Cultic Studies Review, Vol.
2 No. 2, 2003
An Example for Controversy: Creating a Model
This article provides a critical and constructive response to the “cult
wars” that have become apparent in the study of cults and new religious
movements. Suggestions for stimulating dialogue and mutual respect are
grounded in the author’s twenty-three years of experience as executive
director of Info-Cult, which in turn is used here as an example of
Scholarly research, dialogue, and education are
goals that we who are involved in the study of cults and new religious
movements (NRMs) pursue. However, a polarization of “them versus us” has
emerged which has unfortunately created what is now known as the “cult
wars.” The consequent animosity can only work to be self-defeating for
our efforts to achieve those goals that will move us forward. Further,
this polarization paints an inaccurate picture that does not reflect the
diversity of views offered by the numerous individuals and organizations
that contribute their vast array of knowledge to the discussion.
In this paper I will first offer some
suggestions for enhancing dialogue and mutual respect. Then I will
present some background on Info-Cult. Lastly, I will present some
examples, using Info-Cult, which I serve as Executive Director, as the
object of the kinds of inaccuracies and distortions that tend to magnify
decrease suspicion and stereotyping on both sides of the “cult wars.”
Suggestions for Enhancing Dialogue and Respect
1. Avoid simplistic terms that promote the dichotomy of good versus
The use of terminology such as “Anti-Cult
Movement” (ACM) and “Pro-Cult Movement” (PCM), “anti-cultist” and
“pro-cultist” or “cult apologist” are examples of divisive labels that
are hardly conducive to encouraging dialogue or discernment. Such
labels often function, to use Dr. Robert Lifton’s terminology, as
“thought-terminating clichés.” We tag the label on somebody who
disagrees with us and delude ourselves into thinking that by so doing we
have demonstrated an understanding of an issue. My criticism of these
kinds of labels does not mean that I oppose all use of labels. Labels
are categories, and categories are essential to thought. What is
important is how we use the labels.
University of London Sociology Professor Eileen
Barker has put forth an interesting and useful model for classifying
those who are interested in cults/NRMs (Barker, 2002).
Barker identifies five ideal types into which
Cult Watching Groups can be divided:
Cult-Awareness Groups (CAG’s)
Countercult Groups (CCG’s)
Research-Oriented Groups (ROG’s)
Human Rights Groups (HRG’s)
Cult-Defender Groups (CDG’s).
Dr. Barker’s classification invited much
spirited discussion at a special AFF (American Family Foundation)
meeting after the 2002 annual conference. Moreover, it was a productive
exchange because her terminology, though disputable, invites, rather
than closes off, thought and discussion.
Even disregarding interesting proposals such as
Dr. Barker’s, we could all, at the very least, contribute to more
discerning dialogue by avoiding simplistic terminology that over
generalizes, such as “pro-cult” and “anti-cult.” We could, for example,
be more specific in our statements, e.g., “Info-Cult has observed that”
or “INFORM’s position is” or “AFF has found that.”
It is also important that we clearly define the
terms that we use. In this regard, AFF’s definitional essays bring to
light the inherent ambiguity and potential for misuse in terms such as
2. Do your homework.
Too often, people associated with both “camps”
make statements of “fact” that, upon even a cursory examination, are
obviously wrong. It is especially troubling when these errors are made
by scholars, from whom more is expected. Sometimes these errors result
from hurried or sloppy research. Sometimes they result from a reliance
on secondary sources. I have noticed, for example, that much of the
sociological literature about the so-called “anti-cult movement”
consists of essays citing other sociological essays that make the same
A colleague and I searched various sources and
databases for studies on individual “ACM” groups, and were unable to
find even one sociological study that was systematically researched.
