A First-Hand Report, and a Critical Appraisal of This Website, from Estonia (2006)

(Sent by email from a former member of the Holic Group)

Introductory note: this text is written by an Estonian who is not a student of the German language. There are therefore some errors in idiom or spelling. I have only very sparingly corrected these, because any correction can also often be a change in emphasis in the content. I find it noteworthy that somebody made the effort to write about a very personal matter in a language which is foreign to him.

About Gerald Kluge’s website:

On your website, the group is too mythologized and ‘made too interesting.’ But it was the first time that I saw that somebody knows something about this group and yet is against them. Why … whenever I was recruiting and encountered oppositional behavior, I thought: that’s because there is too little information about us. Your website was shocking to me – there must be an objective reason why somebody is so opposed to this community. I saw one reason: that the group had presented quite a few diatribes against the Catholic church on the internet. For many Catholics the doubts could arise, as to whether the Catholic teaching is correct. On the other hand, I saw the lack of information [about the group] as a problem … But I was astonished that many ex-members depicted this group so negatively.

Even now, I myself see no situation in which the group could be a ‘danger’ for those who believe otherwise, except for recruitment. I think that the reasons why a person would make a decision for this group, and why a person might leave it, are very individual.

<That was the case for me. They had real reasons to suspect me, because I wasn’t forthcoming in my confession of sins: they discovered that I looked at sexual websites. They hoped that I might control myself. But it was not easy for me to overcome this sin, and even more difficult to speak openly about it. In general, I think that one could in no case point to injustice when someone is excluded. In my case it was somehow harmonized: I wanted to leave, and because of my sins I was later excluded.>

How could it be, Mr. Kluge, that you have found only negative reports of experiences? That is puzzling for me. The information about the “Holic Group” is concentrated disproportionately on the general living situation and very little on the doctrinal content of this group. It’s clear that the doctrine is inconsequential for you. In the course of evaluating the group, you write: “Whether or not a group is a cult is not decided by its doctrine.” Is it possible to professionally evaluate a faith community, if not through its beliefs? Or is it possible, that a cult (this word “cult” sounds in itself not to be an evaluation, but rather a judgment), acts badly but actually has the proper teaching?

A note from the webmaster: concerning the characteristics which make a group into a cult (i.e., a socially conflict-laden and problematic group, potentially dangerous for the individual), you’ll find under the website’s menu “tips and helps” → “characteristics of cults.” (in German) As the author of this experiential report correctly notes, the practices of the group alone play a role, and less its doctrine, which is to be tolerated in a pluralistic society, at least so far as it doesn’t empower a problematic practice.

Because of this superficial starting point, I don’t see any reason to deal with the discrete points of conflict. I find it regrettable that Josef Aufreiter did that so thoroughly. In my opinion, it is unfair, and a lie, that they did not tell me that there was such a website, and that they reacted this way. If somebody in the group took so much time to refute something, but then said nothing to some of the members, so that I found this website only after leaving [the group] … What else could you call this? Is that only a good-natured [effort] to protect the members from the evil and unjust world, and from destructive and unedifying criticism?

Concerning the Founding of this Faith Community:

I really believed that we did not somehow break away from some church. I think that this is obvious, when someone believes that they are the true church. Yes, it’s a fact, that they had been part of the Catholic church, but as they explained to me: the reason for their daily meetings with each other was not a new step theologically, but rather they saw no prospects for a more active gathering within the framework of the Catholic Church. But, they said, the foundations of the faith had not changed from the very beginning up until today.

I have never heard that the group conceived of itself as a “new church.”

There are people in the group who have more experience than others. But I never thought that they had achieved more of the Spirit, so that only they could properly explain the Bible. It was actually demanded that every Christian be capable of answering questions about the Bible. And here not only the answers of particular people played a role, but rather it was the fruit of communal Bible study. I, at least, never saw that there were cases in which an answer from someone weighed more because of his especially honorable personality. Another thing: I don’t know anything about Gottfried Holic. But I know Gottfried P., Joseph Aufreiter, and Franz K., to whom you have ascribed leadership functions. For me, the difficulty in identifying persons lies in this, that we rarely used surnames. Only when someone had the same first name, only then. In one case, even these people were simply named by their characteristics, e.g., Big X and Little X (‘Hegy’ is ‘big’ in Hungarian, and ‘Kis’ is ‘small’).

