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Interesting Times - Massimo Introvigne

Dr. Massimo Introvigne answers his critics


I have read with attention the remarks of Ms. Linda Osborne Blood, Mr. Kevin Garvey and Mme. Claire Champollion, and I am grateful to Update & Dialog for allowing me to reply. Although Ms. Blood and occasionally Mr. Garvey have engaged in unnecessary exercises of name-calling, I am pleased that my paper opened a debate and I hope that it could be conducted in a civilized way and   even if some of the participants are not Christian themselves   in the spirit of Christian dialogue.

My paper was about the differences between the secular and the Christian movements against the cults and the increasing difficulties of their cooperation. Not one of the letters addresses this main focus of the paper; rather, they concentrate on specific individuals and organizations. They are of course entitled to do it, and I would like to reply on the three main issues.

Factual Mistakes and Libel


I am accused af three factual mistakes, one of this being qualified as “libelous”.

a) Ms. Blood claims that she has never been married to Michael Aquino and calls it “a libelous statement”. I have no reason to doubt her word on this point and   although curious about the nature of her past association with Aquino   I do apologize for the mistake. I have also corrected the proofs for my forthcoming book on Satanism on this point. It is however both inaccurate   given the general style of the paper   and faulty from any conceivable legal point of view to label the statements as “libelous”. Perhaps Ms. Blood is unfamiliar with the legal statutes on libel. At any rate, it would have been more “libelous” to state that a couple lived together without being married.

b) Ms. Blood denies that Interesting Times has been privately published. I am a subscriber to the Cultic Studies Journal and aware of 1991 publication therein. However, I obtained a photocopy of the text   obviously “privately published” before it appeared in the Cultic Studies Journal   from the file on Satanism of Prof. Aagaard’s center at Aarhus University.

c) Ms. Champollion claims that the first ADFI was legally incorporated before CAN. I appreciate the moderate style of her letter and thank her for the reference. However, CAN is in itself the evolution of an older movement, or movements, and the American influence on ADFI is evident from even a cursory reading of ADFI’s material. Although they also quote other sources (I myself have been quoted   and one of my books has in fact been recommended by BULLES (on Jehovah’s Witnesses), perhaps I and Ms. Champollion could agree that most of their material comes from US groups and particularly from CAN.

A possible fourth mistake   the non-participation of Dr. Singer in the Barcelona conference   is in fact a simple misunderstanding. A careful reader such as Ms. Champollion would have appreciated that my paper published in Update & Dialog was delivered at the CESNUR/INFORM 1993 conference at the London School of Economics, held before the Barcelona conference. Although finally she did not attend, Dr. Singer was indeed listed in the conference programme circulated by the organizers.

I would prefer not to specially react to name-calling and I do not consider it name-calling to qualify a paper as a “bitter reply” to criticism. However, I should mention that it is more “libelous” to expose the “inadequacy” of my research and to claim that I “know essentially nothing at all about it [Satanism]” and live in a “total ignorance of the anti, and counter cult movements.”

The authors of these remarks obviously have in turn “not considered it important enough to take the time and trouble” to check out my work and my credentials. Although I normally regard as a lack of good taste the advertising of one’s own credentials, the remarks compel me to explain that I hold a B.A. degree in Philosophy from the Gregorian University of Rome and a Doctoral degree in Law (with a major in Sociology of Law) from the University of Turin. I have been a lecturer at the University of Turin, a professor at the Theological University of Southern Italy and a visiting professor in two more universities.

I am also the author of fourteen scholarly books and the editor of another seven in the field of new religions and magical movements. One of them   Il cappello del mago   includes a long section on satanism; the book has been reviewed (always in complimentary and at times in enthusiastic terms) by most of the authoritative journals in Europe (and some in the US) specializing in these fields. The largest Italian publisher, Mondadori, has asked me to write a history of modern satanism: the resulting 400-page book, heavily footnoted, will be published in early 1995 (and, rather than suggesting that she buys a copy, I will ask my publisher to send one to Ms. Blood on a complimentary basis). I have written more than one hundred scholarly articles (a significant number of them either on satanism or the anti- and counter-cult movements) for academic journals, including Social Compass and La Critica Sociologica, perhaps the two most authoritative journals on sociology of religion published outside the United States. I have been invited to lecture (again, including on satanism and the anti-cult movements) in a number of universities around the world, including the Sorbonne in Paris (three times).

I could continue, but this is probably enough to confirm that it is usually advisable to have a look at a scholar’s credentials before impugning them. By the way, what exactly are Ms. Blood and Mr. Garvey’s scholarly credentials? (They could be, of course, unimpeachable; since I do not know these credentials, I have not and will not make any comment on them).

Ethical Issues


I wholeheartedly agree with my critics that ethical issues are even more important than scholarly ones. One could be a celebrated scholar and an ethical failure as a human being. Let me clarify here a possible misunderstanding. I have stated in my paper that between people with different theological and philosophical background it is easier to agree on factual truth than on ethical judgements. This is from a certain point of view, obvious. A pro-life Christian (like myself) and a pro-choice atheist should, after all, agree that the statement “Ms. Smith had an abortion yesterday” is factually true (or factually false). It would be much more difficult, perhaps impossible, for them even after a more honest and open dialogue to agree on the ethical judgement “It was morally wrong (or right) for Ms. Smith to have an abortion”.

That anyone disputes this is frankly surprising, and makes me wonder whether my critics are not implying that I regard ethical judgements as less important than factual truths. God forbid: but unfortunately the most important issues (moral and religious) are precisely those where humans find it less easy to agree.

I also agree that searching honestly for factual truth has a moral value per se. This is, in my opinion, a crucial point in this whole discussion. In fact, here is where we should start if we want to have an honest dialogue, although our theological and philosophical premises may be different.

Opus Dei and the Vatican


While Mr. Garvey claims to be a Roman Catholic, his theology is somewhat strange. I strongly suggest that he has a look both at the recent Cathecism and at the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, both   we could probably agree   authoritative statements of what the Roman Catholic Church believes to be its current standards.

When St. Thomas argued against the ipse dixit, his argument was about philosophy, science and other matters of secular wisdom, not to be solved by the mere reference to the authority of Aristotle or any other matters of theological and moral doctrine   as opposed to secular matters   had no stauncher apologist than St. Thomas. In fact when in the 19th century the Church defined Papal infallibility as a dogma, it argued that it was no new dotrine at all since it was already taught by St. Thomas in the 13th century.

Veritatis Splendor makes it clear that it is not up to even the most brilliant and scholarly theologians to decide what kind of moral theology, to borrow Mr. Garvey’s strong wording, “breaches the boundaries of Catholic heresy”. This sort of judgement is reserved to the Church authority.

Countless Roman Catholic documents clearly teach inter alia that (a) decisions by the Church authority on matters of canon law (for instance, excommunicating a member of the Church or approving a religious order) although not infallible, are binding for all Roman Catholics; and (b) the Pope’s infallibility is engaged by the canonical process leading to the proclamation of someone as a saint. Not of course that all that a Saint wrote or did becomes infallible (saints, after all, have at times strongly disagreed between themselves); what is infallible is the Church’s judgement on the sainthood of the saint.

This, of course, is relevant for the question of Opus Dei. The Pope’s documents on Opus Dei are of course not on the same level with his well-known proclivity for German phenomenology (or its Polish version). The Pope did not translate this “proclivity” in official statements or juridical deeds. Opus Dei’s theology and lifestyle were canonically approved when the Personal Prelature was established, and Escrivà’s sainthood was recognized when his different steps towards sainthood were officially proclaimed by decrees (the final step, as any Catholic knows, does not review for the third time the sainthood of saint-to-be, but only deals with miracles obtained through his or her intercession).

In fact, there are only two ways to continue to brand Opus Dei as “a cult” or “heretical” and, at the same time, try to remain within the Catholic fold. The first, rather naive, is to claim that the Pope and the Church are “misinformed” or at least “not well informed” about Opus Dei. Those making these claims are of course “not well informed” themselves on how Rome treats controversial subjects. Critical documents are carefully collected and examined for years (in fact, it took more than twenty years for Opus Dei to obtain the status of a Personal Prelature).

