It is important to begin a dialogue about different types of anti-cult activities.
It is vital to use the proper definitions found in the research criteria before we label the term cult to a movement, a group, or a leader. Many times, victims of cults are the first to expose a leader of cult activity. This is the first serious step. If a group and leader are actively harmful, then law enforcement involvement needs to be considered.
There is also the reliance on cult experts. Without experts, we can often mistake eccentric beliefs for harmful practices. In the United States, legally there is freedom of religion. Anyone can believe whatever they choose. However, one cannot practice illegal or fraudulent acts without potential consequences. Saying we do not need experts is like saying we don’t need lawyers or doctors. Cult experts add clarity in the field of cults dynamics.
Subsequently, experts and advocates, educators, mental health professionals, and investigators are all part of the education process to determine harm by cults. Each plays a different role at times and are not necessarily equivalent to each other.
People who blame experts (who are often academics) as being a problem are misguided. Without experts to guide the process, people often are confused about cult definitions, such as relying on beliefs, not practices.
Personally speaking, I am an advocate. Without experts and their research, we would not be currently as knowledgeable about cults. My reliance on cult experts is one of viewing their role as being part of our recovery and discovery process to heal, be validated, and heard. Experts are often the determining factor in court (if they’re qualified) to bring justice and change. Sometimes they take great risks to educate the legal system about cults.
Claiming expertise because you have been in a cult does not automatically make you an expert. That is like taking a course in homeopathy and then claiming to be providing care as a licensed physician or psychologist. It takes education and years in the field of the study of all cults to be an expert.
Many survivors of cults have uncovered specialized knowledge on a leader or group. Your knowledge can contribute to exposing dangerous practices.
We should discourage those that digress into sensationalism with claims that have no merit. This does more harm than good. The long-term results can be a short-term viral rise in publicity. Meanwhile, the cult leader can use all of this to create a martyrdom and can gain even more popularity. We must be accurate in our reporting.
Finally, there is room for all of us to have a platform and be educational to others. As an organization, we have had to seek help from all areas of expertise, and we have grown and learned so much in the process. We wanted to be a lone actor at first. However, it was the experts that reached out to us that made us change, look, and listen. This is why we have changed direction and focused ourselves in an effort to be useful. We want to build ethical relationships with others of like-minded interests.
We are grateful for your time and attention. We will do whatever it takes to serve, adjust, educate, and listen.
Steven and Debra Van Neste
Thinking Agenda, LLC