By Raffaella Di Marzio


Sunday 4th may 2008

I start with the first category cases, that is people fearing for relatives, friends, acquaintances, etc… become adepts of a cult. I try to describe the ways I gave them assistance.

First phase: I used to reply asking to which group the relative was affiliated. The most “cited” groups were in the order: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, NewCathecumenals, Soka Gakkai, Opus Dei, groups of different kind practicing different forms of meditation, etc…

Second phase: once identified the group, I used to search deep information on it using critical sources, of different extraction but anyway always and only critical sources.

In the context of the help associations in this field, people is convinced (and so I was too) that the sociologists describing the groups without giving value judgments or expressing positively in their concern do a useless or - what’s worst – harmful work. Reading their publications means loosing precious time which, instead, should be used to help people.

I use an image to describe such attitude: someone realizes that some other one is about to drawn and he moves to help him. The urgency to save the life of the unlucky does not allow the “saviour” to loose time listening an observer who, from faraway, realizes what’s happening and shouts to explain him anxiously that he must take the man from behind to take him to the shore. The fact is that, refusing to listen for a minute, the “saviour” drowns with the other because, instead of taking him from behind, he takes him from the front and he’s dragged down too. I think the metaphor it’s clear.

The researchers playing with their statistical data either must be ignored or, even better, fought. Everything can and must be done except than reading what they write and search an open confrontation with them. I remember to be advised to avoid dialoguing with these people because they “could have confused my ideas”. And, initially, I accepted and followed such advise.

The other source used is that of the cults themselves. You read their books and their publications. The reading is done to know better the aberrations practiced in the group and spread by its doctrine. It’s a reading “guided” by a predefined point of view and, of what is read, only what confirms the fact already assured about the cult’s danger is used.

Third phase: after collecting the information, I used to pass them to the person who called me, specifying what was to be known about the doctrine and the practices of the cult. As the information I gave came from sources “against”, and so maybe those who spread them tended to “emphasize” a bit the things, the effect they produced in the worried relative was disruptive: if before he had only few doubts and was anxious, now he started to be truly frightened. At that point I was always asked the same the question: “But if things are like that, then my son (husband, brother, sister, friend, etc..) is really in danger. What can be done to make him exit?”

Fourth phase: attempt to “free the victim”. I used to suggest the family to propose a discussion to their relative, but in the great majority of the cases this was not possible because the adept would have never accepted to talk with me or with anyone else trying to convince him to leave the group.

Fifth phase: advises to be followed temporarily not to worsen the situation. One trick I always suggested was to avoid a direct fight with the snared relative and to search a dialogue about his experience, to try to understand together the reasons. The idea was that, if the adept didn’t cut the ties with his relatives, it could be simpler for him to understand and leave the group, even if after a lot of time. In any case the direct fight could mean to cut definitively the ties with the family and so it was to be avoided. In this way it was possible to let some time pass during which the families phoned also daily to ask for advises on how to treat the “plagiarized” relative, what to avoid, what to encourage, etc…

Sixth phase: months or years could pass this way, anyway there was always the day in which I was asked this question: “I did everything I’ve been suggested. My son is still in the cult. How is it possible that nothing can be done?”

I remember those phone calls and those meetings like a thorn in my side, together with the feeling of impotence when I forced myself to say “No one can be obliged to do what he doesn’t want. I cannot say you more than this”.

At that point several times it happened that the parent asked me who are the deprogrammers and whether in Italy were there people doing such “job”. The phone call or the meeting ended after explaining that the activity of the deprogrammers are illegal and that, as far as I knew (and I hope it’s still like that), in Italy there were none.

I remember passing hours on the phone trying to reassure and to give hope to people convinced they lost forever their relative in a cult. Those meetings, often really painful, reinforced in me the aversion for all those groups and their leaders who hurt so much harmless people.

After a “training” of a couple of years and tens of phone calls ended in this way, I started seriously thinking that the only solution, in front of so many cases of psychological abuse exerted inside cult groups, was to reintroduce the crime of plagiarism abolished by the Constitutional Court in 1981. Such conviction was based on the following axioms.

a) The information given from the person asking for help are always and certainly reliable.

b) The relative kept in a cult is changed and refuses his family and his old friends due to the cult’s control on his behaviour, feelings, information received and way of thinking (my “masters” were Steve Hassan and Margaret Singer).

c) The cults are religious groups (or pretending ones) aiming to seduce unaware and innocent people.

d) Once the person has been lured with deception, he’s slowly mentally conditioned by the leader and the group to leave his reference group and make the cult his new family.

e) In the cult the person looses his freedom of choice and his will to act by reason.

f) Given that there’s no greatest abuse than to deprive the other of freedom and rationality, the solution is to punish strongly such actions by creating an ad hoc crime.

What was wrong with such “theorem”? And what had it to do with catholic groups like the NewCathecumenals and Opus Dei? See you at the next “Fragment”.


The contents of this article are unprofessional translations of those included in the italian website www.dimarzio.it.

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