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Freedom versus Devotion
An in-depth report on cult experience
By D. Patrick Miller
"Freedom vs. Devotion" © 2000 D. Patrick Miller
Orginal version first published in Free Spirit 1990
Available from: "News of a New Human Nature" Fearless

Pages 24 - 25

In their book Spiritual Choices: The Problem of Recognizing Authentic Paths to Inner Transformation, editors Dick Anthony, Bruce Echer, and Ken Wilbur wrote:

It has been said that in the field of business, a person is well-advised to risk very little; that in personal life and relationships it is necessary to risk more; and that in the field of spirituality, we have no choice but to risk everything. Discrimination in matters spiritual is, therefore, of paramount importance.

Academic and journalistic opinion regarding the proliferation in America of psychospiritual orientations and groups has divided primarily into two camps: critical opposition and uncritical, enthusiastic welcome. The critics view the development of the new religions as an expression of two pathological syndromes in present American society: narcissism on the one hand, and authoritarianism (or brainwashing) on the other, the latter being particularly at issue in the controversy over cults and deprogramming. In contrast, the supporters see the trend as heralding the spiritual rebirth of Western culture and a new age of love and wisdom in which masculine and feminine, mind and heart, inner and outer will be balanced as never before.

If you imagine you are going to get sick, your body will scour its memory and begin to produce the physical reactions and substances to generate the appropriate symptoms. And if you imagine yourself getting well, the body will start the healing process. If you don't hold your focus for long enough, however, you will only get partial effects.

This dramatic split in our culture's perception of unconventional spiritual experience makes it difficult for us to integrate the paradoxes and opposing qualities that are clearly present in Ellen Berlfein's story. A skeptical critic will readily see the youthful naivete and narcissism of her personality at the time she was drawn into the Moonies. Yet also undeniably present were an idealistic purity and selfless dedication - qualities our society finds difficult to encourage and marshal in the direction of solving our most pressing problems. Hal Berlfein remembers with admiration his daughter's "tremendous purity" as a religious devotee; he believes, in fact, that "Ellen obeyed rules I don't think the Moonies knew they had."

It is also endemic to the American Character to believe that personal liberty is an ultimate value equally honored by all. But for individuals like Ellen, there may be little sense of freedom in the outside world so difficult: "I joined the Moon organization so I wouldn't have to deal with the painfulness of it," she says. She also feels that our socially approved brand of freedom can too easily result in a purposeless isolation. "In many ways my life now is more comfortable, but it's also harder without a defined purpose. I do make goals every year, dealing with personal growth, spiritual development, having a better relationship with my parents but I don't have any global goals. Everything pertains to myself and my relationships."

Perhaps least understood in our culture is the potential within spiritual development to unify all its paradoxical challenges: self-concern and global compassion, individual freedom and selfless devotion, love for particular people and love for all creation. The spiritual challenge lies not in the struggle to choose one quality over another, but rather to end the sacrifice of one for another.

End of Excerpt - "Freedom vs. Devotion" © 2000 D. Patrick Miller

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