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Cult Apologists | Cult Defenders

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Definition: Cult Apologist

Apologetics is the study and practice of the intellectual defense of a belief system. An apologist is someone "who speaks or writes in defense of a faith, a cause, or an institution."  (1) 

A cult apologist is someone who consistently or primarily defends the teachings and/or actions of one or more movements considered to be cults - as defined sociologicallyoffsite and/or theologically.  (6) 

Note that the term ''cult apologist'' is technical, and not (as some of them claim) derogatory - in the same sense that cult defender Massimo Introvigne mentions ''... apostates' (a technical, not a derogatory term).''  (2) 

Alternative terms used include: ''cult defenders,'' ''cult sympathizers.''

Cult apologists generally defend their views by claiming to champion religious freedom and religious tolerance. However, they tend to be particularly intolerant toward those who question and critique the movements they defend.  (3) 

Some cult apologists and their supporters (including, sadly, a handful of Christians  (7) ), spend much time and energy attacking the very term "cult apologist." It is telling that, for the most part, they refuse to deal with the very serious issues surrounding cult apologists. These issues include (but are not limited to):


Two Kinds of Cult Apologists

Basically, there are two kinds of cult apologists:

  • those who themselves belong to a cult (and who promote their group's teachings and practices, while defending them against outside criticism) (5) 
  • those who do not belong to any of the groups they defend.
It should be noted that just as anticult- and countercult professionals operate from different perspectives, cult apologists do so as well.  (3) 

Some of them are motivated by theological convictions, while others are mostly interested in sociological considerations. Sometimes their concerns overlap, but while both tend to promote religious freedom, they usually do so for different reasons.

At this point, a brief look at the basic distinctions between anticult- and countercult movements will be helpful.

Distinctions Between Anticult- and Countercult Movements

Anticult organizations and invididuals generally fight cults for reasons other than theological ones.

Countercult organizations and invididuals usually oppose cults for religious, doctrinal reasons. Most operate from an orthodox, Christian perspective. Their intend is to educate Christians and non-Christians on the dangers of heretical movements (sometimes referred to as ''boundary maintenance''), to help Christians counter the theological claims of such groups (for the purpose of ''boundary maintenance'' and/or evangelism), and to provide cult-members with information that may help them leave those movements (often, but not always, including a presentation of the Christian gospel) .

Since they operate from different perspectives, anticult and countercult professionals do not always agree on what constitutes a cult. The former evaluate movements using sociological criteriaoffsite, while the latter do so using theological standards.

Not surprisingly, this sometimes leads to different conclusions. For example, some anti-cultists see Mormonism as just another form of Christianity, while Christians consider it an heretical cult of Christianity.

Often, though, concerns overlap. For instance, a movement like the International Churches of Christ is considered cultic by those who evaluate it sociologially, as well as by those who consider theology only.

Note that Christian countercultists are more apt to also look at a movement's sociological aspects, whereas non-Christian anticultists are - understandably - not nearly as willing to include theological considerations.  (4) 

A third group of organizations or individuals claims to provide "value-free," "neutral," or "non-sectarian" information. This is a mixed bag. It includes
  • organizations run by cult apologists, who seldom - if ever - acknowledge the sociological and/or theological problems with the movements they study. (If and when they do make note of them, those problems generally are glossed over or minimized). Often, these type of organizations appeal to "academic" standing.
  • organizations that attempt to act like "consumer information agencies." They let people know what's available, but tend to refrain from making value judgements. Thus they are as likely to send someone to a cult, as they are to send someone to an exit counselor.
  • interfaith organizations that affirm the legitimacy and equality of all religions.
  • government task forces, or organizations set up on the recommendation of such task forces. Having acknowledged and studied the cult problem, these organizations act much like "consumer protection agencies."
Cult apologist organizations divide the latter into two categories, of which they consider one to be more neutral than the other. They rail against those government task forces that include information from anticult- or countercult organizations in their evaluations, and reluctantly "praise" the ones whose evaluations are, or appear to be, more in line with those of cult apologists themselves.

Cult Apologists' Problems with the Anticult Movement

Cult apologists generally chide or attack the anticult movement for using what they consider to be baseless arguments against cults (e.g. controversial issues like mind control, concern over illegal activities, unethical recruitment practices, excessive control over personal freedoms, etc.)

Cult apologists tend to
  • claim that most cults are misunderstood - but legitimate - minority "religions"
  • claim that these movements only seem weird because people don't know enough about them,
  • claim that anticult organizations and individuals misrepresent the beliefs and practices of such movements
  • claim that negative information about cults comes mostly from disgruntled former members with an ax to grind.
  • claim that anticult organizations are 'anti religious freedom.'

Cult Apologists' Problems with the Countercult Movement

Cult apologists chide or attack the counter-cult movement, which largely consists of Christian ministries, for believing it alone - using the Bible as its standard - can determine what does and does not constitute religious truth in general, and Scriptural orthodoxy (as apposed to heresy) in particular.

Christians have a Biblical mandate to discern between truth and error; between orthodoxy and heresy. While most people understand why Christians reject religious pluralism - in the sense that more than one religion can be said to have the truth (way to God, salvation, etcetera) - cult apologists label this exclusivism as "intolerance" or "bigotry."

Ironically, while Christian exclusivism does not sit well with them, they tend to overlook similiar exclusivistic claims by the movements they defend.

Example: AUM and cult apologists

After the 1995 gas attacks committed by Aum Shinrikyo, some American cult defenders - on a trip to Japan paid for by the cult - declared that the group could not have produced the Sarin poison gas. Mercifully, these blind guides have thus far refrained from meddling in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist acts.

One of the Americans, James Lewis, told a hostile and evidently incredulous roomful of Japanese reporters gathered at an Aum office Monday that the cult could not have produced the rare poison gas, sarin, used in both murder cases. He said the Americans had determined this from photos and documents provided by Aum.

He was accompanied by two Santa Barbarans - J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religions, and James R. Lewis, director of the Association of World Academics for Religious Education--and Thomas Banigan of Anver Bioscience Design Inc. in Sierra Madre.
Source: Alleged Persecution of Cult Investigatedoffsite, Los Angeles Times

Another claim by the AUM apologists is that the trip to Japan was initiated and financed by AUM 'dissidents,' shocked by the acts of their leaders. The reality is that the trip was initiated by the NRM scholars involved, who contacted AUM to offer their help, and that there are no AUM dissident. As of 1999, AUM Shinrikyo is alive and well, one and indivisible, the members united in their loyaly to Shoko Asahara, and this includes the alleged dissidents who hosted our collegues in 1995.
Source: Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Collaborationism and Research Integrity, Part 1, Chapter 1 of Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 36

Their Tactics

Cult apologists employ a number of tactics in their fight against the anti-cult and counter-cult movements.

    Appeal to Academic Position
Some academic cult apologists attempt to create a credibility gap between themselves and what they refer to as "so-called 'cult experts'" or "self-proclaimed 'cult experts'." In doing so they try to create the false impression that a) there are no - or few - academics within the anticult- or countercult movements, and b) that one can not be an expert without being credentialed.

    Appeal to Religious Position
Some cult apologists are theologians, and some even act as ministers. Incredibly, a few claim to be Christians. Don't let titles and positions fool you. Keep in mind what the Bible says about people who claim to represent God, but who support and promote false teachings:

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

    Attacks on apostates
Among the most dangerous challenges to the work of cult apologists is the testimony of ex-cult members (apostates). Therefore, cult defenders claim that apostates can not be relied upon to tell the truth (e.g. this statement by J. Gordon Melton, and this one by Lonnie Kliever).

However, professor of psychology Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi states:

Recent and less recent NRM catastrophes help us realize that in every single case allegations by hostile outsiders and detractors have been closer to reality than any other accounts. Ever since the Jonestown tragedy, statements by ex-members turned out to be more accurate than those of apologists and NRM researchers.

    Attacks on their critics
Increasingly, cult apologists and their defenders spend much time and energy attacking their critics, while refusing to deal with the issues their critics draw attention to.

    Dismissal of brainwashing/mind control theories
A second serious challenge to the work of cult apologists is the fact that people sometimes can be influenced to do things that go against their nature, rational beliefs and common sense. Cult defenders vehemently oppose brainwashing and mind control theories.

