Assessing the Mormon Church Using Steven Hassan’s BITE Model for Cults

Steven Hassan is the world’s leading expert in cults.  He wrote a book called “Combating Cult Mind Control,” which provides a framework for assessing how cult-like an organization is (or isn’t).  He has developed the BITE Model – which categorizes cult-like behavior into four domains:

  • Behavior Control,
  • Information Control,
  • Thought Control, and
  • Emotional Manipulation and Control.

While most experts agree that it is rarely useful to use the term “cult” when dealing directly with a particular organization or its members – and is usually counterproductive (see the Backfire Effect), I have found it to be helpful for Mormons experiencing a faith transition to learn/understand cult-like behavior, as a means to help them process their own experiences with the church.

Below are a series of images that include the main points of Hassan’s BITE model. I have colored the bullets in the following ways:

  • Green means: “I don’t think the Mormon church does this in modern times.”
  • Orange means: “I see this happening sometimes in the Mormon church (like on Missions), but not as a general rule .”
  • Red means: “This occurs regularly within the Mormon Church.”

I’m curious to know if you agree or disagree with my assessment.  Please share in comments below.  And thanks in advance!!!

Comments 15

  1. Lots of red here, and lots of truth as well. I haven’t been to an LDS church in such a long time, yet all of these red/orange points are spot on, as my memory recalls. I felt my blood pressure rising, from just reading these!

  2. Re: Thought Control #2:

    You’ve marked chanting, meditating, and speaking in tongues as things that don’t occur very often, but they absolutely do occur in LDS temples. Chants and repetitions in tongues are part of the temple ceremony, and meditation is encouraged along with prayer.

  3. This is a great analysis of the BITE model; especially with the color coding for severity.

    What do you think about the temple ceremonies being classified under Chanting within Thought Control? My view is that the repetition of all the covenants, and the prayer circle, can classify this as an Orange level (since it only occurs in the temples).

  4. Of course most religions fit this. Just go through it thinking of Roman Catholicism. It qualifies based on these.

  5. But this argument in the article doesn’t really hold water because the church is not a cult. If an animal has two slanted eyes, two pointy ears, four legs and a tail and claws and meows and purrs and stalks its prey and acts indifferently towards its owner, is finicky, sleeps a lot, is moody, plays with its food before killing it, will unexpectedly scratch you when you’re being nice, chases its shadow, sheds hair everywhere, and dislikes dogs – if all those things are true, it doesn’t make it true that the animal is a cat.

  6. Wow. Do you think the correlation committee studied the rules of a cult and then built the manuals? Or is the very nature of a cult so inherent that any cult just does this stuff? Like a certain kind of spider all over the world spins a similar web even though they never interacted? It’s just instinctive for any organization that wants to keep power and tries to guard too many secrets.

  7. It’s absolutely a cult. I was reading the book “combatting cult mind control” for another purpose and was shocked to realize I was in one. Learning about the topic has been validating and healing to me.

    List looks good. I have a few thoughts as a former devout member for 39 years.

    Behavior Control Part 1: I’d make sleep deprivation yellow due to
    1- early morning seminary, 2- encouragement of families to do scripture reading and prayer super early, 3- 6:00 a.m. meetings at church for some callings, and 4- the number of missionaries I know who claim they were deprived of sleep in the MTC to help break them down. I know families that get even little kids up as early as 4:30 to do scripture study before older siblings go to seminary, then they go back to sleep until later. I guess you could argue the church is just geared toward early birds, but with kids and especially teens the result is often sleep deprivation.

    Information Control Part #1- “control through cell phone, texting, and internet tracking” is yellow. That might be appropriate due to how clearly they do this to missionaries. But, I’d consider the possibility of red.

