Last night I enjoyed the documentary, Sons of Perdition, about people who leave the FLDS, a polygamist Mormon sect on the border of Utah and Colorado. Although the sect in which I grew up was not as cult-like, I found many similarities to the way I was raised and the way I left my sect.
1. Arrogance of the group toward all other groups. They preached superiority: We follow God; nobody else follows God.
2. Isolation. A deliberate effort to keep members separated from the influence of anyone outside the group; keeping members ignorant of the way outsiders think and live.
3. Fear of leaving the sect. Anyone who leaves is going to hell. Anyone who leaves is shunned. Anyone who leaves the sect loses their family.
4. Obedience to crazy rules is important for many reasons:
a. Obedience to seemingly odd rules shows that you are willing to obey God even when you do not understand why.
b. Obedience to crazy rules isolates you from outsiders.
c. Obedience to crazy rules shows that you are not leaving the group, that you are part of the in-group, can be relied on, and are safe.
5. Lack of self control. The reason they were seemingly self controlled while in the sect was because the sect was so controlling, not because they were self-disciplined. Now that they are out of the sect they can’t make mature decisions for their lives, like resisting crystal meth.
6. Taken in by promises, gullible. They were easy prey to salespeople promising grand things.
7. Longing for the idealized pieces of their past life they left behind in the sect. They still sang the old songs, they reminisced about the happy times in their large families. They knew only one source of happiness: big families. One boy remembered one happy time with his family together, tickling Dad. Yet family was also the source of their worst memories.
8. Feeling lost spiritually and existentially. They worried about being damned to literal hellfire, and they also worried about not having a literal father and mother to relate to on a daily basis. They had no faith to replace their lost faith, except faith in a future idealized family they would one day have.
9. Having to constantly tell themselves they were not going back. They had to remind themselves of the reasons why they left, and promise themselves they wouldn’t go back. Many of them went back into the sect several times before they could finally decide not to go back anymore. They rehearsed all the reasons they had left, repeating the reasons over and over to each other.
10. Banding together with those who left. They formed tight knit groups on the outside to support each other.
11. Traumatic memories. Those who left were plagued by unprocessed trauma waiting to be sorted out. They seemed to re-create their traumas, finding demanding habits to serve, and getting thrown out of their new homes, so they could once again experience being thrown out. They were stuck in a loop.
I felt sad after watching the documentary. I saw my parents caught up in, and reinforcing, the traumas of the sect I grew up in, shunning and withdrawing from family members who left. I still enjoy the old barbershop four part harmony acapella songs I grew up with in church, and long for an acapella group to sing those songs with. I joined church after church, believing the sad promises of community and faith they promised, as a facade for their nickels and noses agenda.