Yet other sociologists clearly recognize the 'social and psychological forces' unleashed by cults:

I am not personally opposed to the existence of NRMs and still less to the free exercise of religious conscience. I would fight actively against any governmental attempt to limit freedom of religious expression. Nor do I believe it is within the competence of secular scholars such as myself to evaluate or judge the cultural worth of spiritual beliefs or spiritual actions. However, I am convinced, based on more than three decades of studying NRMs through participant-observation and through interviews with both members and ex-members, that these movements have unleashed social and psychological forces of truly awesome power. These forces have wreaked havoc in many lives - in both adults and in children. It is these social and psychological influence processes that the social scientist has both the right and the duty to try to understand, regardless of whether such understanding will ultimately prove helpful or harmful to the cause of religious liberty.

Social scientists seeking to debunk the brainwashing conjecture have often spoken as if extensive research has already been done on the behavior of cult participants and as if definitive conclusions could now be formed. And, indeed, there has been a great deal published concerning cults in the past ten years. However, a close examination of this vast quantity of writings shows that it is based upon a very skimpy body of actual data. Most of the best research that has been done consists of ethnographic monographs on single NRMs, and all of this remains to be synthesized. The few epidemiological or other comparative and quantitative studies have most often been based upon small sample sizes and unrepresentative samples.69 I also think some researchers have been naive in underestimating the ability of cults to put a favorable spin on research findings by "helping" social science investigators get in touch with subjects to be interviewed. At the other end of the spectrum, samples based upon psychiatric outpatient lists are similarly biased.

My work on the subject as well as that of Richard Ofshe, Marybeth Ayella, Robert Cialdini, Amy Siskand, Roy Wallis, Philip Zimbardo, and others has never been directly confronted, much less refuted by sociologists of religion. Rather it has been defamed,ridiculed, or ignored. There has been a sophisticated and subtle form of intellectual bullying by an entrenched majority within the discipline of a small minority composed of both sincere scholars and academic opportunists.

Additional excerpts from Zablocki's article can be read hereoffsite.

The Apologetics Index position on brainwashing and/or mind control is shown here.

    Semantics Games
Cult apologists don't like the word "cult." They say that the word has taken on negative connotations, and claim it is generally used pejoratively. Therefore, instead of educating the public on the proper meaning of the term, they promote the use of what they consider to be more neutral terms. These include New Religious Movements (NRMs), Alternative Religious Movements (ARMs), or simply Religions. (They'll use the term "cult" in their marketing efforts, though. Check their self-produced site descriptions in search engines, and take a look at their META tags).

Leo Pfeffer's illogical and inaccurate statement on religions, sects and cults is often quoted by cult apologists in their efforts at redefining terms.

Too, cult apologists sometimes claim that counter-cult professionals are "anti-religion" - a ludicrous lie that demonstrates the length to which these cult defenders will go in their deceit.

» Click here or definitions of terms such as 'cult' and 'sect,' including additional information on their history and usage.

    Behind-The-Scenes Maneuvering and Collaborationism
A few years ago, a confidential, 1989 memooffsite resurfaced - now online - showing how Jeffrey K. Hadden and other sociologists discussed ways to "neutralize" activities of the American Family Foundation and other anti/counter-cult organizations. The memo is referred to in Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's report, "Integrity and Suspicion in New Religious Movement Research."

To illustrate and discuss the ideology of collaborationism we are going to look at a couple of pages from the memo written by Jeffrey K. Hadden on 20 December, 1989. This memo has been widely circulated and can be found on the Internet, but I thought it worthwhile to present it. It is significant that this memo was sent to numerous collegues, and was not kept secret. That author's assumption was that there was nothing to hide, because of the overwhelming support for his point of view. I know that some of our collegues do prefer a no-name policy, and just want me to say 'a prominent sociologist of religion.' I have used this kind of language before, but today I decided that I must use full names first because scholars should he held accountable for their actions. One important reason to look at this text is that Jeffrey Hadden is by no means a marginal figure. Some of his colleagues have been trying to tell me that he is some kind of loose cannon ... At the same time, Hadden has not directly researched some of the groups he is willing to defend.
Source: Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Collaborationism and Research Integrity, Part 1, Chapter 1 of Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 45,46

Another example of collaboration is James R. lewis' Association for World Academics for Religious Education (AWARE):

