Shazzam! How stupid have we been? We never saw it before—until enlightened by the Dr. Phil of investigative journalism. Yes, the “shocking exclusive” of the Texas Observer is Hannaford’s revelation as to why religious Judaism has supposedly been producing pedophiles for thousands of years. After all, one of the Ten Commandments repressively forbids adultery. The Levitical Law condemns sexual acts outside the marriage covenant. This repressive Law doesn’t even allow cross-dressing or bestiality and frowns upon onanism. And since throughout its history, most of Christianity has adhered to the moral boundaries outlined in its root religion of Judaism, we can easily see why it has supposedly now also produced so many pedophiles over the last two millennia. Just look at those who have kept these moral boundaries the most intact, such as the Amish and Mennonites, and we should expect to see vast numbers of pedophiles compared to the population at large. If you thought the explosive growth of this crime in the last few decades might have derived from, or been fueled by, the effects of a culture now awash in pornography funneled through magazines, television, Internet and movies, think again. The real problem has surely been the continued icy grip of traditional Christianity and Judaism that represses the whole country. After all, don’t police usually find Bible devotional programs on the computer hard drives of pedophiles they apprehend?
At least, that’s what the pop psychology of Hannaford would have us believe. But it’s understandable that Hannaford should promote his theory of sexual repression. Even though he has no direct knowledge of the circumstances behind any of the cases of pedophilia that we have not only encountered, but also exposed and reported, he has talked to ex-members. Never mind that they also have no direct knowledge of these cases or what factors may have led to the crime. And never mind that they sure do have animus against our community. Hannaford does not want any attention drawn to that. To him it makes all the sense in the world to go ahead and trust their rendition of the facts and to even publish a dramatically inflammatory attack smearing our community of nonviolent, apolitical men, women and children, who, though they would never impose their beliefs on anyone outside their community, do hold to values that utterly abhor any abuse of children, much less sexual exploitation. Is it really too outrageous for us to wonder if, as an aspiring journalist, Hannaford might possibly have been after a sensational story rather than responsibly seeking out a balanced, objective narrative colored in no way by his own views toward traditional Judeo-Christian values?
It seems more than probable that Hannaford went into this story with his interpretive narrative already in mind and then “suggested” to these ex-members that what actually lies behind the pedophilia cases is the “sexual repression” allegedly extant in our community. He claims to have been simply a tabula rasa, innocently seeking enlightenment, and “discovered” this truth as he gathered the evidence from these unprejudiced ex-members. But it seems far more plausible that, after suggesting the theory to some of these ex-members, he then solicited from them guided, directed, even reconstructed, testimony that, in true circular fashion, would then confirm his original thesis. Thus, this “testimony” includes absurd fabrications such as Katherine Beechner’s claim that marital intimacy was restricted to reproduction and Jeremy’s ridiculous complaint that “you’re not even allowed to talk to girls.” In actuality, Hannaford probably could have at least hit closer to the truth if, instead of his warmed-over Freudian view of “repressed sexuality,” he instead had just trotted out the Alien Abduction Theory as an “explanation” for why the problem of pedophilia exists. There’s perhaps at least some distant connection to the cases of pedophilia we encountered that could be milked from that theory.
Hannaford had many choices before him but chose as his main expert witness concerning the effects of the alleged “sexual repression” at Homestead Heritage, Janja Lalich, a sociology professor at California State University. If the whole story be known, his choice to render “expert” judgment on our small Christian community appears to be roughly akin to choosing an all-white jury and a white judge to try a black man in the Jim Crow South of the 1920’s.
Lalich is certainly free to hold and propagate any opinion she wishes. Though we as a community strongly disagree with her lifestyle, it is not necessary to make a value judgment on her personal beliefs in order to object to Hannaford’s way of using her as an “expert” in this article. One objection centers on a journalist’s responsibility to note, at least in some way, any possible conflict of interest or prejudices that an otherwise seemingly neutral outside “expert” might have, and therefore give the reader some clue that the said “expert’s” “scientific” comments might really be just his or her own subjective prejudices. This is critical here, because one of two main points of Lalich’s “expert” contribution to the article was the issue of “sexual repression,” giving “scientific” support to Hannaford’s story line that such repression has contributed to these cases of pedophilia. (Her other contribution revolves around leaders as “messengers from God.” Click here to read about accusations against leadership.) Hannaford quotes Lalich as saying that “sexual repression is one of the most powerful ways that a group can exert control.” Since the issue at hand was “sexual repression,” it should have been all the more incumbent on Hannaford to have at least given some clue about Ms. Lalich’s secular, anti-Christian bias, at least anti-Christian in her opposition to Biblical morality. Lalich is not opposed to simply our particular community’s views (she doesn’t even know us), but apparently feels Biblical morality in general to be an unacceptable “bounded choice” (the name of one of her books we have read) imposed upon individual autonomy, revealing a little more of what shapes her view of “sexual repression.” Just a brief sketch of her background should give pause for thought as to whether her expertise could objectively, dispassionately judge our community’s lifestyle. Again, the question here is not her right to hold any view she chooses, but whether her expert opinion is free from prejudice that would color her opinions on the “sexual repression” Hannaford insists exists in our community.
