How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
Cults and abuse
I watched an awful TV program last year about a cult based on Biblical interpretation that assumes the world would end on 31st October 2007 (this is 2008, so I'm guessing they were misled). The leaders of the cult was a former Seventh-day Adventist Minister who one day was spoken to by God. He was 'renamed Michael and named Messiah.' Many of the cult were also ex-Seventh-day Adventists who were brought up with the idea of the end of the world and judgement. These were the strongest adherents.
His first two acolytes were women. They left their husbands to join Michael, who convinced them that God had told him that he should father children with him. Other women also joined. Many men left the cult, leaving the women who adored Michael. When filming, the sheriff arrived with the parents of a 14-year old to retrieve her. They left, after concluding that Michael wasn't actually the son of God. The sheriff did not look happy, but with no complaints or evidence of wrong-doing, he could do nothing.
Curiously, the people in the cult all seem dreamily happy. They supported themselves. They also, when joining, give everything they have to Michael. People there did not attend school. They educated themselves from what books are available.
Michael wrote that you need to be naked before God. There was a discussion shown between two girls who talked devotedly about taking off their clothes whilst doing the washing up. He said he would hold her. And so they laid together on the bed. Then it was as if the whole of heaven was before her. He told her she was healed. She felt so secure. No mention of sex was made. Michael talked about it later, framing it as being like when doctors are with naked people and even do things to them. He got together seven virgins who demanded that he have sex with them (including the 14-year-old). But he refused, saying God told him this would be wrong. 'I am the embodiment of God. I am divinity and humanity combined', he said.
At this point I switched off. I could see the story and it was not nice. I do not think Michael was a pervert in the conscious sense of the word. He was just off his trolley. Nuts. And he was abusing women in the process. As far as I could tell, he believed everything he said, and was perhaps his own biggest convert. I have written before on religion and abuse and it is a deeply saddening subject. Power corrupts, and corruption can be right down to the belief level.
What was strange was that the people there were all in a state where Michael's actions seemed not only ok but somehow holy, and they were just basking in the apparent spiritual fallout. A critical reason for this was that they lived far from anywhere else. When there is nobody telling you things are wrong and everyone is acting like they are right, then there is much evidence to show that people will assume things are right and happily go along with things they might once have abhorred.
Were his women abused? Many would say yes, though it seems they would say no. But what of later, when his converts look back with older, more mature eyes? How will all this affect their futures? Cults like this seldom last forever and the members eventually drift back to 'normal' existence. Will they look back with rosy spectacles? Will they reflect in horror? Who knows.