AWARE, led by James R. Lewis, has become a contractor for operations that can no longer claim any semblance or resemblance to research. One symptomatic product of the post-Waco NRM consensus is the Lewis volume titled From The Ashes: Making Sense of Waco (1994a). It seems like a typical apologetic pamphlet, a collection of 47 statements, authored by 46 individuals and 3 groups. Of the 46 individuals, 34 are holders of a PhD degree, and 19 are recognized NRM scholars. One cannot claim that this collection of opinion-pieces is unrepresentative of the NRM research network; quite the contrary. Most of the top scholars are here. The most significant fact is the participation by so many recognized scholars in this propaganda effort. In addition to From The Ashes we now have Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective (Lewis and Melton 1994a), and Sex, Slander, and Salvation: Investigating the Children of God / The Family (Lewis and Melton 1994b). The last two are clearly made-to-order PR efforts (with a few scholarly papers which got in by honest mistakes on the part of both authors and editors). The Family and Church Universal and Triumphant were interested in academic character witnesses, and many NRM scholars were happy to oblige. Balch and Langdon (1996) provide an inside view of how AWARE operates by offering a report on the fieldwork, if such a term can be used, which led to the AWARE 1994 volume on CUT (Lewis and Melton 1994a). What is described is a travesty of research. It is much worse than anybody could imagine, a real sellout by recognized NRM scholars. Among the contributors to the Family volume we find Susan J. Palmer, James T. Richardson, David G. Bromley, Charlotte Hardman, Massimo Introvigne, Stuart A. Wright, and John A. Saliba. The whole NRM research network is involved, the names we have known over the past thirty years, individuals with well-deserved reputations lend their support to this propaganda effort. There must be some very good reasons (or explanations, at least) for this behavior. The PR documents produced for groups such as Church Universal and Triumphant or The Family are but extreme examples of the literature of apologetics which has dominated NRM research for many years.

Another aspect of these cases is that the reporting of financial arrangements is less than truthful. The fact that CUT financed the whole research expedition to Wyoming is not directly reported. We least that CUT provided only room and board, while AWARE covered all other costs (Lewis, 1994). The fact that The Family volume was financed by the group itself is never reported anywhere, although it is clear to the reader that the whole project was initiated by Family leaders (Lewis 1994c). The Family volume has been recognized for what it is: a propaganda effort, pure and simple, paid for by the group (Balch 1996).
Source: Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Collaborationism and Research Integrity, Part 1, Chapter 1 of Misunderstanding Cults (University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 48,49

    Government Lobbying
Cult apologists and their organizations are marketing themselves to governments and government organizations by offering their advice and/or by positioning themselves as watchdogs for religious freedom. A prime example is CESNUR.

    Legal Aid
Some cult apologists help cults by presenting (paid) expert testimony at legal trials, in which they try to discredit the testimony of sociologists, scholars, cult experts and former cult members.

Avid cult defender J. Gorden Melton, who claims to be an evangelical Christian, even helped the Local Church - theologically, a cult of Christinity - in its legal attack on the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. Though Melton admits that he does not know how to tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy, he actually gave the cult a clean bill of health. (See commentary on this case)

    Legal Threats
Like some of the cults they support, cult apologists have used and abused the legal system in their fight against those who dare critique them.

For example: An exposé by David Reed caused CESNUR to threathen legal action against him (and later also against Apologetics Index, as well as against the original recipient of a letter forwarded to Reed).

CESNUR also tried to censor a web site critical of its activities.

Note: When threathened, pushed or otherwise intimidated, a) always consult a lawyer,
b) document everything, and c) let your peers know what is taking place. While some cult apologists do nothing more than bluff, it is important to expose their activities to daylight.

Two news groups where such threats may be reported are:

    Misrepresentation and/or Bias
While cult apologists frequently chide cult experts in anticult- and countercult movements for allegedly misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of cults and sects, cult defenders themselves have regularly been caught in blatant misrepresenation and/or bias.

From the claim by James Lewis, J. Gordon Melton and others, that Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo - a terrorist group - was innocent of criminal charges in the poison gas attacks and could not have produced Sarin, to Melton's claim that the Local Church, a cult of Christianity is an orthodox movement, cult defenders often are dead wrong and refuse to correct their errors.

