2016-09-20

Tragedies of the Bible Believing Mind

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-6-27-40-amTerrible déjà vu hit me as I recently watched the BBC doco Return to the Most Hated Family, also known as The Most Hated Family In Crisis (sequel to The Most Hated Family in America) with interviewer Louis Theroux. Australians at least can catch the documentary over the next few days at iview. My own cult was never as offensive as the subject of this film: we certainly never publicly demonstrated at funerals gloating over dead soldiers in the belief we were righteously rejoicing in God’s judgments. But I could understand how these devout believers could bring themselves to do just that.

But that’s not the point of this post. What really pained me was the way Theroux was able to expose the deep human tragedy inflicting these people trapped in their conviction that they were doing God’s will.

Parents had thrown their children out of the church for “choosing the way of the world/Satan”. Mothers, fathers, they were clearly straining with all their power to put on a stoical front, to not buckle emotionally, to show the world that they were truly so God-fearing and God-loving that even when their own children were “the lost” they still “rejoiced in the judgments of God”.

Of course they had to give their suffering meaning and that’s the only way they could do it. But Theroux’s questions were so compassionate and direct that the camera could not deny viewers the signs — gestures, facial tensions, slight voice quavering — of deep pain denied.

Among Theroux’s concluding remarks was a line that went something like this: “People who deny their own feelings believe they have a right to trample on the feelings of others.” And I was reminded of the pain I had caused my own parents when I joined a cult.

–o–

A few days earlier while driving I was listening to a local radio interview of a woman compassionately talking about her late Bible-believing mother. They had been a military family so always on the move, never having the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with others. The mother’s strong devotion to God, the daughter suggested, had become a substitute. It was her one constant and close friendship. To me that came across as a moving attempt to understand her mother, to avoid judgment that could have come so easily. And that’s how I remembered dark years of my own past (don’t misunderstand — my entire life was certainly not spent in the cult and I experienced other far more benign forms of Christianity as well before becoming an atheist): we loved others, were bonded to others, as they themselves were bonded to our God. Ties could be severed as quick as an axe blow once they lost hold of the centre that was their God. But that was not this woman’s experience as far as I know. It was enough to suggest that her life lost in God was in fact a sad symptom of an inability to establish a comparable relationship with her own kind.

6 Comments

  • Christine Veazey
    2016-09-20 21:48:27 UTC - 21:48 | Permalink

    I can say that I went from 22 years of age straight into a cult whose substitute parent leader and family were 100 times worse than my nuclear family. I was there for 11 years trying to be good. Yes it offered more understanding of the universe than I got in church, from parents or from grades K-12. No it was not freedom. Somebody was above me, somebody was below me as I struggled to keep my position within the cult. Much like life in a wolf pack I imagine. You will take your cues from the alpha dog and that is not a choice if you want to be in the group. I am levels above canines and I have a choice. That life was not a haven of comfort, it was a daily dirge. While a member of the cult I learned that I didn’t want anybody to control me, nor did I want to control others. I had left the god my childhood and slaves, now I was leaving a guru and slaves. For the past 20 years it has been no-one but me, an atheist, more buoyant and free than I have ever been in my life.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-09-21 00:59:01 UTC - 00:59 | Permalink

      I wonder if most people who take their religion seriously are inevitably up-tight at some level, working on “putting on a new creation” to replace their inner nature, and if so, that probably explains why we feel such a (re)birth of confidence and openness once we leave. Of course the cults take it all the most seriously…. being deadly serious about CBT or bringing every thought and feeling into captivity so the word of God replaces any real spontaneity and sense of self-worth.

      • Christine Veazey
        2016-09-21 02:07:57 UTC - 02:07 | Permalink

        I think most people who join cults are up-tight looking for safety in numbers and perhaps needing a surrogate parent. That is their “new creation”. Oh boy are they in for a surprise, they’ll get neither. I always remember the Zodiac Killer and his “collecting slaves for his afterlife”. That is exactly what the really bad cults do to one’s self. By the time one is parroting the leader, one has been gradually induced into a psychotic split. It is not noticeable because it is day-to-day deepening the programing. There is a denial and split from oneself. Wanting acceptance and love is more important than self protection. The cult leader wants yes men and women. If you have a strong enough core you will not be able to be totally overridden though you may want to merge. The leader feels this and begins pushing you away and the rest of the group does likewise. That there is the moment of truth and when the disintegration of the programing begins. So yes I agree that breaking out of that captivity is totally liberating but in its initial stages painful. For those who have had the bad cult experience, if we made it out without breaking down it’s because we fought our way back from the split and were born again to our true self. From there strength builds upon strength.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-09-21 03:16:07 UTC - 03:16 | Permalink

          Yes, some good points. My own cult, the Worldwide Church of God, fragmented into literally hundreds of pieces — that alone testifies to the inability of so many to ever break free. They may leave the original body but only to become part of the same sort of thing elsewhere, or worse.

  • Derick
    2016-09-20 22:25:24 UTC - 22:25 | Permalink

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kOTVYKAilQ

    Not sure if I’m allowed to do this – but above is an intriguing hypothesis on the human propensity/urge/compulsion to believe.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-09-21 01:04:01 UTC - 01:04 | Permalink

      Controversial thesis, certainly. But what leads people to cult behaviour or joining cults goes beyond a mere desire for attachment to ‘something bigger’ than ourselves. Though then again, some of the most “liberal spiritually minded” — those who espouse total freedom, supposedly, and have mystical ideas of divine essences etc — can also come across as very judgmental just the same.

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