Esther Rockett accuses Universal Medicine of being a cult and to justify this title she has attempted to use the writings of RJ Lifton and Margaret Thale Singer (whom she mistakenly and ignorantly refers to as ‘cult’ experts) to assert that Serge Benhayon exerts mind control by way of covert hypnosis amongst other techniques. Melton has pointed out that:
‘Since the late 1980s, though a significant public belief in cult-brainwashing remains, the academic community-including scholars from psychology, sociology, and religious studies – have shared an almost unanimous consensus that the coercive persuasion/brainwashing thesis proposed by Margaret Singer and her colleagues in the 1980s is without scientific merit …. it has been difficult to locate any scholar in the English-speaking world who has been willing to attempt a defense of it, and even Singer herself has appeared to back away from her earlier position.’ (Melton, 2000).
The ‘cult’ word has been used by a world-wide anti-cult movement that has sought to attack new religions of all shapes and sizes over the past 50 years. It has found willing helpers in the media where outlandish stories or conflictual stories of ‘cults’ sell copy. The word itself is intended to bring with it negative connotations. One such negative connotation is that anyone who joins a cult must be brainwashed and that this results in ‘mind-control’ exerted by the practices of the groups they join. Brainwashing has found its place in popular culture, so much so that when one researcher asked people why someone might join a ‘cult’ most of them answered ‘brainwashing’.
Esther Rockett in her internet trolling has made extensive accusations that Universal Medicine is a ‘cult’, accompanied by inferences that anyone who attends a Universal Medicine event or has a private session with Serge Benhayon, could be somehow put under his spell by a process of covert hypnosis (a technique that does not actually exist), and that Serge Benhayon was able to bend people to his will with amazing powers of persuasion – basically that he could dupe his audiences by hypnotic suggestion. These powerful techniques are somehow administered during workshops, by meditations and listening to Serge Benhayon giving lectures (either in person or on tape).
Esther Rockett’s preposterous ideas of ‘mind control’, ‘thought reform’, ‘brainwashing’, ‘covert hypnosis’, ‘deception, dependency and dread’ are all part of a discredited ‘theory’ that was promulgated by the anti-cult movement to serve an agenda. The agenda was two-fold:
- to discredit any organisation that held unorthodox beliefs, or beliefs and practices that they did not like; and
- to justify the business that grew up around ‘deprogramming’ – an ineffective and harming process that involved kidnapping and programming victims with beliefs that were considered more satisfactory to the anti-cult network. Such techniques were ineffective – since they were based upon a false theory that you can change someone’s beliefs by the processes of ‘thought reform’.
Brainwashing and mind control has found a niche in popular culture – it is commonly assumed that such a process actually exists. It surprises most people to find out that there is no such technique and it is the fiction of movies and books. Brainwashing was originally developed by the American CIA as a propaganda device to explain why Korean POW’s converted to communism whilst incarcerated. The CIA wanted people to believe that the only reason that anyone would convert to Communism was due to ‘brainwashing’ – a process (according to the CIA) which included conditioning, deception and hypnosis (Anthony, 1999). It was said to change a person into something like a robot with a completely new (and false) personality and unable to resist new belief systems. The CIA went to great lengths to popularise this fiction – enlisting Edward Hunter as a covert propaganda specialist to write two books on the subject and providing Richard Condon with the ideas for his novel The Manchurian Candidate (1958). Yes, the idea of thought reform and mind control were science fiction!
The anti-cult movement latched onto the idea of brainwashing to justify its kidnapping of religious devotees and subjecting them to ‘de-programming’ on the grounds that their victims were incapacitated by brainwashing and needed ‘saving’. They also attempted to argue that ex-‘cult’ members could not be held accountable for crimes they had committed, supposedly because they were brainwashed, and also that new religions should be held liable for the supposed harm of these brainwashing techniques. Margaret Singer was at the forefront of this as a paid witness in these cases. She utilised the work of American psychiatrist RJ Lifton on totalitatarian regimes to justify her theories. However,
- there was no basis to apply Lifton’s work to such situations (none whatsoever);
- Lifton’s work was not actually a psychological theory that had been tried and tested, it was merely an explanation that might explain a process of captive POW’s taking on the beliefs of their captors.
Esther Rockett attempts to give her fabrications about the fictional ‘Universal Medicine cult’ credence with ‘impressive’ references to Margaret Singer, West, Clark and Lifton and supposed applications of Lifton’s work to the ‘Universal Medicine cult’. There is a problem here for the unwary reader – none of what Esther Rockett trolls about has any application to Universal Medicine and none of it has any validity as a theory. Every bit of it is based upon CIA propaganda that Esther Rockett has swallowed hook, line and sinker. We will have a look at Esther Rockett’s gullibility in future blogs, but her predeliction for science fiction fantasy appears to be shared by Lance Martin – who has contributed to her anti-cult ‘research’.
