Separating the Bogus from the Bonafide
If the religious “cult “phenomenon has proved anything, it’s that the established religions aren’t providing our young people with real spiritual life. Of course, this is not to say that the “cults” are. To be bona fide, any religion—new or old—must pass a rigorous nonsectarian test....
The infamous “anticult” groups, who have attempted by kidnapping and “deprogramming” to break members of the Krishna consciousness movement, have failed to enlist the support of either the government or the general public. But the issues raised by the “cult” controversy are still with us. Most importantly, the very cause of the “cult” phenomenon—the spiritual void plaguing human civilization, and especially young people—remains. Only bona fide religion can fill that void, so it is essential that we learn just what bona fide religion is and how to practice it. But who will say which religion is false and which genuine, which harmful and which beneficial? What we need is not someone’s self- interested opinion but a reliable, nonsectarian standard for separating the bogus religions from the bona fide.
The problem of distinguishing true religion from false is not new. Some five thousand years ago the most learned sages in the world assembled in a sacred forest in India to solve just this problem. The Srimad-Bhagavatam is a record of their deliberations, which began with the question, “What is the essential or real religion?”
The chief sage in the assembly answered, “The essential religion for all people is that which brings a person to the point of pure, unalloyed devotional service to God. Such loving service, if it is to fully satisfy the self, must be both unmotivated and uninterrupted” (Bhag.1.2.6). Clearly, this definition of religion is nonsectarian. What Hindu, Muslim, Jew, or Christian would dispute that religion means to follow the orders of God and become His servant?
But the Srimad-Bhagavatam sets a high standard for this service. If we want to practice genuine religion, we must serve God without any desire for personal material gain, and without interruption. This statement of the Srimad- Bhagavatam finds support in the Bible, which commands us to “love God with all thy heart, all thy soul, and all thy mind.” So here is our practical standard by which we can test any purportedly religious group: Is it or is it not providing its members the opportunity to render pure loving service to the Lord?
Established Religions Fail The Test
Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether the new religions pass the test, we find that the established, mainline religions fail it miserably. Even the anticultists can see that the mainline religions must not be spiritually satisfying to their young people. Otherwise, why would so many be leaving to search out genuine spirituality elsewhere?
Louis Moore, religion writer for the Houston Chronicle,has observed that young people are joining these “cults” in reaction to “meaningless, dull sermons,” “the impersonalized nature of too many churches,” and “archaic depersonalized forms of evangelism and pompous, largely ceremonial church worship.”
Marc Silver and Barbara Pash of the Baltimore Jewish Times wrote, “The cults’ popularity is a reflection of the ills and failings of modern Western society and of that society’s established religions. Those religions, including Judaism, have to a large degree become sterile, and, and very unspiritual. Over and over, Jewish cult members say that ... they never thought it possible to find holiness within Judaism. That statement presents a tremendous challenge to the Jewish community.” The newspaper goes on to castigate contemporary Judaism for selling out to “secular humanism, Americanism, and modernism.” Significantly, the paper finds the Krishna consciousness movement, unlike some other groups, to be neither exploitative nor corrupt.
Recently a concerned Christian group made this assessment of mainline Christianity: “The ultimate spiritual counterfeit is a Christianity which has been squeezed so far into the world’s mold that all distinguishing authenticity has been squeezed out of it—a Christianity which is culturally co-opted, socially irrelevant, doctrinally correct, and spiritually dead.”
In All God’s Children, Caroll Stoner and JoAnne Parke discuss at length the established churches’ failure to fulfill “man’s search for transcendental experience.” They also attack American society as a whole for failing to provide ultimate values that young people can live by.
And finally, in a recently published book on the “cults,” Ronald Enroth writes, “The spiritual quest of hundreds of thousands of American youth indicts our society as a whole, but it raises urgent questions for the church in particular. Young people are highly idealistic; many have rejected the materialistic sham that passes for the ‘good life’ in America. Is the church speaking to the gross materialism of Western society, or has it been co-opted? Young people are asking the big questions—but are the churches providing more than fun- and-games youth programs in response?”
Thus, a consensus seems to be forming that there are serious deficiencies both in our modern materialistic culture and in the mainline religions that have sold out to it. That this truth is widely acknowledged, even by many anti-cultists, is perhaps the first step toward a reconciliation of the “cult” issue.
But precisely what is it that the mainline religions fail to provide? According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Bible, it is the chance to render “pure, unalloyed, devotional service to God” the chance to love God with all thy heart, all thy soul, and all thy mind.” So secular society and its secularized religions ultimately fail because they cannot fulfill the natural, inborn need of the soul—the need to serve the Supreme unreservedly. Religion, as we have seen, means to obey and to serve and to love God. Yet the hallmark of most followers of contemporary, mainline religions is that rather than trying to serve God,they try to have God serve them.This is the antithesis of religion.
