The Apostasy Conspiracy

According to the protagonists on the NRM side of the academic cult wars I am an apostate and so I should try to redeem myself by telling atrocity tales about the cult I claim I was hoodwinked into joining. Now that cult was Divine Light Mission and indeed it is invariably identified as one of the 4 or 5 major deviant religious cults of the 1970's. The others would usually be listed as the Unification Church ("moonies"), the Hare Krishnas, the Rajneeshees and the Children of God though there were many fringe groups jostling to enter the mainstream. There was an explosion of cults in this period but these were the most successful and achieved the most media exposure.

I do not think that many 'premies' who joined Divine Light Mission suffered any true atrocities. Many spent years in meaningless tasks and activities working for over 10 years for no wages, neither being educated nor amassing any capital or valuable employment skills while worshipping a person wholly unworthy worthy of worship. Some suffered real hardship. One small group of attractive blonde female followers suffered, or enjoyed, sexual relations with the short, obese Perfect Master at his whim but only consensually.

The only atrocity I suffered was listening, watching and reading his atrocious speeches and trying to and failing to believe they were intelligent, valuable divine sermons. This has been of some value to me as nothing else in my life has ever been that boring. So-called atrocity stories are any remembered negative event that occurred during the apostate's involvement in the cult and in the overwhelming majority of cases bear no resemblance whatsoever to an actual atrocity. The term was invented by Shupe and Bromley as a way of scorning and refuting recollections by apostates without investigating them and by extension scorning apostates themselves.

A hierarchy of credibility was created in which "whistleblowing" apostates, especially those who had been "deprogrammed" were on the bottom rung. Yet a quick thought experiement shows the unreality of this hierarchy. Whistleblowers from cults that became as infamous because of their crimes such as the Peoples' Temple at Jonestown, Branch Davidians at Waco, the Solar Temple & Heaven's Gate in San Diego would have been disbelieved while positive stories from committed members had more credibility and acceptance from NRM researchers before the cults became infamous. And no cult has ever attained the promises that caused it's successful proselytisation that researchers would hear from committed members high on the credibility hierarchy. Guru Maharaj Ji (Prem Rawat) of the Divine Light Mission has not brought peace to the earth and neither has the Maharishi with his claimed spiritual congruence and yogic flyers and pandits involved in their TM-Sidhi® programs despite the reams of bogus research they produce and their claim that 7,000 Vedic Pandits in India practicing their advanced meditation techniques caused the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the "cold war."

The Apostates That Didn't Bark

Detective Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Since the general acceptance of the internet amongst "baby boomers" there has been a curious silence from amongst those people who joined various of the derided(?) cults in the 1970's and left of their own accord without becoming public apostates. According to NRM researchers these are the majority of people who joined these cults and so they are also the majority of former members. Indeed, I am one of those people and would answer a question as to whether I learnt anything valuable from my time in the cult with a "YES!" However if the question was more specific such as "Did you learn anything valuable from the teachings of your guru?" I would answer with an emphatic "NO!" If the question was "What was the most important thing you learnt from your time in Divine Light Mission?" My answer would be "To NEVER join another cult!"

There have been many discussion groups and forums for former members of cults and these invariably are strongly critical of the cult and it's leader with some disagreement from current members. What we don't find is large numbers of the majority of people who left of their own accord defending their former group and testifying to the genius and ??? of their former leader and condemning public apostates for their falsehoods. Amongst people who have been involved in discussion about Divine Light Mission there is a range of ideas about their time involved. Those who gave all their worldly goods and inheritances, joined the ashram system rather than go to college and spent 10 or more years working for nothing or donating all their wages to the guru before being kicked out on the street around age 33 without education, capital or career are often more bitter and critical than those who enjoyed a ???? involvement attending meetings and festivals and making only darshan donations. Those who had interactions with the guru when offstage (a small minority of members) are also more critical of the guru than those who worshipped him from afar or at least they actually relate tales of the guru's hypocrisy.

As Guru Maharaj Ji promised to reveal God to his followers and an easily attained life of bliss and joy to whomever followed his commandments then it is difficult to find alternatives explanations for joining the cult than deception. Most public apostates accept a share of responsibility for making the decision to trust these absurd claims but believe the guru has a large part of the blame.

Im fairness to Shupe and his ilk there weren't that many sources to investigate. This was true of public critics of Guru Maharaj Ji and Divine Light Mission. Maggie Shivers gave evidence in the court case of Emily Deitz against her parents and recounted a priceless story. During her deprogramming she was told "You know Maharaji has a half dozen expensive cars around the country", and she said, "Hell with you, I'm his accountant and he's got 32 of them, if you really want to know!" Another deprogrammed premie was Hilly Zeitlin who after his deprogramming became an exit counsellor and moved on to family therapy, complementary medicine and NLP. Some people who had been deprogrammed joined in anti-cult activities but there must have been far more who went back to their homes, thanked their parents, apologised to their parents and went on with their lives. The anti-cult movement was small and poorly organised. If they were ever questioned by academic investigators I'm sure they would have said they'd gained some wisdom thanks to their involvement in the cult but not the so-called wisdom their former guru was teaching but that they should never be conned by bullshit like that again.

The conflict faded as did the public profile of the cults as their expansion ended but with the creation of the internet many of those who had been disillusioned and left the cults found a way to communicate with others and discuss their experiences. For some people this was a long term involvement fostered by their sense of righteousness or anger or any of a number of possible motives. In the case of Guru Maharaj Ji/Maharaji/Prem Rawat many of his former close associates and administrators told their 'atrocity tales' though these were mainly banal and unimaginative as is Rawat after all. That Rawat was a lazy, luxury-loving, ignorant, insecure fat boy who hadn't matured and treated his followers with disdain and desperately wanted respect from the greater society was hardly a revelation though some of his more naive former followers (ex-premies) were shocked.

