1993, 07/05 4. Stewart’s Bag Of Tricks.
This is a continuation of the previous section, What Are The Underlying Assumptions About Life In COBU? I was talking about the underlying assumptions that everyone in COBU accepted without question about Stewart Traill, the leader of the Church of Bible Understanding, and I continued to develop this line of thought in this section.
How can I ever win against forces such as these? Even if I don’t directly fight, I’m off on my own, thinking about it all the time and burning myself out. It’s like a endless treadmill trying to process all these things and to find answers for them and to find counter arguments for them all. And Stewart is just merrily tossing one after another out, and I’m wearing myself out running to and fro to get them and to add them up and sort them out and categorize them, thinking what about this and what about that? What a wearying life!
It always has occurred to me that there are underlying assumptions about life here. Sometimes I saw Stewart come from this place. He had a quiet confidence. When someone tried to disagree him, he waited patiently, and then suddenly, “Off with his head!” And nobody could stand against him. The whole church is built on this assumption, and whenever he comes out with a new revelation or Bible study, no one tests these things. In part because you can’t win, in part because everyone here is gathered around this one man who’s like a seer. And the assumption is that when he speaks, it’s already true, so why question it?
(In an average Bible study or sermon in a church somewhere, you probably wouldn’t feel the need to test everything the pastor was saying. But in COBU, because of the nature of the claims Stewart was making (such as, nobody else in the world knows these things, this is the first time this has been revealed, all other Christians are teaching wrong, etc.), it would seem unwise to swallow these things whole without asking yourself if what you are hearing was real or not. I came across a saying in a book at that time, which said, “The greater the claim, the greater the evidence needed to support it.” Stewart presented no evidence, other than long rambling discourses (when he wasn’t directly attacking church members) in which he made these claims, as the congregation silently listened. There is also another saying: “The greater the claim, the greater the lie.” And Stewart beat the living daylights, if necessary, out of anyone who tried to disagree with any of his teachings, and all the others present were in on it, already agreeing that whatever Stewart said was true – even if it was something horribly negative about us – and they were on his side, which left the questioner on his own.)
The other version, on less loftier matters, was always Stewart’s bag of tricks. He always said, “I reach into my bag of tricks,” which is what Chuck Dederich always said in Synanon. Chuck’s bag of tricks. It was amazing how I found in a lot of the same phrases in that book about Synanon that are used here. One of which was, the leader had his bag of tricks and he could always pull them out. Stewart sometimes said, “I pull out my bag of tricks and do this or that.” He always had a new light bulb to put in if the old one burnt out. The assumption is that Stewart has a new trick in his bag of tricks. Stewart says, “What I’m telling is the truth.” Everyone just accepts it. Everyone’s already in that mode. And then there’s the stupid jerk (me) trying to stand up and say, “Well, Stewart I really wonder if what you’re saying is true.” And it’s utterly pointless to do something like that.
So I don’t know if this will usher in a new era in my thinking, where I no longer try to look at particulars, but only at principles. Maybe I would save myself a lot of energy, it will be an economy of effort, because I’m wearing myself out trying to figure all of this out.
During the last three years I’ve really worn myself out, ever since I became aware, or since the magic key was dropped into my hands, which was the idea that Stewart could be wrong. I had always had slight doubts, but after Stewart’s confession that he had been teaching in error, things changed. It blew my protective ideological and idealistic covering. It was like pulling back the curtain to see the little old man in the Wizard of Oz.
Yes, there are these underlying assumptions. I sense it when I try to fight against Stewart, or against what he says, that I’m dealing with the basic assumption that “I own the ground you stand on.”
(Again, see the Freedom of Mind website: 12 Rules Of The Community Leading Con-Man for an explanation of “I own the ground you stand on.”)
Not only that, “I own the breath of life in your nostrils.” And it’s utterly futile to try to fight against Stewart. And another basic assumptions and basic truth, is that Stewart never gives in. Maybe it’s not a rock bottom truth. Maybe I haven’t quite hit key point that ties it all together, the little bit of nitroglycerine that might finally blow everything up, if I could only find it and put it in the right spot.
(I hadn’t quite figured out exactly what was wrong with this place.)
