Cults in America (Fr. George C. Papademetriou)

NOTE: This article is found on the official Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s webpage:

Fr. George C. Papademetriou
Fr. George C. Papademetriou

Preface by Jack N. Sparks

In and around the fringes of Christendom today, there is a bewildering array of heretical cults attempting to seduce people away from the Orthodox faith.

Most vulnerable of all to these allures are young people. Why is that? Because, for good or ill, the older we get, the more set we become in our ways and in our thoughts. The target group, then, both for the Church and for the cults, is youth; the issue, at once both simple and complex, is worship of the true God.

The growing numbers of religious cults which surround us utilize a variety of means to draw people into their devious systems, their “doctrines of demons.” Fr. Papademetriou has shown that their methods of attraction center upon certain areas of human weakness. They dwell among peoples’ emotions and insecurities, particularly upon the spiritually sensitive person’s gnawing doubt that he is truly serving God with his whole heart. Then, dwelling upon religious emphasis, they utilize highly-touted accounts of deep religious experience to draw in the net.

My own experience in encountering people in these cults has demonstrated that they are most successful in capturing a specific group of people. It is those whom the Church has made aware of their need for God without teaching them and drawing them into the practice of truly Orthodox worship and spirituality.

The effective protection of our youth revolves around that very issue of their worship of the true god. From infancy we must ingrain theological truth, the concept of the Holy Trinity and the incarnate Lord, in their hearts. The ancient, the eternal worship and spirituality brings both protection from errant cults and sure salvation.

Fr. Papademetriou says, “Parents often make the mistake of not giving the proper instruction to their children and not strongly imparting to them the experience of our Christian Orthodox faith.” Sunday School and occasional participation in the Divine Liturgy are not enough. We must teach our children the stories of the heroes and heroines of the Church: the men and women whose spirituality has shone brightly in the darkness; the holy martyrs whose desire to be forever with the Lord made all earthly joys dry and tasteless; the venerable bishops whose commitment to the true faith preserved Orthodox theology whole and entire. The holy story which is the life of the Orthodox Church must be made ours and our children’s, so that some new story, some novel doctrine and way of life may have no appeal.

These are crucial days for the Church, and her youth are her future. Let us pay careful heed to the wise words of this experienced, dedicated priest and educator.

On this day of the commemoration of the beheading of the forerunner John the Baptist.  – Jack N. Sparks

Fr. George’s article is 20 pages long. Fr. George gives brief descriptions of the Moonies, David Berg’s Children of God, Hare Krishna, Scientology, the Divine Light Mission, Drugs, etc., and gives a Orthodox theological explanation refuting them. However, it does not reference any of the Eastern Orthodox cults (primarily in the Russian, Greek, and Romanian Orthodox Churches that have sprouted over the past century). Interestingly, many of Fr. George’s observations of cults are similar to the experiences reported by ex-members of monasteries here in America (i.e. Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Boston, and the ROCOR/Order of M.A.N.S. monasteries/parishes).

Below are some key points of his article, and a link to the entire article in pdf. format:

“A cult is a religious perversion. It is a belief and practice in the world of religion which calls for devotion to a religious view or leader centered in false doctrine. It is an organized heresy.”

Several of these cults offer “special welfare” services to promote good will and enable them to further their propaganda…Through these philanthropic activities they appear to be harmless to people in order to promote their religious propaganda.

The success of the present plethora of cults is due to the attention given to them by the media. The tenets are formulated by a ‘founder-prophet’ on whom the members greatly depend. The cults “demand obedience rather than belief or understanding.” The strong belief of the members in the supernatural character of their leader transforms the leader into an object of worship. There is, “the reverence and worship that the disciples have invested in their leader”[8] that changes the perception of reality.

In the turmoil of social upheaval, many cults have emerged to fill the vacuum.

The advancement of technology and our expanded knowledge of the universe leaves man ignorant of himself. All these events and transformations make modern man vulnerable to the cults.

