The anti-cult movement is conceptualized as a collection of individuals and groups, whether formally organized or not, who oppose some "new religious movements" (or "cults"). This countermovement has reportedly recruited participants from family members of "cultists", former group members (or apostates), religious groups (including Jewish groups) and associations of health professionals. Although there is a trend towards globalization, the social and organizational bases vary significantly from country to country according to the social and political opportunity structures in each place.
As with many subjects in the social sciences, the movement is variously defined. A significant minority opinion suggests that analysis should treat the secular anti-cult movement separately from the religiously motivated (mainly Christian) groups.
The anti-cult movement might be divided into four classes:
According to sociologist Eileen Barker, cult-watching groups (CWGs) disseminate information about "cults" with the intent of changing public and government perception as well as of changing public policy regarding NRMs.
Some opposition to cults (and to some NRMs) started with family-members of cult-adherents who had problems with the sudden changes in character, lifestyle and future plans of their young adult children who had joined NRMs. Ted Patrick, widely known as "the father of deprogramming", exemplifies members of this group. The former Cult Awareness Network (old CAN) grew out of a grassroots-movement by parents of cult-members. The American Family Foundation (today[update] the International Cultic Studies Association) originated from a father whose daughter had joined a high-control group, and other parents concerned about young adult offspring populated the American Family Foundation's membership.
From the 1970s onwards some psychiatrists and clinical psychologists accused "cults" of harming some of their members. These accusations were sometimes based on observations made during therapy, and sometimes were related to theories regarding brainwashing or mind control.
Anson Shupe, David G. Bromley and Joseph Ventimiglia coined the term atrocity tales in 1979, which Bryan R. Wilson later took up in relation to former members' narratives. Bromley and Shupe defined an "atrocity tale" as the symbolic presentation of action or events, real or imagined, in such a context that they come to flagrantly violate the (presumably) shared premises upon which a given set of social relationships should take place. The recounting of such tales has the intention of reaffirming normative boundaries. By sharing the reporter's disapproval or horror, an audience reasserts normative prescription and clearly locates the violator beyond the limits of public morality.
Countercult literature usually expresses doctrinal or theological concerns and a missionary or apologetic purpose. It presents a rebuttal by emphasizing the teachings of the Bible against the beliefs of non-fundamental Christian sects. Christian countercult activist writers also emphasize the need for Christians to evangelize to followers of cults.
The secular opposition to cults and new religious movements operates internationally, though a number of sizable and sometimes expanding groups originated in the United States. Some European countries, such as France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland have introduced legislation or taken other measures against cults or "cultic deviations".
In the Netherlands "cults", sects, and new religious movements have the same legal rights as larger and more mainstream religious movements. As of 2004, the Netherlands do not have an anti-cult movement of any significance.
Australia's anti-cult movement began in the 1970s with the introduction of NRMs like Scientology and the Unification Church. Deprogrammings occurred throughout the 1970s and 1980s that resulted in numerous lawsuits resulting in a national transition away from deprogramming and toward exit counseling. In 2010, independent Senator Nick Xenophon attempted to enact legislation against NRMs – though primarily against the Church of Scientology and their tax-exempt status – similar to those in France. However, his efforts were unsuccessful.
Australia's main anti-cult organization is Cult Information and Family Support (CIFS), ran by exit counselor Tore Klevjer. It was founded by Ros Hodgkins, David Richardson, and nineteen others in 1996. CIFS combats NRMs as well as lifestyle coaches and multi-level marketing schemes;The Advertiser wrote in 2017 that it also represents ex-NRM members. Other groups like Cult Counselling Australia (formed in 1991) exist in Australia to provide exit counseling and educational services.
