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What You Should Know About Pro-Cult Apologists
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Background: Introduction Two kinds of Cult Apologists Distinctions Between Anticult- and Countercult Movements Their Problem with the Anticult Movement Their Problem with the Countercult Movement Their Tactics Their Funding
Apologetics is the study and practice of the intellectual defense of a belief system. An apologist is someone "who speaks or writes in defense of a faith, a cause, or an institution." (1)
A cult apologist is someone who consistently or primarily defends the teachings and/or actions of one or more movements considered to be cults - as defined sociologically and/or theologically.
Note that the term ''cult apologist'' is technical, and not derogatory - just as Massimo Introvigne states ''... apostates' (a technical, not a derogatory term).'' (2)
Cult apologists generally defend their views by claiming to champion religious freedom and religious tolerance. However, they tend to be particularly intolerant toward those who question and critique the movements they defend. (3)
Two Kinds of Cult Apologists
Basically, there are two kinds of cult apologists:
those who themselves belong to a cult (and promote their group's teachings and practices, while defending them against outside criticism) those who do not belong to any of the groups they defend.
It should be noted that just as anticult- and countercult professionals operate from different perspectives, cult apologists do so as well. (3)
Some of them are motivated by theological convictions, while others are mostly interested in sociological considerations. Sometimes their concerns overlap, but while both tend to promote religious freedom, they usually do so for different reasons.
At this point, a brief look at the basic distinctions between anticult- and countercult movements will be helpful.
Distinctions Between Anticult- and Countercult Movements
Anticult organizations and invididuals generally fight cults for reasons other than theological ones.
Countercult organizations and invididuals usually oppose cults for religious, doctrinal reasons. Most operate from an orthodox, Christian perspective. Their intend is to educate Christians and non-Christians on the dangers of heretical movements, to help Christians counter the theological claims of such groups, and to provide cult-members with information that may help them leave those movements.
Since they operate from different perspectives, anticult and countercult professionals do not always agree on what constitutes a cult. The former evaluate movements using sociological criteria, while the latter do so using theological standards.
Not surprisingly, this usually leads to different conclusions. For example, some anti-cultists see Mormonism as just another form of Christianity, while Christians consider it an heretical cult of Christianity.
Often, though, concerns overlap. For instance, a movement like the International Churches of Christ is considered cultic by those who evaluate it sociologially, as well as by those who consider theology only.
Note that Christian countercultists are more apt to also look at a movement's sociological aspects, whereas non-Christian anticultists are - understandably - not nearly as willing to include theological considerations. (4)
Cult Apologists' Problems with the Anticult Movement
Cult apologists generally chide or attack the anticult movement for using what they consider to be baseless arguments against cults (e.g. controversial issues like mind control, concern over illegal activities, unethical recruitment practices, excessive control over personal freedoms, etc.)
Cult apologists tend to claim that a) most cults are misunderstood - but legitimate - minority "religions" b) these movements only seem weird because people don't know enough about them, and c) that negative information about cults comes mostly from disgruntled former members with an ax to grind.
Cult Apologists' Problems with the Countercult Movement
Cult apologists chide or attack the counter-cult movement, which largely consists of Christian ministries, for believing it alone - using the Bible as its standard - can determine what does and does not constitute religious truth in general, and Scriptural orthodoxy in particular.
Christians have a Biblical mandate to discern between truth and error; between orthodoxy and heresy. While most people understand why Christians reject religious pluralism - in the sense that more than one religion can be said to have the truth (way to God, salvation, etcetera) - cult apologists label this exclusivism as "intolerance" or "bigotry."
Ironically, while Christian exclusivism does not sit well with them, they tend to overlook similiar exclusivistic claims in the movements they defend.
Cult apologists employ a number of tactics in their fight against the anti-cult and counter-cult movements.
Appeal to Academic Position
Some academic cult apologists attempt to create a credibility gap between themselves and what they refer to as "so-called 'cult experts'" or "self-proclaimed 'cult experts'." In doing so they try to create the false impression that a) there are no - or few - academics within the anticult- or countercult movements, and b) that one can not be an expert without being credentialed.
Appeal to Religious Position
Some cult apologists are theologians, and some even act as ministers. Incredibly, a few claim to be Christians. Don't let titles and positions fool you. Keep in mind what the Bible says about people who claim to represent God, but who support and promote false teachings:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NIV
Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering and Collaboration
Recently, a confidential, 1989 memo resurfaced - now online - showing how Jeffrey K. Hadden and other sociologists discussed ways to "neutralize" activities of the American Family Foundation and other anti/counter-cult organizations. The memo is referred to in Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's report, "Integrity and Suspicion in New Religious Movement Research."
Cult apologists and their organizations are marketing themselves to governments and government organizations by offering their advice and/or by positioning themselves as watchdogs for religious freedom. A prime example is CESNUR.
