If one encounters a cultist who uses snow job tactics to avoid answering a direct question, one should first ask how the response is relevant to the conversation. Remember, the snow job defense is a diversionary tactic like those seen before. It is not intended to answer any particular question. It is purely intended to bog down the conversation, or shift the onus of responsibility to the questioner and have him do the cultist’s homework. If the cultist is unable or unwilling to state the relevance behind the mountain of snow in his response, then simply state it is not relevant and re-ask the question. If the cultist refers back to his previous diversionary material, once again, ask him to point out what specifically he wants you to see that answers the question at hand. The cultist might think you’re being difficult, but the reality is, he has not answered your question, and that needs to be made perfectly clear to him, if the conversation is to proceed. Don’t be surprised to eventually have the cultist do what many of them are famous for doing when they are unsuccessful in their attempt to snow you, and that is duck and run from the conversation.
5. Duck and Run
It is not uncommon in cult discussions to have a cult member suddenly say something to the effect: “Let’s just agree to disagree,” and then almost literally run away from answering any standing questions. Not too long ago a pair of Mormon missionaries visited my home, and after allowing them to go through their spiel about Joseph Smith I asked them about eternal forgiveness. The question stemmed from a recent master’s thesis I had written on the subject, and basically queried them as to whether or not they believed that God had eternally forgiven them of their sins. After explaining to them the necessity of knowing whether or not God had eternally forgiven them, the more experienced of the missionaries immediately signaled to his partner that they had to go. That there were others more open to listen to the “gospel” than myself. In essence, they ducked the question and ran.
Of course, this happens in other venues as well, whether in a debate or on an Internet bulletin board. By ducking and running, or evading the conversation or questions, the cultist believes that he is doing the “faith-promoting” thing. He is “defending the faith,” in other words. “Contention is of the devil” is a common Mormon prelude to avoiding any possible accountability for the spreading of misinformation and falsehood, much less providing coherent and logical answers to inquisitive questions. In fact, ducking and running is a key strategy taught by many cults, not only to divert attention away from troublesome exposure to the truth, but to prevent possible “Independent Thinking” 2 on the part of the cult member. Nevertheless, one should remember that ducking and running is a biblical principle for how those involved in the cults should act. James 4:7 tells us, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Although questioning cult members and their aberrant beliefs is not necessarily and directly confronting the devil himself, the principle is the same. Those who put up a godly resistance will see the cultist flee, and they will think they are defending the faith.
Duck and Run Suggestions: For those who duck and run from a question or conversation two things need to be remembered. First of all, don’t go running after them as if it is you who did something wrong. In our politically correct society, which has infected too many Christians and their way of thinking about truth, those standing against error and lies have been made out to be the bullies, bigots, and bad guys. The Christian ends up being pressured into compromising with evil, and the gospel truth is rendered null and void. Therefore, if the cultist feels compelled to duck and run, let him. Second, don’t feel guilty for making a stand for the truth. Remember, if you’re a Christian, then you’re the normal one; not the cultist. If a cult member really represented the truth, then he would be more than capable of answering your question without having to take evasive measures. Nevertheless, since he chose to flee the situation, then there is no need to assume that the Christian was responsible for the cultist’s indiscretion. Simply pray that the Spirit would work in both your hearts, to confirm what you know is true, and convict him of his error, that he would come to know the truth and be set free, so that he will not have to run anymore.
6. Build a Haystack
The building of a haystack method for cult defense basically entails a diversion away from a question or argument by raising a wholly different question unrelated to the immediate discussion. There is one exception, though. The question itself also entails a complete misrepresentation of a statement or belief, which is then attacked with cultic zeal and bluster, as if it had something to do with what the cultist was originally asked to comment on. It is a form of the straw man fallacy, except the fallacy involves a whole haystack.
An example of building a haystack might be asking a Mormon whether “Heavenly Father” is an exalted man, who lives on a distant planet, somewhere in the universe, with a harem of wives. The normal and correct response, according to Mormon belief, is a simple Yes. But, for the haystack building Mormon, who only wants to defend his religion at all costs, a more typical response would be something totally unrelated to the question. Something more along the lines of the following is what one might receive.
The Trinity is not in the Bible. In fact, it is nothing more than a contrived, man-made doctrine that Constantine sanctioned at the Council of Nicaea, which occurred after the real Christian church went into apostasy. It’s one of the reasons why Joseph Smith had to restore the “true” church, of which I am a part. Now just why would you want to believe in something as outrageous as the Trinity, when I know, because I know, because I know it, that my church true?
As one can readily see, raising a question about the Trinity, apostasy, Joseph Smith’s prophethood, and whether the Mormon church is true, have absolutely nothing to do with the original question. They are all simply a part of building a haystack defense, so that the cultist can knock it down, and then claim he has addressed the question. What the Mormon fails to see, though, is that even if he knocks down his haystack, the original question remains unanswered.
