Landmark Education/Abd/Criticism of Landmark/Cult/Wikiquote

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Ernst Troeltsch's church-sect typology, upon which the modern concept of cults, sects, and new religious movements is based.

In religion and sociology, a cult is a cohesive group of people (often a relatively small and recently founded wikiquote:new religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream.

Comment That's a formal definition; however the term is being used popularly in many of these quotes, not in the scholarly sense, so this is misleading. The definition as given is inaccurate as to the popular usage, and is too fuzzy for academic usage. Cult identification in popular usage occurs for causes other than "beliefs and practices," unless "practices" are construed so widely as to be nearly useless. I.e.,
  • If participants in some process get very excited about it, and talk enthusiastically to their friends, that will lead to an impression of "cult."
  • If an organization uses a specialized language, because it is dealing with phenomena that most people do not ordinarily talk about, that will create an impression of "cult," but is that a "belief or practice"?
Perhaps, it is the practice of using a specialized, specified language that doesn't make sense outside of a shared context, and enthusiasm is encouraged by Landmark, so it's an organizational "practice" as well. But that is very general, and "most people," if they think about it, will agree that these are not crucial in defining "cult," They merely create a resemblance in some way, because cults also use specialized language, as do professionals and those specially interested in many fields, and members of cults can be enthusiastic.
We could speak of a "stamp collecting cult," and people would understand this, it would mean the community of those enthusiastic about stamp collecting, but few would call the American Philatelic Society a "cult" except jocularly. --Abd (discusscontribs) 14:04, 31 October 2013 (UTC)
personal experience

Yesterday I met with two therapists from an adoption services agency, highly trained professionals. I told them about my daughter and her situation, and I used -- with explanations and in ordinary language -- many Landmark concepts. They repeated remarked how what I was telling them matched their own training, that they use the same approaches. That's not surprising at all, because of two conditions

  • Erhard, est, and Landmark have heavily influenced the theory and practice of modern psychology, and
  • Many Landmark leaders I know are successful professionals in psychiatry, psychological, or counselling fields, so Landmark courses are informed by psychology and neuroscience.

Yet someone who isn't familiar with modern psychology might think these approaches very strange. If my way of thinking is not "ordinary," does that make it "cult thinking"? --Abd (discusscontribs) 14:04, 31 October 2013 (UTC)

Quotes[edit | edit source]

Alphabetized by author

John Ankerberg[edit | edit source]

  • There are scores of modern religious cults and sects that have been influenced by Hinduism to varying degrees. Werner Erhard, founder of 'Landmark Education's 'The Forum',' and 'est' seminars, which have about 700,000 graduates, was influenced by Hinduism through Swami Muktananda, one of Erhard's principal gurus.
    • John Ankerberg, John Weldon (1996). Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs. Harvest House Publishers. p. 216. ISBN 978-1565071605.
Comment. This is remarkable. The author, w:John Ankerberg is not an academic expert on "cults," but is a Christian evangelist whose motive is transparent, to tar what he identifies as non-Christian groups as being influenced by another religion. Yet in my seminar Monday night, there were three ministers who are ordained in mainstream Christian denominations, all highly involved with Landmark, at least two of them are Program Leaders. So is Ankerberg a cultist calling Landmark a "cult" or "sect"? There are two "Landmarks" here, Landmark as seen by people who have no clue what actually happens in the trainings and sessions, and who actually participates, and Landmark as a community that is, internally, heavily connected with the mainstream. Yes, it's not "ordinary." It is, in fact, extraordinary.
Ankerberg is on record as objecting to ecumenical movements, which defines him as, at least, sectarian. Given that, in Landmark, people who are heavily involved with many religions come together and share the experience of life, in ways that enhance their own existing religious activity, this could be threatening to someone who thinks that he belongs to the "only saved Church" and everyone else is wrong and doomed. His views are not mainstream. --Abd (discusscontribs) 14:23, 31 October 2013 (UTC)

Elisabeth Arweck[edit | edit source]

  • Another term coined by Haack is Psychokulte (therapy cults), of which he distinguished two kinds: those with techniques which promise self-discovery or self-realization and establishments with therapies (Therapie-Institutionene)—Heelas's 'self-religions'. The followers of both types show the effects of Psychomutation, a distinct personality change (Haack, 1990a:191). Schneider (1995:189–190) lists organizations, such as Landmark Education, Verein zur Förderung der Psychologischen Menschenkenntnis (VPM), Scientology/Dianetics, Ontologische Einweihungsschule (Hannes Scholl), EAP and Die Bewegung (Silo) as examples of 'therapy cults'. These groups do not immediately suggest religion of Weltanschauung, but reveal ideological and religious elements on closer inspection. Their slogans are 'We have the saving principle' or 'We enable those who are able' and they offer Lebenshilfe (advice on how to live). Such advice is a commodity which is sold in very expensive seminars. The ideologies involved often lie in the grey areas between the humanities, psychotherapies, Lebenshilfe, 'mental hygiene' (Psychohygiene), and religion.
    • Arweck, Elisabeth (2004). Researching New Religious Movements: Responses and Redefinitions. Leiden: Brill. pp. 145–146. ISBN 0203642376.
Comment. This appears to be Arweck quoting or paraphrasing Haack. Very odd that this is on Wikiquote this way; the page seems to be a collection of research notes, without regard for author notability, and this kind of document is highly vulnerable to cherry-picking. However, as to what Haack has written, the term "psychokulte" was, as stated, coined, presumably with a definition that is not explicitly given (definition by example is only suggestive, not definitive). Haack notes that the groups mentioned do not "immediately suggest" [a world view], but reveal "ideological and religious elements on closer inspection." From my experience, that's true about Landmark, but that doesn't mean that Landmark is "ideological" or "religious," rather, there are elements that can be seen in that way, and the elements may simply reflect what human beings commonly do. We have ideas and we may share them with others of like mind. The issue with a "cult" in ordinary meaning would have to do with the character of these ideas and a certain oppression in the social reinforcement of the ideas. Yes, it is true that, sometimes, groups believe that they have something of value, and sometimes this is transmitted ("sold") in seminars that people pay for. "Expensive" is a value judgement. Further, while Landmark "distinctions" could be considered "advice" in a loose way, they are not transmitted in words, as such, they are tools that one learns to use, and the words are markers or reminders only, not expected to convey the ability and practice of using the tools. For example, some distinctions:
  • Racket. Advice might look like: "Get rid of your rackets." However, that is not the actual Landmark stand on "rackets." Rackets are normal human behavior, possibly instinctive in some ways, and certainly heavily supported by normal childhood experience, and we will never get rid of them. Forum Leaders "run rackets." We all do. But the difference between someone highly trained -- or otherwise able to do the same thing -- is what Landmark calls "velocity," which refers, in this case, to the rapidity with which the person recognizes what they are doing. So the only "advice" that Landmark gives is not even advice, it is a tool that one may use, if one so chooses, to identify one's own activity, and to recognize the consequences of this behavior, which are normally not distinguished as such. A "racket" is a persistent complaint combined with a fixed way of being. By definition -- "persistent complaint' -- a racket is a "problem" that is not being resolved readily. If I show you how to use a hammer, and what you can do with hammers, and I assist you in practicing using a hammer, is that "advice"? Maybe. But we would more ordinarily call it what Landmark calls it, "experiential learning." Indeed, one of the common transformations in more advanced training is to "disappear" the idea that there is anything "wrong" with rackets. We simply have choices, that's all. From within a racket, it appears that we have no choice. In the realm of racket, the problem is out there, not here with me, hence I'm powerless over it. Rackets are thus intrinsically disempowering. This has nothing to do with whether or not the story that we tell ourselves is true or false. Maybe so-and-so really is crazy. Or maybe not, maybe I'm not as powerless as I think.
  • Life is empty and meaningless and it is empty and meaningless that life is empty and meaningless. That one raises a lot of hackles! However, Landmark is explicit about the content of the Forum: "This is not the truth." What is said when distinctions are presented is "Consider this." I.e., what would appear if one looks at life from this perspective? And what appears, at least for most people, is a disappearing of all the "meanings' that they created growing up and in their life, leaving behind "nothing," but not the nothing of some barren lack of anything but the nothing of limitless possibility, the "empty slate" on which we now recreate our life. This is experienced by most participants, again, as a profound new freedom, a major part of what gets so many people so excited. The entire process of the creation of meaning -- which we certainly do, and that's entirely distinct from the philosophical question of whether or not there is some absolute meaning to life -- is set aside, at least for a moment. But what's the "advice" here? It's a *suggestion to consider something.* And it has an effect, if one tries it on.
And then, there is "expensive." That's a relative term, and no benchmark is provided. It's simply an appeal to knee-jerk impressions. There are two ways to define expensive that I know of:
  • Costing substantially more than the value obtained. Suppose there were a training that one could do, in basically three days, that would in fact transform your life so that you became highly effective, reached success by whatever measures were important to you, had peace of mind, recovered lost and broken family relationships, what would this be worth? What would the value be? Would it be worth $500? People pay far more than that for psychotherapy, hoping to attain those goals, with possibly less success. Remember, this question is a "what if"? If the training doesn't actually accomplish those goals, $500 would certainly be expensive, and add to the $500, three rather intense days of your life. (The Tuesday evening session is actually optional. People who don't show up for it are still considered graduates. But it's highly recommended to be there!)
  • Costing more than comparable options. If I knew of a comparable option, I'd be there. I do know that there are other roads to Rome. one could become a psychotherapist, for example, and the training of psychotherapists includes being in therapy oneself, and finding success in that. However, what does that cost? To be fair, the Forum is only Kindergarten training, it is certainly not the whole Curriculum for Living, and I'd equate the entire Curriculum with Elementary School. So to compare this with psychotherapy training, we'd have to look, on the Landmark side, at the full Curriculum, at least. Current pricing would be roughly $1400. Further and deeper training to master various distinctions is available (to any graduate) in the Assisting Program, which is essentially learn-by-doing, and there is little or no tuition involved. One could consider it equivalent to residency in a professional training. The comparable cost of psychotherapy training could then be, what? $100,000? Note that Landmark is not psychotherapy, I've named that because there is some rough equivalence. Psychotherapists commonly become involved in Landmark training, just as they often also participate in Twelve-Step groups.
Ah, comparable option: Twelve-Step Groups! Much of what is available in Landmark can also be found there. And I did not want to do the Forum because my 12-step experience led me to expect that the best training would be free! However, there is a difference. The Landmark process is efficient. I've seen it take years of group participation -- which for serious participation, the kind that can produce dramatic results, is much more than two hours a week -- to come to what people with high reliability get in three days in the Forum. So, compared to 12-step groups, it could seem that Landmark is "expensive." But if one looks at the time invested, and the reliability of results, it's "cheap."
  • Costing much more than it costs to provide the item or service. On this, I'm clear. Landmark is indeed a for-profit employee stock-option plan corporation. People look at the Forum, with perhaps 120 people in it, do the math and come up with more than $60,000, and conclude that someone is making money hand over fist, for a three day weekend. Two problems with this analysis:
  • An unknown number of participants have not paid the full tuition. Introduction Leaders, for example, are required to review the Forum, I think it's at least every two years, and they pay no tuition. Many graduates eventually review the Forum, I'd love to myself, when I get around to it, though I might instead simply assist at a Forum, where it would cost me nothing but my time. Almost as powerful, or even, in some ways, more powerful. (I have assisted at the Advanced Course twice, and ... wow! Somebody ask me and I'll tell some stories.) Reviewers pay less than half the full tuition. Certain people in certain assisting programs pay a lower tuition. And some people, in various situations, don't pay full Forum tuition; for example, full-time police, fire, and clergy pay nothing, as Landmark's expression of appreciation for 9/11; the New York Center came down that day with the Twin Towers.
  • Landmark does make a profit, but it's a relatively small percentage of income and, so far, it has all been plowed back into operations. In over twenty years, Landmark has never paid a dividend. Hence my conclusion is that the Forum may be a "loss leader." That is supported by the higher cost of the Advanced Course. To provide the Advanced Course, if we look at everything, probably costs less than the Forum. Much Center expense is wrapped up with "marketing" the Forum, i.e., with supporting outreach, aside from the Center Manager, each Center has a Registration Manager on staff, who supervises the Introduction Leader Program and most of the phone operation. That is properly a Forum cost. But, of course, it builds up the body of graduates, who are then very naturally motivated to continue with the education, often in courses that use all-volunteer labor. Those courses are, however, "cheap."
Sometimes people point to the Wisdom Course as "expensive." It's something on the order of $3000, as I recall. I'm not about to register any time soon! However, it is roughly equivalent to six Forums, as to time. I know many graduates who have taken the Wisdom Course, and they all proclaim it was well worth the expense. People may spend more than that on a vacation, with less enduring value.
  • Bottom line, Landmark recovers the cost of operations through tuition, and makes little profit. I see little fat in the organization. Landmark claims to pay executives the median in the training industry. Landmark does not solicit donations or grants. It's entirely self-supporting through tuition -- and, of course, volunteer labor, an issue explored elsewhere in this resource. I have seen a nonprofit organization charge more than $1000 for training equivalent to, say, the Self-Expression and Leadership Program, which is $220.
So "expensive" betrays an attitude by the commentator, an opinion about relative value, with possibly undisclosed bias, and no disclosed analysis. --Abd (discusscontribs) 17:01, 31 October 2013 (UTC)

