This is a two-part rebuttal to anti-cult activist Jayanti Tamm which I wrote in 2011 but never published. In coming across it, I realized it says much of what I would say generally about anti-cult groups and individuals who circulate propaganda which demeans and “otherizes” spiritual minorities. We live in a populist society where the majority is increasingly running toward secularism and materialism. That is their right. It’s also why we need strong laws protecting the rights of spiritual minorities — because without such protections democracy becomes just another form of tyranny.
As I discuss in “Therapists, Hubris, and Native Intelligence,” America is vast and consists of many different communities. The normative values of one may be oppressive when imposed on another. That is the underlying sense of numerous cases such as Wisconsin v. Yoder where the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the rights of religious minorities to live their daily lives in keeping with their faith. The right to be different is what makes America great.
I happen to be a liberal, but lately I’ve been observing that there are different strains of liberalism. To me liberalism is about freedom of choice, and finding ways for people who have different beliefs and customs to learn to live together in harmony, with mutual respect. This is the type of liberalism often practiced by mayors of big cities like New York and San Francisco, where the population is steeped in diversity, and forcing everyone to march to an identical set of beliefs and customs would be a prescription for disaster.
Yet, there are people like Jayanti Tamm who stump for conformism based on a constricting set of values set forth by a fringe group of psychologists and lawyers at the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association or “ICSA”). They would presume to tell us all what is “healthy” and “normal,” or what “the law says” on particular issues.
When psychologists and lawyers start dictating how people should pray, meditate, or conduct their spiritual lives, we have a problem in set theory. However well-meaning they may be, psychologists and lawyers lack the spiritual training to be experts in such matters. It should be up to individuals how to conduct their spiritual lives, which are part of their interior lives and not generally accessible to psychologists and lawyers.
The truth is, neither profession has all the answers; they have (at best) limited solutions to a finite number of (typically secular) problems. Psychology is a soft science; law is not a science at all. Both fields are highly interpretive, and both professions (as popularly practiced) tend to be concerned with normative values, which over time are as changeable as the weather.
Neither psychology nor law “say” one particular thing on complex human issues. Rather, individual psychologists and lawyers decide how to interpret the huge amount of available data, which in itself is often contradictory. Yet, Jayanti Tamm has become a familiar purveyor of dumbed-down “cult checklists” purporting to tell good religion from bad, or acceptable from unacceptable practices. This is so much hokum, and I grow weary of seeing it in liberal publications which should know better than to publish it. She may be a hero at atheist swap meets or cult survivor emote-a-thons, but her views just don’t stand up to critical analysis, and her personal accounts are largely fictional.
A neutral, common-sense reading of history and civilization — as well as any decent textbook on comparative religion — tells us that in every society there are always a few people who feel a spiritual calling which is stronger and more definite than what is felt by the general populace. These people are in the minority just as musical prodigies are in the minority, Olympic athletes are in the minority, and red-haired, green-eyed people with Type O Negative blood are in the minority. None of these groups require deprogramming or exit counseling to make them more like the majority, and neither do spiritual adherents. Continue reading