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Das Jesus-Mal- und Knobel-Buch
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This phenomenon deserves attention, in order to understand the dynamics leading to concerns about some groups, especially in an historical context where state neutrality in religious matters has become increasingly emphasized. This article will focus on Western Europe. Developments that are worth monitoring have also occurred in post-communist European countries, but this would require further research. North America will also be omitted, except in the section that discusses the roots of the phenomenon, as well as when dealing with North American influences in Europe. Finally, it will not be possible to pay attention to developments in countries such as Israel, China and Japan.
Regarding Western Europe, the article will not attempt to offer a detailed country-by-country approach, but will nevertheless provide an overview, while simultaneously trying to identify trends and discernible periods into which the phenomenon that forms the subject matter of this article can be broadly divided. Background: new religious movements and concerned relatives Until the early 1970s, non-mainstream religious movements were primarily either a matter of curiosity, seen as bizarre, or a topic for church apologetics: some faithful or clergy of historical churches in the West were concerned about perceived sheep-stealing by Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, and other groups, and would detail the doctrinal errors of these competitors. For instance, there were raids on the Church of Scientology or associated groups by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1958 and 1963. If there should be detected in this Report a note of unrelieved denunciation of scientology, it is because the evidence has shown its theories to be fantastic and impossible, its principles perverted and ill-founded, and its techniques debased and harmful. Scientology is a delusional belief system, based on fiction and fallacies and propagated by falsehood and deception. In 1969, an inquiry was conducted in New Zealand, while inquiries were launched in the same year in South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The 1960s were marked by several important changes. This was a time of turbulence, especially among the younger generation, reflected in radical political activism, the flourishing of counter-culture and manifestations such as the hippie movement, and a turning towards the East after disillusionment with what was seen as a profit-oriented, materialistic West. New movements flourished that were quite different from the classical model of Christian sects. It was a time of religious quests, but also of widespread aspirations to establish ideal communities, with a number of these groups actually leading communitarian lives. Moreover — and here we come to the real starting point of our story — many of the people who joined such groups did not at all match the typical profile of converts to fringe religious groups. How could such strange things happen, the parents wondered?
First in North America, and soon after in Europe, relatives of converts to some high-demand groups felt that sinister forces were at work: they noticed changes in their children’s personalities and found it difficult to believe that they could have so suddenly embraced such very strange beliefs, while forsaking all their previous interests and relationships. In Europe, parents underwent similar experiences and started to launch their own organizations, initially often on a quite modest scale. In Germany, the Elterninitiative zur Hilfe gegen seelische Abhängigkeit und religiösen Extremismus e. The birth of such associations during the first half of the 1970s was an important step: for the first time, associations critical of a variety of fringe religious movements were being built on a secular basis. Of course, initial interactions occurred with mainstream churches and some clergy: in France, for instance, the Paris branch of the ADFI first met in parish halls, while in Germany, some Lutheran pastors closely cooperated with anti-cult activists.
Even today, some critics of cults either in mainstream churches or in evangelical circles cooperate with secular anti-cultists. The 1980s: Jonestown and the first wave of state reactions Initially, anti-cult groups did not find much support from governments. Critics of cults found a receptive audience among members of the media. Tragic stories of parents reporting the sudden disappearance of bright young people who were being turned into zombies made good headlines, and many readers would sympathize with the plight of the relatives of such young people.
Beside the spread of an increasingly negative media image of cults, some dramatic events gave added credibility to the lobbying of still relatively weak anti-cult groups. In November 1978, more than 900 people lost their lives in Jonestown, Guyana, where US members of a movement called the Peoples Temple had gone to settle. We will not focus here on debates around Jonestown in the United States, especially since there were no federal-level long-term consequences, despite some initial proposals for action following the Jonestown event. In the discussion that follows we will therefore examine the European scene.
While there had not been much political support for anti-cult concerns until the Jonestown events, it had not been completely absent. In France, the ADFI received its first subsidy from the Ministry of Health in 1977 and a second one the following year, which allowed it to hire two part-time employees. Jonestown was a turning point, and marked the start of Western European states’ direct interest in the issue of NRMs. But which narrative would they follow? Western societies were affected by a new social problem requiring determined intervention and countermeasures, with an emphasis on the phenomenon not as an issue of religion, but of human rights.
The media increasingly adopted this discourse. Interpretive emphases would not be the same in all European countries, and some would mix elements from various sources. The late 1970s saw the first publication of official reports on NRMs, either by state agencies or parliamentary commissions. The first such report probably appeared in Germany, and was published in February 1980. The report was careful to make clear that the groups under consideration were very different from one another. Briefly described were the Unification Church, the Children of God, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the Divine Light Mission, Scientology, Transcendental Meditation, Rajneesh and Ananda Marga. While attempting to remain relatively balanced in the post-Jonestown context, the German report raised some sensitive issues vis-à-vis the state’s neutrality: could the state disseminate literature and warnings on specific NRMs?