Sunday, March 26, 2017

When "Normal" isn't Normal

It's not just in the isolated life of a cultist where a false sense of normal can be dangerous.

Let's take a look at an incident from the history of medicine. From the Resurrectionists of the 18th century (aka, body snatchers) and the innovative William Burke, to the ongoing illicit cadaver trade of today, the corpses of the poor have been the mainstay used in autopsies for medical training.

(William Burk was a Resurrectionist whose chosen work entailed digging up graves and exhuming corpses to be sold for study, but he tired of that backbreaking work. He and his accomplice, William Hare, found an easier method. They would ply their victims with whisky, suffocate them in their sleep at Hare's lodging house, then deliver the bodies, some still warm, to a generous doctor.)

Nearly exclusive use of poor people's cadavers for medical studies can be problematic. The poor suffer from malnutrition and chronic stress, and these stresses have an effect on the body, namely atrophy (shrinkage) of some organs and hypertrophy (enlargement) of others. Of particular importance to this story is the fact that the thymus can shrink to one-fourth its normal size due to stress. Assuming that these stress-ravaged bodies represented what was normal was a very bad idea.

In the early 1900's, doctors were searching for the cause of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which generally occurred in middle and upper-class families. Why had these healthy babies died in the night? To find out, doctors autopsied babies who had died of SIDS. Lo and behold, they found that these babies had abnormally large thymus glands. Had they found the cause of SIDS? Had the enlarged thymus compressed the trachea in the night, suffocating the babies while they slept?

Preventative measures were needed to thwart this supposed killer disease of enlarged thymuses. In the 1920's a method was found to shrink the dangerously large gland - radiation. Babies were treated with radiation which did indeed shrink their thymuses, with the unintended consequence of irradiating the thyroid gland next door, causing thyroid cancer resulting in over 10,000 deaths.

Help finally came from the bodies of babies who died in car crashes. A doctor autopsying those poor little victims in the 1930's discovered that they also had "enlarged" thymuses. Was the disease more widespread than they realized? Or were doctors seeing the picture backwards? Were the so-called "enlarged" thymus glands actually normal size, and the smaller ones abnormal?

Yes, that was the case. Sadly, much damage had already been done.

What can we take away from this? Perhaps it is that we should be very careful in deciding what "normal" is, because once we do, the confirmation bias keeps those fires stoked, and disconfirming evidence rolls off like water off a duck's back. None of us are immune to developing a false sense of "normal."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

SS Training

There are some disturbing parallels to life in the COG/TFI to be found in certain political movements and philosophies (and possibly true for other cults that I do not have firsthand experience with).

Karl Wolff, Schutzstaffel General, said of SS soldiers in the documentary series, The World at War, "They were subtly conditioned to see themselves as the sons of light, that they were engaged in a struggle against the powers of darkness. And that it was their duty to feel that they were at all times on duty for the nation, and in a wider sense, for the new order in Europe."

No subtle conditioning for us. It was direct. Berg wrote, "You are the children of God, the children of Light,"* and he told us that we were engaged in a war against the powers of darkness. We were serving God, and preparing to rule the world in the Millennium, when God's children would "run the world."

Hermann Göring wrote, "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country" - or cult.

I've written about the "them and us" mindset in the COG, and the stifling of dissent. We were under constant threat of outside attack from "persecutors" and were to always be vigilant and on guard. Paranoid, in other words. (See Lies and Sexual Coercion)

And, to top it off, in spite of all the talk of “love” in the group, true touches of human kindness were very rare. People were too “busy with the Lord's work” to bother with such frivolities. Besides, we were the Lord's Army, and "God and His Family came first." I was even once told by a top leader that "there is no such thing as human kindness."

* "Lovelight," David Berg —Sequel to "Look of Love"— June 24, 1974 NO.307

Sunday, February 12, 2017

“The Family is the best place in the world to raise children.”

Every TFI member heard this line repeated ad nauseam, and it's a line that I find most egregious.

