The Human Potential Movement and related teachings are based on human-centered psychology; on beliefs that one is in complete control of one’s destiny and that one deserves worldly success; and on Eastern/New Age/occult teachings about the self and the world. This movement arose in the 1970’s and 1980’s, finding fertile soil in the ambitious and success-oriented 80’s, promoting personal power, improved self-worth, and team cooperation through books, lectures, workshops; and through seminars offered on weekends, in the workplace, and elsewhere. The usual function of these seminars, which is not advertised, is to break down the identity and worldview of the participants, and replace it with a new paradigm for reality and self-identity based on the philosophies belonging to the founders of these programs. In effect, it is mind re-programming.
One of the archetypes of the human potential business today was est, founded by Werner Erhard (not his real name), who based his concepts on Eastern beliefs and on teachings from the Church of Scientology. The est program later came to be known as the Forum, and now goes by the name Landmark. Other groups similar to est, such as Lifespring, came along and multiplied. Lifespring states that one of its goals is to “redesign the underlying assumptions out of which you live your life. . .” and also warns that this experience may involve a “high degree of personal challenge or stress,” (http://www.lifespringusa.com/thecourses.htm, accessed 6/14/03).
Motivational training may be less rigorous than models bases on est, but they often include spiritual views belonging to the founder or head of the program. One popular teacher and author in the motivational area is Stephen Covey, a Mormon whose book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, was a bestseller, and whose son, Franklin Covey, offers speakers and seminars through his (Franklin’s) company based on Stephen Covey’s book. Another popular teacher is Anthony Robbins, who promotes a training appropriately called “Unleash The Power Within.” Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within, popularized firewalking as a self-empowerment technique. Both Covey and Robbins include elements of their own spiritual worldviews in their training.
One of the more spiritually based groups is the Silva Method, started by Jose Silva (1914-1999) in 1966. Based on beliefs that man has unlimited potential and can tap into psychic powers and the ability to heal the body with the mind, Silva, initially called Silva Mind Control, uses meditation and guided visualization exercises in its seminars. Moreover, Silva teaches students to make contact with disembodied counselors (spirit guides) for guidance. These teachings put Silva firmly into the New Age camp. (See this critique for further evaluation: http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Cults/silva.htm).
Some human potential and motivational groups are secretive about their teachings and methods, use humiliation and mind manipulation on attendees, and require attendees to recruit others. Many spin-offs of the original seminars such as est and Lifespring now operate across the country, usually through the workplace. Even those groups that are not secretive or manipulative usually include in their teachings New Age and humanistic ideas that one is responsible for everything that may happen to them (including being robbed, raped, getting sick, etc.) and that one has an innate wisdom and unlimited potential, concepts that go against God’s teachings that we are in a fallen world of sin, that we should depend on Him through Christ, be humble, and seek God’s will for our life.
One finds in most of these seminars, even the less abusive ones, mind-altering techniques such as deep relaxation, guided imagery, and visualization. The teachings in these seminars are often subtle, mixing in with helpful advice, and are advertised as methods to improve self-motivation, workplace performance, leadership skills, and cooperation with co-workers. Participants are usually pressured to recruit others into the program or training.
Cathartic experiences are powerful, and these seminars offer them in abundance. The experiences, even negative ones, bind the participants together and form a bond between the leaders and participants. However, keep in mind this is not a level playing field; the leaders of the seminar have power over the participants, and in many of these seminars they are using time-proven techniques to manipulate thinking. This is part of their training. Although spontaneity is often given as the reason to keep the contents secret from prospective attendees, the leaders’ actions and timing have been carefully orchestrated and choreographed. Secrecy and bonding through intense emotional confrontations and confessions are hallmarks of cultic groups.
