I always had this gut feeling, this unnerving inkling somewhere way in the back of my mind all throughout the entire time I had been a part of Living Church of God that something wasn’t right. Of course I learned quickly to dismiss it as a thought from Satan, encouraged to pray harder and fast more and “draw closer to God” to resist the devil. That in itself doesn’t prove anything, but I had studied gut feelings as a part of my University certificate (prior to LCG) and it is absolutely true that gut feelings are more than just vague paranoia or imagined fear.
“Your sub-conscious which operates ten times faster than your conscious mind has picked up on signals of danger that your conscious mind has not yet processed.”1
When I first began to be a part of the LCG I started to notice changes in myself, which in itself is not abnormal. I’m not talking about changes in “character” or personal morality here. I noticed a change cognitively which gradually worsened over time. It was never diagnosed, but I’ve done my research and I’m 100% certain it was a dissociative disorder. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the problem was. It wasn’t until I began to think when it started after I was reading the literature, viewing sermons, attending services, etc., that I started to worry.
“In a cult experience, members dissociate in order to adapt to the stress of cult life and to protect themselves from the group’s contradictory agenda and demand for subservience.”2
I had this for the entire time I was a member of the LCG, exaggerated no doubt by an imbalance in what I was told to be true and what I deep down knew to be real. This juxtaposition causes anxiety, fear, etc.
ESN is highly advised against by Armstrong splinter groups as being “Satan’s authorship.” The mentality behind this is that by planting that idea before one reads the content, the member will automatically dismiss anything they read.
“Once a member was successfully entrenched into the fear indoctrination, that member became the property of the controllers. The syndrome became a “Catch 22” situation. All other teachings were anchored on the great escape from the dreadful, fiery, Great Tribulation that was to occur “in your lifetime.” Professionals call this manipulation “fear phobia induction.” Once one is fear phobic, one becomes submissive to authority or events. For some, the trauma is so paralyzing it causes dissociative disorders. As mentioned above, dissociative disorders cause one to “trance out” once the trauma becomes too frightening or unbearable. This same syndrome is often observed with victims of physical or sexual abuse. The victim is under constant infliction, but lives in a state of denial. The overwhelming fears become compartmentalized as one functions in a state of cognitive dissonance.”3
It caused physical changes too including breathing problems and my heart rate shot up alarmingly. At the peak it consistently beat as though I just been for a run. I would wake up in the morning and be fine for a few seconds, then as soon as I thought about anything related to the group it would spike.
I wanted to make this point because since I have left LCG I feel completely normal again. My heart rate started slowing once I told the minister I would leave, and it has returned to normal now. I feel more clarity, more focused and more at ease and at peace with myself and the world. This is astounding biological evidence that something was not right with that group, and my body responded and suffered accordingly. This has never happened before. I have always been uncannily healthy, especially mentally. This in itself, however, does not prove that these groups are religious cults. It is an important point to make because it made me question.
When I was at my previous secular University, we were taught that in order to write a good essay, one must look at the evidence from both sides to make an informed and reasonable conclusion. This is what I was used to doing. This was highly discouraged at Living University (LU) and in the group in general and it caused me concern. I didn’t realise it was a cult at the time but the explanation is quite simple.
Controlling my information was something I experienced first hand being at Living University, and beforehand. One particularly memorable moment was when I found a book in the LU library titled The Armstrong Empire.(A Look at the Worldwide Church of God) by Joseph Hopkins.4 It was later removed upon realising what it was about when I brought it to two of the ministers to check out and read. I could have just taken it, but it was a simple experiment. Along with my being instructed not to read Exit Support Network™, Cult Awareness and Information Centre, or similar ones, because it was either “dissident material” or just plain “doctrines of demons” or “it will drag you away from the truth.” This is not exclusive to the LCG, it is a common practise among Bible-based cult groups who insist they are the “one true church.” However, when you are being subjected to it you don’t realise that is what’s happening. You are told to pray more, fast more, draw closer to God and made to feel incredibly guilty and like you’re not measuring up.
It began to concern me when I was told to do just that. Don’t read anything that contradicts or challenges the group theology. If you want to prove anything you have to refer to the group literature/authority because everyone else is “blinded.” It is a ridiculous mentality to have but when you are indoctrinated in it you genuinely believe what you are told, and I did. But it didn’t stop those gut feelings of “something is not right.”
