Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More About Crash Test Dummies and Dissonance: A Review of Key Ideas

Given the length of this previous post that covered several topics, let’s review the highlights:
  • We are dynamic creatures with active minds. We always end up renewing our minds with something, whether we actively work at renewing them or whether we are passive about it (e.g., renewing our minds with paranoia by rehearsing our own fears). The forces of life, particularly ideological ones, affect us whether we invite them to do so or not.
  • When we stop scrutinizing the information that we take into our minds, we become passive which makes us vulnerable to misuse and exploitation.
  • Lack of scrutiny can happen for many reasons:
  • We might be tired of thinking.
  • We may not believe that it is possible or are unaware that we are being influenced.
  • We may be deceived about the virtue of the information we take in, believing that scrutiny is not required.
  • We may accept someone else’s judgment about what to believe, deferring to their leadership and discernment while suspending our own because we believe it is wisest to do so.
  • ETC…
  • When we lapse into passive mode, we are like crash test dummies for someone else because we let other people or belief systems do our “ideological driving” for us. We can be used to test other people’s untested theories about how to live, even if they intend to be virtuous and helpful. This post and this one talk about some of the potentially negative effects that shifting into a passive mode has on the mind.
  • Consider that if we allow “The End to Justify the Means,” this also makes us passive. Leaders who seek to advance their beliefs and theories within high-demand groups like patriarchy very often use untested and “unproven” theories putting those who follow them at risk. These same leaders also become slaves to their own causes when they force their will through manipulation, coercion, and exploitation. They become crash test dummies themselves, driven by their flawed ideologies. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to them in order to test their theories?
  • Repentance, as it appears in the New Testament, translates from the Greek word “metanoia” which literally means “to change your mind” after thinking about something. This process is neither good nor bad of itself, and awareness of our own cognitive dissonance can alert us that we might be changing our minds in a way that is not in our own best interest.
  • Was our religious conversion experience real and true or completely false? It was likely a mix of many things that you must now “put to the test.” I believe that what is true will stand up to scrutiny, but we all must go through the terribly intimidating process of evaluating our experience.
  • We can “take our power back” from others by “repenting” (changing our minds) after we’ve thought through what we previously believed to be true and virtuous. Spiritual abuse involves deception wherein we recognize the good aspects of the spiritual system but fail to recognize the bad elements. We believed that the group and its system were good when it was actually a mix of both good and bad. Take back the good and identify the bad aspects of the experience for what they are. The deception need not invalidate the good aspects and elements of the experience. (For example, the system may have used family and the virtues of parenting as a means to advance the interests of the group. Abandoning the abuse of family should not require an abandonment of family and related virtues themselves.)
  • In Romans 12:2, “renewing the mind” is described as an active process that is directed at proving, testing or scrutinizing the veracity of the will of God – our ideological destination as Christians. It implies that remaining focused on our destination requires us to scrutinize those things that affect us, particularly our religious experience. If we don’t, we will be conformed to something (else) that is not of our choosing.
  • It is very common to feel alienated from your own faith, the Bible (How can you be sure about what it ever really meant if you accepted the cult’s distortions as true?), your peers, your family, and most all the things that you used to help you cope. Most people struggle with these dilemmas for at least 2 years, and the harder work that follows spiritual abuse can last as long as 12 years for some people, according to some anti-cult sources. (It takes willful effort to get out of cultic thinking.) For me, the initial phases of this process proved to be the most intimidating thing I’d ever experienced, but the rewards for doing the work have been well worth the effort. Resigning from the job of “crash test dummy” takes time and work, and the process is not pleasant in the initial phases.

  • Sifting through the emotional, psychological, and spiritual debris following spiritual abuse requires a degree of abandonment of the “all-or-nothing” thought that abusive ideological groups demand of their followers.We will not really learn to properly “prove” or scrutinize information or experiences until we consider how our abusive system taught us to think in these restrictive terms.Often, the stress we feel during the process of recovery links back to the “black and white” patterns of thought (like psychological splitting) that we learned in the group.
  • Spiritually abusive systems offer seemingly simplified solutions to difficult, complex, and messy problems in life. Choosing how to navigate through the complexities of life for ourselves (without someone else’s list or legalism) will always involve a risk, but we will be the one choosing which risks to take. We will consider actions that are in our personal best interest rather than the best interest of the collective group. We will always be somewhat vulnerable when we put our trust in someone or something else. However, actively choosing where to place our trust provides much more benefit and far less risk than the passive alternative of conformity of thought.
  • In terms of Romans 12:2, the recovery process that follows the devastation of spiritual abuse can be perceived and “reframed” as the process of bringing new scrutiny to those things that you believed before and during spiritual abuse. We can choose to make this process a very beneficial one when we use the process (a renewal or renovation) as an opportunity to abandon flawed ideas that do not pass our new scrutiny.

  • Scrutiny demands a standard of comparison, and we must choose our standards (like picking out and driving our own car). We then must choose where we will drive (what faith to follow). Though I would personally love for everyone to drive to the destination I’ve chosen, the choice must be made by the person themselves. Be careful that you do not emulate someone else because you want to avoid making the choice out of your own lack of confidence which is a very common feeling after spiritual abuse. We are vulnerable to influence when we are off balance, have pain or have unmet needs. Be aware of your vulnerability.


Regarding spiritual abuse, personally, I have two interests from two perspectives. (Many who read here find this a little confusing.) Please allow me to clarify.

From an anti-cult perspective, I want people to learn to think for themselves without coercion. From an Evangelical Christian perspective, it is my heart’s desire to see people turn to Christ – to get them to think like me. These desires of mine can be at odds with one another, so they need to be honored as separate objectives.
First and foremost, I want to see people choose to get away from the abuse and their abusers. They need to then leave the thinking of the cult, and then they need to think for themselves. According to literature on trauma, recovery requires that a person find a safe place in which they can think through their experience.

Because spiritual abuse takes place in spiritual settings, for many, churches become very unsafe places. Many people will need a break from public worship and even their routine of Bible Study if these experiences/aspects of them have been used as a weapon of destruction. Unless they feel safe and find a place of protection, they will not fully recover. (If a person has become sick from eating tainted food, for example, it is often in their best interest to fast until the most violent symptoms pass.) If a Christian is comfortable with Bible study and Christian fellowship, they should certainly allow this to heal them, but know that there are those who will have difficulty. That is okay, for a time, in the early stages of recovery. Personally, I still find certain styles of those repetitive worship choruses to be very hard to tolerate, and they can be a trigger that brings up grief over my experience and fear because this type of music was also used to put me in a passive state.

Cults also discourage critical thinking in their followers, so until a person’s critical thinking has been somewhat restored, I believe that it is morally wrong to subject them to the demands of another system that is not of their choosing. In the interests helping others recover from spiritual abuse, I must be more interested in getting the person to “get in their own car to drive themselves to the destination of their choosing.” Their recovery is about them, not me. On one level, I would hope that they would follow me to my destination, but that must be their choice. A comparison of the virtues or dangers of one destination or another – contending for my personal belief system – is a different discussion for a time after some significant recovery has taken place. It must be separate, and it must be invited by the person who is well into their recovery.

Discussion of my personal beliefs and how they apply to spiritual abuse are also important for those who share my perspective. Comparison of my beliefs with other systems involves explaining why I believe what I believe, and this is also an important discussion.

But these are separate topics of discussion for me even though I discuss both on this blog.

What you choose should be up to you, though I hope to be a great ambassador for my own destination at the same time.

Happy and and thoughtful driving to all.

In addition to the resources listed in the sidebar and on the reading list, for some general and non-religious (technically -- they are secular but not Christian) thoughts about how coasting through life by avoiding critical thinking has affected our culture, read Berman's "The Twilight of American Culture" and Postman's "Technopoly" and "Amusing Ourselves."