Education and Training

Thomas Lardeur, historian, journalist and author, France

In the past fifteen years, cults have structured themselves so as to considerably, systematically, almost mathematically, invest, all the spheres of our lives: the world of education (the second generation of followers, the future), but also the domains of health, of work, of humanitarian aid, of intimacy…

As a result, the methods developed by the gurus multiplied. Initially the intention was to maintain permanent pressure, from morn till night, on all the aspects of the lives of their followers in order to use the latter for the cult to prosper. Indeed, the followers are also employees and managers, and thus useful pawns to spread the guru’s beliefs in a working environment.

In France, the law of 1971 instituting the vocational training market proved to be a blessing for the cults:

As a result, many cults reared themselves into the breach and encouraged their followers to create their own vocational training organisation to sell the methods developed by their gurus in exchange of the payment of royalties (example: Landmark Education, Transcendental Meditation, Body Mirror (Brofman Foundation for the Advancement of Healing), La Maison de Jean (Jean-Claude Genel)…

With the exception of the Church of Scientology, all these cults invested the personal development market. The principle? The trainees are invited to live an adventure as a result of which they will change their ways – which apparently limit them – they will therefore have to choose other ways to lead them to accomplish development and well being, they will learn to affirm themselves, to develop their creative potential, in short to learn to know themselves better, so as to be more effective. These training courses are used in particular to help the employees to better manage their stress - first occupational disease -, to improve their public speaking capacities, to attain better concentration...

The characteristics of these methods are that they are based on the energies, the opening of chakras and other communications with angels, contrarily to technical training or the study of languages, their effectiveness is not measurable. How can one evaluated matters which are not learnt but felt!

One can wonder at the relevance of companies financing such training courses which concern a voluntary step and which concern the personality of the individual. One can imagine that employees do not want to expose certain aspects of their personality or their private life in their professional environment. Information which could also be used against them…

Nonetheless, the fact is, that these methods have become fashionable for the past twenty years. Each year nearly 400 000 people are formed this way in France, for the simple reason that the managers want results and turn to this irrational world to seek solutions to their problems. This may even means imposing it on their employees, who will have great difficulty in refusing a request from their hierarchy in a country which counts nearly 3 million unemployed. Many managers also agree to finance this type of training course when asked by their employees, in exchange of which they refuse any possible salary increases…

Should this be a source of concern? Certainly. However, cults at present represent only a negligible part of this market. One is more likely to come across a swindler or an inefficient teacher that a cult. Moreover, companies wishing to protect themselves could simply refuse to finance personal development training courses. In short, it is a problem which could disappear.

For companies, the problem of cults does not limit itself to training courses.

It is difficult to evaluate. There are judgements, court cases, individual situations. A solution exists: in-house rules that foresee the exclusion in cases where the employee has tries to influence others in the field of personal beliefs.

Scientology is the only cult that has a structured network of 2700 companies, present in forty countries. The main objective of this network aims at "cleansing the economic scene" "to promote a new civilization" and to make the "planet clear", i.e. in which only scientology would remain. These companies work in all the economic sectors: vocational training through traditional training courses (management, communication…), but also building field, insurance…or data processing i.e. Panda.

Several recent court cases in France showed that to work for a Scientology company exposed the employees to unquestionable recruiting (because it is an obligation! Field staff member, 10 to 15% royalties) and to finance scientology indirectly. The problem is all the more real since the majority of these companies do not publicise their links to scientology and advance masked. The result is deceit. Only one judgement in France, "Diace Conseil".

This presentation shows in all the cases that it is necessary to differentiate overall two types of problems: that of small the cults, which constitute a danger to the individual and that of international cults which constitute a danger not only for the individual but also for democracy.

1. Small cults

These will always exist, for there will be always people ready to exploit others and to circumvent the law, that is human nature. This is why we will be never be able to prevent them. And there will be always victims.

It is known nevertheless that in almost all the cases, these groups disappear when their Guru dies. And that their influence declines considerably as soon as their acts are exposed by the media.