Esther Rockett and Lance Martin either did very poor research or they have been attempting to mislead their readers. I would suggest that the latter is more likely, since it is well known that the fictions of the CIA as developed by Margaret Singer to apply to ‘cults’ have been well and truly discredited. The American courts at first had a mixed response to claims of brainwashing but in the end unequivocally ruled that such claims had no basis in science.
However compelling ‘brainwashing’ sounds as a populist myth it has convincingly been proved to be false by research on indoctrination practices (Anthony, 1990).
Abundant research has shown that the CIA program never produced techniques that impacted on free will (Marks, 1980). The falsity of brainwashing theory has been widely accepted by scientists and professional associations (such as the American Psychological Association) and been ruled inadmissible by courts as lacking scientific credibility (Anthony and Robbins, 1995).
Many attempts have been made to rehash brainwashing theory by using different descriptions of it – such as ‘mind-control’ or ‘hypnosis’ or ‘dissociation’ – to hide the fact that the proponents are relying on a discredited theory. Esther Rockett internet trolls about every single version of the brainwashing theory. One attempt has been to use research on mind control in totalistic communities (like Communist China) to argue that religious practices amounted to coercive persuasion. RJ Lifton, on whom Esther Rockett relies to make her cult accusations against Universal Medicine in her blogs, is one such researcher. The courts quickly knocked these arguments out, accepting that RJ Lifton’s work only presented that individuals have only been shown to change their beliefs when they have a gun to their head and that, unsurprisingly, practicing meditation (or singing and chanting), is not considered to be the same as a gun to the head (see US v Fishman, 743 F Supp 713 (ND Cal. 1990).
Esther Rockett, has also tried the same deception on her readers. She variously presents that the ‘gentle breath meditation’ taught by Serge Benhayon as well as other practices such as ‘recitation and repeating affirmations’ are all ‘technique[s] for indoctrination and thought reform. ’ She refers to Universal Medicine students as being ‘programmed to …. to maintain chronic dissociative states through ‘meditation’, ‘mindfulness’ and ‘gentle breath’.’
Esther continues her fabrications with general statements about what ‘cults’ do interspersed with references to the work of Serge Benhayon, suggesting some expertise. However, every reference she makes, however plausible it may sound is all related to the discredited fiction of the CIA and Margaret Thale Singer. For instance Esther writes:
‘Many cults appear to systematically and unethically employ consciousness-altering techniques and rituals in their efforts to manufacture spiritual experiences, increase suggestibility, maintain long-term dissociative states and reinforce mystical thinking. In cults, “trance can become a conditioned [behavior/personality] pattern … a way of calming disturbing thoughts and censoring the mind … trance cuts off the input of sensory information.” (Appel, 1983. p. 133) Clark (1979) summarizes the power of prolonged use of cult-induced hypnosis and self-hypnosis: “It becomes an independent structure … [the] basic controls of the central nervous system seem to have been altered (p. 210).’
Not one single aspect of what Esther Rockett writes about thought reform and dissociation have any credibility. Notably all Esther Rockett’s references are to works from the early 1980’s. As mentioned above – Gordon Melton points out that no-one has credibly asserted the mind control theories since the 1980’s. The suggestions by Clark (a close associate of Singer) of nervous system change were never substantiated – it was all hypothesis with no research – and no-one has stepped forward to validate any of the theories since that time (Melton, 2000). What Esther Rockett writes is simply not true – it has no basis in fact, no basis in science and worse she misleads her readers with distorted and fabricated claims. It is the very worst of covert misinformation practices – taking up the manipulation of her readership in the same way the CIA sought to ensure the public did not consider other reasons that the POW’s may have taken up communist beliefs, that is that there were compelling reasons to do so!
Is it possible that the large numbers of Universal Medicine students have compelling reasons to enjoy all that Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine have to offer – not the least better health, relationships and overall well-being.
The bottom line of all religious conversion literature is that people choose their own beliefs (you cannot impose them) but no-one, and this is clear, no-one changes their beliefs without choosing to do so. Hypnotism and suggestion do not have this effect, the only thing that appears effective to force someone to change their fundamental beliefs is a gun to the head – although given Esther Rockett’s lies that she has told thus far, it is possible she will now attempt to paint a gun wielding Serge Benhayon as the catalyst for Universal Medicine success?
By Alison Greig BA LLB (Hons) A.N.U., LLM (Hons) Cambridge, Grad Dip Psych. C.S.U., E.P.A Acc SEH Level 3
Further Reading in the Myth of Brainwashing and Thought Reform Series: