If there is one reoccurring question, one burning issue that most readers who write in to JWsurvey need addressing, it is simply this… “how do I wake up my loved one?”
Few things are more distressing than being reduced to a helpless bystander as a husband/wife, father/mother or son/daughter plunges deeper into an endless cycle of subservience to a damaging cult – a cult that sucks the best out of people in terms of time, money, energy and potential, simply so they can be exploited as unpaid publicity agents and walking billboards.
It was this very issue that I raised with cult expert Steven Hassan during my recent trip to London to attend a workshop on how to undo undue influence (or “mind control” as it was formerly referred to).
Staging an intervention with someone who has been caught off-guard by a cult a few weeks or months ago is one thing, but how can we help those who have been indoctrinated over many years, even decades? Steven’s answer was very insightful.
“Don’t start by talking about controversial stuff about the group that they’re in,” he told me (among other things). “Talk about other groups or other circumstances, because one commonality with all of these groups is that when you’re in a totalistic group you don’t think it is, but you can see other ones. It’s very obvious that there’s something wrong.”
Those of us who have spent years as indoctrinated Witnesses will immediately identify with this advice. When a Witness is confronted with negative information about the organization, the shutters immediately go down as cognitive dissonance goes into overdrive. No matter how relevant or accurate the information is, he or she simply is not receptive to it, because they are programmed to dismiss it as ‘apostate lies’.
But it’s a slightly different matter when it comes to pointing out the problems with other religions – something Watchtower publications have reveled in throughout the organization’s history. By exposing a loved one to other cult-like groups, and allowing them to draw conclusions by themselves, you are essentially opening up a back door that has already been left ajar by Watchtower propaganda, with its relentless condemnation of all other faiths.
With this in mind, I decided it was high time I put together a video and article to highlight examples of documentary films that are particularly excellent vehicles for initiating a neutral, non-confrontational dialogue (or “strategic interactive approach,” as Steven calls it) with an indoctrinated loved one. The first documentary I’d like to draw your attention to, released as recently as June this year, is about the Mormon faith.
“Meet the Mormons” follows the story of Josh Fields (or “Elder Fields” as we are later required to call him) as he embarks on a two-year missionary tour in northern England. I found out about this film only after being asked to watch it by one of its producers, who was also in attendance at the London workshop.
But whereas most who have seen it will have found it enjoyable and entertaining, I found myself writhing in my seat in discomfort. Why? Because watching a young Mormon being initiated into cult servitude forced me to relive my own experiences as a young Jehovah’s Witness.
Yes, there were theological and doctrinal differences. Watchtower doesn’t teach that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri, or that God lives on a planet (or star) named Kolob, or that large underwear must be worn to preserve chastity, or that swimming is prohibited for missionaries.
But strip away all this doctrinal detritus, and you have the same cult machinery and undue influence methods whirring away underneath – albeit under different branding and with an alternative set of leaders at the helm.
If watching this revealing documentary was so painful for ME, even though I’ve been rid of my indoctrination for a few years now, I can only imagine how excruciating it would be for a Witness still inside. But that is precisely why they MUST watch it. The medicine may be tough to swallow, but exploring undue influence and its grip on people in “mirror” cults is medicine nonetheless.
The two other documentaries I wish to draw attention to (and I am sure there are many more) are by the acclaimed investigative journalist and film-maker Louis Theroux, who spent considerable time with the Phelps family (AKA the Westboro Baptist Church) back in 2006, and then again as a follow-up in 2011. I have already written about these documentaries during the period I was writing for JWstruggle back in 2011 (my “Troubling Comparison” articles can still be found here: Part 1 | Part 2).
Essentially, as with “Meet the Mormons,” these two brilliant films offer a disturbing glimpse into the cult mindset, but without ever mentioning Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s all there in spades… shunning, black-and-white “us versus them” ideology, doomsday predictions, child indoctrination, totalitarian leadership, you name it – just all wrapped up in different packaging.
It’s never easy
I’m not suggesting for a moment that waking up family members who have been indoctrinated by Watchtower for most of their lives is a walk in the park. I have repeatedly said that you cannot flick a switch when it comes to untangling years of layered indoctrination, deception, and emotional coercion by a cult that has no qualms in using the memory of dead loved ones as currency via the resurrection “promise.”
Sadly, Watchtower’s patented brand of undue influence is so potent that some husbands/wives, fathers/mothers and sons/daughters will never wake up, and this can be a bitter pill to swallow. But that doesn’t mean those of us who are mentally free can’t give it our best shot to “strategically interact” with such ones as the opportunity presents itself.
And while it perhaps isn’t as straightforward as saying that exposing your loved one to other cults as a respectful comparison is guaranteed to reap dividends, it is certainly worth a shot.
- A Troubling Comparison – Part 1
- A Troubling Comparison – Part 2
- Guardian newspaper review of “Meet the Mormons”
- A Mormon examines his faith with a little help from Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Steven Hassan video on the “strategic interactive approach”
- JWsurvey articles on support