Sunday, April 13, 2014

"Mom, is the Mormon church a cult?"

Yesterday, on the drive to my daughter's figure skating lessons, she asked me the question, "Mom, is the Mormon church a cult?"  I replied that I think so, maybe, but I wasn't sure.  I told her I've never looked up the criteria of what a cult is, or what it means to be in a cult?

So, with my curious mind, one source had some interesting criteria found online.  Now, when I was a total believing Mormon (TBM), I would have never been able to see the church this way, but on the other side of leaving the church and becoming a post Mormon, the effects become significant as breaking free is tumultuous at best.

 The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
 Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
 Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
 The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
 The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
 The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
 The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
 The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
 The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
 Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
 The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
 The group is preoccupied with making money.
 Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
 Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
 The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

So, after reading this, in my experience, the church has met every criteria to varying degrees.  That had me questioning again?  How does one recover from a cult and lead a happy life?  Well, since both healthy and unhealthy teachings come from just about every cult, the key is to take the healthy, and recognize the unhealthy and try to use the wonderful brain you have to override the lies.  And, there is also info on recovery from cult involvement.  Here's what I found below.  

Once again, reading the recovery required me to focus on my experience which differs from every other persons experience, but also has many similarities.  Thankfully, my experience did not involve some of the more obvious abuse, and the only abuse I experienced, I feel, was that no abuse happened to me with intent.  Meaning, any indoctrination taught to me was with the understanding of love, and was simply mothers and fathers teaching with love from they'd learned from previous generations.  This understanding leads to compassion and love and tolerance of nearly all of my childhood teachings.

Stages in Recovery from Cult Involvement

There are three main stages in the recovery process:
  1. Realization and Exit
  2. Comprehension and Emotions
  3. Reconstruction and Dreaming
Stage One
This first stage varies in length.  The length is dependent on the method of exiting.  This stage is marked by the time and experience that alerted the cultist to the danger of the group and resulted in the cultist exiting the group permanently.  The key to an effective exit is whatever helps to "jump start" the critical thinking process of the mind.  This process has been on hold for much too long because the cult has told the followers that to question and doubt the group is to betray god (or whatever).  The price for questioning and doubting, they are told, is eternal death.  This is a very powerful fear to overcome.
Awareness of the insidious nature of the cult and the decision to leave comes slowly for some and quickly for others.  For example, someone receiving exit-counselling becomes aware and leaves the cult very quickly as compared to someone who walks out after reflecting over several months or years on "devil-inspired" doubts.
Even after leaving, some ex-cultists are not sure if they made the right decision and "float" between their old cult identity and their new freed identity or pre-cult self.  The more information and support a cultist receives during this stage, the better equipped they are to handle the pain and loss of stage two.
Stage Two
The second phase is full of ups and downs, of feeling like you just returned from Mars, of exciting new freedoms and discoveries, and it is also full of rage and pain.  It involves coming to terms with being raped, emotionally and spiritually.  And for many, it involves coming to terms with being physically raped as well.
I don't know how to convey the extremes of pain possible in this phase.  Perhaps, it is how you would feel standing by helplessly as some crazy person slowly murdered someone you loved.  It seems so incredible to many that because they wanted to serve god and their country, wanted to help people, and wanted to make the world a better place - for this extension of their selves they were cruelly used.  This is a very difficult aspect of the experience to reconcile.  "What ever did I do to be treated like this?" is a question that rings deep in the heart of any ex-cultist.  The answer to this question resides in understanding how mind control techniques work.
It is no wonder, then, that the rage and anger the ex-cultist feels is often overwhelming and frightening.  So much so, that many tend to repress or deny the full expression of their emotions.  But, understanding and feeling ones' emotions in a non-destructive way, I believe, is critical to recovery.  This second phase can be extraordinary journey through pain and loss to learning and mastery.  It varies in length and is dependent on how able the ex-cultist is to experience loss and how disciplined the ex-cultist is to study, think, and work toward a thorough understanding of the experience.
A Big Job
One of the truly tough parts about working through the experience is the very fact that it's a very big job.  The ex-cultist must learn how to trust life again and learning to trust requires learning how to reality test.  Because the cult phobias and teachings often touched on many aspects of life, such as family, government, education, religion, relationships, and economics, the ex-cultist often finds it necessary to examine and reality test most, if not all, of the teachings received in the cult for subtle, residual ideas that continue to manipulate the ex-cultist.
In addition, it is in this phase that the individual must learn how to trust themselves again and their ability to make decisions.  Learning to trust after you have been used and hurt can be very scary, but trust in oneself and in others can be rebuilt with disciplined thinking and with courage.  For those who come from dysfunctional backgrounds, recovering from the cult experience often means acknowledging and recovering from the effects of earlier dysfunctional relationships, such as:
  • Abusive parents, relatives, siblings, spouse or abusing others
  • Alcoholism, rape, incest, eating disorders, drug abuse
  • Difficulties with intimacy, careers, law enforcement
Stage Three
To someone in the middle of the pain of stage two, the idea of having a dream again and building toward it is merely a sad, frustrating, and painful laugh.  Having spent many years in stage two I understand that despondent feeling well.  It is possible to rebuild your life.  You will not be able to make up for all the years the cult has stolen from you, but you can make up for some of those lost years.  I've worked very, very hard to recover from a severely dysfunctional family, a life of abuse emotional, physical and sexual, the death of a daughter, many years in a cult, time on drugs and alcohol to 'forget' and so on.
I'm here to share with you that if you are willing to stick with it, to work at it, to work through and let go of myths that look like truths both from the cult's teaching and from within society's teachings, and if you are willing to acquire new skills and improve others, you can and will be able to build a healthy and well-functioning life with a dream you can work toward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm still getting use to thinking of the LDS church as a cult. I'm sure it is, however deep down, I just want to call it a cult as a way of making "it" sound very evil and bad all around.

I have a childhood friend who calls the Mormon Church a mainstream cult. I think that title actually fits pretty well.