Human engineers are at work in a variety of fields. They are increasing the capacity of a relatively small number of people to control, modify, manipulate, reshape the lives of a great number of other people. And they are functioning in many countries, especially the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, Israel, Russia, Australia, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. These new technologists draw primarily on the discoveries in the behavioural, biological, and computer sciences. Control is being achieved over human actions, moods, wishes, thoughts …"
Vance Packard, The People Shapers, (1978, p. 3).
The alarming pace at which a wide variety of cults spreads across the globe, attracts followers and acquires wealth, gives cause for concern. Self-styled 'New Age' gurus manage to gain power over people's minds and pockets without disclosing their aims or taking responsibility for such injury as they may cause to the mental and physical state of their followers. What these 'movements' have in common is a lack of transparency in their organisational set-ups. This new caste of elites is non-elective and authoritarian in their insistence on unquestioning obeisance. They are not accountable to either followers or society-at-large. Hence their activities call for closer attention, in the public interest.
Globalism and 'New Age' cults
Economic globalisation is making national boundaries obsolete and erodes decision-making powers of nation-states. This political decline goes hand-in-hand with the disempowerment of people in the 'global village', where policies are increasingly determined by anonymous supra-national authorities.
The decline of the nation-state is marked by its promotion of the globalist ideology of economic liberalism and its policies of privatisation and deregulation. Millions of laid-off workers are thrown on the scrap heap of enterprise 'rationalisation'. The inability of governments of all persuasions to cope with the worsening crisis erodes trust in the effectiveness of parliamentary processes as agents for change.
The mood of frustration is a fertile ground for the movers-and-shakers of 'New Age' cults, who exploit the confusion and despair of people unable to cope with the pressures of modernity and its business culture. Consciously avoiding rational debate, the manipulators present themselves as a so-called 'third force', which reaches across cultural, socio-political, and national boundaries. The notion of 'alternative politics' becomes the catch-cry, even if the alternatives remain foggy.
There is a clever process of value-substitution, the promotion of 'personal experiences' in lieu of community-or social concerns and activities. Slogans generate an aura of mystique, from 'The Age of Aquarius' to the 'New Age', promoted by a self-styled artistic avant-garde. Unbeknown to themselves, individuals fall easy prey to the marketing techniques of public relations wizards and become their pawns in the contest for global dominance.
The State vs 'New Age' cults
In view of excesses perpetrated by some over--zealous operators, many governments attempt to exert a degree of control over cultist activities. Such attempts are invariably met with vociferous campaigns accusing governments of infringing religious freedoms.
In Australia, official concern with the activities of proliferating religious cults led to the formation of a committee of Federal, State, and Territory legal advisers, which recommended that 'significant emotional harm' inflicted by religious groups be classified as a criminal offence. The committee held that
'Freedom of religion is not freedom, for example, to defraud, nor is it freedom to cause significant psycho-logical or psychiatric harm to any person.'
The Australian, 14 October 1998 &nb...
The concern proved justified when an Australian woman, Verity Linn, died in Scotland in September 1999, in the wake of prolonged fasting that had been advocated by self-styled 'guru' Ellen Greve, alias, of Brisbane. Greve propagates an abstruse 'Live on Light' philosophy. Her fasting programs induce followers to live on air and water only.
In the United States there have been several successful court cases against groups using mind control techniques. In France, the Church of Scientology is under investigation in the wake of claims that people are subjected to extreme forms of mental abuse, according to L'express of 16 September 1999. There have been considerable efforts to ban the cult in Germany. In Australia the self-styled Church of Scientology runs state-financed private schools. Invariably, state authorities run up against the 'freedom of religion' argument.
In China, the Falun Gong cult, a derivative of a so-called Re search Society Falun Dafa, was founded in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, who claims to be a reincarnation of the Buddha and endowed with miraculous healing abilities. Li set up 39 teaching centres through-out China and runs a highly profitable trade with books, cassette tapes, and video CDs. The Chinese authorities claim that numerous Falun Gong followers have suffered both mental and physical harm by not seeking hospital treatment for ailments, but trusting their 'guru'.
