Piotr Tomasz Nowakowski

Social pedagogue, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin


Antisocial and asocial aspects of cult activity in Poland


Before exploring the problem of cults in Poland, let’s define, in a concise way, the elementary terms. Antisocial[1] means literally: directed against society, against its rules, values and interests, antagonistic in relation to expectations and requirements of a community. On the other hand, asocial[2] can be distinguished as not necessarily being in an open conflict with society. Strictly speaking, it means: not being interested in the affairs of the community or secluding oneself, avoiding the life in group, collective thinking and feeling, refusing to identify oneself with standards admitted by society[3]. Very close to the second one is the term of social passivity. A particular lack of involvement is connected with it[4]. The antonym of antisocial is prosocial[5]. This theoretical introduction will help us to elaborate on the complex phenomenon of cults.


Disturbed relations with environment


Antisocial and asocial aspects of cult activity are a great problem that tends to be blurred or lost sight of in the mediumistic flood of sensational information referring to the matter under discussion. The problem is that most cult structures assume a controversial attitude towards social affairs; as a result, their members are not able to take upon themselves a responsibility to fulfill properly their duties towards others. Instead, the influence of a cult’s doctrine generates antisocial or asocial attitudes of its adherents. In this way the cult bears responsibility for social confusion of its former and present members.

            The tendency to dichotomization of the image of the world, arising from the system of beliefs, generates and intensifies the cult members’ separatist attitude towards the environment. It is important to acknowledge this disposition as a typical feature of each cult. Even the most expanded and complex cult doctrines present unusually simplified views of reality: white and black, right against wrong, spiritual values in opposition to material ones, ‘we’ against ‘them.’ The division into sacrum and profanum – perceptible in healthy religious environments and appearing inside religious groups – undergoes a transformation into a division running between the cult adherents, who “belong to the sphere of sacrum,” and remaining members of society, who “live within profanum.” The cult emphasizes its exceptionality and separate character, defining people from outside the cult by means of a peculiar nomenclature.

            The most serious reasons to worry arise when the group cuts itself off territorially. But even if the things do not come to such a point, cult adherents can shut themselves off in a social or mental respect, breaking with other people so that finally they have the feeling of no alternative.

            The radical and univocal severing of relations with society was characteristic of the Polish cult Niebo (the Heaven), whose founder was Bogdan Kacmajor. The break with the rest of the world manifested itself in their destroying of identity documents, ignoring the obligation to get registered as domiciled in a particular place, ignoring school obligation, failure to observe the calendar of obligatory vaccinations, shirking military service, refusing to register newborn infants, renouncement of the medical service and realization of treatment using home-made methods. Renouncement of the professional medical assistance also pertained to pregnant women and childbirths that took place at home, without the protection of a doctor or a midwife. The complete isolation of the group considerably hindered contact between its members and the rest of the world, including their relatives[6].

            At present one of the most famous cults in Poland is the quasi-terrorist group Bractwo Zakonne Himavanti (the Himavanti Confraternity Order). Its leader, Ryszard M. (pseudonym: Mohan), used to send anonymous letters (the peculiar ’death sentences‘) to people who deal with the problem of new religious movements and cults; those adherents who dared to leave the group received threats and offensive letters as well. There was even a case of illegal deprivation of liberty – because of that Mohan was put to prison; he also underwent psychiatric treatment. Himavanti doesn’t forgive a treason. The guru used to warn his followers that by entering the structures they renounce the possibility of withdrawing from them. And if somebody tries to leave the group, he/she can expect even a ritual death[7]. This is why the cult is considered exceptionally dangerous.

            Also the cult called Christianie (the Holic Group) is still active in Poland. It comes from Austria, and its founder was Gottfried Holic. In 1992 a woman from the cult (she has a master of special education degree!) was found guilty of abduction of two juvenile girls and got a year’s suspended sentence; needless say, that wasn’t the only controversial case connected with such an activity of the group. Last year they resumed their recruiting work among adolescents.

There are other imported groups in Poland as well, e.g. Scientology Church, Raëlian Movement, Unification Church, Hare Krishna Movement etc., but I limit myself to the short reference in this section, because their actions are well-known all over the world and it is not necessary to repeat well-rehearsed points in the confined space of this article.

            Furthermore, the activity of satanic groups is a matter of considerable public concern. Particularly in the nineteen-nineties a number of satanic rituals could be observed. Devastations of cemeteries and churches, thefts of crucifixes and ornaments from graves, and killing animals were connected with them. But the greatest scandals refer to attempted suicides and murders that had a causal relationship with the professed satanic doctrine.


