Covid-19 broke us.
People who were once reasonable began to call for the banishment of the unvaccinated from civil society. Death was divided by vaccine status and treated accordingly. Information was censored for “our own good.” Anyone who questioned the leader or fell out of line, was deemed as dangerous or literally accused of murder.
Steven Hassan developed the B.I.T.E model by, among other things, studying brainwashing in Maoist China. B.I.T.E stands for:
B — Behavior
I — Information
T — Thought and
E — Emotional control
B.I.T.E identifies patterns used by cults to manipulate their members.
There are fifty attributes to watch out for. Listen to some of these and compare them to your experience during the Covid-19 pandemic:
- Dictate where, how and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
- Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
- Restrict leisure, entertainment and vacation time
- Permission is required for major decisions
- Rewards and punishments are used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
- Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
- Impose rigid rules and regulations
- Instill dependency and obedience
- Deliberately withhold information
- Distort information to make it more acceptable
- Systematically lie
- Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
- Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, media
- Critical information
- Former members
- Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
- Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking
- Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
- Ensure that information is not freely accessible
- Control information at different levels and missions within group
- Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
- Encourage spying on other members
- Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
- Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership
- Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
- Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
- Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
- Adopting the group’s "map of reality" as reality
- Instill black and white thinking
- Decide between good vs. evil
- Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
- Use of loaded language and clichés that constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words (“Follow the science”)
- Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
- Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine or policy allowed
- Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil or not useful
- Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the fault of the leaders or the group
- Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
- Identity guilt
- You are not living up to your potential
- Your family is deficient
- Your past is suspect
- Your affiliations are unwise
- Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
- Social guilt
- Historical guilt
- Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
- Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
- Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
- No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
- Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
That is basically all of them except for rape, murder, torture and kidnapping. So that’s horrifying. But what’s even scarier, is that most of us went along with it, even just for a little while. As a nation, as a world, we are still going along with it in many ways.
Now, look at antiracism.
Antiracism requires blind obedience to leaders like Ibram X Kendi — who can arbitrarily assign or remove guilt based on his own perception. The work of being an antiracist never stops. There is always more internalized racism to uncover and implicit bias to reveal.
The work of being an antiracist never stops.
Can you ever be forgiven? Can you ever be cleansed?
No. Because the moment you say you are not racist, it is taken as a proclamation of guilt, and the cycle can just begin again.
It’s brilliant gaslighting.
They convince you that you have a problem — a problem so deep-rooted you can’t even see it, and the only way to solve that problem is to do whatever the leaders say. And if you don’t do what they say, it’s because you are extra guilty.
It’s cult initiation 101.
Cults seek out people with a vulnerability — say a sense of guilt (which almost all humans carry just from being alive) — after they identify the vulnerability, the cult offers an antidote, one that can only be obtained through obedience. From there, the reprogramming begins.
After reprogramming, it’s really hard to come back. But it can be done.
Let's use Megan Phelps Roper's story to illustrate.
Meghan Phelps-Roper was only five years old when she stood on her first picket line in Kansas. She had a sign that read:
“Gays are worthy of death.”
She had no idea what it said, nonetheless what it meant. But her mother had brought her there and handed her that sign, so she waved it around happily. She was making her family proud, for a five-year-old girl, that’s better than candy.
Megan is the granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church who, among many other horrific statements, once said:
“The Jews killed the Lord Jesus….Now they are carrying water for the f**s; that’s what they do best, sin.”
The Westboro Baptist Church has become infamous for its lack of humanity. They protest military funerals, wish death upon others, and because they are so convinced their crusade is holy, they feel empowered to be as rude and inhumane as they want. The ends justify the means and they feel that hate — directed at the right people — is a holy work.
Megan lived for 27 years under the Westboro Baptist Church. She brandished signs that said things like:
“Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”
“God Hates You.”
She was the face of the movement and battled it out on Twitter with the naysayers on behalf of the whole congregation.
Those Twitter battles ended up being her saving grace.
Can you imagine?
The usual crowd of angry people came out on Twitter to admonish her, criticize her, and throw hate right back at her. But not everyone did that. There were a few who never lost their humanity. Their message was “we are all human beings worthy of love and respect, including Megan.” They didn’t condone her hate or tip-toe around her misunderstandings, but they saw beyond them. She was a person who had trapped herself in the toxic ideas she inherited. But, most importantly, she was a person.
Two men went above and beyond — one man named David, who had a blog named Jewlicious. Another named Chad, later became her husband.
What began on Twitter as a verbal rock-throwing fight, slowly evolved into a real conversation — one that appealed to Megan’s humanity. They asked questions, which made Megan feel respected and heard. She could let her guard down now — these people weren’t here to fight, they were here to understand. That changed everything. The questions they asked inspired questions in herself. There were holes in her thinking she hadn’t considered, and given the right environment, she felt safe to really wrestle with those questions.
One day, David met Megan on the picket line to give her food from a market in Jerusalem. A Jewish man brought treats to the woman who held signs that said:
"Your Rabbi is a whore.”
He was a person. A nice person. A smart person who could debate her on the Bible.