Who was the poster-child for Family children? Zerby's “Jesus baby” and Berg's stepson, Davidito. He was groomed from childhood for his job as one of the “End-time Witnesses” of Revelations, to work leading God's children alongside his mother. His care was set up as the example for all Family members to emulate with their own children. He was raised with strict discipline, his life documented for all, and with plentiful sexual contact by adults - because that was "normal" and "natural."

In the intervening years, his name and viewpoint changed. Now known as Ricky Rodriquez, he and his fiancee left the group in January 2001, and he explained his reasons to his mother in an email. “We cannot continue to condone or be party to what we feel is an abusive, manipulative organization that teaches false doctrine... You have devoured God's sheep, ruining people's lives by propagating false doctrines and advocating harmful practices in the name of God, and as far as I can see, show no regret or remorse.”

He could not easily get over his past. His rage against his mother and The Family grew along with the dawning realization of how much he had been exploited and abused. He fell into depression.

He stated, "There's this need that I have. It's not a want. It's a need for revenge. It's a need for justice, because I can't go on like this."

His attempts to find his mother ended in frustration. She was keeping her location secret from him. He had heard she was hiding in the Tucson area. He met with one of his former nannies and a close associate of his mother, Angela Smith, intending to force her to reveal his mother's location.

When he told her of his feelings, he was appalled at her utter lack of remorse and her sincere beliefs that she had done no wrong. He stabbed her to death.

Although like everyone else, I cannot endorse his actions. Yet, I can certainly imagine his frustration.

He called his wife and asked her to call the police because he had done something very wrong. He had killed his former nanny. Then he drove into the desert and put a bullet in his head.

His wife said of his phone call, "He said the hardest thing for him had been that as she was dying, she didn't understand what she had done wrong."

Denial to the end.

Monday, January 30, 2017

"Just get over it" - Words are Cheap

During my brief time in the US, a new friend, who had left the COG about twenty years prior and had since grown into the most wonderful Christian I had ever met, convinced me to try prayer with her prayer group. 

I sat in a chair in the center of the room. People gathered around and laid hands on me. I'd been through this before. Many times. This was commonplace in the cult. Praying the devil out of me for various sins and my failings and weaknesses. This time was supposed to be different.

I was told to "forgive myself." "Breathe out and let go of all of that."

It was just not so simple.

It is not easy to pull out the tendrils that had grown within me for thirty long years. I couldn't "just get over it" and move on. The effect was too much a part of me. I needed time. And what I didn't know then, I needed knowledge and understanding.

I could have compartmentalized, fallen into blind denial, claiming, "it was all in the past," and "Jesus looks at my heart." But I couldn't. I knew it was a cop-out.

I looked to self-help books, but the advice I got to "love myself" went nowhere. "Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say, 'I love you.'" Uh. No. It seemed a stupid, childish bandaid - and impossible. I had messed up my life and my kids' lives. That's a lot of guilt with not much room for "self-love."

Aware that I couldn't stay in this cloudy limbo for the rest of my life, I started to study - mainly audio courses when I drove, did housework, or walked, and those became my salvation - really.

The realization of how I had been used and exploited began to dawn. There was a lot of anger that I needed to get out, and I had no one to tell. I wrote it down in a notebook.

As time went on, I gradually was able to understand, and through understanding begin to lay aside the crap that I carried from those years. I finally started to grow and mature - which maturity had been stunted in the cult.

Only through understanding could I begin to find freedom from my past.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Life is Not Fair

Another insidious COG doctrine: "Life is fair."

Karma - in the oft-tossed-around contemporary sense - is not unlike the Biblical doctrine of "you reap what you sow." It seems to come from the idea that the universe (or God) holds the scales of justice in his almighty arms and pours out retribution according to the wrongs one has done. Or conversely, he pours blessings, health, and prosperity upon the righteous.

What if this were true?

Let's say you are rich. Born into a rich family, or perhaps you "pulled yourself up by your own bootstraps" and are now successful. If you embrace the idea of reaping what you sowed, then you can pat yourself on the back for being so good to have reaped such fortune. You "deserved it," after all.

