Saturday, February 3, 2018

Why didn't we balk at the Mo Letters?

How could I have been OK with the Mo Letters? They were blatantly horrible and overflowed with delusions of grandeur. The cover art was more than cringe-worthy, the writing was embarrassingly juvenile, and the overuse of all caps, underlining, and exclamation points was inane. How is it that we cult members didn't think about our future children looking at them and concluding their parents had been idiots for believing such nonsense?

When I ponder the stranger who is my past self, I marvel. I naturally look back through the filter of my present views, but nevertheless, I remember being embarrassed by the Mo Letters and hoping no outsiders would see the most atrocious ones, but that shame didn't wake me up. Why not?

It was a surprisingly quick slide into the depths of delusion. Upon joining, a requisite was to accept that we were "babes in Christ" and needed retraining in the ways of the Lord. Berg was our "father in the Lord," and on top of that, we were taught he was the Endtime prophet prophesied in the Bible. (Hosea 3:5, Ezekiel 34:11, 23, 24, and Ezekiel 37:24)

Once that foundation of belief was in place it was reinforced by required daily reading of Berg's Letters. By and by, our brains were prepared to accept whatever came from him as the gospel truth. We were to be "new bottles," willing to accept the "new wine that God was giving" through Berg, and not like "unrevolutionary" Christians who he disparaged as "old bottles," the title of a Mo Letter written in 1973. "Old bottle" became a byword in the cult for those who did not eagerly accept the new Mo Letters. Social norming—and harsh corrections—dictated that no one wanted to be accused of that.

In 1975, Berg took this to a higher level with the publication of the Mo Letter, "Strange Truths." In it, he recounted a dream about a fountain of water that he had discovered, symbolic of his source of “the words of life” from God. Strange creatures lived in the water, which some people liked and others looked on with suspicion. Berg concluded that the creatures must be good since they came from “the source” (God), and that people who didn't like them “because they were contrary to their ideas of what the water [the Word] ought to be like” left the fold. Shame on them! Thus the tone was set for the acceptance of Berg's Letters, no matter how strange we thought they were, because they all came from the source of Truth—Berg with his hotline to God.

As the years passed, in obedience to Berg's decrees, the number of people in our communal Homes grew, which exponentially intensified the ingrained human tendency towards group conformity and obedience. (See studies done by Solomon Asch; larger numbers greatly increase the conforming power of a group.)

Complementing the basic premise of accepting any bizarre idea that came from "the source" was our constant state of busyness, giving us no time to raise our heads and think about our situations. I worked to the point of nervous breakdowns in large School Homes, filled to the brim with children packed two to a bed in three-tier bunks. How to educate and care for them, with basically no money and always short-handed, was my ever-present concern—and we always seemed to be playing catch-up.

As if the physical work wasn't enough, like all plebeian members, I lived under the burden of responsibility for righting my sorry spiritual state. I needed to learn "submission" to God, my leaders, and to my husband—to be a good "Bible woman." I was often called in for "talks" with the leaders, excoriating corrections for my many "sins."

My mental bandwidth was taken up with marriage problems, children's needs, my own spiritual inadequacies that I needed to conquer, lack of money, and constant work. When the mind is running multiple programs, our mental processors begin to slow down. I didn't have enough time to take care of all the needs before me, let alone think about the future, or "give place to the devil" by "doubting" the Mo Letters.

We were exhorted to live in the present and "take no thought for the morrow." We had an absolute disconnect from our future selves, and an absolute lack of foresight into our children's or our own futures. Worse, the groupthink of the cult resulted in the deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgments. Thinking was out, the "joy of the Lord" was in.

In the Stanford Prison Study, I wrote that when those volunteers who had played the role of guards looked back on the six days of the study, they were alarmed at what they had been capable of doing. Perhaps even more telling is that those who had been prisoners were also dismayed at their behavior—at how quickly they had been broken into passivity.

The architect of the study, Philip Zimbardo, stated that the issue isn't how a few bad apples can ruin the whole barrel; it's how a bad barrel can turn any apple bad. Situations matter. Average people can, and often will, go along with absurdly incorrect assertions and do stunningly bad things in the name of obedience and conformity. (Hello, Abu Ghraib.)

The cult was the perfect setup for mindless conformity, and that conformity included acceptance of the Mo Letters.

See also: Motivational Influences on Perception

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