It is therefore necessary to watch them all the time. And for this reason, the French experience shows that in addition to adapted legislation, associations, the police force and the media are well able to cope with the most urgent problems.

There is not great a deal more to be done.

2. International cults, namely the Church of Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

With regard to International cults we are faced by the question in what society do we wish to live. Faced by this question, force is to note that the problem is only political.

Ce problème trouve son origine dans la première commission d’enquête parlementaire de 1995 en France et dans l’attitude allemande face à la scientologie. En réaction, les sectes, par des actions de lobbying, sont parvenues à ce que le Congrès américain vote une loi sur la liberté religieuse dans le monde. Une loi unilatérale et choquante dirigée principalement contre certains pays européens qui refusent de considérer les sectes comme des nouveaux mouvements religieux, principalement la France et l’Allemagne. Deux pays qui se font critiquer ouvertement depuis avec d’autres dans chaque rapport américain.

This problem has its origin in the first parliamentary board of inquiry of 1995 in France and in the German attitude vis-a-vis scientology. Cults, reacting on these events, through lobbying activities, managed to obtain that the American Congress vote a law on religious freedom in the world. A unilateral and shocking law aimed at certain European countries that refuse to regard cults as new religious movements, mainly France and Germany. Two countries that have since, with some others, been openly criticised in every American report.

Another consequence, America intervenes everywhere in the world to condemn the French and German attitudes. It happens in certain legal procedures in Germany or in all the international institutions. As a result no one can say anything criticising scientology or Jehovah’s Witnesses without incurring American criticism.

Hubert Védrine, then Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Jospin government, had had the courage to write to his American colleague, Madeleine Albright, to contest the way they approached the problem. He had been relayed thereafter by Alain Vivien, then President of the Interdepartmental Mission for the Fight against cults, which, in each one of its reports, criticised the American attitude and defended the French position courageously.

The Raffarin government decided radically to change its attitude by denying purely and simply the existence of this American law. An incredible attitude. How can one possibly think that this law does not have an influence when passed by a country that does not often to take into account the opinions of others, even when they are members of United Nations. Diplomatic necessity seems to have overwritten the interest of current and future victims. The policy is moving, fluctuating…

A word on the current French policy.

To tackle cultic tendencies without caring about the origin of these tendencies is a mistake. An example, entering into scientology. The scientology trap resides in the personality test and the way in which the scientologists, trained for this purpose, intend "to handle the individual" (described in the Lyon’s lawsuit, 4 pages in my guide). The people who answer the test are already one foot in the cult.

Other examples? The case of JW’s children, lack of freedom, obliged to follow excessive and alienating rules. I would not like to be a JW ‘s child. The problem of international cults lies in their very nature, in the heart of their organisation. They themselves generate cultic tendencies. And there will be always be cultic tendencies as long as we continue to refuse to tackle cults directly.

This is a Franco-French approach of the problem, simplistic and untrue by omission.

The big cults are not in regression, they are hibernating in our country. And it is easy to understand why. It is not well looked upon to belong to a cult in France today. In the meantime, these cults are developing in the rest of the world. Even opening lobbying centres in Brussels. For the cults, the French case is only a temporary preoccupation.

The problem today is political. Political parties must be speak up freely on all these essential questions.

But beyond, politicians will only intervene if they feel the need for it. It therefore up to the associations to motivate politicians and the general public on questions concerning society. However, at present they are discrete, too discrete. It is up to you to put pressure on the politicians to get the Americans to withdraw their law, for it is impossible to discuss with the sword of Damocles hanging over one’s head.

It is up to you, FECRIS, to define a common policy as regards religious freedom and cults with certain European countries, to contradict the American approach. I remain convinced that if nothing is done today, the problem of cults will, in thirty or forty years time, be a similar to the problem arising today from the integrism and Islamism.

A good initiative would be to sum up the situation, country by country, of the different approaches on the question of cults. And to have an identical practical guide to be sold in every European State.