Massimo Introvigne: scholar or political
Is 'Apostate' only an unfortunate definition,
or is it the intellectual equivalent of an insult? Elsewhere, Massimo Introvigne
favourably quotes Bryan Wilson (this is a re-translation from Italian):
"The apostate generally
seeks self-justification. He tries to re-construct his past, in order to
excuse his former affiliations, to blame his closest colleagues. Not infrequently,
he learns how to fabricate his own 'atrocity story' in order to explain
how […] he was led into joining and then prevented from leaving
an organization which he now disapproves of and condemns. Apostates, whose
narratives are sensationalized by the press, sometimes try to make a profit
out of their experiences selling their stories to newspapers or publishing
books (often written by ghost writers)"
(Bryan R. Wilson, The
Social Dimensions of Sectarianism, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1990, p.
19, quoted in Massimo Introvigne, "Il fantasma della libertà: le
controversie sulle 'sette' e i nuovi movimenti religiosi in Europa", in
Cristianità, n. 264, April 1997, p. 22.)
Not having read the full piece by Wilson,
I do not know if this all he has to say about apostates; it is all
Introvigne wants to quote.
The prudent curtain of expressions like
"not infrequently" does little to modify the extraordinarily insulting
nature of this definition. A definition which, at least in my experience,
is also utterly false.
I have never found resentment against one's
"closest colleagues" in writings by former members. In fact, one of the
main reasons behind former cult members' decision to go public is to help
their friends inside cults.
From Steve Hassan to Gunther Träger
or from Thierry Huguénin to Tom Voltz, I can think of no supposed
apostate whose writings resemble Wilson/Introvigne's caricature.
The only testimonies by former members which fit into this picture are
those by American right-wing evangelicals, who - as we shall see shortly
- are actually among Introvigne's best friends. Elsewhere, Introvigne's
writings often make use of this latter kind of testimony: they purposely
extend the shadow cast by certain idiotic American anti-Satanists (who
claim for example to have taken part in hundreds of human sacrifices) over
perfectly reasonable testimonies by normal former members.
As far as the press sensationalizing, which
is quite true, one of the reasons former members write books is because
they are fed up with media clichés. This however is a problem of
the journalists, not of the "apostates".
Trying to understand why one got
intensely involved in a group is not "self-justification". People do have,
or ought to have, the right to reflect on their own experiences and to
write about them.
Even a superficial reading of most testimonies
by former followers reveals a crucial feature: increased awareness.
Some people of course move from one kind of fanatical organization to another
(like certain "occultists" who have moved over to extreme Christian groups);
generally however former members move beyond fanaticism, towards
a greater and deeper understanding of human relationships, manipulations
At least in my case, I can confirm that
I have never held that I was "prevented from leaving" the organization,
nor have I ever made any profit whatsoever "selling my story". By the way,
I write these words myself: I do not have the funds for buying myself a
ghost writer. Two journalist paid me a coffee, and one even paid me a pizza,
The whole issue of "survivors' memories"
is of course highly emotional and political, since the denial of their
validity, the notion that they are the figment of "socialization" into
"sub-structures", lies at the roots of Holocaust revisionism, and many
of the studies referred to by Introvigne have also been used to deny the
existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz or elsewhere. Personally however
I believe that the political use, in one way or another, of the question
of the validity of memory is always an interference: memories should be
judged on their individual merits. Also, Wilson/Introvigne forgets the
fact that many 'atrocity stories', as they politely call them, are not
based so much on personal testimony, as on inside documents of various
By the way, apostate-brander Bryan Wilson
is certainly the author Scientology has published most after Ron Hubbard
himself: Wilson's articles, speeches and statements are to be found in
virtually every Scientology magazine or Internet page. Bryan Wilson claims
to have studied Scientology for 26 years, and to have merely discovered
that it resembled Buddhism (See for example "Pioggia di riconoscimenti
per Scientology", in Diritti dell'uomo, a Scientology publication:
the same article also contains a Wilson quote about 'apostates' almost
identical to the one quoted by Introvigne). Scientology also devotes a
full page in its publication Diritti dell'uomo to listing Bryan
Wilson's academic achievements, which by the way include the honorary presidency
of the International Society of Sociology of Religions, of which Introvigne
just happens to be a member. Diritti dell'uomo also frequently quotes
However, apart from the issue of these
gratuitous personal insults, I felt curious about the reasons why a self-styled
'sociologist' should wish to call somebody he knows little or nothing about
an 'apostate', portraying him in the worst possible light, albeit by association.
