Monday, November 26, 2007

Mystical Manipulation (Lifton 101)

Mystical Manipulation, in the context of a manipulative group, is simply the manipulation of planned experiences so that they appear spontaneous. 

Ministers often use this technique to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement to gain and further solidify the confidence of their followers. Apparent special gifts or talents of the minister allow the leadership of the group to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes for the ultimate benefit of the group.

The term vision” and the practice of “vision casting” has recently become popular in many Evangelical Christian circles and represents a certain type of mystical manipulation. (Frankly, it sounds akin to "spell casting" to me, although I suspect that it is more like what the Pentecostals/Charismatics refer to as prophesying regarding the direction and misison of the congregation.) Members are encouraged to be visionary and to follow the visions of their leaders to further the Kingdom of God and the mission of the group. A pastor of a church certainly gives spiritual direction and guidance, but many use this duty to guide their congregations towards ideals that may not be germane to the mission of the New Testament Church. Fishburn has this to say in “Confronting the Idolatry of Family”:
Yet, many Protestant congregations are in a state of spiritual drift, in bondage to some part of the American Dream. Although denominational leaders, seminary professors, and pastors may know that dreams of American manifest destiny influenced nineteenth-century theology, few seem to recognize the ways in which the American Dream still influences the church today. The task of giving special direction to a congregation that does not embody some of the attitudes of a family-pew theology calls for pastors with the convictions of a prophet, able to tell the people of God that their loyalties are misplaced. (pg 64)

This technique may also apply to alignment of the group or group leaders with powerful, respected and orthodox others who may be enlisted to make statements or write opinionated articles in support of the cultic group or leaders. When a well-respected and established leader or group lends their name and support to a spiritual abuser or manipulator, the public depends on and trusts in the recommendation of that established leader, interpreting it as a sign of legitimacy. Ministries that recommend questionable teachers and sources put honest people at risk, as those who trust them will trust their discernment. Safe people tend to recommend and associate with safe others, and their recommendations have a very potent influence on the public as a result. Media presentations may also connote legitimacy when they are well done and impressive in our commercial culture of consumerism. Photographs that exemplify the desired persona of the group provide a powerful means of suggesting the ideal of the group. Mystical manipulation overlaps somewhat with milieu control and supports the desired milieu in this way.

Personal prophecy and current day manifestation of the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” provide us the most obvious examples of mystical manipulation. Within Charismatic/Pentecostal groups, collected information or desired behavior may come in the form of messages of prophecy. These systems tend to operate on “grapevine communication” because most manipulative groups intervene on behalf of their members. Leadership in spiritually abusive groups often assume responsibility for the sanctification and spiritual advancement of their followers, so such grapevine knowledge of the activities of their followers becomes a vital tool. Although, divine knowledge may be at work at times, in controlling groups, leaders often use the information that they’ve collected about a member to manipulate them, giving the impression that their knowledge came from a divine source. “Thus saith the Lord” or “I had a dream about you” demonstrate this kind of mystical power, suggesting and reinforcing the special connection that the leader has with God.

Steven Martin's book, "The Heresy of Mind Control," also describes Mystical Manipulation. Please visit his site and consider purchasing the e-book that is made available without cost but asks readers to pay an amount conmensurate with a 160 page work. (Steven is brother of Dr. Paul Martin of the Wellspring Center, the only inpatient recovery facility for those who have survived spiritual abuse, cults and manipulative relationships.) Here is his excellent summary of Lifton's Thought Reform Dynamic of "Mystical Manipulation":
Illusion to Delusion (Pg 21)

A powerful means of persuading or instilling belief in someone is to strike a sense of awe and enthusiasm within the person through various forms of “mystical manipulation.” By manipulating circumstances or the environment from behind the scenes in such a way that events look spontaneous or miraculous, observers can be struck with a sense of awe and thus be attracted and misled. The resulting “mystical aura” that surrounds the system and its master is sheer deceit.

-Summary & paraphrase of Dr. Lifton on Mystical Manipulation