3. Don’t lump individuals or groups together.
The sociological literature on the “anti-cult
movement” repeatedly makes the mistake of presuming that all
organizations and individuals, who express concerns about cults, have
uniform objectives, a common agenda, and close, interlinking
relationships. In fact, there are numerous differences, and most “ACM”
groups know very little about other groups and individuals. Here is a
partial list of organizations that Dr. Barker might categorize as “cult
awareness groups” (all are from North America unless otherwise
American Family Foundation
Cult Information Service
Freedom of Mind Foundation
New England Institute of Religious Research
Maine Cult Information Network
Cult Hotline and Clinic of the New York Jewish
Board of Family and Children’s Services
Cult Awareness and Information Center
Cult Awareness Center
Cult Information & Family Support (Australia)
Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse
Ex-Cult Resource Center
Forum Against Cults (Israel)
Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center
Religious Movement Resource Center
The Ross Institute (RI)
Saskatchewan Citizens Against Mind Control
Mind Control Research Center (Japan)
I have not listed the dozens of organizations
that fall under Dr. Barker’s “Countercult Groups.” Nor have I listed
European organizations that are members of FECRIS (Fédération Européene
des Centres de Recherche et d'Information sur le Sectarisme – European
Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism) and
other European organizations. Moreover, I could have listed hundreds of
individuals who have written about cultic groups and/or who offer
services to people believing such groups have harmed them. Hence,
scholars who generalize about “the” “anti-cult movement,” when they have
had at best superficial contact with only a few organizations and
individuals, make the same error as laymen and helping professionals who
generalize from their limited experience to the wide world of cults/NRMs,
in which there are thousands of groups.
What is clearly needed is systematic and
reliable research on individual cult awareness groups. As Dr. Barker has
noted, even though it may be difficult, “to have direct access to
certain groups or members of the ACM does not excuse us for
characterizing them by the very methods that we accuse them of using in
their characterization of us and the NRMs” (Barker, 1995, p. 307). In
addition, any such study should take into account the
socio-cultural-linguistic milieu of each group. For example, someone who
does not understand French can miss important information when
undertaking an in-depth study of a group that operates in the province
of Quebec, Canada.
4. Know thyself!
In making a fair and informed evaluation about
an individual or group, we should first ask ourselves the following
To what extent have we accepted the accusatory
assessments made by certain individuals or groups, about the “ACM” or
“PCM” without checking for ourselves and critically evaluating the
accuracy of allegations made? Do we ask for documents or other
empirical facts in order to make an informed evaluation?
Do we readily accept allegations against those
with an opposing point of view because we believe they are capable of
what they are accused of?
Do we assume that those involved in the “ACM”
or “PCM” are the same today as they were in the past?
Cult critics should ask these questions when
evaluating cultic groups.
It is apparent that individuals and
organizations with opposing positions would be able to, and do, make the
argument that their research and work has been unfairly stereotyped or
has been the victim of poor or non-existent research.
5. Create more opportunities to dialogue.
We need to create more opportunities to
dialogue, such as occurs at the AFF conferences, which bring people of
different perspectives and disciplines together for the exchange of
ideas, the examination of views, and the breaking down of stereotypes.
Over the past few years there have been several productive small
gatherings of individuals from the “two camps”. We need more of these.
We also need more cross-fertilization of ideas by having members of the
two camps speak at each others’ conferences. Again, some of this has
occurred, but more dialogue is needed.
Seeing the Same Thing with Different Eyes
It is ironic that much of what I advocate in
this paper has also been urged by ISKCON (International Society for
Krishna Consciousness). Nobody likes to be stigmatized unfairly, whether
they be academicians accused of being cult apologists, cult critics
accused of being religious bigots, or cults/NRMs accused of being crass
exploiters of their members. Of course, there undoubtedly are cult
apologists, religious bigots, and crass exploiters among our numbers.
Nevertheless, we ought not to hurl generalized accusations at those with
whom we may disagree without due diligence. Hence, I find myself
endorsing the following words of advice excerpted from Subhananda dasa
(1979, p. 16):
When researching or writing, please try to be
sensitive to the possibility of personal bias.
Please get our side, too. (It’s only fair.)
Please be sure to speak, also, with experts
(academic scholars, psychologists, sociologists, and so forth) who may
not have taken an “anticult” stance. They can provide an articulate,
responsible counterbalance to negative views.
Please try to let the facts speak for
themselves, rather than letting them slip into what may be stereotyped
Please avoid “lumping.”
