PRISON OR PARADISE?
The New Religious Cults
A. James Rudin Marcia R. Rudin
First published 1980 by Fortress Press Philadelphia
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The Cult Boom 25
erty while cult leaders live comfortably or even luxuriously.
10. The cults are antiwoman, antichild, and antifamily. Women perform the most menial tasks of cooking, cleaning, arid street solicitations and are rarely elevated to high decision-making positions in the group. Birth control, abortion, and the physical circumstances of childbirth are often regulated by the group's leaders, who are usually men. The Unification Church teaches that Eve's sin of intercourse with Satan is the root of human estrangement from God. There are reports of sexual abuse of women in the Church of Armageddon. A fourteen-year-old was raped in the Children of God when she disobeyed a leader. Women in the Children of God are encouraged to use sex to recruit new members.
There are reports of child neglect and beatings. Children are often improperly cared for and inadequately educated. They are at times taken away from their parents and raised by others in the group or even geographically separated from them. Because some members have now been in a cult for many years, the consequences of the cult experience are affecting a second generation.
Family bonds must be subordinated to loyalties to the cult, which may speak of itself as a higher family. Children and parents may not form close relationships because this may threaten group loyalties. Families are often deliberately broken up, members forced to renounce spouses who do not approve of the group or who leave it. Cult leaders may order "marriages" with other partners even though the follower may be legally married to another either inside or outside of the cult.
The followers' ties with their families outside of the group are strained if their family disapproves of the cult, and adherents may be forced to sever connections with them. Families are often prevented by the cult from locating their member or from talking with him or her privately. The cult may tell the adherent that his family is satanic and warn him that it will try to trick him into leaving the group or may try to kidnap him.
11. Most cult members believe the world is coming to an end and they are elite members of an "elect" survival group. They believe in a Manichean dualistic conflict between Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. By joining the cult they believe they have affiliated themselves with the Good which will eventually triumph over Evil.
They shed their old identities and take on new ones in preparation for this "new age." They have a sense of rebirth, or a starting over, and so often adopt new names, new vocabulary, and new clothing in order to purify themselves for their new lives.
12. Many of these groups have the philosophy that "the ends justify the means." Since the "ends" are so important: salvation of souls, salvation of the world, triumph of Good over Evil - any means required to carry them out are permitted and even encouraged by the cult. There may be a double standard of truth, one for cult members and another for the outside world. The cult member may be encouraged to lie to outsiders. The Unification Church practices what it calls "Heavenly Deception" and the Hare Krishna "Transcendental Trickery."" The Children of God believe that since the world is so corrupt they are not subject to its laws and teach their members to subvert the legal system. However, within the cult the members must be truthful to each other and to the cult leaders.
13. The cults are often shrouded in an aura of secrecy and mystery. They keep new members in the dark, promising more knowledge about the group as they become more involved in it. Some leaders are rarely, if ever, seen by the average member. The cults may hide financial information from the public.
14. There is frequently an aura of violence or potential violence. Two Unification Church recruitment centers are guarded. The Divine Light Mission premises and the Krishnas at their farm in West Virginia have their own security forces which they insist are necessary to protect the cult leaders or to protect themselves from hostile neighbors. Many
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Way International members take a weapons training course. There was a large arsenal of automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns at Jonestown. People's Temple followers were closely guarded before Congressman Ryan and members of his party were slain and many adherents took poison or were shot by Jones's security forces.
Some cult members have been involved in incidents of beatings or shootings. In May, 1979, a Swiss court sentenced the head of a Divine Light Mission at Winterthur to fourteen years in prison on charges ranging from breach of the peace to attempted murder. In August, 1979, two Unification-Church area directors were arrested and charged with shooting at the car of two former members. Christopher Edwards' parents had to hire private detectives to guard their home for several months after he was deprogrammed and had left the Unification Church. Since Edwards' book about his experiences with the Unification Church was published, he has received two death threats. Private investigator Galen Kelly was hospitalized with a concussion for a week in 1979 after, he alleges, a Unification Church member hit him on the head with a rock.
Are the New Cults Dangerous?
Observers of the religious scene are divided over the issue of what these new groups in our society mean. Some scholars see the new cults as the "cutting edge" of a healthy and growing spiritual awakening in the Western world. They maintain that the cults promote religious pluralism by ensuring freedom of choice and a variety of religious alternatives. But cult critics perceive them as wild and poisonous weeds invading religion's vineyard. They believe the new cults are actually antipluralistic because they claim to possess the one, only, and final truth. They discourage or forbid their members to discuss other ideas and alternatives and vow to triumph over other viewpoints. This attitude, critics maintain, hinders rather than promotes religious pluralism.
