Germany - Evangelical Church: What is a sect ?

"Evangelische Zentralstelle fuer Weltanschauungsfragen" ("Evangelical Central Office for Weltanschauung Issues"), May, 2003

Unofficial, informal translation

"Sectification" and "Desectification"

It rapidly becomes clear that the word "sect" is ambiguous. It would be better to speak of a "special persuasion," a "special denomination," or, if necessary, of "conflict-prone groups." There is no regulating a term of common usage, though, and this word is popular and easy enough to understand, that it could hardly be supplanted. There could be a compromise in seeing the word "sect" as a stage of development, which makes it possible for groups and communities to either "sectify" or "desectify." The Seventh Day Adventists, for example, have clearly been moving "out of the sect corner" in recent years and have (more or less) become an independent church (Freikirche). Other groups, including individual brands of charismatic piety, never formed as a "sect," but run the danger of "sectifying."

The word "sect" may not be used as a "fighting word" to stigmatize freethinkers or small religious communities. Groups and communities, however, that take an absolute view, who think they have "leased" God or the Holy Spirit for themselves and who bring people into dependency with problematic promises, are unavoidably perceived by the public as "sects." In church or state contexts, however, this word should be avoided.

It is frequently asked whether one or another group is a "sect," or someone wants to know if a mentioned group is on the "sect list." The idea of a "sect list" is that there are easily understandable and applicable criteria by which "good" and "bad" denominations can be differentiated, meaning the difference between a serious church and a (problematic) "sect."

There is, however, no "black list" on which the "dangerous" sects are recorded. Based on our experiences, however, in individual cases we can say whether a group is operating in an environment of abundant conflict, or why we critically view the faith-life of certain community.

The problem lies in the word "sect" being used on two different levels: on a theological and on a common language level.

Sect as a theological term

In a theological context, sect means a splintering from a large church. From this church's view, the splinter group has abandoned the grounds of common belief or has altered the old creed, which has made it into a "sect." Often relations between the two worsen to the extent that the sect denies that the mother church has any credibility, and claims for itself to know what man's salvation or the one true path to God is. Frequently they require total subordination from their adherents.

This process of "sectification" is well demonstrated with the example of the Jehovahs Witnesses. Originally, there were just a few pious and insecure people that got together to read and interpret the Bible, without any alienation from their original denominations. Over the course of the years this group came to the belief that only they could weigh and understand the word of God, and that the large churches were corrupt. More and more the Jehovahs Witnesses began to define their rejection of all that was loved and important for the Christian churches: they rejected Christian holydays and sacraments, give a new interpretation to the Holy Scriptures and assert that all churches and world religions are something evil. In this way the 19th century Bible researchers turned into a "sect."

Today the Jehovahs Witnesses, along with the New Apostolic Church and other communities, are regarded as a "classic Christian special community," or "classic sect" for short. The members of this group have Christian roots, but have (more or less) withdrawn from ecumenical cooperation with other Christian communities and claim to be the only ones who are aware of the one correct path to salvation.

Sect as a common usage term

This common level of the term goes far beyond the theological usage. What is meant on television and in many gossip publications when the word "sect" is used?

In those cases, "sect" is used primarily to designate a deviation from a consensus of social values. A group is perceived as a "sect" if it radically or not (in a harmless case) departs the civilized world and moves out to a rural community, or, as the case may be, adopts strange ideas of salvation or follows its own interests in an unscrupulous manner. The type and content of the persuasion or belief plays no role in this.

Here's an example to illustrate: The "Zentrum fuer experimentelle Gesellschaftsgestalung" (ZEGG) in Belzig/Brandenburg is often described as a "sect" in the common use of the language. That is plausible in so far as it is asserted in ZEGG that the truly new and liberated person can come about only if all, without regard for civil values or rules, live out their sexuality. This view of humanity, however, is one-sided and conflict-prone, and the promises of such a "liberation" often lead to new complications. What does ZEGG have to do with a sect? ZEGG is not a religious community, and therefore has not split from a mother religion or church. Its explanation of people, however, is one-dimensional, laden with ideology and remote from reality, so it's still "sectarian" in a broad sense.

