Sunday, February 06, 2011

Boston Nonsense Watch: New Acropolis Boston

There are signs throughout town for an outfit called  Acropolis Boston; they make regular appearances on the T and on bulletin boards in places like Porter Square. These ads invite you to discover ‘the secret to happiness’ or ‘the meaning of life’, via free seminars based on the wisdom of ancient philosophy. Looks like this is a local chapter of a larger organization, called New Acropolis. According to the website,
New Acropolis embraces and promotes principles of union inspired by such philosophies as Pythagoreanism, Neoplatonism, Theosophy and others, which in their time brought about real progress in civilization.
The mascot used in these ads is an inoffensive and amusingly pensive orange fish. Fun! The descriptions of their seminar topics are appealingly eclectic: Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, Pythagoras, Bruno, Plato. My interest piqued, I decided to look into the history and activities of the group, and see if the information I could find would square with the benign, inviting tone of their ads. What I discovered is that the educational activities of this independent school are only a portion of their mission, and that New Acropolis Boston is part of a worldwide network. Similar facilities can be found in cities and countries around the globe. I also learned that New Acropolis has been labeled a cult by some governments and scholarly researchers.

If you’re thinking about popping by their center in Porter Square, and seeing what they’re all about, it’s a good idea to start with some questions. I thought of a few, which you’re welcome to use:
  1. TITLES. Why did the founder of the organization, Jorge Ángel Livraga Rizzi, title himself Supreme Commander of the worldwide New Acropolis organization? Are the opportunities good for new members to be promoted quickly?
  2. SPIRITS. Were the “Masters” that spoke with Mr. Livraga, to guide his spiritual development, real or imaginary, and in either case, why did they have the same names and personal histories as the spiritual beings that inspired Madame Blavatsky to found the esoteric religion of Theosophy? Is New Acropolis really just New Theosophy? Were Confucius and Pythagoras Ancient Theosophists?
  3. MONEY. After the free seminars are over, what financial obligations do members of New Acropolis have to the organization? Are members still the primary source of funding for the World Commander’s private collection of ancient artifacts?
  4. PROTOCOL. Is it preferable to be an “Axe-Bearer” or a representative of “the 3 Living Forces,” if we are to follow the instructions the World Commander left in his will to be followed during his official funeral ceremony?
  5. MARTYRS. When Mr. Livarga said to a group of New Acropolis officers, “We too need martyrs! I want Acropolitan martyrs!”, what sort of martyrdom did he have in mind? Do the staff teaching philosophy at the Cambridge or Boston Centers for Adult Education, also want martyrs for their cause? Is martyrdom a more important part of understanding the meaning of life, or the secret to happiness?
  6. LABOR. When Mr. Livarga said, “I make people work and make Acropolis until they are too tired to think of anything else,” what kind of work was he referring to – solicitation of funds, or manual labor of some kind?
The facts I refer to above – the founder’s weirdness; the Theosophy hidden behind a front of mainstream philosophy; the claims the group makes on members’ time and money – can all be verified with a little straightforward Googling. For that reason, I haven’t hot-linked to any of the sources I referred to myself when putting together this short article. My purpose here is to provoke your curiosity, and to gently challenge the benevolent, “normal” image the group projects through its advertising campaign. Without speaking to the motivation or beliefs of any given member, I can state with conviction that the organization started by Mr. Livarga in 1957 has a deeply weird and often malevolent history: shades of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology, certainly. That doesn't mean that Acropolis Boston isn't chockful of folks who are just interested in expanding their knowledge, and exploring the history of ideas and of ideas in action.

If you’d like to learn more, do your searches and you’ll find lots of information to consider. And if you’re just interested in learning about ancient philosophy, renew your library card -- for free! Though I can't promise you won't run afoul of the secret esoteric cult that runs the BPL system. 

Boston Nonsense Watch, a free service of the Boston Atheists, examines woo-woo, pseudoscience, and dangerous religion.