Tag Archives: Deconversion

Why I’m Grateful to be a Former Evangelical: “What If I’m Wrong?”

Another beautiful article by Valerie Tarico urging a positive response to former cult and evangelical members (or an escapee from any toxic religion or community) is turning up in various online media:

Why I’m Grateful to be a Former Evangelical

Tim and I have posted similar sentiments from time to time: it is important to acknowledge and embrace the positives that come from such negative, even life-destroying, experiences. One of the most important is summed up in this paragraph:

The gradual realization that my religion was laced with moral and rational contradictions and provably false claims ultimately made belief impossible for me. But that final break came only after years spent searching the scripture to bolster faith, witnessing to others, and even teaching Sunday school. Doubts and depression alternated with a sweet sense of God’s presence during worship. So, the implosion of faith left a profound sense of my own ability to be mistaken—an awe of how real things can feel when they are not. It left me permanently suspicious of simple answers and wary of groupthink. It tattooed a question onto the edge of my consciousness that never quite fades, no matter how bold my proclamations may sound: What if I’m wrong?

And that’s just the beginning. Valerie addresses half a dozen more strong positives.

One thing I am sure about: this blog Vridar would never have been born if it were not for my own lessons learned from years in a toxic church.

It’s not too hard, I think, for most people who have been through the experience to turn it all into positives, despite the losses of the past. What does sadden me is seeing some members of cults or tight, controlling groups, appear to recognize what has happened only to allow themselves to be sucked back into something just as limiting.

In some ways I think many of us who have been through the experience can (not always, but can) have a more acute sensitivity to groupthink, to careless acceptance of simplistic answers, than many other members of our communities, and can be responsible for sounding the warning bells.

We’ve been there, seen and experienced it in a very tightly concentrated form. Potentially greater awareness of the danger symptoms is surely a healthy thing.

6 Tips for Deprogramming Trump followers (and Clinton’s? and Others….)

Cult deprogramming might sound extreme so first a wise word I wish I had taken on board some time ago:

Bear in mind the difference between an actual cult and a cult following.

There’s a big difference between Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Jim Jones, and Charlie Manson, and David Koresh, Shoko Asahara.

It was not a wise choice of words when I described many of Acharya S’s followers as “cult-like” in their thinking. My words were construed to mean that I was saying they themselves constituted a cult despite my efforts to explain otherwise. But in reality that was only one of my many sins in their view and I am not sure following the points below would have made any difference at all to the animosity they continue to have towards me. Still, not following the points below is an absolute guarantee that one’s efforts to “deprogram” a person with “cultish” type thinking will fail.

The points and the quotations are all taken from David Feguson‘s article, Cult Deprogrammer: Here’s How to Stage an Intervention for Your Trump-Supporting Friend on Alternet. The article addresses Trump followers but I’ve added a tilt towards HRC in my own title. That was my attempt to make the following points more general. They apply the best of times to any communication attempting to persuade someone to think differently.

How does one approach someone who comes across as “stubbornly resistant to facts” and blind to an “idol’s” hypocrisy?

  • Approach the person with respect

It is important to frame your intervention as an act of caring and support. Otherwise, the person will feel that they have been ambushed, and they will go on the defensive.

read more »

Islam DE-radicalized him!

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.01.05 pmDo not comment on this post unless you are prepared to stay to engage with possible alternative views and defend your own ideas in civil discourse. Angry and fly-by-nighter comments may be deleted.

Studying Islam DE-radicalized him!? His deepening knowledge and understanding of Islam from the scholars turned him away from support for ISIS.

I don’t know if readers outside Australia will be able to access the video on this page but at least there is a partial transcript: Australian radical explains why he once supported IS – and why he stopped.

The TV doco is a look at a de-radicalization program in Australia (with comparisons with the Netherlands, iirc). The experts interviewed say the same things as the experts who have written the books I have posted about several times now:

  • young people do not join terrorist groups because of beliefs but for adventure, status, belonging, meaningful life. . . .
  • the deep beliefs usually follow their joining
  • targeting whole communities of Muslims is counterproductive; it misses the most relevant targets in the community and actually isolates them more, making them more vulnerable to radicalization.
    • and telling people that if they are not happy in this country they should go back to where they came from is the worst thing one can do: it makes the young person feel even more alienated and susceptible to radicalization.

