Tuesday, October 2, 2018

More on Anonymity

The anonymity in the group caused by the taking of new names upon joining, isolation from society at large, social norming, and the deindividualization of groupthink was a powerful force.

I wrote before that perhaps this name changing was akin to Plato’s “Ring of Gyges.” To put this in more contemporary and perhaps more relevant terms, think of Tolkien’s “The One Ring.” Both were stories of magic rings that granted invisibility to the wearer. In Plato's Republic, he uses the story of the ring to consider whether a person would be moral if he did not have to fear being caught. In Tolkien's story, the ring also brought with its invisibility the propensity towards evil. Did the anonymity of name changing in The Family affect people’s psyches and give them further license to engage in behavior contrary to conventional morality?

Aside from this more obvious psychological process of providing a cover for amoral activity, I wonder if anonymity was a basic factor in keeping the cult together. We had new personas in the cult. We could forget who we were before joining, forget our family and friends, and forget conventional mores.

Reflecting on my teen years as a Catacomb member of the COG while still living with my parents, I see how I had had two personas—the happy cult Hepsi and the past Mary with her biological family, her friends, and problems. When my best friend called me after having been away for months, I told her about my infatuation with the Children of God. She reacted as I probably would have, had our situations been reversed. She blurted with disdain, "What? You're a Jesus Freak?!" I felt so embarrassed. But not embarrassed enough to change my mind.

I had found succour in the cult. That loving, welcoming "Family" that gave purpose to my life. I had to separate my outside self, the one my friend had known, from my cult self. Then when that friend stopped by my house to visit, I was too ashamed to answer the door. Too bad I wasn't self-aware enough to realize how my behavior betrayed my real feelings toward the COG. Although that embarrassment continued lurking in the shadows of my subconscious all my years in the cult, I repressed those "sinful doubts" and gave my all to The Children of God. And that is the real shame.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Habits of Mind

One of the habits of mind that I developed in the cult was a feeling of helplessness, of being trapped and powerless. After leaving, indeed my options were limited by my circumstances: the lack of biological family to turn to, the sheer number of my dependents, my lack of education, and my neural atrophy. For years, I did feel trapped by my circumstances, and I had little energy or time to consider alternatives.

Amor Towles put these wise words into the mouth of his protagonist in his masterpiece, A Gentleman in Moscow, "If one does not master his circumstances, one is bound to be mastered by them."

I have a past I cannot change, mistakes that cannot be undone. But I will no longer allow those circumstances of my past to master me as I had in former times.

During my cult years, I stove to submit and struggled to be a good "Bible woman" with no will of my own. I was to be a "diamond of dust" and float effortlessly on God's air. The ideal was to be mastered by outside forces—God and my Shepherds. 

In real terms, this meant I was to remain a child with no self-will. And this I did. I remained in the cult. I remained in a dysfunctional relationship. I endured unpleasant circumstances, "enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." I deserved no better, or so I believed.

Through the years, this wrong thinking of helplessness had become a deeply entrenched habit of mind. More than a reflection of reality, this feeling of entrapment by circumstance was a mental habit. In order to pull out of it, first, I had to notice it. Then, I had to decide to be done with it. Finally came the day-to-day work of rewiring my brain and intuitions.

My life is mine now. Not some fairy-tale god's. Not the cult's. Not anyone else's. I am not a victim. If I feel trapped or unhappy with my situation, I need to make a plan to change it. I will earn no eternal merit through misguided martyrdom. There are no cosmic brownie points.

I choose to wake up each day with appreciation for life and freedom. With joy, not with dragging around the dregs of the past. Life is too short.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Environment can cause epidemics of evil

"You don't need a motive," Zimbardo said. "All you really need is a situation [or an ideology?] that facilitates moving across that line of good and evil." 

"What's more, a person's anonymity can be induced by acting in an anonymity-conferring environment that adds to the pleasure of destruction, vandalism and the power of being in control," Zimbardo noted.

Read the full article, "What makes good people do bad things?"

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

All cults are alike; each cult is unhappy in its own way


I just finished reading TroublemakerSurviving Hollywood and Scientology. I had never heard of Leah Remini, never seen her on TV. I was in a cult. We didn't watch TV. Then after leaving, I had no interest in television, as I had such a hunger to study and learn after years in the intellectual desert that was life in the Children of God. Like Leah, I needed to rewire my brain. But unlike Leah, I had no support system, no therapists, no friends nor family nearby, just my own large brood of children that needed care and attention and money.

Reading Leah's story, I marveled at the similarities. Groupthink, which I.L. Janis defined as “a deterioration in mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgments as a result of group pressures," is an essential feature in all cults. Scientologists, just like their COG counterparts, are “the enlightened ones,” the ones with privileged insight into The Truth. This privilege obliges members to spend hours and hours “improving themselves” through daily reading, frequent counseling, self-criticism, and criticism from leaders, with its resultant required confessions and, in the COG, united prayer sessions. Voicing doubts or criticizing leaders was cause for censure and punishment, demotion, hard-labor, humiliation, silence restriction, and/or wearing headphones listening to group publications.

I was horrified to read of the extent of the abuse that was heaped upon adults in Scientology, and its accompanying psychological warping so that the victims believe they are deserving of such ill-treatment. In the Children of God, although adults were subject to various types of abuse and constant exploitation, the real victims were the children. Especially the first generation born in the COG were subject to physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse, coupled with educational and medical neglect. Like Leah explained about Scientology, the group's publications were deemed more important than mere academic education.

Scientology, with its courting of rich and famous celebrities, is wealthy, yet the rank-and-file members can find themselves bankrupt because of the amount of money the cult requires them to pay. Children of God members lived in poverty after giving up everything to the cult, being forbidden to hold regular jobs because they were too busy “doing the work of winning the world, that only they, as the chosen of God, could do,” and tithing at least 15% of the donations they raised. The very dedicated gave more.

I feel a kindred spirit to Leah, and I commend her strength and resolve in coming out of such a strong mindset as was instilled during her formative years growing up in Scientology.

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 an 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.

uh....

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