|The controversy over cults, sects, mind
development groups and new religions is not a simple matter of critics
accusing and the criticized defending. Unfortunately, the issue cannot be
set out so easily and clearly. Certainly movements do engage to a
substantial degree in denying allegations. But they, their defenders,and
many seemingly disinterested authorities choose as much to attack as to
defend. They challenge many of the detractors' basic assumptions and
question the honesty of some motives.
Even the terminology which critics use is a source of contention. For example, while the term "cult" has a non-pejorative dictionary meaning, most groups, to which it might objectively be applied, reject it absolutely. They say that when critics use the term, it implies corruption. At best, the term has come to symbolize excessiveness, fanaticism, and irrationality. At worst, it serves as a synonym for a collective evil, and some critics employ it in this sense. And the word "sect," objectively an even less offensive term, is said to have become interchangeable with "cult" in the lexicon of many anti-cultists. Even "new religion" has come under attack. Although ostensibly employed as neutral terminology, it is said, the euphemism often is intended to trivialize and impute a lack of time-tested substance to movements with roots in traditions that go back thousands of years.
The groups and their defenders say that couching issues in that kind of tainted terminology makes honest discussion all but impossible. They add it becomes difficult because of critics' calculated disregard for the fact that the groups are extraordinarily diverse in terms of origin, beliefs, structures, practices, and size. Many commentators, like M.D. Bryant and Rodney Sawatsky, University of Waterloo religion professors, accept that "there may be features of a given group that bear careful scrutiny." However, they contend that the indiscriminate allegations of many critics often are distortions born of prejudice. Hence, representatives of a company that markets meditative relaxation techniques to a broad range of people, none of whom are enlisted as continuing members, tend to bridle at being examined in the context of tightly-organized, closely-disciplined cults. An official of an ascetic Eastern religious movement, in which devotees follow ancient Hindu scriptures, expresses dismay at his group being classed with what he considers "pseudo-religions" based on some untried, latter-day revelation. And the founder of a commercial mind-expansion company laughs mirthlessly at his low-pressured operation being grouped with mind development movements, which employ emotionally-taxing confrontation techniques and promote dependence on their charismatic leaders. Groups and their defenders say it defies logic to contend that a broad range of questionable motives, principles, and practices could be attributed with any degree of uniformity to so heterogeneous a set of organizations.