The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame

(Version 2.7) Copyright © 1979, 2008 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

This tool can be used by parents, reporters, law enforcement agents, social scientists and others interested in evaluating the actual dangers presented by a given group or movement. Obviously, different observers will achieve differing degrees of precision, depending upon the sophistication of their numerical assignments on each scale. However, if the same observers use the same methods of scoring and weighting each scale, their comparisons of relative danger or harmlessness between groups will be reasonably valid, at least for their own purposes. People who cannot, on the other hand, view competing belief systems as ever having possible spiritual value to anyone, will find the ABCDEF annoyingly useless for promoting their theological agendas. Worse, these members of the Religious Reich and their fellow theocrats will find that their own organizations (and quite a few large mainstream churches) are far more “cult-like” than many of the minority belief systems they so bitterly oppose.
It should be pointed out that the ABCDEF is founded upon both modern psychological theories about mental health and personal growth, and my many years of participant observation and historical research into minority belief systems. Those who believe that relativism and anarchy are as dangerous to mental health as absolutism and authoritarianism, could (I suppose) count groups with total scores nearing either extreme (high or low) as being equally hazardous. As far as dangers to physical well-being are concerned, however, both historical records and current events clearly indicate the direction in which the greatest threats lie. This is especially so since the low-scoring groups usually seem to have survival and growth rates so small that they seldom develop the abilities to commit large scale atrocities even had they the philosophical or political inclinations to do so.

The Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame  (version 2.6)


Factors: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10Low                      High
1 Internal Control: Amount of internal political and social power exercised by leader(s) over members; lack of clearly defined organizational rights for members. 1 _________________________
2 External Control: Amount of external political and social influence desired or obtained; emphasis on directing members’ external political and social behavior. 2 _________________________
3 Wisdom/Knowledge Claimed by leader(s); amount of infallibility declared or implied about decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations; number and degree of unverified and/or unverifiable credentials claimed. 3 _________________________
4 Wisdom/Knowledge Credited to leader(s) by members; amount of trust in decisions or doctrinal/scriptural interpretations made by leader(s); amount of hostility by members towards internal or external critics and/or towards verification efforts. 4 _________________________
5 Dogma: Rigidity of reality concepts taught; amount of doctrinal inflexibility or “fundamentalism;” hostility towards relativism and situationalism. 5 _________________________
6 Recruiting: Emphasis put on attracting new members; amount of proselytizing; requirement for all members to bring in new ones. 6 _________________________
7 Front Groups: Number of subsidiary groups using different names from that of main group, especially when connections are hidden. 7 _________________________
8 Wealth: Amount of money and/or property desired or obtained by group; emphasis on members’ donations; economic lifestyle of leader(s) compared to ordinary members. 8 _________________________
9 Sexual Manipulation of members by leader(s) of non-tantric groups; amount of control exercised over sexuality of members in terms of sexual orientation, behavior, and/or choice of partners. 9 _________________________
10 Sexual Favoritism: Advancement or preferential treatment dependent upon sexual activity with the leader(s) of non-tantric groups. 10 _________________________
11 Censorship: Amount of control over members’ access to outside opinions on group, its doctrines or leader(s). 11 _________________________
12 Isolation: Amount of effort to keep members from communicating with non-members, including family, friends and lovers. 12 _________________________
13 Dropout Control: Intensity of efforts directed at preventing or returning dropouts. 13 _________________________
14 Violence: Amount of approval when used by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s). 14 _________________________
15 Paranoia: Amount of fear concerning real or imagined enemies; exaggeration of perceived power of opponents; prevalence of conspiracy theories. 15 _________________________
16 Grimness: Amount of disapproval concerning jokes about the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). 16 _________________________
17 Surrender of Will: Amount of emphasis on members not having to be responsible for personal decisions; degree of individual disempowerment created by the group, its doctrines or its leader(s). 17 _________________________
18 Hypocrisy: amount of approval for actions which the group officially considers immoral or unethical, when done by or for the group, its doctrines or leader(s); willingness to violate the group’s declared principles for political, psychological, social, economic, military, or other gain. 18 _________________________

A Dutch translation of this is available at Bonewits’ Geavanceerde Raamwerk ter Evaluatie van Sektegevaar

A German translation of the 2.0 version of this is available at: Isaac Bonewits’ Sektengefahr Checkliste.

A French translation of the 2.6 version is available at: Grille avancée de Bonewits pour l’évaluation du danger potentiel d’une secte.

An Italian translation of the 2.6 version is available at: Documento Avanzato di Isaac Bonewits per la Valutazione del Pericolo del Culto.

A Polish translation of the 2.6 version is available at: Zaawansowany Kwestionariusz Bonewitsa Oceniajacy Niebezpieczenstwo Sekty

A Portuguese translation of the 2.6 version is available at: A Ferramenta Avançada de Bonewits para Avaliação de Seitas.

Other translations will be posted as they are done.


[Note from Phaedra Bonewits: Isaac Bonewits passed away August 12, 2010.]

 Copyright © 1979, 2008 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the version number is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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