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The Rise of Coaches and Esotericism: A Look at the Changing Landscape of Sects and Cults in Baden-Württemberg

Scientology, Hillsong, Shincheonji: Some cults and similar groups have received a lot of attention in recent years. But the membership numbers of these big players are stagnating – the worrying developments are taking place elsewhere.

Baden-Württemberg has always been a good place for so-called sects and psychogroups. Uriella and her Fiat Lux sect once achieved a certain level of fame here. Shincheonji, a sect from South Korea, successfully proselytized on the streets of Stuttgart. Scientology has been represented at some locations for a long time and has been monitored by the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution for more than 25 years. And the evangelical free church Hillsong, whose sometimes questionable practices have become known through the podcast “Toxic Church”, also has its registered German headquarters in Konstanz.

Coaches are the new gurus

But the real movement in the worldview market is not with these big, well-known names, but with small groups, says Sarah Pohl from Zebra, the central advice center for worldview issues in Baden-Württemberg. The area of ​​coaching and esotericism in particular is booming, says Pohl. And while some offers in this area are harmless, inquiries have increased, says Pohl.

The offers are diverse, says Pohl: coaching for better business, more successful dating, for either more masculinity or femininity or simply better health. Common patterns: emergencies are exploited; a solution to a problem is promised for a lot of money; Providers create psychological dependency with statements like: “Only I can solve the problem. We have to keep working on it.” Sometimes it is advised to cut off contact with friends and family. In other words: Some coaches and esotericists – some also call themselves healers – act similarly to the gurus of a cult.

The case of a so-called life coach in Walldürn in the Neckar-Odenwald district shows how far this can go in the most extreme case: The 38-year-old is said to have lured women into his house through his offer, taken them hostage and raped them. He is currently on trial and is presumed innocent.

Some are just looking for support

These providers often only have 20 to 30 followers around them, and offers constantly appear and disappear again, says Pohl. “We are often asked whether we keep lists of people who are considered problematic. But that wouldn’t make any sense today because the market is constantly changing and we have countless small providers,” says Pohl.

What are the reasons for this boom? On the one hand, crises – Corona, war, climate, inflation – would make people vulnerable to certain offers, says Pohl. On the other hand, there is an undersupply of psychotherapy places, which means people are looking for support elsewhere. Mirijam Wiedemann, who observes dangerous ideological and religious offerings in the Ministry of Culture, says: Some people sometimes consciously accept a problematic worldview because the groups offer something they are looking for: recognition.

Shincheonji and many small religious groups

A differentiation is also taking place among the free churches, says Andreas Oelze, worldview representative of the Evangelical Regional Church of Württemberg. Regarding the large, internationally represented communities, he says: Inquiries about Hillsong are rather the exception, but Shincheonji regularly generates a need for advice from him. But the general trend is that more and more small groups are forming, but they can certainly generate a large reach via social media.

Two such small communities are also being monitored by the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution: the “Reliable Word Baptist Church” in Pforzheim, which wants to punish homosexuality with death, and the Evangelical Free Church in Riedlingen, which has attracted attention with anti-democratic statements. “Especially in the biblical fundamentalist area, greater politicization has been observed in recent years, for example around questions about sexual diversity and the liberalization of society,” says Oelze.

Christianity is used for right-wing extremist ideas

In addition to attempts to harness Christianity to right-wing extremist ideas, there are also religious-ethnic ideological communities, says Oelze. For example, the “Association for Knowledge of God (Ludendorff)”, which the journalist and right-wing extremism expert Timo Büchner classifies as ethnic and anti-Semitic. The group has a farm in Kirchberg-Herboldshausen in the Schwäbisch Hall district, which has been made available in the past for events organized by the extreme right, such as Büchner said to SWR. The group later defended itself against the term right-wing extremist.

But it is important to Oelze to emphasize that these are exceptions and that the majority of the free churches are doing honorable work. “And we also have some among the free churches that are significantly liberalizing themselves,” says Oelze.

There is also a fusion with the right-wing extremist spectrum elsewhere, says Sarah Pohl from Zebra. The Anastasia movement, which also has its foundations in Baden-Württemberg, mixes right-wing extremist ideas and esotericism. Many esoteric offers would in turn make use of conspiracy stories. And with Reich citizens, sometimes everything comes together. “We are united in the point of being against it,” says Pohl. So: against the state, against the media, for a self-made truth.

The money in the country attracts dubious providers

But why is Baden-Württemberg so attractive for such offers? “The attractiveness of a stable sales market and the financial possibilities of the population not only attract religious and ideological providers, but also justify the ongoing import of a wide variety of religious and ideological concepts into Baden-Württemberg,” says the cult report for the state from 2019, a more recent one exists it not yet. Offers appear where you can also earn money. According to Pohl, this is still relevant. Especially in the esoteric sector, the clientele is usually relatively well educated and has a good income. And more and more older people are coming across problematic offers.

“In the majority of cases, people between the ages of 30 and 50 contact us who call about their parents and say: ‘My parents have drifted away, they have become radicalized, they have completely fallen for certain people or are deeply involved in conspiracy narratives.’ “says Pohl. “If you look at the Reich Citizens’ Movement, for example, there are people who only began to radicalize at the age of 45. However, there are very few counseling services aimed at this age group. “We urgently need to think more carefully about what approaches can be created to reach this target group,” says Pohl.

How to recognize problematic offers

The Zebra advice center and the Ministry of Culture have jointly published brochures that are intended to make it easier to identify problematic offers.

For coaches is here is a checklist to find – the more points apply, the more problematic the offer. Regarding cults this brochure helpsto identify risk factors.

2024-03-28 22:17:42
#Sects #coaches #BadenWürttemberg #worrying #psychological #groups #country

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