Promise Keepers: Is it a Cult?

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Oct 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/1/97

Is Promise Keepers a cult? I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the
code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from some
members of the public to the organization.

If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?



Oct 1, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/1/97

P.K. is not a cult, the same things that go on there can go in any christian
church. P.K. is no more than a special, non-denominational, christian church
service for men. Now, if you say that christianity is a cult, then...

David Merc

Oct 4, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/4/97

A Christian definition of a cult is a group that wanders from the main
stream, fundamental believes (Who is Christ; trinity; the Bible alone;...).
With anything that is said about another from ones own opinion, the listener
MUST examine the direct facts themselves, in this case read the bible, visit
the PK web site:

Siouxie12 wrote in message


Oct 5, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/5/97

"David Merc" <> wrote:

>A Christian definition of a cult is a group that wanders from the main
>stream, fundamental believes (Who is Christ; trinity; the Bible alone;...).

Not at all, David. Some cults have nothing to do with religion (i.e.
business, self improvement, or political cults). Others use mind
control methods as an adjunct to otherwise orthodox religious teachings
and practices. I know this from experience. Nor do you rely on a
particular religion's standards of orthodoxy to judge degrees cultism.
That doesn't make any sense. Cultism is fundamentally a social,
cultural, political and psychological problem, not a religious problem.
Why should there be a "Christian definition" of a cult. Why not a
"Moslem definition of a cult" or a "Martian defintion of a cult." It's
silly. A cult is a cult is a cult.

>With anything that is said about another from ones own opinion, the listener
>MUST examine the direct facts themselves, in this case read the bible, visit
>the PK web site:

Their site is sanitized for the viewing audience. The critical facts
and background info are not to be found there. The last place to go
when investigating a cult is a source of their own propaganda. Unless
you are a cult expert, you have no basis for judging its validity. In
particular, your religious orthodoxy criteria are particularly
subjective and useless for evaluating the group and its practices
because, since they are a group that claims to adhere to Christian
orthodoxy, they are likely to present information that you agree with
and thereby deceive you and mask their true practices and intentions.
These groups are masters at hidden agendas and other such forms
deception. Again, this is from first hand experience.

>Siouxie12 wrote in message
>>Is Promise Keepers a cult?

Not exactly Sue, although they are strongly allied with various cultic
movements. (See below.)

I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the
>> code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from
>> some members of the public to the organization.

Your instincts have served you well. Too bad the press has been largely
unaware and unsuspecting of this problem.

>>If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?

I have copied below one account of my experiences with organizations
related to the Promise Keepers, including involvement in one particular
cult in particular where the Promise Keepers has its origins.
Interestingly, it was Promise Keeper's leader Bill McCartney's
involvement in this cult which inspired him to later start the Promise
Keeper's rallies. Although I have never attended a Promise Keeper's
rally, I was present at a very similar rally led by McCartney in Pioneer
High schools in Ann Arbor MI, the mid-1980's, when NcCartney was an
assistant UM footback coach under then head coach Bo Shembechler. I
consider that event to be the prototype of the mens' rallies to follow,
incuding the current Promise Keeper's rallies. The lineage of these
rallies can be traced further back to a "Men's Breakfast" that was
sponsored by the same cult. Both activities were recruitment activities
of the cult designed for targetting men, and the focus on men was
directly related to the group's strange and deeply pathological
obsession with gender roles that permeated the cult during that period.
(The gender-role related abuses that occurred in that cult are legendary
among anti-cult circles. I could list innumerable examples.)

Consider all of this the backdrop for the comments about CIA and other
political involvements which I add at the beginning. Getting at the CIA
connection and the feminism issues was not my goal at the time I was
stirring up opposition to the cult, nor was it a concern in the message
I am copying below. The CIA connection and gender issues to me were
just piecea of ammunition to help rescue my family members from the
cult, so I didn't pursue them very far. To borrow a phrase from Ross
Perot (regard the CIA drug smuggling scandals), it is, I suspect, a
"snake pit without a bottom." Cults are a much deeper evil than the
worst political corruption, in my opinion. To me it's the difference
between murder of the spirit and murder of the body. The two are
qualitatively incomparable, although many would not agree with me.

That being said, I now believe that the mind-control part of my cult
concerns is receding on a personal level, and the political and
sociological implications of cults, particularly as they relate to
gender roles, is therefore becoming more important and interesting to

A Brief history of Bill McCartney and The Promise Keepers

The Promise Keepers was born in and is allied with a protean coalition
of churches, right-wing cults and quasi-cults called by various names
over the years. It is a recuitment arm for those movements. Some
recent appellations of the alliances include the "The Discipleship
Movement," "The Shepherding Movement" and "The Prophetic Movement." (Be
warned, however, that any time the media start to identify the movement
with a particular label, the label is quickly dropped. They are highly
paranoid about publicity and exposure. In other words, I don't know
what they are calling themselves this week.) Our estimates of US
involvement in the alliances range from a few million to the tens of
millions (depending on how you count), and up to hundreds of thousands
of congregations ranging from small bible study groups to large
parishes. Worldwide involvement is much harder to estimate, possibly
involving a significant fraction of the global population, including the
majority of the populations of some entire regions or nations (e.g.
South Korea, about 70 percent). The movement is the Christian
counterpart of the radical Islamic movements which holds sway over large
Muslim populations. The US seems to provide most of the leadership and
seedbed for new ideas and developments in the movement, although nations
with homogeneous populations, like those in the far east, seem more
vulnerable to large-scale subversion.

Participation among the affiliated groups ranges from promoting
literature and teachings to international collaboration and merging at
the leadership level (often without the knowledge of rank and file
members). The types of groups and churches involved in the coalitions
range from mainline denomination congregations, to small groups and
churches which are little more than fronts for radical militant
right-wing organizations like the Arian Nation, Posse Comitatus (sp?)
and violent militia groups. By far the vast majority of members are
typical church-going Americans, numbering in the millions, according to
some estimates. The common element in all these groups is a method of
thought and behavior control, originally called "Discipleship,"
pioneered in the 1960's by one of the leaders of my cult, among others.
Another way to describe this movement, is that it consists of cult
leadership and control methods refined, packaged and tailored for mass
consumption in the typical local churches of the US and the world. The
broad appeal of the movement within our own culture is demonstrated by
the powerful draw of allied movements like the Promise Keepers, which is
but one a bewildering array of hundreds of front groups spawned by the
movement for recruitment and publicity purposes. If the Promise Keepers
or other front comes through your home town be sure to attend: you are
in for a real eye-opener. You will see that these cultic organizations
are dramatically shaping the political and social landscape of the US.

The overall movement is characterized by numerous large scale alliances
of similar groups and churches. These alliances range from a few dozen
local groups or congregations to global movements involving tens of
thousands of congregations. One such alliance is called "Vineyard."
This is the alliance which is behind the Promise Keepers, although the
also have direct ties to my cult as well. I have not kept track of
Vineyard over the last couple years, but based on its recent explosive
growth it probably has several thousand congregations spread over all
points on the globe by now, making it one of the larger alliances.

Although the message to Pastor Larsen does not go into the political or
CIA involvement of my former cult, such connections were extensive and
deep. I teamed up with an investigative journalist and a friend of mine
(also a former cult member) and we uncovered heavy involvement of the
cult in activities ranging from running cult-sponsored CIA safe houses
for Nicaraguan expatiates to direct connections with the Chamorro
government which took power after the fall of the Sandinistas. I
believe that my cult was an instrument of US foreign policy in putting
the Chamorro family into power in Nicaragua, with the assistance of the
CIA and local Catholic Church authorities, including the local Catholic

The cult has deep, impenetrable tentacles of power into nearly every
mainline church, especially the Catholic church, where ties extended all
the way up to the Pope and powerful Cardinals. Through its connections
within the Catholic Church my cult had inroads and ties with other
religious organizations like the Knights of Malta, through which
collaboration was established with pizza magnate Thomas Monaghan, among
others, in the Nicaraguan episode. Nor was the cult's influence limited
to Roman Catholic circles. A wide array of mainstream protestant,
pentecostal, charismatic, independent fundamentalist, and other churches
was strongly allied with the group. The cult and its strange
connections were documented by series of articles in a local (Detroit
area) monthly periodical, the "Ann Arbor Observer." (Note: this was the
same period in which extensive CIA drug involvement has been uncovered
by Gary Webb's San Jose Mercury News expose, and corroborated by others,
including DIA agents in the field. It's interesting to note that the
same organization was mobilizing drug dealers and right-wing Christians
simultaneously to accomplish it ends.) Publicity about this and
gender-related abuses within the cult eventually led to partial
dissolution of the local branch in Ann Arbor circa 1990, and several
deprogrammers and cult experts, including noted cult authority Margaret
Thaler Singer, were brought in by depregrammed ex-members to help pick
up the pieces of the broken lives and families of cult members.

I have a hunch that in any future treatment of the history of the
Nicaraguan/Contra episode my cult's involvement will be considered much
more than a footnote (provided it ever sees the light of day.) I did not
pursue it very far. My interest and involvement in the cult expose was
limited to doing whatever was necessary to rescue my family members from
the cult. I can put you in contact with various researchers of
neo-fascist political and religious movements, however, if you wish to
pursue these issues further. For years they have specialized in
tracking down and documenting various kinds of right-wing political and
religious extremism, and have extensive knowledge and data bases may be
of some interest to you. In addition my ex-cult friends have a large
library and data base on cults that you may find of interest.


PS. to reply privately, post a reply and I will email you.

PPS. What follows is my email message to one Pastor Larsen regarding
his web site challenging the "Promise Keepers," a fundamentalist
right-wing "Mens" Christian movement with heavy cult connections, and my
introduction preceeding the message. Larsen's challenge to Promise
Keepers was based on his subjective criteria of "orthodoxy" similar to
David Merc's criteria. I hope the following text illustrates the
problems with this line of reasoning.

Dear Mr. Larson,

I noticed the articles on the Promise Keepers on your web page and I
thought you might like to hear some little known information on the
background of this movement. I think the authors of the articles would
also benefit from this information. I tried to find their email
addresses on the web page and was unsuccessful. I would appreciate if
you would forward a copy of this message to them.

First of all, my own background: I am a former Catholic Charismatic who
was involved in one of the larger Charismatic communities associated
with the "Shepherding Movement." The group I was involved with for over
13 years is (was?) called "The Word of God." This particular group was
played a key role in the propagation of the shepherding movement.
Together with a friend (and ex-WOG member) I spent a considerable amount
of time, several years ago, in tracking and documenting the spread of
this movement, and describing and understanding its theology. Our
immediate goal was to rescue relatives and friends who were members of
the group. A secondary goal (not fully realized) was to spread the word
about the dangers of this movement, and help stop its explosive growth
among the mainline denominational (not to mention fringe) churches. We
believed that the spread of this movement and its theology and practices
amounted to nothing less than the spread of a form of destructive
cultism to millions of people around the world.

Now, on to the problems with the Promise Keepers. First of all, I think
the articles on your web page do not go nearly far enough in warning the
world about the dangers of this movement, nor do they really indicate an
understanding of the background and motivations of the leaders. I hope
to fill in these gaps with this message. It will be somewhat lengthy,
so please bear with me. To present everything in a coherent fashion, I
will start with some background information, leading up to the present

At the turn of the century several gnostic teachers and religious
leaders appeared on the religious horizon, who can be said to be the
mothers and fathers of modern gnostic movements, include segments of the
"New Age" movement today. My friend (Tom) has carefully traced these
belief systems and how they have led up to the current "Shepherding"
theology. I am no expert in this area, so I will skip this part except
to say that the work has already been done, in case you are interested.
Understand that I am not a New Age movement basher, but am only
referring to it in this context as a having demonstrable historical
connections with current Christian cult movements (most notable the
Gnostic elements of the New Age movement, including the various mens

Fast forward to the mid 1960s: in this period the national mood was one
of soul-searching, and youth gravitating toward counter-culture
movements, include various Christian fringe movements associated with
burgeoning ecumenical Charismatic renewal (Pentecostalism). One of the
leaders of such a group was Graham Pulkingham, a protestant pastor in
Houston, who started a small community which probably was the first (or
one of the first) true shepherding groups. I don't recall many of the
details of this group, but once again the information is available
through Tom, who s probably the world's foremost expert on the
Shepherding movement, so backup documentation is readily available if
you want it.

In roughly the same time frame as the formation of Pulkingham's Houston
group, the leaders of "The Word of God" (although this name was not used
at the time) were starting a group in Michigan based on similar
principles. It was the Word of God, and later, a group of charismatic
ministers from the Fort Lauderdale area (Don Basham, Derrick Prince,
Charles Simpson, and Ern Baxter, i.e. "the Fort Lauderdale Four." These
men were the founders of Christian Growth Ministries, one of the
earliest nd most important Shepherding organizations, which was in large
part responsible for the explosive worldwide spread of the Shepherding
movement. There was a significant amount of connection and cross
fertilization among all three of these groups. In particular, it was
The Word of God which formed the connecting link between Pulkingham and
CGM, and, for that matter, between Pulkingham and all future ecumenical
charismatic Shepherding organizations.

Briefly, my own interpretation of the Shepherding movement:

-It is, first of all, a form of destructive cultism, apart from all
other considerations, include theological ones. It is recognized as
such by all respected cult experts and groups. Again this can be backed
up, but for the sake of brevity I will not do so now.

-It is a theology which transfers responsibility for an individual's
decisions, and for their salvation, from the individual to the
leadership of the cult.

-It imposes strict adherence to "biblically-mandated" gender roles, not
to conform to scripture, or other truly religious motivation, but for
the purposes of the leadership, which include total control over the
members and their families.

-It has firmly embedded itself in the worldwide ecumenical and
non-denomination Charismatic movement, and thence infiltrated many
denominations, include the mainline denominations. It is so enmeshed
that it is difficult to distinguish out what is and is not
Shepherding-related. The movement's leaders have become very skillful
(by necessity) in hiding their motives and theology, and blending in
with the Charismatic landscape. This is the brunt of the problem and
the reason I am writing. In your articles you seem to have missed the
Shepherding connection with respect to Promise Keepers. I can assure
that the connection is very real, and very strong, and should be at the
heart of any analysis of Promise Keepers. In the rest of this message I
wish to explain and elaborate upon this point.

I became involved in shepherding in the mid 1970's and in 1978 I became
involved with The Word of God, by then the single largest and most
influential Shepherding group that had denominational ties. I mention
the later point because the were, and are, larger fringe Shepherding
cults (like Unification Church, Boston Church of Christ) but these
groups, despite similar recruiting and mind-control tactics, do not have
denominational ties, are not ecumenical, and do not practice "stealth
infiltration" (my phrase) of the denominational churches. In this sense
they can be viewed as less of a threat, at least from a denominational
or ecumenical perspective, in that they distance themselves, often
pointedly, from mainstream Christianity.

