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.

People who spend years putting others' needs before their own can have a very hard time identifying what they themselves want. It's important to do this, though, to gain autonomy. Take a minute to write down what you dislike about your life. Then write down what you like about your life. Next think about what kind of life you want to live and how you can get there. This is not an easy task for many of us, especially mothers.

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. 

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.

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Power of Ideology

Researchers occasionally contact me for information in their efforts to poke and prod at the bubble of the Children of God/The Family International cult to try to see what held it together and what it was like on the inside.

The other day I was asked, “Did you get paid for your work?”

What a shocking question. Back in my cult days, I certainly didn’t think of my life from the perspective of earning a living. To think of it that way now drops me into the void of loss and regret. I probably could have earned a respectable living and set aside funds for both my retirement and my children's education had I not given thirty years of the prime of my life to the Children of God.

But alas, it was not to be.

My cult days were filled with service. In the early years, I would get out of my bed—or off of my sheet on the floor—put on a smile, and greet my fellow commune members, then sit down to a breakfast of barely yellow eggs, rice, and water. After devotions, which consisted of reading usually the newest Mo Letter from our founder, David Berg, we got ready to spend the day proselytizing.

From morning till night, we would knock on doors, sell cult-produced publications or products, then come home for dinner. After dishes there was more reading, perhaps some united singing, childcare, and bed. The next day, it all began again.

As the years passed, my work changed to caring for other people's children. But still, the ideology was the same. As part of the “body of Christ,” I was facilitating our missionary cause by schooling and looking after children, which was one of the many ministries that in sum furthered The Family's universal goal of bringing God's Kingdom on earth.

How could I have cheerfully gotten up each morning and faced not an iota of personal freedom? To diligently work, even to the point of nervous breakdown, for no money whatsoever? It was the adhesive of the Mo Letters that held the group together and kept us going.

Each day, we spent hours studying Family publications or our Bibles, which we read through the lens of the Mo Letters and Berg's interpretation. Our conviction drove us. Our united cause drove us. We were part of a worldwide group with an exclusive calling, God's Endtime army. We were to be willing to do anything for Jesus, sleep with strangers to “show them God's love,” beg on the streets, care for other people's children 24/7, whatever it took, to promote the cause.

The intensity and strength of a clear belief system should never be underestimated. It can lead to people becoming “new creatures,” completely different from their former selves, with a new set of values, priorities, and goals. Ideology can overcome familial ties, motherly protective instincts, and it can create slaves out of otherwise rational people.

But what is the appeal? What draws people to cults and other controlling groups? The lure of a strong code of belief and a common cause worthy of fighting for, giving a noble purpose and direction to one's life. What keeps them? Camaraderie and a united goal, a sense of purpose, belonging and being part of something of epic proportions. On top of this, there is the myriad of human tendencies: the false valuation of life in the group, the confirmation bias, social norming, loss aversion, sunk cost, and maybe even inertia. One's sense of what is normal becomes completely skewed.

What of conflicting evidence? What if a true believer is shown proof that his faith is unfounded? It is the nature of man when confronted with evidence that contradicts his firmly held beliefs to cling defensively to those beliefs. Faith becomes enmeshed with our personal image. Our beliefs become a part of us and who we are. It would be like tearing out a part of ourselves to give them up.

The only way to “rescue” someone from a firmly held belief is to separate them from the constant input and influence of dogma. To dilute the poison of propaganda by distance and by providing a wide variety of information, some of which will contradict and show other sides to what they have been holding dear. But this must be handled gently, with compassion and understanding, because this is a matter of the will and the psyche, of the very essence of who one is.

Trust must be won. There must be a gradual rebuilding of mental pathways and a growing over of the old habitual ones learned in the cult. This requires time, patience, and the nurturing of a desire to learn.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


After leaving the cult and the initial jolt of horror looking back at the wasted years, as the mist finally started to clear from my mind, I was flooded with paralyzing guilt. Unshakable guilt. Part of this could be due to my Catholic upbringing, but wherever it came from, it was nurtured and grew to overwhelming degrees in the cult. 

I felt I could never apologize enough to my children. Yet even their kindness, understanding, and forgiveness did not make a dent in my self-condemnation.

Each day was filled with self-recriminations. How could I have? I've ruined my life and my kids' lives! It's all my fault! I hate myself!

In spite of my niggling self-talk, I studied and listened to audio courses and did what needed to be done each day. I had a lot of kids and responsibilities, so much of the day I was too busy to think. Finally, some light broke through.

First of all came the dawn. This guilt only shows that I am kind-hearted. Psychopaths do not feel guilt.

With that foot in the door, knowledge and realization started to trickle in. Guilt is a waste of time. It does no one any good. It is not productive. I am paralyzed and wallowing. 

Then came the hunger to learn and the resultant study to find out why I had joined and stayed. I worked to build new pathways for my brain. I had to make a conscious effort to not walk down the well-worn path of self-loathing and recrimination, to deliberately work to change the self-flagellation after any perceived mistake into the more productive, I can learn from this and do better next time. And I had to forbid myself from saying, I hate myself.

That may sound childish and silly, but through all those years in the cult I believe I remained a child in many significant ways. Just like an alcoholic turning to the bottle in times of discomfort or confrontation, I turned to the magic of prayer. No facing down problems, no dealing with issues, just "give it all to Jesus" and keep on. There can be little maturity in such an approach.

Finally, I faced the obvious fact that I will need to live with myself for the rest of my life, so it behooves me to get along with myself. To be kind. To treat myself as I would a friend.

As the Dalai Lama has said, self-compassion is closely connected to self-acceptance. More than acceptance, it is actually having compassion for our human frailties and recognizing we are vulnerable and limited like all people. Understanding and accepting ourselves is fundamental in having compassion for others.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Luck or Merit? More thoughts on the Just World

Human nature is a funny thing.

"My son is attending his dream school," said the mother.

"What a lucky boy!" I said a little too soon.

"He worked very hard and is passionate about his art," she coolly replied.

Of course he worked hard. But not everyone that works hard gets into their dream school. Good things don't necessarily come to people who work hard. Nevertheless, working hard is important.

Taken in reverse, would that mean that kids who do not attend their dream schools just didn't work hard enough? 

This woman's son is the only child of wealthy parents whose grandparents are footing the bill for his university education. This, imho, makes him lucky. What of the son who is accepted to his dream school, but whose parents, for whatever reason, cannot afford the tuition? Did he just not work hard enough?

There are many reasons that kids have to settle for second or third best, or whatever they can manage. Granted, ex-cult members like myself are outliers, who often have many children, minimal higher education, and are playing catch-up financially after making no provisions for their old age nor their children's education. We obediently, "took no thought for the morrow," and "considered the lilies of the field."* 

Highest praise should go to the less-fortunate who struggle to overcome poverty, hardship, and lack of education, like so many second-generation cult members are doing. Let us never fall into the thinking that the world is just and life is fairBad things happen to "good" people, and good things happen to "bad" people.

And plenty of good things happen to rich people.


*Matthew 6:28-34, "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 
"Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
"Therefore take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Wise Words

"It is not materialism that is the chief curse of the world, as pastors teach, but idealism. Men get into trouble by taking their visions and hallucinations too seriously."

H.L. Mencken