China's modern anti-cult movement began in the late 1990s with the development of qigong groups, primarily Falun Gong. Anti-cult campaigns in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first centuries were founded on "scientific rationality and civilization," according to medical anthropologist Nancy N. Chen. Chinese authorities claimed that by July 2001 that Falun Gong specifically was responsible for over 1,600 deaths through induced suicide by hanging, self-immolation, drownings, among others and the murders of practitioners' relatives. Chinese authorities adopted the negative term "xié jiào" (邪教) to refer to new religious movements. It is roughly translated by "evil cult", but the term dates as far back as the seventh century CE with various meanings. Its literal meaning is "heterodox teachings."
Japan's modern anti-cult movement began in the 1980s when numerous groups – though primarily the Unification Church – began soliciting "spiritual sales" (霊感商法) from new converts or people on the street. A lawyer's organization called the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales (NNLASS) (全国霊感商法対策弁護士連絡会) was formed to combat these "spiritual sales" and supposedly forced donations. According to NNLASS, the group received over 34,000 complaints about "spiritual sales" and forced donations by 2021 totaling to about 123.7 billion yen (US$902 million). According to Yoshihide Sakurai, Japanese courts originally would require religious groups to return large donations if the person never joined the group, but once the person joined the group, their "spiritual sale" was made completely within their own free will and should not be returned. However, lawyers argued that if the person was forced to make a donation, then they were not making it out of their free will and thus their donation or sale should be returned. Based on a 2006 Tokyo District Court decision, the circumstances of whether or not the Unification Church used illegal recruiting or donation soliciting tactics were to be determined on a case-by-case basis, which was upheld by a 2007 appeal.
In 1995, Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese new religious movement, attacked a Tokyo subway with sarin gas, killing 14 people and injuring about 1,000. After this incident, mainstream Japanese society faced their "cult problem" directly. Various anti-cult groups – many of them local – emerged from the publicity of the "Aum Affair". One of which is the Japan De-Culting Council (日本脱カルト研究会) on 11 November 1995. It was founded by lawyers, psychologists, academics, and other interested parties like ex-NRM members. It changed its name to the Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (日本脱カルト協会) in April 2004.
In 1989, Tsutsumi Sakamoto was a anti-cult lawyer working on a civil case against Aum Shinrikyo. At approximately 03:00 a.m. JST (UTC+9:00), several members of Aum Shinrikyo entered Sakamoto's apartment in Yokohama. His wife, Satoko, and his 14-month-old son, Tatsuhiko, were killed as well. In the aftermath of the Aum Affair in 1995, some Aum Shinrikyo members and one former member in September 1995 tipped off Japanese police about the general location of the bodies of the three victims, which were scattered to complicate search efforts.
On 8 July 2022, Tetsuya Yamagami assassinated former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Upon his immediate arrest, Yamagami was reportedly frustrated at Abe's relationship with the Unification Church. Yamagami's mother reportedly made large donations to the Unification Church that bankrupted their family. Yamagami's uncle reported that the mother's donations totaled to 100 million yen (US$720,000).Massimo Introvigne, an Italian NRM scholar and publisher of the pro-NRM online magazine Bitter Winter, called the assassination an "anti-cult hate crime."
Social scientists, sociologists, religious studies scholars, psychologists and psychiatrists have studied the modern field of "cults" and new religious movements since the early 1970s. Debates about certain purported cults and about cults in general often become polarized with widely divergent opinions, not only among current followers and disaffected former members, but among scholars as well.
Over the years various controversial theories of conversion and member retention have been proposed that link mind control to NRMs, and particularly those religious movements referred to as "cults" by their critics. These theories resemble the original political brainwashing theories first developed by the CIA as a propaganda device to combat communism, with some minor changes. Philip Zimbardo discusses mind control as "the process by which individual or collective freedom of choice and action is compromised by agents or agencies that modify or distort perception, motivation, affect, cognition and/or behavioral outcomes," and he suggests that any human being is susceptible to such manipulation. In a 1999 book, Robert Lifton also applied his original ideas about thought reform to Aum Shinrikyo, concluding that in this context thought reform was possible without violence or physical coercion.Margaret Singer, who also spent time studying the political brainwashing of Korean prisoners of war, agreed with this conclusion: in her book Cults in Our Midst she describes six conditions which would create an atmosphere in which thought reform is possible.