Build a Haystack Suggestion: If a cultist attempts to build a haystack response to a question or argument you have made, then before he goes off on a tangent, simply ask him, “What does your comment or question have to do with the question (or statement) I just asked you?” If he can’t give you a straight answer, then simply ask him the question again. Let him know that before you can proceed with the conversation that it is proper decorum and a sign of respect that questions be answered as they are asked. If he doesn’t want to act properly, much less give your comments and questions the respect that they deserve, then kindly tell him that you’re no longer interested in what he has to say. Conversation is a two-way street, and if your cult acquaintance is of the impression that it’s “My way or the highway,” then you’re better off taking the highway and leaving him to play in the middle of his haystack.
7. Already Answered
Another common tactic seen among those in the cults who think they’re “defending the faith” is to employ the readymade Already Answered response when asked a question that exposes a glaring weakness or contradiction in the cult’s belief structure. It is another diversionary method, like all fallacious forms of argumentation are, which seeks to avoid having to give an account for an inconsistency that the cultist is either ill-prepared to deal with because he was unaware or the problem, or pride will not allow him to admit the that there is a problem. Misguided pride and arrogance are hallmarks of Cultogetics, and it is definitely on display when the cultist uses the Already Answered method to defend the aberrant organization which he is defending. Here is how it works.
Tommy is an avid defender of the Church of Scientology. He is asked a question about whether Xenu is a important character in understanding the cosmological development of the universe and why human beings currently reside on planet earth. Tommy begins to bristle with insensitivity over such a question. Before exploding in a fit of rage and four-letter expletives, Tommy opines that it is not right that anyone should persecute him and his church by asking him such bigoted questions. After a brief interlude to try and get Tommy to understand that no offense was intended by the question, Tommy is asked again about Xenu. Tommy blurts out that “I’ve already answered your question. You just didn’t like what I said.” Tommy immediately gets up and walks out the door, unleashing a series of personal attacks that would cause some sailors to blush. In his mind he has answered the question, even though the questioner sits in silent incredulity wondering what the answer was, as well as whether Tommy might need seriously counseling.
Already Answered Suggestion: Again, it is not uncommon to have someone involved in a cult use the Already Answered tactic to get out of having to discuss a particularly touchy subject. Scientologists don’t like talking about Xenu, Jehovah’ Witnesses don’t like talking about Charles T. Russell’s false prophecies, and Muslims don’t like talking about Muhammad consummating marriages with nine year-old girls. Nevertheless, just because the cultist doesn’t want to talk about the cult’s inequities and improprieties does not mean that they should not be asked about them either. Remember, all cults and cult members claim absolute supremacy in their beliefs about God, as the voice of God. They believe they are God’s representatives in word and action while on earth, and that by God’s decree they have been chosen to set-up, restore, or revive God’s kingdom. Hence, everything they do and say is in absolute conformity to the truth, at least in their own minds. Therefore, do not allow the cultist to attempt to send you on a guilt trip simply because they do not believe it is right to inquiry about the tawdry behavior of one of the cult’s leaders, much less allow them to guilt you into refraining from asking about an unorthodox practice or belief which reeks of corruption and a lie. Stand your ground. If the cultist says that they have answered your question, then ask them exactly what the answer was. If the cultist refuses to elaborate, then, as before, let them know that the conversation cannot proceed until you understand the alleged answer that they gave. Should the cultist suddenly come unraveled and bolt for the door, then let them. You can pray that the Lord is working on their conscience, with the express hope that God will convict them of their diabolical defense, and then free them so that they would understand the truth.
8. In Your Face
The In Your Face method of defense (otherwise known as the ad hominem attack) is a form of argumentation that is not exclusive to Cultologists. It is something that is regularly heard on many talk show radio and television programs, seen in the newspapers and magazines, and engaged in too frequently by Christians that are ill-equipped to make their case. Nevertheless, when it comes to Cultogetics, it is a favorite ploy, since it diverts attention away from the message to the messenger. Character assassination and personal insults are used instead of sound reasoning to defend the position of the cultist. Worse yet, the assassination itself may not necessarily be “in the face” or “to the face” of the person being assassinated. It may be either behind the back of the person bringing the charges against the cult in either written or spoken form, the former being a form of slander, the latter being a form of libel. In any case, here is an example of how the In Your Face defense works.
