|As Robbins and Anthony conceded, the
conversion techniques of cults, sects, new religions, and mind development
groups are not entirely devoid of elements that can at least loosely be
associated with brainwashing. However, they and many others contend that
this is not a new phenomenon among mainline or fringe religions and it is
far from exclusive to radical groups. Robbins and Anthony noted that
historian E.R. Dodds wrote that Christianity in the twilight of he Roman
Empire "lifted the burden of freedom from the shoulders of the
individual: one choice, one irrevocable choice, and the road to salvation
was clear... in an age of anxiety any 'totalistic' creed exerts a powerful
attraction..." Others note that the evangelists of the 19th
century religious renaissance in the U.S. adhered to soul-saving
instructions that read like something out of a present-day indictment of
cults. Charles Grandison Finney, one of the most successful evangelists of
the 1800s, advised his apprentices to work on the potential convert's
sense of guilt. He urged:
Even the responses of today's critics to the operations of radical movements have their antecedents in the reactions of many a 19th century critic of evangelism. Witness this assault by John William Nevins, a Presbyterian minister of the time:
And many of the anti-cultists' opponents argue that there are as many elements of mind control in the practices of accepted religions as in those of the new groups. They point to the more conservative or fundamentalist of the mainline churches. And they are particularly fond of noting that U.S. President Jimmy Carter is a "born-again" member of such a faith.
Religious historian J. Stillson Judah of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, California, argues that the society in which one grows up exercises a substantial degree of mind control. "The fact that most of the people of Burma or Thailand are Buddhists, those in Egypt are Moslems, and most in Spain are Roman Catholic," he says, "cannot be ascribed to their absolutely free choice of a religion." And, in the same vein, a paper submitted to the Attorney General of Ontario, in 1979 by the Council of Scientology Parishioners said:
And, carrying the argument still further, its proponents ask: is there a significant difference between the influences exercised on a youth at a movement weekend retreat and those imposed during a weekend at a denominational summer camp? How does chanting a mantra or meditating differ from saying a rosary, or participating in responsive prayer? What is the distinction between the fear for the soul engendered by preaching in a new religious group and that stirred up by fire-and-brimstone sermon in a traditional church? Why is the ascetic life-style and insulation garb of a devotee in an ashram less acceptable than that of a cloistered nun?
Religion is not the only sphere in which society is said to indulge hypocritically in practices for which it condemns movements. Even Lifton, among other authorities invoked by the anti-cultists, acknowledged that some degree of thought control is an element in all organizations. And many spokesmen for the movements, as well as others, contend that thought control is exercised every day by educators, psychologists, psychiatrists, politicians, media, and advertisers to bend people to the will of society's power brokers.
As for the extraordinary, often self-denying commitment members develop for their movements, a phenomenon which critics attribute to brainwashing or hypnosis, Dr. Saul Levine noted in is sub-study for this project that such commitment is not unknown elsewhere:
In the same vein as Dr. Levine's latter point, Robbins and Anthony acknowledge that conversion to a rigid and dogmatic ideology may result in the reduced intellectual and creative capability, which parents and other critics claim to see in members of various groups. However, they insist that there are no grounds for inferring that brainwashing was the cause. It is so easily conceivable that voluntary conversion to such ideologies could yield these consequences.