International Practical Scientific Conference

"Totalitarian Cults - Menace of the XXI Century"

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

April 23-25, 2001

Alexander Leonidovich Dvorkin, Moscow
Ph.D., M. Div. Chairman of the Department of Sectology of St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Institute, Chief Editor of the Prozreniye (recovery of sight) magazine

Totalitarian Cults on the Threshold of the XXI Century

Esteemed members and guests!

On December 31, 2000, religious organizations were registered as follows: Russian Orthodox Church, 10,913 organizations; Islamic organizations, 3,048; Evangelical Christian faith (i. e. Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal), 1,323; Evangelical Christian - Baptist, 975; Evangelical Christian (mostly neo-Pentecostals), 612; Seventh Day Adventist, 453; Jehovah's Witnesses, 330; Lutherans, 213; New Apostolic Church, 86; Methodists, 85; Churches of the Full Gospel (again neo-Pentecostal), 62; Christian Teetotalers, 54; Mormons, 33; non-denominational Christians (mostly Charismatic and neo-Pentecostals), 156; Old Believers of all orders, including "edinovertsy", 278; the True Orthodox Church, 65; Roman Catholic Church, 258; Mother of God Centers, 27; Church of the Last Testament (Vissarion), 28; Jewish communities, 197; Buddhist, 193; Society of Krishna Consciousness, 106; neo-Pagan, 41; Bahai, 20; Unification Church (Moonies), 17.

The numbers require an explanation. The total amount of Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal communities in this list is nearly 2,000. This is a rather considerable figure. One-fifth the number of the Orthodox communities. I recently came from the Yekaterinburg diocese, where the situation is typical: in a small city there are several neo-Pentecostal communities, the largest of which has 500 - 900 people, according to how they are counted. This in a city with two big Orthodox cathedrals. How many total activists could Orthodox cathedrals have? The most there could be in the whole city would be 200 people. But in a community of Pentecostals 600 people - all of the 600 are activists! Undoubtedly most of the townsfolk count themselves as Orthodox, but after all, they only go to church two or three times a year, and there you have 600 people, who are ready, depending on what the leader says, to go where he likes, to do what he wants, to carry out any act. In fact, practically every member of a totalitarian cult is an activist. Therefore an accurate comparison would not go by the number of members of denominational groups, but by the active members of the parish. In a "congregation" of cultists, this is an army consisting of all officers. Having this in mind we see that the ratio is not very consoling, even if it is taken into consideration that the number of clergy we Orthodox have is rather large, but after all, much depends on the parishioners. Triumphalism would get us nowhere.

More than that, in this statistic, the issue dealt with is registered religious communities. But, after all, there are rather many cultic organizations either not registered or officially registered not as religious, but as a social, educational, informational or other type of association. Cults actively operate through them, such as Narconon and the Hubbard Colleges. The Moonies have the Pure Love Alliance and all kinds of federations: the Family Federation, the Federation of Women for World Peace, etc. Recently there were flyers appearing in Moscow. They announced that the Center for Orthodox Culture was opened as well as the Orthodox academy of St. Simeon the New Theologian. Only it didn't say what diocese it was a part of, and only an experienced eye would see that this was a "Mother of God Center" cult.

Outside of that, there are various commercial and semi-commercial groups that also belong to cults. On the name day of his son, my parish priest was recently given by a parishioner a very beautiful cake, on the bottom of which there was a small label that said, "Friends of Vegetarianism Society." A telephone number was added at the bottom. The priest dialed this number and it turned out to be the Krishna Consciousness Society! It distributes its idol-sacrifice products through the usual retail system. When I arrive in different dioceses, they often tell me they now have it a little easier with the cultists. This is in places where five - ten years ago there were preachers everywhere you looked, but now there are not so many. As a matter of fact, there is by no means an ebbing tide. Cults have simply gone into a new period of their development. Each of them ended up aiming for a certain level of membership. Now membership is actively growing in only two cults, the Jehovahs Witnesses and the neo-charismatics (neo-Pentecostals), who still have a very steady increase. In a large number of the cults remaining, membership has stabilized, or even decreased somewhat, at a very carefully maintained optimum level. They are now engaged in strengthening their niche in society. They buy up real estate, acquire political lobbyists and pay certain journalists to work for them. They hire experts to create a foundation for them, and attorneys who defend their claims in court. In short, they do everything to show they have clout, and they refer to themselves as a permanent factor in the Russian reality; when they will fortify their positions on this level they can push for a new spurts of membership growth. Outside of that, they have powerful foreign support, most of which comes from the USA.