Classification of pathological occurrences


We can arrange the pathological occurrences connected with the cult activity in Poland as follows:

1) infringement of criminal law. Penal acts committed by cult members don’t constitute a separate category in the statistics. Nevertheless, regarding the activity of cults, we can indicate that launched investigations referred, inter alia, to such crimes as: murder (art. 148 § 1 of the Penal Code), taking part in a fight with a dangerous weapon (159 PC), illegal deprivation of liberty (189 PC), using violence (191 PC), rape (197 PC), sexual abuse (199 PC), abuse to the deceased body (262 PC), forgery (270 § 1 PC).

2) infringement of family law. In this category, we can find cases of the lifting or limiting of parental authority, divorce or incapacitation (partial or total) of individuals who belong to a cult. A considerable number of cases refer to overruling the parents’ or legal guardians’ disagreement to a medical treatment in the form of blood transfusion. There were also cases connected with demoralization of juveniles involved in satanic groups.

3) infringement of other rules. Apart from breaking the penal and family law, some cult members commit also infringement of other rules, especially customs, registration, tax, education or building law.

4) serious abuses finding no equivalent in the law. Some aspects of cult activity are not registered in the statistics of the police, public prosecutor’s offices and courts of justice. But taking into consideration man’s dignity, cases of cult abuse – even those that find no equivalent in the law – should give rise to justifiable concern[8]. The best example is the well-known problem of mind control.


What is being done?


Controversial and sometimes illegal behaviours of cult members and sympathizers are reflected in the feeling of being threatened shared by Polish society. Public opinion polls testify to that. This feeling is strengthened by the lack of information and helplessness of the police force. That doesn’t mean, though, that the state is turning a blind eye to the threats connected with the activity of cults in Poland and is not taking steps in order to counteract them. At the same time, the state by no means violates the constitutional protection of freedom of conscience and religion. In particular, the purpose of the state’s activity is not the assessment of truth or rightness of proclaimed religious convictions and philosophies of life. This sphere remains entirely beyond the interest of the state services. The task of the state is only to protect its citizens against any forms of pathology – to hinder infringing the legal and social order [9].

            Cults are a serious threat to citizens if they break fundamental norms of law and order. In that case, the state is aware of the duty to protect its citizens against the above mentioned problems. State initiatives with reference to the cults can be divided into four categories: diagnosis of cult threats and consequences of their activity, help addressed to cult victims and their families, overcoming criminal, illegal and harmful activity of cults, and – finally – cult prevention:

            1) the operations of the state in the area of diagnosing cult threats and consequences of their activity. The perception of the problems connected with cult threats found expression in the creation of the Inter-Department Committee for New Religious Movements. It was created in 1997 and dissolved four years later when a new Parliament was elected in Poland. The newly formed government was no longer interested in the cult problem. The committee was a consultative and advisory body affiliated to the Prime Minister. The purpose of the committee was the diagnosis and analysis of existing threats on the part of some of new religious movements and their influence on the individual, family and society; the purpose of the body was also to work out the methods of efficient counteraction against those threats and the ways of cushioning the consequences of the activity of destructive cults. Carrying its tasks into effect, the committee collaborated with non-governmental organizations, offering help to cult victims and their families, and also got in touch with its specialized scientific centres and with counterparts in other European countries.

            2) the operations of the state in the area of help addressed to cult victims and their families. Regarding the prevention of dependency on cults and resocialization of their victims, there hasn’t been created a particular programme by the state organs. Only psychiatric help is offered within the accessible network of psychiatric services (mainly in the network of psychical health clinics) and other forms of psychiatric assistance.

            3) the operations of the state in the area of overcoming criminal, illegal and harmful activity of cults. Public prosecutor’s offices and the police all over the country bring legal action in each case when there is a justifiable suspicion of committing a crime. However, within the law in force, the organs of the state haven’t any possibility to prosecute each wrong-doing if it doesn’t bear the characteristics of an illegal act – and such a situation is of frequent occurrence in most of the controversial cases observed in cults. Not each cult abuse is equal to breaking the law. Nevertheless in the situations where the law is actually broken, the police force intervene within the capacity of their authorization, using available legal instruments.

