[This is an English translation from the German located at:
AGPF: Information on sects, cults and the psycho-market]
the original of which was last updated: 1/28/99
In Memory of Louis J. West
His presentation held in Bonn 1981
Key word in presentation: strange allies of the cults
Book excerpt. Scanned by Ingo Heinemann 12 January 1999.Karbe u. Müller-Küppers: Destruktive Kulte Gesellschaftliche und gesundheitliche Folgen totalitärer pseudoreligiöser Bewegungen Verlag für Med. Psychologie Göttingen 1983 ISBN 3-525-45227-6 [Karbe & Mueller-Kueppers: Destructive Cults Social and Health Consequences of Totalitarian Pseudo-religious Movements Publishing House for Med. Psychology Goettingen 1983 ISBN 3-525-45227-6]
When the "Campaign for Intellectual and Psychological Freedom - Work Community of the Parents' Initiatives, reg." ["Aktion für geistige und psychische Freiheit - Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Elterninitiativen e.V."] sent out invitations from Bonn in Fall of 1981 for an international conference on "The Social and Medical Consequences of new totalitarian religious and pseudo-religious movements", it based its project on the following:
"Since the 1960's, a new type of religious family has gained influence in all industrial nations. Its organization and effects match criteria such as that developed by American psychologist, Robert Lifton, for totalitarian political groups. In fact the influence by the so-called "new youth religions" or "destructive cults" upon their members is far-reaching and has resulted in impressive alterations of the personality structure of the individual. Nor should the resulting risks coincidental to freedom and democracy be overlooked.
The new cults exploit the growing tendency among young people in the industrial societies to avoid problems and tensions in society. Violence, alcoholism and drug addiction may be one aspect of this avoidance, but peer pressure and the need to belong to a group are threatening culture and society in any case.
The conference will concern itself with experiences of the young people in totalitarian religious groups in Germany and in other nations. The following problems in particular will be discussed:
1. To what extent do the groups, through conduct which includes certain psychological techniques, contribute toward people turning away from society and subjugating themselves to pressure from a group?
2. What effects does the membership in a cult, including those of a meditative character, have upon the psyche of the club members? Does the membership result in psychic pathology?
3. What are the alternatives for leaving or getting oneself out of the cult?
4. Why do young people join cults? To what degree is the disposition of the individual a factor? How much of a motivation are social circumstances?
5. What measures must society take to re-integrate former cult members?
6. What are the risks to society as a whole if totalitarian religious groups continue to gain influence?"
As far as the issues went, the conference of 20-22 November 1981 in Bonn was not fundamentally different from a meeting of professionals which took place in February 1978 in the Medical Upper School of Hannover on "Problems in connection with the so-called 'Youth Religions'. The organizers there were the Federal Conference on Educational Counseling and the German Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (note 1). The phenomenon of "youth religions" or "youth sects" was known at the time to only a relatively small number of people, namely those who had been directly or indirectly affected by such groups or those who had been professionally involved with the groups' effects - such as several doctors, psychologists and academicians.
Since then the new (pseudo-) religious movement has been widely recognized as a social problem. One has also come to see that the expressions "youth religion" and "youth sects" - as much as they may have been justifiable ten years ago - no longer fully describe the facts of the situation. The old structure of the groups have been changed from top to bottom. The Work Community of the Parents' Initiatives calls these groups, rejecting the term usually used in the USA - "destructive cults" - the "new totalitarian religious and pseudo-religious movements." The destructiveness of totalitarian movements of salvation do not need to be emphasized since their experiences in the Third Reich. This experience, however, has not made the Germans immune from seduction by movements of salvation whether or not the movements are trimmed with religion.
The spread of East Asian "spirituality" into the West during the past couple of decades has also had far-reaching effects upon individuals as well as society which could possibly have taken on the character f a culture shock.
The Work Community of Parents' Initiatives is, as the name says, a union of initiatives of concerned parents and former cult members. Its membership also includes individual persons who promote the goals of the Work Community, namely those who oppose religious and ideological abuse through which primarily young people suffer intellectual and spiritual harm. The Work Community was founded in 1977 in Bonn, has been a registered association since 1978, and is acknowledged for tax purposes as a charitable group. It is subsidized by the federal government. The conference held in November 1981 also received financial support from the federal government. Furthermore, the conference was supported by the Federal Chamber of Doctors, the Federal Association of Medical Education and the German Society for Children's and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The preparations for the conference were not made without some difficulty. The "Unification Church" and the "Scientology Church" in particular used every method to prejudice the event in the public's eye and even to stop the meeting altogether. These groups are not known to shy away from any means to fight their critics' right to intellectually discuss them while they, on the other hand, use the concept of religious freedom to justify the liberties which they take for themselves. The attempts made to disrupt the actual meeting were possibly able to be contained only because the convention hotel in Bonn had police reinforcements on hand due to various governmental meeting during the time in question.