The Word of God was near the peak of its influence in the early 1980's,
with thousands of local members (in Ann Arbor, MI) and dozens of
affiliated shepherding groups around the world involving tens of
thousands of members. The groups were united under an umbrella
organization, "The Sword of the Spirit." The first events to stem the
explosive growth of the movement were challenges by various local
Catholic bishops starting in the mid 1980s and continuing to the
present. Being largely of Catholic membership, the SOS groups were
unable to withstand the negative publicity of these challenges, and
membership and influence dwindled throughout the late 1980s. By the
early 1990s the controversies had led to several disastrous splits and
large scale defections in the WOG and SOS. By this time, however, the
genie was out of the bottle, and the precepts of Shepherding, include
all the destructive practices, were spreading to thousands of
denomination and non-denominational churches, and to hundreds
of thousands of Christians, under dozens of umbrella organizations,
including one mentioned in you article, Vineyard.

Although you mentioned the Vineyard, you did not seem to pick up on the
Shepherding connections of this group. Here is where I seek to draw the
connection between Promise Keepers and the Shepherding movement. Before
I do so, I would like to relate a little-known piece of information
which I learned about the Vineyard by listening to one of their tapes
(which I transcribed, and hopefully still have around somewhere, if you
are interested in it). Since I don't have the transcript in front of
me, I will repeat this from memory. During a talk at a Vineyard
conference some time in the 1990 time frame, given by the founder and
leader of the group, John Wimber, he made the statement that God had
"told" him that he and his followers had been commissioned to personally
"usher in the second coming of Christ." The context of the statement
makes it clear that he was not speaking metaphorically, but about the
literal, imminent return of Christ. (One of Wimber's weaknesses is
obviously his lack of education, which he boasts of, ironically, but
which exposes him here.)

Scriptural contradictions notwithstanding, this kind of grandiosity, and
its eager acceptance credulous followers, is not atypical within the
Shepherding movement. I repeat it here to convey the seriousness of the
degree of extremism and deviance from conventional theology, not to
mention sanity, of this particular group. Of course, leaders who go out
on such doctrinal limbs, and discredit Shepherding, eventually get
discredited and renounced by the Shepherds themselves, low profile and
conformity being a core element of stealth infiltration of mainline
churches. The core secret doctrines, nevertheless, always survive the
numerous scandals and promises of reform. This cult movement is an
ideological chameleon, always changing, and always remaining the same.
This results in an endless succession of leaders and personalities
(including McCartney) and constant "reform" movements within
Shepherding, but no real retreat from the most abusive and deceptive
practices, nor from the core doctrinal errors and isolation from the

During the early nineties, in response to the attacks by the Catholic
bishops and others, the embattled WOG and SOS organizations were
desperately seeking ties and alliances to bolster their shrinking
influence and membership. This is when the ties between SOS/WOG and
Vineyard were established. The interest in Vineyard started within the
membership of WOG and eventually led to several WOG leaders going over
to Kansas City to confer with Vineyard leaders, ultimately leading to a
close alliance between the two groups, and much sharing of teaching,
resources, and membership. Members visited each others groups and
conferences, and there was a large exchange of teachings, both on the
initiative of the individual members and as part of an overall pastoral
plan to strengthen ties between the groups. In the process WOG because
more "miracles" oriented and Vineyard because more shepherding oriented.
In the process each group enhanced the others worst tendencies. I think
the WOG leaders, at very least, intended for Vineyard to become part of
the SOS umbrella organization. The were many, in turn, who wanted WOG
to become a Vineyard church. Disputes about the direction of WOG, with
respect to Vineyard, (in addition to the external pressure from
detractors) eventually led to a split in WOG and SOS leadership, and
ultimately to a split within WOG itself. By this time, however, the
Shepherding doctrines, so thoroughly refined and perfected within the
SOS organization, and thence spread throughout the world, had been
thoroughly imbued within Vineyard (as it had within CGM and Fort
Lauderdale Four communities a decade earlier).

Now I will establish the connection between Promise Keepers and the
Vineyard/WOG movements. One of the more influential leaders of WOG was
one James Berlucci, who had befriended Promise Keepers founder, Bill
McCartney, sometime in the mid-eighties. I was eyewitness to the
following events, because of my membership in WOG and participation in
the particular WOG outreach through which McCartney became connected
with WOG, the "Mens' Breakfast." This was a weekly breakfast intended
for evangelism of business men, and ostensibly neutral about
denominational affiliation, but which in reality served as an important
local WOG recruiting arm targeting influential business and community
leaders. Not only McCartney, but other local luminaries, like Pizza
magnate Thomas Monaghan, established ties with WOG through such
"outreaches." McCartney, at the time, was an assistant coach for the
University of Michigan football team, and his involvement and
affiliation with the Mens Breakfast, as well as his friendship with
James Berlucci, was an important coup for the WOG leadership, bringing
with all the publicity and exposure of being connected with a local
celebrity. To capitalize on this accomplishment, Berlucci started
hosting "Mens Nights" featuring Bill McCartney at a local high school,
which attracted large enthusiastic crowds, and seem to be the prototype
for the Promise Keepers "mens nights" which followed. (This was in the
mid-1980s time frame.)

A lot has been written about the odd male orientation of Promise
Keepers, and it is often compared to other chest thumping mens
movements, up to, and include the recent "million man march on
Washington." To understand the Promise Keepers unique twist on this
theme, you should see it in context of the WOG/Vineyard connection, the
Shepherding connection, and the inner (largely secret) teachings about
male/female roles in the WOG and, to a lesser extent, within other
Shepherding groups. Ultimately I think you an trace it to the personal
preoccupations of one of the founders of WOG, indeed, one the founding
fathers of the modern ecumenical Shepherding movement, one Stephen B.
Clark. Clark is a brilliant ex-Ivy League doctoral candidate who
dropped out in the early 1960s to pursue his vision of "Christian
Community." His early writings, from the period of his doctoral studies
a Notre Dame, describe the leader of his ideal communal group as "the
dictator," which indeed describes the way he founded the WOG cult and
later ran the WOG and SOS right up to the time of the big organizational
splits in the early 1990s.

Clark is an effeminate, intentionally celibate man, seems obsessed with
male/female issues, and surrounds himself with a coterie of fanatical,
devoted celibate followers called "the brotherhood." The brotherhood
lead a spartan, ascetic, highly secretive life in a secluded compound
outside of Dexter, MI, devotedly serving "Steve" and patiently waiting
for the collapse of civilization as we know it, at which time they will
establish their own brand of theocracy on the face of the earth. Some
background on Clark is informative: he was raised by his mother, and has
kept very close ties with her, to the point of living only a few houses
away. (One the functions of "the brotherhood" was the task of extending
Clark's care and devotion to his mother, who moved from her native
Brooklyn to be near her son. Clark evidently had a distant, or
non-existant relationship with his father, and his preoccupation with
gender-related issues, and their connection with Clark's ideal
communities, are fully expounded upon in the his early 1980's tome
entitled "Man and Woman in Christ." In it he describes in obsessive
detail his exaggerated view of the importance of male/female roles in
the community and in the church. This work was, in my view, extremely
influential within the Shepherding movement and serves as the
cornerstone of its underlying belief system, with regard to gender
roles. It could be regarded as the antithesis of, and the definitive
answer to, modern feminism.

I will summarize it as follows:

-The roles of men and women, especially of men as the leaders, are
central to God's purpose and plans for the human race, and for the
correct functioning of the family, the church.

-God requires that nearly all leadership roles be filled by men, in the
family, society, business, government, and especially, the church.
Christians of all stripes and persuasion are accountable to help
establish "God's order" for gender roles within the Church and family,
and eventual, the society.

-God intends for the Church (i.e. the Shepherding movement leaders) to
control secular government and business organizations, in effect,
colonizing them for the kingdom of God. Getting the gender thing right
(males in leadership) is one of the key first steps in accomplishing
this plan.

-A high degree of militancy is promoted (just short of espousing
outright violence) and militant imagery abounds. This of course adds a
considerable amount of testosterone appeal to the movement.

-Many or most of the problems and imbalances in society and the church
can be traced to gender role confusion, which is inimical to God's plan
for the human race and therefore detrimental to society. The first
order of business for God's people is to reverse this trend.

-The movement is pernicious in the it ostensibly targets men, but in
doing so ends up dragging their wives and dependents into the whole
thought reform program. Of course the rash of divorces which inevitably
follows (if WOGs experience is any indication) is not regarded as a
logical consequence of their methodology.

Note that I am not (necessarily) a feminist, nor would I deny any
possible validity or legitimate theological arguments supporting their
agenda in principle if not in emphasis. It appears on the surface to
merely be a rehash of traditional gender roles and supporting theology,
with a "save the family" theme. The problem with that agenda, however,
is that the motivation behind it is not a balanced interpretation of
religious principles, but the troubled mind of a gender-confused
megalomaniac who surrounds himself with adoring male followers. I have
been told (second hand by a former follower, a credible eyewitness) that
one of the induction ceremonies of The Brotherhood requires the
supplicant to prostrate himself before Mr. Clark. It is hard to
estimate how Clark's own gender confusion informs his views of Christian
community, and his leadership style, but as a founder (perhaps *the*
founder) of the Shepherding movement, I think it is safe to say that the
peculiar male emphasis of the Promise Keepers can be traced in part to

To the extent that today's dislocated technological society, with broken
families being the norm, shares Clark's particular form of gender
confusion, it finds a deep resonance in urban US society. The theology
is only a cover for the abuses which follow in legion the Shepherding
movement, wherever it rears it's ugly head. Many detractors make the
mistake of fighting the movement's protean theology, which mutates
virus-like to suit the times, the leaders' needs or whims, or the battle
at hand (which are many, for these groups). The real problem, as with
all cults, is the program behind the theology. Engaging in a
theological exchange with cultists is an fruitless exercise, a
gum-chewing session, a form of shadow boxing. Cults must be distanced
and exposed as fraudulent imposters, not embraced as errant brothers.
To treat them otherwise only lends them much-sought after credibility.
Moreover, anyone familiar with the biblical teachings should recognize
this as a biblically correct approach to the problem.

Following the publishing of Clark's book, an intensive training course
began in the WOG intended to uproot within members the vestiges of
gender-confusion and other contamination coming in from the secular
society "outside" the group. It targeted such evils as feminism and men
failing to become masters of their own households. What followed was an
incredibly abusive period of inquisition-like behavior, that led
directly to the condemnation of the WOG/SOS movement by several American
Catholic Bishops, and the forcible disbanding of several SOS branches
(WOG itself was spared the same fate by a sympathetic bishop). By this
time, however, the WOG-Vineyard connection was in full swing, and no
doubt McCartney's introduction to Vineyard occurred during this period.
When McCartney moved to Colorado to take over a coaching position there,
it was only natural that he would gravitate to Vineyard, being
geographically separated from the dwindling, discredited SOS/WOG
organizations. From what I have heard and read about Promise Keepers,
however, he has lost none of his zeal for the Clarkian brand of gender
role-obsessed religion, and is busy spreading it around the country,
including an appearance my own home town (San Jose, CA) just a few weeks

But why should I care so much, as to write this "tome" to you, triggered
simply by glancing at a couple pages on your web site? What is the
basis for my own preoccupation? First of all, I regard such movements
as a fundamental threat to life and liberty in our society, and well as
a threat to the practice of true religion. I firmly believe that the
Shepherding movement makes the local church one of the most dangerous
places in our communities where a person can venture. (I thought church
was supposed to be a haven for the weary, not a trap for the unwary.) As
stated before, I consider Shepherding to be a dangerous, destructive
cult movement. Our society is prepared for the idea of fringe cults,
but seems blissfully ignorant of the phenomena of a cult movement, one
which involves hundreds of thousands of people. We seem willing to
recognize such mass phenomena in cultures like Iran and Iraq, but
unwilling to face it on the local front. Your articles sincerely
attempt to come to grips with the problems of the Promise Keepers, but I
believe that you miss the real threat that these groups pose. You seem
to have brought a .22 rifle, or a pellet gun, to shoot varmints, but for
you own safety you should be aware that you are hunting dangerous game.
The secular press approaches this problem in a characteristic way, which
suits the needs of the secular readership. The Christian press, in my
opinion, has a different mandate. These people are claiming to be our
own, are perpetrating massive crimes of the spirit against fellow
christians, while discrediting our cause. I think we have a particular
responsibility to get our facts straight, and get the whole story out.

I believe that you act out of ignorance, not malice, cowardice, or
irresponsibility. I do not fault your observations, only your
omissions, and these omissions are possibly minor faults in the sense
that the information is not widely known, and may be difficult to get no
matter how much effort is expended. In engaging the enemy as an equal,
you have given up precious ground, and this is ground which is hard to
recover. That is the reason for this message. The theological arguments
are a trap which can only silence you in the end. Please focus instead
on their methods. Real people are getting hurt, real families are
splitting up. To paraphrase a silly NRA slogan, theology doesn't kill
people, people kill people. Don't lose sight of the victims by
focussing on the forest of theology.

I only hope and pray that you search out the truth for yourselves, and
that once you have convinced yourselves that these threats are real
(especially as churchmen, true shepherds who have your congregations to
watch over) that you do not succumb to the fear that these groups can
inspire in their detractors. The tentacles of these groups reach to the
highest levels of church leadership and government. They help shape the
daily news you read in your newspapers. They are a force to be reckoned
with, and you should be ready either to stand behind your web page, or
else just pull those pages entirely. (It may not be your fight.) As a
former cult member and observer of Shepherding groups, critic of WOG and
SOS, and one who was instrumental in the downfall of those groups, I can
attest to the power and tenacity of Shepherding groups in attacking and
vilifying their detractors. I can also attest that they are enormously
vulnerable to the truth expressed freely and responsibly in the public

Keith Henson

Oct 5, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/5/97

*Excellent* article. This is kind of long, consisting of three articles
on memetics and evolutionary psychology which were writen over a 12 year
period. If you have read the first two (they have been all over the net)
skip them and read the last one for some tentative insights on the
mechanism which cults use to hook people. Keith Henson

This 40k article on memes is one of few I have written in the past
10-15 years which was not webbed. It was originally published in
_Analog_, August, 1987. A somewhat edited version was reprinted in
_Whole Earth Review_, Fall, 1987 (with some great art work). A short
version was anthologized in WER _Signals_, (1988?) and about a year
later the Reason Foundation sent reprints of the WER version to about
half the high schools in the US for debate resource material. [Reason
Magazine asked me to write an article on memes which was rejected
after they had a management change. That article is widely webbed as
"Memes, MetaMemes and Politics."]

