Cults set to rise, says expert

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 1996, 12:00am


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CULT leaders are leaning further towards eccentricity and their teachings may inspire dangerous and anti-social behaviour among followers, experts have warned.

The rise of the New Age movement has led to the formation of new religious groups as well as changes in old ones, they say.

Baptist University sociologist Chan Shun-hing said certain traits gave away religious groups likely to become cults.

Top of the list is a strict monitoring regime which places heavy demands on followers, stipulating whom they can meet, date and marry and whether they should leave their families to live with the group.

Cults tended to be authoritarian, dominated by a strong-willed leader or pastor, Dr Chan said.

Many groups combined Christian and pagan doctrines with pseudo-science in their teachings, he said.

No government or academic data is available on the number of such groups and many are extremely secretive, but some have come under scrutiny in recent years.

Hydrogen peroxide-drinking Church of Zion followers sparked the latest outcry.

Among more controversial sects is India's Ananda Marga, which has an unofficial and secretive chapter in Hong Kong.

Two expatriate followers of the group were implicated in an alleged arms-smuggling shipment to the sect in the Indian state of West Bengal last December. Both fled the territory.

The founder of the New Age militant Church Universal and Triumphal movement based in Montana, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, arrived in Hong Kong last year to recruit followers.

In the US, the group is reported to have stockpiled weapons in underground fallout shelters in anticipation of nuclear holocaust.

Taiwanese group Yat Koon Tao, based in Shamshuipo, has broken into several splinter sects and combines Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Chinese folk religions. It is reputed to teach its dozens of followers how to contact spirits through mediums.

In 1994, the controversial Children of God movement, which began in California in the 1960s and advocated free love, left its adopted home at Hac Sa beach in Macau. The Sunday Morning Post found pornographic magazines scattered in the empty rooms of the group's headquarters days after it reportedly moved to Taiwan.

Dr Chan predicted the territory would see a mushrooming of such groups within a few years.

'Hong Kong follows many developments in Western countries. The territory has the cultural ingredients for such groups,' he said.