Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Cultish Behaviour

I wasn't raised in a cult.  I am certain of that.  But despite this, when my sister was at university taking an Abnormal Psychology course, we had to agree that some of the time, some of us in some of the Plymouth Brethren assemblies were engaging in some very cult-like thought patterns. Some of the time, anyway.
   Here's one way I could tell I was doing this: I had what I believed were my thoughts.  I kinda knew they'd been given to me by my culture, family and church, but I wanted them to be mine.  They were well-written.  Sounded soft and devout and proper and quiet.  And then I also had what I thought of as (my thoughts) which I knew were mine, but didn't want.  At all.
   They didn't match.  They did not line up with my culture, family and church.  They were exactly the sort of thoughts I wasn't supposed to have.  Doubts about God being good.  Doubts about our church being the only right one.  Doubts about the harm in rock music, movies and other pop culture.  Doubts that preaching to everyone was going to make a difference.  Doubts about literal seven-day creationism.  Doubts about gay people not being born gay, but having made an inexplicable, sinful choice, or having been led down a sinful path from nature to perversion.  Doubt, doubt, doubt.
   I hated my doubt.  I didn't want it to be mine.  I didn't pursue these thoughts.  Didn't take a good look at them in the harsh light of day. I buried them, uncomfortably.  I buried them deep.  I shat upon the place they were buried.  I poured buckets of water on them to try to kill them once and for all, to drown them, like a hole full of gophers.
  Like most plants, this just made them put down healthy roots and grow, always springing up into view embarrassingly, little thought tendrils reaching for the light right where everyone could see them.  I stomped on these little tendrils, but they keep growing, and in greater numbers.

Books About People In Cults
I have read a number of books about people who were involved in cults, and in cult-like situations as well.  The disappointing thing is how blank these people seem.  Before, during, after.  They don't seem to wrestle and get angry and get upset the way I did, or if they did, they don't really seem to express it much.  And they don't necessarily seem to have really, truly believed the thinking of their cult-ture so much as they just agreed to follow it, and not think other stuff.  They seem like they were a bit muted, a bit blank, to begin with, and then when they gravitated to, or got pulled into a cult situation, they got further muted down.  Blank.  Robotic.  Serene.  Part of a larger whole.
   I read one book recently about the Moonies in the 70s.  (The Unification Church is a cult which worships marriage and uniformity, teaching that Jesus Christ was not the son of God, and that his work on earth failed or was not finished, as he did not manage to marry before getting crucifed, which ruined his mission.  The Moonies teach that Sun Myung Moon finished the unfinished work of Christ, by marrying.)
   The disappointing thing was that the author simply goes blankly from not being a Moonie, to being a full-fledged Moonie.  Suddenly she's doing nothing but going around preaching the supposedly Christian, bible teachings of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and wasting away and lacking sleep and food and water.  Then she blankly moves discussing to having people actually abduct her in a van to deprogram her.  And she doesn't want to talk to them.  But they do.  And there's no huge struggle.
   She just blankly tries not to listen, and then has to, and has to (blankly) admit the truth about everything.  Has to admit that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon might not be the Messiah.  That he might just be a normal guy.  That maybe his interpretations of the bible served his own agenda of making his system water-tight.  That he might be exploiting her.  That her life might be getting sucked away from her by her affiliation.  That she was being asked to sacrifice everything for it, to give all of herself away to it, to belong.  All that.
   And she seems to go from blankly not admitting any of it (by not thinking about it and refusing blankly to discuss it), to, as soon as she starts thinking about any of it, pretty much having to blankly admit stuff she seems to have already known all along.  (In my case, whenever I have had to admit more of Reality is real, it is always equal parts terror and deep, warm affirmation.  Like thinking you're drowning after being shoved in, and having your feet hit solid bottom.)
  Finally, this author blankly reports becoming a sought-after exMoonie deprogrammer.  She talks about how she blankly spoke for weekends at a time with people, sometimes taken against their will by their heart-broken families who want their kids back.  And she blankly gets them to detach from the non-being they have been blankly embracing.  By having them take a moment, and then admit things, one after another.  There are no backslidings.  Once growth happens, it's a done deal.
   Not very dramatic.  She had been trained, and also "just knew" to protect her special, magic, headlong mapped-out retreat from the uncertain world into a fantasy place filled with false certainties.  All of those "thoughts" and "feelings" which she'd been given, and which she tried to actually have, had to be carefully kept from too much exploration, had to be kept from any situation in which they'd be placed side by side with the world of other possibilities, with all the real world uncertainty that was just waiting to bump up against everything.  She just had to make sure her mind wasn't touched by any unprogrammed ones.  Not really touched, anyway.
   I mean, she spoke with people on the street every single day of the week.  In fact, she had no job.  That's all she did.  Talked to person after person, being moved from city to city to city to do nothing but that.  But not a thought or feeling from anyone else ever got in.  That was the deal.   Her mind and heart were blocking reality out.  To keep what was inside from being revealed to be a sham.  From being manifestly someone else's ideas.  From admitting that she wasn't herself.  Wasn't who God made.  Was someone else's machine. 
   Why did she do this?  Kind of sad, really: She wanted to belong.  To give over the responsibility of making choices.  Of battling with life question and dilemmas.  She had a family and was getting an education, and she had a man in her life, but she wanted to belong in a deeper, special way.  In an exclusive way.  To belong only to the cult of the Moonies and to no one and nothing else.  And the cult told her what kind of things to wear, what kind of hairstyle to have, and what to eat and where and when to sleep, and provided marriage partners and performed mass weddings.  Even the marriages were for the cult.  They served Rev. Moon before all things.
   And underneath it all, she pretty much knew exactly what she was doing the whole time, which is why she knew to protect her fantasies from reality.  She was carefully fleeing admitting huge bucketfuls of the truth about everything to herself.  She was nonthinking and nonliving and nonfeeling for all she was worth, all for the acceptance and structure given by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon and her co-followers.   And in return, a one-size-fits-all-Moonies life was handed to her.  A life that made sense.  Not like the one God gave her to live.  That one had been filled with ups and downs and uncertainties and imperfections.  So she shut that one out.  Ran from it.  Committed a kind of identity suicide and let go and let Moon.

