The Tragedy of the Angel Story Saga
Once upon a time, I was part of...for lack of a better word, a cult. The word has gained negative connotation and some would say it is often used liberally, but when I stumbled upon a site that broke down the 5 ways you know you're in a cult, I have to say that all of these applied. My comments are in bold.
1. Opposing critical thinking [controversial or critical questions were dismissed, ignored or discouraged]
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving [if you left the church, the odds were that you were on your way to hell. At best, you were considered a backslider.]
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture [there were loopholes. Scriptures that said you were to obey leadership meant that you were to obey their laws, regardless of whether scripture spoke on the matter or not.]
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders [In testimonies, the pastor and ministers were praised more than Jesus himself. They would deny this assuredly, but all you have to do is sit in on a service to see for yourself.]
5. Dishonoring the family unit [Family members that weren't "saved" were seen as lesser, or not taken seriously, especially when it was involving spiritual matters. Even those that were saved had to adhere to specific standards of code to be deemed worthy of being listened to.]
The details of my experiences are best served over the course of later blog posts, but for now, I want to focus on how they shaped one of my favorite, yet apprehensive to write series: the Angel Story Saga. This is not about believing in God or Christianity. It's about getting the message I'm trying to portray down right. From the beginning, the thought was to write a series going through the bible from the start and telling the stories from an angel's point of view. I loved writing it, as I could expand upon my beliefs in an entertaining way, but over time, it became harder to write because I'm not completely sure what I believe anymore. When the foundation of a house is corrupted, do you still live within, or tear down the walls? I don't know. I came across this as well (my answers in bold):
Warning Signs that You are in a Cult
If you suspect the group you are in is harmful, but are not sure, ask yourself these questions:
- do they claim to have a special corner on the truth, something no other groups has? YES, even other christians were going to hell for not following the bible exactly, even though we didnt either.
- are you told to not question what is being taught, as the leadership are godly, honest, have divine authority and you must trust them? YES, definitely
- are you discouraged from asking questions as to why members have left, and expected to accept the reasons the group leadership gives you? YES, you're discouraged from even talking to them.
- do they put down other churches, groups, etc, while pointing out their faults and errors to build themselves up? do they use peoples faults and sins as examples of what to do and what not to do? YES. It is a staple of every message. Homosexuals, other religions, and sexual impurity were the highlights
- are you made to feel your failures, as though your performance is not up to par to their righteous standards? My favorite example is when I missed church to go on a trip with my wife. Mind you, we informed the pastor that we were going, and we attended church regularly (sunday school, sunday morning service, sunday night, monday night prayer, wed bible study, fri night service and the occasional saturday service) but we were chastised for missing church.
- do they recommend for you to be around their people, expecting you to attend all group activities? if you do not, are you are questioned about your spirituality or dedication?
- do they stop you from reading anything negative about themselves? YES. there was once a snow storm on a friday night. The minister said the true saints were there. I was an idiot for going.
- do they call those who fall away enemies, dogs, or cancer, even using examples from the Bible or other such materials? Backslidden, given a reprobate mind, sinful, "gone" "lost their mind"
- do they place and emphasis on evil and the devil, declaring that the world outside is a threat to the group? If you are questioning, it is from the devil. Doubt? Confusion? Desire? It's of the Devil. Criticize leadership or a belief? It's of the Devil.
- do they defend themselves in every area? Yep.
- do they give importance to a spiritual goal, such as enlightenment, godliness, salvation, that has no real tangible way of being measured? Oh yes. They claim to have the truth, but they don't really know. EVERYONE pretty much claims to have the truth. Someone is wrong.
- do they operate in humility, or seem arrogant, and make demands on you to obey, using such statements such as “real believers obey without question or if you really were a devoted follower you would do such and such"? YES. Always.
Most of what I was taught was during childhood, when I had no room to question or critically think or compare my teachings to others. I was sheltered and told that what we were taught was the absolute truth, handed down from God himself. I believed it all. I was a manpleaser, aiming to become the best I could be because I believed I was serving the Kingdom. God himself. But then one strange event turns into another, and the next thing you know, you realize that God isn't speaking through them at all, and it's not about flaws. It was seeing blatant willful actions carried out. The leadership and others knew what they were doing, and it hurt me to the depths of my soul.
When I left that church, the angel story saga didn't have the same appeal. I felt like I was I was betraying myself. Don't get me wrong, I love the potential, and the characters and where it could lead, but my heart is fractured. It doesn't beat the same way, and now I have to take it slow. Angel Story 4 is still being written, but I know that it won't be the same. Perhaps like the angels within the story, I am still growing, and changing, and I hope that's okay.