“Wait…that’s really fucked up…”
I found myself saying this over and over again…like a broken record.
Deconstruction is a curious thing. It can feel like we are losing everything by just asking one more question. As I would ask just one more question, I found myself wondering how I could possibly have believed "that".
How did I get to that belief?
What made me think that was a good idea or a good practice?
Why did I let myself be treated like that?
If I let go of this belief, who will I be?
My mind, my soul, felt like a ball of knotted-up yarn. I couldn't tell where the end or the start was and it was stuck at every pull.
It was like trying to find my way through a maze while blindfolded and hands tied behind my back....and, of course, AFTER being spun around 20 times. I felt really fucked up.
The things I believed in Christianity formed how I saw everything. So when you are peeling back the layers and evaluating if you align with a tenant of the faith system...well...you wonder how you got there and how you get out of there. How do I unfuck my mind?
I've been watching various documentaries and reading articles about cults. When we hear or see one of these stories hit the news airwaves, we can easily find ourselves muttering under our breath " well duh...how did you not see that coming" or "why would anyone sign up for that?" But it's just not that easy. It's not that linear. No one opens their door in the morning and says "hey, I'm going to look for a really interesting cult to join today." So if that's a ridiculous thing to think we would do, then we need to stop thinking it's a ridiculous thing that people find themselves in the abusive throws of cults.
So let's just stop assuming right now.
"Cult" is an interesting word that we each have a certain relationship with. For some of us, it's an edgy marketing word we use to describe a cohort or community. For others, it's a word reserved for people who drink Kool-Aid from their guru. And for others, it's a curious wondering...I wonder if "that/my" church is a cult.
It's a word that has been defined by the cults themselves to make sure those inside their cult don't recognize its behavior as dangerous. It's also been defined by media, research groups, health professionals, and religious leaders across the world. Each of these mediums has its own agenda for the use and description of the word.
Language matters. If we use this powerful word in the wrong context then we take its value from it. For those who have been part of a cult, the path to admitting it and getting help for those being abused by it, the word's use is a hinge point. To get investigators to take you seriously, this word has to be vetted and proved. This word can be a linchpin to their freedom or justice.
I've been evaluating my own religious experience against this word a lot lately. I could cite many resources for definitions of the word, but there are so many different beliefs about it. It's not that they don't hold value, but rather which one do we pick to say "this is the list" we adhere to. To define what a cult is is to describe its damage. And depending on the definer's vantage point, the damage list will look different. For example, you won't find a religion that believes that Self-Denial is a spiritual practice listing "suppression of intuition" as damage.
And...we don't have an actualized cult UNTIL damage has existed.
Even Wikipedia came to the same conclusion as I did:
In modern English, cult is usually a pejorative term for a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs and rituals, or its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and weakly defined—having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia—and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.
Here are just a few characteristics that seem to show up on multiple lists:
manipulative and authoritarian mind control over members
communal and totalistic organization
preoccupation with recruiting new members
cutting ties with previous relationships or family members
leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt to control or influence members
group has polarized idealogy such as "us vs them"
questioning and doubt or even dissent are discouraged or punished
opposition to independent thinking
members are zealous, protective and unquestionably committed to the leader
The leader and members maintain theirs is the only path to truth and salvation.
In that, I will say that my exploration recently has landed me on a realization of Evangelical Christianity that I think lends to the validity of an environment primed for cults to be birthed within it....at the least.
Let me start with just a few key beliefs I was taught within the faith system:
Have plenty of sex with your husband so that he doesn’t turn to your children to meet his sexual needs.
You can share your thoughts with your own husband, but he makes the final decisions because women are too emotional.
Don’t talk with other women about your marriage. Close friendships with women will damage your marriage.
There is one path to heaven and it is through the blood of Christ, forgiveness and redemption.
Protect your mind from the ways of the world.
The Bible is the literal words of god and to question it is heresy.
Go into all the world and make disciples.
Some are pre-chosen by god and our job is to go out and find them and bring them into the flock.
Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing. Real love can only come from God and to love we must have God in us.
Only men can speak and teach in church.
Woman (Eve) caused man (Adam) to sin so she cannot be trusted.
The husband is the head of the household.
Sex before marriage is like offering your husband a piece of chewed-up gum and no one wants chewed-up gum.
Self Denial is holiness. Die to self, live as Christ.
Your body is a temple of God. And your body is inherently evil.
Have faith for what you do not understand. If there isn't an answer to my question we are asked to just have more faith (or you don't have enough faith)
The only way to God is through his son whom he had killed to save me.
God is good and works all things for good, according to his purpose.