This problem is addressed in Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi's article, Dear Colleagues: Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research, and is documented extensively by Stephen Kent and Theresa Krebs in their paper, Alternative Religions and Their Academic Supporters. See also, The Farce Revealed: Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective, by Peter Arnone

Beit Hallahmi writes:

Something like a party line has developed among NRM scholars about the way NRMs are described and analyzed. This consensus is responsible for a new conformity which seems to put strict limits on researchers' curiosity. This it has also led to advocacy, as in the cases of Aum Shinrikyo and David Koresh, public expressions of support for an NRM in conflict with its environment. NRM researchers engaged in advocacy are expressing a feeling and a reality of partnership and collaboration with NRMs in a common cultural struggle.

It is not a question of some loose cannons on the margins of the research community. What we have is not an ''activist'' minority and a silent majority, but a supportive, collaborating majority. Our colleagues are entitled to many presumptions of innocence, but not just doubts but pieces of evidence are piling up. I personally feel embarrassed, ashamed, and betrayed. In light of what we have witnessed we are forced to re-read, our eyes fresh with suspicion, the whole corpus of NRM literature.

Cult defenders also tend to misrepresent the anticult- and countercult movements (as well as invididuals within these movements). One way they attempt to marginalize or dismiss these movements is by - ironically - misrepresenting their beliefs and practices. A prime example, is the paper From Parchment to Pixels: The Christian Countercult on the Internetoffsite, by rising cult apologist Douglas Cowan  (1) . Cowan's comments on Anton Hein, publisher of Apologetics Index, are addressed here. Matt Slick, who operates CARM counters Cowan hereoffsite, especially paying attention to Cowan's perculiar - and clearly biased - choice of words in describing organizations and inviduals. See also these commentsoffsite by CARM's Matt Paulson. One can only wonders why an academic like Mr. Cowan persists in misreprensenting people and issues he writes about.

Some cult apologists go a step further. For example, on a Christian mailing list, one amateur cult-apologist with a particular interest in defending Jehovah's Witnesses - theologically, a cult of Christianity - blatantly lied in response to a statement I made.I wrote:

The vast majority of anti-cult and counter-cult professionals support freedom of religion. What we object to, however, is physical, mental and/or spiritual abuse.
Source: Anton Hein, Message to CHRISTIA (bit.listserv.christia), Feb. 4, 1999. Message ID: 36be9da6.45499933@smtp.xs4all.nl

Mr. Hardy's response:

The problem is however that there is no proof of such abuse. Rather people like you attempt to manufacture it to sustain your cottage industry.
Source: Barry L. Hardy, Message to CHRISTIA (bit.listserv.christia), Feb. 5, 1999.

It is somewhat ironic to hear a law student lie by suggesting someone he disagrees with manufactures evidence. Sadly, there is of course ample, documented proof of cult abuse - much of which is documented throughout this site. That includes - but is not limited to - killing people with poison gas, like Aum Shinrikyo did; engaging in hate- and harassment activities, like Scientologists do; encouraging people to commit suicide, like (among others) Heaven's Gate did; heavy-handed 'discipling,' such as employed by the International Churches of Christ; or forbidding members to obtain proper medical care, such as Jehovah's Witnesses do.

Despite Hardy's claim, I do not earn any money from apologetics and countercult work, and thus am not interested in maintaining an alleged "cottage industry."

Not all cult apologists are such blatant liars or have such a poor grasp of facts, but the record shows that most of them misrepresent important issues in their eagerness to defend cults.

Their Funding

Benjamin Zablocki on the funding of research on NRMs:

(...) With regard to finances, a major obstacle toward the sort of progress desired is the cloud of secrecy that surrounds the funding of research on NRMs. The sociology of religion can no longer avoid the unpleasant ethical question of how to deal with the large sums of money being pumped into the field by the religious groups being studied and, to a lesser extent, by their opponents. Whether in the form of subvention of research expenses, subvention of publications, opportunities to sponsor and attend conferences, or direct fees for services, this money is not insignificant, and its influence on research findings and positions taken on scholarly disputes is largely unknown. It is time to recognize that this is an issue of a whole different ethical magnitude from that of taking research funding from the Methodists to find out why the collection baskets are not coming back as heavy as they used to. I know there will be great resistance to opening this can of worms, but I do not think there is any choice. This is an issue that is slowly but surely building toward a public scandal. It would be far better to deal with it ourselves within the discipline than to have others expose it. I am not implying that it is necessarily wrong to accept funding from interested parties, whether pro or anti, but I do think there needs to be some more public accounting of where the money is coming from and what safeguards have been taken to assure that this money is not interfering with scientific objectivity.
Benjamin Zablocki, The Blacklisting of a Conceptoffsite. Note: Article accessible only to subscribers of Nova Religio.

