by Camelia Marin
Making a short research on the angles that Netflix takes in its documentaries about spiritual movements, we can notice that Netflix follows playbook of anti-cult movement to make all new religious movements look bad.
In May this year was published an interesting article named: „Is Netflix a Threat to Religious Liberty?” by Dr. Massimo Introvigne https://bitterwinter.org/is-netflix-a-threat-to-religious-liberty/, in which he present about „Sensational TV series about religious leaders sentenced for sexual abuse are broadcast without considering that they wreak havoc in the lives of their innocent followers.”
A step in finding the truth is to raise an interest on the subject, watching the series produced by Netflix.
Are these series just another way of raising scandal, sensational, drama, etc., without caring about real people? Does Netflix become a tool in spreading information that can affect lives of spiritual practitioners?
The article mentioned above refers to members of different spiritual communities, such as Providence, of the Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo, of the Czech Guru Jára Path, of the Buenos Aires Yoga School in Argentina which either lost their job or had serious problems in their workplaces. The same happened to "devotees of Shincheonji in South Korea after the accusation (later declared false by the local Supreme Court) that their religious movement had willingly spread the COVID-19 virus, or members of the Unification Church/Family Federation in Japan."
The Netflix platform offers an abundance of new and exciting series, saying that „Documentaries and docuseries about cults expose not only their warped power dynamics and chilling secrets, they also explore the voices and lives of those involved.”
It is easy to find the documentaries about spiritual communities and leaders, just search “Documentaries on cults” and already some titles, and their short explanation pop up.
Several of such series are based on apostates, former students’ statements, and they play around a subject. The easy way to sell and make it sensational and scandal is about sexual abuse.
In such series, one or more women claim, in some cases many years after the facts, that they had consensual sexual relationships with the leaders, but they gave their consensus because they were “brainwashed” by the religious movements.
by Massimo Introvigne
Posters for the Netflix series “In the Name of God.” From Twitter.
Last month, I interviewed in Australia a young girl I would call Grace (not her real name). A brilliant company executive with an unimpeachable curriculum, she had just been called by her employer and asked just one question, “Are you still a member of Providence Church?” When she answered yes, and added she did not plan to leave the church in any foreseeable future, she was immediately fired.
The employer had known for years that Grace was a member of the Providence Church, and that the church leader had been sentenced for sexual abuse, as the story had been reported in Australian media. However, he decided to fire her after a Netflix TV series on Providence and its leader had gathered millions of viewers.
I collected similar stories in several countries. Members of Providence, of the Mexican megachurch La Luz del Mundo, of the Czech Guru Jára Path, of the Buenos Aires Yoga School in Argentina either lost their job or had serious problems in their workplaces. The same happened to devotees of Shincheonji in South Korea after the accusation (later declared false by the local Supreme Court) that their religious movement had willingly spread the COVID-19 virus.
Members of the Unification Church/Family Federation in Japan went through the same ordeal after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by a man who claimed that the church, to which Abe was friendly, had ruined his mother, who is still a member. Although the dynamics are similar, I will focus here on cases where the leaders have been accused of sexual abuse, rape, or inducing members to prostitution.
The city of Nice is home to “a number of extremely serious facts, which took place in several buildings” (“plusieurs faits extrêmement graves qui se sont produits dans différents établissements”). This is what Christian Estrosi, mayor of the Côte d’Azur pearl, in Mediterranean France, wrote in a June 15, 2023, letter to French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne. What that “number of extremely serious facts,” worth a national alarm and the public denunciation by the authorities, was? A few children, aged 9 to 11, prayed.
Religious liberty is threatened all over the world in different ways, grades, and shapes. In democratic societies the persecution is often indirect. It may be of an administrative or fiscal kind, as the case of Tai Ji Men in Taiwan shows. Sometimes, it is cultural. Tolerant France may become intolerant, as the paradigmatic case of Nice proves.
