Radio broadcast, 9-10 a.m.
Lutz Lemhoefer and Dr. Olaf Stoffel
June 26, 2000
HR 1, Hessian Radio
People are still falling into psychic dependency on sects. But what is so fascinating about communities of faith like "Scientology," "Jehovah's Witnesses," or "Universal Life"? And what do people hope to get from them? These questions and others like them will be answered after the news on Theme "LEBEN HEUTE" by guests including Lutz Lemhoefer, weltanschauung commissioner of the Catholic Church at 9:05.
HR 1 Theme "LEBEN HEUTE" with Susanne Scharra. A beautiful good morning.
Voice: He works like a missionary who proclaims an absolutely true belief which extends into many areas here.
Voice: The man is highly intelligent. And what makes him so dangerous is that he is a man who offers simple solutions.
Voice: That is how you are put at the level of a student. And I also often really felt that way. When I think back on it, that's the way it was. And he was simply one or two levels higher. And we all sat in the same boat. Nobody dared so much as to pull out a sandwich and eat it or crumple paper. Oh God, the holy mood, the entire atmosphere would have been destroyed.
Voice: It is the same principle as a drug addict or an alcoholic who says, up to the time that the bar closes or he collapses, "I am not addicted. I can quit anytime."
Susanne Scharra: And then they are not able to quit, but follow their special guru for years as if they were blind or get entangled in the clutches of their special sect. "Scientology," the "Jehovah's Witnesses," the "Moon Sect" - those are only the most well-known, because the list goes on forever. In Germany there are 6,000 groups with cultic tendencies. Individual people who call themselves "savior" or "missionary" or entire organizations who sometimes use abstruse teachings of salvation to reach out to the souls of susceptible people. What drives so many into the finely meshed net of sects? How do the mechanisms of these totalitarian groups work? And how can one protect oneself? On Theme "LEBEN HEUTE" people speak up who have experienced religious dependency but who have managed to leave. "Oh, happy day" is not forever.
(Spiritual: Oh, happy day)
Susanne Scharra: They stand in pairs in the pedestrian zone. They hold the "Watchtower" up high in heat, snow or rain or they proselytize from door to door. "Jehova's Witnesses" continue to be a part of the street scene. We become conscious of them and perhaps also recall one or another headline, "Jehova's Witness must die because he refuses life-saving blood transfusion on principle of faith."
But only a few know that the founder of the religious sect is called Charles Russel and that the German center is in Hesse, more precisely, in the Taunus village of Selters. Twelve hundred people work there. What do the "Jehovah's Witnesses" believe and what makes them different from the others? That's what we wanted to know. And so Andreas Sieger paid a visit to the "Jehovah's Witnesses" in Selters.
"Jehovah's Witness" spokesman: We are different from our fellow human being really in quite, quite few points. Anybody who leads his life in a rational way and also goes along in a normal way could also be a "Jehovah's Witness." And if one were to view the differences: they are in missionary work, because, normally, who goes from door to door like "Jehovah's Witnesses"? The differences exist in the question of political neutrality. The differences exist in the question of the recognition of the almighty God with his name, "Jehova"; in that one even considers the word "God" as binding. I think I have named the classical differences.
Susanne Scharra: There are still a couple of more differences between the "Jehovah's Witnesses" and the rest of humankind. Much of what other people take for granted is forbidden for them. For instance, they may not celebrate birthdays. Easter and Christmas are also taboo. They may not swear. Athletic activity is prohibited. Pop stars may not be revered. All this is regulated in a strong moral code. Those who break it must at least express regret over their transgression to the Rights Committee. If they do not, they are expelled. And, naturally, one does not get into the earthly Paradise that way. It can be seen in the headlines that the "Jehova's Witnesses" still refuse to let their members have blood transfusions.
"Jehova's Witness" spokesman: But the background of that was not the medical judgment of this thing, it was decided in a biblical maxim in the 1st century that people should abstain from blood.
Susanne Scharra: Of course it is not written in the Bible that blood transfusions are forbidden, because they did not exist at the time. The "Jehovah's Witnesses" are referring to a place in the Apostle's epistles where it says that Jews should abstain from blood. What is meant there is blood as nourishment, and nothing else. They have transported instructions thousands of years old into the times of today. Moreover, the "Witnesses" do not use the Lutheran translation of the Holy Scriptures, but they have their own "New World" translation. According to the way they see things, the earthly Paradise, the thousand year reign of peace, will begin with the battle of Armageddon. Really that was supposed to have happened in 1975. But, as is known, nothing came of that. The Witnesses no longer would like to name an exact year for the battle.
