October 24, 2011

Freedom of Worship and Lifestyle

My past is a checkered history of  religious fanaticism and cult-like practices.  I do believe that many people in my past were sincere in their beliefs and practices, and I know that my actions and attitudes toward others were sincere (albeit misguided)... but that does not make it right or healthy!  I have been deeply scarred by the cultish practices of some of my childhood churches.  Even in my adult life I have gotten involved in business (commercial) practices that are cults!  I guess,  in some ways it is an easy jump from one to the other.  But it was also the beginning of an inner spiritual awakening for me.

I have dear friends who have experienced first-hand the emotional and spiritual turmoil of religious (spiritual) abuse from a church that I would label a cult!  Some of the churches I was involved in during my childhood and adolescence were also cult-like, if not outright cults.  I wish to express my regret for being offensive, self-righteous, judgmental, arrogant, and generally without grace and love in my dealings with others and I ask your forgiveness if I have done this to you.  Be aware that my heart was indeed sincere in wanting what I was taught (and believed) to be the best thing for me and you, however my presentation and deliverance of such sincerity and truth was marred and muddled by my own misunderstandings and lack of grace.  I am truly sorry, please forgive me.

I know many will scold me or be angry that I am labeling certain things in my past as cults, but I'm looking at the facts!  Given my personal experience, and that of many others I know, the facts point to my prior religious/business connections as cults.  It is not my goal to hurt or shame or offend anyone,  but I am seeking out the truth.  Truth of what I've been taught to believe compared with actual practice of those beliefs, and critiqued by the truth of the very Scriptures these beliefs and practices are supposedly based on.

The truth is concrete!  It never changes, but my understanding of those truths and my practical application of them is now coming into maturity.  Now I have freedom to think for myself, to search out a matter, to ask questions without fear of being condemned by those who claimed to love me and want God's best for me.  I can read the Bible for myself, and study its meaning in context with the culture and language in which it was written, thereby understanding more clearly its application to my life and culture today.  The foundation of what I have always believed, the nuggets of moral absolutes and eternal truths, have not changed.  How I practice these beliefs in my life and present these truths to my children and others has most definitely changed, and I hope will continue to change!  I no longer yield my mind and heart to others to control.  I do not unthinkingly, unquestioningly submit to or obey every command presented by a religious leader or organization.  God gave me a strong mind and spirit and I intend to use it.  The Holy Spirit is present in my life to lead and to guide and to make known His truth to me.  Jesus, the Living Truth, is my foundation and my authority, and I have direct personal access to Him.