The Arrogance and Elitism of the Community:

One matter is what the goals are; another matter is how the attitude appears in its practice. I must say that not only I, but rather also the majority of the members in the group, continually made [negative] comments about other religious groups. This clearly reflects something different than what Josef Aufreiter presents in his argumentation. I will give no examples. Let that remain on our conscience. We spoke in such a way that a person couldn’t pinpoint the fact of arrogance. These [things that we said] were not merely judgements or observations with the intention of being objective.

Because I was not a believer prior to [joining] the community, and knew little about the foundations of Christianity (although I had already read through the entire Bible), it is difficult for me to judge where the ‘Holic Members’ theologically misunderstand the Bible. The only thorough explanation of the Bible that I know comes from this group. For this reason, excuse me for not being able to inform you about ‘false teachings.’ Anyone can read the writings of this group and say, what is correct and what is wrong. There are no secret teachings or rituals which nobody else knows about except the members of this faith community. So I cannot add much to what you have already made public: they pray, go hiking together, talk together about the Bible and the questions arising about it, as well as about personal problems, etc.

The Lord’s Supper [Communion / Eucharist]

But one can perhaps see the Lord’s Supper as a “ritual.” Information about that is not written anywhere, and I think it’s good to say something here about how I understood it.

It is certainly celebrated differently. Some communities may celebrate it almost every week, but others only a few times per year. I think that all were of the opinion that they should celebrate it often, but shouldn’t be legalistic about it. They break bread and drink grape juice. In contrast to the Catholics, who believe in transubstantiation, and to the free churches, who understand the Lord’s Supper as purely symbolic, the ‘Holic Members’ believe that Jesus is really present in the bread with His risen body. But this presence does not mean that the bread is itself the Body of Jesus. Only that the Body of Jesus is somehow bound to the bread. I don’t think that they have a precise teaching about exactly how.

What do I see negative about this group?

I think that being in this group is psychologically burdensome. Really, every one of your actions and facial expressions is observed, and you yourself must still find the power from the Spirit to carefully judge the other siblings. If that was burdensome for me because of my sins, or whether there could also be other explanations, I don’t know, but I felt completely bankrupt, and leaving was a liberation for me: I don’t feel as bad as you generally describe this condition on your website, Mr. Kluge. For a short time I really did miss the group, and had some guilty feelings. Because in my case, there is an objective and visible reason. In spite of this, I now no longer see this community as an absolutely true representative of the Body of Christ. I cannot give a theological reason, only my inner voice says that the ways and means they applied to social relationships in daily life are certainly not led by the Holy Spirit.

One situation: the task was given to me to complete driver’s training so that I could help the community by driving on the long trips. But this training didn’t show any hope of a [successful] end. The siblings began to search for a reason, whether my sins might be behind this. I agreed that obedience to my driving instructor (and therefore to God) certainly had an influence as to whether or not I’d pass my driving examinations. One sister told me explicitly, however, that specific sins were directly influencing my inability. I said that I sadly couldn’t be in agreement with that, but didn’t say that I judged it to be a seriously sick way of thinking, when someone is so fixated on believing that specific sins are to be found behind such difficulties.

I won’t place more such internal situations before the public. But I wanted to show, with this episode, how I see a strongly misguided behavior among them in striving toward a perfect truth. I hope that this critique helps them, too, to see where the danger lies in an overburdening communal life.

Another subjective reason why I think that something is not quite right in this community, is when they judge themselves and other churches: Jesus said that the Christians go on a narrow path. From this we can conclude that it’s not an easy path. If this path is not easy, then certainly not many [people] will want to make an effort about it. For this reason, it didn’t strike me as odd, when they said that they had met only a few isolated Christians. But is it not odd, when somebody has actively combed all of Europe for decades, and then says: “What we always found was only a few isolated Christians, but no community”? So they are, for all practical purposes, really claiming that they alone are the only proper Christian community in Germany, Austria, Hungary … Somebody should ask them to consider: Why do we find no proper communities? Are we really the only proper and correct community, and all the others, that we see, are always and again incorrect? Is all that realistic?

What can one say in defense of this group?

As I noted, prior to [joining] this community, I knew little about the foundations of Christianity, so my estimations about good and evil are strongly shaped by this group. I had nothing against long and intense conversations about the Bible, even if it often cost me some of my sleeping time. Everyone had an equal right to express their opinions, and most members used [that right] actively, because they knew: my opinion has the same weight in comparison with the siblings who already have been in the community for a long time. But I myself was rather quiet.

But it made me very happy to talk with people about God – people who also had various thoughts about God. Not because I was forced to, but rather out of [my own] interest [about] how the others understood something. I call that a privilege for Christians, because Christians are also striving for that about which they speak. And: as a non-Christian, I went to those who were seeking answers (e.g., to the question: “What does the Trinity mean, and how can I apply this understanding in my daily life?”). They not only academically “know” what the Trinity is, and they don’t see their Christianity as merely a teaching role. They are not those who possess no humility themselves, but want to teach others, [and] lead them into the light. Rather, I went to those who, by means of God’s help, had also become capable of living according to that which they said.

<Yet still something negative: I think that the group indirectly coerced some siblings into evangelizing, because “that simply can’t be a normal situation, if a Christian doesn’t want to evangelize.”>

So I saw, prior to [joining] the group, that I needed someone who could explain to me these “theoretical” questions, without my having to visit some ritual building. Certainly I didn’t want someboyd to accompany me to my home, but if somebody would talk to me on the street, I would be thankful for that. And it happened. And I don’t curse the day that I first met a ‘Holic Member.’

The author’s name is known [to the webmaster].

One more later addition by the author of the above text:

One more comment: The reason why I thought that your website wasn’t seeking the truth: it seemed similar to scientific research. It was important [in your writing] how the members dressed, how they appeared, what they ate, in which conditions they lived, where this ‘population’ appeared, how they reacted in certain situations, etc. My impression was that such a way of considering [them] could not be motivated by a Christian perspective. Just as the most important question for Christians is not what Jesus liked to eat.

Certainly, the concept of ‘cult’ is not so clear to everyone. I also don’t know, when Christians actually started to use this concept … but your view of the concept can’t be Christian in my opinion. Perhaps I’m mistaken, and certainly my opinion is very much influenced by my time in this ‘Holic Group.’ [Your concept of ‘cult’] seemed to me rather ‘worldly.’ Often, such people, who don’t want to make an effort [to understand its doctrine], want to ‘understand’ a cult, because for them the doctrine is a matter of indifference, or it doesn’t really mean much (all the more, when they themselves see no effect in their lives regarding ‘detailed changes’ in connection with this teaching).

Therefore, I saw a contradiction, when you portrayed this group as too conspicuous. Well, these facts which you’ve gathered might indeed be true, but a Christian should certainly also consider, if and how such facts might be connected to their doctrine. Yes, what you’ve said – that it would, in the end, turn into a feud about the proper interpretation of this or that Bible passage, the citing of other passages, etc., which would quickly expand beyond the framework of this text – but nonetheless, a person is then dealing, as a consequence, with merely a ‘halftruth.’ Perhaps, here too, is an influence from this ‘cult,’ that I see everything as black-or-white, so that a split truth (in which actions are forcibly torn apart from faith) doesn’t seem true to me any more …

Comment from the webmaster:

One may agree with the writer of the text above, that a theological consideration of the group’s doctrine is needed. A small bit of this is found in the text. From my practical work as a cult specialist, in counseling conversations, I am naturally more confronted with the consequences of this group’s lifestyle. For me, a group’s difficulty lies primarily in the lifestyle and not in the doctrine. We live in a free society, in which everyone has the right to live [out] his religion. One should tolerate this even for a strange religion to which one is not accustomed. A discussion about religious truth yields very little fruit, because finally each side insists on its own understanding. The question of how to understand a Bible passage is answered variously in the most disparate Christian churches and communities. And each answer has its justification behind it. How one applies a Bible passage, or saying from Jesus, into the contemporary era and into current life, is always shaped by the theology and history of the community in question. So one could only mutually give a statement of one’s own views. But whether there is much [benefit] for the reader of these pages in a statement from the viewpoint anchored in Catholic theology, I’m not sure. I consider more decisive the practical questions, which are caused by the conflicts with loved ones, friends, ex-members, and those who believe otherwise.