150 invited guests from Germany, the USA, France, Spain, Great Britain, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland participated in the event. Of special significance was the presence of Dr. Veronica Carstens, who showed, as a doctor and as the wife of Germany's President, her concern for the future of young people who had been affected.
The conference was opened by MP Friedrich Vogel, the Chairman of the Work Community of Parents' Initiatives. Further introductions followed by those including the representative of the Federal Ministry of Youth, Family and Health (BMJFG) and the social politician, Dr. Norbert Bluem. Both mentioned the importance of the family as a countermeasure to the rising risks which growing people are faced with today. They emphasized different points, however, which also turned the conference into a podium for concepts of family politics.
One can divide the main portion of the conference into 4 sections of context:
- Speakers who focused on more general instruction with regards to problems, such as the two theologians, Johannes Aagaard and Paul M. Zulehner, and the American, Louis J. West.
- Speakers who focused on medicine/psychiatry: Manfred Mueller-Kueppers, Hermann Lang, Eberhard Lungershausen, Claus Haring and John G. Clark.
- Speakers of the psychological perspective: Klaus Thomas and Marvin F. Galper.
- Speakers with an eye toward education: Herbert Mensen, Wolf v. Freytag-Loringhoven, and the American Marsha Addis/Meyer Lightman (note 2).
The conference had the goal of showing the public that (pseudo-)religious groups can make people sick, but do not necessarily have to make people sick. In this respect the statements raised by Heidelberg youth psychiatrist Mueller-Kueppers were of assistance to the event. Mueller-Kueppers had, in a survey of psychiatrists, psychotherapists and psychiatric clinics conducted with the support of the federal government, come to the conclusion that the number of young people who required inpatient or outpatient assistance was disproportionately greater than had been anticipated. Of course the survey could not take into consideration those who had been affected but had not availed themselves of professional help.
The conference also had the goal of promoting the interchange of international experiences among the speakers and conference attendees. The German doctors were meticulous in their evaluation of the social and environmental conditions in respect to illness. The Americans, more strongly oriented towards behavioral sciences, emphasized that human behavior, under certain stated conditions could be modified, or even fundamentally altered.
It is not conceivable that the Work Community of Parent's Initiatives would have been able to to call upon such a large number of active German psychiatrists had the meeting in Hannover not taken place in 1978. Hopefully, the 1981 conference will give new momentum to the research of the new totalitarian religious and pseudo-religious movements. Since it dealt with an international appearance, the scientists of many nations are called upon to show their cooperation.
Klaus G. Karbe
Note 1: Documentation on this meeting ("Neue Jugendreligionen") appeared in 1979 - in 2 Auflagen im Verlag für Medizinische Psychologie (Verlag Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht) in Göttingen, Herausgeber: Manfred Müller-Küppers und Friedrich Specht.
Note 2: This speaker, who had arrived too late, could not gather more about Mrs. Addis' presentation at the conference due to a lack of time. It contained exemplary models of how laymen and professionals, without a major financial outlay, could work together to help solve the problems of young people who had been harmed by these groups.
Introductory Welcomes by:
Friedrich Vogel, MP (Minister of State in the Federal Chancellory) 11
Christian Steiniger (MR, National Ministry for Youth, Family and Health 14
Norbert Bluem (Federal Minister for Work and Social order) 19
Paul M. Zulehner
Fraternal Groups or Destructive Cults? 22
Guruism as Hinduistic Counter-mission 34
Louis J. West
Cults: A Public Health Approach 47
Manfred Müller- Küppers
On the findings on youth sects by established mental doctors and psychiatric clinics (results of a survey) 65
Psychiatric problems in connection with the so-called youth sects 72
Can youth sects make you ill? 79
Psychological disturbances in members of totalitarian religious congregations 87
John G. Clark
Destructive dealings with cults 95
Marvin F. Galper
Extremist religious cults and altered consciousness 108
Personality changes of young people in destructive cults. From inflated ideas to hypnotic mind control 116
Critical materials and essays on the theme:
Totalitarian claims to health
(TM presented as an example) 126
Wolf Frhr. von Freytag-Loringhoven
Earliest Prophylaxis as a principle of modern health education .. 140
Marsha Addis and Meyer Lightman
The Cult Clinic of the Jewish Family Service
Los Angeles. Assistance for Families in Need.
Louis J. West *
* Professor und Chairman of the Department for Psychiatry and Behavioral Research, Director of the Neuro-psychiatric Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles.
Cults: A Public Health Approach
As regards the organizations which are described as cults, especially those for which the word "religious" is used, there are two very different concepts in public use. The first could be described as "utopian." This word gives the impression that cults have to do with the genesis of a spiritually healthy group, the blossoming of a new religion, so to speak. In doing so it projects the image of communities of Pilgrims in search of truth, inner fulfillment and the meaning of life - a group of kindred spirits under the beneficent leadership of a divinely inspired prophet, guru, master or family father - the only thing they are engaged in now is living in happiness forever. Only occasionally is their bliss muddied by recollections of the poor world dedicated to downfall which they have left behind or by the unauthorized intermingling of unenlightened, misled family members with their monstrous agents called deprogrammers. Fortunately the wealth and the strength of the cult is usually enough to nullify the effects of these outside conspiracies, since the community of kindred spirits is often able to turn whole batteries of expensive lawyers against their attacks along with, of course, the law of the land which, in general, protects the interests of the cults. The other concept, which is diametrically opposed to this one, could only be described as "hellish." It conjures up the ghost of Dante and his fourteenth century vision of hell. We see a place where men, women and children are chained to a Satanic master. In happier times they trusted him and believed his promises, but have now gradually sunk, barely noticing, deeper and deeper into his realm of power, and have handed over their possessions, their children, their bodies, yes, even their own souls in fulfillment of his dark, secret goals. With Dante we follow them to a remote place, where sobs, wails and groans echo through the starless ether so that we have to be temporarily moved to tears. We hear, as it says in Dante's speech, "words of pain, voices of anger, loud and hoarse (and with it the sound of hand-slaps) a tumult which spins through the air for eternity, as sand in a whirlwind." Above the wails of the damned we will perhaps hear the cry of a child, "I will die for you, father." These were the actual words of a child spoken into a tape recorder at Jonestown right before he took poison: an echo of the Inferno of the twentieth century.
I have followed the cult phenomenon in America since 1950 when "Dianetics" appeared, originally as a psychotherapeutic cult, then later as the church of "Scientology." My current studies, however, are the result of research in various areas. One study is concerned with hypnosis and separation of consciousness, the second with so-called "brainwashing" and the methods applied in the Korean War by the communists on soldiers captured from the fight forces of the United Nations. Many of the prisoners, under the influence of the methods applied in the camps, behaved dishonestly or even spoke in a manner which would be seen as treason: there is much which the term "brainwashing," as used for a form of influence under pressure, does not cover at all, and it was a part of my mission at the time to research and precisely analyze what had seeped through in these prison camp interrogations, and what had led to false "confessions" about bacterial warfare and to other noteworthy behavioral patterns.
My third assignment was the research into hallucinations and the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. The investigations into hallucinations led to business with the hippies, who took such drugs in large doses for relaxation, especially in California in the late 1960's (note 1). Out of the hippie movement arose numerous communes. Several of those developed into cults. In another presentation about the "counter-culture" which I wrote in 1968, I had prophesied that we would experience a strong increase of activity by religious cults in the 1970's because enjoyment of drugs had become too harmful, therefore new forms of religious organization would arise to snare the addiction of the disillusioned. Since 1966 I have followed up on several cases, first in the Haight-Ashbury district, then in rural communes and finally in the followings of Sun Myung Moon, L. Ron Hubbard, Maharajas Ji and Rajneesh.
My picture of the cults has to do with the concepts of neither utopia nor hell. I would hope that it is objective and scientific. But in order to stay objective, I have to offer all the experience which I have accumulated in my more than 33 years of medical and psychiatric practice. I would like to make it clear up front that there are many old and new religions which I would not describe as cults. Cults are best identified on the basis of their authoritarian structure, not on the basis of the friendly picture which they offer to outsiders; they can be recognized by their value systems, which they base extensively on power, money and the unrestricted authority of the leader instead of on human needs, genuine welfare and the spiritual enrichment of the adherents; they can be recognized by their secretiveness, their jealously guarded borders and their stringent regulations in regard to distribution of information - which usually stand in sharp contrast to the projection of openness, righteousness and honesty.
Without doubt most cults have nothing to do with either utopia or hell. Perhaps most are even relatively harmless. But all of them have the potential to take on deadly forms such as the People's Temple; many who appear harmless at the moment are already inflicting serious damage upon their members and their families, damages about which the general public knows nothing.
In order to formulate it quite objectively, looking at it from the perspective of public health, at the moment we are dealing with an epidemic of infirmity caused by cults. The number of cults in the USA is estimated at about 2,500, most of them are religious, and they are, of course, not all the same.
Several are very small, perhaps they have only 15, 30, 50 members. In a different place (note 2) I have differentiated these cults from communes, many of which are still around. In my personal opinion, cults and communes essentially differ in three respects:
- Cults almost always have a strong, charismatic leader who maintains a position of power; communes, in contrast, do not.
