Growing Up in a Cult: An Interview

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What is a Cult?

When people think of cults the Jim Jones incident of the 70s comes to mind. He laced Kool-Aid with cyanide and convinced his followers to commit a mass-suicide. But cults are a lot more common than that.

Cults usually have several defining characteristics. These are:

  • Members display zealous and unquestioning loyalty to a central leader, whether alive or dead, and follow his beliefs and ideas religiously.
  • Questioning, doubt, and other forms of dissent are discouraged and sometimes punished.
  • Meditation, speaking in tongues, and other mind-altering practices are used to expel doubts about the group and its leaders.
  • The leaders determine how members should think, act, and feel. This could be controlling which jobs or schools members should go to, who people should marry, and other personal life practices.
  • The group is elitist.
  • The group has an “us versus them” mentality and message.
  • The leader isn’t accountable to authorities in society today.
  • The group has a mentality of “the ends justify the means” that often results in lying to family members or collecting money for bogus charities and other ethically questionable behavior.
  • Peer pressure and other methods are used to control members with feelings of shame or guilt.
  • Members are often encouraged to cut ties with family or friends to make them dependent on the group for all of their social needs.
  • Recruitment of new members is a top priority.
  • Making money is also a top priority.
  • Members are expected to focus the majority of their time on the activities the group holds, regardless of previous obligations.
  • The most zealous members are completely dependent on the group and can’t imagine a life without it.

This list is paraphrased from this website.

Interview with Ripley

One of my friends, Ripley, allowed me to interview her about a religious cult she grew up in.

What was it like growing up in a cult? Specifically, before you noticed something was amiss?

It was nothing odd because it was all I knew. All my friends and their families did it so it was normal for me. I went to a small school within the church. All of my friends were a part of it. When I was young, I had church once every week. Then, in middle school, I had events several times per week. It was normal for me because of what I’d seen with others. It was really apparent something was off once I started opening my eyes, though.

When did you start to notice something was wrong? Was there a certain moment you realized? 

Probably in the fourth grade. We were in Bible class at school and I started asking questions. The teacher shamed me, basically giving the impression to me and the other kids that asking questions wasn’t okay.

Another time, in middle school, my mother was struggling to pay tuition to keep me in the church’s private school. I almost had to go to public school, which I had been excited about. All of a sudden the money appeared. It turns out everyone had offered to help pay so I could stay. That struck me as odd.

Then, in high school, I had to go to public school. I was able to evangelize to my classmates at that point. They moved me from a middle school bible study group to a high school group early. It was almost like training me. In high school, we had even more meetings for the church. We had meetings three or four times per week.

What kinds of things did you notice were wrong with their teachings or attitudes?

It wasn’t very loving. It was very instructional. Religion shouldn’t be taught as if it has a handbook. It was like, “Here’s how to share your faith. Here’s how to share how God changed your life.”

They sent us to a retreat in the 8th grade to groom us on these things. They made us [Read More]

 

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