In some schools some children “prayed according to the Muslim rituals in the courtyard” of the schools they attend(ed), “or managed to observe a minute of silence in memory of the prophet Muhammad” (“ont fait la prière musulmane dans la cour de leur établissement ou ont organisé une minute de silence à la mémoire du prophète Mahomet dans leur école”). In detail, on May 16, 10 pupils of Saint-Sylvestre elementary school in northern Nice and three on June 5 in Fuon Cauda elementary school, in the center of the city, prayed before lunch. On June 8, a child in a third elementary school, Bois de Boulogne in Nice’s Moulins neighborhood, organized a silent remembrance of Prophet Muhammad, as the French daily “Le Figaro” and state-owned Radio France reported. Moreover, also in Nice, three students prayed in a secondary school, the Collège Picasso de Vallauris-Golfe-Juan, and a girl wore the “abaya,” a traditional robe used my Muslims especially in the Arabian Peninsula, in the Estienne d’Orves high school. The three students were excluded permanently from the schools, and the girl suffered the same fate for five days.
By Camelia Marin
The struggle for religious liberty has been ongoing for centuries, and has led to innumerable, and often tragic, conflicts. The twentieth century saw the codification of common values related to freedom of religion and belief in numerous international treaties, declarations, and conventions.
The United Nations recognized the importance of freedom of religion and belief in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18. Similar provisions can be found in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as other regional and specialized human rights instruments. However, attempts to develop an enforceable, binding document specifically related to the freedom of religion and belief have been unsuccessful.
After twenty years of debate, intense struggle, and hard work, in 1981 the General Assembly made strides towards achieving the goal of introducing a treaty on freedom of religion and belief, adopting (without a vote) the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981 Declaration). While the 1981 Declaration lacks any enforcement procedures, it remains the most important contemporary codification of the principles of freedom of religion and belief.
Religious tolerance and pluralism made great gains in Western Europe after World War II and in Eastern Europe after the Cold War.
The end of the Cold War in 1989 "liberated" religions in Eastern Europe from Communist restraints. It opened up new possibilities for minority religions and unprecedented freedom of religion and conscience.
On U.N. International Day of Living Together in Peace, scholars and human rights activists called for acknowledging injustice and restoring justice for Tai Ji Men.
by Daniela Bovolenta
The poster of the webinar.
On May 16, 2023, United Nations International Day of Living Together in Peace, CESNUR and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers co-organized one of their bi-monthly webinars about the Tai Ji Men case, under the title “Will Tai Ji Men Finally Be Allowed to Live Together in Peace?”
Karolina Maria Hess, a researcher at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, introduced the webinar and a video on the history of the International Day of Living Together in Peace. It was included among the U.N. international days of observance in 2017, the video explained, but the original initiative came from Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, the head of the Algerian branch of the Muslim Sufi brotherhood Alawiya.
On 16 May 2023, CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers co-organized a webinar about the Tai Ji Men case, under the title “Will Tai Ji Men Finally Be Allowed to Live Together in Peace?”
Soteria International, represented by Camelia Marin, contributed by expressing the concern about the Tai Ji Men case and the endless bureaucracy that is affecting the spiritual community:
United Nations Declaration refferes to International Day of Living Together in Peace as "Working together with religious leaders to promote tolerance and understanding among human beings"
For a spiritual community to live in peace means that all its environment, social and political.
The community is created by individuals. Many factors are influential in the formation of the individual personality. Families and media, as well as cultural and religious communities themselves, should support the development of open-minded individuals, capable of critical thinking and of constructive dialogue with others.
Education is combating ignorance, breaking down stereotypes, building trust and mutual respect and promoting sincere support for the shared values of living together.
For this, institutions of the states develop projects in collaboration with religious communities to promote shared values and “living together”.
In Taiwan, we can see among others, the example of Tai Ji Men spiritual community and their participation to national and international events, calling for Love, Peace, Conscience, helping people unite in the hearts and encouraging the search for their inner peace and harmony.
Still, we can notice situations when national or international institutions obscure the responsibilities of government for upholding human rights, and create obstacles to calling human rights-violating states to account.
On March 1, 2023, United Nations Zero Discrimination Day, CESNUR and the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers organized one of their bi-monthly webinars, with the title “Zero Discrimination for Tai Ji Men.”
Willy Fautré, co-founder and director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, mentioned the international treaties calling for the elimination of all discriminations. These treaties, he said, unfortunately did not prevent discriminations to continue, even in democratic countries, particularly in the field of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). In several European countries, minority groups and the more so those stigmatized as “cults,” are discriminated from the legal and tax points of view. The same, Fautré noted, has happened in Taiwan with Tai Ji Men.
by Massimo Introvigne
*Conclusions of the webinar “Tai Ji Men: Fighting for Human Rights,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on December 10, 2022, Human Rights Day.
