A “healthy” mistrust of science?

I’ve been realizing lately how many cults and fundamentalist religious groups undermine scientific, analytical thought.  Many of them teach that the world was created in 6 literal days, or a period of 6,000 years, making the dinosaurs and archaeology in general  rather embarrassing and inconvenient.  Pesky things like evidence are swiftly explained away as the devil’s “meddling” – it is obvious to them that these old bones were placed by the evil one to confuse us and test our faith…

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            Coming out of that mindset can take time and is very complex.  The level of fear instilled in us is so great that even considering another point of view or watching a video on a scientific subject can feel “risky”.  Will my faith be subverted?  What if they lead me astray?  How will I know if they’re telling the truth or not?

            In the light of all these overwhelming, unanswerable questions, more and more parents are taking their children out of the school system and deciding to educate them at home.  I personally have no problem with the concept of homeschooling per se, and respect each parent’s right to make decisions for their own families.  However, I also have a right to express my opinion, without seeking to offend or criticize other’s life choices.

            For me, the most important thing is to take an honest look at the motivation which guides our thoughts and actions.  Am I shielding my child (or myself) from other points of view regarding creation, religion, faith, science,  health, medicine and history because I am afraid that they will be contaminated or unduly influenced?   Am I driven by fear, or by a desire to provide the best education possible for my offspring?

            Some could say that I have no right to make such observations, as I am not a mother myself.  But, I am a stepmother, and a teacher.  I like to consider matters deeply, from every point of view.  My opinions are simply opinions, and nothing more.

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            It upsets me that in modern life, so few people are willing to open themselves up to listening to a point of view with which they disagree.  The desire for uniformity, at all costs, is so prevalent that when you open your mouth to express an alternative viewpoint, it’s very tempting to close it again, knowing that your voice will be dismissed or ignored.

            Being in a highly controlling religious sect stripped me of my voice.  I learned to keep my opinions to myself, to remain quiet, and to toe the line.  I knew that any indication of disagreement or derivation from the accepted norms would set me apart as a subversive person, an “independent thinker”, someone who would ultimately be shunned and rejected by the whole group.

            Even after leaving, it has taken me years to get my confidence back in order to express myself freely again, due to people pleasing, a yearning to “fit in” and to be accepted by others.  This is particularly difficult for me as I live in Chile; a small South American country set apart from the rest of the world by the Andes mountain range, the Atacama Desert, the Pacific Ocean and the imposing glaciers of Patagonia to the south.  In this nation, people do not tend to express themselves openly, but seek to “keep the peace”, by taking care to say what other people want and expect to hear.  This is understandable, considering that during Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973 – 1990, anyone who dared speak out risked being silenced, by means of torture, exile – or worse.  Thereby, a whole generation of Chileans had to learn to keep their opinions to themselves.  Books were burned, higher education became unaffordable, and free thinkers were shipped out of the country.

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In fact, the word “no” is rarely used at all in this country; it’s extremely rude to give a negative answer to any kind of offer or invitation, however sincere.  Instead of saying “no”, people almost always say yes.  “Can you come to my house on Saturday evening?”  – “Yes, of course!” says the Chilean, despite knowing full well they probably can’t.  The socially acceptable way around this is simply not to turn up.  You say yes, but then you don’t follow through.  That is politeness in this culture.

            So, as a British woman who has spent over 12 years of her adult life in this culture, learning to speak up and to give voice to my authentic self has been a challenge.  Writing this blog has been the first big step for me, as well as making the audio files that I occasionally upload to Youtube.  Getting to know ex-cult survivors online and hearing their stories has encouraged me to speak my truth boldly, but with love.

            This has spilled over into some of my face-to-face interactions with my Chilean friends here too.  I no longer feel the need to keep quiet, blend in and avoid showing my true nature, although I do still seek to be kind, warm and generous to others.  Just the other day we were invited out to dinner with a couple we have got to know, and I felt emboldened to express my real opinions on a particular subject. I didn’t say very controversial things or reveal any big secrets, I just took the guard rails off my mouth and began to speak more openly, without fear or rejection or shunning.  It felt so good!!  We arrived home that evening with joy and thankfulness in our hearts, glad to have finally made some real friends.

            Of course, this is not always the case with everyone.  Last weekend we were invited to visit with a different family, and unfortunately, the conversation turned to politics towards the end of the evening.  The next day was the first round of presidential elections here in Chile, and it was inevitable that the topic would come up.  When one of our friends asked our opinion on the different candidates, we responded openly, without wanting to start an argument or rub him up the wrong way, explaining that we won’t be voting.  Our friend, who had had a couple of glasses of wine by this point, began to speak aggressively towards us, ridiculing our standpoint and insisting on the virtues of his own candidate.  I tried to step in as a peacemaker, letting him know that we respect his worldview and that each of us should follow our own conscience, rather than seeking to influence or belittle others.  He wouldn’t listen, but carried on and on, until he abruptly announced he was going to bed, signaling that it was time for us to leave.

            I do hate that politics can divide people so cruelly, even if you try to opt out of the debate altogether.  I sincerely wish that others would respect our right to abstain, but sadly it’s become all too common for non-voters to be ridiculed or dismissed as ignorant or apathetic.  We do not seek to judge, influence or suggest to anyone whether they should vote or not, but nonetheless our position is not deemed worthy or respect or consideration.

                        Sometimes I say to my husband (in Spanish): ¡Soy una persona!  – I am a person!  It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate this, as he always does, but that I feel the need to say those words out loud: I am a person!!  It must be that my personhood has been so squashed throughout the years that I feel so strongly about this, and not only in my case, but for every person on this planet.  Sometimes I see someone being put down, discriminated against or pushed aside, and I say: “That is a person!!!”  For example, I recently saw a video of a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses dancing to Kingdom Melodies by a river, somewhere in Latin America.  Rather than laughing at them or sharing the video for others to comment on and jeer, I felt compassion for these individuals: “They are people”, I said to myself.  Whatever their beliefs, opinions or worldview, they deserve my respect as fellow human beings.

            During times past, it was socially acceptable to express racist or chauvinistic opinions, with few consequences whatsoever.  Now, we feel we’ve matured as a people and have learned better, but I say that very tragically, we have not yet come far enough.  As well as the implicit and institutionalized racism that persists in many societies, it’s become common for people to launch verbal attacks on different groups and religions, particularly towards Muslims.  At school in England, I had several moderate Muslim friends who were warm, compassionate and highly intellectual.  After the attacks on 9/11 public opinion towards them changed, as fear and ignorance set in.  Fuelled by a scandal hungry media and people’s desire to express their insecurities and rage, hate crimes towards Muslims have increased exponentially over the last 16 years.

            I recently challenged a friend regarding a blatantly anti-Islamic post she had shared on Facebook, and she completely shut me down. I had expressed myself in polite and friendly tones, but she insisted on painting me as a “divisive” person and said that “I obviously didn’t want to be her friend any more”, and refused to enter into dialogue with me.  Faced with such emotional and intellectual immaturity, I could do nothing but step away and give up: I can’t control others, but I can protect my own sanity.

            Nor do I mean to imply that I have somehow reached a higher level of consciousness, or that everyone who disagrees with me is wrong.  Far from it!!  In fact, I would much prefer it if people who don’t agree with me would tell me so (in polite terms, of course!) and that we could sit and discuss openly, as two human beings on a journey.  Do we have the emotional maturity to engage with others in this way, to really hear their point of view, consider it and respond with love, or do we react impulsively at what we imagine people are saying?

            Are we growing, or are we stagnating?  Are our minds open, or tightly shut?   What is more important, being right – or showing compassion?

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How to help indoctrinated cult victims break free

Cults are fuelled by fear, shame and secrecy. Members are taught to set their sights on a future existence on a paradise earth or in heaven, and forced to give up all hopes of true joy or fulfilment in this life.  They must resign themselves to boredom, drudgery and self-discipline, which is often accompanied by feelings of emptiness and dread.  They are forced to fake a smile and to find the energy to put on a “positive face” in order to prove to outsiders that they are walking the “one, true path” to salvation.

The pressure to conform to external standards of behaviour when feeling dead inside can lead to inner conflict (known as “cognitive dissonance”), stress and depression.  Terrorized by the threat of losing their loved ones and social community, being destroyed at Armageddon or losing their salvation, cult members often behave on “automatic pilot”.  Like brainless robots, they go through the motions of life, trying desperately to ignore the questions and doubts that sometimes pop up into their minds.  They make a massive effort to push them down again, to re-convince themselves that their life is not based on a lie, that all their hard work and sacrifice have not been a useless waste.

I’ve met some active cult members who have literally given up everything for their Group: a decent education, the prospect of having children or following their dreams, a career, retirement fund, or a relationship with their non-cult family members… the list goes on and on. They turned their backs on all this to serve their Organization full time.

               Therefore, when they are faced with someone who challenges their beliefs, the need to justify and defend their life choices is overwhelming.  That is why talking to indoctrinated robots can be like banging your head against a thick, heavy wall…

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       In addition, when we speak to people, they do not generally react to the words we say, but the emotion behind them.  If we express ourselves in anger, frustration, bitterness or with words laced with ridicule and contempt, we alienate our listeners, causing them to shut their ears, turn away, or fight back defensively.  Thus, it’s possible to push them even further from us, and make them more closed to our well-researched arguments.

      That doesn’t mean however that there is nothing we can do to help cult victims from breaking free, or that we are powerless in our quest.  There are tried and tested ways to achieve this, based on intelligent and compassionate efforts by families and friends who want to rescue their loved ones.  If you are interested in learning more about this, I would highly recommend Steven Hassan‘s books, particularly “Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs”.

               Ex-cult members who are keen to expose the Group’s corruption and destructive impact on human lives need to think strategically, using all the means of communication, resources and platforms available.  I know of one ex-Jehovah’s Witness family of seven members who all woke up because the father listened to a radio show on the way to work, which mentioned the Royal Australian Commission into child sexual abuse.  He was so shocked to discover that his beloved Organization was harbouring and protecting paedophiles, that he started to do his own research, and was eventually able to convince his whole family to leave.

               Reading something in a respected newspaper, watching a TV show or listening to a news report on the radio about their cult is one way that could get indoctrinated people thinking critically, but only if they are ready to.  In the FB Group “Faith after Deception Fellowship”, someone recently asked the question: “Why didn’t we wake up sooner?” and the most common answer was: “I wasn’t emotionally or psychologically prepared to do so beforehand”.

               So, the question is: how can we help Cult victims to open their hearts to the ugly truth about the truth of their Organization? Renowned cult expert, Steven Hassan offers a three pronged approach:

  1. Build trust with the person. If they don’t trust you or feel they can confide in you, they will never listen to you.

  1. Ask them searching questions that they can go away and investigate, rather than feeding them answers. If they refuse to respond to you, at least you have planted a small seed of doubt in their minds.

  1. Help them to get better acquainted with other cults. Many people are now becoming aware that they are in a toxic group after watching Leah Rimini’s brave exposé of Scientology. When indoctrinated people see how Mind Control is used in other Groups, they are faced with the uneasy reality that they are being manipulated in the same way.

If you think it would be appropriate, you could even ask the cult member to answer these 25 questions to find out if they are in a cult.

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They also need to know that if they leave, they can count on you.  The fear of loneliness and social isolation means that people inside cults remain there far too long, even after they’ve woken up.  Ex-members and concerned family and friends need to provide strong and lasting friendships with those who are seeking to escape, to support them on their long and difficult journey out.

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When it’s hard to pray

Sometimes, when I share my blog posts (particularly this one), I receive comments that I find heartbreaking, such as “I’ve tried praying, but I can’t feel God’s presence or sense He is answering… I don’t know what I’m doing wrong… I’ve given up”.

               I know that these are sincere, open-hearted, genuine people, but very sadly, some of them have received judgment and even condemnation when they’ve dared to express themselves honestly about this issue.  They fear they’ll be accused of not having enough faith, or of harbouring some secret, unconfessed sin or be told to fast more or “try harder”.  Sometimes, other well-meaning souls will inform them that they shouldn’t try to “feel” God’s presence at all, but to content themselves with an intellectual knowledge of His existence.

               However, none of these responses takes into consideration the context in which these individuals find themselves: each of them has suffered tremendous spiritual abuse at the hands of a toxic Cult or a religious High Control Group.  Imagine if you’re speaking to someone who has been sexually abused; wouldn’t it be understandable if they then go on to struggle with intimacy?

               In a similar way, many victims of spiritual abuse find it incredibly difficult to pray, because so many things that are related to prayer are now emotional and intellectual triggers, leading to confusion, soured memories and great pain…. Initially, we close our hearts in order to protect them, but sometimes we end up shutting them up altogether…

Many cults equate the group with God himself, as they presume to speak for him and dictate every detail of people’s lives.  This means that even things like God’s name or the question of who to pray to can be very difficult for those who have left.  People who have stayed in the group may accuse us of turning our backs on our Creator, and we want to assure them that this is NOT the case, but untangling who God really is can take time and isn’t easy.

               I do not claim to have all the answers to these difficult questions; it’s taken me a long time to pen these words, as I have no solution to offer, no magic words or silver bullet.

               However, what I can say is that after traumatic experiences and great disappointment, our spirituality often changes, maturing and becoming less dogmatic and closed minded. Our heart is stretched to breaking point, now able to stand in compassion alongside other victims of abuse.

               In fact, none of us has the right to stand up like a Pharisee and tell other people how to pray or what they’re doing wrong.  When someone shares with us that they’re having trouble praying, we don’t need to “fix” them; it’s better just to listen with grace and mercy, not “helpful tips”, advice or criticism.

If the opportunity seems right, other people may be encouraged to hear of our own spiritual journey towards Christ.  It’s probable that we’ve all experienced times of dryness in prayer, when we’ve had to press on despite not feeling God’s presence or peace.  As Jesus walked through the desert for 40 days, we also follow a similar path at certain points in our lives.

               Having the courage to say: “I find prayer hard” is an enormous step.  We need to know the encouragement of other people on the same journey in order to stay sane. Christianity is a “team sport”, in that we were not designed to sit alone, struggling in silence.

               The “Faith after Deception Fellowship” FB group is a safe space, where we can all share openly and receive comfort and support.  It is not a place to fight or argue with others about doctrinal issues, but a place for encouragement and compassion.

               If you haven’t already, we’d love you to join us, but if you don’t feel comfortable doing so,  please feel free to send me an email to faithafterdeception@gmail.comYou are not alone! 

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Brother, sister, why are you stumbling me???

The concept of “stumbling” your fellow Christian is not something many sermons or talks tend to discuss.  If it is mentioned at all, it’s usually in the context of not drinking alcohol in front of others with a dependency problem, or something similar.

In fact, very few people really have a good understanding of what it means to be respectful and empathetic towards the phobias, fears and deep seated prejudices of Jehovah’s Witnesses or former members.  Somewhere along the way, it has even become socially acceptable to ridicule these people, minimize their inner chaos and take pot shots at their beliefs and worldview.

I have recently been watching videos of testimonies from the “Witnesses Now for Jesus” Convention.  These accounts are moving and show the power of God in action.  Unfortunately however, some of the speakers appear in front of a large, wooden cross.  Now, if you’ve never been a JW, you will not understand this at all, but the truth is that members of this religion cannot look at a cross without feeling some kind of strong emotion, such as fear, confusion, prejudice or terror.  We could judge these people for these feelings, calling them heretical or anti-Christian, but the fact is that they are not to blame for their reaction; it was the Watchtower Society who planted these fears in their minds.

People don’t choose to hold onto phobias, they get trapped against their will.  If you listen to ex-JW’s accounts of going into churches or attending any building that is adorned with a cross, you will often hear of them experiencing extreme reactions.  Many people simply run away, overwhelmed by the flight or fight instinct.dreamstime_m_25789662

And it’s not just wooden crosses; it could be a Christmas tree or another decoration, an Easter egg, or even a harmless birthday cake.  We need to be gentle and understanding with these people, giving them time to adapt to life outside the Watchtower before expecting them to be ok with all these things.  Similarly, if you have an active Jehovah’s Witness friend or loved one, the respectful and most effective way you can reach out to them is by understanding what will trigger them and cause anguish.

If you insist on pushing things in their face that they feel uncomfortable with, they will  either run away or attack you and your beliefs.  The ensuing conflict will make them feel misunderstood or even persecuted, thereby reinforcing their feeling that they are “God’s special people”.

Often, people who have been influenced by the JW Organization are faced with criticism and contempt when they choose to tell their story.  The reason why so many ex-JWs consider it extremely difficult to find a welcoming, non-judgmental place of worship with other believers is that they feel pushed to believe in things that go against their own Biblical knowledge and conscience.

So, what do you do?  In my experience, many Christian ex-JWs end up hiding their true beliefs from the other members of their church, out of fear of rejection.  People say that F.E.A.R. spells out “False Evidence Appearing Real” but the reality for many of us is that when we have tried to open up about our personal beliefs regarding God and the Bible, we are faced with a barrage of criticism, suspicion and / or debate.  It seems that some Church-going believers feel they can argue us out of our “false” beliefs, just as we used to “reason” with householders on the doors.

