Sergio Pollina

Author[1] and expert

 

 

GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSIBILITIES IN CITIZENS’ PROTECTION AGAINST DESTRUCTIVE SECTS: ACTUAL SITUATION AND FUTURE EXAMPLES

 

 

SECTARIANISM AGAINST FREEDOM: IS THERE ANY POSSIBLE DEFENCE?

 

"Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world,

in which we are placed, by means of the

 wish-world which we have developed inside us as

 a result of biological and psychological necessities."

Sigmund Freud

 

It is a matter of fact that sectarianism and fanaticism are growing global problems that appear impossible to be stopped. We’re not discussing today about any of its motivations. There is no doubt that these two phenomena are basically generated from both ignorance and somebody’s desire to wield power. The results are wicked and cause pain and suffering. All religious systems are responsible for this decayed human condition. Fanaticism and sectarianism both represent a paradox since they are the exact opposite of what rules generally teach. Religion might be considered as a perversion in itself. Briefly, I would like to quote something that John Stuart Mill said about his father in his Autobiography:

 

“As it was, his aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies, -- belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind, -- and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtues: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful”.

 

We learn and cultivate freedom; it’s the desire of man to be able to be the craftsman of his choices[2]. However when he is born, he lives and he dies inside a system in which such natural aspiration is by itself considered sinful. It is easy to understand how human beings living inside such a system are deprived of the same freedom. They live in a narrow universe where generation after generation they spread a way of life characterized by an unquestioned obedience; where critical, free and independent thought is considered unacceptable. Failure to follow the predominant hierarchy means you are already sin enslaved! If we narrow our field of investigation to the western religions such as Judaism- Christianity, we can affirm that neither of these faiths are immune from this. The fires, the tortures, the deprivation of the liberty, the bodily punishments, they are all part of Catholicism and Protestantism’s heritage. This is a steady characteristic of Christianity as well: let’s quote Gnostics, Nestorians and Cathari and Irenæneus from Lyon’s endless list in his “Against all heresies”. Nowadays there’s a huge difference. In the past centuries, sects were supposed to reform Christianity from corruption but have far from ended his founder’s work. But they were spiritual workings characterized by spiritual motivation. The present religions instead aim to enrich through enslavement. I would like to remind this audience what the founder of Scientology said: “if you want to make money fast not do waste time then, found a sect!” What I mean is that religion, the need to believe, don't have a negative meaning It is instead what religious systems have done against these noble tendencies of man, that it is condemnable, and that has created the religious systems in place today and their further sectarian fragmentations.

 

Obviously we need to tighten the gap given to this intervention. That's why we’re going to talk about one of the main oppressive sect: Jehovah’s witnesses. Why them? Because even if the world percentage is low (6.500.000 adherent over a population of 6.500.000.000 of inhabitants of earth, equal to 0,1%) and in Italy as well, (239.000 followers over a general population of 59.000.000 people) it seems to affect a wide range of people. This is due to the huge propaganda they spread: they impose their faith door to door and this is very dangerous: let’s see why.

 

In the last few decades they have been brought to the attention of the public mainly for two reasons: their position towards receiving blood transfusions, and their strong objection to military service. The last one is not a problem in Italy where military service is not compulsory anymore , but it could become a worse problem in less democratic countries. They try to hide behind their aversion to blood transfusion as a kind of respect for the biblical precept, but it is not like this. They have a long history of bans: vaccinations in the 30’s, transplants in the 60’s and even the use of kitchen utensils such as aluminium or whatsoever: then, suddenly no more, without any logical reason, just complete, full obedience to the Governing Body, a small group of elderly, powerful people. Their attitude towards blood transfusion has been responsible for many deaths, especially children.

 

One of the most important cases is the example of Oneda’ family, whose talassemic daughter died for her parents’ refusal to give her blood, and therefore refusing to comply with a Court’s order. This is not the only example, there are thousand of situations like this, for example in Canada where one such problem linked with a multiple birth, is still ongoing.

 

This is a really serious problem, typical of many sects. We are talking about the doctrine according to which there is a small group of people who are the power holders. This supreme power allows them to impose regulations and rules. The rest of the followers have to abide by these rules. Failure to do so means serious penalties. Hence a myriad of negative consequences, bringing damage to the person and their development. I would like to point out an interesting essay by Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist at Stanford. In his book, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil, he investigates the effect that the membership of a system has on “normal” people's nature. How on earth could a parent who loves his child let him die just because he has been taught that a particular cure is opposed to God’s will. According to Zimbardo the explanation is what he calls the Lucifer effect: good people belonging to the system are capable of something that in another occasion would horrify them. The system is often a religious sect but it can also be an ideology beyond which, what belongs to the “world” becomes non-individual, and then its life has no value anymore. It is like our goodness, our thoughts, our ideals freeze. This is what happens between Jehovah's Witnesses, who just happily wait for the moment when the entire human race will be killed off by God, people will drown in their own blood, will be dismembered by necrophageous birds and eaten by wild beasts, without their mind being touched, but in ordinary people’s eyes this is simply hideous[3].

 

In keeping with the theme of this conference, then we ask the question: what is the responsibility of the State facing problems of this kind? How it should take responsibility to intervene, respecting at the same time those who do not believe in any religion, not judging ideologies but bad consequences? This is a complex problem, which is addressed differently in Europe. On the one hand there is France, with its long and unbroken libertarian tradition, on the other there is Italy, whose history is and has always been conditioned by an invasive presence of ecclesiastical hierarchies. Despite the Constitutional Charter, Italy remains today an almost confessional State, since in cannot delete a law dated back to 1929 regarding freedom, which for decades people have been trying in vain to reform and update with very disappointing results.

 

There is a need for legislation that protects human rights and human dignity from the serious menace represented by the active proselytism of the various cults and isms, but it should be carried out with scientific methods, which look inside of the real characteristics of each movement, particularly in view of the fact that the Italian Constitution provides a sort of convention, defined “regime delle intese”, a constitutional agreement with all those who request it. The system is inadequate, because it only ensures that the acceptance of the Statute of the rules is required, without checking any compliance that the current practice is actually followed within the same confession. It is legitimate, therefore, to claim that the Jehovah's Witnesses have received at this time the favourable opinion of the Council of State and a first legal recognition. In this so called constitution we therefore find a subversive tendency. This organisation is subversive because it considers the State as an enemy, inspired by the devil, and to fight it until final conflict in which - according to their apocalyptic vision - every State structure will be finally dissolved. And, according to their doctrine which they called the "Theocratic Strategy", of which there is no mention in the Statute and the official acts presented to the authorities regarding their beliefs, every instrument is good to achieve their purposes. They endeavour to weaken the loyalty of citizens of the State, with the result of dissolving the State itself, and the loss of confidence in its ability to work well, we can easily understand in reality what the consequences are. Under certain circumstances you must lie to the State. You may need to ask the State for assistance in your own life, but you do not necessarily need to give anything in return since it is an instrumentum diaboli, so there is to be no cooperation with it, even though they say the exact opposite[4]. In their recent past we can find examples of this unfairness, as Italian Jehovah's Witnesses have tried to introduce banned materials such as criminal papers by foreign nationals, of which there is ample evidence. The shameful crimes cover offences such as paedophilia and this religious movement spreads like a cancer, systematically trying to cover, even with intimidation of victims by their hierarchies. And finally, they try have a legal appearance exclusively to avoid tax obligations with the State which, at least in France, was harshly punished by the authorities, despite the fact that they retaliated with an impressive defence. They reacted, by creating in many nations charitable organizations, genuine religious orders on the model of Catholicism, to enjoy special status and entitlement to special exemptions. They failed to ignite their systems to achieve a strong position in England, because the British Government[5] said that “Charity organisations have to demonstrate that they are in favour of the general public to receive these entitlements”, therefore they did not manage to appear different to their true selves. An example of such activities is their refusal to receive medical care or treatment for religious reasons. This could really stop them from growing into a major obstacle, and is an example of how a state can intervene to protect its citizens without failing to respect their religious freedom.

 

That is why, in my opinion, any attempt to oppose sects using instruments which are not there thorough knowledge and legislation, can not succeed. We have proof in the recent past: both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Russia - with their powerful repressive systems, didn't manage to stop the growth and development of their movement, and instead, one can say that it promoted the spread. This movement, like many others, is comparable to a cancer and should be treated as it is a cancer; its violent eradication does not solve the problem because it keeps producing metastasis. We should then ask a question: why in some countries they are almost non-existent, in a such insignificant percentage that does not have any statistical importance? It is significant that these countries are always those with a cultural tradition different from Christianity, for example Islamic countries. Their tradition prevents the spread of sects. So what is important is their culture rather than repression. Since it is not desirable any further growth of these different cultures in the West, which already pays for an ongoing increase in retrograde cultures (obviously, not the Islamic culture, but religious intolerance and its consequences), answer must be given through information.

