One of my friends recently mentioned to me how he heard people dismissing me and my blog as “just another anti-ubf” website. Some have stopped reading because they incorrectly assume I hate ubf and want to see it destroyed. That is not my purpose. I am blogging for freedom, to put it simply.
I am blogging on this website to ask tough questions that UBF leaders do not want to ask or have refused to ask. I am blogging to capture the thoughts and memories I have so that I and others can refer to them later (I’ve heard my Russian friends are translating some of my posts and putting them in a more logical arrangement.) But most of all, my purpose here is to open people’s minds, to “give them a lot to consider” (as one person who wrote me said in response to my articles).
I don’t want you to leave UBF. I don’t want you to stay in UBF. I want you to think; to think for yourself and open your mind. Why should we be so fearful of asking questions and discussions? Who knows, it may just lead to more joy, peace and faith than you’ve ever experienced!
Recently I found an excellent website expressing some very good thought processes, especially in regard to thinking and observing things in a religious environment. Today I present a small part of an article by Steven Hassan and Lama Surya Das called “Spiritual Responsibility“. This section of the article deals with the question of how to assess a church or religious organization.
Questions to Help the Assessment Process
1. Who is the leader? What are his/her background and qualifications? Have you relied solely on trust that all of the information you were given is true or have you done independent investigation? Do you feel pressure to accept and not question at all? Is it possible that there are misrepresentations or falsehoods?
Is there external corroboration for extraordinary claims of accomplishment or are they simply his/her say-so? If “miracles” have been performed, can they be replicated under open observation or even under scientific conditions? Are there other explanations for the “miracles,” such as magic tricks, hypnosis, etc.?
If there is a former leader or member, have you sought him or her out to hear for yourself critical information? If not, are you afraid to trust your ability to discern the truthfulness of what you learn?
If you find yourself saying that you don’t care if there are major deceptions, ask yourself if you knew this information before you became involved, would you have even bothered to make a commitment of time and money?
2. Are there exclusive claims made to wisdom, knowledge, love, and truth? If so, the burden of proof is on the leader to demonstrate his or her superiority, not on members to disprove it. A truly “developed” spiritual being exudes love, compassion, and humility. Any person who claims to be “superior” but does not practice what they preach is of questionable character. There is never incongruency between words and deeds. A person who uses fear and phobia indoctrination to control followers demonstrates insecurity and lack of spiritual maturity.
3. Is total submission and obedience required? Any relationship that demands giving up one’s personal integrity and conscience is dangerous and leads to totalitarianism. Be wary of those who advocate “the ends justify the means,” especially when it clearly serves their own self-interest. Also, make sure that your desire “to believe” doesn’t simply activate the common psychological defense mechanisms: denial, rationalization, justification, and wishful thinking. If a doctrine is true or a person is truly spiritually advanced, they will stand up to the scrutiny of objective evaluation. If they do not prove themselves, they are probably not worthy of your commitment and devotion.
4. Does he/ she have a criminal record, a legacy of allegations against him/her or a history of misconduct? If there are allegations of misconduct against the leader, the responsible follower must seek out the negative information and the sources of that information to evaluate the truth. If a leader claims to be celibate and allegations are made that the leader engaged in inappropriate sex, this is an extreme violation of integrity. It must be investigated vigorously. It is never appropriate for teachers, therapists, or spiritual masters to take advantage of a power differential over followers. This is especially true in the area of sexuality. It is grossly unethical to engage in sexual relations with someone who has placed their trust in as a teacher/advisor/master. Many followers are incredibly vulnerable to this and unable to resist sexual intimacy. Anyone should be able to say “no.”Is he or she a “trust bandit,” stealing hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and pocketbooks for his or her own ends?
5. Does the leader demonstrate psychological problems and awareness of their existence?Does the leader have addictions to power, drugs, alcohol, sex, even television or shopping? Does the leader have emotional outbursts? Does the leader physically abuse followers? Does the leader drive expensive cars and wear expensive clothes while extolling the virtues of renunciation?
Does the leader financially exploit followers by expecting them to live in poverty while he or she indulges in luxury? Is the group or leader’s driveway habitually filled with luxury cars while ordinary people find him or her inaccessible and unreachable?
Does the leader ever encourage deception or use deception as a “technique” to trick followers into so-called correct thinking and understanding?
Codependent behavior by a spiritual teacher should be a warning sign of danger. Codependency includes: obsessively trying to control others; allowing people to hurt and use them; lack of clear boundaries; being reactive, not proactive; tunnel visioned; obsessive worrying and denial; expectations of perfection and suppression of human needs. (Beattie, Beyond Codependency, Harper/Hazelden, 1989)
6. Are questions and doubts permitted within the organization? A healthy spiritual environment must engage individual followers at their level of experience and should encourage them to feel and think and therefore question their beliefs and exercise good decision-making. In this way, the follower can investigate, discriminate, and test the dogma and the environment they are being asked to accept, between what his or her personal issues are and what might be an unhealthy environment. If intense pressure is used to dissuade people who wish to talk with former members or critics, it is a clear sign of information control. Controlling information is one of the most essential components of mind control.
7. Is the organization open or closed? Are there organizational secrets? Are there “in” groups and “out” groups? Are there restricted teachings for initiates only?
Are there secret texts and publications “for your eyes only”? Is there real financial accountability? If a group says that you can look at its accounting records, does it actually provide access? The only way to know is to ask to see the records. If you are afraid to ask, what does this say about the atmosphere of the group?
8. What structural checks and balances exist within the organization to prevent abuse of power? Are there divisive sectarian biases, even in the name of interdenominational ecumenicism and universality? Is there an independent “ethics”committee to challenge and change policies of the group?If there are abuses or injustices, what structure exists to correct them?
Can anyone legitimately question the actions of the leader without threat of emotional withdraw or fear of expulsion to “hell”?
Do the rich and powerful get preferential treatment?
Are “indulgences” (spiritual pardons) sold? Is there a “code of silence” against unethical behavior of leaders?