Saturday, January 16, 2016

Toppling Pedestals

First impressions are important, we all know that. In my experience, they have not just been important, but crucial and very long-lasting. Starry-eyed believer that I was (and still tend to be, due to the habits I have built up over the years) my first impressions of leaders in the cult, or even of other members, were almost exclusively favorable. They were the "samples" I was to emulate.  

For example, take the father of my first child. A married man, smart, witty, and full of Bible and Mo Letter knowledge, I felt he could do no wrong. I was enamored with him, expecting to spend my life with him and his wife after our son was born. (Deluded much?) When they suddenly moved away to work with Berg, I was shattered. Still, I "knew" he was a wonderful man. It was I that was just not worthy.  

Next came my husband - was he the perfect man? He was gentle, romantic, polite, and handsome. As the years passed, I explained away his angry outbursts and violence, and his lack of desire for me was "all my fault." I was like one of Skinner's pigeons, conditioned to hope and persevere. 

Vital to taking off those rosy glasses to see others more clearly was pulling out of the negative view of myself. I am not as "bad" as I have believed, and others are not as "good" as I have believed. People are people with all kinds of inherent weaknesses and mistaken perceptions.

The biggest pedestal to crash down were those on which Berg and Zerby stood. The confirmation bias that ruled my mind protected their image during my years in the cult. When anything negative about either of these wonderful "prophets" came to light, the cognitive dissonance that it caused had to be dealt with quickly. Dissonance is so uncomfortable; we called it "doubt." Rationalizations and explanations came to the rescue. All great men have weaknesses - but they were still God's anointed. Look at King David in the Bible - he even had Uriah killed to steal his wife, but God called him "a man after mine own heart." We COG members were very good at rationalizing. Seriously good, with plenty of help from Berg, who wrote, If God can use a sinner like me, he can surely use you!  

Of course, Berg and Zerby are most definitely not the "End-time Prophets" and sacrificial servants of God they claimed to be. Crashing right along with that delusion came my faith in the cult and all its beliefs. And that brings me back to the start of my journey to understand the whys.

Friday, January 8, 2016

"Others"

After reading what I wrote in "My Life in the Cult...," a psychologist friend commented, 

"I was struck by how much your life was centered on self-sacrifice. You were always giving to others and not to yourself. I imagine that you must have struggled with the sense of betrayal when you finally were able to see reality of the situation. Moving to [the tropics] must have been so disorienting that you would have been less able to see the sham. I am so glad that you came back and are patiently navigating yourself back into the Western world."


"Always giving to others and not to yourself." No kidding! My life, 24/7 for 30 years, was dedicated to doing things for others.

But isn't that the idea? Isn't that how true Christians are to strive to live? Isn't it sinful to do things to please yourself? "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily," right?  (Luke 9:23)

Among the thousands of Bible verses and Mo Letter quotes that I committed to memory over the years, my friend's words dredged up this poem that I must have memorized while still in my teens.
“Others”
By Charles D. Meigs

Lord help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray 
My prayer shall be for – Others.

Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true
And know that all I do for you
Must needs be done for – Others.

Let “Self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep; and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again
Unless to live for – Others.

And when my work on earth is done
And my new work in heaven’s begun
May I forget the crown I’ve won
While thinking still of – Others.

Others, Lord, yes others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.

(found at: http://blindbeggar.org/?p=1088)

This attitude became a part of me and naturally carried on after leaving the cult - even more so then, because I was facing the horrible reality of having given my children a crap childhood. The guilt. The burning desire to make things right. I wanted to do my utmost to help them, although I was clearly spread too thin. I'm afraid it was too little, too late for the older ones; the jury is still out on how the younger ones will fare.

This "normal" behavior for me is further COG residue that I have only just now become aware of.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Stunted Maturation

Joining a cult, or making any serious life-decisions, at age 16 is a bad idea. Age sixteen is just at the end of the pruning stage of the brain, where “ineffective or weak brain connections are pruned in much the same way a gardener would prune a tree or bush.”* This is done in order to prepare the brain for adult maturity and growth, but this development will not be completed for another 5-9 years. So a 16-year-old possesses a brain that is stuck in the middle world of no longer a child/not yet an adult.

During this misfit time, emotions and hormones rage. Mood swings and irresponsible actions wreak havoc. 

Take this immature psyche, paint on a smile, add a touch of sparkle to the eyes, and finally paste on an overall fa├žade of COG characteristics: zeal, "happiness," "faith," "love for the lost," lack of concern for the future on earth, only concern for "heavenly rewards" - all the pious catch-phrases that were the staple of the cult members' days.  

Fill that life with busyness from morning till night, driven by the self-important urgency of the cause and kept on by dread of the guilt felt when not "giving one's all." Bounce that life around from "serving" under one leader to another. Give constant reminders that she must be "like a child" to serve the Lord in the COG. "You gotta be a baby to go to heaven..." (as their theme-song went.)

When hardships came, depending on the severity, solace was found in prayer, in "looking for the good," or in escape by moving to another country or city. ("God never closes a door without opening a window.") No need to deal with harsh realities, just smooth them over and "keep on keeping on."

Then, add year upon year upon year. 

The result? An adult, who, in spite of living on this earth more than 50 years, is utterly lacking in real-world maturity, normal mental and psychological growth having been stunted for those years of deluded life in the bubble of the cult. 

That would be me.

* Alison Gopnik, Professor of Child Development at UC Berkeley.