THE ADVANCED BONEWITS CULT
DANGER EVALUATION FRAME
Copyright © 1979, 2001, 2004 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
Nonetheless, despite all the historical and philosophical warnings that could be issued, ordinary people faced with friends or loved ones joining an “unusual” group, or perhaps contemplating joining one themselves, need a relatively simple way to evaluate just how dangerous or harmless a given group is liable to be, without either subjecting themselves to its power or judging it solely on theological or ideological grounds (the usual method used by anti-cult groups).
In 1979 I constructed an evaluation tool which I now call the “Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” or the “ABCDEF” (because evaluating these groups should be elementary). A copy was included in that year’s revised edition of my book, Real Magic. I realize its shortcomings, but feel that it can be effectively used to separate harmless groups from the merely unusual-to-the-observer ones. Feedback from those attempting to use the system has always been appreciated. Indirect feedback, in terms of the number of places on and off the Net this ABCDEF has shown up, has been mostly favorable. For example, it was chosen by and is now displayed on the website of the Institute for Social Inventions, who paraphrased it for their “Best Ideas — A compendium of social innovations” listing.
The purpose of this evaluation tool is to help both amateur and professional observers, including current or would-be members, of various organizations (including religious, occult, psychological or political groups) to determine just how dangerous a given group is liable to be, in comparison with other groups, to the physical and mental health of its members and of other people subject to its influence. It cannot speak to the “spiritual dangers,” if any, that might be involved, for the simple reason that one person’s path to enlightenment or “salvation” is often viewed by another as a path to ignorance or “damnation.”
As a general rule, the higher the numerical total scored by a given group (the further to the right of the scale), the more dangerous it is likely to be. Though it is obvious that many of the scales in the frame are subjective, it is still possible to make practical judgments using it, at least of the “is this group more dangerous than that one?” sort. This is if all numerical assignments are based on accurate and unbiased observation of actual behavior by the groups and their top levels of leadership (as distinct from official pronouncements). This means that you need to pay attention to what the secondary and tertiary leaders are saying and doing, as much (or more so) than the central leadership — after all, “plausible deniability” is not a recent historical invention.
This tool can be used by parents, reporters, law enforcement agents, social scientists and others interested in evaluating the actual dangers presented by a given group or movement. Obviously, different observers will achieve differing degrees of precision, depending upon the sophistication of their numerical assignments on each scale. However, if the same observers use the same methods of scoring and weighting each scale, their comparisons of relative danger or harmlessness between groups will be reasonably valid, at least for their own purposes. People who cannot, on the other hand, view competing belief systems as ever having possible spiritual value to anyone, will find the ABCDEF annoyingly useless for promoting their theological agendas. Worse, these members of the Religious Reich and their fellow theocrats will find that their own organizations (and quite a few large mainstream churches) are far more “cult-like” than many of the minority belief systems they so bitterly oppose.
It should be pointed out
that the ABCDEF is founded upon both modern psychological theories about
mental health and personal growth, and my many years of participant observation
and historical research into minority belief systems. Those who believe
that relativism and anarchy are as dangerous to mental health as absolutism
and authoritarianism, could (I suppose) count groups with total scores
nearing either extreme (high or low) as being equally hazardous. As far
as dangers to physical well-being are concerned, however, both historical
records and current events clearly indicate the direction in which the
greatest threats lie. This is especially so since the low-scoring groups
usually seem to have survival and growth rates so small that they seldom
develop the abilities to commit large scale atrocities even had they the
philosophical or political inclinations to do so.
The Advanced Bonewits’
Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
Factors: 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1. Internal Control: Amount
of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members;
lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members.
2. External Control: Amount
of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis
on directing members’ external political and social behavior.
3. Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed
by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions
or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified
and/or unverifiable credentials claimed.
4. Wisdom/Knowledge Credited
to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural
interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards
internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts.
5. Dogma: Rigidity of reality
concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;”
hostility towards relativism and situationalism.
6. Recruiting: Emphasis
put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for
all members to bring in new ones.
7. Front Groups: Number
of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially
when connections are hidden.
8. Wealth: Amount of money
and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations;
economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members.
9. Sexual Manipulation of
members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised
over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or
choice of partners.
10. Sexual Favoritism: Advancement
or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s)
of non-tantric groups.
11. Censorship: Amount of
control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines
12. Isolation: Amount of
effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family,
friends and lovers.
13. Dropout Control: Intensity
of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
14. Violence: Amount of
approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
15. Paranoia: Amount of
fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power
of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories.
16. Grimness: Amount of
disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).
17. Surrender of Will: Amount
of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions;
degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines
or its leader(s).
18. Hypocrisy: amount of
approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical,
when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness
to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological,
social, economic, military, or other gain.
1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10
Copyright © 1979, 2001 c.e., Isaac Bonewits.
This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.
Is having access to this material worth a few dollars, punts, pounds, or euros to you? Click here to make a fast and secure donation to Isaac Bonewits, so he can afford to keep his materials flowing, going and growing! Or you can suggest to your local Occult/New Age bookstore that they bring him out for one of his colorful presentations, or you could just send money to him at PO Box 1010, Nyack, NY, USA 10960-8010.
to the LEARN section
this page last updated 11-20-04