Back in July a member wrote to us that her husband said we sounded like a cult. I wrote the following post in response. I thought the comments help in a little way to capture how we really try to operate at Freedom.
Is Freedom a cult?
Is Freedom a cult?
Actually, I haven't had my work compared to a cult in my actual live clinic experience, although I have seen the accusation made from my Internet presence. Even though I was never accused of it in my live work, to some degree I was always cognizant of the fact that people could view what I was doing as seeming cult like. Much of how I operate is based on the assumption that if I were not careful I could easily be accused of trying to manipulate people I have helped in order to attain some personal gain.
A number of members over time have suggested that we work out some way to charge for participation in our group, or sell our material or encourage donations from our members to our group. It would be easy to do any of these things, but it would easily lead to the appearance that we are pushing our agenda for some sort of personal gain. Our style of operation makes these kind of accusations totally irrelevant. (See Does Joel have any books?, make sure to go back to the third post in that string.)
As far as how to answer your husband's accusation of our cult like status, I went out on the Internet and found a few sites that listed characteristics of a cult. Here is one of the checklists provided by one site, with my explanation as to where Freedom fits in with each critera. There where others that went into a little more religious aspects, but basically, we don't touch issues of religion, politics, and most other lifestyle choices, so these criteria really don't apply to us either.
Characteristics of a CultThe group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.
I actually hope not everyone is focused on the leaders of our group, although as far at to each member having an overzealous, unquestionable commitment of the goals of our group, I hope that are members are guilty of this--considering the goal is for each individual member to save his or her own health and life by staying committed to never take another puff!
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
Actually, we want each and every member of our group to focus on his or her own quit. Hopefully others around you may eventually take your lead and quit smoking, but there is little we do to influence our members to pull in other people. We basically ask our members to simply set an example that it is possible to live smoke free--not by being members of our group but simply by staying committed to never take another puff!
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Some of these criteria may need a technical explanation of how we are different than a cult, but not this one. We have never made a penny from any of our members and have no future intentions of doing so either. Everything we have is given to our members and our lurkers free of charge, and we do not take donations.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
We are dealing with combating drug addiction. It is true that we do not want our members questioning or doubting this fact. We could have a hard time defending against this one.
Mind-numbing techniques (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, debilitating work routines) are used to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Outside of mentioning deep breathing, I don 't think any of these factors fit our group.
The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).
As opposed to us telling people how they should live any other aspect of their life, we make it clear that we don't even want to discuss about other aspects of their lives. Our premise is everything you did as a smoker, you can still do as an ex-smoker.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members (for example: the leader is considered the Messiah or an avatar; the group and/or the leader has a special mission to save humanity).
If we could save humanity from smoking we would try--but we can't. As far as having any Messianic beliefs in my work, following my suggestions may keep you out of whatever you consider heaven longer, but only because following our suggestion you are likely to be here on earth longer--considering our only real suggestion is to never take another puff!
The group has a polarized us- versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.
We avoid conflict at all costs. Even our Our Mission Statement spells out we don't want to take on institutes like tobacco companies or other industries who have interests in people continuing to smoke or use nicotine products. We want any person to be able to use our site for help, even if those people work for industries promoting smoking or nicotine.
The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).
Here is one that we can't actually defend against.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group (for example: collecting money for bogus charities).
All we ask of our members is that they do not take a puff. We also explain that they should not take up other negative behaviors in order not to take a puff. (see "Do whatever it takes to quit smoking")
The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.
Yes we have been known to induce guilt. See I Liked My Other Support Group More
Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.
If a member's personal goal was to prematurely cripple himself or herself, or to die prematurely, then we are guilty of trying to alter those personal goals. As far as cutting ties with family and friends, we in fact do the opposite. We don't want members spending an inordinate amount of time here at Freedom at the cost of time with their families.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.
Same answer as above. In addition, our hope is that by sticking to the commitment to quit smoking, you are buying yourself a whole lot of extra time to spend with family and friends. Living extra years and decades afford people who quit smoking more time and better quality time.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members
We don't want our members over socializing with each other or with management. We are an educational site first, a support site second, and as far as a social site, we try to keep general socialization down to a minimum. We want our members to use the time they spend with us in order to secure their ability to be better able to socialize in their real world with their commitment intact to never take another puff.