As a parent, I am frightened. There seem to be
religious cults all over the place that seem to prey upon young adults. Yet I do
not want to discourage my young persons' efforts to define their own spiritual
paths. Can you offer any help?
There is indeed an abundance of religious cults around. In addition,
there appear to be cult-like groups that espouse forms of psychotherapy and
personal growth. What becomes increasingly clear is that it is not weak- minded
people who end up in cults. To some extent, we are all vulnerable.
As a parent, one key element is to establish an atmosphere of open
discussion as far as spiritual issues are concerned. Keep in mind that many
young people are disillusioned with organized religion and are looking elsewhere
for spiritual sustenance. The acceptance and open discussion of such doubts and
disillusionments at home makes it less likely that young people will turn
elsewhere for guidance on finding answers.
Second, learn something about cults. There are different definitions as
to what constitutes a cult. Our first thought is of a group such as the Moonies
or, more recently, Heaven's Gate. There are two facets of cults which are
especially noteworthy. Cults limit freedom of choice and cults do not tolerate
dissent. In other words, cults assault our capacity to think. This is why open
discussion within your family is the best line of defense. If you encourage your
young people to think for themselves instead of demanding blind adherence to a
specific doctrine, then they will be less vulnerable to cult-like influences.
Hopefully, your young people will feel free to bring to the table for
discussion any experiences they have had with religious points of view different
than your own. If so, encourage open discussion and critical thinking, the very
faculties cults tend to discourage. In other words, the best defense against
cult influences will happen around your dining room table.
Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist
in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology