Cult Friction in Ireland
The University Record (Trinity College of Dublin, Ireland), Week 4 Michaelmas Term 1998 Issue 3 Volume 2
By Kieran Galvin
The rise of religious cults appears to continue unabated. While there is nothing wrong with the growth of new religious movements, the motives of some of the more recent additions to the cult family have to be questioned. There are many cults that are allegedly using coercive persuasion and mind control techniques.
The International Churches of Christ is one such organisation. Despite having been banned from numerous college campuses for its aggressive recruiting techniques which some label mind control, the ICC’s newest venture has attracted about 200 members.
The ICC has a Dublin branch, the Dublin Church of Christ, located in Middle Abbey Street. A few years ago it was barred from the Trinity College campus with its in your face and often extremly intrusive recruiting techniques. At a recent Theological Society discussion in the GMB, Mike Garde compared the agents of the Church of Christ to vultures. Garde is the man behind Dialogue Ireland, an organisation which counsels those adversely affected by cults. One speaker at the Theo spoke of the difficulty he had in trying to break away from the Church of Christ. All members are required to donate 10% of their income to the Church.
A Belfast Telegraph article on 14 October reported how Queen’s University Church leaders were alarmed at the activity of the Church of Christ on campus. An Irish Mirror report last May identified the two co-founders of the Dublin Church of Christ as Nick and Zarah Isaccs. The report went on to describe the change the Church caused in a 20 year old girl and the misery and worry of her parents as a result. The Dublin Church of Christ believes only its members are going to heaven. All others are doomed to hell. One Church of Christ elder, John Partington, has denied targetting anyone, but instead expressed the desire of the Church to call people away from those dead religions. However, he claimed, that, wherever we go, the Students Unions and other people slander our Church.
Of course religious cults have in recent years managed to attain a certain level of respectability. Such Hollywood luminaries as John Travolta and Tom Cruise are adherents of the Church of Scientology. This not only gives Scientology respectability but it also associates the cult with success. If the rich and famous follow Scientology it must have some value, surely?
Of course there is no credible evidence of Scientology helping any individual to with life and its many vicissitudes. However there are many horrifying stories of Scientology related deaths. An American named Noah Lottick became a member of the Church of Scientology. His behaviour became extremly strange. He once remarked to his parents that his Scientology mentors could actually read minds. When his father suffered a major heart attack, Noah insisted that it was purely psychosomatic. Despite paying over #5,000 for Church counselling, Noah ended up killing himself. Before he became involved with Scientology, Noah was perfectly normal with no psychological difficulties.
Scientology may pose as a real religion but in reality it is nothing more than a devious and dangerous scam that allows unscrupulous individuals to gain financially often at the expense of people’s lives.
Mike Garde hit upon many of the reason for the growth of cults in Ireland. It is the lack of religious teaching in the Irish educational system means that many students and young people are easy fodder for cults. Religion is not studied or debated in any meaningful way in Ireland. Some have an almost blind loyalty to their religion while others become so disillusioned that they turn away from religion altogether. RTE have a religious and social affairs correspondent who looks at religion from a societal viewpoint while ignoring the religious. It is mostly not the individual correspondent’s fault but a fault of our secular society and its educational institutions that do not allow for adequate religious questioning and debate. Ireland is often seen as a religious country but the level of actual religiosity is low. The fact that people are turning away from mainstream religion in their droves should surprise nobody if they consider the lack of religious teaching and therefore religious knowledge in Ireland today.
The role of the media in Ireland in relation to religious matters is deserving of criticism. Gearoid Keegan’s dire warning about “cults” coming to Trinity College and other scare-mongering stories attracted many to the aforementioned Theo meeting. One hack from that quality Trinity broadsheet, the Trinity News, appears to be suffering from the same malaise that is rampant in Irish journalism. That is getting the story no matter what. She admitted as much beforehand. She went to the meeting to attempt to get an interview with the leader of some cult or other.
My favourite part of the speech was when he referred to journalists chasing stories. My journalistic friend sitting a mere two seats away from me was too busy writing notes for her scoop to appreciate the insight and downright common sense of his comment on the media. What many students and journalists alike would be better off doing is listening to the likes of Mike rather than paying heed to the exaggerated warnings of those intent on creating a stir. His speech was full of ironic humour with style and simplicity simultaneously. Garde’s speech is unlikely to be bettered at any college society event this year.
The fact that there is a lack of religious teaching in the Irish educational system can be seen from the fact that there is no faculty of religion in Trinity College. Mike made the point that perhaps it was the colonial influence of Britain and its lack of religious debate that led Ireland down this regrettable road. Some of Gardems statistics were worrying but it is for this reason that they should be heeded. For example, you have a much higher chance of being approached by the Dublin Church of Christ if you are a Trinity student.
It is very likely that the decline of the role of the Catholic Church as well as the increasingly secular and isolated nature of the modern materialist society are key factors in creating the gap that is gladly filled by such groups as the Church of Christ. I must remind my journalist friend that the story is always there regardless of whether the scavenging and unscrupulous hack goes looking for it or not.
Back to other media reports about the International Churches of Christ.