Anti-cult movement

The anti-cult movement (abbreviated ACM; sometimes called the countercult movement)[1] is a social group which opposes any new religious movement (NRM) that they characterize as a cult.[citation needed][circular definition] Sociologists David Bromley and Anson Shupe initially defined the ACM in 1981 as a collection of groups embracing brainwashing-theory,[2] but later observed a significant shift in ideology towards pathologizing membership in NRMs.[3] One element within the anti-cult movement, Christian counter-cult organizations, oppose NRMs on theological grounds and distribute information to this effect through church networks and via printed literature.[4]

The concept of an ACM

The anti-cult movement is conceptualized as a collection of individuals and groups, whether formally organized or not, who oppose some new religious movements (or "cults"). This countermovement has reportedly recruited participants from family members of "cultists", former group members (or apostates), religious groups (including Jewish groups)[5] and associations of health professionals.[6] Although there is a trend towards globalization,[7] the social and organizational bases vary significantly from country to country according to the social and political opportunity structures in each place.[8]

As with many subjects in the social sciences, the movement is variously defined. A significant minority opinion suggests that analysis should treat the secular anti-cult movement separately from the religiously motivated (mainly Christian) groups.[9][10]

The anti-cult movement might be divided into four classes:

  1. secular counter-cult groups;
  2. Christian evangelical counter-cult groups;
  3. groups formed to counter a specific cult; and
  4. organizations that offer some form of exit counseling.[11]

Most, if not all, the groups involved express the view that there are potentially deleterious effects associated with some new religious movements.[12]

Religious and secular critics

Commentators differentiate two main types of opposition to "cults":

  • religious opposition: related to theological issues.
  • secular opposition: related to emotional, social, financial, and economic consequences of cult involvement, where "cult" can refer to a religious or to a secular group.

Barker's five types of cult-watching groups

According to sociologist Eileen Barker, cult-watching groups (CWGs) disseminate information about "cults" with the intent of changing public and government perception as well as of changing public policy regarding NRMs.

Barker has identified five types of CWG:[13]

  1. cult-awareness groups (CAGs) focusing on the harm done by "destructive cults"
  2. counter-cult groups (CCGs) focusing on the (heretical) teaching of non-mainstream groups
  3. research-oriented groups (ROGs) focusing on beliefs, practices and comparisons
  4. human-rights groups (HRGs) focusing on the human rights of religious minorities
  5. cult-defender groups (CDGs) focusing on defending cults and exposing CAGs

Hadden's taxonomy of the anti-cult movement

Jeffrey K. Hadden sees four distinct classes of opposition to "cults":[14]

  1. Opposition grounded on Religion
    • Opposition usually defined in theological terms.
    • Cults considered heretical.
    • Endeavors to expose the heresy and correct the beliefs of those who have strayed from a truth.
    • Prefers metaphors of deception rather than possession.
    • Serves two important functions:
      • protects members (especially youth) from heresy, and
      • increases solidarity among the faithful.
  2. Secular opposition
    • Regards individual autonomy as the manifest goal – achieved by getting people out of groups using mind control and deceptive proselytization.
    • Regards the struggle as an issue of control rather than theology.
    • Organizes around families of children currently or previously involved in a cult.
    • Has the unannounced goal of disabling or destroying NRMs organizationally.
  3. Apostates
    • Former members who consider themselves egregiously wronged by a cult, often with the coordination and encouragement of anti-cult groups.
  4. Entrepreneurial opposition
    • A few "entrepreneurs" who have made careers of organizing opposition groups.
    • Broadcasters, journalists, and lawyers who base a reputation or career on anti-cult activities