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Tuesday, January 5, 1999 Published at 15:12 GMT


Wanted: middle-class professionals

Mass wedding ceremony of the Unification Church in Korea

Are you a well-educated professional with a healthy bank balance? Are you intelligent with an idealist streak? Then watch out, you're just the sort of person cult recruiters are looking for.

That's according to former cult member Ian Howarth, who now runs a UK charity to help cult victims.

As general secretary of London-based Cult Information Centre, Mr Howarth gives out information on cults and warns about deceptive methods used by cults to recruit new members.

"People are recruited rather than actively joining," Mr Howarth said. "People are usually approached by a friend, possibly to go on a weekend course with other professional people.

"There are lots of myths about cults. Everyone's vulnerable."

According to Mr Howarth the average cult takes less than four days to fully recruit a new member, but the effects can be far-reaching. He himself was in a cult in Toronto, Canada for just two and a half weeks when he was 31. He says it took him 11 months to recover from the experience.

"I managed to get out because of a journalist," he said. "Cult members are programmed to believe the media is the work of the devil. I had not yet been programmed - I was still open to media input."


There are growing fears that doomsday cults are stepping up activities because of the millennium, but too much emphasis is placed on this according to Mr Howarth.

He said: "It may be relevant to certain groups but there are so many variations on when the end of the millennium actually is. Some say it's the end of 1999 whereas mathematically it's the end of the year 2000.

"If you have gained control of a person's mind who cares what year it is?"

Stephen, another man, who asked only to be called by his first name, said his son Patrick was drawn into a cult aged 18. He had three grade A A-levels and was due to go to university.

"My son was seen as a leader of his school, a good public school. By all standards he should have been cult-proof," he said.

"But on the other side of the coin he was highly susceptible. Cults offer utopia. They have all the solutions to life. "

Seeds of doubt

Patrick spent about eight years as a member of the Unification Church, commonly known as the Moonies, and started training to be a group leader. It was only then that he started to have doubts and two years ago he walked out.

[ image: Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon]
Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon
"He gave up his career to serve God - that's what he said. The harder you work, the more committed you become. That's what he really believed," Stephen said.

"Until he started becoming a leader himself and began to realise that everything he'd been told wasn't right. He had more time to think about it.

People do break away from cults, often through the help of their family, explained Ian Howarth, but there are no guarantees. Patrick took about four months to get the Unification Church out of his system and is now doing an accountancy course in London.

Patrick's wife - matched in a Moonie wedding - was kidnapped by her family, but after three weeks she walked out and went back to the group.

"If you remove someone from one belief system and replace it with something else and that is taken away, that person is left with nothing and that can drive them mad," Stephen said.

The Cult Information Centre offers advice to people who suspect a friend or family member is in a cult:

  • DO try to keep in regular contact even if there is little response
  • DO express sincere love for the cult member at every available opportunity
  • DO always welcome the cult member back into the family home no matter what is said
  • DO NOT rush into adopting a solution without researching the cult problem
  • DO NOT say:"You are in a cult; you are brainwashed"
  • DO NOT be judgemental or confrontational towards the cult member
  • DO NOT give money to the member of the group

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