This deserves a comment - Introvigne elsewhere says that
"No academic scholar
worthy of this name - whatever some may say - ignores the testimonies of
ex-members; but no serious scientific study is based only on such testimonies."
(Massimo Introvigne, "'Sette
cattoliche': l'equivoco continua", in Cristianità, n. 260,
dicembre 1996, p. 4.)
However he did know of my existence and could
have got in touch with me if he had wanted to. The fact that he never did
shows that he wants to listen to one side only. Even running the risk of
making the factual mistakes he made in his analysis of me and of the Paris
Whenever Introvigne intends to launch unjustified
insults, he always uses the same technique of quoting other, "prestigious",
writers. My favourite Introvigne quote-within-a-quote is the following:
Already in 1986, the
prestigious American review 'Thought' of the Jesuits of Fordham University
went even further; in a special issue on the anti-cult movement, it wondered
whether the anti-cult movement itself, anchored as it is to the dogma of
the severability between behaviour and doctrine, and of brainwashing, could
not be considered - on the basis of its own criteria - yet another modern
'new cult', and whether many 'anti-cultists' were not 'psychologically
disturbed' individuals, obsessed by a 'cult-phobia' which is only one of
the forms of the modern fear of religion"
(Massimo Introvigne, I
nuovi culti: dagli Hare Krishna alla Scientologia, Oscar Mondadori,
This is Introvigne at his best. If not a good
scholar, he is certainly a good architect, who knows exactly where to set
up the various elements of his building. He places the above sentence at
the end of a chapter, where he has a "prestigious" third party provide
the conclusion. Like in the Bryan Wilson quote (with its 'generallies'
and 'not infrequentlies'), one can hurl the most wild insults while appearing
calm and serious, by merely adding a few "one wonders whether". The reader
will appreciate the moderation of the insulting party, but will remember
only the hypothesis he actually reads - that members of the "anti-cult
movement" are mentally deranged.
My curiosity led to some rather interesting
discoveries I would like to share with you. In the meantime, however, I
invite the reader to notice how - in the sentence quoted above on serious
scholars also listening to former cult members - Introvigne clearly identifies
himself with "academic scholars" and "serious scientific studies"; the
expression "whatever some may say" shows this: nobody has ever said that
"serious scholars" do not listen to both sides, but many have said Introvigne
does not. This kind of expression - which appears throughout Introvigne's
writings, thus creates a completely non-extant division between " enemies
of cults", who are fanatics, and "scholars", who, as scientists, possess
the truth. Cult critics thus become the enemy of truth itself (and of course,
cult PR people the friends of truth). Actually there is a conflict between
cult critics and cults, with some scholars more on one side, others more
on the other side.
Massimo Introvigne founded CESNUR in 1988.
This organization today has international branches, but the world address
is still in Turin, Italy. Even the initials of CESNUR only make sense in
Italian (although in France the S of "Studi" has been quietly turned into
the initial of "sur" to make it a "Centre of Studies on New Religions")
. Friends have informed that at least some of the international personalities
involved in CESNUR are bona fide academics, who have little idea
of what the organization really stands for.
In his writings, Introvigne always identifies
himself with a group of people he calls "sociology scholars", "specialists",
"university specialists", "academic specialists", to quote only a few of
his self-definitions in one article ("Il fantasma della liberta…"
in Cristianità, n. 264, April 1997). The pronouns "I" and
"we" mingle with these, in a way which is hard to pin down.
Exactly what Introvigne does is a matter
of controversy. Zeit-Fragen (n. 32, nov.-dic. 1996, a German publication
close to the alleged cult VPM, "Anti-'Sekten'- Aktivismus gefährdet
Demokratie und Menschenrechte - Wissenschaftler gegen Hexenjagd mit der
'Sektenkeule'"), calls Introvigne "a historian and sociologist". The web
site of the lawyers' study Jacobacci e Perani in Turin, Italy, where Introvigne
works, does not however mention any degree in sociology; it states that
Introvigne has been authorized to practice law locally, apparently a reference
to a category known in Italian as "procuratore legale", immediately below
that of ordinary lawyers.
