Do victims of Sai Baba cope, and if so, how? Starting off with a second article by Dr. Kamath, published originally on the Nirmukta site June 21, 2010, during a period when Sathya Sai Baba was still more or less alive and kicking, I aim to return to an earlier subject of mine (see On the Issue of Dealing with Sexual Abuse, Enlightened or Made Light, A Question of ‘moving on’ ): the matter of self-deception, the machinations of a cult leader and the consequences of brainwashing and sexual abuse on the human psyche per se, and on groups and their dynamics. Beginning with a brief excursion to two landmark post war experiments on conformity and obedience to authority by two figure heads of social psychology, I will then draw heavily on the extensive and excellent work done by Robert Priddy to deepen and broaden the scope of my analysis.
Self-Deception As a Coping Mechanism among Victims of the Sai Baba Cult
by Dr. Prabhakar Kamath
In my previous article, God’s Own Stockholm Syndrome, I discussed how Sai Baba satisfied his sexual appetite by abusing innocent children with complete disregard to consequences to their welfare. Sexual abuse serves another purpose for Sai Baba: Dominating these children and converting them into his lifelong devotees and henchmen. In a sense, the sexual abuse is ritual castration by means of which he is telling them literally, “From now onwards I have you boys by the balls.” In a highly shame-oriented society such as India, victims feel a great deal of shame to admit that they are sex abuse victims, and they are fearful of exposing such a powerful and revered person. This is further made difficult because of social pressure from victim’s fearful well-wishers; fear of corrupt police who do not hesitate to torture or murder accusers in cold blood; distrust of incompetent prosecutors, and lack of faith in the judiciary incapable of separating state and religion.
Almost all these children grow up bodily but not mentally, and they become Sai Baba’s lifelong followers who meekly submit to his demands. Their total submission to Sai Baba is rooted in self-deception.
Sai Baba reinforces their slavish mentality by means of gifts materialized by magic, rewards, public praise, bribes and intimidation.
Sai Baba becomes the central figure in their lives, and they become almost totally incapable of critical thinking when it comes to their relationship with him as exemplified by Dr. Naresh Bhatia in the Caravan article by Mr. Arora.
Fear of Sai Baba dominates their lives. Almost all their actions are dictated by what they think Sai Baba would want them to do.
Victims Indulge in Self-deception
Sexual abuse is invariably associated with a surge of intense painful as well as pleasurable emotions in the mind of victims such as fear, hurt, anger, sadness, guilt, shame, disappointment, helplessness, hopelessness, humiliation, frustration, rage, ecstasy, happiness, and a host of other painful emotions. Some victims begin to develop doubt about their abuser and ultimately disassociate themselves from the abuser, like the Rahm family in the BBC video did. Other victims indulge in a defense mechanism known as reaction formation. They convert “sexual trauma” into “spiritual healing.” Or, they declare “sex with a fraud” to be “sex with god.” Instead of saying, “My free spirit has been destroyed” they would say, “My spirit has been liberated.” It is impossible to convince these victims that Sai Baba has so thoroughly stripped them of their true identity that now they are nothing more than mindless zombies or straw men.
What Is Self-deception?
Self-deception is a mental defense mechanism by which some people cope with intensely painful emotions. They avoid becoming aware of, or accepting the truth about, a current life circumstance or person simply because it is too painful or scary to do so. Either they block off their painful emotions by indulging in denial, or they neutralize them by means of screwed-up rationalization, or they give an exactly opposite meaning to their experience.
Individuals, political parties, communities and even nations indulge in self-deception. America’s self-deception about the Vietnam war is a classic example of a great nation indulging in this practice. Nazi Germany is another example. Self-deception is common in all countries where religion plays a major part in people’s daily life. Self-deception is a way of life for religious people.
Self-deception As A Quid Pro Quo
Then there are pseudo-intellectuals such as Dr. Michael Goldstein and Mr. Isaac Tigrett of Hard Rock Cafe who continue to associate with Sai Baba because they hate to acknowledge that he fooled them and took advantage of them all these years. Sai Baba did not abuse them sexually, but he screwed them financially or used them for propaganda purposes. In other words, he played them for suckers. Having been involved with Sai Baba for so many years, they would simply look stupid to acknowledge now that he is a fraud. Besides, they must make sense of all the bribes he had given them for their wonderful work and financial support, which have been their proud possessions all these years. Their way of coping with this dilemma is to compartmentalize the problem of sex abuse. Their screwed up rationalization is, “Well, so what? He is god. He is doing good work.” Here is the interview in the BBC video:
Tanya Datta: But even if it was proven to you that Sai Baba was a pedophile and a serial sex abuser, you’re saying it wouldn’t change the fact that he is your guru. (Tigrett laughs at this rather wildly)
Isaac Tigrett: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. He could go out and murder someone tomorrow, as I said, it’s not going to change my evolution, it’s not going to change the good things that have come out of my relationship down there.
