FINAL REPORT OF THE ENQUETE COMMISSION ON "SO-CALLED SECTS AND PSYCHOGROUPS"
2. Phenomenological, Terminological and Conceptual Clarification of the Subject under Review
In the course of its work, the Commission found out first of all that different terms cover different (partial) aspects of the overall phenomenon. This point is discussed in greater detail below. Secondly, the Commission found out that not all the attributes ascribed to groupings that are referred to under the heading of "so-called sects and psychogroups" actually apply across the entire spectrum.
Many conflicts which will be described in this Report are conflicts with a relatively small percentage of groups from the overall spectrum; some of these conflicts are also of a temporary nature because they are typical of a certain stage of a group's development.
According to the
German Bundestag's decision to set up the Enquete Commission, the latter
has the duty to answer the question as to whether the way this
phenomenon has been dealt with in society in the past, and whether the
fact that certain organisations are generally referred to as "sects" or
"youth sects", is in keeping with reality and the need for an
appropriate debate in society. For this reason, it was necessary for the
Commission to deal with the terms "sect" and "youth sect". In some
sources in literature, the meaning of the term "sect" is also considered
to be a given fact. 1 ) In addition, there are other terms, some of
which emphasise other conceptual aspects: Fr. W. Haack has introduced
the term "youth religion". 2 ) Furthermore, the terms "cult" and
"destructive cult", which originated in the United States, have been
adopted in the German language
There are also other terms such as "new religion", "new religious movements", as well as the more neutral term "communities of special religious groups". Psychotherapeutically oriented enterprises, which are assumed to manipulate individuals psychologically, are also referred to as "psychocults" or "psychogroups". Groups with political objectives have also been termed "politico-religious youth sects". Information published by governmental agencies often use the terms "new religious and ideological movements" or put "so-called" before the words "sects" and "psychogroups", or put these words into quotation marks.
Hence - although it may appear to be self-evident - the term "sect" itself is ambiguous and thus problematic. 3 )
meanings of the term "sect"
term "sect" as used in scientific history
In a certain historical situation, Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch used various characteristics to develop "ideal-typical" definitions of the terms "Church" and "sect" for their studies of the history of Christianity and the associated development of "modern capitalism": while individuals are born as members of a Church, sects have to be joined; while a Church has a universal claim, sects only have a partial one; while the charisma of office-holders in a Church is usually inherent in their office, office-holders in a sect must have personal charisma, etc. 6 ) These definitions were developed on the basis of analyses of a given historical situation; hence, they are irrelevant for the problems dealt with by the Commission.
The colloquial use
of the term "sect", i.e. its use in the public debate, is highly
multifarious, and its scope is widening more and more. In public usage,
the term "sect" also denotes to religious content. In addition, the term
"sect" is also
used in colloquial language for groupings which are referred to as "new
religious and ideological movements" in literature. At the same time,
the public associates with this term groupings which lead to societal
conflicts of varying intensity, even if these groupings tend to pursue
political or psychotherapeutical objectives rather than being religious
or ideological in nature. Hence, there is no consistent distinction
between "sects" and "psychogroups" in colloquial language.
The colloquial use of the term leads to several difficulties. First of all, it is not possible to delineate this use linguistically from other meanings of the term "sect" so that if the term "sect" is used in the media for a given group (which is a correct term when used in its own theological context), there is a risk that this may create the impression that the group involved may be a source of conflicts.
Secondly, labelling a group with the term "sect" as used in colloquial language may suggest that the group is a source of conflict, that it makes its members dependent, or that it is dangerous in another way, although the members of the group or other individuals affected may have a different perception. Hence, the colloquial use of the term "sect" is not very precise in terms of its substance.
For these reasons, the Enquete Commission feels that this use of the term is highly questionable and will not use it in this Report unless qualified by quotation marks or the world "so-called".
In sociological and social science literature, a "sect" is defined -- with regard to the questions addressed here -- by the degree to which a group is in conflict with, in contrast, and in contradiction to its environment. 8 ) This understanding of the term as used by social scientists, which overlaps with the term's colloquial use by the general public, is the only relevant definition for this Report.
Based on the understanding of the term in the social sciences, a "sect" could be defined as a small, exclusive religious or ideological, scientific or political group which demands total commitment from its followers and which places special emphasis on the group's separation from, and rejection of, its environment. 9 ) Hence, a characteristic feature of a so-called "sect" is a special, extreme form of internal and external relations. The deliberate separation from its environment is a feature which generally applies to all the various aspects of the entire culture of the group or community.
However, the emphasis in defining the term "sect" varies, depending on which phenomena of this culture or what level of group interaction is studied from the outside in terms of this trait. If the focus is on the group's rejection of the conditions under which it lives in society - in particular the prevailing value system and the public legal system applied in theory and practice - the definition of the term "sect" will resemble the secular concept of a sect that prevails in the public debate. However, if the focus is on the rejection of the group's religious or theological environment (often primarily its own intellectual roots) at the level of faith and ideology, the definition of the term "sect" will resemble the one used in religious or theological studies. In this case, the tension between a community and its environment will be primarily determined by the history of its religion and ideas.
At any rate, the concept involved is always a so-called "relational concept", which describes the conflictual relationship between a minority and the surrounding society. Hence, the question as to whether a minority within a culture is referred to as a sect always also depends on the observer's own cultural vantage point and on value decisions.
In this context, it should be pointed out that tensions also arise from differences in the emphasis placed when defining the term "sect". There are some groups, for instance, which are classified as sects from a religious perspective, but which - from the point of view of the social sciences - are not perceived as sects (or at least not in the narrower sense), because of their relatively successful adjustment to the everyday life of the established society around them.
Due to the different origins of the term "sect" and its different interpretations, its use is very problematic, except in cases where the context has been clearly defined (e.g. in theology or in religious studies). It is hardly suitable for distinguishing between "conflict-prone" and "non-conflict-prone" groups. Furthermore, it is not useful at all for characterising specific conflicts. Since it is not suitable for governmental use, it is not a suitable term for this Report either.
In the past few decades, the term "psychogroup" has been widely used to describe the "wide variety of psychological and pseudo-psychological advice available outside professional psychology and outside the public health sector in the fields of life counselling, life orientation, and personality development" 10 ). This spectrum includes activities which are as diverse as psychological success courses for business managers, esoteric courses offering advice for coping with money problems, astral journeys, contact through a medium with extraterrestrial intelligent life, and the return to earlier lives. A large number of methods are offered to achieve these and other objectives: Therapies borrowing from traditional psychotherapy schools; emotional and physical therapies (e.g. primary therapy, rebirthing); spiritual offerings with purported therapeutic effects (e.g. reiki, reincarnation therapy); the use of technical equipment in the esoteric scene (e.g. mind machines, bio-resonance); natural healing methods with a spiritual background (e.g. aroma therapy, Bach blossom therapy); magical and occult practices (e.g. telepathy, psychokinesis, pendulum, Tarot); natural religions, mystical and spiritual traditions; esoteric ministry or life-counselling.
What these methods have in common is that they are not only practised in groups but that they are also used commercially to help individuals cope with their lives or change their personalities. In addition, they are used as a leisure pursuit, for entertainment and to satisfy the need for sensory and aesthetic experiences. This is a services sector which is also referred to as "psycho-market". In a more neutral form, one could also label this sector as alternative, non-orthodox educational, psychological and psychotherapeutical methods which are practised side by side with those of recognised schools; this is similar to medicine where non-orthodox alternative medical approaches and orthodox medical treatments exist side by side.
Usually, such services are used in the framework of a business relationship with customers. Since this relationship is not the type of relationship that exists in a community or a group, it does not make sense to speak about membership in these cases. However, such relationships may evolve into a "psychogroup" if a group of regular customers forms around a "life-counselor", and if this group makes regular use of the services of this counselor or his enterprise. Even then, there are considerable differences as compared to the type of relationship in a community because the customer relationship is retained. It is only justified to refer to a group as a "psychogroup" or - more harshly - as a "psychocult" if a certain permanent level of organisation is achieved by a service provider and his clients, and if internal and external relations establish themselves which are typical of groups.
As described above, the approach adopted in the social sciences towards understanding this phenomenon is to look at the conflicts arising with various groups. This is discussed in greater detail below.
The special, extreme form of internal and external relations in such groups - i.e. the tension between the tendency to withdraw into a "total" inside world ("total groups") and the outside world - has been characterised by terms such as "isolation" and "insulation" (withdrawing to an island). This describes the tendency of these individuals to isolate themselves more or less completely from their environment and to limit themselves to living in a world of their own. Such people then tend to transfer the entire reality of their lives - including beliefs, cultural and social norms, and possibly economic and political aspects - exclusively to the inside world of a given group; or they exclusively derive and define this reality in terms of the knowledge of life (and its sources) applied and practised by the group. This gives rise to most conflicts.
Hence, one particular aspect of the conflict-proneness of a group in its internal and external relations has to do with the group's world view and its life-style, i.e. "dissenting world views" and "non-conformist life-styles". In other words, theirs are convictions which deviate substantially from the socio-culturally widely accepted or at least tolerated world views and values, and life-styles which differ significantly from generally practised or at least tolerated life-styles. While this description is abstract and general, an analysis of the groups in question often shows in concrete terms where potential conflicts may arise. If an individual drops out of a professional or vocational training programme, or if an individual abandons his or her professional career in order to be able to work in the group, this may prolong an adult group member's financial dependence on his or her parents or partner beyond what is usual, or it may re- establish this dependence if an individual abandons his or her professional career. If the parents, the spouse or the friends of an individual who has just joined a group are not willing to adopt a positive attitude towards the group and towards the commitment of its new member, this may lead to family disputes or to separations with all the resulting conflicts.
For outsiders, it may also seem disconcerting that the group assigns partners to its members. Other fields in which conflicts with outsiders may arise include the group's attitude towards sexuality; its concept of marriage and family life; questions relating to bringing up children; attitudes towards business and politics; beliefs about the individual's personal freedom, etc. Even if these questions often involve areas which are covered by the basic right of free development of an individual's personality, one cannot ignore the effects which sudden changes in an individual's views and behaviour can have on his or her environment. For this reason, such groups are perceived as contentious by their environment because they trigger such changes.
The characteristics describing the internal and external relations of a group - such as "total commitment" towards the inside and "separation from the environment" - can be subdivided into various degrees, so that while a given type of sectarianism can be determined in accordance with the definition mentioned above, it is not possible to draw a clear line between a sectarian and a non-sectarian religious or ideological community. 11 ) To sum up, the conflict-proneness of the groups considered to be sectarian as defined above is usually due to a combination between the aspects mentioned above - i.e. exclusivity, total commitment, separation from the environment and its rejection ("isolation" and "insulation") - with "dissenting world views" and "non-conformist life-styles". These aspects can lead - albeit not necessarily - to problematic constellations and reactions, and hence, to considerable conflicts.
The hazards involved in extreme isolation and insulation are illustrated particularly clearly by examples which have attracted much attention in public. These include the murders and mass suicides of groups such as People's Temple (Guyana), Heaven's Gate (California), Sonnentempler (Switzerland, France, Canada), Aum-Shinri-kyō (Japan).
In cautioning against the indiscriminate use of the term "sect", it must be pointed out that a certain degree of conflict with society is part of religious orientation and religious sociation. This is due to the fact that religious (and often also ideological) communities naturally claim the right to live in a certain way and to defend their own truth vis-ą-vis competing views of human nature and the world. Something similar applies to modern ideologies with their own view of the world, which - based on scientific or pseudo-scientific evidence - claim the right to provide their own binding interpretation with regard to the totality of human existence. As the history of religious and ideological movements demonstrates, this can sometimes lead to profound societal conflicts.
Furthermore, it should be borne in mind that religions consider it to be one of their responsibilities to take a critical stance vis-ą-vis the society and the state they live in; under certain circumstances, this may lead to tensions with, and sometimes even stark opposition to, government and society. Since religions also tell individuals what they must not do, they thus imply in one way or another a distance or a critical stance vis-ą-vis the status quo.
