Rudin: Johannes, there are a couple of issues I’d like to see you address. All the polls have shown that despite World War II, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and all the other events, Americans in the last 50 years haven’t changed their level of religious identity. As you yourself have suggested, over 90% still say they believe in God. They’ve never probed what they mean by God: providence, cosmos, destiny, Jesus, whatever. What’s striking is how unchanged the response has been from 1939-40 to 1990. The way you construct it, their responses can remain the same; but you’re saying they have a different code underneath, they’re changing underneath. I’m not sure about that. I’d like to question that a little bit.
The other thing is, one can talk about a Church of Sweden, a Church of England, and a Church of Denmark, but in the United States there is no “official” church. Our religious institutions are decentralized, nonestablished; we would call them “deregulated” churches and synagogues. As a result, everybody involved is sort of an entrepreneur, and there are excesses, of course. We have Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, but also we have a vital voluntary system. It’s very voluntary here, which is not true in Sweden, Denmark, England, or even in Italy or Poland. Perhaps this plays a role. If you have an establishment and people are obviously in rebellion against the establishment, they’re going to run away from it. When the system is nonestablished and voluntary, it may have more vitality to it.
The third point I want to probe is, where does ethnicity come into this? I’m thinking particularly of Jews and Catholics who may be far away from the synagogue and the church–they don’t go to Mass, they don’t go to Sabbath services, they don’t keep kosher, they don’t go to Confession, they don’t do novenas–but if you ask them what they are, they would say, “Oh, I’m a Catholic, I’m a Jew. I feel it. I feel very comfortable with it. I wouldn’t be anything else but a Roman Catholic or a Jew–that’s who I am.” This seems to be lacking in the population you’re discussing. I mean, how can you be ethnically a Hindu or a Buddhist if you’re not raised in India or Asia? Ethnicity here in the West is mostly Christian or Jewish. Even in the part of the United States where I grew up–the South–and I’m speaking here of white Christians, being a Southern Baptist was an ethnic thing. People would no more think of being a Hindu or a Buddhis–why, of course, they’re Southern Baptist! What of Southern Baptist is something else, but they’re Southern Baptist, that’s who they are. So if there is a religious change, where do ethnic factors come in, such as food, language, humor, a sense of belonging to a people, shared destiny? That’s a big package that I don’t think Americans give up very easily–at least the polls have shown that they don’t really change.
Aagaard: This surprising stability is present in Europe as well. We have only had European statistical research in the last 10 years. We had a survey in 1981 and one in 1991, and the surveys confirm this. There’s a worldwide institutional stability in the religious statistics from 1900 through 1990 in that the same percentages of people belong to the various religions in an external, superficial way. For example, let’s take Christianity: We have the same one third of the population as we had around the year 1900. But if you take a hard look, you’ll see that the change is enormous because what has been lost in the northern hemisphere has been gained in the southern hemisphere. The losses in the North have been compensated by forward movement in the so-called Third World. The mission outreach of the church has compensated for the losses at home. So such statistics are very stable superficially, but when you look at them, there are very many changes under the surface.
Now to your three points: the possible lack of change in religious affiliation, the contrast between established and nonestablished churches, and ethnicity. Those points belong very close together. I think that established churches suffer even less change. Obviously, there will be more institutional change here in the United States than in Denmark, where 90% belong to the same church. In the United States, there is a change in the Pentecostal churches, in the Assemblies of God. They’re really changing but within the same framework, so to speak, so that there is a movement from one group to another. Then, of course, there’s an extra problem about Americans becoming Hindus. How could this happen? Well, it only happens because of a deep internal change. I’m going to go into more detail about it by mentioning the so-called “pizza effect,” which I think is very important.
You all believe that the pizza is an Italian dish or Sicilian dish, and even the Italians and Sicilians believe this. But, of course, this is only partially true because the original pizza was a poor man’s bread–tough, hard bread to break your teeth on. When the Sicilian laborers went to the United States because they couldn’t be fed in their own country, and they gradually started earning money and could afford to put on that hard bread their anchovies and tomatoes and cheese and whatnot, the enriched pizza came into existence. But now comes the point: When they went to visit their mothers back in Sicily, they went into the kitchens and proved their success by producing the enriched pizza there as well. And it became a great success and gradually they came out of the poverty of the 19th century and the enriched pizza became a national dish in Italy and Sicily. Well, exactly the same has happened, for instance, to yoga.
Yoga is really tough, it’s for breaking your teeth; it’s not at all for a better life. It’s for getting out of life. But when it was brought to the United States, it became the enriched yoga, which serves exactly the opposite purposes. It’s now meant to create a quality of life. All the seriousness has gone out of it. And as we turn to India, it has become a real success there, too. Also, many Indians believe that this enriched yoga is the real yoga, which, of course, it is not. The same has happened to reincarnation. In India, reincarnation, or past-life experiences, is part of the concept of hell: To be able to remember your past lives, that’s a hellish thing no one would like because it haunts you. It makes you mad to remember past lives. The idea that you are surviving not just for 17 or 18 times–that could be quite funny–but that you’re being reborn millions of times! You will never get out, you will never be liberated. That is hell on earth! When this idea came to the West, it was enriched and made into a sort of richer-lives, many-lives entertainment. The circus goes on again and again and again, and this notion was brought back to India and became quite popular there. So that in Hinduism itself there is a sort of dual understanding: For some, yoga and reincarnation is hell on earth; for others, it is paradise.
Eckstein: It sounds more like the white-bread effect, a food that is traditionally associated with substantial nourishment for people, but has now become a kind of fluff, bland and tasteless, that provides nothing for anyone, a semblance of its former self.
Aagaard: But it’s even worse, I think. For example, Scientology is a typical expression of this. Here we have a religion that externally behaves as though it is a church, but internally maintains that it is Buddhism. But a Buddhism with a God and a soul is not a Buddhism. It’s a caricature of Buddhism, nothing to do with Buddhism at all. When you look closely at it, you find that it’s occultism mixed up with a caricature of Buddhism and a caricature of a church. That sort of religiosity is really the most horrible threat against genuine religion. It can compromise religion in the next generation to the point that no one will touch it.
Langone: Your thesis is very interesting, if I understand what you’re getting at. What you seem to be saying is that the essence of religion is what some psychologists might call the “schemata,” the cognitive maps that underlie our thinking, that which we don’t think about when we use the coding, as you call it, the symbols. Different religions have different maps, different coding systems, and in a culture there is some consistency and integration between the manifestations or the actual content of the religion and the coding. They’re tied together. But when you have a confrontation of religious systems, you can have a subtle and unconscious change going on because the words or concepts on the manifested level are imbued with a different kind of meaning, which changes the coding. Thus, when we confront the East, it influences us by affecting such notions as the purpose of life or the idea of reincarnation. Actually, I think it has most affected us through the meanings attributed to mystical life experiences. Thinking back to the sixties, many Americans, particularly young Americans, had experiences with hallucinogenic drugs which they were not able to describe in their traditional religious terms. The East provided a language for them. But this then has a subtle effect on the coding. The reverse occurs also, as you describe, with the East. Yoga gets transformed: It had one meaning prior to the confrontation with the West; now it has another meaning. This results in a change in the coding system.
I also wish to address another issue, the issue of pluralism. In the United States, I think we have the illusion that pluralism means we can embrace everyone, that all creeds can exist in this society without conflict. I’ve maintained in some of my writings, which have been stimulated by studying cult phenomena, that genuine pluralism is not that mushy. There are rules to pluralism. There are boundaries to pluralism. I think that what you’re advancing suggests that what we call pluralism is in fact a religion that has within it various strands–Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism–but nonetheless has a common coding system, what you have called the “Atlantic Paradigm,” and that pluralism is not the doctrine that says we can embrace everyone.
Aagaard: That’s right. I think that was a very good analysis because it’s obvious that in this breaking down of the pattern of codes that constitutes a culture and a religion at the same time, that when this pattern loses its meaning, as in this fantastic “pizza effect,” which is hitting and killing the validity and serenity of the Oriental religions, then what is the result? Complete bewilderment! I do believe that the real tragedy of the influence of the Eastern religions on our young people is not the fact of Eastern religion, which is meaningful in itself, but that it is not any longer really Eastern religion. It’s a mishmash that creates confusion, and it’s the confusion that breaks our young people. I have seen it so often in India: People sitting there in the ashrams–they’re totally out of their minds! They cannot move, they cannot make any decision because their frame of reference has gone. They don’t know any longer what’s up, what’s down, what’s good, what’s bad. Their codes are ruined. The problem is that they have become Hindus!
Langone: There was a Gallup Poll of American teenagers about a year or so ago, and I was shocked to see that approximately one third of American teenagers who identify as Christians say they believe in reincarnation, which is totally antithetical to Christianity.
Aagaard: And of course they don’t believe in reincarnation in any sense like Hindus or Buddhists but in this mishmash understanding, which is meaningless. They cannot cope with this and it will gradually break them down. Identity is created by some sort of cohesion, some sort of pattern, so that you can refer from one stage in your life to the next. If you cannot do this, you’re a psychological invalid. You are stopped in your growth. You are crippled mentally. That’s the problem.
Eckstein: I’m a little concerned about what is being used in this discussion as a criterion for meaningfulness. It sounds like the criterion is something like what is traditional. What I’m hearing is that traditional religions in their pure or systematic states are in fact genuine cosmologies and purveyors of meaning, and then you get these changes that come about as a result of all of this interaction and you wind up with a kind of mishmash that doesn’t provide meaning. Yet, we’ve got all these people running into them in one form or another, and it seems to me that we need to get a little bit clearer as to how you differentiate between a meaningful cosmology and what you call a mishmash.
Aagaard: Well, you’ve got the point, that’s obvious. The problem is how to describe it. I believe that I respect religions that are consistent because people can live lives in them. They can live lives as Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims, where they have a consistent frame of reference. Of course, they may be too consistent and become fanatic or fundamentalist so that they are not able to register other possibilities. Obviously, that’s happening at the same time as a reaction against ambiguities. Fundamentalism is not orthodoxy. It is anti-liberalism with a bad conscience. Luther was not a fundamentalist; neither were the Church Fathers. They were bound to the text and to the coding of the text. Of course, they were traditionalists, you could say; but modern fundamentalists are not–they cannot be because they are believing or operating as a protest against the dissolving of all meaning. They’re going back to a meaning in order to get out of this bewilderment.
It happens in all religions today, and it’s a process that I think can only be countered if you really understand why they do it and what drives this desperate and aggressive return to the past. For example, I do believe that reincarnation is a possible explanation that can give meaning to lives. It’s not a meaning I would like to live under, but there is a meaningfulness in both Hindu and Buddhist concepts of reincarnation. But I don’t think there is any meaning in the modern New Age talk of reincarnation. It’s inconsistent, it’s ambiguous, and it takes people from bewilderment to bewilderment. So, my criterion is not a Christian criterion because I’m saying, for example, it’s possible to live a life on the basis of reincarnation. My criterion is one of consistency.
Rosedale: Is there a method by which you discriminate, other than by inconsistency, between an “ersatz” religion, a destructive cult, and a bona fide religion? What is it you use in approaching a group to determine whether it falls within or outside of an acceptable penumbra?
Aagaard: Well, again, I may repeat myself. I found it very easy to go to a Hindu ashram and a Buddhist ashram and to conferences with Hindus and Buddhists because the dialogue is meaningful. We have dialogue as we do here: We try to get onto the same line and we communicate. But to communicate with a New Ager is in fact impossible because of the lack of consistency. I get desperate when I talk to people who are not on this line and who do not understand that there is a line, that there’s a logic in the discussion. They disconnect but don’t feel that they are disconnecting because they’re not connected to anything in the first place. They’re using words as clichés. Clichés are just floating around in the air and it doesn’t impress them at all if you can prove that a sentence is linguistic or historical nonsense. Everything they say is nonsense. Language has become a prostitute.
Langone: I think your response brings us to the heart of the disagreement between secular and religious views toward cults. Your focus on the meaning systems, if you want to use that phrase, of the different groups will cause you to become distressed if you have a conversation with Shirley MacLaine; whereas from the secular/pluralist standpoint, so long as Shirley MacLaine is not violating the ethical rules that enable all these diverse groups to live together, she will be tolerated and accepted. [Ed. note: In the discussion Ms. MacLaine, because of her controversial New Age writings, became a shorthand symbol for New Age “flakiness.”] You may disagree with her, she may be considered weird, wacko, strange, but she’s not a threat to the pluralistic system. However, if a Shirley MacLaine type, let’s say a channeler, begins to develop a following, with people paying money, and she wants to keep the money flowing so she has to keep them coming … if she starts developing a channeling cult where she uses interpretations that induce dependency in the followers so that they keep paying money, where she undermines their self-esteem in the name of love and self-advancement, so that she and her followers become a bona fide cult, as we conceive of it, then she becomes a threat to pluralism because there’s a violation of the ethical rules. That’s where, in a sense, our alarm bells go off and we say, “Now it’s time to be concerned.” alarm bell, on the other hand, seems to go off…
Langone: When they start talking stupid.
Aagaard: You’re absolutely right. I think this is a very good analysis.
Nieburg: This is one of the issues in dealing with adolescents who claim to be satanically involved. When you really begin talking with them, you find out that what they’re saying makes no sense, they have no idea what the ideologies are all about. We get very angry and what we tell them basically is that if you want to believe in this, go home and read, then come back and we’ll talk about it, but don’t tell me that you believe in it because when we question you, you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Aagaard: I will confirm what both of you are saying. In the approach that we developed, the alarm goes off exactly as early as it must for a psychologist. A person who is consulting a psychologist and who has done nothing wrong but who feels that something is wrong in his or her life because things don’t work any longer and is living a constant nightmare where the subconscious is overwhelming conscious life, and he or she is no longer in control and able to identify what is what … a long time before this person ends up in a breakdown or commits an aggressive act or a crime, it’s possible to register that something is really going to hell here and this person needs help. If I might put a critical question in a positive way regarding the approach that is typical for the American Family Foundation and for the Cult Awareness Network as far as I understand them, isn’t it necessary to have this first chapter, “awareness,” in order to really deal with the second chapter, “results”? The presuppositions are there a long time before the conclusion is drawn.
Rosedale: That’s a very interesting point and a very challenging one. Where does the person hit the trip wire that first involves them in an analysis that he or she has a problem? Your description of what you do indicates that the trip wire is hit when the person reaches a level of dissatisfaction or disorientation. Here, around the table, some of us hit the trip wire not when a person is spiritually dissatisfied, but rather when a person is involved in a criminal or an antisocial act, which brings them into a system that then deals with them not by responding on a religious level to their set of beliefs but rather by dealing with the offensive behavior.
Aagaard: But I am not pretending that we are adopting a more sophisticated line. I would rather say that we are adopting a very elemental line. All of you who have practical experiences in this regard will be familiar with that telephone call from a parent saying, “Peter has changed. He’s speaking in a completely different way. His language has changed. We hardly understand him any longer.” That is enough for intervention. Because that proves that now things have started. The second stage is that he also changes his body language. It comes very quickly. His language has changed, his body language has changed, and everyone can see that he’s looking out of his eyes in a completely different way. He’s walking in a different way. That personality change which is taking place, in my experience, starts with a change of language, verbal language, goes on to a change of body language, and ends up with a change of actions. Therefore, I think it’s necessary to get in as soon as the parents say this. It’s typical that when the parents’ call comes in and I ask them, “Do you think he has gone into some sort of cult?” and they respond by saying, “Yes, but we don’t know what it is.” “You must find out,” I say, “that’s the first thing. Find out what has caused it.” Unless we know the cause, we cannot give any advice on how to deal with it. Then, the deciphering or decoding of that new reality starts gradually, and that’s how we end up with, possibly, an intervention.
Nieburg: The proper question to ask is, “What is this family all about?” My question is, why has Peter done it now, why not six years ago, why not six years from now? Why at this point in time? A lot of the families I know–and again, my own personal area is adolescent Satanism–are religious families who consider themselves to be healthy religious families. Yet, we find that the key is that the one variable that weighs out is the ritualistic practice of the family. How ritualizing is this family? We’re beginning to see that it’s not so much what the kids think, but how they practice what that mumbo-jumbo’s all about, or how they perceive it. And I’m wondering if we’re not victimizing victims in a sense by putting all the onus on the identifying person as opposed to saying that this person is part of a system. I’m a cognitive therapist, so the whole concept of schemata makes a lot of sense to me. You have a belief system which then leads to thought, to cognition, which then leads to feeling or affect, which then leads to behavior. And the question is, where do you jump in? When do you start?
Aagaard: I think that it varies a lot. It’s my experience that this happening is more often than not pure accident. He has been hooked by Scientology. He could have been hooked any time, and anyone else could have been hooked, but he’s hooked, and just the fact of being hooked changes his life totally. I’m not, according to my 15 years of experience, able to say any longer that some persons are more apt to be hooked than others. I think all can be hooked.
Nieburg: So you don’t think it’s related to vulnerability?
Aagaard: Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I think it’s a vulnerability we all have in periods. It’s not a sick situation by necessity, it’s a natural situation that you can be hooked. After all, everyone faces life problems. It’s natural to, for example, be cheated on by a lover or to fail an examination or to be depressed about this and that. There need not be a sick family life at all.
Debold: We’re dealing with such complexity here. I see the validity of looking at the family situation, but three or four years ago a Lutheran minister from Denmark, I believe, who spent half a year in India trying to rescue young Europeans told us that there were 750,000 of them wandering around India. And I asked him, “Why were they going there? Were they simply turned off to Western civilization, were they looking for a new mysticism, or was it drugs?” He suggested that perhaps it was all of those. Well, I think that I want to generalize a little bit more than just from a psychological perspective. It seems to me from the study of religion that it’s a matter of life and death. I think if you’re looking at India, all through its history and not just at the present time, it’s always had the concept of Maya, illusion, and the concept of reincarnation. It seems to me that all the youth at the present time are interested in the concept of a world that seems illusory–we live with so many labels and so much superficiality–that maybe they’re hungry for something more, and maybe they’re turning to India to look for an answer: Is the world really all illusion, what’s really real? Dr. Aagaard was talking about the search for meaning before, about how we look at death. It seems to me both ends, life and death, are decisive. When youth move to Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, it reflects the existential atmosphere of the time. The youth are so existentialist and they exhibit a certain practical atheism–they believe that each is his or her own savior. No one needs any other savior.
And beyond all of this, Dr. Aagaard’s presentation interests me because we all share an enthusiasm for treating this as a religious question, and we have to all get together. We’re looking at Europe and the vacuum that has been created by the present revolutions, and we somehow or other are looking to religions to solve the cosmology problem. In 1955, Gordon Allport, the psychologist at Harvard, noted that there were 4 doctorates conferred in philosophy as against 450 in psychology. I have a feeling that maybe that reflects the fact that there is no more cosmology, that we are all concerned with self and with an insight into our own psychology. There is a great responsibility for religious people to address this problem.
