A DISTURBING feature of our increasingly anonymous society is the growth of a variety of cults, some of them claiming legitimacy from existing religions, and others more unusual in their origins. Their common feature is a rejection of all who dissent from their beliefs as satanic or potentially hostile.
Some are positively paranoic about criticism while others find in their exclusiveness a shield which insulates them from outside influences. In the United States it is estimated that there are between two and five thousand cults embracing more than a million members — mainly youngsters passing through a phase of maturing but often disturbed and in many cases suffering from all the symptoms of schizophrenia.
This phenomenon is not confined to the other side of the Atlantic. Scientology has become a controversial issue from the Antipodes to the Court of Appeal in the Strand. More recently, two inquiries into the "Children of God" and similar cults have been moved in Australia.
In the United States Mr Sun Myung Moon. a Korean who heads a multi-million-dollar conglomerate, manufacturing everything' from pharmaceuticals to small arms and selling everything from ginseng tea to candles, operates more then 80 organisations under the umbrella title of the Unification Church.
This self-proclaimed second Messiah, whose "Divine Principle" regards John the Baptist as having betrayed Christ, states that Christ failed because he failed to marry and produce a perfect family.
Moon has more than made up for that latter failure. He is currently the subject of Congressional and US Revenue investigations into corruption and connections with Korean Intelligence.
In the United States, distraught families have resorted to "kidnapping" their children and two members of the Hari Krishna sect have been indicted by a Grand Jury for kidnapping by brainwashing after taking action against such parents.
That the problem is becoming increasingly serious in Britain is shown by the volume of mail I have received since raising the activities of the various bodies connected with Sun Myung Moon and finding myself the subject of a libel writ, The result has been the formation of an interdenominational group, Family Action, information and Rescue (FAIR) which seeks to do what its name implies. It rejects entirely the yung brutal methods of "deprogramming" which one or two persons whose lives have been disrupted by the cult have advocated.
It does require funds to fight with information in the courts and to rehabilitate youngsters anxious to leave but with no alternative. The latter is an implicit criticism of loneliness in our society and the failure of all denominations to fill a spiritual void in their lives.
It is also an indictment of our charity laws and the lethargy of the Government that a substantial body of evidence has not yet been sifted to examine the real motivation behind those who run these cults, in most cases from the US.
Objects and philosophy may differ substantially, but many cults use methods of •cotwersion, indoctrination and fund-raising techniques which are being called into question. Families are broken and the catalogue of unhappiness is eloquently and movingly documented in the letters I receive daily. Frequently ,the youngsters being sought by their parents are sent abroad and further isolated from the normal patterns of society.
.Often they have become disillusioned with their own faith. Sometimes they attend emotionally charged "courses" of , indoctrination, knowing nothing of the real objects of the cult until they have reached a state in which they are receptive to the new idea.
Many give up all their possessions and live a secluded life selling articles for the funds of Mr Moon, or "Moses David," of the Children of God.
"Moonies" may argue that early Christians also lived in communes and sacrificed for their beliefs. What they fail to add is that Christ did not live in baronial splendour with two yachts and try to wield political power.
Moon's avowed intention is to conquer the world — using a curious brand of oriental totalitarian anti-Communism while declaring Christians to be his main enemies and Jews as paying an indemnity for past sins.
The Children of God adopt a radical phraseology favouring the so-called Third World and, in particular, Colonel Gaddati of Libya. who, while not famed for tolerance, appears to have taken them under his wing. The curious political and financial connections of those who lead these groups from afar in America demand closer scrutiny.
Nearer home, a proliferation of smaller cults exists, some of which are so obscure that little is known of their activities, objects or methods, except for the fierce commitment of their followers.
By and large, a list of correspondents reveals that the youngsters prone to join these groups are between the ages 19 and 23, middle-class, from small towns, often away from home and having suffered some traumatic experience in their personal or educational life. If prevention is better than cure. then the Churches and lay bodies should be more aware of the size and nature of this problem and how to combat it.
In providing this information FAIR is performing a muchneeded function, hampered only by lack of funds and the facility which our libel laws afl'ord to rich organisations attempting to stifle criticism or comment. One place where such misgivings may be ventilated without fear or favour is in Parliament.
It is unfortunate that with a few exceptions, the world of the cult has not been a major concern of MPs. If the precedent of the United States is anything to go by it is an explosive issue and one which should be defused by the Churches before it reaches the size and intensity which it is assuming in the United States and a number of other countries.
A variety of cults dictate the life-style of many young people alienated from their parents, organised religion and society in general by beliefs which are as strange and disturbing as anything to be found on the fanatical political fringes with which politicians are more familiar.
While it is vital to protect tolerance and freedom for unconventional views, the motives, methods and aims of a number of cults have become an urgent priority for a full public investigation by the Home Office, and the Churches cannot remain silent in the face of this growing threat.
Paul Rose is Labour MP for Manchester Blackley