Book Review - Les sectes en France

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1992, Volume 09, Number 1, pages 125. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Les sectes en France (Cults in France)

Centre de Documentation, d'Education, et d'Action Contre les Manipulations Mentales. 

Paris (France), 1991, 175 pages.

The Center for Documentation, Education, and Action Against Mental Manipulation (C.C.M.M.) was founded by Roger Ikor (who died in 1986), a famous French writer whose son committed suicide while following a macrobiotic cult. Like many organizations in the U.S. concerned about cults, C.C.M.M. focuses on actions rather than beliefs -- "the deed not the creed." In an introductory chapter, Ikor states that in fighting cults (the French word secte in this context is more properly translated as "cult" rather than "sect") "we fight specifically for the liberty and dignity of the human person."

According to Ikor, one of the objects of this book is to expose the concrete reality that lies beneath the idealistic masks cults create. This hypocrisy strengthens the cult leader's dictatorial power over his or her followers -- sometimes by means of an authoritarian, hierarchical organization. Inevitably, this situation results in an implicit, if not explicit, denunciation of the "fundamental values of modern civilization: critical thinking, tolerance, respect for the human person, democratic liberty, belief in the individual's will, initiative, action, and progress." Ikor concludes that besides the damage cults cause to individuals and family, they "represent an effort to destabilize our civilization in a profound way."

In the bulk of this book, Ikor's view of cults is applied toward specific groups studied by C.C.M.M. There are substantive analyses of 17 groups. Ranging in length from 6 to 15 pages, the analyses follow a similar structure: history, doctrine, practices, organization, propaganda, material power, and quotes from the leader. Most of the groups discussed are known in the U.S.; they include The Knights of the Gold Lotus, Family of Love, White Universal Fraternity, Invitation to the Intense Life, Hare Krishna, Mahikari, Transcendental Meditation, Unification Church, Raelien Movement, New Acropolis, Sahaja Yoga, Scientology, Nichiren Shoshu-Soka Gakkai, Sri Chinmoy, and Zen Macrobiotics. An additional 26 groups, about 50% of which appear to be indigenous to France, are covered in briefer, one- or two-page analyses.

C.C.M.M.'s structured compilation is very useful as a reference and as a practical way of comparing and contrasting groups. I wish that someone would translate it into English and adapt it to the North American scene. The book's usefulness would be enhanced if lists of available resources (articles, books, videos, organizations, persons) were provided for each group.

Les sectes en France also reports briefly on a survey C.C.M.M. conducted. Unfortunately, C.C.M.M. provides very little information bearing on the survey's methodology. Nevertheless, because we have so few quantitative data relevant to cultic studies, I would like to present some of the survey's findings.

Four percent of the respondents had a favorable attitude toward cults. Ten percent had friends or close relatives who belonged to cults. The following percentages had heard of these groups: Unification Church (81%), Jehovah's Witnesses (80%), Krishna (40%), Transcendental Meditation (40%), Church of Scientology (38%). Sixty-eight percent believed that cults were money-making machines, 59% believed they imperiled human rights, and 33% believed that cults sought to gain power in the country. Seventy-one percent did not feel sufficiently informed about cults.

When asked their opinions about what enables cults to exist, respondents listed, in descending order of preference: the world is too materialistic; people cannot live without absolutes or a meaning in life; the need to avoid daily life; the desire to find places where one can focus on essentials with other people in a fraternal manner.

Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.

Editor, Cultic Studies Journal

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1992