The second, more logical, is   as Dr. Alberto Moncada did in his speech at the 1993 Barcelona meeting   to claim that the Roman Catholic Church itself under the present Pope exhibits “cultic” features and to impugnate the orthodoxy of documents such as the new Cathecism itself. These claims, however, are hardly compatible with claiming to remain a member in good standing and in full loyalty of the Roman Catholic Church (a “cultural” or “non-active” Catholic is a different matter).

Does this mean that all Catholics should like the spiritual and cultural style of Opus Dei? Certainly not. The Church of Rome is a very large institution allowing many different lifestyles and spiritualities (the condition being that no one brands the other as “heretic” as long as they are regarded as legitimate by the Church). I have been, personally, for more than twenty years a member of a smaller Catholic organization called Catholic Alliance. Both the Catholic Alliance and Opus Dei have in their by-laws provisions against dual membership with other Catholic movements or groups (not a “cultic” idea, by the way, but something always admitted and to some extent encouraged by the Church: trying to live two different spiritualities may in fact become quite confusing).

Thus, I could not have joined Opus Dei at any time in my life (I joined the Catholic Alliance before I was 18, the minimum age to join Opus Dei, and at that time I had never even heard about Opus Dei). Would I join Opus Dei now, should I not have selected another kind of Catholic spirituality earlier in my life? Probably not. Opus Dei’s focus is an emphasis in mission through one’s own work and profession, which should become “the chair from where one teaches about Christian life”. While being considerate in any profession or work is important, I personally prefer a more public approach to Christian missions, including what an American would call revivals or crusades.

Opus Dei also asserts that its members may have   within certain limits   different political opinions. In fact, in the recent Italian elections members of Opus Dei   of course privately and without any sponsorship from the Prelature   were present in all three tickets (Right, Center and Left). I personally prefer to work in smaller Catholic organizations where members   in the exercise of their Christian freedom, and not engaging the responsibility of the Church or the Bishops   having examined the political and social issues of their country come to decisions enabling them to work together on the same side.

I am a conservative Catholic (of the brand at times referred to in the United States as “evangelical Catholic”) and it is my preference to live the life of a small Christian community in organizations which do not include liberals at all, although I of course recognize that the Church includes liberals and conservatives and could survive as a human organization only through their healthy and continuous dialogue. As a Catholic scholar, I consider it a duty to participate in this difficult but necessary dialogue. What is true of the Church is not however necessarily true of smaller voluntary groups or communities where (unlike the founder of Opus Dei) I believe that a certain uniformity even of political ideas is, at times, useful.

These remarks on my personal religious ideas were asked for, and here they are, but I think they are not so far from our main argument. In fact, Catholics concerned with cults could join either a Catholic (or Protestant ecumenical) counter-cult movement, or a secular anti-cult movement.

The first kind of organization will normally refrain from attacking as a “cult” any group officially endorsed by the Churches who are part of the ecumenical dialogue (although, of course, remarks and criticism on certain groups will be made).

The second kind of organization   even if it includes, along with secular humanists, a number of personally religious people   will simply not care about what the authorities of the Roman Catholic (or any other) Church think of a given group, if the group’s deeds (or both deeds and creeds) are in their opinion “cultic”.

And this is, of course, one more reason making it more difficult for Christians loyal to their Churches to join the anti-cult movements and explaining their preferences for counter-cult movements explicitly Christian in their orientation. Our discussion   that I sincerely hope could continue in a more dispassionate manner   ultimately confirms that anti-cult movements do not define “cult” in the same way.

Massimo Introvigne

was born in Roma, Italy in 1955. He holds degrees in Philosophy from the pontificial Gregorian University in Rome and in Law, with at major in Philosophy and Sociology of Law, from the University of Turin. He was Assistant Lecturer at the Institute of Law, University of Turin, 1979-1988. Dr. Introvigne is chairman of CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions, an international organization of academic scholars professionally interested in the New Religious Movements. He has authored and edited several books on New Religious Movements.