The Guru Effect

Categories: General
by on March 15th, 2007

One of the most common features of heresies, cults and spiritually abusive groups down through the ages has been their claims to possess some kind of “special knowledge.” False teachers come along with messages that go something like, “Yes, the Bible teaches [such-and-such], but there’s something the Bible leaves out [or something hidden in Scripture that no one else has found in the past 2,000 years] that you need to know …” Or, “Unfortunately, your Bible teachers don’t have the spiritual insight [or maturity, or integrity, or whatever] needed to find the ‘deeper truths’ of Scripture and the Christian life.” Or, “We’re the only ones who take a biblical stand on [such-and-such an] issue.”

Even before you ever see these teachers you may encounter those who speak highly of their “message,” their “insight,” their “spiritual power,” or any one (or more) of a number of things that would put them on a higher plane than the average Christian. The praises these disciples heap on their leaders begin to give them a kind of automatic aura in your mind that the leaders now don’t have to actually do anything to earn. The followers carefully cultivate your curiosity, developing it into an eager anticipation.

When you finally meet the false teacher it’s in a setting that enhances his (or her) mystique. He may be up on a stage before a large audience, among a small, modest band of disciples, or alone with you. Either way, the setting and agenda is carefully controlled to gradually draw you into the leader’s fold, and thus into a position subordinate to him. He (or she) is somehow “up there” while you are merely “down here.” He is the “expert,” and although you may not have realized it up until now, you are the one in need of his expertise, his “special knowledge.”

The pattern I’ve just described is not universal, but it is typical. The claim of special knowledge, however, is an essential part of the elitist character of all these groups, and so universal that it’s sometimes difficult to select those cults that best exemplify it. They’re all so adept at this game.

This “guru effect,” as it’s called, operates in many settings. As Inc. magazine in their article “Beware the Guru Effect” a few years ago,

Even sophisticated businesspeople with strong negotiating skills can get burned by expensive computer consultants who —- because their auras demand awe and respect — are never questioned about their systems or implementation.

Not long ago, the partners of a Los Angeles law firm met a consultant who promised to bring them “up to speed” on computers. [...]

The “guru” put a $200,000 price tag on the project. Some of the senior managers found his ideas so innovative that they decided to make the firm a proving ground for a complete package, which they and the consultant would market to other firms. [...] It looked so promising that the firm invested tens of thousands of dollars in the consultant’s small company.

In the end, for unknown reasons, the consultant never delivered the goods. And, adding insult to injury, the lawyers soon learned that everything in the promised package was available off-the-shelf for half the price. “This happens all the time,” says the former associate.

The guru effect is so notorious in the stock market that a computer game based on stock trading includes it as a strategic option for winning the game. Tom Chown in his review of the game Wall Street Trader 2000 catches this point:

The most powerful weapon is your press agent who can use your “guru effect”, swinging the market the way you want it to go based on your score and reputation.

The parallels between how the guru effect works in the world and in the church are striking. The guru has an “aura” that demands “awe and respect.” Sometimes the guru might supplement that aura with overt intimidation to discourage questions (especially if he or she has an abrasive personality). Thus the guru’s prospective dupes don’t do the kind of “due diligence” research they normally would — and should. They don’t look for a second opinion. They don’t seriously entertain nagging doubts. They move on to the next step on the guru’s agenda.

When that happens, the guru’s victims have been officially conned. Everything from that point on is but a series of footnotes to the moment when they suppressed all qualms of conscience and decided to trust him. As long as they keep trusting him, he will continue to manipulate them.

If the results of being duped this way are lamentable in the business world, they can be downright tragic in the spiritual world. This is because the guru’s purpose is not to teach anyone anything. The guru’s purpose is to make himself indispensable by making you more and more dependent on him.

The biblical book of Proverbs repeatedly warns God’s people to seek advice from multiple sources (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6). He has not simply given His church one teacher, but has given us many teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13). Don’t let any one person set himself or herself up in your life with some kind of unique authority. Such authority does not exist; it’s bogus.

The problem is that the Christian life is difficult, and we want someone who can put us on the inside track, show us the ropes, or take us to a higher plane where the difficulties aren’t so severe. We see others around us who seem so much more successful at living the Christian life than we are, and figure they must have some secret. If only we could find out what it was.