How Cultish Was I?
I remember not thinking (my thoughts.)  I remember "thinking" thoughts that weren't mine.  I was a kid, after all, and a young adult.  I remember things coming out my mouth that were so obviously me quoting dead people.  Saying things that were supposed to be what we all thought and believed.  They sounded very well-worded, traditional, proper and sensible.  Self-sacrificing and devout.
   I remember when nonchurch people couldn't really talk to me about a whole range of things that I was programmedly blocking the whole World out on.  If they talked, I kind of made my brain immune to it all.  I didn't consider things.  I let them slide right off.  I never put one of their thoughts next to one of "my" thoughts, with the two sharing the stage at the same time, on equal footing, to see if "my" thoughts really were so much better.  I remember protecting my thoughts and my heart from letting anyone in.  It might have all worked too, but for two people:

a) me.  I wasn't good enough at being blank.  My thoughts and feelings were an endless, ever-changing torrent, needing to be expressed and let out, and needing desperately (I didn't realize) to butt up against those of many other people, so they could live, breathe, love and grow.  To partake of others and be partaken of.  To live in the world and have the world feel Actual Me, taking root and finding my way and actually living an actually alive life for actual God.  Not perpetually hiding in a hammock so my feet never really touched the ground, and never really got earth on them.  Not washing everything off me almost before anything or anyone touched me.
   And I wasn't made to have "Two modes."  I knew I was "supposed" to be like that, but it didn't take.  I was built deep,  but very, very simply.  I can really only properly be one me at a time, and increasingly, all my mes started to be all the same person.  And that personhood was flowing from the core of my being, not from training.  They unified.  Which made me strong.  Single-minded.  Quick to decide things.  Ideas sprang to me.  Focused of sight, without crossed eyes or double-vision.  And that made me stand out like a rhino at the ballet.  Surrounded by spiritual anorexics and bulimics, starving themselves of life-stuff, purging themselves things they'd indulged in, all in order to be Pretty for God.  Because God likes that, doesn't He?  Pretty Christians?  No one had the courage to ask Him.

b) God.  God was, it turned out, Real.  Very real.  The realest Thing/Person/Idea ever.  The Source of all persons, things and ideas, in fact.  No matter how eagerly and doggedly the blank, grey human systems "created" thoughts and positions and habits and traditions, schedules, careful guidelines and approved feelings, God kept creating actually real ones.  Kept bringing about life.  And God wasn't having with any spiritual anorexia or bulimia. He wanted physical and spiritual eating habits to match and work and make sense.  Regular flow of food in, of all varied kinds, textures, temperatures and tastes, and regular purging out of my system, but only after digestion had occurred, and only out the right "end," too.
   And God kept bringing random, unsettling stuff into my life.  And He meant me to let it in.  Oh sure, I wasn't to be all open like a cult-member, to take up any and all thoughts shoved in my head and heart just as if they were my own thoughts.  But I was supposed to have a place in my life, like a lobby or conference room or cafe in the front of my head and heart, where I could have honest dialogue.  Where what I thought of as "my" ideas had to share air-time with what I wanted to deny were (my ideas.)  Where as many ideas as I'd encountered recently all had to be allowed to be Real, if they had any reality to them.