"Sect," as commonly used, does not designate, in the main, a splintering from a mother church, but probably indicates an ethical deviation. For example, if the "Holosophy Society" around Guru Sant Thakar Singh mistreats children with obscure concepts of meditation, they are publicly referred to as a "sect." In doing this, it remains unclear as to whether Thakar Singh is regarded as a sect in the theological sense.

Much more clear in this common use of the term is a perception of the controversial Scientology organization, which is neither a splinter group, nor even a religious community. The fact that it is, nonetheless, often designated as a "sect" is connected with the group's sense of reality. It is viewed more as a highly ideological group with alarming visions than as a sworn group that ruthlessly follows its own goals. In short, it is viewed as a "sect."

What makes a group "sectify"?

There is a network of criteria. When several are met, then one could say that the group, at the moment, is running the risk of "sectifying":

It follows from these criteria that (at least colloquially) groups are perceived of as "sects" that, strictly speaking, are not even religious communities at all. That applies, for example, to a political "sect," such as the "European Workers Party" (EAP), as well as to several psycho-cults.

The use of the word "sect" (at least the theological term) for a congregation does not, however, mean the automatic imputation of ethically questionable conduct on its members or the community. "Johannische Kirche," for instance, is theologically speaking a Christian sect, because it regards Joseph Weissenberg as the returned Messiah. Regarding its social reality, however, it is neither highly fanatic, nor does it ruin people, nor does it fulfil the other sect criteria. The "Johannische Kirche" is therefore a good example of a "harmless" sect. It is "harmless" because no social risk emanates from it. It is nevertheless deserving of criticism, from a theological view, because it regards Weissenberg as an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. This is not acceptable to Christians.

Dr. Andreas Fincke, May 2003

For more information:


Hansjoerg Hemminger: Was ist eine Sekte? Erkennen - Verstehen - Kritik, Mainz/Stuttgart, 1995

Andreas Fincke, Christliche Sondergemeinshaften: Panorama der neuen Religiositaet, hg. v. R. Hempelmann u.a.. im Auftrag der EZW, Guetersloh 2001, 499-509

Handbuch Religioese Gemeinschaften, Freikirchen, Sondergemeinschaften, Sekten, Weltanschauung, missionierende Religionen des Ostens, Neureligionen, Pscho-Organisationen, hg. von Horst Keller u.a., 5 voellig ueberarb. u. erw. Aufl. Guetersloh, 2000

Ongoing reports at

Germany - Interest not waning in East German state security archives

RIA "Novosti", January 24, 2004, Aleksandr Polotskiy, Berlin

In the unified Germany, people do not have as much interest as they had before in the (MfS) state security archives of the former GDR (East Germany).

As Christian Booss of the government office for studying the "Stasi" archives reported on Saturday, last year more than 95,000 former citizens of the former GDR submitted applications to see their files there.

The year before, a little over 94,000 people filled out paperwork for the same thing.

On the whole, for the entire time since East and West Germany (GDR and FRG) united, the federal office to study the archives of the GDR MfS has received 1,900,000 applications from citizens of the "first socialist government on German soil."

The essence of these applications has been requests "to get acquainted with the paperwork on them in their files, to copy various documents or to conduct research into the relationship of the unofficial staff of the GDR MfS who followed specific people."

Strasbourg - Mental manipulation - media myth or psychiatric reality?

From (German), which was from (French), January 21, 2004


I. Recruitment

II. Conditioning


The study of the sect phenomenon is inherently polemic. Of the elements that lead to endless discussion, the one at the top of the list is the question about the reality of "mental manipulation."

Although it is disputed by sect sympathizers, mental manipulation is the primary tool by which adherents are brought into dependency.

With "mental manipulation," sects could not exist - mental manipulation deprives its victims of any free will and any ability to analyze, and places them in a condition of complete amenability with regard to the suggestions of the manipulators.

The criminal code commission of Switzerland recently weighed this condition with regard to sectarian wrongdoing in submitting a new proposal for the criminal code meant to prohibit manipulation.

"Those who repeatedly and systematically exert physical or psychic influence on others with the intention of weakening their ability to judge, or to put them in a state of dependency, will be punished with fine or imprisonment."

In the area of forensic psychiatry, we propose our own definition:

"Mental manipulation is the sum of the measures which are meant to change the decision-making process of an individual or a social group through the application of individual or group physical or psychic techniques to bring him, her or them under partial or complete control of the producer of the manipulation."

With regard to this definition, the problem arises of the degree of manipulation in judging it to be moral or socially acceptable (publications, training, ...).

In the following we will consider the real and complete action of making a person dependent for the purpose of subjugating the one being manipulated, as can be observed in coercive sectarian groups.

Manipulation comes about in two steps:
I. Recruitment
II. Conditioning

I. Recruitment

The recruitment of an adherent comes about in three phases in which enrolment is gradually accomplished and, simultaneously, a form of intellectual and emotional dependency appears. Step by step the new adherent is enticed, persuaded and fascinated.


Enticement means delight first of all, but it also means deviating from the truth. The whole operation of the sect aims at replacing a dreary daily routine with a glittering Utopia. The recruiter-enticer stages a sectarian illusion; he acts as an illusionist to attract potential adherents; he offers simple answers to complex questions; he gets a person involved in a conversation to produce the illusion of a passionate exchange; he steadily plays on the register of emotion while purging the discussion of any logic; he puts the morbid state of reality up against the perspective of idyllic love that [allegedly] reigns in the bosom of his community. This phase of enticement has been called "accrochage" (captivation) by a former adherent of Moon.

This is the most time-intensive part of dealing person to person, even if, and this is happening ever more frequently, the ground has already been paved with previous publicity: leaflets, conferences and broadcasts ... In selling a product it is essential to make contact with potential buyers.


Persuasion occurs between two actors: the sender and the receiver. They are involved in a special relationship whose medium is the message. The sender or confirmed adherent is the persuader; the receiver or potential adherent is the target; the message is contained in the sect's statement, which is delivered by the sender.

In order for persuasion to be effective, the following three elements have to meet specific conditions. The goal of persuasion is to have the sender bring the receiver to agree with a certain opinion, which is embraced by the message. The process consists of several stages: attention, ability to accept, formulation, integration of the message, acceptance of the message, modification of thought and of behavior.

The entire process is known under the English designation of ELM (Elaboration, Likelihood, Model).

The game of the Persuader

The persuader plays a double role. He is a shrewd speaker who convinces others through an ambivalent discourse of answers and demonstrations. He is also a deceiver who speaks of a dream and of Utopia as if they were jewelry and costumes in a theater of collective illusion.

His devices are built not on intelligence and logic, but on feelings and emotions. Rather than demonstrate, he intrudes; rather than answer, he brings about disorder. He consistently infringes upon the unspoken social pact of true communication, which is a condition of honesty and truth.

His entire dialectic is meant to conceal his project of indoctrination. Therefore he must present lies and deceit as if they were truth. He steadily dramatizes a fable in the hunt for reality while he overruns the area of communication one step at a time. The goal is to achieve the consent of others. This is the first real stage of manipulation.

One of the refinements of the maneuver consists of having people believe that the permanent members depend on the potential members, and that they are open to his suggestion. This perverse method is the source of the difficulties that relatives and therapists are confronted with if they try to convince the prospective member that he is being "lured" into a sect. This feigned personal freedom upsets efforts at "disindoctrination."


Fascination is a driving element of membership, as it "dominates the market." After a phase of doubt, the candidate is finally convinced of the rightness of his decision when he is confronted with the main issue of the sectarian dynamic. Confrontation with the guru (or his witnesses) overcome his last reservations.

Thus a new stage in the process of indoctrination begins. It introduces a new magical character into the relationship between the future adherent and the sectarian group. The relationship gradually drifts away from reality to establish itself in the symbolic universe of the saints and gods. This fascination removes that last faint desire of the prospective member to extricate self from the influence of the sect and its members. It is accompanied by a desire for complete involvement.

