Recently there has been a notable increase in articles and discussion threads using the term “undue influence” in relation to politics, advertising – and most especially religious beliefs and practices.
To be quite honest, before I really got my arms around the subject and the actual definition of what undue influence is, I was becoming both bored and quite irritated with those who seemed to use the term incessantly.
Despite initially being uncomfortable at hearing the term used so often, I have since started to grasp both its importance and real effects on our daily lives.
Here is a very simple dictionary definition of undue influence: “Influence by which a person is induced to act otherwise than by their own free will or without adequate attention to the consequences.”
This is another, more expansive definition: “Mental, moral, or physical domination (even if natural or right that deprives a person of independent judgment and substitutes another person’s objectives in place of his or her own. Exercise of undue influence is characterized often by excessive insistence, superiority of physical power, mind, or will, or pressure applied due to authority, position, or relationship in relation to the strength of the person submitting to it.”
In our modern world we can see many examples of the effects of undue influence. The current political unrest in Syria and Iraq is due in part to a fanatical religious/political movement known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL.
Their use of undue influence to radicalize young people in pursuit of their aims has lead to some shocking examples of the extremes of human depravity. You don’t need to be a psychology major to realize that mass executions and public beheadings might not be the “free will” or normal behavior of otherwise bright, educated young men unless undue influence had been brought to bear by their leaders.
Recently in London a gathering of a few prominent experts on this subject not only underlined and emphasized the dangers inherent in the use of undue influence, but also explored ways of fighting against its use by organizations to mentally enslave people and damage families.
Among those attending and taking a prominent role in the London meeting was Steven Hassan. There are few in the world today who are as knowledgeable or experienced as Hassan when it comes to identifying and dealing with undue influence. He is recognized as the author of the “BITE” model, which can be used to define and identify situations where undue influence is being exerted.
Since the London meeting, Hassan has made two appearances on news programs highlighting the role of undue influence in Islamic extremism.
Several other experts joined Hassan at the London meeting. Lloyd Evans (“John Cedars”), the founder and editor of JWSurvey.org, commented specifically on the use of undue influence by the Watch Tower Society / Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cult-like movements.
One goal of the meeting was to inform the public and government agencies about problems created by groups who try to pose as “charitable organizations.”
Because most Western societies try to promote organizations that provide benefits to their members and the public, they often give them special tax advantages not available to commercial or private entities. Unfortunately, many religious and political “cults” exploit these tax-free economic advantages, such as charitable status, in ways that further the harm to their members and the public at large.
While trying to promote the “public good,” governments unintentionally endorse and perpetuate the harm these groups and individuals do to their members and the general population.
It is easy to identify undue influence by groups like Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Not only do they use fear of death to force “non-believers” to convert through threats and blackmail. They also use more subtle, insidious forms of coercion – particularly on impressionable and idealistic young people.
Unfortunately, most government agencies are blind to the more subtle forms of influence that are used by political and religious cults who operate with impunity within their countries, under their very noses.
That is why the London meeting was so important. Those on the panel were all experts on different aspects of undue influence. They used their time and communicative skills to make it clear to the attendees, including local press representatives, that unethical coercive techniques have a tremendous impact on individuals, families, and children – even without the groups that use them brandishing any weapons or physically attacking people.
For just a moment, I want to be specific about how the Watch Tower Society has used undue influence on its members. I will avoid the more subtle ways in which they use this technique, and focus on a few of the more egregious acts that Watchtower leaders have deployed to control ordinary Witnesses.
A. “Horrible death at Armageddon” – If a member wants to leave the group, or no longer agrees with the teachings and policies of the Watchtower Society, they are told that Jehovah God will hate them and put them on his list to be destroyed in some horrible manner and be dead forever. It is a concept drummed into the head of every Jehovah’s Witness, Witness child, or potential convert from their initial contact.