All this arguing and debating and proving each other wrong has now become distasteful to me.  I do not consider myself a teacher, and instead trust that each believer will open themselves to the God’s power under the Holy Spirit, to be taught directly from the Source.  That’s why I avoid telling people about my own understanding of things such as God’s nature, our eternal destination or holiday celebrations etc etc.

Nevertheless, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding, I would be very happy to speak to others about my convictions and beliefs, but only in a face-to-face conversation or video conference call.   Otherwise, you can risk being attacked by malicious online “trolls”, who have no interest in hearing what you have to say.

In conclusion, the main point I want to make here is RESPECT.  If you’re going to hold an event for ex-JWs, don’t put up a massive cross on the stage and expect everyone to be ok with it, especially if you’re then going to broadcast the videos publicly on Youtube.

The Apostle Paul knew that some believers would be stumbled by seeing other Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols, so he cautioned them to be respectful and empathetic.  He didn’t ridicule or criticize the “weak” members of the body of Christ for their phobias, but showed a more excellent way,  a way of love.

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Freedom from abuse (chapter 6)

One of the most common ways in which people are psychologically traumatized whilst in a cult or religious high control group, is the extreme pressure to “forgive” people who have abused them.  I use the word “forgive” in quotes, because the concept often goes way beyond the Biblical mandate.  Anyone who has read the Bible knows that we are commanded to forgive those who hurt us, which can lead to freedom from bitterness, inner darkness and turmoil.

However, there can only be true reconciliation between two parties when the one who has hurt or offended the other person realizes what he/she has done and apologizes.  Why is it that some people seem incapable of taking this step?  In all probability, they are Narcissists; which means that they believe themselves to be the center of the universe. They have real trouble understanding how their behaviour impacts others.  In fact, their consciences don’t function in the same way as other people; simply speaking – they lack empathy.

Imagine a situation in which a woman is married to an abusive husband.  Or, a man is shackled to a woman who psychologically or even physically abuses him.  They are both members of a religious congregation.  Week after week, they hear sermons about forgiveness and self-sacrifice.  The person who has a fully functioning conscience takes these concepts on board, and tries to implement them into their life.  However, the Narcissist does nothing of the sort.  Instead; he/she sees an opportunity to emotionally manipulate his/her spouse even further.  After beating his wife black and blue once again, he comes back with flowers and a “repentant” attitude, demanding forgiveness.  These abusers can quote Scripture like Satan did to Jesus in the desert, twisting it to their own benefit.

If the person who is the victim manages to share with a friend or the leader of his/her congregation about the abuse they are suffering, they are often bombarded with the same kind of rhetoric.  Rather than being told: “You need to get out!  How can I help you do that safely?” many victims are encouraged to stay, pray and remain in extremely harmful situations.

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A concrete example of this kind of toxic advice is found in one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Watchtower magazines, from February 15, 2012:

“Consider the case of Selma. When she began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, her husband, Steve, was not pleased. He admits, “I became angry, jealous, possessive, and insecure.” Selma observes: “Even before I got the truth, living with Steve was like walking on eggshells. He was hot-tempered. When I started studying the Bible, this characteristic intensified.” What helped?

Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.” After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.”

Poor Selma had to endure 17 more years of excruciating abuse, before her husband became a fully indoctrinated cult member!!!

Once you start to get to know survivors of cults and spiritual abuse, you will notice that cases of domestic violence are extremely common.  Spousal abuse, corporal punishment, child sexual abuse; it’s everywhere.  Why is it allowed to carry on and proliferate?  Because instead of being empowered to stand up to and break free from their abusers, victims are actively encouraged to remain in a state of passivity and servitude, at great danger to themselves, their children and others, such as elderly relatives.

Many vulnerable people in these groups are shielded from proper protection, due to these kinds of attitudes.   They are not told that that they can forgive their abusers and protect themselves at the same time.  Forgiving someone does not mean putting yourself in danger.  It means letting go of hatred and bitterness and moving towards a brighter future.

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Freedom of expression… after leaving a cult

Where do you find yourself able to be fully self-expressed, fully YOU and also practice your faith and religious beliefs? What makes this possible?

Where do you find yourself feeling “held back” or “reserved” from being fully self-expressed in your faith communities, beliefs, or religious institutions? What is it that is holding you back?

I would like to thank a new member of the Faith after Deception Facebook Group for voicing these questions.  Being able to interact with others who have come out of a cult or high control group can lead us to consider and explore things in a whole different way; which is an incredibly valuable and precious experience.

