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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also:



Elliot Benjamin

In my previous two Integral World essays about Obama and the war in Afghanistan (Benjamin, 2009a, 2009b), I have written about my evolving non-linear disillusionment and awareness concerning President Obama. In particular I have focused upon Obama's decision to significantly escalate the war in Afghanistan, which came as an initial shock to many people based upon Obama's continuous eloquent speeches about “peaceful negotiations” and “talking with our enemies” for over a year and a half throughout nearly his whole campaign trail. This changed at the tail end of his campaign when he secured the democratic nomination and needed to show his military strength against John McCain, as Obama began talking very aggressively about sending in more troops to Afghanistan while he would end the war in Iraq.

In my previous article I argued that Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan was by no means a sudden and inexplicable change of perspective for him, but rather was highly consistent with what he had written in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope (Obama, 2006), and with what was written in the Obama for America's 2008 book Change We Can Believe In (Obama for America, 2008). However, in one of my previous Obama articles I made the following remark: “It is debatable how much Obama manipulated the country, waiting to promote his 'real' views about using military force to fight terrorists for the optimal time in his bid to prove his military strength in battling McCain for the presidency.” (Benjamin, 2009a, p. 2). Keeping this remark in mind, in my present essay I would like to approach my growing disillusionment and disappointment with Obama in another context. I would like to discuss Obama in the context of “cult dangers,” in a somewhat similar manner in which I have written about the cult dangers of various modern religious/spiritual groups (Benjamin, 2005a, 2005b, 2006, 2007, 2008).

Of course there are a number of significant differences between the modern religious/spiritual groups that I have done my experiential analysis for in regard to cult dangers, and the Obama political movement. I am by no means trying to minimize these differences when I utilize one of the same instruments that I have previously used in my articles referred to above, to describe cult dangers: the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale. However, I believe that some of these differences can be minimized by using a condensed version of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, as I will describe below. But what I believe is especially revealing are my own thoughts and feelings translated into numerical ratings that reflect my very real and personal experiences with the Obama political movement over the past three years. My thoughts and feelings, inclusive of my becoming captivated and charmed by Obama, recently temporarily (for a few days) resulted in me supporting him in military views that are completely contrary to everything I have believed in and have communicated to my friends and in much of my writings (Benjamin, 2009a, p. 4). It is exactly this profound effect by a charismatic leader that is at the root of the “guru phenomenon” that is the subject of much scholarly research work in the field of cultic studies (see for example Benjamin, 2005a; Falk, 2005; Hassan, 1990; Langone, 1993; Singer & Lalich, 1996, and the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) website at http://www.icsahome).

I have found the following Bonewits Cult Danger Scale categories to be very useful in my experiential exploration of cult dangers in modern religious/spiritual groups. Although there are various versions of the scale, the following 15 items are what I utilize, averaging the ratings on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest rating.

  1. Internal Control: amount of internal political power exercised by leader(s) over members.
  2. Wisdom Claimed: by leader(s), amount of infallibility declared about decisions.
  3. Wisdom Credited: to leaders by members, amount of trust in the decisions made by leaders(s).
  4. Dogma: rigidity of reality concepts taught, of amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. Recruiting: emphasis put on attracting new members, amount of proselytizing.
  6. Front Groups: number of subsidiary groups using different name from the main group.
  7. Wealth: amount of money and/or property desired or obtained, emphasis on members' donations.
  8. Political Power: amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. Sexual Manipulation: of members by leaders(s), amount of control over the lives of members.
  10. Censorship: amount of control over members' access to outside opinion on group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  11. Dropout Control: intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts.
  12. Endorsement of Violence: when used by or for the group or leaders(s).
  13. Paranoia: amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies, perceived power of opponents.
  14. Grimness: amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or leader(s).
  15. Surrender of Will: emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions.

For a condensed Bonewits Cult Danger Scale that eliminates a number of the factors that may weigh more heavily in political groups than religious/spiritual groups or vice versa, I will use only questions one through four, focusing upon Internal Control, Wisdom Claimed, Wisdom Credited, and Dogma. It seems to me that this bare boned condensed version of the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale is a good concise and immediate indication of cult dangers that runs across both religious/spiritual groups and political groups, traditional and modern. However, for informational purposes I will describe my personal experiential ratings of the Obama political phenomenon (which I will abbreviate as OPB) for both the full Bonewits Cult Danger Scale and the condensed Bonewits Cult Danger Scale. Here are my experiential ratings, based upon my experiences with the Obama political phenomenon over the past three years.

1. Internal Control: 8
2. Wisdom Claimed: 8
3. Wisdom Credited: 9
4. Dogma: 5
5. Recruiting: 10
6. Front Groups: 5
7. Wealth: 10
8. Political Power: 10
9. Sexual Manipulation 1
10: Censorship 1
11. Dropout Control 5
12. Endorsement of Violence 1
13. Paranoia: 5
14: Grimness: 1
15: Surrender of Will: 2

In regard to the condensed Bonewits Cult Danger Scale that makes use of only the first four categories, I obtain the following total and average scores:


As I have indicated in my articles referred to above on various modern religious/ spiritual groups, my Bonewits Cult Danger Scale ratings are most definitely subjective and experiential, and do not pretend to be otherwise. The intent of my research has been to include a qualitative/quantitative element to describe one's own experience in various religious/spiritual organizations that may have mild, moderate, or high cult dangers. A full account of my findings are available in my above referenced articles and self-published book, but what is significant in regard to my present experiential exploration of cult dangers in the Obama political phenomenon is a comparison of OBP scores on the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, both the full scale and the condensed scale, with a number of other groups that I have previously categorized as having mild and moderate cult dangers. To distinguish between the full Bonewits Cult Danger Scale and the condensed Bonewits Cult Danger Scale conveniently, I will use the notation F for the former scale and C for the latter scale. I will include a few sample groups from my research that fall under all the categories I have utilized: High cult danger, Moderate cult danger, Minimal cult danger, Neutral, and Beneficial. Out of the full range of 22 groups that I have experientially analyzed, I will choose the following 12 of these groups, along with my above experiential ratings for the Obama Political Phenomenon group. The scores that follow are the average scores across the F scale and C scale, respectively.

Unification Church: F: 9.0 C: 10
Scientology: F: 8.7 C: 10
Divine Light Mission: F: 5.1 C: 9.0
Avatar: F: 5.4 C: 8.3
Obama Political Phenomenon: F: 5.4 C: 7.5
Eckankar: F: 4.3 C: 7.5
Twelve Step Support Groups F: 4.4 C: 7.0
Self-Realization Fellowship F: 3.7 C: 7.8
Integral Institute F: 3.9 C: 6.8
Conversations with God: F: 3.7 C: 6.3
Tikkun: F: 3.8 C: 5.0
Kripalu Yoga Center: F: 2.6 C: 4.0
Neopaganism: F: 2.1 C: 2.5

Based upon my initial classification scheme from the full Bonewits Cult Danger Scale (Benjamin, 2005a), I have placed the above groups in the following categories:

High Cult Danger: Unification Church, Scientology
Moderate Cult Danger: Divine Light Mission, Avatar
Mild Cult Danger: Eckankar, Twelve Step Support Groups
Neutral: Self-Realization Fellowship, Integral Institute, Conversations with God, Tikkun
Beneficial: Kripalu Yoga Center, Neopaganism

Although the mathematical relationship is certainly not exact, one could perform a statistical regression analysis to show that the same general pattern of decrease of F scores from top to bottom of the chart looks quite similar for the C chart. In other words, the condensed Bonewits Cult Danger Scale turns out to be a fairly good approximation of cult dangers for these groups compared to the full Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, based upon my own experiences. Whichever scale we prefer to use, the above categories for my groups will stay roughly the same, perhaps with one or two groups arguably changing to the next higher or lower category. But when it comes to deciding where to place the Obama Political Phenomenon group, very clearly no matter whether one uses the F scale or C scale, OPB clearly belongs in the category of moderate cult danger. In other words, based upon my own experiences with the Obama political phenomenon over the past three years, I have in effect been under the influence of a powerful charismatic political guru figure, with an enormous public/political group influence.

Well known psychological mechanisms such as wanting to minimize “cognitive dissonance,” and experiencing the magnetic impact of seeing and hearing Obama speak on television somehow worked to transform me into saying “yes” to continuing and extending the unnecessary deaths and bombings in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. I somehow realized deep down that this was not the “me” I have always known, but I was going along with this “new me” anyway. What finally brought me back to my real self? It was the exposure to other people's writings in the form of essays about Obama's Afghanistan war decision that I continuously read on the internet from various progressive and peace oriented organizations that spoke to me and reminded me of what it is that I truly believe. And this is exactly the kind of cult education networking that a number of authors have written about and are currently doing some enormously important work in (see for example Hassan, 1990, 2000; Langone, 1993).

At this point I do not wish to speculate any further about my opening remark from my previous article regarding the extent of Obama's political manipulation in spending a year and half promoting peace and then abruptly turn to war. For I am still recuperating from my near-loss of self in regard to my own true personal/political thoughts and feelings. It seems that many people are in the process of going through something similar to what I have experienced, in which it is so difficult to finally see Obama for who he truly is--a “war president.” But he is not just a war president; to many people he is extending an unjust and unnecessary war causing massive death and destruction. This is how I myself now see Obama, and it helps me to understand how I could have been so persuaded by Barack Obama, by utilizing a cult dangers perspective applied to the Obama political phenomenon. It is my hope that perhaps other people may find some value in this perspective as well.


Benjamin, E. (2005a). Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Swanville, ME: Natural Dimension (available by contacting the author)

Benjamin, E. (2005b). Spirituality and the Cults: An Experiential Analysis. The Ground of Faith Journal, April/May. Retrieved August 1, 2008, from "!thegroundoffaith/issues/2005-04/index.htm#elliot"

Benjamin, E. (2006). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis. Retrieved January 1, 2008, from ""

Benjamin, E. (2007). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis. ICSA e-Newsletter, 6(2), Retrieved August 1, 2008, from "http://www.icsahome"

Benjamin, E. (2008). The Boundaries between Cults, Benign, and Beneficial in Five Spiritual Groups. ICSA e-Newsletter, 7(3), retrieved January 1, 2009, from "http://www.icsahome"

Benjamin, E. (2009a). Obama and the War in Afghanistan: A Psychological, Philosophical, and Political Integrated Perspective. Retrieved 12/6/09, from ""

Benjamin, E. (2009b). Obama and the War in Afghanistan: Further Reflections. Retrieved 12/15/09, from ""

Falk, G. (2005). Stripping the Gurus. Retrieved August1, 2008, from ""

Hassan, s. (1988). Combating Mind Control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

Hassan, S. (2000). Releasing the Bonds. Somerville, MA: Freedom of Mind Press

Langone, M. (Ed.). (1993). Recovery from Cults. New York: W.W. Nortn & Co.

Obama, B. (2006). The Audacity of Hope. New York: Crown.

Obama for America (2008). Change We Can Believe In: Barack Obama's Plans to Renew America's Promise. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Singer, M., & Lalich, J. (1996). Cults in our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. .

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