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Independent Embraces Extremism of Faith-Breaker

Steven Hassan embraces extremism

The Independent embraces extremism of faith-breaker and lets him defame minority faith by dragging it into totally unrelated murder story

The IndependentThe British online newspaper The Independent published 29th March 2024 a piece of gutter journalism penned by the paper’s US News Editor Rachel Sharp. The article about an American married couple turned mass murderers was titled “Did a doomsday cult really drive Lori Vallow to murder her children?” Much of the content and many of the concepts come, however, straight from the metaphysical universe of a notorious campaigner against New Religious Movements (NRMs) – 70 years old Steven Hassan. He actually makes his living of painting as black a picture as possible of as many NRMs as he is able to.

Sharp’s article is blatantly defamatory against the Family Federation, formerly called the Unification Church, even though it has nothing to do with the tragic events of the story. One of the hallmarks of Hassan is to apply the derogatory cult label to all new religious movements. And true to his deliberately twisted sensationalist narrative, Sharp already in the subheadings echoes Hassan, calling the former Unification Church “one of America’s most notorious cults”. This is demeaning in itself, but becomes all the more so as it follows a headline about what is called a “doomsday cult” involved in several murders.

Dr. Massimo Introvigne
Dr. Massimo Introvigne April 2023. Photo: FOREF

The derogatory term “cult” is used throughout the report. Dr. Massimo Introvigne, one of the world’s leading experts on new religious movements, writes,

“at the end of the last century, the vast majority of religious scholars stopped using ‘cult’ and replaced it with the less ambiguous term ‘new religious movements’.” (“Why ‘Cults’ (and ‘Brainwashing’) Do Not Exist – An appeal to avoid labels that have no accepted scientific meaning and are used as tools of discrimination”, an article published in the magazine Bitter Winter 27th March 2023).

Within the realm of media, there exists a scandal-driven press primarily motivated by profit rather than the pursuit of truth. Similarly, within the field of studying new religious movements, there are so-called “experts” who recognize the financial incentive in portraying such movements in a negative light.

These “experts” capitalize on the lack of nuanced understanding among many journalists regarding the diverse landscape of religious beliefs. Consequently, such “experts” can easily make sensationalized assertions, like the one Hassan does in the Sharp article by simplistically claiming that power, money, and sex is what “all cult leaders are driven by” – “those three things in that particular order.” Hassan implies that these are universal motivations for all new faith movements. Disregarding the spiritual message entirely, they propagate a narrative focused solely on power, money, and sex – a narrative tailor-made for the sensationalist media.

This narrative also aligns perfectly with Hassan’s agenda. He exaggerates what he perceives as the problematic nature of new religious movements in order to maximize his own financial gain. Hassan sustains himself by disseminating disinformation and unfounded allegations about new religious movements, constantly distorting the truth to serve his own interests.

Another derogatory term used several times in the Independent article is “Moonies”. Left-wing and anti-religious activists frequently employ this phrase intentionally to mock and diminish the Family Federation, formerly known as the Unification Church, and its adherents.

The large international news agency Reuters says in its handbook for journalists,

“‘Moonie’ is a pejorative term for members of the Unification Church. We should not use it in copy and avoid it when possible in direct quotations.” (p321)

The New York Times
The logo of The New York Times. Photo: Ed Benguiat. License: CC ASA 4.0 Int

Also the New York Times states in its “Manual of Style and Usage” of 2015, “Do not use the disparaging Moonie(s).” (p466)

Steven Hassan has gained notoriety for embellishing his own background in a bid to enhance his credibility for the title of “expert.” He asserts that he held a leadership position within the Unification Church, but the truth is that he was a member for a brief period spanning just over two years, from 1974 to 1976. As a 21-year-old, he led a small team of six or seven young members on a fundraising mission for a few months.

From 1978 through the 1990s, Steven Hassan was affiliated with the anti-religious organization known as CAN (Cult Awareness Network), which conducted coercive deprogramming of individuals associated with new religious movements and left-wing political groups. He served as one of CAN’s professional deprogrammers for an extended period.

The Cult of Trump
The front cover page of Steven Hassan’s book The Cult of Trump, 2019
Dr. Eileen Barker, OBE, in 1997. Photo: LSE Library / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped

The esteemed British sociologist Eileen Barker has documented numerous accounts from individuals who underwent deprogramming, detailing instances of threats with firearms, physical abuse, deprivation of sleep and sustenance, and/or sexual assault (Source: “Watching for Violence,” paper by Eileen Barker, 2001).

Despite the passage of time, Steven Hassan has not relinquished his commitment to deprogramming efforts. In 2020, he authored the book “The Cult of Trump,” and according to Fox News, on January 19, 2021, Hassan stated on CNN that “all of America needs deprogramming” due to the perceived negative influence of President Trump. Implicit in this assertion is the notion that deprogramming should be conducted by “experts” like Hassan.

Such sentiments could potentially empower extremist views akin to Hassan’s to influence national policies, reminiscent of the situation in communist China, where authorities actively suppress religious practices.

It’s quite amazing that a news editor like Sharp embraces the claims of Hassan so openly and gives him so much space to market his anti-religious ideas.

Steven Hassan was one of the key witnesses whose evidence was used by the UK Attorney-general in his 1984 case to remove the charitable status from the two trusts associated with the Unification Church in the UK. It turned out, however, that his arguments did not stand up in court. That certainly contributed a lot to the unconditional withdrawal of the case three years later and the UK government paying the Unification Church the legal costs of several million dollars.

Featured image above: Steven Hassan speaks at conference of Leo J. Ryan Education Foundation (formerly CULTinfo) 18th March 2000. Photo: Mark Bunker / Wikimedia Commons. License: CC ASA 3.0 Unp. Cropped 

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