- It can be seen in cults that they have a manifesto - a book, a teaching or a code - with which each determines the conduct of its members through various rules and proscriptions according to the leader's interpretation; in communes one is more likely to find mystical dissertations, treatises on astrology and the like.
- Cults are sharply restricted through proscription which clearly defines who belongs, who does not, and who may enter or leave; communes, in contrast, are generally open for anyone who wants to come or go (often from one stage to the next).
Many cults present a considerable threat to the personal freedom and well-being of their members. These threats, in spite of all the proof for the processes being practiced in the name of religion, are downplayed considerably, whitewashed and concealed. The potential which this threat offers our society, at least in the United States, is a part of the provisions for the spread of this epidemic.
One has gotten much information through scandals in connection with cults - from former members, families, relatives and friends of the cult's victims, further from direct research. It is very difficult, though, to obtain solid facts through direct investigation because cults systematically deceive the public. They hold back material which could be informative, persecute critics, intimidate their members and fully dominate them; all this to prevent a free flow of information.
Sometimes I am puzzled when I hear how a sociologist from a cult reports that from where he visited and from what he saw, the members were very happy and content. It is difficult to believe that such naivete is possible in a person trained in science or that the visitor was not able to recognize what was hidden behind that which he was led to see. Former cult members were brave enough to say, "You've got to understand, I was there. I took part in this deception! The whole thing is only a show we put on to deceive outsiders!" The gullible sociologist politely replies, "You are not a good reporter because you have prejudices as a former member. Even if you have lived in the cult community for six or seven years, the mere fact that you left proves that you are prejudiced. For this reason your testimony is worthless."
It is difficult to work in a scientific manner in an area where direct access and direct observation is prohibited. It is enough, as one now knows, to convince each intelligent person that the cult phenomenon is an important social problem. There are many people who, as a result of their membership in cults, have died or lie dying, who are sick, distraught or restricted in their development; they are being exploited and abused; their health is suffering; one demands they commit injustice, from lying ("heavenly deception") to murder. Their lives and their families are being destroyed. In the last decade the situation has progressively worsened. We do not know exactly how many people have been affected. I have seen estimates that from 2 to 3 million Americans belong to cults. But even if one assumes that it is only a half million! If one assumes that only a half million people in the United States have a mysterious infection which causes considerable suffering, by which even a few are dying, and which is infecting a steadily increasing number of people, wouldn't we be talking about an epidemic here? I say yes!
Despite such evidence, the cults are defended by many. Such people and organizations doubtlessly carry the appearance of respectability to the outsider, though behind this, strange and ugly thing are at work. A few of these defenders appear to be romantics. They project upon the cults some of their hope for religious reform, for spiritual rebirth, rejection of materialism, yes, even the hope of escaping the dangers of the nuclear age. Others assume an ostentatiously pragmatic position from which they explain away any injustice which occurs in the cults and indicate that anything undertaken against them is a violation of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.
Several defenders appear to have been successfully deceived by the charismatic cult leaders and their representatives. Many politicians belong to this category, worthy of note are those whom the cult has helped in their election campaigns. Some state, as already stated, that they have visited a cult and were impressed by what they saw. Others say that they knew somebody who used to take drugs, but now belongs to a religious cult and is healthy and happy. Then there are still the many armchair philosophers, of whom several are scientists or social historians, who, with long-winded and painful care over the meaning of the cult, emit something like "interesting, new brew in our current society."
In another place I have discussed the sects' recruitment methods, those which have leaked out, and the methods of treating those who leave (note 3). In this place I would like to say something more about the strange allies of the cults in the United States, because these produce the conditions necessary for this phenomenon to exist and to continue to develop. First there are the psychiatrists and behavioral researchers. Most of them have very little direct knowledge about sect problems. They tend to presume that those who enter cults could have gotten into them for one of three reasons: to escape the difficulties of problems with their family, to get help in caring for their own psycho-pathological disturbances, or even to find an oasis of peace in a society plagued by stress and violence. It is easy to conceive such theories when one is not burdened with the findings of fact. Several of my colleague appear to genuinely believe that even the strangest cults could serve a good purpose, sort of like a therapeutic group or a refuge for neurotic or schizoid young people. When one characterizes those who join cults this way, one is, in reality, using something which is called "blaming the victim." If one calls upon the victim for the explanation of the crime as a first resort, then one need not examine those who have committed it. What these colleagues leave out of consideration is the power of the methods which are successfully applied by the sects to recruit normal young people, to keep them in the cult's community and to dominate them. One could almost use the term "enslave", because no more precise analogy can be found for this type of exploitation and domination in our society.