A brief item in Antifa Info-Bullettin ("DOSSIER:
[Italy] Alfredo Mantovano, New Spokesperson for the `Post-Fascist' National
Alliance," (Supplement 154, March 3, 1998), which made a passing mention
of Introvigne's apologetics for NA, won a quick reply from the lawyer:
"Your mention of the
undersigned in a Usenet group is both defamatory and inaccurate. "Low-degree
lawyer" is basically stupid. I am a partner in Italy's largest law firm
and quite well-known in my own specialized field (intellectual property)
as even a cursory bibliographic search in the U.S. would have told you.
Happily for me, my family (and the voracious Italian IRS) I have been quoted
by an Italian magazine last year among the 100 most active attorneys in
Info-Bulletin, March 15, 1998)
Italy's "top one hundred lawyers" is a category
which is unlikely to include a mere "procuratore". He is certainly the
author of various studies on merchandising and advertising, two issues
which however seem to have little to do with new religions (although they
might have to do with cults).
Introvigne also claims in the same letter
to be a "Faculty Member of the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in
Rome". In a letter dated September 27, 1996 (Prot. n. 2291/96) and addressed
to the Dialog Zentrum in Berlin, Mons. Michael L. Fitzgerald, secretary
of the Pontificium Consilium Pro Dialogo inter Religiones, declares
that Introvigne "is not a consultant with any body" of the Vatican and
that he teaches for one week a year at the Regina Apostolorum Atheneum,
a private body belonging to the "Legionaries of Christ", a Mexican organization.
This body, according to Mons. Fitzgerald, is not a "Pontifical University".
Of course, credentials are far less important
than arguments; except when credentials, or supposed credentials, are used
as part of an argument, which is very much the case in everything
written by Introvigne.
"Finally, what separates
us from the anti-cult movements is not, whether one should
be 'for' or 'against' new religious movements. Any polarization of this
kind is simply wrong. Actually, there is a fierce clash between many specialists
on religious sciences, especially sociologists, and certain anti-cult movements,
a clash - it should be emphasised - which the sociologists have not sought"
(Massimo Introvigne in Liberà
religiosa, 'sette' e 'diritto di persecuzione", Cristianità,
Piacenza 1996, p. 111; emphasis added)
In this case, credentials should be subjected
to scrutiny like everything else.
Introvigne posted two replies to a shorter
form of this essay. Here is all he had to say about his being or not being
"Martinez is free to think
as he pleases about my credentials (scholarly associations, universities
and courts of justice think otherwise)"
"Until you stay within the
borders of the existing laws on defamation and libel you are free to define
me as you please"
Although, unlike Introvigne, I am not a lawyer,
I believe defamation and libel basically involve making false representations
about people; he therefore seems to confirm that what I said about his
credentials is not a false representation.
I suppose I should have kept my former
title of National Commander of the International Organization New Acropolis
for Egypt - something far more grandiose than an interpreter (or a "professional
enemy", as he qualifies me in his web page).
I was amused that the only discussion I
ever had personally with Introvigne was about his definition of New Acropolis
as a "Neo-Pythagorean" movement. I said it was theosophical. He passionately
upheld his point of view in public. I now see that he calls New Acropolis
a "neo-theosophical" group. Poor Pythagoras was forgotten somewhere along
As far as his credentials are concerned,
what "I believe" is irrelevant; what the web page of his lawyer's study
says is not. I hope he does not intend to sue his own study.
CESNUR, the organization founded by Introvigne,
claims to stand for "professionality in a field where the presence of amateurs
has not been of help in accuracy and in serene discussion. We are convinced
that it is only through professionality that the reason of truth can come
to light, be presented and understood". Speaking in the abstract, he is
right: much critical material on cults is neither accurate nor serene.
However, as has been seen discussing New
Acropolis, long reference bibliographies, professional jargon and serene
language are not enough to bring out "the reason of truth".
