In my colleagues’ and my extensive experience in exposing the global Sathya Sai Baba cult and its leader, India’s most famous guru, whom successive Indian governments and institutions have long and corruptly protected, we have found a striking fact: governments, and indeed whole societies, fail to face the problem of cults.
The ‘answers’ of totalitarian regimes are of course to be repudiated at the outset. Indeed, in their authoritarianism, these closely resemble a great many cults, in any case! In some sense, they can indeed be deemed cults. Charismatic, autocratic leadership, enforcement of group-think, devious propaganda, and punitive styles exercised against those who question are some characteristics that loom large.
In facing the problems posed by cults, our democratic institutions fail abysmally. Typically, our governments and societies fail because of certain mistaken and exaggerated notions about religious and other freedoms concerning beliefs. The channels of wide discussion, debate and action need to be opened up. Problems posed by muteness – or sometimes by smarmy and false appearances that all is sweetness and light – in the face of ‘political correctness’ need to be faced as a co-operative, rather than divisive, endeavour. We have found that many academic communities seriously offend, for they do not regard apostates as useful subjects for research. Still further, academies need to do a great deal of soul-seaching in facing problems of orthodoxy, in which academics care far more for their emoluments than for speaking out fearlessly.
For too long, it has been overlooked that many cults violate those very notions of freedom which we need, of course, to cherish and uphold.
Certainly, care needs to be exercised in defining what is and what is not a cult, and this level of information is best, in my view, arrived via deliberations across whole communities in consultation with each other. It will not help very much if we see cultism as offending against the canons of this or that mainstream religion. It is the mentality itself that needs to be understood and addressed.
What would hold communities back from engagement? Surely, it is fear. Often unconscious or unacknowledged. There needs to be serious thought about how whole communities can be brought to see that, by avoiding such threats to freedom, very broadly defined, they expose themselves to far greater problems. One cannot but think of examples such as the social paralysis, and the terrible failure to act in democratic interests, that existed in Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic, prior to the triumph of Nazism.
The Sathya Sai Organisation’s Deception and Propaganda Expose by Robert Priddy and Barry Pittard
“The foes of the ‘open society’ (Sir Karl Popper’s term) are those who use its very openness to achieve their closed and devious ends. Sai Baba and his highly authoritarian and cultist organisation have such ends, which critics have tried to make known. Its foremost leaders silence all those who question it- and never face substantive criticisms. For the first time – after six years of pained and guilty silence – since hundreds of long-term devotees left it in disgust – the Sathya Sai Organisation has found it necessary to try to defuse the debate about Sathya Sai Baba’s alleged crimes, deceits and fraudulence. Dr. Venkataraman’s tendentious cover-up article expresses untruths which have long circulated within the cult, giving an opportunity to confront him with facts and truth”
There is a Spanish version available: