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Practices of Older Religions

Study of Mind Development Groups, Sects and Cults in Ontario

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PREFACE
INTRODUCTION
HISTORY
DEFINITIONS
THE PHENOMENON
DEPROGRAMMING
THE DEBATE
qnote.gif (173 bytes) The Case Against the Groups
qnote.gif (173 bytes) The Case Against Critics

     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Fear Breeds Intolerance
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) The Brainwashing Myth
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Deny Hypnotism and Brainwashing
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Practices of Older Religions
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Myth of the Evil Eye
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) True Conversions
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) The Myth of Unhealthy Heresies
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) The Myth of Deception
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) The Myth of Subversion
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) The Movements as Victims
     grsqrsm.gif (85 bytes) Social Benefactors
ONTARIO
RECOMMENDATIONS
CONCLUSIONS
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:

Everything must be put to the potential converts in simple black and white... Listeners must be made to feel they are their own destroyers, that fallen, dependent and lost as they are, salvation is most freely and sincerely offered to them, and that if they perish, the blame must forever rest upon themselves... Take pains to learn the state of (the convert's) mind -- what he is thinking of, how he feels and what he feels most deeply upon -- and then press that thoroughly; and do not divert his mind by talking about anything else. Do not fear to press that point for fear of driving him to distraction... You should clear up the point, throw the light of truth all around it, and bring the soul to yield, and then the mind is at rest.

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:

... revival machinery (is) solemn tricks for effect, decision displays at the bidding of a preacher, genuflections and prostrations in the aisle or round the altar, noise and disorder, extravagance and rant, mechanical conversions, justification by feeling rather than faith, and encouragement ministered to all fanatical impressions.

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:

Indeed, if you want an effective recruitment method, then consider the practice of christening your baby into your religion... Will the government then try to prevent such -- do they intend legislation against 2.5. million Catholics in Ontario or ordering them to cease baptizing their infants? Or do they intend banning the practice of circumcision for Jewish boys, or perhaps they plan to tell the 540,000 Presbyterians that Sunday School must stop immediately.

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:

Lest we conclude that these types of groups are the only ones in society which attract potential true believers, one need only look at groups such as health food addicts, the religious joggers, the political underground adherents and faith-healing disciples. At times there is the same kind of narrowing interest, suspension of critical judgment, total unequivocal involvement, verbal preoccupation ad nauseam, and proselytizing that are commonly seen in the groups under discussion.

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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 cannot be ascribed to their absolutely free choice of a religion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for the extraordinary, often self-denying commitment members develop for their movements, a phenomenon which critics attribute to brainwashing or hypnosis, such commitment is not unknown elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, 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.

 

 

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