You Can't Run From God
I never did grow to be capable of being placid.  I'm not built to be. I'm built to strive, to pick away, to build up, tear down, rip up, paint, sing, write, hector, woo, resist, accept, forgive and all the rest.  After all, God made all of us in His image, you know.  And we're supposed to be it.  Live it.  Pursue it.  And God's a bit nuts. He's not a tame lion at all.  There is nothing and no one wilder than He Is.
    When I was a kid, they told us about Jonah.  "You can't run from God," they told us.  And they were right.  And heaven help us, God is real.  We can't make stuff up, or install preassembled life and thought and emotion modules and block out Everything.  We can't live in The Matrix.  We have only this reality and it's a jumbled, tangled, living, growing, dying, breathing, shitting, spitting, singing, birthing mess.  It really is.  And there is no alternative.
   Sometimes it gets to be a bit too much, and we need to find a quiet place to gather ourselves.  Good luck finding it, but sometimes we need that.  We have, most of us, our dark country roads, our cafes, our churches, our beaches, our forests, our paths, our rocks, our cliffs, our streets, our whatevers.  And we go to them to be alone, and gather ourselves.
   I don't know about you, but when I go off to be alone, I come with me, and I've got all kinds of stuff I've not been wanting to admit I think and feel.  I'm quite chatty.  And God comes too.  He's never not around.  He can be quite insistent as well.  It's quite a party sometimes.
   I used to be more cultish than I am.  I used to protect my Brethren training from too much Reality.  I knew, deep down, that reality threatened it.  So I was very carefully not to do the thought-work on a lot of things I wanted to keep.  I used to try to make the Brethren methods and practices and traditions work.  I used to try to control absolutely everything (like any of us can really do that.  In fact, I think God's very wise to make sure we can't.)
   When things got to be too much, I used to try to shut everything out.  Just lie in my bed and try not to live a life.  Eventually I couldn't keep it out anymore.  It all poured in.  Like water when one's been shoved into the swimming pool because the patio's on fire.  It poured right into my nose and ears and mouth.  And you know what?  It was life.  It was everything.  And it was exactly as God intended me to experience things.  And often it hurt.  And sometimes it was awesome.  But it was terrifyingly, overwhelmingly, fascinatingly, revealingly, pointfully, amazingly real.  And I couldn't be blank at all anymore.

And here is the response of a friend to the above blog entry:

To continue your defence of the Moonies, when i look at it through the lens of maturity, i come away with a slightly different perspective. What the Moonies are doing to their followers in terms of control is the same thing we rightly do to our children when raising them. 

At a certain point, though, the child grows enough that the controls, which are akin to law, are not necessary. Yet there are many adults who are still children, and are attracted to that type of control. When deciding whether to deprogram a Moonie, ethical questions come up like "Are they actually going to proactively do anything with their life anyway?" If not, what difference does it make whether they're selling flowers at bus stations, preaching on street corners, or having a 'normal' life of being a mindless consumer tube-fed by the telly?

I see the value or danger of a system as how it does/does not encourage growth. In this respect, universities are extremely cultish. They are not there to encourage research except in relationship to what has already been established. This is what happened when I was at college.  I didn't back down when it was demanded that I toe the line. The political battles were ridiculous.

The Brethren had an overt claim that scriptural understanding was a good thing to pursue. In early years, this was helpful and encouraging to me. But once we began to actually make some progress in understanding the Bible, warning alarms went off across the board. No one, of course, had any idea what was being explored, they just freaked out because it was outside their control. At this point things begin to look a bit cultish. It's one thing to keep people protected from pornography and drugs, but quite another when you attempt to protect them from the scripture itself.

In healthy cultures, the growth process is marked by rite of passage ceremonies which give structure to the difficult process of learning to think on one's own. The only rite of passage ceremony among the TW's is "asking for your place at the Lord's Table," (Brethren membership) which turns out to be somewhat mismatched to the real needs of the child in question. 

The hope of a good parent is that the children will be "enabled", i.e., be able to take up everything that they have become and use it dynamically in a new direction. The obvious fear that this freedom will cause them to go astray reveals that the "parents" aren't parenting, but are in fact still children themselves.

