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Cult Hackers

Author: Cult Hackers

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A podcast about cult hacking! Cracking the cult code to understand what they are, how they work, how people leave and how to make sense of the world after leaving.

Father and daughter team, media graduate Celine, and former cult member now organizational psychologist Stephen, explore how cults work, why they are so dangerous and the experience of leaving and making sense of the world. They speak to cult hackers from all over the world, from ex members to academics, from writers to filmmakers, and from therapists to activists.

Music is Snap by Purple Planet Music
273 Episodes
Rituals are powerful. They have been a part of our shared culture since the beginning - why? And how do cults use them? To talk to us: To become a patron: References: The Psychology of Rituals: An Integrative Review and Process-Based  Framework Video of Speaker being dragged to the chair to take up his role.  
Today's episode explores Nudge Theory, more correctly Behavioral Economics and how too many nudges can start to make us feel pushed around.  Referenced paper Contact us:  
Quitting is often treated as a sign of a weak character, but for those of us who quit a toxic cultic group it was one of the best things we've ever done. In this episode Stephen looks at some of the research on quitting and why we need to get good at knowing when to do it. Stephen also uses the topic to consider the fallout from the first US Presidential Election Debate, when it's time to bow out and the risks of groupthink and gaslighting.  Contact us at: References: Steven Levitt's podcast Steven Levitt paper: Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent   
In this episode Stephen reflects upon what it's like to be prevented from voting, the psychological consequences of being a social bystander and having no stake in society, and the feeling of then being able to be part of the democratic process. Also reflections on democracy under attack. Contact us  
Stephen reflects upon the infected blood scandal affecting thousands of people and how it relates to his own former religious beliefs, conspiracies and questions about institutions. Kacey's Research Questionnaire and Information BBC Reporting into children being exposed to infected blood Copy of letter talking about uninfected patients being exposed released as part of the enquiry The British Blood Transfusion Service 
This special episode is about the Frank Herbert story, Dune, including the recent film adaptation. This story covers many of the topics we've been interested in over the years doing the podcast and we hope you enjoy this discussion about a shared favourite of ours. More news to come soon about the future of the podcast. Links The latest movie directed by Denis Villeneuve Mini series The novel    
After 267 episodes we've decided that's the end of season 1. In the final episode of the season Celine and Stephen explore why leavers of cults and coercively controlling religions feel the need to express themselves about their experience.  To reach out to us: To become a patron:  
Our guest today is Kendra Petty, author of the memoir "I Can't Believe I'm Not Dead". Coercively controlled by her mother and a child member of a fundamentalist Christian group, only to leave and experience multiple threats to her life. It's an extraordinary story and Kendra is an engaging and fascinating guest. Kendra's website To reach out to us:
Is Religion Good For You?

Is Religion Good For You?