Tanya Datta: Does that mean that some part of you believes there could be some truth to the rumors?
Isaac Tigrett: Oh, absolutely I believe there is truth to the rumors.
Tanya Datta: You believe there is truth to the rumors?
Isaac Tigrett: Sure, there probably is, probably is.
See full transcript and/or video clip here.
In the above conversation with Ms. Datta, Mr. Tigrett asserts that if Sai Baba would murder someone tomorrow, his opinion about Sai Baba won’t change. In other words, Sai Baba is above the law and Mr. Tigrett’s devotion to him is unconditional. Incredible as this might seem, this is the hallmark of Brahmanic brainwashing: The Guru is always right, no matter what. Such unconditional acceptance of Gurus has resulted in accepting their nonsensical and deceitful commentaries on anti-Brahmanic scriptures as true.
Self-deception Could Ruin Lives Of Other People
In the third BBC video, when Marissa and Al Rahm’s teenager son reveals that Sai Baba sexually assaulted him, Al reveals that he too had similar experience with Sai Baba when he was 18 years old. Yet he neither warned his son, nor did he hesitate to deliver him to the cunning predator. If you listen to Marissa and Al Rahm carefully you will realize that before they turned on Sai Baba, they were just “intellectual zombies,” incapable of rational thinking in their relationship with him. Now, years after the alleged abuse, they are full of regret. Their son declares that Sai Baba is an ever-present issue in his life.
Here is an example of dire consequences of self-deception on others:
Case study: A forty-five year old white woman, mother of three girls aged 17, 15 and 13, found herself in a bus station two thousand miles away from her home and she could not explain how she got there. Here is her story: She often woke up at night and did not find her husband beside her in bed. Even though she wondered where her husband could be, she did not bother to investigate for fear of knowing the truth. All her three daughters tried to tell her that they often found their father in their bed at night, but the mother avoided dealing with this bad news by telling her daughters not to “cook up wild stories.”
Detailed past history of this woman revealed that her stepfather had abused her. Admitting that her daughters were being abused would result in resurfacing of buried painful emotions. When finally the children revealed the truth to their school counselor, the father was arrested. Unable to deal with the entire horror the patient went into a fugue-like mental state. She wandered off away from her home, and when she woke up from her daze, she was in a bus station two thousand miles away. Her three daughters became psychiatric cases requiring prolonged treatment.
If this woman was capable of rational thinking, she would have investigated where the hell her husband was if he was not in her bed, and finding him in bed with her own daughters, she would have kicked his ass out of the house, reported him to the police, and filed for divorce. She was too busy deceiving herself to do the right thing. A rational person would have taken extra care not to expose her daughters to the danger she herself had been subjected to as a child.
Self-deceiving People Often Develop Stress Disorders
People who cope with highly conflicting emotions in the mind by means of self-deception often end up developing psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Case study: A thirty-eight year old white married woman, mother of two children, suddenly developed severe panic attacks immediately after she returned home from a two-week-long highly enjoyable vacation at Gulf Shores, Alabama. When asked if anything went wrong during the vacation, she denied it. When asked if anything was wrong when she returned home, she denied it. When asked if anything at all was wrong in her life, such as anyone being sick, she categorically denied it.
Since the distance between Gulf Shores, Alabama and Cape Girardeau, Missouri was over 650 miles, I asked her where she stayed in between. She said she stayed overnight in Oxford, Mississippi, where her elderly father lived. When asked how her father was doing, she replied blandly, “He said last week his doctor told him he has a golf ball sized cancer tumor in his liver and he had only three months to live.”
When I said empathically, “Oh! So you are about to lose him!” she burst into sobs, saying, “I am sorry! I was determined not to do this!” I encouraged her to grieve over her father’s impending death, accept the reality of his mortality, and move on with her life. Her panic attacks disappeared in the course of the next few days.
The shock of losing her dear father was too much for this woman to deal with and so she indulged in self-deception as evidenced by her denying that anything bad happened. The problem with her self-deception was that whereas she could fool her mind, she could not fool her body. Sensory input about the bad news instantly produced panic attack even after she fooled her mind into believing that nothing bad happened. If this woman was a rational person, she would have dealt with this situation by reacting normally – accepting the reality that her old and sick father must die like everyone does, grieving over his loss, and moving on with her own life.
The purpose of counseling victims of sexual abuse is to gently break down their self-deception, help them to accept the reality, make them become aware of, and express, their painful emotions, and show the irrationality of their thinking. People who are very much in touch with the reality and capable of rational thinking, rarely, if ever, develop emotional disorders. This is because they are quite capable of dealing with the truth, and as the cliché goes, truth has a liberating effect on people.
