Cultish Behavior

Religion is one of those things that you aren’t supposed to mention in small talk. You don’t ask someone about their religious affiliation after you’ve introduced yourself because it is a hot topic. In the last few years the gap between myself and religious affiliation has widened significantly. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at an international conference the focused on cultic organizations. Very interesting stuff. As one of the few people of color in attendance, I shared a bit of my personal experience with a branch of a religion that had a leader who dictated what to wear, what to eat, and where to go and expected to be obeyed. While the peacefulness of country living was present, it was overshadowed by oppressive rules that kept the leader in charge. During the duration of the conference I had the chance to attend seminars and meet other attendees who had once been in cults but left at some point. Many were born into various organizations that their parents had joined years ago. After the conference I wanted to read more about the experiences of individuals who had become caught up in cults and religiously abusive organizations. After meeting a few of the contributor’s at the conference, I read a book called Whispering in the Daylight and the author wrote about the cult led by Tony Alamo. It was fascinating and bone numbingly sad at the same time. One thing that was particularly sad was the fact that parents surrendered their children to be beat mercilessly and starved. They also allowed their girls as young as age 9 to be the “brides” of the leader. All in the name of religion and doing what they felt to be right. The question that always seems to be asked is how do people end up in these type of situations? The truth is that people tend to want a sense of purpose. Having a charismatic leader who seems to have found the meaning of life or claims to have some exclusive relationship to a deity can appear to be a good thing.  It’s fairly easy to forsake all when one believes that not doing so would lead to eternal condemnation. By the same token, believing that your actions can earn you eternal bliss is an attractive idea. I think that it’s even different for children who grow up in that type of environment and have never known anything different. Reading the book about some of their experiences and how hard it has been and continues to be to adjust to “regular” life was eye opening. One thing that I believe is important to remember is that wanting to believe in something or someone isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. But it can become problematic when one consciously decides to yield their free will without reservation to another individual. It’s a strange dynamic that I find intriguing.