But this kind of misguided thinking will only set you up to be fooled. The fact that you’re sometimes desperate to improve your spiritual life makes you a normal Christian. The fact that you might be willing to pin all your hopes for this on one person will make you an easy mark for a false teacher. Sadly, lots of Christians are in that category. To paraphrase P.T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born-again every minute.” I know because I was one once, and I’ve met many others who either were or still are.

Do you want the unvarnished truth? The truth is: that person who doesn’t seem to have as many problems in his or her Christian life as you do is at best someone who’s good at protecting his or her privacy, or at worst a hypocrite.

The job of the teacher is not to provide you with some “hidden truth” that the average Christian can’t find in Scripture. There is no such “hidden truth.” Nor does Scripture require some special spiritual gift for believers to understand it.

The Bible is God’s complete revelation to us. Any sequel (e.g.: the Book of Mormon) or supplement (e.g.: the writings of Ellen White, the Watchtower magazine, or your favorite teacher) or “final revelation” (e.g.: the Qur’an) inevitably and invariably serves to warp the Bible’s true meaning.

True biblical teaching focuses on Jesus Christ. Instead of trying to impress you with special “insights” or esoteric “truth,” good Bible teachers will consistently point you to the same Jesus Who is available to everyone in Scripture (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Luke 24:25-27). Anyone emphasizing anything or anyone else above Him is peddling defective merchandize.

64 responses to “The Guru Effect ”

  1. Lynn says:

    Mistake, it’s IAA-1, not IAA-2 in the first example.

    Either way, to suggest Jen is calling Phillips a murderer and demand evidence of the supposed accusation, in this case, would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

  2. I’m not going to do anything to you, Donna. Including any of the harrassment you describe. How ridiculous!

    What I have seen is ad hominem and character assassination FROM you, here. Do you really mean to imply that you’re entitled to engage in such behavior, because you’re holding onto the things you say Pat Gundry and the moderators did/said to/about you? Can you really not see that it’s not OK for you to do the very things you rail against others for supposedly doing? And this ongoing “Borg Queen” grudge is simply inexcusable.

    Abuse is abuse, no matter the source or object of it. One’s own experience of abuse really isn’t an excuse, not if one claims to be following Jesus Christ.

    I think this “don’t call me, don’t write me e-mails,” along with the references to stringing you up and slandering you and “character assignation” (sic) is just plain strange. I’ve done nothing to you except comment on your ad hominem here. And if you say it in public, as a Christian, you ought to be prepared to accept responsibility for it without twisting it into others’ “slandering” you.

  3. Donna L. Carlaw says:

    Maggie:
    I think this “don’t call me, don’t write me e-mails,” along with the references to stringing you up and slandering you and “character assignation” (sic) is just plain strange.>>>>

    Hmmm. I was asked for substantiation and I gave it as best I could.

    Actually, your responses confirm what I believe. You have developed a cultlike mentality among yourselves.

    Carry on.

  4. Yes, the pattern is predictable.

    Accuse everyone else of things like “cultlike mentality” and vague “confirmation” of whatever it is you choose to believe–the worst, apparently–about those who have dared to say your accusations are false and your logic flawed.

    It’s a common human tendency to point fingers at others when one is in the wrong. But not a commendable practice, especially for Christians.

    Despite that, you’ve offered nothing to indicate you’re basing your public denouncement of Pat Gundry and the whole of CBE on anything more than the personal offense you took to her and the unnamed moderators’ behavior toward you.

    Please do show why going around to various blogs assassinating the character of people like Anne Graham Lotz and Pat Gundry is what a Christian is supposed to do. I am reasonably sure you’ve never spoken to AGL, nor she to you. And even if Pat did exactly what you said she did, and you yourself said or did nothing even remotely questionable in those exchanges, how is keeping the grudge alive serving the cause of Jesus Christ (or your own)?

    As for the actual topic, I think it’s worth noting that Anne Graham Lotz has in no way set herself up to be a “guru” or spiritual authority over anyone or any group. The same cannot be said of her accusers at the Bayly blog. (Really, claiming spiritual authority over commenters on their blog is absurd!)

