After decade-long atheism during the Soviet period great interest has risen toward spiritual life today. Belief, spirituality, religion are very specific concepts to speak about without deep and proper knowledge. There is a wide-spread idea, according to which atheism is a negative phenomenon, consequently, each demonstration of belief has positive perception and it is important to have belief in something bright and stately, and there is no difference between religions. Founders of heresy movements in reality use this not only pursuing goals of religious and spiritual development, but also seeking to extend their own authority. In essence, religions do not preach extreme ideas. The danger derives from heresies originated from worldwide known religions. Thus, religious heresies can be considered powerful tools for world revolution. Numerous cases of terrorist acts of recent years are bright evidence of this. For example, “Islamic State”[i] terrorist group, gathering young Muslim men, commits terrorist acts using them, essentially targeting European states. Terrorist act in Brussels in March, 2016 (34 killed, 230 wounded), terror attack in Orlando in June, 2016 (50killed, 50 wounded), terrorist act in Saint Petersburg in April, 2017 (14 killed, more than 20 wounded) are some of terrorist acts committed by them.
Today no state is able to be free from such extreme ideological and heresy movements of any kind generally. The aim of this analysis is to investigate heresies existing in the RA, their doctrine and real goals, the impact on the Armenian society, the dangers caused by them.
According to the census in 2011 in Armenia 2 797 187 men deemed themselves as followers of the Armenian Apostolic Church, 13 996-Catholic, 7587-Orthodox, 1733-Nestorian, 29 880- Evangelical, 8695 -Jehovah’s witnesses, 773 –Protestant, 2874 -Mormon , 23 374 -Shar-fadinian, 5416 -Pagan, 812- Muslim. 34 373 men considered themselves non-religious, 10 941 men refused to reply.
The Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations[ii] does not exactly differentiate religious organizations from heresies, does not restrict the latters’ activity and spread. Thus, what is heresy in reality, and which are its types and directions in the RA?
Hersey is an opposing current, doctrine, creed or teaching in any universal religion (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.), which deviates from the official religion and opposes it. Inside Christianity heresy is the group of people (followers) which is at variance with the main religious doctrine or community, has relatively few members and is closed in itself. Followers of heresy live and preach ideas and moral norms of their “teacher”.
Convictions of heretics are based on their leader’s imaginary reputation, his idolization, which entails refusal of real Christian values, distortion of the Bible or its distorted interpretation. There is also a term “erosive heresy”. Legally it is explained as follows: a group, which is formed by promises, threats, tricks of its leader, abuses of power, using psychological pressure makes its followers weak, unprotected, dependent beings. As a consequence, followers lose critical treatment toward each activity of heresy, its methods and principles.
It is important to be able to distinguish the concepts “heresy” and “totalitarian heresy”. The latter is a group which abuses its members and manipulates them. It can cause psychological, financial and physical damage. Totalitarian heresy commonly controls the behavior, thoughts, and feelings of its members. The erosive and totalitarian nature of heresies is defined not by their belief, but by the method of their activity.
Totalitarian heresies can be divided into the following groups:
- Neo Christian heresies
- Heresies of “ New Apocalypse”
- East oriented heresies
- Heresies of “ New Age”
- Devil cults
- Neo pagan heresies
- Trade cults
- Protestant heresies
The most widespread branches of totalitarian heresies in the Republic of Armenia are “Word of Life”, “Society for Krishna Consciousness”, “Church of Unification”, “Church of Scientology”, “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, “Community of Bahá’í”, “Local Church” (Watchman Nee), “New Apostolic Church”, “Charismas or the Church of World of God”, ”Family or Children of God”, “Church of Christ” (Boston movement) etc. There are 65 religious organizations officially registered in the RA. [iii]
In 2017 the “World of Life” (or Evangelical Church) is the most numerous religious institution in the RA, according to their own data (about 26 thousand men). It is declared to be heresy by Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, an organization with subversive activity, which endangers spiritual health of man and society. Differences from the Armenian Apostolic Church include denial of chrism, church, order of priesthood, intercession of saints and saint tradition.
The impact of heresies on people
Heresies influence people’s psychology and inner world. Damages resulted by them can be classified as follows:
Damages of nervous nature: Disturbances of individuality and fears. Because of heresies people suffer from nervous disorders, which are not psychological yet. People become nervous, isolated from society, from friends and family, they have conflicts on religious and other themes with others. They grant their spare time only to the given heresy and to literature about it.
Psychological disturbances: Such demonstrations are interpreted by preachers of heresies as “Gift of God”, ”influence of universal energy” and so on: some heretics get psychological illnesses not only because of their membership to that heresy, but also because of punishments received on its sidelines.
Totalitarian heresies are dangerous at 4 levels:
At individual level: They deprive a person of his/her liberty and abuse him/her. They mess up their lives and make their fate worse, cause physical, psychological and psychic harm.
At family level: Each erosive heresy appears as specific “family” and seeks to take the place of the individual’s real family, put an end to family links. The division of family is an inseparable part of heresy.
At societal level: Erosive heresies seek to disorganize society, destroy human and financial resources. Such heresies create nothing and seek to get rid of people, who have already given everything to given heresy.
At state level: Each heresy is also new state within a state, which lives by its own rules and laws, traditions and believes, consequently seeks to destroy everything contradicting its inner rules.
People easily undergoing proselytism and influence of heretic groups have some psychological disorders, such as low self-assessment, feeling of social injustice, feeling of being isolated and alienated, strong desire (as a rule, dissatisfied one) to join or belong to a group. People with low education and living in hard social conditions easily become part of heretic movements.
Membership to heresy is the influence of two interacting powers: first is tactics through which people are recruited and controlled, the second is private vulnerability. People, who recruit others for heresy, are skillful in their work and are always able to use hard conditions of life or psychological and/or social vulnerability. Students, the aged, teenagers, each person suffering from depression, refugees, the unemployed basically become followers of heresy.
During the observations of heresies elements of trans, ecstasy and other psychological tricks have been founded by specialists in their rituals, which on the one hand are explained by devotion to the preferred belief, but on the other hand support the demonstrations of fanaticism and extreme behavior that threaten family and society anyhow (let us notice that in traditional religions such demonstrations are considered to be a sin and are subject to reprimand).
Let us try to name damages caused to family by heresies: destruction of family, emergence of social orphans (children abandoned by heretic parents), children as followers of heresies leaving their aged parents without care, involvement of relatives in heresy by a family member, physical and psychological violence, which is exercised by a heresy follower in his/her family, especially toward children based on religious causes.
Heresy movements take great impetus because of legislative imperfection, educational and social issues. Consequently, to get rid of heresies, first of all aforementioned problems should be resolved.
In the Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations a distinct definition of heresies should be given, preach should be forbidden, particularly with psychic and psychological impact, given that Freedom of Conscience and Religion is not absolute right, that is to say, in certain cases restrictions can be used toward them, exact formulations of that restrictions should be given. It is also necessary to pay attention to spiritual education and awareness. For example, other classes about religion and heresies should be held along with “History of the Armenian Church” discipline. The same should be done in colleges, universities and orphanages, as teenagers are the most vulnerable group. The level of societal awareness should also be increased, which, first of all, must be supported by the Armenian Apostolic Church carrying variety of informing events about dangers caused by heresies, as well as events directed at involvement of society in the life of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
[i] “Islamic State”, “ISIS” Extreme Muslim group based on Muslim extremist ideology which operates in the territories of the Republic of Iraq and Syrian Arab Republic.
Author: Narine Khachatryan. © All rights are reserved.
Translator: Sona Aramyan.