MEXICO CITY – Growing violence, widespread strong religiosity and ancestral and even supernatural beliefs are creating in Mexico a favorable environment for the proliferation of sectarian groups.
“Mexico is one of the countries where many sects are flourishing. This culture of the mythic and the magical as a pillar (of belief) allows destructive groups to play around with beliefs,” Veronica Mendoza, the vice president of the Support Network for Victims of Sects, which operates mainly in Spanish-speaking countries, told EFE in an interview.
But besides groups linked with religious beliefs, sects have been evolving parallel to people’s needs in the modern world.
Currently, there are emotional “coaching” groups offering professional development and success services to people who often find themselves in economic or social situations of isolation, and there are even pyramid companies that function as a refuge in an individualistic society.
The success of these groups “is linked with transformations in Mexican society. We’re in a period of economic instability and a perceived lack of security. Besides, the development of cities leads people to feel alone, isolated and vulnerable,” Luis Alberto Garcia, the coordinator of studies for the Panamerican University’s School of Psychology, told EFE.
Neftally Beristain, an attorney for the Support Network who is currently studying for a Master’s Degree in Humanist Psychotherapy, was a victim of Gnosis, a sect that claims to lead its members toward saving the world through meditation.
She told Efe that she came to believe that she could only do well within that belief system while if she strayed outside it she could “become dirty.”
She discovered the existence of the group from a poster offering “meditation courses, perfect marriage,” and she was curious, being a 21-year-old young woman with an interest in spirituality.
Initially, the group taught her how to meditate but later the teachers began to become more interested in her personal life and about people outside the sect with whom she had links.
The attention provided to her by the group members made her feel understood and accepted, but she also became more distanced from her other friends, who – the group members told her – were “blind.”
The teachers, she said, caused her to enter into a type of collective psychosis, feeling afraid of dark places where they told her that insects were stealing her energy, or causing her to think she heard voices and saw unreal visions.
She began to have serious doubts about the group’s belief system when they sent her out as a “missionary.”
“Being a missionary is leaving everything behind,” she said, adding that they sent her out to sell pastries on the street amid bad working conditions while the teachers ate in good restaurants and didn’t work, she said.
“I thought why is this happening if they’re teaching us that we’re all equal? I began to question things,” she said.
With the help of her parents and later the Support Network, where she now offers objective legal advice, she managed to overcome the “depersonalization” with which the group had inculcated her, but she is still dealing with other latent difficulties.
“Nowadays ... I have an aversion to religion in general,” said Beristain, who now is seeking merely “to believe in myself.”
Non-profit organizations like the Support Network are almost the only ones paying attention to this phenomenon that is affecting the “health” of the society more than might be apparent.
Garcia said that there is a significant link between sects and violence or criminal groups, something about which government are generally not aware or don’t take seriously.
“They can create an unthinking society. It’s the kernel of slavery in the 21st century. ... The leader (of the group) can use the lives of thousands of people as he wants,” said Mendoza.
Garcia said that all these types of sects must be monitored, although in Mexico there is currently only a census of religious groups.