Ithaca deacon leads cult information night - Catholic Courier

Ithaca deacon leads cult information night

The average Ithaca resident might not be shocked to learn that several cults are active in the area, said Deacon George Kozak, parish deacon at Immaculate Conception Parish.

“We’re a college town and Ithaca tends to be an eclectic community. You end up having a lot of different groups coming here,” Deacon Kozak said.

However, Deacon Kozak said, concern did arise when a branch of The Twelve Tribes — an apocalyptic cult that resides in communes — moved into the area in recent years and bought two former commercial properties. Critics of The Twelve Tribes charge that it is anti-Semitic; teaches that races should not mingle; violates child-labor laws; and its founder, Elbert Eugene “Yoneq” Spriggs, lives an extravagant lifestyle using his recruited members’ money.

To provide useful background information on The Twelve Tribes as well as other cults and alternative religions, Deacon Kozak led a workshop May 18 at Immaculate Conception. That talk concluded a three-part, adult-enrichment series by Deacon Kozak and Greg Wesley, the parish’s pastoral minister for lifelong faith formation. Earlier topics were the book The Da Vinci Code and the movie “The Passion of the Christ.”

The May 18 session was attended by approximately 30 people. Deacon Kozak gave details on The Twelve Tribes as well as numerous other cults and alternative religions that he said exist in Tompkins County. Among them are Anthroposophical Society; A Course in Miracles; Eckankar; Freemasonry; Hare Krishna; Santeria; Scientology; The Unification Church (Moonies); and Wicca (Witchcraft).

Using Bob Larson’s 1989 book Larson’s New Book of Cults for reference, Deacon Kozak described a cult as a religious or philosophical group with four main traits: tightly controlled by a centralized authority, with allegiance to the founder’s ideals as a requirement; a “we” vs. “they” mind-set, pitting them against an outside culture that is perceived as hostile; a commitment by each member to proselytize the “unconverted”; and entrenched isolationism from family and friends.

Other common characteristics are: allegiance that is demanded and enforced with threats, either actual or veiled; forced conformity; unquestioning submission; encouraging destruction of “old” relationships and creation of new ones; peer pressure; rejection of the values of one’s former life; repetition of chants; confusing doctrine; hypnotism and other psychological ploys; and lack of privacy to prevent any reflective or critical thinking.

One of Deacon Kozak’s chief concern is the style often used by cults to gain members. “At least one parishioner said she was considering joining (The Twelve Tribes) because they were much more loving and welcoming than our parish. ‘Love-bombing’ — they’ll go way out of their way to make you feel you’re a part of something,” he remarked.

Deacon Kozak didn’t denounce the groups outright — lest, as one workshop participant pointed out, they were to do the same about Catholics. However, he encouraged people to conduct careful research through book-reading and the Internet. “The key is knowledge — understanding these groups, what are their motivations, what are their origins,” said Deacon Kozak, who serves as digital library specialist at the Cornell University Library.

Deacon Kozak said that The Twelve Tribes and similar groups have not presented a major threat in Ithaca — yet their potentially powerful influence on individuals should not be underestimated.

“There is concern. But on the other hand, I didn’t want this to be a witch hunt,” he said.

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