We first encountered Lalich when, eight years ago, the Christian fundamentalist watchdog group attacking us also put her forth as the champion of their views. This struck us as ironic since Lalich was an outspoken lesbian. She stood among the few thousand “married” to their partners in California in 2004 when the mayor of San Francisco granted such status by an administrative fiat, an action that was later declared to be illegal.1 She has had in the past a self-admittedly Marxist view of history, a view long noted for explicitly disparaging religion. Lalich had for 10 years been a committed member of a now defunct Marxist feminist organization, the Democratic Workers Party (DWP), which she now considers to have been a cult. But upon leaving the group, Lalich, instead of simply assuming personal responsibility for her wrong decision in joining this organization, has made a career out of trying to rationalize her choice. In a nutshell, she believes she was “tricked” into committing to and remaining with the Maoist-leaning DWP by “coercive persuasion” and “behavior control,” all without her understanding what was happening to her.2 Just a casual glance raises questions, though, about her protestations that she was tricked and duped into staying with the DWP. She had an attraction to the group based as much upon her own desires and beliefs as any incredibly deceptive recruitment or retention techniques utilized by the DWP. She was already a Marxist before encountering the DWP. In her words, before joining the group, she was “so gung-ho” about Marxism (she claims she had read Das Kapital three times already) that she had been invited to teach at one of the Bay Area’s most prominent “liberation schools.”3 She was also already a lesbian actively involved in promoting a lesbian agenda, and, as she states, this also attracted her to the DWP because “many of the founders and early members [of the DWP] were lesbians.”4
It appears as though she has repudiated the more bizarre aspects of the DWP. Yet the depth of her disaffection from some of her own ideological, moral and ethical views, which had made her so vulnerable to falling for the DWP in the first place, remains at best ambiguous. Her judgment, for example, appears clouded as to the propriety of her current affiliations. According to Bryan Edelman of the Jury Research Institute and James Richardson, director of the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies at the University of Nevada, the People’s Republic of China in their crackdown on religion and human rights draws on “many ideas” from the American Family Foundation and similar groups “to create a sense of legitimacy around its campaign” against what it calls “evil cults,” which include most prominently the Christian house church movement.5 In 2000 and 2001, official representatives from China attended American Family Foundation (now known as the International Cultic Studies Association, ICSA) conferences to hear more about how to control religious movements.6 Lalich is on the Executive Advisory Board of the ICSA and serves on the editorial board of its journal. She herself co-authored a book with Michael D. Langone, who was the president of the old American Family Foundation and is the executive director of the new incarnation of the group as the ICSA.
Of course, perhaps Hannaford and the Texas Observer also believe that all religious groups should be policed by the State. We hope not. It does seem that they are not ultimately bothered by the fact that irresponsible, shoddy journalism, which stoops to tabloid rumor mongering, could make the men, women and children of our community vulnerable to prejudice, bigotry and even misinformed legal attacks. For they did not even bother to vet their sources or fact check the article. The lurid sensationalism of Hannaford’s “Heritage of Abuse” simply follows in the finest tradition of Hearstian journalism.
Again, Lalich is certainly free to maintain such a lifestyle and hold her beliefs, but this hardly qualifies her as a disinterested judge of a Christian church. This is our point in bringing out those facts about Lalich’s beliefs, lifestyle, affiliations and past. The only reason that we bring out these facts, all of which are accessible to the public, is to make clear the prejudgments that will color her judgment about us. While we are apolitical and do not seek to impose our own more traditional views of morality upon anyone, our stance and beliefs will undoubtedly run contrary to Lalich’s. But Hannaford does not disclose to his readers anything about her that would reveal her natural prejudice against churches such as ours. Does Hannaford, himself a writer promoting LGBT issues, want to insist that only by our conforming the moral boundaries of our voluntary Christian community to those of the LGBT movement can we escape being labeled as a “sexually repressive cult”? Of course, Hannaford may not know anything about the background and beliefs to which Lalich ascribes, which would also be in keeping with his generally shoddy approach to research.