Analog anthologized the '87 article (slightly updated) in the 1990
hardback, ANALOG ESSAYS ON SCIENCE, Copyright (c) 1990 by Davis
Publications, Inc. For some reason I could not find an electronic
copy, and my copy of the (out of print) book has been missing for
years. I finally found a library copy and scanned it in. I did not
update it because it is of historical interest. A few 1997 comments
are in {}, footnotes are in [].

Where it mentions the Soviet Union it is kind of out of date. :-)

H. Keith Henson, Feb. 1997



{Lead-in by Stanley Schmidt}

In his Foundation stories, Isaac Asimov proposed a future science
called "psychohistory," in which the collective behavior of human
populations could be predicted with high precision. In our time, the
social sciences are often viewed as sharply different from the
physical sciences because they cannot do much predicting. Is this an
inherent limitation on the social sciences, or might it be possible to
put them on a truly predictive basis by means that have not been
formulated yet? There are a number of lines of research suggesting
that it might. One of them is based on the "meme": a concept created
by analogy with the gene and describing an entity supposed to behave
in a somewhat similar way.

H. Keith Henson was one of the founders, and the first president
of the L5 Society, which has since become part of the National Space
Society. He describes himself as a carrier for several highly
infectious memes relating to space colonies, nanotechnolaay, personal
computers, and cult-watching.


SCIENCE fiction writers do not always manage to stay ahead of
science. One significant concept showed up in the scientific
literature 13 years before Charles Sheffield and Arthur Clarke
simultaneously wrote stories that incorporated the "Skyhook" or
"Beanstalk." But in projecting a science of social prediction, SF
writers have been far ahead of the scientists. Isaac Asimov based the
entire Foundation series on "Psychohistory." Robert Heinlein
developed the theme of predicting social movement in his Future
History stories, especially in Revolt in 2100, Methuselah's Children,
and in the unwritten saga of Reverend Nehemiah Scudder.*

[ * "First Prophet," President of the United States, destroyer of
its Constitution, and founder of the Theocracy. If this makes you
vaguely uncomfortable, it is probably because you have been reading
about fundamentalist preacher/presidential candidate Pat Robertson.
As the Ayatollah Khomeini recently demonstrated, fundamentalist
religion and politics can make a nasty mix.]

Science fiction aside, we don't have a science of social
prediction. Until recently, we haven't even had much in the way of
theories. Our continual surprise at the development of cults,
religions, wars, fads, and other social movements is a notable
exception to the steady progress humans have made in building better
models of our environment. When you consider the suffering associated
with some social movements, our lack of good models must he considered
a major deficiency.

A successful theory of the development of social movements will
have to provide a unifying theory for events that make up much of the
evening news. It will have to discover common features that lie
behind the diverse trends causing problems in Nicaragua, South Africa,
Northern Ireland, and the Middle East. A good theory should be able
to evaluate the danger or lack of danger from the LaRouche
organization, whose accidental win in the Democratic primary forced
Adlai Stevenson III to run as an independent in the Illinois
governor's race. (This cult more recently made the news when the FBI
raided its offices in the wake of alleged massive credit card frauds.)
It should be able to produce a plausible model for the breakup of the
Rajneesh cult (whose Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh accumulated 93 Rolls
Royces before abandoning his Oregon community). The theory should be
able to predict the conditions under which Turkey will be subverted by
a fundamentalist version of Islam similar to that which led to so much
grief in Iran.

A tall order! But an emerging field of study, _memetics_, holds
just such promise. Sometimes thought of as "germ theory applied to
ideas," memetics is an outgrowth of evolutionary biology. It provides
models where social movements are seen as side effects of infectious
ideas that spread among people in a way mathematically identical to
the way epidemic disease spreads. It has been noticed, for example,
that use rates for various drugs, most recently "crack," have closely
followed epidemic-like curves that seem to be as oblivious to the
efforts of authorities as the Black Death was in 1348. At a deeper
level, research in neuroscience and artificial intelligence is
starting to develop an understanding of why we are susceptible to
"infectious information," both the benign and the deadly.

As useful as these models may be, they are not without the
potential to seriously affect our cherished institutions. A good
understanding of the mechanisms of our minds and the dynamics that
underlie the spread and persistence of any social or political
movement has the potential to forever alter the way we think about all
other social movements, including those of our own culture, religions,
and nation. When viewed from the perspective of tolerance that has
been developing in Western culture since the Renaissance, the changes
in outlook seem to be positive, but it would not surprise me to find
memetics condemned from the pulpit even more than evolution has been.

Memetics comes from "meme" (which rhymes with "cream"), a word
coined in purposeful analogy to gene by Richard Dawkins in his 1976
book, _The Selfish Gene_. To understand memes, you must have a good
understanding of the modern concepts of evolution, and this is a good
source. In its last chapter, memes were defined as replicating
information patterns that use minds to get themselves copied much as a
virus uses cells to get itself copied. (Dawkins credits several
others for developing the concepts, especially the anthropologist F.
T. Cloak.) Like genes, memes are pure information.*

[*The essence of a gene is in its information. It is still a gene
"for hemoglobin" or "for waltzing behavior in mice" whether the
sequence is coded in DNA, printed on paper, or is written on
magnetic tape.]

They must be
perceived indirectly, most often by their effect on behavior or by
material objects that result from behavior. Humans are not the only
creatures that pass memes about. Bird songs that are learned (and
subject to variation) and the songs of whales are also replicating
information pattern that fit the model of a meme. So is the
"termiteing" behavior that chimps pass from generation to generation.

"Meme" is similar to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. A
passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which
fails to take root in others, falls short of being a meme. The
important part of the "meme about memes" is that memes are subject to
adaptive evolutionary forces very similar to those that select for
genes. That is, their variation is subject to selection in the
environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the
vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human
culture. The analogy is remarkably close. For example, genes in cold
viruses that cause sneezes by irritating noses spread themselves by
this route to new hosts and become more common in the gene pool of a
cold virus. Memes cause those they have successfully infected to
spread the meme by both direct methods (proselytizing) and indirect
methods (such as writing). Such memes become more common in the
culture pool.

The entire topic would be academic except that there are two
levels of evolution (genes and memes) involved and the memetic level
is only loosely coupled to the genetic. Memes which override genetic
survival, such as those which induce young Lebanese Shiites to blow
themselves "into the next world" from the front seat of a truck loaded
with high explosives, or induce untrained Iranians to volunteer to
charge Iraqi machine guns, or the WW II Kamikaze "social movement" in
Japan, are all too well known. I have proposed the term "memeoid" for
people whose behavior is so strongly influenced by a replicating
information pattern (meme) that their survival becomes inconsequential
in their own minds.

For a vivid example we can hark back a few years ago to Rev. Jim
Jones and the People's Temple incident, where 912 people, including
Jones, died of complications--poison and gunshot wounds--induced by an
information disease.

The Children's Crusades of the middle ages were larger and more
lethal; only 2 of 20,000 returned from one. The mass suicide in the
first century by the Jews at Masada is a clear example of information
patterns in people's minds having more influence over their behavior
than the fear of death.

A more seductive example of a social movement set off by a
lethal meme comes from South Africa. In the 1850s, a meme (originally
derived from a dream) led to a great sacrifice by the Xhoas people
during which they killed their cattle, burned their grain, and
refrained from planting in the belief that doing so would cause their
ancestors to come back from the dead and expel the whites. At least
20,000 and perhaps as many as 60,000 starved when the predicted
millennia of plenty failed to arrive. Known as the Cattle Killing, it
was not a unique response for a primitive society being displaced by a
more technically advanced one. The "Ghost Dancers" phenomenon among
American Indians was a similar response.

Memes that bring about suicidal behavior are at least
self-limiting. Those which induce one group of people to kill another
are much worse, and the social movements they induce are often much
larger. The scope of the social movement known as the Inquisition is
seldom mentioned in history textbooks, but:

The number of victims claimed by the witch-hunts, which
lasted for three hundred years, is reckoned by historians to be
between five and six million people; it therefore caused more
deaths than all the wars waged over the period.

It is only when one takes into account the brutal, pitiless,
expression of mass-mania, and that a belief in the devil, his
traffic with witches and warlocks, was constantly being fanned
anew by the Church . . . that it is possible to gain any measure
of understanding. . *

[* Five Thousand Years of Medicine by Gerhard Venzrner, Tr. Marion
Koenig, Taplinger Publishing Co., NY 1968 pg. 163.]

The depredations and brutality of the Inquisition were about
typical of deadly memes stemming from religions or closely related
social movements such as Marxist-Leninist communism.

In the last decade, the people of Kampuchea were infected with an
anti-intellectual, agrarian utopian meme clearly mutated (in the minds
of Pol Pot and his close associates) from the Vietnamese variation of
the communist meme. They were Eric Hoffer's "True Believers" of the
most extreme stripe. The resulting social movement was a massive
self-genocide. Over one third of the population of Kampuchea,
including almost all of the city dwellers and the educated, died
before the Vietnamese (embarrassed by news stories of rivers clogged
with bodies) invaded and put a stop to the killing. Many more would
have died had the social movement run its course without interference.
Kampuchea will take decades to recover, but "'tis an ill wind ..."
The people of Thailand, with a front seat on the slaughter, seem to
have lost all sympathy for their own related social movements.

History classes have made us more aware of the genocidal
depredations resulting from the "master race" meme that was part of
the Nazi meme complex. Considered from the viewpoint of memes, Hitler
was less a prime mover than a willing victim of this particularly
nasty and pervasive variety of information disease. Had plague struck
Germany in the '30s instead of Nazism, we would have understood it in
terms of susceptibility, vectors, and disease organisms. What did
happen may soon be modeled and understood in terms of the social and
economic disruptions of the time increasing the number of people
susceptible to fanatical beliefs, just as poor diet is known to
increase the number of those susceptible to tuberculosis. For
vectors, we have personal contact, the written word, radio, and
amplified voices substituting for rats, lice, mosquitoes, and
coughed-out droplets. A pool of "sub-memes," many of them ancient
myth, contributed to the syncretic Nazi meme in much the same way
mobile genes contribute to the virulence of the influenza viruses.

Nazism was not the only fanatical movement growing and evolving
in the fertile social media of Germany between the wars. The
Marxist-Leninist meme was a visible competitor in the early period.
Even though most of those infected with the Nazi meme were conquered
or killed and Nazism became a suppressed meme, it cannot be said to
have died. As a replicating information pattern that has gone through
a great deal of evolutionary honing, it is still successful in
infecting a few susceptible people today.

A fascinating footnote to the German experience with Nazism and
its horrors happened in 1969 when Ron Jones, a teacher in Palo Alto,
exposed a high school history class to an intensive, five-day
experience with the ideas that made up the Nazi meme. The experience
of that week was originally published as "Take as Directed" in _The
CoEvolution Quarterly,_ {later WER} Spring '76 and a few years ago was
made into a TV movie, _The Wave_. Over four days, Jones introduced
and drilled his students in concepts of Strength Through Discipline,
Community, Action, and Pride. (The fifth day was devoted to showing
them how easily they had started to slip into the abyss.) The
enthusiasm with which most of the class adopted the memes and spread
them to their friends, swelling a 40 student class to 200 in 5 days,
made it one of the most frightening events the teacher had ever
experienced. Given the track record of the Nazi meme, the mini-social
movement his experiment set off is no more surprising in retrospect
than the medical effects would have been if the teacher had sprayed
smallpox virus on the class.

An empirical characteristic of large, long-lived religious
movements or related social movements (at least in the West) is a
scripture or body of written material. This may function to
standardize the meme involved or at least slow its evolution as the
number of people infected with it grows. From Scientology right back
to the Hindu Vedas, I can think of no counter-examples. Social
movements involving more than a few thousand people or lasting more
than a few years may have been rare before writing came along.

It is possible that the breakup of the Rajneesh cult was related
to its lack of an organized written scripture at a critical juncture.
The memes that were the origin of that particular social movement were
characterized by considerable instability; that is, parasitic memes
arose out of the local culture soup at short intervals. Some of them
(tapping phones) made a kind of paranoid sense, but poisoning salad
bars at restaurants with Salmonella bacteria in the hope of
influencing local elections made no sense. The group seems to have
amplified individual crazy impulses at the expense of propagating the

I have noticed several features of the social movements that
derived from really dangerous memes. One is self-isolation of the
infected group or at least new recruits from the rest of society.
This need not be an "intelligent" action taken by the "leaders."
There may be no more thought involved than the selection of dark moths
in industrial England. The "fanatic cult" memes which incorporate
isolation are the ones we observe; those which do not incorporate
isolation are like light moths, gone and not observable.

In the case of the Soviet Union, the cult-like communist meme
survives in a society largely isolated from the rest of the world. In
recent years the isolation may have resulted from reasoned
considerations about the fragility of the communist meme in open
competition with other memes. A more parsimonious view would note
that without originally having a strong isolation component, the
communist meme would have had no more social influence in the USSR
than it has had in, say, France.*

[* The ferment in the USSR today is certainly consistent with this

Isolation makes possible exposure to a single meme (or meme set)
many times a day for months or years without much contact with other
memes. Exclusive exposure to one meme (also known as brainwashing)
induces a "dependent mental state" in some people.

Thankfully, most of us have not experienced the dependent mental
state firsthand, but we have all seen such people on the news programs
boarding buses for the front in Iran, or been harassed by them in
airports, or had them knock on our doors and try to infect us. It is
clear that the people who suffer from extreme cases of "information
disease" have lost much of their ability to take care of themselves or
their children. Truly dedicated people often fail to replace
themselves, since too much of their life energies are channeled into
propagating the infecting meme. One example comes from the largest
subdivision of Christianity, where celibacy for its most dedicated has
long been institutionalized. The Rajneesh cult practiced the opposite
of celibacy but discouraged births to the point of sterilizing the
barely pubescent female children of its resident members.

Given that memes have been interfering with our reproduction for
a long time, one must wonder why humans are still so susceptible to
information diseases. The answers to such questions are starting to
come from research in artificial intelligence (AI), neuroscience, and
archeology. It is becoming apparent that our vulnerabilities are a
direct consequence of the way our minds are organized, and that
organization is a direct consequence of our evolutionary history.

Marvin Minsky (a principal founder of Al) and Michael Gazzaniga
(one of the major workers in split-brain research) have independently
come to a virtually identical model of the mind. Both view minds as
vast collections of interacting, largely parallel (co-conscious)
modules, or "agents." The lowest level of such a society of agents
consists of a small number of nerve cells that innervate a section of
muscle. A few of the higher level modules have been isolated in
clever experiments by Gazzaniga, some of them on split-brain patients.

One surprise from this work is that we seem to have our mental
modules arranged in a way that guarantees we will form beliefs. What
we believe in depends, at least in part, on what we are exposed to and
the order in which we are exposed. Gazzaniga argues that we slowly
evolved the ability to form beliefs because the ability provides a
major advantage in surviving. Being able to infer, that is to form
new beliefs, and to learn, in the sense of acquiring such beliefs from
others, was a major advance over learning by trial and error. Being
able to pass the rare new ways our ancestors found for chipping rock
or making pots from person to person and generation to generation was
vital in allowing humans to spread over the earth. But as this
ability became the norm, communicating human minds formed a new
"primal soup" in which a new kind of non-biological evolution, that of
replicating information patterns or memes, could get started. A wide
variety of competing memes has evolved in the intervening seventy
thousand years or so. It should not be surprising that the survivors
of this process, like astrology or religions, are so effective at
inducing their hosts to spread and defend them. It is also plausible
that in the tens of millennia since memetic evolution became a major
factor, there has been a biological co-evolution. The parts of our
brains that hold our belief systems have probably undergone biological
adaptation to be better at detecting dangerous memes and more
skeptical about memes that result in death or seriously interfere with
reproductive success.

This type of co-evolution is known as an "arms race" to
biologists. One such biological arms race has resulted in almost
perfect egg mimicry by the cuckoo and in correspondingly sharp visual
discrimination in the birds it parasitizes. By analogy, while we get
better at spotting dangerous memes, the memes may be evolving to be
more effective at infecting us. Advancing technology (which itself is
an improving collection of memes) changes the environmental conditions
where memes survive or fail as well. The modern telephone system and
the tape cassette player were major factors in the takeover of Iran.
It has been argued that the rise of the Nazis depended strongly on
radio reaching a previously unexposed and unsophisticated population.
Exposure to modern advertising may be one factor which makes a
television broadcast by Lyndon LaRouche attacking (among others) the
L5 Society so absurd that tapes of it are used as entertainment at L5
parties. He might have been taken seriously in the '3Os.

I have picked dangerous examples for vivid illustrations and to
point out that memes have a life of their own. The ones that kill
their hosts make this hard to ignore. However, most memes, like most
microorganisms, are either helpful or at least harmless. Some may
even provide a certain amount of defense from the very harmful ones.
It is the natural progression of parasites to become symbiotes, and
the first symbiotic behavior that emerges in a proto-symbiote is for
it to start protecting its host from other parasites. I have come to
appreciate the common religions in this light. Even if they were
harmful when they started, the ones that survive over generations
evolve and do not cause too much damage to their hosts. Calvin (who
had dozens of people executed over theological disputes) would hardly
recognize Presbyterians three hundred years later. Contrariwise, the
Shaker meme is now confined to books, and the Shakers are gone. It is
clearly safer to believe in a well-aged religion than to be
susceptible to a potentially fatal cult.

History doesn't change, but our interpretation of it can. For
example, the contemporary "causes" of historical epidemics (such as
the miasma theory) have been totally supplanted by germ theory
explanations. Before germ theory came along, memes of causality for
epidemics were remarkably stable. The "explanation" for the Black
Death of 1348 was still in use for the Philadelphia Yellow Fever
epidemic of 1796. Similarly, various "explanations" for wars have
been with us for hundreds of years.

Memetics provides an interesting alternate way to analyze recent
wars and the roots of current disputes. In this view, the ultimate
(though unaware) protagonists of World War II were memes such as the
Nazi "master race" and the Marxist-Leninist meme (MLM). The current
clash between the Soviets and the western world can be viewed as a
meme conflict (for space in minds) between the religion-like,
competition-intolerant mono-meme of communism and the western
meta-meme of tolerance. While it is not a religion by any reasonable
definition, the Marxist-Leninist meme is clearly in competition for
the "belief space" in minds usually occupied by religious memes. It,
and its more cultish offshoots, have the typical virtues and excesses
of cult-stage religious memes. In an amusing twist, the "god-less"
communist meme is the more religion-like of the two in its battle for
mind space with secular western culture!

Reviewers of an earlier draft of this article objected to my
description of Soviet memes. Words like "tolerant" or "intolerant"
have acquired a great deal of positive/negative connotation in the
western world, but in describing memes, I am using them in the same
way we would say that a mold colony is intolerant of a bacterial
invasion. With respect to the belief system that dominates the meme
pool of the other superpower, I am trying to be descriptive, not

If anything, I would think that understanding the memetic nature
of religions and related movements like communism would defuse the
emotional connections and substitute something closer to dispassionate
understanding of the parasitic-to-symbiotic memes behind such social
movements. It has had that effect on me. Many, even the most
gruesome, features of communism are what they are simply because those
features were (and are) necessary for the meme to exist in a world of
competing memes. Isolation, for example, is a common feature of
virtually all successful religious memes while they are in the cult
stage. Anyone who has studied history knows that suppression of
competitive memes by the power of the state is a common experience
once a meme of this class has infected the leaders or they have been
replaced by those infected.

And if the Christian religion was a mainstay of the aristocracy,
serving to keep the peasants in place, Soviet Communism is no less
supportive of its own hereditary elite. As a successful and
persistent meme, that has appeal even to people who know the realities
of its practice, it commands a certain grudging respect. From a
meme's viewpoint, tolerance of other memes is not a virtue; it is, in
fact, a fatal characteristic for a particular meme, as memes inducing
intolerance to other memes would soon displace it. On the other hand,
a meta-meme of limited toleration, even cooperation among memes is
possible. The western metamere of tolerance seems to have emerged
from an ecosystem of memes in much the same way that cooperative
behavior has been modeled as emerging from an ecosystem of
individuals.* In the area of meme tolerance the western world may be
unique. We think of censorship as evil; where but in an advanced
ecosystem of memes could such a strange idea have emerged?

[* See _The Evolution of Cooperation_ by Robert Axelrod, 1984 Basic
Books, NY. ]

I have recently had a lot of fun reading history to trace the
development of the meta-meme of tolerance. This particular character
of our ecosystem of memes has been developing at least since the
writings of the Greeks and Romans were a rediscovered during the
Renaissance. Studying inactive pagan religions may have been the
first step in developing tolerance for a variety of religious memes.
The fragmentation of the dominant religion during the Reformation led
to a series of largely indecisive religious wars in most of the major
countries of Europe. Sheer exhaustion may have been one of the most
significant factors in developing a grudging tolerance, which in these
later times has taken on a patina of virtue in the division of our
culture known as "liberal."

In this view, western culture is a vast ecosystem where memes of
many classes engage in "fair" competition with each other. Attempts
to subvert fair competition by changing laws or education (such as
introducing "creation science" into schools) draw opposition from
defenders of a wide variety of memes which have evolved within this
environment. This model may provide testable explanations for both
western culture's tolerance of intolerant memes (such as creation
science and the MLM) and the hostility these memes evoke from various
segments of the culture. David Brin's "Dogma of Otherness" in the
April 1986 Analog prompted considering a memetic explanation for such
peculiar ambiguities in our culture.

Several current social movements are obvious candidates for
examination with memetic theory. Given the available data, we may be
able to predict the remaining course of the "non-literate graffiti
epidemic," which has spread in the past 15 years from New York City to
remote corners of the country. There are substantial financial
reasons (such as the cost of mark-resistant walls) to want to know if
scribbler behavior will be a limited epidemic or will become an
endemic part of our culture.

Drug use, clearly a replicating pattern of behavior passed from
person to person, is another "social movement" where the similarity to
epidemic waxing and waning has been widely used by reporters, and
noted without much explanation in a number of learned journals. If it
were formally considered as an epidemic with memes as the infecting
agents, the ways by which the behavior spreads might get more
attention. Counter-drug programs might be evaluated in terms of how
well they induce reasonable behavior. Some efforts in the past,
especially those which wildly exaggerated the dangers of a drug such
as marijuana, may have increased the behavior of taking other drugs.
These efforts may have immunized those exposed against believing any
official pronouncements about drugs.

Formal consideration of drug use as an epidemic of meme-induced
behavior might also lead to the realization that the percentage of
people susceptible to abusing most drugs is not all that large.
(Cigarette smoking is an exception.) For example, most of the people
I know who have tried cocaine don't care for it. Not liking the
effect, they wouldn't use it if it were free. People who really like
opiates aren't that common, either.

Part of my interest in memes stems from a ten-year (and
continuing) experience of being infected with the space colony meme
which developed in the minds of Gerard O'Neill and his students in the
late '60s. (See "Memes, L5 and the Religion of the Space Colonies,"
September, 1985 and "More on Memes," June 1986, both in _L5 News_.)
Memetics provides candidate explanations for why the space colony meme
spread in the first place, why it is not making much progress now, and
some insight into what might be done to revitalize the meme and
actually accomplish the implicit goals.

From a recent survey of L5 members, there seems to be two main
factors and a minor one that contributed to the attractiveness of the
space colony meme. First was the "new lands" factor. We are the
genetic and memetic heirs of people who moved into vacant areas of the
planet. It should be no surprise that the prospect of new lands is an
irresistible attraction to many people. This may also explain the
higher than proportional membership in L5 from California, where the
last of the restless pioneers piled up. The minor factor (suggested
by Dale Skran of Bell Labs) is fear of random events such as nuclear
war, asteroid impact, worldwide epidemics, or crazy social movements
that could badly damage civilization or even extinguish human life.
As Heinlein put it, one planet is too fragile a basket to put all the
human eggs in. The other main factor was possibility of personal
involvement, of going into space. Surprisingly this is still a very
important factor. Some 60 percent of respondents to a survey at the
1986 L5 annual conference said they expected to live in space.

If the attractiveness of the space colony meme is in the prospect
of large numbers of people being able to live in space within a short
time, these factors are quite at variance with today's reality; since
the Solar Power Satellite project bit the dust, there haven't even
been any widely accepted proposals that would get us out there in the
next 50-100 years. Since the space colony meme never had a fixed
deadline, the lack of correspondence between the meme and reality
hasn't hit as hard as "the day after" hits a millennial religion, but
informal surveys of former members indicate that lack of a timetable
was an important factor in their becoming inactive. If we want to get
out there, we need to tap a very large source of social energy. The
biggest single source of social energy on the planet is the meme
conflict between the MLM and the western metamere. There are ways
this might be tapped to get us into space, but that would take another

The memes which embody the germ theory of disease emerged when
they did partly b&cause "the time was right." The work of von
Leeuwenheok, Semmelweis, Spallanzani, and their less remembered
colleagues established in scientific culture the background memes
about microorganisms. Without these cooperating memes, the ideas of
Pasteur and Koch could not have replicated. The tragic history of
Semmelweis and his statistical work on childbed fever stands as an
example of the failure of a meme to take root in a culture before the
conditions are right for its spread, no matter how true or useful to
humans it may be.

If most conflict in the world is an indirect effect of memes,
memetics holds as much potential for reducing human misery as the germ
theory of disease. Just being able to model the interaction between
the Soviets and the West in terms of memes might go a long way toward
making the world a safer place. It took at least 60 years for the
germ theory of disease to be widely accepted, though, as anyone who
has traveled much knows, it still has a ways to go in many parts of
the world. What are the prospects in the near future for a similar
acceptance of the meme-about-memes? If it were widely accepted, what
changes could we expect to see analogous to public health? Would
widespread awareness of infectious information make us less
susceptible to dangerous memes? Can we separate ourselves from the
memes that possess us?

Further exploration of the analogy between replicating
information patterns and the ecosystems-epidemic models biologists
have painstakingly developed for other purposes may provide badly
needed insight into the origin and courses of social movements and the
nature of meme competition/cooperation. If memetics develops soon
enough, it may provide help in evaluating proposed solutions to
current international problems, predict the course of troublesome
social movements, and suggest solutions for conflicts between social
movements. If this article succeeds in infecting you with the
meme-about-memes, perhaps it will help you be more responsible about
the memes you spread and less likely to be infected by a meme that can
harm you or those around you.


Lyndon Larouche has now been sent to jail for credit card fraud.
Cults such as this one can almost be defined by the central meme
gaining ascendency in the minds of the infected over all other
considerations, moral and legal.

Computer viruses are an additional analogy to the more
destructive memes. While memes infect _human_ operating systems,
computer viruses and worms infect _computer_ operating systems

Sadly, the meme-about-memes is not spreading as fast as I would
like. Those interested in helping spread it can contact me at:

{1997 updated address}

P.O. Box 60012
Palo Alto, CA 94306

or through email at: or

{Additional articles include Memes, MetaMemes and Politics, A
Theoretical Understanding (memes and cryonics), one on meme trapping
of leaders, and a recent one on a connection between cults and
evolutionary psychology}


In addition to Dawkins's '76 and '82 books, there are a number of
books and articles directly discussing memes. One that reached a
large number of readers was Douglas Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas
column "On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures" in
Scientific American (Jan. 1983) and reprinted in his recent book.
There are numerous supporting sources, and a reliable source indicates
that a journal of memetics may be offered soon.

Bohannan, Paul. "The Gene Pool and the Meme Pool," Science 80,
November 1980, pp. 25, 28.

Cloak, F.T. , Jr. "The Causal Logic of Natural Selection: A General
Theory," Oxford Surveys in Evolutionary Biology 3, article 6, 1986. In
press. Preprints available from F.T. Cloak, Jr., 1613 Fruit Avenue,
NW, Albuquerque, NM 87104.

Dawkins, Richard. The Extended Phenotype: The Gene as the Unit of
Selection. W.H. Freeman and Company, Oxford and San Francisco, 1982.
See esp. Chapter 6, pp. 97-117.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press, New
York, 1976. See Chapter 11, first use of "meme."

Drexler, K. Eric. Engines of Creation. Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden
City, New York, 1986. See esp. pp.35-38 and other references to
"memes" in the index.

Henson, H. Keith.

"Memes, L5 and the Religion of the Space Colonies," L-5 News,
September, 1985.

"More on Memes," L-5 News, June 1986.

"Memes, Mental Parasites, and the Evolution of Skepticism,"
unpublished monograph.

"Original Sin and Liberal Guilt," Cryonics, in press. {on the web}

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Metamagical Themas. Basic Books, Inc., New
York, 1985. See esp. Chapter 3, pp. 49-69.

Stefik, Mark. "The Next Knowledge Medium," The AI Magazine, Spring
1986, Vol.7, #1.

Wilson, Edward o. and Charles J. Lumsden. Genes, Mind and Culture: The
Coevolutionary Process. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA,
1981. See esp. Chapter 3 and earlier definitions of "culturgen" and

The following works do not use the word "meme," but their
contents help elucidate human behavior and cultural evolution.

