Monday, July 2, 2018

Perception and Cult Non-Apologies

True for all humanity, our value system determines our perception. This means that our beliefs, our ideas about the world, what we "know," not only colors everything we see, but actually determines what we perceive.

The world as we see it inside our heads is far from a perfect image of reality, rather it is an image formed by the emotional and informational input to which we are exposed. This image becomes a filter for incoming information, interpreting it according to our belief system. (See the Confirmation Bias.) In the cult, this was terribly damaging, causing our normal to be completely manipulated into a outwardly righteous, yet inwardly vile, abnormal.

I was reminded of this when reading The Family International's response to the recent A&E Cults and Extreme Beliefs documentary on The Children of God. "As mentioned previously, the allegations and narratives that are the focus of the program date to over 30 years ago and were addressed in the mid- to late-1980s... Although the Family International has apologized on a number of occasions to former members for any hurt, real or perceived, that they may have experienced during their membership, we do not give credence to tales of institutionalized abuse told by those who seek to promote their personal agendas or causes, or for financial gain."

This is galling. The Family International seems to view the thousands of young people who were directly and deeply harmed by the practices and doctrines presented as from God by David Berg and Karen Zerby as disgruntled losers who can't move on, or whiny people hung up on the past hoping to make a quick buck on sensationalizing their childhood experiences in the cult.

Does The Family International leadership not realize that it is against media policy in the U.S. to be paid to give an interview? There was no financial gain.

Are The Family International leadership not willing to consider that maybe the reason these second generation ex-members keep on speaking out is because of the lack of closure? The lack of sincere apology? The lack of admission of guilt? The unwillingness to help make amends?

Surely The Family International leadership does not see this. To them, "All things work together for good,"* and if those second generation people who "claim" to have been abused would just accept the Lord's hand in their lives, they could "forget those things which are behind"** and move on with the Lord. 

I can see no other explanation for TFI's leadership's utter lack of compassion for the thousands of second generation ex-members who suffered educational, medical, physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse throughout their formative years, and for the hundreds who took their own lives out of despair.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

*Romans 8:28
**Philippians 3:13

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Finding Balance

An older man stepped into the small jacuzzi where I was relaxing after my swim. In spite of showering, the acrid aroma of his stale aftershave along with the residual reek of tobacco obtruded into the steamy air.

I wonder if he's tried to quit? I mused. Surely doctors would have told him to. I guessed his age at maybe somewhere in his 60's or 70's. My imagination stretched into further assumptions, Perhaps he has smoked since his youth. I suppose he enjoys this vice to which he is captive.

Captivity is something I could relate to. I had allowed myself to be psychologically captive to a cult for too many years, and I now loathe the thought of being captive to a vice. Then my mind took another leap.

Vice or not, depending on your perspective, people denied pleasure in a repressive society can easily jump on the treadmill of hedonism, not unlike preacher's kid syndrome. One luxury that brings exultation soon becomes normalized. Then, like a junkie looking for his next fix, the search for the next novelty begins. When that is found, the initial rush fades all too quickly and the item or experience becomes mundane, the behavior habituated. (Habituation put simply: Why the fifth bite of your favorite dish never tastes as good as the first.)

On the cycle goes. Endless.

Walking hand-in-hand with hedonism is the avoidance of pain and the rejection of any negativity. This brings to mind the hackneyed, "get rid of negative energy from your life." I would call it denial. Life is not a bed of thornless roses.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, in The Book of Joy, describe eudaimonic happiness which is born from self-understanding, growth, and acceptance of life's joys and sufferings, sadness, and grief. To me, this seems a more realistic approach to life and happiness.

May I never again forfeit my freedom and self-determination to live in a dream world again. 

(See The Experience Machine for the ultimate in hedonism.)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Explanations are Impossible

Answering innocent questions can be difficult.

Q: What were you doing in the tropics for so many years? 

Me: Uh. I was in a cult, following the teachings of a madman.
No, that won't do. 
I did volunteer work. 

Q: Cool! Volunteer work! What exactly did you do? Did you work in the slums?

