Hadden response

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Jeffrey Hadden's responses to questions about his "Memorandum to Social scientists concerned about forensic and related issues dealing with New Religious Movements", on behalf of Eileen Barker and David Bromley, of December 10-12 1989, which was leaked October 7, 1998.

To: Multiple recipients of list <nurel-l@listserv.ucalgary.ca>

Subject: Re: Response to Hausheer

From: "Jeffrey K. Hadden" <jkh8x@server1.mail.virginia.edu>

Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 15:24:02 GMT

The site Mr. Hausheer linked in his posting below contains a memo that I wrote sometime in the late 1980s. It was a private communication to approximately 12-15 persons who had met privately at a professional meeting to consider what, if anything, social science scholars could or should do to "neutralize" the activities of several anti-cultists. We ended up doing what academics seem to do best: we published a book.

The two volumes, edited by David Bromley and myself, were published in the JAI Religion and Social Order series under the title THE HANDBOOK OF CULTS AND SECTS IN AMERICA in 1993.

While I certainly had no idea that my communication would end up a few weeks later in a British newspaper, there was never any secretive intent. Indeed, the background of the initial meeting, and how that meeting led to the HANDBOOK, is fully detailed in the Introduction to the first volume.

The ideas set forth in the infamous memo are mine and mine alone. I assumed the role of secretary for myself, Bromley and Eileen Barker. Had I any idea that the memo would circulate beyond the small group, I would have been more explicit in communicating what I'm sure the initial recipients understood -- the comments were my interpretation of our meetings, and not necessarily a consensus of the three parties. As it turned out, we did disagee. Those disagreements were noted in marginal comments written by the person whose copy ended up in the hands of the newspaper. The newspaper chose to ignore the marginal notes which made clear a strong difference of opinion.

This memo, it seems, has had a life something like the petition of Jeremy Lansman and Lorenzo Milan to the US Federal Communications Commission in 1974. Twenty-five years later, the Lansman and Milan petition is still circulated in evangelical churches and millions of letters of protest still flow to the FCC every year. Most of the people who have sent letters or petitions believe they are standing up against a campaign by Madalyn Murry O'Hair to remove all religious broadcasting from the airwaves.

While we are obviously dealing on a much smaller scale, my sense is that the overwhelming majority of people who have posted by memo have no more idea what it was about than the millions of well intentioned evengelicals who continue to seek to save the airwavews for atheism.

I welcome Mr. Hausherr's inquiry. It is the first time in more than a decade that the posters of this memo have bothered to invite my comment.. Unfortunately, Mr Hausherr's inquiry is very general. I don't feel it would be appropriate for me to write a long discourse on the content of my memo, along with my recollections of why I make each comment. If Mr. Hausherr might choose to direct specific questions, I would be pleased to address them in this NUREL forum. I extend this offer unconditionally, but with the request that Mr. Hausheer would have the courtesy to publish my full response with any commentary he might post on the internet, be it on his web site or some other forum.


On Sun, 11 Oct 1998 16:13:37 GMT Tilman Hausherr

<tilman@berlin.snafu.de> wrote: At the end of the 80ies, a few "social scientists", some of them on this list, came up with the idea to neutralize "project recovery" of the American Family Foundation (a project helping people recovering from cult involvement) and the "anti-cult movement" as a whole.

Luckily neither AFF nor the "project recovery" nor the "anti-cult movement" have been "neutralized", although CAN no longer exists in its current form.

The instigators of this plans made a mistake... they put down these plans in writing, and passed it around... to people who passed them around... and around.. and around... and on the internet:


I would like know what the people mentioned in the paper think about their activities today.


