Edited to add: This post has sparked a lot of conversation in my home about the definition of “cult” and whether it’s appropriate to use that word or not. The definition of a cult is, in simple words, a group that is devoted, cultivated, or has a common worship. Because that word has been associated with some pretty loaded historical occurrences, it takes on a sinister context to many people. In using this word in this post, I’m thinking about the true meaning – not the Kool-Aid drinking, Branch Davidian Compound, physical & sexual abuse meaning. I’ll continue to chew on this!
My last post talked about the benefits of friendship and the signs of a healthy community. I’ve been parked here in my thoughts for a few days because I am seeing a rub… and I don’t know what to do with it exactly.
I have been in what I believe is a very healthy, very active and loving healthy community for eight years. But I have been a part of a larger, national community of the same organization during that time as well and I see a disconnect between what I have personally experienced locally and what I see on a larger scale.
Because I sense the disconnect, see the evidence of it through different stories and avenues of sharing, I have then stepped back to examine my own local experience and have wondered what is, and isn’t healthy – indeed, even the definition of the word healthy has had me challenged.
Let me explain.
I have a post on this blog in my draft folder titled, “Is Classical Conversations a Cult?” It’s dated 2016 and I can remember how it got there very, very clearly.
I was a practicum speaker in a wonderful community 1,000 miles away from home. My husband was asked to officiate a wedding the same weekend, so we decided to split forces and I took the four kids on a fantastic road trip across the wild West while he shrugged into a suit and helped set the tone for a marriage.
The kids and I stayed in a hotel and each night after the practicum we’d eat dinner (there were an ungodly number of Taco John’s trips… I have a lot of photos of churros on my phone from that time), go to the swimming pool, and then to bed. The kids were asleep for several hours while I worked on this blog, updated spreadsheets, and cruised Facebook. I was an Area Representative over three states at the time – and they were largely empty of CC communities so I had a high priority on growth. My heart was for the homeschoolers who were alone and in need of a positive, healthy community environment. They were faceless, but they were on my heart.
Previous to homeschooling, I had worked in a university and our team focused on examining retention strategies and developing retention tools to aid in university health. I mused that, similar to the university, if I was able to identify and improve the retention in the communities already existing, that would be a clue to developing a solid foundation for future community expansion.
In order to know how to improve the community experience, I needed to know why people were unhappy with the community experience and left it. So, I did the normal thing and Googled it:
“Why do people leave Classical Conversations?”
I didn’t find many hits, honestly. Most things I found talked about the wonderful community, how the curriculum had been a life saver, and how homeschooling made sense within the framework of a classical, Christian community as marketed and promoted by the organization.
But I did find some negative comments on blog posts and the Well Trained Mind Forum, as well as a Facebook group that was filled with such venom I decided the people were insane and I didn’t want their opinion anyway for the time being… and I came across a webpage called Spiritual Sounding Board.
To be honest, the things described on the Spiritual Sounding Board were beyond my ability to comprehend. I thought that some individuals had had very horrible experiences – but it had nothing to do with me. After all, MY experience was wonderful and I was proudly stating my family was all in, our CC experience was awesome, and this was the key to our homeschooling success.
I read an article that accused CC of being a cult and, having grown up amidst real, live, commune living and shared patriarchal father cults in my home town… I thought the accusation of CC being a cult was absolutely absurd!
So, in response to the insanity I saw of these detractors, I wrote the title of a blog post, “Is Classical Conversations a Cult?” intending to flesh out the content with a solid argument about how there was no way on God’s green Earth that CC was a cult and that there were some serious lunatics out there… like the kind of people you can smell crazy on because it’s soooo evident.
At the time I decided not to publish the blog post because A) I didn’t want to give the idea that CC was a cult any more steam than these lunatics already had and B) I felt badly about the sarcastic and unloving dialogue I had in my head about these people who were writing the content of the webpages and groups. It felt a little like kicking a pitiful, wounded dog.
(Yes, I’m aware I sound like a major jerk right now. I am truly sorry, but I think it’s important to be real with my reactions at the time so you can understand the story better. I also think that draft is still in my folder as a reminder that, the Holy Spirit works in long term and mysterious ways.)
Fast forward three years and here I am, having stepped out of the organization and dealing with physical, mental, and financial consequences of that departure, once again reading the same articles – and now more – and wondering about the definition of cults and whether those lunatic naysayers were actually the enlightened ones.
It’s still a really hard concept for me to grasp. Partially because I completed the research needed to define my terms. But I’m game to try…
So I turned to Google again and searched “Am I in a Cult?”
Google did not disappoint, and I am in the process of educating myself on gaslighting, mind control, and all sorts of other psychological terms that I thought belonged only in Hollywood thrillers.
Want to join me on the journey down the road littered with aluminum foil hats and voices from above?
The water’s fine, come on in….
Let me share the questions from the handy dandy quiz, Am I in a Cult? A Quick Questionaire | Decision Making Confidence, that came up from my Google searching:
- Have your friends or family commented that you have changed and that they don’t really like the changes?
- Have you noticed that the groups ideas have filtered into all areas of your life, work social, personal life?
- Or have you noticed that you spend less and less time with your family and friends and more and more time with the group?
- Do you find it boring or awkward spending time with people outside the group because they seem boring, or they don’t understand the language of the group?
- Do you believe that outsiders are not on the same level as you and other group members?
- Do you consider that the groups ideas and beliefs are the way forward in sorting out the problems of the world?
- Or have you thought that if only everyone knew this stuff the world would be a different place?
- Has someone close to you told you that they think you are in a cult?
- When you ask yourself “Am I in a cult?” you think straight away… “Of course not, I would never join a cult…”
- If someone criticizes the leader, the group or the ideas, do you have to explain why they are wrong?
- Is there a strong urgency to explain the benefits to those who are critical?
- Have people said that you are pushy or obsessive about the group?
- Do you sometimes feel like you know more than outsiders about life, about people, about the world?
- Do you find yourself recommending the group courses or group techniques for many different types of problems?
The article goes on to discuss the cult leadership, and your emotions within the cult, with lists of questions to ask yourself under each one. Then the author writes,
“If you answered mostly, ‘yes,’ the chances are that there is mind control being used against you in the group.
Then there is the chunk of writing that talks about the difficulty in Accepting any of the idea you’ve been fooled! The author writes:
“I understand that it’s difficult to accept that you might be in a cult. Initially there are so many doubts and questions.
- Is the leader really not a good person? He seems so wise and generous and caring…
- The techniques seem to work, are they really only a trick?
- I feel good about the group, but I can’t understand why my life is not working.
- I believe I learnt a lot in the group, how can it be bad?
- I believe in the ideas but I don’t like the leader…
- I’ve invested so much in the group, how can I have been wrong about it?
Even when you ask yourself the question “Am I in a cult?” sometimes the answer will seem like a ‘yes’, sometimes it seems like a ‘no, it can’t be’.
Don’t waste more time or any more of your life. Find out more about your group, specifically from ex-members, and if you are in a destructive group, make the decision that you want to be free again…”
To be honest, I don’t know what to write after this. I’ve stared at this post for several days and tried to close it repeatedly and I don’t have words. I’m hesitant to make a bold, black and white statement about anything as I am consciously looking for the ways I must take responsibility for the situation.
But I suspect I have been bamboozled. I’m not making an accusation that this has been malicious or intentional… but I am stating I think it’s real. That the people who I once thought were crazy were telling the truth. There is simply too much evidence present for me to say that the crazy-making doesn’t exist.
I’d love to hear feedback from you and your own research adventures.