Info-Cult as a Case Study
Info-Cult, an organization of which I am the
founder and Executive Director, has been subjected to many of the
distorting errors about which I write. An examination of these
distortions can illuminate this discussion. First, however, I need to
give some background on Info-Cult.
History of Info-Cult
Info-Cult, a resource centre on cultic thinking,
was founded in 1980 in Montreal, Canada following my personal experience
with the Unification Church (UC) in 1977 and specifically that involving
my close friend, Benjie Carroll. After the story about Benjie’s
kidnapping and deprogramming from the UC was featured in a series of six
newspaper articles written by Josh Freed in the Montreal Star (Freed,
1977 December, 1978 January), his close associates and I received
numerous requests for further information. In response, several friends
organized a part-time volunteer public information service.
After obtaining funding from the Montreal Jewish
Community in April 1980 a full-time center called the Cult Project was
started. Its objectives were:
To prepare young people in particular to
anticipate the techniques and practices of cult recruitment.
To create amongst young people, parents,
parent groups, professional and community institutions, a
consciousness to the ramification of membership in cults.
To reveal to the public the duplicity of cult
propaganda, the hidden aims of various cult groups and the damaging
influences they can exert upon individuals, the family and society.
To assist families who are affected by this
To aid and assist ex-members of cults in their
reintegration into society.
To develop a resource center of information in
English and French on the subject. This information to be available to
To continue using volunteers as a resource to
pursue our goal of educating the public. This volunteer group which
consists of parents who have been affected by this problem and
ex-members to also serve as a self-help group to assist others with
the same problem.
The center’s contention was that not all cults
were problematic; hence, a distinction between “cults” and “destructive
cults” was made.
The center's activities included providing
information programs to high schools, colleges, universities, community
centers, and professional organizations principally in and around the
Montreal region. These programs were geared towards sensitizing and
educating the community to the issue of destructive cults and the
techniques of mind control.
A documentation center was made available to the
public containing books, newspaper and journal articles, and
audio-visual materials. In the beginning, information focused on the
experiences of families and ex-members. However, it soon became apparent
that the collection must be diversified to include other perspectives.
During the first ten years, the majority of our
clients were parents of cult members, ex-members, students, and
teachers. Contact with groups perceived as “cults”, “destructive cults”,
or those with opposing points of view was minimal.
During this period, funding for operating costs
and specific projects was obtained from the Montreal Jewish Community,
different grants from the provincial and federal governments, and
In 1990 the Cult Project changed its name to
Info-Cult ("Info-Secte" in French), moved out of the structure of the
Montreal Jewish Community, and became an independent non-denominational,
bilingual center run by a board of directors.
The objectives of Info-Cult are:
To promote the study of cultic phenomena;
To sensitize, inform and educate the public to
To assist those with problems related to these
(Original in French: Règlement No. 1990-C 1)
Promouvoir l’étude des phénomènes sectaires; 2) Sensibiliser, informer
et éduquer la population à ces phénomènes; 3) Assister les personnes
vivant des difficultés reliées à ces phénomènes.)
Info-Cult’s funding comes in the form of an
annual grant from the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services,
discretionary funds from different Provincial Ministers, foundations,
private groups, and individual donations, as well as fees for certain
Info-Cult’s clientele has greatly expanded
through the years. Besides parents, ex-members, students and teachers,
clientele now includes members of different new religions, academics,
mental health professionals, attorneys, law enforcement, media and
From 1990 to 2003 Info-Cult has had numerous
contacts and meetings with members and representatives of “cult” groups,
spiritual organizations, and new religious movements. Increasing
interest and communication from academics with varying viewpoints has
helped to broaden Info-Cult’s analysis and perspective on the issue.
Info-Cult is the only full-time organization of
its kind in Canada. It houses a documentation center that is one of the
largest in the world with over 2,500 books, 9,000 files, academic
reports, journals, newsletters, government and legal documents and more
than 1,200 programs on audio and video cassettes. The material is
collected from sources around the world and includes group-generated and
From 1991 to 1996 the documentation center was
open by appointment to all interested parties. Unfortunately, due to
budget constraints, it is open on a restricted basis until such time as
a process of reopening to the public is considered feasible.