I know that many of us struggle with the challenge of expressing ourselves fully after being in a group in which this was strongly prohibited.   We effectively learned to hide our true thoughts and feelings when we knew they would not be acceptable to the other cult members or leaders.  Out of fear, we practiced “self-censorship”, to protect ourselves from criticism, condemnation and punishment.

Even after leaving the cult, I carried on with this behaviour for many years.  I was convinced that no one would understand or be able to empathize with my experiences.  Deep down, I felt so ashamed for getting involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that I attempted to “turn the page” and remain silent about everything that had happened.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a great sense of isolation and estrangement.  In a previous blog post I have shared my story, about how my husband and I came to break free from the bonds of the Watchtower, but the truth is that freedom is a gradual process.  First you break away from the group in a physical way, by stopping attending meetings, writing a letter of disassociation or being “disfellowshipped”.  However, the next step can take months or even years: the process of unraveling the toxic thought patterns that have been instilled in us over time.

That’s why I love the questions at the beginning of this article, as they reach down into the heart of that process; challenging us to move forwards towards true and unashamed self-expression.  How can we grow in maturity, leaving fear behind, learning to “speak the truth in love”[1]?

I confess that I don’t have any answers to this right now.  I still struggle with the desire to “fit in” and be liked.  The people pleaser in me wishes to avoid rocking the boat, offending others or causing conflict.  I suppose this is just part of my personality; something I will always find hard.

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A large part of me longs for a community in which I will be understood, accepted for who I am, and not judged for my beliefs or past involvement with a cult.  Although I have not been able to find this in a face-to-face setting in my local environment, I have made lasting, deep friendships with other ex-cult members online.

Sadly, none of these people live near our home in Northern Chile, but this summer we were able to visit two of our “virtual” friends in the UK.  Words cannot express how special it was to finally experience true freedom of expression and mutual understanding when meeting up with these dear friends.  Now, we continue to keep in touch on the telephone and via chat; it’s amazing to know that they are just a click of a button away!!

If you are feeling isolated, I encourage you to reach out to others.  Being a Christian and leaving a cult is doubly difficult, because many people in religious institutions are ridiculously ignorant about what life is like for us.  Many of them feel that we were “gullible” or “stupid” to have been ensnared by the group we belonged to, and then want to interrogate us about our current beliefs to ensure that we are “doctrinally sound”.  I’m not saying that this is true for everyone, or that being part of a faith community is impossible, just that we face specific and very real challenges.

That’s why we need each other.  Having someone to chat to who truly understands what we’re going through is priceless and all important in our journey towards wholeness and healing.

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[1] Ephesians 4:15

 

Review of “Broken Trust” by F. Remy Diederich

Broken Trust

It is unusual for pastors to speak out with compassion on the subject of spiritual abuse.  More often than not, church leaders and members prefer to defend their own denomination fiercely, unable to hear the cries of those who have been wounded by it.  This book will be an invaluable tool to enable congregation members and those in authority to understand the reality of toxic groups and cults and reach out in love to their victims.

As well as offering comfort to people who have suffered abuse in a religious context, this book provides practical guidelines for pastors who seek to cultivate healthy congregations.  By educating church leaders in this way and equipping them to root out the causes of “toxic faith”, F. Remy Diederich is showing them “a more excellent way”, based on love and grace, rather than fear and shame.

I was very moved by the author’s own candid experience of spiritual abuse, which led him to abandon church altogether for a period of 5 years.  During this “exile”, he was confronted with God’s unconditional love, which challenged him to fall into his Father’s arms in gratefulness.

As an ex-cult member, I must admit that it was a little hard for me to bring myself to read a book written by an evangelical pastor.  When I was in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were taught to view all other religions and denominations as “The Great Whore of Babylon”.  Although this is no longer my standpoint, the temptation to look down on churches and pastors and regard them with criticism and scorn is very great.  It’s like I have an inner Pharisee in me, which pops out at the most inappropriate times, ready to deal out contempt & derision.

However, in this case my prejudices were very much unfounded.   F. Remy Diederich is a fellow survivor of spiritual abuse, who is bravely speaking out against this cancer which rears its ugly head in so many congregations and churches throughout the world.  By tackling this issue head on, he is taking a stand against the status quo, just as Jesus did when he criticized the Pharisees and their hypocrisy in the first Century.