The price one pays to be in the cult is to become a slave to Moon, who manipulates the person for his own personal gain and power. The ultimate goal of this cult is the ‘unification’ of all humanity under the control of Moon. To attain this purpose many means are used, including deceptive methods.

The Unification Church teaches that sex by nature is evil. Only Moon selects the mates and blesses the marriages in order to restore ‘sinless children’ to God.

Though there are many similarities between Krishna and Christianity, the fundamental difference remains very deep.

Several mystical religions make use of drugs to attain mystical experiences. It is said that G.K. Chesterton remarked that religious syncretism is “religion gone to pot.” This can literally be said of contemporary cults.

Orthodoxy denies these visions as evil and self-deceptions. In the Christian tradition, the vision of the divine uncreated light is attained through prayer, fasting and spiritual vigilance, that is, by waging war against the devil.

It is evident that the cults are syncretistic in character and doctrine. They are an admixture of oriental religions with some Judaeo-Christian flavor.

The crucial questions are what attracts young people to enter the strange and fanatical life of the cults? Why are young people joining these far-out, extreme religions? There are several reasons. The most obvious are loneliness and boredom. People join the cults “to escape self-dissatisfaction, loneliness, and boredom.” When people run out of strength and personal endurance to accept life’s hardships, they climb the band wagon of the cults to carry them through. When people experience uncertainty and hopelessness, they are the most susceptible to religious cults or occults.

One must realize that those who worship a cult leader have been exposed to some “personal trauma” that has set them back and out of balance emotionally. “They have sublimated their instinctual feelings.”

The frightening thing about the cults is that the victims would not question the actions and life of their leader. “It makes no difference what the facts are. The need to believe is so great for the cultist that he will ignore what tends to discredit the founder prophet.

How are these young people attracted to the cults and how are they recruited? The recruiters are told to watch for those who are lonely.

Young people do not decide to become members of the particular cult; they become involved in them. They are showered with love and affection; they share dinner, followed with music, a lecture, and the painting of a beautiful world in an atmosphere of peace. At the end of the evening they are invited to a weekend workshop and to spend time with the new friends.

The new recruit at the weekend retreat receives so much attention that there is no time to think about what is happening to him or her. The young person is kept busy with lectures, calisthenics, they participate in sharing at confessional sessions, and a lot of singing.

These recruits are young in their early twenties and for the most part are college educated.

It is not so much religiosity that the young cultists are seeking, as it is a better and more fulfilling way to live their lives. Cult leaders know this well and take advantage of the young people.

it is not so much religiosity that the young cultists are seeking, as it is a better and more fulfilling way to live their lives. Cult leaders know this well”[69] and take advantage of the young people.

The recruiters and those soliciting money to further the cause of the cult use every means including deception to attain their goal. They call it, ‘heavenly deception.’

It is evident from what we are told by those who have fallen prey to the cults that “religious cults do exploit youth and ought to be held accountable for the techniques they use to convert and control their members.”

Characteristically, cult recruiters are trained to flatter, to give false confidence to those without confidence

The potential recruit is administered a heavy dose of love, peer approval, and “contact high” atmosphere.

Visitors to the cult centers will observe that people receive no more than five hours of sleep which is much less than they were used to. The diet is “high-carbohydrate, low protein” and frequently vegetarian. This unfamiliar habit of sleep, and diet “contributes to a sense of distance or removal of ordinary life.” The familiar musical tunes are used and the lyrics are changed to hypnotize the victim. The constant condemnation of the world as satanic and the guilt of the sinfulness of the world makes it easier to convince young people of the safe surroundings. The dancing, chanting, incense, etc. alter the state of consciousness, and suggestibility of the mind is increased.

Dr. Virginia Jolly, a psychiatrist, states that “dancing, chanting, praying, singing and meditating can alter the state of consciousness just as surely as hypnosis or drugs. When the cults get a recruit to chant or meditate, or do any other thing that changes his state of mind, they can then easily implant new ideas, new realities, and begin to control thought process.”