Photo - Police confront protesters in Iran. Photo by Ebrahim Noroozi, Farsnews. Credits.
This year, Human Rights Day is celebrated right in the middle of some of the most heated discussions on human rights in recent years. On August 31, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report accusing China of gross human right violations and what it called “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang.
Several European countries have asked for an international tribunal that would judge the Russian war crimes in Ukraine, similar to the Nuremberg tribunal that judged Nazi leaders after World War II. The World Cup of soccer is now taking place in Qatar, and several Western teams have tried to use the tournament as an opportunity to publicly protest the violations of human rights in Qatar and other countries with an Islamic majority, including Iran.
New paradigm of solving conflicts - raising from the mind, in the heart. Love, Peace, Conscience.
By Camelia Marin
See whole webinar here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qz2UZB2Bzo
On the Human Rights Day, in order to fulfil our purpose which is to see the human rights respected all over the world and the human kind being genuinely humane, I would like to start with the necessity of unifying minds and hearts – which is the key element to be taken into consideration both for the individual spiritual evolution and for the social evolution seen from a holistic perspective.
As we can see, Tai Ji Men practice encourages all of us to experience states like love, peace and conscience, which, in their view, should be there in order to become a harmonious society and to raise our level of consciousness.
In one way or another, we need to shift from the old paradigm of solving conflicts – which didn’t take into consideration the already existing state of unity, created by both sides of the conflict being on the same level, of the mind, and which, thus, was in itself a seed of conflict – to a new paradigm, of surpassing the level where conflicts appear, by engaging the hearts in this process.
Validated nowadays by the newest discoveries of science, this new paradigm of conflict management is based on the concept of Concordia or coherence of the hearts.
In 1950, the United Nations declared 10th December a day to celebrate human dignity, equality and respect, a day to remind governments and politicians that the paramount emphasis of all their actions should be the human dimension.
On the Human Rights Day this year, Soteria International will participate to the webinar organized by CESNUR and HRWF to further the scope of the human rights’ discussions and to bring perspectives from various spiritual traditions.
Tai Ji Men case shows us that violations of human rights or better said spiritual human rights are still happening.
by Marco Respinti*
*Introduction to the hybrid webinar “Persecuting Spiritual Teachers: The Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers on October 8, 2022, after the World Teachers’ Day (October 5).
Photo: Teachers of the famous medical school of Salerno in a medieval illuminated manuscript. Credits.
The World Teachers’ Day is an annual day of observance established in 1994 by two United Nations agencies, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to commemorate the signing of the 1966 Recommendation, Concerning the Status of Teachers. That Recommendation relates to a variety of subjects, ranging from working conditions to the continuing education of teachers.
Let me then briefly underline the crucial importance of teachers for a virtuous society. In fact, no one should under-evaluate it.
Teachers are key elements in the transmission of values that sustain a community. In fact, teaching and schooling mean not only communicating a set of notion but offering a particular aid to the general educational task needed in any human community, working with families in a subsidiary way. In this regard, teachers work side by side, at least implicitly, with families, and should never contrast them in their guiding principles. As families are the fundamental and foundational cells of a society, teachers working with families help families to implement their vocation.
by Massimo Introvigne*
*Conclusions of the hybrid seminar “Persecuting Spiritual Masters: The Tai Ji Men Case,” co-organized by CESNUR and Human Rights Without Frontiers in Walnut, California, on October 8, 2022, after the World Teacher’s Day
For reasons I and other scholars have discussed elsewhere, France has a particularly aggressive and government-sponsored system to fight against “cults,” called in French “sectes.” One of its most bizarre features is the use of the word “guru” as if it was a synonym of a criminal religious leader brainwashing and exploiting his or her followers for money, sex, and power. This use is now common in French-language media but is, if you would pardon my French, idiotic.
Not only is “guru” used outside the original context of spiritual masters in the tradition of the Indian religions, but the meaning of the word is totally misunderstood. “Guru” is a word used in the Indian tradition to indicate the best of all human beings. It is an ancient Sanskrit term with a variety of etymologies, which are complementary rather than alternative. A “guru” is first of all a “dispeller of ignorance,” as “gu” means “ignorance” and “ru” means “one who dispels.” A guru is one who has received a special call from the divine and calls others to enlightenment, from the Sanskrit root “giri,” “one who calls.” “Guru” also means one who “has weight,” figuratively but also physically: hence the representations of the Buddha as a fat man and the popular Indian legend that a guru on a scale has a weight much higher than an ordinary man or woman with similar features.