Universal HeroTo gain true information about a specific cult requires more than simply googling the appropriate title. This is because google does not decide what the most truthful sites on the web are and link to them first but uses a series of algorithms originally based on how many other sites link to that site. It was the Scientologists who first realised they could swamp the internet with sites linking to "official" pro-Scientology sites. Other well funded groups have done the same as their critics are usually individuals who create their sites as a hobby or a hobby-horse. In some cases they have taken over a site that was formerly a critical one. Wikipedia cannot be trusted as some cults even employ experienced Wikipedia editors to harass others and prevent true critical information being published by use of Wikipedia's arcane rules.

  • Scientology places great stress on recruiting Hollywood actors and this strength has also been their Achilles Heel. Tom Cruise has been humiliated and become a laughing stock after video of him receiving the Intergalactic Saviour of the Millenium Award (or something like that at any rate) and the true extent of his nuttiness and ego were made apparent. Many high profile books have also been published in the last 10 years. For a good introduction to Scientology go to Operation Clambake.

  • David LynchTranscendental meditation is one of the great cons of the 20th century. Mahesh was the book-keeper at an important monastery in Northern India and learnt enough to create a pathetic scam that convinced millions of people who didn't bother to do any research. TM is just another mantra meditation. Any mantra will do though people usually choose ones related to the Hindu religion. TM will produce no effect that meditation on a self chosen mantra won't do. It's a con. Everything else from yogic flying to World Peace through thousands of meditating pandits to the World Government is nonsense and all those scientific proofs are mainly crap. A good introductory website is Fraud, Philandering & Fascism in the TM Movement and a fun movie that shows the dark heart of TM is David Wants To Fly. Personally I think the best proof that TM is nonsense is David Lynch's face.

If the attitudes of this sample can be extrapolated to the population of all former members, what this data indicates is that vocal ex-members who attack Adidam on the Internet are not representative of most former participants. This does not mean their criticisms should be rejected as entirely lacking in merit. Rather, it means that the impression created by this handful of individuals – that most former members feel that they we abused and are angry with Adi Da and Adidam – should be rejected as lacking in merit. - Adidam, Controversy and Former Members by James R. Lewis

Shupe:

  • "Moonies" in America: Cult, Church, and Crusade. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications, 1979. (with David G. Bromley). Introduction by John Lofland. 269 pp.
  • The New Vigilantes: Anti-Cultists, Deprogrammers and the New Religions. Beverly Hills, SAGE Publications, 1980. 267 pp.
  • Six Perspectives on New Religions: A Case Study Approach. Lewiston and Queenston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1981. 235 pp. ISBN 0-88946-983-0
  • Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare. Boston: Beacon, 1981. (with David G. Bromley) 249 pp. ISBN 0-8070-3256-5
  • The Anti-Cult Movement in America: A Bibliography and Historical Survey. New York: Garland Press, 1984. (with David G. Bromley and Donna L. Oliver) i-xiii + 169 pp.
  • A Documentary History of the Anti-Cult Movement. Arlington, TX, University of Texas Center for Social Research Press, 1986. (with David G. Bromley) 376 pp.
  • Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1994. (edited with David G. Bromley). ISBN 0-8153-1428-0
  • "The Cult Awareness Network and the Anticult Movement: Implications for NRMs in America" (with Susan E. Darnell and Kendrick Moxon) in New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America. edited by Derek H. Davis and Barry Hankins. Waco: J.M.Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies and Baylor University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-929182-64-2
  • "The North American Anti-cult Movement: Vicissitudes of Success and Failure." in The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements (with David G. Bromley and Susan E. Darnell), ed. by James R. Lewis. NY: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 184-205.
  • "Anticult Movements" entry in Lindsay Jones, editor-in-chief, Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd edition. Vol. 1 Thomson/Macmillan 2005, pp. 395-7.
  • "Deprogramming" entry in Lindsay Jones, editor-in-chief, Encyclopedia of Religion. 2nd edition Vol. 4 Thomson/Macmillan 2005, pp. 2291–3.
  • Agents of Discord: The Cult Awareness Network, Deprogramming and Bad Science. New Brunswick: Transaction, 2006. (with Susan E. Darnell) ISBN 0-7658-0323-2
  • Spoils of the Kingdom - Clergy Misconduct and Religious Community. University of Illinois Press, 2007. ISBN 0-252-03159-8, ISBN 978-0-252-03159-5.
  • Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare , David G. Bromley, 1981, Beacon Press
  • The Social Impact of New Religious Movements, Bryan Wilson, 1981, The Rose of Sharon Press
  • The Role of Anecdotal Atrocities in the Social Construction of Evil, David G. Bromley, Anson D. Shupe Jr. & J.C. Ventimiglia in The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy, 1983, The Edwi Mellen Press
  • The Politics of Religious Apostasy edited by David G. Bromley, Praeger, 1998
  • Misunderstanding Cults, Searching For Objectivity in a Controversial Field, edited by Benjamin Zablocki & Thomas Robbins, 2001, University of Toronto Press
  • 1996 Zablocki, Benjamin, Reliability and validity of apostate accounts in the study of religious communities. Paper presented at the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York City, Saturday, August 17, 1996.