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Part 5 of 5, Scorn for cults shows lack of awareness

The Wapakoneta Daily News
By: Pam Dunno
Memberships in cults transcend social standings. There were a number of highly-educated professionals -- engineers, lawyers, teachers -- in two cults which have received unwanted notoriety in recent years: Heaven's Gate and the Branch Davidians.

"The reason most people are immune is because they are aware of cults," said Jim Steinberg, professor of sociology at Wright State University-Lake Campus. "They are educated about cults. They have a very solid set of religious or philosophical beliefs that insulate them from unusual beliefs."

Steinberg said of the likelihood of more instances of violence or suicidal tendencies such as those exemplified by the Branch Davidians at the Waco compound or at the Heaven's Gate Rancho Santa Fe site: "The danger always increases when you have social problems. Cults have always been on the radar screen and they always will be. There's always a new person who wants to influence people on a religious level. Cults wax and wane, increasing during times of social strain."

Steinberg also noted that people's own insulation in their belief systems may lead to a certain sense of amusement and scorn about such events as the mass suicide at Rancho Santa Fe.

"My guess is that people crack jokes about behavior which is so incomprehensible or so outlandish they feel a need to depreciate it," said Steinberg.

"I think we crack jokes when we think someone else is a crackpot. It shows a lack of awareness that this is a real group that has been around since the 1970's. It shows a misunderstanding of the incredible power of persuasion these cults possess. Any cult leader who puts their mind to it believes he can convert anyone. Nobody is immune in their view. They find all the buttons to push but usually they seek out certain characteristics. They focus on psychology, alienation and frustration, not on social statutes. They are not afraid to go after a reporter or a teacher. They are not deterred at all on who they can try to recruit but they do know that certain people are more vulnerable than others."

The Way International: A sect trying to be a church?

Steinberg then turned his attention on two organizations: The Way International, headquarterd in New Knoxville, as well as a sect which practices Scientology.

"I think The Way is a sect trying to be a church," said Steinberg. "They're still recruiting instead of building churches, but I think they're misunderstood. They are more of a sect because they are attempting to create a strong Christian ideology among members. Members are not completely isolated, yet at the same time they are very cautious about giving out information. Even some churches ask members not to have friends outside the group."

The Way, unlike a typical cult, also participates in community events.

"The Way doesn't have any spaceships," said Steinberg, "but it does incorporate and intense indoctrination period, making it different from a church. It's kind of pushy in the way early Christian churches were."

Steinberg believes the intensity of The Way's program was what often led people to seek assistance form Cult Awareness Network in regaining normalcy in their lives. [Important Note: We do not recommend contacting the Cult Awareness Network, or CAN. An extraordinarily courageous and useful organization in the past, CAN was recently forced into bankruptcy with the help of the Church of Scientology, who now owns their records and mans their phones.] Among CAN's functions as a group is the desire to help individuals and families free themselves from the effect of belonging to a cult.

Steinberg displayed an unaffected scorn for Scientology.

"Scientology is one of the most odious of cults," said Steinberg. "It's a con and they're extremely aggressive."

Scientologists often con people through an auditing system called "thetan," spirits that enter their mind from outer space. The group tells the person being audited that thetans cloud their minds keeping them from reaching higher levels of spiritual thinking.

The auditing device, Steinberg said, may be something like a voltage meter, which they convince people is really a thetan meter. The group he said, is also deceitful in hiding it's true identity from new recruits, changing names of its own lexicon from auditing and thetans to something else and luring the unwary to meetings under other guises such as cleaning the ocean or protecting children from drug abuse.

Steinberg said Scientology groups are also very paranoid and very aggressive about protecting the nature of their dogma. The cult has a history of harassing reporters and removing from libraries books that are critical of its belief system.

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