Wednesday, October 25, 2017

One of Us

I strongly recommend "One of Us," a documentary (now streaming on Netflix) that follows three people who have left their ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. No longer "one of us" to their family and friends, each person has a distinct story, a unique trajectory out of their former lives. You'll recognize the same themes we've encountered in Laestadianism -- ultra-Orthodox Lutheranism, if you will.

In a magazine interview here, one of the men in the documentary explains his former faith:

"Does it withhold a broad education from their children in order to keep the children narrow-minded and uneducated? Yes. Does it vilify the outside world in order to keep its members from joining it? Definitely. Does it have a fear and/or doomsday element to it? Of course. Is there ex-communication for those who dare to leave? Oh yeah."

"For most of my life, I believed that all non-Jews hate us and want to kill us. I believed that all goyim are murderers, rapists, degenerates and dirty second-class citizens. Of course, they/we aren’t but I was taught that in order to make the secular lifestyle less appealing. I was told horrible things would happen to me in this world and the 'next world' if I leave. I was told I would end up a criminal or drug addict. Many members of my family refuse to speak to me to this day."

The Laestadian version of "One of Us" has yet to be made, but a proposal is in the works, and if you are interested in supporting it, let me know.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Insights from a Cult Recovery Counselor

Interesting insights about recovery from high-control groups. 

"There's this dichotomy I've noticed with people who are raised in cults: they are made to feel that they are better than the rest of the world, they live in a higher sphere, they are closer to God, they are the chosen ones . . . but at the same time within the group, they feel very low, so they're higher than the rest of the world but they're knocked down with the group . . .  and you never quite know how to meet the world face to face . . . (that) you're not less than, you just are a part of the world with everybody else."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Critical Thinking 101: No True Scotsman Fallacy

The introduction of the term is attributed to British philosopher Antony Flew. In his 1975 book Thinking About Thinking, he wrote:[3]
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing." The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion, but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says: "No true Scotsman would do such a thing." 

Friday, August 11, 2017

Leila's Story, Part Two

This is Part Two of Leila’s Story, a guest post. (For Part One, go here.)

In college, I blossomed. I created friendships with people from all walks of life, and debated subjects I had never been able to before. I began to attend regular therapy and am slowly healing from the emotional scars I carried around and hid for so long. While I felt guilt over causing my mother pain (a year later my father left the church, and my parents separated), I determined my own happiness was more important than going home. 

I began modeling, a huge boost to my self-esteem. I knew at last that my non-Scandinavian features did not make me any less attractive. 

I happened to fall in love with the most amazing man which was and remains the deepest, most genuine feeling I have ever experienced.

Two years ago, I graduated with a Masters in Economics (at the top of my class!). After graduation, my boyfriend and I moved to Portland, where I built a new relationship with my family. My mother may never accept my decision to leave the church, but I love her deeply, and — if her faith makes her happy, that is all I care about. I simply do not discuss religion with her.

This fall, I will start law school, and prepare for a field that is frowned upon in the OALC but which my peers and professors consider a good match for me, with my skills in rational-thinking and problem-solving. The adventures ahead excite me.

I feel free. The constant fear of hell has been lifted. 

Personally, I am no longer religious by any definition, but turn my beliefs towards science and the search for solid evidence before forming a decision. I believe in the need to continually educate oneself on the current world; the urge to gain knowledge is a very important part of personal growth and belief. However, I do not want to portray a message of hatred or bitterness towards the OALC community. Many are amazing, loving individuals, and I fully believe everyone should be able to practice whatever faith brings them satisfaction. My personal experience does not speak to all members. 

While my choice to leave was a painful and heartbreaking journey, it was the best decision I've ever made. I gained self-confidence, genuine friendships, and constant positive reminders from a community of people who are open to the idea that anything they hold as truth can change, given new information. I encourage anyone who feels trapped or has experienced any form of abuse to reach out to people on this blog, or anywhere in life. I am always open to talk if anyone were to want.

To those who remain the church, know that my decision to leave is concrete. I will never return. If you want to say I have "lost my faith" or how sad you are for me, you are more than welcome to; your opinions do not bother me anymore. The OALC is by all definitions a cult, and those who deny sexual abuse exists (and is covered up) are lying. I fear for their children. The denial is also extremely offensive to anyone, anywhere, who has experienced abuse. Aside from the moral aspects, abusers are dangerous and not reporting them is illegal. 

What happened to the person who abused me? He died without ever being required to atone for what he did.

With my law degree, I hope to bring sexual offenders to justice and make more people aware of the pervasiveness of covered-up sexual abuse. No child should experience the isolation and helplessness I did! 

Without books, I may not have survived this far. I am glad I did, and I am glad I can share my story, and remind people that everyone is important. You matter, you are beautiful in any form, and help is out there, so never give up. 

Thank you for reading. Feel free to talk to me in the comments section.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Leila's Story, Part One

(Free says: This is the first half of a guest post. If you'd like to tell your story, use the form at the bottom of the page or send me an email. Thanks!)

Dear Free,

I just discovered your blog while aimlessly researching the OALC online. Thank you for this site, and for letting me tell my story, as even my friends cannot understand how I grew up. You can call me Leila (not my real name). 

I was born into an extremely proper OALC family in Washington State. My mother's mother and my father were not raised as members of the church; they joined as adults, and I am not primarily Scandinavian like most of the OALC. As a result of my Native American and Spanish ancestry, I do not look like the people I grew up around, and was often made fun of by my "Christian" friends -- who would say in a joking manner that I would never find a husband because of my dark hair. I always laughed it off but deep down, it planted a sense of being unattractive, and I struggled with my looks. 

I attended church every Sunday and was exposed only to those of similar faith, except in public settings such as school. From a very young age I was reserved, and preferred books to the company of others. I learned to read before kindergarten. While I was considered nerdy and weird, my friends accepted me because of my faith. As long as I can remember, I felt “different,” however, and questioned almost everything presented to me, but the fear of going to hell caused extreme guilt, and I became increasingly cut off from others. 

At age 13, I was sexually abused by an older male relative. I reported the incident to my mother, who took me to talk to a preacher. Of course, I trusted the adults around me as I had never known anything else. I was told by this church leader that the abuser had "asked for forgiveness," and I should find it in myself to forgive him. The subject was not brought up again — by my mother or the preacher. 

When the abuse recurred, I went to my mother again, and we went to the preacher, and I got the same advice — this pattern repeated itself again and again until I stopped talking about it altogether. 

The abuse and my increasing sense of alienation caused extreme depression to take hold. I devoted all of my energy to school and maintained a 4.0 GPA while isolating myself further and further from those around me. My depression deepened. Finally, the preachers advised me to see a therapist to "find it in your heart to forgive the abuser, for we all sin and all sin is created equal.” They believed my symptoms were the result of a guilty conscience.

After my first therapy session, I reported to my mother that the therapist recommended legal action and a reconsideration of my faith. Shocked, my mother called the therapist and said she had no right to speak poorly to a young, "mentally unstable" girl about her faith in God. She moved me to another therapist, and another after that, but they all had similar, unsatisfactory advice. 

When therapy “failed,” I was told to seek help from a medical doctor. My mother and a preacher accompanied me to the doctor visit, explaining my symptoms (without mentioning the abuse) and asked for me to be medicated. At age 14, I was prescribed high doses of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, and antipsychotics.

This preacher was married to a retired nurse, a lifelong member of the OALC (some of you will recognize her by that description alone). After hearing of my depression, she "diagnosed" me with severe clinical depression, severe anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. I was told to turn my faith to God, and he would guide me through my “trial" of mental instability.

An important thing to add at this point is that my school work never faltered. I found comfort in my studies, and always enjoyed learning new things. Numerous teachers expressed their amazement at my mathematical and reading abilities. When they recommended I skip ahead a grade to be sufficiently challenged, my mother said no, on account of "mental instability." 

This so-called treatment continued for four years until I graduated high school and turned 18. By this point I had self-researched my alleged medical conditions -- and firmly believed myself to be sane! Shortly after graduating, I scheduled an appointment with a well-known Seattle psychiatrist and explained the entire situation. He offered to see me free of charge. Without telling anyone in my family or church, I drove the three hours north to Seattle to meet with him; we sat and talked for almost six hours. At the end of our session, he called my doctor, and expressed his concerns about my numerous medications, stating I showed no clinical diagnosis for any of my supposed conditions. 

I began the process of secretly weaning myself off of all medication. 

A year after high school, I applied in secret to an amazing university in California, which accepted me -- with a full scholarship on account of my high SAT scores and GPA. In most families, this would be a cause for celebration. When I gave the news to my mother, however, she suggested I talk with a preacher. I called a different one (not the nurse’s husband), and he said with absolute conviction that I should "stay close to home" and "remain close to your faith" to avoid the "dangers of the world" -- combined with my "mental conditions." Neither my mother nor anyone else was aware I had stopped taking medication.

I didn’t follow that preacher’s advice. 

While my mother cried, I packed all I could into my car and drove to California.

My new life had begun.

(To be continued.)

Thank you to anyone who reads this — feel free to leave comments or questions.