"Jehovah's Witnesses" spokesman: We would have liked it better if God still intervened today. But he has made up the schedule. And He will not let people trespass into His territory. Therefore we wait patiently. But we live every day as though God would intervene and move us and strengthen us.
Susanne Scharra: So no tangible end to the travail is yet in sight. The "Witnesses," strongly obligated to political neutrality, do not get involved outside of their gatherings and missionary services. However, that contradicts the image of Jesus in all modern editions of the Bible, which show Him as a hands-on man of action
"Jehovah's Witness" spokesman: Jesus kept aloof from all political things because it was his goal that The Kingdom would be established here on earth and that the hopes of people would be fulfilled. That is exactly what our hope is today, because many problems exist today which people cannot solve. When we just think about horrible diseases. When we think about the hunger in the world. When we think about the problem of environmental pollution and criminality, when we think about the problem of death. And none of these problems can be altered by people. And therefore we trust that God will keep his Word which He gave in the Bible.
Susanne Scharra: So much trouble and so little to show for it, regarded less from a financial view and more from the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. Ulrich Rausch, author of the book, "The Jehovah's Witnesses, a sect report," urgently warns, however,
Ulrich Rausch: Perhaps therefore, they are more dangerous than Scientology or other groups because each one says, Good, they have "fibbed" a little, maybe a little very involved, but that is astonishing in its own way, too, because one would not do that for his own belief, take so much time and so much trouble to get his message across. As far as I am concerned, things are dangerous when one doesn't know how dangerous it is. Like when I know a river I can swim in or it is a dangerous mess, then it is no longer dangerous. But if I think it is harmless, then I won't be without problems, and then I'll be caught and surprised, and, of course, that is mortally dangerous.
Susanne Scharra: Yes, how dangerous sects really are, and that they can even be mortally dangerous, that is what we'll talk about now. I welcome Lutz Lemhoeffer to the studio, the weltanschauung commissioner of the Catholic Church, and Olaf Stoffel, today author and therapist, but until several years ago still a priest in the New Apostolic Church, and thereby himself in the clutches of a sect. Mr. Stoffel, that which we have just now heard about the "Jehovah's Witnesses," does that bring back memories of the time when you were a sect member of the New Apostolic Church?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I was indeed a member of the New Apostolic Church and many messages which we have just heard in the piece about the "Jehova's Witnesses" seem familiar to me.
Susanne Scharra: For example?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I was always told, for example, that the end of the world would soon come and that only the true New Apostles would get to heaven. And that made people very afraid, not just me, but also the children. And also that one-sided worldview that you would finally have security if you would do what the implications of the teachings, so to speak, proscribed. And all that came back to me vividly, like on a station, so to speak, and also invoked one or another emotion.
Susanne Scharra: When you say that not just you, but also your children, does that mean that you were in the New Apostolic Church with your whole family?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I was in the New Apostolic Church with my whole family and also undertook child care there, and finally observed in the teachings of the New Apostolic Church how manipulative one dealt with children there and that people were simply trying to implant these teachings into the children so the teachings simply were their world.
Susanne Scharra: But for you that was the second step in practice. How did you, that means when you had your thoughts about what methods were being used there, how did you get into the sect? You, as you have said, worked there for 17 years, and for 17 years believed in it, in a certain way.
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: The way it was, I went into the New Apostolic Church when I was 23. Back then I was having a life crisis and was looking for God, yes, for devotion, for security, for meaning. And then someone invited me into this community. And where it is close, it is also warm. In other words, at first I enjoyed this security. I was accepted and given a clear goal, at first that was attractive. I was even one of the chosen, a so-called child of God. I finally had hope, finally, of being accepted by God.
Susanne Scharra: Mr. Lemhoefer, what makes groups like the "Jehovah's Witnesses" or even the New Apostolic Church, were Mr. Stoffel was, into sects?
Lutz Lemhoefer: I think that is, above all else, their claim to exclusivity. Only we are the true church of Christ, all others outside there are damned. Those with us are on the right side. Those outside our organization are lost. This quite distinct separation of "inside - outside," that is the most important point. On top of that, surely, are also authoritarian leanings: what the leadership says cannot be questioned. There is no live discussion, no chance of bringing in criticism or a deviant idea, that is perhaps ....