Nieburg: The State of West Virginia just called me and a number of other people regarding a class action suit in 40 states right now to remove a program called “Quest,” which is based on Abraham Maslow’s theories. They want to extirpate it because they feel that Maslow said things like “Be humanistic with kids.” There’s a whole group of parents and educators now, supported by some very high-level people, who want to remove all of this and go back to structure, go back and take away the humanism. It’s fascinating. I just got the material this week. Allport and Maslow were colleagues of a sort, and this is, I think, a witch-hunt to remove Maslow’s influence from the curriculum, and Allport’s going to follow. It’s just a question of when. I’m not sure what this all means, but something is starting.
Langone: I think what you’re talking about is one of the symptoms of the cultural disorientation that’s going on, and Father Debold had been alluding to one of its causes. I think William James’s notion of live hypotheses and dead hypotheses has some relevance here. Live hypotheses are those that are worth considering, they’re worth some thought. Dead hypotheses are ideas that you just dismiss, they’re dead and you don’t even think about them. I think that as a result of the cultural disorientation that’s occurred in the past few decades, as a result of the kind of religious change as opposed to religious conversion that we have been discussing, many aspects of traditional religions became dead hypotheses to people growing up.
I came of age in the sixties, and my religion of birth was a dead hypothesis when I entered college. Catholicism was not something that I reached for to get meaning when I encountered new experiences, and I think that was true for a lot of young people at that time. The drug phenomenon was, I think, especially important in contributing to the turning East because the normal kinds of quasi-mystical experiences that adolescents often have were potentiated and became more frequent, so that adolescents now had these very compelling experiences that indicated that there’s some kind of transcendent dimension. You’re 19 years old, your religion of birth is a dead hypothesis, you don’t even resurrect it to try to understand what’s happening to you. You look around and what you get is what’s being marketed most effectively. This was the Eastern view. I think in the sixties it was kind of a holdover from the Beatnik era. The Beat poets were Zen Buddhists. What they were doing was actually much more sophisticated than what was in the air in the sixties; and what’s in the air today is even more wacky than what was in the air in the sixties. You just latch onto it.
I think this is one of the things that bring about the cultural change that you alluded to. It will ring alarm bells in families. And this returns us to the question about what to do about the parent whose son is responding to these compelling experiences by joining a cult instead of talking to his local rabbi or priest or minister. My response is that Dr. Aagaard put his finger on an apparent inconsistency in our position, which Rabbi Rudin has so nicely summarized as an emphasis on the deed rather than the creed. On the social level, where we have to live within that pluralistic sphere, we focus on the deed not the creed. We don’t want to start criticizing Shirley MacLaine socially just because we may think she’s weird. We would get involved only when she’s doing things that violate the ethical consensus. However, as a parent or a relative or a friend, when you see someone acting strangely or talking strangely, your alarm bells go off and you want to do something. On the individual level, one often feels compelled to address the belief system–you can’t just focus on the deed. If you just focus on the manipulation, you probably wouldn’t be effective. For example, exit counselings will probably address inconsistencies in the Hare Krishna doctrine, in order to jump-start the mind, to get the person thinking.
Eckstein: I’m not so sure that goes quite far enough. I’m also not sure that the proposal to differentiate between good cosmologies and bad cosmologies or real cosmologies and ersatz cosmologies, based on consistency, will hold up–although I would like to think it’s possible. If in fact it is possible, then it seems to me that saying we don’t wish to hold Shirley MacLaine responsible in a social context for being inconsistent is to take pluralism precisely too far because what we would like to be able to say is that the one thing we all need to share in order to guarantee pluralism is a commitment to some kind of rational dialogue in the public sphere. If Shirley MacLaine is going to be a good citizen and she’s going to be able to contribute to the public interest, to the body politic, to society, which is supposedly the responsibility of everybody in a democracy … if she’s going to vote in accordance with what she perceives are the rational needs of the community, then it would seem to me that her exhibiting linguistic behavior that is inconsistent in the manner that Dr. Aagaard is suggesting would be sufficient for alarm bells to go off. Not that I’m interested in calling in the thought police! But it would seem to me that some kind of bell should go off at that point, and that is what lies behind much of the increased emphasis within the educational community on trying to get students to understand that there is a logic to thinking, trying to talk about critical thinking as a means by which students can evaluate the difference between garbage and rational thought.
Langone: I agree with you completely, except the people who ought to address Shirley MacLaine’s irrationality are the educators and the clergy and not the cult watch organizations.
Rosedale: Right, because you’re lumping two different groups together and you’re making it too easy. You’re lumping what may be a New Age airhead with a potentially destructive totalistic group. If, for example, you were talking about a fundamentalist group that was arming its members for a revolt against the United States government and depriving the people who participated in it of food, sleep, and independence of thought, you wouldn’t spend so much time talking about at what point you were going to intervene or whether or not you had a pluralistically acceptable group. You would go back to what Dr. Aagaard said: “Oh, I can smell the rotten part of that group. I know what it is when they have lost their respect for human freedom. I know what it is when they start to abuse their members. And I no longer have to extend a degree of tolerance without limits simply because I live in a pluralistic society.” You can’t just lump all of the deviants together and say they all require equal tolerance.
Rudin: Because Marcia Rudin and I probably coined the phrase in the United States that we’re interested in the deed not the creed, I’ll give you a little background. That was done very deliberately. To use a bad analogy from warfare, the question was, when do you send up the interceptor planes? Johannes, you’re prepared to send them up pretty early, and we’re prepared to send them up a little later, when we begin to see actions. The reason is that in the United States if we’d gotten to the cults in the late seventies and early eighties on the creeds of these groupsCarguing about whether Reverend Moon is the Messiah, whether L. Ron Hubbard is whatever he is supposed to be, whether Victor Wierwille from The Way or the Maharaj Ji is what he is–that would not have worked here because it would have been seen as simply a case of interreligious battling over how many angels are on the head of a pin.
Americans generally say that if you say it’s a church or a religion, it’s benign and it’s good. So, it’s Moon and it’s Cardinal O’Connor and it’s Rabbi Soloveitchik and it’s all the same. It doesn’t make any difference. The reason we were able to make whatever advances we made was because we didn’t battle with them on the creed, we left that alone. We took a stand, we came in on the deed, where it starts smelling and where the actions begin to attack families and individuals and everything else familiar to the people around this table. I’m convinced that if we had started out saying no, Reverend Moon is not the Messiah, it wouldn’t have gotten us very far. There were people that were doing that, but I didn’t want to do it because that would have tied us up and we would have been dismissed by the general American public as a bunch of weirdos. There would have been the suggestion that you have both Martin Luther and the Pope, and Henry VIII started his church, and that’s fine, and its all religious nonsense anyway, and it doesn’t matter. We still hear that.
Eckstein: But, you see, that’s why I’m worried about this criterion of consistency because it seems to me that part of the problem here, and I think Rabbi Rudin expressed it well, is that it’s going to seem as though you’re arguing that those guys are all mixed up, whereas come out of a traditional religious perspective, one that is consistent and coherent, one that provides a cosmology. You’re going to be faced with having to justify that claim, and the question is, can you in fact justify it in a way that will make it stick?
Rudin: You might be able to justify it, but you burn up a lot of time and energy doing it when you’ve got a lot of other things going on with what I call the actions or the deeds.
Langone: I think it’s because pluralism, as we define it in this country, is based on the assumption that we must not publicly examine our assumptions, that we must have a tacit agreement not to go into our assumptions. Therefore, we can’t really define meaningfulness and consistency. It’s as though we have a phobia about even talking about it, at least publicly; in the privacy of your own closet you can do it.
Eckstein: But Dr. Aagaard is a gentleman who thinks he’s perfectly capable of being consistent.
Halperin: Well, I think that what Rabbi Rudin was talking about before is that in the American tradition there is no single group that is controlling, and that this tradition is one in which all groups have agreed not to control other people and their expression. Therefore, by focusing on totalitarianism, the early anticult movement was able to make much more of an impact than by examining the doctrines. I think that the only way doctrines per se can be examined is when they can be shown to be a rationalization for power, as is the case in many groups.
Rudin: But wouldn’t you agree that we were taken seriously as a countercult movement precisely because we were able to document the egregious, the outrageous, the horrendous, the destructive deeds? We never took them on regarding the questions of creed. Maybe it’s time to reconsider that, but I’m very wary of it.
Halperin: Mark Twain once pointed out that there were two native American religions, Mormonism and Christian Science, both of which people could have some significant questions about. But the fact of the matter is that you can’t attack groups on the basis of theology; you can deal with groups when they prevent a child from getting the appropriate medical care or when, for example, they endorse and sponsor plural marriage.
Debold: Yes, even in our civil religion we do draw lines. For example, we get mad at the Mormons who want polygamy, and if the Christian Scientists or the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t allow a transfusion, we step in. Even with civil religion we do make some laws and boundaries. However, one of the statements made earlier concerns me more than anything else, and that is the question of the meaning of language. If we’re interested in finding meaning, then we should point out that this present revolution of symbols destroys our appreciation of the meaning of words so that there is no possible human communication left anymore. And that’s why it’s really difficult for us to wrestle with New Age religion–because we can’t define it. It’s running all over the place. It won’t stand still for us to pin it down. It’s one thing here and another thing there. It waves such a broad umbrella. But words have to mean something!
Rosedale: Well, it is interesting to remember that Dr. Aagaard comes from the Dialog Center, which focuses on the importance of words and language and communication.
Rudin: Returning to the question of creed versus deed, the creed is the engine that creates the deed. But it’s tough, wouldn’t you agree, to devote our energies to such a varied battleground? I have no doubt that the creed leads to the deed, of course, so perhaps it’s time to reexamine this question.
Langone: But it’s also a question of who’s responsible for what tasks. What we’ve got is a countercult organization that has to exist in the world that is. And the world that is in this country says that if you focus on the creed, you are not going to be listened to except in a narrow community. Dr. Aagaard’s presentation, however, challenges pluralism as we currently conceive of it.
Aagaard: Again, I want to underline that I’m not here to convert you to the creed perspective, taking away from the deed perspective. You have your identity. What I’m interested in is, of course, that you find out about our identity because our two identities need one another. I’m sure that because of what in a very nasty way I’ll call your First Amendment neurosis, you have to think like you do. You are bound by that funny sort of First Amendment thinking. It is totally foreign to us, simply not in our blood. When I came over here for the first time about 10 years ago, I was lecturing in seminaries all over this country, and again and again, after my very polite and not-at-all aggressive presentation, I was told that this would be impossible here in the United States. It’s against the Constitution to critique other people’s religions.
Rosedale: I have to respond because I’m a lawyer. I have a different view of this issue. First of all, the First Amendment, in addition to freedom of religion, provides for freedom of speech. Second…
Aagaard: I’m not speaking about the Constitution but about the First Amendment neurosis.
Rosedale: Neurotics will always find a reason to justify their neuroses, and the First Amendment is as good as any other. But when you talk about you and us, bear in mind that what we have here is a multifaceted group and that the countercult movement in the United States is a truly interdisciplinary movement. We pointed out yesterday at the Interfaith Conference that one could look around the table and see the divergen-
cies. Again, today, look around the table and see the different views that we have, with each of us playing a different role. For example, when someone comes to me in my role as a lawyer and discusses the legal problems related to intervening as a parent, it is incumbent upon me to point out the differences between the legal remedy and the violation for a moral reason of what the parent perceives to be an unjust law, and the parents’ willingness to take on the moral responsibility for violating such a law. Then, when somebody goes and talks to a religious counselor about the problems involving a belief system, the response he gets comes from a different perspective than when Herb Nieburg gets someone referred to him through the criminal system who has violated a law through a series of ritualistic practices. Again, that is a different problem from when a parent comes and talks about a custody problem, for example, when there is a division in a family between a cult member and a non-cult member, and the child is caught between these two.
Maybe it’s because I am a lawyer that it’s very easy for me to focus on the fact that situations take on different perspectives and require different responses. In this country, the countercult movement, insofar as I have been involved in it, has focused on the necessity for a multidisciplinary approach. It has focused on the need for one approach in a school in a secular environment, another approach in remediation on a psychological or a psychiatric level, another approach for a religious counselor. These are different parts of a total picture. What you’ve brought to us is a need not to abandon and forget the part that stresses the bankruptcy of the ersatz religion from a creed point of view.
Dowhower: I’m a Lutheran minister. Most of my work is with clergy and youth groups and church constituency. In that situation, depending upon the audience, I’m able to deal with both the creed and the deed. What you should do, I think, depends on the audience you’re encountering. When I deal with Navy chaplains at the War College for a couple of days every year at Newport, because they’ve got First Amendment neurosis, I’ve got to talk more deed language. Dealing with college students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Campus, I talk deed language because they reflect the culture that makes my criticism–if it’s of the creed–particularly suspect since I’m a professional religionist. I think we simply have to adjust on that continuum depending on the audience and the assumed standards of credibility.
Langone: But we’re adapting to the situation, we’re doing our job when we do what you describe. Underlying all of this, however, is a fault line on a cultural level which, in this pluralistic culture, we intentionally avoid confronting because there’s a fear of genuine dialogue regarding these fundamental questions. We just avoid it totally, and I think that’s the challenge you’re bringing to us.
Nieburg: I’ve been in this field probably a far shorter period of time than most of you. I’m a newcomer. This kind of thing today, and the work that the American Family Foundation does and the Cult Awareness Network does is what fills my void. People accuse of going to cult meetings, and, in an attempt to find out, they ask me about the characteristics of these meetings. This is so helpful–it’s good for me to hear diversity. Somebody mentioned critical thinking. I teach at Jewish Theological Seminary and one of the things we teach is critical thinking. Students don’t know what that is. They think critical thinking means you make fun of someone else! We say, no, no, no! Our discussion today is so helpful to me as I try to understand the whys and wherefores of what’s going on. I’m not sure there are necessarily whys and wherefores. I go back to phenomenology and I think also that the deed versus creed discussion is really a suggestion not to forget phenomenology as a discipline. Let’s look at what’s really happening, and instead of labeling it, let’s describe it, let’s tear it apart, let’s look at it. The advertisement should be, “We do it the old-fashioned way–we study it.” I think that’s why this kind of stuff is so helpful, and I just wanted to share this with you. I could read it, but I need to see it also.
Aagaard: I really appreciate this sharing. I’ve got some very good formulations now in my box here that I can use when I return home. May I propose that when we say creed, we in fact mean language. A creed is a language, and the neglect of the creed in favor of the deed may be necessary, I think, in your context. It’s only possible to do this, however, if you constantly recognize that it’s necessary but not really ideal because you cannot get away from the steering function of the language. As you speak, so you think. We all know it doesn’t start by thinking which is then converted into language. It starts by being taught a language, and from that language we learn how to think. Therefore, it’s so important to learn more languages because we learn to think much better. Language is not just a matter of communication, it’s really a matter of thinking. When, for example, people learn the Scientology language and start expressing themselves in it, their soul is changing all the time. There’s a Scientology soul, just as there’s a Hindu soul, a Buddhist soul, a Christian soul, and a Jewish soul.
Now, I distinguish between “being in good faith” and being a good faith to have. They’re two different things. Judaism is definitely a good faith, and you can, as a Jew, obviously be in good faith. Scientology, in my opinion, is not a good faith to have, nor are most Scientologists in good faith when they have this non-good faith. Why is it not a good faith? Not just from my standpoint as a Christian–although there is that–but it’s possible as a religionist, as a religious student, to point out that this mishmash destroys all sorts of rational thinking. And here I come back to the criterion of consistency. This is a criterion that can unite all people of goodwill. By goodwill, of course, I again underline that it is expressed by people who want to exercise their critical abilities, their reason. We can unite in critiquing this mishmash by which Scientology is selling and spoiling people’s souls. They’re not just recruiting people–we all know they are manipulating people by that sort of language which stops the critical thinking of the disciple. It doesn’t promote it. All good religions promote critical thinking.
Fundamentalism in all camps is a very big problem for us because it also blocks critical thinking. Therefore, fundamentalism inevitably is drawn into our area of concern, even if we, as Christians, have a lot of trouble with our fundamentalists because they cannot see why they are included together with Scientology. They are not so included in general, of course, but they are on this point: that they stop critical thinking by developing a language that is anticritical, antirational, and therefore makes people more foolish than they really are.
Debold: I’d like to add a footnote to what you’re saying here about words and meaning. We’ve used the word cosmology several times today without alluding to the fact that it really can be ambiguous. From the scientific point of view, I remember the first Russian astronauts radioing down from space that there were no angels up there! Cosmos means something scientifically. But also, once in a while, we all use the word metaphorically, and from that point of view, you’re joining philosophy and theology. In a sense, when you talk about cosmology, you’re thinking of the whole religious-scientific embrace of the world of meaning. And so, I found something rather useful, I think, to inject at this point: Among college students I’ve found a great deal of confusion about the relation between faith and reason. An awful lot of my students feel that faith is a blind leap somehow or other, that they can excuse themselves from having to be rational. This question goes all the way back to the Middle Ages, the relationship between faith and reason, followed by the modern scientific breakthrough; but students today have to almost be forced not to be afraid of a question. They mustn’t be afraid of questioning, and they mustn’t be afraid to bring reason to bear on their religious commitments. Of course, there are no angels up there in space. It’s not an evil thing to deny that, but I’m concerned about the young people’s ignorance of the relation between faith and reason, leaving them vulnerable to the first joker who comes down the road with a silly message.
Aagaard: We all know that we are now harvesting what Descartes was sowing. He split the world and our understanding of it; after Descartes, no cosmology was possible except in an external, natural, scientific way. But in the beginning cosmology was not that. It was not the objective processes; it was the interpretation of everything that is. If you dig down into New Age thinking, you will notice the heart of the matter is a revival of old elemental cosmology. The elements have come back as a language of meaning. And when you just see it, you will notice it again and again; it is simply there as the structure of understanding nowadays. When you have a cosmology built on and expressing the elements, then, by definition, you have a religious cosmology and not just a scientific cosmology.
Scientific cosmology changes every 10 years–science is never the same. It’s part of its whole development that you cannot believe in science. Cosmological elemental interpretation doesn’t change; it doesn’t stand absolutely unchanged; rather it keeps together all the elements in a culture. It’s very important if you want to understand Hinduism and Buddhism and the differences between them, and this is often very subtle: The difference is found exactly in the interpretation of the elements. In the same way, if you want to understand St. Thomas and the whole Dionysian influence on St. Thomas, it is found in the interpretation of the elements. That’s the red thread if you really want to go into it. Now, the elements have been out in Christianity, in Judaism, not in the Kabbalah, of course. In the Kabbalah, the elements play an enormous role all the time. But in these modern Protestant versions of religion, the elements have been lost because soteriology (doctrine of salvation), in an individual way, has become the center. It’s the salvation of soul by God that matters. But that’s a real degradation of soteriology. Soteriology is meant to be the salvation of the world! Therefore, it has to express itself in cosmological terms. If not, it degenerates into a mystery religion. So everything is at stake in this process of understanding the creeds.
