"Cult apologists" defend Raelians

CultNews.com/January 6, 2003
By Rick Ross

Some religious scholars don't like the word "cult" and prefer the more politically correct term "new religious movements" (NRMs), reports ABC News.

ABC said such scholars say "just because a belief system is young doesn't make it wrong."

This category of "new religions," according to the quoted scholars, includes the Raelians and Scientology.

Gordon Melton, director of the "Institute for the Study of American Religions" offered comments for the ABC piece, as did religious studies Professor Frank Flinn.

However, both men have a history of working closely with "cults." And they can be seen as "cult apologists."

Flinn has defended Scientology in court.

In one affidavit the professor submitted he stated, "It is my opinion that the spiritual disciplines and practices of the Church of Scientology are not only not unusual or even strange but characteristic of religion itself when compared with religious practices known around the world. Contrary to the generally second-hand opinions of outsiders and to the claims of disaffected members, whose motives are suspect."

However, compare Flinn's "second-hand" analysis to Time Magazine's "Scientology: The Cult of Greed."

First-hand accounts from former members are routinely dismissed as "suspect" by academics like Flinn.

But Benjamin Beit-Halami, Professor of Psychology at Haifa University said in his paper "Integrity and Suspicion in the Research of New Religious Movements," "Statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers."

And given Scientology's sordid history in court and criminal indictments how could Flinn characterize it as "not unusual or even strange"?

Benjamin Zablocki, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University concluded, "The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied...in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal."

Gordon Melton and Frank Flinn have both been the recipients of such funding and fees paid by groups called "cults."

Melton once flew to Japan to defend Aum, the cult that gassed Tokyo subways killing 12 and sending thousands to hospitals. Aum paid for all of his expenses. Melton's defense of Aum in retrospect now appears to be part of building "scandal," referred to by Zablocki.

Gordon Melton comes highly recommended by the Church of Scientology along with other "scholars" that are often referred to as "cult apologists." He has made a career largely from defending "cults."

Cult apology has become a substantial source of supplemental income for some academics. Such "religious scholars" and/or "forensic psychologists" work on paid reports or appear as expert witnesses for "new religious movements."

Perhaps it is actually people like Flinn whose "motives are suspect."


Copyright © 2003 Rick Ross.

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