Investigations have shown that Mr Li has amassed considerable personal wealth. Born in China, he now lives with his wife and daughter in the United States. The Chinese authorities have declared Falun Gong illegal, and a warrant is out for Li's arrest, should he return. In response, the cult has embarked on an open challenge to government authority by setting up passive mass presences in Tien Anmen Square. Planned political provocation or genuine belief? — What do Falun Gong followers believe in?
The Buddhist Association of China, and the Taoist Association, have pointed out that Falun Gong plagiarised many Buddhist and Taoist terms and falsified their concepts.
In Thailand, the Dhammakaya movement claims to offer solace to the impoverished and culturally uprooted middle class, seeking to fit into the globalisation process and its consumer culture. The sect's leader, Phra Dhammachayo, 55, has been accused of fraud, embezzlement, and religious heresy by the ruling body of Thai Buddhism, the Sangha. Sulak Siva-raksa, a Buddhist scholar and social critic, argues that traditional Buddhism does not cater for modern Thai people who do not go to temples for superstitious practices or to consult astrologers. Whilst this may be true and Dhammakaya breaks with the past, it also leaves the seekers in a spiritual and intellectual vacuum.
The Soka Gakkai movement in Japan, and its political arm, the New Komeito Party, have moved into politics as coalition partners of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party. There is strong opposition in secular Japan to Komeito, on grounds of its religious affiliations which claim a followership of 12 million people. Soka Gakkai International is represented in 128 countries. The organisation professes adherence to the philosophy of a 13th century Buddhist sage, Nichiren, and claims a commitment to peace, culture, and education — issues which hardly amount to an innovative platform, but are the lowest common denominator for consensus creation.
One of the most extreme cases of cultist mania was the nerve gas attack on a Japanese subway by adherents of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect) in 1995. Other cult members were arrested in September 1999 for the alleged imprisonment of a woman who had intended to leave the cult.
Beware of 'dangerous persuaders'
In 1994 Melbourne psychologist Louise Samways published Dangerous Persuaders, a study exposing the proliferating personal development courses, cults, and their 'gurus', The author pointed out that there were at least 100 known cults operating in Australia, and that personal development courses attracted a turn-over of $1 billion annually.
Louise Samways draws attention to the misuse of mind control techniques, which tend to be practiced without the knowledge or agreement of the individuals concerned. Damage may be caused to people who did not know what they were letting themselves in for, but cults take no responsibility. Some of the known techniques used to inveigle followers sound a note of warning:
Recruitment into cults may be by advertisement, such as invitations to lectures with general, but vague, themes, such as 'World Peace', or 'Cosmic Conscious-ness'. Others promote personal growth courses. Some claim financial contributions; others encourage activities such as recruitment campaigns among friends, to test and cement commitment.
Cults select vulnerable people, often loners, who respond to emotional warmth and companionship and become malleable to cultist aims. Unsuspecting individuals are exposed to mental and emotional manipulation, including the use of neuro-linguistic programming; creating dependency on the leader; encouraging confessionals and rituals; or using guilt and rejection as emotional weapons. The goal is to inhibit recruits from critically analysing their actions. Organisers manipulate levels of arousal, whereby participants are induced to alter their core beliefs.
One of the techniques used is attention focusing by using repetitive sounds, such as mantras, litanies, or prayers; another approach uses visual focusing on candles, or symbolic objects such as pictures, statues, a cross. Music — chants or rhythmic instruments, and even hard rock — can be used to relax or arouse, as the case may be. Other techniques include touching, massage, and encouragement to group nudity — all of which ought to be treated with extreme reserve, says Samways. Last — but not least — are dietary prescriptions, mainly stressing the use of simple carbohydrates and avoidance of proteins. Yet extreme dietary regimes can affect the normal functioning of the human brain and distort perceptual capabilities. Certain drastic dietary prescriptions can have serious health effects. The death of Verity Linn in Scot-land, mentioned above, is a case in point.