Some members of the secular opposition to cults and to some new religious movements have argued that if brainwashing has deprived a person of their free will, treatment to restore their free will should take place, even if the "victim" opposes this.
Precedents for this exist in the treatment of certain mental illnesses: in such cases medical and legal authorities recognize the condition as depriving sufferers of their ability to make appropriate decisions for themselves. But the practice of forcing treatment on a presumed victim of "brainwashing" (one definition of "deprogramming") has constantly proven controversial. Human-rights organizations (including the ACLU and Human Rights Watch) have criticized deprogramming. While only a small fraction of the anti-cult movement has had involvement in deprogramming, several deprogrammers (including a deprogramming pioneer, Ted Patrick) have served prison terms for acts sometimes associated with deprogramming including kidnapping and rape, while courts have acquitted others.
The Foundation against Intolerance of Religious Minorities, associated with Adidam, sees the use of terms "cult" and "cult leader" as detestable and as something to avoid at all costs. The Foundation regards such usage as the exercise of prejudice and discrimination against them in the same manner as the words "nigger" and "commie" served in the past to denigrate blacks and Communists.
CESNUR's president Massimo Introvigne, writes in his article "So many evil things: Anti-cult terrorism via the Internet," that fringe and extreme anti-cult activists resort to tactics that may create a background favorable to extreme manifestations of discrimination and hate against individuals that belong to new religious movements. Professor Eileen Barker points out in an interview that the controversy surrounding certain new religious movements can turn violent by a process called deviancy amplification spiral.
In a paper presented at the 2000 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, Anson Shupe and Susan Darnell argued that although the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA, formerly known as the American Family Foundation) has presented "slanted, stereotypical images and language that has inflamed persons to perform extreme actions," the extent to which one can classify the ICSA and other anti-cult organizations as "hate-groups" (as defined by law in some jurisdictions or by racial or ethnic criteria in sociology) remains open to debate. In 2005, the Hate Crimes Unit of the Edmonton Police Service confiscated anti-Falun Gong materials distributed at the annual conference of the ICSA by staff members of the Chinese Consulate in Calgary. The materials, including the calling of Falun Gong a "cult," were identified as having breached the Criminal Code, which bans the willful promotion of hatred against identifiable religious groups (see also Verbal violence in hate groups).
An article on the categorization of new religious movements in US media published by The Association for the Sociology of Religion (formerly the AmericanCatholic Sociological Society) criticizes the print media for failing to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of new religious movements and its tendency to use anti-cultist definitions rather than social-scientific insight. It asserts that the "failure of the print media to recognize social-scientific efforts in the area of religious movement organizations (as [Barend van Driel and James T. Richardson's] previous research also shows) impels us to add yet another failing mark to the media report card Weiss (1985) has constructed to assess the media's reporting of the social sciences."
^Anson Shupe and David G. Bromley, eds. Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Garland, 1994.
Anson Shupe and David G. Bromley. "Anti-Cult Movement." In Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, edited by William H. Swatos, 27–8. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1998.
^Shoshanah Feher. "Maintaining the Faith: The Jewish Anti-Cult and Counter-Missionary Movement." In Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Shupe and Bromley, 33–48. New York: Garland, 1994.
^Anson Shupe and David G. Bromley. "The Modern Anti-Cult Movement in North America." In Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Shupe and Bromley, 3–31. New York, NY: Garland, 1994. p. 3.
^Shupe, Anson and David G. Bromley. 1994. "Introduction," pp. vii–xi in Anson Shupe and David G. Bromley, eds., Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective, New York, NY: Garland, p. x.
^James T. Richardson and Barend van Driel. "New Religious Movements in Europe: Developments and Reactions." In Anti-Cult Movements in Cross-Cultural Perspective, edited by Shupe and Bromley, 129–70. New York: Garland, 1994. pp. 137ff.
