Opinion / Zhu Yuan

Knowledge can save people from evil cults

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-01 09:36

Knowledge can save people from evil cults

TV grab taken from CCTV (China Central Television) shows Zhang Lidong accused of killing a woman at a McDonald's restaurant in Zhaoyuan city in East China's Shandong province on 28 May 2014, stands trial at the Yantai Intermediate People's Court in the province's Yantai city in this 11 October 2014 file photo. [Photo/IC]

Someone has said truth lives in the cellar, error on the doorstep. This could be the reason why a destructive sect, whose doctrines are anything but truth, can fool many people into becoming its adherents.

A destructive sect was uncovered in South China's Guangdong province recently. It's leader claimed to be the incarnation of Buddha. Boasting of his power to accomplish magical feats, he organized a sect with thousands of followers, from whose donations he amassed a lot of wealth. And by portraying himself as a "living Buddha", he compelled a number of female adherents to have sex with him.

In his latest book Cults In and Out, Rick Alan Ross, an expert in the study of cults, says destructive cults have sprouted in the United States because they exploit religious beliefs, and some even define themselves as "religions" to get special protection and tax exemptions.

Indeed, the distinction between religion and sect is sometimes unclear as both call on their adherents to worship a god of their own. But as the examples Ross has cited in his book suggest, one of the most prominent features of most sects is the potential danger they pose to society in which they operate.

Other than the major religions whose fundamental principles guide believers to do deeds for the well-being of others and the world at large, sects of almost all hues tend to lead their followers astray - on the evil road that can ruin other people and even themselves.

In the latest cult fallout, five Eastern Lightning members beat a stranger to death in a KFC outlet in Zhaoyuan, East China's Shandong province, in 2014 simply because she refused to give her mobile phone number to them. Was there any reason for the innocent woman to give her cellphone number to a stranger? No religion grants a person the right to beat up, let alone kill, other people. If it does, it is not a true religion; it can only be the result of brainwashing by a destructive cult.

Ross dedicates his book to Hao Huijun and Chen Guo as well as other former members of sects who have moved on to find freedom of the mind. Hao and her daughter Chen Guo who used to be members of Falun Gong are survivors of self-immolation bids. Their tragedy of setting themselves on fire to strengthen the force of Falun Gong shows that the sect, like almost all other sects, teaches its followers not to think. Falun Gong followers strongly believe that practicing Falun Gong can cure ailments, from brain cancer to arthritis.

Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi, according to Ross's book, has also told his adherents that they will appear younger and the elderly will have fewer wrinkles, which will eventually disappear, if they follow his teachings. More absurdly, he claims that women will get back their menstrual cycle.

All that Falun Gong teaches its adherents are obviously contrary to scientific principles and even common sense.

Yet why do people fall prey to destructive sects such as Falun Gong or the East Lightning cult? The fact that many elderly people were fooled into buying healthcare products that proved useless or even harmful to their health testifies to the sect mentality. Such people's gullibility comes from their wish to achieve what is beyond their means. Some wish to remain in the pink of health throughout their life, some are desperate to remain forever young while others hope that their adherence to a belief will keep them alive forever.

The semi-literate and undereducated who know little about the world and lack reason can easily fall prey to a sect. This is why Ross says that the key means of responding to destructive cults has always been education. The power of education can protect people from destructive cults. Knowledge about how destructive cults work will help people foil their recruitment tactics and exploitative means. Ross's book provides such knowledge.

The author writer is a senior writer with China Daily.

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