I recently came across a recently published “study”, if one can call it that, titled “Adidam, Controversy, and Former Members”, by James R. Lewis, presented at a recent CESNUR (Center For the Study of New Religion) conference in Salt Lake City. Lewis' study consists of a questionaire which ask a mere eleven questions of some thirty-three former members of Adidam aimed at establishing a reasonable estimate of the attitudes of these former members towards Adidam and Adi Da. Lewis' analysis of the results of this question is quite sweeping:
“If the attitudes of this sample can be extrapolated to the population of all former members, what this data indicates is that vocal ex-members who attack Adidam on the Internet are not representative of most former participants. This does not mean their criticisms should be rejected as entirely lacking in merit. Rather, it means that the impression created by this handful of individuals – that most former members feel that they were abused and are angry with Adi Da and Adidam – should be rejected as lacking in merit.”
Much of the study seems aimed at countering various stereotypical notions about groups that have been labeled as cults, which is a apparently a long-term focus of Lewis' work. I can certainly applaud a lot of that, as stereotypes are a universally pernicious obstacle to serious understanding of any and all social or religious phenomena. Nonetheless, a major flaw in Lewis' approach is that he frequently reduces the criticism of former members of these groups to stereotypical tropes himself, thus negating much of the value he might have gained by his initial efforts. He complains at times that his work has been attacked by anti-cult groups as amounting to “apologetics” for the abuses of cults – and yet it's hard not to see this particular study as amounting, essentially, to just that. I can't say that it's intentional on Lewis' part, but the serious flaws in his study essentially make its conclusions meaningless and yes, little more than a form of weak apologetics for the negative impression much of the public has garnered about Adidam from former members, and of course it doesn't address at all the negative impression the public has developed in relation to Adidam from Adidam's own current members, missionary works, books and publications, and various other public contacts.
One must keep in mind that the influence of critical former members of any religious group is often of only minor significance in the evolution of a religious group's public image. For example, I'd suggest that most people who have formed a negative view of the Hare Krishna group have done so simply by observing it's most visible and enthusiastic members chanting on the streets or soliciting donations at airports, and not from reading news reports of various scandalous accusations by former members.
The same is true of Adidam. I know, because I was involved in Adidam for some twenty-eight years, and during that time was often quite active in working with the public, and observing the public's reaction to Adi Da's life and teachings, even when we tried to present him in the most favorable possible light. Generally, the reaction was negative, or at least included many negative impressions sufficient to marginalize us as an aspiring religious movement. This is not terribly surprising, considering how foreign so many of Adidam's beliefs and teachings are to most people. Furthermore, Adidam makes a number of explicitly extreme claims that tend to drive away all except those who, for whatever reasons, are inclined to entertain and embrace extreme ideas. All of this accounts for the overwhelmingly poor response to Adidam's missionary efforts over the years.
One should recall that even before the first wave of public scandals broke out in 1985, Adidam's growth had been very slow and unremarkable. Having gone public in 1972, the Adidam religious organization had grown to only some 1200 members by 1985, in spite of having published many books and engaged in strenuous efforts to build membership not only nationwide, but around the world. This is a tiny result compared to that achieved by many other new religious movements, and it cannot be attributed to the rantings of former members on the internet, since the worldwide web did not even yet exist.
In fact, many of the negative impressions about Adi Da (then known as Bubba Free John, and later Da Free John) and his organization were the result of Adi Da's own publications and public pesentations. In particular, the book “Garbage and the Goddess”, describing the events and teachings from late-1973 through the summer of 1974, and a theatrical documentary film of the same name covering this period , and in particular one weekend in July of 1974, that was released shortly thereafter and given frequent showings for several years, openly described a series of controversial, some might say scandalous, teachings given during this time. These teachings included the dissolution of devotees' marriages and sexual relationships, the initiation of a highly experimental period in which wild sexual activity, use of alcohol, cigarettes, and meat, and Adi Da's own open exploitation of all these things, including openly having sex with a great number of his female students, even forming a circle of “wives” with whom he engaged in open sexual relations. At one point in the movie, Adi Da is shown drinking from an open bottle of champagne, and laughingly declaring “my reputation is now ruined”m which was of course the truth, and no one's fault but his own. He is also shown spiritually “initiating” people admist horrifying screams of terror and physical pain by devotees, in scenes of dramatic but, to many people, frightening examples of Adi Da's spiritual power over people. In voice over, he described the spiritual process he offers people as one of “spiritual invasion”, in which their bodies and minds are taken over by him, and people are actually “lived” by him. This hardly assauges any fears some might have that Adidam involves some kind of "mind control" or brainwashing.
