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New Religious Movements

  The New Religious Movements aggressively evangelize on the streets of western Europe and the US, and strongly appeal to young, educated people, who respond with intense commitment.

The question has been raised as to whether these movements are new at all or whether they are not a permanent phenomenon which surfaces in times of social dislocation. Similar movements appeared in Rome in the 1st century  CE, in 14th-century France and in Europe during the Reformation—though there were two further elements, popular upheaval and the continual threat of war. One feature common to all such movements, apart from the youthfulness of their adherents and their social mobility, is the degree to which the established social and religious order feels threatened. In the US this has even led to family members kidnapping the young people involved and ‘de-programming’ them. It is significant that New Movements appear at a time of declining church membership, and, in the case of traditional Oriental religions, when the impact of secularism and consumerism is being felt for the first time.

Although the New Movements are not monolithic, but have fluctuating structures, beliefs and assets, they usually fall into one of three, broad categories: (1) new religious movements originating from within Christianity itself; (2) movements shaped by Western psychology and therapeutic subculture; (3) movements derived from—often distantly—Asiatic religions. The Children of God would be an example of the first, Scientology of the second, and the Unification Church of the third. Those in the second category particularly emphasize self-improvement, self-assertion and enhancement of life. All offer a way of salvation in a hostile society, in a world of decay and alternative social relationships. Salvation might be achieved, for example, after initiation into the group and satisfying the group of one\'s commitment by giving away one\'s property. There is rigorous discipline and members may have to change their jobs or give up regular outside employment altogether. The drop-out rate is high, but (as with numbers leaving the Roman Catholic priesthood) the figures are not advertised. In some movements, celibacy is strictly enforced, while in others (for example the Unification Church or Moonies) the organization arranges all marriages. Many movements have a charismatic leader and there is considerable overlap with guru movements.

Another debatable question is whether these movements are new religions in embryonic form and genuinely innovative, or whether they are outbreaks of fundamentalism drawing the alienated and secularized back to their roots. The majority of them grew up in the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s, achieving peak membership in the late 1970s. Most movements are now in a state of consolidation or crisis as a second-generation leadership is required. Today\'s new religious movement is often tomorrow\'s mainline denomination. However bizarre some examples may be their appeal is evidence of the continuing human need for faith to make sense of life, and the creativity of that faith. KDS

See also cults.Further reading Eileen Barker, The Making of a Moonie: Choice or Brainwashing?; , Allan Brockway and , J. Paul Rajashekar (eds.), Movements and the Churches; , Bryan Wilson, The Social Dimensions of Sectarianism.



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