There are questions left hanging, however. Though certain individuals are deradicalized through a deepening study of Islam they appear to maintain a strong Islamist belief system. Only an Islamism that is opposed to violence. That’s good, at least the part about being opposed to violence is good.

But if they still fail to truly appreciate and subscribe to Enlightenment values, democracy as it is understood in the Western tradition, pluralism and the value of secularism to lubricate a happily functioning society — then are we feeding another social problem that will need to be confronted in the future?

 

 

 

The “Only Way” to Free Someone from Cults: Islamic or Christian

Another illustration of the only way a devoted member of a “tribe” — whether religious cult or ISIS — can begin to loosen their attachment and head towards the Exit door appeared in AP’s The Big Story: Islamic State’s lasting grip is a new hurdle for Europe, US written by Lori Hinnant. Its message is consistent with my own experience or exiting a religious cult and with the scholarly research I have since read on both religious cults and terrorist groups, both Islamist and secular.

Lori Hinnant is discussing the experiences of a French program to “de-radicalise” former ISIS members. Its key sentence:

Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves.

Attempting to argue them out with reason is futile. In the case of fundamentalist cults we can easily enough see why: their thinking is entirely circular. There is no escaping. All “contrary thoughts” are from Satan and to be cast down, writes Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:5. It is no different with Islamic extremists, as previous posts have illustrated. Membership of the group is the foundation of the identity of each member; the group is their family and the bond stimulates the dopamine. Life only has meaning as an active member of the group.

Try talking anyone out of leaving their family and walking away from the cause that gives their life meaning.

There is no reasoning with someone in the thrall of a jihadi group, those who run the program say, so the recruits have to experience tangible doubts about the jihadi promises they once believed. Bouzar said that can mean countering a message of antimaterialism by showing them the videos of fighters lounging in fancy villas or sporting watches with an Islamic State logo. Or finding someone who has returned from Syria to explain that instead of offering humanitarian aid, the extremists are taking over entire villages, sometimes lacing them with explosives. Only once doubts are seeded can young would­be jihadis themselves reason their way back to their former selves, she said.

That’s how it’s done. It won’t happen immediately. At first the response to “proofs” of hypocrisy among the group’s leaders and deception in what they promise will be met with incredulity, a suspicion that the stories are all lies. But show enough with the clear evidence that the stories are not fabrications and slivers of doubts have a chance of seeping in. Some will react with even more committed idealism, convincing themselves that they will fight the corruption within. But their powerlessness will eventually become apparent even to themselves.

Only then will the member begin to “reason their [own] way back to their former selves”.

 

 

Recovering From Religion

Recovering From Religion

rr
http://recoveringfromreligion.org/

From the Overview page:

If you are one of the many people who have determined that religion no longer has a place in their life, but are still dealing with the after-effects in some way or another, Recovering From Religion (RR) may be just the right spot for you.  Many people come to a point that they no longer accept the supernatural explanations for the world around them, or they realize just how much conflict religious belief creates. It can be difficult to leave religion because family and culture put so much pressure on us to stay and pretend to believe the unbelievable.  If this is you, we want to help you find your way out.  Don’t let people convince you that you just didn’t have ‘enough’ faith, or that you just haven’t found the “right” religion. RR has support groups that meet monthly all over the US, with groups starting in Canada, the UK, and Australia, and new faces are always welcomed. . . . .

 

 

 

The Other Side of My Cult Experience

ambassador1
The decline and demolition of Ambassador College, once the prize jewell of the Worldwide Church of God (From la.curbed.com}

A number of my critics have seized upon the fact that quite some years ago I was a member of the Armstrong cult, the Worldwide Church of God usually to indicate that I am therefore by nature some sort of unreasoning fanatic. The inference appears to be that just about anything I have written or done should be interpreted as evidence of a fundamentally immoral and psychologically damaged individual. This was certainly the message Maurice Casey sought to convey in his final book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? Others (e.g. West, Crossley, McGrath, Hoffmann) have uncritically leaped in to praise Casey for his “research” into the biographical details of people such as myself, failing to notice that in my case, at least, that he relied upon nothing more than a small section of an old web post I had composed for a very particular audience of fellow ex-cultists for the purpose of offering encouragement to other ex-members who had been through the same experiences. Had Casey’s readers turned to his source they would have seen (had they wished to see it) that I wrote much else that refuted some of Casey’s own selective reading.

But here’s the point I want to make in this post. I was expelled from the cult. More than once, actually.

I was kicked out in the end for going public with my questions about its teachings and its practices. Critical thinking, research into “the other side” of those things the Church disagreed with, led me to see that the Church and its leaders were very ignorant not only with respect to history, psychology, but even in the Bible itself. R. Joseph Hoffmann has said that I am merely trying to “rewrite” my experience with the cult but that is his own wishful thinking. I cannot rewrite the fact that I was kicked out, excommunicated, with my name read out in all the churches as members were being warned to shun me now that I was in the “bond of Satan”. read more »

Dignity

I liked this latest by Reba Riley on her Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome blog. The title “The Special Forces Guide to Surviving Christmas” might sound overblown but the post has some useful tips especially for one still feeling raw wounds from certain kinds of church experiences.

See also A Great Blog For Anyone Abused by a Church

A Great Blog For Anyone Abused by a Church

Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (with Reba Riley) looks like  is an inspiring and reassuring resource for anyone who has been damaged by a church that abuses. I’m speaking of psychological abuse, mental and emotional scarring that too often comes with a history of damaged families and relationships and even physical and economic ruin.

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 6.45.29 pm
Visit Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome (with Reba Riley)

I’ve referred to my own story a few times but Reba Riley’s experience and exodus is fresher reading. Reba has authored a book, Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing in 30 Religions to share her experiences with others. The book that helped me much was psychologist Marlene Winell’s Leaving the Fold — a work I still find myself returning to from time to time. Reba’s book looks similar in some ways but less of a manual. From her page advertising it:

Written for everyone who crashes into religion when they go looking for peace, and for all those who value transformation of spirit and body, this poignant, funny and ultimately inspirational memoir reminds us healing  is possible, brokenness can be beautiful, and that –sometimes– we have to get lost to get found.  

A beautiful feature of Reba’s blog is the way her understanding and compassion for others shines through. She has learned a depth of self-understanding as a result of her experiences and is far more aware of the meaning of our shared humanity than some of us who haven’t suffered in the same sorts of ways. Anyone who says “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist” is pig-ignorant.

Compare her response to the recent public release of information about torture practices with another by a respected colleague of the biblical scholarly establishment, both posted on the same day. Give me an ex-fundamentalist any day. (At least one who was one of the laity, one of the fleeced flock. I am not so sure about some of those who were once in the higher echelons of the power pyramids. To date I have been disappointed when I have met any of our former “shepherds”.)

Reba’s first post will resonate with those anyone who has struggled to break free from such a past. It begins: read more »

My Last Days In the Cult: My Exit Story

caf43cedf899d2c59372b595867434d414f4141About 15 years ago I placed online a short account of how I came to find a new life, a new way of thinking and of self-acceptance after too many years as a dedicated member of the Worldwide Church of God Armstrong cult. I was one of many ex-members of that cult to add their little bios to that site. We felt it worthwhile to share our experiences to encourage others who were grappling with the various stresses and challenges of unraveling the thought-habits of years and finding a much healthier way of life as we had done. Above all we wanted to assure them that there really was a better life beyond and it was never too late to change one’s life’s direction. Recently I realized that there was one aspect of my final years in that cult, the years immediately preceding my leaving that cult, that I have very rarely spoken about in public forums. Given that there has recently appeared in print a charming little account of my former life that conveys a bizarre image of my former and current psychological makeup I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share for anyone half interested what my final years in that former religion were like.  (I say it was a “bizarre” account. I must refrain from using the word “dishonest” because I am sure the author would certainly have taken the trouble to have interviewed me and asked a few basic questions had he the time. It is quite understandable that busy people would need to rely upon stereotyping and armchair psychoanalysis to find the profile they need to prove their points about someone they wish to denigrate.)

First chinks in the armour

The first slight cracks in my faith in the teachings of the cult came when I decided to study in depth each book of the Bible as a discrete unit, as if it were not part of the canon. I would even try to read it as if I knew absolutely nothing at all about anything else in the Bible. That is, I would try to read each book to try to ascertain what it was saying in its own terms — without any reference in my own mind to any other canonical work. Of course most books, especially in the New Testament, do contain references to other biblical books. But I did not want to read, say, Romans, with any baggage in my head from what any other letter or gospel said. That process led to some interesting results. I began to see that some of the church’s teachings were really founded on unjustifiable interpretations. What’s more, I began to notice many passages that I had once read so often but also passed over so often without realizing their full import for the message the author was trying to convey. I took a number of questions to our ministry and earned myself a few worried looks. I was beginning to realize I was coming to understand and know more about what the Bible says than our trained ministry. I could see that they had not been taught to study the Bible as such but only to study the church’s teachings in the Bible. read more »

Once a Fundamentalist . . . Never Again

3295218This post is dedicated to all those who were once fundamentalists and are fundamentalists no more. I post here extracts from testimonies of a number of people who have described the changes in their lives since they left fundamentalism behind.

I initially thought I’d dedicate it to those informed lay and erudite scholars who contemptuously snort at anyone who had, let’s say, an ultra-conservative, somewhat extreme religious past and who currently has come to entertain questions about the historicity of Jesus. But are such persons really worth a dedication?

Once a fundie, always a fundie.

That’s their claim. They mean by it that a person who once was mixed up with a religious fundamentalist type of past will, on leaving that past, inevitably switch to some other cause with all the fundamentalist pig-headedness and fervour that characterized their former religious commitment.

It’s a vacuous slogan, of course. It’s nothing but a cheap way to dismiss someone holding a view or asking questions they have no time for.

The truth is that people do indeed change. The number of books that have been published about leaving a sect, cult or fundamentalist religion of one kind or another surely number into the hundreds. Right now I’m sure most people browsing through any sizable general bookstore in the English speaking world will scarcely be able to avoid seeing at least one work about someone having left behind the confines of a rigid Muslim past. Anyone who has recently left or is in the process of leaving a Christian-influenced cult or religion will soon become aware of dozens of helpful titles. Bibliographies on the web abound. Some of my favourite and most helpful authors were Steven Hassan, Edmund Cohen, Marlene Winell.

These names alone belie the trite slogan. They are all fundies who have done much to help others leave behind and rebuild lives after the fundamentalist experience.

Many readers here know of Dr Robert M. Price’s fundamentalist background, current very liberal “Christianity” and of his books such as The Reason Driven Life.

In a future post I should explain what experience and research shows about why people join these religious outfits. There are gross misconceptions about that, and about the sorts of people who do join and endure in them for any length of time.

Both Tim and I have written about our own changes in outlook since we each left our respective religious coffins. Links to them can be found in the Vridar authors’ profiles. I have since written an update to try to dispel some ignorant nonsense being written about me on Hoffmann’s blog.

Hoffmann point-blank refused to let it be posted there as a correction to what he and others were saying. Perhaps such people think anything coming from me cannot be trusted. So here for the sake of the record I want to bring to everyone’s attention the testimonies of thirteen others who have also left fundamentalism behind never to return . . . .

The extracts come from a book available online (or at least via Kindle), Leaving Fundamentalism: Personal Stories, edited by G. Elijah Dann. Read them and know just how far ex-fundamentalists do indeed leave behind their former mind-sets. (Bolded emphasis is mine.) I know, I can’t resist my own comments throughout, either, sorry.

read more »

Ten Reasons To Lose Your Religion

00A minister once told me he wished he knew who or what burned me so badly I left Christianity. I didn’t answer. I wasn’t burned. I evolved. — John

Marleine Winell in Leaving the Fold (See earlier Journey Free post) outlines several reasons leave fundamentalist religious systems in particular, but I think some of the points probably work for why people leave behind any religious faith. Her list is not complete or the result of a controlled study, as she herself explains. The purpose of her book is to support readers who have already stepped outside their old religious worlds and to share with them a range of experiences of others who have been through the same journey.

Marlene writes:

In general, people make changes of all kinds based on integrating information from new experiences. Human beings are “wired” to survive and thrive. Thus when we are disappointed with the methods we are using to meet needs, we are likely after a while to seek new methods. Also, change is more likely to occur if we are frustrated and we have access to information about alternatives. In effect, there are forces that push and forces that pull. Formally religious people find other ways to live, without the intellectual, emotional, and ethical discomforts that had become bothersome. New satisfactions add to the impact of the dissatisfactions, and the combination becomes enough to force the break. Thee multiple influences can be subtle and accumulate without clear awareness. (p. 88)

1. Developmental Change

People are growing, changing, maturing beings. Our development into more complex creatures is most noticeable in infancy, through childhood and youth.

