Interfaith council hosts talk on cults

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Asking tough questions and not being afraid to say no are the best ways for people, especially children, to avoid becoming members of cults, a specialist on such groups said yesterday.

Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith relations at the Anti-Defamation League, said parents should talk to their children about cults the way they would about drugs or alcohol, and urge them to be skeptical of groups that approach them offering membership.

“The most important safety device (children) can have is to learn to say ‘no’ and to say it with authority,” Bretton-Granatoor said to a gathering about 10 people at the Chappaqua Library yesterday.

Bretton-Granatoor’s appearance was sponsored by the Chappaqua Interfaith Council. The hourlong discussion, Reducing ‘cult-ability,’ offered a basic overview on how cults operate and offered advice for people to avoid being unwittingly ensnared by them.

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“I think it was wonderful,” said Luisa Santos, 40, of Hawthorne. “I have one son who is 24 and away at school in London. Right now, I don’t see any danger signs, but now I have this information just in case.”

Bretton-Granatoor said children and adults need to ask “lots of questions” about the intentions and operations of groups that contact them. Normal religious groups, he said, will not have a problem providing information, but cults are often secretive and reluctant to share information with outsiders.

People should also do research into the groups, including Internet searches, to learn their history. They should also be suspicious of groups that, among other things, promote an “infallible” leader over the central tenets of their faith, require people to turn over their property and wealth, and suppress critical thinking.

While students and young adults are often the most sought-after targets, anyone who is lonely or going through a tumultuous time in their lives can be victimized by a cult, he said.

“Everyone is potentially a target at some point in their lives,” Bretton-Granatoor said.

Using such mind-control methods as sleep deprivation, diet control and “love-bombing,” cults can quickly transform a person into a member. Cults often seek to isolate people from their usual environments, discouraging them from seeing family or friends.

“Mind control is not that difficult to do,” he said. “It is difficult to undo.”

Maria Jozseph, 38, of Monsey, attended the discussion because she has a 26-year-old friend who recently joined a group that she fears is a cult.

“She has become very secretive lately,” Jozseph said. “I am very concerned about her, and I am glad that I was here today and heard this … I will definitely warn her.”

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Oct. 4, 2004

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This post was last updated: Dec. 8, 2017