Stephen Hassan Misrepresents the Science on “Brainwashing”

In a recent article about ideological influences on wikipedia, Hassan writes:

“The Unification Church page then disparages critics, such as myself, as incorrectly stating that the group brainwashes members. Yet, I was a member and experienced this firsthand. Sociologist Eileen Barker is a cult apologist and made her career stating the Moonies do not do brainwashing or any type of mind control.”

Hassan’s labeling of a Professor Emeritus in Sociology at the London School of Economics as a ‘cult apologist’ is a tactic Hassan often uses against those who scientifically test his cult brainwashing claims. His anti-cult ideology is filled with rhetorical tricks and pejorative labels (such as ‘cult’, ‘brainwashing’ & ‘apologist’) without ever specifying exactly the real, concrete phenomena or human beings he is labeling.

In this instance, his label of ‘cult apologist’ completely ignores and distracts from the actual science that Barker produced about the POWER of brainwashing when she studied it.

Eileen Barker never claimed that groups do not attempt to coerce or ‘brainwash’ their members through ‘brainwashing techniques’ or undue influence.

Eileen Barker’s position on ‘brainwashing’ from her research is that whenever ‘brainwashing’ techniques were used in the Moonies 3 day recruitment seminars, only 10% joined up. And all of those ‘brainwashed recruits’ left the Moonies within 2 years. So, using that factual information, she claims that whenever ‘brainwashing techniques’ were used must not have been very effective, or as powerful, as anti-cult critics such as Hassan claim.

My own experience, and the experiences of Chris Shelton as Scientology course supervisors in the Scientology ‘cult’, are about the same as Eileen Barker reports. In fact, the numbers Chris and I have observed as course supervisors of those who stay in Scientology after undergoing their “brainwashing techniques’ is much lower than Barker reports. We found a hit rate of WAY less than 10% of all the people who come in to Scientology for introductory services. And we found an attrition rate that was much higher still.

That’s not “cult apologism’. Cult apologism is defending, or explaining, the beliefs and practices of a cult. What Eileen Barker did was scientifically study the effects of brainwashing to see whether it causes what the anti-cult movement claims it causes. Every time brainwashing has been studied, it is found to not have the power that Hassan, and the rest of the anti-cult movement, ascribe to it.

Why doesn’t Stephen Hassan ever address this science?

Like Witchcraft, A Lot of People Believe in Brainwashing

I think a good thing to keep in mind about ‘brainwashing’ is that a lot of people believe in it. People, including the cult leaders who apply the techniques, believe that these techniques have the POWER to make people do what they’re told.

Witchcraft has the same kind of following. There are books on witchcraft, and spells and other techniques you can learn to try to make people, and even the natural world, bend to your will. But whenever the effectiveness of witchcraft has been studied scientifically, it’s not been found to live up to the claims of its believers.

The effectiveness and POWER of ‘brainwashing’ has suffered the same fate as witchcraft when tested by science.

Hassan conveniently forgets that ‘brainwashing’ is a term that was originally applied to POWs who were threatened with their lives if they did not behave and believe as they were told in the POW camp. When those changes to belief and behavior were tracked with those Ex-POWs once they got home, they found that these ‘brainwashed’ soldiers no longer believed or behaved the way they were ‘brainwashed’ to by the North Koreans.

No religious cult has the power of life and death over their followers like the North Koreans did over their prisoners of war. To apply this loaded ‘brainwashing’ concept to the process of religious conversion is highly dysfunctional – if you really want to understand the process of religious conversion.

But is that what Stephen Hassan really wants?

Or does he personally profit in his exit counseling & deprogramming business from the hysteria he creates with these inflammatory ideas about conversion to minority religions?

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