 

The legislation introducing the offence of plagiarism was considered insufficient and therefore even deleted from the codes for its difficulties to be applied. Western countries are crossed by a fundamentalist wind that is really worrying. This is the case of the United States, leading nation in the field of such movements, whose export to Europe is the origin of the problems we are talking about today. One example among many is the case of Scientology, which greatly raises alarm even in a culturally advanced nation such as Germany that in some Länder has launched a series of initiatives to stop their legal recognition.

 

In America there is now a very strong fundamentalist push, mainly located in the Bible Belt, that is all the Southern states, that aims to reintroduce in schools, at every level, the teaching of creationism, disguising it even under false pretences of scientific Intelligent Design. Also there is the intrusion of the Church, and I mean that the Catholic Church, that in countries such as Spain and Italy through its powerful hierarchies, tries to influence and sometimes heavily influences the political life and consequently the public life of the nation.

 

To limit the spreading of these sects the Government should act following two different ways:

 

Firstly it should pass a law about religious freedom that is able to establish what the difference between a religion and a sect is although we must recognize that this task is not easy because the line between them is quite subtle. This means to gather not just politicians and jurists, but also people from the worlds of culture, science, and history of religions, basically people free from conditioning and with a wide knowledge of the matter. Their task should be to verify the possibility to introduce laws regarding mental manipulation to protect weaker people, even if I think that this type of crime has the same difficulties as plagiarism since there is no human being immune from society, culture, family environment and genetic factors, this is why is quite difficult to find an effective law.

 

Then it should be introduced from the early grades in school education to the higher studies, a number of disciplines that make possible a real knowledge of this aspect of the growth of human societies. Disciplines entirely separate from the belief in the supernatural, but dealing with the fideistic phenomenon, as it really is: a need that lead human beings to look somewhere else for the solution to their problems. People should be aware of the risks they run when they give their trust to those who only try to get advantages from the power they hold and the main task of a state should be the protection of the freedom and intellectual growth of its citizens.

 

I would like to draw to your attention to what Senator Udo Nagel said last year in Hamburg in his introductory greeting: «Your conference has two important objectives: To inform public opinion about groups that threaten the fundamental human rights and emasculate the existence of our society. To be informed and to exchange information is an essential requirement to protect people against dangerous organisations such as sects, psycho groups and unconstitutional groups. Only if people know the real targets of these groups can they be protected from them».

 

I totally agree with him and I would like to remind this audience that sects are very dangerous because they deprive people of their future and their freedom, the most important good ever.

In conclusion, although it may seem out of context in a forum like this, I can make my own the words and their deeper meaning of one of the most beautiful lyrics of John Lennon:

 

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

 



[1] Movimenti Religiosi Alternativi: Effetti Dell'adesione E Motivi Dell'abbandono
by
Achille Aveta, Sergio Pollina, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000
Scontro Fra Totalitarismi: Nazifascismo E Geovismo
by Achille Aveta, Sergio Pollina, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 98

I nostri «Amici» Testimoni di Geova, Pollina Sergio, 1996, San Paolo Edizioni

 

[2] See Eugenio Scalfari, Nel peccato originale la coscienza dell’uomo. La Repubblica, March 11 2008.

[3] Joseph F. Rutherford, Conspiracy against Democracy.

[4] Jerry Bergman, Northwest State College, Ohio. Lying in Court and Religion: An analysis of the Theocratic Warfare Doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses: «While doing this research … I met a woman who showed me a scar on her upper arm that she said was caused by an acid burn. She explained that bribing a doctor to produce a scar on a child’s arm that mimicked the scar left from a smallpox vaccination, and then signing a certificate of vaccination [certifying that they were vaccinated] to enable the child to go to school, was a common practice among the Witnesses during the years of the Society’s ban on vaccinations. One can only imagine how many Witnesses or they children died of smallpox due to this practice of theocratic warfare to avoid vaccinations».

[5] Charity Commission’s Public Benefit and the Advancement of Religion. http://www.charity-commission.gov.uk/publicbenefit/pbar.asp.