Baker, Sherry. "A Plague Called Violence," Omni, Vol.8, No.11 (August
1986), pp 42ff.

Chase, Stuart. The Tyranny of Words. Harcourt, Brace and World; New
York, 1938.

Cloak, F.T., Jr., et al. "The Adaptive Significance of Cultural
Behavior: Comments and Reply," Human Ecology, Vol.5, No.1(1977),
pp.49-50 (with references appended to the monograph).

Cloak, F.T., Jr., "Is a Cultural Ethology Possible?," Human Ecology,
Vol.3, No.3 (1975), pp.161-82.

Conway, Flo and Jim Siegelman. Snapping. Dell Publishing, New York,

Gazzaniga, Michael S. The Social Brain: Discovering the Networks of
the Mind. Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1985.

Kelly, Kevin. "Information as a Communicable Disease," CoEvolution
Quarterly, Summer 1984.

Minsky, Marvin. Society of Mind. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1986.

Nisbett, Richard, and Lee Ross. Human Inference: Strategies and
Shortcomings of Social Judgment. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey, 1980.

(LONG article, about 30k bytes) Copyright 1988, Keith Henson, 408-978-7616
1794 Cardel Way, San Jose, CA 95124 For paper publication permission,
contact author

Memes Meta-Memes and Politics

By H. Keith Henson

"For philosophically committed people, politics is primarily a contest over
public policy. The measure is not what people, but what ideas win."
--Morton C. Blackwell

"If you would understand politics, study evolution first."
--H. T. Watcher

Richard Dawkins, perhaps the foremost evolutionary biologist of our times,
starts Chapter 5 of his recent book, The Blind Watchmaker with "It's raining
DNA outside." He goes on to describe a willow tree that is shedding fluffy
seeds far and wide across the landscape. The paragraph ends: "The whole
performance, cotton wool, catkins, tree and all is in aid of one thing and one
thing only, the spreading of DNA around the countryside. Not just any DNA, but
DNA whose coded characters spell out specific instructions for building willow
trees that will shed a new generation of downy seeds. Those fluffy specks are,
literally, spreading instructions for making themselves. They are there because
their ancestors succeeded in doing the same. It is raining instructions out
there; it's raining programs; it's raining tree-growing, fluff-spreading
algorithms. That's not a metaphor, it is the plain truth. It couldn't be any
plainer if it were raining floppy disks."

The paradigm of life as the propagation of genetic information and of
Darwinian evolution as resulting from the selective survival generation after
generation of some part of that information is an outgrowth of the computer age.
This paradigm has led to a number of remarkable advances in evolutionary
biology. For example, seemingly "altruistic" behavior of worker bees is now
understood as a consequence of the improved survival of the "selfish" DNA they
share with the queen. About a decade ago in the mind of the same Dr. Dawkins
this line of thinking led to a new way to view the spread and persistence of the
ideas that make up human culture.

The new study is called memetics after "meme" (which rhymes with cream).
"Meme" is a coined word from a Greek root for memory, and purposefully similar
to "gene." Dawkins devoted the last chapter of his earlier book, The Selfish
Gene, to defining memes and discussing the survival of these replicating
information patterns within the meme-pool (roughly culture). "Meme" is close
to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. An idea which fails to propagate beyond
the person who first thinks of it is not a meme. "Beliefs," especially
organized and promoted beliefs, are memes, or, depending on how you think about
them, cooperating groups of memes. I will use memes, ideas, replicating
information patterns, and beliefs as similar terms in this article.

The study of memetics takes the old saw about ideas having a life of their
own seriously and applies what we know about ecosystems, evolution, and
epidemiology to study the spread and persistence of ideas in cultures. If you
come to understand memetics, I expect your view of politics, religions, and
related social movements to be changed in much the same way the germ theory of
disease changed the attitude of the medical profession about epidemics.
Memetics provides rational explanations for a lot of seemingly irrational human

A meme survives in the world because people pass it on to other people,
either vertically to the next generation, or horizontally to our fellows. This
process is analogous to the way willow genes cause willow trees to spread them,
or perhaps closer to the way cold viruses make us sneeze and spread them.

Collections of organisms make up ecosystems. Human culture is a vast
collection of memes, a memetic ecosystem. The diagram below is in terms of
increasing complexity.

Memes (groups form culture, stabilized by meta-memes)
Organisms (groups form ecosystems)
DNA (informational though embedded in material)
molecules material
sub atomic

Once the informational boundary is crossed, biological models of replication
and survival become applicable. Most of the memes that make up human culture
are of the shoemaking kind. A rationale for the spread and persistence of
these ideas/skills seems obvious: they aid the survival of people who in turn
teach the same ideas and skills to the next generation.

But a good fraction of the memes that make up human culture fall into the
categories of political, philosophical, or religious. A rationale for the
spread and persistence for these memes is a much deeper problem. The spread of
some memes of these classes at the expense of others is of intense concern to
many readers of Reason. If we are to be effective at judging ideas and
promoting the spread of ones we think are more rational, it would be useful to
understand how memes come about, how they use people to spread, and why the
self-interest of the people who spread a meme and the meme's "interest" are not
always the same.

Study of these concepts may provide insight into why some ideas are more
attractive than others and into what "rational" and "objective" mean. Much of
the recent progress in understanding evolution came from a viewpoint shift:
biologists started looking at the world from the viewpoint of genes. Because
genes influence their own survival (via causal loops) the ones we observe seem
as if they were "striving" to be represented by more copies in the next
generation. Memes too seem to "strive." Of course, this is metaphor, since
neither genes nor memes are conscious. In the process of making more copies of
themselves in human minds memes sometimes work at cross purposes with human
genes. At least three different and conflicting viewpoints for determining
"rational" and "objective" exist: from the viewpoint of the genes a person
carries, from the viewpoint of the memes they carry (or are infected with) and
from their conscious mind, shaped by both genes and memes.

Memes and humans have co-evolved. Pre-human minds were, like current human
minds, the substrate for memes. Pre-human minds were the memetic equivalent of
the "primal soup" in which genetic life started. Replicating information
patterns such as the ones which built mental structures for chipping rock or
(much later) controlling fire improved the survival of certain human genes.
These genes in turn built bodies and minds able to learn and pass on the memes.

The result was a double positive feedback cycle where memes for survival-
enhancing behavior and genes for mental hardware able to learn and pass along
memes were both favored. The combination is so successful that human beings and
their complex cultures inhabit the largest ecological range on the planet (at
least for animals of our size).

Any ecological success becomes a fertile ground for parasites. The
environment of the cell nucleus with its raw materials and enzyme systems for
replicating DNA/RNA is hijacked by viruses. Likewise, the human/memetic system
is beset by biological and memetic parasites. Successful parasites (that is the
ones which don't kill off their host) evolve into mutualistic symbionts. The
host also evolves to be resistant to parasites. I think both genetic and memetic
responses to parasitic memes can be recognized.

Parasitic memes have been strongly selected to fit the strange quirks that
developed in human mental systems as they evolved. For example, the ability to
plan into the future confers a strong survival advantage, especially since the
introduction of farming. But being able to think about the future (and past)
generates troubling problems when this ability is applied to questions such as
where-was-I-before-birth or where-will-I-go-after-death. The attractiveness of
religious belief systems largely stems from providing "plausible" answers to
questions that would not be asked except for the hyperdevelopment of this mental

To illustrate the lifelike quality of memes, here is my story about how a
meme was introduced to a sub-culture, how it thrived, evolved, and finally
became extinct.

When I went to college in 1960, the University of Arizona registration
material included a punch card for religion. I figured (correctly) that they
would sort this card out and send it to the 'church of your choice' so the
churches could send around press gangs on Sunday morning. At the time, I was
drifting away from the church in which I had been raised. (My intellectual and
social development had simply become incompatible with churches of any kind.)I
wasn't expecting this question, hadn't given any thought to what I would put
down, and was in a hurry to get through the lines of registration checkers. I
remembered an old SF story that hinged on a mystery word, Myob, later explained
as an acronym for Mind Your Own Business. Why not? I put down MYOB in the
religion space, and got away with it when they asked me what it meant.

By the next semester I had thought up a better answer. The high school crowd
I ran around with had used runes to write silly messages on the blackboards, and
we actually knew quite a bit about old religions. So I put down Druid, and
got away with it. In fact, the harried registration checkers who asked what was
a Druid didn't let me get more than a sentence or two into my prerecorded rap
about how the Druids had been around a lot longer than the upstart Christians.

It was far too good a prank to keep to myself. Several of my old high school
buddies were also at the U of A and imitated my "Druid registration behavior."
After a few semesters, there were hundreds of people doing it, and in several
mutated forms. Of course, there had to be "Reformed Druids," and that opened a
niche for "Orthodox Druids." There were "Southern Druids." There were the
"Primitive Druids" at one point, and several variations on "Church of the nth
Druid." One of the best was the "Zen Druids." They worshiped trees that may,
or may not, have been there. Winner for the best take-off was the "Latter Day

For modeling, this "replicating information pattern, manifesting as behavior
of students claiming to be members of a defunct religion" could be considered as
a fad, a group of fads, or (from the point of view of annoyed school
administrators) a '60s MOVEMENT. My spies in the University administration
reported that it peaked in the late '60s with about 20 percent of the student
body claiming (almost all tongue in cheek) to be some sort of Druids. This
memetic infection was faithfully passed down from year to year infecting the
incoming students, many of whom thumbed their noses in this small way at the
administration for the rest of their college years. At one point there were
three or four rival Druid Student Centers, and the Bandersnatch, an off-campus
humor newspaper, was published by the Druid Free Press.

University administrators created vast amounts of unnecessary paperwork for
the students every semester. There was one card that took at least half an hour
to fill out. They wanted your life history in six point spaces to "create
accurate publicity about you." I very much doubt that one in a thousand of
those were ever used. While wasting student time was irrelevant to
administrators, it was not to the students, and it was easy to get annoyed. In
a rough biological analogy, this created a niche for a meme inducing behavior
that got back in a small, safe way at the administrators.

Once introduced, the "Druid" meme was subject to a large number of small
variations, mutations if you will, but was still recognizable. My introduction
of this idea was not particularly original, but most "new" memes are just old
ones with the serial numbers filed off and a new coat of paint.

In a very lifelike way, the Druid meme in this subculture grew exponentially
over several "cycles" exactly the way an epidemic does. When the susceptible
population was mostly infected it became very much like an endemic disease, with
only the newcomers catching it. It may have jumped to other schools through
transfer students, but I have no direct knowledge.

Did U of A Druids turn into a persistent fad, like illiterate graffiti?
Sorry to say, but no. In the early seventies some smart people in the
university administration removed this question from registration for four years
and interrupted the chain of infection.

I would have considered my Druid example as entirely harmless, but in the mid
'70s I met someone in the same city who had made a serious commitment to the
old religions. I doubt that the memetic infection I introduced had much to do
with the resurgence of pagan religions in the US, and little if anything to do
with activity in England, but it certainly gave me pause to find someone about
to move to a remote place in Iceland where he thought the old religions were
still being practiced. "Replicating ideas" are always changing in the minds of
those they infect, and they can mutate (sometimes a lot) with every new person
they infect. It is hard to predict exactly what behavior a particular meme will
be inducing next week, because you never know how the meme may interact with
other memes, or mutate.

My next example of a meme at work was clearly harmful, in fact lethal.

Remember Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple incident? Jones started out in his
youth infected with a fairly standard version of fundamentalist Christianity.
Later this belief was replaced with--or mutated into--as strange a mix of
socialism, Maoist communism, and personal lunacy as you are likely to find.
Jones first promoted his new beliefs from within the organized outer shell of
his previous one. He moved those he had infected from Indianapolis to Oakland,
and than to an isolated patch of jungle. Jones and his group kept cycling ideas
between the leader and his followers. There was little correction from re-
ality, and, like a wild rumor, the memes got weirder at every cycle.
Eventually, these beliefs (more accurately the mental structures built or
programmed by these memes within the minds of Jones and his followers) reached
the point where they had so much influence over them that their personal
survival became an insignificant influence.

The mass suicide was an unusual (and thus newsworthy) episode. But history
records a number of similar incidents, with similar memetic origins. The
Children's Crusades of the Middle Ages and the mass starvation in the 1850's of
the Xhoas in South Africa are typical examples. Mass suicide episodes do not
seem rational from either a memetic or genetic viewpoint. But they make sense as
a consequence of human susceptibility to beliefs that happen to have fatal
outcomes. They are close analogs of diseases that overkill their victims--like
Dutch elm disease.

Consider the "Killing Fields" of Kampuchea. The people who killed close toa
third of the population of Kampuchea do not seem to have profited from their
efforts much more than Jones. In the memetic view of history, ideas of influence
are seen as more important than the particular people who hold them. Some memes
(for example Nazism) are observed to thrive during periods of economic chaos
just as diseases flourish in an undernourished population. Thus it is not much
of a surprise that Nazi-related beliefs emerged in the Western farm states
during the recent hard times.

Beside being utilitarian and dangerous, memes can be fun. Fads, such as
hula hoops or pet rocks can be considered as the behavioral outcome of memes.
Memetics links the pet rocks fad, the Nazis, drug "epidemics," and the problems
in Belfast, Beirut, Iran, and Central America. *ALL* result from replicating
information patterns which lie behind the whole range of social movements. This
is not to downgrade the effects of population pressure, ecological limits, or
the marketplace. But while these provide substrate and predisposition, the
specific form of social response which emerges in a crisis depends on memes,
either already present or imported, and how well they replicate in the
pre-existing memetic ecosystem.

Why do these "replicating information patterns" jump from mind to mind,
sometimes setting off massive, and occasionally dangerous, social movements?
Memes that are good at inducing those they infect to spread them, and ones that
are easy to catch, simply become more common. Since this is circular reasoning,
I need to restate the question. What, in the evolutionary prehistory of our
race, has predisposed us to be a substrate to memes that can harm us?

The ability to learn from each other is strongly rooted in our evolutionary
past. Mammals are generally good at this, primates depend on it, and we are the
absolute masters of passing information from person to person and generation to
generation. In fact, the amount of data passed on through human culture is much,
much greater than the vast amount of information we pass on through our genes.
We are obligatory "informavores," and simply could not live in most of the world
without vast amounts of information on how to survive there. I am not talking
just about the need to read The Wall Street Journal if you are in the
financial business, but the need for a little child to learn (without using
trial and error!) that cars make streets dangerous places.

Though the evolutionary origins of our susceptibility to memes is fairly
obvious, it is instructive to examine the actual mechanisms of the mind that are
engaged when we are infected with a meme.