By Camelia Marin, Soteria International
The subject - Persecuting spiritual teachers - is in the same time unbelievable to happen nowadays but, unfortunately very real.
I will start by just pointing out The ongoing case of Tai Ji Men and its leader Dr. Hong Tao-Tze is one of such terrible example of persecution.
With no reason and no proves Dr Hong was unjustly kept in a detention center for 159 days by the Prosecutor Hou Kuan-Jen.
Prosecutor Hou and those who persecuted Tai Ji Men, were politically motivated, but they also wanted to destroy a spiritual community based on moral rules and guided by healthy principles. They did not succeed and Dr. Hong after his release came back to teach his disciples, dizi.
Following his path, Dr Hong continues to successfully teach about conscience, peace, love, and self-cultivation to this very day. However, he and Tai Ji Men continued to be harassed in Taiwan in several ways, particularly through ill-founded tax bills.
I will bring one more example, which shows several similarities - the case of yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru and MISA yoga school.
During time, since the communist regime in Romania till nowadays, in persecuting the yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru, Romanian authorities skilfully falsified facts, documents, for changing and then “disguising” all political persecutions into common crimes.
See the videorecording of the whole webinar here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mraaTOcg2u4
It all started in August 2015 when the members of RIES – anti cult organization from Spain, present in Uruguay and constituted in the Infosectas association (members Alvaro Farias and Miguel Pastorino) initiated an extensive defamation action in the local and international press against the yoga school Ananda in Uruguay and the yoga instructor Octav F.
At that time the yoga school had very successful classes at the State University of Uruguay with more than 3000 students. The reason for the defamation was the connection of the yoga school in Uruguay with the yoga school MISA in Romania, which the so-called cult experts from RIES and Infosectas consider a sect.
Similar to the cases mentioned by Susan Palmer in her book "Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities", in August 2018, a team of 15 people from the General Directorate for the Fight against Organized Crime and Interpol from the Ministry of the Interior of Uruguay came to headquarters of the Ananda Yoga Academy in Montevideo where Octav F.'s home was, showing a Search Warrant and an Arrest Warrant for Octav F. on the grounds of sexual offenses and domestic violence.
Author: Willy Fautré
Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
Minority religious or belief groups around the world are often victims of suspicion, prejudices, stigmatization, discrimination, fabricated charges, miscarriage of justice, intolerance and even physical violence although they teach and practice peace and love for all human beings without any distinction.
This is the case for Ahmadis in Pakistan where they are considered heretics.
This is the case with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia where they are stigmatized as extremists and have been banned for five years.
This is the case for all faiths in China where atheism is the doctrine of the CCP.
But this is also the case in our European democratic countries with minority groups which were created in a recent past. Media outlets and public authorities stigmatize them as cults, harmful or dangerous and that has quite a negative impact on the lives of their members.
MISA is one of such groups in Romania.
MISA (Movement for Spiritual Integration in the Absolute) is a non-profit organization registered in 1990 in Bucharest. It was founded by 27 people, including their spiritual master Gregorian Bivolaru. Its first objective is “to raise the cultural and spiritual level of people through an adequate, deeply beneficial preparation, to popularize knowledge in the fields of yoga”.
MISA is a loose network of training centers, yoga schools and ashrams. Before the 2004 police crackdown, it numbered about 37,000 practitioners. In addition, there were about 40 ashrams in Romania where some 750 people were living and practising yoga. After the 2004 events, the number dramatically decreased due to the social panic instilled by the media.
The project to destroy any ‘unwelcome’ or socially/politically rejected group in societies which have a problem with the otherness concept usually follows a well-known pattern:
These three strategies were chronologically used against MISA and Gregorian Bivolaru.
In this presentation today, I will focus on the fabrication of the criminal case against Gregorian Bivolaru as a way to try to get rid of MISA.
Author: Rosita Šorytė
FOB (European Federation for Freedom of Belief)
ABSTRACT: An important precedent was established by the Supreme Court of Sweden on October
21, 2005, when it stated that “cult” leaders accused of common crimes not directly related to religion
cannot expect a fair trial in countries where an obvious prejudice against their religious beliefs and
practices exist. They may thus be eligible for asylum abroad. Extradition was denied in the case of
Gregorian Bivolaru, the leader of MISA (Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute), who
was wanted by Romania for sexual abuse and human trafficking. The decision opened the way to asylum
in Sweden, which was granted two months thereafter. The article analyzes the Swedish case, and
discusses its relevance as a precedent whose principles may be applied in other countries as well.
