If by ‘normal’ you mean well-adjusted people who came from nurturing, caring environments with loving, accepting parents and family then those people do not become members of cults. It’s those with damaged hearts and souls who appear normal on the outside, usually because of a lifelong ability to ‘keep calm and carry on’ and ‘keep up appearances’, who become cult members.
It is more than your sanity is worth to actually speak up about the pain you experienced from your own family. So you learn from an early age to be like everyone else. Most people are not perceptive enough to notice that you are ‘different’ to them, so most of the time it works. However, other people still end up getting the sense that something is not quite right, so you are kept on the outer rim of friendship groups or other groups of people. That rejection, which has occurred in your life since childhood just keeps on reinforcing the pain you have felt that you are somehow damaged and ‘not normal’ and in your own mind and broken heart, there is a strong need to be approved of. By somebody, anybody. Hence the perfect cult victim is created.
I want to stress here that the need to be accepted and loved is absolutely normal. Every human being is born with this need. You are not abnormal because this need is not met. You are the result of the actions of those who should have loved but did not. Recognising this begets the ability to find the source of all love and acceptance and that is Jesus Christ. We come to Him and He is able to wipe away every tear, to take the burdens we have carried our whole lives and to minister to our broken hearts. It is, I stress, the God of the Universe, who both fashioned our souls and saved them from destruction, who is the source of all healing and help. NOT men. Obviously the problem occurs when we conflate men with God and think that pastors or elders should be given the same authority as God in their lives. God never expects this, it is not biblical, nowhere in scripture does God give men that authority. Scripture says there is one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ. No other. This idea that men and God are one actually comes from the child within. Our understanding of the fact that a loving human father is not God should come about naturally so that the attachment to our fathers is not damaged. When we have abusive fathers the realisation that our fathers are not God doesn’t occur the way it should. Not only are we not loved, but we are abused by the very person who should be caring for us. So we blame God instead of the man. This leads either to being addicted to religion and religious leaders or it leads to atheism. The reason cults are so intriguing is because they appeal to people’s needs to be accepted, loved, and controlled.
Nobody asks to be born. A parent makes that choice – to become a parent. It is therefore their responsibility, as an adult, to take care of the baby they brought into the world. It is such a common-sensical thing to say, yet so many people in the world do not have that sense. They actually think that they can treat their children however they wish and there will be no consequences to that. These parents either have no consciences or they simply choose to go against them. I personally do not buy the lie that most psychologists peddle that ‘hurt people hurt people’. This is a never ending cycle without a beginning and without an end, without a purpose and without a solution. Life itself teaches us that nothing comes from nothing. Therefore, abuse must start somewhere, and it can also end in the same place, in the mind and heart of an individual. An individual who chooses to abuse their privileged position as a parent will always reap what they sow. They reap destruction and pain and chaos. This is why we have cults and it is also why apparently normal and sane people join them.
I am not a therapist nor a qualified psychologist, but I have studied the subject during university courses and done enough independent study myself to understand a thing or two. I also have my own personal experiences and those of the people I knew from years prior to joining the cult who changed before my eyes. I have tried to talk these people out of being part of the cult and they have totally refused to listen or to admit that what is happening to them is harmful. They won’t listen when I tell them what happened to us, they simply tell me that ‘it has nothing to do with us, go and talk to the elders’. They ignore the decades worth of friendship that we had had previous to the cult membership and refuse to listen to a heartfelt plea from a genuine friend. Instead, they prefer to cover their ears, avert their eyes and ‘keep calm and carry on’.
Ironically, the reason why this wartime mantra and form of brainwashing was inculcated into the British public was because they were in a constant state of panic and trauma. Bombs were falling, the universe was being destroyed, but they were supposed to pretend everything was normal and carry on. If they had not been zombified by the wartime government, they would have rebelled. No sane person wants to participate in war unless there is an alternative. The British Government ensured that their citizens were reassured that their leaders were in control. This is exactly what cult members are told. ‘Nothing to see here’, when somebody escapes or tries to tell them what heinous crimes the leaders of the cult have just performed. They go to their ‘fathers in the faith’ and are reassured that everything is just as it should be. So they ignore what their own senses and minds tell them. They ‘unknow’ the truth. Scripture tells us that those who have no love for the truth will be sent a strong delusion. Yes, these verses relate to the Anti-Christ, but every cult leader is a type of anti-christ and has the spirit of rebellion and apostasy over it. Everyone who ‘greets false teachers’ will be sharing in their wickedness. It is important for everyone who exits a cult to repent and renounce the involvement with the false teaching that John talks about in 2 John 1:10.
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2 (NKJV)
I also know that many of my friends came from ‘negative childhoods’. Their families were abusive, their childhoods were disrupted. So they had been looking for belonging, love, and parenting their whole lives. What many church leaders do, and this is across the board regardless of denomination, is take the place of absentee fathers or abusive mothers. They take the reins of a person’s life, tell them what to do, reassure them, in short they control them rather than teach them to be independent and to go to God for their support and needs. The body of Christ is nothing without Jesus. He is our reason for existence, and the Holy Spirit is our power and strength. Human beings cannot give us what we are looking for, but because as new Christians we are told that we should join a church and get the help we need from older more mature Christians, many of us end up in unhealthy churches run by control freaks and psychopaths who revel in the fact that their congregations are simply putty in their hands.
People want to be told what to do because they genuinely believe that other human beings can take the place of God in their lives. They conflate human parenting and the fatherhood of God himself and assume that if they just do what the pastor or elders tell them to do, God will be pleased with them. But God is not interested in having His people become co-dependent upon human beings. He told Israel, when they asked for a human king to lead them, that a human king would rip them off, send their children to war and destroy their lives. They would not listen, so God provided them with Saul. And it happened exactly as God said that it would. The Israelites were ripped off by their human king. (1 Samuel 8)
It is still happening today. People want, for their own personal reasons, to be lead by a man. So men lead them. Those men, who were often never even supposed to be in that place at all, end up becoming corrupt and wicked and end up wallowing in all kinds of carnality, greed, sexual impurity, crimes of all sorts. Then the people become damaged and offended by this behaviour, as well they should. But what they don’t do is look at why they followed these men in the first place. Everyone who exits a cult needs to understand how it was that they gave their loyalty to men so easily. Then they need to understand how it was that they were unable to see the abuse for what it was. It was because they were deceived and led astray by their own sinful flesh.
So does this mean its our own fault if we end up in a cult? Yes and no.
A man’s sin is his own, and elders and pastors who abuse the flock will be held accountable by God for their sins. They will be judged harshly for leading the vulnerable astray and many of them will end up eternally punished. It is not a light or easily dismissed thing to abuse God’s people. He will avenge them and Himself.
However, we also need to recognise our own blindness. We need to see how it is that we were so easily led astray and how it was that we were unable to recognise abuse when it was right in front of our eyes. Many of the people who have left BCF, the cult we were part of (Brisbane Christian Fellowship), have admitted that they knew that the Holy Spirit was trying to get their attention a long time before they actually had the courage to leave. Most people, I believe, know when something is not right. They just don’t want to do anything about it in the hopes that it will all go away. But it doesn’t. It just gets worse.
I have been asked a few times how it was that I ended up in a religious cult for 15 years. People don’t understand how you can be so sane and yet have made such stupid decisions. The problem is, I am sane now, I wasn’t then, and they didn’t know me back then. So what they are seeing is me as the post-brainwashed person. A pre-brainwashed person is completely different. I used to have terrible panic attacks several times a day. I would wake up at 3.30 a.m. with my heart pounding and my stomach churning for no apparent reason. I was just scared of getting another attack. It took 20 years to finally realise what was happening to me, and it was because the upbringing I experienced was so traumatic. One of the books I read years later was by Sallee McLaren, a melbourne psychologist. She states that:
One thing that I think needs to be noted is that it is not a coincidence that almost every person I see in my anxiety clinic has come from a ‘difficult’ background. A difficult background simply means that objectively a person has, on average, experienced more distressing events in her or his childhood than other people have experienced. These events could be all sorts of things, like parental separation or divorce, death of someone close, serious illness, school bullying, excessive parental criticism, physical or sexual assault, excessive moving from place to place, or over-protection from parents (which teaches children that the world is a frightening place that they need protection from, and, which also teaches children that they cannot trust themselves and depend upon their own resources and, therefore have to be rescued or over-protected). Dr. Sallee McLaren’s Blog
I was not able to function as a ‘normal’ adult anymore because the old ‘keep calm and carry on’ mantra no longer worked. I did the opposite. I began to feel what my body had been telling me to feel for 20 years. I panicked and froze and was not able to carry on in any way shape or form. So I began looking for answers. My first response was to go to church leaders and counselors. Some of these people were genuinely ignorant of what panic disorder is and back in the early 80s there really were very few people who had even heard of it. Nobody was able to tell me why I was living with totally frayed nerves and yet managing to ‘keep calm and carry on’. It took a huge toll.
It really is no surprise that five years later I was involved in a religious cult.
I know that this will not be a popular suggestion. Cult victims should be given sympathy and compassion. I did not say I didn’t feel sympathy and compassion for cult victims. I have been feeling sympathy and compassion for my friends in the cult for over 30 years. It has not helped them though. I have also seen people who have left the cult try every type of means to recover from their experiences, and the only way I have seen which has any genuine effect is to take a hard look at your own personal experience and work out how it was that you stayed in a cult when you were under so much pressure and feeling so much pain and rejection and loneliness. The big question is not how you got there, the big question is why did you stay?
So next time you hear a cult victim talk about their experiences, don’t wonder at how such an obviously intelligent person can get themselves involved in a religious cult and be so deceived. Realise that we are not just walking intellects. We have hearts and souls which need to be fed and nurtured. And when those needs are not met, we suffer greatly. We will do anything to stop the pain, anything. We will go to anyone who offers us love and acceptance. The leaders of cults are almost invariably psychopaths and conscienceless individuals who take up their mantles for the very reason that so many vulnerable and hurting people will accept their lies and egotistical behaviour and think they are some kind of messiah. They want and need a messiah, but the person they really need is Jesus. These men and women will not lead them to Jesus, they will just suck the life and money out of them until they can give no more and then they will broom them to the kerb.