Monday, June 12, 2017

The Experience Machine*

Imagine you are given the opportunity to plug into a virtual reality machine that would be preprogrammed with all your dreams, creating for you an imaginary life where you can be and do whatever you want. If you have noble ideals, perhaps your world would be programmed so that you, through trial and error, much work and research, discover the cure for cancer. Maybe you would write the greatest novel ever written. Maybe you would go full-hedonism and just lay around on a beach, drinking pina coladas. That would be your entire reality.

You would have no idea that your body was really floating in a vat of liquid with electrodes attached to your brain. Your reality was what you were experiencing in your brain.

Would you do it?

Or what if you woke up today and found out that your life has been lived in an experience machine, and nothing is real? How would you feel?

Is there value in living an authentic life, striving to be honest with oneself? Or is a pretend life better if it means one can be "happy"?

* The Experience Machine is a thought experiment developed by American philosopher, Robert Nozick.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Endless Road of Loss

Lost opportunities. Lost years.

The list of missed experiences has no end: college, friends, my own apartment, lunch out with girlfriends, dinner and drinks, vacations, travel, unconditional love, dating, a wedding, freedom, books....

But it takes just one thought for all that to evaporate: our children. They had no choice. 

My loss, though painful, pales into insignificance.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dear FGAs

I am sure, you, like me, joined the COG filled with zeal and enthusiasm. We were going to make the world a better place - to win the world for Jesus. With the best of intentions, we sacrificed, gave up everything. As the years passed, and more and more "strange truths" entered our canon, our "radical prophet" led us down paths that were harmful to ourselves, and more egregiously, to our children. But we didn't notice, so twisted was our sense of normalcy.

Today, our children are grown. Tragically, some have felt they had to take their own lives. Some struggle, not fitting in anywhere. Some have gained a measure of success. Some have been very successful.

If your children have succeeded, perhaps you're tempted to pat yourself on the back, "it's because of the way they were raised, the opportunities the 'faith life' afforded them." Maybe others realize, like myself, that if they succeeded, it was in spite of how they were raised, not because of it.

Maybe you don't want to look back at your life. "It's in the past," you think. "We should 'forget those things which are behind.'"

But, could that just be an excuse for denial? An unwillingness to face the horrible truth? A resistance to dealing with the cognitive dissonance of the truth clashing with your image of yourself as a "good person"?

How much have our decisions affected the lives of our children? Do they still suffer? How have they adjusted to the real world, after being raised in an environment where their "normal" was anything but normal? Imagine the gut-wrenching feelings of abandonment, of being used, of missing out on a normal childhood. They see their peers, and they can't help but compare their upbringing. Do they wonder how their parents - the ones they loved and admired - their first role models - could have raised them so? What can they say when someone asks them innocent questions like, "Where are you from?" or "Where did you go to school?"

Have you talked with your children about their childhoods? Have you asked them how they feel? Have you sincerely apologized to them for the abuse they suffered, whether it be physical, sexual, or psychological? Or for the neglect - educational, medical, financial or otherwise?

Or do you feel you are not to blame, because your "heart was in the right place"? "God looketh on the heart." And besides, it's all in the past? Or perhaps you and your children have put your personal histories away in a box, compartmentalized, and agreed to never open that box, never speak of it.

It's hard to face, terribly hard on the ego to admit we were part of a harmful organization. We were duped. We were exploited, as were our children. The Family was not the best place in the world to raise children. We failed our children by not protecting them. And by continued association with the group, we were complicit in the abuse others suffered.

To realize that the cause we sacrificed for, that we gave years of our lives to, was nonsense that resulted in harm to the ones we love most in the world is shattering. Horrifying. Paralyzing. It shakes us down deep in our hearts. We can lose all equilibrium.

But it must be done. It must be done for our own sake. To face reality. To learn. To grow. To mature.

And more than even for our own benefit, it must be done for our children's sake. They need parents who love them, who support them, who they know will have their back. Who are going to be honest with them. Who they can trust.

Children naturally love their parents. Imagine the difficulties they must face when talking to their parents who still cling to their own righteousness and to the righteousness of The Family.

Our children need parents who are mature, who face their mistakes, apologize, learn from them, and grow. Let's be those parents.

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.