God's healing supersedes any medical healing.
and on and on...
The list goes on. And you might think some of these are just dumb or ridiculous or not your Christianity. Christianity will no doubt have a variety of factions and practices. But let's just go with my experience for a moment.
How was I ok with the list above? When beliefs come to you one spoonful at a time, you eat from it. You eat it because you have one core belief that you are guided by:
I am broken and I need to grow into something else.
You are drawn in by the small belief that you need to be something more than you currently are…more good, more loved, less broken.
You are also given an ultimate fear…hell. (With a side of “you’ll keep doing bad things if you don’t say the prayer.”)
So FEAR and SHAME.
The entrance gate, the ticket in, to evangelical Christianity is not actually LOVE or a God that loves unconditionally. It’s fear and shame and THAT'S WHY you need a God that loves unconditionally.
To get "In" to Christianity you have to admit or accept that you are a sinner and fall short of God. You then have to "say a prayer" confessing your sins and asking for forgiveness. You have to deny that old self and choose to be a new self. And because you are a sinner by nature, you must submit yourself to the teachings of god and the accountability of the church leaders.
Your first few days of being "in" are making sure you understand how small you are and deficient (or depraved) you are. You need to be saved by something outside of yourself because the self is your enemy now.
And what's the cost if we don't agree and go through this process? Hell. Without accepting Jesus as your savior for your human condition of sin, then you will be condemned to eternity in a lake of fire.
Fear and shame. So after this experience of deep, soulful, psychological fear and shame, we are offered love and community.
The desire to evolve into something higher than we currently are is human.
The invitation to achieve that by a community boasting love is powerful.
The tool of shame and fear is a con at best and abusive at least.
Do I want to define Christianity as a cult? Not necessarily. That's not my agenda here. I think it would be up for as much debate as the definition of "cult" is. So I think it's a futile agenda, for now.
I do think we have to look at any belief system we choose to be a part of and clearly understand what the cost of getting in and getting out is. These will tell us a great deal about the motivators of the belief system. Often times they are disguised by some really really good things like love, compassion, and rebirth. It can be hard to see what lies beneath the good that's being offered to us.
It's so important that we keep an understanding that the one who has opted into the idealogy and beliefs of Christianity did so because of three things:
A need to make sense of their world and how they exist in it. The Holy Grail quest, the meaning of life search.
Identity crisis or awareness of their current human condition, which is individually defined. They are aware of something lacking, missing, or falling short of a feeling they would rather be having (such as happiness, peace, joy, etc)
A real and deep need for community and belonging.
In a journey to satisfy these 3 human needs, we open up and become vulnerable to new thoughts, ideas, and people. Essentially we have said (or been convinced) that what I have been doing up to this point isn't working so I need to change something (or everything).
I think this is a beautiful human space to come to. It's where we open up curiosity and adventure to learning.
It's also prime soil for controlling methodologies and self-denial. We are willing to say we don't have the answers, we need the answers and something in me is not finding them.
We have, in this moment, a presupposition that I can not trust myself. Many belief systems will take this moment to deepen or foster that feeling by dousing the awareness with shame and fear...and then offer themselves/itself as the savior to your problem. A healthy guide would, instead, encourage a deeper dive into self-awareness and finding your inner voice, your truth. The healthy guide would see you as your own savior to your own human condition.
So if we dove down the rabbit hole of being saved by a belief system or leader, we have essentially trained ourselves one micro decision at a time to move further away from self-trust. We then orient our life around trusting something completely outside of ourselves...because the self is not to be trusted.
And what happens when we want out of Christianity? Fear and shame. Fear of hell, once again! Fear of losing our community and being alone. Fear of not being loved by God. Fear of being a heretic. We are also shamed as the faithless one, or we've committed the unforgivable sin of blasphemy. We are also warned that we will then live in the throws of the world filled with lust, debauchery, and hate. And we will likely go back to our sinful ways. I've even been called the Spawn of Satan.
The ticket in is Shame and Fear. The ticket out is Shame and Fear.
So how do we unfuck our heads from deeply embedded beliefs of shame and fear?
One truth at a time. Your truth. The truth you’ve known deep inside all along. The truth you denied to be saved by someone else. You are a powerful guide to your own unlearning.
I didn’t unlearn and unfuck my mind alone. I found support and voices that gave me permission to ask questions and stay curious. I found people that didn't use shame and fear to have a relationship with me. I found love outside the box.
Are you ready, Curious Unlearner? Ready to evolve on your terms? Ready to unfuck your mind and liberate your life?
Let’s unleash you one truth at a time.