How bad is this “mildly dangerous” cult? And what’s their connection to near-death experience scienc

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    How bad is this “mildly dangerous” cult? And what’s their connection to near-death experience science? |307|
    by Alex Tsakiris | Mar 4 | Near-Death Experience

    The International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS) claims their association with Eckankar is not different from other religious groups.

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    photo by: Michael Swan
    I live in San Diego, California. As much as I love, the move to Southern California was a bit of a culture shock. Like the first time I ran into a group of Hare Krishna followers on the beach. It was a beautiful day and plenty of families, kids, dogs, and I guess you’d say “normal people” were out enjoying the positive ions rolling in off the surf. Among the crowd, a small group of shaved-headed Hare Krishna people were bouncing around in robes singing, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna! Of course, this being San Diego, everyone went about their business, but to me, it all seemed very weird.

    Fast forward a bunch of years. As I’ve continued to practice yoga and develop my spiritual practice I’ve become interested in Kirtan. A devotional signing practice very similar to what I saw those Hare Krishnas doing on the beach all those years ago. And I’m sure, if anyone were to see me on my yoga mat, dripping in sweat, singing, Ram, Ram, Hare Ram, they’d probably think I’m pretty weird.

    I might have learned a lesson that day about judging someone’s spiritual practice. On the other hand, and this gets to the point of today’s show, when it comes to spiritual and religious practices, there’s a fine line between judgement and discernment.

    I have a lot of respect for the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS). They do important work researching and communicating to the public about near-death experience science. But when couple of Skeptiko listeners alerted me that IANDS was getting cozy with a New Age cult called “Eckankar,” I took interest. Firstly, because I think near-death science is important and I don’t want to see any group try to co-opt it for their own purposes. And secondly, because this particular group had popped up on my radar screen before. You might remember episode #240 and my interview with Dr. David C. Lane. Dr. Lane came on to talk about consciousness but as part of his bio and introduction he mentioned his experience with cults and his extensively researched dissertation on the Eckankar cult. What he told me was on the one hand stunning, and on the other hand, if you’re familiar with New Age cults, not different from stories you’ve heard in the past. Here’s an excerpt that interview:

    ————————————-

    Alex Tsakiris: …I directed you away from this other interesting topic that I want you to talk about a little bit – your book, Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical. And it is quite a story, right?

    Dr. David Lane: Yeah, because what happens is that at the age of 20 I do a term paper on Eckankar and it is supposed to be 10 pages but it balloons up to about 120 to 150 pages because I find out that Paul Twitchell had plagiarized his sacred writings.

    Alex Tsakiris: Okay, can you back up and tell people who he is how prominent he still is today?

    Dr. David Lane: Right, Paul Twitchell was kind of a religious seeker. He is from Paducah, Kentucky. In the early 1960s he starts this group called Eckankar. Now Eckankar is a Punjabi word which really means ‘one God’ but he will change that later. He starts his group in the 60s, where a lot of groups were started. And he starts it actually in San Diego and then he eventually moves it to Las Vegas. What’s the goal of the group? To have conscious out-of-body experiences. He was influenced, or we think he was influenced, by four major factors. He used to be a press agent from L. Ron Hubbard in scientology. He was associated with self-realization fellowship Yogananda. He was also a member of Kirpal Singh’s group Ruhani Satsang, and he was also connected to theosophy or at least influence by theosophy. So when I did my term paper I found out a lot of things that people didn’t know. I am kind of really naïve at the time, so I do the term paper and I send it to Eckankar’s headquarters, which used to be Menlo Park. Twitchell is now dead, he died in 1971. So they write me back a couple months later and my mom is kind of teary because she gets this registered letter from the San Francisco attorney saying they are going to sue me.

    Alex Tsakiris: Because you have exposed just blatant plagiarism here that is kind of undeniable at this point, right?

    Dr. David Lane: You would think so. And also he had lied about his life. He claimed he was born in 1922. He had a young wife and as far as we could tell he was born in 1909. He also claims to have traveled to India and there is no evidence that he actually did. He claims that he meets [inaudible – 00:08:31], a 500-year old Tibetan monk. There is no evidence that exists. So he kind of creates a religious mythology, if you get my drift, to kind of hide his real theopneusty or his real past. And so I tried to uncover that to show what his historical life was really like versus his mythology that he has created. And because I did that Eckankar was really irritated. And what happened is some guy got hold of my term paper and then bicycled it or copied it throughout the United States and Europe. And it caused a huge stir and I got death threats and people wanted to kill me and sue me and blah, blah, blah. So that is what stated it and then of course there are all these other groups that happen later on.

    ——————–

    With this as my background I decided to dive in and see what was going on with IANDS and the Eckankar cult. I tried contacting Eckankar directly. No one would come on. Next, I contacted IANDS and explained the situation via email. I told them I was concerned, and was going to do a show on New Age cults and NDE science. I encouraged them to bring Eckankar on the show. Again, the folks from Eckankar declined, but Robert Mays who is a board member of IANDS (and someone I have a lot of respect for) agreed to come on Skeptiko and explain IANDS position vis-à-vis Eckankar. Here are selected excerpts from that interview.

