Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult

Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult

Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult

Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian Countercult

Synopsis

Analyzes and critiques the Christian Countercult movement as a discrete socioreligious entity.

Excerpt

The last quarter of the twentieth century saw the production of a large body of literature about cults, sects, and new religious movements. This literature has taken two distinct forms. On the one hand, oppositional voices contend that leaders of cults possess something approaching supernatural powers, which makes it possible for them to “brainwash” persons with whom they come in contact. Leaders of these groups hold followers as virtual slaves, always ready to do their unscrupulous bidding. The second body of literature, which is largely the product of social scientists, has been highly skeptical of this mind control model. Scholars do not reject the notion that religious groups are capable of exercising considerable influence on those who come in contact with them; however, the preponderance of research points to the conclusion that individuals seem to act largely of their own volition in making decisions to join, stay, or leave religious groups.

In retrospect, it is clear that much of the scholarly literature can be understood as a response to the negative writings about cults. The reasons are understandable. From very early on, new religious groups were part of the youth counterculture phenomenon. Their public visibility caught the attention of both the press and young sociologists, for whom the allegations of brainwashing had a highly mysterious and intriguing quality. Not surprisingly, those who made such allegations (and sought to reverse them through unscrupulous practices such as deprogramming) were soon before the courts, and the findings of scholars became part of the permanent legal record.

Applying social movement theory to the problem, scholars framed the conflict as a struggle between anticult movements and the new religious movements. While most social scientists saw themselves as objective observers of the conflict, some, believing religious liberties were being abridged, were openly sympathetic to the new religions. And the large proportion concluded that their research findings did not support the negative assessments made by the adversaries of these new religious movements.

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