Susanne Scharra: Now I have to ask, perhaps quite heretically, aren't there also such tendencies in the Catholic Church, too? What makes the Catholic Church different from a sect? Couldn't one say here that each group that proclaims a certain teaching of salvation, and the Catholic Church does that, too, is a sect?
Lutz Lemhoefer: No, the major churches, including Catholics, surely have sectarian tendencies, those are in every major religion, but they are not sects. You need only compare the discussion at the Catholic Convention several weeks ago with that of such a group, about topics like "May women become priests?" and "Can one celebrate Holy Communion together?" There are disputes between Catholics and Protestants. There are deviant opinions and there is an extremely lively discussion. And the degree to which the individual feels obligated to be near to or distant from an organization today can be rather precisely determined by the member, in any case. And that is what makes the difference.
Susanne Scharra: I said a little while ago that there are, according to estimates, over 6,000 sectarian groups in Germany, but that is a little wide of the mark. We would say there are perhaps only 600 real sects. But still, why so many?
Lutz Lemhoefer: Yes, I think we are in a society where there is no longer a clear traditional advantage, or at least it is no longer effective. In seeking for salvation, the individual is often left up to himself and then people look in different ways. And anybody who offers a path to salvation today has more chance of making an appearance and having people join than was the case in earlier times; even though, of course, there have been sects all throughout the history of religion.
Susanne Scharra: But what is the goal of a sect? Does in really always deal only with a certain teaching of salvation, or is it also about money and power?
Lutz Lemhoefer: According to what I believe, it is not at all always about money. That is a pre-judgment. Those who want to make a lot of money, I think have many different alternatives. But power plays a role. The mixture of idealism and power. The claim that I can save not only myself but everybody else, the entire world, and, by the way, that is my duty. Indeed, that is a social form of unbelievable exploitation of power. People are not at all aware of that. They often feel they are idealists, and often get in for idealistic motives. But, of course, that is also connected with power and an increase in ego. Although the ego inside the group is small, the group itself is so important and then I partake of its greatness. That is the attraction.
Susanne Scharra: Mr. Stoffel, did you experience things exactly that way in the New Apostolic Church, or how was it?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I experienced both: power and money. It happened with the so-called Apostles, the one who held the higher positions. They were honored like some leaders from a darker time in German history. But it was also a matter of money, because ten percent of one's income had to be sacrificed if you wanted to have the blessing. And much money was accumulated, so, in the end, it was both: money and power.
Susanne Scharra: We have also spoken about the fear which was stirred up which you experienced. With the "Jehovah's Witnesses," many believe these teachings of salvation and they will also do things like risk their lives for them. If I understand that correctly, many have, in fact, refused a blood transfusion which would have permitted them to live. Would you have been ready to sacrifice your life for the beliefs of the New Apostolic Church in a similar way?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: Well, there were times when I strongly identified with the New Apostolic beliefs. And I probably would have gone as far, if the leader of the New Apostolic Church would have said to do this or that, as it has been so beautifully said, as to have followed what he said. I would like to add to that perhaps the New Apostolic belief system is not quite as narrow as that of the "Jehovah's Witnesses," and to be fair, there are tendencies towards liberalization. But there is still much restriction there and much fear besides of simply being abandoned by God.
Susanne Scharra: When we say sects are dangerous, did you perceive the danger as such to which you were exposed?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: When I was in the system I did not perceive the danger. But I frequently had a latent fear that everything I believed could be false, and was always suppressing that, and then even experienced psychosomatic illness from that. Therefore, the soul sounded the alarm. And at sometime I could not longer keep this process up. But I wanted to hold onto this secure space in which I had been chosen before God.
Susanne Scharra: Mr. Lemhoefer, what are the dangers then, the dangers when one gets involved in a sect's networks?
Lutz Lemhoefer: I think the danger is primarily in falling into a dependency, into a child's role completely unhealthy for an adult. That a person gets dependent upon other grown people in a childish way, that one gets exploited not only financially, but also psychically. That is the danger.
Susanne Scharra: Like what we heard right at the start of the program, when a man said he had always felt like a student.
Mr. Lemhoefer: Yes, so it is not an adult form of belief and religion, so I am not talking against belief and religion, but against an unhealthy, infantile, immature form of belief and religion.
Susanne Scharra: So once in the clutches of a sect, as we know, the adherents work their way out of it again only with serious difficulty. We are just about to talk about the totalitarian methods which sects use to bind people to them. If you, my dear listeners, have questions on the topic, then give us a call. We'll collect the questions in the studio, then hand them to our experts here; [telephone number given].
