It is proving more difficult than I expected to make a space of time in this conference to write a blog post. The programme for this Annual Conference for the International Cultic Studies Association is packed tight. I am starting to write this at 3 in the morning at my lodgings (AIRBNB) which are situated some 15 minutes on foot from the conference centre.
This Conference is one occasion in the year when I find a live audience with which to discuss issues of power abuse, partly because most of the attendees have been its victims. The stories that individuals tell have more frequently involved stories about churches whether mainstream or fringe. When I started attending these conferences four years ago in Trieste, the majority of stories seemed to concern actual cults like Scientology, Moonies and Jehovah’s Witnesses. This year Christian groups of various kinds seem to dominate the scene including some that I have never heard of.
Within the world of cult studies there has always been a debate as to whether these groups cause actual harm to their members. Some would like to claim that the suffering of ex-members is exaggerated and that they are telling ‘atrocity tales’ to justify their messed up lives. The suffering they experience is only indirectly linked to what the cult has done to them. The position of the conference is to stand firm against this ‘cult-apologist’ claim. Cults and their leaders do cause considerable damage to many of their followers and the fact that the damage is truly apparent only after they leave does not mitigate the horror of what has happened in many cases. Few people walk away from high demand religious groups without experiencing extensive emotional and spiritual damage.
This year the particular area of damage that I have noticed in the conversations I have had, as well as in the talks is the damage to relationships. One of the legacies of successfully breaking away from a mind-controlling group is to discover that all or most of your blood relationships have been destroyed. This is not because the relative has necessarily stayed behind in the group. It may be a legacy, in the case of a parent, of a child realising that their nurture in the group has deprived them of a normal childhood. The only way they can express their anger is to turn their backs on the parent who has betrayed them. This is an horrific scenario. Healing a single individual whose mind, emotions and social skills have been damaged is one thing. It is quite another to carry all the relatives, parents and children along with you in the radical process of change. So I am meeting people all the time who have made the journey from ‘darkness to light’ but have had to suffer chronic abandonment along the way.
I expect I will have further reflections about Bordeaux but thought that in view of the strange time of night I am writing this to leave my piece at this point. My first presentation on healing was well received and I make my other presentation on the Cathars on Saturday. Meanwhile I am receiving encouragement for the tasks that I am engaged in which is to explore, analyse and interpret the use and abuse of power in the Church. The Cardinal Pell story will need unravelling at some point. I am hoping that one or two members of this Conference will be joining our small band of readers. To them I give a warm welcome