I know this from Stewart’s own words, because when he speaks, sometimes he’ll throw out a hint about where he’s coming from, and he’ll explain what he does in a certain situation. No one can cover his tracks completely and Stewart can’t keep his motives completely hidden. I’m sure that most of it is concealed from view. But I do know from experience that Stewart never gives in. One of the things he has always done is to hang in there and fight until he wins. One reason for that is because most people don’t have the energy to keep going.
(Stewart won by endurance. He outlasted anyone accusing him of something, until they gave up.)
Some of Stewart’s energy comes from his being being totally self-sufficient. He has no reliance on anyone for anything, whether for material goods, personal fellowship or spiritual matters. [Stewart relied on COBU for financial support – but he made it clear that he would throw out any individual member at any time.] That’s wonderful leverage. And if we’re here, we’re relying on him, or on this place in some way. And interconnected with that, we need the approval of the other group members. It’s a tough life. Whereas, he doesn’t live like this. He can say, “I don’t need you, I don’t need anybody.” There’s quite a difference in the terms of interaction there.
I know from Stewart’s words that the only time he ever gives in is for the purpose of losing the battle to win the war. He says he will concede a point in a debate, and I suppose in other things that aren’t debates, in order to win the larger victory. Like a tactic in a war, the feigned retreat, so the enemy suddenly gets motivated and starts running after these poor retreating losers. And look, these stupid idiots are retreating right through a mountain pass, now we’ve got them! But when the enemy follows the retreating army into the mountain pass, there are archers and stone throwers waiting on the cliffs to kill them.
I’ve seen Stewart do things like that. The times I actually did stand up and say some things to him, he was quiet for a while, and I thought, wow, he’s really listening. Or, even I feel, maybe this hurts him a little, he seems to be pained by this. But he’s playing a waiting game. You see, most people immediately lash back with a counterattack. Stewart can afford to wait. First of all, the whole crowd is on his side, and besides, he’s about to show the crowd once more what happens to a person like me who tries something, so they’re all the more roped in. So I become valuable, I’m actually useful to him. He always says that he uses any attack. Everything works out for his good, whether it’s good or evil. He uses persecution to show who he really is. This persecuted man. He can turn the tables on anyone and anything.
Most people would react by fighting back, “Hey! Don’t call me that!” Well, it’s pretty obvious to Stewart that he should never directly do that, because if he gets upset by something I’m saying to him, there must be some truth to what I’m saying. So actually, at least for a little while, I could stand up and say to Stewart, “Hey! You’re a jackass! You’re a real jerk!” I could actually be that crude and he might just wait a while. And if he’s waiting for a while like that, then the accuser begins to look like a troublemaker, because this is where all the action is coming from. Whereas, if he had reacted in anger or by defending himself, well, there must be something to the accusation being made against him. So, the calm façade is very advantageous. The audience sees this man bearing up under such harsh criticism, persecution and attack.
And it’s also useful if Stewart lets this person go on till he says something that can be used against him. You know, the accuser says, “What you’re saying isn’t true! And you’re a this and you’re a that.” If he had to deal objectively with a lot of the things that people have said to him over the years, there would be some real things he would have to answer for! But Stewart lets them talk on and then Stewart begins to look like the martyr. Wow, he’s taking blow after blow, and he’s not saying anything! What a great and humble man! And the onlookers concentrate more on that than on the questions Stewart is being asked or what he’s being accused of. Then finally, the accuser says something that can be used against him, like when I said, “And how come no one can ever be faithful here?” And then suddenly, Stewart calmly asks the accuser, “Are you faithful?”
(I was talking here about the time when I stood up to talk to Stewart at a meeting. I said that the standards here were too high and I wanted to point out how strange it seems that no one was ever considered to be faithful to Christ here. He had waited patiently as I talked, until I got to this point and then he asked me if I were faithful to Christ, and at that point, I folded like a house of cards. There was no way, according to the COBU standards of faithfulness, that I could claim to be a faithful Christian.)
His patience, waiting for his opponents to trip themselves up. You could even say it’s a virtue. So the assumption, or his basic tactic is that Stewart will let a person go on talking as long as necessary until he hangs himself by saying something that he can use against them, thereby getting a maximum return for a minimum of effort. I can see that he has learned over the years to do that with us. Paul has a whole history in his mind, of all these people who ever tried anything with Stewart and how they couldn’t win or get away with it. And it’s amazingly preposterous when I think of it, that anyone who ever did try to talk to Stewart – and it must have been a hundred or two hundred people who tried – that they have always ended up looking like idiots. And that Stewart always won. And this built up the great myth in everybody’s minds of Stewart’s invincibility and that he was invincible because he stood for the truth and that the truth always wins.
Those people must have had real things to say, but maybe they got a little emotional when they were saying it. Oh, forget it then. This is what Stewart used against them.
Or, they didn’t have their arguments perfectly constructed. Oh, plenty of loopholes. Or, they did have their arguments perfectly constructed. Oh, this guy’s a real hard-liner. Either way, it’s amazing how they couldn’t win. But it isn’t truth that’s winning, it’s just someone with excellent techniques who is winning. Someone who understands human psychology, or at least, who understands the kind of people who stay here. And it’s probably very easy for Stewart to throw anyone else off guard, or to make it so they don’t want to stay here. A lot of people wouldn’t want to submit their minds to this man, so they leave. So, that only leaves a certain kind of people who stay here. And it’s a self-reinforcing delusion.
Maybe I’m rambling on now. But, that’s the whole idea, to make a lot of tapes. I want to record these ideas.
(I now went on to talk about the debate about science, evolution and creation that Stewart “hosted.” As preparation for this meeting, he told us that one of the sessions would have this debate and that we should read some books on these subjects and present our opinions. Everyone came, eager to participate, but it was soon evident that nothing was going to get discussed, because Stewart wouldn’t let anyone talk long enough to express their ideas. But it was highly instructive to me to watch, because I saw Stewart doing his usual control and intimidation tactics, but now he was just doing it for fun. Yet they were the same tactics, and I learned a little more about his methods.)
Even last night, seeing the brothers standing up to give their thoughts on evolution and every three or four sentences, sometimes every sentence, Stewart just flipped them. He knocked them right over. “You mean you’re saying…?” And then Greg S. stood up and said something about science. Stewart says, “Oh, so you’re blackening science!” He was playing a heavy devil’s advocate. And even in a hypothetical discussion, no one wants to be in disagreement with Stewart. No one will even whimper back, “What do you mean, I can’t say that?” Everyone immediately backed down. Whatever little thing they were talking about, they immediately took it back. And this wasn’t even in the realm of, “I think you’re false teacher.” It was just, “I read this book and I think that what the author said about scientists is true.” And Stewart would say in an accusatory tone, “Oh, so you’re blackening science?”
But then Stewart played the other side. When brothers and sisters brought up evidence in favor of science, Stewart said, “So, you mean the same science that heals you in the hospital and the same science that denounces God…oh, you want to have it both ways?”
It was a total bullying session. It wasn’t even really a discussion. But, it was like a play version of what Stewart does. I saw his techniques at work in a more open, less serious fashion, in the sense that these people aren’t about to be told they had to leave the church. It was a hypothetical debate about science, creation and evolution. But I saw how no one could even express their ideas, or stand up to Stewart’s bullying. Bullying in the sense of, “Oh yeah? You would really say that, huh!” And everyone backed down immediately. The meeting was conducted in a highly confrontational way.
It was not a discussion group or a Bible class format. No one learned anything from these brothers and sisters trying to present their ideas because they got disrupted and interrupted every two seconds. We couldn’t even hear the ideas they were trying to present, or get them second hand from the book they had read. And nothing went anywhere. Stewart immediately flattened anything that anyone said. But in a smaller version, I got to see this thing in action, the assumption Stewart is true. You could say he was gaming. He’s the pastor, he has Christian beliefs, but then he would play the scientist’s advocate, “Oh, so your blackening science now!” And no one was willing to take him on.
Stewart is able to completely surround us and engulf us with with premises like, “In order to say what you just said, do you realize that you have to be doing this other thing first and to be doing it all the way first? Do realize that by implication then, that you’re doing this and that?” Suddenly, there are all these rules of debate and logic that we never even knew existed. And these had to be taken seriously in order to speak. To make an analogy, speaking in legal terms, it’s like Stewart says, “In order to accuse this person of this, do you realize that you have to be obeying Section 8, Article 2? Do you realize that calls into play the complete jurisprudence section of the Constitution of the United States?” And we were like wow, I thought we were just going to talk about this! We were supposed to bring our ideas about science vs. religion and have an interesting debate.
And I realized that what I was seeing there for sport was a lighter version of what I would get if I was serious and tried to say something about what’s wrong with the church. It’s weird confrontational tactics. And I’ve often thought that the purpose of all this, beyond just feeding Stewart’s ego, is to show us what we all want to hear anyway, is that [pathetic voice:], “We don’t know anything. Oh, I thought I knew. But now that you’ve shown me, Stewart, now that I look at it, I realize that I don’t know anything. And I see how I was assuming I knew and that I really just have no knowledge. I need to look into it more.” Somehow, everyone really likes this, the whole idea of “we know nothing.” [Reassuring voice:] “But don’t worry, Stewart will come along and explain it to you. Or maybe he will explain it little by little, so you can’t be in control of it.”
And he leads us on with a tidbit here and there. He often tells us before a meeting, “Let’s discuss the subject. Be ready for the meeting, we’re going to talk about it.” For one thing, there’s considerably less enthusiasm for this now than there used to be, and that may be due to other factors, but we have these discussions where opinions are given by brothers and sisters who are profusely saying, “Well I don’t know…” They start with the phrase, “Well I don’t really know, but I think I have an opinion, but…” And when they’re done, they say, “Well, but the truth is, I’m not really sure.” They’re already putting themselves in that subordinate position before the master. They’re already playing it. No one wants to take a stand on anything, even on an idea, because they know they’ll be ripped to shreds. And that’s just so horrible and it just shows what kind of people we are.
These discussions aren’t really discussions. Whether they’re about a new theological idea we’re exploring or about what we should change about something, Stewart runs us a little while, like the way you let a dog run on a leash until he reaches the end of it and it tightens up on him. Mostly, it’s just to show us again and to reconfirm that we know nothing. And to break us down, so that we see that we know nothing, after he’s played us out a little. Then, after we realize that our own ideas are total trash, of course, we’re ready for new ideas, because most of us don’t want to be in limbo. And the purpose of his method is to open the ground so the seed can be planted. And this helps the seed to go in better. He could just tell us and it would go in anyway, but this helps a whole lot more. It’s the way he works with us, in terms of us as material to be worked on, formed and molded. He asks us questions, but it isn’t to fellowship with us, or to exchange ideas, it’s just to see our response, the way the doctor pokes you to see where you say ouch! The questions are not the same kind of questions that are used to find out answers.
And after we realize that we know nothing, we’re ready to hear it. The officially given explanation of this is because, as he used to tell us, he’s not going to give us anything on a silver platter, we have to work for it. But even then, after we “worked for it,” we could never come up with the answer, so then he always told us. So, I guess we had to work a little. We had to jump up and down a lot before he gave us the platter. But the idea is that we have to work and try to find out, but obviously we can never even scratch the surface. At least this is how it works in my mind.
I tried to explain this to Paul last night and he immediately got on me for taking a gaff at Brother Stewart. But then, I tried to back up, “Oh, I wasn’t doing that. I guess it just sounded that way.” And I said it was because of how stupid we are, which in a sense is true, because it shows how we behave over the whole thing, how we kind of want it that way. It’s a lot safer. We like to know that we don’t understand and that the truth about anything is just so overwhelming and impossible to get to that we’re glad to hear it from somebody who is able to get to it. And it makes it all the more uncomfortable and frightening to us when we’ve tried to arrive at the truth ourselves and failed, and it all the more confirms to us that we know nothing. And, I always see that after the frenzy of the phony debate is over, Stewart changes. His voice even changes. And rather calmly and methodically now, we hear his viewpoint, which is sort of the whole payoff.
(This was the ultimate purpose of having a phony debate. For us to come to believe that we knew nothing, and to be ready to hear Stewart’s answer on the issue, after we were all tired out. This was one of Stewart’s most frequently used formats in meetings.)