Susanne Scharra: It is shortly before 9:30. You are listening to Theme "Leben Heute" about the grasp for the soul, the fascination with sects. It does not always have to be religious dependency that people fall into. Lately there are countless small and larger organizations which are structured similar to a sect and which use clever methods to bind adherents to them, up to total abandonment of self. Roswita Krauss describes the case of a young woman from Erder, near Giessen, who fell into the clutches of a dubiously structured operation; a story of power and powerlessness, of hope and bondage.
Andrea Jakob: I got in through a, yes, female colleague at work, into an enterprise, out of curiosity really, where incredibly much money was supposed to be made. And when I went to take a look at those people who had earned all this money I didn't want to believe it one bit, because they were all great people. And then I thought to myself, I've been doing for a long time what they are. Quite simply I got customers, I recruited staff without end, I took training, I practically worked day and night. So I was still working in my career as executive secretary; I would drive off at 4 or 5 o'clock to Bonn, from Giessen to Bonn, take seminars there, get home at night around midnight, up again the next morning at six, go back to work at eight, and that's the way it went until I became sales manager. Then I gave up my executive secretary position because I was supposed to have been able to make more money there. And I did make more money there - unfortunately I am not the one who got it.
Susanne Scharra: What kind of figures are we talking about here?
Andrea Jakob: I went for a million in sales a month, sales with life insurance contracts and would have gotten 17,000 marks every month to start but got, at most, three or four thousand marks that was never fully paid.
Susanne Scharra: To start off with, there were promises of much money. At the end, Andrea Jakob had 700,000 marks in debt.
Andrea Jakob: I couldn't think over this immense work expense so quickly. After many, many months, I noticed that the money was never being paid. I was always put off: Yes, that is very difficult, the policies last so long. Or there is still a medical check-up that needs to be done with this or that person which did not at all check out, and so forth. In no case was the money paid. Then things got tough!
Susanne Scharra: When did you put on the brakes?
Andrea Jakob: One day by accident I came upon a box with documents which I thought were mine. We always had our boxes of our settlements, which were never complete, and I had gotten a hold of the wrong box, that from Mr. Daniel. And there I saw that he was receiving a commission for many of my customers. So, in practice, he had received the money, the commission for many of my customers and my staff, including super-commissions. That is when I noticed that this was fraud. Quite clearly.
Susanne Scharra: The firm is a structured operation: "Gesellschaft zur Foerderung mittelfristiger Geldanlagen" (FMGA). The primary customer is the Karlsruhe Life Insurance Co. The people at FMGA were all noticeably motivated. The explanation today: it ran like a sect.
Andrea Jakob: Up to then I had no idea what Scientology was at all. When I got out and then learned that the Emotion Scale in which they trained us and more, was developed by Hubbard, yes, training about suppressives, that one should keep a distance between oneself and "stops," like spouses or family members, even our children, if they hindered us from working and so forth; I noticed that something was not right with that. And then I tried to get out, but that was not at all so simple because, in the meantime, I was so deeply in debt that I only hoped that sometime they would finally pay me the wages they owed me, which, of course, never happened.
Susanne Scharra: After a 15 day introduction into the sales business, Andrea Jakob became district director. Soon she advanced to trainer. The shower of money was so close she could smell it. And suggestions for operations were rewarded with regular training. Training often took place out of the country. The only thing peculiar about that was that she had to book the hotel rooms for the evening seminars at her own expense. Sometimes it was about astrology, sometimes personal weaknesses of staff were sought out.
Andrea Jakob: I was continually being appeased. I was always being told that I should have trust and I would see that money was coming in, even in only small amounts, but I would have to have trust, that everybody in the business was overworked and that it would take some time: the research on the customers and what did I know about the whole thing. And then I was invited again to to a champagne dinner with Mr. Frei. Yes, or yes, we had in the seminars ... Then the room was darkened. Everybody had gotten a candle to hold, and then they were lit. Hundreds of candles were swung back and forth in the room. As far as I was concerned that was really, yes, that was all nonsense and all that happened with me was that I felt ill. And because of that I was strongly alienated. But I made just as many sales and, because of that, I was in debt.
Susanne Scharra: Did you try back then to protest your receiving so much psychological training?