  5. Donna L. Carlaw says:

    Maggie:
    Without, of course, any substantiation of any of the off-topic accusations. That is because there can be no substantiation of any of the accusations Donna has made here.>>>>

    Maggie, here is where you asked me for substantiation. I gave it. You then said that what I said was strange and commented on my spelling.

    If you don’t want the answers, then don’t ask the questions.

    I am entitled to tell my story, especially when asked, and especially since the topic is the behaviour of spiritual gurus.

    You are also free to disagree with me.

    You know, this is what seems really crazy to me. We are told to expect being challenged. I am challenged and respond as best I can. What I say is then called strange. Now THAT is strange.

    Actually, the whole thing is pretty weird when you think of it.

    Now, pour on the love, girls.

  6. Partaker says:

    Maggie, Lynn, Corrie, Jen –

    I am begging you. Please. Please stop trying. It does no good. It has never done any good. This has been going on for over three years now. IT WILL NEVER CHANGE.

    This person needs help. Please stop. She won’t. Ever.

  7. Donna L. Carlaw says:

    This person needs help. Please stop. She won’t. Ever. >>>>

    Good one. What more could be said than that.

    “This person” has a name. You people feel free to slander whoever you wish, yet you dare to demand that I change. Oh, well. That’s the beauty of hypocrisy.

  8. Cynthia Gee says:

    Sounds to me like just about everybody here has been hurt, by churches, by one other, and sometimes by our own selves. In following a Google search a couple of days ago, I ran into a blog owned by a lady who has been hurt so badly by this sort of religious stuff that she lost her faith and became a lesbian.

    What would Jesus think of all of this?
    We’ve been talking about Phillips, Wilson, Jones, Koresh, the Bayley brothers, et al. What do they all have in common, other than the fact that they each claim(ed) to be spreading the Gospel? Their churches have spread misery and discord among Christian brethen; two of them spread death. In no case has their fruit been good on anything but a temporary basis; and here we sit, wrangling over which false teacher is worse than another. Some are worse that others– I doubt that Phillips is going to ever kill anybody (though I can’t say the same for the neo-Confederate types with whom he associates) — but NONE of these “teachers” are acting much like Jesus. We’d be better off worshipping in traditional denominations, or even in our own homes, than entangling ourselves with groups such as these.
    The more liberal denominations have allowed sin to creep into their churches, it’s true, but these guys appear to have lost Love altogether. They are nasty.

  9. Jen says:

    I would just like to go on the record to say that while I definitely would put Doug Phillips in the “guru” category, there are many different definitions of “cult” floating. Based on one definition, he might fit, but based on most, he is not a cult leader, nor do I consider him to be such. That is a serious charge and, as Christians, we should be very careful who we put that label on.

    There seems to be at least two different types of cults in religion today: sociological cults and those that are outright heretical. While I don’t agree with much of Doug’s theology, I would never label him heretical, which is the more serious of the two types. There are some aspects of the sociological cult that he tends toward, but I do want to say that this extreme behavior is relatively recent. Maybe there’s still hope for him.

    Doug is pro-life, in every sense of the word. To put him in same category as those who promote death is slander and I will defend him vigorously from false accusations.

  10. Lynn says:

    Jen wrote:
    “Doug is pro-life, in every sense of the word. To put him in same category as those who promote death is slander and I will defend him vigorously from false accusations.”

    Jen, I agree, and that is why I did that dorky logic exercise last night. I needed to review syllogisms and moods and figures, anyway, and tests for validity.

    The purpose of doing that excercise, which I am quite sure was not understood by very many reading it, was that just because you say Doug Phillips has this characteristic, and this cult leader who committed mass murder has this same characteristic, that you, Jen are then saying Doug promotes murder.

    Any reasonable person can see that you weren’t doing that. It is perfectly OK to say that giving people a hard time for exiting a group is a charateristic of a cult leader, and that Doug Phillips and Jim Jones both displayed that trait, if you can show that this is true.

    But there’s no logical way to go from saying they have one thing in common to then accuse you of saying that Doug Phillips is like Jim Jones in every respect.

