I had a fan meetup recently, and much to my surprise, I had LOTS of ex catholics show up. Catholicism has roughly been on my radar for a while but I haven’t really paid much attention to it. I did a video about it a while back but I took it down because I felt like my views on catholicism have changed since I released it, but after talking to some ex-catholic fans and reading up on the religion more, I decided it’s time to address catholicism. Is it a cult? Let’s get into it.
If you’re new here, you might be unfamiliar with the BITE model. The BITE model was written by Steven Hassan, and it addresses common strategies cults use to control people. It’s an acronym. It stands for Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, and Emotional control. There are points under each category. Now, I use a scoring system that seems a little confusing at first. I score each point from 1 to 7, but I use the fibonacci sequence instead, because the gaps look bigger. It’s easier to decide between a 13 and a 21 than a 6 and a 7. I’ll put a little graphic on the bottom of the screen to make it easier to follow. And one more thing I want to mention. I try to be really soft on cults when I go through this list. I’d rather be accused of being too soft than too harsh. If it’s really a cult, it’ll shine through regardless of whether or not I’m soft on them. That being said, let’s compare catholicism to the BITE model and see how it matches up.
The first section is Behavior control.
- Promote dependence and obedience
- I don’t think catholicism is terrible about this one. I know Jehovahs Witnesses do this through discouraging college education, and discouraging interaction and friendships with the outside world. So you become heavily dependent on the social network you form on the inside. And if you leave the religion, the entire thing comes crashing down. That’s very much intentional. But as I said, I don’t think catholicism is anywhere near as bad as Jehovahs witnesses on this front, So ill go with a 2.
- Modify behavior with rewards and punishments
- They actually do this pretty heavily, but the repercussions of breaking the rules aren’t as extreme as some other religions. I’ll be comparing to Jehovahs witnesses a lot since that’s where I came from originally. With them, for example, the repercussions for breaking rules is social ostracizing, possible loss of responsibility within the church, which is viewed and referred to as “privileges”, and in the worst cases, complete disconnection from childhood friends and family. permanently. But I’m not judging it based off of the level of extremeness of the punishments, I’m basing it off of whether or not they’re actually modifying behavior. And catholicism definitely does modify behavior. If you break rules, you have to do penance, or repentance, where you take a special necklace, called a rosary, and you touch a bead and repeat a mantra for each bead on the necklace. It can take anywhere from 5 minutes to hours to say the assigned number of mantras. I would definitely call that behavior modification through a system of rewards and punishments. I’ll actually go with a max score of 21 for this one. Though it isn’t extreme punishment most of the time, it’s still pavlovian-style behavior modification in the truest sense.
- Dictate where and with whom you live
- This one is almost not a problem at all. In fact, as far as I can tell, it isn’t part of official institutional doctrine. But the social side of it still exists and is still relevant, so I’m putting down a score of 1 instead of 0, because they’d still discourage you from, say, living with an apostate, for example. Or even discourage you from living with somebody before marriage. It’s low, but it’s there.
- Restrict or control sexuality
- This one is actually pretty intense. The most extreme example I can think of for controlling sexuality would be heaven’s gate, where they would sit at the breakfast table in the morning and they’d go down the line, telling sexual thoughts and feelings they had, to try to shame themselves and each other out of having them. Catholicism isn’t THAT intense. Where heaven’s gate is a 21 on this point, I’d say catholicism is a 13.
- Control clothing and hairstyle
- Women don’t, say, have to wear hijabs, like they do in islam, but they’re still pretty strict about modesty. And it can get really serious, on a church by church basis. So I’m rating this one pretty high. I’d put them down as an 8.
- Regulate what and how much you eat and drink
- Catholicism basically doesn’t do this one at all, as far as I can tell. Though they discourage drunkenness, so I’m going with 1.
- Deprive you of seven to nine hours of sleep
- This one isn’t really a problem either, though church takes priority over sleeping in certain cases, like if you have to work all night. So I’m putting it at a low 1, also.
- Exploit you financially
- The mormon church is a prime example of financial exploitation. You have to pay 10% of your income to maintain full membership. Jonestown, AKA the people’s temple, was even worse. The leader of people’s temple, Jim Jones, was a communist, so everything the members brought in went straight to jones. There was no private ownership. Catholicism does pass around a collection plate, but it isn’t anything like jonestown or mormonism. So I’ll put them down as a 3. They still collect money. It’s just not the worst I’ve seen.
- Restrict leisure time and activities
- They really aren’t terrible about this one either, but it’s still there. For example, some extreme catholics have a problem with watching R-rated or pg-13 movies. Or reading smutty romance novels, or consuming graphic pictures or content of any kind. So im putting this one down as a 3.
