In 1979 I constructed an evaluation tool which I now call the "Advanced Bonewits' Cult Danger Evaluation Frame," or the "ABCDEF," a copy of which was included in that year's revised edition of my book, Real Magic (Samuel Weiser Pub., 1989). I realize its shortcomings, but feel that it can be effectively used to separate harmless groups from the merely unusual-to-the-observer ones. Feedback from those attempting to use the system has always been appreciated. Indirect feedback, in terms of the number of places on and off the Net this ABCDEF has shown up, has been mostly favorable. For example, it was chosen by and is now displayed on the website of the Institute for Social Inventions, who paraphrased it for their "Best Ideas -- A compendium of social innovations" listing. (http://newciv.org/GIB/BI/BI-278.HTML)
The purpose of this evaluation tool is to help both amateur and professional observers, including current or would-be members, of various organizations (including religious, occult, psychological or political groups) to determine just how dangerous a given group is liable to be, in comparison with other groups, to the physical and mental health of its members and of other people subject to its influence. It cannot speak to the spiritual "dangers," if any, that might be involved, for the simple reason that one person's path to enlightenment or "salvation" is often viewed by another as a path to ignorance or "damnation."
As a general rule, the higher the numerical total scored by a given group (the further to the right of the scale), the more dangerous it is likely to be. Though it is obvious that many of the scales in the frame are subjective, it is still possible to make practical judgments using it, at least of the "is this group more dangerous than that one?" sort. This is if all numerical assignments are based on accurate and unbiased observation of actual behavior by the groups and their top levels of leadership (as distinct from official pronouncements). This means that you need to pay attention to what the secondary and tertiary leaders are saying and doing, as much (or more so) than the central leadership -- after all, "plausible deniability" is not a recent historical invention.
This tool can be used by parents, reporters, law enforcement agents, social scientists and others interested in evaluating the actual dangers presented by a given group or movement. Obviously, different observers will achieve differing degrees of precision, depending upon the sophistication of their numerical assignments on each scale. However, if the same observers use the same methods of scoring and weighting each scale, their comparisons of relative danger or harmlessness between groups will be reasonably valid, at least for their own purposes. People who cannot, on the other hand, view competing belief systems as ever having possible spiritual value to anyone, will find the ABCDEF annoyingly useless for promoting their theocratic agendas.
It should be pointed out that the ABCDEF is founded upon both modern psychological theories about mental health and personal growth, and my many years of participant observation and historical research into minority belief systems. Those who believe that relativism and anarchy are as dangerous to mental health as absolutism and authoritarianism, could (I suppose) count groups with total scores nearing either extreme (high or low) as being equally hazardous. As far as dangers to physical well-being are concerned, however, both historical records and current events clearly indicate the direction in which the greatest threats lie. This is especially so since the low-scoring groups usually seem to have survival and growth rates so small that they seldom develop the abilities to commit large scale atrocities even had they the philosophical or political inclinations to do so.
Factors: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Low High 1. INTERNAL CONTROL: Amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members. 1. _____________________________ 2. WISDOM CLAIMED by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doc- trinal/scriptural interpretations. 2. _____________________________ 3. WISDOM CREDITED to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s). 3. _____________________________ 4. DOGMA: Rigidity of reality con- cepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or "fundamentalism." 4. _____________________________ 5. RECRUITING: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing. 5. _____________________________ 6. FRONT GROUPS: Number of subsid- iary groups using different names from that of main group. 6. _____________________________ 7. WEALTH: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members' donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members. 7. _____________________________ 8. POLITICAL POWER: Amount of external political influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members' secular votes. 8. _____________________________ 9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION: of members by leader(s); amount of control exercised over sexuality of members; advancement dependent upon sexual favors or specific lifestyle. 9. _____________________________ 10. CENSORSHIP: Amount of control over members' access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s). 10. _____________________________ 11. DROPOUT CONTROL: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts. 11. _____________________________ 12. VIOLENCE: amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s). 12. _____________________________ 13. PARANOIA: amount of fear con- cerning real or imagined enemies; perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories. 13. _____________________________ 14. GRIMNESS: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). 14. _____________________________ 15. SURRENDER OF WILL: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal deci- sions; degree of individual dis- empowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). 15. _____________________________ 16. HYPOCRISY: amount of approval for other actions (not included above) which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate group's declared principles for political, psychological, economic, or other gain. 16. _____________________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Low High