Info-Cult is widely regarded as a major source
of information and assistance for dealing with cults, new religions,
Satanism, the Occult and other non-traditional and secretive groups.
With this reputation comes enormous
responsibility to respond to individual and family concerns in a nuanced
and balanced way. Info-Cult avoids simplistic “yes” or “no” responses to
complex questions such as “Is Group X a cult?” or “Is the group my
loved-one joined dangerous?”
Although Info-Cult has evolved over the years,
certain positions on accessibility, kidnapping, and legislation have
Info-Cult has always operated out of a known
location and is easily reachable by phone.
Contrary to a popular belief concerning
“anti-cult” groups, Info-Cult has not supported or assisted in the use
of coercive measures to remove someone from a group. In situations
where Info-Cult has been asked about that option, we have consistently
counseled against it and have suggested non-coercive alternatives.
Existing laws are sufficient in dealing with
the multiple problems associated with “cults” and cultic groups. See:
Examples for Controversy
Labeled as an “anti-cult group,” Info-Cult has
been the target of inaccuracies that hinder our mandate, which is to
serve the public and promote balanced discussion of the issues.
Selected examples are presented to illustrate this point:
Order of the Solar Temple (OTS)
Members of the OTS created a world-wide
sensation with the death of fifty-three members in Switzerland in
October 1994, sixteen members in France in December 1995, and five
people in Quebec in March 1997 (see Mayer, 1999, for a scholarly
analysis of the Solar Temple deaths).
Preceding the tragedies, their apocalyptic
doctrine predicted cataclysmic upheavals that threatened the planet with
destruction. The earth was believed to be a living entity that could no
longer endure the ecological inflictions of humankind. Solar Temple
members believed themselves to be of “’the pivotal elite’ which ‘has
been removed from the collective by superhuman effort’” (Mayer, 1999:
188). Their goals included “the release of the ‘inner man’ from the
bonds of the world and his return to his native realm of light” (Mayer,
1999: 181). Messages from other dimensions told the group that Jupiter
was their “Next Home,” and exhorted them to “put [their] last things in
order to leave Earth free and clear” (Mayer, 1999: 183).
Internal dissent from members and former members
as well as external opposition to the group fueled the paranoia of one
of the leaders, Joseph Di Mambro, and strengthened the group’s resolve
to depart for a higher plain of existence (Mayer, 1999: 188).
After the first deaths were discovered,
forensics clearly established that some were murdered, while others
submitted to execution voluntarily. Most had absorbed a strong soporific
before being shot. The core group had been injected with a poisonous
substance (Mayer, 1999: 191).
Before the tragedies of the Order of the Solar
Temple, a newspaper article by Jean-Marc Provost appeared under the
sub-heading: “Info-Secte: Refuse d’Intervenir” and “À Quoi Ça Sert Info-Secte?
("Info-Cult: Refuses to Get Involved" and "Of What Use is Info-Cult?")
Provost wrote that former member, Rose-Marie Klaus, came to Info-Cult
for help only to be turned away because, ”On m’a répondu qu’on n’avait
pas d’argent pour s’occuper de cette affaire. Que je devais m’arranger
seule” ("They said they didn’t have the money to handle this affair. I
should handle it myself.") (Provost, 1993: 6). Later in the same article
under the heading, “Puisque Info-Secte ne Fait pas Son Job” ("Because
Info-Cult isn’t Doing Its Job") (p. 7) readers were encouraged to
contact the paper with their problems related to cults because
Info-Cult, according to Provost, was not doing its job.
After the tragedies, Hall and Schuyler (1997)
wrote this about Klaus: “One friend suggested that Rose-Marie contact
Info-Secte (or Info-Cult, as they call themselves in English)...Whatever
Casgrain [author’s note: Yves Casgrain was Info-Cult’s Research Director
at the time] made of Klaus’s account, he took no public action” (p.