Real religion does not aim at increasing our sense pleasure, but the pleasure of the Lord. A sincere servant of the Lord knows full well that since God is already maintaining every living creature, there is no need to petition Him for personal necessities or desires. Instead, a truly religious person simply trusts in God and puts all his energy into serving God. It is only the pseudoreligionists who believe life is meant for sense enjoyment and God is our order supplier—the servant of our senses.
Another kind of pseudoreligion says that each of us can become God. Especially today in the United States, many so-called gurus and swamis teach that they are God and that their disciples can also become God. Of course, to these pseudoreligionists the idea of becoming God’s eternal servant is anathema.
Thus, a “cult” or bogus religion is one that aims at the practitioner’s personal satisfaction—either by trying to make God the practitioner’s servant or by trying to make the practitioner into God Himself. A religion is pure to the degree that it is free from such taints.
Some Suggestions for the Pseudoreligions
The mainline religions—which have now seriously deteriorated into full-fledged pseudoreligions—could conceivably revive their original purity. Unfortunately, so deeply rooted is their involvement with mundane concerns that their leaders cannot imagine how to return to real spiritual life. We would therefore like to offer a few suggestions. If the leaders of today’s mainline religions take these suggestions to heart, then there is every chance that their groups will become pure religions.
First, stop killing.
Second, glorify God by chanting His names.
If the Christians and Jews take up these two practices, they can cleanse their minds and hearts of material desires and develop genuine love of God.
Lord Jesus Christ taught, “Thou shalt not kill.” If the Christians actually love Lord Jesus, then they should obey his commandments and refrain from slaughtering innocent animals simply to gratify their own tongues.
Jewish scholars argue that the commandment not to kill is actually one not to murder—not to kill a human being. However, the Jewish scholars also admit that God originally instructed Adam to eat only vegetarian foods. People began eating meat only later (after the flood), because they had become corrupt. So, ultimately, the Jews agree that slaughtering animals for food is not good, and that God originally prohibited it.
In the Vedic literatures we learn that all living creatures—not just humans—have souls. Since every soul is a spiritual particle of God (the Supreme Soul), all living creatures are God’s children. Thus we are not meant to inflict pain on animals by slaughtering them. Rather, we should protect animals as our brothers. This is one of God’s basic laws—and if we break it we can have no real religion.
The second requirement for practicing genuine religion is to chant the names of God. The Vedic literatures teach that in this age the only means of reviving God consciousness is to chant His names. Certainly no Christian or Jew can find any reason to object to the congregational glorification of God. The Bible is full of exhortations to glorify and praise the name of God. In Psalm 113 King David sings,
Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. From the rising of the sun until the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.
In the Krishna consciousness movement we chant the name Krishna. Krishna is not a sectarian name; it simply means “the all-attractive.” By definition God must be all-attractive, since He surpasses all others in wealth, strength, beauty, knowledge, fame, and renunciation.
But we do not insist that everyone chant the name Krishna.Other names, such as Jesus Christ, Jehovah,and so on, can be chanted. The Torah forbids the Jews to pronounce the Tetragrammaton (Yahweh), but they may chant many other names, like Elochim or Addonai.The Supreme Lord has an infinite number of wonderful attributes and activities—and for each of them He has a name, which anyone can chant to purify his heart and attain the perfection of God consciousness.
So there is nothing in the scriptures of the Western religions that would prevent their adherents either from abstaining from killing or from chanting the names of God. And it is certain that if the mainline religions of the West take up these two practices, then currents of real spirituality will once again begin to flow within their congregations.
The failure of the mainline religions has indeed left a terrible void in the life of the American people. In desperation many young people have turned to drugs and sex. Others have joined the new religions. Unfortunately, almost none of these groups are bona fide religions, and some are extremely harmful to their followers. But the anticultists are too bewildered and too attached to their own rotting institutions to distinguish the true from the false. Thus they have quite mistakenly attacked the Krishna consciousness movement as a harmful “cult”.
On the other hand, we have seen that even some of the harshest critics of the new religious groups (the Jewish Times,for instance) are acknowledging that the Krishna consciousness movement is authentic. Clearly, no parents should object to their son or daughter’s joining the Krishna consciousness movement, for it is a fully authorized movement solidly based on the classical Vedic literatures and guided by a pure, selfless devotee of God—His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Nonetheless, if you do not want your children to join the Krishna consciousness movement, we don’t mind—as long as you teach them in your own religious tradition how to serve God without motivation or interruption. Then their spiritual needs will be fully satisfied, you will “keep” your children, and we in the Krishna consciousness movement will consider that our mission has been successful.
So the choice is simple. You can join us and learn to refrain from the sinful activities of meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex, and gambling—and you can also learn how to chant the names of God recommended in the Vedic literature, namely Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Or, if you find some insurmountable impediment to joining the Krishna consciousness movement, then you can remain in your own faith—but begin following God’s orders by becoming a vegetarian and chanting the names of God that appear in your own scripture. If you accept one of these alternatives, and if you engage your offspring in serving the Lord as well, then the problem of “pseudoreligious cults”—old or new—will be permanently solved.