The systematic and deliberate way in which 'New Age' activists proceed to attract followers includes entry into schools under such pretexts as Christian fellowships, yoga teachers, and charity fundraisers. Various religious fellowships offer 'pastoral' or counselling services for students, to assist heavily overburdened professional staff. They ought to be scrupulously vetted for their bona fides and credentials.
As Louise Samways has found out, it needs courage to take on powerful and wealthy interest groups. She has been subjected to intimidations and threats.
Evolution theory versus Creationism
Throughout recorded history human beings have searched for answers to life's questions, to the mysteries of nature. But whereas some 2000 years ago European tribes — Greeks, Scandinavians, Slavs — built temples to the fearsome god of thunder and lightning, nowadays a school child studying the natural sciences understands the origin of these phenomena, and the once-powerful deity is forgotten.
Today, at the end of the 20th century, there is still an ongoing struggle between believers and rationalists, notably the continued controversy between 'creationists' and 'evolutionists' who subscribe to Darwin's theory of the origin of species. According to a recent report as many as 44% of Americans believe in a strict creationist view of the origins of life, and another 40% believe that evolution may have occur-red over millions of years, but has a divine origin. This explains why, as the Guardian Weekly (2–8 Sep-tember1999) reported, none of the current Presidential candidates have publicly distanced themselves from the Kansas decision to ban evolution theory from schools. By comparison, a British Social Attitudes survey showed that only one in five, or 20%, believed unequivocally in a God, though 65% saw themselves as Christians in a cultural sense. (Guardian Weekly, 31 May, 1998)
In the United States a proliferation of conferences and studies seeks to reconcile science and religion. The movement is far from spontaneous, say researchers Edward J Larson and Larry Witham, writing in the Scientific American issue of September 1999. One of the sponsors of a major symposium at Berkeley University, California on 'Science and the Spiritual Quest', was the Templeton Foundation of financier–philanthropist Sir John Templeton. Phillip E Johnson, a Berkeley law professor and frequent speaker at the Campus Crusade for Christ, has called for "the separation of real science from the materialist philosophy". 'Creationists' have labelled pro-evolution arguments as atheist-inspired. The philosophical debate becomes an ideological issue:-a neo-McCarthyist wave identifies non-believers with an un-American world view and seeks to purge them from the education system.
Fundamentalism and political extremism
Fundamentalists believe in the literal truth of religious writings, passed down through the ages. Exposed to conflicting values in a changing world, confused individuals find strength by adopting a set of rules and fundamental 'truths', which reduce complex issues to a black-and-white dichotomy between 'goodies' and 'baddies', 'us' and 'them'.
In its extreme form the fanaticism of 'true believers' underpins the formation of militant groups, ready to impose their world view by force of arms on the rest of American society and beyond.
In mid-August 1999 Aryan Nations cultist Buford Furrow shot his way into a Jewish kindergarten in California. The slaughter of people because of their race, gender, or beliefs, is a regression from civil society, spreading the poison of ethno-chauvinism, racial hatred, bigotry and ignorance. It cannot pass unchallenged, because tomorrow other people, in other countries, might become the targets of this extra-ordinary revival of extremist beliefs and superstition.
Furrow is not just a psychopath, an aberration. He is part of a nefarious movement which substitutes beliefs for knowledge and includes anti-evolutionists, anti-abortionists, anti-gays, anti-democrats, anti-communists, anti-blacks, anti-Jews. Growing numbers of people are being persuaded that the American government is controlled by 'Satanic forces' and that they themselves are 'Christian martyrs', the New Age crusaders.
