I got an email today from a woman who went mad – twice. She is the wife of the man who ministered to us when our children died in England, so far from our California home. We were all part of the same large cult, the cult I grew up in. Her parents joined when she was ten. Mine joined when I was six. Life in a cult is enough to make anyone go mad.
We were discussing Christmas. She has strong memories of Christmas as a child – I have only foggy ones. Some years, I buy a tree and decorate it with my daughter, but that’s social pressure, not faith of any kind. I send Christmas cards and gifts. I can see that’s what good American people do. But particularly when it comes to holidays, I feel like an immigrant, a foreigner, a freak.
Christmas has as much meaning for me as Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) probably does for you.
That is, nothing at all.
Because I was raised “outside the mainstream” (a long, long way outside the mainstream) I have always had a sense of being “other”. The cult’s regulations on food and clothing created ample opportunities for ruthless bullying in school. We church kids would tell one another what our parents told us when we came home battered emotionally or physically – that we were being “persecuted for righteousness’ sake”. That was supposed to mean there was some holy benefit in it.
When I meet people from other countries who have chosen to live in America; when I see TV shows about extreme Mormons or Muslims or other atypical groups; and when I hear about children bullying each other, I feel empathy. I left the cult emotionally the day the children died (for who could believe in a god who let my children die after all that persecuting for righteousness’ sake I’d endured?) and physically the day six squad cars came to remove my then-husband (who had a prestigious job in the cult) from our home for his violent threats against me. I left without a single friend on the “outside”.
Being outside the norm – because of appearance, behavior or beliefs – is a scary thing. Humans have been socialized to live in groups for the sake of safety, and being ostracized has been a death sentence.
The most remarkable thing I’ve learned in my many years outside the cult now is that all of you “worldly people” are not as evil, satanically influenced, devious, deviant and deceptive as I was raised to believe. You’re not all going to be obliterated when Jesus returns and saves only me, my family and my fellow church members. We won’t be standing on our lofty peak watching all of you being tortured by militant angels, writhing in pain until you accept our beliefs as the One Truth.
When I meet people who are living under a set of beliefs that make them social outcasts, my heart goes out to them. Being kind to a strange stranger doesn’t hurt me and may help heal them. Whether they are living with a sense of self-righteous isolation or they are just socially maladjusted, the very real need to love and be loved, to be part of a community, to feel like they matter to the world is the same for all humans.
–> If you or someone you love is in a cult, read anything you can find by Dr. Janja Lalich
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