Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Case Against Deprogramming

I just finished watching the 1999 film Holy Smoke. It is a flawed but thought-provoking film in which a young Australian woman played by Kate Blanchett falls under the spell of a quasi-Hindu religious leader while traveling in India. Her family in Australia has her abducted and held by an American "exit counselor" played by Harvey Keitel. Sun Myung Moon and his wife Hak Ja Han make cameo appearences in the film; Keitel's character shows the family a video about destructive religious groups--the video shows a montage of footage of the Manson family, Marshall Applewhite and Heaven's Gate, Jim Jones' Peoples' Temple, and the Branch Davidians; it also shows footage of Moon and his wife at a mass marriage ceremony.

People ask me what I think about deprogramming. I am strongly opposed to the practice. Abducting people is a serious felony and it is also morally wrong. While I feel for people trapped in Moon's destructive religion, I also believe that adults have the right to be wrong. While I disagree with aspects of the book, Bromley and Shupe's Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare has an informative chapter on the deprogramming controversy which was particularly salient in the 1970's. Prosecution against reprogrammers have put many of them out of business or have made them resort to legal tactics.

What should people do when a loved one joins a destructive group. One legal, ethical, and effective tactic was used by the family of Cathryn Mazer, a NYU student who was lured into Moon's cult in the early 1990's. The family went to the media and staged vigils outside of apartment in which Cathryn was living with other Unification Church members. The footage was used on NBC's Today Show. this led to a lot of bad publicity for Moon's group and it put enough pressure on the Unification Church that it allowed Cathyn's family to speak with her and persuade her to leave the church. For more on this story, check out the BBC video Emperor of the Universe.

6 comments:

Tilman Hausherr said...

"Holy smoke" was one of the crappiest movies I ever saw. It started very well, maybe for an hour or so, and then everything went on as if the screenwriters had suddenly decided to experiment with drugs. Harvey Keitel in woman clothes - enough said!

Kenneth Gordon Neufeld said...

"Holy Smoke" is flawed because the so-called exit counselor in the movie resorts to blatantly unethical tactics, which leads the uninformed to conclude that all such deprogrammers or exit counselors would do the same. The character played by Keitel uses violence at one point, and at another, he sleeps with the person he is supposed to be counseling. These are things most real exit counselors would consider anathema and would never do. The movie takes a curious twist because the screenplay writer seemed intent on imposing a pseudo-feminist reading on the material by having the female devotee turn the tables on the deprogrammer. However, I would suggest that this is not a feminist plot twist at all; indeed, the fact that the devotee seduces her "deprogrammer" is a classic case of the use of so-called "feminine wiles". In any case, the movie ends up saying nothing clear-cut about cults and their followers or the value of deprogramming or exit counseling.

Tor Hershman said...

Visit moi's blog for the Glory Grog video.

Kenneth Gordon Neufeld said...

I should add that if you want to see a movie that deals with deprogramming in a more accurate way, and also is directly based on the experience of Unification Church members, you should watch the 1982 movie "Ticket to Heaven". This one could be hard to track down, however. It may not be in DVD format.

Tilman Hausherr said...

"Ticket to heaven" is indeed a good movie. It is available on DVD, I bought it myself a few years ago. You can find it on amazon.

Kenneth Gordon Neufeld said...

You're right, Tilman. I just checked Amazon and "Ticket to Heaven" is available for a good price. I thought it was rare because I was part of a television panel in 1999 (I think) in which I discussed the movie and the TV producers told me they'd had a hard time finding the person who held the rights. Since then, evidently, it has been given wider distribution, and it certainly deserves it.