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On Russian Threat To Spiritual Freedom

Since Russia and Eastern Europe began relaxing restrictions in the 1980s, their people have kicked over the traces exploded with a pent-up passion for commercial, entertainment, and spiritual experience.

This Spring Albania, Europe's poorest country, fell bigtime for a get-rich-quick pyramid scheme their government promised would show them the capitalist money. The schemes failed, just as any American high-schooler could have predicted. Not surprisingly, the government fell bigtime in the next election -- after armed rioting claimed 1,500 lives.

There may have been a lot of ugliness about the old Soviet system, but its extraordinary restrictions on commerce and freedom did offer protection from capitalism's oldest sucker punch, the Ponzi scheme.

If Eastern Europe's financial naivte seems surprising, America has no idea how a people denied spiritual outlet for generations is responding to an open spiritual market. Mainstream churches, New Religious Movements, cults, and the old, tired personal improvement training groups from the 70s and 80s are having a field day.

Along with Baptists, Muslims, and other world-respected traditions, we have reason to believe that TM, Scientology, ISKCON, Moon's Unification Church, Boston Church of Christ are all seeing greater growth in Eastern Europe than anywhere on the planet. Reporting hath it that the pickings are so lucrative that Werner Erhard himself is helping the entire continent "get it."

Other groups that have barely made a dent in the U.S., such as Panditji Ravi Shankar's "Sudarshan Kriya," have found many thousands of converts in Russia.

We get a picture of a 24-hour, neon-lit, spiritual bazaar with hucksters leaning out of their respect garish booths mouthing ever more grandiose claims for enlightenment, immortality, and limitless wealth.

Recently, the Russian duma responded to this situation with what looks like panic. A new law could make the Russian Orthodox Church a state religion and essentially forbid the operation of any new religious group who entered Russia less than 15 years ago: They would not be allowed to hold open meetings, publish or distribute literature, or own property.

It's unclear whether the duma has plans for the "nonreligious" groups such as Transcendental Meditation or est/Forum/Landmark.

trancenet.net is no fan of religious or secular cults. We believe we experienced some of the most brutal mind control known to humanity within such organizations.

But as survivors of cults ourselves, we also believe that the Russian duma is on the verge of making a drastic mistake.

The solution to the Albanian crisis was not to forbid free trade and democracy. It was to educate their people about the nature of free markets and the sharks who swim in those waters.

The solution to the spiritual crisis in Russia is not to pull their people back into the shadows of a smothering state church. It is to educate and inform their people about the silken-voiced threats that the Elmer Gantry's, Werner Erhard's, and Maharishi's may present them.

We simply can't support psychological freedoms on the one hand and religious persecution on the other -- whether in Russia or elsewhere.


Russian Duma Backs Clampdown On Religious Sects

MOSCOW, June 23 (Reuter) - Russia's lower house of parliament ... approved a bill on religious association and freedom of conscience condemned by human rights activists as discriminatory.

The bill says only confessions that have operated in Russia for at least 15 years can set up new religious organizations. It also imposes new restrictions on religious activity by foreign groups....

It now goes to the upper house, the Federation Council, and must also be signed by President Boris Yeltsin.

Critics say it contravenes Russia's constitution and revives Soviet-style censorship of religion. They point out that 15 years ago religious groups were still tightly controlled by the officially atheist Communist state....

Some mainstream Christian denominations like the Baptists and Seventh-Day Adventists have expressed concern that the anti-sect paranoia of the Orthodox Church, now a close ally of the Russian state, will also work against them.

But the Russian Orthodox Church and other traditional faiths like Islam have welcomed the bill, saying it will protect Russians against destructive cults like Japan's notorious doomsday sect Aum Shinri Kyo, which had many followers here.

Last week Patriarch Alexiy, head of the Orthodox Church, said the bill would help halt the division of Russians along religious lines.

The Orthodox Church has been alarmed by the post-Soviet explosion of religious sects, which have fed on Russians' poverty, spiritual hunger or desire for the new and exotic.

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