Is religion a form of brainwashing?

Esotericism - The business of spirituality

The esoteric market is booming

In some cases, the offers enrich the lives of those seeking meaning. In others, the methods are not only expensive but also dangerous. For example, when cancer is to be cured with the power of the spirit alone.

The psychologist Robert Betz promises the participants of his spiritual seminars and therapy sessions nothing less than the path to happiness and health. He wants to have discovered this path through his own life crises - and consequently through the study of reincarnation therapy.

His method: a mixture of spiritual contact with spirits and positive thinking. Robert Betz also earns money with it - through his books, seminars and therapies.

Robert Betz is just one of countless players on the booming esoteric market. It is teeming with angels and witches, pendulums and cosmic rays. Gurus and healers offer an almost infinite spectrum: Hawaiian bodywork, theta healing, organ unwinding, quantum and Bach flower therapy, phantom surgery and much more.

Magazines and esoteric books are booming, as are astro TV shows. Sales in Germany are estimated at ten to 25 billion euros.

Every second German believes in miracles

Uta Bange from the advice and information center Sekten-Info NRW has been observing the trend towards esotericism for several years: "The whole thing has an experience character: You want to experience exciting things and have intense spiritual experiences."

According to a study by the general population survey of the social sciences (Allbus) from 2012, every fourth German is open to miracle healers and spiritual healers, 40 percent to astrology or spiritual enlightenment. Every second West German believes in miracles, about every fourth in rebirth.

Ute Bange says: "The spiritual search for meaning is deeply anchored in people. But many no longer want to be linked to a fixed group, be it a church or one of the classic sects." The trend lies in constant trying out and changing.

The occult researcher Sabine Doering-Manteuffel even speaks of a "silent spiritual revolution" to the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit".

Cult clichés do not apply

Esotericism does not have its own self-image. And the sociologist of religion Gerald Willms writes in his book "The Wonderful World of Sects" that the "usual 'social' sect clichés" such as religious duties, social obligations and control do not apply either. In 1992, his French colleague Antoine Faivre developed the thesis that esotericism can be viewed as a form of thought in its own right.

Gerald Willms also sees common patterns among those who seek spiritual meaning despite all the diversity in terms of worldview: Accordingly, for esoterically oriented people, everything is related to everything, even if it seems incompatible. For them there were connections between the visible and the invisible world that could be recognized and used. For example, astrologers used the constellation of stars to predict human fates when they created horoscopes.

A second pattern are cosmic healing powers and energies that flow through and inspire all of reality, for example with cosmic healing powers.

A third commonality is the insight and the influence of people on their own fate as in meditation, trance and contacts with the hereafter. And finally, Willms sees an "individual willingness to have new or different experiences" in esotericists.

Meditating can have a positive effect

According to the sociologist of religion Willms, spiritual healing is one of the most important manifestations of contemporary esotericism. These healing methods do not start on the body, but on the mind and soul - even if they are practiced through physical applications.

They also include parts of popular Chinese medicine such as acupuncture, Shiatsu, Qigong and Reiki. They are all increasingly being used by established therapists and alternative practitioners. This "shows how fuzzy the area between supposedly 'bad' esoteric and 'good' psychotherapeutic spiritual healing is," says Willms.

In fact, there is scientific evidence that meditation, for example, has a positive impact on physical wellbeing. That is why it is no longer limited to religious contexts, "Der Spiegel" quotes Ulrich Ott from the University of Giessen: "It is also used in clinics to treat patients who are primarily concerned with improving their symptoms and not with spiritual enlightenment. "

Around 7,000 doctors in Germany also offer homeopathy, and more than 16,000 have additional naturopathic training.

In addition, there are more than 10,000 spiritual healers with and without medical training, more than half organized in the "umbrella organization for spiritual healing". Through the laying on of hands, lights and prayers, energies should be transmitted and people should be helped. With regard to the placebo effect, scientists say that belief in the effect should not have an insignificant influence on recovery.

Desperate people are exploited

Alternative methods become dangerous if medically necessary treatment is not provided. Responsible alternative practitioners therefore point out that their treatments are an additional offer and that they are not legally allowed to diagnose, administer medication, or promise a cure.

But that is exactly what happens often. "Cancer is an illness (cry for help) of the soul, which seeks physical expression in the final stage," writes a healer in the esoteric magazine "Grenzlos". He himself survived terminal cancer through "the power of belief". Now he offers books and seminars on this.

"We have a lot of inquiries in this area," says Uta Bange from the advice and information center Sekten-Info NRW. "Promises are made quickly to be able to cure serious illnesses such as cancer or AIDS. Desperate people are used to make a profit."

In 2013 there were 155 cases of advice in the area of ​​esotericism in the advice and information center, 80 percent of which is paid by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, more than in any other area and far ahead of groups like Scientology or in the field of fundamentalism. Again and again new gurus appeared and disappeared again, has observed Sekten-Info NRW. Robert Betz is someone who is persistent.

Globules against AIDS

The core of his teaching is transformation therapy, a form of psychotherapy that is supposed to solve all kinds of mental, emotional and physical problems. For this purpose, Betz trains its own employees in 23 days of seminars, who then treat psychological problems such as childhood trauma without any previous therapeutic or medical knowledge. Uta Bange criticizes that the seminars are not able to convey the necessary knowledge in the near future.

For comparison: Licensed psychotherapists must have a degree and additional training. "In individual cases, people become more psychologically unstable. Massive personality changes can occur and there can be conflicts in the family as well as psychological dependence." A former patient of Betz reported in the NDR magazine "Panorama" in November 2013 that the method had triggered a psychosis in her.

The Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences (GWUP) nominated Guru Betz 2013 for the award "The golden board in front of the head". According to GWUP, the prize is awarded to people or institutions who "have drawn attention to themselves in a particularly curious, deceptive or even dangerous way through unscientific procedures".

In December 2013, however, the organization "Homeopaths Without Borders" came out on top. They tried to distribute their beads in crisis areas in Africa and Asia, claiming that they were effective against malaria and AIDS.