Sunday, February 05, 2006

Straw men and red herrings

Dr. Tebecis appears to be the main English-language "voice" for Sukyo Mahikari. He has published two books, and his influence can be seen in sites such as Thomas David's Sukyo Mahikari Australia site, where Dr. Tebecis' Answers To Critics appears.

Dr. Tebecis writes with a very authoritative tone, and has the unfortunate knack of writing very persuasively. To people who have at some stage been under the influence of Mahikari indocrination, he can sound amazingly first glance, at least.

In Steve Hassan's Releasing the Bonds, pages 169-170, he says, One of the most common disinformation tactics used by cults is a logical fallacy known as the "straw man," where a person weakens his opponent's position by misrepresenting his arguments and attacking an indefensible "straw man," rather than addressing the real issues.

I think Dr. Tebecis has done exactly that in his Answers To Critics. He has subtly managed to distort, or change the focus of, the original criticisms he claims to be answering, thereby making the critics of Mahikari sound rather silly. He makes it sound like the critics have made claims that they haven't, and for the most part fails to address the claims they have made.

For example, critics have pointed out that Mahikari promotes veneration of the Emperor and that Mahikari doctrine promotes Japanese imperialism. Dr. Tebecis did not address these claims at all! Instead, his "answer" consisted entirely of statements about the Imperial family's supposed attitudes towards religions (including Mahikari). He manages to give the impression that critics have made claims about the Emperor's attitude towards Mahikari, when they have in fact made claims about Mahikari's attitude towards the Emperor. He tried to make the critics look ridiculous by attributing claims to them that they had not made.

Next he suggests that the imperialism claims are based on teachings related to "the land of the origin of spirit", and conveniently ignores other written material and practices that support this claim. He states that, "In ancient times when humankind appeared on earth, there was no country called Japan, no nationalities or borders, only land." He cleverly makes it sound like Mahikari's critics think these did exist at that time, and that only he and his readers are smart enough to realize they didn't. This is not only a straw man, but also a red herring. There is plenty of material to indicate that Mahikari regards Japan and the Japanese people as special, despite the fact that he cites a few quotes that seem to contradict that.

Next, Dr. Tebecis attempts to refute the anti-Semitic claim by referring to various Mahikari members who are Jewish. This "evidence" is quite irrelevant, since the critics' anti-Semitic claim is based on Mahikari doctrine, not on exclusion of Jewish people. This topic has been quite thoroughly covered elsewhere, including the Mahikari Project Blog. Incidentally, there is an interesting update there, posted on 31/12/05, concerning the fate of the money donated by Sukyo Mahikari.

The topic of connections with Aum Supreme Truth is tackled next. By mentioning that The Japanese police have discredited Aum Supreme Truth as a terrorist organization, so it is understandable that people who know little about Sukyo Mahikari would be shocked, Dr. Tebecis not-so-subtly suggests that the Mahikari critics think Mahikari was directly involved in Aum's terrorist activities. No-one has claimed that. Dr. Tebecis makes it sound as if the sole basis for discussion concerning whether or not there is any sort of connection is that Ms Yasuko Shimada was a pioneer of Mahikari in Australia and later joined Aum. He fails to mention that Shimada was a vital link in Aum buying property in Western Australia to test/destroy? some mysterious object, (one wonders if a third, behind-the-scenes group hired her to assist both Mahikari and Aum). He does not mention that both groups had the same political sponsor in Japan, and that both make reference to the Protocols of Zion. In short, he has magnified the critics claim, and minimized the evidence that suggests the possibility of a connection to the point where it again makes the critics sound ridiculous.

Most of the rest of Dr. Tebecis' article deals with government investigations of Sukyo Mahikari in various countries. This is not a straw man...ex-member critics and media critics have reported such investigations...but it is a red herring. After Dr. Tebecis' many paragraphs detailing these investigations and their outcomes, the naive and/or less-than-alert reader would probably be lulled into thinking that Sukyo Mahikari is "alright".

But what are government investigations looking for when they investigate a group? Primarily, they look for any evidence of terrorist or dubious political activity, such as stockpiling of guns, making of bombs, or funding of suspect groups. Next, they look for child abuse and any other illegal activities. In countries that support freedom of religion, the content and practice of a religion is not (and cannot be) relevant to government investigations...if no laws are being broken. If a group is registered as a religion, it is not illegal to persuade the adherents to believe nonsense.

Being cleared by a government investigation is not as reassuring as it sounds. It is not illegal to cause mental anguish and waste peoples' time (and money).

You'll notice that Dr. Tebecis picked his topics carefully. I think he only attempted to answer the points where he felt he could win...yet his article still has an air of having "answered all the criticisms". Amazing!


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