People tend to imagine that the mind conditioning of cults is supernatural or esoteric, when, in fact, it boils down to powerful psychological and emotional techniques such as isolation, secrecy, bonding through confrontation and confession, shaming or humiliation before others, disparaging detractors, forbidding or discouraging questioning or criticism, discouraging thinking for one’s self, verbal abuse, and techniques such as guided visualizations. Guided imagery or visualization, ostensibly used for relaxation, is actually a method that increases the suggestibility of the participants. In such a state, a person’s critical thinking skills are on hold and they are more receptive to what is being said or taught. Some groups also require attendees to sign an oath, promising that they will not disclose the teachings. This creates not only a bond of secrecy, but also a separation between the “insiders” who are attending and the “outsiders” who have not had the training, leading to an elitist attitude toward the “outsiders.” Many of these seminars use some or all of these techniques.
There are also groups using humanistic teachings and methods from this movement that present themselves as Christian. One of these is Momentus, now being offered as BREAKTHROUGH, its parent company having changed its name from Mashiyach Ministries to THE ASSOCIATION FOR CHRISTIAN CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT (ACCD). Momentus was founded by Daniel Tocchini, a former trainer with Lifespring. Secrecy and aversion to criticism also mark this group. Christians should recall that Jesus taught in the open (“I have said nothing in secret,” John 18:20 ), and that God tells us to use our reason and minds to think things through (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 119:59; Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:3; I Corinthians 14; Philippians 4:8). Christians are not to accept teachings uncritically, and secrecy is not a hallmark of anything connected to authentic Christianity.
The recommended reading list for ACCD, although it includes some books by several sound authors like Tozer, Oswald Chambers, and J. I. Packer, includes books by those whose views are problematic such as Stephen Covey, Rick Joyner, and M. Scott Peck.
Another motivational teacher within the Christian community is John C. Maxwell, who teaches principles of success, leadership, and teamwork. Maxwell favorably quotes New Thought teachers like Napoleon Hill (who also practiced occult techniques) and Norman Vincent Peale, and endorses the principles of positive thinking, which at their core derive from the New Thought movement and do not align with scripture. For a cautionary evaluation of Maxwell, see article at http://www.richardghowe.com/Maxwell.pdf.
Another popular self-help program is the Release Technique (started by Larry Levenson and subsequently taught by Larry Crane). The Release Technique promises that if you practice their teaching, you will release all anxieties, fears, and illnesses and thus achieve success in wealth, health, and happiness. The belief rests on New Thought and New Age ideas that it is negative thinking that holds man back and man can achieve success through his own thinking and belief in one’s self as having unlimited potential. This program teaches that you “are the greatest” and “that all the love in the universe is right there in your nature” (Larry Levenson, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuPiq7qhZfM); and that you are in control of your universe and can achieve all your desires.
There are hundreds of such groups and seminars, both secular and Christian, throughout the country. Be aware that some groups may change their names; therefore, it is important to recognize them by the way they present themselves, their secrecy, and their teachings (which may have to be investigated online if the group does not share the specifics).
The following traits connected to seminars, classes, programs, or workshops should set warning flags waving, and a rigorous investigation should be done. Nobody needs to go through verbal abuse, mind conditioning techniques, or radical “breakthrough” experiences coerced by others in order to be a better person, leader, or team player.
-An organization, its leaders, or past participants refuse to share the contents of the seminars beforehand
-You are required to sign a “hold harmless” agreement (letting the organization and its leaders off the hook if harm or distress should result from the training)
-The organization/seminar has hyper language offering self-transformation
-Strong sales-type techniques are used to get you to participate
-The organization portrays its critics as ignorant, evil, or influenced by Satan
-The organization dissuades you from evaluating the teachings and methods yourself
-The organization discourages or discounts criticism from participants or others
-Promises are made to redesign your view of your self and reality
-Past participants exhibit an elitist attitude toward those who have not participated
-Past participants are pressured to recruit
If you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can receive Him into your heart and He can deliver you from darkness and sin and have your name written in His Book of Life.
If you are sincere, you can say this simple prayer to the Father (it doesn’t have to be word for word):
“God, I recognize that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. Please forgive me of all of my sins just as I forgive others. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your only begotten Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross, I believe in my heart Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the Lord and GOD Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.”