Two years later, Jean-Francois Mayer offered
this analysis of the circumstances in his article, “Our Terrestrial
Journey is Coming to an End”: The Last Voyage of the Solar Temple
Oddly enough, in the end critical coverage did
not come from Europe or Canada, but from the island of Martinique: on
10 September 1991, Lucien Zécler, president of the local branch of the
Association for the Defense of Families and Individuals (ADFI), the
leading anti-cult movement of France, sent a letter to several
associations and centers in Quebec, asking for information on the OTS.
Mayer, considered to be the foremost expert on
the Solar Temple, continues:
While it cannot be doubted that the external
opposition encountered by the Solar Temple strengthened the resolve of
its leaders to depart for a higher plane of existence, the root of Di
Mambro’s decision to launch the process which led to the ‘transit’ is
most closely connected to internal dissent (p. 188).
Up to this point, the reporting on Info-Cult’s
involvement was accurate. However, in a more recent book (Wessinger,
2000), blame is heaped on Info-Cult. Whereas in previous assessments we
play a minor role in the Solar Temple deaths, Wessinger writes in a
section titled, “The Persecution”:
In 1991, a disgruntled defector, Rose-Marie
Klaus contacted a Montreal anti cult organization, Info-Secte, which
then put out a letter warning of the dangers of the Solar Temple to
other Quebec organizations. (p. 224)
As mentioned above it was Lucien Zecler of ADFI
Martinique, not Info-Cult, who sent out the letter. Yet according to
Wessinger’s inaccurate version of events, Info-Cult becomes, if not a
major contributor, at least partly responsible for pushing the OTS into
making their fatal decision. This is most unfortunate, for Wessinger’s
book is a major resource in this area. Her error, which could have been
avoided if the proper sources had been consulted, contributes to the
perpetuation of stereotypes about the “anti-cult movement.”
Médecins du Ciel
The “médecins du ciel” refers to a number of
healers/channelers who attracted attention in the province of Quebec in
the early 1990’s. They counseled followers who had physical ailments to
believe their channeled “medical” advice. Four followers eventually
died and a coroner’s investigation into three of the deaths recommended
that police investigate the healers for criminal negligence. However, no
charges were filed. They were subsequently pursued by the College of
Physicians and pleaded guilty to the illegal practice of medicine and
fined (Desjardins, 1994, March).
The channelers also predicted that certain areas
of the province of Quebec were to be hit by natural disasters and so
they moved with a number of followers to a “safe area” in the
Laurentians, a region north of the city of Montreal.
In his book, Massimo Introvigne (1996), using
the “médecins du ciel” as an example, presents Info-Cult as a “classic
anti-cult” group. He writes,
Ils donnent alors lieu à un modèle complet et
engendrent des insinuations disant que beaucoup de nouveaux mouvements
religieux pourraient être "exactement comme l’OTS." Un bon exemple de
ce que nous affirmons est fourni par la réaction combinée, au Québec,
du mouvement anti-sectes et de la presse à la prédiction des
guérisseurs Yves Bianchi (sic) et Moniques Forgues (qui vivent avec
une centaine de fidèles dans le village de Val-David au Québec), selon
laquelle un gigantesque déluge devait détruire les trois quarts de la
planète le 28 septembre 1995. (p. 232)
It gives rise to a model that insinuates that
a lot of new religious movements could be "exactly like the OTS." A
good example of this is provided by the combined reaction of the
anti-cult movement and the media, in Quebec, with a prediction made by
healers Yves Bianchi (sic) and Monique Forgues (who live with about a
hundred of their followers in the village of Val-David, Quebec), that
a giant flood would destroy three quarters of the planet on September
...des opposants locaux, dans le village, et
Info-Sectes (sic), une organisation anti-sectes de Montréal, ont
déclaré après le 28 septembre non seulement que les deux guérisseurs
animent "une secte fermée ou l’on pratique le lavage de cerveau sur
les membres vulnérables," mais aussi que " groupe restreint de
partisans inconditionnels du couple représente la plus grande menace
pour le Québec depuis l’Ordre du Temple Solaire."
...local opposition in the village and
Info-Cult, an anti-cult organization from Montreal, declared after
September 28 that not only did the healers head "a secretive cult
where brainwashing was carried out on vulnerable members," but also
that "the unquestioning supporters represent the worst threat to hit
Quebec since the Order of the Solar Temple."
