After natural disasters many scam artists will try to use the disaster to their benefit. Scam artists can include people who claim they are working to spiritually heal the planet. Just because a person can talk spiritual does not mean that they walk the walk.
Just because a group says it is a non-profit, charity, and/or foundation does not mean it is legit.
Before giving your $, labor, and participation to a group make sure to research it first.
A good resource is Looks Too Good To Be True.
Even if a group is all about spirituality and world peace, even if it is "by donation only", it doesn't mean there is nothing to question and research. It is wise to keep the ability to step outside the situation and look at it dispassionately, from a variety of angles. If you are made to feel bad about this by the group then you already have a red flag to pay attention to right there.
Spiritual talk can be used as a tarp thrown over a con job. Honest, healthy groups can cope with some tarp-removal and close examination, they know that the clear light of day is a good thing.
The spiritual, political, or psychological talk can be mesmerizing so I find it helpful to look at groups from a variety of angles.
The whole issue of cults is controversial. Lalich said that some sociologists of religion feel they are fighting for freedom of religion. “They think cult is an easy label to slap on groups you don’t like,” Lalich said, but she maintains that religion is the wrong paradigm. “This is a social-psychological phenomenon that is important for us to understand. Its characteristics and consequences warrant further study.”
This quote from an interview with researcher Janja Lalich gives us clues as to what angles of observation and examination we can use. For me, this includes learning about group dynamics, historical movements, sociology, psychology, salesmanship, manipulation, and con jobs.
Being willing to look at a group from many angles means you are less likely to be conned. And the research doesn't have to be dry and boring at all. For instance one way to learn about con jobs and scams is to watch television programs like Leverage, and the British series Hustle. Watch the movie The Sting and anything else you can find on long cons.
Use your local public library. Timberland's Library Research page has some great resources and you can even Ask a Librarian online. You can also go in person to any library and talk with the reference staff, they know how to listen to you and help you fine tune your questions and get new resources and answers.
Public libraries are free of charge and if you haven't used them before and think you might be uncomfortable - check out Geek the Library for fun and encouragement.
Some books I've recently used from Timberland Regional Library for my own research into problematic groups and related issues include:
Through the library you can look at any group from a variety of angles. Look through newspaper articles, find out how to evaluate non-profit and charitable groups, do background reading on the various themes the group is involved in and more.
A good thing to do before involving yourself deeply with a group (especially ones that claim they will help you spiritually, politically, and/or mentally) is to do some research on it. Google on the name of the group and leaders along with terms like "fraud", "scam", or whatever else seems appropriate. Look through watchdog sites such as New Age Frauds and Internet Archives for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Movement.
Keep these Warning Signs in mind as you research and make choices as to what you participate in.
Ask around and pay attention. I'll always remember talking with a member of the Love Israel Family long ago in Seattle, we'd stepped aside after dinner and she told us in a whispered voice that although the men looked on top of the world, the women and children were suffering. If a group member tells you something like that, don't brush them off as merely disgruntled. They may very well have something vital to pass on.
One of my first OlyBlog posts back in October 2005 concerned a problematic group that had come to town. Rick encouraged me to write more. That encouragement and the continued enjoyment of the OlyBlogged communities, through all our ups and downs, brings me to this post today.
I imagine myself dusting off my chair in the circles of conversation and making a contribution once again. Which is a fancy way of saying that I'm starting a loose informal series of posts on the themes of destructive cult groups, cultural appropriation, identity, and consumer awareness - with a focus on what comes through the Olympia area. I'm no expert and I'm always learning. I do have direct experience with destructive cult groups and a passion for justice.
Here is what I wrote way back when concerning groups:
Follow the money, who is paying and where does the money actually go?
Pay attention to how language is used, is the language loaded with extra meaning for members only? How is language being used?
Ask questions, learn other opinions, do some research.
Is there a charismatic leader? If so, watch the person in action if possible. What do the group members believe about the leader?
When pressured to join anything, take a step back, give ourselves plenty of time to contemplate first. Notice if manipulation and seduction are being used.
We always can say No for any reason at any time. No one group or leader owns the entire market of possibilities.
College campuses can be a target of problematic groups. Youthful idealism and a desire to serve can be misused by some groups. Anyone in transition can also be a target.
I think of all this not as something to be unduly anxious about, more as information comparable to consumer awareness and education. Buyer beware, joiner beware.
Ongoing discussion and conversation is invited and welcome.