The cults in America

Arnold Markovitz
Director of the Cult Hotline and New York Clinic

Thank you very much for inviting me to this conference.
It was a great pleasure for me to listen to your reports and speeches. I would like to tell you about how cultic groups operate in the USA.
The first point I would like to outline is that cultic groups in the USA exist as regular religious organizations. That’s why they are protected by the law. We are free to worship any God or religion we want. That’s why it is more important for us what people do, than what they believe in, i.e. we pay more attention to the concrete practice of a religion.
One of the problems we are facing now is that in the country with a wide range of human rights and freedoms, there are people who abuse these rights and freedoms in the interests of their fraudulent business.
Another problem Americans are concerned about is that cultic groups have the status of non-profit organizations. There is a concept that churches and religious organizations use money for charity. But pretty often cultic groups use it for their own profit, which makes these groups leaders extremely rich. And it is the problem of our democracy. A member of a cultic group, as well as any other person, can commit a crime or criminal offence. They have the right to worship their God and use their religion as they want, which can make you think that our laws are too liberal. But as Ms. Goretskaya said the problem consists in the criteria of a group’s activities evaluation. The problem is that, if people have the right to worship whatever they like and use their organization’s money as they like, then it is the problem of the governmental control. That’s why the general problem the US are facing is that on the one hand people may worship whatever they want, but on the other hand they suffer from the manipulation methods applied to them by the religion or God they worship.
I would also like to highlight one more point, I heard here. It is the problem of the charismatic churches. You need distinct criteria for identification of a destructive cult.
From the American point of view doctrine is not so important to keep discussion around it. That’s why I think you should pay more attention to the activities, held by the cults, than to their doctrines. These are my recommendations.
And I would like to add that you need a strong social institution which would confront cultic organizations, as well as a good education-al program at schools and especially at universities. We must explain the young people what a cult is and teach them critical thinking. First of all we need to educate teachers. The idea of creating such institutions should be constantly supported and developed. On the other hand we must influence the society via newspapers, television etc.
We must also take into account young people’s need for finding their goal in life, since many people need spirituality. After the Vietnam War the number of cultic groups in the US grew extremely quickly, because we had young people, who did not know what to do. There was a vacuum of beliefs. I have understood that you are in the same situation now, because you have just established a new state and totally changed the former social system. At the same time what you have is democracy. That’s why you can become a good goal for the cultic groups. You must not underestimate the fact that many people need spirituality and morality. I respect my colleagues, who speak about transcontinental corporations, which stand behind cults, but I think you are looking in the wrong direction, because in real life people want something and it is the cultic groups that give them exactly what they want. Thank you.