I don’t envy you your deed orientation, but what keeps me going is my creed orientation. If I only had to deal with those deeds, those horrible, idiotic, foolish deeds, I would have run away screaming a long time ago. I’m engaging in a really interesting and fascinating reinterpretation of my own faith and I am meeting with a lot of fine people over here, not least from the Jewish tradition, which really means that we can contribute to creating the alternative. The churches cannot find the alternative to the New Age, honestly, because you can only find it if you are close to it, breathe the same air, have the same inspiration, and have the same feelings in the finger–only then can we develop and create an alternative. I see our work here as a final vote for the church to come back to reality, because this loose-going soteriology without cosmology is not food for a cat, for a man, or for a whole culture.
I do think that the New Age challenges us to come back to a genuine, religiously experienced world. We’ve lost it, and that’s why our young people are running away. They may say that they’re going away from this or that, but they don’t know unless you talk with them and find out and have a dialogue sitting together with them. What is really at stake is the lack of meaning, always. Always, the lack of telos. There’s no aim, and, of course, if you have no aim, you cannot get up in the morning. If there’s no goal for life, you cannot survive–even a horse or dog dies if you take away meaning. Experimentally, you can take away meaning from an animal and it will die; even more so for human beings. We have created laboratories for killing people because we have no meaning. The churches and religions as such have no meaning; they love inconsistency. They call it, “We believe because it’s absurd.” What absurdity! You couldn’t believe it if it’s absurd. So that’s part of the game, that the deeds are only understandable from the creeds, our acts are only understandable from our language. When, for example, I confront Scientologists with the 11 criminals who were convicted because of their deeds, they’re not impressed. They say that’s a private matter, it’s not Scientology. Only when I can prove that these deeds were the logical consequence of the creed of Scientology, only when I can prove that all the murders that are associated with Hare Krishna are the consequence of the Krishnas’ interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, does it come home. They’re told in Bhagavad Gita to kill. Bhagavad Gita is a book that instructs people that it doesn’t matter if you kill because you can’t kill: You kill the bodies but the souls will go on anyhow.
Rudin: I don’t have a problem with this. I think there should be a multiple strategy. I don’t think we’re in contradiction at all because I don’t think anybody in the countercult movement ever for a moment considered any of the creeds credible. The doubt was about how to find the energy. There are so many of them, which is why it takes all kinds of strategies. What you’re proposing is, of course, much more difficult because then we’re engaging them in the perennial battle of Christianity and Judaism versus the Divine Light Mission or Church Universal and Triumphant. That’s a different strategy for different people. I still think that we were successful in getting launched because we were able to appeal to the general American public.
But now we have other issues. We always thought–guess we were wrong–that the counselors, rabbis, and ministers were able to deal with the questions of creed, and it really wasn’t for us in the public realm to get into that. As for the First Amendment, I agree with Herb Rosedale about that. It’s not neurotic. It has not only disestablished religion but–remember the second part of it, which most Americans forget–it’s also the free exercise of religion. So we’re free to debate and argue and go out and seek converts and run our campaigns and do anything we want. It doesn’t mean that we’re forbidden to do this; on the contrary, we’re encouraged. It’s a double thing in the First Amendment. I have no problems with the multiple strategies. Everything takes multiple strategies. You’re suggesting a very important strategy: to get down and wrestle with them on these questions because they’re not going to be impressed that the IRS, the FBI, or the federal judiciary system found these 11 people guilty of some crime. In their eyes, those are not criminal acts they’ve committed; those 11 were doing what they were supposed to be doing.
Nieburg: One of the questions that has arisen in my mind is that the Cult Awareness Network says we’re not going to challenge the credal elements, we’re going to look at the deeds; and I’m wondering, are we becoming specialists? Are there groups that are going to specifically be targeted and empowered to do creed work? Are there groups that are going to be targeted to do just the deed work? Who picks up the overlap when you have a Venn diagram? The Cult Awareness Network repeats the point about not challenging the creed at every meeting I’ve been to, and I’ve accepted it, but now I’m questioning it. Why are we not challenging the religious nature of it? Why do we say to groups of people that we are not going to talk with your group here today about the religious aspects, we’re going to talk about what people do? I have a concern about this because I do not want to be dishonest about it. The discussion today in my mind has solidified something that I’ve felt uncomfortable with but have not been able to identify, and I’m identifying it now.
Halperin: I think that Dr. Aagaard has pointed out a very important issue, which is that creed involves theological matters as well as the matter of ratiocination, the matter of thinking. For example, after yesterday’s meetings I went to speak to some people at Lenox Hill, with the idea that eventually we can set up an inpatient service there, which would be of use to us. In any event, they mentioned that they had been at a meeting where Brother Julius was invited to talk by a group of religious leaders in Westchester County. Julius rambled on for 90 minutes, making no sense at all, and these religious leaders just simply listened to him and did not on any level challenge the fact that he was making no sense at all! Scientology has a theological system about Thetans which is one thing, but the most important issue is that as you get lost in their acronyms of Sea Org, this-org, that-org, it’s impossible to make head or tail of it and not to lose your rational self in this particular labyrinth. This, I think, is something that can be attacked: the extent to which the group promotes an inability to think, let alone critically, because the verbiage is used as empty wordage to promote a type of glaze, if you will. That is something that can be talked about, and for that matter I think that mental health professionals who are interested in the way people think are particularly open to this.
Nieburg: I have an even bigger problem. Dealing with adolescents who are satanically involved is really a piece of cake. It’s typically the acting-out, oppositional, defiant kid, and we all know what to do about that. But when I get a call on the phone from a man or a woman who says, “I got your name and I’ve been ritually abused since I’m 3 years old. I have these memories of these terrible horrible things…” I am now thrown into cognitive dissonance. I now have to work for years to find out what this person means by that. Are we dealing with the psychiatric, the theologic, the sociologic, all of the biopsychosocial, or all of the above? Many people have no overt memories. They say, AI think I experienced this. I left this group I went to the other day, and, you know, now I know I’m an incest survivor.@ Now we have to question them about it, and it’s sort of oxymoronic because as we begin to question, the person says, “Don’t you trust me? Don’t you believe me? You’re doing the same thing everybody else does. You’re doing what my priest did.” I think we’re thrown into our own disbelief and I’m really uncomfortable with that dissonance. And yet, what do we do? I treat them as though they are survivors–until I have reason to believe they’re not–because they believe they are. Their belief system is that they are; therefore, I have to deal with that cognitive set and see where it’s coming from and what the schemata are. But I’m aging rapidly doing this.
Speaker unidentified: No one here would say that if it hadn’t been for the concentration camps, Nazism would have been okay. We have to start examining belief systems because they motivate what people do and how they do it.
Aagaard: The Nazi concentration camps are event in our lives, and anyone who thinks about religion apart from that experience is wrong. Everything was there as creed in Hitler’s book Mein Kampf–all stated. We could have acted. Because we waited until it was transformed into deed, we were too late.
Rosedale: There are a couple of other areas that are becoming problems now, coming to the fore, that focus on some of the issues we’ve been talking about today. First of all, there is the example of the young child who has grown up in a cult environment for the first x years of its life and now one of the parents splits and wants to take the child out. We at the American Family Foundation are first focusing on the questions that arise with respect to counseling the parents and dealing with the child. The second area comes from your talking about an American ethos, an American kind of pattern, and a European one. Cults are becoming increasingly international. We have students who come here from Europe and who are dropped into an American milieu, where their reaction to cult solicitation may be different. The protections they have to be afforded and the manner of treating the problem may be different, just as you have the converse, as you recognized, with Americans traveling through the East, respecting the manner in which you extend either the deterrent education here or the remediation there. These are all new issues, so that we can’t simply isolate this with your coming over here and saying, “I want to find out what you’re doing, and then we will talk about what we are doing,” as if these are two separate spheres. These spheres and the problems we’re talking about are significantly overlapping and are growing and becoming even more complex.
Aagaard: That’s right, but that doesn’t exclude the fact that we have the same job and it’s still the same problem. We may from our different presuppositions solve the problem or work on our problem in different ways, which somehow supplement one another. That’s what I’m hoping for, for example, in relation to Eastern Europe.
Rudin: Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I think it’s a division of labor, but I would warn people particularly in an American milieu that once we get into the belief systems and start challenging them, that’s necessarily a full-time occupation. It’s going to take a lot of energy and a lot of time to hold together a multiracial, multireligious coalition, which is what we’ve had to up until now. Because we want to get our message to the general American public about the evil of cults and their bankruptcy. We may want to reexamine our position on the deed-versus-creed issue and create a division of labor to include credal confrontation. You’re right, never any doubt that from the creed comes the deed. Again, my analogy: When do you send up the interceptor airplanes? As early as possible, a little further down? Where do you attack things? I have no problem about questioning the creeds, but be aware that once you get into it, it’s a full-time occupation. It demands a lot of energy, a lot of background, and I’m not convinced that you’re going to confront the creed that early.
I’m sometimes more comfortable debating them in the public arena on the deed or on the criminal issues, where they’re much more vulnerable. I think I know the American public: They’ll say, “Yeah, you don’t believe in what so-and-so says, but they’re entitled to their beliefs, aren’t they?” That’s the argument you get. If we say, “Yes, they’re entitled to their beliefs, but they’re not entitled to an uncritical reception of their beliefs because they’re wrong,” the answer you get will be, “Well, how do you know they’re wrong?” And then we start into that game, and Americans generally say, “Well, if they want to believe Mr. Moon is the messiah they’re entitled to that–why isn’t he the messiah if Americans want to believe that?”
Aagaard: Honestly, I think that this is, if I may come at this as a real European, not acceptable. It may be necessary because of the potentialities, the manpower, the money, and all that, but it is not acceptable as long as it’s not admitted that this is a very important battle that someone has to pick up. It should be a cause of theological faculties, theological colleges, philosophical colleges, psychologists proving that anyone who kills the language is the worst criminal because after killing the language, all other killing comes logically. In killing the language, which is a matter of creed, lack of consistency is the first crime. And this has to be pointed out as the first crime.
Eckstein: It’s also a false issue because to that response, “Isn’t everyone entitled to their beliefs?” the answer is, “Of course, but that’s not the question.” We’re asking a different question. We’re not asking a question about entitlement, we’re asking a question about whether or not beliefs make sense. It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask in any context, including a First Amendment context.
Rudin: But once you start on that, you’re put into the ghetto of the theological faculties, and people say that’s what they get paid for and that’s interesting, that’s nice, that’s arcane. I’m being very candid. Of course they’re in chapter 11, they’re bankrupt, of course they are an ersatz religion. I have no problem with that, but be careful that devoting energy and time does not deflect from other things that we’re doing. It’s a real question of priority–just be aware of it. And, of course, when you start engaging them on the credal level, then most Americans will say these are two equals sort of battling out in the ring. They’ll say, “Well, isn’t that nice? Judaism is battling the Unification Church. Lutheranism is battling the Hare Krishnas. They’re both about 15 rounds, they’re both about the same weight. We’ll step back and watch it. Isn’t this nice? Isn’t that exactly what religions always do? They always do that and they end up with the Thirty Years War or they end up with Protestants killing Catholics.” And Americans stand back while the destruction goes on and the families are disrupted and all the legal and criminal things go on. So I’m just saying, be aware. It sounds intellectually exactly right, but it’s a division of priority and resources.
Rosedale: But, Jim, let me ask a simple question to respond to that. Let’s take an example of a custody case. In this case, the husband is a cult member and the wife is in a traditional religion, and now you are asked to come in and testify as an expert witness. Are you free in that context to comment on the negative aspects of the creed?
Rudin: But is a judge going to decide that case on whether Presbyterianism is a superior faith commitment to Scientology or the Unification Church? The judge is going to look at other factors, but he or she is not going to say the Christian, Protestant, Presbyterian creed is superior to or more consistent than the other.
Rosedale: Well, superior is one thing, but more consistent, I’m not so sure that the court would not judge. Recently I read a long opinion that awarded custody against someone who was a member of the Worldwide Church of God. What the judge did was to go through the entire litany of what this was going to cost the child and what it was going to cost the relationship, what participation in this set of beliefs would mean to a family structure. Maybe that’s halfway between, maybe it participates in a little of this and a little of that, but to ignore it and try to wash it out is wrong. I think the people around this table have been involved in those kinds of disputes and recognize that they can’t shield themselves from discussing the creeds.
Halperin: However, I think that what you always have to do at least in the custody situation is point out the confusion that a child is going to experience when confronted with two radically divergent cosmologies or pictures of the world. Being exposed to one which is so eccentric is so confusing to a child; and since it is a custody matter, it is legitimate to deal with the issue of consistency in terms of the fact that the child has the right to fit into the broader world as opposed to the very narrow world of the Worldwide Church of God, let’s say.
Nieburg: There’s an even more interesting case. You’re called as an expert witness by a family member when the child is in the home of a mother and father who are both Scientologists, for example. And the family member, an aunt or uncle or somebody, brings the case to court saying they don’t think this kid is in a nurturing, healthy environment. Now you’re called in to judge that. We know about all this stuff, we know about the creed and the deed, here’s a kid who’s 6 years old, let’s do something now. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the mind that’s prepared.”
Rosedale: I recall a case exactly like that in which I received a call about a foster family who belonged to a very, very cultic group. The family had taken the child and was imbuing the child with the beliefs and practices of the group, and the agency now thought it had made a big mistake and wanted to retrieve the child from that home. That’s exactly the illustration that you give. Do you have situations similar to that in Europe? The custody problem where people talk about what’s good for the child and where people go and testify on that?
Aagaard: Especially in relation to Jehovah’s Witnesses. We have a series of cases now because the Jehovah’s Witnesses, in Scandinavia at any rate, are in a very serious crisis. They are still gaining people in through the front door, but many more leave through the back door. First of all, this has created the typical situation in which the father leaves–it’s a Jehovah’s Witness family and he has had enough. The mother sticks to it, and then the fight is about where the children are to be left. Our argument is again a cautious argument, a halfway argument in order to make the judges see. We say that we are not asking the judge to decide whether Jehovah’s Witnesses is a bona fide religion, but that we are asking him to take maximum concern for the child’s possibility of dealing with both parents. If you give the child to the mother, she will be under orders not to let the child communicate with the father because he has left and he’s a satanic person. But if you give the child to the father, the child will have the possibility of dealing with both mother and father. That’s a sort of reasonable argument.
I would like, of course, honestly to say that I think that sooner or later we will have to teach the judges and lawyers that they have to take a stand, they can’t get away from it. You would obviously claim in front of a judge that if it were a Nazi family from which one of the partners broke away, the judge ought to take a stand and say that Nazism is not a milieu for a child to grow up in. But time is not right for this yet in our context, though I’m thinking we must keep that horizon open because we are getting into such devilish sorts of degenerating human relationships.
Langone: The irony in this country is that the advocates of the pseudopluralism that holds us together because it’s unexamined think that people who are really outside of genuine pluralism are in it. These people standing outside of pluralism use the language of pluralism to gain control. These are the propaganda lines, so that when you address issues of creed, issues of rationality and the belief systems, the loudest noises are going to come from those who really aren’t functioning within that genuinely pluralistic whole. They’re outside but they’re pretending to be inside, and this is where the propaganda machines come in. The public relations machinery kicks in and creates that phobia of addressing issues of belief. For example, when you’re in front of a group of mental health professionals, the attitude often is, “My God, it would be un-American to begin to question the soundness of a religious belief!” We just don’t talk about that.
Aagaard: I have referred to the fact that in terms of membership, the new religious movements are not that big, and our anti-anticult people always point out that we have overestimated and are dramatizing the situation, and that it’s not at all that important. This new type of religion, of course, is a private religion, first of all. It’s an individualistic religion, which really subsists on books and pamphlets, on communications, without people coming together. This phenomenon is not unknown in my own church, where 90% of the population are members officially, but only 2% or 3% go regularly to church. Yet, it would be very foolish to maintain, as a lot of people do, that therefore the church does not exist. That’s not true. That’s just individual religion, which relates by radio and television and, not the least, reading. We are publishing an enormous amount of Christian literature. We cannot compete with the New Agers, and yet at least 10 times as much is published about Christianity now as compared to years ago, because this faith situation, this belief situation which currently exists, does not presuppose membership or coming together.
Clark: I would say that a majority of the families we get are like this, people who do not go regularly to church or synagogue, the majority of those people are that way. Dr. Aagaard was bringing up the issue of the European situation, where maybe 2% go to church. I know in the United States the percentage of people who attend church or synagogue regularly is probably a lot higher, but a lot of the referral calls we get would lead us to say that the average people who call us are not church or synagogue goers, so the people we’re hearing from make up that kind of constituency.
Aagaard: This is a situation that makes religious statistics nearly impossible to compile accurately. Our fingertip sensations are probably much more reliable than the statistical establishment–they can’t catch the changes.
Rudin: What I mentioned earlier regarding the Gallup Poll is relevant here. I think our fingertips would tell us that Americans still have pretty much the same religious identities as they did 50 years ago. I think where you’ve been helpful, Johannes, is in showing us that underneath there’s a tidal wave going on. Call it codingparadigmmodel, it’s not just individuals, there’s a whole language change taking place. And that’s more ominous than when people answer to a Gallup pollster by saying, “I’m a Presbyterian, my father’s a Presbyterian, my grandfather’s a Presbyterian.” After all, they may not be the same kind of Presbyterian they were 50 years ago, they may have different underlying assumptions–so that the labels may be the same, but the bottles are different.
The other thing, and it’s important not to underestimate it, is illustrated by the following: I used to work with Saul Alinsky, who was a community organizer in Chicago, and he always taught us that if you could get 2% of the population–that’s all you need–totally committed to a particular idea and really motivated, that 2% can often move enough people to move the society or the community. You don’t need 98%, but you have to have that hard-core 2%. So, if you can move 2% to New Age or totalistic groups or whatever, that’s a lot of people, that’s a very powerful force! The numbers are not so significant.
Aagaard: I always refer to our experiences during the occupation because I think that was a model case. During the German occupation, we had, let’s say, 1% of the population, later a little more, 2% or 3%, who were definitely and actively against the Germans. Then, we had one-half percent who were definitely in favor of the Germans. Then we had the large group in between who had no standpoint. They engaged in some wishful thinking because they were not against the Allied forces, nor were they merely for them. They were mainly against the Germans, but not actively so. But the two extreme groups who hated one another were influencing those people, and it’s the same in religious matters. Really, the influence from both sides varies and depends on a lot of not very tangible factors. This is where the influence of language comes in. Language is an underestimated factor. I’m a specialist, of course, but I still think it’s funny that I don’t need more than two minutes of listening to a person to easily decipher that person’s religion, as well as which subdivision within the religion. When language is so clear, then, obviously, it has an enormous influence on the soul of that person.
Debold: Jim used the word paradigm before, which reminded me of the fact that for almost 20 years in the realm of science the concept of paradigm change has been discussed a great deal, but some scientists get very nervous and don’t want to talk about paradigm change. In the same way, in the realm of religion there have been conferences like one organized in Europe by Hans Küng, where some of the exchange of ideas was exciting, but an awful lot of Christians get very nervous when you begin to talk about paradigm change. If they’re not willing to talk about it, they’re not going to face up to the reality of the problem.