The link between fundamentalist beliefs and political extremism has long been ignored. Significantly, fundamentalism flourishes in the economically deprived regions of the United States, which spawned the Ku Klux Klan and its derivatives. Fundamentalist talk-show demagogues, notably Pat Robertson, whose Christian Coalition claims to be the moral standard-bearer of the US religious right, channelled members' votes in support of Republican candidates in 1990, 1992, and 1994. Favourites were Oliver North of Irangate ill-fame, and NewtGingrich, the ultra-conservative House speaker.
A simplistic world view, and hatred of 'otherness', are common features of these cults:
• Aryan Nations, founded by Richard Butler in the mid-seventies, is a militant advocate of anti-Semitism and of a purely Aryan state. Allegiance to the 'Zionist Occupied Government' of the United States is rejected; this is where Furrows found his niche.
• National Alliance, a neo-Nazigroup, was founded by William Pierce some 20 years ago and is described as the 'sin-gle most dangerous organised hate group in the US today' by the Anti-Defamation League. Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh admired Pierce;
• The World Church of the Creatoris led by Matt Hale and is one of the fastest-growing hate groups. Their battle cry is Ra-Ho-Wa (Racial Holy War) and their aim is to create an all-white nation.Last July one of their activists, Benjamin Smith,went on a shooting spree, killing two people and wounding nine;
• Posse Comitatusis an anti-Semitic and overtly racist Church group, said to be composed of armed anti-tax and anti-Federal Government 'vigilante of Christendom'. It is alleged that they were involved in counterfeiting;
• Christian Identity, whose pseudo-religious ideology attracted Furrow. The organisation draws followers from many other cultist churches throughout the country, including Aryan Nation.They believe that Anglo-Saxons are the biblical'chosen people', that blacks are 'mud people' on the level of animals, and Jews are the 'Children of Satan'. They predict a final, apocalyptic battle, ending in victory for the 'chosen people';
• Pineas Priesthood holds a violent credo of vengeance against non-whites, opposes the banking system, interracial marriages, and 'wants to root sodomites from the land'.
As poverty and disenchantment spread through American society, hate cults give individuals a sense of self-esteem and supremacy. According to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Centre, some 100 Christian Identity ministries count between 35,000 and 50,000 adherents. In 1995 alone, hundred hate-based murders and bombings were recorded in the U.S., including Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
Praise the Lord and pass the credit card
Reports from the United States draw attention to the scandals qualities of these surrounding the fundamentalist preaching fraternity:- sex, drugs,pseudo-religious and money.
Names such as the 'reverends' Oral Roberts of Oklahoma, Marvin Gorman of Louisiana, Jimmy Swaggart, or the 'Jim and Tammy' TV show of the PTL (for among their leaders Praise the Lord) Pentecostal Church, are associated with 'worship centres' seating thousands of the faithful, with bible colleges,universities of divinity dispensing doctorates, with their own TV and radio stations,and highly profitable publishing — and gospel recording businesses — the kind of money-spinning enterprises which Mr Li Hongzhi tried to launch in China. &...
Jim and Tammy Bakker alone controlled a 10,000 hectare theme park in South Carolina, with a five-storey hotel of 500 rooms, a 'Christian' shopping mall featuring floating clouds projected onto an azure ceiling, a 2400 seat church, a convention centre.
The real test of the genuine moral qualities of these pseudo-religious groups is the absence of Christian charity among their leaders, who have a history of slander, litigation, and attempted takeovers of competitors' churches and parishioners.
The 'New Age' of unreason
Does it matter what people believe? It does, because truth and empirical evidence matter, says Polly Toynbee. She points out that mainstream religions have a great deal to answer for the perpetuation of beliefs in supra-natural and extra-terrestrial mythology,which makes 'New Age' cults and practices more acceptable. In Britain, Peter Clark, Professor of the history and sociology of religion, says that 'we live in the most superstitious age ever', and draws attention to the highly commercialised promotion of New Agery. An ICM poll showed 63 per cent of respondents believed in parapsychic phenomena. (Guardian Weekly, 31 March 1998)
The collective sanity of society comes under challenge from a multitude of diversionary stratagems, not all of them originating with 'New Age' cults, yet creating conditions which ensure receptivity to 'alternatives'.
