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The Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame 2.0

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Subject: The Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame 2.0

   Copyright  1979, 1996 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
   Events in the last few decades have clearly indicated just how
   dangerous some religious and secular groups (usually called "cults" by
   those opposed to them) can be to their own members as well as to
   anyone else whom they can influence. "Brainwashing," beatings, child
   abuse, rapes, murders, mass suicides, military drilling and
   gunrunning, meddling in civil governments, international terrorism,
   and other crimes have been charged against leaders and members of many
   groups, and in far too many cases those accusations have been correct.
   None of this has been very surprising to historians of religion or to
   other scholars of what are usually labled "new" religions (no matter
   how old they may be in their cultures of origin). Minority groups,
   especially religious ones, are often accused of crimes by members of
   the current majority. In many ways, for example, the "Mormons" were
   the "Moonies" of the 19th century -- at least in terms of being an
   unusual minority belief system that many found "shocking" at the time
   -- and the members of the Unification Church could be just as
   "respectable" a hundred years from now as the Latter Day Saints are
   Nonetheless, despite all the historical and philosophical caveats that
   could be issued, ordinary people faced with friends or loved ones
   joining an "unusual" group, or perhaps contemplating joining it
   themselves, 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 it solely on theological
   or ideological grounds (the usual method used by anti-cult groups).
   In 1979 I constructed an evaluation tool which I now call the
   "Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame," or the "ABCDEF," a
   copy of which was included in that year's revised edition of my book,
   Real Magic (Samuel Weiser Pub., 1989). I realize its shortcomings, but
   feel that it can be effectively used to separate harmless groups from
   the merely unusual-to-the-observer ones. Feedback from those
   attempting to use the system has always been appreciated. Indirect
   feedback, in terms of the number of places on and off the Net this
   ABCDEF has shown up, has been mostly favorable. For example, it was
   chosen by and is now displayed on the website of the Institute for
   Social Inventions, who paraphrased it for their "Best Ideas -- A
   compendium of social innovations" listing.
   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 other people 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 or "salvation" is often viewed by another as a path to
   ignorance or "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, at least of the "is this group more dangerous than that
   one?" sort. This is if all numerical assignments are based on accurate
   and unbiased observation of actual behavior by the groups and their
   top levels of leadership (as distinct from official pronouncements).
   This means that you need to pay attention to what the secondary and
   tertiary leaders are saying and doing, as much (or more so) than the
   central leadership -- after all, "plausible deniability" is not a
   recent historical invention.
   This tool 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 observers use 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 ABCDEF annoyingly useless for promoting their
   theocratic agendas. Worse, these members of the Religious Reich will
   find that their own organizations (and quite a few large mainstream
   churches) are far more "cult-like" than the minority belief systems
   they so bitterly oppose.
   It should be pointed out that the ABCDEF is founded upon both modern
   psychological theories about mental health and personal growth, and my
   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,
   could (I suppose) 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.
            The Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame
                               (version 2.0)

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
or implied about decisions or doc-
trinal/scriptural interpretations.       2.  _____________________________

3. WISDOM CREDITED to leader(s)
by members; amount of trust in
decisions or doctrinal/scriptural
interpretations made by leader(s).       3.  _____________________________

4. DOGMA: Rigidity of reality con-
cepts taught; amount of doctrinal
inflexibility or "fundamentalism."       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 by group;
emphasis on members' donations;
economic lifestyle of leader(s)
compared to ordinary members.            7.  _____________________________

external political influence
desired or obtained; emphasis on
directing members' secular votes.        8.  _____________________________

by leader(s); amount of control
exercised over sexuality of members;
advancement dependent upon sexual
favors or specific lifestyle.            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.  _____________________________

12. VIOLENCE: amount of approval when
used by or for the group, its
doctrines or leader(s).                 12.  _____________________________

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

16. HYPOCRISY: amount of approval for
other actions (not included above)
which the group officially considers
immoral or unethical, when done by or
for the group, its doctrines or
leader(s); willingness to violate
group's declared principles for
political, psychological, economic,
or other gain.                          16.  _____________________________

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

   A German translation of this is available at: Isaac Bonewits'
   Sektengefahr Checkliste.
   Back to Isaac Bonewits' Homepage
   Copyright  1979,1996 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be
   freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the
   version number (if any) is retained and this notice is included. If
   you would like to be on the author's personal mailing/phone list for
   upcoming publications, lectures, song albums, and appearances, send
   your snailmail and/or your email address to him at PO Box 1021, Nyack,
   NY, USA 10960-1021 or via email to "".
    (P. E.) Isaac Bonewits, Adr.Em./ADF
    Snailmail: PO Box 1021, Nyack, NY, USA 10960-1021
    Voice Phone: 1-800-DRUIDRY
   This webpage is copyright  1996 c.e., Isaac Bonewits
   Most recently updated: November 27, 1996 c.e.
   This page's URL is 
   My Homepage URL is 

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