We believe these new religious cults are dangerous both to
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society and to their followers. They are dangerous to society because they are authoritarian and antidemocratic: They demand that the individual submit to the authority of t e group, surrender his intellect to unquestioned doctrine, and subsume his life to the greater good of the group. They often encourage their members to disobey or disregard society's laws in favor of the group's mores. According to Robert Boetcher, staff director for the Fraser Congressional Subcommittee on Korean American Relations which investigated the Unification Church, Reverend Sun Myung Moon's "stated goal is to rule the world by setting up a global theocracy in which separation of church and state will be abolished."
The cults are dangerous to their followers. Although there are people who have found happiness and peace of mind, purpose and meaning in their lives through cult membership, others have paid a high price. Cults can physically endanger their followers. Cult members have been weakened by poor diet; lack of sleep; overwork, insufficient clothing as well as grim living conditions. Many groups deny proper medical care to their adherents, endangering especially those who have preexisting physical problems such as diabetes. There are reports of cult members going blind or losing their limbs because they did not get medical attention in time.
Cults are psychologically dangerous as well. Many cult members and former members have suffered severe mental breakdowns. Others have experienced a more gradual erosion of their intellectual powers and trust in their reasoning- and decision-making abilities. Even if they do get out of the group -and many do not-it may take months or even years for them to regain lost intellectual powers and a sense of wellbeing. Some former cult members will never regain their full potentialities. Dr. John G. Clark, Jr. testified at the hearings on religious cults conducted by Senator Robert Dole in February, 1979, that some cult member cannot remember the past or the subtle values which would become conscience. They are often deluded, hallucinating, and
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gave $100,000 towards the Prabhupada Palace and donated a 23-acre estate sixteen miles from London. Krishna devotee Alfred Ford, Henry Ford's great-grandson, pays for the leases on their warehouses in California, is financing a Hare Krishna museum in Detroit, and lent the temple in Detroit money to buy the former Fisher mansion there. Another Krishna, Lisa Reuther, daughter of the late Walter Reuther, also donated her inheritance to make the purchase possible.
The Divine Light Mission
In the spring of 1973, Rennie Davis, a New Leftist antiwar activist and member of the famous Chicago Seven, called a news conference to announce that "there is now a practical way to fulfill all the dreams of the movement of the early sixties and seventies. There's a practical method to end poverty, racism, sexism, imperialism." He had become, he explained, a follower of the revolutionary teachings of Guru Maharaj Ji, Spiritual Master of the Divine Light Mission. Said Davis, "I would cross the planet on my hands and knees to touch his toe.
The short, rotund, noncharismatic Indian guru, whose real name is Prem Pal Singh Rawat, seems an unlikely figure to inspire such passionate commitment. But when his father, the wealthy and high-born Shri Hans Ji, who had preached among India's poor since 1960, died, the eight-year-old boy was already widely known for his unusual spiritual qualities. His mother chose him over three older brothers to continue her husband's successful Divine Light Mission.
In 1971 an American businessman on a trip to India was impressed by the thirteen-year-old guru and persuaded him to
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come to the United States. With the help of financial backing from the businessman's friends in Boulder, Colorado, and the most up-to-date public relations techniques, Maharaj Ji caused a sensation. He attracted many young members of the counter-culture. By 1973 there were forty to fifty thousand followers called "premies" (an Indian word meaning "lover of God") in the United States. About six hundred of them lived full-time in the Divine Light Mission communal ashrams ("shelters"), with three hundred in the Denver commune. The movement boasted 480 centers in thirty-eight countries around the world and had an estimated 6 million followers in India alone.
The Mission incorporated in Colorado as a tax-exempt church and grew into a multi-million-dollar a year business enterprise. According to Michael Bergman, the group's Executive Financial Director, between January and June, 1973, its business concerns grew 800 percent. They invested in real estate, operated printing businesses, a band, and restaurants. Income came also from large gifts, tithing of all members, and from the assets turned over by premies who lived, in the ashrams. Maharaj Ji rode in a green Rolls- Royce, a Mercedes 600, a Lotus sportscar, and on several motorcycles. The group owned houses in London, New York, and Denver. In 1974 the Mission purchased the four-acre Anacapa View estate in Malibu, California, for Maharaj Ji and his new bride. The mansion on the ocean with swimming pool and tennis court cost half a million dollars.
Unmarried premies living in ashrams must be celibate. They cannot drink alcohol, use tobacco or drugs, eat meat, poultry or eggs, but are allowed coffee, tea, milk, and dairy products such as cheese. The followers take a vow of poverty during the elaborate initiation ceremony. They are encouraged to give all of their money and possessions to the Mission, to turn over nearly all of their subsequent income, and to work for the Mission without pay. Since most premies are transient they usually abandon school and career to work at any odd job
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they can find in the area. Even those premies who do not live in an ashram must maintain close ties with the Mission centers and go there frequently to discuss their beliefs. Most followers send their children to regular public schools, but the Mission runs an accredited elementary school in Denver, the Unity School, which is based on Rudolph Steiner's progressive Waldorf method.
The Divine Light Mission's recruiting techniques are "softsell." They recruit members primarily through newspapers and yellow-pages advertising and by "personal witnessing" in which premies speak glowingly of their new-found peace and happiness since "receiving Knowledge" from Maharaj Ji or one of the Mahatmas or Prime Disciples designated by the guru to dispense "Knowledge."
This "receiving of Knowledge" is at the heart of the Divine Light Mission. It is a practical experience, not an abstract idea or theology. The Guru teaches that the mind or rational thought is the enemy of the experience because it stands in the way of attaining bliss. The "Knowledge" one receives from Maharaj Ji frees one from the "devil" mind. "Receiving Knowledge" can transform a skeptic who has become disillusioned with reason and with political ideologies; it can make him "see, hear, and taste the divine." Knowledge can change the world and bring it peace. Only Maharaj Ji has this Knowledge and possesses the key to help others get in touch with God, the source of all. Only the guru can make them realize that the entire universe is "one great field of energy."
"Knowledge" is given, and the candidate becomes a premie, in a secret initiation ceremony that lasts from five to fifteen hours. First the candidate fills out a "knowledge card," which includes a detailing of his financial assets. The Mahatma gives a lecture and all bow and prostrate themselves before the guru's photograph, after which the room is darkened and he demonstrates the Mission's four techniques. In the first, "Divine Light," the Mahatma presses on the candidate's eyeballs until pressure on the optic nerve causes him to see flashes of light. During the second, "Nectar," the person's head is tilted back and he curls the top of his tongue into the back of the throat until he tastes nasal drippings. In the third technique, "The Word," a secret mantra for meditation is ' given and a rhythmic breathing pattern established. In the fourth, "Divine Harmony," the candidate plugs his ears with his fingers until he hears a sort of buzzing sound. Mission members insist that a physical description of these techniques cannot convey the quality of the mystical experience.
Receiving Knowledge is only the first step for the new premie. They compare it to planting a seed that must be nurtured. The Knowledge experience must be followed up by sessions of "Satsang" ("company of truth") during which the leader and the premies talk extensively about Knowledge and commitment to Mission life. Premies must also meditate formally, seated, for at least two hours a day. Many meditate far more; some claim they meditate constantly while doing other things.
The wild growth of the Divine Light Mission peaked by the end of 1973. Mission officials blamed a bad press. Expectations for "Millennium '73," billed as the "most, significant event in the history of humanity," were too high. Premies predicted the festival would bring one thousand years of peace and there were even rumors that a UFO would land in the Houston Astrodome's parking lot. The three-day festival was held in the Astrodome on November 9, 10, and 11, dates which coincided with meaningful astrological configurations. But the actual event was disappointing. Although they had expected 100,000 followers, only fifteen to twenty thousand attended; an earlier Billy Graham rally in the Astrodome had drawn 66,000. The Divine Light Mission was left with a huge debt. Further bad publicity ensued when Maharaj Ji married his secretary, former airline stewardess Marolyn Lois Johnson, in 1974. The guru's mother was so upset over the marriage and her son's opulent life-style that she disowned him and designated one of his older brothers to take over the Mission. Maharaj Ji fought his brother in courts in India and they finally agreed that he would retain control of the United States Mission while his mother and brother headed the operation in India.
In order to reduce its debts the Mission closed down and consolidated its business enterprises. By 1976 all but five of the largest ashrams were closed down. Full-time members, by then only about three hundred in the United States, two hundred of them in Denver, scattered into communal apartments. With the reduction of the number of premies living in ashrams who donated their incomes to the Mission, there was a corresponding reduction in the movement's income. But observers estimate that the movement is still worth about $5 million.
