Have you ever had a representative of a religious group come to your door or approach you in public and try to spread their chosen message? How did you deal with them? Were they pushy or combative, or friendly and polite? The recent debate in the media about religious studies at school and whether or not it is appropriate has made me wonder about the degrees of religious indoctrination, and where to draw the line.
There are degrees of indoctrination. Gloriavale, the West Coast sect near Greymouth, which has recently featured in the media for the indoctrination of their residents who are led to believe that the rest of the world is evil is at one end of the spectrum. Gloriavale, it has to be said, has actually met Ministry of Education standards for curricula being taught – they get taught science, mathematics, English and so forth; are self sufficient. On one hand they are keen for the world to see how Gloriavale function, but on the other hand when members have fled for a better life, they have been systematically cut off from any family that they might have had in the sect and told they are sinning against God. Those brave enough to attempt to visit their families have been barred from entry, or met at the gate by members who appear to be devoid of personality.
There are degrees of inappropriateness – regardless of how one looks at it – too. The best example I can think of was that of a pair of Jehovah’s Witness members turning up on someones door step with a young boy who cannot have been more than five years old and trying to impart their message to the shocked householders who later said they should have called the Police. The suggestion that the householders should have called the Police might have been a bit extreme, but a boy of that age – I assume his parents knew what he was doing – should have been at school, at home or playing with his friends.
And then there are degrees of legal wrong doing, sometimes with violent results. It is worthwhile pointing out at this stage, that the wrong doing could be the sort of common crimes such as sexual violence/incest that Gloriavale leader Hopeful Christian was convicted for in 1994. But it could also involve more sinister elements with the potential for armed violence. With the exception of a couple of isolated cases in New Zealand where sects have had to be raided/shut down by the police on grounds of criminal activity, this country has been free from cases of religious violence. These belong to the militant sects who believe some sort of apocalypse is coming, or that the Government is out to destroy their religion and only an armed stand will enable them to continue. Two notable cases come to mind: that of Ruby Ridge where a right-wing U.S. family took an armed stand against the U.S. Federal Government that ended in violence – notably the F.B.I. thinks one of the highest risks to the United States in terms of domestic terrorism is from religious fundamentalists. The other is the Tokyo subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo a Japanese apocalyptic sect that released sarin into a subway, killing 12 people. As the latter committed an act of violence against people and property, Aum Shinrikyo was designated a terrorist organization.
But the very vast majority of people who adhere to a particular faith, are perfectly normal people trying to go about their lives like you the reader and I the author of this article are. When they go to their place of prayer, they do so out of an honest belief in a higher being. Whether it is Mass or afternoon prayers at the Mosque; whether it is Sunday service or simply for reflection, it is entirely their right. They mean no harm to the world and no suspicion should be held against them. They might be colleagues of yours or friends or even family. Nothing wrong with that.