Cult Characteristics According to Steven Hassan

In this article, the extent to which the Mormon church meets the criteria of Steven Hassan’s BITE model is investigated. This assessment is not substantiated in detail (this is done here for a similar model) but is based on the knowledge and experience of well over 30 years active church membership. In cases of doubt or nuance, “no” was chosen.

The BITE model `shows how cults try to influence the cognitive abilities of their adherents through the use of:

I. Behaviour Control (11/14)

Regulate individual’s physical reality
1. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates: Yes
2. Control types of clothing and hairstyles: Yes
3. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting: Yes
4. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep: No
5. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence: Yes
6. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time: Yes
7. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative: Yes

8. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think: Yes

9. Impose rigid rules and regulations: Yes

10. Instill dependency and obedience: Yes

11. Permission required for major decisions: No

12. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors: Yes

13. When, how and with whom the member has sex: No

14. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination: Yes

II. Information Control (17/19)

Deception
15. Deliberately withhold information: Yes
16. Distort information to make it more acceptable: Yes
17. Systematically lie to the cult member: Yes
Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information
18. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media: Yes
19.Critical information: Yes
20. Former members: Yes
21. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate: Yes
22. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking: Yes
Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
23. Ensure that information is not freely accessible: Yes
24.Control information at different levels and missions within group: Yes
25. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when: Yes
Encourage spying on other members
26. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member: Yes
27. Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership: Yes
28. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group: Yes
Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda
29. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media: Yes
30. Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources: Yes
Unethical use of confession
31. Information about sins used to disrupt/dissolve identity boundaries: No
32. Withholding forgiveness or absolution: Yes
33. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories: No
III. Thought Control (11/18)

Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
34. Adopting the group's ‘map of reality’ as reality: No
35. Instill black and white thinking: Yes
36. Decide between good vs. Evil: Yes
37. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders): Yes
38. Change person’s name and identity: No

39. Use of loaded language and clich├ęs which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words: Yes

40. Encourage only “good and proper” thoughts: Yes

41. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member: No

42. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created: No

Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts
43. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking: Yes
44. Chanting: No
45. Meditating: No
46. Praying: Yes
47. Speaking in tongues: No
48. Singing or humming: Yes
49. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism: Yes

50. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy: Yes

51. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful: Yes

IV. Emotional Control (20/23)

52. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish: Yes

53. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault: Yes

54. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt: Yes

Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness

Identity guilt
55. You are not living up to your potential: Yes
56. Your family is deficient:Yes
57. Your past is suspect: Yes
58. Your affiliations are unwise: Yes
59. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish: Yes
60. Social guilt: Yes
61. Historical guilt: Yes
Instill fear, such as fear of:
62. Thinking independently: Yes
63. The outside world: Yes
64. Enemies: Yes
65. Losing one’s salvation: Yes
66. Leaving or being shunned by the group: Yes
67. Other’s disapproval: Yes
68. Extremes of emotional highs and lows: No

69. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins: No

Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
70. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group: Yes
71. Terrible consequences if you leave: Yes
72. Shunning of those who leave: Yes
73. Never a legitimate reason to leave: Yes
74. Threats of harm to ex-member and family: No
Conclusion

The Mormon church scores “Yes” to 59 of the 74 questions on this list (80%). This means that, in the psychological sense, the Mormon church exhibits many characteristics of a cult by exerting far-reaching, one-sided influence on the emotions, thoughts and behaviour of its members through the application of manipulative processes and authoritarian structures.