Is Another Great Crusade Against Cults Upon Us?
The prominence of cults in present day media seems subtle in comparison to the moral panic that was splattered throughout various outlets a few decades ago. Many new religious movements have settled into their niches within the field of religion and the hype surrounding them has diminished or the groups have dissolved completely. On June 11, 2014, Andrew Jacobs published an article, “Campaign to Crack Down on Fringe Sects in China Worries Mainstream Churches” in the New York Times (http://goo.gl/oOi15j). The article addresses the fatal beating of women as a result of recruiting efforts by the Church of Almighty God in China. The Church of Almighty God is a sect with a focus on doomsday and a unique belief that God will return to Earth as a Chinese woman. In the province of Shandong, Wu Shuoyan was fatally beaten, in a McDonald’s after refusing to give members of the sect her phone number. The article addresses how there has been a shift in focus from, the lack of intervention from the bystanders, to role of what the government is calling “evil cults.” This campaign against cults is said to violate Chinese law in many cases, as prosecuting entire sects is the focus and not just the guilty individuals.
In Olav Hammer’s and Mikael Rothstein’s book, New Religious Movements (2012), two of the main controversies related to new religious movements are the recruitment methods associated with them and the influence on and involvement of family. The claimed motivation behind these brutal acts was a recruitment effort. When the victim refused to provide the culprits with a phone number the beating ensued. As an effort of counteracting the Church of Almighty God and the other sects of this similar, “dangerous” and “evil” nature the government has intervened. This government involvement and course of action draws attention to these sects and fuels moral panic. The six individuals that committed these horrific acts deserve to be punished, however others should not be sanctioned based solely on their beliefs.
The involvement of family in this situation was not allegations of child abuse and mistreatment, which are often associated with new religious movements. However, three of the six people arrested for the crime were the main instigator’s children, and one was only twelve years of age. The presence of a child in such a violent act rises concern, not only in relation to new religious movements, but in general. The influence on and corruption of a child’s innocence as a result of witnessing such brutality is unfathomable. An adult making the decision to violent commit crimes, such as this one, as an extension of their belief system is unacceptable, but the involvement of children in these acts is incomprehensible.
Both Hammer and Rothstein, and the article address the rarity of these types of events. However, the media portrayal and government involvement catapults these rather isolated situations to the foreground and creates moral panic.