One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Help the Honey Badgers in their fight for freedom of speech and thought!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The First Amendment, Without Exceptions! (Indonesian Baker Won’t Write “Merry Christmas” on Cake for Religious Reasons)

This is an interesting story, but the comparison with the Masterpiece Cakeshop case is inaccurate. As noted in an amicus curiae brief filed by the First Amendment Lawyers Association (, "The Colorado Civil Rights Commission held that Masterpiece Cakeshop and its owner, Jack C. Phillips, violated the Colorado Anti-DiscriminationAct (“CADA”), § 24-34-601(2), C.R.S. 2014, for declining to create a custom-designed wedding cake for the same-sex marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins." (Emphases added.) 

The same kind of misrepresentation appeared in an email I received from the ACLU a couple weeks ago, falsely claiming the plaintiffs in the American case "just wanted to buy a cake."

As an out bisexual, I obviously wouldn't (if I were a baker) decline to make a cake on the grounds that Phillips is stating (opposition to same-sex marriage). On the other hand, were I approached by an adult evangelical Christian who asked me to create a cake for a celebration marking his graduation from an ex-gay "conversion therapy" program, I very likely would refuse rather than participate in celebrating something I consider fraudulent and pernicious. And if, in response, this would-be customer hit me with a discrimination suit claiming I was refusing his business on the basis of his religion, I would vigorously defend myself, explaining that I wasn't discriminating against him -- I'd be perfectly willing to sell him something off the shelf -- but, rather, discriminating against an idea that I don't agree with. Unlike discrimination against people, discrimination against ideas is protected by the First Amendment.

Applying the Golden Rule (which is supported by secular humanists and a variety of religious traditions in one form or another, and not only Christians), clearly I can't deny Jack Phillips a liberty I claim for myself: the liberty to be free from compelled speech, clearly stated in the brief linked above and completely irrespective of whether the beliefs involved have a religious basis (which they wouldn't in the hypothetical case of the last paragraph).

Not only has Phillips stated his willingness to sell the plaintiffs anything they want off the shelf, but I think it perfectly clear that, had they opted for a low-key wedding sans cake, but some straight friend decided to surprise them with a cake ordered without their knowledge -- and tried to commission this cake from Jack Phillips --  the latter would have refused this prospective customer's business notwithstanding his heterosexuality. Because this case is about discriminating against ideas, not people.

In fact , what the plaintiffs are asking for is to have a special exception carved out (no pun intended) from the First Amendment's protections against compelled speech -- an exception based not only on subject matter (same-sex unions) but on one particular opinion about that subject (pro). This is in defiance of a long and very well established principle of First Amendment jurisprudence, namely that viewpoint discrimination by government is impermissible.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Karl Marx and the Victorians

Before returning to the library what my left book group will be discussing next month -- Eric Hobsbawm's How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism -- I must share some of the interesting quotes in the chapter titled, "Dr. Marx and the Victorian Critics," because they illuminate in the most interesting manner the attitude pro-capitalist intellectuals took toward him before they felt threatened:

"Marx is a Hegelian in philosophy and a rather bitter opponent of ministers of religion. But in forming an opinion of his writings we must not allow ourselves to be prejudiced against the man." -- Rev. M. Kaufmann, Socialism (1874)

"However its teaching may be viewed, no one will venture to dispute the masterly ingenuity, the rare acumen, the close argumentation and, let it be added, the incisive polemic which are displayed in ... the pages [of Capital]." -- W. H. Dawson, German Socialism and Ferdinand Lassalle (1888)

Of his views on the division of labor and machinery, "both learned and exhaustive, and is well worth reading." -- J. Shield Nicholson, Principles of Political Economy I (1893)

"Marx was trying to get at the right kinds of history. The orthodox historians ignore all the most significant factors in human development." -- George Unwin, Studies in Economic History (1927)

"Where alone Marx did memorable work as a historical theorist, was in his analysis and interpretation of the capitalist era, and here he must be admitted to have rendered eminent service, even by those who think his analysis more subtle than accurate, and his interpretations more ingenious than true." -- Robert Flint, Socialism (1895)

"[T]hough Marx has colored his picture too darkly, he has rendered great service in calling attention to the more gloomy features of modern industry, to which it is useless to shut our eyes." -- Llewellyn-Smith, Economic Aspects of State Socialism (1887)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Update from the International Cultic Studies Association:  "To reach out to those who relate more to the term spiritual abuse than cult, ICSA created a subsidiary website,, which also houses the Spiritual Safe Haven Network pages."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Reminder: ICSA Is Coming Back to Philadelphia in 2018

Annual Conference - Overview

Theme of Conference: The global challenge of young people born, raised or recruited into extremist groups, abusive religious organizations, or coercive/exploitative relationships




Philadelphia is America's First World Heritage City

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mark the dates in your calendar!

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) is conducting its 2018 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from July 5 – 7, 2018 (preconference workshops on Wednesday July 4, 2018). The conference will address the needs and interests of ICSA’s four main constituencies: former group members, families, helping professionals, and researchers. 

The conference will take place at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia. Hotel details, including special conference rates, will be posted later in the year.

Though the conference has a theme focusing on those born or raised in cultic groups, the program will be varied, with numerous sessions pertinent to former members of cultic groups, families, helping professionals, researchers, and others. 

More information coming in the fall.

Subpages (13): About Bordeaux Abstracts Agenda Cancellation, Conference Congrès International Annuel 2017 Fees Getting There Hotel Meals Preconference Events Register by Fax, Mail, E-Mail, Phone Social Speakers
Views expressed on ICSA Websites or in ICSA's publications or events are those of the document's author(s) or speaker(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisers.

Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Those Born/Raised in Cults

Workshop for Those Born/Raised in Cults (CT)
2017 Facilitators of SGA Workshop (back row): Bill Goldberg, Elizabeth Blackwell, Rosanne Henry, Eva Mackey, (front row) Leona Furnari
Lorna Goldberg, Ann Stamler

Surviving and Moving On After a High-Demand Group Experience: A Workshop for Those Born/Raised in Cults

When: Friday 4:00 pm April 27, 2018 to Sunday 2:00 pm April 29, 2018 (Check-in time is 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm.)

Where: Guest House Retreat & Conference Center, 318 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412 (860–322–5770).  

As increasing numbers of people born or raised in cultic groups or relationships have reached adulthood, the International Cultic Studies Association has developed a program* that addresses their special needs.

People born or raised in cultic environments cannot look back to a “pre-cult” identity. Raised in fringe subcultures, they often have educational and other skill deficits that interfere with adjustment to mainstream culture. Having grown up under the influence of irrational belief systems, they struggle with issues of dependency, self-esteem, and social conflict, and often have to deal with the trauma of physical and/or sexual abuse. They have difficulty getting help because they tend to lack finances and be wary of other people, including helpers.

Meeting annually since 2006, this workshop addresses the needs of people born or raised in cultic environments through presentations by specialists and former members, including discussions in which attendees may participate according to their comfort levels. Special attention is paid to attendees’ needs for privacy, reflection, and working at their own pace.

Workshop subjects include

  • Critical Thinking: What Is It and Why Does It Matter? 
  • Is There Such a Thing As a Healthy Family? 
  • Stages of Development: What Did We Miss and How Can We Catch Up? 
  • Now We Are Parents: What Have We Learned? 
  • You Mean I Have a Right to Boundaries? 
  • What Are Our Strengths and Challenges Building a New Life? 
  • Perfectionism, or The Inner Critic: Can We Accept Success? 
  • Moving On: What Does It Mean and Is It Possible? 
  • Postcult, How Should We Feel Toward People Who Harmed Us? 
  • Relationships: Why Are They So Difficult? 
This workshop has been made possible by special donations and the willingness of facilitators to volunteer their time. Without the dedication of these people, registration fees would be much higher than they are. Donations cover a substantial portion of the total cost. Because many people born or raised in cultic environments struggle financially, we urge those in need to apply for additional assistance. Please contact us at 239–514–3081 or All contacts will be kept strictly confidential.

Guest House is a delightful retreat and conference center in the scenic Connecticut River Valley. It offers spacious guest rooms with private bathrooms, superb cuisine, and amenities that range from a grand piano in the lobby to wireless Internet in every room. Travel directions by car, train, and air, along with other convenient links, are available at Contact ICSA for possible help with ground transportation from Amtrak or Metro-North, or from nearby airports.

Contact ICSA for possible help with ground transportation from Amtrak or Metro-North, or from nearby airports. Also contact us if your travel plans include a night before or after the workshop. It may be possible to extend your stay at Guest House.

We cannot accept onsite registrations, and we cannot guarantee acceptance of registrations received within 14 days of the workshop start date.


*Two articles describe this program: (1) Lessons Learned from SGAs About Resiliency and Recovery (Leona Furnari and Rosanne Henry) and (2) My Perspective of Rosanne Henry and Leona Furnari’s Presentation to the Annual SGA Workshop (Patrick Rardin) describe this program.  There is also a video on ICSA's YouTube channel:  "Born or Raised in Cultic Groups" with Lorna Goldberg and Leona Furnari. SGA Dr. Lois Kendall has published a book on the subject: Born and Raised in a Sect: You are Not Alone. 
Subpages (5): Cancellation Policy Facilitators Register: Fax/Mail/E-Mail/Phone Topics Discussed Transportation and Directions

Views expressed on ICSA Websites or in ICSA's publications or events are those of the document's author(s) or speaker(s) and are not necessarily shared, endorsed, or recommended by ICSA or any of its directors, staff, or advisers.

Two Upcoming ICSA Conversations

New York
December 15, 2017.  7:00 - 9:00 pm

Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (United Methodist), 263 W. 86th St., New York City (Subway stop: #1 train at 86th St. and Broadway) (map) - Social Hall (downstairs; handicap access via elevator).

Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult

Sara B. Waters, MS, MA, is a psychotherapist and licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and credentialed substance misuse counselor (CASAC) in New York City, with 18 years of experience in the mental health field. She was raised as a “missionary kid” in France in a high demand, fundamentalist, evangelical group and missionary boarding school. She left the group as a teenager and is intimately familiar with the trauma of religious psychological abuse, parental rejection, and loss of community. Sara specializes in treating posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and recovery from high-demand and abusive relationships. In addition to maintaining a private practice in Manhattan, Sara conducts empirical research in psychology and is completing a PhD in Clinical Psychology at The New School for Social Research. For individual or relationship counseling, email or call/text (347) 554-0191.

Abstract.  This talk is an introduction to the ways that cult dynamics can negatively impact the normal sexual development of children. Issues include the effects of institutionalized sexual coercion, hypersexuality and/or sexual repression. Psychological abuse related to sexuality will be discussed, both in terms of sexual and intimacy issues while in the group, and after a person leaves the group. Strategies are offered for developing beneficial attitudes and behaviors related to sexuality and intimacy as a part of healing from cult involvement.
Register Online

New York
February 23, 2018.  7:00 - 9:00 pm

Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew (United Methodist), 263 W. 86th St., New York City (Subway stop: #1 train at 86th St. and Broadway) (map) - Social Hall (downstairs; handicap access via elevator).

Ready to Mine: Zen's Legitimating Mythology and Cultish Behavior

Stuart Lachs encountered Zen Buddhism in New York City in 1967. After more than 30 years of intensive practice in America and Asia, and having taught for a number of years ‒ as well as witnessing countless instances of questionable teacher behavior ‒ he severed all ties to Chan/Zen Buddhist centers around 2000. Stuart's research interests are Chan/Zen Buddhism and the sociology of religion. He has been active in the Columbia University Buddhist Studies Workshop, the Princeton University Buddhist Studies Workshop, and the Oslo University Buddhist Studies Forum. He has a number of papers critical of Chan/Zen institutions and leaders available on the internet as well as a paper on the Hua-t'ou, a Chan form of meditation. He has presented at the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), the Association of Asian Studies (AAS), the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) and the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA). His articles include “The Zen Master and Dharma Transmission: A Seductive Mythology,” published in Minority Religions and Fraud: In Good Faith (Ashgate, London, 2014); “Denial of Ritual in Zen Writing” published in The Ambivalence of Denial (Harrosowitz, Wiesbaden, 2015) and "Modernizing American Zen Through Scandal: Is "The Way" Really the Way?" published in Buddhist Modernities: Re-Inventing Tradition in the Globalizing Modern World (Routledge, New York and London, 2017). Stuart enjoys corresponding with people who reply to his papers.

Abstract. Zen Buddhism was the first of Eastern religions to gain wide acceptance in the West post WWII. It was accepted mostly uncritically by artists and intellectuals alike. However, beginning in the 1970’s, the most prominent Zen groups in America were wracked by scandal. In spite of these repetitive scandals caused by the sexual abuse of students by their supposedly enlightened Zen masters, Zen followers and academics  have refused to associate the phrase “cultish behavior” to these developments. This was not the case with a range of Christian oriented groups or with Asian teachers associated with other traditions or a variety of other groups, though the Zen scandals mirrored these groups. This paper will show how Zen’s legitimating story and mythic history lays the ground work for authoritarian inclined charismatic leaders - titled Zen master or rosh i- to draw his followers into a world dependent on obedience, his approval and with an ethical frame dependent on the master’s self serving understanding. Though Zen presents its idealized master as being fully in the world, spontaneous, unattached, a state in which one is internally firm and free while remaining perceptually competent in the world, this has hardly been the case. This is not an abstract conjecture as the paper will mention a number of examples of Zen masters, both Eastern and Western and their followers that displayed cultish behavior, while highlighting one case in particular. It is by explaining the mythic and idealized legitimating story of Zen that helps followers make sense of their lives and earlier choices when these groups implode. After all, the Zen mythology of the super human Zen master was developed over hundreds of years which makes it hard to counter for individuals breaking with a group when the Zen master’s great attainment is shown to be wishful thinking.
Register Online

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

For Those Interested in Doing Good, Not Just Looking Good

Attention all activists! This piece by Dominic Cummings -- centrally involved with Vote Leave in Britain -- illustrates how evidence-based issue campaigning looks different from the more common talk-the-good-talk-and-get-your-face-on-TV variety:

Non-British readers may find the following glossary helpful:

No10 — 10 Downing Street — the PM’s office
Downing Street — Cabinet more generally
Westminster — the government
SW1 stands for Southwest London. Broader than the government, includes the media, probably even more
N1 — north London. I don’t know what it signifies.

“Vote Leave” (VL) is the name of the campaign he ran. It had some official status. There were several leave campaigns. This campaign was officially nonpartisan. Several Labour politicians were involved in it, but there was another Brexit campaign, “Labour Leave” that was partisan. The UKIP (i.e., the tiny party wholly devoted to Brexit) had its own campaign, Leave.EU. Grassroots Out was yet another campaign.

GOTV — Get Out The Vote
NHS — National Health Service, government run medicine in UK
HQ — the people running VL?
MP — members of parliament, often MPs affiliated with VL, but not involved day to day
backbencher — junior MP, ie, not in cabinet (nor shadow cabinet)
IN — the campaign to remain In, as opposed to Out of the EU.
I’m not sure whether he means this informally, or specific groups.
The main group is "Britain Stronger in Europe,” aka “The In Campaign”
ECJ — European Court of Justice in Luxembourg — judges EU law
ECHR — European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg — technically not EU
EEC — European Economic Community — predecessor to EU
Purdah — 6 weeks before the election, in which the government is constrained

Here are some people. He sometimes refers to them by given name and sometimes by surname.

David Cameron — Tory Prime Minister (PM), opposed to Brexit.
George Osborne — 2nd most powerful Tory, anti-Brexit
Ed Miliband — head of Labour until shortly before campaign, anti-Brexit
won that position by defeating brother David
Jeremy Corbyn — head of Labour during campaign, anti-Brexit
Boris Johnson — cabinet Tory, pro-Brexit. celebrity face of Brexit
Michael Gove — cabinet Tory, pro-Brexit.
Nigel Farage — head of the tiny UKIP (i.e., the Brexit political party)
Malcolm Pearson — former head of UKIP, formerly Tory MP
Dominic Cummings is the author. Not a politician, i.e., not public figure.
Previously worked for Gove.
Gisela Stuart — Labour MP, pro-Brexit, chair of VL.
During the Blair government had been involved in renegotiating EU.
Kate Hoey — Labour MP, pro-Brexit, involved in VL, not mentioned in essay
Steve Baker — backbench Tory MP, previous IT career
Jeremy Heywood — head civil servant
Ed Llewelan — chief of staff for Cameron
Craig Oliver — head of PR for Cameron
Jean Monnet & Jacques Delors — architects of the ECSC/EEC/EU

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Trump Helps Put the One-State Solution Back on the Table

Attending yesterday's rally to Protest Trump's Reassignment of Jerusalem in downtown Philadelphia, I was gratified by how all the leaders explicitly called for one "state for all its people," without regard for religion or ethnicity, as the just solution in Palestine/Israel. I haven't heard this at previous demonstrations, and it's especially welcome because it counteracts both Islamist attempts to monopolize the Palestinian movement, and Zionist fear-mongering about same to monopolize Jewish opinion on the other side (as discussed by this Palestinian-American, for instance:

Ironically, much of the credit for this probably belongs to Benyamin Netanyahu's actions making a two-state program increasingly obviously unworkable, and especially to Donald Trump for so brazenly abandoning any pretense of US neutrality.

