Every once in a while, in rummaging through the endless closets of the Internet, I run across a question I actually know the answer to. Here's one from today. It's part of a customer review of Legitimating New Religions by James R. Lewis.
In his conclusion, Lewis argues that scholars of religion should never "dispute the truth of other people's religious claims, even when participants believe such claims to be true in a literal, scientific sense." (p.227). Of course, he doesn't say why this need be the case. Is it just because to do so would be impolite? rude? Threaten the cosmos of the religious?
Hold that thought while we (only apparently) change gears for a second.
"Since his awakening in 1986 he has only lived, breathed and spoken of one thing: the potential of total liberation from the bondage of ignorance, superstition and selfishness."
Wow, huh? That's a quote from the "About the Author" field of a book by that whiny little bitch Andrew Cohen (can you feel me Andy?) called In Defense of the Guru Principle. That's the Amazon link, but I found it first on Cohen's own site, where this clip is provided.
"The dual thrust of Andrew Cohen's challenge fundamentally calls into question the vested interests of the 'spiritual establishment' -- that informal network of organizations, publications and teachers who have become comfortable with something less than the goal of ultimate freedom.... In this small book, Cohen makes clear that the Guru principle, in the proper sense, is nothing less than the call to awaken itself. This call, when presented powerfully and without compromise, will always be unwelcome to a world asleep in the dream of ego."
Ah yessss, the dream of ego, my little chickadee!
But what caught my attention -- did it catch yours? -- was the name of the writer: James R. Lewis. Isn't this the same guy our curious Amazon commenter was asking about, above? Indeed it is. And funny he should mention "vested interests."
On May 9, 1995, The Washington Post ran an article titled "U.S. Visitors Boost Cause of Japanese Cult; Lawyer Says Police Imperil Religious Rights of Sect" (article preview) about the sarin nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subways back then. The piece mentions that...
One of the U.S. visitors, James Lewis, told a hostile and clearly disbelieving roomful of Japanese reporters gathered at an Aum office today that the cult could not have produced the rare poison gas, sarin, used in both mass murder cases. Lewis said the American group determined this from photos and documents provided by Aum.And it continues a few grafs later...
The Americans said they were invited to visit Japan by the cult after expressing concern to Aum's New York branch about religious freedom here. They said their air fare, hotel bills, and "basic expenses" were paid by the cult, but neither Aum nor the Americans would say how much money was involved.
Of course, we now know that Lewis et al's premature not-guilty verdict was bullshit.
The Wikipedia Cult apologist entry gets into this stuff further, and led me (not that I haven't been down this road before) to the following quote, which was posted to FactNet -- "Since 1993, Discussion, Resources and Support for Survivor Recovery from the Abusive Practices of Religions and Cults" -- by one Anton Hein-Hudson of the Apologetics Index, the subslug of which reads "Apologetics Research Resources on religious movements, cults, sects, world religions and related issues."
"In addition to From The Ashes we now have Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective (Lewis and Melton 1994a), and Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating the Children of God / The Family (Lewis and Melton 1994b). The last two are clearly made-to-order PR efforts (with a few scholarly papers which got in by honest mistakes on the part of both authors and editors). The Family and Church Universal and Triumphant were interested in academic character witnesses, and many NRM scholars were happy to oblige. Balch and Langdon (1996) provide an inside view of how AWARE operates by offering a report on the fieldwork, if such a term can be used, which led to the AWARE 1994 volume on CUT (Lewis and Melton 1994a). What is described is a travesty of research. It is much worse than anybody could imagine, a real sellout by recognized NRM scholars."
Now, don't get me wrong, it is always a good idea to be skeptical of such Internet sources, as emotions tend to run hot in these debates. My own emotions tend to run no cooler. However, I happen to be holding that book in my hands at the moment -- Misunderstanding Cults: Searching for Objectivity in a Controversial Field, University of Toronto Press, 2001 -- and the quotation is exactly correct. You can check it yourself on Google Books. It's on page 48.
All that said, I am no more suggesting that academic religious studies scholars can be bought by any cult with the cabbage than I would intimate that American computer "scientists" whore themselves out to the US Department of Defense. Because, as our erstwhile president, Richard Milhous Nixon, once opined...
the unlikely story of how America slipped the surly bonds of earth & came to
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New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)
Friday, March 14