Top positive review
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A thoughtful and thorough look at mind-control techniques
on July 31, 2004
First of all, in response to those reviewers who argue that "all religions practice mind control" and "Hassan is against freedom of religion," I would like to point out that Hassan states very plainly that just because a group is not mainstream does not make it a cult. He provides very detailed, specific criteria as to what makes a cult (including deception, attempts to isolate people from their friends and family, refusal to let members leave, and pronounced control of information), and also includes a handy checklist of questions to ask potential cult recruiters, including "Does your group practice deception?" "Is your group considered controversial and if so, why?" and "Tell me three things you don't like about your group and your leader." As Hassan states, legitimate organizations will be honest about their motives, and members of legitimate organizations should be able to discuss their group's failings as well as its strengths. Hassan is not out to demonize religion in general, nor (as he states) are all cults necessarily religious in nature.
Hassan provides an excellent breakdown of the dynamics of cults, beginning with his own experience being recruited by the Moonies. Dissatisfied with his own experience of being "kidnapped" and deprogrammed (though he readily concedes that it was, overall, a beneficial experience), he has developed a less-drastic approach to counseling members out of cults, based around attempts to reactivate the original personality underneath the cult one (his own mention of how the sight of his father's tears provided the first step on his road to leaving the Moonies is touching and convincing). As previously mentioned, he offers warning signs that a group might be cultish, provides detailed, common-sense advice for how to deal with family members who might have been indoctrinated, and offers advice for former cult members who are attempting to readjust to life in normal society.
While Hassan mentions that not all cults are religious in nature, he spends most of his time dealing with religious ones, except for brief mentions of psychotherapeutic cults. I was a little disappointed by this, since I found the notion of non-religious cults fascinating and would have liked to see more of an exploration of the differences, if any, between religious and non-religious cults. This is an area I wish he had explored in more depth. Hassan's discussions of Satanic cults, while brief, also clearly date the book to the late '80s/early '90s, during which the "Satanic Panic" was at its height.
Overall, however, this is an excellent introduction to the phenomenon of cults and mind control, and I would recommend this to anyone interested in the subject, for whatever reason.