You have just finished making a case against Islamic claims that it is a peaceful religion. Point one involved showing that both Muhammad’s conversion and subsequent reign of terror were hardly peaceful events. Point two demonstrated that the Muslim caliphs marauded across the Middle East and conquered by the edge of a sword. Point three illustrates verse, after verse, after verse that the Qur’an encourages subjection, maiming, and killing of the infidel, and oppression of the Jew and Christian. Finally, you show dozens of examples of contemporary terrorist acts done by those in the name of Islam. The very first thing that comes out of the mouth of cultologist of Islam is: “You don’t understand,” or “You’re a bigot,” or “You’re just an Islamophobe.” Nothing more follows to back up the personal assault. In the mind of the Muslim, the presentation is moot. You’re simply public enemy #1, and that’s all that matters. It’s time to smear or kill the messenger. Whether it’s in the form of a death threat or fatwa, like that experienced by Salmon Rushdi and his Satanic Verses, or whether it’s getting on an Internet site and defaming professors who tell the truth about Islam. The In Your Face defense is not intended to deal with the message, but simply to destroy the personal credibility of the person through defamation of character.
In Your Face Suggestion: Dealing with those whose tactic is to engage in libel and slander can be one of the more difficult things in argumentation and debate, simply because no one of a good reputation likes to be lied about or have his named smeared because he tells the truth. One must remember, though, that when the cultist stoops so low to personally attack the messenger, then the argument has already been conceded. A few subsequent actions should be taken to make that perfectly clear to the attacker. First, the messenger needs to stay cool and levelheaded. Realize that the cultist is attempting a diversion by asserting or insinuating something personal about you that is not true, and above all, has nothing to do with what you’ve said. Second, simply ask the attacker what his comments have to with your argument. If the accusation is that “You don’t understand,” then ask the attacker to prove it by pointing out what is lacking in the argument. If the accusation is that you’re a “bigot,” then ask which point was not thoroughly backed up with objective evidence. If the accusation is that you’re a Whateverphobe, then ask why the attacker would think you’re afraid, especially given the presentation which explains your position. Third, if nothing substantive comes from the attacker’s reply, or all he simply wants to do is continue the personal attack, let him know that since he has failed to actually deal with anything in your presentation, and he won’t answer your follow-up questions, then he has conceded the premises as true and the argument valid. Thank him for the concession, and then move on to someone who would rather argue the message, rather than irrationally berate the messenger.
9. Let’s Make a Deal
Sometimes during the course of a conversation with those involved in the cults one will run across someone with a more kindler-gentler demeanor, who really doesn’t want to discuss why their particular cult advocates beliefs that left of the left of center. All they want to do is talk about the similarities or the things their cult has in common with your church. Does your Christian church stress family values and feeding the homeless? Great. Then a cultogetic defense would posit that since they stress family values and feeding the homeless, then they should be considered on a par with Christianity as well. Does your Christian church condemn homosexuality as a viable lifestyle? Excellent! Many cults advocate the same condemnation, and then also believe that based on commonality, they should be considered a Christian entity as well. In fact, the whole Let’s Make a Deal defense is to get the Christian’s focus away from the devious doctrines that separate the cult from mainstream Christian thought, and onto those ideas and practices that the cult believes it has in common with Christianity. By diverting attention away from the cult’s heresy the cultologist is hoping to (1) avoid accountability, (2) achieve acceptance, (3) attain leverage, and finally (4) undermine Christianity altogether.
Those who know what Christianity is about should never play Let’s Make a Deal with those in the cults. Even so-called “friendship” with those in the cults should be carefully monitored. It’s not that one cannot be friendly; only that friendship should never become a substitute when it comes to the truth. And when a cultist wants to stress commonality over accountability, then the Christian should resist the invitation. Why? Because in reality, the cultic worldview, which is rooted in unbelief and heretical aberration, has absolutely nothing in common with the Christian worldview. Just because the cultist claims to believe in Jesus does not mean it is the Jesus of the Bible. Just because the cultist believes that abortion is wrong does not mean that the belief has anything to do with the same reason why a Christian would reject it as wrong. And as soon as the Christian is fooled into thinking that he has something in common with a person involved in a cult, and falls for the Let’s Make a Deal defense, then he may rest assure that substantive accountability on the part of the cultist will be lost, an unwarranted acceptance will be granted, the cultist will have gained leverage to accuse the Christian later on, and the Christian’s stance on biblical truth will have been forfeited.