As indicated in his footnotes, Introvigne’s
analysis is based on one article, written in English (Baker, 1995,
September 24). However, as a result of obvious errors, he presents a
completely different version of the article, and consequently of
Info-Cult’s role. Aside from the fact that Introvigne has the date wrong
(the actual date of the article was September 24, 1995, not September
30th as he cites), he has made much more serious errors that distort and
misrepresent Info-Cult’s role. The pertinent sections of the article
actually read as follows:
But skeptics warn that the couple are really
running a secretive cult where they have brainwashed vulnerable
members with phony promises of cures, bilked them of their savings and
had them prepare for the end of the world by stockpiling food and
weapons. "We have a very serious situation here," said Pierre Rochette,
a singer and former Val-David town councillor, who added that the
couple’s solid core of unquestioning supporters represents the worst
cult threat to hit Quebec since the Order of the Solar Temple. (p. A1)
Rochette, who estimates the couple’s clientele
at anywhere from 100 to 300 people, has teamed up with Yves Casgrain,
a former research director at Montreal’s Info-Cult [author’s bold]
organization, in a bid to expose the couple’s practices. (p. A1)
Casgrain and Rochette’s position vis-a-vis the
“médecins du ciel” was reported in several newspaper articles (Baker,
G., 1995, 29 September; Deslauriers, D., 1995, 9 septembre; Lamarche,
C., 1995, 7 septembre). Casgrain, however, was speaking as an
individual, not as a representative of Info-Cult, which is the
impression that Introvigne gives. This might seem minor, but would
Introvigne want the opinions of his former employees to be attributed to
CESNUR, an organization that he directs?
Hexham’s article on the anti-cult movement in Canada.
Another example involving Info-Cult can be found
in Irving Hexham’s article, “New Religions and the Anticult Movement in
Canada” (2001). Hexham’s article refers to anticult groups formed after
1977, saying, “...today only the Montreal group, which is supported by
the local Jewish community, continues to exist” (p. 284-285). As
mentioned earlier, Info-Cult became an independent organization in
1990—11 years before Hexham’s article—and has not received funding from
the Jewish Community since that time. Moreover, information about
Info-Cult’s funding sources is available on Info-Cult’s website:
http://www.math.mcgill.ca/triples/infocult/ic-e2.html or by calling
Hexham’s article further reinforces an
inaccurate view of the so-called anti-cult movement, particularly as it
applies to Info-Cult. In the section entitled “The Canadian Anticult
Craze 1979-1982,” he writes:
From 1977 onwards various parent’s groups,
often encouraged by university chaplains, formed across Canada to
promote deprogramming and encourage legislators to pass restrictive
laws against religious conversion. (p. 284)
Info-Cult was not formed to promote the forcible
removal of individuals from any group and has not encouraged legislators
to pass restrictive laws.
Hexham’s errors would be more excusable were
Info-Cult, the leading cult educational organization in Canada,
incidental to the subject of his article. Since, however, his subject
was “the anti-cult movement in Canada,” he should at least have these
basic facts straight.
In the article Hexham writes:
…Josh Freed, who subsequently wrote the best
selling book, Moonwebs, and made the film, Ticket to Heaven based on
the book. Before the book was published, Freed wrote several
sensational syndicated articles for The Montreal Star that "exposed"
the Unification Church. (p. 283)
… it is tempting to speculate that this
intense anticult activity was the result of a skillful publicity drive
by Freed. As a journalist he was in a position to promote stories
that helped both his book and the subsequent film. (p. 285)
The following comments by Freed challenge the
"scholarship" of this article:
This series of "sensational" articles won the
1978 National Newspaper Award for Feature Writing, the most
prestigious award given out in Canadian journalism…The mainstream
"sensational" media regularly fact checks, and I am often called by
fact-checkers when my name is mentioned. You would think an academic
journal would do the same. It's bad enough the author didn't call; at
least the journal should have…This was the worst financial period of
my life and it took me a long time to recover, and I didn't do it for
the money, but because I cared about it…If it [his book] did well, it
was because it was well written and well researched. (Personal
Communication June 11, 2002)
I find Hexham's choice of words, "it is tempting
to speculate," surprising for an article that is published in a
scholarly journal (i.e., Nova Religio). A simple call to the people
about whom he writes might have eliminated his need to “speculate."