In addition, it is not only the dissident communities that act when conflicts arise but also competing and already established religious communities, as well as other political and cultural institutions of society. For all these reasons, it must be pointed out that any conflict with "conflict-prone religions" can also lead to questioning our society, and not only to critical questions about the group concerned. Such conflicts have been and can always be a factor bringing about societal change.
It should not be ignored that progressing modernisation and growing cultural uncertainties create considerable stress, in particular for individuals clinging to traditional religious life-styles; so that increasing isolation or even rejection of modernisation may also represent an attempt to cope with these modernisation stresses. Often there is a more or less pronounced dichotomy between the guidance provided for one's own life and for raising children in the framework of special ideological/religious communities and the principles of modern living required to cope with the socio-cultural challenges prevailing in Western societies. Hence, as a result of destabilisation and "de- raditionalisation", individuals may also look for shelter and safety in a new "religious/ontological home" instead of living up to modern expectations and challenges by assuming personal responsibility and being open, mobile and reflexive. Such attempts to cope must certainly not be oversimplified by interpreting them exclusively as "deficient life-styles" relative to the principles of modern life, and the individuals pursuing such attempts must not be disqualified as "dangerous sects".
Nevertheless, it would be possible to construct - from the variety of different concepts - a narrower definition of the term "sect" for the purposes of political and legal theory and practice. In this case, the term "sect" would be used to refer to such religious groupings and life-counselling organisations whose theories and practices are not compatible with the principles of the German Constitution and its concept of human beings, its legal system, its value concepts, etc. and which proclaim, and strive for, a social order other than the German Constitution. Or based on the description of the phenomenon as used in social sciences, it would be possible to use the term "sect" to refer to groupings where the level of isolation, the tension between "inside" and "outside", etc. lead to a high degree of almost permanent conflict-proneness.
An introduction into constitutional law of the term "sect", which is already burdened by various uses of the term in the past, would involve the risk of restricting the critical potential which is required for the continuous renewal of society; the emergence of new religiousness can also be seen as a response to shortcomings in society, as an indicator of misguided developments in society as a whole and the associated problems.
An introduction into constitutional law of the term "sect" would above all entail the risk or the tendency of abolishing or restricting the freedom of religion by using the term "sect". In our modern age, religion is not influenced by the State.
Nevertheless, exercising freedom of religion is subject to a legal framework which is set by limits that are inherent in the Constitution. Aside from freedom of religion, there are other interests which are protected by the Constitution; and in the event of a conflict, the interests concerned must be weighed to decide which of the interests takes precedence in a given concrete case.
In the interest of a neutral description and analysis, it is therefore more appropriate when describing the subject under review to use the terms "new religious and ideological communities" and "psychogroups". However, such general terms also give rise to problems. It is not possible to find short, concise terms to characterise the entire diverse spectrum of the groups concerned. This spectrum also includes groups, for instance, which only pretend to be religious or ideological communities. In this broad range of groups and movements which are referred to as "sects" from various perspectives, there are only a few which are so conflict-prone - and permanently so - that they correspond to the extreme picture which prevails with regard to new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups.
In addition, it is advisable for the sake of clarity to use more specific terms when examining specific fields of conflict. In accordance with Anglo-Saxon usage, allegedly religious communities with predominantly economic objectives can be characterised as commercial cults, while ideological communities can be referred to as "political groups", etc. The commonly used term in scientific literature is "new religious and ideological movements" (NRMs). The Enquete Commission has chosen the terms "new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups" as an appropriate and neutral description of the phenomenon. In this way, the Commission has also responded to the need for differentiation.
It is not possible to use the ambiguous term "sect" to determine the field of legislative and general governmental action. Hence, another way must be found to define and limit action in this field. This also applies to the term "psychogroup". Need for governmental action can only be identified on the basis of the real relations that exist between a group and its social environment. It goes without saying that need for action arises only through the social interactions caused by the group members' rejection of their social environment, their total commitment, etc.; usually, it is only when these characteristics take on a very pronounced or extreme form that there will be such need for action. The fact that there is a gradual transition from a group's strong emphasis on conflict-triggering characteristics to its successful integration and adaptation should not be used as an argument to deny government any scope for action even in the event of severe conflicts; nor should it be used as an argument to curb the freedom granted by our Constitution to religious and ideological groups. Instead, the governmental scope for action includes first of all measures available in the event of violations of effective laws and threats to interests protected by law.
