Nobody intends to enter a cult; people of every level of intellectual and emotional health become entangled in invasive groups because they are attracted by the appearance of some good or are trying to meet a normal human need. While it is hard to imagine what good lures people to the hatred of Westboro or radical Islamic jihad, the genesis of the cult mind is a thirst for some missing element in life. Once a manipulative or invasive group meets the needs of the newly initiated, defending the cult against external attacks and internal doubts becomes the new imperative. Early warning signs and caution voiced by loved ones are ignored and the new member begins to shut off the personal analysis of reality. New information is interpreted in light of the cult’s truth system.
This Gnostic filter is the real criterion for cultic activity and also provides us with the tools to help friends and loved ones drop their signs in the gutter and cross to a new life in reality.
Escaping a cult is a slow intellectual transformation that inactivates these three Gnostic reflexes:
Blinding yourself to contradictions between sensory evidence and the Gnostic truth
Following the teachings of leaders even when these contradict the voice of your own mind
Meeting human needs with cult substitutes
There is something mysterious about the perfect internal storm that precipitates cult entry and the same can be said of cult abandonment. Usually a person begins to let go when the initial benefits that attracted them start to fade. A member may experience abuse. For others, disenchantment starts at the intellectual level with a conscience-piercing contradiction so offensive to objective human values that the member is unable to turn away any longer. For others, the leaders may speak or behave in a manner that provokes long-silenced critical thinking. At some point, one of the three cultic mental reflexes fails and, even if for only a moment, the individual is guided by the personal mind. With such an incident, the cult member realizes that he or she can rely upon their own perceptions and that reality differs from the picture painted by the cult.
In the organization to which I belonged, there were no formal rules against women going to college. Still, Richard Williamson, one of the group’s four “bishops,” had published a pastoral letter stating:
Ideas are not for women. Since universities are about ideas, almost no woman should go to college. A woman can do a good imitation of handling ideas, but then she will not be thinking properly as a woman.
This teaching formed and is reflected in the general culture of the Society that is not favorable towards career-oriented higher education for women. After ten years in the cloister, I desperately wanted to go to college so badly, I finally told myself I would, but strictly for personal enrichment as preparation for the only true female vocation, motherhood. Eased in my conscience, I enrolled in the neuroscience and chemistry programs… for prenatal enrichment. Right. After a few months I still believed in God, hadn’t joined NOW, and was not pregnant. It slowly dawned on me that paranoia and error, not authentic Catholicism, dictated the Society’s social code concerning women.