- Require you to seek permission for major decisions
- This one is actually pretty high. For example, you’re supposed to go through the church for marriages. Unlike with some other cults, you don’t have to get permission to move or to go to college or anything like that, but it’s still there and it’s still pretty strong, so I’m going with 8. When you want to get married, you and your partner have to talk to the priest and take parenting classes. You have to sign contracts saying you’ll raise your children as catholics and everything. A lot of this stuff is left over from tradition, like the contract. And I’m sure it isn’t legally binding in any way. But it’s still there, so in my mind, it counts.
ok. That’s it for behavior control. The average point value for this one is 6, rounded to the nearest point. We had some 21’s in there, which doesn’t bode well for catholicism. Now let’s take a look at information control.
- Deliberately withhold and distort information
- I spent some time thinking about this one, because the average member of catholicism doesn’t deal with this. But if you notice, a lot of the time, cults will send people through training, to break down their personalities and build them back up in the cult’s image. Like the military does. With mormons, they do it around their 18th birthday. They’ll send them on missions for 18 – 24 months, and while they’re there, it’s non-stop personality breakdown the entire time. If they make it through that then they’re probably in it for life. And catholicism has their own version of this, in the form of private catholic schools and universities. I have a catholic high school in my area, and I knew some students who transferred from it when I was in high school. They said sex and drugs were worse there than any other school in the area. Which is interesting. anyways, I’m going to put this one REALLY high for the sake of catholic schools. I’ll say 21.
- Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics
- I don’t think this one is enforced from the top down, but from my understanding, there’s a lot of social pressure to avoid what the church would call apostates, or serious critics of the church. I’ll go with 13 because I’ve seen worse, but it’s not great.
- Discourage access to non-cult sources of information
- Again, I really dont think this one is terrible. I’ve seen worse cases. But including catholic schools in my consideration, I’d say they fall at a solid 8. I’ve seen worse, but it shouldn’t be discounted.
- Divide information into Insider vs. Outsider doctrine
- I don’t think they’re terrible about this one, but they do think that anybody who isn’t a baptized catholic and isn’t caught up on their confessions is going to hell. That includes all the good people of other denominations who just didn’t know the truth or something. So im going to go with 8 on this, too.
- Generate and use propaganda extensively
- I gave Jehovahs Witnesses a score of 21 on this one. the absolute max, because the company that owns and runs the religion is literally a printing press. They put out EXTENSIVE propaganda on a semi-monthly basis. Not to mention all the propaganda videos and cartoons targeted toward children. But catholics aren’t anywhere near that level. I’d say they fall at a solid 3.
- Use information gained in confession sessions against you
- I feel like this one’s kind of complicated. They DO use information gained in confession sessions against you. But it’s intended to condition you in a pavlovian way. Operant conditioning. Which we covered earlier. So I’m going with 13 on this one. It might deserve a 21, I don’t know. But like I said, I’m going soft on them because if they’re really a cult, it’ll shine through anyways.
- Gaslight to make you doubt your own memory
- I don’t think they do this much, unless you include the things they teach about evolution or creation or abstinence or whatever else in catholic schools. Which does count. So ill give them a reasonably low score of 3.
- Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors
- They are REALLY serious about this one. It’s pretty much built into the religion from the ground up. If you die before you confess your sins then you go to hell. And they REALLY hammer that fear of hell into you. To a VERY unhealthy level. So I’m going with 13. It really doesn’t get more extreme than this, aside from giving a full hour-by-hour breakdown, including the non-sinful stuff. But every sinful thought, feeling, or activity you commit needs to be reported to the priest immediately.
- Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct”
- This one can get pretty extreme, but I dont think it’s church doctrine so much as it’s part of the catholic culture. But don’t let me discount the culture. It still counts. So I’m going with a 5, because I’ve DEFINITELY seen worse. But it’s there.
The final rounded average score for Information control was 10. That’s definitely getting up there. If it’s 8 or higher then I have serious concerns. Not to mention the fact that they got ANOTHER 21 on this one.
The next category is thought control.
- Instill Black vs. White, Us vs. Them, & Good vs. Evil thinking
- They’re pretty bad about this one. REALLY bad, in fact. But I’ve seen worse cases. I feel like I should go with a 21 but I’m giving them a 13. again, if they’re a cult then it’ll shine through despite me being soft on them.
- Overreaching or exaggerated importance placed on events or ideas
- A good example of this one is where Jehovahs witnesses will completely separate themselves from a major societal event, like celebrating christmas, because of some insignificant and long-forgotten pagan roots. They’re placing way more importance on some insignificant event or idea than is warranted. And the members are suffering as a result. I’d put Jehovahs witnesses down as a 21 for this one, but I dont think catholics are awful about this. I would put them at a 3.
- Change your identity, possibly even your name
- I talked to an ex-catholic about this one on my podcast. If you want to give that episode a listen, you can click the card in the corner and it’ll take you straight to the video. It’s also on itunes, soundcloud, spotify, and a ton of other places so check it out. But she pointed out that they don’t really do this on a normal basis. however, they DO do this at monasteries. Monks and nuns receive entirely new names. I’d say that counts. As you climb the ladder, you’re assigned an entirely new identity. For that reason I’d give them a 13 on this one.
- Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought
- I haven’t seen many clear, solid examples of this, but it does exist. I think their have a bigger problem with mantras and thought stopping techniques than loaded language and cliche’s, so I’m going with 5.
- Induce hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate
- I’d give this one a pretty high number because they do have you repeat prayers at the church service. Over and over. Just like you do when you pray the rosary, basically. So I’m going to say 13. I’d peg pentecostals as the worst about this one and give them a 21. I don’t think catholics are THAT bad, but they’re up there.
- Teach thought-stopping techniques to prevent critical thoughts
- I’d definitely call praying the rosary a thought stopping technique. This one gets a high number. 13.
- Allow only positive thoughts
- They aren’t terrible about this one. Positive thoughts are encouraged but not required. I’ll say 2.
- Use excessive meditation, singing, prayer, & chanting to block thoughts
- This one is really high, too. Just like with the thought stopping techniques. I’ll give them a 13 for this one too, if for no other reason than because of how they’re expected to pray the rosary.
- Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt
- Again, I wasn’t going to give this one a high number, because standard adult members aren’t really controlled to a high degree in this way, but catholic schools and universities, and monasteries, do this to a high degree. I’ll say 8.
So the average score for this one was 9. The next category is emotional control.
- Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group
- This one is REALLY serious. They REALLY drill the fear of hell into you. I have to give this one a 21. I’m trying to be soft but I cant ignore that.
- Label some emotions as evil, worldly, sinful, or wrong
- They definitely view some emotions as sinful or wrong. Like lust, for example. I’m giving them a score of 8 for this one.
- Teach emotion-stopping techniques to prevent anger, homesickness
- They do this, but I dont think it’s much more than most other christian denominations. But since it does still happen, ill give them a score of 5. Mormons are probably the worst about this when they send their kids on mission trips. Id peg mormonism as a 21.
- Promote feelings of guilt, shame, & unworthiness
- Catholicism absolutely must get a 21 for this. It’s like, their defining feature. Catholic guilt is something people spend their entire lives trying to get over. Doesn’t get much worse than this.
- Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”)
- I don’t think this is intense but I think it does still happen. When somebody’s trying to join, for example. I’ll say 2.
- Threaten your friends and family
- Threats don’t have to come in physical form. Jehovahs witnesses, for example, threaten to pull your social network out from under you if you disobey. Lose your childhood friends and family forever. I’d mark Jehovahs witnesses down as a REALLY high number, but I dont really think catholics are terrible about this one. it’s still there. I’ll give them a 2.
- Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve
- Again, this isn’t really enforced from the top down. I dont think it’s part of the institution anymore. It used to be. But it’s still a big part of the culture. I’ll give them an 8.
- Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group
- Jehovahs Witnesses and some other groups actually teach that people are only on the outside of the religion because they want to sin, and they’re actually miserable. They’re living miserable lives, barely surviving. I don’t think it’s like that with catholicism exactly, but it’s there. I think catholics acknowledge that people can live happy lives outside the religion, you’re just not going to make it to heaven if you don’t follow their set of rules. So I’ll give them a score of 5, where Jehovahs witnesses, heaven’s gate, or jonestown would be a 21.
So the final average score for emotion control is 9. That means the final average score for the entire BITE model is 8.25. As I said before, 8 or higher is very concerning. I think mormonism got an average score of 8 on my first run-through, though since I reassessed it with mr atheist, It bumped up to a 13. anyways, I would call this one a cult. It doesn’t have to be a tiny group to be cult-like. I would be very cautious about joining catholicism.
As I said before, I did a catholic video a long time ago, and I took it down because I wasn’t sure I completely agreed with everything in it anymore. After talking to all the ex members and doing my own research on it, I feel confident in this assessment. As I said, I tried to go soft on them with a lot of stuff. But there’s still a lot I didnt even address. Like their complete adoration and borderline worship of a single figurehead: the pope. I could talk about this group for hours and hours. It’s very extreme as a monolith, and when you drill down and go church to church, it gets more and more extreme.