Posted by: exmstmember2009 | November 21, 2010

How Cults Rewire the Brain

For those of us who left the MST cult, it’s important to know that we are not alone, that there’s plenty of studies, information, and resources that can help us.  The first thing is to recognize that we were manipulated, misguided and abused.

I found this very interesting video and have added the transcript as well.

“My journey to coming here today started in 1974. That’s me with the funny gloves. I was 17 and going on a peace walk. What I didn’t know though, was most of those people, standing there with me, were Moonies. (Laughter) And within a week I had come to believe that the second coming of Christ had occurred, that it was Sun Myung Moon, and that I had been specially chosen and prepared by God to be his disciple.

Now as cool as that sounds, my family was not that thrilled with this. (Laughter) And they tried everything they could to get me out of there. There was an underground railroad of sorts that was going on during those years. Maybe some of you remember it. They were called deprogrammers. And after about five long years my family had me deprogrammed. And I then became a deprogrammer. I started going out on cases. And after about five years of doing [deprogramming] I was arrested for kidnapping. Most of the cases I went out on were called involuntary. What happened was that the family had to get their loved ones some safe place somehow. And so they took them to some safe place. And we would come in and talk to them, usually for about a week. And so after [the arrest] happened I decided it was a good time to turn my back on this work.

And about 20 years went by. There was a burning question though that would not leave me. And that was, “How did this happen to me?” And in fact, what did happen to my brain? Because something did. And so I decided to write a book, a memoir, about this decade of my life.

And toward the end of writing that book there was a documentary that came out. It was on Jonestown. And it had a chilling effect on me. These are the dead in Jonestown. About 900 people died that day. Most of them taking their own lives. Women gave poison to their babies, and watched foam come from their mouths as they died.

The top picture is a group of Moonies that have been blessed by their messiah. Their mates were chosen for them. The bottom picture is Hitler youth. This is the leg of a suicide bomber. The thing I had to admit to myself, with great repulsion, was that I get it. I understand how this could happen. I understand how someone’s brain, how someone’s mind can come to the place where it makes sense, in fact it would be wrong, when your brain is working like that, not to try to save the world through genocide.

And so what is this? How does this work? And how I’ve come to view what happened to me is a viral memetic infection. For those of you who aren’t familiar with memetics, a meme has been defined as an idea that replicates in the human brian and moves from brain to brain like a virus, much like a virus. The way a virus works is — it can infect and do the most damage to someone who has a compromised immune system.

In 1974, I was young, I was naive, and I was pretty lost in my world. I was really idealistic. These easy ideas to complex questions are very appealing when you are emotionally vulnerable. What happens is that circular logic takes over. “Moon is one with God. God is going to fix all the problems in the world. All I have to do is humbly follow. Because God is going to stop war and hunger — all these things I wanted to do. All I have to do is humbly follow. Because after all, God is [working through] the messiah. He’s going to fix all this.” It becomes impenetrable. And the most dangerous part of this is that is creates “us” and “them,” “right” and “wrong,” “good” and “evil.” And it makes anything possible. Makes anything rationalizable.

And the thing is, though, if you looked at my brain during those years in the Moonies — Neuroscience is expanding exponentially, as Ray Kurzweil said yesterday. Science is expanding. We’re beginning to look inside the brain. And so if you looked at my brain, or any brain that’s infected with a viral memetic infection like this, and compared it to anyone in this room, or anyone who uses critical thinking on a regular basis, I am convinced it would look very, very different.

And that, strange as it may sound, gives me hope. And the reason that gives me hope is that the first thing is to admit that we have a problem. But it’s a human problem. It’s a scientific problem, if you will. It happens in the human brain. There is no evil force out there to get us. And so this is something that, through research and education, I believe that we can solve. And so the first step is to realize that we can do this together, and that there is no “us” and “them.” Thank you very much.




  1. Thanks for posting this with the transcript. I’ve seen the video a couple times previously, but I don’t recall reading the transcript.

    These easy ideas to complex questions are very appealing when you are emotionally vulnerable. What happens is that circular logic takes over.

    Wow! These two sentences REALLY stand out to me as to how I have ended up in certain relationships in my post-cult rediscovery. I’m going to ramble a bit here.

    When one leaves a toxic (cultic) relationship or group in which s/he was a true believer or where s/he implicitly trusted the group or individual, when one leaves that relationship, the person is very emotionally vulnerable. At least I know I have been.

    Since leaving The Way, I’ve found myself in the midst of a few toxic relationships. All those toxic relationships have been with ex-cult members. Interesting, but not really surprising. In some ways, for me, what happened in those relationships and the emotional trauma afterward has been worse than the cult experience. I describe my time with The Way as a slow chronic illness and the relationships with certain anti-cultists as a car wreck. Both have impact, yet in different ways. (I was a ‘true believer’ for over 28 years. I left my group [The Way International] a little over 5 years ago.)

    In any relationship, it takes two to tango, so to speak. That does not let the perpetrator off the hook. Yet, I am looking closely and examining how I have ended up in these scenarios.

    I’ve read and heard from other ex-cult members (that were deeply involved with their former groups) that they too have experienced similar to what I have in post-cult recovery. That is, they find themselves in the midst of another cultic-type toxic relationship.

    Anyhoo, today those two quoted sentences really stand out for me, about how circular reasoning can take over when one is emotionally vulnerable. Rationalizations and justifications for certain behavior play into that circular reasoning.

    Hmmm….reminds me of a quote I read yesterday in a book:
    “In unity, the individual loses his autonomy and along with it often his sense of responsibility.” Dr. Ben Zablocki

    btw: The book I’m reading, “Joyful Community,” is free online at Ben Zablocki’s home page. The quote above is on page 174 of that book. On his homepage is another free online book titled “Alienation and Charisma.”

    I look forward to the time when technology is such that Diane’s theory can be evaluated. It will be interesting to see.

    Thanks again for all ya’ll share here!

    To life!
    ~carol 🙂

  2. On song just finished playing on my Pandora station. The song is “Safe Again” by Carole King. (btw: when i listen to the lyrics…where she sings “you”….for me that “you” is myself…)

    The song brought to mind a poem I wrote in June, 2009. I looked up the poem the re-read it. I had forgotten the poem was a result of watching the Benscoter’sTED talk that is posted in this blog post. Here is the poem and a link to it and the context of when I penned the prose.
    Link: Safe Place

    Safe Place

    Photo ~
    dismembered, napalmed leg
    Dream ~
    dismembered, bloodied appendage

    I have been dismembered

    To re-member is to bring back together
    It’s o.k. to remember

    I am not in physical danger
    I am safe
    My physical needs are met

    I am not in emotional danger
    I can call for support
    JK, John, friends

    Sometimes I hurt
    From what I am not sure
    Just deep, deep pain

    It’s o.k. to cry in this safe place


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