This month's crime series shows us once again how religion can be abused and used to cloak criminal acts. When Cecilia Steyn started her own "ministry" called "Electus Per Deus" (Chosen by God) in 2012 to take revenge on Ria Grunewald, it also marked the start of the religious group's criminal activities, which included the bombing of vehicles, robbery, fraud and murder. All these criminal acts were performed in the name of their so-called religion. (Refer to part 1 of this month's Crime Series published from p44 in Servamus: July 2020.)
By Kotie Geldenhuys
Religion and faith help to guide and shape our view of the world and provide values that direct our behaviour. It is generally accepted that religion works for the greater good, but it can also be the total opposite. Crimes are often committed in the name of religion - in fact, wars have been fought in the name of religion. Unfortunately, those who are part of these groups are brainwashed and indoctrinated by the leader(s) of the religious groups, often to such an extent that they are not able to realise that they are actually involved in or committing crime.
When crimes are committed in the name of religion, one cannot help to think about cults. The word “cult” can be used in many ways and distinctions are drawn between different types of cults. The two broad categories are religious cults which include Christian, Eastern and satanic cults and non-religious cults which include business, educational, personality, political and even UFO (unknown foreign objects) cults. In an article that was published in the Ned Geref Theological Magazine, Dr Pretorius explains that cults are described in terms of the threat they pose or the harm they can inflict on society. Harmful or abusive cults are those groups whose teachings and practices are not only different from societal and/or theological norms but are also believed to exert strong social and psychological pressure, which can make individuals do things that they would not have considered doing prior to joining the group (Pretorius, 2012).
Dr Pretorius goes on to explain that one deals with a cult if the following occurs:
- The followers display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader. The leader’s belief system, ideology and practices are viewed as the truth, as law.
- No questioning of the doctrine or doubt is tolerated and dissent is discouraged and even punished.
- Any doubts about the group and its leader(s) must be suppressed and mind-altering practices (including meditation and chanting, denunciation sessions and debilitating work routines) are used.
- Followers are dictated to in terms of their thoughts, actions and feelings. They need permission to date, change jobs, leave the premises or marry. Leaders are also prescriptive in terms of the clothes their followers wear, where they live, whether or not they may have children and their children’s discipline.
- The group displays an elite mentality which means that it claims a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and followers. The leader is viewed as the messiah, a special being on a special mission to save humanity.
- A polarised us-versus-them mentality is displayed by the group.
- Total commitment to the leader or group requires followers to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter or abandon personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
- The group is preoccupied with making money.
- Followers are expected to spend inordinate amounts of time with the group and to engage in group-related activities.
- Socialising of followers is only to take place with other group members (Pretorius, 2012).
Why do people get involved in a cult?
British psychologist, Dr Linda Dubrow Marshall and her psychologist husband Prof Rod Dubrow Marshall, who both conducted research on the psychology of undue influence and coercive persuasion (such as which is used by cults and extremist groups) argue that people do not see and react on an advert for an “abusive and murderous cult” or “how to end your life in trafficked drudgery”.