Massimo Introvigne

Italian philosopher

Massimo Introvigne (born June 14, 1955) is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new religious movements.

Massimo Introvigne in 2006


  • China seems to have been very much similar to the West, both in the production of new religious movements and in attracting to them figures from the political left who were officially promoting the struggle against “superstition.”
    Reconstructions of “Chinese traditional culture” as “non-religious,” and of the rich Chinese religious pluralism as mere “folk religion” should be viewed as propaganda rather than history.
  • When a national or local government calls a religious group “antisocial” [or “cultic” or “dangerous” or the like], it jeopardizes [that religious group's] right to honor and reputation, incites [unreasonable] discrimination, and interferes with the citizens’ right of deciding which religion they want to join free from governmental pressures—who would want to bear the stigma connected with joining a religion officially declared “antisocial”?
  • While predicting the future is a rare gift, testifying for the truth is a duty for every woman and man of conscience. …A prophet, Romero added, is one who has an “undisturbed conscience.” This is an interesting statement.
    Only those who are firmly rooted in conscience as their moral compass may calmly tell the truth about injustice and corruption, no matter the risks.
    And risks there are since prophets easily make enemies.
  • A key point of the texts attributed to Shotoku is that if rulers and bureaucrats believe they are the owners rather than the servants of the law, corruption will follow.
    Corruption was already a problem in the 7th century, and the Shotoku writings define it as privileging the officials’ private interests over the public ones.
    Manipulating the public in the interest of the private is the very definition of corruption.
  • Obviously the obedience to the spiritual master includes the risk of abuse. However, charges of abuse should be evaluated within the context of the religious tradition. Gurus who kill or [sexually abuse] their followers may not hide under pretexts of religious freedom. On the other hand, “being a guru” or establishing with the disciples a special relationship of trust and obedience is not illegal. It should not be evaluated through individualist and rationalist standards by media, or even by secular courts of law who do not understand the [ancient] religious principle of surrendering a great part of the disciple’s liberty to a spiritual master.
  • Obviously, those suspected of sexual abuse, be they religious leaders or not, should be prosecuted—but not because Netflix says so. …[The television industry] knows that illicit sex always titillates and sells, and this is even more true for the combination between religion and illicit sex. …The producers of the TV shows claim that they give voice to victims of sexual abuse by religious leaders. This is legitimate and also important (if the victims are real, of course). However, the pain of the victims is not relieved if the shows stereotype and generalize, and further pain is inflicted on those who want to remain in the religious movements and are personally not guilty of any crime. …If I learned one thing, it is that in the long run invariably hate speech generates hate crimes, violence, and in the end murder. Netflix and the other networks should remember that hate speech can kill—and television can kill too.
  • …Tai Ji Men refused all offers of settlement from the [National Taxation Bureau], insisting they were not guilty of tax evasion and should not pay even a single dollar for this. It may seem that this is a battle about money, but it isn’t for Tai Ji Men. They spent in legal fees only, in all these years of struggles, more than they would have paid had they settled with the NTB. They did not settle for a reason of principle. By settling, they would have admitted that they had been guilty of tax evasion, something that is both against their principles and factual truth, and in their eyes would even be a connivance with the criminal actions of some rogue officials. How can they tour the world and lecture about conscience and being good citizens, and at the same time admit they evaded taxes?
  • Tai Ji Men dizi are not professional diplomats, yet they play a diplomatic role through friendship and culture. They know that their effectiveness is rooted in self-cultivation—just as Guiguzi said so many centuries ago.
    …We all have a lot to learn from Tai Ji Men dizi. The reference to Guiguzi shows that perhaps they are so effective in what they do because they epitomize a millennia-old Chinese tradition, and a gift Chinese culture gave to the world.
  • The jury is still out, but what Machiavelli described—either to recommend or subtly denounce it—was a diplomacy without conscience. It may look brilliant, but many who commented on Machiavelli noted that hidden in his works is the idea that a diplomacy totally separated from morality and conscience may achieve results occasionally but in most cases, and in the long run, would not work.
    …However we decide to read him, Machiavelli listed as the three features of effective diplomacy caution, art (meaning the mastery of a number of technical tools), and above all patience.
  • Conscience is desensitized by materialism, but sometimes a “digital manipulation of consciences” by media that serve corrupt powers is also at work. The second [point of relevance for the Tai Ji Men case] is the role of religion and spiritual organizations to “keep alive the flame of collective conscience,” which is a pre-requisite for fraternity and peace. The third is that “corruption in its various forms,” including by “politicians” and “corrupt officials,” is one of the main obstacles that prevent our societies from being fraternal and peaceful. …When conscience is no longer the compass, corruption prevails.
    Corruption destroys fraternity and peace, tries to manipulate the consciences through slander and fake news, and produces injustices.
  • I believe that public schools should not indoctrinate or proselytize for any religion but I am also persuaded that excluding an objective look at the role of religions and spirituality while designing a school curriculum would make it impossible for students to understand much of the art, culture, literature, and history of humanity in all continents.