Aagaard: I have suggested that religion has always been associated with water and that fact has created some basic paradigms for religions. All the religions came about connected with big rivers–the Nile, the Tigris, the Indus, the Ganges, the Yellow River–they all produced religions. Later on, oceans came in. For a long time, oceans were separating because they were too big; but rather quickly when the means of communication were developed, oceans got the same paradigmatic role as rivers. The obvious example is the Mediterranean, with Rome in the middle, which created the Roman Catholic paradigm that became so determinant for the whole medieval period of Western civilization and, of course, is still functioning. It’s not finished, it’s the core of the pattern of Roman Catholicism, pre-Vatican II. The next step is the Atlantic paradigm, which became mainly but not exclusively a Protestant paradigm, coming into being as a mixture of English Continental and Northern Continental churches. Religiosity from the new world, which meant that which came into being in the new world, was not just a repetition of something in Europe. It was a new version, a new pattern, and a new paradigm–and that created modern man. The Atlantic paradigm created everything regarding our liberties and what we stand for regarding justice, which is now spreading all over the world and becoming a more or less natural ideology.
But now it’s an exciting thing that we are entering into the Pacific paradigm, where the religions of Asia, especially Buddhism, come in. This paradigm is being created as a sort of dialogue between the eastern part of Asia with all the metropolises and those on the west coast of the United States. It is interesting in this regard that eastern Asia is no longer really comprised of nation-states but of a string of metropolises connected to those in the western United States, and this “metropolis republic” is coming into being with Hawaii as the center. That’s where we are now. We who are living in Denmark, we are living in the backwaters because the real thing is happening in this area of Pacific culture, the Pacific paradigm which is not yet realized.
For purposes of brevity, my last point is that each paradigm creates its own heresies. It is very important to understand a heresy, and in order to understand it, you have to see in what context it came about. What is it a heresy in relation to? The Atlantic heresies are the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, going up to the Moonies and, in a way, also the Children of God. Now we’re in the situation where we must legitimately enter into a dialogue with Buddhism to see what sort of paradigm may come about. I maintain that it’s Buddhism, not Hinduism, but that’s another point. The point is whether Christianity and Buddhism together can really develop a genuine new paradigm, which will have its own heresies. We see those heresies in parts of the new religious movements. And this paradigm sees the old ones follow because they’re not out. The Atlantic paradigm is still very important and the Mediterranean paradigm is still very important, but I suggest that the Atlantic paradigm then hit back into the Mediterranean paradigm in Vatican II, and in many ways this is a result of a fusion between the Mediterranean paradigm and the Atlantic paradigm. Something like that may possibly happen later with a third Vatican council when the Pacific paradigm is influencing what has been the post-Vatican period. There’s only one possibility from my viewpoint, and that is to develop this in a responsible way in which a renewed Roman Catholic Church takes the lead in this “hurrying up slowly.”
Debold: I’d like to ask a question before time runs out. I have an idea I’d like to test on you and have you tell me I’m wrong. I have a feeling that there’s a spectrum, and New Age is at one end of the spectrum and the thing that I’m largely occupied with, the shepherding-discipleship movement, is at the other end of the spectrum. New Age, where words don’t really mean very much, and all the wild ideas and experimentation on the one hand, and the shepherding-discipleship movement, which is so conservative and trying to save something of the past, on the other?
Aagaard: The shepherding-discipleship movement, I feel, may be very similar to the guru function, so therefore I wouldn’t see this as two ends or two extremes; they’re more or less the same. I would say rather that fundamentalism is a desperate attempt to get back to some sort of meaningful frame of reference because the frame of reference has been dissolved.
Debold: Yes, but isn’t it going in the other direction from New Age?
Clark: Well, fundamentalism would fight the New Age, literally. It would be opposed to it and see it as an enemy and fight against it.
Langone: There is a similarity in that the New Age is unabashedly irrational. The shepherding groups are irrational and really don’t care about meanings, but they co-opt the words and then reframe them, so that what’s really going on is the same thing that’s going on in a New Age cult, which is control. You have a double agenda, and the overt meaning is not the true meaning. That’s partly why I think the Christian churches have so much trouble with the fringe Christian groups, because they talk in what appears to be the right language.
Clark: I would say that the New Age is sort of anti-orthodox in its attitude toward creed, whereas the fundamentalists are very pro-orthodox and defenders of the faith as they see it. Shepherding sees themselves as restorers, though. They’re trying to bring back…
Langone: But they’re still basically antirational.
Dowhower: And that’s part of our American civil religious tradition–the antirationalism. That’s why Dr. Aagaard’s rational approach runs so counter to religious sentiment and piety–I’m not going to glorify it by calling it thought–because of the alien nature of an informed, rational, cognitive approach to the nature of religious experience and thinking. They’re both antirational, and so is the American tradition.
Rudin: We are victims or products–it depends on your point of viewCof the Dwight Eisenhower syndrome. He said, “I don’t care what you believe as long as you believe something.” Protestant, Catholic, anything, even watered down to the lowest common denominator–it wasn’t even a denominator, it was just water, a different kind of water. We have paid the price for that. I know I just finished making my speech glorifying the First Amendment, but you’re right that the other side of the coin is that we’ve just watered everything down and Eisenhower contributed to it. Lyndon Johnson, too. Remember when he was President? He hopped around to every church. Presidents do set an example of sorts, so that’s the victimization that we suffer from; and every time I start battling on creed, the response is, “Well, you’re just saying that because you’re a rabbi,” or “You’re just saying that because you’re a Lutheran minister and you have a vested interest in defending the faith, but it doesn’t really matter does it?” And when I was a chaplain in the Air Force, I had a commander who used a toothpaste analogy. He was a colonel, and he said, “Your job as chaplain is to dispense religion like we dispense toothpaste.” So that’s the trivialization we have to deal with and it’s very serious.
Dowhower: Michael, I’ve got a question. David, maybe you can help me with it also. In the whole issue that we were wrestling with this morning, the creed and deed tension, where did our late European brother Haack fall in that matter? [Ed. note: refers to Pastor Friedrich “Fritz” Haack, former Commissioner of Apologetics of the Lutheran Church of Bavaria and a prolific cult critic.]
Aagaard: Oh, he’s with me. Definitely.
Dowhower: But his position was in apologetics. So it would seem to me that he would want to approach the credal issue.
Aagaard: Absolutely. But he was at the same time a pastor who was struggling as chairman for the parents’ organizations and the issues he had to deal with involved the traumatic and demonic part of the whole thing. There was some very heavy pressure on him, so he was never detached from it.
Dowhower: When you say the demonic was a heavy pressure on him, can you amplify that a little?
Aagaard: Those of us who are living on the front lines, who are being harassed by telephone and personal abuse and slander and anonymous letters, we know what it’s all about. No one could convince us that this is just about matters of principle, conceptual things; it’s blood and sweat!
Dowhower: And powers and principalities!
Rosedale: One of the things discussed in Paris was the providing of experts and speakers from the United States for European groups to the degree that was desirable–providing psychologists, psychiatrists, people who could speak to parents and others there on issues from the American experience. [Ed. note: refers to international meeting of representatives from countercult organizations that was organized by AFF in 1990.] The problem and the issue on which it foundered was money. The belief was that perhaps there were governmentally funded organizations in Europe that would underwrite some of this exchange of dialogue. Are there any in existence that would provide a basis for that?
Aagaard: It was first of all in relation to the Eastern European situation, wasn’t it? I think that the French and the Spanish and similar groups have some ideas about being able in principle to finance their international activities as parents’ organizations. But I think that is out of the question. I don’t think it will happen. If they made sort of a surprise attempt, they might get it through, but it would soon be cast out again. So, I’m not much hopeful for that, but I believe that the funding for Eastern Europe will be possible when we have a real international organization.
Now we have a series of magazines and seminars for pastors and teachers and youth groups because we have more than one hundred ex-volunteers who have been in Asia and who have been doing the job. They are excellent personnel to put into a minibus and go on a real tour from church club to church club in Eastern Europe and tell about what the world is like. We’d also like to enlist some of the best of these people to take a tour as volunteers and that would help, of course, to bring people back who would then have the “feeling in their fingers.” Of course, there are more possibilities. There is so much less to build on in Eastern Europe. They are so much more down on their knees than we had expected. We’ve been hearing so much about the church groups leading the opposition against the Communist governments and that’s true. But they’re very small groups and they are more engaged in their congregations than we are in ours, but again their horizons are extremely small. There’s not much to build on; so from the beginning we’ll have to put much more in than we get out. The load is much heavier than I expected. They’re not even eager. Of course, how could I expect any activity to solve a problem they don’t see? All those people coming in are exciting people and the Eastern Europeans don’t notice how foolish they are or how dangerous they are. They represent the interesting new world. Our churches have taken 20, 30 years to develop a consciousness about the problems. I’m afraid the Eastern Europeans will take just as long. Of course, it will mainly be a European project and the big money will come from the European community, but again the problem in its entirety is not a European problem.
Certainly, we see how thousands of young Russians are being brought into your country by the Moonies, so you are in it, too. It will be very interesting to see the reaction now that you’ve got this sort of providential student coming here as a reminder that it’s within your walls as well. That could be a starter as you try to deal with these thousands of youngsters who are seduced into coming here and are living under circumstances that are absolutely irresponsible.
Rosedale: It is difficult to do that in an environment where there is active cooperation between the Unification Church and the authorities.
Aagaard: Yes, but that also should be exposed. How could we tell about it before we knew it? These people should be enlisted not as dropouts but as returning resource people.
Clark: Well, I think there are two things there. You have a clear view of what it is from one side. I’m looking at it from the Soviets’ position, where a guy like this wants to stay here, he doesn’t want to go back. I mean, morally and ethically, you’re appealing to the higher ground regarding what should be done, but how does the individual feel about that? You know the responsibility the person would bear, so to speak. That’s an individual issue.
Rosedale: Think of how hard it would be for us to counsel him to go back.
Clark: And their attitude to authority, to their own government is different from the attitude we have here. They think it’s risky.
Aagaard: Okay, he’s a young man and not too strong. But it’s his moral obligation when he has experienced something so dangerous going on. His leaders may not know anything.
Rosedale: It’s a difficult problem. I know that a number of us, for example, have counseled people who have come out of a group, and then they talk about the obligation to go back and to get a friend out or to help a relative out, to do something like that. What do you do in situations like that? Do you encourage them and talk about moral obligations?
Clark: I think, for one thing, they have to sort those issues out for themselves. In terms of self-determination, we’re very strong ethically not to make that decision for them. We just inform them about it. But the thing that hits me regarding exit counseling, in what you’re bringing up, Herb, is that they have to take care of their own needs before they take on the responsibility of others. They can only be as strong to the next person as they have strength within themselves. So, we feel it’s extremely important that they have time to heal and get strength before they take on responsibility for other people. And it is true, classically, that when people come out, one of the first things that hits them is their friends and the people still in the group, and wanting to do something for them. But what I have found with those ex-members who do that right away is that it’s like after surgery, they’re putting pressure on their stitches before the wound is healed. What often happens is that they get overwhelmed, and it can become a fragmenting, dysfunctional problem for them, and in some cases it can create a relapse. They may go back to the group because they get all caught up in the emotions of what’s going on.
Aagaard: I think that is sometimes the case, but there are also cases in which such a person, perhaps a stronger personality, wants to get out. We let one of our people go with him into the Scientology shop and then they can run through and say, “Now shut up, come and follow me. I have something to tell you that you didn’t know.”
Clark: I think from a family perspective that gives them the jitters. They’re very nervous about that sort of thing.
Langone: Your disagreement is really illusory because you’re not saying that everyone is the same. It’s an individual case. Sometimes you may have someone who’s just come out who wants to get active and is able to do that and can handle it. I don’t think you’re saying as a generalization that no one ever should.
Clark: Oh, no, but not only that. What we do is educate them, we don’t determine for them. These are the options, these are the possible ramifications, this is what our experience shows us. We broaden the dimensions of the discussion so that they’re more in touch with the wider issues that are involved.
Aagaard: I normally say that you are not out until all those you have brought in are also out. They are a part of your job. If not to be done tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. It’s part of your obligation, you can’t forget about them.
Langone: As a mental health professional, that makes me cringe.
Aagaard: Well, I think it’s a moral obligation.
Langone: I think I have a moral obligation not to push someone to a moral decision in that situation. is the operative word here.
Langone: But if you’re saying what I hear you saying, that your belief, which you communicate to them, is that you are not out until everyone is out, there’s an element of push there.
Aagaard: Oh, you misunderstood me, only those whom they have brought in, they do not have a responsibility for everybody.
Langone: Even that, though–because psychologically they may be incapable of dealing with that.
Aagaard: Yes, today, but not tomorrow.
Langone: Yes, but to say it is their obligation even tomorrow is to put a burden on them that now they must perform. That is what many of them are trying to recover from in the cult–the placing of unrealistic expectations on them that they can’t live up to and feeling like failures. Now they’re coming out, they’re finally feeling a little liberated, and then they get this expectation put on them that they have to go save the people they brought in.
Eckstein: Is that a medical judgment that you make on a case by case basis or is it instead a principle that you follow because somehow you feel like there isn’t such an ethical obligation?
Langone: I would say it’s a judgment on a case-by-case basis. I would not say you never ask.
Eckstein: Certainly, you wouldn’t disagree that in a case where someone feels that it would be medically dangerous or disadvantageous to someone recently released from a cult situation to take such an active role that that person should cool it for a while, would you?
Aagaard: You see, I’m only confirming that I believe that each of them knows that this is true. That when they have brought friends into such a mess, they have a duty to repair it, so to speak. I’m not saying they’re going to do it now, and they’re not going to do it alone. As I say, in a few cases it might be possible to rush back and take their friends out just by telling them to come along and informing them about what they know, but it’s a long process. But honestly, again, it may be because we operate on a Christian basis that we try to inspire them to see that we have to undo what we have done wrong, again not alone, but in the long run and together with that sort of party who has just helped them out. They have a loyalty to fulfill. Until they have done it, they will not be free persons.
Langone: To the extent that the population you’re dealing with shares that conviction in their bones, you are merely stating what is unstated for them, so in a sense it would be less risky in my view from a psychological standpoint. But in this culture, not everyone is going to share that sense of moral obligation. You may argue that on a deeper level everyone does, but as a helper you have to recognize your own limitations, and there’s a certain arrogance in presuming to know what is going on in the depths of another person’s soul and what he really believes is his moral obligation. There’s a certain self-restraint that I think is called for, maybe more in this culture because we have such diversity: We may have a kid raised in a secular household who’s coming out of a cult, we may have various shades of Christianity or Judaism, and the moral obligation that person may feel might be different from what your population tends to feel. Even within your population, I still think there would be a decision on a case-by-case basis because some people are psychologically…
Aagaard: Sure, but I remember, for instance, in Santa Barbara I interviewed two former leaders of Transcendental Meditation. I said to them, the consequences of your dealing with this problem of having spent so many years in TM are not reaching their conclusion until you have assisted in getting out those whom you brought in. They responded by saying that they couldn’t care less, that’s their problem. Why shouldn’t I tell them that they are still under the spell of TM? This lack of responsibility is exactly what TM is all about. If you want to become a free person, then you must take responsibility.
Langone: This is really interesting because this is the deed versus the creed brought down to the individual level and manifested in the differences in the approach.
Eckstein: But the example you just gave is not the example of someone who is medically compromised. It is rather the example of someone who still hasn’t got the message.
Aagaard: These were people who did not have the career they wanted. They stepped out. They were still totally TM-dominated. And then you have to kick them.
Langone: But, see, it is quite possible that these people may not have had that moral sense before they went into TM.
Aagaard: Well, then, it’s high time they get it.
Eckstein: A duty is a duty–you either have it or you don’t.
Clark: There are two issues here. There is the issue of recognition and also the issue of responsibility that he’s talking about. One person can recognize something, he doesn’t necessarily take responsibility for what he recognizes; but if he doesn’t see it at all–and I think that’s a very important issue he’s raising–then there’s a deficiency going on that needs to be recognized for what it is. If people fail to take responsibility, then I think it gets back to what Mike was talking about. Do you leave them alone because that’s the choice they’ve made, or do you do what Johannes said and deal with their moral deficiency?
Dowhower: Johannes and I come from the same pastoral care mentality, and I’m watching also how my mentality runs into yours, Michael–the kind of cultural mind-set of mental health professional versus the soul care person who has as part of his teaching responsibility being the spiritual director, the moral guide who has the responsibility to tell people what their moral responsibility is. That’s part of our system, and it isn’t the same in your system; but let me see if I can talk your language by getting into 12-step programs. I hope the two meet there in terms of step 4 or 5 or whatever it is, where the person takes an inventory of all the people he or she offended and begins some kind of constructive restitution as part of the therapeutic process. I think that’s from a therapeutic model, and it converges with a pastoral model, which helps somebody spell out a moral responsibility to make restitution.
Langone: I don’t think the 12-step is truly a therapeutic model.
Clark: I was afraid you were going to say that.
Langone: I think the model you’re using may have much less potential for harm if you’re using it because of the collar, so to speak, because the expectations of the person you’re talking to will be different than if a therapist were to use it. I think the ethics are different for the two professions for the reason you stated. Part of your role is the teaching function about morals. The therapeutic role is not to teach morality. As I see the therapeutic role, it is to facilitate informed choosing. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to let it come up if the person is saying, well, I feel terrible about having brought this about. The basic difference between the therapeutic and the pastoral is that the therapeutic is more long-winded because it’s more Socratic. The Socratic method uses questions to elicit responses from the person, and in so doing you have a greater assurance that it’s the identity of that person coming out and not the identity of the therapist.
Eckstein: I’m getting confused because I fail to see really that there’s a distinction. It sounds like what you’re saying is that your goal is the same and you actually do make a decision to try to get the person you’re counseling to adopt a particular moral stance, but you do it in a way that preserves the autonomy of the patient and in effect allows the patient to come around to the position that you’re suggesting without your coming right out and saying that it’s his responsibility.
Hochman: The point you’re raising is that the therapist is introducing a bias just on the basis of the questions they ask, is this the point?
Eckstein: Well, that’s what it sounded like. I mean, the Socratic method is designed in effect to bring about a specific goal.
Langone: You’re partially right, but it isn’t a goal, so it isn’t truly Socratic method and I probably shouldn’t have called it Socratic method. It’s a potential goal. It’s a desideratum, if you will, in the abstract sense in which I can agree that this is where it would be nice if we landed, but there’s that constant respect for the identity of this person you’re interacting with. Therefore, you do not translate that desideratum into a goal that implies action to bring the goal about, unless your assessment indicates that you will not be imposing beyond that comfortable boundary that you define personally as your ethical boundary.
Eckstein: But is your respect for the limitations, if I can put it that way, of your patient in this situation based on a medical judgment regarding where that person is or is it based on your understanding that everyone somehow has the right to make their own decisions and therefore you don’t push your position? If it’s the former, I understand it; if it’s the latter, I’m still confused.
Langone: I’m not sure I understand you, but to the extent I do, there’s a judgment about how well the person can handle the pressure you’re going to put on him, however tactfully you may do it. There’s a psychological judgment there, and that psychological judgment in large part determines whether or not you make the decision to transfer your desideratum into a goal, which the client shares or comes to share without feeling pressured.
Eckstein: Okay, fair enough. But if that’s all that’s going on … if, in other words, you’re making a medical decision, then, it seems to me a respectable limitation and there’s no disagreement here. Rather the issue is over whether you’re saying that if the person is judged as medically fit but for some reason or other has chosen not to take the responsibility that you believe he has a duty to take, it is therefore your responsibility to take a hands-off attitude because everyone is entitled to make his or her own decisions.
Langone: Some therapists would say that you never let a value judgment enter in.
Eckstein: But that goes back to precisely the issue we addressed before. Entitlement is a bogus issue here: No one is questioning whether the patient is entitled to make his own decisions. But given that entitlement, one can dispute what decision he should make; and if the decision should be based on a sense of duty, then, it seems to me that you certainly are within your rights to argue for an ethical perspective.
Langone: Yes, provided you first weigh the psychological consequences of raising the ethical issue.
Eckstein: Sure. But most of what you usually hear–and you suggested that this was kind of a psychological paradigm as opposed to a pastoral one–out of the psychological paradigm is the idea that somehow you should not be imposing one value system on another. When that becomes the basis for the intervention, then, no wonder nobody wants to attack the creeds.
Langone: A good example is, you’re working with a fellow who’s depressed. He’s cheating on his wife. And your clinical judgment is that part of his depression is a result of guilt from cheating on his wife. But he’s really ambivalent about that guilt and there is a moral dimension there. Now some therapists will just badger the patient, saying, “You know, you shouldn’t cheat on your wife.” Others, especially those coming from this New Age kind of nonjudgmental point of view, are essentially going to communicate, “Why are you guilty? Why are you letting these shoulds dictate to you? You have a need to make it with other women.” And it’s going to be a whole different approach. Then, there are those who try to remain completely neutral and nonjudgmental, like the pure client-centered approach of Carl Rogers. While I don’t think it actually happens in practice, the theory is that the therapist is just the facilitator with minimal intrusion of his personal opinions. Now, I kind of come out in that direction, though I don’t go so far. I think it’s an illusion to think that there is no moral dimension.
Eckstein: So, let’s take you out of the picture. According to the Rogerian perspective, if in fact the outcome of the treatment was that the patient was now guilt-free in his fornication, even though you as a therapist might not particularly agree with the value system he’s chosenCbut more power to him?
Langone: Right. If it gets him through the day, it’s okay. I think that’s a whole school of thought; but on the other extreme, you have the therapists who, in a sense, are in an extreme pastoral mode, where what they want to do is create clones of themselves. I got into a big battle with a colleague once about this. She was working with a young lady who didn’t really have big problems: She was living with a guy, had normal sex with the guy, but it came out in the course of the discussion that the girl didn’t masturbate. And it didn’t bother her that she didn’t, she didn’t want to masturbate. But the female therapist was of the view that masturbation is healthy and if you don’t masturbate, something is wrong with you. She felt a “moral obligation” to persuade her client to masturbate! And she had a knock-down, drag-out fight with the young woman. They were screaming at each other! In my view, it was a healthy sign that the client was able to stand up to this pushy therapist. But at the end of the discussion, the therapist in a very cultic kind of way yielded by saying, “Well, okay, when you’re ready to masturbate, we’ll discuss this.” The therapist was not giving up.
Aagaard: All this is an illustration of what shadowboxing is. Those two persons were shadowboxing. They were not talking about the real issue, which is religious, of course. Behind such a standpoint is some sort of religious code which dictates this sort of attitude, and it’s all right to have a religious code as long as you confess it.
Langone: That’s true, but you wouldn’t get to first base if you use that language with these people because the codes are such that the very word religious means something different. That’s what happened in Paris when you were saying these are pseudoreligions and everyone is religious. The way you’re meaning religious is not how it’s understood. As we say in the trade, the message intended is not the message received. What it means to you is not what it means when it gets processed in the brains of all the hearers. That’s where the mix-up comes in.
Aagaard: Again, the solution is not to keep quiet about it. Explain or communicate that they have a wrong notion of religion. There’s a lot of religious dyslexia where they misread a term like religion. What are we going to do about it? Does it mean that we cannot change it? This theological or religious dyslexia is not so serious as the other one because it can be corrected. You can hear that “God” is not the same as “dog,” even if a lot of people mishear and misunderstand God as if He were a dog.
Langone: This is interesting because you can have that debate with someone else whose paradigm is sufficiently close to yours that the words “You have the wrong idea of religion” express a meaningful concept to them. But I think with a lot of the New Agers and the kind of relativism that’s permeated American culture, the whole notion that you have the wrong idea about religion is a vacuous notion. In other words, if you’re really listening to the person whom you’re trying to communicate with, you will realize that if you use those words, you will not be understood and you will actually be impeding the process of dialogue.
Clark: It can become a barrier. I know in exit counseling if I use the word religious, it’s a deadly term because in the groups members are literally emotionally programmed and emotionally polarized against that. So if I say spiritual instead, that’s a nonthreatening term. But it’s dealing with a religious issue all the same, and they can hear that. But if you use religious, you’re courting a breakdown in communication and an alienating and emotional hostility will result.
Aagaard: There’s a difference between pedagogy–of course, I have a lot of experience, too–and evasion. You shouldn’t drop the issue of concern just because there is a misunderstanding lurking there. You can evade it for a time, but you cannot really evade it. You must go back and make a saner use of those words because those words are part of our tradition. We cannot just drop them. I think fundamentally you’re right when you say I don’t believe that there is that sharp conflict between us. In our theological faculty we have seven theological institutes and one institute for Religionswissenschaft, religious science or religious studies. If a student of religious studies writes a thesis in which he takes a stand, then he fails. If a theological student writes a thesis without taking a stand, he fails. Even if both are qualified.
Langone: Now, try to get a degree in both at the same time! That’s the dilemma we have.
Aagaard: There must be some sort of standpoint which you admit, which you confess, and which you put on the table, and then you are entitled to take a stand.
Langone: I agree with you and I think that is the fault line, as I called it, in American pluralism. We do not acknowledge that. We have this pretension, this tacit agreement not to talk about the most important things. Those are private.
Aagaard: Therefore, theology here is really depressed. It doesn’t dare to take a stand. It’s so interesting that in coming over here this is the first man I’ve met from my own church who knows anything about this whole dilemma. I’ve been running here from church to church and they are all scared to death or, if not that, then they are ignorant. There’s no one who has really taken a stand and put his life on it. It’s such a large and important church, the Lutheran Church, and it’s being totally passive. Paulette Cooper [author of The Scandal of Scientology], whom I consider, with all her frailty and weaknesses, a real saint–I’m sure that if I come to heaven one of the first I’ll meet is Paulette, and I’ll not be surprised, though she may be surprised to be there–she said to me in one of my very first experiences in the States that my first enemy in the fight against Scientology would be the churches. Theologians can sometimes be the most evasive, passive, and treacherous people.
Rosedale: I don’t find them treacherous. I find them impotent and irrelevant. We compared notes at lunch break and we certainly find each other as long-lost brothers in a lonely quest. I remember the day I was with a former Hare Krishna who is now a poetess. We were sitting and talking, and she said to me, “You know, once after I was in the Krishnas for about three or four years, I felt so terrible I wanted to talk to somebody. So I went and I found a priest, and I told the priest I was involved with the Krishnas and I was having real problems and I didn’t know just what to do and I wanted to leave.” And she said the priest looked at her and said, “I guess you made a mistake. You’ll have to learn to live with it.” And she said that she was so crushed, it just devastated her. She hadn’t even been able to tell that story for three or four years because she had had that level of expectation in terms of how much energy and effort it took to get her to go and have that encounter and to tell him this, to share this. And to be told that she made a mistake!
Langone: I think part of it is that in American religious circles, and you can correct me, Dick, if I’m wrong about this, they have been tremendously affected by psychotherapy, but they’re usually about 30 years behind the field. It’s like this early Rogerian hands-off kind of approach–superrelativism–which is pretty much but not totally defunct. It’s a minor theme in psychology today, but it still has a lot of influence in the churches and workshops and retreats and so on, so that it undermines the very pastoral model you’re talking about.
Dowhower: Yes, it leaves the pastoral office in a quandary.
Rosedale: You know, if we end up so uniformly beating up on the pastoral ministry because of its abuse by indecision and excessive tolerance, we are not taking into account the abuse in the therapeutic relationship by excessive dominance, manipulation, and abuse of the patient. What about the other side? The counselor who has given up all pretense of modesty and has taken on the role of “follow me”?
Langone: Well, I think they’re both betraying their duties in their respective helping professions. The psychotherapist is actually going beyond the pastoral model and getting into more of a cultic kind of model by inducing dependency in the patient rather than enhancing autonomy and individual development.
Dowhower: Let me say that one of the things I’ve done in participating in exit counseling in a number of cases where people like David and Kevin Garvey have brought me ex-cult members was to, at their request, sort out healthy and sick forms of spirituality or religion. We spent half a dozen sessions identifying, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, both credally and in praxis, the marks of healthy religions. So, I found myself doing both those things, but they came to me to approach it as a pastor.
Langone: It’s much more of a teaching function, of their coming for information. I worked with a young man who joined the Krishnas in college at age 18. He had a promising artistic career which he gave up and spent the next 10 years studying the Gita, listening to the same lectures, and fund-raising. He stumbled out after 10 years. He was sick of being bossed and sick of listening to the same lectures. He still considered himself a Krishna–he just disapproved of the organization. He equated being a Krishna with being a Hindu, so he said he was a Hindu and the Hindus worship God by chanting the Hare Krishna chant. This is what he’d been taught for 10 years. After he left the Krishnas, he married a Hindu girl who hated the Krishnas, and they came to me for marriage counseling. When he was about to finish a two-year program and had to go look for a job, he was getting nervous, so he started chanting, which troubled his wife.
One of the things I worked with them on was getting some clarification about what Hinduism is. The question was, is what the Krishnas told him really what Hinduism is? His wife said it wasn’t, but she wasn’t an authority obviously. And because I didn’t have a person to refer them to, I loaned them some books on Hinduism, which I had gotten at the library. These texts showed very clearly that Krishna is like a strand of a strand, like the Holy Rollers of Hinduism. As a result, the young man was able to, in a sense, broaden his horizons so that he practiced Hinduism in a more mainstream kind of way. Now, I’m not a Hindu–he was raised Jewish, and I’m not even Jewish–and I can’t say that I think its great that he’s a Hindu, but I made a judgment that what he considered Hinduism, however imperfect his formulation might have been, had sufficiently penetrated his identity and was sufficiently tied into his life, especially now that he was married to a Hindu girl, that it would have been arrogant of me to try to change that. If at some point he had questions about it, then, that’s fine, but it was not my job to convert him from what he thought was Hinduism to Christianity or Judaism or whatever. It was my job to make sure that the choices he made were informed choices, and that’s where the education component comes in.
Hochman: How much information do you give to a person? And you’re right, it isn’t your job. From a Jewish standpoint, he’s Jewish. Maybe he doesn’t know what Judaism has to offer, where Judaism’s at? Of course, I don’t know his background, and from a religious standpoint there is precedent. If you didn’t know you were Jewish, or you knew you were Jewish but you forgot about it because you didn’t know what was going on in the Jewish religion, find out what’s happening! If you’ve married somebody who’s a Hindu, either get her converted or divorce her! So this doesn’t fit into the psychological model. This is not something a rabbi would do either because this is a very radical kind of surgery. It really comes down to what you were saying, that there is some sort of a goal that you can have to help somebody have a better marriage because he’s got more in common with his wife.
Langone: Well, yes, except that I didn’t ignore the issue of Judaism because Judaism is also rooted in his identity. In the process I did raise the question, do you want to find out more about Judaism, is there any inclination to explore that? If I remember correctly, I think he may have even gone to talk with a rabbi, so that I wasn’t discouraging him from reconnecting to Judaism and I wasn’t ignoring it. It was kind of like the correlation of forces was such that he was a Hindu, he was a Jew who had converted to Hinduism, and he had a distorted view of Hinduism as a result of the Krishnas. Now, ironically, he had become a Hindu as a result of the Krishnas, too. But it had been so thick and, then, with the marriage strengthening it, I did not feel it was my task to try to take him out of Hinduism. Now as a Jewish therapist, how would you have reacted to it?
Hochman: I would have referred him to you.
Dowhower: I think I would have wanted to take him back into his Jewish roots and help him examine how many of those roots he needed to affirm and revisit.
Eckstein: And I thought all of this was about the question of moral autonomy.
Langone: Well, that’s why I didn’t push, I respected the identity that is, even if I disapproved of it.
Eckstein: But in this particular case, you’re not dealing with a crisis that revolves around an issue of moral autonomy. There’s not some duty that he’s failing to perform in a moral sense. In the way you describe the case, there’s a conflict, he’s chanting, she thinks he’s off the deep end, and they’re having marital problems. So, they come to see you, and you in effect point out what you consider to be the facts. The facts are that he’s mistaken about what Hinduism is and that his chanting stuff is sort of at the far distant end of it, but there’s no reason for you to attempt some kind of spiritual conversion because there isn’t any serious moral issue involved there.
Langone: My job is not personality reconstruction until the client decides that he wants that.
Eckstein: But let me take this one step further. Suppose as a Hindu he has decided that he wants to have his wife agree that on his death she is going to throw herself on the funeral pyre. Even though she is a Hindu, she’s not so interested in this particular aspect of the religion, so he begins a campaign of psychological manipulation designed to get her to agree to it, and the way he does that is by threatening the marriage and that sort of thing. Then, don’t you see your task as being somehow radically different?
Langone: It would change.
Hochman: Let me give you an example of an experience I had. There was a New Age cult in Los Angeles. The group was going on for a couple of years and the leader had about 20 or 30 patients following him, doing whatever people do in these cults. The guy running this cult was Jewish, though he was not observant. Then, something happened and he started really getting interested in traditional Judaism. He started studying with an orthodox rabbi, and he started doing things that real traditional Jews do, like not working on the Sabbath and eating Kosher food. But, of course, since it’s a cult, he can’t go off into orbit, he’s got a vested interest in his following, so he said to his followers, this is where it’s at, and he gave them some reasons, and I guess he started teaching them. I think half the group was Jewish to start with and half weren’t, so they were really confused. Then, things got to a point where he got hold of an orthodox rabbi who didn’t know too much about cults, and he came and told him that he was a penitent, someone who wasn’t observant, who didn’t know but who now knows what you have to do with all the Commandments, and he expresses his desire to get on board. He tells him that he has all these people and he wound up converting his non-Jewish followers to Judaism. “Now you’re all Jews, too,” he tells them, even those who weren’t originally Jewish. He tells them, “We have to be together and have our own community.” It’s your typical cult story. They move into some neighborhood where there are hardly any Jews, they buy a bunch of houses near each other, and they’re living there celebrating all the Jewish holidays and the Sabbath.
Then, as these things tend to progress, the leader started to go off the deep end from the Jewish standpoint because he decided that these Commandments were very nice but don’t necessarily apply to him! There was a cruise they took during which there was a particular Jewish fast day, and he says, “Well, we’re not fasting today.” So he started having his revisionist ideas, and it was just back to being a cult. I guess it never stopped being a cult. It became abusive and started breaking up, and this one particular woman came to my attention. She was Jewish and grew up in an assimilated kind of home, not 100% assimilated, but there wasn’t too much Jewish going on. The father changed their name and they lived in a community where there were hardly any Jews and she never had any Jewish education. She was referred to me for medication purposes. She was depressed, there were financial problems, and she was pushed into marrying a fellow cult member–the usual kind of cult problems people get depressed about.
Now, they’re out of the cult and what do they do? It had been such an intense group. She moves to Los Angeles, to a neighborhood that is about 60% Jewish, though they’re not all observant; they’re Jews at different levels. It comes around to Yom Kippur, a very major holiday, a heavy time spiritually, and she says, “Well, I’m going to go to the movies tonight.” This is a special thing–she has to go to the movies on Yom Kippur. So she goes to the movie theater in this Jewish neighborhood; even the people who aren’t that religious are either in synagogue or at home. They’re not going to go to the movies. So here’s this movie theater and it’s empty, and she’s looking around and she suddenly gets this insight! She starts telling me that with all the stupidity of this group, there were some things that were very meaningful for her, specifically referring to some of the orthodox things that the leader borrowed and brought into the group. So what I said to her was, “Look, this is not a psychiatric matter!” I almost wanted to move into another chair, you know, gestalt therapy! I told her that I knew she came to me for psychiatric treatment, but that I was going to talk to her as one Jew to another Jew: My opinion was that there were things of value that were brought into this group that she experienced and that she might want to reintegrate these things into her life and check it out and see how it feels. I suggested that maybe she would want to have Shabat dinner Friday night with a family–they’re not a cult, just a traditional Jewish family, and they like having people and just sharing the experience. She was sort of interested, so I dug somebody up, and then she decided that she didn’t really want to go. So, when you ask me what would I do with this, I don’t know because this is much more complicated.
Langone: Your example is apt. I mean, you didn’t betray your professional ethics in that you said I’m not going to talk to you as a psychiatrist now. I’m giving you fair warning that I’m changing roles, so don’t interpret what I say with the same expectations. Secondly, you said things like “You might want to consider this,” “You might want to check it out.” You were holding yourself back, saying that you were giving her some options to consider and think about. You were not imposing on her by saying you ought to do this, you should do this, this is the right thing to do. You wanted to do it, but you didn’t say it as a psychiatrist, an authority who’s peering into her mind and helping her get her head straight. I have no problem with that at all. And I’ve done similar things, myself, where you step out of the chair, as you say, and you’re in a different role. I think as long as the helper, whatever the profession, keeps those ethical issues in mind so that he is aware of not only what he is saying but also the impact of what he is saying on the person he is talking to, how the person will interpret what he is saying, then I think you can keep your ethical bearings.
Eckstein: The thing I don’t understand though, and maybe you could just clear it up, is why you couldn’t have done that as a psychiatrist? Why did you have to step out of that role in order to suggest that maybe that would have been something good for her?