This change is not random, but progressive with increased physical skill, emotional maturity, moral and cognitive development.

Personal development continues through adulthood. We integrate experiences as we change and grow, learn to appreciate paradoxes and shades of grey in our lives, learn how better to deal with situations.

That normal development can, however, be arrested. And that’s what happens when someone is diverted into a fundamentalist, black-and-white, dogmatic belief system.

In cases where a believer puts their trust strongly in a religious leader they make themselves vulnerable to disillusionment, even trauma, when that leader seriously fails.

Leaving such a religion can thus be seen positively as simply resuming one’s personal maturing and evolution.

Sometimes such resumptions of personal development come with a major life transition. Winell cites one woman for whom the birth of a child was such a turning point:

I believed the Bible’s promises and prophecies. I declined my parent’s offer to pay for a college education and devoted my time to studying the Bible and volunteering full-time in the ministry. At the age of 28, as I was expecting my first child, my whole concept of life and of the future collapsed. It was as if I had awoken from a dream state and saw reality for the first time. In the midst of the ensuing confusion I was left with the task normally reserved for adolescents: the search for who I am and what I am to do with my life. The nagging doubts that I had been able to hold at bay for years were finally slipping through. (p. 89)

2. The Bible and Fundamentalist Doctrine read more »

Journey Free: education about religious harm and resources for recovery

journeyfree
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Journey-Free/106994612676352

Journey-Free Facebook Page

From the page:

The Journey Free team is a group working to provide education about religious harm and resources for recovering from the effects of dogmatic religious indoctrination. Our office is based in the San Francisco Bay Area where Dr. Marlene Winell, our director, has a consulting practice; most of Journey Free’s recovery retreats are held in this region too.

Dr. Winell wrote the leading self-help book on recovering from religious harm after working in and researching the topic for more then 20 years. In 2011, she named Religious Trauma Syndrome or RTS a form of chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or “C-PTSD.” read more »

The beauty and the pain of fundamentalist religion

sufficientGraceI happened to catch a fascinating interview with an American writer now living in Australia, Amy Espeseth, talking about her first novel, Sufficient Grace.

It captured my attention for two reasons:

One, I can’t help but take notice when I hear anyone speaking of experiences similar to mine;

Two, the recent suggestion that I and anyone who questions the existence of Jesus and the arguments of “Jesus historicists” is necessarily driven by a need compensate for some past bad experiences with religion and is thus on a vendetta to attack and undermine religion by any means possible.

I have not read the book but I was captivated by, and definitely related to, Amy’s sympathetic approach to the people who are bound to their cult. There is a beauty in their lives. The first half of the novel, I understand, explores this rewarding and charming existence. Then half way through a darkness appears. The child everyone in the community believes to be so wonderful and destined to be their new leader is seen by his cousin as he really is, and it is not pretty.

On the outside the lives of the members appear to be so beautiful. At the same time, however, they are cut off, cocooned from the rest of the world, and in that isolation every family seems to have a dark secret that must be hidden at all costs.

I was surprised by Amy Espeseth’s response when asked if she had any regrets about writing the book. She said Yes, she did. She unavoidably caused pain to some people she loved. read more »

A little biographical footnote

Sometimes it seems important to others who are hostile towards anyone who even offers a platform for a presentation of mythicist arguments to label them as extremists or weirdos, the evidence being that some of them once belonged to “an unusually weird religious background“.

For what it’s worth, in my own case, my formative religious years were in a relatively liberal (we were allowed to play cards and dance) Methodist church. I did opt to spend too many years in a religious cult but was eventually renounced by that cult. My sin was that I was always seeking to understand and question a little more deeply — no problem with that so long as it is kept private — and that this eventually led me to compile a bibliography that I posted (snail mail) to multiple scores of fellow cult members. That bibliography was a list of sources that members could turn to in order to learn “the other side of the story” about our cult.

You see, members are protected from information that helps them understand the full story of what they are a part of. I made it possible for many to locate that information if they so wished.

For my efforts I am proud to say that I was publicly denounced from pulpits throughout Australia as being “in the bond of Satan”. I am told that members were instructed to burn any letters from me or hand them in to the ministry unopened.

So what did I turn to? read more »