Andrea Jakob: No, that was almost not possible. There were hundreds of people and if one person criticized, then so many protested that one had no chance at all against the mass of people. I was shouted down as a rebel. And then I was alienated in practice and the other people were told to keep their distance from me, that I was dangerous.
Susanne Scharra: It sounds as though you were gradually psychically undermined. In retrospect, what techniques worked then for a while?
Andrea Jakob: We had to listen to music cassettes which had been made with the help of a subliminal technology device, whatever that is called, I have the documents about it at home, and you did not hear it. You heard only the music. That means it was done sub-consciously. And also the film, the company film was made with both visual and audio subliminal techniques. That means that also had a great influence. But since that has not been clearly proven in Germany, nothing is done about it; in America it is clearly prohibited.
Susanne Scharra: Today Andrea Jakob studies psychology and sees through the model of confusion in which she had landed. All in all, what kind of effects did you have over the years under the influence of a cult-like company?
Andrea Jakob: I had very bad psychic effects. I had spasms, stomach cramps, regular breakdowns, nervous breakdowns. To some degree, I just couldn't pull myself together, just lay in bed and slept, a complete state of exhaustion. I had an operation in a hospital in Berlin. And under sedation I had heart failure, breathing stopped, and then they said "manager syndrome."
Susanne Scharra: Yes, so much for the case of a young woman from Hesse. In the studio, Olaf Stoffel, himself a former sect member and today book author and therapist, and Lutz Lemhoefer, Weltanschauungs Commissioner for the Catholic Church. Mr. Lemhoefer, the case which we just heard about is, indeed, really tragic, but somehow one just involuntarily puts his hands behind his head and thinks, "How could the woman have let that happen to herself?" Was that an isolated incident, or do you know of similar stories?
Lutz Lemhoefer: I am absolutely familiar with similar stories which show that a business based on structured distribution can hit a person in a way which one would expect from a sect. For instance, that the private life gets left behind, that other day-to-day professional routines get set aside, that the first, last and only thing that counts is the sale, and that sometimes this is done by absolutely fraudulent corporations: making money there is always first, never second.
Susanne Scharra: Can one look at it that way, that these structured operations also use cult-like structures to tie people to themselves? What do they do, or why does it work so well?
Lutz Lemhoefer: They do not promise heavenly salvation; today there aren't that many people looking for that anyway, they promise earthly salvation - very much money, very fast! And they get people in on this one line alone, just this one line. I knew of a young man who, right in the first meeting, who was talking and his girlfriend made a couple of critical objections, and the young man was told, "Buddy, if you want to get ahead, you can't let yourself be dragged down by this bump on a log"! So he was challenged to end his relationship in the first meeting so that he would be utterly at the disposal of this operation. You can see by that to what degree people are dragged into the trap.
Susanne Scharra: Would you say that such organizations, although not religious sects, are even more dangerous than religious because the people do not even know what kind of organization they have and what goals are behind it, either?
Lutz Lemhoefer: No. I think it is just a similarity of ever popular trends in our time which both have to do with making money. But it is conspicuous that in many books on the theme of "sects," there always seems to be a chapter on "structured distribution companies" [i.e., pyramid-like schemes].
Susanne Scharra: That reminds me a little, too, of the methods of Scientology, a sect which, unlike the 'Jehovah's Witnesses,' for example, do not recite their beliefs in the form of a 'Watchtower,' but would rather train and indoctrinate its members in silence. Is that right?
Lutz Lemhoefer: Yes and no. What's at the core of Scientology is a system of psycho-courses. And they claim that a perfect person, or even a sort of super-person, can be made with these courses, in the neighborhood of 200 of them. The community consists of how much the individual's time can be monopolized and it is meant to financially victimize people for the alleged purpose of having all this success. That is an absolutely banal and secular promise of salvation. Things which one would have formerly entrusted to religion are being used here for something completely different.
Susanne Scharra: A listener just called up and asked, how can one take any serious legal action against sects or sect-like groups?
Lutz Lemhoefer: Yes, that's a legal gray zone. There are many ways of hurting yourself in our society. Only a minimum number of those are prohibited. Only when outright fraud is present, or when bodily injury is present or something like that, can one take legal action. But defending yourself against being gullible is something the individual has to do.
Susanne Scharra: There are a whole string of questions from listeners. I want to bring a couple of them up in this segment. For example, questions about a miracle healer, Bruno Groening, was asked by one woman. What's up with this man?