Recent research in neurology and artificial intelligence has produced a
remarkable model of the mind. Minds are beginning to be viewed as vast
parallel collections of simpler elements, called "agents" or modules.*

Memes are information patterns which, like a recipe, guide the construction
of some agents, or groups of agents. A "walking under ladders leads to bad
luck" meme has successfully infected someone when it has built agents that
modify a person's behavior when walking near ladders.

Some mental agents are "wired in". The most obvious ones pull our hands back
from hot things. Others are not so obvious, but one which has considerable study
is often called "the inference engine." Split brain research has established it
to be physically located in the left brain of most people, close to or
overlapping the speech area. This module seems to be the source of inferences
that organize the world into a consistent whole. The same hardware seems to
judge externally presented memes for plausibility. This piece of mental
hardware is, at the same time, the wellspring of advances, and the source of
vast error.
*The new models even offer an explanation for that difficult problem, the origin
of consciousness. Each agent is too simple to be conscious, but consciousness
incidentally emerges as a property of the interconnections of these agents. In
Society of Mind, Marvin Minsky uses the analogy that consciousness emerges
from non-conscious elements just as the property of confinement emerges from six
properly arranged boards, none of which (by itself) has any property of
confinement. (And you thought Ids and Egos were complicated.)

Being able to infer, that is to find new relations in the way the world is
organized, and being able to learn inferences from others must rank among our
most useful abilities. Unfortunately, outputs of this piece of mental hardware
are all too often of National Enquirer quality. Unless reined in by
hard-to-learn mental skills, this part of our minds can lead us into disaster.
Experiments detailing the kinds of serious errors this mental module makes can
be found in Human Inference by Nesbitt and Ross and in The Social Brain by
Michael Gazzaniga.

(Sidebar) *****************************************

Gazzaniga demonstrated the activity of the inference engine module with some
very clever experiments on split brain patients. By the module failing, we can
clearly see how it is doing the best it can with insufficient data.

What Gazzaniga did is to present each side of the brain with a simple
conceptual problem. The left side saw a picture of a claw, and the right side
saw a picture of a snow scene. A variety of cards was place in front of the
patient who was asked to pick the card which went with what he saw. The correct
answer for the left hemisphere was a picture of a chicken. For the right
half-brain it was a show shovel.

"After the two pictures are flashed to each half-brain, the subjects are
required to point to the answers. A typical response is that of P.S., who
pointed to the chicken with his right hand and the shovel with the left.
After his response I asked him 'Paul, why did you do that?' Paul looked up
and without a moment's hesitation said from his left hemisphere, 'Oh, that's
easy. The chicken claw goes with the chicken and you need a shovel to clean
out the chicken shed.'

"Here was the left half-brain having to explain why the left hand was
pointing to a shovel when the only picture it saw was a claw. The left
brain is not privy to what the right brain saw because of the brain's
disconnection. Yet the patents's own body was doing something. Why was it
doing that? Why was the left hand pointing to the shovel? The left-brain's
cognitive system needed a theory and instantly supplied one that made sense
given the information it had on this particular task . . . ."

The inference engine was a milestone in our evolution. It works far more
often than it fails. But as you can see from the example, the inference engines
will wring blood from a stone; you can count on its finding causal relations
whether they exist or not. Worse yet, the inference engine probably can't
detect when it doesn't have enough data. Even if it could, it has no way to
tell that to the verbal (conscious) self.

(end sidebar) *********************************************

There are both genetic and memetic controls on the dangerous beliefs that
arise in this module, though they don't always work. I can't point to genes for
skepticism but (provided it did not interfere too much with necessary learning)
this characteristic would be of considerable survival advantage. Being entirely
uncritical of the memes you are exposed to can be a fatal trait, or it can
result in reduced (or no) fertility. The classic example of a genetically fatal
belief is the Shaker religion, but intense involvement with a wide variety of
memes (or derived social movements) statistically results in fewer children.
Unlike the Shakers (who practiced total abstinence), the Rajneesh cult in Oregon
practiced a sexual free-for-all. However, they discouraged births--and
children--to the extreme of sterilizing the barely pubescent children of their
members. From the meme's viewpoint, the more effort its host puts into promoting
the meme (living example, proselytizing, etc.) the better. From the host gene's
viewpoint, memes that reduce fertility are a disaster.

Many memes take the shortcut and spread from person to person. Others spread
in concert with the host genes, promoting fertility. Several religious memes
fall into this category: Hutterite beliefs spread exclusively with the genes of
the believers. Mormon memes take both routes--both are long term success
stories. (Though ecological limits or social upheavals will eventually stop
exponential growth in these cases.)

There are other defenses against the uncritical acceptance of potentially
dangerous memes. Most common is the trait of rejecting all newfangled ideas,
where "newfangled" is usually defined as any to which one has not been exposed
before puberty. Societies have similar defenses against new ideas. There are
also powerful meta-memes, that is, memes used to judge other memes. Of these,
the scientific method is perhaps the most effective. Logic is another system by
which memes can be tested, at least for consistency.

In historical times a meta-meme of tolerance (especially religious tolerance)
has emerged in western culture. This is a remarkable event, since memes
inducing tolerance to other memes would be expected to lose in the competition
for mind space to memes which induce intolerance to other beliefs. Within
small, isolated social groups, this is still the case.

But in larger cultural ecosystems, when traders come with obnoxious ideas
and customs, but desirable goods, at least limited tolerance is a requirement if
any trading is to be done. There were many other factors in the development of
modern western tolerance such as the Renaissance and the indecisive religious
wars that swept back and forth across Europe. Still, the advantage of trading
goods may have been the primary force at work in the memetic ecosystem which
caused many belief systems to adopt a tolerant-toward-other-beliefs component.
Cooperative behavior is known to spontaneously emerge from groups (even groups
at war) when certain conditions are present. Free trade may be similarly linked
to the emergence of the meta-meme of tolerance, and in turn to the
respectability of free thought. Testing these speculations would require rating
the trade/tolerance of many groups and seeing if there is (or was) correlation.

With respect to the USSR, trade and tolerance are both at a low level.
Historically trade was a much smaller part of the economy during the time the
rest of Europe was undergoing the Renaissance. The recent attempts to
introduce tolerance to other modes of economic systems in the USSR have more
than a superficial similarity to the Catholic church finally deciding to live
with the Protestants. A modern-day Renaissance in the USSR may be based on the
free exchange of information through computers and free(r) trade.

China presents a classic case of innovative memes spreading from the ports.
Until England intervened and opened a weak China the rulers tried to quarantine
dangerous foreigners and their infectious ideas near the ports. To this day the
most productive parts of China are where capitalist/free market memes spread
from the seaports. It may be that homogeneous, closed groups without the
influence of outsiders reinforce their belief systems into the ground, burning
heretics and stagnating economically, until they are forced to open their ports.
A full analysis may eventually determine that tolerance, innovation, combating
cultural and economic stagnation are *all* dependent on free trade.

Memes and trade are coupled the other way as well. The feedback loop for
many memes is closed through goods made for the marketplace. Better ideas for
how to make shoes, or computers, or (you name it) spread best when they are
tested in the marketplace. Closing the ports (currently a popular idea in
Silicon Valley) to either ideas or goods is a memetic disaster. Bad products and
bad ideas are weeded by market place competition.

Study of ecosystems usually leads to a great deal of appreciation of the
complexity that has been worked into them through evolution. Our actively
evolving memetic ecosystem (culture) has been shaped over many centuries by the
rise and fall of the replicating information patterns which have come down to
us. These memes that make up our culture are essentially living entities. They
struggle against each other for space in minds and lives, they are continually
evolving. New memes arise in human mental modules, old memes mutate, and many
become confined to books. The ferment is most noticeable on the edge of new
scientific knowledge, pop culture, and the ever shifting of ascendant political
ideas. Western culture is as complicated as a rain forest, and deserves no less
respect, admiration, understanding, and care.

The vast majority of the memes we pass from person to person or generation
to generation are either helpful or at least harmless. It is hard to see that
these elements of our culture have a separate identity from us. But a few of
these replicating information patterns are clearly dangerous. By being obviously
harmful, they are easy to see as a separate class of evolving, parasitic,
lifelike forms. A very dangerous group leads to behavior such as the People's
Temple suicides, or similar cases that dot our history. The most dangerous
class leads to vast killings like that of the Nazis in WW II, the Communists in
post-revolutionary Russia, and the Kampuchea self-genocide.

The development of memetics provides improved mental tools (models) for
thinking about the influences, be they benign, silly, or fatal, that replicating
information patterns have on all of us. Here is a source of danger if memetics
comes of age and only a few learn to create meme sets of great influence. Here
too is liberation for those who can recognize and analyze the memes to which
they are exposed. If "the meme about memes" infects enough people, rational
social movements might become more common.

The author gratefully acknowledges ideas and editorial assistance from Arel

A Memetic/Evolutionary Psychology Connection Between Drugs and


By H. Keith Henson (,

I have studied and written about *memes* for well over ten years.
Much about these *replicating information patterns* is obvious--
given the selfish gene model from which the concept was derived.
Memes, with few exceptions, exist in the context of human carriers
and their artifacts. The information which is passed from person
to person and from generation to generation is the primary factor
which gives humans a competitive advantage over the rest of the
animals. A modern example which shows the power of memes is that
human children do not have to learn that streets are dangerous
places by trial and error.

In the aggregate, memes make up human culture. Most of them are of
the rock-chipping/shoemaking/vehicle-avoiding kind--they provide
clear benefits to those who host them. They are passed from
generation to generation because of the benefits (ultimately to the
genes of their hosts) they provide.

But a whole class of memes fails to have such obvious replication
drivers. Memes of this class, which includes religions, cults and
social movements such as communism, have induced some of the most
spectacular events in human history, including mass suicides, wars,
migrations, crusades, and other forms of large-scale social unrest.

These memes often induce humans to actions which seriously damage
or destroy their potential for reproductive success. The classic
example is the nearly extinct Shakers--whose meme set completely
forbids sex. While inducing such behavior makes sense when viewed
from the *meme's* viewpoint (diverting host time and energy from
bearing and caring for children to propagating the meme) it makes
no sense when considered from the *gene's* viewpoint for a
susceptibility to this class of memes to have evolved.

This is where my understanding about the vulnerability of humans to
this class of memes was stuck for many years. It was recently
unstuck by a new discipline which has grown out of the early work
in sociobiology. This new field is most often called evolutionary
psychology. What evolutionary psychology proposes to do is explain
the features of the human mind in terms of what mental traits led
to *reproductive success* in the *ancestral environment*.

The reason the *ancestral environment* is specified is that
evolution works slowly. There has not been enough time for human
genes to have adjusted much to the changes in the environment in
the last few thousand years--and, in fact, most humans lived in
tribes or small villages until relatively recent generations.
That environment is almost gone--our success has greatly modified
the world--but the few remaining hunter-gatherer groups and our
nearest relatives give us a general picture. While there was
plenty of variation in what people did for a living (depending on
local resources) the picture which emerges of the previous several
million years is that of a social primate living in small bands and

Of all the things which have been measured in such representative
ancestral environments as we have, social standing or status is the
most predictive of reproductive success. This is true for both
sexes, though the potential rewards for high status were--and still
are--higher for males. High status males had multiple wives or
additional mating opportunities in the ancestral environment (and
for that matter, still do). High status females, from what we can
see in chimpanzees and humans, have no more offspring than low
status ones, but their children are more likely to survive. (In
bad times, much more likely to survive.)

It follows that humans would have evolved to be exquisitely
sensitive to changes in status, which (no surprise) is the observed
situation. Activities which lead to feelings of increasing status
are highly rewarding: that is, they cause the release of chemicals
which induce highly pleasurable states in the brain. This reward
system is fundamental to human motivation, and in the ancestral
environment it worked to enhance reproductive success most of the
time. It makes sense for hunters who brought in the first meat the
tribe has seen in six weeks to get a lot of attention (a mark of
status) from the other tribe members and to experience rewarding
feelings about what they had done as a (real) increase in social
status. Of course, people tend to repeat behavior which led to
flooding their brains with pleasurable chemicals. In our hunter
example, more hunting leads to more protein for the hunter's
mate(s) and children which in turn leads to improved reproductive
success--and thus to another generation of status-seeking hunters
who are rewarded individually with brain chemicals and in the
evolutionary sense by more children. There are two causal loops
involved here. The short term one acts over hours to years, and
the long term one over generations. The long term loop sets up
susceptibility to the short term loop.

In short, an action (such as hunting) leads to attention (an
indicator of status) which in the short term releases rewarding
brain chemicals and in the long term improves reproductive success.

Simple conditioning of the Pavlovian type will move some of the
reward release "upstream" so that the acts which later result in
reward chemical releases will themselves become rewarding.

In time humans discovered drugs which shortcut this action-
attention-reward (AAR) brain mechanism and directly flood the brain
with pleasurable chemicals. The behavior of smoking or injecting
drugs which simulate the natural chemicals is highly rewarding, and
(in some people) leads to the repeated behavior we refer to as
addiction. The brain reward system involved in drug addiction can
be stimulated in other ways, for example by gambling. People who
liken compulsive gambling to drug addiction are right; the rewards
compulsive gamblers get are only one step removed from exogenous
chemicals--with the "Attention" step diminished or removed.

Gambling and drugs cause misfiring of the AAR mechanisms, and often
result in severe damage to reproductive potential, but both are
very recent in human history. In the past, evolution favored those
who were motivated by the mechanism.

The importance of the AAR mechanism is hard to underestimate. It
may well be the most important motivating mechanism behind
virtually all human activities. In previous times it was tied
directly into reproductive success, and it is still a major factor
in this endeavor.

It should come as no surprise that such a powerful mechanism can be
taken over by drug-induced rewards. It seems that this is not the
only way the brain reward system can be parasitized. Memes which
we see as cults and related social movements seem to have
"discovered" the AAR reward system as well. Successful cult memes
induce behavior (typically focused attention) between cult members
which trips the "improving status" detectors. Tripping the
detectors causes the release of reward chemicals without having
much (if any) connection to "real world" improvements in
reproductive success.

Examples of focused attention are "love bombing" in the Moonies and
"auditing" in Scientology. As an explanation for the propagation
of the meme classes mentioned at the top of this article, I propose
that successful cult memes induce behavior between cult members
which results in the release of pleasure inducing chemicals into
the reward system of the brain. This release of chemicals results
in reinforcement of behavior similar to that we see in addicts.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the behavior of people
under the influence of cults is similar to that we observe in
addicts. Typical behavior for both includes draining bank accounts
and education funds, selling or mortgaging property, neglecting
children, destruction of relations with family and friends and lack
of interest in anything except the drug or cult.

