A Short Commentary by Massimo Introvigne


After the publication of the French Parliamentary Report on Cults "Les Sectes en France" (1996) a National Observatory of Cults was created with the aim of co-ordinating the cult-watching activities of the French government and to report yearly to the Prime Minister. The first yearly report, concerning the year 1997, has been published in June 1998 in a French anti-cult Web page. Its substance was known through a number of media articles. CESNUR has reposted it after correction of a number of typos, and the full text (in French) is now available on CESNUR's Web page. According to the anti-cult page this report is not (yet) "official" since it was signed only by the Observatory's president, M. Guerrier de Dumast, and not by the whole Observatory. A "truly official" report should follow shortly.

Be it as it may be, this is a very disturbing document for a number of reasons.

1. The report admits that it is impossible to define what a "cult" is (note that in French the derogatory word is "secte", but it serves the same function of the English "cult" and should be translated as "cult", not as "sect"). In this situation, the report continues to focus on the list of 172 "dangerous cults" included in the 1996 document "Les Sectes en France". The report says that a number of movements have asked to be removed from this list, but that the Observatory has no authority to do it because of the principle of the "separation of powers" (the Observatory is an emanation of the administrative power and cannot interfere with the legislative power that produced the 1996 parliamentary document). The movements who hoped to be removed from the list by the Observatory have thus be disappointed. The report implies that a cult is simply a religious group listed as such in the 1996 parliamentary document. While there is no way for a movement to be removed from the list, it is not excluded that new movements may be added. In fact, the report claims that there are in France "more than twenty" new cults (although their names are not mentioned). The Observatory is looking for cults particularly in the Evangelical world and in the New Age. It reports that its "full attention" has been focused on "the risk of a development on the national territory of a certain kind of Evangelical mass meeting, such as the 'healing and miracles crusade' that gathered a crowd of 15,000 at the Bourget in July 1997 to watch the exhibition of American televangelist Morris Cerullo".

2. The report has nothing good to say about the cults. If they have changed something -- or have engaged in charitable activities useful to the community and impossible to deny -- the Observatory concludes that it is a public relation activity or a cosmetic window-dressing in order to overturn the negative impact of the 1996 parliamentary report. Jehovah's Witnesses are particularly singled out in this respect. These apparently "good" activities only prove that the cults are smart. The authorities need to be even more careful.

3. On the practical side, the Observatory's aim is to co-ordinate any and all public and semi-public authorities in order to both "inform" about the evil of the cults and try to "limit" their activities. The list is long, and seems a war bulletin. The Ministry of Education should prevent cults from "infiltrating" schools, and be "careful" when a teacher is a member of a cult. The Ministry of Finances should make sure that cults are watched by the Revenue Service.

The National Order of Medical Doctors should fight cultists who happen to be doctors. Notaries Public should be careful when they are requested to enter a deed involving a cult or a cultist. Judges should be educated about how bad the cults are. Sport and youth groups should organize lectures about the evil of the cults. And so on and on.

4. On the doctrinal side, the report is a hymn to the French idea of "laïcité" or secular humanism. The only way of fighting cults is to spread through national education and school an education "secular humanist in essence".

5. Although the press reported that more extreme proposals were rejected, the Observatory asks the parliament for more support to the anti-cult movements, including ADFI, CCMM and the European anti-cult federation FECRIS. This money should noyt only come from the generous French taxpayers. It is also suggested that anti-cult movements may become a party in court cases involving cults and collect damages. This is regarded as a key step in the fight against cults.

6. The Observatory, although it met (the report says) with four respected scholars, shows no interest in understanding what the new religious movements really are and do. The verdict has already been rendered. They are evil. The Observatory (that includes some extreme anti-cultists such as the psychiatrist Jean-Marie Abgrall) admits that it has no operational definition of what a cult is. For all practical purposes, it regards as cults the 172 movements listed in the 1996 parliamentary report, and any other movement exposed as such by ADFI, CCMM or FECRIS (particularly in the Evangelical world, whose expansion is seen as a threat to the secular humanist ideology the Observatory is dedicated to promote).



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