Lutz Lemhoefer: That is a deceased spiritual healer from the 1950s. But this man's adherents and successors still form social groups today and promise that any illness can be healed by healing currents, energy currents which Bruno Groening is now sending and directing from the great beyond. I think it is an illusion, but a very widespread illusion. And that is dangerous, primarily for people who need constant medical care which they sometimes give up for this.
Susanne Scharra: Another woman listener would like to know what the 'Grail Embassy' ["Gralsbotschaft"] is, allegedly professed by very friendly, very nice people. What is that?
Lutz Lemhoefer: There are friendly people everywhere. They are not all monsters. The 'Grail' movement is an esoteric movement, that means they have certain esoteric beliefs and secret knowledge, which is contained in the innermost depths of the world. A very elite group founded by a German by the name of Bernhard, but who calls himself 'Abdruschin.' A, yes, a secret teaching that has certain consequences for life: vegetarianism and so forth. That's not my thing, but neither do I find it awfully threatening. ...
Susanne Scharra: What amazes me is that people, as a rule, are not stupid, but say that they really could not completely explain in retrospect how they could have gotten into such dependency. Mr. Stoffel, that was similar to you in the New Apostolic Church. How did it come about that you stayed with them for so long? You said at the beginning that it was so nice and warm there but you already had a little anxiety. That could not have been everything?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I got involved in it from a scientific viewpoint, what moved me and other people to go into a problematic religious group. And through our self-help work, we also have contact with psychiatrists in other institutions, it is my conviction that people carry with themselves a certain psychic disposition. By that I mean, people leave their parents' house missing something in what they are allowed to do, in love or security, and that is what people mean to find in the group which they join. And this psychic disposition ends up leading people to become emotionally tied to the group, because the group is a parental substitute, and they follow its leaders without pausing to reflect what they getting involved with.
Susanne Scharra: And on top of that then comes planned-out mechanisms of how they will play the part. You also detailed that, I believe, in your book. In the piece I have now also heard, there was a candle scenario, for example, or there are other things in your book, like deprivation of sleep. What kind of things are those?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: Those are all manipulative techniques which lead to a person not being in his right mind. The article talks about the candles. I am convinced that candles were used to manipulate this lady to show her that everything was all right with them there, there was harmony, there they appreciated her. That is a technique used by many groups. They hold their members up to a pseudo-set of values and tell them, "We need you. You are important for our work. Bring us the last sheep at midnight so that the end of the world can arrive." And a set of values is something which all people need. That is what makes sects so attractive, is what I'm saying. Deprivation of sleep makes people so that they can no longer properly reflect on things.
Susanne Scharra: And that's the way it was with you, too? You really worked practically day and night for the sect and hardly got any sleep?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: Oh, well, it wasn't that extreme, now. I still had my career, but everyday I was on the move for the community, recruiting new members and tending to old members, at the end about 120 members in the New Apostolic Church, and in doing that I also repressed many mental processes. And that, after all, is what kept me in so long.
Susanne Scharra: But we're finding out that when you see through the structure it gets easier to withstand the sect's temptations. But you have to do it to get back out, out of the clutches of the sect, manage to leave. Olaf Stoffel succeeded. He can give us a few tips. We'll be right back.
Susanne Scharra: Theme "Leben Heute" on sects. The phone lines are burning up here. A whole lot of listeners are calling up and want to know things, for instance, whether there is a connection between the 'Universal Life' sect and this eco-chain store 'Gut zum Leben.' Mr. Lemhoefer, Weltanschauungs Commissioner of the Catholic Church, do you know anything about that?
Lutz Lemhoefer: There is a connection. The 'Gut zum Leben' courts are part of the so-called Christian operations of 'Universal Life.' They are independent legal entities, not identical with the UL association. But you can say that their profits surely also benefit 'Universal Life' and that they try to do their work according to the principals of 'Universal Life.'
Susanne Scharra: So would say that is also a sect-like group or not?
Lutz Lemhoefer: Here I have to ... This is legally a slippery situation. Therefore I am trying to be very precise. It is legally a, these operations are independent. But they feel bound to 'Universal Life' as 'Christian operations.' From that I conclude that 'Universal Life' could benefit from their finances, but I do not know the details of that.
Susanne Scharra: What about the group 'Christian Sciences,' one listener wants to know?
Lutz Lemhoefer: 'Christian Science' is often mixed up with 'Scientology.' Unjustly. It is an older sectarian group which mainly tries to heal things through prayer, they claim that prayer can heal people of disease; it does not recruit aggressively, and I would say that they are a part of our philosophical landscape, even if I do not share their opinions or their understanding of the Bible. But I would not at all put them with Scientology in terms of risk.