Even granting that a just two-state solution is conceivable in principle, I think it's always been the wrong outcome to advocate, because doing so implicitly undermines the ideal of pluralism. If people are capable of co-existing peacefully, after all, then they are capable of co-existing in a single country. Advocating two states suggests otherwise.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

I'm pleased to report that, without having resorted to any unilateral edits that might have started a war, I appear to have induced someone better established in the Wikipedia community to remove misleading language in the article about The Red Pill that without warrant described rightist Mike Cernovich as a "men's rights supporter," based on a single article whose author mistakenly conflates antifeminism with men's rights activism.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

How *Not* to Cope with Politics and Stress

The Philadelphia Gay News's Kristina Furia wrote something truly shocking and benighted in her psychology column last week. I've submitted this letter to the paper:

Your editorial was quite correct in saying Donald Trump's election "was unanticipated by many on the left -- a fact that may speak, in part, to why Trump was victorious."

Which is why this statement by Kristina Furia is appallingly bad advice: "It's crucial that we try our best to avoid situations where political discussion with people of opposing views is likely." Has she learned nothing from last November?

I've been repeatedly bemused to hear people say they were "shocked" and "devastated" by what happened that day. I was mildly and momentarily surprised when I saw Trump take the lead -- the polls had given Clinton the advantage, but not a huge one. (Like presumably most people at the Mt. Airy watch party, I'd pushed the button for her, but reluctantly, trading my preference for Jill Stein with someone in California who voted for her in my place.)

Why the different reaction? Because, unlike Furia and many people I know, I make a conscious effort to expose myself to other ideological viewpoints, via both mass and social media. This means not only that I had a better sense of how many people in the country don't share my social and political attitudes but, equally important, an awareness that not everyone interprets Trump's statements and actions the same way.

For instance, many people think he was, in fact, simply engaging in "locker room banter" with Billy Bush, not describing anything he'd actually done to women, let alone against their will. Diana Davison even made a video detailing why she thought so:

When one has an awareness of these different perspectives, an outcome like last November's is not only less surprising, but also less disturbing -- because it doesn't mean millions of people are OK with sexual assault, for instance.

For this reason, Furia's advice isn't just bad civically and democratically, but psychologically too. People following it are more likely to experience psychological trauma when someone they don't like is elected, because their skewed information diet gives them an overly dire sense of what other people's voting behavior signifies.

The grain of truth in her advice is that discussing politics the wrong way certainly can be bad for you. When people approach each other as antagonists who must be defeated, they are apt to end up reinforcing and intensifying their stereotypes of each other. But if, instead, you try to just listen and really understand the other person's point of view, you may well end up both more politically/sociologically knowledgeable and less scared -- even if you disagree with them just as much as before.

On a mass media level, Clay Johnson's book The Information Diet has some good tips on how to un-skew your information intake. A good place everyone can start is to regularly reset your search and social media platforms so they're not just feeding your own biases back to you (the "filter bubble"). If possible, use platforms that don't track you in the first place, like the search engine DuckDuckGo (better for your privacy too).

On a person-to-person level, I'd encourage everyone to look for opportunities for regular conversation with people who don't think alike, such as the Philadelphia Political Agnostics meetup group.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

On Islamophobia, a Miseducated Left Will Aid and Abet the Right

A little while ago Greens4RacialJustice, an arm of the Green Party of the United States' Coordinated Campaign Committee, did a webinar on Combating Islamophobia. I've submitted a comment on the G4RJ site and Green Facebook groups, and now share it here:

I'm concerned about some seriously wrong information that was imparted a few weeks ago during the webinar about combating Islamophobia. The webinar leader said one should never use the term "Islamist," and that this is just a "euphemism" employed by people who don't want to say "Muslim."

I was so taken aback by this incredible statement that I didn't know what to say in the moment and, being conflict-averse and not too good at cutting in, said nothing at the time. But the fact is this statement was seriously miseducational and could jeopardize both our work in combating Islamophobia, and our ability to recruit people from the Muslim community.

Roughly speaking, "Islamist" is to "Muslim" as, in this country, "Religious Right" is to "Christian." It's synonymous with Muslim supremacist, and calling it a euphemism for Muslim is just as wrong-headed as calling Religious Right a euphemism for Christian.

In fact, many Muslims have been actively engaged in combating Islamism from what they consider an authentically Islamic standpoint, and would probably be quite insulted that a group such as ours is saying their religion is synonymous with it.

Further, they correctly point out (in this statement, for instance: that by making this false equation, we are actually aiding and abetting the Islamophobes. Hate groups like Stop Islamization of America advance their agenda by telling people who don't know better that all Muslims support the Islamist agenda and that this is inherent in the religion. By saying essentially the same thing from the other side, we would be doing the alt-right's propaganda work for them.