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Yesterday evening, there was an interesting discussion about cults on… 
4th-Jan-2006 09:53 am
Yesterday evening, there was an interesting discussion about cults on the German TV in "Maischberger", a popular, reputable talk show in the non-commerical TV. Of course such discussions have their limits, still it was good to have a discussion because I feel the issue of cults gets more and more neglected in the media, politics and public awareness. [more in the comments...]
5th-Jan-2006 04:43 pm (UTC)
You can see the guests here: http://www.daserste.de/maischberger/

As usual, they had also invited a person with the opposing view, in this case Prof. Dr. Gerhard Besier, a well-known cult apologist (the only guest with a "Prof. Dr.",). The other guests were the cult expert of the Protestant church in Berlin, Thomas Gandow, and three ex cult members from Scientology, Jehovah's witnesses and Jim Jones.

Ms. Maischberger, the anchorwoman, was very clever when she forced Mr. Besier to answer the question whether he was a sympathizer of Scientology and how he thinks about their doctrines. Of course, Mr. Besier first tried to evade by saying he is not a member. Still Ms. Maischberger insisted on the original question. So Mr. Besier was in a dilemma. As a scientist, he could not make a fool out of himself, so he finally admitted that the teaching is pretty absurd. Then the ex Scientologist jumped in and asked why then did he speak a sympathetic message of greetings at a Scientology conference if he thinks they are absurd. Mr. Besier evaded again by stating that Christian doctrines are absurd as well.

One thing they also exposed very well was that the cult apologists usually speak about things they have no own experience with: They have never been in a cult as a member, they do not believe the testimonies of dropouts. In this case, Prof. Dr. Besier publically claims to be a scientist on "religion and totalism" but in reality, he got his degrees in other fields (I think history and theology). It was also mentioned that the cult lobby propagates that cults should not be called cults and dropouts should not be called dropouts because it sounds negative, and they have really enforced a legal decision that the word "cult" may not be used as Mr. Besier proudly proclaimed (Mr. Gandow corrected him saying that the *state* should not use the word - we still may use it). Mr. Besier misinterpreted several legal decisions according to his world view (or clients?).

Some issues were not treated very well: When asked whether they were silly to spent so much time in a cult, the dropouts humbly admitted that indeed they were. But in reality these people were not silly and it is a typical misbelief that cult members must be silly. This should have been discussed as well. However the JimJones dropout emphasized that many cult members were the most idealistic, finest people.

The other issue badly covered was the question when there is a limit where the state or whoever should intervene and stop being tolerant. Mr. Besier succesfully evaded that question again. The others gave good examples. Mr. Gandow mentioned the issue of children in cults who are robbed of their free decision and development and when a cult battles against democracy and society (like Scientology), or is otherwise a threat for the life of peoples (Aum, JimJones). The anchorwoman tried to summarize Mr. Gandows answer wrongly as "only if the cult is a threat to society, not to the individual?", and he tried to correct it giving the example that the state also intervenes in families in the case of child abuse or rape in marriage (this has become a crime only recently). I think the state or other organizations should observe cults, should provide information about cults, and dropouts should have a platform to be heared as warning to others and to be healed. This is unfortunately not done sufficiently.
5th-Jan-2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
The ex Scientology member was the leader of Scientology in Austria, i.e. he held a very high position. He also was considered "clear" in Scientology which meant that he was "invulnerable" and cannot die. He started to question Scientology when he got cancer and had much time during the chemo therapies. He mentioned that he was so ill that the doctor once said to his partner that he had only 3 more days to live. (Maybe it was not wise to mention this, because actually, if he miracuously did not die of the cancer, wasn't it a proof that Scientologie's teachings were correct? ;-)

There was another interesting statement by the ex Jehova's witness. He said what helped him the most was reading a book about Mormons. After reading it, he suddenly recognized: "I only need to change some of the words used, then everything is so similar to us." So it seems reading books about *other* cults can be very helpful for cult members. Most of all, the hurdle for reading such a book is not so high since obviously, the Mormons are considered a cult by Jehova's witnesses and vice versa. For me as a UBF member, the most helpful readings were those on the ICOC.

There was also a funny moment when the scientology dropout explained how cult members are separated from the world around: "It's like a quargelsturz (cheese cover)". He was obviously not aware that "quargelsturz" is a word only used in Austria, not in Germany. We say "Käseglocke" which is very different. The anchorwoman looked a bit irriated but then dared to ask, "er, what's a quargel..."? The answer "a stinky cheese" did not really help to explain what he wanted to say because the rest of the word was still not German ;-) I'm still loughing about the funny word and the confusion it caused.
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