And a Jew!
There was no way for Megan to reconcile it. Her whole reality unraveled from there.
Imagine being her, and realizing that you have inherited lies from the people you love most. Knowing the truth meant leaving them, maybe forever. She was the church’s rising star but after leaving the church, she would be just another “them" — another outsider.
Megan and her sister left Westboro baptist church in 2012.
The cult mentality spreads across social media like a virus.
Since leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, Megan has said she sees the tactics of her former cult all over our public discourse. The cult mentality spreads across social media like a virus, and although it’s slower in real life, it’s spreading there too.
To combat this, she gave this advice:
- Don’t Assume Ill-Intent
This is a hard one because some people actually do have bad intentions, but not everyone. Megan believed she was doing good work with the Westboro Baptist Church. That may be hard for you or me to imagine, but it’s all she knew. It would be easy to assume that the woman tweeting “Thank God for AIDS” has horrible intentions. But the few who chose to believe otherwise changed Megan's life forever.
- Ask Questions
We can not assume we know why people believe the way they do and even if we really do know, we open doors when we ask questions. Questions indicate sincere interest and respect and in the best cases, may even lead the other person to ask you what you think.
- Stay Calm
Another hard one. Don’t yell. Don’t freak out. Don’t lose your cool. You don’t have to hold back the truth, but if anger is in the driver's seat — expect a wreck.
- Make Your Case
Your opinion may not be as self-evident as it seems or even as self-evident as it should be. Why should men not be in women's prison?
We have to make the complete case. Every. Single. Time.
No one had made the case to Megan that what she was doing was harmful. When they did, she changed her mind. The Bible says to be wise as serpents, but also as gentle as doves. We can’t be naive, but we also can’t give up on people prematurely.
It’s tempting to look at the person tweeting that “unvaccinated people deserve death” and assume that they are past hope. But what if they aren’t?
It’s one thing to recognize the cult-like tendencies pulsing through American politics and work to stop it, but the real question is: what made us vulnerable to cultic authoritarianism in the first place?
Why is it that we keep misplacing our religious instincts? Because we all do it. Even if just in small ways, we all are vulnerable to tribal and yes, even cultic inclinations.
Is this whole religion thing just too dangerous? Should we abandon it altogether? Or is an abandonment of religion what got us in this mess in the first place?
In 1798, John Adams wrote in a letter to the Massachusetts militia:
“We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by…morality and Religion…Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Adams said our Representative Republic needed not only a moral, but religious people to survive. If not restrained by the government, then people must foster the discipline to restrain themselves. Religion, having played that role in societies for centuries, seemed the best way to encourage that.
I am not suggesting we all convert to one faith or that, God forbid, the government imposes that on us, but we do need moral agreements. We need a plumbline to guide us as a nation, and we each need to come to it of our own free volition.
Generation to generation we are losing our spiritual well-being.
Our nation is undergoing a cultural revolution, a technological revolution and a sexual revolution, but what we really need is a spiritual restoration.
We need a national revival.
But what does that look like?
They worshiped new gods — gods of meaningless realities. That would always lead to destruction for them.
After God delivered the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, they did not go straight to the promised land. For forty years they wandered the desert while God prepared their hearts. They still had a slave mentality, they had bad habits and they needed time to work that out of them. But the new generations forgot the God who had parted the sea, sent the plagues and freed them from Pharoah. They worshiped new gods — gods of meaningless realities. That would always lead to destruction for them. Then they would beg God to take them back, and he would, and a generation later the people would forget again.
Joshua, one of the Bible’s mightiest warriors, spoke to the Hebrew people and said:
"If you love God, follow him. If you love Baal, or if you love another god, follow him, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
That is essentially what early Americans said. Other nations could choose a god for themselves. (They had seen how poorly that went.) But America said: As for this Nation, we will humble ourselves before the God of the Bible.
God was with our founding generation. We call it divine providence because it just doesn’t make sense without God. How could we have done that on our own?
But we are the new generation and we have forgotten the God of our ancestors. We forgot the prayers, the devotion and the miracles and we are reaping the consequences.
But because the God our founders worshiped believes in free will, we have a choice to make. Just like the Hebrews, we can decide; do we like our new “gods,” or would like to serve the God we called on to found this nation?
I’m going to use a loaded word — repentance. For some, repentance is associated with shame, guilt, fire and brimstone and for others, it’s a get out a jail free card on your way back to do whatever you want.
But it’s neither of those things.
That’s not what I’m talking about at all.
In Hebrew, the word for repentance is Teshuvah which literally means to turn. If you are going in the wrong direction, repentance/Teshuvah is turning around and going the other way. Repentance is about changing what you do, just as much as it is about the condition of your heart. Thus when we repent, we turn around and start over in the right direction — the direction God wants us to go.
That is not easy. It takes incredible faith to humble yourself and repent.
It’s not easy, but it is possible.
And in the next installment, I will tell you about the impossible repentance of the people we consider to be the most guilty of sinners — the Germans after World War 2.
Catch up with the rest of the "Who Is America's God Now?" series here: