Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Language of Cults. Duggars and Quiverfull: How to Communicate with People Outside of the Subculture

First published on 6Sep15

How do we define a cult in respect to the Duggars and Quiverfull?

I wrote all kinds of material that never made it into Hillary McFarland's Quivering Daughters book, but I was grateful to many people who peer reviewed my contributions to it.  Along with concerns about technical accuracy, I also wanted to see how people without intimate knowledge of religion or homeschooling would respond to the material.

I began to more deeply appreciate two primary lessons regarding the discussion of the issues involved with the Patriarchy/Quiverfull Movement.

Lesson One

Though I knew this in theory, the experience of reading the feedback impressed upon me so strongly that people outside of a closed subculture with specialized language need information and terminology that they can process.  People in the secular culture understand patriarchy already, so that gives people a frame of reference.

The term 'quiverfull' presents enough of a novel hook which helps people remember it.  A 'quiver' conjures images of Robin Hood and his mastery with bow and arrow, and the association between his image and that of a family creates enough of a memorable hook for those who've never heard of the Bible verse from which the term was borrowed.  Both terms "sell" the information and create a reason for people to listen and/or care.

'Quivering' also means something emotional to all people, for we've all quivered — usually in fear.  To think of a woman or a daughter that quivers disturbs people enough to give them cause to pay attention.  They all create pictures that communicate a relevant concept quite well and also provide shortcuts that can help us engage and hold interest.

The names of the players become more difficult to remember for those outside of the Evangelical Christian homeschooling bubble.  Prior to the scandals, people who enjoyed the TLC 19 Kids and Counting show will first recall the clever name of the series, and they might remember the Duggar name if they watch fairly regularly or know someone who does.  Some will recognize Mike Huckabee's name as a consequence of his career in politics, and years earlier, for his dramatic weight loss.  Save for rare comedy gold like the name "Bobbitt" (the wife who bobbed off her husband's penis in an altercation), names generally make less memorable and therefore less effective shortcuts.

We also face a problem when we expect people in the secular culture to engage in discussion with us about our high demand experience when we try to use terminology that is special to our subculture.  We sometimes fail to realize that the terms that are so very common place to us fall upon deaf ears.  All special interest groups and professions develop specialized language, but that language is meant to aid communication, not deter it.  Cults use language to make meaning more ambiguous which allows them to manipulate.

We don't want to make the mistake of confusing meaning or making the language too laborious.  First, people quickly lose interest and our points quickly get lost in the medium.  Secondly, we can actually drive people away if we seek to control discussions by controlling language.  We have to work to drop that habit of special language when we leave a group, and we must stay focused on clear communication which may not be our habit.

Lesson Two

The most common question that people outside of Christian homeschooling asked me after reading the Quivering Daughters took me by surprise — because I didn't see it coming.  People asked me which denomination followed these practices so that those who were moved by the book could discuss it with others.  People wondered if their loved ones who homeschooled were exposed or at risk for falling into the trappings of the Patriarchy/Quiverfull Movement. discussion also opened up into a the question of what constitutes a cult as opposed to a group that might be unhealthy but not necessarily abusive.  Thought reform tactics also pose another issue for those who are curious about this Christian sub-culture.  At the inception of this blog, I wrote about these definitons.  Cults practice thought reform, though Christians are often more comfortable with the terminology of 'spiritual abuse.'  Their tactics can also be considered aberrant in terms of healthy dynamics and/or in terms of theology.

The cultic studies field has actually addressed this many times over, and there is a host of literature supporting it. This diagram was the most easy source for me to access, something shared with me by Michael Langone, PhD, the Executive Director of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).  Because that organization considers both religious and secular ideological totalism, I've adapted his original work to help elucidate where the Quvierfull Movement and folks like the Duggar Family fall in the mix.

What's a Cult?

In this example offered by Langone, a cult or a high demand group constitutes some collective of individuals who are manipulated surreptitiously by either or both psychological abuse or thought reform (which is a particular type of psychological group).  They follow an ideology to achieve some goal, and the collective follows leaders who are generally very charismatic and engaging.

 Some groups may manifest unhealthy dynamics that result in personal harm of some time, but they are not considered cults if they do not manifest some type of psychological abuse or thought reform.  In terms of behavior, a harmful group may be considered 'aberrant' or 'cultic' because of their dysfunction.  It may present a perfect storm that could well foster the development of an abusive cult, so a less loaded term of 'aberrant' or 'cultic' can be used.

All thought reform and psychologically abusive groups are harmful, but not all harmful groups constitute a cult.

What is Quiverfull?

In 2008 in a workshop examining the Patriarchy Movement, I referred to it as quite "non-monolithic," characterized by clustering of activities, traits, and interests — though none of those variables were universal or definitive.  In epidemiology and the study of the cause and transmission of disease, the term of 'clustering' explains this phenomenon of common features experienced or by clusters of people experiencing them that may or may not have a known causative connection.  For that reason, I use the term to describe the connections among Patriarchy and Quiverfull lifestyles which are also now associated with Christians who homeschool their children.

People from across many different denominations bear many of these same common variables, and in some respect, I think that it may reflect the zeitgeist of the generation that is also common to the culture.  (Look at Martha Stewart's popularity which has fostered an interest in domesticity — something mirrored in this religious subculture.)  Whatever the cause, there are what might be found as markers or possible and presumptive characteristics that often occur in tandem with one another.

 Hold on to your "Prairie Muffin" bonnet.  The sorting out of these clustered variables make for nothing that is black and white.  It's anything but "flow chart friendly" and I had to get quite creative with the Venn diagram.  Not all Quiverfull folks follow Patriarchy in the same manner or degree.  Some Quiverfull folks may not follow Patriarchy to the same degree and may not homeschool.  Other groups (such as the Unification and Mormon Churches) follow Patriarchy and Quiverfull, but are not Evangelical Christians and may not homeschool.  Listed below are other variables that are often common and 'cluster' with these lifestyle choices.  One might consider their occurrence as a presumptive or suggestive indicator just as a symptom may or may not be associated with a health disorder.  It's basically a free-for-all, and the phenomenon crosses over all denominations.

 Where Do the Duggars Belong?

The remainder of the mystery should be self-explanatory, given the diagrams.  Some people who follow the ideology have all of the characteristics consistent with a cult, per Langone's definition as the diagram demonstrates.  Some groups may be suspect, 'aberrant', or what some might define as 'cultic' in the unhealthy/harmful sense.  And groups may teeter on the edge of that which constitutes abuse without consistent and definitive hallmark characteristics of Thought Reform.

Groups often start out as reasonably healthy, but they can change.  Cult leaders crave stimulation and may shift in and out of unhealthy behaviors, vacillating in and out of abusive behaviors.  Sometimes, their boredom is passed on to followers by way of cultic/psychological abuse and thought reform.

And remember the Duck Test!  If it walks, talks, and looks like a duck, TRUST YOUR GUT.  It's probably a duck.