Unfortunately, understanding of the mechanisms behind cult or drug
addiction has not yet led to better ways of treating either, but
knowledge of the deep seated and highly evolved brain mechanisms
involved in both may lead to better treatment methods.

[Thanks to Kenneta Watson for the conversation where this
understanding emerged and to Arel Lucas for editing suggestions.]


Oct 5, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/5/97

On 1 Oct 1997 19:41:37 GMT, (Siouxie12) wrote:

>Is Promise Keepers a cult? I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the

> code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from some

> members of the public to the organization.

>If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?

To me, the jury is still out on whether Promise Keepers is a
good thing, a bad thing, or mixed. But it lacks the salient elements
of a cult and in some ways is virtually the opposite of a cult.
-- Cults attempt to isolate members from their families and
friends, to make them give up their old relationships. PK urges men to
strengthen their ties with their families.
-- Cults attempt to reduce individuals to a childlike state of
dependency, with the cult head becoming a substitute father or mother.
PK requires members to be responsible adults and parents.
-- Cults attempt to cut their members off from outside input,
often by physically isolating them and denying them access to
newspapers, television, radio, etc. PK is gathering people in stadiums
for a big event, but it can't control what they see elsewhere. (It
does, however, ask men to shun pornography.)
A giant eunuch Jesus? "Patriotic" human sacrifices? Cosmic patterns
striking a convention of feminists? Gloria Steinem getting down with
Satan? What's it all about? It's about MONDO FEMINISM!
Learn the truth, if you dare. See the MONDO FEMINISM Page at


Oct 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/6/97
to (Per) wrote:

>On 1 Oct 1997 19:41:37 GMT, (Siouxie12) wrote:

>>Is Promise Keepers a cult? I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the

>> code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from some
>> members of the public to the organization.

>>If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?

> To me, the jury is still out on whether Promise Keepers is a
>good thing, a bad thing, or mixed. But it lacks the salient elements
>of a cult and in some ways is virtually the opposite of a cult.

I agree it's not a cult per se, but it does have many cultic elements.
In addition they may well be witting or unwitting tools of the cults.
In this thread I have posted my (admittedly circumstantial) evidence
that it is a recruitment arm for some cults. I know it's only hearsay
for you, but which part of it did you not read, not understand, or not
agree with? "Front groups" like PK abound in the world of the cults.
(The Unification Church alone has dozens of such front groups.) The
difference with this one is that it is going mainstream in an
unprecedented way. It proves to me that the power of religious
extremism has come to full fruition in the US. They used to hide from
the light. It reminds me of what happens when you get too many

I know the ideological slime from which PK has sprung, and it's an
horrible and incredible cesspool. I've seen and experienced the damage
and turmoil from their abuses firsthand.

> -- Cults attempt to isolate members from their families and
>friends, to make them give up their old relationships. PK urges men to
>strengthen their ties with their families.

On the contrary, PK urges men to extend cult mind control from the
cult's leadership to their families, via the constellation of cults and
cult-like churches and church alliances (like "The Association of
Vineyard Churches" (http://www/ that recruit through
such "outreaches." Cult leaders know that their control of anyone is
limited to what their immediate family members will tolerate, hence the
need for a mechanism to control families by means of the husband/father
of the family, who for socio-economic reasons is the most promising
source of that control. The appeal to traditional roles in the family
and riding the popular "Men's Movement" wave is a ruse to effect this
strategy. It's very effective for the cults, but destructive to many
families, and results is a lot of abuse and divorces, as you might

> -- Cults attempt to reduce individuals to a childlike state of
>dependency, with the cult head becoming a substitute father or mother.
>PK requires members to be responsible adults and parents.

Anytime you put someone over me to make my decisions for me, you are
reducing my status to that of a child. Incidentally, this type of age
regression is not limited to the wives of PK'ers, but also the men
themselves are stripped of decision-making autonomy should they be
unfortunate to be successfully drawn into the grips of the sponsoring
("Shepherding") cults. *Everyone* in the cult becomes dependent on the
leaders to make their decisions. The network of control extends to the
highest levels of the cult hierarchy until the whole organization is
reduced to the equivalent of an ant hill, with only the queen ant making
decisions on behalf of the whole colony. It's like something out of
science fiction, only real and much more scary.

> -- Cults attempt to cut their members off from outside input,
>often by physically isolating them and denying them access to
>newspapers, television, radio, etc. PK is gathering people in stadiums
>for a big event, but it can't control what they see elsewhere. (It
>does, however, ask men to shun pornography.)

The cutting off process happens by degrees, as recruits are drawn into
the cults or cult-like churches. After a certain degree of control is
attained over the recruit, it's easy for these groups to convince them
that TV, internet and other media are tools of Satan and should be cut
off or severely restricted. It happens all the time in these groups.
Otherwise they would be reading (and maybe even responding) to postings
like mine and learn the truth about their desperate plight. (I even
cross posted this to, but apparently I am getting
no response. Thankfully they are safe from thought contamination due to
the faithful oversight of their "Prophets" or "Mentors" or "Pastoral
Leaders" or whatever they are called this week.)

>A giant eunuch Jesus? "Patriotic" human sacrifices? Cosmic patterns
>striking a convention of feminists? Gloria Steinem getting down with
>Satan? What's it all about? It's about MONDO FEMINISM!
>Learn the truth, if you dare. See the MONDO FEMINISM Page at

I took a peek at your pages. Maybe you have some legitimate points
against feminism, but I hope your zeal to score points against feminism
doesn't blind you to the hidden agenda of the cultists.


Oct 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/6/97

In article <>, (Keith Henson) wrote:
> Memetics comes from "meme" (which rhymes with "cream"), a word
> coined in purposeful analogy to gene by Richard Dawkins in his 1976
> book, _The Selfish Gene_. To understand memes, you must have a good
> understanding of the modern concepts of evolution, and this is a good
> source. In its last chapter, memes were defined as replicating
> information patterns that use minds to get themselves copied much as a
> virus uses cells to get itself copied. (Dawkins credits several
> others for developing the concepts, especially the anthropologist F.
> T. Cloak.) Like genes, memes are pure information.*

LONDON Aug. 11 (ARC)--MEME TEKEL UPHARSIN-- An authoritative source,
reputedly close to the London Tavistock Clinic, says the true meaning of
the acronym ``Meme,'' as used by Oxford's Richard Dawkins, is
``psychotomemetic.'' According to local sources, the term is being used in
this form to identify the form of psychosis brought on by microsoftening
of a nerd-brain. The typical symptom of this disorder, is a sudden
outburst of manic infantile egoism, in which the wild-eyed subject
expresses repeated ejaculations of, ``Me, me, me, me ... .''
The source claims that the psychotomemetic effect found among
web-footed nerds, is polluted with additives, unlike Tavistock's original,
psychotomimetic states, which were induced by aid of naturally occurring

-------------------==== Posted via Deja News ====----------------------- Search, Read, Post to Usenet


Oct 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/6/97

On Mon, 06 Oct 1997 04:56:26 GMT, (Marty) wrote:

> (Per) wrote:

>>On 1 Oct 1997 19:41:37 GMT, (Siouxie12) wrote:


>>>Is Promise Keepers a cult? I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the
>>> code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from some
>>> members of the public to the organization.


>>>If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?


>> To me, the jury is still out on whether Promise Keepers is a
>>good thing, a bad thing, or mixed. But it lacks the salient elements
>>of a cult and in some ways is virtually the opposite of a cult.
>I agree it's not a cult per se, but it does have many cultic elements.
>In addition they may well be witting or unwitting tools of the cults.
>In this thread I have posted my (admittedly circumstantial) evidence
>that it is a recruitment arm for some cults. I know it's only hearsay
>for you, but which part of it did you not read, not understand, or not
>agree with?

Sorry, I did not see it because the original was posted only
to alt.mindcontrol and someone crossposted subsequent replies.
If PK is a "front group," then NOW and Women's Studies courses
are front groups ten times over. Look up the women in various
extremists feminists organizations and you'll find a number of them
who first attended NOW meetings, read Ms. Magazine, or took a Women's
Studies course. So are we going to hold these groups responsible for
being "front groups" to the extremists? If people are going to say "I
know a man who went to Promise Keepers and later on he wound up in a
cult, so PK must be to blame," then lets do the same for all women who
start in mainstream feminist organizations and wind up in goddess
worship, or "recovered memory therapy" or who make false rape
accusations to fit in with a Take Back the Night march, etc.
Feminism generally supports "recovered memory therapy," which has
truly cultish qualities, including efforts to isolate young women from
their families and make them dependent on the guru, to drug people, to
break them through stress, and to render them incapable of telling
reality from fantasy. And feminism certainly can steer members toward
religious looniness, but in their case it's "goddess worship" and so


>I took a peek at your pages. Maybe you have some legitimate points
>against feminism, but I hope your zeal to score points against feminism
>doesn't blind you to the hidden agenda of the cultists.

No, far from it. I object to all cults. If someone attends a
Promise Keepers meeting and gets deeper into religion and somehow gets
into a fundamentalist Christian cult, then I think that's a tragedy.
But at this point, I don't see PK as promoting that. It would seem to
me that every person they lose to a small cult is one less follower
for them. If anyone presents concrete evidence that PK is deliberately
steering men to cult-like groups, I'll change my opinion. I have an
open mind, and so far it looks to me like PK has some good points and
some bad points, but I definitely would not call it a cult.

Alan Davis

Oct 6, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/6/97

Marty wrote:

> "David Merc" <> wrote:
> >A Christian definition of a cult is a group that wanders from the main
> >stream, fundamental believes (Who is Christ; trinity; the Bible alone;...).

Actually, you are using the recent

secondary definition. Webster says,


1 - A system of religious worship.
2 - Obsessive and faddish devotion to a principle or person.
3 - A group of persons sharing such devotion.

The apostles were a cult.

Al Davis ***** A Displaced Cub Fan in DC *****
I like two teams: The Cubs and whoever is playing the Mets
Vote Santo into the Hall of Fame!
Let's play two!

Raven (J. Singleton)

Oct 7, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/7/97

Here's a diagnostic/definitional tool to help clarify the question:

(c) 1979, 1994 by P. E. I. Bonewits

Events in the last few decades have clearly indicated just how
dangerous some religious and secular groups (usually called "cults") can
be to their own members as well as to anyone else whom they can
influence. Brainwashing, beatings, rapes and murders, mass suicides,
military drilling and gunrunning, meddling in civil governments and
other crimes have been charged against many groups, and in several cases
those accusations have been true. People need a relatively simple way to
evaluate just how dangerous or harmless a given group is liable to be,
without either subjecting themselves to its power or judging solely on
theological or ideological grounds (the usual method used by anticult
In 1979 I constructed an analytical tool which I now call the
"Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame," or "ABCDEF," a copy of
which was included in the revised edition of my book, "Real Magic"
(Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, ME 03910, $13 ppd) and is reproduced
at the end of these notes. I realize its shortcomings, but feel that it
can be effectively used to separate the sheep from the wolves. Feedback
from those attempting to use the system would be appreciated.
The purpose of this evaluation tool is to help both amateur and
professional observers, including current or would-be members, of
various organizations (including religious, occult, psychological or
political groups) to determine just how dangerous a given group is
liable to be, in comparison with other groups, to the physical and
mental health of its members and of others subject to its influence. It
cannot speak to the spiritual "dangers," if any, that might be involved,
for the simple reason that one person's path to enlightenment/salvation
is often viewed by another as the path to ignorance/damnation.
As a general rule, the higher the numerical total scored by a given
group (the further to the right of the scale), the more dangerous it is
likely to be. Though it is obvious that many of the scales in the frame
are subjective, it is still possible to make practical judgments using
it, provided that all numerical assignments are based on accurate and
unbiased observation of actual behavior (as distinct from official
This frame can be used by parents, reporters, law enforcement
agents, social scientists and others interested in evaluating the actual
dangers presented by a given group or movement. Obviously, different
observers will achieve differing degrees of precision, depending upon
the sophistication of their numerical assignments on each scale.
However, if the same observer used the same methods of scoring and
weighting each scale, their comparisons of relative danger or
harmlessness between groups will be reasonably valid, at least for their
own purposes. People who cannot, on the other hand, view competing
belief systems as ever having possible spiritual value to anyone, will
find the Frame annoyingly useless for promoting their theocratic
It should be pointed out that this evaluation frame is founded upon
a) modern ideas of humanistic psychology concerning the nature of mental
health and personal growth, and b) the author's many years of
participant observation and historical research into minority belief
systems. Those who believe that relativism and anarchy are as dangerous
to mental health as absolutism and authoritarianism are, should count
groups with total scores nearing either extreme (high or low) as being
equally hazardous. As far as dangers to physical well being are
concerned, however, both historical records and current events clearly
indicate the direction in which the greatest threats lie. This is
especially so since the low-scoring groups usually seem to have survival
and growth rates so small that they seldom develop the abilities to
commit large scale atrocities even had they the philosophical or
political inclinations to do so.
(c) 1979, 1994 by P. E. I. Bonewits

Factors: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Low High
internal political power exercised
by leader(s) over members. 1. _____________________________

2. WISDOM CLAIMED by leader(s);
amount of infallibility declared
about decisions. 2. _____________________________

3. WISDOM CREDITED to leader(s) by
members; amount of trust in deci-
sions made by leader(s). 3. _____________________________

4. DOGMA: Rigidity of reality con-
cepts taught; amount of doctrinal
inflexibility. 4. _____________________________

5. RECRUITING: Emphasis put on
attracting new members; amount of
proselytizing. 5. _____________________________

6. FRONT GROUPS: Number of subsid-
iary groups using different names
from that of main group. 6. _____________________________

7. WEALTH: Amount of money and/or
property desired or obtained; em-
phasis on members donations; eco-
nomic lifestyle of leader(s). 7. _____________________________

8. POLITICAL POWER: Amount of ex-
ternal political influence desired
or obtained. 8. _____________________________

by leader(s); amount of control
over sex lives of members. 9. _____________________________

10. CENSORSHIP: Amount of control
over members' access to outside
opinions on group, its doctrines or
leader(s). 10. _____________________________

11. DROPOUT CONTROL: Intensity of
efforts directed at preventing or
returning dropouts. 11. _____________________________

used by or for the group, its doc-
trines or leader(s). 12. _____________________________

13. PARANOIA: amount of fear con-
cerning real or imagined enemies;
perceived power of opponents. 13. _____________________________

14. GRIMNESS: Amount of disapproval
concerning jokes about the group,
its doctrines or its leader(s). 14. _____________________________

15. SURRENDER OF WILL: Amount of
emphasis on members not having to
be responsible for personal deci-
sions; degree of individual dis-
empowerment created by the group,
its doctrines or its leader(s). 15. _____________________________

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Low High

Copyright 1979, 1994 by Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely
distributed by BBSs provided that no editing is done and this notice is
included. If you have enjoyed reading this "Sharetext" essay, and would
like to encourage him to post more such essays, send $5 to the author
at: Box 72, Dumont, NJ, USA 07628. If you would like to be on the
author's personal mailing/phone list for upcoming publications, song &
lecture tapes, and appearances, send your data to the same address. For
more information about Neopagan Druidism, call 1-800-DRUIDRY or send
$3US (or $4Can) to ADF Info, Box 516, E. Syracuse, NY, USA 13057.


