How to Kick a Cult

When I was an Evangelical Christian in my youth, we were frightened of anything or anyone that might tempt us from the bubble of our beliefs.  The Devil was on the prowl and we needed to be on the defensive.  Our faith, indeed, our eternal salvation, was at stake and in mortal (immortal) danger.

At the time, we never would have imagined WE were in a cult.

In fact, I read and listened to tapes on “the kingdom of the cults.”  I wanted to know how to fight righteous battles against the Evil One in his many disguises.  I once told a Mormon family when visiting their home with a friend, that they were deceived by Satan.  Their feelings were hurt.  I tried to convert a Jewish girl I was dating.  After joining a Baptist youth group, I preached in my family’s Protestant church, proclaiming I knew what God wanted for us more than the minister.  I felt proud of my strong defense of the True Way.

We had close personal relationships with the Lord and believed we knew what was true and right–we knew His Will.  Whenever we’d come across a Jehovah’s Witness, Moonie, Mormon, Hare Krishna, Scientologist or anyone of any other faith (or any other Christian faith such as Catholic), we would avoid them or confront them with the True Gospel.  Warriors for the Lord, we prayed and praised and proclaimed Him everywhere.

We knew these cults were “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  There were clear tests:

-They didn’t interpret the Bible, God’s Word, as we did (or followed a different scripture)

-They had one charismatic leader who spoke with an “authority not from God” as we understood God

-Most importantly, they didn’t believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord as we did

Now, today, I understand that I was in a type of cult.  A box or bubble of belief where I was convinced my direct line to God gave me authority as His representative, and nothing could break that relationship.

But then, gradually, the break began …

-Through an academic education (broader reading; sensitive professors)

-Through wider personal experience (interactive relationships with diverse people with diverse opinions)

-Through honest self-reflection and serious question (getting over the fear of doubt and defensiveness)

-Through patient people I respected guiding me through the process (friends, teachers, pastors, colleagues)

-Through a long progression in worldview over a span of years (drawing from each of the steps or stages listed here).

For anyone caught in a cult or cultish mindset, I think it’s important to remember how critical the “exit route” can be.  To encourage someone to Kick the Cult, to be liberated from their own Cult Kingdom, it may take a long time and a lot of effort.  Ultimately, it’s about a person making a serious choice and taking a step of personal responsibility.  Sadly, some will be lost so far down the irrational rabbit hole they cannot be rescued.  As with addiction, a person must first and foremost admit they are trapped and sense they need to get out.  Kicking them won’t do it.

It can take a lot of hard thinking, patience from others and determined willpower to break free.

I know.  And I know it’s possible.

As historian David Blight explains in this excellent article on the Cult of Trumpism, for healing to happen, personally and culturally, we need many things, like better storytelling.

“Mr. Trump lost, but he and his minions may yet find ways, if they keep their deep foothold in the Republican Party, to manufacture a dreamlike story of future victory for their unstable coalition of an unhindered ruling class, Christian nationalism and the aggrieved white working class. Whether Trumpism can ever attain the staying power of the Confederate Lost Cause is unclear. It may flame out in a few years like the bad TV show it has always been. But the shock of Trumpists’ inevitable attack on the American experiment on Wednesday, Jan. 6, hit like a thunderbolt. They will be back. It will surely take great political skill and moral imagination across American culture, from the Biden administration to every teacher in the land, to fight this new Lost Cause ideology. The country needs healing and unity, but it needs justice and better storytelling of its history more.”

{If you’ve broken free of a cult, or cult-like thinking, I’d like to hear from you}

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