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Theology for the common man

Keep an eye on cults

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vacation time is generally a period of increased activity among various cults. This occurs because most children and teens are out of school where they spend most of there time when not at home. Additionally, parents are busy working, so they don’t have adequate time to watch over their children. Then there are the children who go to camps where, finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings are more vulnerable to cult activity. Falling under the influence of a cult, however, is not a problem that touches children and teens alone, nor does it occur only during vacation break, although that time is the most favorable. Many adults are frustrated by current socio-economic conditions resulting in the de-valuing of their homes, are hoping to better themselves, and easily fall prey to the exceptional kindness and altruism of cults. In addition, they think they will find what they seek in these groups: acceptance, love, kindness, a sense of belonging, etc. One would think that this is something good…being accepted, being loved, belonging to a group where one can find fulfillment. Yes, but it is something else when these good things begin in time to turn, into the horrors of isolation from family and friends, manipulation, dependency, mind-control and exploitation. These actions describe precisely the evils of cult involvement; they are the reasons we must guard against them.

Cults or New Religious Movements?
The word sect (cult) has been around in common terminology for a long time. Originally, it came from the Latin secta meaning direction, road, faction, or using the Latin verb form seco, secare it means to cut away from, to chop off. So the appearence of certain social groups determined how far removed the word was from the original form. Normally, a sect is religious in character and means faction or the calling of new independent groups under a leadership that broke away from original teachings or organizational structures. Their means of spreading their teachings and group functions raises great doubts in light of the social damages their words carry and the psychological injuries done to the young coming under their influence. Because of their doctrinal and institutional renunciation, sects are especially interested in the Church and approach her with caution and due respect. Some people seemingly neglected or lost from Church ministry are drawn to sects whose activities are treated as a challenge. For this reason, the Church not only changed its long-standing attitude of aversion toward sects, seeing in each of its members a lost sheep which it must redeem, but does not even use the term “sect” or “cult” because of its negative association. It prefers to call these newly emerging groups “new religious movements”.

The Danger of Cults
No matter what it’s called, the cult phenomenon is extremely dangerous for our youth and for all our society. The danger lies in the authoritative exercise of power by cult leaders in the controlling treatment of members under their direction; in material exploitation by means of their activities with select persons or groups of people under the guise of religion; in the absence of self-criticism; in the striving for independence from recognized control factors of society such as: family, media, country, school, etc. All this violates the fundamental rights of all humans and the rules of society. Its influence on family life is in essence destructive, even criminal. For it can come to this: physical and psychological manipulation, prostitution, pedophilia, dependency on leaders or groups, and in extreme cases the suicide of its members. Even worse are the techniques used by cults to transform personalities that later require psychiatric therapy. Joanna Czerwonka, an expert in such situations, notes that: “love bombing” and withdrawal of anything that gives the feeling of security and the addiction of members to the given group; the stimulating of feelings of diminished self-worth, guilt and the various drugs bring a sense of safety only within a particular group and only on condition of compliance to its rules; the arousal of changing feelings and moods which mold the member in ways most useful to the cult; time control effecting a sense of absorption into the group and the impossibility of self-reflection; the reduction of sleep and meals so members become more gullible, passing from docility and apathy to hostility and guilt feelings; hypnosis, which takes away freedom and free-will; psychotropic drugs and narcotics (often administered without the knowledge of the member) causing addiction and the mental images they evoke; isolation which can arouse illusions and hallucinations; mantras and meditations which often bring on self-hypnosis, separation from reality, a disrupting change in their spiritual relationship with God, others and even themselves.

How Can Cults Be Recognized?
Certainly the most important question for parents and relatives is: How can we tell if our children or friends have come under the influence of cult activity? Anti-cult organizations do exist, to aid victims and their families. They have set up a series of seven questions to help diagnose whether one is involved with a cult. They touch on the following: the scope of power of the cult leader; financial relationships; ease of resignation from the group; the obligation to establish family within the group; the degree of isolation from outside sources; existing attitudes of opposition or hostility toward civil authority, other institutions, persons outside their group; as well as the conviction of the exclusivity of the redeeming teachings of a particular group; their attitude toward learning and education outside of religion. It is immediately evident in the attitude of the young person when he begins to stray from family and friends, becomes anti-social, is often illogical in thought and action, exhibits a lack of tolerance and hostile behavior toward those who are different or who come from diverse cultures. He may manifest a unique missionary zeal in whatever pertains to his group, not sparing personal talent, time or money.

Cults, a Challenge for the Church
That which makes cults attractive often exposes the shortcomings of the Church’s ministerial activities and so calls her to greater humility in fulfilling her evangelical mission. Cults often advertise themselves as the “only solution” to personal and social problems, an honest perception of the truth about self and about the world. They propose the most simplistic solutions for “all” the most difficult problems, the cure for “every” illness, and “true” happiness without pain right here on earth. They also promote themselves as the discoverers of lost or rather newly revealed truth, as experts in psychology and human spirituality. There self-important and unrealistic approach to the problems of life unmasks their deceptiveness. Cults approach people separately, turning to them with friendliness, and discreetness. They pull the loner out of anonymity, announcing the need for social and spontaneous activity, responsibility and involvement. They help to reinterpret personal experiences, to establish belief in self and to face most vital problems. (Sects or new religious movements, Vatican 1986). And here stands the pastoral task before the Church, to effectively reach all those who feel ignored or overlooked.