A Trojan Horse

Incredibly, there are currently some people within the Christian countercult movement who advocate the idea that Christians can learn from those academics and sociologists who are often referred to as 'cult apologists.'

For example, in his article, Tired of treading water: rediscovering and reapplying a missiological paradigm for 'counter-cult' ministryoffsite, John Morehead quotes one of today's foremost cult defenders:

In a January 2000 article from Missiology magazine J. Gordon Melton lamented:
''Of course, the counter-cult approach originated as an evangelism effort, but with that proving unfruitful, counter-cult spokespersons have now redefined their work as apologists and limited their public activity to boundary maintenance for the evangelical community.iii''
After summarizing his feelings on the results of a Christian response to NRMs, Melton concluded, ''Thus we have, by default, left the task to amateurish counter-cultists.''iv While we may be tempted to easily dismiss such criticism from a controversial figure in the sociological study of alternative religions, nevertheless, Melton raises a valid criticism.

Since he wrote that article, Morehead has founded the Sacred Tribes Journal, which is co-edited by Jon Trott (of Jesus People USA), Philip Johnson and John Morehead. The publication prominently links to cult apologists organization CESNUR, as well as the sites of Jeffrey K. Hadden and Irving Hexham.

I, the publisher of Apologetics Index, support a missiological approach myself. And I appreciate the work John Morehead, and EMNR - of which he is the current president - do (Note: Morehead stepped down in Jan. 2003). But I reject the notion that we can or should learn a missiologial (or any other) approach from cult defenders.

One problem with quoting Melton on 'a Christian response to NRMs' is that - despite his claims - Melton himself does not take a missiological (Christian or otherwise) approach to cults. At the very least, he does not do so in the sense in which evangelical Christians understand the term. That, by the way, is due in large part because while he claims to be an evangelical, his stated beliefs show that he is not. No wonder, then, that he indeed does not know the difference between orthodoxy and heresy:

And I have, not being a theologian -- and I make no claim to be one -- a difficult task in sorting through doctrinal questions to do an adequate theological analysis of most groups' beliefs. I'm a church historian with most of my theological work in historical theology, not systematics. That's part of where I'm coming from. I also have another problem...I have a problem as to where to draw the line -- what's heresy and what's evangelically kosher. What is acceptable doctrinal deviation?
Ron Enroth and J. Gordon Melton, Why Cults Succeed Where the Church Fails. Brethren Press, 1985, 1, 2 (Regarding this book, see this articleoffsite)

If J. Gordon Melton does not know how to tell orthodoxy from heresy, he is, for one thing, unable to determine whether or not a movement is a cult of Christianity. Thus Christians may well wonder on what basis he evaluates the theology of the movements he discusses.

But in light of his admission that he does not know where to draw the line, it is not surprising that Melton's approach has established him as a missionary for religious pluralism - rather than as a missionary for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus says:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. {16} By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? {17} Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. {18} A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. {19} Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. {20} Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. {21} ''Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.''

Aside from the theological problems in trying to learn a missiological approach from someone like Melton is that cult defenders also have a poor track record when it comes to their sociological approach. Their work on behalf of the cults does not exactly help people leave those movements. Instead, those who leave cults, along with those who try to educate the public about the dangers of such movements, are constantly attacked by these cult defenders.

Christians and non-Christians alike have only to examine the fruit (albeit by different standards; one theological, the other sociological) produced by cult apologists to understand that there is little we can learn from them - other than how not to approach cults.

The record shows that cult apologists are not interested in a) helping people leave cults, and/or b) acknowledging and preaching the exclusivistic claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to adherents of 'New' or 'Alternative Religious Movements.'

Thus neither the secular anticult- nor the Christian countercult movement can benefit much, if at all, from their input.

Where these sociologists are quoted, contribute to publications, or participate in conferences, care should be taken that they are not inadvertently provided with a platform from which to further their goals. Their opinions must be viewed in light of their efforts on behalf of cults, as well as their record of bias and misrepresentation. By failing to note this, some Christians are now welcoming a Trojan Horse.