There are people who dispute the existence of such practices, even now when extensive material is available which proves the possibility that people will voluntarily choose a life of servitude or slavery: not always through hypnosis (although such methods have been applied); not necessarily through physical force (although these methods have also been applied); not absolutely through love-bombing or through monotonous, repetitive assignments or any of the other known sect methods (although these are used by all); but through all possible methods they have in common of manipulating their information so that they are able to control the behavior of their members. But my naive colleagues continue to deal of these facts by a shrug of their shoulders, no matter if it was persuasion by force or by group dynamics, or quite commonly the power of opportunistic methods of influence over mood, thought, awareness and conduct. They simply do not take the facts seriously - until one of their own children has been caught in the net of a cult. Then, as I have observed, their perspectives change right away.
The other strange allies are the news media. Abuses in the sects are only occasionally investigated. The newspapers will raise a fuss only for terrible scandals. The death of 913 people in Guyana, something like that is really newsworthy! Also if someone finds a rattlesnake in his mailbox: that is a sensation! Otherwise nothing appears in the news. A short time ago adherents of a cult tortured and murdered a 17 year old member because they believed the girl was an informant; hardly anyone heard anything about that; the media took practically no notice of it.
On television and radio, very little is reported on religion unless it is about celebrities, like the Pope. That which can be read in the newspapers' religious pages is basically comparable to the stories from the social pages; there is no news, in general it is only what religious groups ask the newspaper to print. Taken as a whole, the media is a business undertaking. It does not wish to annoy organizations on whose advertisement it depends or who provide a large number of subscribers. Television directors and news editors can be intimidated by threat of lawsuit. It has happened that books which expose sects are never published or are withdrawn by a distributer who got scared after sales had already begun. There are examples of TV or radio programs made on sects which were never released because sect members have complained when they heard about the upcoming negative publicity.
The third group of strange allies comes out of the government and the justice department. Without going into detail, let me just say that the legislatures and courts in the United States continue to worry little about the cults, and I have not noticed that the situation in Europe is much better. If the lawmakers or persons who are responsible for the execution of the laws had tried to do something, they would have to fear for their careers or even their own personal safety. A state attorney in California recently tried to initiate investigations on the Scientology Church. The Church promptly put an Operation "Snapper" in motion, a campaign of libel with numerous false claims against him; they even had a woman falsely accuse him of being the father of her unborn child. A member of the American congress who was extensively involved with cults in order to investigate a special case in the situation paid with the ultimate sacrifice, his death. That was Leo Ryan from California, who was shot in Guyana by members of the People's Temple sect.
A fourth category of allies of the American cults are the groups who promote liberties for citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union is one such long-standing, idealistic organization which has made it its mission to always protect the rights of the individual against the power of the groups, especially where such a power is represented by the government. But some things have occurred here which are peculiar. We are learning that the ACLU is taking the side of the cults, seemingly because one has a completely false picture of them. This poses the poor struggling new religions which are only seeking God as the sacrificial lambs of a rich, well-organized consortium of powerful, traditional religions, reactionary parents organizations and wily government agencies. That stands in sharp contrast to the reality which I have been observing for years. It is not the broken families who have made intimidation into an art, but the cults who have the power, the money, the attorneys, the organization and the files to do so.
The rich, powerful churches and the justice agencies have, in general, contributed to the protection of the cults instead of taking them on. Actually the victims are not the cult leaders, but the exploited adherents, the former members who have suffered harm, the families who have lost a child. These people are scattered, few in number and outside representation, fighting to free those whom they love but are caught up in an unearthly servitude. Naturally it may not be as bad as it seems; it may just be a misled idealism on the part of the representative of civil liberties. I recently learned, for instance, that a prominent member of the board of the ACLU, an attorney who has led the fight for the protection of the cults, privately represented (for considerable honoraria) the Hare Krishna group and perhaps also other cults. In other contexts this would be described as a conflict of interest.
The fifth and strangest ally of the cults is the community of established religions. In American they have repeatedly cooperated with the cults, even when laws were introduced and discussed which would subject the sects to public inspection or control, especially as concerns their property and financial resources. It is painful to me to have to say that many religious leaders can be very similar to doctors who criticize the non-professionals or quacks, but will not publicly take a stance against them. However, the organized religions have gone even further in their attitude towards the cults; they have actively cooperated with them or supported them in a series of difficult cases. I'll name one example: within a few months after the massacre at Jonestown, a new law on public investigations of religions was passed in California (where most of the victims of the "People's Temple had lived). That law was passed with great support from not only the powerful sects, but also most of the larger organizations in the state. The new law made it more difficult to carry out any sort of investigation into what was happening inside of an organization which described itself as a religion. If this law would have been in effect earlier, Jim Jones would not have needed to flee the United States to Guyana: we would have had the massacre of Jonestown in California instead of South America.