Given this kind of public relations program, one cannot rationally attribute the negative attitudes many in the public have developed about Adidam to the complaints of former members. I would invite Lewis to read the Garbage and the Goddess book, and see the original uncut version of the movie, and conclude that it is former members who are responsible for various negative impressions and stereotypes becoming fixed in the public's impression of this group. One can certainly suggest that people got the wrong impression from these sources, but one cannot blame anyone but Adidam itself for them, and Adi Da himself for choosing to “teach” in the manner he did.
Since that time, Adidam has tried to clean up that tarnished image numerous times, including by trying to destroy all extent copies of the book, and not releasing the movie for further viewing, and by putting out the story that this was some kind of unique period of experimentation, never to be repeated. And yet, as many know, the partying and self-indulgence around Adi Da went through various phases of stopping and starting, but essentially continued for decades until he himself was simply too old and weak to go on with it any further. This kind of information was frequently kept suppressed within Adidam, but such efforts were generally unsuccessful, and filtered out into the public. Even when they did not, there were any number of rather obvious indications that strange things were going on within Adidam, including the changing names and nature of the published teachings of Adi Da, the unprecedented use of capitalizations in his writings, the increasing claims of unique and unprecedented spiritual greatness and power on his part, a general mood of arrogance and self-absorption, and the seeking for more and more glamorous, expensive, and grandiose living circumstances and services from devotees and the public, including major efforts to recruit celebrities and the “rich and famous”. These were openly pursued missionary policies of Adidam, not scandalous charges made by former members, and they did a great deal to poison the public's view of Adidam - at least that small portion of the public that was actually paying attention to him.
So, in the midst of all this, we have the rather specious charge that former members posting on the internet are primarily responsible for Adidam's frayed and damaged public image, and the existence of various cult stereotypes about Adidam. I'd like to give Lewis the benefit of the doubt, and think that's he just hasn't done his homework, that he's never followed the actual public activities of Adidam, and that he naively assumes that Adidam is suffering some egregious wrong at the hands of a handful of disgruntled former devotees.
Whatever the case may be, let's just look at the actual study he's done, this questionaire he sent to 33 former members of Adidam, and see what value and meaning it might have.
THE SAMPLE GROUP
The first thing we have to ask is, how did he find this supposedly representative sampling of former members? It turns out, he simply asked current members of Adidam to give him the names of people they know who had left Adidam. I'm not kidding. Is there any remotely intelligent person who would consider this an unbiased sampling? I mean, honestly, not only do members of Adidam each have a sacred responsibility to protect and preserve Adidam's publc image, they actually are required to do missionary work themselves. The chances that any current member in good standing is going to refer Lewis to someone they know to be a disgruntled former member who has a negative opinion of Adidam is virtually nil. In light of that, what's surprising about Lewis' study is that he finds any disgruntled former members at all. That he does suggest that some of these respondents are people who tend, when dealing with current members of Adidam, to hide their negative views, but are willing to voice them to an outsider's questionaire. In either case, this method of creating a sample population is completely unacceptable to even a half-assed standard of truthfulness.
I could stop right here, but there's the matter of the questionaire itself. The first question asks about the educational level of the former member, which it turns out is very high on average compared to every other spiritual group Lewis has data on. In general, I'm not surprised, in that Adidam certainly seemed to me to attract a high number of intellectually oriented members. However, he again fails to address the issue selection bias, in that Adidam members who are selecting the best examples of former members would tend to select people of rather high societal standing and accomplishment, rather than just average (or below) former members. And thus, we end up with the strange implication that people with a high degree of education tend to become former members – in other words, the smart people leave Adidam. I'm not sure if that's much of an endorsement, but given the uncertainties regarding the sample (and the lack of any data about current member's educational status), even this has no certainties from which any conclusions can be drawn.
The second question is about how the former member first made contact with Adidam. Lewis is surprised that some 54% of respondents' first contact was through a book, rather than through personal friends, as he has found to be the case with most other new religious movements. Again, this reveals Lewis' lack of familiarity with Adidam, which has stressed from its inception using its publications as the primary missionary tool. To be fair, this simply takes advantage of Adidam's traditional strength, which for much of its history has been the writings of Adi Da himself, who is a highly talented, even brilliant writer (until the more abstract an unapproachable books of recent years)/. However, this question also reveals the relative weakness of Adidam's efforts to gain new members through personal contacts. (only 24% first came to Adidam through friends). Books, being by nature relatively impersonal and carefully edited, can more easily mask the problems Adidam has on the personal level.
