Thursday 28 November 2002

"Brainwashing": Defining Religion

I'm sorry people but organised religion is a system of control and subjugation. Look at the divisions between the religious groups that exist today. It's called DIVIDE AND RULE, they want to keep us feeling scared and alone and afraid because it's only then that they can control us. I refuse to acknowledge any religion that says I'm a sinner simply because I was born as a result of my parents having sex. It's the most hypocritical load of bollocks I've ever heard. If you want to give up free thought then fine, believe in whatever the hell you like but don't you dare force me to give up the power to figure things out for myself.

"Ethno-definitions", "the working definitions that social actors themselves use in an attempt to make judgements in everyday life" (Greil 1996: 48), are different from scholarly definitions. They may, occasionally, interact with scholarly definitions, but the impact of theories advanced by scholars on ethno-definitions is dubious at best. This contribution will focus on how brainwashing and mind control theories are used in order to distinguish religions from "cults", and how ethno-definitions of religion are produced and negotiated in the course of social and legal interaction. As Greil has observed, "when focus is on ethno-definitions, 'religion' is examined not as a characteristic which inheres in certain phenomena, but as a cultural resource over which competing interest groups may vie. From this perspective, religion is not an entity but a claim made by certain groups and -- in some cases -- contested by others to the right to the privileges associated in a given society with the religious label" (Greil 1996: 48). Greil also proposed a distinction between "popular" and "institutional" definitions of religion. The popular definitions of religion in the West are normally based on Christianity, and appear to tolerate only a certain amount of deviation from the Christian paradigm. Institutional definitions of religion, by governmental agencies or courts of law, may try to mediate between popular and scholarly definitions, but the process is difficult, and the results unpredictable. Religion is a claim particularly in countries where there are definitive advantages in being a religion rather than a mere cultural or philosophical association (not to mention a for-profit corporation). A number of international conventions also protect freedom of religion in terms broader than the larger freedom of opinion, or of association. It should also be considered that "religion" is normally associated in popular discourse with something positive and benign, although this perception may have changed in recent years following the controversies about "cults", Islamic terrorism, wars involving religious issues, and fundamentalism.

From a legal point of view, very few if any legislative texts and international conventions hint at a definition of religion. They enumerate the protected rights of religions, but do not explain what a religion is (or is not). Recent laws - particularly in Eastern Europe - go to some detail in stating that the status of religion should be certified through an administrative process. They explain how the process should take place and which administrative bodies should be involved. Conspicuous for its absence, is, however, any mention of the criteria to be adopted by the administrative bodies in determining whether a group is a "genuine" religion[1]. The Italian Supreme Court, in an important decision of October 8, 1997 where Scientology was recognized as a religion[2], stated that the non-existence of a legal definition of religion "is not coincidential" and may serve a useful purpose. It is much better, according to the Italian Supreme Court, "not to limit with a definition, always by its very nature restrictive, the broader field of religious liberty". "Religion", the Supreme Court said, is an ever-evolving concept, and courts may only interpret it within the frame of a specific historical and geographical context, taking into account the opinion of the scholars (Corte Suprema di Cassazione 1997: 44). On the other hand, criteria are occasionally suggested by other sources in order to determine what groups are "pseudo-religions" or "cults". These criteria largely rely on brainwashing or mind control theories.

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