Hochman: That’s a very good question. The reason is that I’ve been professionally indoctrinated. For example, I could have said to her, “Now, you know what, you made a mistake, you should have gone to the movies in Pasadena. There are no Jewish people there. You could have gone to the ball game.” I might be a psychiatrist and say that, but then one could take the devil’s advocate position and say, look, here’s this woman who is not really suffering from depression, she’s talking about a spiritual problem–and, first of all, what do psychiatrists know about spirituality? Second, you can say, well, you’re really trivializing her dilemma, you’re not really addressing where she’s at. There was a couple in Los Angeles, they were in one of these groups, TM, DLM, whatever, and they got out of the group and they said, “Well, what are we going to do for Passover?” And there was a rabbi who says, “Well, you know what? I’m a vegetarian. Why don’t you come over to my house and we’ll have a seder together?” The rabbi was very upbeat, saying, “Well, I have this couple, and they might have stayed home, but they came to my seder. Not only did they come to my seder, but we were vegetarians and they were vegetarians, so it was comfortable for them.” So there was a sort of meeting of the minds. What bothers me about this–though I don’t know if it bothered the rabbi–is that he didn’t address their whole vegetarianism. Why are they vegetarians and why is he a vegetarian? He just said, “We’re all vegetarians, and isn’t it nice? You can have more vegetables.” But they’re really hanging on to something, so as a rabbi, I would say, well, wait a minute, where are these people spiritually? And I don’t think he was interested in that part.
Rosedale: It was a meatless seder.
Hochman: Yes, a meatless seder. A meeting of the meatless minds.
Rosedale: If they had been prohibitionists, it would have been a wineless, a grape-juice seder.
Aagaard: I have a question. Normally, back home when I try to enlighten myself and others, sometimes I say that a pastor in pastoral counseling deals with problems that are normal and healthy. As soon as a pastor finds out that these problems are not normal, that they are sick problems, then he must refer to a specialist in dealing with sick problems. That’s a psychiatrist. Vice versa, a psychiatrist is not meant to deal with normal problems, with religious problems, which are normal problems. Of course, religious problems can also be sick problems.
Caslin: Religious meaning “spiritual”?
Aagaard: Spiritual, yes. Now, what is an exit counselor? Are you dealing with normal problems or are you dealing with sick problems? Insofar as you are dealing with normal problems, I would say that it’s totally mistaken to abstain from having your own viewpoint made explicit.
Clark: Generally, we deal with those we consider to be normal people who are under mind control. Generally, if you are dealing with disturbed persons, then you want to work with the appropriate professional. We’re information specialists, basically, in a family intervention context. In fact, right now we’re working through ethical guidelines of how we approach these issues. For example, if we have a specific orientation, we do notify the family of our own background; but in approaching a cult person, we aren’t ethically allowed to push our personal agenda onto the person we’re talking to. What we have to do is to allow them the room for self-exploration and self-determination. Our purpose is to stimulate critical thinking and also to inform them about options and alternatives that can be available versus what has been taken away from them in the controlling, constrictive environment.
Aagaard: But can you develop critical thinking without you yourself representing a standpoint against which the critical thinking can take place?
Clark: It depends on how you relate to that critical standpoint. Michael was saying, or the way John just described it, he notified the person of his personal views, and I have done that on occasion. But respecting, for example, this whole issue of taking responsibility for someone else, it’s one thing to notify the person that that’s a factor for consideration, and it’s another thing to allow the person to make the determination whether he or she is going to pick up that responsibility. Quite a few of them do that; but others, they don’t take that responsibility. As exit counselors, we cannot determine for them what they’re going to do in that area.
Aagaard: My point is only insofar as you’re dealing with normal, healthy problems, you must be the man you are. You cannot withdraw into a sort of neutral objective stance without spoiling the whole dialogue, the whole meaning of the dialogue.
Clark: In terms of the dialogue, we feel a commitment that the information has to do the talking itself. In other words, they’re presented with that information, and they have a relationship to that information, and we can point out the moral and ethical issues involved with that information; but again, it’s an issue of whether they want to take the responsibility for that or not. We’re not to determine that. That’s their responsibility.
Aagaard: That’s not my point.
Langone: I would distinguish between dialogue and counseling and psychiatric treatment. You make a distinction between the sick and the healthy, which is a somewhat artificial distinction. When dealing with the sick, the truly psychiatrically sick, it’s a question of treatment. The treatment may vary from prescribing drugs, to hospitalization on occasion, to talk therapy. That is psychiatric. You also have a range of, if not formal disorders, then, types of distress that may occur in people who are not psychiatrically ill but are distressed. I think, much more so than in Europe, we have a whole industry of counseling, which will usually be done by counseling psychologists like myself, clinical psychologists, and sometimes psychiatrists. This is a kind of therapy or counseling for people who are sometimes called the “walking well.” The people who have the money to pay for it, but who could do without it if they had to in a pinch.
The type of communication is different in counseling than in dialogue. I think what you’re talking about is dialogue. We say, you’re a normal human being and I’m a normal human being and we’re interacting and we’re going to have a dialogue. This means that I’m not going to stand outside of myself and watch the process. I’m going to share myself with you and let you know what I feel because I’m assuming that you will respect me enough and respect yourself enough to disagree with me. That’s dialogue and I think that has a proper place. Counseling is a special kind of relationship; for example, you don’t counsel your own family. You may, however, have dialogue with your family.
Hochman: I don’t think he’s talking about that. What you’re saying is that if you’re talking with somebody, for example, a guy who came from Russia, and you feel you have a position of expertise in a moral problem and he doesn’t know about it, you’re going to inform him. You say, “Look, this is the problem. This is what you have to do.” You’re taking the stance of an expert, at least an expert in certain areas, aren’t you?
Aagaard: My point is that to treat a person means that you take the standpoint of an expert, a sound and normal expert who is treating a sick person who’s in trouble. Then, it is all right to treat. But in all other cases, it’s a very bad and dishonest thing to treat other people. You should never treat a person who is in disagreement with you. If you look upon his disagreement as a sort of abnormal variation, then you are not really showing respect for him. If you respect a person, then you must put forward your own standpoint, be the person you are, and engage in the dialogue.
Langone: Counseling is not treatment.
Aagaard: But it is also not dialogue, so what is it?
Langone: No, no. Counseling is a contractual relationship where a person who seeks out counseling says essentially I want a sounding board…
Langone: …that will help me get clarity about what I think, what I value, what I feel. I don’t want to be told what I ought to think, what I ought to feel. I want to get clarity about what I feel, think, and do. The counseling relationship is a special kind of relationship where there is a conscious attempt on the part of the counselor to get some distance and to remove himself from the relationship to a degree in order to facilitate the self-exploration of the person who has come to him.
Aagaard: Socrates was not neutral. He knew exactly what he wanted.
Langone: Socrates wasn’t a counselor. He was manipulating, which is why it wasn’t accurate for me to compare therapeutic or counseling interactions to Socratic dialogue.
Aagaard: So many of the ex-cult people go to a psychiatrist and get the diagnosis schizophrenic. They’re not schizophrenic. They are living the split world and they have multiple personality problems, but that’s not schizophrenia. I don’t even think they should be treated. I think they should be approached, challenged, inspired to find themselves and find which person is me. A medical man, a psychiatrist, makes it absolutely impossible because he won’t provoke them. He’s just a sounding board. They’re not looking for a sounding board.
Langone: Psychiatrists are not functioning as sounding boards. as you describe it. They’re functioning as diagnosticians, as doctors. Here is a person who comes to me with distress. My job is to diagnose what disease he has and to prescribe treatment. They diagnose schizophrenia, or misdiagnose schizophrenia, and then prescribe treatment, which in many cases would probably be drugs, which, in some cult cases, may make a person worse rather than better. It’s poor treatment. I mean, we’ve had that problem in this country. You send ex-cult members to mental health professionals, particularly psychiatrists, who know nothing about cults and they totally botch it because they misdiagnose. Because the tendency in psychiatry is to diagnose. Counseling professionals work more with what you would call normal people making choices, struggling with issues, and it’s a different approach. You can shift approaches as well. If I’ve got someone who is actively suicidal, for example, I’m not going to sit and play Carl Rogers with that person. I’m not going to sit and play the counselor, and say, “Okay, well, let’s discuss it. You say you would like a knife? Have you considered other options?” I’m not going to do that.
Eckstein: Is that a medical or moral judgment?
Langone: With the suicidal person, it’s both. Now I think the psychiatrist will often pretend that there isn’t a moral judgment. I think Szasz, who talks about the “myth of mental illness,” goes to the extreme of essentially saying if someone wants to commit suicide, he ought to have the right to kill himself and who am I as a psychiatrist to stop him? Szasz is at least, I think, being consistent in that. But most psychiatrists or most mental health professionals aren’t going to sit by and let a suicidal person kill himself. If he’s got a gun, you’re going to try to pull it away or talk him out of using it, and you’re going to get him into a protected environment because the assumption is, and there is a wealth of data to back it up, that people who are about to kill themselves are disturbed and will choose not to kill themselves after a period of treatment. So, it’s a different mode. The model of interaction you choose depends on the purpose of that interaction. This complicates it, and, depending on the purpose, you will play a different role.
If you have a seriously disturbed person, a pure psychiatric model may be the appropriate kind. If you have someone who is looking for clarity and self-exploration and is seeking counseling, a counseling mode would be appropriate. If you have someone who is looking for clarity and exploration but is not actively seeking counseling in a contractual way, but is talking to you as another human being, and you start playing the counselor role, puffing on your pipe and trying to maintain distance, you’re violating that person in a sense because you’re not giving him what he is asking for, which is a genuine person-to-person relationship, a dialogue relationship. I will shift between these roles. I can interact with an ex-cult member in the dialogue manner. I’m not always a counselor. I will be a counselor when the person comes for that, and I suspect that in exit counseling it may be very much the sameCwhich is that you’re not going to interact the same way talking to people at conferences and so on as you would in the exit counseling situation.
Clark: Not only that. It’s not even just listening, you are definitely educating. I mean, you’re taking an activist role in the information you are presenting.
Langone: Right, which is one of the differences between exit counseling and more traditional psychological counseling, which, though educative, does not emphasize education as much as exit counseling.
Aagaard: That’s a very interesting point because, of course, it would be impossible for you to operate without having it right.
Clark: The foundation of much of what you do is the information you bring in. I think the key with exit counseling is the ethics attached to the information and how it’s presented and the interaction with that information.
Langone: And in counseling there is definitely an educational component, most conspicuously in things like vocational counseling. A person comes in, he’s trying to decide what he should do for a living, what his major should be in college. As a counselor you would provide information as well as…
Clark: How about Lyndon LaRouche? The primary focus of Lyndon LaRouche is a political design as opposed to, say, a religious theme, like Scientology, which converts people into being Buddhist and occultist. Even they call it the “modern science of mental health” in Dianetics. There’s a hidden-agenda religious component to it, like Werner Erhard and est.
Aagaard: Would your ministry have any sort of meaning unless you had a goal in your education?
Clark: I think the goal in exit counseling is informed consent. That’s the point where you bring a person to at least address deficiencies inherited from the cultic experience and the destructive consequences of those deficiencies.
Aagaard: Now, let’s take a very pure case. Here is a young Westerner or Indian, for that matter, who is struggling with reincarnation. How do you deal with that?
Clark: I think the position we would take is that the person should know enough about it to make an informed decision about it, and also we make an honest comparison between what the cult member knows and what’s out there. For example, we find in many instances of exit counseling that cult members don’t know enough about the very tradition that they’re beginning to take on, so we have to go through a lot of research to say, well, there’s more to this than what they’re telling you. I find that cults are very dishonest about what they’re doing. There is more to the information base than what they provide, and it’s important at least that the person is aware that that’s there, regardless of whether they want to take the responsibility and research it and do more with it. At least the resources are made available to them, the knowledge is made available to them, and this whole issue of critical thinking that we’ve been discussing here is a big factor in what we try to at least make them aware of. It’s a starting point, but we don’t determine for them what they should do with the information. That’s personally how I deal with it.
Aagaard: I never have argued with that. This remains the responsibility of the person, but my responsibility is to fully play out all the potentiality I contain in order to help the man to clarify and make his choice.
Clark: I think from a Christian perspective, there’s a responsibility there, but if you’re coming into exit counseling on its own terms, it’s a limited scope. For example, the American Family Foundation and the Cult Awareness Network take deliberately defined roles and relationships in respect to the larger issues that you’re addressing. Exit counseling is very similar in its scope. You also have those who would as Christian counselors take on the Christian ethical relationship. I have a Christian position in my own life, but when I take on the exit counseling position, I’m taking on a professional role as much as a psychiatrist takes on his professional role and a psychologist takes on his professional role. So, it’s what role you are entering, and a medical doctor does the same thing. For example, C. Everett Koop is a Christian, but when he became Surgeon General of the United States, he operated within that role and within that function. He got criticized on both ends of the spectrum because of what he was doing.
Aagaard: It may sound absurd, but I would like to press this issue. In Sweden and also to a certain degree in Denmark, but not so much as in Sweden, very many psychiatrists have become Buddhists of necessity. I know a person who had a young boy who was being taken to the psychiatrist, and after all the introductory formalities and all that, the psychiatrist said, now we can start upon the treatment, and he opened a door to a Buddhist temple! I think in a way it is logical. But exactly at that point there must be a real problem for a psychiatrist and a counselor. How could one expect that a person just by being diagnosed could be treated? Of course, it’s another story when biochemistry comes in, but if you abstain from biochemistry, where is a treatment unless it is a religious alternative?
Clark: Okay, it’s one thing to have alternatives available, but it’s another thing if you come in with a personal agenda, with an objective attached to it that that’s what the outcome is going to be for that individual. In other words, you’re determining for that other person what the outcome should be if your personal agenda becomes part of what you’re doing. It’s the issue of how people deal with their own options and their own self-determination versus somebody who is coming at them with a particular agenda attached to what they’re doing. Does the person know ethically what’s going on in that instance? It’s a very crucial question.
Caslin: I just wanted to add a couple of comments to this. You go through the continuum of exit counseling and the person reaches informed consent and then chooses to go back into a cult. It’s a disappointment to you, it’s a disappointment to the family, but at least they’ve been enlightened.
Clark: Not only enlightened, but the person has to have the freedom to make that choice. One of the biggest obstacles in exit counseling is if the person smells a rat, then your agenda is interfering with his or her free choice. Literally it can become a barrier with that person because he or she is already defensive about that from the start, thinking, “You’re not going to be happy with me until I agree with you.”
Langone: Because you’re supposed to be liberating them from an environment in which they don’t have that free choice.
Caslin: In the last two years, how many cases have there been in which people have just gone back in?
Clark: I would say both in terms of my personal work and in general terms, that if you work with people who have enough time to process the information, I would say less than 5%.
Langone: If you’re with them long enough.
Clark: If you’re with them long enough. Now, if there is not enough time, I would say 60%.
Caslin: And in time, the normal range is?
Clark: I would say three to five days to about a week. If it’s over a week, we consider that long.
Eckstein: At that point, though, when the exit counseling results in that outcome, do you regard that outcome as a manifestation of the free choice of the person whom you counseled or do you regard the outcome as a failure of the counseling?
Clark: Well, I can only give you what I have observed. First of all, in terms of the feedback that I’m getting, I’m looking at recognition, not necessarily agreement. People can understand what you’re saying, they don’t necessarily agree with it. It’s very important for me that there be recognition of the information they’re listening to. How are they internalizing it? You can say something and then you get a cult internalized response. So, they’re doing something with what they’re listening to. It’s very classic with cultic processes.
Eckstein: In that case, you would regard the outcome not as a manifestation of free choice, but as a manifestation of the problem.
Clark: Yes, well, first of all, the issue of recognition–do they understand, is there a mutual understanding of what we’re talking about in terms of that information? Because what they do with it, in my opinion, is what matters.
Clark: Now, you can have a mutual understanding, and I’ve seen it, where they disagree with you and when they go back to the cult, it’s like no matter what you say or do, they’re not affected by it. It’s again one of the things that’s frustrating for me. Are they really taking responsibility for the information? Or is it going in one ear and out the other? I’ve had situations where’s there’s an agreement that they’ll listen, but they don’t take responsibility for the information. For me, I’m not happy with that personally, but if that’s what they decide to do with the information once they hear it…
Eckstein: No, that’s the part I don’t understand. It sounds to me inconsistent. How can you say that they’re making a decision freely, while at the same time you’re saying that they don’t have the foggiest idea what you’re saying, that it’s going in one ear and out the other?
Clark: What he gets at is what I struggle with: Will they take responsibility for what they know? My problem is that in many cases when they go back, they don’t take responsibility for what they know. They don’t act on it. The way I see it, they’re avoiding responsibility. And they’re selective and they’re prejudicial in the way that they judge it.
Eckstein: And therefore unfree in their decision.
Clark: I don’t know if I would say unfree. It’s one thing to have your freedom and avoid responsibility. To me, once they have the information and they understand it and they know what the ethics and morals of the information are as well … when all that is made known to them, then I feel it’s an issue of responsibility in decision making. If they avoid the responsibility, I think the consequences belong with them. But you’re right, in a sense, and it gets back to what you’re saying: They may not be truly free at that point. What you have to determine is why aren’t they free?
Aagaard: I fully take your viewpoint as a pragmatic standpoint as an exit counselor. It’s no doubt a necessary ideology, but it doesn’t hold water because in that culture, which is one of his choices, there is no language for responsibility. There is no language for freedom. It is your language you’re talking in, not his.
Clark: The problem that I find with that sort of thing is once they’re informed and once they’re educated, they have the opportunity to make some comparisons. And in the process of making those comparisons, they make determinations or they avoid making determinations.
Aagaard: Exactly, the latter.
Clark: Okay, but if it’s an issue of negligence on their part, is it my fault that someone else is negligent once they are informed?
Aagaard: It is your language, again, negligence. It’s not his. It’s not negligence, it’s “karma” from his viewpoint. There’s no possibility of breaking that karma. He’s there because he has to be there.
Langone: You’re making a dichotomy between his language and the exit counselor’s language. I think what goes on in exit counseling is that you’re shifting languages, but you don’t have full control over which language to use at which time.
Clark: Yes, but what concerns me is that he’s locking the cult person exclusively into the cult model. That’s the way they’re determining everything. The purpose of exit counseling is to give them access to things they haven’t previously had access to.
Langone: Right. So there will be times when they’re talking in your language.
Clark: Not just talking in our language. They are now getting a new information base that wasn’t available to them previously, where they’re able to make a comparison with what they already know and what the cult has given them and what we’re providing them.
Aagaard: But he can make all the comparisons in the world, it won’t make any difference because the concept of choice, the possibility of choice is not there.
Clark: Then no one could come out of a cult, the way you’re talking.
Aagaard: Yes, because he changes religion.
Clark: If he changes religion in exit counseling, if it changes his religion, and in some cases maybe it does, who is making the choice at that point about the change in religion? Is it the self-determination of the individual who’s making that choice or is the exit counselor doing the decision making for the cultist? I don’t think ethically the exit counselor is supposed to be doing that.
Aagaard: As a theologian, of course, I know very well that that freedom which makes a choice possible is a gift from God.
Clark: Well, theologically speaking, yes, God’s grace makes it possible. I understand what you’re saying, it’s traditional reform theology. Okay, so there’s the mystical element that you’re talking about, or the theological element. Exit counseling, along the lines of the American Family Foundation’s premise, is more concrete in the sense of deeds and the ethics related to those deeds.
Langone: Let me give you an example and see how you would interpret this. This is a case I had a number of years ago, another Krishna case. This young man had been in the Krishnas, was exit counseled, it might have even been a deprogramming, whatever, he came out of the Krishnas. He was out for at least three or fourth months. His parents consulted me and I worked with the kid for maybe a dozen, 15 sessions. We were exploring, essentially doing an assessment, looking at his life, his goals and his values, looking at the Krishna experience. He could talk very rationally about the Krishna experience. He could describe the pressure that is put on you and so on. There were things he didn’t like about the Krishnas, and he also could talk about things that he did like. It had some kind of aesthetic appeal to him, and he chose to go back to the Krishnas. Now, my interpretation as a mental health professional was that he went back to the Krishnas by default. He was kind of a wan, disengaged young man. Nothing could really capture his interest. I had suggested that he talk to a clergyman. I don’t even remember if he was Jewish or Christian. I think he was Jewish, and I think he did, but it was like this kid could never get involved. If he had never encountered the Krishnas, he might have been just smoking dope and dreaming his life away, or he might have gotten a job, worked 9-5, and lived a normal, if unpassionate, life. But he went back to the Krishnas. He had some understanding–I can’t say that he was brainwashedCthat he was uninformed, but he went back to the Krishnas because he didn’t have anything better out here. Now how would you interpret that?
Aagaard: Again, I’m very suspicious of the term brainwashing. I don’t believe that that’s the real explanation. I really do believe, and I’m sure I’m beginning to sound monotonous by now, that it’s a matter of religious differences. Let me tell you a story that may make my point clear. There is a place in Bombay where there is a Kali temple and the guru there is a very shrewd and interesting man. I was sitting with him and talking when suddenly he said, “Do you want to see my ishta devata?” That’s his personal God. I said, sure I would like to, and he walked away and came back with a very, very impressive picture of Christ, an icon really, not this sentimental nonsense they normally show you, but a real, genuine Jesus. “But how is it,” I asked, “that this is your personal God, your personal Divinity? Why are you not a Christian?” He had a personal piety, a spirituality to Christ. That’s the heart of the matter. Why didn’t he take the consequence? His answer was very typical: “Because of my samskaras–Samskaras are karma in action, like concrete historical karma, karma in one’s historical existence. I believe that these people who belong to the Krishnas have an understanding of the world that they are not able to make free choices. They can have the most devout spiritual relationship to Christ, it doesn’t make a difference. They cannot change and they’re on that track and they go on like that.
Langone: But if freedom, as you’ve described it, is grace from God, then isn’t God determining whether or not they have the freedom?
Aagaard: No, not that. That’s predestination, that belongs to his [Dave Clark’s] shop. Grace and freedom, Luther knew about that–you must become a Lutheran!
Rosedale: I’d like to come back to your comments about brainwashing. You don’t give that credit?
Aagaard: I think it’s a misleading term that creates a lot of difficulties. I much prefer mind control.
Rosedale: Oh, okay, it’s simply the choice of labels.
Aagaard: You’re doing away with choices when you control the mind. In the Christian tradition, in the Jewish tradition, there is the element of choice because in relation to God, God makes it possible for you to choose God. It’s a strange mystery.
Rosedale: I needed to come back to that because we have this on-going issue with those, many of them from the academic and religious communities, who want to disparage and dissolve the phenomenon of coercive persuasion, or thought reform, or mind control.
Aagaard: But my point is really deeper. I believe that what happens is simply that they blind their minds. People slip back into a situation without choices. That’s easy because the status of grace where you have freedom is a gift. They slip back into the normal position where people don’t have freedom. They have it too easy. We are saying again and again, why do the sects and the cults succeed where the churches fail? They don’t. It’s a very misleading formulation. They don’t succeed where the church fails; they succeed and the church fails, but not on the same point. They’re two absolutely different points.
Eckstein: Let me see if I understand because I find it a little confusing as well. So, Hindus have no free choice?
Eckstein: Christians have free choice.
Aagaard: Well, they don’t have it, they can get it.
Eckstein: They can get it, but Hindus can’t get it.
Aagaard: If they get it, they become Christians.
Eckstein: They become Christians.
Langone: Is this orthodox Christianity? I thought that man having free will is a central tenet of Christianity.
Aagaard: It’s directly rejected in Luther’s Augsburg Confession.
Clark: Calvinists take the position that you are born in a depraved condition and due to that depravity you’re not truly a free person. It’s like a cat is born as a cat and a dog a dog, they cannot help but be the nature of what they are. In other words, a cat cannot act other than a cat; so if you’re in a fallen condition, then, you’re not truly free in that sense.
Dowhower: The key word is fallen. God did not create us this way, but in the misuse of our freedom, we have cast ourselves into a bondage condition. The condition of the human race is that your freedom and mine are contaminated, and we can get free, but we aren’t free to start with.
Langone: How do you misuse freedom if you’re not free to start with? That seems inconsistent.
Dowhower: Because it’s part of our inheritance.
Langone: Then, we have not misused it.
Aagaard: Oh, yes we have.
Langone: How do you misuse what you don’t have?
Aagaard: You inherit this misuse.
Langone: We inherit the misuse?
Aagaard: Yes, we participate in it.
Langone: How do you inherit a misuse?
Aagaard: Oh, you can look at TV each night and see how this evil is inherited.
Eckstein: Did Adam and Eve before the Fall have free will?
Aagaard: I don’t know. Ask them.
Langone: No, that’s a good question. How did they fall if they didn’t have free will?
Aagaard: I don’t know, but as I said, I know world. I know that people act much worse than they are. Fundamentally, they are always in the image of God and they hate this evil which they perform, but they perform it. All over the world. They massacre one another. They misuse one another, they exploit one another.
Eckstein: So we misuse the potential for freedom?
Aagaard: We misuse everything, including the potential for freedom. But that potentiality is so far away from us that we couldn’t even say that we misuse it. But I see what you mean, as Paul developed in Romans VII, the most magnificent confessional text which is a sort of preamble to St. Augustine’s Confessions later on. He is pondering how can it be, I want to do the good, my will goes for the good, but I can’t do it? I’m against my will, my acts are against it, I have a split personality. It’s been translated as if our will is evil, it’s not. It’s not evil, it’s a good will. But it’s bound, it’s taken into possession by a power which is bigger than I and therefore I cannot liberate myself because that power is bigger than I. In order to liberate myself an even bigger power must come in and kill that evil power which has possessed my will. That’s the philosophy in that. Very reasonable. Very realistic.
Langone: Where did evil power come from? And did the evil power exercise free will?
Aagaard: I have no duty to answer such questions.
Dowhower: Let’s go back to the previous question regarding Adam and Eve. It seems to me that the Adam and Eve question, or the Adam and Eve parable or myth, if you put it that way…
Aagaard: Parable, that’s better.
Dowhower: Yes, I think so. Because of all the talk about language, the Adam and Eve parable is an expression of our collective human memory that there was a time when we somehow blew it. It’s a collective human mind-set that’s been affirmed for centuries from those ancient parables by which, from my perspective, a nomadic Hebrew herdsman told his grandchildren about why the world is the way it is. Down through the centuries, Christians, as well as Jews, have affirmed that sense of corporate memory of how it once must have been. Now, let me think with you and say that simply because our wills are contaminated 99.44%, but not 100%, does not mean that I have no responsibility for the choices I make. Now I’ve put together a dialectic that affirms the bondage of the will as he’s magnificently expressed it out of our tradition and at the same time affirmed that I am responsible for the choices and decisions in my life.
Langone: You seem to be talking about will as a continuum that gets tainted, gets bounded. But the presumption seems to be that there is will there, however bounded it might be, there is a modicum of free will someplace. But you’re saying you don’t have free will, it’s given to you.
Aagaard: How can you call a will which is bounded free?
Langone: We’re talking about a continuum.
Aagaard: Denmark was occupied by the Germans for five years. We didn’t become Germans because of that, but we were bound by GermanyCto live under that pressure and not be able to do what you wanted to do! The only thing that we could expect, or hope for, was that a power stronger would come and push them out. We couldn’t manage.
Eckstein: So that’s why the continuum runs from 0 to 50%. Because the freedom is never absolute. Under any circumstances.
Eckstein: And it wasn’t even absolute in the Garden of Eden, though you don’t care to speculate.
Aagaard: No, the legend doesn’t imply that, because we’re not God.
Eckstein: That’s right, and if they made the mistake, it couldn’t have been absolute.
Aagaard: Sure. So those old parables are very important.
Eckstein: I’ve raised it only because, I mean, I agree it sounded weird for a while.
Langone: I didn’t get the flash of insight that you got. A lesser flash, perhaps.
Eckstein: The point is that you can lose what you don’t have because we did have a version of it, however imperfect, and we’ve been on this sort of slide ever since.
Langone: Well, that’s a parable, that’s not an empirical statement. The parable may reflect merely the dim recognition of what is possible, not what was.
Clark: I think there are two sides to this: You have the whole issue of the Fall, but you also have Man. Man’s part of it is not just a fallen situation all by its lonesome. Man himself by his very nature has responsibility for his actions. That’s intrinsic to the concept. In other words, you’re fallen, but that doesn’t mean you’re not responsible. We do that with criminals. Criminals do wrong things, but they are held responsible for the crimes.
Langone: Let’s back up to the Denmark and Nazi example you gave.
Aagaard: There was a resistance.
Langone: Let’s go through that again. The Nazis conquered Denmark. You said you were not able to do what you wanted to do because of the force of the Nazis, that you needed an outside force to get rid of them. And that is a continuum statement because you can get rid of them on a continuum, you’re getting them out of Arhus but still parts of Denmark are in bondage. And the outside force is analogous to grace.
Aagaard: Divine intervention.
Langone: Divine intervention. But even in the bondage you were not completely unfree.
Aagaard: No, it was possible to form a resistance movement, which some of us did.
Langone: Okay, I think, then, what you’re saying is that man is not free in an absolute sense of the word free, but that does not mean man is unfree. Mankind is not unfree, he’s not without any freedom. Okay, now I get it.
Aagaard: You see how relevant doctrine is? All that nonsense about the Christian doctrines that have driven the youth out of the church is rubbish. They’ve never understood it. They’ve been too superficial to care to understand it. But such an old article really contains the seed of a whole culture. The difference between Calvinism and Lutheranism and Catholicism is in such a code. Hinduism also has its doctrines.
Langone: What is freedom, then, from your point of view?
Aagaard: I think it was indicated here by our shrewd colleague. The end will be more than the beginning. That’s the conclusion. In the beginning there was not full freedom. In the end there will be freedom.
Langone: But what is freedom?
Aagaard: That’s exactly what eschatology is all about. And what Christian dreaming, what Christian visions, what Christian symbolism, the Eucharist, what the Liturgy is all about. A celebration of that freedom which is not yet there. But which is there as the hope that keeps things going. The big hope that is the power in history. And it’s that power that has created our culture, that drive in eschatology that has pushed us forward and made us what we are for good or bad.
Eckstein: You can show characteristics in the sense that you can describe the movement, but if you try to ask what the end result is like, it’s like trying to ask for something you don’t have yet.
Langone: Yes, but that does not muzzle you.
Eckstein: Nobody’s muzzling you.
Langone: It doesn’t mean you can’t try to approximate what it is.
Aagaard: The caricature is Athe pie in the sky when you die. Eschatology is not a pie because some intervention has happened. That hope is connected with something that is fulfilled already. There is a not yet, but there is also an already now because of this extraordinary thing called Jesus. That’s here already.
Dowhower: Can I offer another alternative answer to your question? Paul Tillich’s answer to your question would be that there are three states of human freedom. Heteronomy, which would be that state where I live under the authority of another. In the growth of the human being, the next stage would be autonomy, which our culture seems to be thriving upon and expressing in many ways, including your own sixties autobiographical comments of this morning. For Tillich, though, the ultimate freedom is for me as an autonomous being to voluntarily choose to give my allegiance to God.
Langone: Our will is in harmony with God’s will.
Dowhower: That’s right. And the only choice, to go back to Luther’s bondage of the will, the only choice I really have in life is to quit fighting God, to surrender.
Langone: Then, the rub is self-deception. The rub is knowing whether or not what you think is the will of God is the will of God or is a function of all the baggage of the bondage.
Dowhower: And that’s what the scriptures in a community of believers serve to affirm or to challenge.
Langone: And that’s what some of the Bible cults exploit, the will of God is what I see…
Aagaard: I want to make a little modification, which is not so small really. It is not a lack of knowledge. We know very well. It’s a matter of not being willing to follow the consequences of that knowledge.
Langone: Of not willing? It still sounds contradictory. You’re saying that here’s a bound man, with all his samskaras, he’s bounded. This has reduced his freedom to a tiny dot, okay, and then you say, well…
Dowhower: I need to interrupt to say that I don’t share that assumption, that his will is a little tiny dot. You reduced it to an infinitesimal point and we’re not saying that.
Langone: So, it’s not that far reduced. He has a fist full of will.
Aagaard: that we have lost our freedom–that’s also a sort of freedom. We know what we have lost. You see, nowadays, it’s always made into a matter of knowledge. We’re lacking knowledge, and we must send missionaries out to give them the knowledge which they’re lacking, and this is not it at all, all the knowledge is there, no problem.
Langone: On the one hand I can see that knowledge is there, but all of this rubbish in the human psyche obscures the knowledge. Clarity isn’t there. The person doesn’t see, isn’t that the main problem? It’s not in the sense that the light isn’t shining, but there is a blockage of the light.
Aagaard: That’s right. In fact, that’s pure Lutheran tradition. It’s very interesting to see how it comes around. In our languages, in Danish and English, we can express it like this: It’s not a problem of God’s being there because God is everywhere. The problem is God’s being found because we are hiding somehow from God so that we cannot see Him. He’s not hiding, we are hiding.
Langone: Wait, when you say we are hiding it sounds almost like in est; they say we are creating our own bondage.
Eckstein: I was waiting for that.
Langone: Is not the shade which is blocking the light in large part a function of what we inherit? So it’s not we as one individual after another.
Aagaard: It’s not an I, it’s a we, from beginning to end. We are lost as a we and we are saved as a we. We have a beautiful saying in Luther, “Alone you cannot be saved, alone I do not want to be saved.”
Dowhower: But you see how that conflicts with rugged American individualism.
Langone: I was just going to say, we can go back to the exit counseling situation.
Eckstein: In addition, we’re faced with another issue which is the issue we talked about this morning–namely, how you come up with a criterion to differentiate between this and what these guys are fighting against. Because…
Langone: This, referring to this notion of God and Freedom?
Eckstein: Right. Freedom is very much a value embedded in the popular culture, whether it’s understood or not understood. If I go in front of a class of college freshmen and I ask how many people think freedom is important, all the hands are going to go up. Now, at the same time though, what I’m hearing is the suggestion that in order to be truly free one has to adopt a certain religious…
Aagaard: You are not saved by knowledge. You are not saved by a perspective. You’re saved by an act! A divine act which in fact does create knowledge, but that is secondary. You may well make doctrine or teaching on the basis of that act or intervention. It is, however, basically a matter of God appearing and intervening. And the churches are communicating it and remembering it. That is its only necessary function. Provocare means to call forth. We are called forth from our hiding. God is not hiding, we are.
Clark: But I have a problem with the idea that I’m not telling somebody something they don’t already know, especially when I’m first beginning to counsel someone. Exit counseling, its foundation, its pivotal point, is information, getting it to people who don’t have it.
Aagaard: Yes, well, that’s right. Here we must make a distinction because in fact they have access to it. But they are again hiding from that knowledge.
Clark: But what if they’re ignorant, though, they just don’t know about it? I think there is an issue of the deprivation of freedom, which is part of what we’re about. You’re making a very categorical statement that they know what we’re already going to tell them. I’m doubtful about that one.
Aagaard: No, no, I’m not saying that. I’m trying to say that that knowledge is available to them. They don’t know that knowledge because they’re being kept away from it.
Clark: Well, I would go a step further. They’re actually indoctrinated, being alienated from that knowledge.
Langone: Paul just raised a good point about whether this is a manipulative dialogue because of the statement that they have the knowledge, but they don’t know it. Kind of like, I see it, you really see it, but you don’t see that you really see it.
Eckstein: I interpret your saying to me that you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know as the linguistic equivalent of putting your arm around me.
Aagaard: No, it could be heard as the Platonic idea that you already know but have forgotten about it.
Langone: Does he really know quantum physics but isn’t aware of it yet? The esties would say yes, if you just get in touch with quantum physics, you know it.
Aagaard: No, no, but that would be the Platonic idea that you just remember.
Eckstein: All knowledge is recollection.
Langone: Yes, but you’re not talking about knowledge in general or the knowledge that David is talking about. What exactly do you mean by knowledge?
Aagaard: You’re speaking about God just now, without a doubt. The knowledge about God is in ourselves and in our world because we are part and parcel of that divine creation. We’re not outside it. We are not Devils, we are not in hell, we are on Earth under God’s grace, in the presence of God. If we don’t see God, that’s because we are hiding, as the parable of the Fall in Genesis reads. God didn’t hide himself, Adam and Eve were hiding. He calls them, he calls them, he provoked them, he called them out of their hiding, and that’s what the Church is doing, and that’s what you’re doing even if you may not call yourself a church when you’re coming around. You’re calling them out of their hiding. The hiding is there and that is what prevents them from seeing and understanding. Not a lack of seeing and understanding. It’s such an important point for me because it’s like a missionary who has a mandate to speak against all evasion.
Clark: Okay, let me give you a case in exit counseling where a person is given the opportunity to hear information or be exposed to information that is very specific and relevant to their group. They don’t want to look at it, don’t want to research it. Once it’s been made available, in terms of the way I look at it, ethically I cannot impose upon them at that point. They know it’s available, but they don’t want it.
Aagaard: It’s like a missionary.
Clark: Yes, but a missionary goes further than that. A missionary feels it’s his mission to go further. But the problem is that an exit counselor, morally and ethically, would have to draw the line when that person says I don’t want to hear that.
Langone: It’s kind of like in Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, Lifton and LeBar distinguish between invitation and persuasion; the missionary should invite but not persuade.
Aagaard: He’s a peacemaker and as such persuades us all to make peace with God.
Dowhower: There’s a point at which you respect the decision of that person. it seems to me becomes the ethics of a respectable position.
Clark: But in American evangelicalism, it’s your mission to go out there and win people. I’m making a point about what they feel their moral and ethical commitment is really about because you care and you are your brother’s keeper, you take the extra step, you walk the extra mile.
Aagaard: If I may express a sort of parable which happened to me two years ago. I had learned that a few leaders of Scientology had dropped out and had escaped to Norway. I found the address of one and phoned her. When she came to the telephone, I said, “It’s Johannes Aagaard.” “Oh!” she said, “I’m so ashamed.” “Ashamed?” I said. “But you have never met me. We never met. We don’t know one another. What do you mean you’re ashamed?” “You know, I’ve known it all the time,” she said. “I have been reading what you’ve been writing and I’ve heard about it, and I knew all the time that you were right.” One thing is to know when you’re right and another thing is to get out of it. Get out of Scientology. I think that’s a fantastic parable of the human condition. We are caught. Nothing externally is catching us. She could walk out, but she couldn’t. She had a bound will. Some intervention had to happen. That’s where I see the real problem for our Dialog Center. We are publicizing a lot of good material, but it doesn’t reach, it doesn’t provoke. We don’t intervene. We haven’t found a real method. I’m very interested in the way you operate.
Clark: Well, families have the critical role in terms of intervention. I mean, I don’t go in and say, “Hey, my name is Dave,” and just meet the cult member in that way. My way of meeting that person is through a family that comes to me with very serious needs.
Aagaard: There’s the difference, you see. There, our people have a fantastic chance to intervene directly, in the cafe, on the beach, and create the provocation.
Clark: But meeting in the cafe and on the beach, that may just be a door opener. When you’re dealing with an exit counseling, we’re talking about an intensive, sustained process for a sustained period of time. The average social meeting doesn’t work like that.
Aagaard: You know, when our people are gone, they’re out there half a year. It’s a much longer period. So the comparison is favorable.
Clark: But as an exit counselor, I’m there for maybe several days to a week. Then, the person may take the option of a rehab or reentry or resource facility, a Wellspring or something like that, where there’s follow-up and a different kind of counseling going on, and my role stops. It’s not a transference on me; I’m not the new guru.
Aagaard: My point is only, how is the alternative created? How does the alternative come about?
Clark: It’s an option.
Aagaard: Yes, but that girl in Scientology couldn’t make a choice because she had no options.
Clark: Yes, but in an exit counseling context it is presented in terms of an option. There are people who opt not to go. I feel that this is one of the frustrating things for me in doing the kind of work I do: When they decide, well, I don’t really need that. And the family may come to the same conclusion. We see much larger issues at that point that are important to be addressed. When people are responsive–and I don’t know of anyone in my 16 years of doing this work–and decide to spend at least two weeks at a rehab, not a person has rejected that option or not seen value to it; to a person, they all felt it was worthwhile to pursue that once they did it and spent enough time at it. To a person.
Dowhower: Welcome to what the parish ministry is all about. I refer to your comment about the people who reject the options, who reject the invitation, who say, I don’t need that.
Clark: And I’ve seen cases where they turn around, even if at first they didn’t see it. I’ve worked with a Church of Christ case in Los Angeles, well, actually the San Diego area, and the gal chose not to go to rehab immediately. But within two weeks her grandfather died and she fell apart. She went to rehab. Immediately after that what we had talked about clicked, connected, where before she had heard it but inside didn’t see it, didn’t see that she needed to follow through. But when she went through a personal crisis, it connected at that point for her.
Aagaard: That created the alternative.
Clark: It did, it really did. There was a catalyst to bring it about.
Aagaard: Of course, that even happens within Hinduism. If such a traumatic experience comes, a young man may have the chance to step out and become a monk. That’s his only freedom.
Dowhower: Let me add a footnote to this morning’s discussion. I was really uncomfortable from my perspective in the trenches of a parish ministry when you were distinguishing between healthy problems the pastor could solve or help solve and the unhealthy problems which we needed to refer to psychiatrists and psychologists and other more specialized professionals. That’s very idealistic. Where I live and sweat blood, many times they wouldn’t go to the family therapist or the family systems therapist. They wouldn’t have the daughter, who was really the healthiest person in the family but who was raising all kinds of hell in a sick family, they wouldn’t have her tested psychologically to see whether she was a sick kid or they were a sick family–and I’m the only professional left on the scene. And, folks, it ain’t much fun in the real world. They either deny it or cannot afford it. Some of my two previous parishes were big and wealthy enough that I had a pastor on the staff with full credentials as a therapist, and I could go out my door and take the lady and her daughter next door to my colleague who was an in-house, no-fee therapist. But the rest of us klutzes in the trenches are left holding the bag because we can’t get them to your office, or to yours. We’re left with the problems that we aren’t professionally capable of solving, yet we’re the only helping professional with access to the family because they won’t go to the family systems therapist, they won’t go to the psychologist. So, we’re there and we’re all God’s got right now, and it’s scary out there and we botch a lot, too.
Aagaard: But my point is that there’s a limit where a pastor will have to say, this is not my shop any longer, this belongs to the psychiatrist.
Dowhower: You know what? There are times I can’t say that because I can’t get them there. Because I’m the only one left on the field.
Langone: You can’t abandon them.
Aagaard: You may sometimes have to do it, but that’s not your real job. That’s not what you’re trained for. In my faculty, I’ve learned that there is one thing that is very important for theologians, and that is to show that they have a unique training for a unique job that cannot be done by others. And that is to understand, analyze explanations, and see when people are trying to get away from the problem and when they are trying to solve the problem. This sort of discipline is a theological discipline, and that’s what we should do, but also we are forced to do a lot as amateurs. I’m doing a lot as an amateur, that doesn’t change my honor as a theologian.
Dowhower: No issue.
Clark: In getting back to the issue of freedom in a mind control context and in a cultural context with civil law, how would you define freedom in the context of the civil law?
Aagaard: Again, he hasn’t read the Augsburg Confession. There’s a specific article about freedom in civil matters, but that’s a different problem because there you have relative freedom, freedom of choice. You can choose between a beer and a soft drink, no problem. There’s no determination except taste. But this is quite different. You cannot use the same “choice” between Krishna and Christ as between a beer and a soft drink. But people make it like that, like it’s a matter of taste.
Clark: You see, the attitude in this culture is that if you want to believe in a rock, you have the freedom to believe in that rock or the moon or Jesus or the Jewish tradition or whatever. That is the basic concept of what freedom means to most people in this culture. You have the freedom to choose any one of those freely. The thing that upsets people in this culture, especially those that get involved with cult awareness or the American Family Foundation, is that that freedom is interfered with. How that choice came about is the issue.
Langone: Yes, I think the American notion of freedom is the freedom to do what you want to do. I think that’s the notion of freedom you’re talking about.
Aagaard: I think that’s exactly the point. That’s a very good phrase because that’s exactly what Luther could have said.
Eckstein: But, in the American tradition, the freedom to do what you want to do is restricted by the idea that in exercising your freedom you’re not supposed to break the law. Thus, the freedom to do what you want to do is also constrained by the freedom to do what you ought to do. And the real issue here isn’t the distinction between what you want to do and what you ought to do, but how you draw the boundaries around those spheres of life subject to mere want and those spheres of life subject to the ought.
Langone: That’s an interesting point, and I’m inclined to disagree, respectfully, because the ought implies spiritual, religious, philosophical grounding, which I don’t think is really in our culture. What you’re calling an ought, a restraint on the freedom to do what you want to, is really an instrumental compromise with the fact that different people want different things, and in order to avoid conflict we put restraints on what we…
Eckstein: No, I don’t agree. For example, the notion that it’s okay to do what you want but it’s not okay to kill your neighbor shows that the dichotomy between doing what you want and doing what you ought isn’t the issue. There’s a boundary there. The freedom to do what you want doesn’t extend across that boundary, that ought line, regarding killing your neighbor. The fact that we don’t always consciously understand the basis for that doesn’t mean that the line isn’t there any more than someone who doesn’t go to church on Sundays…
Langone: No, I’m not disagreeing that the ought line is there. What I’m saying is that in American culture the source of the ought…
Hochman: Well, let’s take a look at the Cult Awareness Network. Every meeting I’ve gone to, you have the communal meals and before each meal some clergyperson comes up and makes a three- or four-minute blessing. They all get up and say, “God, please help us to do this.” I’ve never heard anybody get up and say, “What is this, a religious thing? I’m getting out of here.” Nobody says it because they’re hungry. I think there is a matrix and even though some of the people who are involved wouldn’t come out and talk like this, there is something in the air that’s there. I think there’s an implicit feeling that what these groups are doing is wrong, bad, although it’s not always articulated.
Clark: There are two roles. The credo goes like this: I don’t care what you believe, but I am concerned about how those changes came about. I hear both of those messages. When I even believe what you want me to believe, that to me is not the point, but how the change came about is what’s important. If it’s unethical, we are very concerned about the undue influence that caused that change to take place.
Langone: I think that what’s going on here is the argument about whether or not American culture and American freedom are rooted in religion.
Eckstein: The answer is, of course they are.
Langone: The regnant pluralism is denying that.
Eckstein: Hang on a minute. If I teach a course in political values and I get assembled before me a group of college students and I ask how many people believe in equality, all the hands will go up. And then if I ask in what respect are we equal, everyone sits on their hands because nobody can figure it out, because obviously nobody is equal to anybody else. Then, we go and look at Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government, and what does Locke say? Guess what, everybody, that equality comes from the fact that we are all created by one maker. When that happens, the class breaks up into two groups. On the one hand, for people who already consider themselves religious, it’s perfect: Not only are they comfortable with it but also they feel affirmed in their religiosity. On the other hand, you have those people who, for whatever reason, have denied religion, and they’re contemptuous of the whole idea. They don’t understand how that could be a legitimate grounding for something as important as equality when everybody knows that stuff’s a bunch of nonsense. They have a problem now because they don’t have an alternate means of justification that they’re aware of.
Langone: Okay, that’s our discussion. Because when I say American culture, what I’m talking about is this regnant kind of relativism.
Eckstein: But what I see in the culture, what I see in my students, actually, is that underlying this sort of attitude, you know, we’re not supposed to talk about religion, we’re not supposed to have commitments and what everybody believes is their business and it’s fine no matter what they do as long as they don’t murder you. All that stuff turns out on a deeper level to reveal that everyone is conscious of the fact that it’s incoherent without the grounding. And the grounding is really still there. It’s just not talked about, we all are pretending that that’s not how it’s grounded.
Langone: So, the American nation has divorced from its own grounding. That’s my point.
Aagaard: It’s lost its memory. Isn’t it so symbolic that in your question, how many believe in equality, you couldn’t substitute for belief any other word? It’s a belief word, it’s a religious word. You can’t get away from it.
Eckstein: I think that’s absolutely correct.
Hochman: So the big problem that psychiatrists have is that psychiatrists have sort of banished religion.
Clark: We’ve noticed.
Hochman: No, they used to, like CAN, have invocations. The psychiatrists at their meetings started out having a clergyman who got up there for five minutes and said something and then he’d go home and that would be it. But they got rid of that two years ago. I think their rationale was that it was bothering people, it made people uncomfortable. So he’s gone. You have people like the late Karl Menninger, famous psychiatrist, who, though I didn’t agree with everything he said, talked from a religious standpoint. He talked about responsibility. This is all gone now. No one can get up and do this anymore.
Aagaard: It is coming back because, obviously, how could you have psychology when you don’t believe in the soul? What’s the meaning? It would be like the theologian who doesn’t believe in God.
Clark: Yes, it’s a contradiction in terms. I hear what you’re saying.
Langone: The problem with the mental health profession is that we have a bag of interpersonal and, in the case of psychiatrists, biological tricks, but we really don’t have any philosophical ground. We’re just technicians. It’s a deficiency in the field; and, in a sense, the members of the field, as in the whole culture, are so philosophically, religiously ignorant that when it dawns on us that we’re missing something, we don’t even have the capacity to make a good choice. This is why we have so many psychotherapists getting involved with so much New Age baloney. It’s like the blind leading the blind.
Aagaard: You either have your presuppositions in order or you don’t. You have them anyhow. You can only choose between disorder or order in your presuppositions. One very important key–I’m sure you also use it for your students–is to show them the story or the history of words, that words aren’t coming down from heaven. “Responsibility” was created by the theologians in the high medieval period as an eschatological concept because we had to respondere to Christ in his parousia, when he asks where were you in the present and you are to give a response–from there responsibility comes. Without such an appeal, so to speak, that you have to respond to someone, there’s no responsibility, just sentimentality. It has nothing to do with the word, and the words become prostitutes when you use them like that.
“Personal. This is a very personal matter, Mrs. Peters.” Person–this has quite a distinct meaning. It was invented by the theologians in the fourth century as a concept of God speaking to us through the mask–per-sonam–and it just meant a mask, but now it has come to mean, theologically speaking, “acting and speaking subject.” It entered into our civilization and created what it mentioned. The concept of a person created the reality of persons; it never happened in Sanskrit or Hindi, there are no persons there. If there are, they are sort of a Western concept, which is now creating some sort of result. Words creating in language ideas that can help persons suddenly see. We’ve not started just yesterday! The whole meaning of our whole personal life, of our culture, comes out of theology.
Hochman: The rationale a lot of psychiatrists give for being concerned about suicide–that it’s not a moral issue, it’s another cause of death, like people die from cancer–we’re doctors, doctors cure cancer, we’ll cure suicide. And, of course, this is good, right? I mean, you shouldn’t have suicide, but the rationale for it, the mission that a psychiatrist has, is in a different perspective.
Langone: All they’ve done is postpone confrontation with the question, why worry about death?
Hochman: Well, there’s no question. You know.
Langone: So what if someone dies?
Hochman: I went to medical school down the street at Bellevue Hospital. In the third year, when you go on the wards and people are dying and they’re real sick and, wow, it really hits you–usually most people stay busy reading books and take the attitude, well, let’s read about the next disease. One of the girls raised her hand in surgery and said, “These people are really sick and they’re dying, and some people really are interested in death.” The chairman of the surgery department responded by saying, “Well, you’ll learn about that in psychiatry.” And guess what happened when we got to psychiatry? I won’t tell you.
Dowhower: Of course, you see, for me to look at suicide is to take a look at the creator-creature issues that are coming to the fore when a creature denies his creatureliness or ends it. In essence, he gives the finger to the creator. You see, there are all kinds of ultimate theological issues in any kind of volitional self-destruction or even self-destruction by default. For example, the nurse in my first parish who carried this lump on her breast until two weeks before she died, before she ever had medical attention. You know, denial, again, the great human propensity to hide from the truth.
Langone: In the contemporary culture, where the purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure, suicide becomes a very logical choice when life becomes so painful or so hopeless that pleasure’s impossible and all you have is pain. Suicide is logical. Whereas in the theological view, the purpose of life is the pursuit of meaning, in a sense, I mean…
Dowhower: And obedient creatureliness.
Langone: Which is the source of meaning.
Hochman: Pain can have a meaning, not that you shouldn’t treat it.
Langone: Yes, but without God, you lose all of that. And suicide, well, that’s Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus. The fundamental question of philosophy is suicide: Is life worth living?
Hochman: Yes, so it comes down to that, you know. If you’re going to say, why not commit suicide, well, you certainly could say, why not be in a cult? Isn’t being in a cult better than committing suicide? The whole foundation of an anticult movement or whatever you want to call it cannot be rooted in philosophical liberalism.
Langone: That raises an interesting point because what you’re getting at here is a certain hypocrisy in that those who defend the cults in the name of religious freedom are demeaning religion.
Hochman: But they’re not interested in religion. They’re interested in liberalism.
Aagaard: That’s right.
Eckstein: And it’s the split between creed and deed that is the source of that perspective. I think I’ve got it half formulated. But it seems to me that the idea that people can in fact say or believe whatever they want as long as they don’t overstep certain bounds of action is to take the want/ought boundary and move it in such a way that the sphere of ought is compressed and the sphere of want made very large. I associate that with a liberal perspective. The problem is that if you move that line far enough, you then put yourself in a position of not being able to justify not taking that line and moving it all the way to the end.
Aagaard: Exactly. I believe that primarily it’s a consequence of the liberal separation between the private sphere and the communal sphere. Opinions belong to the private sphere; only when it comes to action, then you step over into the communal sphere. But of course, if you speak as a theologian, that is comparable to hypocrisy–that you are allowed to say one thing and do another.
Langone: And psychologically speaking, it’s nonsensical because it’s an artificial division.
Clark: A question for both you and Johannes, are you comfortable with the concept of restoring one to personal autonomy?
Dowhower: Oh, I am. Remember Tillich’s trilogy of growth: You’re moving from heteronomy to autonomy. Now, that’s not the end of the line in growth and development.
Clark: Okay, I understand what you’re saying. But in terms of that word, do you feel comfortable with autonomy, and do you feel that we’re really communicating when we use that term?
Aagaard: I don’t like it because it stinks of liberal thinking, individualism, and all that. Authenticity, if you want that “auto,” but it’s not that really. It’s a matter of identity really. When it comes to it, identity also goes backward, it includes your memory. You see, every important thought was thought in the medieval period; and since then, nobody really has thought anything. At that time, memory was one of the senses. It was the sixth sense, so to speak, but not really organized like that. You can’t take memory out of our psychology. I think that has contributed to creating this sort of memorylessness, or what is that called in English?
Aagaard: Yes, amnesia. We live in a cultural amnesia and also in a personal one. If we do remember, it’s so traumatic; and since people are giving up personal forgiveness for all the traumas they have caused, they don’t know what to do about it, so they run around like chickens without any sort of guidance. You can only have memory if you also have reconciliation as a possibility. If not, you must forget.
Hochman: How about these people who were commanders in the Nazi death camps who ran away to Argentina or were living in New Jersey, and then somebody discovers them 20 years later and they’re brought to trial? The defense is, well, all right, that was terrible and everything, but look what the guy did since then: He’s a solid citizen, he has three kids, he has a good job, he didn’t go to jail. So, if you become average, that’s okay, you never hear about it. I never heard a story about one of these people that when they have a trial, his lawyer says he was so guilt-ridden that he couldn’t say he was a Nazi, but he gave to charity, he became a monk or whatever, he tried to do something, to repair something. So, it’s an issue worth discussing anyway.
Aagaard: But there are better ways of penitentia. First of all, to help others to get out.
Hochman: That’s what they have a special skill in doing because they were there.
Dowhower: And yet haven’t we seen ex-cult members all needing to do some transitional phase in which they either wrote books or were out on the speaking trail or were deprogrammers and rescuers and exit counselors. I can remember the first ex-cult people I met in Pittsburgh in 1974; after a couple of years, the young lady who’d been in the Moonies just moved on with her life. Some of this stuff, I think, is kind of the therapy of exiting, isn’t it?
Clark: Yes, and then you get certain people, like you have with other professionals, that stick with it in the long haul. I’m one of them. Kevin Garvey is another. There are certain people who have a long-term relationship to this. Most of the exit counselors are former members, the long ones and the short ones.
Langone: I think that what goes on is that the process of writing or recapitulating is not just playing the tape again, but it’s rather a reorganizing of the experience. It’s an attempt to understand it and integrate it with the rest of the person’s life, which is a healthy thing as opposed to what some advise, which is to bottle up the cult experience as bad and now come back to the world and be what you were.
Clark: There are two ways of moving on with your life, dealing with it in terms of its full scope, and then there are those who have to deal with it at a much deeper level. And, as you suggest, most of them do it maybe for several years and then move on with their lives, where the cult experience is part of their past versus an on-going active phenomenon in their life. I would say the majority of them do what you’re saying.