Douglas Atkin[edit | edit source]

  • There has been an enormous growth of the phenomenon known as Large Group Awareness Training represented by such companies as Landmark Forum. Its former iteration was EST, begun by the famous and infamous Werner Erhard. He retired it in 1985 and started The Forum. One of several cults categorized as examples of the human potential movement that started in the 1970s, it focused on exploring and actualizing the self. It has gained great traction in recent decades with professionals working within highly demanding occupations—entrepreneurs, business managers, the fields of acting, advertising, and marketing. EST and The Landmark Forum have had over a million customers.
    • Atkin, Douglas (2004). "What Is Required of a Belief System?". The Culting of Brands: Turn Your Customers Into True Believers. New York: Penguin/Portfolio. p. 101. ISBN 9781591840275.
Comment. This is a relatively non-critical usage of "cult." Any training that "actualizes the self" is likely to produce enthusiasm, so, in the training field, that enthusiasm, which generates effective marketing through highly satisfied customers, can lead to a resemblance to a "cult." From the quote and the title of the book, the author approves of what Landmark is doing, and is actually suggesting imitating it. Imitating the methods is part of the training in Landmark, hence there are many thousands of organizations doing, generally on a much smaller and less general scale, what Landmark does. --Abd (discusscontribs) 17:56, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Andre van der Braak[edit | edit source]

  • There was nothing special about our time with Andrew. We've been members in just another cultish group that make its members feel special. Our experiences are fundamentally no different from countless others in spiritual and political groups. We see clearly that corruption is difficult to avoid when a charismatic individual is given absolute power over a group of followers. All authoritarian groups have more or less the same dynamic. The emphasis on surrender, the initial happiness of merging into something bigger, the dogmatism, the rules and regulations, the suppression of doubts, it's the same everywhere.
    • Andre van der Braak, about how he and another former see their time with Andrew CohenAndre van der Braak (2003). Enlightenment Blues: My Years With an American Guru. Monkfish Book Publishing. p. 215. ISBN 0-9726357-1-8.
Comment. I have sat with Andrew several times, more than fifteen years ago. I would agree that he is a "charismatic individual," and that he exercises a kind of authoritarian power, and I've known a follower of his who became disaffected. I saw, in the meetings, that he "owned" the "group focus center," and did not recognize others. There is a resemblance between what he transmits and what Landmark transmits, but Landmark has no authoritarian leader. I work closely with Program Leaders and they are not authoritarian figures. I've seen them fall short and be challenged by participants, and they have almost always immediately apologized, acknowledging their own "inauthenticity," I've been the one challenging, a few times. They are, essentially, in training themselves, and they know that, and so does everyone else who is experienced. Doubt is not suppressed in Landmark, it is respected and addressed. However, Landmark participants -- which includes leaders -- are human and become attached to their own ideas. That attachment is generally exposed by the training, it becomes quite visible. Van der Braak is indeed talking about a common social phenomenon, that does happen in cults, but also in other organizations. It happens in Landmark, but is simply an imperfection in the realization of the Landmark vision. That is, there can be social pressure to conform to whatever the group believes. That's probably a basic human trait. --Abd (discusscontribs) 19:25, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

George D. Chryssides[edit | edit source]