[mailing list footer deleted]

To: Multiple recipients of list <nurel-l@listserv.ucalgary.ca>

Subject: Re: "Prejudice" toward anti-cultists

From: "Jeffrey K. Hadden" <jkh8x@server1.mail.virginia.edu>

Date: Sun, 18 Oct 1998 00:13:49 GMT

In his comments on my response to Mr. Hausheer, Mr. Gonnet accuses me of "prejudice" against anti-cultists. In response, let me share a personal story which I hope will be helpful in understand how I feel about this charge.

In 1972 I moved from Tulane University in New Orleans to the University of Virginia. Some time during my first year in Charlottesville I had a conversation with a young colleague about "cults."

In the course of that conversation, I said things that led him to calmly say to me, "you sound like a real religious bigot." This was shocking to me because I had always considered myself to be a strong defender of religious freedom. I had been a participant in the civil rights movement, and had always believed that religious freedom and social justice were inextricably bound.

To be called a religious bigot did not go down well. His sincerity carried the day over my immediate anger. As a pondered what I had said, I slowly began to understand why he had called me a bigot as well as the roots of personal experience that led to to express viewed that deserved to be called bigotry.

While I was a faculty member at Tulane, I lived on the campus and immediately across the street from Audubon Park. The park was a major handout for counterculture youth who were not Tulane students. I also had a 16 year old daughter who thought the park was about the most wonderful place in the world to spend a week-end afternoon. In this time frame, I saw a "cult" movie which depicted horrible things that happened to a young woman who had gotten caught up with a religious group.

Almost without my recognizing it, that movie instilled incredible fear about my daughter going off to the park. I was conscious of my concern about drugs, but with the benefit of hindsight, I realize I feared even more the strange religious activities that seem to be all over the place.

It took the shock of someone calling me a bigot to begin to realize how that movie had subtly poisoned my mind.

A good many more years passed before my attention turned to cults and sects as a topic for intellectual inquiry. When I did, I know that I approached the task with a more open mind than I would have if that young colleague had not been honest with me.

At the time, that young colleague was not a scholar of religious movements. That occurred after he left Virginia. Today, he is one of the leading authorities in the world on religious movements. I have learned immeasurably from his scholarship, but I am even more indebted for his courage to call me a bigot when that label was deserved.

Now comes Mr. Gonnet, accusing me of prejudice against anti-cultists.

No, Mr. Gonnet, I am not prejudiced against anti-cultists. Prejudice, without offering a full etymological discourse, means to "pre-judge."

There is no pre-judgment whatsoever in my assessment. I have experienced the pain of having my own mind temporarily warped by those who preached hate against those who believe differently than they. I have read the literature on the anti-cult movement now for almost two decades. And for approximately the last four years, I have observed and studied the rhetoric of anti-cultists on this and other internet locations.

I have also observed their utter lack of interest in serious dialogue. And I have personally felt the distress of seeing anti-cultists post lies about me and, more importantly, lies about persons I believe to be courageous in standing up to the bigotry, hatred and prejudice of anti-cultists in defense of religious liberty.

I do not doubt that some anti-cultists have had very bad experiences in religious groups before they have left to take up the role of apostate. I also know that many people have bad experiences in every other institution in human culture. And in every instance, most people get over their anger and hurt and pain and get on with their lives.

Anti-cultists have created a cultural myth that portrays the bad experience of engagement in a religious group as somehow special and different from all the rest of the bad experiences people have. This myth is only believable within the context of the presuppositions of "mind-control," by whatever name it may be called.

I'm sorry, but I have read practically every article and book that has ever been written on this subject. I find the mind control thesis to be totally lacking in empirical support.

Yes, I believe that some people influence other people in ways that I cannot personally approve. But that belief does not justify the creation of a myth which damns people and behaviors I don't like.

My sentiments toward anti-cultists is one of profound disappointment and, perhaps a naive hope that they might one day see that the intellectual presuppositions of their beliefs are grounded in sand.

I shall always remain open to serious exchange of views. It seems clear to me, however, that you, and a few other persons who frequent this page, are not interested in serious intellectual dialogue.

Jeffrey K. Hadden

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