Religious Liberty In Europe:
The Myth of Brainwashing and Mind Control

Massimo Introvigne

Dec. 1, 1997
    Bryan R. WilsonProfessor Massimo Introvigne is both the managing director and founding member of the Centre for the Study of New Religious Movements (CESNUR). CESNUR is an organisation founded by a by a group of international scholars to study and to provide accurate independent, unbiased information on these groups. In particular it acts as a consultancy service to governments. Dr Introvigne is the author of over twenty books and the editor of twelve publications on the sociology of religion and culture.

One of the older and most effective rhetorical tools used to claim that a number of groups are not "genuine" religions is that they are not joined willingly. The anti-Mormon writer Maria Ward claimed in 1855 (Female Life Among the Mormons, London: Rouledge, 1855: 38, 240) that Mormon conversations were obtained only through "a mystical magical influence . . . a sort of sorcery that deprived me of the unrestricted exercise of free will." In fact, Ward argued, Mormons used the secret of "Mesmerism", taught to their founder Joseph Smith by "a German peddler". The reference to "magical influence", "sorcery", and a nonexistent German Mesmerist allowed anti-Mormons such as Ward to deny Mormonism the status of a religion. Since religion is, by rhetorical definition, an exercise of free will, a non-religion many only be joined under some sort of coercion.

The same hypnotic paradigm has been applied, more recently, to distinguish between "religions," joined voluntarily, and "cults," joined only because of what was once called brainwashing and now since the label has been discredited by mental manipulation, or mental destabilization. In the United States, theories of brainwashing and mind control as applied to religious minorities have been debunked from at least ten years. The American Psychological Association (APA) in 1984 allowed Margaret Singer, the main proponent of anti-cult mind control theories, to create a working group called Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control (DIMPAC). In 1987 the final report of the DIMPAC Committee was submitted to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology of the APA. On May 11, 1987 the Board rejected another report and concluded that the mind control theories, used in order to distinguish "cults" from religions, are not part of accepted psychological science. The results of this document were devastating for mind control theories.

Beginning with the Fishman case (1990) in which a defendant who was accused of commercial fraud defended himself on the basis that he was not fully responsible because he was under the mind control of Scientology American courts have consistently rejected testimonies about mind control and manipulation, stating that they are not part of accepted mainline science. Brainwashing and mind control theories are indeed, not part of psychological or social science. They lack empirical evidence, and are a mere tool used in order to deny the status of religion to a group perceived as deviant or subversive. In Western Europe, on the other hand, these American developments are not well known. Although with different nuances, and dismissing the word "brainwashing" as inadequate and old-fashioned, even official documents by parliamentary commissions rely on the faulty model distinguishing between religions and "cults" on the basis of manipulation and mind control.

click here for an extended consideration on the myth of brainwashing


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