About thecountercult.com / thecountercult.org

This page can also be reached under the domain names, thecountercult.com or thecountercult.org.  (Note that, since Apologetics Index is a Gospelcom.net Alliance Member, both of those domain names roll over into http://www.apologeticsindex.org/cultapologists/, whereas the page you are now viewing is shown as http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c11.html)

Here's why we also use the domain names "thecountercult.com/org" for this section of the site:

Currently Doug Cowan, a sociologist who sympathizes with - and supports - cult apologists and their agenda, spends much time and energy attacking what he erroneously refers to as "the countercult," or "the Christian countercult."

However, there is no such thing as a countercult.

There is a countercult movement.

Apologetics Index provides a wealth of information about - among other subjects - the Christian countercult movement; the ministries, the personalities, the experts (both lay and academic), the organizations and their perspectives.

We therefore decided to register the domain names thecountercult.com and thecountercult.org
  1. to prevent misuse, and
  2. for the benefit of people who are looking for information about the Christian countercult movement - as provided by a ministry that is part of said movement.


Non-Christian The Farce Revealed : Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective A critical look at the AWARE study, ''Church Universal and Triumphant in Scholarly Perspective,'' which was edited by cult apologists James R. Lewis and J. Gordon Melton
Secular Integrity and Suspicion in NRM Research by Prof. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
Secular When Scholars Know Sin Made available by permission from Skeptic Magazineoffsite, this article by Stephen A. Kent and Theresa Krebs addresses the problem of scholars being co-opted by alternative religions.


Secular Misunderstanding Cultsoffsite by Benjamin Zablocki (Editor), Thomas Robbins (Editor)
Misunderstanding Cults provides a uniquely balanced contribution to what has become a highly polarized area of study. Working towards a moderate 'third path' in the heated debate over new religious movements or cults, this collection includes contributions from both scholars who have been characterized as 'anticult' and those characterized as 'cult-apologists.'

The study incorporates multiple viewpoints as well as a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, with the stated goal of depolarizing the discussion over alternative religious movements. A prominent section within the book focuses explicitly on the issue of scholarly objectivity and the danger of partisanship in the study of cults.

The collection also includes contributions on the controversial and much misunderstood topic of brainwashing, as well as discussions of cult violence, children brought up in unconventional religious movements, and the conflicts between alternative religious movements and their critics. Unique in its breadth, this is the first study of new religious movements to address the main points of controversy within the field while attempting to find a middle ground between opposing camps of scholarship.

Benjamin Zablocki is a professor in the Sociology Department at Rutgers University.

Thomas Robbins is an independent scholar and lives in Rochester, Minnesota.
Source: University of Toronto Press

News Articles Database

» Database of archived news items
(Includes items added between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 31, 2002. See about this database)

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» Religion News Blogoffsite RNB logs current and archived news about religious cults, sects, alternative religions and related issues.


Non-Christian CESNUR Critical Pageoffsite Excellent collection of articles and research regarding cult apologetist organzation CESNUR


  1. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Company, Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. 1980.  (Back to text) 
  2. Massimo Introvigne, Religious Liberty in Western Europeoffsite, Iskcon Communications Journal, Dec. 1997  (Back to text) 
  3. See, for example, the mean-spirited approach taken by the Scientology-backed Cult Awareness Network, or the often taunting ridicule of the anticult movement as employed by CESNUR.  (Back to text) 
  4. That Christian countercult professionals consider sociological aspects in addition to theology is not surprising. It is said that bad doctrine leads to bad fruit behaviorally. While for the Christian, examining theology is a priority, he is not just concerned with whether movements or individuals "talk the talk," but also whether they "walk the walk."  (Back to text) 
  5. To a certain extend, everyone who belongs to a religious group promotes and defends the group's or movement's teachings. However, as the context shows, in this entry we indicate those who regularly engage (specialize) in the study and practice of apologetics(Back to text) 
  6. Note that some people (e.g. Douglas Cowan) defend - or cooperate with - cult apologists (Back to text) 
  7. Primarily those associated with Sacred Tribes Journal (Back to text) 

About this page:
Cult Apologists : What you should know about cult defenders
First posted: Jul. 7, 1997
Last Updated: Sep. 16, 2003 (Minor modifications Sep. 19, 2012)
Copyright: Anton Hein, Apologetics Index
Link to: http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c11.html
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