^Jeffrey K. Hadden. "SOC 257: New Religious Movements Lectures: The Anti-Cult Movement." Course Lecture. University of Virginia, Department of Sociology. 1997.
^ abJ. Gordon Melton. "Anti-cultists in the United States: An Historical Perspective." In New Religious Movements: Changes and Responses, edited by Jamie Cresswell and Bryan Wilson, 213–33. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. 216.
^Louis J. West and Margaret Thaler Singer. "Cults, Quacks, and Nonprofessional Therapies." In Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry/III, edited by Harold I. Kaplan, Alfred M. Freedman, and Benjamin J. Sadock, 3245–3358. 3rd ed. Vol. 3. London and Baltimore, MD: William & Wilkins, 1980.
^David A. Halperin. "Psychiatric Perspectives on Cult Affiliation." Psychiatric Annals 20 (1990): 204–18.
^Thomas Robbins and Dick Anthony. "Cults, Brainwashing, and Counter-Subversion." Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 446 (1979): 78–90.
^Norman L. Geisler and Ron Rhodes, When Cultists Ask: A Popular Handbook on Cultic Misinterpretations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997.
^Richard Singelenberg. "Foredoomed to Failure: the Anti-Cult Movement in the Netherlands". In Regulating Religion: Case Studies From Around the Globe, edited by James T. Richardson. Critical Issues in Social Justice. New York: Springer, 2004. 214–15.
^Dominiek Coates, "The Significance and Purpose of the 'Anti-Cult Movement' in Facilitating Disaffiliation From a New Religious Movement: Resources for Self-construction or a Justificatory Account," International Journal for the Study of New Religions 3, no. 2 (2012): 213–44. p. 219.
^Иваненко Сергей Игоревич (Latinization: Ivanenko Sergey Igorevich). "О РЕЛИГИОВЕДЧЕСКИЕХ АСПЕКТАХ ИЗУЧЕНИЯ "АНТИКУЛЬТОВОГО ДВИЖЕНИЯ: А также о его воздействии на государственно-конфессиональные отношения в современной России." (English: "On the Religious-studies aspects of the 'anti-cult movement': Its Impact on State-Confessional Relations in Modern Russia") Slavic Centre for Law and Justice. 17 August 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2022. http://www.sclj.ru/news/detail.php?SECTION_ID=214&ELEMENT_ID=2546
^Andreĭ Soldatov and I. Borogan. The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and The Enduring Legacy of the KGB. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010. 65–66.
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea. Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Ebook version. Thomas Nelson Inc., 2013.
^Nancy N. Chen, "Healing Sects and Anti-Cult Campaigns," The China Quarterly no. 174 (2003): 505–20. p. 508.
^Calum Macleod, "City Life: Beijing – China bars the masses from its biggest ever anti-cult exhibition," The Independent (London), 18 July 2001.
^For more on use of the term "evil cult," see Maria Hsia Chang, Falun Gong: The End of Days (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004), 97–100.
^Bryan Edelman and James T. Richardson, "Imposed Limitations on Freedom of Religion in China and the Margin of Appreciation Doctrine: A Legal Analysis of the Crackdown on the Falun Gong and Other 'Evil Cults,'" Journal of Church and State 47, no. 2 (2005): 243–67. p. 243.
^ abDavid G. Bromley and James T. Richardson, eds. The Brainwashing/Deprogramming Controversy: Sociological, Psychological, Legal and Historical Perspectives. Studies in Religion and Society. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983.
^Eileen Barker. The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing? 1984. Reprint, Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 1989.
^David G. Bromley and Anson Shupe. "Anti-cultism in the United States: Origins, Ideology and Organizational Development." Social Compass 42, no. 2 (1995): 221–36.
^David Matas and David Kilgour. "An Independent Investigation Into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China: Bloody Harvest: Revised Report into Allegations of Organ Harvesting of Falun Gong Practitioners in China." 31 January 2007. Retrieved 29 May 2022. https://organharvestinvestigation.net/.
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