2. What is a Sect?

Julián García Hernando, in an article published in the journal of the Institute of Applied Sociology, points to two aspects when searching for the etymological root of the word "sect" which can be derived from the Latin "sequi" - which means "following". In this sense, sect would be the movement of those who follow a religious leader and who accept his message. Or it could have its radical entrenchment in the term "secare" or "secedere" - to cut, to separate. In this case it would mean a group that has separated itself from a church or another sect, with a manifest tendency to close in on itself. (15)

From a sociological point of view and in a broad concept of sect one could call it a conventional group of people who participate in the same religious experiences. (16) A sect, in a global sense, is nothing more than a group of people united by the fact of following a certain doctrine and/or leader. (17) In any context, a sect is a group of people united by a particular doctrine, the word sect being incomplete, that is why they are called "destructive cults or sects", "young sects" or "totalitarian pseudo-religious movements" (18).

A sect would be the “voluntary grouping of converts, limited only to adults, to the exclusion of sinners, that is, reserved only for those who commit themselves to the law of God after having had a conversion experience” if we stick to the definition given by Benoit-Lavaud. In it, therefore, the faithful adhere to the revelations made to a founder. The sect differs from the Church (in the non-theological sense) in that it recognizes another new revelation, different from that witnessed in Sacred Scripture and which it claims to be necessary to understand. Furthermore, the sect limits salvation to its own members.

According to Father Cavalier, the elements that characterize modern sects are the following:

A factor of security and certainty. The members of the sect are aware that they belong to a group that holds the truth and salvation.

Affective factor: The group considers itself self-sufficient. It has no contacts with other groups except to convert them and integrate them into its own group. There is no room for ecumenical dialogue, only for proselytism. Charity can only be exercised within the group, which is very lively and very hot, becoming a real "ghetto".

A factor of doctrinal, disciplinary and moral rigorism. Total primacy is given to principles, to doctrine and its interpretation over the rights of individuals. What prevails is the "sect" that identifies itself with the will of God. (19)

The plenary session of the Congress of Deputies, which decided to investigate the groups considered as sects in Spain, recorded an approximation to the characteristics allowing for the definition of the negative or "antisocial" nature of these groups. According to the socialist deputy Carlos Navarrete, the following characteristics could be considered: (20)

- Doctrinal, religious or socio-religious, demagogic cohesion as a framework for these organizations.
- The presence of a charismatic leader who is considered an incarnation of the divinity or a nuncio of it.
- The existence of a theocratic, vertical and totalitarian structure.
- The establishment of a limit to reason by virtue of the apriorism of certain beliefs.
- To be constituted in closed communities or with a great dependence on the group.
- The suppression of individual and intimate freedoms, of communications, etc.
- The recourse to certain neurophysiological manifestations of meditation, spiritual rebirth, "accesit", etc.
- The total rejection of societies and secular institutions.
- The proselytism and the collection of money and the economic dispossession of its members.

To the previous characteristics the journalist specialized in the subject of the sects, Pepe Rodríguez, in his recently published book on the matter with the title "El poder de las sectas", corrects and increases those that he had already pointed out in his previous works "Las sectas hoy y aquí" and "Esclavos de un Mesías". He adds, among others:

- Demanding total adherence to the group and forcing (under psychological pressure) the breaking of all social ties prior to entering the cult: parents, partner, friends, work, studies, etc.

- Controlling the information that reaches their followers, manipulating it at their convenience.

- Use sophisticated psychological or neurophysiological techniques (masked under "meditation") that serve to annul the will and reasoning of the followers, causing them, in many cases, serious psychic alterations.

- Advocating a total rejection of society and its institutions. Outside the group everyone is an enemy (polarization between good/sect and evil/society). Society is rubbish and the people who live in it are only interested to the extent that they can serve the group.

- To have as primary activities the proselytism - to obtain new adepts - by hidden and illegitimate ways and the collection of money - surveys by the streets, courses, clearly criminal activities. In the case of multinational sects, the money collected is largely sent to the headquarters of each group.

