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 31

  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.

    1. First, I would encourage you to find out for yourself. It “feels” simplistic and absolute. And since you are, I am assuming, as I, well educated, professionally successful and generally knowledgeable or have a basic understanding of the latest developments in worldly affairs, the sciences, tech, etc,. generally.

      Notwithstanding, it appears from your comments that you are very passionate and that your understanding of this specific topic, “Mind Control or undue influence” is robust enough to have a clear and well thought through arguments.

      And of course no matter how I respond, there is noway of mitigating coming off as condescending. That is not my intention, I am not trained or have a profession that is in mental health sector. As such, I had no clue and only have a year of experience with getting a better perspective on this psychological reality.

      Now, I am very experienced in advertising & marketing, in fact I have worked for the largest global marketing company in the world and worked to enhance or kept these global giants “top of mind” around the world.

      So I didn’t think I was as ignorant as I was… many believe marketing firms are the very tools used by the “anti-Christ” and vice versa, it’s all about POV.

      Another important thing to remember, when it comes to people, issues, business models, religion, education, politics, modernity, etc., is to NOT CONFLATE/simply, waterdown, think we have a complete understanding, etc of them or it.

      If nothing else, our modern understanding of the Cosmos, is that we have accomplished the unimaginable! Our understanding and capabilities have even surpassed what Einstein thought we could accomplish (see gravitational waves, esp. invention of device & technology) than any known species that has ever lived.

      We are the only known species to have walked on the mood and that is currently, we are in semi-control of an invention, Voyager, that is leaving our immense large SolarSystem and going beyond what the average human mind can understand. WATSON and other tech and bio advances has now surpassed the brain’s processing and human imagination capabilities.

      In fact, the state of the entire world, from what we know, has NEVER BEING more positive, productive and inclusive, then it is today. (It’s like the Garden of Eden, when using the data, notwithstanding the still horrors and unfairness that continue to exist. For a quick concept of this read the book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World” by Hans Rosling. A quick Google search will show you: https://youtu.be/5uooRe07mYM and on many of the “2018 Best Of Lists ” including Bill Gate’s or see his many YouTube/TED Talk).

      All this too say, is we as an individual, tribe and the General population, THINK they are well educated, yet when studied we are worse than the randomness of chimpanzees, if taking a quiz on basic global facts.

      In our brains effort to process quickly and be as efficient as possible we tend to look for pattern and meaning in everything. We seek after gossip and exaggerations to help us survive. Our very gift of detailed language that can create fantasy/myth is the what looks like what gave us the upper hand and in less than 10,000 yrs became the global dominant species. No other, has been know to do this, this gave us our 2nd greatest adventage, community in large masses, unfied not by truths but by agreement of myth. Currency, government, human rights, boarders, nationality, are all myths that billions have agreed to believe and accept as reality. But they are but reality. The brain doesn’t care! It wants to survive!

      What does this have to do with mine control? We are each unique, extremely complex, messy, nebulous, non-linear, non-absolute, etc. beings. Everything we create comes from that and an infinite amount of attributes. Governments, researchers, professionals have been studying it for 40+ years. All in an effort, to gain better understanding from where it was in the past, even from the recent past. So things as asking and trying to understand how the Nazi doctors could preform such unspeakable acts on their subjects. Understand the cult group in 1996 explodes Ceron gas in Japan. N. Korea. The Moonies, Manson, Vietnam, etc. Those inquiries and many more has give us some good models from the rigorous of decades of study. And it continues today.

      So my plea, is if you think you are well informed, and if anything of this overwhelming-long and seemly filled with random facts, was new, by any aspect, then maybe you, me and many of us are deluding ourselves about what we do know. And maybe our knowledge is based not on facts and data but by anecdotal and selfish worldview, of which, is the only way the brain works. As son as a subject or issue touches us, it’s onky than when many take the time, which is a must and a commodity very few can afford “luxury free time” and use it to read, study, test, reread, study, test and repeat, so we can continue to develop into who we want to be…

      That said, I’ll quote directly from the latest, updated edition (2018, in which JW’s LDS, were included to the list) of “Combatting Mind Control,” by Steven Hassan*

      “… the Mormon Church or its leaders are not intentionally malicious—but that they do harmful things, because they believe that the ends justify the means. The church’s leaders and followers are indoctrinated to believe that the Mormon Church is the true religion, and they cannot stand the idea of their friends and family suffering, or going to hell, or attaining a lower degree of glory, because they are not active in the church… I was invited to speak at an annual conference in 2008 when I explained the BITE model. For me, meeting two hundred and fifty former LDS people was quite an intensive education.

