The Loaded Language of Cults

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What is loaded language? Loaded language refers to words and terms that are meant to have a strong emotional impact, not necessarily a logical one, and which are often used to sway opinion or gain support.

Loaded language is commonly used in political speeches and campaigns, and is also a trademark of a cult! Consider a bit more information about loaded language and especially how it’s used in cults, abusive religions, and other high-control groups.

the BITE model

Cult commentator Steve Hassan mentions loaded language in his BITE model, which discusses when a religion or group controls its adherents’ Behavior, Information, Thoughts, and Emotions.

Under the section on thought control, Hassan says that a cult is often marked by:

Use of loaded language and clichés which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts, and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words [sic].

“Buzzwords” are words or phrases used to sound authoritative or technical, but which become so popular that they soon lose all meaning (i.e., “think outside the box”). “Platitudinous” is a dull or flat word or phrase used as if it’s fresh and new and inspiring (i.e., “core concept”).

Think of how a cult or other such controlling group might use these types of loaded language to evoke emotions and gain support, and block critical thinking. In the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, their governing body calls themselves “the faithful and discreet slave,” while Mormons refer to their leaders as “prophets.”

These words depict these men as being loyal, pious, wise, knowledgeable, and hard workers for others. However, there is little to no proof that these religion’s leaders are “faithful and discreet,” act like “slaves,” or have any ability to speak for god!

These words also have little meaning but appeal to a congregant’s emotions, inspiring loyalty and trust. Congregants rarely think critically about the claims of these men, swayed by the emotional appeal of the words used to describe themselves.

Loaded language might also be applied to the teachings of a cult itself; those who follow their beliefs are “spiritually pure,” or have a special relationship with god, and so on. These words evoke emotions; they make someone feel righteous. However, note the lack of logic or verifiable proof in such phrases!

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Consider, too, “complexities” being reduced to meaningless phrases in some religions; for example, political or social issues and injustices are dismissed as “Satan’s world.” Rather than discussing current events or the human condition on a deeper level, these complex subjects are reduced to a simplistic concept, that Satan is controlling the world. In turn, there is no conversation that might lead to a deeper understanding of human nature, history, or politics and social issues, and a congregant’s knowledge is then stifled.

The purpose of these buzzwords is to engage your emotions while keeping your thinking simple. If you stay with the cult, you avoid “Satan’s world.” Don’t be concerned about what that phrase means or if there is any proof of Satan in the first place; just stay and be safe!

All of this loaded language then keeps a person a mental prisoner of that religion. A member doesn’t need to think critically or deeply about complex issues, but can and will blindly follow the cult and its teachings while tuning out everything else. For these reasons, it’s no accident that cults use loaded language.

us versus them

Cults also use loaded language to create an “us versus them” mentality in members. The words used to create this mentality are far less subtle, and create fear, disdain, or even downright hatred for those outside the religion.

For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses have referred to “apostates” of their religion as “mentally diseased,” “cunning,” and “corruptive.” Scientologists refer to ex-members as “suppressive.”

These types of phrases make former members seem outright dangerous. They imply strongly that a congregants needs to protect themselves from attacks by remaining in the religion and following its leaders.

Terminology that makes it seem as if a group is being attacked, has “enemies,” or needs to somehow “fight” against those on the outside is typically loaded language. This language doesn’t allow congregants to have a positive or even neutral point of view of nonmembers, but they need to be wary of or outright fight those on the outside, according to these statements. This thinking plays on the emotion of fear, to keep members trapped in the cult.

superiority

Loaded language is also used to create a sense of superiority in cult members. For example, a cult may say they’re the “only” true faith, that their members are all “united” and “honorable,” and practices they don’t approve of are “evil.” People outside the group are “wicked,” “separated from god,” “foolish,” or “blind.”

Note, cult leaders typically have little to no evidence to back up these claims, and may not even attempt to provide proof! Cult leaders may simply assert that all other religions are false and people following them are blind, and will then repeat these phrases so often that their members believe them. This loaded language has appealed to their emotion, their need to feel special and better than others.

See also: Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs

Feeling superior to others can also cause a person to want to join a cult in the first place, and this language plays on that need. Someone might be interested in a group that promises to build a better society, that says they alone understand how people think and what can bring cultures together, that they treat people better than others, have more success in life, will get a special reward at the end of their life, and so on.

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The loaded language used by the group then reinforces this sense of superiority. If you join this particular religion, you are much more moral than outsiders and know things that they don’t, and you’ll get a special reward or vindication that they won’t, or so they teach.

logical fallacies

Loaded language can work hand-in-hand with logical fallacies, or flaws in the logic of someone’s argument:

  • An ad hominem attack, where you attack a person rather than discussing what that person is saying, is a logical fallacy used by cults. You dismiss something an ex-member says by calling them an “apostate,” for instance, no matter the logic and value of what they’re saying.
  • A false dichotomy is when an argument is presented as having only two solutions or sides; for example, “If god doesn’t step in soon, the human race will destroy itself.” By presenting these choices as the only two possible outcomes for humankind, the critical thinking of cult members is shut down; they are not encouraged to discuss other potential outcomes for humans.
  • A non sequitur refers to a conclusion that isn’t necessarily supported by the statement before it. For instance, “If you don’t buy this product for your child, you hate your child.” The conclusion, that you hate your child, isn’t supported by the statement before it, that you didn’t buy a certain product. “If you leave our religion, you hate god, and you just want to go and sin with impunity,” is a non sequitur often used by cults.
  • A red herring is a statement that is meant to distract you from what is being said or discussed; for example, if you were to ask a cult member about lawsuits they’re facing for child sex abuse, the cult member might respond by saying, “What about this other religion? Why don’t you go and talk to them about their child abuse problem?” That cult member is diverting attention away from the subject with a red herring.

Remember that all this loaded language appeals to your emotions, including fear (such as fear of hell or death at Armageddon, or fear of losing god’s approval), pride, the need to be right, the need to belong to a group, and so on. Logic and verifiable proof for such statements is scarce, if not downright nonexistent!

Pay close attention to the words used by any group to which you belong, and look for signs of loaded language. Understanding how and why words are used can allow you to pick them apart, and will ensure you don’t become swayed or indoctrinated by cults or abusive religions and groups.

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