The family unit has always been the core of mankind’s strength to survive sometimes insurmountable odds against nature, other men and the arbitrariness of life. When you stand alone, you have no one there to hold you up, defend you or take care of you.
If, on the other hand, you are part of a nurturing family, you have access to the helps of others, and in turn are obligated to be there when another in the family suddenly needs you. Families create stability.
The need for family is so ingrained in us, that in the absence of a traditional family, most of us will seek out alternate “family” to meet this need. A missing father or mother, an abusive family member, a lack of friends to share with, or our own physical or emotional inability to take care of ourselves, are all extremely powerful primal reasons to find replacements who will more or less fill this need for family.
If we are looking for social community, we might join a club like the YMCA, Boy Scouts, or volunteer for a community project.
If we are troubled with addictive substances or uncontrollable behaviors, we might choose something like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous.
If we are more inclined to the “supernatural,” or religious view of life, we are more likely to seek out spiritual “brothers and sisters” that are more helpful and kind than members of our genetic family. A “like-minded” way of thinking is often of great comfort, and churches can offer that to an even greater degree that other organizations (usually through more specific membership requirements).
Therefore, a church or social organization often becomes one’s functional family, even if, at times, supporting this new family can mean reducing time with one’s genetic family, or even replacing it completely.
In practice, churches are therefore an EXTENDED FAMILY.
ABUSE1 is Perceived Differently by Others
When something goes sour in that religious family, be it by physical or sexual abuse, lying, usury or undue coercion from the leader or leadership, it will often be labeled as a CULT. A cult (by current usage) is basically seen as an ABUSIVE extended family.
Not all in the cult will perceive the abuse as serious. Why? Because, just as in real families, the abuse may either not target ALL the members, or more commonly those in control make exceptions for some persons in the family, showing favoritism to some while shunning others. Those in the same frame of mind as the leadership are extended special favors. Think of Communism as formerly practiced in the USSR and China, and notice that top party members had favors that the average peasant could only dream of… a new car, a dacha in the mountains, or attending high society functions. 2
In every high-control group, whether it be religious, political, or even tribal, those who receive favoritism will almost always overlook the darker, shadow side of the overall social scheme. It is not to their “personal advantage” to complain or change the status quo.
The rank-and-file will often be torn by the various advantages/disadvantages of leaving the group, and will decide if they want to stay in the group. Their decision is based on whether the abuse really affects them, or just others. They weigh both sides, and pick what they think is the best personal solution. “Is this good for me, or not? What will I lose if I complain?”
On the other hand, the ones who see the abuse and the hypocrisy in their midst may complain when the mental or emotional pain becomes too great. They see the “dark shadow” all too well. The “family” is not working for them and they will no longer tolerate the abuse and deception.
Most People are not Interested in the Truth
The “truth” about a complex question is about as interesting to most people as the obituary column in a newspaper. Facts are uninteresting. Deception, magic tricks, wild stunts, and miracles are all FAR more fascinating. We want to hear stories. Newspaper tabloids and gossip columns are a perfect example. We live in a world where obfuscation and deception are a part of daily life for all of us. Such is woven deeply into the genetic makeup of all creatures on this planet.
Those who are enamored with their extended families are far more interested in survival of their own group, because it is meeting a specific need for them. “Facts” can cause problems. “Facts” are often threatening to the survival of the group:
- “Facts” may be dangerous to the junk food manufacturer if he has to print ingredients and nutrition information for all to see. It will hurt the business.
- “Facts” are twisted by world governments to protect their own interests and their sovereignty.
- A family of six that seems to be getting along fine does not want to hear the “fact” that dad was a sexual abuser in the past.
- Religions that have made special claims that don’t stand up to the “facts” resist exposure by limiting access to such information.
Unless a cult member actually comes to you specifically because he/she is interested in the “facts” about their group, you are perceived as a threat to their survival by challenging them with the “facts.” You have nothing to offer them, because they are not seeking objective truth anyway. They desire an extended family that works for them. They feel they have that! If they can’t see a better family or a better way of meeting these primal social needs, you become their enemy. You are a threat to their mental and possibly even physical survival.
What are We Trying to Do for the Person?
A close analogy to trying to get a person out of a destructive cult just because it is “destructive” might be likened to the illusion that invading Iraq and offering the people democracy in place of dictatorship will be welcomed by the peoples of Iraq. In principle this might seem true, but in actual practice the destruction of the extended family unit (the state) might prove to be more destructive in the end. We may not foresee the destruction of social stability left in our wake, not to speak of the long-term psychological trauma of being invaded by a foreign country!