I began to question, I began to go against what I was told and did some research. I read some material which refuted British Israelism, refuted tithing as a N.T. instruction, etc. I emailed those who were ex-members and asked questions. Why did they leave the truth? Why did they think the WCG and offshoots were wrong? I had a lot of doubts; i. e., about those prophecies in the O.T. I took for granted what was taught to me. Do they really apply to us? Where is the evidence? I began to regain the critical thinking skills that I had before I came to Living University. I stopped the black and white thinking mentality that was taught to me. For the first time since joining the Living Church of God, I considered the possibility that I might be wrong. I thought of the environment I was in. Two secluded buildings in the middle of nowhere out in the Adelaide hills. Leaving only when I needed to to get groceries/attend LCG activities, etc. Only being exposed to LCG people all day, every day. Not being allowed to play team sports. Being discouraged when I was spending too much time at the local skate park. Getting in an awful lot of trouble for making friends and hanging out with them on weekends who weren’t in the group. I began to realise how my whole life had become so intricately intertwined with this group. Everything I think, everything I read, everything I thought I knew about the cosmos, about the world, about the supernatural. Even my future I had no goals about. All I wanted to do was “God’s will,” and that was completely dependent upon the LCG. I began to realise I was in a cult. When I began researching cults it was astounding how much made sense.
I felt incredibly guilty initially. I thought “Satan is deceiving me” “He’s getting in…” I need to pray more. Every time I heard someone say in a sermon “within the next 2-3 years…” or “perhaps within 3-4, definitely within YOUR LIFETIME, YOU YOUNG PEOPLE” I began to feel very uneasy. Upon learning about how important context and audience, author and hermeneutics are to biblical text interpretation. I came to the realisation that scriptures like Ezekiel 5 which Herbert Armstrong used in his book 1975 In Prophecy! were actually completely taken out of context.
“People in a mind control cult will also hide their true thoughts and feelings, and instead wear a mask which presents them as a perfect cult member. This mask is a defense against being reported to leadership and being punished for not measuring up (cult members never feel like they measure up to the cult’s ideals, and yet often believe the other members around them do, when in reality the others feel the same as them).”5
I struggled with that for a long time, it helped to be educated, to know that all the things I was feeling were completely normal, and common among those in high demand groups.
I researched more and more about cults. I found a book in the local library: Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism. A summary of “Lifton’s Eight Criteria of Thought Reform” can be read on ESN’s site.
The more I read the more things made sense. I realised I was in a Bible-based cult.
“Members totally and completely believe their group is ‘God’s only true Church on earth’ and only within it is ‘God’s Truth’ preached. They willingly alienate themselves from the activities and people in the ‘unconverted world’ (who are all ‘deceived and following Satan’), and they allow their entire lives to circle around the organization and ‘the end time Work,’ which alone gives them their purpose for being born. To think any other way is to experience intensely uncomfortable feelings of confusion, guilt, fear and alienation. If they leave the organization they believe wholeheartedly that they will not only lose the Truth and have their minds taken over by Satan, but they will lose the Holy Spirit, lose God, lose their chance for eternal life, lose their purpose for living, and in so many words, be ‘annihilated.’ Their existence has become the group.” (Adapted from Chapter 22: “Ideological Totalism,” Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism by Robert Jay Lifton.
Everything is centered upon the fear-inducing idea that the world is ending soon and that the Great Tribulation is soon upon us. This provides the motivation for giving more money, for being more active in the group etc. When people see natural disasters happening, an automatic excitement occurs, although a degree of suppression is applied as to not appear too happy about it. You’ll notice it when something happens, it’s all over the LCG weekly news pamphlet, it’s always mentioned in their announcements/messages. Members talk about it with an unmistakable air of “It’s not very nice really…all those lives lost. But it’s not the end for them really, and it reinforces what we believe that God is punishing these sinful people.” You’ll always hear the phrase; “It can’t go on for much longer…” or some derivative thereof. It appears to reinforce what you’re taught, so it provides a sense of comfort that the theology is correct and that you and your family, as they are a part of it, will escape it all. Yes, people were quite excited in a hushed sense, commenting “we’re definitely getting close…” I remember one man in particular was smiling as he said it and had this look in his eyes, almost of glee. Some people don’t, some people feel for these people, but it’s a very empty expression.
I want to thank you for your website, for the effort and time and hard work put into helping people to realize what we would otherwise be completely unaware of.
By Darryl (real name used with permission)
Note: Roderick Meredith died May 18, 2017 at the age of 86.
1 Quoted from: “Learn To Trust That ‘Gut-Feeling.’ It just might save your life.” [offsite article]
2 Quoted from: “Coping With Triggers.” [offsite article]
3 Quoted from: OIU 4, pt. 3, “F-E-A-R!” (covers fear phobia induction and dissociation) (OIUs available as PDF)
5 Quoted from: “How Cults Work.” [offsite article]