Me: I was a childcare worker, maid, and FFer. For some reason, I don't think they'd understand that.
I mainly taught the kids of other volunteers.

Q: So you were a teacher in Japan, right? Where did you teach?

Me: At enormous Combo Homes caring for large groups of children 24/7 and working myself to exhaustion and nervous breakdown, all while struggling against sin and self in my striving to learn "submission." 
At a private international school.

Q: What was it called? Would I know it? What train line was it on?

Me: Should I say The Heavenly City School? No, that's going to sound nuts. I have no idea what train line anything was on. I never went out. 
It doesn't exist anymore.

Q: Have you been to [insert any sightseeing or famous destination in any of the countries where I lived]?

Me: No, I was busy at home.


That life was inexplicable. Please don't ask me any more questions.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Regaining Confidence

I did something that caused a positive ripple effect.

Upon realizing that, immediately cult-inculcated intuitive thoughts flooded my mind: It must have been the Lord. He must have worked that out behind the scenes. He worked through me to accomplish this. It's only Jesus. What a miracle that He could work through one so unworthy as I.

I'm not falling for that again. No more will I rob myself of an opportunity to strengthen my self-esteem. I am going to pat myself on the back and accept that I had a good idea and acted on it.

Yay, me.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Agree and appease. That was my MO when it came to any conflict. Not taking a stand when faced with anger and abuse is high-ranking among my regrets. "Let's pray," was my go-to, like an alcoholic turning to the bottle when discord arose. Nod head in agreement, sweep problem under the rug, and hope it goes away.

Listening to a lecture by Jordan Peterson, I learned that agreeableness is a natural outgrowth of motherhood. We mothers are wired to be exploited — by infants. We jump when our infant cries, laying our own desires aside without a second thought. We strive to surround our babies with a calm atmosphere, to protect them, so instead of directly addressing conflict, we smooth the waters and keep things calm. This short-term solution is a poor technique for dealing with adults. 
It sets us up for exploitation, hard work, and low pay.

Now that my children are grown, I realize it's time for me to grow up, too. I need to decide what I want out of the years I have left on this earth, and I need to leave behind my habit of always putting others first which has made me vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. 

Although it's been a challenge to find a sense of my own desires, one is crystal clear. I want to learn.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Why didn't we balk at the Mo Letters?

How could I have been OK with the Mo Letters? They were blatantly horrible and overflowed with delusions of grandeur. The cover art was more than cringe-worthy, the writing was embarrassingly juvenile, and the overuse of all caps, underlining, and exclamation points was inane. How is it that we cult members didn't think about our future children looking at them and concluding their parents had been idiots for believing such nonsense?

When I ponder the stranger who is my past self, I marvel. I naturally look back through the filter of my present views, but nevertheless, I remember being embarrassed by the Mo Letters and hoping no outsiders would see the most atrocious ones, but that shame didn't wake me up. Why not?

It was a surprisingly quick slide into the depths of delusion. Upon joining, a requisite was to accept that we were "babes in Christ" and needed retraining in the ways of the Lord. Berg was our "father in the Lord," and on top of that, we were taught he was the Endtime prophet prophesied in the Bible. (Hosea 3:5, Ezekiel 34:11, 23, 24, and Ezekiel 37:24)

Once that foundation of belief was in place it was reinforced by required daily reading of Berg's Letters. By and by, our brains were prepared to accept whatever came from him as the gospel truth. We were to be "new bottles," willing to accept the "new wine that God was giving" through Berg, and not like "unrevolutionary" Christians who he disparaged as "old bottles," the title of a Mo Letter written in 1973. "Old bottle" became a byword in the cult for those who did not eagerly accept the new Mo Letters. Social norming—and harsh corrections—dictated that no one wanted to be accused of that.

In 1975, Berg took this to a higher level with the publication of the Mo Letter, "Strange Truths." In it, he recounted a dream about a fountain of water that he had discovered, symbolic of his source of “the words of life” from God. Strange creatures lived in the water, which some people liked and others looked on with suspicion. Berg concluded that the creatures must be good since they came from “the source” (God), and that people who didn't like them “because they were contrary to their ideas of what the water [the Word] ought to be like” left the fold. Shame on them! Thus the tone was set for the acceptance of Berg's Letters, no matter how strange we thought they were, because they all came from the source of Truth—Berg with his hotline to God.

