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Book Review - Les Sectes--Cults-A State of Emergency

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1995, Volume 12, Number 2, pages 211-215. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Les sectes: état d'urgence (Cults: A State of Emergency). 

C.C.M.M. Centre Roger Ikor B Centre de documentation, d'éducation et d'action contre les manipulations mentales.

Editions Albin Michel, Paris, France (23, rue Huyghens, 75013 Paris), 1995.

In the late 1970s a young Frenchman died of malnutrition and resulting complications, even though he had been out of his cult for six months and was living again with his loving family. The ravages of his previous Amacrobiotic" cult life had gone on too long and were irreparable at that time. The young man's father, Roger Ikor, was a prize-winning writer, who then tried even harder to learn more about not only the cult his son had been in but also about cults in general, particularly in France, a country that has attracted a large number of gurus of every stripe.

Ikor used his prestige and considerable influence to interest other people in this urgent subject. With the help of these friends, he founded Centre Roger Ikor, Centre de documentation, d'éducation et d'action contre les manipulations mentales (CCMM, the Center for Information, Education and Action Against Psychological Manipulation). Ikor also wrote two books to help spread the knowledge they had gained from their research.

This new book is a collaborative effort by the president of CCMM, Mme. Marie Geneve, and several outstanding experts who have collectively put years of research into this compelling subject. The other contributors include Jean Diwo ("Reflections of a Man of Letters"), Alain Vivien ("Reflections of a Public Official"), Michel Monroy ("Reflections of a Doctor"), and Jacques Trouslard ("Reflections of a Roman Catholic Priest"). Besides individually authored chapters, collectively, they wrote chapters on cults and power, and cults and money. This book is a shining example to support their conviction that "the better we know them [the cults], the better we will be able to defend ourselves against them, in France and in the world." Whether readers start out with little knowledge of the subject or with some generalized knowledge, they will be drawn along by each of these writers, and will soon realize that there are indeed multiple aspects to be considered about this multifaceted and multifarious subject. If readers already have a good background, they will be saying "Aha!" at every turn, because of the obvious sincerity and convictions of these writers.

Definitions of terms are well done, and are not at all arbitrary. They discuss totalist systems; relevant current social crises; issues related to physical health, as well as current and potential mental health; and preferred psychological assistance for victims. Father Trouslard quotes Pope John-Paul II: "We may risk having only a limited understanding of the problem, but we must not remain silent."

The authors concur that cults offer religious solace only as a mask and a tool:

The religious mask, along with the health mask, is used most frequently in a fraudulent manner to attract and trap persons who are dedicated to the ideal and to faith or a spiritual goal. It is a matter of public health and assistance to raise these issues to anyone who might be at risk of the fraud involved, whether it be intellectual, psychological, or financial. (p. 24)

Father Trouslard continues:

Every authentic religion includes the following characteristics: a sentiment of sacredness; a conscious intellectual response to the experience of the sacred; faith, an elaboration of such response in the form of belief; a moral component; and a ritual in accord with this perception of the sacred; a community of perceptions, significance, and values.

Faith requires free and responsible action always in accordance with reason. Cults use indoctrination (domination) techniques that anesthetize the free and critical thinking abilities of their members and extinguish previous values which they attribute to faults in the name of the church--most often, the Christian church. Under this cover are hidden pseudocatholic, pseudoprotestant, or pseudo-orthodox cults [and let us not forget to mention pseudo-Eastern groups]. (p. 24)

The section "Cults and Power" shows that as Anew religions," cults push the idea that they are constantly "victims of calumny." A number of these groups (possibly 30 or more, according to some sources) have banded together for "protection." Described as an "international federation of minority religions and philosophies," this effort was launched by a major "scientific" group. FIREPHIM is the French acronym for the federation, which has mounted a number of protests and demonstrations in France, but keeps a low profile worldwide. The book describes how the French terrain is prepared by the cults to extend their power, often using alternative names, in a variety of areas and contexts.
On the political level, with some parties being especially vulnerable--for example, the National Front in France has long had connections with the Moonies. Legislators are pressed to give many and fulsome endorsements, often lured by offers of trips and free studies. Also, rightist universities tend to get their colleagues to organize meetings to accredit the authenticity of this or that pseudoreligious or pseudosociological "research."
On the executive level, especially with certain French ministries, where the cults can "collect" supporters. But cults will also approach certain "liberals" in the name of nondiscrimination. These efforts are usually done with future favors in mind.
On the judicial level, where in a worst-case scenario, a judge tried to modify the court proceedings in a case involving the highest persons in the executive. This, however, was an exception to the general conduct of high-level cases involving cults in the United States and in Europe.
On the cultural and educational levels, where more and more frequently cults are seeking to influence children and adolescents, who present to the cults both an investment in the future and a means of getting parents to join. Cults are avid about "collecting" celebrities in almost any field for the cults' exploitation in gaining popular support.

The chapter on "Cults and Money" presents a view of the little-acknowledged vast sums of money collected and invested by these groups. The United States is the top territory in which such sums are acquired. From there, the money is laundered and used internationally. Larger cults maintain (secret) accounts in leading world banks. Cults, of course, do not neglect direct financial exploitation of their members. In France, for example, there are numerous violations of labor laws and social security regulations: unreported labor, false pay vouchers, reprehensible contracts, ridiculous charge-backs, fabricated personal debts of employees, lack of vacation, unauthorized payments to the labor department, and so on. Another popular method of exploiting members is to have them sell door to door. Generally they are selling cult-made products at high prices--for example, cosmetics, health food and medications touted as panaceas, and a variety of items for either physical or psychological "personal development." Typically, because of the court's unfamiliarity with the subject, when these fraudulent situations come to court, they are not handled well.

The book includes a well-rounded discussion of about 30 of the major cults in France. Perhaps half of them might be unknown to the American reader, yet the majority have branches elsewhere and have an overall societal impact. For example, Sahaja Yoga is in Romania, Bulgaria, and Russia, claiming 10,000 members in Moscow. In a chapter on L. Ron Hubbard, mention is made of his group's opposition to information groups such as Interpol. Also provided are a number of lesser-known front names for major U.S. cults. The book is recent enough to include mention of the Solar Temple horror in France, Switzerland, and Canada.

The final section includes a list of some "current errors" in thinking about cults (common myths and misconceptions), with suggestions for how to respond to them; tips for recognizing and protecting oneself from manipulative groups; a discourse on exit counseling strategies; and other valuable information and varying perspectives, including an extensive biography of related materials in French. The authors present an incisive view of information and important factors and attitudes. They invite readers to consult CCMM or ADFI (Association for the Defense of Families and Individuals), both headquartered in Paris.

Kay Schenk

Chicago, Illinois

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1995