B. “Total Disconnection from Family or Friends” – If “A” fails to convince someone to embrace the group, then “B” applies. Not afraid of Armageddon or being dead forever? Fine. We’ll take your family and friends away from you. If they bend the rules or ignore Watchtower’s judgment against you and decide to see you anyway, then we will punish them as well. If they too are being shunned, they must continue to shun you if they ever hope to return to the organization.
C. “Unquestioned Agreement” – Members must believe everything they read or hear that comes from Watchtower. This even applies to new doctrines that contradict previous teachings that were the standard for 50-100 years. You MUST believe whatever the Governing Body says, even if they cannot provide any biblical support for their teachings. You must believe that they receive direction directly from Jehovah. What if you disagree? Then “A” and “B” above apply.
D. “Constant and Repetitive Indoctrination” – The same dozen or so concepts are regurgitated for Jehovah’s Witnesses at nearly every meeting, whether in the study publications, in talks and demonstrations, or in songs and prayers.
E. “Rejection of External Influences” – Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught that all external influences are “worldly” or “evil,” and likely to be products of Satan, his demons, or their followers (especially anything said by former members, whom they brand as “apostates”). Witnesses are banned from reading anything that discusses the teachings, policies or history of the Watchtower organization that was not produced or explicitly approved by the Society’s leaders. [Crisis of Conscience = NO / Faith on the March = Yes! and JW.org = Yes! / JWFacts.com = NO]
So, back to the original question… Do modern societies truly understand how undue influence is being exerted by organizations that hide behind the veil of political and religious freedom? Quite frankly the answer is a resounding “NO!”
Granted, in the United States there are many groups working hard to inform and protect Americans from those who would try to influence the public – especially school children – with their political or religious agendas. Two prominent American non-profit groups fighting this problem are ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) and AU (American’s United for Separation of Church and State).
But despite the efforts of these and other groups, the threat posed by undue influence shows no signs of diminishing. New avenues for raising awareness need to be explored.
The London press conference and workshop did much to inform the attendees, including media and political representatives, of the harm inflicted on ordinary people by organizations that demonstrably use undue influence as part of their modus operandi.
The weekend event was intended to start a movement to educate world governments and their populations as to how to identify and mitigate the effects of undue influence. The signs are encouraging that, if the momentum is sustained, some progress might be achieved to that end.
Protect yourself from undue influence
You, dear reader, can protect yourself from being “unduly influenced” by reading material that offers reasonable and scientific approaches to life, ethics, and history. Keep an open mind and always be prepared to question what you have been told by others.
Make your own decisions about right and wrong, good and evil, harm vs. help, the greater good vs. the benefit of a few. Judge everything based on overall benefit not only to yourself, but to those around you. If a politician or self-styled “prophet” tells you he or she alone has the absolute truth, treat those claims with the utmost skepticism. What such people preach often turns out to be utterly incompatible with “truth.”
One last thing: When you get a chance, read or watch a movie version of Shakespeare’s classic play, Othello. One of the prime characters in that play is Iago.
Iago is the embodiment of undue influence. He has an agenda, and does not care who might be hurt along the way as he pursues his objectives. He presents himself as a “good and close friend” as he plots against innocents and even his own benefactor.
Leaders of groups (like the Watch Tower Society) present themselves as your “best friend, your protector, your informed guide.” In reality, they don’t give a damn about you or your family. To them you are just a number in their Yearbook anonymously listed under “publishers.” They see you only as a source of income as you dutifully pay for their literature or drop money in their contribution boxes to pay off your ‘debts’ for the kingdom halls they already own.
They don’t care about you personally, they only care that you think the way they tell you to think, and do as they say. They will promise you a future paradise, but remember that they did the same for every one of their members since 1874. Their promised “paradise” has not yet arrived and never will – and yet they continue to threaten the loss of that paradise for anyone who takes a stand against them.
I, for one, will take my chances.
Don’t let a day go by that you don’t fight against those who try to influence you by shaming, threatening, or shunning you; take every opportunity to educate your family and friends as to the dangers of undue influence so they can protect themselves from harm.