The degeneration of public education standards, the decline in science studies, are the most effective methods for reducing information inputs that would enable individuals to evaluate alternatives, and to make deliberate choices. In the United States — once a leader in educational excellence — recent studies show that the nation's children are grossly under-educated. Half of all 17-year old Americans lack the necessary reading-and maths skills to get a job in the car industry, according to industry surveys. In Australia, a national report published on 6 October1999 indicates that student enrolments are on the decline in the 'enabling' or basic sciences — mathematics, physics, chemistry. (The Australian, 6 October 1999)
Author Salman Rushdie, himself the target of an ongoing Islamic 'fatwah', observed that 'the war against religious obscurantism, a war many people believed had been won long ago, is break-ing out all over. All sorts of gobbledygook are back in style. The pull of stupidity grows everywhere more powerful. A new dark age of unreason may be the beginning. High priests and fierce inquisitors are cackling in the shadows. There are, once again, anath-emas and persecutions.'
(The Age, 30 September 1999)
In the Christian cultural orbit the anti-contraception and anti-abortion rulings of the Catholic Church are examples of theological determinism which reasserts the power of dogma, long thought to have been over-come in civil society. It is reminiscent of a dictum ascribed to St Augustine, bishop of Hippo, dating back to the 3rd century AD, 'I believe, even if it is irrational' (credo, quia absurdum ).
The so-called New Age 'philosophers' use ideas, theories and beliefs to concoct a mishmash which they try to pass on as some extraordinary insights of their own. Their promises of 'inner peace' sound enticing to people struggling to cope with social and economic pressures.
In Melbourne Soka Gakkai International involves itself with local Buddhist and Christian 'progressive' communities active in the Peace Movement. One of their mantras insinuates the notion that these belief systems have a common denominator, are inter-changeable. It is a proposition which contradicts mainstream Christian as well as Buddhist teaching. The style is introspective, reminiscent of auto-suggestive practices:
Peace and Respect Meditation
Aware of my breath, I breathe in. Aware of my breath, I breathe out. Aware of my breathing in, I breathe in.
Aware of this moment, I breathe out and smile. Aware of Buddha or Christ before me, I breathe in. Aware of Buddha or Christ before me, I breathe out.
Aware there is no boundary between myself and the Buddha or Christ, I breathe in.
Aware there is no boundary between myself and the Buddha or Christ, I breathe out.
I breathe in the strength of Christ or the Buddha. I breathe out the strength of Christ or the Buddha.
Aware there is no boundary between respect and the respected, I breathe in.
Aware there is no boundary between respect and the respected, I breathe out.
I breathe in respect for people around me.
I breathe out respect for people I know who are in con-flict with each other.
I breathe in respect.
I breathe out respect for all life in war zones.
May I be peaceful, happy and light, in body and spirit. May I be free from hatred, craving and delusion.
May I be able to recognise and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, crav-ing and delusion within myself.
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, free and solid.
In reality the messengers of an 'alternative life-style' disorient and confuse, rather than informing and educating. The objective is to create a relationship of dependence, to turn those who seek their guidance into obedient puppets, to subjugate in the name of freedom. It is the face of a fearsome new totalitarianism of global reach.
As Louise Samways has pointed out in her book, 'maverick groups are now making a deliberate push into business, politics, the public service and education. Unless we recognise their pernicious and insidious danger and combat it we risk jeopardising the very foundations of our democratic way of life.'
The question is:- who controls the puppeteers, the'prophets', the controllers?
Original text from: www.rationalist.com.au/archive/51/p26-30.pdf