IV. The Influence of Pathological Cases

A small number of dramatic and altogether atypical episodes have exacerbated the creation of hostile responses to new religions. Whether the Charles Manson family, which perpetrated gruesome murders in California, or the Symbionese Liberation Army, which engaged in terrorist activities, were in any proper sense religious movements, is disputable, but the media readily described them as such. Jim Jones, central figure in the Jonestown tragedy in Guyana in 1978, was a religious minister‑but of an established denomination, the Disciples of Christ, not of a new religious movement. The Waco massacre in 1993, the Solar Temple episode in Canada and Switzerland in 1994 and the lethal activities in Japan of Aum Shinrikyo in 1995, were pathological phenomena pertaining to new religions‑but to particular movements, not to new religions in general. Such events are mercifully rare, and must be seen in perspective: given the literally thousands of new religions operating in advanced industrial societies (Western countries and Japan) bizarre episodes of this kind may be regarded as highly exceptional. Yet, because these tragedies have deeply scarred the public mind and—not always with complete justification—because they have been attributed to new religious organizations, the image of all such movements has tended to become unwarrantably tarnished. Yet, the fact is that most new religious bodies function as innocuous agencies of moral, social, and spiritual support for their adherents, entirely remote from the perceptions that have been perpetrated in the moral panic that has been aroused about new religious groups.

V. Inconsistent Indictments