So how do you know if you are in a cult or not?  What if your group or organization is cult-like, but not an outright cult?  Let's take a look at some of the signs of a cult:
Cults have many faces.  Various types of cults exist, but they use similar methods.  Some types of cults are religious, commercial (such as mlm and pyramid sales), self help & counselling, and political (think Hitler's Nazis).  Although their purposes may vary, the ultimate goals are the same: power, through mind control and behavior control. Deception, fear & intimidation, relationship control, information control, time control, pressure selling, etc... these are all marks of a cult.  In all cults, mind control is used and its major techniques are as follows:
  • Exclusivity is used as a threat, it controls your behavior through fear   (Be very suspicious of any group that claims to be better than all the others. A religious group may say that other groups following the same religion are OK, but we are the ones who have a better grasp of the truth and we are superior to the rest. This is often just a subtle version of exclusivity.) 
  • Guilt, Character Assassination and Breaking Sessions
      Guilt will be used to control you.  Maybe the reason you're not making money is because you're not "with the programme".  It's always your fault, you are always wrong, and so you must try harder! You will also be made to feel very guilty for disobeying any of the cult's written or unwritten rules.   
      Character Assassination  is used to help create the guilt in you. Character Assassination is a type of false reasoning used by people and groups who have no real arguments. The technical name for Character Assassination is "The Ad hominem Fallacy". This is how it works. Imagine if you will a conversation between two men, Ford and Arthur: 
      "One plus one equals three", says Ford. 
      "No I don't think so. You see, when I have one thing and I have another thing, then I have two things not three", replies Arthur. 
      "I see your point, but what you must realize is that one plus one when calculated in relation to this complex number domain, which I just invented, and then squared by the sum of the ninth tangent in the sequence of the Fibonacci series results in three!", stated Ford triumphantly. 
      Ok, Ford is wrong, but that is not the point. The point is that Ford tried to answer Arthur's reasoning with more reasoning of his own. This is the healthy way people and groups debate subjects. 
      Now lets see what would have happened if Ford had used Character Assassination:
      "Arthur I have been a mathematician longer than you. How dare you disagree with me! You are obviously a very smug and prideful person. I think you are disagreeing with me because you are jealous of me, and to be honest with you Arthur your rebellion has really hurt me and a lot of other people too", stated with Ford's face intimidatingly close to Arthur's. 
      Here Ford didn't answer Arthur's argument, instead he attacked his character. If you are not aware of how Character Assassination works then it is a powerful way to exert control over you. 
      Breaking sessions are when one, two or more cult members and leaders attack the character of another person, sometimes for hours on end. Some cults will not stop these sessions until their victim is crying uncontrollably. Cult members are usually very fearful of disobeying or disagreeing in any way with their leadership.
There is way more here than I can cover in this one post.  But do some research, ask yourself some hard questions, give yourself honest answers, figure out if you are involved in a cult or not.  Here is another good website with lots of information that may help: http://rickross.com/warningsigns.html
This one has been put up by Rick Ross, Expert Consultant and Intervention Specialist.  Let me outline for you what he says are "Ten signs of a safe group/leader":
  • A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.
  • A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.
  • A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.
  • A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.
  • A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.
  • A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.
  • A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.
  • A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.
  • A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.
  • A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas. 
I found all of this to be extremely interesting and helpful food for thought, as I continue to seek freedom in my life and mind.  Yes, there are absolutes.  Yes, I make mistakes and sometimes suffer from other's mistakes, as well as cause others to suffer from my mistakes.  Yes, I have rights... moral, ethical, spiritual, legal, etc... and so do others!  My rights end when they harm the rights of others and impose my goals, desires, interests, and pleasures onto someone else.  So, in all this searching, thinking, learning, attempting to understand and grasp for radical freedom... what I'm trying to figure out is the TRUTH, disentangled from the agendas and cult-like control others have held over me.  This is frequently extremely difficult, and often full of painful emotions, but it is a necessary part of my journey to freedom.

I know I still have a long way to go, but I am well on the road and enjoying my journey!


  1. I just wrote a real long comment and somehow it disappeared... I'm not that good yet with all this technology. I did mention a really good book that was given to me by a dear old pastor from Ottawa who was concerned for us. The book is titled: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, written by David Johnson & Jeff Van Vonderen published by Bethany House. A good read, well worth it. It freed us from such a CULT just recently as you well know. By the way, God answered my prayers and we had a few more friends that were able to escape this spiritual trap. PTL!!! The scars are still there, but Gods grace is sufficient! Hugs to you and the family

  2. Thank you for the apology Tracy. A letter you wrote to my husband and family 19 years ago is still having an impact on my daughter. She was 14 and would not accept as fact that any God would send her beloved father to Hell because he did not share your beliefs. He tried to explain to her that you were a misguided young lady who was only trying to help in the only way she knew. He saw your letter as it was meant.
    As a result she will not have any part of "organized religion" to this day. She is a very spiritual and loving woman who is very involved with the Christian charity of the Salvation Army. I was older and more worldly so it did not affect me in the same way but I was hurt for a very long time.I have firm beliefs but have never believed that God chooses only people from certain churches for salvation. I think that ALL are loved by God and open to salvation.
    I do not want an ongoing discussion about this matter but just wanted to let you know that I am happy you have finally seen the light. I don't think that zealots realize how much harm they do. It is so much more effective to lead by example and then people would be more willing to participate.
    Please do not try to contact Kathryn about this because she still has bitter feelings about it and it would just reopen old wounds. I am just happy that you have finally seen the light.