  11. Donna, you didn’t substantiate, you merely accused. And that is the problem, it’s always the problem. When asked to give actual substantiation, you falsely accuse others of slander and call them hypocrites.

    No one is fooled.

    Lynn, I think I followed you pretty well on that. The game is quite obvious and the logic is badly flawed. Again, I don’t think anyone else is fooled by it.

  12. Don Veinot says:

    It is probably time to end this particular thread

  13. partaker says:

    Thank you, Don. And I am truly sorry this happened here.

  14. Donna L. Carlaw says:

    Don, I am going to post this, and apologize for not just letting it end. Here is my response.

    Why not just ask for clarification?

    Why not just ask for clarification?

    or, “sometimes understanding is more than just a lesson in logic”

    Here is a clarification to anyone who is interested.

    Here is my original statement at the Crux blog.:
    I am wondering, though, how do we avoid a “Just give me Jesus” mentality which pretends to put Jesus first, all the while denying Scriptural teachings?>>>>

    I’m going to give a little clarification, now that I have calmed down a bit. I dont’ have a huge problem with the phrase “Just Give Me Jesus”, though I did buy a couple of Mrs. Lotz books to take a look for myself at what she is teaching. They are not terrible books. They have the typical Evangelical problem, though, of preaching mostly testimonials interrupted occasionally by Scripture, but there’s nothing really heretical in there – unless one wants to get into the whole “what’s wrong with Arminianism” debate. That is not where I take issue at this time – though I do take issue, but I also know that people get saved and blessed in her ministry.

    Where she has denied Scriptural teachings is in the post she wrote recently, Jan. 17, 2007.

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/guestvoices/2007/01/biblical_record_is_clear_god_c.html

    Another area of concern is the fact that she leads communion. See p. 13 of her book I Saw the Lord.

    She seems to be influenced by the religious feminists in these two things.

    Number one, her statement on the equality of the sexes, without the clarification that the Bible does assign roles to men and women according to their sex, is a red flag.

    “God created men and women equal. Period.”

    - Mrs. Lotz

    Christians have always believed in the equality of men and women ontologically, but within that equality there are distinct roles assigned to men and to women, specifically in the home and in the church. The roles within marriage were established before the fall, since Eve was made to be Adam’s help, not Adam Eve’s help. Paul went back to pre-fall creation order when he said that woman was made for man, not man for woman. Mrs. Lotz is in her statement denying what Christians have always believed and what the Bible clearly teaches. The key word is “period.” The Bible does not teach that men and women are equal “period”. Even a quick read of Genesis 1 and 2 will show that, as well as 1 Cor. 11.

    Genesis 2
    18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

    1 Cor. 11
    8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;

    Another evidence of Adam’s pre-fall authority over his wife was the fact that he is the one who named her. He recognized who she was and correctly labeled her as such.

    Genesis 2
    23 The man said,
    “This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
    she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

    Mrs. Lotz is denying the clear Scriptural teaching with the little word “period.”

    The second bit of evidence is that she leads communion. She is taking on pastoral duties in doing that, even if communion is being served to women only.

    My second “wild” statement:
    Of course, you are not yet ready to look into the heresies being promoted by the Christian feminists among us. Maybe someday…>>>>

    DL:
    There were religious feminists operating freely on the Crux blog during the discussion in question, with no clarification of the errors the feminists are promoting. What more evidence do I need to present that these people at Crux are not ready to look into those heresies. Besides, the blog owner made it clear why, which is what he told me when I asked him in private.

    DL:
    They may see the errors, but are not addressing them, at least in public. Until it is public, it is not happening, and the heresies just get more outlandish as time goes on.

    DL:
    Some of the Christian gurus reside in female bodies, and they have a lot of influence. >>>>

    This is obviously true, but what good does it do to name names, when people love to follow women who are teaching an admixture of truth and the falsehood of religious feminism – or outright falsehood. No problem. Even so, I named one teacher – Mrs. Lotz – who seems to be influenced by religious feminism, but is not a false teacher herself, and I never said she was. If I did, I take it back – but I don’t see where I did that. I named another who is definitely a false teacher. No big deal.

    As far as all the personal “junk” thrown at me, what I just need to say is “typical.”

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