Susanne Scharra: Because they don't have these totalitarian claims, or do they?
Lutz Lemhoefer: No they don't and because they don't recruit so aggressively, don't try so hard to snap up people.
Susanne Scharra: We have another example which we want to tell you about, the example of a sect leader by the name of Alfred Siebel. Siebel is obviously a man with extraordinary charisma. Perhaps many sect leaders have that, a personality with a leadership effect, who indoctrinates adherents, no ifs, ands or buts. His adherents blindly followed the ex-theologian from northern Germany like a guru for many years. Siebel has come under fire just a couple of months ago. Roswita Krauss spoke with former adherents, people who are looking, in retrospect, for a reason why they completely gave up their lives to follow this man The man from the rural area of Brode near Bremen was a blessed healer, think some. A man-trapper, a charlatan, a master of indoctrination, say others. Before the former Pastor Walter Alfred Siebel re-settled in Weisbaden, claim some who fled, he made headlines for a while in the early 1990s in Bremen and vicinity. No question about that! The charismatic therapist and inventor of so-called 'Logosophy' and 'Psychopractice' was hotly disputed. Those who fell for the guru and his self-willed theories did not get rid of him so easily.
Voice: When I think back on it today, I have the feeling that for a couple of years I was stumbling around in a fog concerning him. And I was only able to get through this fog after I was out. After I could think it over calmly for a while, what had happened there, and mainly be able to talk things over with others about it.
Susanne Scharra: One person who knows what is going on when we're talking about Siebel is former school principal Steinwede from Achim near Bremen. First his wife was Siebel's devout adherent, then his three children, and finally he wanted to know for himself what this man was about. What kind of group did he get into?
Voice: They gave everybody the feeling that there was a very special person there with special healing abilities. Also that he was a person who had somehow given the others a meaning to life. So that was not only healing medical or psychic complaints, that was also someone who imparted new meaning. Mr. Siebel himself called his teachings a weltanschauung and gave them the title 'Logosophy.' That was the foundation upon which he built everything. Well yes, all that sounded incredibly overblown and resistance, using criticism would mean you were done for. He always stood on a higher plane. No, hardly anyone would dare to do that.
Susanne Scharra: Wolfgang Schneider, sociological academic from Euten, should have known better. Really, today he still cannot understand from which demagogue he sought salvation. But, as it is known, one is always wiser in hindsight.
Wolfgang Schneider: There would be a turn of weather outside and it would rain. Then Mr. Siebel would know for a fact, "Yes, yes, it's raining now because nobody here is crying.' A typical example. He was in a cloister. He was indeed a theologian and was more or less mustered out of the Evangelical Church. He was in a cloister and held several intensive seminars there. At some point in time the management said, 'Well, we don't want any more of this.' And that is how the good man sold it, and he said, "Well yes, I escaped from there, but they don't exist anymore. It was hit by lightning.' So wherever he gives this 'touch,' anybody who opposes him, he says, something happens to them, too. So quite clearly since this threat was overcome by all this omniscience which he possessed, he would tell people, 'Look out now, that nothing happens to you!' Today I know that I also had some fantasies like that, too, 'Oh God, what do I do when I open the door and there are all of Siebel's people?'
Susanne Scharra: For some it was hard to deal with the guru and his community and keep a clear head.
Wolfgang Schneider: I think the most striking thing about it was that it happened really gradually so that people thought they had a clear head, so that people thought they were being critical, and in doing so, did not notice that they were getting increasingly dependent.
Susanne Scharra: 'Siebel was a drug for me," said some, when they tried to get away from him. Elke Sieweking, who was a patient of his for five years, thinks re-programming was necessary, a withdrawal, to put Siebel out of position as a demigod.
Elke Sieweking: It was a regular withdrawal. I can really describe the anxieties in connection with a sect, or with departing a sect, by saying that you have to work out a new worldview. Fear of doing that is great because, in essence, we have been weak or dependent, or were often dependent upon a community. Naturally, it is improbably difficult to have confidence, let alone get along in the normal world.
