From time to time there are news in the media that reveal us violations of the law or unusual behavior on the part of the leaders or members of certain groups that are identified as sects. These also become present in our closest environment when someone comments that a friend, acquaintance or relative of someone has gotten into a sect.
What is a sect?
It depends, since there is a certain polysemy and the term can acquire different meanings. On the one hand, some religious groups and some people with a tendency to intransigence, use the term to refer to others. For Jehovah's Witnesses, all religions, including all variants of Christianity, are sects.. Only they are a non-sect. In other areas sect is spoken to refer to any (usually religious) minority group in its environment. No more. For example: "Afro-American sects in Brazil" or "the satanic sects of the Spanish Levante".
In politics, and increasingly for a few years, the accusation of sectarian is poured out to refer to rivals. It is a term that implies lack of objectivity, partisan bias, closeness, inability to dialogue with the adversary, etc.. But it does not in any way mean that the party accused of sectarian is a sect, nor that the sectarian politician is a leader or a member of a sect.
The usual use of the word sect attributes to it a series of connotations such as:
- The sect is an aggregate of people who relate to each other and who share the consciousness of belonging to the same group.
- The orientation of the sects is religious, although the possibility of other non-strictly religious interests is increasingly accepted: philosophical, personal well-being, ufological ... With reluctance, the concept of sect has also been applied to political organizations of small size and radicals , as well as to business organizations (especially some companies oriented to aggressive sales modalities).
- The sect is a scam: an organization that sells a fake product to obtain from its followers money, low-paid work, adulation or sexual favors.
- The creators of the sect are unscrupulous psychopaths who have set in motion an operation to take advantage of the unwary who fall into their networks.
- The sects take their children and their spouses away from their families.
- The followers of the sects are lunatics with extravagant beliefs, unpredictable and alien to society. To a certain extent, sects are not part of the society in which they are found.
- The sects are absorbent.
Some of the topics that are also associated with sects are issues such as tax evasion, sometimes mistreating their members or children, practicing promiscuity, mass suicide, etc.. These implications are, for the most part, correct. More or less they reflect a reality and certainly there are groups with that constellation of tendencies. An exception, however, must be made: when we say that the sect's beliefs are a mere forgerical invention of an unscrupulous impostor, how do we know? And if it's not that way? What if they really believe it? And what if their charisma does not depend so much on the capacity to manipulate as from the blind conviction in what they affirm? If all had been all a gross lie of the sectarian leader it would be expected that, sooner or later, one of these leaders would admit the deception. The lie could also be uncovered in other ways: writings evidencing fraudulent plans and maliciously drawn and premeditated or confessions collected by the closest disciples who would later make public after their disappointment. But this never happens.
On the other hand, the study of the biographies of the sectarian leaders, of their trajectory before being leaders, suggests several profiles, all of them more favorable to the model of the fanatic than the one of the connoisseur. These profiles are as follows:
- The one of the persistent activist who for a lifetime has struggled for a cause in which he has gradually acquired a leadership.
- The visionary, in the strictest sense of the term, who after an unexpected mystical experience (a revelation, a vision) begins a career as a preacher in which he manages to capture a nucleus of people who support him and surrender unreservedly to the new cause.
- The mental patient with a chronic delusional disorder of mystical-messianic content.
Why are sects attributed to a harmful and harmful character?
What explains the emergence, since the 1970s, of an anti-sectarian movement present in most Western countries through a network of associations? Why have legislative initiatives aimed at tackling the problem of sects emerged in the European Parliament and in various national and regional parliaments?
Because of their minority and marginal character, they do not represent a real danger to society as a whole: they neither threaten our legal and institutional framework nor economic stability. The risk that a sectarian group could seize political power is, at this moment, null.
The problem is, in fact, the great capacity of the sects to induce profound changes in their adherents, sometimes rapid changes that affect their own personal identity. The new sectarian personality is often inexplicable for relatives and friends, who have the impression that "it is no longer the same" and that this newly acquired personality is not the fruit of a spontaneous personal evolution, but the consequence of a undue influence, excessive and unnatural.
Behavior of the sectarian adept
Curiously, the sectarian adept denigrates his previous personality, in which he supposedly felt empty and unhappy, and speaks of a new state of happiness never experienced before. The adherents of some sects are always smiling and surrounded by a beatific aura (others would say that they are stunned). Now, after a few years, when they finally leave the group, these same former adepts explain that their happiness had a lot of self-deception, that it was false, and that it hid a personal suffering that they were forced to keep hidden. This is the first criticism that can be made of sectarian groups: they proclaim a happiness that ultimately turns out to be misleading.
The sectarian adept overcomes in the rest of the group members, in the leader, in their objectives and in the common activities, a passion, energy and a time that never stop growing. Sometimes he does so to the detriment of his sleep and his own health; of their family life, their social relations and professional performance. Family and affective relationships suffer, not only because of the objective amount of time devoted to the group but also because of emotional detachment. The interest, the effort and the availability for the work are equally diminished. In this way, the sectarian is without being, "with his head always elsewhere," as family members often say. In some cases the group offers a modus vivendi and, therefore, the possibility of giving itself in body and soul to the sect, completely breaking any link with the presectarian environment. Only when the sectarian decides to break with the group and return to his previous situation does he become aware of the damage done.
Characteristics of a sect
The sectarian groups induce in their adherents an absolute submission to the leader and to the figures of authority. The manifestations of this submission are manifold: obedience, servility, complete credulity with any statement from the leader, readiness to accept any form of exploitation or violence, etc.. It is, at bottom, a slavery accepted willingly. Unlike what happens with the true slave, submission does not come from manifest coercion or intimidation, but from an apparently voluntary process that takes place in the mind of the adept. Moreover, submission is such that the group need not insist on discipline. Adherents voluntarily execute any suggestion. They have parked their own initiative in some hidden place of their being and they confuse their free will with the obedience. Nothing despairs more to relatives who are unable to realize the obvious. Consequently, and although it sometimes does not seem so, sectarian militancy implies a renunciation of one's freedom.
Risks of sectarian behavior
Finally, there is a wide range of risks associated with specific behaviors induced by sectarian groups, which will vary from case to case. I am referring, for example, to the commission of crimes (with consequent harm to the victims as well as the risk of criminal consequences), to the display of unethical behavior according to criteria prior to entry into the sect. (almost always irreversible) of the personal assets of the group or the leader, the "kidnapping" of minors, the consequences derived from the deprivation of medical treatment or the administration of heterodox therapies, etc.
Finally, and to finish with a positive note, one must dismantle one of the topics that are often repeated: "he who enters does not leave". Sectarian militancy is not an irreversible phenomenon and the return to the previous situation often occurs as quickly and unpredictably as was the entry into the sect.
For more information, consult your psychiatrist .