Secondly, there are sectors of social life which, according to our Constitution, should remain free of any governmental regulation. This includes in particular personal choices in terms of internal and external conditions of life, and in terms of the context in which an individual decides to live.
The conflicts which are caused by social actions in connection with new religious and ideological communities and psychogroups - and in some cases also by the actions of individuals - can be subdivided into three categories:
In this area, governmental action is both necessary and feasible. In fact, conflicts in this field fall within the mandate of the Enquete Commission. Hence, the Commission's field of study includes not only the groups themselves but also clearly defined social actions and conflict-triggering actions by individuals - or more precisely, individual members of groups - most of which claim to have, or are ascribed, a religious or ideological status 12 ) . In this context, attention must also be paid to a principle laid down in the Council of Europe's Convention of 4 November 1950, according to which "freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interest of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
This means not only that there must be no provisions which restrict the freedom of religion for specific religious communities, but it also means that religious communities and their members must of course abide by certain rules that apply to everyone. Hence, the wording of the German Constitution, which does not provide for any general requirement to have a law on freedom of religion, seems less specific. However, there is agreement about the fact that the freedom to manifest one's religion comes up against its limits whenever it violates the constitutional rights of others. At any rate, it is not possible to circumvent or override the legal system by invoking freedom of religion.
1 ) Cf. Schmidtchen, G.: Sekten und Psychokultur, Freiburg/Basel 1987, p. 22.
2 ) Cf. Haack, Fr.
W.: Jugendreligionen. Zwischen Scheinwelt und Kommerz, Munich 1994
3 ) Cf.: Hemminger, H. J.: Was ist eine Sekte?, Mainz-Stuttgart 1995; Keltsch, J.: Neue religiöse Bewegungen und das Recht, in: Einheit und Vielfalt der Rechtsordnung. Commemorative publication to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Munich Law Society, Munich 1996; Gasper, H.: Ein problematisches Etikett, in: Herder Korrespondenz, Vol. 50, No. 11, Nov. 1996, p. 576ff.; and Zinser, H.: Der Markt der Religionen, Munich 1997, Chapter VIII; for a legal definition, see Abel R. B.: NJW 1996, p. 91.
4 ) Cf. Tillich, P.: Vorlesungen über die Geschichte des christlichen Denkens, Part I, Supplements and unpublished works, Vol. 1, Stuttgart 1971, p. 20f.
5 ) Cf. Feil, E.:
Religio. Die Geschichte eines neuzeitlichen Grundbegriffs vom
Frühchristentum bis zur Reformation, Göttingen 1986, p. 274f.
7 ) Cf. Hemminger, H. J.: Was ist eine Sekte?, Mainz-Stuttgart 1995.
8 ) Cf. Niebuhr, R.: The social sources of denominationalism, New York 1929; Wach, J.: Religions-soziologie, Tübingen, 1951; Wilson, B. R.: Religiöse Sekten, München 1970; Johnson, B.: Church and Sect Revisited, in: Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Vol. 10, 1971; Stark, R. und Bainbridge, W. S.: The Future of Religion, Berkeley 1985.
9 ) Cf.
Abercrombie, N./Hill, St./Turner, B. S.: Dictionary of Sociology,
London, 3rd edition, 1994
10 ) Hemminger, H. J./Keden, J.: Seele aus zweiter Hand, Psychotechniken und Psychokonzerne, Stuttgart, 1997, p. 7.
11 ) Distinguishing between "cult movement", "clients cult", and "audience cult", which has become common practice nowadays, is a typology which permits such a subdivision into different degrees. This typology can be applied to sects if one adopts the distinction between "sect" and "cult" as proposed by Stark/Bainbridge (which, however, does not seem to be imperative).
12 ) The question of whether a group rightly claims to be a religious community is answered by constitutional law. The definition of "religion" or "ideology" as used in constitutional law is usually narrower than the definition used in social sciences (cf. BAG NJW 1996, 143).