    ——————–

    Alex Tsakiris: Let me start with just the facts because what really opened up my eyes to the Eckankar group which, by the way, you just defended. I mean, you didn’t take a neutral position there. You said their spiritual path is valid; their experience is valid…you said all these things are valid. That’s okay [but] I’m just saying that’s not exactly a neutral position.

    Robert Mays: Hold on a second, what I said is that the elements that [Anne Archer Butcher] experienced in [or] has experienced through a number of different experiences suggests that her path is valid.

    Alex Tsakiris: Yada-yada. Anyone can say that. Here are the facts I go on — by the way — you challenged me a minute ago and asked, “have I looked into Eckankar?” I don’t know Robert, I would turn that around–have you looked into Eckankar? I sent you the information. I interviewed Dr. David C. Lane on my show and it wasn’t even about Eckankar. But in going over his background — here’s a PhD who did a dissertation on Eckankar; a scholarly work reviewed by scholars that found the whole thing looks like a fraud and that the original guy, Paul Twitchell, plagiarized, word-for-word, all of his work. He also found that [Twitchell] was a press agent for L. Ron Hubbard [the guy who started] Scientology…the whole thing looks very scammy. Now, people can do scammy religions if they want. I don’t go out and picket against the Scientologists [though] I might if I had a family member involved because I think it’s a very scammy deal. I don’t choose to do that. But if you want to challenge whether or not Eckankar is number one, a cult. Well, they’ve been identified as a cult. You corrected me and said, “mildly dangerous cult.” Okay. They’re a mildly dangerous cult. They’re still a cult. I don’t know why anyone would want to have an association with a mildly dangerous cult, but in this case we have a scholar who’s helped us point out just how fraudulent their history is. Have you reviewed any of that information? I did send it to you.

    Robert Mays: Yes I have. I haven’t read Dr. Lane’s book. This point about mildy dangerous or minimally dangerous cult is an estimation by another researcher, Elliot Benjamin which I happened to look through and he rates a number of different religious beliefs and so on [regardless] of how cultish they are. And Eckankar comes out relatively low in that. So, okay. We’re not making a judgment about Enckankar but we are trying to validate NDE-ers experiences.
     
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  2. K9!

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    The thing that Robert Mays failed to address was that Anne Archer Butcher wasn't at the IANDS conference to talk about her NDE, she was there as a member of the Eck clergy quoting the words of the cult leader and leading the audience in the cult mantra. Cult pamphlets were reportedly handed out at the conference. So pretending that this is about religious discrimination is a total crock.
     
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  3. K9!

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    In Jacques Vallee's book Confrontations, there is a part in the introduction where he talks about the problem of cults in those interested in UFOs.

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J4WOQT6/ref=rdr_ext_sb_ti_sims_1#reader_B00J4WOQT6

    It seems very relevant to the situation at IANDS. There is very much an anti-science sentiment among the majority of IANDS conference attendees. A lot of that comes from people being told that NDEs are just hallucinations or a lack of oxygen, when NDErs know there is something bigger going on. It is unfortunate that IANDS has allowed a cult member on the board, given the fact that she broke IANDS rules against promoting a particular religion at the conference. IANDS may lose all credibility over this, if it hasn't already. I certainly feel very differently about IANDS now.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2016
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  4. Is there a more detailed break down on what makes the cult mildly dangerous?

    Did it organize those death threats against Lane?

    Apologies if I missed this and it was covered.
     
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  5. Inner Space

    Inner Space New

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    Kudos to Alex for demonstrating that he can be just as suspicious of b.s. promulgated by some so-called religious groups as he is of hard line scientific materialists working in academia. At the end of the show Dr Lane tells us that Ann Archer Butcher is on the board at IANDS because of what is essentially her corporate skills. Ironically, I think this is the nub of the problem. I know nothing about Eckenkar and a only a little about Scientology. However, what I do know about Scientology is that it is in the business of subjugating other people and even other organisations so it can increase its influence. This of course involves gaining corporate/financial power and the spiritual aspects of these so-called "churches" are merely co-opted to serve their corporate interests. Reality is that if IANDS and Eckenkar are not just research and religious entities respectively but also business entities. If a little "cross promotion" can increase both organisations influence through their mutual association then the "facts" about NDE be damned. In short, Dr Lane is talking bull when he pretends that Ms Butcher's association with Eckenkar is merely her personal spiritual belief. It happens to be a key aspect to her professional livelihood - one that is now entangled with IANDS as she is currently on their board. Maybe some of the profits from her next book could be fed back into IANDS?
     
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  6. Typoz

    Typoz Member

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    That may be unwise. Financial ties imply an even closer association, and perhaps some degree of control over the recipient of the funds too.
     
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  7. Alex

    Alex New

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    I think you're referring to comments made by Robert Mays rather than David Lane.
     
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  8. K9!

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    I suppose a "dangerous" cult would be something like Heaven's Gate (which everyone except Jacques Vallee thought was harmless until the mass suicide occurred). Perhaps "mildly dangerous" refers to the kind of traumatic mind-control reportedly employed by Eckankar as related in this article from the Cultic Studies Review:
    http://www.colleenrussellmft.com/To...genicBeliefsThroughTheProcessofActing.en.html

    Dr Lane mentioned death threats, along with threats of legal action from the cult. He talks about Eckankar in this lecture. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't great.

     
  9. K9!

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  10. Alex

    Alex New

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    good stuff. thx.
     
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  11. Far.From.Here

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    I don't have a particular opinion about the relationship between IANDS and Eckenkar.

    My experience with Eckenkar is reading Brad Steiger's book on Twitchell back in the 80's. I had a nascent interest in "astral projection" and stumbled across the book in a used book store I frequented. I don't belong to Eckenkar. But I don't really see the tenants of Eckenkar as radically different from the tenants of The Monroe Institute, for example. (Read the "Teachings" section here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eckankar) Both groups are non-profit. Both make implicit promises about where their practices lead you. One group styles itself as a "religion" and the other group styles itself as secular.

    Is there a lot of really dis-tasteful stuff in Eckenkar's past. Obviously. Was OSHO a horrible scoundrel? Undoubtedly. But painting these organizations with the broadest brush and saying there is absolutely no good in them, seems unproductive.

    Having recently read Kripal's "Authors of the Impossible" see the following associations to Scientology:

    Puthoff, Swann, and Price all had connections to Scientology in the early 1970s.

    Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (p. 304). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

    Swann gave a paper on Scientology as an appropriate paradigm for studying and extending paranormal powers.

    Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011-09-16). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred (p. 178). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. ​

    I think it is a better avenue to educate people about the pitfalls surrounding these groups, and then let them make up their own minds about whether to make an association or not. It is as unlikely that Eckenkar or Scientology are ALL BAD as it is that The Monroe Institute is ALL GOOD.
     
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  12. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's question at the end of the interview:

    What do you think of IANDS neutrality vis a vis their involvement with the Eckankar cult?
     
  13. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Alex, it was good to bring this topic up, because we all know from other areas of science just how easy it is for sloppy, careless, and even corrupt practices to creep in.

    I guess the real question for us, is whether NDE reports from cult members are valid scientifically. Unfortunately, I don't think it is, because such people have an obvious interest in making such reports up, or elaborating them in various ways.

    I really wish IANDS would separate from this organisation.

    David
     
  14. Far.From.Here

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    Please do enlighten us about what makes an NDE report "valid scientifically." I would love to know.
     
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  15. Selina

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    Scientology is a criminally abusive scam. Yes, that's all bad. Just because they throw in some helpful self-help techniques doesn't let them off the hook. You can always find some "good" in cults and religions, that's the whole point. THEY claim to be "all good" and the one true way. Religious ideas should be held to the same scrutiny as any belief or idea and not treated with kid gloves.

    Just because someone had an NDE doesn't give legitimacy to the "path" they follow. The path is irrelevant. Yet we see religions like Christianity and Mormonism trying to hijack NDEs and cherry pick the ones with a Jesus experience to prove they are the one true path. The ones that don't confirm their dogma are dismissed as a "trick of the devil."

    Robert Mays' claim that "...the elements that [Anne Archer Butcher] experienced in [or] has experienced through a number of different experiences suggests that her path is valid" is absolute nonsense. If Butcher is making this claim I would be wary that she is using the NDERF as a way to promote her cult.

    NDEs happen to people of any belief and walk of life. If we believe NDEs can happen to anyone, religions become irrelevant. That is threatening to cults and religions who use fear and the belief they have the only path to salvation/heaven to intimidate and keep followers trapped.
     
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  16. K9!

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    Scientology looks pretty bad to me. I don't care about other people's beliefs, but an organization that does illegal wiretapping is scary.

     
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  17. Far.From.Here

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    I'm not supporting scientology, eckankar, TMI or Rajneesh. But I simply don't know enough about these organizations/people to support or bash them.

    I can't form an opinion based on one person's "thesis" or some youtube videos. Real life is often times a lot more complicated than that. I'm not going to support them, but I'm not going to go off on a rant about how evil they are either.

    Buyer beware. If you get involved in these organizations keep your eyes and ears open.
     
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  18. David Bailey

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    Well obviously the best quality NDE data involves a veridical component of some sort, but where an NDE is purely subjective, it is best if the person has no axe to grind.

    David
     
  19. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well it didn't help that they refused the chance to appear on Alex's podcast.

    David
     
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  20. Far.From.Here

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    I'm pretty sure that is a logical fallacy.
     
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