Are the Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? [BITE Model Analysis]

In this article I want to use the BITE model which was developed by Steven Hassan, an American mental health counselor who has dedicated his study of mind control to help poeple identify mind control teqniques used by many cults.

Mind control is often thought of as a mysterious and vague process that cannot be technically defined. But in reality, mind control is something that has been studied in-depth and can be defined in a systemized manner that refers to a specific set of techniques such as inducing phobias about a looming armageddon for example.

The BITE Model

The BITE model analyses mind control teqniques by dividing them up into the following sections:

  1. Behavior Control
  2. Information Control
  3. Thought Control
  4. Emotional Control

Each section lists multiple methods that are used by known cult-like groups. By assigning a value to each of these tactics, you can calculate a score that can be compared to other acceptable groups such as universities and schools, as well as unacceptable groups like ISIS and other extremist groups.

I have not scored each point the same as the Freedom of Mind Recource center because in some cases I feel from personal experience that some points are more serious and other less serious than assigned in their analysis.

Freedom of Mind Resource center uses a color code, we will do the same. To get a numeric score though, I will also assign values as set out below.

Red means that it absolutely applies – 3
Orange means it applied somewhat – 2
Green means it does not apply at all – 0

1. Behavior Control

  1. [3] Regulate an individual’s physical reality
    How does it apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses? Members are trained to put on a “new personality”, not just in the sense of better morals, but also by rejecting higher education and healthy careers, and even by getting rid of many personal possessions and hobbies. They also use an “imminent Armageddon” narrative to completely distort a member’s life priorities and physical reality. The organization has been so successful in the use of the “imminent Armageddon” narrative, that many members have donated their entire estates to the organization, only to go into full-time service because “the end is SO near.”
    Why? The goal here is to try to isolate you from your former reality, the things that you once knew, and enjoyed, including non Witness family and friends so that the member can spend more time in service to the organization. By altering the members’ reality, they establish a new normal so that you have no normal point of reference. This is conducive to an environment where the member will obey instructions without question. Read more about how the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses Regulate an individual’s physical reality.

  2. [3] Dictate where, how and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
    How does it apply to Jehovah’s Witnesses? This is practiced in an extreme way in the form of disfellowshipping and shunning. But this is also practiced in day to day association. When a person starts to associate with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that person is expected to start disbanding friendships with “worldly” people and even limiting association with non-witness family members. Some parents home school their children to limit “worldly” association as much as possible.
    Why? The aim is to establish a “new normal”, where you blindly accept the policies of the organization without question. Having friendships and family relations with people outside of the organization helps a person to have a balanced view of things, and might cause one to question what the organization teaches and dictates.
  3. [2] Dictate when, how, and with whom the member has sex
  4. [3] Control types of clothing and hairstyles.
    This goes without saying that they are quite extreme. Sure, Amish would be an example of an extreme, however, the Witnesses still enforce clothing and hairstyle, even beards.
  5. [0] Regulate diet -food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
  6. [2] Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
    While they don’t outright deprive you of sleep directly, they do load you with pressure to meet the field service requirements, meeting, personal study, and when combined with keeping a day job, you will have to sacrifice a lot of sleep to meet these standards.
  7. [2] Financial exploitation, manipulation, or dependence
    This is a pretty bad guilt trip with them. They push people to donate, but then brag that there are no collections at the meetings.
  8. [3] Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
    This is going to be very high. They discourage many recreational activities like travel, exercise, hobbies, and pressure you to spend your time volunteering for them instead. They also monitor your service hours and will counsel you if you fall below the average. They are also not afraid to tell you that you shouldn’t be doing recreational activities when you are falling behind on your service to the organization.
  9. [3] Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self-indoctrination, including the Internet
  10. [2] Permission required for major decisions
    While this is not strictly in black and white, there is a measure of acceptance required for large decisions such as getting courting, getting married, moving congregations.
  11. [3] Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
  12. [3] Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
    There are a number of disciplinary actions that they use to modify behavior. They also use guilt to change your behavior.
  13. [3] Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
  14. [3] Impose rigid rules and regulations
  15. [2] Encourage and engage in corporal punishment
  16. [0] Punish disobedience by beating, torture, burning, cutting, rape, or tattooing/branding
  17. [3] Threaten harm to family or friends (by cutting off family/friends)
  18. [0] Force individual to rape or be raped
  19. [3] Instill dependency and obedience
    Yes, they do not want you to go to college or university and push young people to instead attain basic skills and work in the kingdom hall construction, bethel etc. They even split up families when they rearrange congregations.

42 out of a maximum of 57 = 84%

The key point is that whether or not the group has a system of rewards and punishments to modify the member’s behavior. This basically programs in a cult personality that is different from their authentic personality.

2. Information Control

  • Deception
    • Deliberately withhold information
    • Distort information to make it more acceptable
    • Systematically lie to the cult member
  • Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    • Internet, tv, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
    • Critical information
    • Former members
    • Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    • Control through a cell phone with texting, calls, and internet tracking
  • Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs Insider doctrines
    • Ensure that information is not easily accessible
    • Control information at different levels and missions within the group
    • Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when
  • Encourage spying on other members
    • Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
    • Report deviant thoughts, feelings, and actions to leadership
    • Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by the group
  • Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
    • Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies, and other media
    • Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources
  • Unethical use of confession
    • Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    • Withholding forgiveness or absolution
    • Manipulation of memory, possibly false memories

3. Thought Control

  • Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    • Adopting the group’s ‘map of reality’ as reality
    • Instill black and white thinking
    • Decide between good vs. evil
    • Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)
  • Change a person’s name and identity
  • Use of loaded language and cliches which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzzwords
  • Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
  • Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking, and even to age regress the member
  • Memories are manipulated and false memories are created (e.g. “1975”)
  • Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    • Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    • Chanting
    • Meditating
    • Praying
    • Speaking in tongues
    • Singing or humming
  • Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
  • Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine or policy allowed
  • Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil or not useful
  • Instill new ‘map of reality’

Emotional Control  

  • Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong, or selfish
  • Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of hopelessness, anger, or doubt
  • Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
  • Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as:
    • Identity guilt
    • You are not living up to your potential
    • Your family is deficient
    • Your past is suspect
    • Your affiliations are unwise
    • Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    • Social guilt
    • Historical guilt
  • Instill fear, such as fear of:
    • Thinking independently
    • The outside world
    • Enemies
    • Losing one’s salvation
    • Leaving or being
  • Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment, and then declaring you are a horrible sinner
  • Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
  • Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    • No happiness or fulfillment possible outside the group
    • Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc
    • Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends and family
    • Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock-and-roll
  • Threats of harm to ex-member and family (threats of cutting off friends/family)

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