Scientology, by the way, does not agree
with Introvigne's own definition of CESNUR. In a publication recently distributed
around the word, entitled "Restoring and safeguarding Religious Freedom"
(apparently published at the beginning of 1998), financed - as stated on
the frontispiece - by the "International Association of Scientologists",
CESNUR is not listed as a place of serene discussion, but as a "human rights
organization" to be contacted in case of "religious persecution", together
with several outfits set up by Scientology itself, such as the Ad Hoc Inquiry
Committe on Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Germany:
the contact person here is Lord McNair, a well-known supporter of Scientology
for many years; another organization persecuted Scientology accountants
are supposed to contact is the Rutherford Institute - more about the latter
later (Amnesty International is conspicuously absent from the list of "human
There is a certain mystery about CESNUR.
The organization publishes no magazine or even a bulletin; membership is
strictly by invitation; the organization officially avoids helping former
cult members. This means that it cannot be funded in the normal way of
other cult monitoring organizations: by the contributions of relatives
of cult members and other concerned people who democratically share in
the management of the organization. However, Introvigne travels constantly,
always staying at the very top hotels, and has no less than two full-time
secretaries (Cinzia and Monica - mere secretaries of course have only first
names!). Of course, all expenses may be generously paid out of Introvigne's
work as a lawyer. One can however reasonably doubt that a lawyer who devotes
himself full-time to patents and merchandising can also find the leisure
to be an expert on anything else.
After I wrote these lines, Introvigne sent
an e-mail with the following information:
"It eludes many opponents
that CESNUR International is not a private association; on 1996 it has
been recognized as a legal person by a decree of the Government of Piedmont.
This inter alia entitles us to public funds. We have always gratefully
acknowledged this support."
I fortunately live in another part of Italy,
so my taxes do not go to finance Introvigne's trips. I am of course glad
to take back what I said about Introvigne's generosity. However, CESNUR
was founded in 1988, government funds started coming in in 1996; we are
left in doubt about the first eight years of the organization.
According to Zeit-fragen, quoted
above, CESNUR claims to be "entirely independent of any religious movement,
group or association".
This statement comes as a surprise, since
the by-laws of CESNUR lay down that both the director and the president
must be Roman Catholics.
Introvigne, in an e-mail note, objected
strongly to this statement of mine, saying that:
"There is nothing in
the by-laws of CESNUR International, nor of CESNUR Italy, nor of CESNUR
France claiming that president and director shall be Roman Catholics. The
reference in the Italian edition of Eileen Barker's book concerned, once
again, the fact that the by-laws of CESNUR Italy included the individual
NAMES of the president and director, both Catholics. On the contrary the
by-laws make clear that no discrimination shall be made for reasons of
religion in appointing CESNUR's officers"
In any case, here is the exact wording from
Introvigne's notes in Eileen Barker's book:
"Although the by-laws
lay down that the President and the Director of CESNUR are Catholic, the
scientific committee includes Anglican, Protestant, Orthodox personalities,
and is not closed to professional contributions coming from other areas
and experiences" ("Se presidente e direttore del CESNUR sono - statutariamente
(Massimo Introvigne, in
Eileen Barker, I nuovi movimenti religiosi, Oscar Mondadori, Milano,
No individual NAMES (I repeat Introvigne's
capital letters) mentioned. The only other two explanations I can think
of are, the by-laws lay down that the president must always be called Massimo
Introvigne, or that they have to have Catholic names (e.g., not Mohammed
This Catholic nature of CESNUR holds true
for Italy. At least according to an anti-Masonic French publication, Faits
& Documents (n. 27, 15.5.97, p. 5, quoted in "Alleanza… massonica?",
Sodalitium, dic. 1997, p. 65), the entire leadership of the French
branch of CESNUR supposedly belongs to the right-wing minority of Freemasonry:
"The directorship of
Cesnur France, a study group on 'new religious movements' (also called
'cults'), a branch of Cesnur Italy directed by the Catholic sociologist
Massimo Introvigne, seems to be controlled by the National Grand Lodge
of France, considering the presence among the board of directors of Professor
Antoine Faivre, chief editor of the Cahiers Villard de Honnecourt, of the
lawyer Olivier-Louis Séguy and of professor Roland Edighoffer"