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Spirit & Eco-Community

Dangerous Spiritual Practices Warning Signs

Introduction

There are many spiritual practices including pastoral counseling, prayer, meditation, mind-body disciplines, service, ritual, community liturgy, holy-day and seasonal observances, and rites of passage etc. that are intended or likely induce exceptional states of consciousness such as the direct experience of the divine, of cosmic unity, or of boundless awareness, personal spiritual transformation etc.

These spiritual practices can be benign or dangerous depending upon how they are created and applied. The following list of warning signs and "reality tests" for unhealthy or dangerous spiritual practices is designed to be an evaluation aid in reviewing any spiritual practice.

One or more signs being applicable to a spiritual practice does not automatically condemn that practice as unhealthy or dangerous. But, the more warning signs that are present or the more frequently or intensely they are used tends to signal that this spiritual practice may be one that is unhealthy or dangerous. In using this list o­ne must carefully and fairly review how the following additional factors also apply to that point:

  1. intended result,
  2. frequency and intensity of application and,
  3. actual result of the spiritual practice that was associated with a particular warning sign.

Warning Signs and "Reality Tests" for Unhealthy or Dangerous Spiritual Practices

Mark off all items that apply to the spiritual practices being evaluated.

  1. Intense indoctrination,
  2. Restricting or strongly impairing ability to leave group,
  3. Appeals to fear of not being enlightened or saved,
  4. Uses humiliation or guilt to control behavior,
  5. Appeals to vanity or egotism in becoming one of the elect, elite or chosen,
  6. Promises having power over others,
  7. Restricts access to outside ideas and people,
  8. Demands stereotyped behavior and conformity,
  9. Encourages hyper-emotionalism and manipulation of feelings such as inducing alternating emotional highs and lows,
  10. Plays on feelings of inadequacy or low self esteem,
  11. Encourages deception or violation of personal ethics,
  12. Encourages over-dependency and relinquishment of personal responsibility,
  13. Restricts independent action and privacy,
  14. Uses intimidation or threats in recruiting or retaining members,
  15. Demands all members money,
  16. Paranoid about outsiders,
  17. Stockpiles arms for protection,
  18. Verbal abuse,
  19. Sensory deprivation,
  20. Excessive demands for ideological, theological or intellectual purity such that a type of mental or spiritual anal-retentiveness is created where one finds oneself in a near or actual obsessive/compulsive introspective self policing of their ever thoughts and intention.
  21. Alternating intensely pleasurable emotional highs (i.e love bombing by groups or individuals) with intensely negative emotional lows (i.e. public confessions humiliation etc.)
  22. Hypnosis,
  23. Prolonged mind numbing meditation, chanting etc.
  24. Low protein diets or fasting causing low protein or oxygen deprivation trance induction,
  25. Altering brain rhythms to induce trance,
  26. Creating dis-associative psychological states in members through trance induction hyper-emotionalism etc., and then mislabeling those induced dis-associative psychological states as spiritual manifestations or signs that the member has had a legitimate spiritual experience and not being disclosed as merely an induced dis-associative psychological state with all the emotional and psychological phenomena that normally are part of such dis-associated states,
  27. Consciousness altering drugs,
  28. Subjection to intensely cathartic or charismatic experiences voodoo, witchcraft, channeling, mediumship where o­ne transfers control to someone or something else,
  29. Excessive ritual indoctrination
  30. A disproportionate focus on getting money and new recruits rather than o­nly spiritual matters and spiritual growth
  31. Uses one or more of the many ways of inducing trance states
  32. High turn over rates of new recruits
  33. Has a disproportionate emphasis on pubic or recorded private confessions
  34. Has a disproportionate emphasis on building personal power and status
  35. Induces fanaticism or zealotry
  36. Induces irrationality
  37. Reduces compassion and empathy, members become hardened and unloving unforgiving,
  38. Induces intolerance towards people whose beliefs are different than their own.
  39. Induces members to several normal relationships and/or loyalties or obligations,
  40. Induces members to only associate, do business, marry date etc with other members
  41. Induces members to purchase spiritual states or spiritual forgiveness,
  42. Demands obedience to authority vs. individual conscience,
  43. Is disproportionately concerned with security and secrecy,
  44. Induces members to contribute beyond their means or the dictates of wisdom
  45. Induces members to donate so much of their time that their normal other loyalties and obligations are harmed,
  46. Induces members to donate so much of their time or resources that their health is harmed,
  47. Induces members to engage in other activities which harms their emotional, mental or physical health,
  48. Using fear and other pressures to effect free willed spiritual choices vs. respecting the un -pressured reflective exercise of free willed spiritual choices,
  49. Being told not to go against, question or challenge the will of the organization because the will of the organization is or represents the highest or true will of Ultimate Reality. One is told one’s own spiritual truth discernment in spiritual matters or conscious is always irrelevant or inferior to that of the organization.
  50. The spiritual practices create a group that forms a destructive cult. (See characteristics of a destructive cult)
  51. The spiritual practice uses tactics of unethical mind control or brainwashing. (See Coercive Mind Control Tactics)

Some of the Qualities of Healthy Spiritual Practices:

  1. Healthy spiritualities created a balanced spirituality composed of emotional and mental balance, practical idealism, and science and philosophy.
  2. Healthy spiritualities assist the individual to harmonize their life into larger and more universal values reflecting the Universal Spirit.
  3. Healthy spiritualities cultivate awareness, loving regard for all life, compassion, empathy, and wise, situation precise applications of the basic human virtues.
  4. Healthy spiritualities encourage their members to reality test their inspirations or insights against reason and other means or individuals.
  5. Healthy spiritualities are open to sincere outside review.
  6. Healthy spiritualities are designed and conducted in ways that respect the common good, with due regard for public safety, health, and order.
  7. Healthy spirituality creates a social activism that manifests in responsible ways that reflect a loving regard for all life.
  8. Healthy spiritualities respect and preserve the autonomy and dignity of each person. Participation is voluntary and based o­n prior disclosure and consent given to each participant while in an ordinary state of consciousness.
  9. Healthy spiritualities protect each participant's health and safety during spiritual practices. Any physical or psychological risks are fully disclosed. There may be periods of vulnerability on a healthy spiritual path where participants may be especially open to suggestion, manipulation, and exploitation, but in healthy spiritual practices they do not financially, sexually or in any other way manipulate or take advantage of any such periods of vulnerability.
  10. Healthy spiritualities maintain appropriate customs of confidentiality.
  11. In Healthy spiritualities the leaders and teachers are chosen for long standing moral character and whose actions have consistently reflected their spiritual statements and positions.
  12. Healthy spiritual practices grow through attraction rather than active promotion.
  13. Healthy Spiritualities are conducted in the spirit of service and accommodate participants without regard to their ability to pay or make donations.

More Spiritual Safeguards

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