      I had helped people exit the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) cult of Warren Jeffs but, until the conference, I was not clear on just how much the mainstream organization was problematic. The talk I heard at that conference given by Ken Clark, a former LDS CES Institute Director for 27 years, entitled: Lying for the Lord: Deception as a Management Tool of the LDS Church was an eye-opener for me. “ He only discusses Mormonism a few times. Most of the book has examples of more extreme groups, ie, Scientology, The Unification Church, Multi-Level Marketing schemes, pimps, sex-traffickers, abusive business, boss, relationships m, etc. Anything structure where at the top it lacks accountability. Where it sees it’s self as the only way. It’s leader authority is blurred with divinity. Where they do not apologize for mistakes. Will not tolerate criticism of its leaders. Ask how they arrived at their policies and practices. Becomes defensive at outside sources including the media, books, articles and ex-members. The list is endless.

      *Hassan is currently at Harvard, speaks before Congress, guides government, business, organizations to help educate the complex, confusing, powerful, etc., maze of the ever evolving tactics…

      He is “the go to” in dealing every aspect of these “destructive mind control” or “undue influence” groups, individuals, business (IE: Multi-Level Marketing businesses) ,Cults-Psychology, Deprogramming, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Thought Reform, Persuasion, Religion-Cults, Human Trafficking, Terrorism, Social Influence, Self-Help, Recovery, Ex-cultists-Rehabilitation, Ex-cultists-Mental Health related fields.

  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

  15. According to the list that has been posted, everything and everyone is a member of a cult. Any organization that gives a set of rules could be considered a cult if you go by this absurd model. School, the US government, parents, most other religions, businesses, and sports organizations to name a few. “Come back to the fold my brethren.” haha just kidding but for real this site is ridiculous and makes me want to vomit on the computer just so i don’t have to read it anymore. In a real cult, there is a threat on your life if you want to leave. There is no choice if you want to leave. anyone can leave the Mormon church if they want. yall are kinda annoying. Amen

    1. Most religions are nothing like this. Does the United States school system ask young children if they liked being raped? Do they excommunicate you? If you think any normal religions do this you are clearly out of your mind.

    2. The LDS church is not normal, almost none of these things are done in other religions. And leaving, it is hard to leave because you will lose friends and in some cases, relatives will not talk to you. It is a big deal.

    3. Man this guy knows his stuff. Everyone on this site is absolute trash and they don’t know what they are talking about. Mormons are legit. I love them. They bring me bread and stuff on Christmas and the Young Lads come and carol at my house and make me feel mega good. This one guy popped into my house one time with this book, I think its called the book or moroni or something like that. I thought it was pretty interesting. This girl was showing me this site to try and convert me to her satanist cult and instead I decided to check the church out for myself, and now I’ve baptized myself. Amen
      PS is that how baptism works???

  16. You need to change the category of deprivation of sleep to red

    for those that do not live in the mormon corridor deprivation of sleep is frequent with the early morning seminary program

    that program in the question that caused my final and straw to leave the cult

  17. As a current church member, I would disagree. That being said, I’ve never been excommunicated or face a disciplinary council or anything like that, but from what I’ve seen, most of this seems untrue. I think it’d be interesting to compare this assessment with that of a current member. While some of this is true, I feel like there would be a lot more oranges and greens than there are.

    1. That’s the amazing power of a cult–any current member of a cult will by definition not realize they are in a cult. If any current member thought all of this was true then they would no longer be a member. You can only realize it was a cult when you get out of it. The main problem is mind control–the crazy thing is you think you are making choices, but really you end up doing whatever the leadership says. If you don’t, then, by definition, you are sinning. If you repent, then that means you are back to doing whatever they say, if you don’t repent then you are on the road out of the cult (or at least being aware of the cult and continuing to go for the social aspect). I applaud your courage to come to a website like this. In fact, since it’s been a year since you posted, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were already going through a faith crisis.

  18. It was only a couple years ago that I’d go through mental gymnastics to justify all the behaviors marked red and yellow in this list and insist it wasn’t MY church that was a cult, everyone else on the outside just didn’t understand.

    Now I’ve left and have endured (am still enduring) the mental trauma of finding out I’ve been lied to and manipulated all my life. I’m on the outside now and can relate my ongoing emotional trauma to that experienced by others who have left other highly controlling religions (Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to mind).

    I feel bad for those who are still stuck in it and feel the need to angrily defend the church from those of us who are trying to heal and trying to help others cope with the shock and trauma that happens when their world crashes down. I used to be one of those defensive people, so I can’t be angry. For those who are struggling, there is happiness and peace on the other side, no matter what they tell you on the inside. Sadly for many (like myself), it can take years to heal.

  19. I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment. When I came out of the church and discovered the BITE model it was extremely eye-opening to how I had been manipulated my entire life in the LDS church. I also had the feeling that there are 2 very distinct church experiences: that of the everyday member and the experience of being a full-time missionary.

    The missionary experience is much more cultish than that of the every day member. I found the degree of control over my life on the mission soul-crushing, and it was really a traumatic experience for me. I still have “back in the mission” nightmares. The mission both kept me in the church longer due to self-inflicted thought stopping techniques, and was the beginning of my journey out several years later when I allowed myself to finally start questioning things again.

    It also seems to me that each mission is kind of a cult within a cult. There is a strong sense of hero worship and total obedience to the mission president, who can do no wrong in the eyes of his missionaries. He can make your mission somewhat enjoyable or a living hell depending on how much he loves rules.

  20. I am a member of the church and looked this up after being concerned by the amount of people referring to it as a cult, I wanted to know why they felt this way especially because I have never felt in danger or seen anyone I know in danger because of the church.
    After reading this, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there parts of the BITE model that are accurate and some that are true to a degree and some that I just don’t see (as the author has also expressed though my experiences do not involve so much red/orange). I come from a family of members and ex members and all of us have had a mix of pleasant and unpleasant experiences as members. And I believe this comes down to the church being full of bad people who claim to be loving and charitable among those who truly are kind people regardless of their faith (and some people just not believing in the church and its teaching and there’s nothing wrong with that).
    In my experience, we are encouraged to find our own truth and to learn about our doubts, not stifle them. Although I have to agree with seminary in the morning being ridiculous, not that I ever went (and I was never punished or rebuked privately or socially for doing so). Again, this is my own experience and accounts from family members who are former members (who do not mince their words), none of us have ever felt pressured or threatened to continue our lives as members. Unfortunately, the church is full humans and there will be bad and toxic people in any group, although this does not excuse any cultish behaviour members have experienced. I also believe the cultish behaviour is influence by where in the world the member is. From what I understand, many places in America are a little over the top (to put it lightly) however, here in Australia it’s a lot more relaxed. We’re also encouraged (male and female) to get an education in whatever interests we have, ‘worldly’ or otherwise in whatever university or other education system they want. I’ve also been taught that every religion has truth In them and knowledge of all things is encouraged. That is my experience.
    I do wonder if this is because I come from a very open and encouraging family or if I’m lucky to be in an open and encouraging part of the world. I would like to hear from other’s and to know whether their experiences with the church and the cultish behaviour is from the people or from the church as a whole because I’m afraid my experiences are limited and I can’t fathom anyone following today’s teachings that from my view teach love, acceptance and freedom to all would create an organisation intent on manipulating and controlling the masses. Again, this is my experience and I am by no means looking to undermine or belittle anyone’s negative or hurtful experiences and I do believe this happens even if I can’t imagine it.

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