Susanne Scharra: Olaf Stoffel, when you hear the reports of former Siebel adherents, how difficult is it to overcome psychic dependency? Are you reminded of old stories? How was that? You've said that you were an adherent of the New Apostolic Church when you left. How did you get along in the normal world?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: In the beginning it was not simple because I had lost my perceptual structures. Prior to that, I was one of the Chosen, a child of God, called to something higher, and all of a sudden I was a completely normal person like all the other people on this earth. I had to find a new way of perceiving things, so to speak. And I swam in an ocean of uncertainty. And that was painful in the beginning, but I forced myself to work it out, to finally grow up and develop an image of God that was no longer threatening.
Susanne Scharra: When you say 'painful,' then did you sense that as a physical withdrawal, too?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: I sensed it physically, but most as a psychic pain. It was the feeling that everything was collapsing on me, that I no longer had anything to which I could hold fast. And this process led to me being at odds with myself. It became clear to me that I would have to get things under control, including my life and my family, too, and that I would have to finally decide for myself how to run my life, and that I would have to set aside this New Apostolic God, who, for me, was a God of punishment, in order to survive.
Susanne Scharra: How did the New Apostolic Church react to that? They could not just simply accept it. Because this was another means of putting extreme pressure upon apostates.
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: The way things were, I was shunned. That means many members whom I previously had confided in started regarding me as non-existent. That was one thing, the other was that certain rumors were spread about me personally. And since I went public very quickly and we also founded a self-help group, I was finally declared their 'Public Enemy No. 1.' It is basically still that way today.
Susanne Scharra: How was that for your family? Your children and wife were all members of the church. How did they get over it?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: Well, perhaps it was a little bit more painful for my family than it was for me. My wife had been in the New Apostolic Church from birth, so she had many more fears to overcome than did I. For the children, being out of the community was a new, unusual environment. But in retrospect, it was a relief. The children told me afterwards that they were happy not to have to go to services twice on Sunday and have to sit still, and they ended up enjoying their freedom very much.
Susanne Scharra: That agrees with a comment from a listener who himself is a doctor, and who has also experienced how difficult it is for children who have grown up in a cult, whose whole life is directed towards it and who practically have no interaction with other children. Another listener asks if gurus really believe in what they preach. Let's take Mr. Siebel once. Mr. Lemhoefer, do you think that somebody like that believes what he tells his people?
Lutz Lemhoefer: My impression is yes. Some of those may be narcissistic people who have constructed their own personality. But some such clever business operators we have, I think, have more to do with structured distribution and less with real sects or guru movements.
Susanne Scharra: The telephones are ringing off the hooks here. I've just said there are incredibly many questions. For example, what is 'Unitaria'? What is the 'Free Church'? We cannot answer everything in detail here. At this point, perhaps I could just let people know your telephone number. [contact information given] - Mr. Lemhoefer, what are the first warning signs people should look for in a group as to whether they are getting into a cult or not?
Lutz Lemhoefer: When somebody very clearly changes and gets secretive about why that could be. However, that is not always the case. Some people talk about and themselves recruit ardently for their new group, in their own circle of acquaintances, too. What is important is to stay in communication so as to be able to talk these changes over from the beginning. In the beginning, people affected by the cult are more likely to be open to critical information. But not when they get more deeply involved. At that point, everything they hear is either 'journalistic gossip' or 'the evil churches' are trying to rope in their sheep. At that point critical information is no longer accepted.
Susanne Scharra: Mr. Stoffel, getting out is a gradual process. You've said that took somewhat longer with you. You have also founded a self-help group. Was that your chance to get out, so to speak?
Dr. Olaf Stoffel: Yes, the self-help group was the way to finally distance myself, internally, from the New Apostolic Church. Our group has existed for four years and I've learned much in addition there, that this has happened to other people exactly as it did to me, that they have gone through similar processes. That was very consoling to me, and it finally led to me being able to away, internally, even from this threatening image of God which was imparted to me.
Susanne Scharra: So, a self-help group can help a person to find his way out of the sect. Mr. Lemhoefer, surely you also have the addresses there. -- Getting out of the sect, like withdrawal from drugs, hard to do. But it can be done! Material on the subject includes the books by Olaf Stoffel. The one is called 'Angeklagt: Die Neuapostolische Kirche.' The other, 'Der Griff nach der Seele - Wege aus Religioeser Abhaengingkeit.' To you, Olaf Stoffel, many, many thanks. Thanks also to Lutz Lemhoefer, Weltanschauungs Commissioner of the Catholic Church, for being with us to discuss this.
That was Theme "Leben Heute" about the grasp for the soul, the fascination with sects. [contact information given] Susanne Scharra was on the microphone. I wish you a beautiful day. Til next time.