Let’s Make a Deal Suggestion: Without sounding cold-hearted, whenever someone in a cult wishes to stress commonalities, simply point out that on the surface there may seem to be things that you and the cultist might share in common, but beneath the surface there are such significant problems as to totally nullify whatever apparent commonalities there might be. At that time you might want to point out three or four doctrinal deviations that stand out as example, all of which are common among in the cults. Typically those would include questions about the deity of Jesus, the person of God, the means of salvation, or the reliability of the Bible. Stress that the Christian worldview is so exclusive, based on Jesus’ exclusive claims about him (cf. Jn. 14:6), that unless one is in exclusive agreement with that exclusive worldview, then commonality is a myth. If the conversation permits, and you’ve put enough thought into it, share with the cultist why even things like feeding and clothing the poor, apart from a Christian worldview, are not even a basis where you can agree, simply because the “Christ” of the cults is not the Christ of the Bible. They are mutually exclusive, and hence have nothing in common with each other, even when it comes to feeding the poor. Therefore, whatever commonality the cultist is vying for is simply not a tenable option for you.
10. Woe is Me
At the opposite end of the In Your Face defense is the Woe is Me defense. What it employs is an appeal to pity, rather than cogently and coherently making statements or answering questions to defend the cultic faith. One encounters this defense in the forms of revisionary historical claims as well as charges that because you’ve pointed out false doctrinal beliefs of the cult, that you’re some kind of hatemonger. You’re just like those who persecuted Jesus and his apostles, except now you’re persecuting the cult instead.
The whole goal behind the Woe is Me defense is make you feel sorry for what you’re doing, or to shame you into silence. How dare you speak of Mormon corruption as the basis for them having to move from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois to Utah. For in the Mormon mind the early pioneers were a innocent people seeking God’s will and built His kingdom on earth. And it was because of their innocence amid an evil oppressor that they had to keep moving around, until they finally found solace in Salt Lake basin.
Woe is Me Suggestion: Truth and reality always trump the mythical Woe is Me defense. Therefore, should someone in a cult play the persecution card and start wailing about how persecuted they are by your statements of fact or questions of integrity about the cult, then simply have the cultist explain how your testimony is in any way an act of persecution. Ask the cultist to point out the errors in your statements or conclusions. Assure him that you have no intent on putting him in the stocks, drawing and quartering him, or filleting and burning him at the stake, all of which are real acts of persecution undergone by Christians of yesteryear. All you are doing is pointing out statements and actions made by or taken by members of the cult he is defending, and then showing how those statements and actions have absolutely nothing to do with Christian beliefs and practices. If he persists in his pity party, then simply walk away.
Appeal to pity, like all the fallacious lines of defense discussed thus far in Cultogetics, is a diversion. It is also a form of intellectual dishonesty. Hence, if the cultist doesn’t want to have an honest discussion, then there is no need to stick around and have a dishonest one either, starting with the faulty premise that he is such a persecuted person because someone is holding him accountable for what his cult is all about.
This article has attempted to illustrate some of the more common tactics taken by those in the cults in order to defend cultism. Not all of the tactics have been listed, and in the future there is most certainly going to be “new” defenses to be encountered. Nevertheless, those listed above are those which this author has had the experience of dealing with over the past 30 years, and will most likely see repeated in the days ahead.
Overcoming fallacious reasoning perpetrated by those in the cults can be a frustrating experience. Not only must one try to get the cultist to see how fallacious his argument is in defending the cult, then one must try to get the cultist to see the error of his belief as well. What one must never do, though, is come to the point where one thinks that successful argumentation and debate are the panacea to undoing cult indoctrination. Ultimately one must wait on God to move in the situation. For if God is not in the midst of the discussion, then one might line up all his premises leading to a valid argument, the cultist might even see your point, and nothing comes of it. The cultist either stays in the cult or resorts to a more agnostic position on everything. Therefore, God must move in the heart of the cultist to see, hear, and realize the truth for the Christian apologist to be completely successful. That said, though, it is hoped that the preceding will at least provide a basis for understanding how the cult mind works when it comes to defending cult beliefs, and that the suggestions will provide a general starting point of how to handle the Cultologist when he or she attempts to defend whatever cult ideology is being discussed.
- Cultogetics is a neologism for this article and derives from two words: cult and apologetics. ↩
- The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society is particularly notorious about preventing its members from thinking independently, and have gone so far as to write an article discouraging it. According to The Watchtower magazine, January 15, 1983, page 27, ” As we study the Bible we learn that Jehovah has always guided his servants in an organized way. And just as in the first century there was only one true Christian organization, so today Jehovah is using only one organization (Ephesians 4:4, 5; Matthew 24:45-47). Yet there are some who point out that the organization has had to make adjustments before, and so they argue: ‘This shows that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe.’ This is independent thinking. Why is it so dangerous? Such thinking is an evidence of pride. And the Bible says: ‘Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.’ (Proverbs 16:18) If we get to thinking that we know better than the organization, we should ask ourselves: ‘Where did we learn Bible truth in the first place? Would we know the way of truth if it had not been for guidance from the organization? Really, can we get along without the direction of God’s organization?’ No we cannot!” [emphasis added]. ↩