More important, though, than any issues surrounding “sexual repression,” a deeper look at Lalich’s criteria for branding a group as a cult, or an individual as a cult member, reveals her high-sounding rhetoric as simply a cover for a far more fundamental conflict. It is a conflict between two fundamentally incompatible paradigms that determine the entire course of a person’s life: one places love for self at the center, the other places self-sacrificial love as the highest ideal.
Lalich’s views follow those of others such as Lifton and Zablocki, all of whom ultimately contend that any call for total commitment to a cause or person constitutes an assault on individual autonomy. This assault becomes in their minds one of the most salient attributes of a cult. The problem is, however, as many scholars have pointed out, this view exalts as an unquestionable presupposition the notion that individual autonomy is the highest good. Individual autonomy means something quite different from the individual’s freedom to decide what he or she will or will not believe. We believe, and we see this as an essential tenet of true Biblical Christianity—despite the various aberrations through the ages—that this right should remain inviolate. But the individual’s freedom to choose what he will or will not believe is different from the assertion that human autonomy is the highest value. This latter is in fact a claim that individuals have the right and capacity to determine good and evil strictly for themselves, which, despite all disclaimers to the contrary, leads to a moral and ethical religion in which each individual becomes in effect the supreme authority, the god, of his own universe.
So this assertion of the supremacy of autonomy—in contrast to liberty—in actuality, is not a neutral “fact” but an ideological position in and of itself. It is a human-centered form of worship rather than God-centered—merely anthropocentric rather than theistic. Individual autonomy as the highest good is, then, an assumption, even a religious tenet, accepted by faith, not an empirical fact. It eliminates as a “good” the possibility of voluntarily yielding oneself to anything transcendent to the self. Individual autonomy must, in the view of people such as Lalich, remain sacrosanct. Indeed, as University of Virginia sociologist Joseph E. Davis points out, “The anti-cult ideology is constructed on an individualistic theory of the self.”7 In other words, in Lalich’s ideological view, on the one hand, to completely yield to a transcendent authority such as God, to whom the individual then cedes “lordship,” is by definition a cultlike mind-set; to insist, on the other hand, on worshiping the self, keeping the self unencumbered by any truly transcendent demand, remains the most honorable and praiseworthy of attributes, even heroic.
To be sure, the anti-cultists do not recognize the implications of the course they follow. People such as Lalich are so blinded by their devotion to defending autonomy that they also conveniently blur or even sidestep distinguishing between submitting to a noncoercive authority, such as a believer’s church, and the submission mandated by the coercive nature of the State. To them, completely yielding one’s autonomy to a noncoercive authority is as dangerous as being coercively controlled by the State. Both are, in their view, “totalist” threats to autonomy. Given such assumptions, they therefore can logically conclude that a devotion to a suicide-bombing ideology that seeks to impose its views through terror really differs only in degree, not in kind, from devotion to a church community such as our own that does in fact call people to yield their own selfish goals to the self-sacrificial love exemplified in the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. But by eradicating this distinction between voluntary authority and compulsory authority, these anti-cultists actually open the door to the policing of all ideological, philosophical and religious currents by the State, the very sort of danger that those who established the constitutional order in the late eighteenth century sought to protect Americans from.
In formulating the views of the supremacy of human autonomy, Harvard’s Michael Sandel, who teaches the most widely attended class in Harvard’s history, “Justice,” explains that in the modern mind any sense of right and wrong must “arise from a pure will or act of construction not answerable to a prior moral order.” Sandel writes that modernity holds the “autonomous self” as rightfully “installed as sovereign, cast as the author, of the only moral meanings there are.” 8 In fact, St. Louis University professor of history, James Hitchcock, bluntly states that “the essence of modernity” is the “refusal to accept any standard of truth outside oneself.”9 As Sandel concluded, in the modern mind, the self must be “cast as the author of the only obligations that constrain.” 10The self must remain “unencumbered” by any moral structure transcendent to the new great “I Am,” the individual himself.
Sandel, therefore, points out the irony of imagining the autonomous self to be “free”: “What is denied to the unencumbered self is the possibility of membership in any community bound by moral ties antecedent to choice; he cannot belong to any community where the self itself could be at stake. Such a community would engage the identity as well as the interests of the participants, and so implicate its members in a citizenship more thorough going than the unencumbered self can know.”11 For someone to make the informed choice, then, to join a community that itself is bound by an ethical code “antecedent” to the community’s own devising, a community, for instance, that took seriously a leader named Jesus, who Himself claimed to be the only great “I Am” and who called His followers to daily deny themselves (John 8:58; Luke 9:23), is to become automatically suspect of a cultlike mind in the eyes of devotees to the religions of the unencumbered self, as pluralistic and tolerant as they might claim to be. As sociologist David Bromley explains, “Preserving autonomy means avoiding personal embeddedness in any relational context that might compromise independent selfhood.”12 So, Bromley concludes, the basic presupposition of modernity requires that one hold as “suspect” any “relationships that involve individual embeddedness in any social context” that would involve ceding autonomy.13 Indeed, as Hitchcock writes, though the hallmark of autonomy and the modern mind is that “truth may be relative,” nonetheless, the modern mind’s “one absolute manifestation is in the fact that those who believe in absolutes are dangerously wrong.” And likewise, any group that believes in absolutes is automatically suspect.14
Sandel reveals that to the true believers in the autonomous self, “no commitment could grip me so deeply that I could not understand myself without it. No transformation of life’s purposes and plans could be so unsettling as to disrupt the contours of my identity. No project could be so essential that turning away from it would call into question the person I am.”15 So to true believers in the unencumbered self, in the authorial self, the Biblical call to repentance, radical conversion and commitment to an authority transcendent to the self stands as the great evil of our time. Indeed, they must induce a “moral panic” about cults in order to heroically save those dimwitted, backward believers from getting really serious about their faith. No wonder Yale professor of law, Stephen L. Carter, asserts that “for Americans to take their religion seriously, to treat them as ordained rather than chosen,is to risk assignment to the lunatic fringe.”16 Carter warns that individuals today must keep their religion firmly boxed in as just a “hobby,” or they will be pilloried in the secular media.17 In fact, as Hitchcock concluded, to the autonomous self “almost everything integral to traditional Christianity” becomes “menacing and even hateful, a reminder of the days when they were under the judgment of an infinite moral authority far beyond their own psyches.”18
So in the religion of the autonomous self, all “commitments” must remain nothing more than tentative choices. One must after all, it is argued, “keep the options open,” and the emphasis is on must. In other words, the individual should not be free to submit him- or herself to a transcendent authority that becomes a guide to right and wrong for that individual, particularly when this authority is embodied in a community sharing such beliefs in common, a community of which the individual voluntarily becomes a member. In other words, the traditional way in which most people throughout history have lived their lives—or at least vast numbers of them—from small agricultural villages throughout Asia to European religious communities, and so on and on, are all defined as totalitarian cults because they embed the individual in a social context not of his own design. The irony, however, is that this claim that the individual must be free to maintain the supremacy of his autonomy, that he must be liberated from even his own voluntary decisions to submit to a community that seeks to embody and to live out transcendent ideals based upon a transcendent authority, becomes the demand that the most powerful and most unusual of all coercive powers must crush the freedom of both individuals and voluntary communities to defend their autonomy. The next result, however, as historians, sociologists and writers on politics and philosophy have long noted, is to eliminate all loyalties and communities that could protect the individual, who now stands in utter isolation, against the unrestrained authority of the State. Historically, since the days of ancient Mesopotamian empires, this assault on small, protective communities has been an assault on transcendent moral standards through which people bind themselves together in the bonds of marital and familial sanctity. Essential to this assault on voluntary communities based upon adherence to transcendent moral values and authority must be the claim that people are deceived into joining, so that their decision is not really voluntary, and that the moral values and the authority that upholds them are merely masks, a facade for abusive behavior that actually inflicts coercive harm to the members of the community, psychologically, physically and in every other way. Thus the demand is raised for an investigation and for the intervention of compulsory authority to set the people free to live autonomous lives as isolated atoms in a culture in which the only binding power is the coercive power of the State.
So to those enthralled by the ideology of the autonomous self, any commitment to something transcendent to the self, or to any absolutes beyond the capacity of the individual to manipulate, becomes the mark of a cultlike mind-set. And anyone ever “liberated” from such a commitment by adopting the anti-cult template, based as it is on the theory of the supreme “individual self,” will, of necessity, turn back to accuse as a cult those to which they had formerly committed. They once again have come to the crossroad of the most crucial decisions of their lives: does a person follow a path of self-sacrificial love exemplified in the crucified Lamb, or does one enthrone the self as the “author of the only moral meanings that are.” The promise of freedom from the call to follow Jesus’ command to “lay down” one’s life can come from either a total rejection of the notion of God, as some of our ex-members have done, or it can come in the form of the doctrine of “free grace” that tells the individual that “freedom in Christ” means the believer is free to live his life any way the selfish nature would choose without any substantive consequences. This latter “promise of freedom” is the lure held out by the fundamentalist watchdog group that seduced the core group of ex-members so bitter against us now. They feel they must destroy any reminder of the higher call to self-sacrificial love in order to justify their newfound “freedom” from their former commitment to follow Jesus in the way of the cross.
Professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, David Bromley, Indiana University professor of sociology and anthropology Anson Shupe and University of Memphis sociologist Joseph C. Ventimiglia all describe this phenomenon that gives rise to the “atrocity stories”19 so similar to those our own ex-members have published. Sociologist Stuart Wright asks, “What separates vituperative, public detractors from sympathetic, indifferent or quietly disenchanted ex-members? Why do some leavers turn unfavorable experiences into a moral campaign while others resolve them with considerably less trouble and conflict?”20 University of California professor Gordon Melton answers the question. He writes that researchers began to see that the “atrocity stories,” supposed mental pathologies and accusations of “mind control,” had actually come “from that relatively small group of former members who had associated with the anti-cult movement,”21 whose basic paradigm is the “individualistic theory of the self,” the autonomous self. Ungerleider, Wellisch, Solomon and Wright all came to recognize the correlation between the accusation of abusive mind control and the ex-members’ contact with the anti-cult movement,22 of which Lalich is a prominent part. Psychiatrist Dr. Lee Coleman summarized research that revealed that “the degree to which a former ‘cult’ member claims he or she was the victim of mind control is dependent on the degree of exposure to anticult ideology.”23 Once a believer who was deeply committed to the self-sacrificial call of Christianity turns instead to the paradigm of the supremely important self, that believer will do precisely what this core group of ex-members has done to us: accuse us of atrocity after atrocity. Researchers such as David Bromley revealed that “the major source of dysfunctional symptoms among ex-members [was] the process of leaving the group,”24 not their experience while in the group. This helps explain why we have a core of ex-members accusing us of every evil under the sun while also having far more ex-members even willing to sign a petition on our behalf. Virtually all our present accusers have now encountered the anti-cult movement’s narrative based on the supreme autonomous self. They have encountered it either directly from the fundamentalist watchdog group or indirectly through the tight network of ex-members that has formed over the last eight years. It is indeed true that our community makes high demands of commitment, but this, as the late Dean Kelley of the National Council of Churches has said, is a mark of scriptural Christianity, not of some esoteric cult.
All this explains why history professor Philip Jenkins cautions that adherents to the secular view of autonomy have increasingly come to judge religious impulses as merely “thinly veiled manifestations of still potent primitive superstitions.”25 Serious religionists, in other words, are just backward bumpkins in the eyes of enlightened secularists. Jenkins warned that this polarization will grow until we find secular culture “defining itself against” Christian beliefs.26 It will be “individual autonomy” versus Christian commitment. Toby Lester of the Atlantic Monthly asked Jenkins what the implication of this trend would be. Jenkins replied, “I think that the big ‘problem cult’ of the twenty-first century will be Christianity.”27
So issues revolve around our current conflict that indeed do go more than a little deeper than Hannaford’s look just “a little below the surface.” Perhaps his absorption with issues of “sexual repression” promises for him the discovery of the meaning of life. We believe far greater dynamics are at work that explain on a more critical level the current assault on the integrity of our community. Hannaford has simply bought into the same ideology as Lalich, who is a true believer in the unencumbered self. To paraphrase Disraeli, Lalich is a self-made woman who worships her creator. Yet what in Disraeli’s nineteenth century would have been universally recognized as a critique is today proclaimed by many as a boast.
So Hannaford has chosen to follow the expertise of Lalich, who is an advocate of the anti-cult ideology built, as Davis explained, on an “individualistic theory of the self.” So it’s no wonder that she does indeed have individual autonomy trumping social embeddedness. A person should never, in this view, give themselves completely to any social arrangement that would reach so deeply within the person that the individual would come to be defined and identified by their embeddedness in the social setting. In essence, it is a theory in lockstep with the modern push toward radical, some say pathological, individualism. This radical individualism has produced what psychologist Jean Twenge has called an epidemic of narcissism and has engendered what she also points out is the most unhappy, discontented generation in history—Generation Me. Twenge bases her findings on the largest cross-generational psychological study ever conducted. Being the most influential and systematic chronicler of, and a self-admitted participant in, Gen Me, Twenge confidently asserts, “Gen Me doesn’t just question authority—we disrespect it entirely.”28 Those in the grip of Gen Me comprise, according to Australian sociologist M. A. Casey, a generation characterized by the notion of “the supremacy of the individual will over all values and over all . . . communal attachments.”29 Even marriage no longer represents an enduring form to which people must submit but has instead become a plastic form to be shaped to fit the whim of any who want to check the box “married.”
In short, many scholars agree that much of the “anti-cult” theory has been shown to actually be a veiled apologetic for the modern push toward the supremacy of the self, which, as indicated, becomes the entranceway for the coercive power of the State to police all religious and ideological organizations and currents and to establish its own supremacy in the minds and loyalties of everyone. No one denies that weird groups gather and weird leaders lead, but far more often than not the likes of those rare David Koreshes, Applewhite Flying Saucer cults, Jim Joneses, Warren Jeffses and Michael Travessers are merely used as pretexts to underscore the contention that it’s dangerous to really get serious about religion, that you should never really give yourself completely to any community. Lalich and others are putting up indiscriminate (even bigoted) warning signs: to them, it’s not the nature of the group or its beliefs that the individual really need be concerned about; it’s the depth of commitment required that should stand as the prime warning sign. After all, in this view, any group that calls for the surrender of the will is a cult. There is no difference between the total call to devotion of Jesus Christ, the crucified Lamb of God, and that of a Marshall Applewhite, a Jim Jones or an Ayman al-Zawahiri. The advice from Lalich and others is the same: don’t give yourself completely to any group. And, again, since anyone who does give himself or herself to such a group has actually been deceived against their will—as Lalich claims about herself—and is then subjected to abuse, the only recourse is for the most powerful and unusual of coercive authorities to step in and liberate the members, thus setting them free to reserve all loyalty to their liberator—the State. And, to repeat, historically such trends have often been tied to an assault on morality so that the liberated individual has simply found the freedom to indulge their carnal desires without restraint, free from all voluntary authority and transcendent moral norms and activity, while standing totally vulnerable to the power and demands of a State that is accountable to no power above itself. Thus the release of the autonomous individual becomes the empowerment of the unrestrained autonomous State.
Fortunately, there are other experts that fundamentally disagree with the ideology of the unencumbered self, an ideology followed by Lalich and others and whose false promises of “freedom” from attachment and obligation have had such devastating effects on Gen Me. In the seminal report, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities, thirty-three influential children’s doctors, research scientists and mental health and youth service professionals, who came together from “across the philosophical and political spectrum,” put forth research evidence that urges the brakes immediately be put on the modern ideology of the unencumbered self.30 These influential experts insist that the problems in modern culture are not found in people’s commitments to close-knit communities but precisely the lack of such commitment. These researchers, doctors and social scientists urgently call for the support and reestablishment of what they term “authoritative communities.” An “authoritative community” is a group of people “committed to one another over time and who model and pass on at least part of what it means to be a good person and live a good life.”31 They advocate for authoritative, not authoritarian, communities where values are authoritatively passed on and established rather than everything being up for grabs. This is nothing less than a heretical proposal to those given over to the modern autonomous self, but it is also a call that mirrors the vision of our own community as well as the traditional way of life in which, as mentioned, multitudes of people have lived, however imperfectly, throughout history. These experts have called upon the most advanced neurological research to show that human beings are “hardwired to connect,” hardwired for deep, meaningful communal relations, and, if they don’t connect, devastating psychological, emotional and social consequences will follow.
Who are these modern heretics, who must be throwbacks to the Dark Ages? Among these heretics are Elizabeth Berger of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Columbia University; T. Berry Brazelton of Harvard Medical School and member of the National Commission on Children; the extremely influential Harvard psychiatrist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Robert Coles; Yale University Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry, James P. Comer; David Gutmann, professor of psychology at the Northwestern Medical School; Kathleen Kovner Kline, formerly of Dartmouth Medical School and now professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center; Michael Resnick, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota; Notre Dame’s Christian Smith, professor of sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society; Paul C. Vitz, the widely respected psychologist at New York University; and Dr. Barbara Stillwell, professor emeritus at Indiana University School of Medicine. Perhaps we may be excused for putting more credence on the findings of the substantive research of these proven scholars than in the claims of Hannaford’s chosen expert, Janja Lalich.
Lalich coauthored Cults in Our Midst with the late Margaret Singer, the anti-cult theorist so influential not only within the secular anti-cult movement, but, paradoxically, even more so in the Christian fundamentalist counter-cult movement. Hannaford does not quote Singer in his present article but does so extensively in a previous article he wrote on Strong City in New Mexico, clearly assigning “expert” status to her.32 In fact, Lalich and Singer’s own writings were, in 2004, introduced to the Beechners and Jeremy Crow by the previously mentioned fundamentalist watchdog organization, which, in an attempt to maintain their Christian veneer, failed to disclose Lalich’s broader aversion to Christian values. Lalich also served as an officer in the same secular anti-cult organization that Singer headed for some time. This is the same organization that aided the Chinese Communist government in its crackdown on religious dissidents. Margaret Singer herself also became a celebrity among Christian fundamentalist groups for theorizing about “coercive persuasion,” a form of mind control that supposedly makes people do things against their will without their knowing it. (The representative of the fundamentalist group that attacked us was so enraptured with Singer’s theories that he referred to her as “Lady Margaret.”) Lalich adheres to Singer’s approach in their co-authored book. But in the face of growing criticisms of Singer’s theory of “coercive persuasion,” the American Psychological Association (APA) appointed a special panel to investigate her claims. The panel was hardly prejudiced against Singer, for the APA set Singer as the committee head, and allowed her to select the other members of the committee. After Singer’s group finished their report, it was submitted “blind” to a panel of four scholars. Upon reviewing the study, the four panelists issued a unanimous decision finding no merit in the theory.33 One panelist, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, wrote that Singer’s ideas were “not a recognized theoretical concept” but “just a sensationalist ‘explanation.’” Beit-Hallahmi concluded that her theory “should not be used by psychologists, since it does not explain anything.”34At about the same time, the American Sociological Association (ASA) along with other scholars, including Professor Perry London, dean of the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychiatry at Rutgers University, published similar conclusions.35
As a result of the APA and ASA disavowing Singer’s theory, Singer, who had made a nice living by testifying in court on behalf of this theory, became legally barred from testifying as an expert witness on the subject. One court stated, “Although Dr. Singer and Dr. Ofshe [a colleague who held the same views] are respected members of their fields, their theories regarding the coercive persuasion practiced by religious cults are not sufficiently established to be admitted as evidence in federal law courts.”36 Singer subsequently lost a number of attempts to vindicate her views through the courts, as well as a lawsuit she filed against the APA for defamation.
Hannaford could have called upon any of the many nationally and internationally known scholars on religious movements that would have countered Lalich’s views and instead confirmed the dynamic that forms some individuals into bitter “ex-members” and what sociologists of religion call the bogus, but predictable, “atrocity stories” such people invent. Any truly balanced story should have included these findings, which are held in far greater regard in academic circles today than the views associated with Lalich and Singer. We wish to emphasize that we do not agree with everything any of these scholars might contend for. They nonetheless are far more respected and balanced than Hannaford’s cherry-picked choice. The following list should be consulted for more widely recognized scholarship on the issues Hannaford raises concerning our alleged authoritarian repression of people:
J. Gordon Melton is the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion. Melton is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion and a research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Melton has written more than thirty-five books, including a number of authoritative reference works on American religious movements. He is the second most prolific contributer to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
James Richardson directs the Grant Sawyer Center for Justice Studies at the University of Nevada (Reno). He is a professor of sociology and judicial studies at that university and, as a sociologist, has done work in the area of minority religions and on the connections between law and religion.
David G. Bromley is a professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. He has written numerous books about various religious movements and has extensively studied issues concerning the anti-cult movement and about the testimony of people who leave religious organizations.
H. Newton Malony is Senior Professor of Psychology, department of clinical psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary. Malony has written on the psychology of religion and religious tolerance and maintains professional association with the American Psychological Association, California Psychological Association, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and American College of Forensic Examiners.
Dick Anthony has supervised research at the department of psychiatry of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He has done research with support from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and he has frequently testified or acted as a consultant in court cases involving New Religious Movements.
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi taught psychology at the University of Haifa. He has been a researcher and clinician on the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania, Michigan State University and Tel-Aviv University. He has written Psychoanalysis and Religion: A Bibliography and was the co-author of The Social Psychology of Religion. He also edited Research in Religious Behavior.
Eugene V. Gallagher is a professor of religious studies at Connecticut College. He has extensively studied various religious movements, including New Testament Christianity and New Religious Movements.
Catherine Wessinger is a professor of religious studies at Loyola University, New Orleans, with a main research focus on millennialism, new religions, women and religion, and religions of India. Wessinger is co-general editor of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions.
Eileen Barker is professor emeritus of the sociology department at the London School of Economics. She is founder and chairperson of INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements), past chairperson of the British Sociological Association’s Study Group for the Sociology of Religion, past president of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and past president of the Association for the Sociology of Religion. Her work has included hundreds of articles, books, reviews and consultations with governments.