When I tried to find the trail of this remarkable cooperation between the sects and the respectable, traditional religious communities, a highly disturbing thought weighed upon me in increasing measure, namely, that money could have played a mysterious role in the game. Could it be that the churches were so afraid of having their tax-exemption put at risk, or having demands made into the ways and means by which their collections were being applied to the faithful, that they would rather cooperate with con men and thieves?
It can be that things have gotten better in this area. For instance, the clergy who recently participated in an assembly of Rom. Cath. bishops in the United States suggested that the financial affairs of all Roman Catholic churches in the United States be open for inspection. If that demand were also to be applied to sects, the situation would be completely turned around. All kinds of activities could potentially come to light, from outright corruption to felonies, and that would reveal a picture of their true character as groups who are favored by an influential elite which is a far cry from the innocent religions which they pretend to be.
Let me now return to the presence of sects as an epidemic, and propose a new possibility of protecting the public, a protection which I understand the most about: a medical or public health model. In public health we talk about three types of prevention: a primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Primary prevention eradicates the cause of an illness or an unhealthy behavior. Secondary prevention intervenes; it slows down the worsening of the undesired condition. The third step seeks to remove the ill effects and to guard the victim from further damage.
The apparently most essential, single factor which increases our epidemic is protectionism under the auspices of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom from government intervention. I have applied definitions which substantiates the difference between cults and genuinely religious sects. However, in place of a discussion about the meaning of words, I would rather ask the question - using the medical model -, how one can differentiate the harmful kind of cells in a human body from the healthy for the purpose of treatment. A good method for curing cancer would consist of finding a medicine which kills the harmful cells, but leaves the healthy cells alone. What would be the effect of a plan or a method of procedure which - applied by society upon organizations which call themselves religious - would have no unfavorable effect upon genuine religions but would be fatal for the false religions, namely the cults? How could such a "social medication" be prescribed?
In considering this problem, it appears to me that "responsibility" is on the other side of the coin of freedom. Freedom without responsibility quickly turns into chaos and anarchy, and the greatest threat to freedom, mob rule, ends in a new tyranny. Presuming that we define responsibility as the point in which all cells in a molecule conform to "social alignment": harmful cells (pretend religions) would not withstand this; healthy cells (credible religions and charitable organizations) would not be harmed. They would even thrive, because they would be a part of a healthier overall or political body.
But before we take special public health measures (of prevention), we have to emphasize society's responsibility in supporting the research of problems. We have to have better possibilities in the constant observation and control of this epidemic and the effects of the measures which we are using upon it. Society should invest in this research. I have conducted research into this area and have helped others to do the same, however, never with any type of public support or with government finances. Some support came from private contributors or from family initiatives. Several researchers have paid for their work out of their own pockets. Actually, society has not generally been taken up with this idea that this kind of research has to be carried out, although research centers sprout up everywhere like mushrooms when we have an epidemic of contagious disease which contains only a fraction of the mortal danger of this epidemic.
The various stages of prevention
1. Primary Prevention
For each of the three phases of prevention there are four methods: I will begin with the primary phase, because it is the most important. In the sect plague, the primary phase means the strengthening of society against sects.
In first aid, the most important thing is the recognition of the nature and extent of the problem. This can only be achieved by awakening the awareness of the public. In Germany, you are doing that at this conference. In the USA, however, we have not even started to do what you have, and even here you still are not doing enough.
B. Religious programs which appeal to young people
Many of the acknowledged religious congregations have become satisfied and smug, and mainly involve themselves with the material situation of the church instead of actively appealing to the idealism of young people. I am no defender of religious instruction in the schools. It should be the responsibility of the churches themselves to impart the values of religion to youth and to give them a real community of religion. These sort of learning experiences will doubtlessly make youth less susceptible to dishonest, only superficially appealing alternatives - cults - which pretend to be religions.
C. The Re-introduction of traditional Family Values
It is true that there are families in need. One cannot just say the solution to the whole sect problem simply consists of fixing families. In the scope of preventive measures there is much, though, in which one can help families. Governments, for example, could scrutinize themes such as tax breaks which would favor forming families rather than dissolution of families. In the USA (perhaps also in Germany) there are many social factors which appear to oppose a family's staying together. And sects are not the sole consequence of such disintegration. The increase in violence, drug abuse, crime and otherwise criminal acts can be traced back to the weaknesses in families. We must strengthen and restore the values of a strong family in all circumstances.