The fascination of the adherent is fixed on the guru through symbolic projection. The guru is equipped with a supernatural power that borders on the divine. In this stage, the free will of the recruit begins to change with regard to the doctrinal pressure being exerted upon him. His final conversion hangs in the balance between the compelling force exerted by the sect and the adherent's previous connections with society.

Coercive Persuasion

The strategies of persuasion

Persuasion is based on the ability of the persuader to seize the opportunity to speak. Usually this corresponds to the mental disposition of a person to be "recruited." In the case of sects, however, this persuasion is coercive: it deals with depriving the one being persuaded of his entire free will, of pressuring him into an imposed decision.

The discussion of coercive persuasion is based on a fundamental factor: mystification. This involves a feigned dialogue whose goal is not communication, but the conversion of the listener. The strategy of mystification consists of walking step by step from reality to illusion without triggering the phenomenon of rejection. The mystification of a dialogue rests upon several elements:

One of the driving forces of coercive persuasion is the ability of the speaker to make the irrational acceptable. When what is real is also the source of fear and of the feeling of deficiency which led the adherent to the sect, that gives him the irrational certainty that it provides all solutions.

Identification and Imitation

In order to belong to the group, the adherent has to adapt his behavior to that of the others. This imitation dissolves his individuality. In replacing the insecurity, which arose from free will, with the automatic behavior obtained through example, it eliminates the feeling of insecurity and replaces it with the urgency to fulfil a mission.

Imitation stimulates the desire for competition among adherents to strive for the fulfillment of their tasks by the quickest route in the most perfect manner.


This phase is only the extension of the enticement used during recruitment.

Enticement rests upon two complementary emotional processes. On the one side there is the activation of a positive emotional phenomenon by the sympathy, which the sender triggers - a passionate privileged system, which permits the process of identification. On the other side, the growth of an emotional negative phenomenon underscores the conflict that the recruit is supposed to contrast his normal environment with. The sender's "Love bombing" (overwhelming with niceness) of the receiver is accompanied by a "hate bombing" of the send-receiver pair with respect to a third person, society, family, etc.


The phase of captivation consists exclusively of tying the subject with emotional bonds that give him security and the feeling of belonging to a group. The recruit must be convinced that from now on he can count on the support of any person who claims to be sympathetic with him. Thus the sect poses itself as a cocoon, as an ersatz family that is friendlier and more encompassing than one's natural family.


This is regarded as the high point of the sectarian assimilation.

The convert-to-be gives up his defenses to lessen that dissonance that exists between the norms of his earlier life and the new rules that he is offered.

His conversion presupposes that he has agreed to a compromise between the story of his past and of his future.

Conversion is based upon a bet with the adherent. It has to do with exchanging a painful past for a glistening future, which is equipped with a bodily and spiritual dependency on the structure [of the sect]. The acceptance of this bet signifies the final pact of engagement - "without criticism" - with the guru. The student's enthusiasm to be converted is supposed to be not only proof of his conviction, but also an instrument of strengthening the bonds, and an element of coercion.


This is regarded as a phase of the consolidation of conversion.

It is meant to deactivate the remains of any critical spirit that the subject might still experience. Indoctrination is meant to bring about the individual's gradually stronger integration within the organization chart of the sect. It is concerned with involving the new adherent in a number of obligations that narrow his own personal operating area. The adherent goes from being recruited to being a recruiter, from someone who is acquiescent to someone who is held accountable.

The real circumstance, however, has only a very complicated relationship to the presumed circumstance. The more responsibility seems to grow within the depths of the sect, the greater the spectrum of dependency increases. Dependency is multifaceted: the adherent is dependent not only hierarchically upon his superiors, but also morally upon his subordinates, as well as economically and socially upon the structure.

Techniques of Coercive Persuasion

These can be classified into four types:

Techniques of Conduct: these consist of altering the individual's relationship with his environment and is meant to control the adherent's exchange with his former reference system.

Emotional Techniques: these techniques build an empathy between the individual and the sect in that it produces a steady emotional climate aimed at suppressing all emotions and their bonds, connected to the past.

Cognitive Techniques: The intellect presents a unique barrier to sectarian ideology. The strategy of the sect consists of saturating the information channels with false data. At the same time it endeavors to disparage any critical attitude.

