Call of cults lures the needy in hard...

Call of cults lures the needy in hard economic times

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Since: Aug 11

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#1 Jul 9, 2012
MONTREAL—After the cult, who am I? It’s a question Katie Holmes may be asking, but in Montreal international cult experts are talking seriously about it.

Academics, ex-cult members and current cult members have come to the annual International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) conference to discuss everything to do with manipulation and victimization.
Topics include:“The wisdom and folly of intervention with cult members;”“The theft of the spirit,” and “Recovering your sexual self after the cult.”

Conference organizers say increasing public awareness of cultic activity is more important now than ever, a result of the hard economic times. With the Canadian unemployment rate at 7.3 per cent, and the U.S. numbers higher still, the siren call of the cult life is strong, they say.

“We’re in a recession and people are in rough financial situations,” ICSA president Lorna Goldberg said.“It adds a different factor, people are looking for a special answer, special tools.”

Goldberg, who works in New Jersey as a therapist, said she has seen a definite increase in patients who have turned to cults since the financial crash.

It is difficult to get an accurate estimate of the number of Canadians living in cults, said Marie-Andrée Pelland, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Moncton who has studied Mormon polygamists in British Columbia. The closest estimate could be around 64,000, the approximate number of Canadians who identified under “other religions” in the 2001 census, she said.

“We don’t have a registry, some groups are so small we don’t know they exist,” Pelland said.“Cultic relationships can occur everywhere.”

The conference is being held at the Holiday Inn, in Chinatown. Between the reception and restaurant, Chez Chine, is a koi pond and a pagoda decorated with red lanterns. The event is a highly anticipated one, renowned in the field for its eclectic mix of participants.

The Hibiscus room is host to a session for former cult members called “Coping with triggers.” Media was not permitted to attend.

“No, they really feel vulnerable at this point,” said Joseph Kelly, a “thought-reform” consultant who was once a member of two cults, Transcendental Meditation and the International Society of Divine Love.

“Having been in two groups myself, I know what it’s like,” Kelly said.

Triggers, powerful memories that recall cult life,“means God is trying to tell you to go back,” Kelly said.“When you get cognitive control over the source, it helps you overcome it.”

Later in the afternoon, Steve Eichel, a psychologist dressed in a Hawaiian print shirt, is introducing a seminar about sexual recovery in the ballroom.“I have to say I feel a little strange here, being a male introducing three women on a panel related to sexuality,” he said.

Carla Brown, director of the Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse, was the panel’s first speaker. Brown, a statuesque blond who resembles Ivana Trump, left a Christian cult eight years ago.

“After my miscarriages I felt I wasn’t useful to God any more, I started to realize I was traumatized,” she said.“Apart from being a breeder in this religious group, who was I? That thought began my recovery journey.”

Patricia Miller, another former cult member, said sex was important in the cult, and when she failed to perform, she said she was abused.

Following the last session of the day, conference-goers mingled by the koi pond, discussing Tom Cruise, the apocalypse and narcissism.

Goldberg, the ICSA president, shared a story about a young man who recently came to her support group. He was involved in a cult that promised financial success selling $1,000 encyclopedias.
The cult had identified an ideal recruit, Goldberg said.
“He was a graduate looking for a job,” she said. He was “perfect.”

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