Deep down inside there is as strong primal instinct in me that says, “Survive at all costs.” When it comes down to the line, I will do whatever it takes to protect myself. I learned that at an early age.
As a teenager I grew up with a wide variety and culture of kids, and learned that I liked to hang with those who felt the same way. We could be kind of like one mind on a matter; and since we had this close comradery, we eventually developed something called loyalty. Loyalty is when you don’t rat on your brother or trip him up behind your back. Loyalty is when you’de even give your life to protect one of your own kind.
My first few years at Bethel in the late 70s were such a great learning experience; mostly learning what makes people “tick,” if you know what I mean. I learned a lot about religious organizations, pecking orders, hierarchies, loyalties, and cronyism.
Bethel turned out to be not a spiritual place at all; much less so than being at a Kingdom Hall or dressing up and going out in service. You had an overseer, you had to obey him, and get along with him whether you liked it or not. Restrictions of all kinds had to be endured, much as being in the military. You were put down and told to take your place or get demoted. But it had it’s positive points.
Being more of what one might call an “alpha male,” I usually made it to the top of my profession, whatever that might be. Being at the top also gives you a certain amount of freedom that others don’t have; you have no one telling you what to do all the time. I liked that, being a wild kid from Oklahoma.
But in time I learned that not all people seem to do well with freedom. Why?
- Some did not seem to have the full range of smarts (hereditary or other reasons) to make sound decisions about their own life and health.
- Others were too lazy and would rather have everything laid out for them. The converse of that was the person who found it very hard to make almost ANY decision, because they felt overwhelmed with options and too concerned with bad possible outcomes of wrong decisions. Many did not trust their own abilities to make decisions, but always had to defer to others that were viewed as “more intelligent.”
- Most just wanted to sleep good at night and enjoy the collective ignorance of the others, and let life fly by without worrying about reasons and hard decisions. I was brought up in the Hippie generation, so I identified with that in spirit, but not really personally. I was more of a control freak. Like the Christian author Norman Geisler, I had to have all the options worked out and I had to make sure I chose the best one. THAT was freedom to me.
Then I left.
I had learned enough about collective ignorance to write books. And I did.
Bethel/Watchtower had become a room with a low ceiling; only so much could be learned, and you had to stay in a straight line and not look to the side. Boy did I learn that lesson well when Ray Franz was being called out for teaching “apostasy.” Some people would sell their souls AND their freedom to remain in their tiny comfort zones and their cushy corporate jobs making $14 a month. Not me; I left Bethel, disgusted with the cowardly leadership, on the very day they appointed me assistant pressroom overseer over all four floors of the rotary printing presses. They could keep it.
I left on vacation that day, and when I stepped foot on the plane, I know I did not want to go back… and I didn’t. A few months later, back out in California, I resigned as an elder and disassociated myself (which took the elders quite by surprise).
It wasn’t until I started doing interventions with Steven Hassan years later that I began to understand the problem. We all need comfort zones that we can survive in. But we never tell people that.
Application to the Cult Member
If you are out looking to convert cult members to Christ (or "straighten them out" in whatever way), you will find that most are happy with their bondage. The group provides a sense of security, belonging, smallness yet with a fantastic collective ego at their fingertips. It has effectively isolated them from their family, which they can’t deal with at all, and has given them a new personality; a new pattern of thinking that works for them. They are reborn into a new world; a fantastic world of fantasy. Convert them? Would it be so easy to convert you to Islam or Buddhism?
You are likely to be wasting your time. Unless they see something better that you have, something that they desire. Doesn’t often happen. Maybe in time, when their fantasy honeymoon wears off. Be patient and wait for that time; it will likely come.
Others are clearly suffering under the burden of oppressive control of a power-hungry leadership. THEY are the ones you want to set free. (You can pray for the others to wake up in the meantime). Seek out the time in their lives when they are ready for some freedom, and don’t let it slip through your fingers. Be perceptive to vulnerable moments. Then reach out your hand.