Maybe it is not a bad idea to put on record why I’m bothering with my blog posts about biblical studies. I admit it is surely a nerdy thing to be doing. And I do sometimes get a few raised eyebrows from those who know me when they learn that I have such a blog as this.
After I left religion (both relatively extreme as well as the milder forms of it) and belief in God I had to find a new direction in life. After living “for God and the next life” etc all one’s life, and finding oneself no longer with any belief in that God or after life etc, the first thing one has to decide is “okay, what now, where to from here?”
Well after a bit of option weighing I figured that the most worthwhile direction would be to make use of my past experiences and turn them to something positive. The alternative seemed to be to declare all those years a total waste, and to try to start totally afresh without reference to my past as much as possible. That was one option. But I opted instead to use my past bads for something good.
One of the first things I did was to start up something of a support group for others who had been through the cult experience themselves. I called it Cult Veterans support group or something like that. It attracted some ex-(and even a non-ex) Mormons and Jehovahs Witnesses and something else I cannot recall. I had done a bit of reading about my own experiences from psychologists viewpoints, as well as other works by ex-cultists on their experiences. We shared these insights in the CV group, as well as comparing our own experiences. The most fascinating thing for us to come to realize more fully was how similar all these cults were on the inside — despite all their protestations that they are each so unique.
It was a little venture, but I think it was useful for a while for a few people in the area where I lived. Being able to place one’s experiences in a broader context is always helpful for self-understanding and a useful step for moving on.
Before this, I suppose I had ventured into using my experiences in a service to my own former brethren.
I had gathered many sources of information giving “the other side” of the cult to which I had belonged, and investing a little sum in posting this information to quite a large number of members around Australia. I did this because I knew that while a member it was very difficult to learn where to find such information. One might be curious to read it but given the tight controls over social networks and the stigma and even threats attached to contacting ex-members, access to such information is near impossible. But I did know that several members would appreciate receiving this information, so I sent out a few hundred letters to different families and individuals with the info.
I was heartened to get a few phone calls in response — most of them anonymous — from members thanking me for the information and asking for more details. Of course I was denounced from “pulpits” around the country for this act of service, and people were told to burn letters from me unopened or to hand them in to the ministry.
Ah, life’s little adventures! I even received a phone call from a minister telling me I was being put out of the church! I laughed at him as I said, But I’ve already been put out of the church! He flustered back, Well, I’m telling you again to be sure you know! Oh my, to be thrust doubly into the bond of Satan. Not many had that honour I am sure! 🙂
But as for drawing on past experiences to make the most of one’s future, there are not a lot of options when those experiences have been little more than learning about the Bible. I had experience with cult life and could make some contributions in that area, as I did with CV and a few pieces written for a local newspaper.
But the one thing that I felt needed addressing was how people get sucked into cults in the first place. There is a lot of misinformation about this in the wider community. I had sought to broaden my experiences with other points of view after leaving religion, and that even included attending Hare Krishna or some other Buddhist meeting. What struck me was the similarity in techniques being used (with only a few modifications) for cult recruitment across all these sects or whatever.
I had looked back on the steps that led me to believe, or at least accept and live with, nonsense. (There are many complex reasons but I only address one part of one of them here.) I began to notice all the times I had stopped questioning at some particular point, or had accepted some explanation without proper examination. I had naively come to think this was something of a “cult experience” and that when I left it, I would enter a world of normal people who were not so foolish and who did question things or at least had more sensitive bullshit detectors.
Woah. I had to learn not to be so naive. People not in cults, it soon became obvious, were making the same sorts of assumptions and failing to question things as I had done and that got me mixed up in the cult. Not that others were cult-candidates, obviously. But everyone, I soon realized, makes unfounded assumptions, and does not question most of what they believe. People accept bullshit too quickly all the time. They fail to ask questions about the Bible — it has to be treated as an exceptional book of some kind — but not only about the Bible. It extends across all areas of society. C’est la vie.
I began to realize that I had the advantage of an education that enabled me to see this. It was a combination of my experiences and my education that enabled me to know how to question certain things. So I guess I felt I had some responsibility now. Why not use my experiences and education to help others make more informed decisions or understand where we are all at, etc?
Hence my life since then has been involved in causes or activities that do attempt to expose bullshit where it exists in public places, especially if it is clearly doing harm to others. I have been involved in a wide range of community education and information projects (not about religion — usually about social issues and communications media for voices less well heard, etc).
At one time I was arranging public meetings for the State Muslim council to present the public with a better understanding of the Muslim religion and its followers. I was working to coordinate Church groups among others with this project.
When I see academics or any public figure publishing or pronouncing bullshit, I feel I have a responsibility to challenge them if their nonsense impacts negatively on the wider community. I will challenge them to justify their claims, and make it clear to others when they are unable to do so.
And I guess this is where this blog comes in. It is part of a life that has been active in social justice, political and environmental causes. I sometimes think I have done all I can do with exposing the bullshit behind some biblical scholarship, and the more understandable and honest fallacies of other biblical scholarship, and promoting a more consistent and intellectually honest alternative approach to the Bible. I think of leaving it aside and focussing more on the social issues, sometimes. But the responses my blog is getting suggest to me that it is still having a worthwhile presence. And besides, in Singapore as an expat, there is little scope for expressing my other interests.
My experiences have given me a good knowledge of the Bible, and of how bullshit emanates from leaders and spreads, and my education has given me some ability to expose and communicate some of this to some extent. I can either ignore my past experiences and move on, or I can move on by turning my experiences into something I think has something to offer.
And it has been interesting, too. I have a passion for learning as much as I can about Christian origins, the Bible, etc, — as I have a passion for learning as much as I can about “the human experience” both today and in history generally — and I do like to share some of what I learn. (I have learned much about the media and political processes, and how societies and humankind works, too. But many others publish and blog on those far more effectively than I can. My experiences have equipped me best to focus on biblical things, I guess.)
ETA: Maybe I should add that I never bother arguing with Christians or attempt to argue anyone out of their faith. We are all at where we are at, and that’s that. There is such a thing as respect and tolerance for other viewpoints, and social propriety. I am always conscious that I have believed weird things, so can’t help but be a little compassionate and understanding of others who do so, too.
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