Oct 8, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/8/97

It was something I read in Margaret Thaler Singer's book, _Cults in Our Midst_,
followed by something I saw on television news that prompted my original

She mentioned in the book that there have been cases where investigators have
been sent to look into certain organizations, especially the ones she calls
LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training--where a mass of people get together so
that a special type of large group dynamic and mass hypnosis can synergize the
belief manipulation). Instead of going with the vigilant minds of
investigators, they wound up being caught up in the emotion, the group
dynamic, the smiles on the faces, the tears, etc. and not only missed what
they were sent to investigate, but fell under the spell of the group.

It was either on MSNBC or CNN where one woman got into a Promise Keepers rally
by disguising herself as a man (they showed a photo of her in the
and rather than discuss what was going on at the rally, she said what surprised
her was how "moved" *she* felt at being there. Not that this is a bad thing
in itself, but since I had just finished reading Singer's book that morning,
and had said to myself, "nah, surely no one would go to a meeting and get
caught up in it while they were supposed to be investigating it," only to have
this news report...

Maybe "cult" isn't the right word. Louise Samways (in her book, Dangerous
Persuaders: An expose' of gurus, personal development courses, and cults...)
uses the simple term "groups" to describe the groups that gain a stronghold
over people's minds (and often, common sense), ranging from traditional cults,
to personal development courses, multi-level marketing pyramids, gurus,
witches, healers, fortune tellers, and "fundamentalists." It was this latter
group, further broken down by the "religious" and "political" categories that
brought Promise Keepers to mind (that is, fundamentalism that spreads from the
religious into the political whether directly or indirectly). They seem to
fulfill all the criteria she listed for group-based belief manipulators
(which used to be called "cults"): emphasis on recruitment,
invoking/challenging one's commitment, inducing guilt, altered states of
arousal (through mass rallies, time distortion, stirring music, emotional
atmospheres, hugging and other touching), language cues, dependency,
confessionals, rituals and rejection. Promise Keepers wouldn't match the
"profile" of a cult one would read in older literature since so many
organizations have moved away from those ways of working. But they do seem to
fulfil the criteria for a "group."

That's how I became interested and curious. It was interesting to see that I
wasn't the only one wondering about this, and to see how so many folks here
have been articulate about discussing it, too.

BTW--it's not just Promise Keepers, there are other mass rallies I've wondered
about, too--Million Man/Woman Marches, etc. And women have attended meetings
of NOW and other groups only to be recruited to join Wiccans later. But they
have also been recruited from major corporations and the FAA, straight from
their management training sessions. No one would say that IBM or the FAA is
a "front" group for those cults; neither should NOW be a front group. But
Promise Keepers is different, in that the fundamentalist leaders and spokesmen
all have that political agenda--and the mixture of religion and politics is one of the most dangerous.



Oct 8, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/8/97

In article <>, (Siouxie12) wrote:
> Is Promise Keepers a cult? I've been wondering about the mass meetings, the
> code worded language, the tears, the etc. along with the responses from some
> members of the public to the organization.
> If Promise Keepers is not a cult, how is it different?
> Sue

It's gotta be a cult.

Can you say "Stepford Wives"? If these 'men' think we are to allow them
to "rule the roost" etc. then we are all doomed. The 'Promise Keepers'
may not have a political agenda now, but you just wait. Next thing you
know Ole Pat Robertson and Jerry Faldwell will be speaking at their
gatherings, and recuiting the "Religious Right" to support these lies and
to further tramle on women as we try to climb the ladder. Why aren't
these men campainging to see that women in the work place receive equal
pay for the same jobs men hold? If they are so 'for women' and helping
them out, then lets see some positive actions. Why were no women allowed
at this wonderous gathering of religious proportions? Are women not
allowed to be involved in religious functions ? Will we not be allowed
to decide for ourselves and control our own bodies (in reference to
abortion rights). This group may have started as a 'good idea', but in
will only get corrupted in the end and women will come out the loosers.
Think about it, a religious following commanded by a former football
coach? I think not.


Oct 9, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/9/97

Kieth, I like your "meme" theory, and even if it doesn't have much
correspondence to reality, it at least makes for a good shorthand for
describing the cult phenomenon.

Applying it to the PK'ers, we are looking at mutating AIDS-like thought
virus that feeds on the memes (actually meta-memes) of Christian sects
via mimicry. Some Shepherding cults feed off parent groups, like the
Boston Church from the parent Church of Christ. They adopt all the
characteristics of the host, but then add the cult tendencies, which
make them proliferate cancer-like out of control. They are nevertheless
mostly restricted to recruiting from the parent group, with is
decimated, and the inevitable decline of the parent group signals the
decline of the cult.

PK, on the other hand, is part of the Ecumenical Shepherding stream,
which means that it either adopts a common-denominator theology or else
tries to accommodate a diversity of Christian viewpoints to maintain an
appeal to all variation of the basic Christian meta-meme. (McCartney,
being a Catholic from The Word of God cult, would tend toward the later
approach.) This diversity and tolerance is, as you have pointed out, is
antithetical to the self-protective nature of memes, is quite difficult
to maintain, and tends to excite the usual defensive mechanisms, i.e.
theological antibodies (arguments and position statements) by which the
memes defend themselves and distinguish themselves from other sectarian
memes. The rewards of tolerance justify the effort: ecumenical memes
are able to recruit from all the various and diverse Christian memes.
In this respect they are like a virus that uses multiple species as
host, and therefore greatly multiplies the number of vectors by which to
transfer and proliferate the disease, and greatly reduce the risk of
exhausting a single host species.

I think the AIDS analogy is apt because the theological arguments that
represent the immune response the sects only helps the cause of the
ecumenical Shepherding cult, because the cult can taylor its beliefs to
suit such challenges. They are endlessly challenged on finer and finer
points of theology, which they make ever more careful attempts to
address. The exasperated defenders of the sect eventually go to extreme
lengths to distance themselves from the interlopers, discrediting
themselves because it's clear to any casual observer that there is
nearly 100% theological agreement already between the two groups. The
arguments become unpersuasive to members of the host sect and a mass
defection to the cult ensues. This is the inevitable rift that signals
another denomination under attack from the Shepherding cults, and
analogous to the final stages of breakdown in the immune system of an
AIDS victim.

The mutation that allows the Shepherding sect to proliferate out of
control is the addition of sophisticated thought and behavior control
techniques developed and refined mostly over the last 30 or 40 years.
The methods are not religious in nature. They've got nothing to do with
theology (the reason for the dismal failure of the theological defense
of the sect). They are behaviors that entrap people through the well
known mechanisms. The difference between the fringe cults and the
Shepherding mega-cult movement is that the Shepherds are able to
leverage the success of the great world religions, and peoples' trust in
those venerable meta-memes, while defeating the carefully developed
theological mechanisms developed in rivalries with not-cult sects.

So you might ask what are these fantastically successful thought-control
procedures used by the Shepherding cults? It's quite simple, just
convince someone that you are divinely entitled run their life. (What
could be simpler?) That's all there is to it. It could be your wife or
girlfriend (as in PK). Once they really believe that you are entitled
to make decisions over their personal matters, you just see to it that
they stay with the rest of the cult program, and stay they must. In
case you were wondering why the PK'ers so obstinately cling to their
controversial male dominance theme at such a high PR cost, well, now you
know the reason.

There is an analogy I would like to draw: at the work place we surrender
a large portion of our personal autonomy. A lot of the behavior
commonly seen in the work place resembles cult behaviour. People are
under extreme pressure to conform, both psychologically and socially,
every bit as much as in a destructive cult. The difference is, when
they go home, they don't have anyone there telling them what to do and
think. The PK'ers and their Shepherding brethren are out to change that
for all of us.



Oct 10, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/10/97
to (Siouxie12) wrote:

>Maybe "cult" isn't the right word. Louise Samways (in her book, Dangerous
> Persuaders: An expose' of gurus, personal development courses, and cults...)
> uses the simple term "groups" to describe the groups that gain a stronghold
> over people's minds (and often, common sense), ranging from traditional cults,
> to personal development courses, multi-level marketing pyramids, gurus,
> witches, healers, fortune tellers, and "fundamentalists." It was this latter
> group, further broken down by the "religious" and "political" categories that
> brought Promise Keepers to mind (that is, fundamentalism that spreads from the
> religious into the political whether directly or indirectly). They seem to
> fulfill all the criteria she listed for group-based belief manipulators
> (which used to be called "cults"): emphasis on recruitment,
> invoking/challenging one's commitment, inducing guilt, altered states of
> arousal (through mass rallies, time distortion, stirring music, emotional
> atmospheres, hugging and other touching), language cues, dependency,
> confessionals, rituals and rejection. Promise Keepers wouldn't match the
> "profile" of a cult one would read in older literature since so many
> organizations have moved away from those ways of working. But they do seem to
> fulfil the criteria for a "group."

Sue, I basically agree but why quibble over the sematics? I think the
pressure to change our terminology comes straight from the cults
themselves. Unless we take control of the language and prevent cults
from hijacking the medium of discourse we risk catastrophy of the
highest order. I use the following rules for how and when to use the
word "cult:"

1) Cults are called "cults."
2) Other groups are not, though some are "cult-like" or have
3) Groups that are cult-like or have cult-tendencies are called
"cult-like" groups or groups with "cult tendencies."

I know it's complicated but who ever said life was simple :-)

>That's how I became interested and curious. It was interesting to see that I
> wasn't the only one wondering about this, and to see how so many folks here
> have been articulate about discussing it, too.
>BTW--it's not just Promise Keepers, there are other mass rallies I've wondered
> about, too--Million Man/Woman Marches, etc.

Some radical Islamic movements seem identical to the Christian mega-cult
movements. I think the Christian counterparts can be a useful framework
for understanding them.

And women have attended meetings
> of NOW and other groups only to be recruited to join Wiccans later.

Bad example of a cult. Wicca is just a fringe religion. Some people
use the term cult to describe any group or religion that they disagree
with or find odd or disagreeable, a good example of religious bigotry
and intolerance. In particular, radical Christian cults and sects use
the word "cult" against fringe religions like Wicca. The traditional
witchhunt is alive and well in radical Christianity.

But they
> have also been recruited from major corporations and the FAA, straight from
> their management training sessions. No one would say that IBM or the FAA is
> a "front" group for those cults; neither should NOW be a front group. But
> Promise Keepers is different, in that the fundamentalist leaders and spokesmen
> all have that political agenda--and the mixture of religion and politics is one of the most dangerous.

The mixture of cult mind control and politics is even more dangerous.




Oct 12, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/12/97


>Can you please get in contact with me? I would like to use your long
>post about the background of PK on my web site.

>Regards, Deana

Thanks Deana, I'll take that as a compliment, but I don't think my post,
which is a patchwork of previous messages, outdated, incorrect and
incomplete in many respects, is suitable to be put on a web site.

A better reference for the origins of PK is the following article which
was written by Russ Bellant, a free-lance reporter who has investigated
both my former cult (WOG) and PK:

"Mania in the Stadia: The Origins and Goals of Promise Keepers"

I should also clarify the status of WOG (The Word of God). It is now a
(hopefully) reformed splinter group that broke off from the parent cult.
One of the WOG's founders, Ralph Martin, led the breakaway faction and
is an anti-cult hero in my book. Oddly, the parent group changed its
name and the reformers got saddled with the old name, so now I have to
explain this to prevent confusion and avoid discrediting some honest
people. The unrepentant parent cult is now renamed the "Washtenaw
Covenant Community" and is located in Ann Arbor. MI:

(Well, I mean, some of them got away, what can I say?)

The URL of the international parent organization SOS (The Sword of the
Spirit) is:

These organizations were the seedbed for the PK, back in the 1980s when
McCartney was associated with them. McCartney is currently a member of
Vineyard (Association of Vineyard Churches), another (related)
shepherding church alliance:

Other interesting URLs (some are outdated):

(Article on Shepherding)

"The Promise Keepers: The Third Wave of the Religious Right"

"God's Mighty Men: The Promise Keepers Rise UP"

"Promise Keepers: Seven reasons to watch out"

"Promise Keepers"


Oct 21, 1997, 3:00:00 AM10/21/97

I have read this thread with some interest. I became concerned about
Promise Keepers after my church "endorsed" PK.

I hold myself out as a political strategist. I liked the postings by
Marty and Keith.

PK is just another step in the evolution of the religious right. For
simplicity, think Moral Majority, then Christian Coalition, then PK.
Would you be shocked to know that there are people on the PK payroll who
were major players at Moral Majority and for different Pat Robertson
political entities. It is refinement in one sense of the prior movements
but it is also product positioning. For example, you may know someone who
drinks only Coke or only Pepsi or drinks both. The process of product
positioning applies to religious right political groups as well.

I see PK as playing out in a couple ways. First, I see Coach Bill (or
some other PK person) announcing that God has called him to run for
President of the U.S.A. in 2,000. To be honest I base this upon Coach
Bill's habit of needing big, big meetings such as in stadiums or the mall
in D.C. I have followed Coach Bill from when he started as head football
coach at Colorado. This man's ego appetite seems to know no limits and
seems to need bigger and bigger feedings. It's over three years until the
next presidential election so I ask some leeway in modifying this as PK
percolates through the mass.

Second, I see that the political end of this organization will also play
out in the shepherding/discipleship part of PK. For those who don't know,
the PK organization is much like a pyramid scheme. To make it simple,
assume that each person in the organization has a group of persons
underneath him. The shepherd will meet one on one with each individual
sheep. There will be some sort of come to Jesus meeting(s). That is, the
shepherd will examine the life of the sheep in different aspects. One
will be political party affiliation and another will be stance on
abortion. The sheep will become a pro-life Republican if he was not
before. And, as happens, the sheep is a shepherd to his own sheep and
will pass down the same process throughout the pyramid.

An observation: Does anyone see any similarities between PK and Dexter
Yager's Amway motivational organization?


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