The last example is by Richard Bergeron, founder
of the Centre d’Information sur les Nouvelles Religions (CINR) in
Montreal, now known as the Centre Spiritualités et Religions de Montréal
(Montreal Centre on Spirituality and Religions). In his book, Le Cortege
des Fous de Dieu (1982), Bergeron describes deprogramming as ’’une
méthode psychiquement violente qui utilise des moyens coercitifs, comme
le kidnappage” (p. 458). (English translation: “a psychically violent
method that uses coercive means, like kidnapping.”) He also says: “Il
ne devrait pas favoriser l’utilisation des techniques de
'deprogramming,' comme Info-culte incline à le faire” (p. 456). (English
translation: “One should not favor the use of ‘deprogramming’
techniques, as Info-cult is inclined to do.”)
Once again, such statements are not based on a
verification of the primary sources, in this case, Info-Cult.
Fifteen years later Richard Bergeron (1997)
pursues his analysis of Info-Cult:
En 1990, Projet-Culte fermait ses portes comme
service de B’nai B’rith pour se constituer en organisme autonome sous
le nom d’Info Cult/Info-Secte. Ce changement de nom n’implique aucun
changement de perspective ni de méthode d’intervention. (p. 33)
(English translation: In 1990, the Cult Project closed their doors as
a service of B’nai B’rith to form an independent organization called
Info Cult /Info-Secte. This change of name didn’t involve any change
in their perspective nor their method of intervention.)
The last time Info-Cult had contact with Richard
Bergeron was in the mid 1980s, more than 10 years before the above-cited
More recently, during a visit to the offices of
Info-Cult, Jacques Cherblanc, a doctoral student from France had this to
say about Bergeron’s “analysis” of Info-Cult:
… que l’organisme a beaucoup évolué depuis
cette époque, et son directeur général, Mike Kropveld, est le premier
à la dire, et sa biographie est très différente de celle présentée par
M. Bergeron (p.4). (English translation: “…the organization has
evolved a lot since that period [referring to the 1980s] and its
Executive Director, Mike Kropveld, is the first to admit that and his
story is very different from that presented by Mr. Bergeron.)
(Cherblanc, 2001, February)
The above examples have been selected to expose
certain problems regarding the nature of discussion and research about
cults/new religious movements. My premise is that the labeling of
Info-Cult, when it first started as a so-called “anti-cult” group is one
that is still used unthinkingly. Moreover, this labeling has led to the
portrayal of the organization in a simplistic, static, and one
The kinds of inaccuracies I’ve described above
have occurred time and time again. I use these as examples of how the
stereotypes that have fueled the “cult wars” endure because of a lack of
I am not the first to raise the issue of the
harmful aspects of the “cult wars”. Others have done so very eloquently
(Barker, 2002; Langone, 2000; Robbins, 2000; Zablocki & Robbins, 2001).
I hope that the examples and suggestions offered here reaffirm the need
to dialogue and to bring together individuals and organizations on all
sides of this complex and controversial issue.
Baker, G. (1995, 24 September). Val-David Couple
Hailed as Healers, Scorned as Cultists. Montreal Gazette, A1 &
Baker, G. (1995, 29 September). Spiritualists
leaving Val-David Harassment over beliefs prompts couple to say they’re
packing. Montreal Gazette, A5.
Barker, E. (2002). Watching for violence: A
comparative analysis of the roles of five types of cult-watching groups.
In D. G. Bromley & J. G. Melton (Eds.), Cults, Religion and Violence,
pp. 123-148. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barker, E. (1995). The scientific study of
religion? You must be joking! Journal for the Scientific Study of
Religion, 34(3), 287-310.
Bergeron, R. (1982). Le cortège des fous de
Dieu. Montreal: Editions Paulines.
Bergeron, R. (1997). Vivre au risque des
nouvelles religions. Montreal: Médiaspaul.