No Place for Force
I have found the motivation of many in getting a family member or friend out of a cult is to “bring them to the RIGHT religion.” I have always found it unethical to attempt such a thing without allowing a time of recovery, investigation into what determines “truth” or falsehood,” and teach them how to make decisions on their own. I am equipped to teach extensively on the Bible, so if and when they are ready to discuss it, I am right there for them. But that is not my main goal. My main goal is to bring them to a place of believing in their own ability to make sound decisions, rather than putting hope in leaders.
If they have a natural hunger for spiritual things, it will blossom once their fear dissipates. I personally find that almost all of those who I have exit-counseled turned out in the end to be VERY interested in the Bible and God, whereas many who leave and who do not have any kind of professional counseling seem to be very bitter on the subject of God, or still live in fear of him. There are many “land-mines” that have to be extracted from one that has been abused by cult mind control. The fear, the anger, the guilt, and the negativity must be addressed and dissipated.
The REAL Reason they Joined
Cults are abusive to many people. But perhaps the victim may envision the new “family” as less abusive than the one trying to “get them out.”
Often what many good-intentioned family members may not realize is that the “victim” may have actually joined a cult to get away from the family’s religion! The exit-counselor will sense if this is the case. Granting a person the freedom to choose their own spiritual path earns the respect of the victim and gives them a sense of empowerment they may have never felt before.
It has been said there is no one reason people join cults. Rather, they are trapped at a vulnerable time in their life…. The death of a loved one, a new baby, etc. The desire to believe in something greater is so powerful, that the more critical examination usually given to such groups is quickly dismissed after a short investigation.
People who have no primal needs to join such types of churches are usually not hooked into the group. They may study with the Jehovah’s Witnesses or whoever, find it curious and interesting companionship, but will then move on if their pursuit is mostly intellectual. Most people do find such groups boring and duplicitous in the end… just another religious scheme. But you can be sure that the ones who remain after conversion are there for powerful reasons, primal reasons. They don’t want your “facts.”
NEXT: When to Leave Them in the Cult!
1 Wikipedia categories forms of abuse:
Classed by type of abuse include;
- Psychological abuse: coercion, humiliation, intimidation, relational aggression, parental alienation or covert incest: Where one person uses emotional or psychological coercion to compel another to do something they do not want, or is not in their best interests; or when one person manipulates another’s emotional or psychological state for their own ends (see battered person syndrome), or commits psychological aggression using ostensibly non-violent methods to inflict mental or emotional violence or pain on another.
- Physical abuse: Where one person unlawfully inflicts physical violence or pain on another.
- Sexual abuse: The improper use of another person for sexual purposes, generally without their consent or under physical or psychological pressure (also, child sexual abuse, whether abused by parents, those in loco parentis or strangers). Sometimes colloquially “abuser” is used to mean “self-abuser”, i.e. “someone who masturbates”.
- Spiritual abuse: abusive or aberrational practices identified in the behavior and teachings of some churches, spiritual and religious organizations and groups. These type of groups or organizations could be more accurately defined as a cult.
- Verbal abuse: When a person uses profanity, demeaning talk, or threatening statements.
2 Communism didn’t work as a social experiment, because it failed to take our own primal nature into account. Many religions are like Communism as well, though, in that they espouse EQUALITY among all in word, but in actuality they cannot deliver. Why? Because we as people are naturally selfish and we will do whatever we think we can get away with. Humanity is still largely a predatory creature, and naturally, like all animals, has to use deceit and subterfuge as part of his/her routine to survive in our world.
Outwardly religious people often think they have overcome this natural selfishness. So in order to hide the fact that, down deep inside, we are still selfish animals trying to survive in a world of scary things, a “front”, or façade, is erected to pretend to the world that we are no longer animals… we have overcome. This is good for the ego; it enhances the chances of our survival to make ourselves appear more “moral” than others. Yet our shadow (the more banal, ugly side) follows closely behind. The more self-righteous we try to appear, the bigger the shadow is cast.
This is, of course, an age-old survival technique. The book, “Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature,” says this on the back cover:
“…the shadow is not only an individual problem. Groups and nations have a collective shadow, which can lead to dangerous actions, such as racism… scapegoating… enemy-making… and war.”
To the extent that a faith can embrace the awareness of man’s nature, and provide a workable solution, it will be sought after.