            4) the operations of the state in the area of cult prevention. For preventive purposes, the following initiatives have been taken up in some school superintendents’ offices:

-         instructions for school supervisors;

-         trainings for school pedagogues, educators, methodological advisors, as well as school and district nurses;

-         meetings with parents (talks, lectures, etc.);

-         workshops and seminars for school pedagogues, teachers and head masters;

-         psychoeducational and therapeutic training for the youth conducted by the staff of psychological-pedagogical clinics;

-         turns of duty of specialists (volunteers from cult-awareness organizations and educationists);

-         publications in local educational periodicals;

-         inclusion of the problem of new religious movements in the curriculum of postgraduate studies and qualifying courses for teachers;

-         inclusion of the problem of above mentioned threats in the curriculum of personal and social education, civic education religious studies and ethics;

-         introduction of a call-in service.

Considering the complex character of the phenomenon of cults and the fact that their activity affects nearly all the spheres of social life, we should be aware that the above mentioned preventive initiatives of the state are not sufficient to counteract the wide spectrum of cult threats[10]. This situation opens the door for cult-awareness organizations to fill the gap.

            At times, it is difficult to receive professional help and information about cults in traditional psychological clinics or other healthcare institutions. Because of its specificity and complexity the problem of cults and related issues go many a time beyond common competences of the institutions in question. Therefore it is fortunate that professional centres working in Poland offer information and help – psychological, legal and religious. The following areas of activity of cult-awareness organizations can be distinguished: archivization (gathering information and documents about cults), analysis (describing theoretically the collected data), giving information (help offered to people and institutions in acquiring information about cults and suspicious groups or associations), prophylactics (prevention of involvement in cults and counteracting the negative consequences of affiliation to such groups by way of raising social awareness), guidance (comprehensive assistance in critical situations caused by cults), intermediacy (in cases exceeding the prerogatives of the staff, they don’t advice but only help to get in touch with specialists in the field of psychology, psychiatry, therapy etc.), mediation (help a cult adherent in coming into proper relation with his relatives), intervention (exerting direct or indirect influence on a particular group), autoformation (widening knowledge on cults and developing professional competences by the staff)[11].

            We have not mentioned all forms of preventive activity in regard to the antisocial and asocial aspect of cult activity in Poland. There are, however, some professionally edited websites (e.g. www.psychomanipulacja.pl or www.sekty.net) that complement the inquiry and prophylactic offer of stationary centres. Besides, a professional quarterly „Sekty i Fakty” (Sects and Facts) is issued, thematic books are published and conference are organized to deal with the issues discussed above.

[1]              From Greek: antí- ‘opposed to, against.’

[2]              From Greek: a-, an- ‘not, without.’

[3]              L. Pytka, T. Zacharuk, Antyspołeczny/Antyspołeczność, in: Encyklopedia pedagogiczna XXI wieku, vol. I, Wydawnictwo Akademickie „Żak”, Warszawa 2003, p. 166.

[4]              W. Jacher, Aktywność i bierność społeczna, in: W. Szewczuk (ed.), Encyklopedia psychologii, Fundacja Innowacja, Wyższa Szkoła Społeczno-Ekonomiczna, Warszawa 1998, p. 22.

[5]              From Latin: pro- ‘in favour or supporting something.’

[6]              P. T. Nowakowski, Kváziterapeutický aspekt v pôsobení poľskej sekty Nebo, transl. A. Filipek, in: M. Lojda (ed.), Alternatívne liečebné metódy s presahmi do náboženstiev, Ústav pre vzťahy štátu a cirkvi, Bratislava 2006, p.129-138.

[7]              G. Fels, Terroryzm w wykonaniu Ryszarda M., in: G. Fels (ed.), Terroryzm w sektach, Maternus Media, Ruda Śląska – Tychy 2004, p. 155-161.

[8]              P. T. Nowakowski, Próba typologizacji zagrożeń ze strony sekt, in: J. Duda (ed.), Aktuálne otázky z praktckej teológie a religionistiky, Katolícka univerzita v Ružomberku, Ružomberk 2006, p. 119-129.

[9]              K. Wiktor, G. Mikrut (ed.), Raport o niektórych zjawiskach związanych z działalnością sekt w Polsce, Międzyresortowy Zespół ds. Nowych Ruchów Religijnych, Warszawa 2000, Zakończenie, 1.

[10]             K. Wiktor, G. Mikrut (ed.), op. cit., Zakończenie, 2.

[11]             P. T. Nowakowski, Pomoc jednostce i rodzinie zagrożonej sektami, in: B. Kałdon (ed.), Pomoc rodzinie dysfunkcyjnej, Wydawnictwo Diecezjalne w Sandomierzu, Sandomierz – Stalowa Wola 2006, p. 258-268.