But what if you are in a difficult situation? Some unexpected tragedy occurred. Your life took a turn and you feel at wit's end. Did you reap what you sowed? Did you deserve it? If you believe in this concept of a just world, that what goes around comes around, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Your misdeeds somehow brought this evil upon your house. Woe is you. (And for a cult member, this meant prayer sessions and introspection to discover what lesson "the Lord was trying to teach you.")

But the truth is, shit happens. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. A large part of life is simply determined by random and uncontrollable events.

If people in a good situation believe they have gotten there by their own "goodness," wouldn't they tend towards a smug condescension of those who are having hard times? "They got what was coming to them."

Might these fortunate folks even turn their backs on friends who struggle, because they want to "get rid of the negatives" in their lives? "I don't need that kind of negative energy." Sounds scriptural, "Keep yourselves unspotted from the world." 

"Holier than thou," more like.

Since we cannot walk a mile in another's shoes, and we do not have control of the random events of life, the only rational way to treat others is with kindness. 

"Always be a little kinder than necessary." (James M. Barrie)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"American Heiress" and Brainwashing

American Heiress is Jeffrey Toobin's thorough recounting of Patricia Hearst's kidnapping by and involvement with the Symbionese Liberation Army - an "army" of six. Aside from the wealth and influence of her family and the powerful role that that played in her light sentencing and eventual Presidential pardons, the crux of her trial came down to whether or not she had been "brainwashed."

Did she wholeheartedly join the cause of the SLA, or was she coerced and just went along with them to keep from being killed? If the latter, as she claimed afterwards, then why did she not escape when given so many opportunities over the 19 months she was with them? She was left alone many many times. She had people that would take her in. She did not lack for money. She was not completely isolated from society. She had family that cared about her and were willing to help her.

It's hard not to conclude that she was enamored with their cause.  

After she was arrested she still held onto her revolutionary beliefs for a while, but her enthusiasm faded as the days away from the influence of the SLA grew, gradually replaced by the influence of former friends and family who were visiting her daily. With this came a change in how she viewed her past. Like the rest of humanity, she began to view her experience through the filter of her current mindset. 

Surely, she had been coerced. She had not had consensual sex with the man who had given her an obviously sentimental amulet necklace that was found in her purse when she was arrested, a year and 4 months after he had died. Sentimental? No, he had raped her - apparently, repeatedly.

Did she need to tell herself that story in order to preserve her sanity and to corroborate her claims of innocence? How could she, a "good girl" from a "good family," have committed such crimes in the name of the SLA? "Impossible," pronounced her new default narrative in protection of her ego.

Perhaps her situation echoes Stanley Milgram's conclusion. "Often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act."

Could it be, that we are all more vulnerable than we think? Given the right set of circumstances, can we be certain how we would react

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Free Love and Guilt

I wonder if I had not been so wrapped up in the guilt I carried for being the supposed cause of all our relationship woes, I may have just seen the light of the cult's delusion earlier. And I wasn't the only one dealing with relationship issues, although mine may have been different from most.

Maybe there was something to all these internal issues taking time, and emotional and mental bandwidth.

The arbitrary and frequent splitting up of couples by leadership ("for the Lord's work"), as well as the doctrine of the Law of Love, no doubt, wreaked havoc in any and all relationships in the group. The indiscriminate "sharing" (cult euphemism for having sex) among members "as long as it was done in love," and the shaming of the jealous, made for much introspection, insecurity, and misery. Those who were jealous were "old bottles," "selfish," or "not yielding to God's will," etc., and in need of prayer, extra "word time," and deliverance. In extreme cases, exorcism.

Accordingly, we had a group of people who were so busy fighting personal battles with "sin and self," that no one had the energy or initiative to lift their heads above the clouds and look around and question.

Who can say what would have been? The techniques the cult used to keep its members were (and still are) many and powerful. But surely the distraction of the Law of Love, along with the myriad absurd requirements placed on the shoulders of cult members, was a strong force in keeping us unquestioning and in the fold.