One of the most revealing aspects of the cultishness of the TW's was shown to me by Kate. Not by what she did, but what people did to her. I could mix with the 'learned' brothers and get oodles of respect, but if i left the room and Kate walked in to talk to them, they would go for the jugular. She didn't have the "I'm holier than you" thing working like I did, and what had been an amicable conversation with a Shawn Rodd, Jim Mopp, or Toss James would turn into a full-out attack on her for just being who she was: free. 

I learned to hang around the corner when Kate was with these folk, and spring back into the room to defend her once the attack was on full force. The attacker always looked like he was caught with his pants down, which analogy is not that far off.

It initially amazed me; how could such "friendly" people turn so poisonous when left alone with Kate? Slowly i began to grasp that "friendly" was perhaps the wrong description of how they were acting with me. I was one of them, and could defend myself. They were looking for defenseless people to attack. 

Having Kate around, with her inimitable way of getting under these guys' skin, showed me that the system was severely flawed, and as such, I who bought into it was severely flawed. But one does not build a new culture overnight. And one is never fully divorced from the culture in which one is brought up, as Paul with his "constant uninterrupted pain for my brethren according to flesh" so aptly shows.

Freedom is dangerous (and wonderful) and requires some kind of culture to nest it, within which it can safely develop. Every effort is being made to destroy these kind of healthy cultures. This is a situation that weighs on my mind constantly.



Anonymous said...

Your friend seems to describe an unhealthy culture. Calling it seriously flawed and poisonous.Then later talks about how every effort is being made to destroy healthy cultures.

I find that a little confusing and hard to understand.

I agree that humans need a culture to nest in. Even children of fearsome gang members, will have a need for culture to nest in.And have a need to feel at home in.These emotional feeling's are what help make a human being feel wholesome.Without it, a human is disadvantaged in life

But that doesn't automatically mean that in every situation its always good thing.The things is children don't have a choice in regards to what type of lifestyle they are being born into.And their need to feel loved, and feel homely, maybe shouldn't need to be governed by also being forced into submitting to living unto the ways of their parents lifestyles.Some lifestyles lead toward ongoing problems.

Society has to try help pick up the pieces.Society needs to help pay the ongoing costs too.

Parents can choose to just wipe their hands of their children, if they decide that their children don't meet up with their standard.While society still needs to continue to try help out

Anonymous said...

Howdy, 'Anonymous'. I am that friend. "Flawed and poisonous" as well as "every effort is being made to destroy healthy cultures" confuses you? Try living with the TW's. Wonderful, warm, loving, helpful people . . . until you cross the "we are special" line.

The second time I was excommunicated, "Jim Mopp" (gotta love Mike's changes of the names of actual persons) came to my door and handed me a letter, saying, "This is from All the brethren." "Oh really. Was Tob Bomkin (my turn) there?" "Uh... no." Lies.

I took the letter over to the stove and burned it. That was the end of my tenure under a system that can only serve itself. The individuals are sincere; Tob Bomkin actually gave me a pickup truck when I was down and out afterwards. But water flows downhill.

And as the water flows downhill, claims made as to the source of the spring that feeds it get weaker and weaker. The TW's started as a bunch of people who realized that God does not recognize denominations. So they accepted everyone, and refused to take a name or be anything other than what scripture called them: Christians.

Then came the 'idiot' moment. "Hey, if we're the only ones who are meeting like this, we must be Special." Then they began the horrible process of examining how each other were meeting, and kicking out anyone who was not 'special' enough.

Suddenly those who had refused all sectarian influence became the tightest sect of all. Typical Satanism.

So... "flawed and poisonous"? Yeah. "Confusing and hard to understand?" Here's a test for you: do something wonderful and tell your church about it. If it helps them advance their name, you'll get accolades. If it is simply wonderful on its own, you will be sidelined.

What I had attempted to point out with my previous comment is that a society that operates on control is not a society. There are roles for those within a society, and there are roles for the society itself. Control is not one of the latter.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon.

The way i read about it.Jesus spent time, mending divisions between people.His message was an inclusive type message that oozed love, bridged divides, and attempted to draw different types of people closer together.Even within strange situations, when some priests of those ancient times,may have felt shocked and uneasy about it.Yet Jesus concentrated more on the bigger picture ahead. Not bothered with entering into sweating the small stuff too much.

Its a sad thing,to go out of our way to create room for division, where room for division, need not even have needed to exist.Extremely sad.Specially in a world like we have today.Where its become obvious how division abound.And how the inclusive mannerism of Jesus, is very diminished.

We bring all sorts of hardship upon ourselves and our children as well,when we allow this situation to develop.And any act of locking ourselves away, wont help keep us apart from it either.The rot continues to grow all around us