"What can we do?" - is a question asked by parents, relatives, and friends when a person they are close to has joined a new religious movement
This question is relevant to many parents, relatives, and friends, when someone they love and feel attached to suddenly joins a new religious movement and starts changing his/her personality. Perhaps the difference has not yet really set in, but still one has the feeling that something strange and threatening has entered one's life. What can be done?
Generally speaking, it is not possible to come up with a complete answer to this question. In Denmark there are many different and active new religious movements, and the people joining them are so very different that it would be difficult to point to a solution that would cover every single case. Differences must be respected. But still it is possible to set some common guidelines to follow.
It seems reasonable to ask the person in question - and oneself, for that matter - why this new religious movement seems so fascinating. What is the attractive force? Has the person neglected anything in his/her life and therefore stopped it from being vital developed? It often turns out that the fundamental problem is lack of religiosity.
Most people tend to think that religion belongs to the past. During adolescence they may have considered the Christian faith a natural part of life, but they have not themselves experienced a personal religious development. Thus, their own children grow up in a religious vacuum without being accustomed to judge religious phenomena in a healthy and critical way. By the time the children grow up, they are helpless in face of the guru sects and occult groups, and in a given situation they may become the victims of such a sect or group with little warning.
The first thing is to have a healthy and critical attitude to the religious dimension of life. Ignoring religiosity is just as wrong as is unconditional surrender. Being a human being means, for one thing, that one has a religious need, but just as one ought not ignore one's sexuality or surrender unconditionally, the religious side of one's per- sonality needs terms where it can grow, not frantically, but under control.
An unconditional submission to a new religious movement is often caused by the family's ignorance of the religious dimension of life. And when a person unconditionally submits to a new religious movement the dialogue between the two parties is often impossible. They are not able to talk things over, but can only shout at each other. The only way to avoid this kind of situation is to have a realistic attitude to the situation and learn from it; i.e. learn what religion really is with all its good and bad qualities.
Much suggests that the identity of a person has something to do with his/her religiosity, i.e. religiosity in the widest sense of the word. In short: You become what you believe in. In this connection of course the word believe does not mean "to assume the excistence oP' - you do not become a ghost, just because you believe in ghosts. Belief means submission to, or trust in. Then the validity of the statement is complete: You become what you, on the basis of your belief, submit to and trust in.
If you have nothing to submit to or trust in, your life will be hollow and empty, and the hollowness and emptiness shout for something to live for. People may become so desparate to find a meaning in life that they willingly accept any meaning, at any cost. For in the long run one cannot bear the fundamental bewilderment, the confusion caused by a lack of belief. We hate to admit it, but obviously more and more people are mentally disturbed, because they cannot make peace with their ambiguous religiosity. They have lost their Christian basis and are unqualified to understand their lives. They have no guidelines to follow. For a while they will be able to repress the problem in their consciousness, but one day they cannot do so anymore, and they will collapse because of their own instability.
Strange as it may seem, only few consider the simple solution of returning to their Christian basis, even when they find themselves in a situation where the boat is sinking. Instead they tend to uncritically let themselves be dragged on board the first new religious steamer that passes by. People need to have something to live for, somebody to live with, some way to find their bearings - and they need to put life into its proper perspective.
Then they willingly relax any critical sense. Young people, who have a very critical attitude to society, may in a few hours surrender to a guru, settle at his feet, and without even raising an eyebrow listen to words of wisdom of an undiluted Fascist. They have surrendered to their master in order to find peace in their hearts, to control their minds, or to reach a higher consciousness.
What can be done? Well, it naturally follows that one must come to terms with the situation which is the cause of it all. The problem is the religious vacuum. The desparate new-religious attempts to come to terms with the need for religiosity is only an effect of the problem. And you cannot solve a problem by looking at the consequences.
Therefore, the basis of the Christian belief needs to be rediscovered. One needs to face this problem: You need to turn around and come to realize that you are lost, and the road which you are walking does not lead to the goal, because it is the wrong road. At that point you will have to return to the point from where you started.
If a person's pride prevents him from doing that, or if there are other reasons why the person either will not or cannot embrace the Christian faith after having joined a new religious movement, then we hardly have any real possibility to provide any help. We may prevent some of the consequences, but we cannot solve the fundamental problem.
What are the possible concrete moves in the present situation? There are several answers to that question, and there are several ways to approach the matter. Sometimes desparate people kidnap their children, relatives, or friends from new religious movements, after which they have them "deprogrammed" - i.e. they are exposed to a "counter-brainwash" in the hope that they will turn back to normal. But this procedure is partly illegal, partly unethical. And if they are lucky, they will only return to the problem, which caused it all to begin. Therefore, the result is not lasting: many deprogrammed people return to the sect or the movement.
The Dialogue Centre does not identify with this attitude or conduct. Help to members of new religious movements can and should be granted only with their consent and free will. In a spiritual battle only spiritual means work. Our experience tells us that, in the long run, information and argumentation are the most effective weapons, and in this connection we are pleased to be at the disposal for those whose relatives are trapped in a new religious movement.
What we tell the relatives is more or less as follows: The Dialogue Centre cannot approach the person in question and try to reach him/her. We do not know the person, and he/she will not trust us. But he/she knows you, and deep inside he/she still trusts you. Therefore you should obtain some knowledge about the sect or movement in question, even if you have a dislike of doing so. For it is not for your own sake.
You must express the knowledge you have obtained when you speak to the person in question; deep inside he/she will respect you for your interest and work. Do not get sour or excited when you talk to the person in question, even though it may be difficult to listen to the nonsense and empty phrases which anyone can tell come from the leader of the movement. Keep on arguing without compromising, and never get angry.
In a way one could say that you should regard your friend or relative as a blocked account, into which you can pay information. You cannot withdraw from the account here and now, but continue to place an amount regularly, and gradually he/she will end up having a considerable amount of information in his/her consciousness - even though they may be lost on them at present.
Some day in the future the person in question will be in an- other situation: sooner or later he/she will be experiencing an emotional crisis as a result of involvement with the guru or the sect. When that happens the deposited information will suddenly become payable: "Perhaps they were right about what they once told me!". But if nothing has been placed on the account, the future crisis hardly leads to a personal initiative, as there will be no counter-impressions in the mind of the person in question.
In the same way you can also invest in love and patience. The person in question may behave very strange and unpleasantly in your eyes, but don't ever throw him/her over. Always make sure they know that your door is open. When the time comes it must be as easy as possible to pick up the phone and ask for help.
The Dialogue Centre helps you to obtain the information to place in the account. Actually, the Dialogue Centre itself is one piece of information to place there, so that the person in question may easily find his/her way to us whenever necessary. Therefore you should send him/her our address and phone number together with some information about our work and attitude.
Sometimes people are almost kept prisoners in a new religious movement, because they have signed a contract, or because they owe large amounts of money to the movement. It is important to explain to them that this kind of obligation is not legally binding. The lawyer of the Dialogue Centre - or any other lawyer - will have no trouble in having such debts declared invalid.
It may also be of importance to talk or write to the person in question about the problem that arises when he/she has taken his/her vow, sometimes as an oath by which he/she feels bound. This kind of seduction is without any ethical perspective, and without futher proof it can be ignored without remorse. For it is only rare that they were well- informed of the content of the promise or the oath when they made it.But you, the relatives, will have to do most of the work. This is the right and most straightforward way to handle it. Only then will the events point in the direction of something better.