On December 31, 2005, Gregorian Bivolaru, the founder and leader of MISA, the Movement for the Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, was granted asylum in Sweden. This followed a decision of October 21, 2005, of the Supreme Court of Sweden denying a request of extradition to Romania (Supreme Court of Sweden 2005; I also rely on files on the case made available to me by CESNUR, the Center for Studies on New Religions).
by Susan Wang-Selfridge*
*An in-session response to the papers presented by Holly Folk, Donald Westbrook and Rosita Šorytė in the session “‘Cults’: The International Return of a Dubious Category,” at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Los Angeles, August 7, 2022.
The original “Madama Butterfly,” 1904. Credits.
Certain words are used to create and perpetuate prejudice. I have studied and taught music all my life, first as a lecturer at the University of California Los Angeles, where I had earned my PhD, and then as a private teacher. Music can teach us something about stereotypes, labels, and prejudices too.
I would mention only one example. “Madama Butterfly” by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini premiered in 1904 and is among the six most performed operas in the world. Yet, recently it has been criticized by some, including in The New York Times, as perpetuating racist and orientalist prejudices.
An event organized by Soteria International, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) on MISA, or the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute,. With Camelia Marin – Massimo Introvigne – Willy Fautré –Gordon Melton - Alessandro Amicarelli – Rosita Sorite - Konrad Swenninger – Mihai Stoian (Advaitananda) – Eileen Barker
The webinar is introducing a recently released book of Prof Massimo Introvigne – “Sacred Eroticism in MISA”. And also is raising the concern on the human rights violations, institutional discrimination, social and media marginalization on MISA yoga students and the yoga teacher Gregorian Bivolaru.
If we take individually such case of a spiritual community accused of criminal intent, we can remain passive in front of the dark side presented in media, or in the doubtable evidences presented by prosecutors. Just because seems to be a particular situation.
But when we look to a larger perspective, observing the similarities from such cases, worldwide, noticing the same pattern of accusation on fraud, or human trafficking or sexual abuse, then we feel to take a stand and wish to find the truth and to support the spiritual communities in need.
This is why we are here today, and thank you again to all our distinguished guests for their research and efforts done.
During time we studied cases from different countries in Europe, as for example Ananda Assisi and Arkeon – Italy, OKC – Belgium, Poetrie Esoteric Institute – Czech Republic, MISA – Romania ... and others.
What happened and why MISA yoga school and Gregorian Bivolaru were under unprecedented attack from authorities in Romania and how that Mr Bivolaru case became a precedent of non-respecting Geneva Convention in EU?
Our guests offer their expertise in the field – see the video.
On April 27, 2022, webinar!
from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Brussels time
Access link on zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86168730740
This event is organized by Soteria International, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FOB) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) on Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute - MISA.
The webinar will bring a synthesis on the discrimination and persecution happened on MISA school and students.
Also the webinar will aim to bring a perspective upon the teaching of MISA school and their perspective upon eroticism, which is the main reason for the social context and misunderstandings around MISA school.
The event will bring together distinguish scholars and experts from all around the world: Camelia Marin, Massimo Introvigne, Willy Fautré, Gordon Melton, Susan Palmer, Alessandro Amicarelli, Rosita Šorytė, Konrad Swenninger and special guests.
The webinar will be on zoom and also LIVE on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/soteria.rights
On December 10 we celebrate the Human Rights Day. Such a celebration always is a source of hope and optimism in solving different issues regarding the human rights, raising the humanitarianism and morality in the world.
This year, 2021, Soteria International, was invited to participate to a webinar – “Human Rights and Anti-Corruption: The Tai Ji Men Case”, organized by International Forum for Human Rights, in the celebration of the human rights day and also to raise awareness and celebrate December 9th – the Anti-corruption Day.
Soteria International was represented by the Deputy Director, Camelia Marin. Here is her presentation:
“Today, rule of law is challenged not only from arbitrary application of the law within certain states, but increasingly by how the tools regulating the interaction between different national judicial systems lacks a precision to hinder abuses and misinterpretations. Thus, the very tools for securing the rule of law open a risk for its corruption.