STRAW MEN AND SCARE WORDS
The third question finally gets down to asking about the former member's attitudes about Adidam. Unfortunately, the question itself is a red herring: “Have you ever used the term “brainwashed” to describe your involvement in Adidam?” 94% of respondents reply never or rarely, which again is hardly surprising. How many people, even members of the worst kinds of cults, would describe themselves as having been “brainwashed”? I'd suggest, very few. It's a scare word that is guaranteed to distance people from whatever issues it might be intended to address. It's a meaningless question, in that the term is not even defined, and whether someone uses it or not has little to do with whether people think their views about Adidam, while they were involved, were untrue and the result of peer-pressure or various forms of indoctrination.
The simple truth is that when “brainwashing” actually works within a cult setting, it's not even noticed to be brainwashing. The term implies some kind of forceable imposition of views and belief from outside the individual, whereas the reality of most “brainwashing” is that it involves a willing suspension of disbelief and acceptance of views, similar to the deeply misunderstood reality behind the phenomena called “hypnotism”. In one very real sense, there is no such thing as hypnotism, in that the phenomena is actually a willing exercise of people who seize upon the opportunity to do and see and think things that they would normally have their guard up against. And yet in another sense it's perfectly real, in that people really do fall into these states of unguarded acceptance of the hypnotist's input. It's simply that it's a participatory submission, not a forceable one. Of course, even in the extreme examples of “brainwashing”, such as Nazism or Charles Manson's cult, most of the participants were both enthusiastically willing and did not consider themselves to have been brainwashed. So this kind of self-reporting question doesn't really tell us anything about whether Adidam uses or esploits techniques that could be reasonably called “brainwashing”, since if it actually was any good at this, they wouldn't be consciously aware of it in the first place.
The fourth question repeats the problems with the third, asking “Have you ever used the word “cult” to describe Adidam?: Again, “cult” is a scare word, and few people will use it to describe something they themselves have been involved in. Like brainwashing, it's a term most of us will only use to describe something other people become involved in. Nonetheless, if asked to describe a group that was exactly like Adidam, but given a different name and populated by a different group of people, I'd be willing to be they would be more inclined to call it a cult. So this question is, again, meaningless. It does not define the term “cult” in any meaningful way, and it relies entirely on a subjective usage of the term that encourages self-deference.
And this is of course a major problem with this questionaire. It does not ask a single factual question aimed at discerning any actual practice in Adidam that might objectively be described by outside observers as cultic in nature, or forms of brainwashing, or examples of abuse, or manipulation, or exploitation, or even coercion. Instead, it relies entirely on some subjective sense of an internalized self-definition which we cannot rely upon us to tell us much anything meaningful about the former member's experience or views about Adidam, other than, you guessed it, the most stereotypical of generalizations. By taking these stereotypes as meaningful elements of the criticism of former members, Lewis not only reduces those criticism to stereotypes, he also defines the attitudes of his respondents by those stereotypes, which are then easily rejected. This is a classic example of constructing a straw man to prove a point. But in so doing, Lewis proves precisely nothing, other than that he's not really serious about delving past the stereotypes into the real nature of former members' attitudes about Adidam.
VAGUENESS AND LEADING QUESTIONS
The fifth question is also deeply unsatisfying. It asks, “Which best describes Adi Da? Great Religious Teacher, Average Teacher, or Not a Genuine Teacher?” Some 90% choose “Great”. Again, given the choices and the vagueness of the question, what is to be gained from this question? I mean, if you were to ask whether Hitler was a great political figure, an average one, or not a genuine political figure at all, I think more than 90% would have to say “great”, if they were at all honest. It's a meaningless question, except to show that most people do recognize that Adi Da was a very powerful spiritual figure in their lives. I certainly do. But there's no meaningful definition of “great” offered, much less “average”, or “genuine”. The question obscures rather than illumines former members' actual views about Adi Da as both a teacher of others and a spiritual source. And of course, the lack of options leaves little opportunity for people's real views to be expressed. At the very least, one could be asked on a scale of one to ten to rate Adi Da in this and other categories, with one and ten actually being defined by clear examples, or precise concepts rather than subjective adjectives like “great”.