Surveying the Risk Factors
How do we survey the risk factors as part of the prevention in the area of of health? We inspect them! How do we know whether it is harmless to eat in a restaurant or not, so that we will not be poisoned? A specially trained inspector takes a close look at the food! We do that because society demands it. In fact, the inspections of many organizations or individuals who presumably care for the physical and mental health of the citizen is anchored in law. That is preventative medicine in the area of public health care. Even private hospitals must be inspected regularly. I know of no responsibility-conscious religious association which would have the slightest objection to comparable inspections. The cults, however, are less able to withstand such controls and would resist them.
To sum it up: prevention in this model consists of recognition, religious appeal, reinstatement of family values and an overview of the risk factors.
II. Secondary Prevention
The preventive measures addressed in the following are concerned with requirements which, in my opinion, could directly dispose of cults from society without further ado. These necessary measures, in the long term, would act like an antibiotic: that is to say have a specific effect upon the danger or illness, but preserve the health which we intend to protect.
This means that each organization which claims to offer services of any sort, even in the spiritual area, would be legally obligated to disclose everything in advance which is included in participation or membership. In medicine we call that "consent based on complete information." Such a process could very well be advanced for the promotion of each organization (as, for example, religious groups) who expect special advantages in public life in regard to taxes or something else. There should be some record kept that the disclosure has taken place before membership is offered or has taken place. We know how difficult it is to become a Jesuit. I assure you that it is just as difficult to become a Jew or a member of the Episcopal Church. Nevertheless, it is not difficult at all to become a Moonie. That usually happens before the candidate even knows how it came about. Most true religious communities which promise people spiritual fulfillment reassure themselves that these people know in advance what will be expected of them and what responsibility they will have. It is not that way with the cults!
It is interesting that many cults advertise their benefits as advancing health. I am merely insisting that the cult recruiters, just like the doctors, have to state all health risks which a procedure - or membership - can bring along with it if they promise it will make the the person healthier. With such basic regulation, the happy, smiling, clean-cut young person (often of the opposite sex) who approaches you on the street with the question, "Would you like to come with me and meet friends with the same interests that you and I have?" would also have to hand you a piece of paper that said, "This is an invitation to visit and to join the Unification Church. If you enter, the following will be required of you ..." Among other things, the list would have to include, "celibacy for up to three years after the marriage contract with a partner (perhaps a complete stranger) who is to be picked by Sun Myung Moon."
B. Financial dealings
This means having accountability for monies taken in. The churches apply their monetary donations for charitable purposes - for improving the way of life and the well-being of their members, the community, for genuine works of charity, etc. There is no reason to fear a report of account for these missions. I know of many responsibility- conscious officeholders in the ministry who have been saying for years that the churches should pay taxes on any aspect of their work which is not highly charitable. If a church occupies a building and enjoys fire protection and police protection and other types of services paid for with taxes, why shouldn't this church pay its portion of these costs with the help of its income? Disbursements for charitable purposes should certainly remain tax-free. However, if it is the goal of the church to buy its leader a yacht, jewels or a fleet of Rolls Royces then society has the right to know this and there should be accountability for it.
C. Removal from the endangered milieu
Here is the matter of the important, yet delicate question of the removal of a member form the sect community for the length of an objective examination. If one were to look at this proposal as if it were a measure by the health agency, then it would not mean a risk for genuine religions. In simple words: if a trustworthy person or group (e.g. a relative or an family) have a reason to be concerned about the health or welfare of a sect member (or a member of a church), then the member could be retrieved from the organization for a short period of time for a check of the current situation by an objective party, such as a court, for instance. This concept would not unconditionally have to take the form of a guardianship, which would demand proof that the sect member is not accountable for his own actions. It would only be necessary to submit an intelligent reason for the concern about his physical or psychic health. What danger would that present for a Lutheran Church?
Suppose that a young person was at a religious retreat with the Episcopal or Catholic Church and his parents were to think, "We are worried about him, we would like to have him back." Do you think that the church would refuse to give the parents information about where their child is, or refuse to send the child home? Society must recognize that there are now organizations and circumstances in which the individual person is endangered by groups. Therefore society must take responsibility for the protection of the persons at risk in that they are guaranteed the security from the questionable situation - and real freedom of decision.
This is perhaps the most all-around, effective process. It borrows from consumer protection methods and goes like this: if, after leaving an organization to which I had belonged, I noticed that I have been harmed as a consequence of membership, then I should have the right to sue the organization for damages suffered. In order to get a refund, I would have to present proof. The introduction of proof requires investigations, witnesses and court proceedings. Suppose that someone had decided to sue the Roman Catholic Church because he suffers from weak knees. Damages could not be collected because he had the option of using cushions, and because the church would not have expelled or punished him if he would not have kneeled. Let us suppose, however, that someone sued the Unification Church for exercising "undue influence" upon his life which caused the loss of income, property, position or health, if he also stipulates that this influence involved deception and he did not have all the information he would have needed in advance to gain his consent, then such a legal situation could very well lead to restitution based on civil rights. It would be on that exact day in which the first court proceedings of this sort resulted in restitution from a cult that the epidemic of destructive cults in the western world would begin to recede. Within one decade they would have practically disappeared.
