March 02, 2007
I am entirely against government bans on “cults.” Such a ban would be an instrument for public administrators trying to control undesirable social and cultural values. In all likelihood this law would be used in a discriminatory fashion, to go after politically incorrect Christians far more than to restrict orgiastic sun worshippers in Arizona or the sacrificers of screaming chickens in a Florida resort town. In any case ordinances against public disturbances already exist to cover these situations. And if we don”t like the idea of filling the country with disturbing exotic sects, then we can always restrict immigration. It is better to think twice about letting in Rastafarians than it is to curtail the religious freedom of those who are already here.
When I taught a class on community and the individual for our now abandoned Junior-Senior Colloquium program, many of my students were eager to give reports on cults. These students obviously believed from reading about the subject that “cults” include Bible-believing Protestants, who accept the authority of Scripture. Since most of my students were at least nominally Catholic, they did not consider their own church to be a “cult.” But they also harbored the belief that Catholicism avoided being a “cult” because it imposed upon its adherents no other moral teaching than “to be nice.” Presumably this command did not extend to those who were “judgmental” in any traditional sense. People who represent such progressive social attitudes rather than mine, will likely be called on to decide what exactly a “cult” is.
Another example may illustrate my point. The current black Democratic candidate for the presidency, Senator Obama of Illinois, belongs to a black church in Chicago that is openly and emphatically hostile to my race (and to Obama’s white mother). As far as I can tell, the other presidential candidates are trying not to notice that Obama’s congregation features a platform that is full of references to the African race and to its sacred ethnic integrity. Although this Chicago-based congregation looks like a collection of African racial mystics posing as Christians, I suspect that no law passed to ban “cults” would affect it in our PC society. But if a white racist church were to preach the same exclusionary principle for whites, one could imagine the likely consequence. If there were a law against cults, it would then be applied to go after the white counterpart of Obama’s church.
I should also point out that the Religious Right, which in the past has favored restrictions on cults, mistakenly believes that the government can be made to do its will in this particular matter. My answer to those who labor under this illusion is this: The government will do here what it normally does in the cultural sphere, which is to have liberal social engineers determine the guidelines for sensitive views. American traditionalists should note the folly of “conservative” intellectuals in Germany in the sixties and seventies, who egged on German bureaucrats against the “enemies of the constitutional democratic order.” By the late seventies, the political and media Left had taken over in Germany, and ever since it has been using the legal forms that the Center-Right established or strengthened to settle scores. Why does our Religious Right believe that something else will happen here if it gets to outlaw “cults”? Another group I have heard asking for such a ban is desperate Jewish parents, whose kids have become “Jews for Jesus.” This may cause communal or inter-communal problems, but is certainly not a good reason to ask the government to intimidate a rival religion. Such a proposal is particularly indefensible coming from those who have suffered from government oppression in the past.
A last group that has asked for such a ban is the relatives of those who have joined the World Unification Church led by the Reverend Sun Yung Moon. Here the demand seems obsolete, since the organization has a dwindling number of non-Asian members. And even when the Unification Church still had a few thousand American and European converts, it is hard to show that these members were being grossly und involuntarily abused. They were adults who chose to belong to a church that taught redemption through a Korean savior. If they wished to believe this and to work for Unificationist-owned newspapers for a pittance, then that was their decision to make. The same would apply to those who give their money to Scientology. If John Travolta and Tom Cruise are happy with their choice of charities, it is not my money that they”re giving away. Nor do I want the federal government to provide them or me with instructions about which religions may receive our untaxed earnings. This would be a direct violation of the First Amendment’s protection of religion from the reach of the federal government.