Elyria, O, Wed., Sept, 17, 1977 Chronicle-Telegram A-5

The Cults: Salvation or Slavery?

Ex-Moonie tells of Unification recruiting practices

What sort of person is ripe for cult membership? And what's so wrong about a group which promises love, warmth and a higher purpose? This is the last of a six-part series.
© United Feature Syndicate

Sylvia Buford wrote this thoughtful personal essay In her diary after she left the Unification Church:

"Today a deprogrammed Moonie returned to Unification. I hear that his family is so stricken with grief that it is as though a death had occurred in the family. I felt some disappointment - but mostly sadness. He had tried so hard the past year to hold on. It was just too lonely for him! guess. He found nothing in this world and he had found something in Unification. There were warm bodies and songs and a higher purpose, no matter whether it was right or wrong.

SOMETIMES, on a cold day like today, I miss the warm sunshine of mornings at the Unification Church Center in the Colorado mountains and the soothing tones of the Korean songs we sang there. A part of my heart is still there I suppose, and someday maybe I'll be able to figure it all out.

"I don't like the word 'brainwash.' What happened to me was something more frightening - more insidious than I can ever explain. I suppose the word is Utopia. The Unification Church was the closest I ever came to Utopia. In spite of what angry parents say, the Unification Church doesn't need to kidnap. Its attraction is all-encompassing- They say, 'Come with us- We can have an ideal world.'

"Perhaps it is heresy in religious doctrine, and unrealistic in philosophy, and dishonest in practice to the outside world. But all one remembers of the experience is the promise, the lure of the honey. So what is wrong with it- what is wrong with it?

“It makes of those in its influence an exclusive novelty, a marginal commodity, a thing left out which takes no part in life. The boundaries of Unification are so limited that those within it can give joy to no one."

SYLVIA is waiting to hear if she's been accepted in law school. She says, "There's no way I'll ever go back. There's too much happiness in my life now to want to return to a life of non-choice"

The religious conversion of young adults is what Harvard-educated theologian Herbert W. Richardson calls an "ideological or vocational conversion."

Dr. Richardson (a part-time faculty member at the Unification Church's Tarrytown, New York, seminary and a professor at the theological seminary of the University of Toronto) says that between the ages of 18 and 25, adults are ripe for conversion to an ideology. He contends that a religious conversion at this time of life is often confused with getting hold of one's own will or independence.

"A child has neither a culture nor values when he is born, he assumes those of his parents. Conversions in young adults are stabs at rebellion and independence."

In a permissive society where behavior knows few boundaries, relative answers are given to the direct questions of our young. They find it difficult to rebel when all the rules are flexible.

IN A TIME when no one has a handle on all truth, it is conceivable that anyone who can claim, with a straight face, to have all the answers will be able to gather a following, he doesn't have to recite his answers. He must only claim to be privy to them, and promise eager adherents that all will be revealed to them too, in time.

When this kind of absolutism is conveyed along with a purpose - such as the betterment of mankind - a cult leader is bound to become something of a pied piper. It even happens when it is apparent, to any who question, that the stated goals of a movement and its activities are often opposed to each other. However, the contradictory practices of a movement don't seem to spark the curiosity of its followers. Once they have become ardent cultists, they cling to the vague, higher purpose they espouse.

A cult holds out nirvana as an attainable goal. It promises the revelation of truth and the fruits of experience, in increasing degrees, as a novice grows toward maturity in his faith.

GURU MAHARAJ Ji claims to understand the key to the essence and spirit of knowledge and truth. He says he is in touch with the force of life that lurks in the inner recesses of all living things. Promises the same to those who will follow him.

“He who seeks truth, finds it," the young guru tells his disciples. If by chance a new devotee doesn't find what the guru promises when he practices the guru's meditative techniques, the fault of course is not the guru's but the premies. A disappointed premie will be told that he "hasn't grown enough" to experience the "knowledge." Consequently, he will keep coming back to the oracle for a taste of the truth he has been promised, and so desperately seeks.

It is mystifying to see young people become so dependent on the praise and promises of a cult or its leader that they will do nearly anything they are told to do.

SOME CULT CRITICS, including the controversial deprogrammer and hero of most anti-cult parents, Ted Patrick, charge religious cults with using hypnotism to recruit young men and women into their ranks.

Patrick told the California State Senate Subcommittee on Children and Youth that these groups use "on-the-spot hypnosis when recruiting." A person can come up to a person on the street and talk about anything. They can be singing or playing a guitar and the only thing they want you to do is look them straight in the eyes for five or ten minutes and you believe everything and go with these people."

We have yet to meet a cult member, or former cultist, who has convinced us that he was hypnotized into a new religion. But it does seem apparent that some religious cults use recruiting practices that in the world of business would be labeled "deceptive marketing practices."

An honest contract between religion and convert cannot be made if information about the group, its identity and the degree of commitment necessary for members to belong, is withheld. It is not coincidental that the Creative Community Project, an adjunct of the Unification Church in California, denies its affiliation with the Moon cult. It is the cult's most successful recruiting wing.

A PROSPECTIVE MEMBER is showered with affection and attention. He is made to feel important as friendship, love, peer support and approval are heaped on him. In fact, all of these conditions will exist within the group if he joins, but no one is told of the attendant price of each of the "gifts." Moonies and other cultists call this "love bombing," and "loving them up," and they know how effective it is. They themselves joined the same way.

The Moonies try to justify these practices by calling them "heavenly deceptions." Other religious cults admit that they feel the end justifies any means.

Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "one can never be sure of the ends, political, social, economic … lying and sneaking are always bad, no matter what the ends. We must, and we can, be sure of the ethics of the means, if not the ends."

Justice Brandeis could have been writing about a million instances of shortsighted ethics. He could have been writing about religious cults.

Excerpted from "All God's Children" published by Chilton Book Company.