The Technique of Producing a Dissociative State: These produce or evoke a pathological state (hallucinatory or delirious) which can then be integrated into the sect's teaching structure (Ex. A delirium becomes a "relationship with the cosmos").

II. Conditioning

From training to brainwashing

In clinical psychology, conditioning means the "sum of the associative measures by which new behavior is brought about in a person."


The first symptom of alienation is the loss of the personal language of individuality, the language that "is nourished by the reservoir whose substratum is human fear and that presents the basics of the process of personal development or the narcissistic function of the individual." Alienation is viewed as "the product of a break in communication with self," a "break by which the unknown can no longer enrich the language."

In sects, conditioning intrudes into all fields of activity. It works in three complementary ways:

This conditioning brings about a change in the state of the subject.

Dependency upon Authority

Illustrated in the Milgram experiment, it deals with obeying a recognized or proclaimed authority without reservation.

Agent-based Change

Integration into the pyramidal structure of the sect and submission to the hierarchical system cause a change in the state of the subject.

The coercive system tends to reduce any desire for independence. This "becoming one" with the group is enabled only by a change in the individual attitude, which Milgram called the "agent-based" change.

Integration into the hierarchy is possible not only through an internal change in each individual. Individualized controls of behavior and autonomous considerations must be gradually given up in favor of the hierarchical directives issued by the one who gives the orders. The progressive structuring of the coercive group necessarily goes through a modification of the target area from autonomy to dependency.

The increase of the coercive character is accompanied by an increasing change in the individual, which transfers him from a state of total autonomy to a total agent-based state. Resistance against conditioning and against the integration into a coercive system arises from a confrontation between these two operating systems. The subject gradually loses his ability to deal freely and his free will to a dependency on the system; he no longer conceives of himself acting as an organizer who is responsible for his actions, but as an executive agent who is relieved of responsibility for decisions.

From the agent state comes the phenomenon of concordance, which pressures the individual to accept, without reservation, all that emanates from the authority, while external elements are reduced or fully ignored. Milgram also acknowledged the existence of a potential ideological form, which he called the "Definition of the Situation."

All transactions attain a unique meaning which comes directly from the framework in which they were presented, and the framework itself is implicitly defined through the norms that have been produced with the agreement of the hierarchical system. An adherent cannot conduct a transaction if it is not integrated into the dialectical and ethical corpus, because that would deviate from the acceptance of the authority of the guru and from the power of the sect. A transaction which is condemned by the public can serve, in the sect experience, as a test of faith or of enthusiasm in the battle against the external evil.

Ethical and ideological abdication represents the cognitive fundament of obedience. If the world is as the highest authority defines it, the meaning of transactions change, and all transactions that create respect for the authority become legitimate. An agent-based state results in the loss of the sense of responsibility. The subject no longer feels responsible for his actions, because he is connected with the leading authority and is dependent upon that. While one's ethics and critical sense do not disappear, they are altered with each contact with the new reference system. On the other side, the feeling of responsibility disappears completely in the light of the satisfaction that grows with each mission accomplished.

The sign of an agent-based state is the substitution of earlier ideals of self with sectarian ideals.

Thus, an agent-based state allows the hierarchy to expect acts of obedience on the part of the subject.

In order for it to have been obedience, though, there has to have been a correlation between the given order and the "niveau" of the agent-based state.

The Maintenance of the Agent-based State

Once the agent-based state is attained, then the coercive structure is reinforced to keep the subject in this condition. Consequently, the confrontations between his personal ethics and the coercion of obedience produce in him a constant conflict as broken taboos increase in number and intensity.

His critical analysis leads him rapidly to reject deeds that are too reprehensible ... if the favor was not permanent practice.

The essential point here is that personal decisions are not required of adherents. Only repeated coerced decisions present a destabilizing element for the agent-based state: it is essential for a person to include obedience in the earthly continuum. Closer to the core of the sect, sanctions are imposed against the questioning of obedience with loss of status attained. The agent-based state is thus reinforced with earlier privileges and with the fear of stronger correction. This is what is usually called the "carrot and stick." Refusing obedience means refusing identification with the guru and breaking the potential emotional bonds between the guru and the adherent.