Celine raises the question whether there is a link between religious belief and long life. Following the Netflix series Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones the question of whether religious belief increases wellbeing is discussed by Stephen and Celine. Is there good data to suggest there is a link? If there is, is it a causal relationship or can it be explained through other factors. Is "belief" itself the key or is it what the belief might make you do? Also should we care about the "truth claims" that religions often make? To reach out to us: To become a patron:  
This week Celine and Stephen's guest is Carmel Mikol, a filmmaker, musician, artist and former Jehovah's Witness. Carmel talks about her own experience as a young Witness finding herself in an abusive marriage and her difficulties escaping the relationship and then leaving the group. Carmel talks about the misogynistic attitudes and policies within the group and the damage they can do to young women. She also provides the Governing Body with some helpful advice about how to make the organisation a more equitable environment and nicer place to be. Her short film is called Apostasy Carmel’s Instagram is @apostatefilm To reach out to us: To become a patron:  
A high profile case of people behaving appallingly on behalf of an organisation is big news in the UK, known as the Post Office scandal. The question of why people do unethical things to support the business, religion or cult to which they belong, has been researched and is multi-faceted. Today Stephen and Celine explore the psychological research into "Unethical Pro-organizational Behavior" as it relates to businesses but also cultic religious groups. They explore possible social reasons but also the Dark Triad of personality traits that may, in some cases, be at play.  To reach out to us: To become a patron: Next week's guest, Carmel Mikol's docuemtery film: References and links explainer Fehr, R., Welsh, D., Yam, K. C., Baer, M., Wei, W., & Vaulont, M. (2019). The role of moral decoupling in the causes and consequences of unethical pro-organizational behavior. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 153, 27-40. Stone, D. L., Deadrick, D. L., Lukaszewski, K. M., & Johnson, R. (2015). The influence of technology on the future of human resource management. Human resource management review, 25(2), 216-231. Chen, M., Chen, C. C., & Sheldon, O. J. (2016, April 21). Relaxing Moral Reasoning to Win: How Organizational Identification Relates to Unethical Pro-Organizational Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. LeBreton, J. M., Shiverdecker, L. K., & Grimaldi, E. M. (2018). The dark triad and workplace behavior. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 5, 387-414.  
Celine and Stephen are joined by Micki, AKA Apostate Barbie, from Instagram and Tic Tok. Micki tells us about her journey out of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Challenging an aunt about outlandish QANON conspiracy theories, made her consider her own beliefs - not the first time we've heard our guests speak of this type of exit, from Christian Fundamentalist beliefs. Micki talks about the help and support she has experienced from other former Jehovah's Witnesses and also some of her observations about ex Jehovah's Witness communities in general. Micki's Social Media Instagram: Tik Tok: @apostatebarbie Cult Hackers  To reach out to us: To become a patron:    
A follow-up to the conversation Stephen had with Spencer Watson from the Truth Unrestricted Podcast about magical thinking. This time Stephen was a guest on Spencer's show and this audio is brought to you by his permission. They discuss developmental psychology and how babies and children develop an understanding of a world apart from themselves and then symbolic thought. Spencer proposes a concept called pseudo-tangibility to describe how we may be creating tangible models and symbols to explain intangible and sometimes magical beliefs.  To reach out to us: To become a patron:    
Jan Frode Nilsen has a long-form interview with Stephen about his work exposing the damaging shunning policies of Jehovah's Witnesses, and his appearance as a witness for the Norwegian government in recent court cases. He also talks about his own experience as a former member raised in the group. Documents related to the case on: Avoid JW website Recording of elders visit: To reach out to us: To become a patron:    
Losing friends, making new ones, reuniting with old ones, all at the same time as finding yourself. Friendships can be a tricky thing after leaving a cult. This week some of the Cult Hacker Patreon supporters join Celine and Stephen on a panel of former Jehovah's Witnesses, to explore the process of finding and making friendships outside a high-control group. Maryann, Regina, Vincent, Tanya, Riley from the Jexit Channel and Scott from Witness Underground, discuss their own experiences of building a social world following isolation after leaving. They discuss their mistakes and lessons learned, and how they've come through the process. Christmas can also be a tricky time around friendships so the panel talk about their preferred way of either embracing it or escaping it. To reach out to us: To become a patron: Other Links Wikipedia article about the 'Friendship Paradox' as mentioned by Vincent:  
This short bonus episode is the audio version of a blog Stephen recently published on Medium. Many leavers of high control religions use 'waking up' as a metaphor for realising the group we had been a member of had been telling us lies, and that we had a warped worldview. The film 'The Matrix' holds resonance for many of us. In this short piece Stephen explores this, and another movie about dreaming and waking up - Inception. Upon leaving, knowing how to relate to the world is difficult and a learned suspicion of authority can sometimes lead us into fringe belief systems and Stephen reflects upon his own journey and what he learned. The Medium Blog: The Medium Blog To reach out to us: To become a patron:
In the late 70s Sharon and Tracey were attracted to "The Jesus People" and joined the Last Days Ministries, living on a cult commune as teenagers with rock star Keith Green and the community he built. As teenagers they believed Jesus return would happen in 1981 and that they would be saved if they stayed within the group that was following Jesus properly. Their story is fascinating and important and they are also great fun to talk to. To reach out to us: To become a patron: Useful Links: Feet of Clay Website    
For this week's podcast Celine and Stephen discuss the "software bug" inherent in human beings that makes us vulnerable to cults and their leaders. The article on Medium To reach out to us: To become a patron:  
This week Stephen talks to Spencer Watson from the Truth Unrestricted Podcast about the question of 'Magical Thinking'. What is it? How is it different from scientific thinking? Why is it attractive? Why do ex cult members have a special interest in it? and many more questions. It's a bumper discussion this week that gets into some deep stuff as well as Spencer asking Stephen about his experience of making sense of life after leaving his cult. To reach out to us: To become a patron: Spencer's podcast Truth Unrestricted :  
When you're a member of a fundamentalist religious group, you find comfort in the certain knowledge that you have "The Truth". Leaving is partly a journey of coming to terms with uncertainty. Olivia Jackson herself a former member of such a group, has created an impressive piece of work, where she has interviewed 140 former members at various stages of deconstruction from former fundamentalist beliefs. Olivia is thoughtful and eloquent and treats the topic with respectfulness and curiosity. To reach out to us: To become a patron: To Contact Olivia Instagram @deconstructingwriter
Comments (3)

George Askwith

Great episode, but after listening I'm not convinced it's a bug, rather seems a feature and one that can be exploited

Dec 24th


She hit it right on the nose when she said that in the incidences she was able to defend herself, it was because she felt safe and empowered. As a survivor of years of molestation by more than one during my childhood, I was conditioned to believe that no one would come if I screamed. So when as an adult I was sexually assaulted twice and raped once, I was practically silent….after all, who was going to care to come rescue me. Thank you for your story and thank you WSITA for patiently allowing her to tell it.

Feb 25th
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