In the future, if I am going to tape any more sessions like this in the meetings, I could just forget the whole initial frenzy. If you wait, there is a point where Stewart just begins to say what the answer is. He doesn’t directly use the words, “Now I’m going to tell you what it is,” but that’s the attitude. He begins to speak on it and at that point everyone is quiet. They’re all listening and they’re taking it in. Now whether it’s intentional, or crafty, it’s an excellent psychological technique to get people to listen to him. After he plays us a while and we’re tired, we’re more willing to drink it in. He runs the children out on recess until they’re dead tired and then they’re more likely to sit in class and listen. But it’s more than that. I think it does have some elements of mind control or brainwashing, in the sense of opening our psyche now, after he shows us that we know nothing. Now our great glorious leader will come and tell us what it is. It’s never stated in such blatant terms as that, however. So many things here are done on this level. It’s like psychological manipulation or being operated. I see these kinds of things going on.
And, I could delve into the whole idea of what “correction” is and about these times when Stewart suddenly lashes into us, and I realize that he had it planned all along and that he just set a few people up as victims as a reason to get into it. That’s how a lot of things are dealt with here. It’s a master-trainer relationship in which we’re treated as an article to be refashioned or a dog being taught to roll over, and there’s nothing deep inside of ourselves that gets developed. Well, you could say our inner development is on us. But Stewart has to pull the wool over our eyes and shake us up and then lay us out. And that’s how he tells us things and how he gets us to do things. It’s not above board. He doesn’t speak to us man to man. If I said that to anyone here, maybe they would agree, but they would say, [imitating a sniveling voice of one who is toady:] “But that’s because of the way we are. We really asked for it. He can’t just come out and tell us things.”
Of course, that means there’s no one in the world Stewart can tell these things to. With his own subjects, he can’t just come out and tell them things. Not that he doesn’t tell us things, but he can’t tell us things at a human level. It always has to be through psycho reorientation of our minds. And outside of the church, there’s no one he tells, “unless they’re ready to hear it.” But, he does this intense psychological reworking of our minds. Again, there’s probably another word for it.
We’re about to be in the most dreaded session of the weekend. I even heard others briefly mention it, though not in the “glowing terms” I would mention it in. Our separate brothers and sisters meetings. The meetings that, when they are about to begin, you see brothers and sisters with strained faces, straining to show a smile and a look of gladness, saying, in a kind of detached hypnotized voice, “We’re going to have a brothers meeting. It’s going to be really good! We’re going to work on and get what we really need! And we’re going to change things.” And they’re very much strained to put that on. We know it’s going to be a heavy grilling session on our brains. And I have to say – and it must be true – that we enter into an altered state of consciousness in these meetings. They’re mood-transforming meetings. It’s like taking drugs, to be in a meeting like that. And no one actually talks. There are reactions. There’s jumping. There are reflexes. There’s fear, trying to circumvent certain things. The hammer is coming down. There’s trying to reach up to grab the hammer before it hits you.
Chuck would be a prime example. He does a lot of jumping up and shouting, “I’m really going do it! I really have to do it, all the more!” It’s strange, all that jumping up and shouting that he’s really going to apply himself to the new teaching that Stewart has just shown us.
So, this leads me to another basic assumption. The simplest way to say it is that only Stewart knows the truth. That’s a bit closer. Only Stewart knows the truth. Others may have seen part of the truth, but they fall far short and they miss the real issue. But Stewart knows. Again, sometimes Stewart hints that he might not know something, but what he does know about it is far, far above what anyone else could know about it. And certainly, he can put the whole picture together. Others might know a lot about individual fields, but he has that ability to really say what the truth is. And the other basic assumption, is that knowing truth is extremely difficult. You may think you really know something, and really, you know nothing at all. Of course, it’s not possible that Stewart might think he knows something, but really knows nothing at all. That’s another assumption, not him! But, for every other human on the face of the earth – and that’s part of the assumption – every other human on the face of the earth has the problem of thinking they know something when they really know nothing at all. Of course, Stewart is very careful and he always checks. And his opinions are not his, they are arrived at through intense research! Others may research intensely, but they’re missing something – and Stewart has what they’re missing. [I said this on the tape in a mocking way, using the tone of voice of someone letting you in on a well-kept secret.] So, we all know that the truth is a very, very difficult thing to come by, and there are so many contradictory voices. And it’s easy be completely deceived – and if we leave our church, we certainly will be. But you see, Stewart is not deceived. Stewart knows the truth.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: I Can’t Live Without Stewart.
These pages, as well as my other pages, A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member and The Tangled Web, are part of the source material of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.