Techniques of Conditioning

There is no conditioning that is based only on a single technique. In order for conditioning to function, it is necessary to use a bundle of convergent techniques, both physical and psychic.

There is no permanent conditioning - stopping conditioning sooner or later leads to a new confrontation with reality and to a deadening of the conditioning, except in the case of an irreversible mental pathology (e.g., psychosis).

If the theoretical representation of that which is called mental manipulation is rather difficult, proving it is often impossible, even when it has been observed by clinical results.

In concluding we emphasize that mental manipulation is situated on the line between forensic psychiatry and and clinical criminology, and that the study of the phenomenon to the enlightenment of both these disciplines makes it possible to prevent and to heal, and to punish manipulative behavior.

Dr. Jean Marie Abgrall
National expert at the Cassation Court
[contact info]

Munich - Bavarian police stop contract killing

rpo, January 14, 2004

The Bavarian police have stopped the contract killing of a high FPOe politician. A teacher wanted to have the Austrian Siegfried Dillersberger killed and sought a killer for that purpose.

The contractor is a 37-year-old teacher from Pforzheim. She has been arrested, as the Landshut state attorney and the state police (LKA) in Munich announced on Monday. They said the woman belonged to a sect-like Yoga school and had blamed the 61-year-old politician for a conspiracy.

The police came across the unemployed school teacher while investigating illegal drugs and weapons because she was looking for a killer, reported the LKA and state attorney's office. When she thought she had found a killer, she used a middleman to provide him with photographs and detailed information about Dillersberger's living habits, along with a 5,000 euro down payment.

On December 4, 2003, the police arrested the woman at the Munich airport and the middleman in the Erlangen vicinity. A 40-year-old woman and a 42-year-old music teacher, who also belonged to the Yoga sect, were arrested in Gardasee and in Pforzheim as alleged accomplices.

Until last year the Yoga school had its headquarters in the Tyrol. There the group felt they were at a disadvantage because their charges were being ignored, explained the LKA. The teacher and her accomplices decided that string-puller behind this alleged deception and conspiracy was the former FPOe federal assemblyman. He functioned as an attorney for one of the people they had charged, reported the Austrian APA news agency.

According to the LKA, Dillersberger was immediately afforded police protection after the murder plot was discovered. The man who has been the mayor of Kufstein for many years, a representative and a federal assemblyman said he was very relieved, according to the APA. It was said that the attempt on his life by members of the Yoga group was incomprehensible "to the mind of a normal person."

Munich - The Yoga Connection

German TZ newspaper, January 13, 2004

A complicated murder plot was planned against the Kufstein ex-politician Siegfried Dillersberger (FPO/61), who is also formerly mayor of Kufstein and a former Third National Assembly president. A sect-like Yoga group, which Heinz G. (43), resident of Arco (Gardasee) recruited, hired a man to kill Dillersberger. The Bavarian state police (LKA), however, stopped the attack.

A special-class school teacher (37) who sought a murderer for hire, was arrested at the Munich airport. Besides her, a "killer broker" and two other people (40, 42) were taken into custody. The Yoga disciples wanted to see the ex-politician dead because he had represented a client of his against them.

The story goes a long way back. Several years ago the Yoga disciples used to rent a place in Bad Haering in the Tyrol, where they operated a "spiritual consciousness spot." One of the people they accused of wrongdoing had Siegfried Dillersberger represent him in court. The case was dropped. The Yoga group moved back to Arco.

But the members of the group sought revenge for their defeat and believed that they had been ignored by the police and by the justice system. The teacher and her accomplices decided to hold Siegfried Dillersberger accountable for this alleged conspiracy.

The Bavarian state police came upon the special-class school teacher, who wanted to hire a killer, when they were conducting other investigations. The woman, who comes from Pforzheim, may have also been arranging another murder contract. The Landshut state attorney's office said she gave information to the killer through a middleman. Besides that a 5,000 euro down payment was made. Dillersberger is reported as saying, "The fact that the members of this group wanted me to pay with my life cannot be comprehended with a normal human mind."