Conformity And Conditioning In The Unification Church

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Learning is any relatively permanent change in behaviour due to experience. Most humans and animals have the ability to learn throughout their lives as they try new things and experience the world through their senses. Depending upon what occurs as a result of our actions we remember the results and use that information next time, to change what we might do. Humans develop behavioural attitudes through the psychological process of Conditioning. Conditioning is learning or reinforcing natural behaviours/responses as a result of receiving certain signals and is thought to be the basis of how behaviours are learned. There are two varied stems of conditioning, the type embedded within Cult manipulation is called Operant Conditioning.

Operant Conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards or punishments after a behaviour takes place and hence reinforces a certain behaviour. It involves changing voluntary behaviours. A response is followed by either positive or negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement following a response will cause the behaviour to increase, but if behaviour is followed by negative reinforcement, then the behaviour will decrease. There are two types of reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of something positive. Examples of this would be offering praise or a treat when a desired behaviour is displayed. Negative reinforcement occurs when something undesirable is removed whenever a behaviour is displayed. Examples of this would be receiving criticism or a punishment for intolerable behaviour.

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Conformity is the most common form of social influence. It is defined as; the act of matching attitudes, beliefs and behaviours to group norms. Conformity can lead to mob mentality and allow for extreme attitudes and behaviours to be accepted into the norm. In these cases, the individual on their own may not personally agree with the behaviours of the group, but does so as to avoid being ostracised, to reduce risk of individual blame or simply because it is considered normal within the group. There are three main types of conformity: Compliance, Internalisation and Identification. Compliance occurs “when an individual accepts influence because he hopes to achieve a favourable reaction from another person or group” (Mcleod S, 2019). They embrace the chosen behaviour and attitudes because they expect to gain specific rewards/approval or avoid consequences or disapproval from the group. Internalisation occurs when an individual shows obedience due to outcome of the induced behaviour is rewarding. Lastly, Identification occurs “when an individual accepts influence because he wants to establish or maintain a satisfying self-defining relationship to another person or group” (Mcleod S, 2019).

The Unification Church, more commonly known by the mocking nickname, “Moon Cult”, is a religious movement founded in South Korea by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The disciples and supporters of the worldwide cult believe that Moon himself is the divine being, or Messiah. His status as the second coming of Christ allows him to live in royal fashion, supported by his many followers all over the world. Since its founding in 1954, the movement has attracted hundreds of thousands of members in more than 100 countries, through its ‘inducing practices’, known as brainwashing, that occur in duplicitous religious groups everywhere. The Moon Cults’ indoctrination procedures induce dramatic behaviour changes in new recruits. Such changes are relatively sudden and dramatic, resulting in diminished personal autonomy as well as increased dependency on a new identity (Barker E, 2012). Additionally, conditioning techniques used by the Moon Cult affects members’ ability to exercise independent judgment. Members are subjected to intense indoctrination pressures, which include the manipulation of relentless commitment so that new recruits willingly display loyalty and obedience to the leadership. Furthermore, ”the Unification Church have developed basically similar and quite compelling conversion techniques for exploiting the vulnerabilities of potential converts,” said John G. Clark Jr., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard University Medical School.

Joining these cults is not an immediate decision from the very beginning. Recruits and supports are pulled into an elaborate trap of social indoctrination. The Moon Cult uses natural inclination and mob mentality to provoke unsuspecting recruits into mimicking social behaviours or to follow orders. They also adopt coercive persuasion to invoke guilt, shame and fear within the recruits and discourage critical thinking, which in turn denies basic freedoms of though. Speech and association. This results in internal conflict known as cognitive dissonance, where rational thoughts are bred out of the recruit’s mind. In turn, a mindless following discipline is developed.

The Moon Cult use a specific process to bring outsiders into cults, which involves a couple of stages. The first stage is sometimes called ‘love-bombing.’ Moonie “love-bombing” was a recruitment technique designed to make lonely people feel part of a loving community, to reject their families and to hand over their possessions (Bletchley R, 2012). Members of the cult approach the outsider. The cult members pay a lot of attention to the potential recruit. They provide plenty of positive reinforcement, which links directly to operant conditioning, by focusing on him and making him feel important. There may be hugging, dancing, and other activities where the new person is made the centre of attention. After some time goes by and the new person spends more and more time with the cult, there’s an attempt to isolate him/her from former friends and family. The purpose of this social isolation is to cause the person to become more and more emotionally dependent on the cult leader and other cult members. The ultimate goal is a conversion experience wherein the person renounces his/her former life and the people in it and accepts the cult as the sole focus of loyalty. All of the needs of cult members end up being provided for by the cult so it becomes indispensable. Lastly, there’s also often an initiation process which may include requiring the person to do extreme things to demonstrate total loyalty and subservience to the cult. Most cults have a charismatic leader who uses his/her strength of personality and communication skills in this resocialization process of the new person.

In Conclusion, the Moon Cult utilizes a range of Conformity and Positive Reinforcement techniques to ensnare and easily manipulate unsuspecting recruits. Their infamous “love-bombing” strategies combined with their social isolation enforcement draws in a great number of naïve supporters. These supporters follow the ideologies due to compliance and conformity, observing the surrounding behaviours and copying them without question due to those specific behaviours being the social norm.


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