Suicide and the Sanctity of Life

Does Belief in the Biblical Apocalypse Justify Violence or Suicide?

Several sociologists and historians of religion predicted that with the advent of the year 2000, manifestations of millennialism would increase. In the words of religious historian Catherine Wessinger, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Loyola University, in her paper presented to the October 1996 conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Nashville, “This was not a difficult prediction to make. The approach of the new millennium was bound to excite people’s imaginations and hopes, that the limitations of the human condition would be transcended finally.”

Events involving violence in the past decade of groups with a predisposition for suicide have served to draw the attention of the media, sociologists, and law enforcement officials to minority religions with apocalyptic beliefs. The underlying question has been whether such beliefs necessarily lead to or precipitate suicide or acts of violence by their members. Continue reading

“Mind Control” and “Brainwashing”: Dispelling the Myths

The Politics of Religious Persecution

Over the last few decades, there have been an increasing number of cruel attacks on sincere people of many faiths and religions, brushing off their dedication and idealism as an apparent symptom of “brainwashing” or mental or spiritual coercion. The notion that religious leaders are controlling the minds of their members has been dramatized in the media, serving to further popularize the concept. As a result, restrictions on religious liberty have been or are presently being enacted in more and more countries around the world, limiting individual religious freedom, even though such legislation is at odds with most of these countries’ constitutions. Some anti-religionists have also attempted to present such “mind control” theories in courts of law as established scientific fact, despite the fact that “brainwashing” as a concept has been rejected by most of the international academic community. Such efforts, accompanied by intense lobbying by anti-religious sectors, have enabled the “brainwashing” theory to be found nominally acceptable in varying degrees in Western European governmental reports and legislation, though it remains a nebulous concept without clear definition. Continue reading