Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.
This reply respects Xie’s (2007) comment on Langone (2007), but takes issue on two points. First, the limitations of science cannot be invoked to justify a particular metaphysical belief system. Second, through deviance amplification, a noncultic group can indeed be made more cultic through persecution.
I want to commend Xie for the respectful tone of his comments, especially given that my article clearly reflects my belief that Li Hongzhi is not the wise and exalted master that practitioners think he is, that he is, in my opinion, a “schemer or a dreamer.” Many followers of a master, guru, or saintly person would not be so tolerant.
Xie is partly correct in saying that my imputation of schemer or dreamer to Li results from a disbelief in supernatural existence. I find Li’s statements about the cosmos and “higher realms” completely incredible. However, I do not come at this subject from an atheistic perspective. What Xie perhaps does not appreciate is that one can approach a subject from a position that is religious (i.e., open to the transcendent) and rational. Modern science was born in the minds of monks and other believing Christians, and Christian scholars, such as Aquinas, can sometimes be so rational that they earn the respect of reason-loving atheists, such as Ayn Rand.
Xie’s belief system leads him, despite his scientific credentials, to downplay reason and scientific method, but his rationale for doing so simply does not convince me. That science has limitations is obvious. However, these limitations don’t justify belief in something subjective simply because one feels strongly about it. Xie’s personal experience of seeing pills fall “through” a closed medicine bottle (Xie & Zhu, 2004) was a significant event for him, along with other personal experiences suggesting a nonmaterial realm to experience. Such experiences, however, are not uncommon. Indeed, I have argued elsewhere (Langone, 2003) that compelling inner experiences, often of an occult nature, are central to many conversions. Each person having a compelling personal experience can make the same argument as Xie to try to justify his or her particular belief system. Yet these belief systems may be inherently contradictory. For example, a Christian says reincarnation does not happen, while an adherent of an eastern system says that reincarnation exists. They may both be wrong, if existence ends with death. But they can’t both be right. Thus, their compelling experiences are merely that—compelling. They say that there MIGHT be more to existence than atoms and the void, but they neither prove nor even demonstrate that a particular metaphysical system is true. Ultimately, one’s position regarding the metaphysical is a subjective decision rooted in cognitive uncertainty, but sometimes full of emotional conviction. I respect Xie’s personal decision and wish him well in his emotional conviction; however, I cannot ignore the stunning cognitive uncertainty underlying the Li Hongzhi’s metaphysical system. On this matter, we can only respectfully agree to disagree.
Xie misinterprets me when he says that with regard to Falun Gong I see a “trend toward [Falun Gong] becoming more cult-like.” I was not predicting the future, nor asserting a trend. I was merely suggesting what might happen. Xie’s statement that a persecuted spiritual movement couldn’t become more cultish ignores the sociological literature on deviance amplification, which says that reciprocal influences between a group and its environment can push the former toward a spiral of increasing deviance. The process is analogous to the situation in which a psychologically abused child grows up to be the delinquent (i.e., “deviant”) that the abusing parent said he would become.
Regarding the CCP: I hope that Xie is correct, provided that the collapse of the CCP that he predicts results in a stable democracy and not in chaos or a takeover by fanatics.
Langone, Michael D. (2003). Inner experience and conversion. Cultic Studies Review, 2(2), 169-176.
Langone, Michael D. (2007). The PRC and Falun Gong. Cultic Studies Review, 6(3). 235-285.
Xie, Frank T., & Zhu, Tracey. (2004). Ancient wisdom for modern predicaments: The truth, deceit, and issues surrounding Falun Gong. Cultic Studies Review, 3(1).
Xie, Frank T. (2007). Falun Gong and the world: How many eight-years do we need? – Comment on Langone (2007). Cultic Studies Review, 6(3), 286-294.
About the Author
Michael D. Langone, Ph.D., a counseling psychologist, is ICSA’s Executive Director. He was the founder editor of Cultic Studies Journal (CSJ), the editor of CSJ’s successor, Cultic Studies Review, and editor of Recovery from Cults. He is co-author of Cults: What Parents Should Know and Satanism and Occult-Related Violence: What You Should Know. Dr. Langone has spoken and written widely about cults. In 1995, he received the Leo J. Ryan Award from the “original” Cult Awareness network and was honored as the Albert V. Danielsen visiting Scholar at Boston University. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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