- Obtaining, under psychological coercion, the handing over of the personal assets of new followers to the sect, or large sums of money in the form of courses or audits. Members who work outside the group have to give all or a large part of their salary to the sect. And those who work in companies belonging to the group do not receive salaries (the salaries of these companies of the sect are only a legal cover as they are never paid out - or they return the money later for their members/labor). (21)

There are two aspects that Pepe Rodríguez insists on and places special emphasis on when referring to the characteristics of sects. On the one hand, the isolation from the outside world, in order to better depersonalize the neophyte, manipulating the environment, cutting emotional ties, carefully controlling social activities and relations, cancelling and suppressing information from outside the sect itself by means of strict guidelines, advice and censorship in terms of information and communication, creating a stereotyped and conventional language typical of the sect, giving the words a different meaning from the vulgar or "profane" usage, creating some peculiar signs of identity, imbuing in the follower a feeling of hostility and rejection towards the foreign and suppressing the properties and means of survival of the initiated, under the pretext of their own "spiritual evolution", which makes them have a submissive and vexatious dependence on the sect.

The second aspect that Pepe Rodriguez emphasizes is that which refers to the suppression and annulment of personality, the destruction of individuality by means of studied methods and techniques that, when applied to perfection, will create on the adept the paradox that “man - taken as an isolated individual - believes himself to be a fragile and weak entity. For this reason, he seeks shelter within the group and a mass. There he feels strong and powerful when, in reality - and this is the cruel paradox - he has moved to a stage where he is totally vulnerable and manipulable. While the isolated individual acts under rational guidelines, the mass acts under emotional and irrational imperatives.” (22) It is a path of no return because “when one enters the sectarian community one never again has intimacy”. (23)

When the question “Why aren't you in Opus Dei” was put to the Madrid politician and lawyer Manuel Cantanero del Castillo, his answer was brief and concise, but enlightening “Because I am not willing to be sectarianised” (24), in other words, not to be sold.

Some years ago, in February 1984, journalist Luis Reyes wrote a piece of information in the weekly "Tiempo" that, despite its seriousness, went unnoticed. He wrote: “Opus Dei in Germany is included among the pernicious sects, also known there by the police as 'El Camino'.”

As an eloquent testimony, we will reproduce the open letter that a father wrote to his son, a member of Opus Dei, as a cry that comes from his innermost being and it is as heartbreaking as ever: “Son Peter: I would like you one day to come to the light of truth, to discover the underworld of the 'sect' in which you are now trapped, like an impotent fly entangled in the fine meshes of a spider's web. That gigantic spider is the Marquis of Peralta, the mesh of his Work, the cavernous hole where he takes his prey to devour them, is the Church of the Antichrist. You will give me immense joy the day you manage to escape from the dense nets in which you are now powerfully trapped. Meanwhile, I continue to pray for you. A hug from your suffering and waiting father...” (25) These are the tears of a parent who fights against a destructive sect which, as such, brings about the destruction (destructuring) of the previous personality of the follower and severely damages him, destroying his emotional ties.


15. García Hernando, p 28.
16. Ibid, p 28.
17. Pepe Rodríguez, "El poder de las sectas", p 31 (Barcelona: Editorial B Group 2, 1989).
18. Pepe Rodríguez, "Sectas y lavado de cerebro", in "Esclavos de un Mesías", p 25 (Barcelona: Elfos, 1984).
19. García Hernando, p 29
20. Newspaper "El Independiente", p 32 (June 3, 1988).
21. Pepe Rodríguez, "El poder de la sectas" ("The Power of Cults"), p 33; "Las sectas hoy y aquí" ("Cults Today and Here"), pp 59-60; "Esclavos de un Mesías" ("Slaves of a Messiah"), p 26.
22. Pepe Rodríguez, "Esclavos de un Mesías" ("Slaves of a Messiah"), op. cit.
23. Ibid, p 78.
24. Eve Jardiel Poncela in "¿Por qué no es usted del Opus Dei?" ("Why Aren't You in Opus Dei"), p 58.
25 Nicolás Cobo Martínez, "Faro inconfundible" ("Unmistakable Lighthouse"), No. 31, p. 6 (February 1989).

Index of Chapter I

Previous Section

Next Section

Complete Index