“The Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame” (1979)

Pioneering American neo-Druid Isaac Bonewits first published the ADCDEF in the second edition of his book Real Magic, in the midst of a widespread and sometimes justified moral panic about new/minority religions. As Bonewits commented, many years after its original publication:

Minority groups, especially religious ones, are often accused of crimes by members of the current majority. In many ways, for example, the “Mormons” were the “Moonies” of the 19th century — at least in terms of being an unusual minority belief system that many found “shocking” at the time — and the members of the Unification Church could be just as “respectable” a hundred years from now as the Latter Day Saints are today.

Nonetheless, despite all the historical and philosophical warnings that could be issued, ordinary people faced with friends or loved ones joining an “unusual” group, or perhaps contemplating joining one themselves, need a relatively simple way to evaluate just how dangerous or harmless a given group is liable to be, without either subjecting themselves to its power or judging it solely on theological or ideological grounds (the usual method used by anti-cult groups).

It’s worth noting, in the present climate, that the ABCDEF can also usefully be applied to movements that are not (overtly, primarily, yet) religious, as that term is commonly understood …

by P. E. I. Bonewits

Low 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 High

  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 leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions made by leader(s).
  4. DOGMA: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility.
  5. RECRUITING: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing.
  6. FRONT GROUPS: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group.
  7. WEALTH: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained; emphasis on members
    donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s).
  8. POLITICAL POWER: Amount of external political influence desired or obtained.
  9. SEXUAL MANIPULATION: of members by leader(s); amount of control over sex lives of members.
  10. CENSORSHIP: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions 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, its doctrines or leader(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 its leader(s).
  15. SURRENDER OF WILL: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s).

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