The controversy surrounding new religious movements seems to be foremost concerned with whether or not the members of these religions come of their own freewill or if they convert as a necessary and inevitable response to advanced "brainwashing" techniques used by the cult leaders.
The concept of brainwashing came into popular existence in the 1950's as the result of attempts to try and explain the behavior of some American GI's who defected to the Communists during the Korean War (19 Oct 1999). Many people, including some professionals, found brainwashing to be the explanation for the otherwise unexplainable behavior. However, the brainwashing theory did nothing to explain why hundreds of other captured GI's who chose to remain true to their country even at the risk of being tortured or even murdered. It couldn't accurately explain for the behavior of few GI's when it didn't offer any explanation for the behavior of the majority.
Since the 1950's, the concept of brainwashing has faded in and out of public's eyes with a tendency to flare up again in the face of public controversy. In the 1960's and 1970's the brainwashing debate again took center stage, this time in an attempt to explain the behavior of so-called radicals who left behind a "normal" life and choose instead for a "cult" existence.
Although scholars of new religious movements would agree that religious groups often have great influence over their followers, they would also debate that the "influence forced in "cults" is not very different from influence that is present in practically every aspect of life," (19 Oct 1999). Mainstream religions also exercise influence over their members concerning matters such as lifestyle choices, family relations and financial donations. Furthermore, most sociologists concede that some degree of influence is expected in each culture and surface of life even outside the area of religious choice.
Despite the fact that there do not...