There are new tendencies as well in our new "domestic" home-grown cults which are grow and promote themselves. To be specific, this includes the new Anastasia and Radasteya cults, which have recently come to light along with others. This process is reciprocical: the more foreign cults put on a Russian mask, the more domestic cults acquire an international character in that they found foreign branches and enlist foreign supporters. Thus sectarian globalization works for both sides.

Now all major cults are using the fight against drugs as their P.R. action. Scientologists, charismatics and Moonies promote their anti-drug programs. They bring in "model" people, who have been recruited into the cult and who supposedly have rejected the use of drugs. Anyone who voices a word of criticism is declared to be an agent of the drug Mafia and a supporter of drug use. The first to succeed in this was the Scientology organization's Narconon program. There was a sad experience in Yekaterinburg: the director of the Moscow Narconon, Vl. Ivanov, was invited by the rector of the main city university to give the students lectures. It was announced that the topic was damage done by drugs, but in fact, there was nothing but the Scientology propaganda. What is more, next day 200 pupils of the University high-school were rounded up into the university auditorium for this propaganda. During this time, the rector of the university stated that no representative of the Orthodox Church would set foot on his university.

In fact, the law on freedom of conscience, the fight for which so many spears were broken, proved to be rather impotent. Anyone who wanted registration got it: Mormons, Jehovahs Witnesses, New Apostolic Church, Church of the Last Testament of Vissarion, etc., including, at the last moment, the Moonies. Using fraudulent methods and evading justice, Scientology managed to get registation (the issue of their registration was appealed in court by the Justice Ministry). Attempts by our authorities to counteract Scientology in court have been rather futile. A wave of lawsuits have gone in favor of the cult in court. In Kirov, the neo-Pentecostals sued the authorities for refusing to register their center and won the case. In Irkutsk, a deputy of the local legislative assembly gave an interview containing remarks critical of the charismatics; he was taken to court and the case has not been resolved to this day. In Chelyabinsk, the journalists managed to defend their freedom of speech against the Jehovah's Witnesses who sued them. This was a milestone decision. But it should be kept in mind that cults constantly use the tactics of court pressure and will use it again and again. Everybody knows that even if they win a case against Scientology, it will cost enormous amount of frustration and time, not to mention the financial expences! Who would want to get involved in that?! And cults also use each of the cases they win for their own publicity and for intimidation of their opponents.

In the present day, human rights defenders are converting in large number into cult defenders. Yet one conspicuous echelon of the cult supporters are the former professional atheists (teachers of scientific atheism), who lost their lucrative jobs. They appear in courts as experts hired by cults. They now call themselves 'religiologists' and write textbooks in which they promote the idea that the only normal and objective experts in religious issues can be atheists.

Cultists fight the church on one hand on the other hand try to appear to be on friendly terms with it, thus wining legitimacy for themselves. A classic example of this is the photograph distributed widely by Aum Shinrikyo, in which their cult leader Asahara shook hands with Orthodox Metropolitan Pitirim. This was a case where a cult used deception: senior clergyman Pitirim once was approached by an unknown oriental blind man and was asked to be photographed with this person who was "searching for truth." Such examples abound.

Who is standing up against cults now? First of all, the Orthodox Church. And unfortunately, it frequently does this alone, as if this were needed only by the Orthodox and as if it absolutely does not affect anyone else. There is such an incomplete array of activists and parents of children (and children of parents) involved in cults. What is done is a basic preventive work and warning people about cults. Literally only a handful of specialists are available for cult exit counseling, and practically nobody is taking care of rehabilitation.

Orthodox public opinion constitutes a major force. In Yekaterinburg, the leader of the local Mormon mission announced that the Vimm Bill Dann dairy and fruit juice company was a partner of the Mormons. The company management simply did not react to this announcement. Then the Orthodox people announced a boycott of products from the Vimm Bill Dann company; the firm became concerned and completely refuted the Mormon's announcement.

For the time being we are not able, unfortunately, to rely on the government. It is necessary to appeal to the population to be active, and point out to people that if they are not concerned about themselves, nobody else will be. It is necessary to introduce the teaching of traditional religion in educational institutions, as it is spelled out in the p. 1 of the First additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Russian Scientology News