Freedom of belief and conscience: the dangers of the anti-cult refrain

il pifferaio magico

16 January 2016 — It is necessary to refute once and for all the refrain that some anti-cult groups are dangerously spreading against freedom of belief and conscience: "cults" would violate human rights and those who defend human rights should not "defend cults." First, we reiterate once again that "cult" is defined as a religious minority unsympathetic to the speaker, and is a term devoid of any scientific value.

With regard to human rights violations, the statement is particularly dangerous, because such violations in religious groups do exist, as, unfortunately, they do exist in every sector, and they have been found and documented. Limiting them arbitrarily to "cults" without even knowing how to define what they are, we are essentially running into two risks. The first is to spread moral panic on specific groups, stoking fears in public opinion and discrimination in the absence of concrete data. The second is to ascribe the problem to certain realities, automatically acquitting others.

Those who believe in freedom of belief and conscience want freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. They believe that the two do not conflict; on the contrary, they rather go hand in hand. In a State where every individual choice is protected by equal opportunities, we have the bases to tackle abuses: lacking such a protection, defense of self becomes difficult.

As far as majority and minority faiths are concerned, there is an obvious difference which is not understandable by virtue of an unfounded demarcation between religion and cult, but by some sense of rationality. The majority is too big, too small the minority: it is hard to get to the truth when you clash with the resistance of a great institution, and so it goes when you try to reconnect the wires of a small plot of private and hidden relationships.

Resorting to insult against the clergy in the first case, and to the paranoia of plagiarism and cults in the second one, has never helped to solve the problem. It is undeniable instead that eliminating the privileges of certain majority groups and getting some minorities to get out of the darkness, one would be meeting at the same time both the equal opportunities and the identification of responsibilities, individual or collective they may be.

An example is the problem of Islamic extremism. Discriminating the entire confession and hindering freedom of worship did not bring any benefit, and yet policy in that direction is still being pursued. The history of groups who have gained the treaty with the government tells us instead that the first ones not wanting extremisms or abuses within them are precisely those movements who had to wait for years to achieve recognition and being able to grant their members the practice of worship without restrictions, thus developing the strongest antibodies.

It is not very wise to close down mosques forcing the faithfuls to gather in a basement, if one wants to hinder the recruitment of international terrorism because, in any case, the problem is the darkness. And this applies to all forms of violation of human rights, even in the religious sphere, both at the expense of religious organizations and when they are perpetrating these abuses. The antidote to darkness is, of course, sunlight: the regularization, the transparency.

A law for religious freedom in which the rights of individual believers, non-believers and atheists are equally protected and religious and spiritual groups have the same rights and duties. Alternatively, we can keep the Fascist legislation on allowed faiths still in force, or restore it further, given the results, by reintroducing the crime of plagiarism wanted by Rocco code: but it is probably better to leave similar thesis to the anti-cult groups and to those who nostalgically looks back at the Fascist era.

The current reality? The "anti-cult" Catholic priest committed to defend ourselves from "cults" as a referent of the special team of the State Police holds annual meetings at the University Regina Apostolorum of the Legionaries of Christ, the religious group who shook John Paul II off due to the inconceivable amount of sexual abuses on children perpetrated by the founder and not only, still under investigation by the Vatican. Is this the way anti-cult groups would protect us from abuses?

Camillo Maffia