Sunday May 17 2015
Alice Herron talked about her 27 years in a Hindu-based New Religious Movement in the UK, why she finally decided leave and how she went on to research various aspects of religion from a psychological perspective.
Having completed an MA in Psychology of Religion from University of London, she is currently studying for a PhD and researches atheists who claim to have had one or more mystical-type experiences. Alice has also won numerous public speaking competitions.
John de Prey writes about Alice’s talk
“Memories and Reflections of a Former Cult Devotee
Farnham Humanists were fascinated by a presentation by Alice Herron. Alice described how she once joined a “Hindu” cult and was held within its power for 27 years. It was an International Meditation Group led by a “guru” and based in New York. Her involvement began when she was impressed with the benefits of meditation. It is easy for outsiders who haven’t experienced the pull of a powerfully charismatic guru, not to understand how an intelligent young woman can suspend all disbelief, and become enthralled by a guru’s promise to make her realise the “Highest”.
Once initiated the student in the cult makes the promise that when she realises the Highest, she will become the guru’s “perfect instrument to manifest the supreme in him”. His control takes hold. He said “…obedience is of paramount importance. If you obey your master, no matter how imperfect he may be, then the Absolute Lord Supreme will be able to illumine you and fulfil you in his own way. Start your spiritual journey with obedience. If you have the inner strength to obey your master, you will be the happiest person”.
Alice devoted herself to the community, never questioning or becoming suspicious that things might not be as they seemed. However she always felt that despite her commitment and obedience, she was never included in what she felt was the inner circle of the group. Occasionally she heard troubling things, but dismissed them.
Over time, Alice became unhappy. She felt she was not making “spiritual progress” and decided to leave. Around that time she heard that an ex-follower had started a website, and contrary to cult rules, Alice started to investigated the guru and the cult via the internet. There she learned for the first time of the sexual exploitation of some of the female members and how any woman who became pregnant was told to have an abortion. This was the case with Carlos and Deborah Santana who married at the guru’s behest and Deborah was later persuaded by the guru to abort their child.
Alice told of the guru’s absurd aim to win a Nobel Prize for Literature for his chronically poor poetry, and of his efforts to win the Nobel Peace Prize through the influence of cult members whom he had encouraged to work at the United Nations.
Having painfully extracted herself from the cult, Alice now has valuable insights into that kind of wholesale surrender to a belief, incredible though it appears now with hindsight. She is currently studying for a PhD in the Psychology of Religion at University of Surrey. She also speaks openly about her experiences, and this was hugely appreciated and loudly applauded by the humanists who heard her.”