Boyer, H. (1997, 24 octobre). Recours collectif
possible contre Médicins du ciel. Journal de Montréal, 8
Cherblanc, J. (2001, February). La perception du
Mouvement Raelien au Quebec. Mouvements Religieux, Sarreguemines,
No. 262, 2-10.
Desjardins, B. (1994, 16 mars [March]). Pratique
illégale de la médecine Les "médecins du ciel" et leurs esprits
coupables. Journal de Montréal, 3.
Deslauriers, D. (1995, 9 septembre). Confèrence
d’Yves Casgrain à Val-David, Il ne s’agit pas d’une offensive contre les
médecins du Ciel. L’information du Nord/Ste-Agathe, 9.
Freed, J. (1977, 31 December). A Booneville
recruit sparks Moonie rescue. The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (1978, 3 January). Caution marks Moon
Ranch visit. The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (1978, 4 January). Kidnappers a step
ahead of cops. The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (1978, 5 January). Cops, Moonies team
up. The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (1978, 6 January). "Satan’s servant"
cures Moonie. The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (1978, 7 January). Benji now: "Quite
excited about life." The Montreal Star, A1.
Freed, J. (2002, June 11). Personal
Hall, J., & Schuyler, P. (1997). The mystical
apocalypse of the Solar Temple. In T. Robbins & S. Palmer (Eds.),
Millennium, messiahs and mayhem, pp. 285-311. New York: Routledge.
Hexham, I. (2001). New religions and the
Anticult Movement in Canada. Nova Religio, 4(2), 281-288.
Introvigne, M. (1996). Les veilleurs de
l’apocalypse millénarisme et nouvelles religions au seuil de l’an 2000.
Paris: Clair Vigne.
Langone, M. (2000). The two “camps” of cultic
studies: Time for a dialogue. Cultic Studies Journal, 17, 79-100.
Lamarche, C. (1995, 7 septembre). Le chansonnier
Pierrot (sic) Rochette en guerre contre les "médecins du ciel." Echo
du Nord, 5.
Mayer, Jean-Francois. (1999).”Our terrestrial
journey is coming to an end”: The last voyage of the Solar Temple.
Nova Religio, 2(2), 172-196.
Provost, Jean-Marc. (1993, 26 March).
L’horreur de l’Ordre du Temple Solaire (The Horror of The Solar
Temple). Photo Police, 4-7.
Robbins, T. (2000). “Quo Vadis” the Scientific
Study of New Religious Movements? Journal for the Scientific Study of
Religion, 39(4), 515-523.
Subhananda dasa. (1979). A Request to the Media:
PLEASE DON’T LUMP US IN. ISKCON, 16.
Wessinger, C. (2000). How the millennium
comes violently. New York: Seven Bridges Press.
Zablocki, B. & Robbins, T. (2001),
Introduction: Finding a middle ground in a polarized scholarly arena.
In B. Zablocki & T. Robbins (Eds.), Misunderstanding cults:
Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, pp. 3-31.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
This article is based on a presentation given by
Michael Kropveld at the AFF (American Family Foundation) Annual
Conference, June 2002 in Orlando, Florida. The translations of the
French texts are the author's. My appreciation and thanks to Debbie
Carroll and Andrea Moore Emmett for their editorial comments. My
gratitude, as well, to Marie-Andrée Pelland for her research into the
sociological studies of the ACM and to Michael Langone for his
 The search
words used were: Secte, anti-secte, Counter-cult, Cult, Anti-Cult,
pro-secte, Pro-Cult, Info-Cult, Info-Secte, Projet Culte, Cult
Project, AFF (American Family Foundation), CAN (Cult Awareness
Network), Brainwashing, manipulation mentale, programming,
The following information and databases were
FRANCIS, Repère sur le Web, Biblio branchée,
Eureka, WebSPIRS, OVID, Web of Science, Psyinfo, Sociological
Abstracts, JSTOR, Project Muse, Emerald Library, Oxford University
Press, Cambridge University Press, Ingenta, Wiley InterScience,
Érudit, World history, ATLAS Full Text, Kluwer, ScienceDirect,
Proquest Psychology Journals.