    – Wiretapping- They tapped my phone between my personal cell phone and personal home phone, recorded it, and intercepted calls. Wiretapping is illegal. I was not a missionary, although did this to attempt to communicate with someone in the MTC suffering from the full on cult experience.
    – Reading mail/email- I tested it and know the MTC opened and read my mail sent to people in there. These days I heard they also read emails.
    – Internet, I know someone excommunicated for one FB post.
    – They encourage ministering brothers and sisters to look at our FB pages.
    – They pressured us to create “I’m a Mormon” profiles.
    – I have had church leaders who are not FB friends know what I posted and vaguely threaten me about it. Just for pro-LGTBQ- not mentioning church.
    – They use the internet to find you when you move and try to avoid detection.
    – If you pull up online they have a map with pinpoint on your house and if you click on it, all your info. So in that way I feel tracked.
    – I’m guessing the correlation committee does more to those they follow.

    Emotion Control Pt. 2- “some public confession of sins.” Although they don’t force you in front of the organization to declare it- in a way other ways it becomes public. I was present several times when confidentially was not kept.

    If you are not allowed to take sacrament, pray or speak in church, wear garments, hold certain callings, attend temple weddings, baptize kids, participate in serving sacrament…you may have not gone up and said exactly what, but members will know you sinned.

    Thank you for doing this! I look forward to the podcast!

  8. There is chanting in the temple. We stand in a circle around an alter repeating “oh god, hear the words of my mouth” 3x in a row. There is another place where we do it 3x as well, and once or twice where we hear it 3x.

  9. In the Behavior Control Part 2 where it talks about punishing disobedience and threatening harm to friends and family. They do do this. It is more a psychological punishment. If you are disobedient they do shaming church courts and excommunicate or disfellowship you. As far as the friends and family part, they say if you are disobedient, you lose your family and loved ones after this life for eternity. They may not beat you or tattoo you, but they still practice those fear and punishment tactics on a psychological level.

    In the section that talks about deprivation of sleep, there is early morning seminary for teenagers.

    As far as the chanting and meditating, that for sure happens in the temple.

    The ritualist and public confession of sins is a normal part of mormon culture as well. Those bishops interviews you have to have when you turn 12 that go on once a year or so for the rest of your life, you have to confess if you masturbate and things like that, that are very personal. A child is left alone in a room with the bishop and he asks sexual questions and the child has to answer and confess in detail.

  10. You didn’t put “chanting” in red. What about “Follow the Prophet, Follow, the Prophet, Follow the Prophet, he knows the way”? The cadence, the minor key in which it is sung, the inane, repetitive words seem to me to be a chant in every sense of the word.

  11. I agree with Charlotte especially the end. Where she talk about public shaming. Being dismissed from BYU for honestly coming in with a repentant heart and confessing that I had done something against the honor code. Talk about public. There one day. Then not? My entire social, academic, cultural, “young adult” experience was pretty much just cut off. It sent me into a spiral of depression that ended me, the seriously positive|active|happy-go-lucky girl that once spent every day and night on the beaches of the north shore at BYUH, I felt completely defeated. And yet, worse, it was my fault. I had made the choice to “sin” so I need to live with the consequences right?? I have literally spent the past 10 years trying to undo those horrible consequences. The shame was so much. I literally broke under the weight of it. And my family was not fully supportive of many of my “choices” in life after that and regularly lecture me in public places around even non-member friends. Many of my cousins whom I love are not active in church so they don’t get the “special” invite to grandma and grandpas house for Christmas. My uncles are the only exceptions to this. I just started my journey but am afraid of what they will say when they are sure to learn my feelings over thanksgiving dinner.

  12. I think “hypnotic techniques” should be in red. The tones of voice and cadences that are used by the speakers at the general conferences are hypnotic, especially when combined with the long hours of sitting there.

  13. I feel the lack of emotional punishment under the behavior portion is a weakness of this model. I understand that it’s considered part of the emotional control but it is very much a common aspect of behavior control as well. In fact, it’s far more common for organizations to use emotional punishment than physical because the emotional isn’t illegal.

  14. Pingback: The BITE Model and Jehovah's Witnesses | Freedom of Mind Resource Center

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