With its "flower children" followers growing older, DLM spokesman Joe Anctil announced in August, 1976, that the Mission would change its image. Extravagant "trappings" such as the parade automobiles would be eliminated. The movement would be decentralized and run more democratically, with each Mission branch autonomous and the international headquarters merely a "coordinating and communications body." No longer would devotees kiss Maharaj Ji's feet at Mission Festivals or think of him as God incarnate, the Perfect Master; rather they would look upon him as simply a human being with important teachings. The number of Mahatmas empowered to give Knowledge was reduced from 2,000 to seven; three of the seven were now Americans, whereas previously all Mahatmas had been Indians. With a decline in the number of Mission businesses in which premies could work, full-time devotees were encouraged to take jobs in the outside world.
According to the Mission's own estimates there are presently about ten to fifteen thousand premies in the United States and 1.2 million throughout the world. In March, 1979, the Mission announced it was moving its national offices to Miami, Florida, and keeping only legal offices and a small staff in Denver. Even though its wealth and membership is reduced, the Divine Light Mission's ideas and practices still hold great power over its premies, and critics contend that for those
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whose entire lives are tied up in the group the Mission presents all of the dangers of other cults. They charge that while the premies lead a life of renunciation and poverty, Maharaj Ji enjoys a life of pleasure and luxury. Said one man in Malibu: "I've seen people living out of dumpsters and shoplifting at local markets just so they can stay out here and be near him [Maharaj Ji]." Another Malibu resident told the Los Angeles Times: "I am irritated. I see him coming down the hill in his Mercedes while these kids live on next to nothing."
The premies must pledge their first allegiance to the Mission and obedience to Maharaj Ji. Declares one woman in the Malibu Mission: "This isn't my body. This isn't my flesh. If Maharaj Ji wants to take care of my body, that's fine. The most important thing is to obey the Perfect Master." Robert Mishler, the Mission's former president, reports that the guru often humiliates premies. "He would have followers strip in front of others." He says that Maharaj Ji once poured a can of oil over a premie who was servicing his car. Mishler and the Mission's former vice president, John Hand, Jr., accuse Maharaj Ji of sexual and physical assaults on his followers. Mishler says the guru frequently beat premies with his fist or a cane and that he (Mishler) was "kneed in the groin once for no reason at all."
Critics believe the basic idea of the movement-that rational thought prevents one from reaching God-can be dangerous. They say the Divine Light Mission meditation methods wear down the mind and can cause anxiety, release fears normally kept in check by reason, destroy faith in one's own judgment, and weaken will power and creativity. The Mission's meditation method of concentrating intensely on something (a mantra or a noise) can, they maintain, actually negate feelings and thought. Some critics contend that the meditation method is designed to do so: when anxiety and negative thoughts or feelings creep into the mind, meditation blocks the conflict. One former premie told Conway and Siegelman that this blockage of disturbing thoughts can become second-nature if one meditates enough. For him meditation became "a conditioned re-
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sponse." He kept doing it without trying even after he was deprogrammed, and he reports it took him months to rebuild his thinking capacity.
Barbara Fabe, who was deprogrammed from the Mission, believes she was brainwashed through constant repetition and bombardment of the group's doctrine. "You are doing something that rationally you know is nuts," she explains. "It's the suggestion … It is reinforced every time … They're salesmen, but more than salesmen, they're adept at mind control." She is convinced she would have done anything Guru Maharaj Ji told her to do. "I was programmed," she asserts. "I was not acting of my own free will … I believe I was under hypnosis."
The two former Divine Light Mission high officials, Mishler and Hand, fear there is a potential for violence in the group. They relate that after the Guyana tragedy Maharaj Ji showed behavior similar to that of the Reverend Jim Jones. They claim the guru had spoken frequently of building a city similar to Jonestown and in 1974 Mishler actually filed incorporation papers in Colorado for the formation of the City of Love and Light Unlimited, Inc. An attempt to build the community near San Antonio, Texas, failed in 1975. Mishler reports also that after Maharaj Ji saw the movie, The Godfather, he became fascinated with the criminal underworld and set up a ten-member security unit called the "World Peace Corps." Armed with rifles and handguns, the security force lives at the Malibu estate and travels with the guru to protect him and, says Mishler, "to control members" who are overwhelmed by emotion during his personal appearances.