As the years passed, in obedience to Berg's decrees, the number of people in our communal Homes grew, which exponentially intensified the ingrained human tendency towards group conformity and obedience. (See studies done by Solomon Asch; larger numbers greatly increase the conforming power of a group.)

Complementing the basic premise of accepting any bizarre idea that came from "the source" was our constant state of busyness, giving us no time to raise our heads and think about our situations. I worked to the point of nervous breakdowns in large School Homes, filled to the brim with children packed two to a bed in three-tier bunks. How to educate and care for them, with basically no money and always short-handed, was my ever-present concern—and we always seemed to be playing catch-up.

As if the physical work wasn't enough, like all plebeian members, I lived under the burden of responsibility for righting my sorry spiritual state. I needed to learn "submission" to God, my leaders, and to my husband—to be a good "Bible woman." I was often called in for "talks" with the leaders, excoriating corrections for my many "sins."

My mental bandwidth was taken up with marriage problems, children's needs, my own spiritual inadequacies that I needed to conquer, lack of money, and constant work. When the mind is running multiple programs, our mental processors begin to slow down. I didn't have enough time to take care of all the needs before me, let alone think about the future, or "give place to the devil" by "doubting" the Mo Letters.

We were exhorted to live in the present and "take no thought for the morrow." We had an absolute disconnect from our future selves, and an absolute lack of foresight into our children's or our own futures. Worse, the groupthink of the cult resulted in the deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgments. Thinking was out, the "joy of the Lord" was in.

In the Stanford Prison Study, I wrote that when those volunteers who had played the role of guards looked back on the six days of the study, they were alarmed at what they had been capable of doing. Perhaps even more telling is that those who had been prisoners were also dismayed at their behavior—at how quickly they had been broken into passivity.

The architect of the study, Philip Zimbardo, stated that the issue isn't how a few bad apples can ruin the whole barrel; it's how a bad barrel can turn any apple bad. Situations matter. Average people can, and often will, go along with absurdly incorrect assertions and do stunningly bad things in the name of obedience and conformity. (Hello, Abu Ghraib.)

The cult was the perfect setup for mindless conformity, and that conformity included acceptance of the Mo Letters.

See also: Motivational Influences on Perception

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Is Japan the missionaries' graveyard?

During my years in the cult in Japan, I spent the required hours out "witnessing," which is what we called distributing TFI produced publications, and audio and audio-visual materials. In its simplest, it consisted of handing a cartoonish poster to someone and requesting a donation. The pricier materials had an inflated "suggested donation." 

Over the course of doing this, in stark contrast to my experience in Christian countries, I was often met with blank, dubious faces. 

"What is your job?" I remember being asked. 

"I'm a full-time volunteer," I 
would try to explain in my fragmented Japanese 

"How can you do that? What about your children? How do you provide for them?" The incredulity was palpable. 

To answer the standard cult belief, "God supplies our needs," would sound like a crazy person. I would opt for, "People give us donations to support our work."

They would leave the question, "Why would anyone give you money when you could just get a job?" unspoken, yet hanging in the air as they walked on. 

As the years passed and I eventually learned the language, I came to know devout Buddhists. If what I believed was true, these good, kind, sincere people were going to burn in hell if they didn't accept Jesus. Were they the benighted heathen that I had come to save?

Something was inherently arrogant about the exclusiveness of Christianity. To the fanatical TFI member, these lost "Systemite" (members of society at large, as opposed to the "dropped out" cult members) servants of materialism were inferior to them, the "elite army of the Lord."

It was so obviously untrue. 

Japan became my personal missionary's graveyard.

To quote Christopher Hitchens, "...religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited. It assures them that god cares for them individually, and it claims that the cosmos was created with them specifically in mind. This explains the supercilious expression on the faces of those who practice religion ostentatiously: pray excuse my modesty and humility but I happen to be busy on an errand for god.” God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything