DIALOGUE IRELAND - NEWSLETTER 11 - 1999
In this issue:
Dublin Church of Christ
As the year 2000 approaches we are getting increased enquiries about the possibility of a Solar Temple type incident here in Ireland from the Gardaí and the media. Our research indicates that while there is no such danger, the kinds of beliefs that can lead to such incidents elsewhere, also exist in Ireland. This raises a further issue, namely that one of the problems in this country is that we have no statistical information on New Religious Movements (NRMs) or research on RELIGION as distinct from theology at third level. This is one of the issues we hope to raise with the Dáil Select Committee on Justice, Equality and Women's Rights when we meet them.
Dialogue Ireland has been reorganised during the past year. We have formed an action cornmittee to help develop the work which meets regularly. The main committee continues to represent the churches but only meets once a year. We are still looking for a base for our work and are also at the stage of developing a vision for our future work. This year I was in over 120 schools from Schull to Westport and can't emphasise enough the need for schools to have presentations. A further development of our work has been a move into third level. I have been ably assisted by Louis Hughes OP in this work. Last year we were in All Hallows, the Marino and the Mater Dei Institutes and later this year we hope to offer courses at the Milltown and Kimmage Mission Institutes.
We had a very successful conference called 'Seekers' last year and over 90 people attended. This year we are concentrating on the International Church of Christ at our conference at Clonliffe College on Saturday October 30 (see back page and enclosed brochure for details). We invited John Partington, a senior elder in the London Church to participate but he reserved the right to withdraw if his church had a difficulty with any of the other speakers. When we invited Ayman Akshar, director of an organisation called 'Triumphing over London Cults' and a former member of the ICC, Mr Partington immediately refused to participate. This was strange as we had also invited Damian Thompson, formerly religious affairs correspondent with the Daily Telegraph who took part in the BBC production, 'Living with the enemy', in which Damian spent a week living with the London church. We felt his experience of the group would prove a helpful balance to the views of an ex member. Below you will find a report on the current situation in the Dublin Church of Christ by a member of the action committee Mairead Furlong who left the church earlier this year.
You will also find an interesting article by Louis Hughes on Ching Hai. Often these articles do not seem relevant till someone you know joins a group, and then they are like gold dust!
DUBLIN CHURCH OF CHRIST (DCC)
The DCC has attracted much media attention in Ireland in the past year - and all for the wrong reasons. Disgruntled ex-members, distraught parents and concerned friends have gone public to warn about the actual beliefs and practices of the DCC. BBC 2 produced a documentary about the INTERNATIONAL CHURCH OF CHRIST (ICC) last autumn. Reporter Damian Thompson lived in an ICC flat for a week for the 'Living with the Enemy' programme. This was followed by the UTV 'Insight Programme' in December entitled, The Road to Hell. They talked to former members and exit-counsellors about the group. The group is covered quite frequently by various newspapers and occasionally on local and national radio.
To diffuse such media scrutiny, Dublin leader Nick Isaacs promoted the 80 to 90 member group in an interview in the Dublin Underground as a normal church, not much different than others, except that they are more committed. As any member or ex-member knows, the differences between the ICC and other 'denominations' are so accentuated that members come to believe that they are the only 'saved' people in Ireland. The DCC replanted the Belfast church in September 1998 after the failed attempt of 1994. The Belfast church is currently led by Roy and Valerie Mulcahy.
The DCC continue to meet at the ATGWU Hall on Middle Abbey Street. The DCC operates a revolving door system, with as many people leaving as joining. lf the church is really so great as they boast and the people so happy, why do so many people leave, many with the belief they are going to hell? Hell seems preferable to them than continued membership in the DCC! Many parents have intervened successfully, with the help of exit-counsellors, in presenting information about the ICC which would be inaccessible from the group itself as they label any material critical of it as 'spiritual pornography'. Exit counselling is very different to deprogramming which conjures up images of locked rooms, discarded Bibles, torture and emotional breakdown. Exit counselling is simply a process of presenting and discussing information, with no applied pressure to the member to make a decision either way.
The DCC's favoured recruiting technique is a bland invitation to a Christian service or bible study, usually without mentioning which religion they represent. When quizzed, members respond 'just a Christian non-denominational group'. They also hold 'Women's Day' and 'Men's Forum' functions, which are typically portrayed as secular events to lure people along. One may also be invited along to a party. A cinema may be hired to entice people not otherwise interested in Christianity. The DCC target UCD and Trinity students and 'sharp' business people and leaders often infiltrate student common rooms to befriend students, without stating their covert purpose of converting them to the 'one true church' so that the member will be 'fruitful'. The ICC member must teach the same formulaic series of scripture to any potential convert. The series is replete with dubious analogies and twists scripture out of context. They also completely confuse evangelism with discipleship. Leaders Nick and Sara Isaacs have moved to a plush city centre apartment on Castle Street since last November. Their lifestyle is in sharp contrast to the young people who have to give 10% of their gross income, including student grants and meagre social welfare payments.