Dr. Kamath clearly seems to give central importance to the mechanism of self-deception as the key component in his analysis of some of the more astounding behaviour patterns seen by Sai Baba devotees, from sexual abuse victims who were children or youngsters to VIP members who keep on denying or twisting the true nature of what to any outsider is a flagrant and clearcut miscarriage of conduct.
Whilst I do not disagree with his viewpoint, the examples given might lead to a conclusion that only non-rational people can fall into this trap, people who might in some way be themselves intrapsychically vulnerable because of their history. Do fully rational people exist though? The very fact that groups, parties, whole communities, even nations are given to ‘indulge’ in self-deception begs the question as to how this kind of mass-delusion develops: under which circumstances turn people and movements from open and good to closed-off and downright hostile toward ‘former members’?
I believe the concept of conformity is a useful one in starting to address this issue. Dutch philosopher and psychologist Maarten Maartensz uses below framework to aid in understanding some of the basic dynamics of this phenomenon, which he names conformism:
|Conformism: To behave according to the current social norms, ideals and practices.Conformism is the basis of all social behavior and of all human groups: Without agreements in assumptions, ends and acts no group and no society can exist, whereas the great majority in any group is not capable of developing rationalideas about most problems by themselves.The essence of all real social conformism is the clear understanding of the conformer that his conformism is a conscious lie, conscious role-playing, intentional theatre, and that his conformism is mostly collusion and deception in cooperation with other conformists, based on the same motives: fear and egoism.
What counts most in (almost) any society – for those who succeed or live peacefully in and with it – is the pretence and appearance of conformism and conformity, based on the conscious effort to conform. The main problem with this is not that this is so, but that many can’t do much better than conform, and indeed act wisely by following others, since they don’t have the wherewithal to lead themselves.
Obedience to authority figures
Based on the conformity experiments of famous late professor Solomon Asch, a series of notorious experiments were then conducted on obedience to authority figures by Stanley Milgram, which have been replicated time and again, with the same frightening results. In short, these experiments show that between 60 and 80 percent of all people conform to do even horrendous things (like rendering shocks to other people), even if it goes against their own conscience. The likelihood to do so is increased if a group is larger, more cohesive, and the leader is attributed great authority. Groupthink, a need to conform, excluding in an aggressive manner any contradictory information and enlarging the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, scapegoating, abuse of power, all come into play.
Mental, emotional and social dependencies
Robert Priddy, retired academic and once a high-placed dignitary in the Sathya Sai Baba Organisation, has written extensively on this subject matter. His is a quite unique position. Having been a leading member of this sect for nearly two decades, up til around the millennium, writing hagiographic material at first, rationalizing away doubts for a long period of time, he then, finally, after extensive and painful soul-searching and allowing hard facts to pierce his belief system, cut himself loose, and took it upon himself, being a professional scientist, to try to debunk all the falsehood of Sathya Sai Baba and his entire operation. A huge task indeed, shared by only a few other brave men and women around the globe. Since then, he dedicated much of his time and knowledge to analyse his cult experience, both from a first hand and from an academic point of view. His writing on this subject can be found in its entirety on his websites http://www.exbaba.com/SaiBaba-x/index and http://www.robertpriddy.wordpress.com.
I can fully recommend the contents. His six part expose called Disempowerment through worship of Sathya Sai Baba, a series of articles studying in-depth effects of mental, emotional and social dependencies, is a must if anyone wants to gain a deeper understanding of the many intricacies leading to disempowerment of its members.
Disempowerment through worship of Sathya Sai Baba
Part 1: The Nectar that turns into opium
Part 2: Escapism in a spiritual guise
Part 3: Projecting one’s inherent powers
Part 4: Misunderstood self-denial
Part 6: Psychological effects of fundamentalist tenets
For an even deeper understanding of the makings of this cult, and the reasons for vilifying dissenters, I gladly refer to mr. Priddy’s other material, and to the research of honorable men like Barry Pittard, Glen Meloy, Kevin Shepherd and Brian Steel, to name but a few.
A closing word of warning
Let me for now close off with a last note of warning. It is dangerous to think that the lines between good and evil are as clearcut as one might believe. To quote Voltaire:
If we believe absurdities, we commit atrocities
But who decides which is an absurdity and which is commonsense? The majority? That is, the largest group?
Are not in fact the boundaries between the two far murkier than we are willing to admit? Given the circumstances and the opportunity, most if not nearly all of us are capable of the most horrendous transgressions, whether by action or inaction, so much seems certain. It is only by overcoming our innate fear and egoism that we can transcend our natural need to belong to a group, and stand firm even if it means everyone disagrees. But then, is this not exactly what a devotee might believe of himself too, nowadays?
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