    Even when reflecting on the momentous question of how education can produce good citizens, excluding any consideration of values based on spirituality can only lead to catastrophic results.
  • I believe that Dr. Hong [Tao-Tze, the leader of Tai Ji Men], who has made himself heard about conscience all over the world, will be remembered for having rescued conscience from the problems Svevo was immersed in when he published his novel. Conscience had been assaulted not only by Freud, but before him by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). They all suggested that rather than being something natural or native conscience has been artificially created inside us by social forces not particularly well intentioned.
    …Dr. Hong told us a simple truth, that we should forget ideologies and come back to conscience as the moral compass. Ideologies, as we know from the tragedies of the 20th century and are experiencing again in the 21st century, by obfuscating conscience create war and destruction. Only those who recognize the central role of conscience can build a civilization of peace and love.
  • There are several misunderstandings about conscience. One is that the question of conscience is extremely complicated. As Dr. Hong [Tao-Tze] teaches us, this is basically a lie. A philosophical book about conscience can be very technical and difficult to read for the uninitiated, yet the common experience of conscience is very simple. …As Dr. Hong says, “conscience is innate.” It is within us. For believers, it is the voice of God; for non-believers, it is the voice of our deepest and noblest human nature. But the 19th century ideologues told us that it is a false voice of false gods.
  • Being one of the scholars who immediately reacted to the 1995 report through press conferences, articles, and a book, I warned that the list [of 173 “cults” by a French Parliamentary Commission] was the most dangerous feature of the whole [anti-cult] enterprise. …I and other scholars coined the expression “effet de liste” (list effect), indicating that the damages done to groups that had committed no crimes and their members was irreparable. It took ten years [for] the French government to recognize that the list had perhaps not been such a good idea, and in 2005 it stated that it should no longer be used as a reference.
  • There is physical pollution and there is the moral pollution of injustice. The two of them go together. We will not eliminate physical pollution if we do not eliminate moral pollution as well. …Getting the Buddhas back on their feet and creating a safe environment means changing our hearts, acknowledging the primacy of conscience, and facing and resolving injustice.
  • […]Kant believed that world peace was possible only if the enlightened elites in each country worked hard to promote conscience. Without conscience there would be no peace, no matter how much efforts a society of nations would make. I am not sure that Kant’s notion of conscience was the same as Dr. Hong’s and Tai Ji Men’s. Kant’s one was deeply rooted in a Protestant sense of guilt and sin, and he saw it more as an inner tribunal delivering an internal verdict of guilt for the bad actions we have performed. Yet, his idea of a necessary connection between peace and conscience remains valid.
  • [Australian scholar David Thomas] Smith’s theory of religious persecution shows us that a general “system of tolerance of minorities” is perfectly compatible with the persecution of some groups, and the two things in fact go together in many modern democratic states, which answers the objection that Tai Ji Men cannot be persecuted because Taiwan in general protects religious liberty. It also shows that democratic states, unlike their totalitarian counterparts that are often irrational, cease the persecutions when they understand that the political cost of persecution has become higher than the cost of tolerating a group they do not like.
  • The real lesson of Romero is that there are no legitimate reasons to deny [civil or natural] rights.
    His government in his time believed that [civil or natural] rights could be somewhat “suspended” to protect El Salvador from Communist influences coming from the Soviet Union via Cuba and Nicaragua.
    Romero was certainly not an admirer of the Soviet Union, but believed there should be other ways of protecting his country, not suspending [civil or natural] rights.
    He taught us that those who advocate for [civil or natural] rights are “for” their countries, not “against” them.
    …Romero wrote that religious persecution happens because “truth is always persecuted,” and that God blesses those who protest and fight for freedom. But they should know they should suffer, because “pain is the money that buys freedom.”
    …Romero’s key teaching, that there is no reason good enough to justify the violation of [civil or natural] rights, is relevant for both religious liberty and the Tai Ji Men case.
    There are governments that claim that limiting religious liberty is necessary to protect social stability or the harmony of the country.
    Romero’s message is that this is not a valid justification. [Civil or natural] rights protection defines what a legitimate social stability is, rather than the other way around.
  • The Ghent decision, defining as illegal the practice by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to teach that current members (with the exception of cohabiting relatives) should shun or ostracize those who have been disfellowshipped or have left their organization, is the culminating point of a process that, if left unchecked, will destroy religious liberty and the very notion of freedom as we know it.
    Basically, the Ghent judges affirmed the principle that the freedom of an organization to self-regulate itself as it deems fit is a lesser right when compared to the freedom of the individual within the organization. They also imply that a person should enjoy the same freedoms within the organization that s/he would enjoy in the society in general.
    It is not an exaggeration to argue that this deeply subverts concepts about freedom that democratic societies have accepted for centuries.
    Many have argued that the basic question of Western political philosophy is why we accept to surrender a part of our liberty to join an organization. Wouldn’t it be better to remain free?

See also


(Related in the sense of Bitter Winter:)

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