  • Although est and the Forum are frequently characterized as NRMs or 'cults' (q.v.), leaders and participants have typically denied that undergoing the seminars involves following a religion.
Comment. Yes, the "cult" word is used by some. We do deny that Landmark "involves following a religion." --Abd (discusscontribs) 19:43, 1 November 2013 (UTC)
extended comment by Abd
My personal take on this is that Landmark is working with fundamental human collective psychology, in areas that, in other contexts, resulted in the founding of religions. That's one interpretation. Another would be that the intervention of the divine worked its way out through these collective psychological pathways. I.e., religion was revealed to human beings, and was designed for human beings.
However, Landmark explicitly does not assert dogma, "truth." Yes, there are "distinctions" proposed, and when these are taken out of context as if they were "truths," they can look like dogma. In actual practice, and, remember, I'm intimately involved with the actual practice, every day, we recognize that the distinctions are not truths, but rather are tools that exist in language.
I worked for eight months with a trained and ordained United Church of Christ minister, and we had many conversations in the two-hour trip, each week, back and forth to Boston. We have no agreement on theology, i.e., on matters of dogma. We have complete agreement on the living human possibility, "presence," which is what Landmark is about. It is quite common that Landmark participants are ordained in this or that religious organization, or have other religious affiliations. There are Wiccans, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, every kind of Christian, agnostics, and atheists. And we all work together. I've never heard anything from all these, other than that their work in Landmark deepened their understanding of their own religion. They did not leave their religion for Landmark. --Abd (discusscontribs) 19:43, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Sharon Klayman Farber[edit | edit source]

  • Years ago recruitment for cultic groups was far more obvious than today because extreme religious groups were easy to identify. They lived isolated from the general population, and the public had become aware of their deceptive recruiting techniques. Today many are attracted to organizations that are less overtly cultic, not overtly religious, and are often linked with the human potential movement, while others operate as businesses, with their tactics focused around financial success. Landmark Forum, for example, is a human potential/business hybrid.
    • Farber, Sharon Klayman (2012). Hungry for Ecstasy: Trauma, the Brain, and the Influence of the Sixties. Lanham, Maryland: Jason Aronson/Rowman & Littlefield. p. 139. ISBN 9780765708588.

Philip Jenkins[edit | edit source]

  • Another potent element of the new cult milieu was the therapy sect, which offered believers the chance to achieve their full human potential through personal growth and self-actualization by taking total responsibility for one's actions. The prototypical movement of this kind was est (Erhard Seminar Training), in which intense and often grueling sessions forced followers to confront a new view of reality.
    • Jenkins, Philip (2000). Mystics and Messiahs : Cults and New Religions in American History. London: Oxford University Press. p. 180. ISBN 0195127447.

James R. Lewis[edit | edit source]

  • Erhard Seminars Training, more commonly known as est, was begun in 1971 by Werner Erhard. While not a church or religion, est is included here because it has often been accused of being a cult.
Comment. Indeed. The accusation is common in some circles. Notice that the author doesn't accept the validity of the claim, at least not in what is quoted. --Abd (discusscontribs) 19:46, 1 November 2013 (UTC)

Bill Maher[edit | edit source]

  • Religion, cult, there's no real definition of which is which. It's more like, 'if the shoe fits'. I personally define a 'cult' as any religion with fewer followers than Snooki has on Twitter. Also, Mormonism is secretive, and that's another trait I associate with cults. Catholics own their crazy. It's right on the table. Mormons are more like Fight Club.
    • Bill Maher, referring to the rules of Fight Club in Fight Club: "The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club." — Bill Maher (4 May 2012). "Real Time with Bill Maher, May 4, 2012". Real Time with Bill Maher. HBO.

Scott McLemee[edit | edit source]

Len Oakes[edit | edit source]

  • Outsiders often criticize the extreme commitment of group members. But what is really happening is that leader and followers are conspiring to realize a vision that is falsified daily. For the cult is not paradise, and the leader is not God. Hence the follower is embattled; to squarely confront the many failings of the leader and the group is to call into question one's own great work. Only by daily recommitting himself can the follower continue to work toward his ultimate goal. Each follower works out a secret compromise, acknowledging some things while denying or distorting others. Clearly this is a high-risk strategy that may go awry.
    • Len Oakes (1997). "Followers and Their Quest". Prophetic charisma: The Psychology of Prophetic Charisma. Syracuse University Press. p. 137. ISBN 0-8156-2700-9.

Daniel Shaw[edit | edit source]

Rodney Stark[edit | edit source]

  • Werner Erhard's highly successful est cult is partly derived from Scientology. Erhard had some experience with Scientology in 1969. Then he worked for a while in Mind Dynamics, itself an offshoot of Jose Silva's Mind Control.
    • Rodney Stark (1985). Religious movements: Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers. Paragon House Publishers. p. 167. ISBN 0913757438.

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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