III. Tertiary Prevention
Tertiary is really the recuperative care which takes place after the damage has already been done.
Participation in getting people out of cults is a way for former victims to recover. Nevertheless, saving people from the force of cults is associated with risks. This brings me to the issue of "deprogramming." I do not condone kidnapping. I ask myself - and you - what has gone wrong in a society in which parents have to kidnap their own children because of a desperate desire to save them? Many families - normal, healthy families - are driven to a point in their desperation to use force to get their own children out of the cults and to force them into an intensive discussion about the cult and the hard facts about its leadership. About 90% of those who were are gotten out in this way do not return to the cults, although they usually can do that after a couple of days or weeks. About 10% go back. If they do that, they are often moved by the cults to intimidate their families or even bring them to court. A series of parents in the USA have been accused of kidnapping as a result of such rescue attempts. Nevertheless, they are almost never found guilty. When it comes to the issue of criminal intent, the jurors have dismissed the charges of kidnapping. Despite this, there is still the cost of the court proceedings, the upset of the rescue operation and the terrible disruption which the family has had to go through. Without a doubt we should do more and handle it earlier to make these kind of rescue operations and forceful deprogrammings unnecessary.
B. Rehabilitation Counseling
In the United States rehabilitation counseling (sometimes also called 'voluntary deprogramming') is a very effective legal means of dealing with people who have left cults. Most of these people were not gotten out of the cult with force, but somehow disengaged themselves or were thrown out by the group, especially if they had become ill. The whole issue of rehabilitation should be a matter of conscience for society. What kind of position are all the cult members in whose families are not at their side, ready to help? What about those whose families are not well off enough to pay the costs of counseling? Here we encounter neglect of the social awareness of responsibility. The problem is there, people who need help are also there. Rehabilitation should be seen as the first step of tertiary prevention.
C. Renewing Relationships
This means cooperation with the people who are important in the life of the person who is returning to society. One of the few places which such help is really carried out in the USA is the Cult Clinic in Los Angeles. I have no official connection with it, although I have visited there and seen good results. It is helpful in keeping chances open for communication to family members in sects, and directs the emotional aspects of the problem onto the right track. That is how the renewal of relations is possible if the person affected ends up returning to his family. A presentation by M. Addis and M. Lightman, pioneers of this clinic, appear in a different place in this book.
This is a long and time-consuming process. It is needed because of the psychic suffering of the people who come out of cults. I have presented the problem in other places (Note 4). In my approximate estimate (which I have not formed on the basis of observation of sect members, but on the return of prisoners from war and from other similar forms of imprisonment), about one third are obviously psychically ill. It takes about three months until they are receptive to treatment which resembles normal psychotherapy. Prior to that the methods of group therapy such as used by Singer (Note 5) appear to be the most effective
A few of these people need a year or more to become completely reintegrated again, such as Goldberg and Goldberg describe (note 6). Society must be ready to make rehabilitation programs available for people who seek a return to normal and meaningful life. If that turns out, then the taxes which will later be paid by these reintegrated individuals will offset the costs. In a different case they could mentally atrophy, become public welfare cases, if not worse. A respectable and informed society cannot afford to be lacking in such care.
I am a doctor before anything else. I regard the cult problem as an illness. When people become miserable and die, one calls that illness. Many people in the cults are sick, some die. There needs to be a public health strategy. I hope with all my heart that such a strategy - perhaps similar to the one outlined here - will soon be set into practice. Immeasurable suffering could be avoided by doing so.
Note 1 Allen, JR., & West, L. J. Flight from violence: Hippies and the green rebellion. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1968, 125(3), 364-370.
Note 2 West, L J., & Singer, M. T. Cults, quacks, and nonprofessional psychotherapies. In R. 1. Kaplan, AM. Freedman & B. C. Sadock (Eds.), Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry III. Maryland: The Williams & Wilkins Company, 1980.
Note 3 West, L.J. & Singer, M.T. Op. cit.
Note 4 West, L.J., & Singer, M.T. Op. cit.
Note 5 Singer, M.T. Coming out of the cults. Psychology' Today, 1979, January, pp. 72-82.
Note 6 Goldberg, L., & Goldberg, W., Group work with former cultists. Journal of the National Association of Social Workers, 1982, 27(2), 165-170.
Translator's Note: The above is translated to English from German, and was probably translated from English to German before that. That means this is not a word-for-word literal work by Louis J. West, but a translated interpretation thereof.
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