SCIENTOLOGY ORGANISATION (SO)
Last year I reported the decline of this group, which continues apace. Passing their office on Middle Abbey no one is visible, and where they had a shop front there is now a pool hall. I recently met someone who had been involved with them and he reported serious problems and divisions within the organisation. Mary Johnston, a former member who is involved with a court case against the SO, won a significant victory when the SO attempted to hold onto her confessional files, claiming that to release them would result in them being in danger of damnation! This is a little rich when they don't believe in hell in the first place. Now they are appealing to the Supreme Court while they try to heal the rifts in their ranks and kick for touch to waste more time.
The 'Supreme Master Ching Hai' visited Ireland recently and gave a seminar endtled: 'Immediate Enlightenment, Eternal Liberation'. The event took place in the main hall of the RDS (yes, the one used by charismatic renewal!). It was well publicised both through street posters and substantial ads in national newspapers, highlighting the news that 'Heaven is here and now!' and inviting the Irish public to 'see God while living'. Approximately 1000 people turned up to hear and see Ms Ching Hai, a handsome Chinese-Vietnamese woman who appeared in evening dress on the flower-bedecked stage. She connected easily with her audience, even inviting those who were seatless to share her space and her cushions onstage. Her informality was in stark contrast to the dozens of mainly oriental-looking minders in business suits, who silently monitored the proceedings.
The content of Ching Hai's address was part Buddhist, part Hindu, but given a New Age twist in for example, her insistence that the term 'Christ' refers not to a person, but to a power that emanates from God and manifests the authority of God in exceptionally enlightened individuals. With a touch that seemed to owe something to Wordsworth's poem Ode on the Intimations of Mortality, she explained that when we are born, we may remember past existences. As we grow, things crowd around, and we lose the vision of God which we had when we left heaven. Then, going far beyond Wordsworth, she reasoned that if God lives in here (pointing to her heart), logically one should be able to see him at any time - 'we just have to know u here to direct our attention. Seeing (the Light of God) is believing'. Consequently, she declared: 'I am offering proof of God's existence'. This proof however, is evident only to those who have been initiated into what she terms the 'Quan Yin Method' of meditation.
'Quan Yin' is the name of a goddess, the most popular in China. Worshipped both by Buddhists and Taoists, Quan Yin is represented as a female figure with many arms to signify her generosity towards her devotees. She is particularly favoured by women who pray to her for the birth of a son.1 However, the 'Quan Yin Method' of meditation bears little relationship to the traditional simple prayers and offerings made to the goddess. While reluctant to explain the method to the uninitiated, Ching Hai did indicate in replies to questions from the audience that it involves turning our attention inwards to listen to God - something we have forgotten in the course of our busy lives. During meditation one will hear musical sounds, such as that of the bagpipe. Quan Yin meditation is practised with one's attention focused on the 'third eye' centre, located in the middle of the forehead. This, she said, is the wisdom centre and the highest gateway for leaving one's body. However, the technique should be learned properly and practised correctly. She warned of the danger of focusing on any chakras or centres of energy without proper guidance. That guidance is given during the process of initiation into the method. All present were invited to take initiation there and then. About 100 people took up the offer. Some underwent full initiation which involves a life-long commitment to a vegan diet and at least two hours meditation daily. Others received the 'quick initiation' or 'Convenient Method', requiring a half hour's meditation daily and abstinence from meat for ten days each month.
Ms Ching Hai is a talented and energetic woman, evident in the displays round the hall of paintings, jewelry, Chinese lanterns and fashion - all designed by herself and available for purchase. Also on sale were her videos, CDs, tapes and books. A magazine and a booklet of her talks were available for free. Proceeds of sales are used to fund charitable activities and disaster relief in various parts of the world. Ching Hai was brought up as a Catholic, but learnt the rudiments of Buddhism from her grandmother. However, in a brief autobiography she explains that her significant spiritual experience came about as a result of time spent in the Himalayas where she discovered 'the Quan Yin Method and the Divine Transmission'.2 Nowhere in the movement's literature is any mention made of how she came upon this enlightenment. Enquiring from one of her retinue as to who Ching Hai's teacher was, yielded the vague reply. 'Kutaji - he lives in a cave in the Himalayas - maybe has left his body now.' Such reticence in regards to the identity of one's initiating guru is quite unusual among Oriental religious teachers, and begs the question as to the true origins of Ching Hai's teaching. Some clues are to be found in the language that she uses in her writings and talks. There are notable sirnilarities between Ching Hai's spiritual philosophy and that of the surat shabd or 'sound and light' yogic tradition of Northern India.
1 See Kari Harbakk, 'Kuan Yin Revisited' and "Goddess of a Thousand Eyes" in Areopagus [Hong Kong] 11, 2 (Epiphany 1989), 35 - 37
2 A Brief Biography of the Supreme Master Ching Hai in The Key of Immediate Enlightenment by the Supreme Master Ching Hai [Forrnosa, 27th edition, 1999], p 9