Was Ray a cultist? He sure acted like one, writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her second post on Ray in The Moderate Voice. Estes has studied cult-formation in conjunction with her therapeutic work; the criteria she lists for a coercive cult are similar to though much more extensive than Robert Lifton’s (which Alice, a commentator on one of my earlier posts, noted were germane to understanding Ray’s appeal. For your convenience, I have listed them below). Ray didn’t make his followers change their names (though he did urge them to change their appearance–click here to see photos of participants in a 2007 Spiritual Warrior retreat getting their heads shaved); as far as we know, he didn’t force them to have sex with him. But in many respects, he fits the profile of an abusive cult leader, or to put it in slightly different terms, provides evidence that the LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) model of Werner Erhard’s est and Landmark Forum, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) Seminars, and the programs of many lesser-known groups and individuals, like Byron Katie’s School for the Work and of course Ray’s various events, pose hazards to participants’ psyches, pocketbooks, and in rare cases like this one, to their bodies as well. Rick Ross’s forum has a lot of postings on the subject–many of them from angry people with agendas–also see the blog LGAT Truth.
Here are Lifton’s criteria, as he listed them in a 1981 article in the Harvard Mental Health Letter:
1) A charismatic leader “who increasingly becomes an object of worship”
2) A process of “coercive persuasion or thought reform” (brainwashing, in other words);
3) Economic, sexual, or psychological exploitation of the rank and file members by the cult’s leadership.
Lifton adds that the chief tool of “coercive persuasion” is “milieu control; the control of all communication within a given environment.”