Cognitive Dissonance From William Branham's Cult Following:
Psychological studies have found that mental stress can form in individuals who are trained to believe two conflicting ideas, beliefs, or values and this stress can cascade into a variety of problems in mental health. The name given for this situation is "Cognitive Dissonance," a short phrase to describe inconsistencies that impair cognitive function. Though these inconsistencies (dissonance) are often suppressed, they will eventually bubble up into roadblocks that prevent logic and reasoning.
Cult help books describe this mental stress as a common situation for those who were trapped in a "destructive cult." A destructive cult is a group following a person who represents himself as an unquestioned authority, whose followers submit to his inerrant and totalitarian religion. Typically, a destructive cult leader will present their group as the "elite," or the group who are the "chosen ones" within their category of religion or philosophy. Those who have escaped the cult following of William Branham are familiar with this theme, having escaped a group of people who prided themselves as being greater than all other Christians simply for having known "the prophet." In groups such as this, the leader has promoted himself using deceptive tactics. And as with any deception (lie), it must be reinforced with more deception (lies). This pattern of deception leads to circular or inconsistent reasoning, thus laying the groundwork for Cognitive Dissonance. When faced with two opposing and contradictory beliefs, the victim attempts to limit the discomfort by attempting to rationalize both opposing forces in their mind.
As you can imagine, this presents a huge problem -- not only for the cult follower, but also for any who try to help them deprogram from their cult's indoctrination. Psychological studies show that the patient experiencing this discomfort may quickly turn towards other irrational and even violent reactions, such as anger, name-calling, gossip, slander, and more. Out Of The Fog website describes the many complications with Cognitive Dissonance in their list of personality disorders and reactions to treatment, along with some simple suggestions of what one can do to help and what to expect as the programmed mind is faced with truth. http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/CognitiveDissonance.html
For those of you working with Branham cult followers, you will recognize many of the symptoms of Cognitive Dissonance. When faced with all three birth years that William Branham used in his theology (1907, 1908, and 1909), two of which are tied to "spiritual events," the programmed cult mind cannot reconcile these dates in their indoctrinated belief system. If Branham was born in 1907, then his "fortune teller" mythology was incorrect, and he was not born under a sign. His entire "Moses prophet" ministry was invalid. And if Branham was born in 1909, his return of "Elijah" to Alexander Dowie's "Elijah Ministry" mythology was incorrect. He could not be the "Elijah of the last days." Yet if he was not born in 1908, then he was not truthful on (one of) his marriage licenses, falsifying a government document. The first time I explained these scenarios to a deeply-programmed Branham cult follower, his answer was "I don't understand it, brother, but I believe every word the 'prophet' spoke!" This is an example of Cognitive Dissonance.
In a testimony given to "Gospel Cross," William Branham's son-in-law, George Smith, displayed what appears to be Cognitive Dissonance. Members of the Branham cult are indoctrinated to believe that a cloud over northern Arizona was really seven angels blasting through the atmosphere into the heavens, and that William Branham was standing directly underneath those "angels." When faced with multiple conflicting facts surrounding that event, the programmed cult mind tries to rationalize all inconsistencies by claiming they are all correct. Though Branham was in the state of Texas, he was ALSO in the state of Arizona. Though Branham was hunting in the month of March, he was ALSO hunting in the month of February. Though Branham was over three-hundred kilometers south of the cloud formation, he was ALSO standing underneath. Though there were only five angels, there were ALSO seven angels. Smith, whose mind appears to try and reconcile all of these conflicts, claimed that Branham entered "another dimension." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NejK5qA8aaM
This, because of the long list of facts that contradict Smith's testimony, has caused even more Cognitive Dissonance. Cult followers are now claiming that there were TWO clouds, the one in February and the one in March -- forgetting that William Branham held up a photograph from the February cloud and said that he was standing directly underneath with human (in this dimension) witnesses. Because it is too uncomfortable for the mind to face re-evaluating all doctrine surrounding this "mystery cloud," the mind has created a mental block to prevent the immediate pain. http://seekyethetruth.com/resources-easy-cloud.aspx
Those of us who have forced our way though this pain can identify with all of the symptoms listed in any of the studies describing Cognitive Dissonance. In fact, many of us could easily say that they are over-simplifying the results, and that our pain was far greater than is being described in these studies. But remember, these studies are (for the most part) using a test group of normal (not programmed) people in normal (not doomsday cult) situations. They use very common examples, such as a gambler denying an addiction or a mother trying to justify an "old wives tale." There are very few studies on a test group of people that were trained from birth to believe hundreds of invalid and conflicting facts.
But if you study their suggestions for how to cope with (and how to help people who are coping with) Cognitive Dissonance, the same strategies apply:
Don't blame yourself:
If you were programmed with the indoctrination of the teachings of William Branham, it is not your fault. Whether you were born into this cult or came in later in life, there were no warning signs that gave you a balanced decision. The churches do not advertise that they are a destructive cult, and often it takes several months to realize that you are required to believe much more than just simply the Bible.
Don't lose trust in everything:
Just because you were mistaken about William Branham being a prophet or the Branham cult being followers of Christ alone, do not think that you are mistaken about everything. The common expression applies, "Don't through the baby out with the bath water." Though you will uncover more than your fair share of deception, wade through it to hold fast onto the truths that can be found -- even in a destructive cult.
Don't lose self-confidence:
When you leave any destructive cult -- especially the Branham cult, you will receive an onslaught of insults, be the target of rumors, be condemned to die by the elders, and be considered dead to your peers. They are struggling with the same Cognitive Dissonance that you, yourself, just conquered. Be confident in your stance for truth; had you not been gifted with a strong will, you would be one filled with condemnation and hate instead of one being the target of that same condemnation and hate.
Often, when working with the people fleeing the Branham cult, we see people making drastic changes in their life. It gives a temporary feeling of comfort to be "different than before," knowing that you are now nothing like the cult you just escaped. But the "new you" may not be the person you will eventually become. First become that new person, and the rest will fall into place all by itself.