Massimo Introvigne is the director of the Center for Studies of New Religions (CESNUR) in Turin, Italy; his publications include over sixty books on the history and sociology of religion (among them the Enciclopedia delle religioni in Italia), as well as over a hundred scholarly articles in various languages.
Thomas Robbins is an independent scholar affiliated with the Santa Barbara Centre for Humanistic Studies; trained at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina; he has held teaching and research appointments at Queens College, the New School for Social Research, Yale University and the Graduate Theological Union and is a leading contributor of social scientific literature on New Religious Movements.
Anson Shupe is a professor of sociology at the joint campus of Indiana State University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has done fieldwork on a number of New Religious Movements and has also studied the anti-cult movement; he and David G. Bromley became the primary social science interpreters of that countermovement in a series of books and articles.
1 Michelle Maas, “Professor Plans to Prevail in Same-Sex Marriage Movement,” Orion, 1 September 2004; Rene Sanchez, “High Court in Calif. Nullifies Gay Marriages,” Washington Post, 13 August 2004.
2 Janja Lalich, Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2004),
3 Lalich, Bounded Choice, p. 124.
4 Lalich, Bounded Choice, p. 125.
5 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, Spring 2005, pp. 250-51, 255-60, 263; Michael D. Langone, “History of the American Family Foundation,” ICSA International Cultic Studies Association, http://www.icsahome.com/infoserv_articles/langone_michael_aff_history.htm.
6 For more information on this, read “Imposed Limitations on Freedom of Religion in China and the Margin of Appreciation Doctrine” by Edelman and Richardson in the Journal of Church and State, Spring 2005.
7 Joseph E. Davis, “Thought Control, Totalism, and the Extension of the Anti-Cult Critique Beyond the ‘Cults’,” The Religious Freedom Page, University of Virginia.
8 Michael J. Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 177 (emphasis added).
9 James Hitchcock, “What Went Wrong in the ‘Fifties,” Crisis, November 1992, p. 17 (emphasis added).
10 Michael J. Sandel, “Freedom of Conscience or Freedom of Choice?” in Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace: The Religious Liberty Clauses and the American Public Philosophy, ed. James Davison Hunter and Os Guinness (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1990), p. 75.
11 Sandel, “Freedom of Conscience or Freedom of Choice?” p. 76 (emphasis added).
12 David Bromley, “A Tale of Two Theories: Brainwashing and Conversion as Competing Political Narratives,” in Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, ed. Benjamin Zablocki and Thomas Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 333.
13 Bromley, “A Tale of Two Theories,” p. 333.
14 Hitchcock, “What Went Wrong in the ‘Fifties,” p. 19 (emphasis added).
15 Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, p. 62.
16 Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Basic Books, 1993), p. 4 (emphasis added).
17 Carter, Culture of Disbelief, p. 23.
18 Hitchcock,“What Went Wrong in the ‘Fifties,” p. 18 (emphasis added).
19 Anson Shupe, “The Role of Apostates in the North American Anticult Movement,” in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1998), p. 211.
20 Stuart A. Wright , “Exploring Factors That Shape the Apostate Role,” in The Politics of Religious Apostasy: The Role of Apostates in the Transformation of Religious Movements, ed. David G. Bromley (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998), p. 95.
21 J. Gordon Melton, “Brainwashing and the Cults: The Rise and Fall of a Theory,” CESNUR, Center for Studies on New Religions, http://www.cesnur.org/testi/melton.htm (emphasis added).
22 Melton, “Brainwashing and the Cults.”
23 Lee Coleman, “New Religions and the Myth of Mind Control,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, April 1984, p. 323 (emphasis added).
24 Melton, “Brainwashing and the Cults” (emphasis added).
25 Toby Lester, “Oh, Gods!” Atlantic Monthly, February 2002, p. 44.
26 Lester, “Oh, Gods!” p. 45.
27 Lester, “Oh, Gods!” p. 45.
28 Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before(New York: Free Press, 2006), p. 28.
29 M. A. Casey, “Authority, Crisis, and the Individual,” Society, January/February 2002, p. 80.
30 The Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect: The New Scientific Case for Authoritative Communities (Poulsbo, Wash.: AmP Publishers Group, Broadway Publications, 2003), executive summary.
31 Commission on Children at Risk, Hardwired to Connect (emphasis added).
32 Alex Hannaford, “The Cult of the Man They Call Messiah,” Sunday Times (London), 14 June 2009.
33 J. Gordon Melton, “Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!” CESNUR, Center for Studies on New Religions, http://www.cesnur.
34 Melton, “Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa!”
35 Melton, “Brainwashing and the Cults.”
36 Melton, “Brainwashing and the Cults.”