Some cult apologists help cults by presenting (paid) expert testimony at legal trials, in which they try to discredit the testimony of sociologists, scholars, cult experts and former cult members.
Like some of the cults they support, cult apologists are starting to use the legal system in their fight against those who dare critique them.
For example: An exposé by David Reed caused CESNUR to threathen legal action against him (and later also against Apologetics Index, as well as against the original recipient of a letter forwarded to Reed).
More recently, CESNUR tried to censor a web site critical of its activities.
Note: When threathened, pushed or otherwise intimidated, a) always consult a lawyer, b) document everything, and c) let your peers know what is taking place. While some cult apologists do nothing more than bluff, it is important to expose their activities to daylight.
Two news groups where such threats may be reported are:
Lacking of any real arguments, cult apologists do their best to discredit anticult- and countercult movements, mind-control theories, ex-members of cults, etcetera.
For example, they claim apostates can not be relied upon to tell the truth (e.g. this statement by J. Gordon Melton, and this one by Lonnie Kliever).
It is, of course, the cult apologists who can not be relied upon to tell the truth. For example, recently on a Christian mailing list, one amateur cult-apologist blatantly lied in response to a statement I made. I wrote:
The vast majority of anti-cult and counter-cult professionals support freedom of religion. What we object to, however, is physical, mental and/or spiritual abuse. Anton Hein, Message to CHRISTIA (bit.listserv.christia), Feb. 4, 1999. Message ID: firstname.lastname@example.org
The problem is however that there is no proof of such abuse. Rather people like you attempt to manufacture it to sustain your cottage industry. Barry Hardy, Message to CHRISTIA (bit.listserv.christia), Feb. 5, 1999. Deja News.
For the record: there is ample proof of cult abuse. (Example). Too, I do not earn any money from apologetics and countercult work, and thus am not interested in maintaining an alleged "cottage industry."
Not all cult apologists are such blatant liars or have such a poor grasp of facts, but many misrepresent important issues, such as the status of brainwashing theories, the veracity of apostate testimony, or the expertise of anticult- and countercult professionals.
Cult apologists don't like the word "cult." They say that the word has taken on negative connotations, and claim it is generally used pejoratively. Therefore, instead of educating the public on the proper uses of the term, they promote the use of what they consider to be more neutral terms. These include New Religious Movements (NRMs), Alternative Religious Movements (ARMs), or simply Religions. (They'll use the term "cult" in their marketing efforts, though. Check their self-produced site descriptions in search engines, and take a look at their META tags).
Leo Pfeffer's illogical and inaccurate statement on religions, sects and cults is often quoted by cult apologists in their efforts at redefining terms.
Too, cult apologists sometimes claim that counter-cult professionals are "anti-religion" - a ludicrous lie that demonstrates the length to which these cult defenders will go in their deceit.
Benjamin Zablocki on the funding of research on NRMs:
(...) With regard to finances, a major obstacle toward the sort of progress desired is the cloud of secrecy that surrounds the funding of research on NRMs. The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied and, to a lesser extent, by their opponents. Whether in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. It is time to recognize that this is an issue of a whole different ethical magnitude from that of taking research funding from the Methodists to find out why the collection baskets are not coming back as heavy as they used to. I know there will be great resistance to opening this can of worms, but I do not think there is any choice. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal. It would be far better to deal with it ourselves within the discipline than to have others expose it. I am not implying that it is necessarily wrong to accept funding from interested parties, whether pro or anti, but I do think there needs to be some more public accounting of where the money is coming from and what safeguards have been taken to assure that this money is not interfering with scientific objectivity. Benjamin Zablocki, The Blacklisting of a Concept. Note: Article accessible only to subscribers of Nova Religio.
- Articles - Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research by Prof. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi When Scholars Know Sin Made available by permission from Skeptic Magazine, this article by Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs addresses the problem of scholars being co-opted by alternative religions.
- FAQ - Cult Apologists FAQ Produced by Tilman Hausherr (French translation by Roger Gonnet)
- See Also - » CESNUR (Massimo Introvigne) » Irving Hexham » Jeffrey Hadden » J. Gordon Melton
- Sites - Cult Apologists Rick Ross' extensive collection of articles on a number of cult apologists.
1.Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. 1980. (Back to text) 2.Massimo Introvigne, Religious Liberty in Western Europe, Iskcon Communications Journal, Dec. 1997 (Back to text) 3.See, for example, the mean-spirited approach taken by the Scientology-backed Cult Awareness Network, or the often taunting ridicule of the anticult movement as employed by CESNUR. (Back to text) 4.That Christian countercult professionals consider sociological aspects in addition to theology is not surprising. It is said that bad doctrine leads to bad fruit behaviorally. While for the Christian, examining theology is a priority, he is not just concerned with whether movements or individuals "talk the talk," but also whether they "walk the walk." (Back to text)
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