The sixth question also suffers from vagueness. It is “How would you describe your attitude to Adi Da since ending your membership?” The answers are “Positive; More positive than negative; Neither positive nor negative ; More negative than positive; Negative.” In this case, at least some gray areas are given in the possible answers, but once again, the options are so vague as to defy meaningful interpretation. If I were asked this question, I would have to answer “More positive than negative” myelf, and I'm one of Adidam's harshest internet critics. I'd answer that question that way not because it represents some kind of objective assessment of what I think the value of Adi Da's teaching is, or whether Adidam is a destructive cult of not, but simply because that's my own internal subjective feeling. I'm just not a hater. I used to love Adi Da deeply and for a very long time, and in many respects I still do. My general attitude towards life, and just about everything is positive. On the other hand, this answer, worded to draw out my internal subjective feelings, doesn't do any justice to the criticism I or others have made of Adi Da and his religious movement. Nor can it be expected to do that for others.
These kinds of questions simply demonstrate how inadequate a simplistic questionaire like this is in trying to evaluate as complex a relationship as most former members have had with Adi Da and Adidam. If there's anything that can't be reduced to a simplistic answer, it's the question of what kind of attitude former members have with Ad Da – any more than one could about anyone else who had been deeply involved in anything that didn't work out for them, including a marriage, a job, a religious conversion, going off to fight in a war, immigrating to a foreign country, or any other example of a powerful and significant life-choice.
Question seven repeats these problems, asking “How would you describe your attitude to Adi Da since ending your membership?” Again, the response is largely positive, and again, I'd have to say that my attitude towards Adi Da, despite all his faults and problems, is pretty positive as well. I don't hold anything against him on a personal level, and I consider us to be at peace with one another. And the same goes for most of the Adidam community. That doesn't mean that I don't have some deep criticisms, or that I would even consider being involved ever again, or recommend it to anyone who wasn't powerfully drawn to it themselves.
These kinds of questions simply don't get anywhere near to the criticism made by many former members such as myself and those who I've encountered on the internet. Remember, I was involved in every online discussion of Adi Da of any significance for over ten years, during the first five of which I was the most aggressive defender of Adi Da posting as a current and active member of the organization, and I encountered every kind of critic in the process, many with a serious bone to pick, and I tried to counter all their arguments as best I could. Likewise, after listening to those criticism for years, and finally coming to the realization that they were true and stronger than any defense I could must, I was for the following several years probably the most prolific critic of Adidam on the internet, feeling a sense of moral obligation to re-evaluate what I'd previous said and done, and to some degree atone for my defenses of things that were, I finally concluded, indefensible.
The real criticisms that Adidam has faced on the internet are, for the most part, highly specific and practical criticisms of things actually done or not done, abuses committed, lives damaged and psyches harmed. It isn't about anyone's subjective attitudes about Adidam, positive or negative. These criticisms are simply not addressed in this questionaire. There are no questions, for example, about whether the persona ever saw money being abused or raised improperly, under the influence of alcohol or immense peer-pressure, say. There's no questions about drug and alcohol use, no questions about sexual activity with the Guru or others, no questions about whether people still believe Adi Da is who he claims to be, or if any of the teachings he gave are valid or true. No questions about whether they would recommend Adidam to others. There's no questions like “How much money have you donated to Adidam over the years”, or even, “How long were you in Adidam, and how long ago did you leave?” I could go on, but I hope you see the picture. Instead, we just get these weasily subjective questions.
Question eight is a fair enough question: “When you ended your membership in Adidam, were you able to do this freely, without interference from the community of Adidam?” However, since this isn't one of the criticisms Adidam's critics have generally made of it, it's not terribly meaningful;. However, I gather the question is a way of comparing Adidam to other groups, some of which do indeed make it difficult for people to leave. In that respect Adidam has a pretty good though not perfect record. Even so, it doesn't address the issue of whether people who leave Adidam encountered strongly conflicting internal pressures about not leaving, or guilt and various negative feelings encountered in the process of leaving and its aftermath.
Question nine, “How would you describe your relationship to the Community of Adidam since ending your membership?” is pretty much a variant of the previous questions about Adi Da himself. Again, it's a subjective question that doesn't address any actual criticisms or evaluations of Adidam.
Question ten, “Has your involvement with Adi Da and Adidam influenced your life for better or for worse?” is also hard for anyone to answer in a way that actually reflects on Adidam. I mean, people who survive terrible disasters will often say that it influenced their lives for the better. This doesn't mean that disasters are good things we should cultivate. It means that a person who is determined to profit from their experience can take lemons and make lemonade from them. The general pattern of these question is a passive one, as if we are being asked to evaluate Adidam like a fruit salad rather than something we all actually participated in. I, too, would say that Adidam's influence in my life was positive overall. That doesn't mean that I'd consider it a wise choice on my part, or something I'd recommend to most people. And I'm not sure that most former members would feel much different.
Question eleven, “Why Respondent Left Adidam”, has a range of five responses: “Guru; Organization/Community; Sadhana; “Simply stopped”; Grew away, “life got in the way” . This is a good question, but it doesn't tell us much without followup, or allow people to list more than one answer, since in most cases there is not a single reason for leaving, but several. The two most popular answers, “Simply stopped”, and “Grew away” are hardly very meaningful, and indicate either a subconscious decision-making process that the individual can't describe very well even to himself, or a simple reluctance to describe the real reasons for leaving. Half the listed responses fell into this category, which suggests that in this pool of respondents, at least half the people were motivated by some kind of subconscious or unspoken reason for leaving Adidam, and that they still aren't entirely sure what it was. This is something I have seen in a lot of people who leave Adidam, and in many respects its a healthy way of avoiding the internal and external conflicts that make many people reactive and unhappy as they leave. However, it avoids self-awareness for the sake of that peace.
Lewis' conclusion, “that vocal ex-members who attack Adidam on the Internet are not representative of most former participants,” is simply not warranted by the evidence described in this study. In the first place, there is no documentation given describing what “vocal ex-members who attack Adidam on the internet” actually think. They were not given this same or another other questionaire to compare their answers to. Lewis simply assumes that they would be negative up and down the line about Adidam and Adi Da. But he doesn't seem to have spoken to a single one of them to form a basis for any comparison to this sample group. At least he doesn't report any efforts to find out what these people think. So there's no way to find out how their views compare to the study group.
And, of course, there's the problem of how this sample group was obtained in the first place, and the lack of response even within this biased sample. 80 questionaires were originally sent out, and Lewis received only 33 responses. This suggests a further sampling bias, in that most people who have negative views about Adidam (and other cult groups) are generally disinclined to speak about them openly, especially when they might not know or trust the person doing the study. In that respect, Lewis is quite right to say that vocal ex-members are not representative of the whole, since most people by nature are simply not vocal. Further, when one considers that the total population of ex-members of Adidam probably numbers between 15-25,000 over the years, a sampling of only 33 can hardly be considered representative of anything, particularly when it is not a random sampling at all, but biased towards those with favorable view towards Adidam on at least two screening levels.
On the other hand, it isn't altogether nutty to suggest that vocal critics on the internet, regardless of the subject matter, are unrepresentative of just about any similar group. It's one of the best known facts of the internet itself, that it tends to attract vocal characters with an ax to grind on one or another issue. That doesn't mean such people aren't accurate in their criticisms, however. To answer that question, one would have to do more than send out dubious questionaires asking people for subjective evaluations of their attitudes. One would have to actually investigate the criticisms made to determine whether they are valid or not. Or, one would at the very least have to ask factual questions that can return genuine evidence about Adidam and people's participation in it. Lewis has done nothing of the kind, nor does he even seem interested in those kinds of inquiries.
The problem with Lewis' approach is that it seems from the outset determined to prove something that everyone already knows, which is that vocal critics of Adidam on the internet are likely to be more negative in their attitudes towards Adidam than others who have left. And yet, he's failed to demonstrate even that. Which is quite an accomplishment, when you think about it.
The conclusion that Lewis finally comes to, “that the impression created by this handful of individuals – that most former members feel that they were abused and are angry with Adi Da and Adidam – should be rejected as lacking in merit.” itself lacks merit. Lewis has not even demonstrated that this “impression” exists in the first place. He's not demonstrated that ex-members on the internet are more or less angry than a random sampling of ex-members, in part because he never did anything remotely resembling a random sampling, and second, because he never made a survey of any kind of ex-members who are internet critics of Adidam. Not to mention the weak and subjective nature of the questionaire itself. In other words, to put it simply, this is hack work.
I'm not sure what a genuine study of ex-members would reveal about them and Adidam itself, but I do know that this study doesn't even come close to answering any important questions that might be out there. It seems, on both first glance and after careful analysis, to be aimed at discrediting and marginalizing the critics of Adidam, and by extension, the contents of their criticisms, without actually addressing any of those criticisms in any meaningful way. One can be an ex-Catholic who still harbors some positive feelings about the Church, but who cannot abide being part of a group that allowed the sexual abuse of children to go on for decades without protecting them from predatory priests. A questionaire which merely asks this person about the general attitude towards the Pope and the Church, does nothing to address the issue of whether these abuses occurred, or even whether the respondent themselves was abused in any way – because no such questions were even asked. Using this study to rationalize away the criticisms of Adidam as being the work of an angry, unrepresentative group of apostates simply diverts attention from the actual criticisms that have been made, which represent real actions on the part of Adi Da and his organization, not merely subjective and general attitudes.
I'd be among the first to say that Adidam is far from the worst of cults and new or old religions. I'd also be among the last to deny that it has been guilty of serious breaches of trust, propriety, and good faith, or that it has committed many abuses over the years, and that it has tried mightily to cover them up. Lewis seems to be an unwitting participant in that coverup, but the poor quality of his work and the lack of justification for his conclusions suggests that he has either been complicit in that coverup, or is simply not even trying to be objective about it.
Lewis has a general attitude that new religious movements such as Adidam are unfairly stereotyped and treated with greater suspicion than other, more commonly accepted groups with beliefs that might objectively be considered equally baseless or preposterous or an offense to reason.. In this he is probably correct. The word “cult” is often thrown around with abandon at small, non-mainstream groups, and is almost never used to describe the abuses of mainstream groups, such as the Catholic Church, Evangelicals, Judaism, Mormons, or any number of others that have fought to achieve some kind of mainstream status. This is an unfortunate fact of life. However, this does not mean that many of these small groups aren't cults, or that they do not abuse their members, or engage in practices that amount to brainwashing and mind-control. One cannot excuse the activities of groups like Adidam or teachers like Adi Da simply because others have done similar things and gotten away with it. Nor can one point to the Charles Mansons, the Hale-Bopps, and the Rajneeshis of the world and suggest that because Adidam isn't as bad as they are, that its critics are somehow overreacting.
Many cults exist in this world, in all kinds of forms, with varying degrees of abuse and exploitation on any number of levels. Adidam is just one on a continuum of such groups. The pertinent question is not what its ex-members subjectively feel about their experience in Adidam, but what actually went on, what abuses did or did not occur, what claims it made and what the truth of those claims actually is, and whether those who in the future wish to become involved in Adidam are getting all the facts and an accurate picture of what it means to be a member of Adidam.
Personally, I have no objection to people who advocate Adidam, as long as they are honest and open about Adidam's real history and inner workings, on every level. The truth, unfortunately, is that it has hardly ever been either honest or open, and I have no serious expectation that it ever will be. That's hardly a unique phenomena in the history of religion. One can look to other modern examples, such as Scientology, to see a similar pattern. It's no accident, I think, that Adi Da himself was a former high-ranking member of Scientology, nor that he imported a number of its organizational principles into Adidam when he formed it, just a few short years after leaving Scientology. Both, in my views, are cults, but they differ in a number of important ways, including in size and extent. In either case, the set of facts that describe them and their various positive and negative aspects differ, and it is that set of facts that should be the subject of any inquiry, academic or otherwise. Mere subjective attitudes are pointless areas of inquiry, and it's disappointing to see supposedly serious studies devoted to such useless matters. If James Lewis wishes to be taken seriously, he should start asking serious questions.
A brief look at James R. Lewis' resume shows that he has a Ph.d in Religious Studies from the University of Wales, Lampeter.
According to Wikipedia, this is not the first time Lewis has become involved in defending new religious groups from criticism. Previously, he was a vocal defender of Aum Shinrikyo, which was accused in 1995 of launching a deadly Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway which killed twelve and injured hundreds:
In May 1995, after the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, he and fellow scholar Gordon Melton flew to Japan to hold a pair of press conferences in which they announced that the chief suspect in the murders, religious group Aum Shinrikyo, could not have produced the sarin that the attacks had been committed with. They had determined this, Lewis said, from photos and documents provided by the group. Police reports describe that they had discovered at Aum's main compound in March a sophisticated chemical weapons laboratory that was capable of producing thousands of kilograms a year of the poison. Later investigation showed that Aum not only created the sarin used in the subway attacks, but had committed previous chemical and biological weapons attacks, including a previous attack with sarin that had killed seven and injured 144 persons. During the Aum Shinrikyo incident Lewis and Melton's bills for travel, lodging and accommodations were paid for by Aum, according to The Washington Post.
With a Wikipedia entry like that, it's no wonder Lewis is hostile to internet critics. The question naturally arises, as to whether Lewis was paid by Adidam to conduct this study, or if any of his expenses were paid for by them. If so, that would constitute a serious breach of ethics, especially since he does not disclose this in the study itself.