Blog,  Religion

Blog 5.13.24

I gave myself a couple days “off” this weekend. Which is to say, I laid around quite a bit and watched TV. I’m glad I did, because I feel a lot more chilled out. On Friday I rewatched the documentary “Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God” which is, by far, the most batshit cult documentary I’ve ever seen in my entire life – and I’ve seen a lot. This is the fourth time I’ve watched it, and I’ll admit, I’m a little obsessed. It’s a comedy and a tragedy and an allegory and a cautionary tale all at once. Some of the things these cult members say to the camera with a straight face are so absurd, I grapple with whether or not this is all true. But if it is satire, it’s astonishingly well done. Then, on Saturday, I watched another documentary called The Secrets of Hillsong, about the wildly successful and spectacularly corrupt megachurch.

Given my history with being raised in a cult, you’d think all of this shit would be triggering. It’s actually incredibly comforting. Part of the mindfuck that comes from separating yourself from a high-control group is that your sense of reality feels tenuous. It’s hard to know who to believe. I sometimes even doubt my own story, or wonder if I’ve made some things up. Was it really that bad? But then I hear from others who have liberated themselves from a cult or other forms of religious abuse, and I realize that I’m not crazy. I wrote last week about feeling lonely with my trauma. There’s just no way to explain to someone who hasn’t been in community like this, or experienced abuse from religious authority, just how much it fucks you up – psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

In retrospect, the whole reason I went on this documentary binge was because I had coffee on Friday morning with a friend of mine from the zendo. She’s a Gen X artist, and a lesbian, who was raised in an extremely conservative evangelical family, even going to bible college after high school. The amount of trauma she’s experienced from a young age at the hands of people who were supposed to be nurturing her is heartbreaking. It’s taken her decades to get to the point where she’s been able to heal and help others, and she frankly states that she still has scars that will never heal. We had a two-hour conversation, and it was intense, but also, mutually affirming and hopeful.

For a nation that is so damned obsessed with God, we really don’t do enough to address the concept of spiritual and institutional abuse that is endemic to religious community in America. (Certainly it happens elsewhere, too, but I can’t speak to that.) The bottom line is that, there’s probably a good reason people are rejecting religion and it’s not that they’re a bunch of Satanic heathens. It’s the fault of the various religions and religious communities for refusing to acknowledge and condemn the abuses being done in their name.

Every time I hear a story about religious abuse, it comes with tales of institutional denial and punishment for those who raise the red flag. Religious communities that proactively do things to prevent abuse, have transparency about the way abuse is handled, take corrective action, and accept accountability are almost nonexistent. With twenty years of interfaith work under my belt, I can tell you this with some degree of certainty. I’ve heard stories you would not believe from people of all religions, and they all have the same themes: hierarchical abuses of power, secrecy, refusal to report legitimate crimes to law enforcement, manipulation, social control, threats, shame, guilt, family and communal rejection, and a profound lack of accountability. But the biggest commonality is always the vast numbers of idiot believers who close ranks and protect the abusers.

One of my biggest pet peeves about religious people is when they say shit like, “it’s not the religion, it’s the people who misinterpret it and do wrong.” This makes me want to slap them across the head. There’s a concept in cybernetics called “The Purpose of a System is What It Does” that says “there’s no point in claiming that the purpose of a system is to do what it constantly fails to do.” Religion isn’t just belief or a book. All organized religion is a system comprised of texts, dogma, historical precedent, law, ritual, and communal life. All of these things are part and parcel of how we define religion.

So if your religious community – especially the people who lead and propagate its teachings – consistently fails to address abuse, ostracizes people who raise concerns, and provides legitimacy to perpetrators, then baby, that’s your fucking religion.

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