Cults change not only what we know, but how we know. Aristotle and Aquinas teach reality-based Epistemology, an explanation of human knowing. For these philosophers, knowledge is derived from analyzed sensory information that renders general principles. We move from encountering particulars to a generalized understanding. The classic example is that through repeated exposure to specific dogs or chairs we distill a universal concept of “dogness” or “chairness.” We grasp the essence of what makes all dogs and chairs what they are instead of something else.
We also gain knowledge through the testimony of credible witnesses when we accept the analysis of trustworthy people. We test this knowledge by observing its consequences. If Caveman Bob tells Caveman Joe that red berries are delicious and Joe is sick for three weeks after a berry feast, it is unlikely that Joe will tune in to Bob’s next episode on the Caveman Food Network.
Our interaction with the world and sense of its meaning depend heavily on individual discernment and personal analysis of cause and effect. This Epistemology corresponds to the human behavior we observe every day.
Cults promote a non-human way of knowing that bypasses both the sensory evidence we gather and the individual’s rational processing. Cultic knowledge is a body of truths not acquired by experimentation and reasoning, but by virtue of the authority of initiated leaders. This knowledge and its application always contain elements that contradict the senses and logic.
You might instantly object that most school classes and mainstream religions fall into this category because students and believers assent to complex truths of which they have no personal experience. Yet academic truths were gained through the process of observation by credible witnesses and can be tested. Even spiritual, moral truths can be analyzed by their consequences. As with consuming berries, we can assess the fruits of immaterial ideas, such as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” “Thou shall not murder,” and “Blessed are the merciful.” People must subject religious teachings and practices to the scrutiny of logic and ask: What are the consequences of a given faith when put into authentic practice? What is the quality of the founders’ lives in terms of verifiable benefit to humanity?
Adhering to cultic knowledge requires suppressing this essential human thought-process. Nobody joins a cult; people are attracted to cultic groups by an apparent good. This could be legitimate elements borrowed from a non-cultic faith, the “high” experienced at a self-help conference, or the camaraderie and affection offered by a new group of caring people. These attractions fill a need experienced by a vulnerable recruit. The benefits prime the new member to identify the cult as the source.
Cult members invariably begin to experience a discrepancy between cult teaching and what he or she observes. Mr. Goldman spoke of knowing LaRouche published antisemitic literature while the leader claimed to have a special love for Jewish people. Confronted with inconsistencies, the subject must choose between personal thinking and the cult-knowledge with all its perceived benefits. Once a person consciously repudiates his or her own mind, defending against intruding reality becomes imperative. As the cult-thought becomes more and more invasive, the member no longer lives life based on the normal ebb and flow of information, analysis, and personally selected behavior. Instead, the subject defaults to free-standing dictums that have no root in reality.
The mind continues to receive sensory input from the world and this causes “dissonance,” a struggle between suppressed reason attempting to reassert itself and the post-analytical intellect. 9-11 Truthers watched with the rest of the world as cascading Twin Tower debris struck Building Seven, igniting the fires that resulted in its collapse. The Gnostic certitude that Jews control the world through the U.S. government replaces the visual experience of reality with the conviction that Building 7 was destroyed by controlled demolition.