A short, true story not really about cults and deprogramming - blog by Gurdur


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A short, true story not really about cults and deprogramming
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Posted 06-Apr-2016 at 09:23 AM (09:23) by Gurdur

A long while ago, deprogramming was a real fad. People made their livings from offering it 'professionally', or from writing about it (both for and against), or from writing or politicking about the cause of the deprogramming fad, the rise of certain religious and quasi-religious cults. In response to that, and to a recent exchange on Twitter, what I offer here is a true story, and a cautionary one. All it will do is illustrate that life can be very complex, and that simple answers can be utterly inappropriate at times. If you read my blog, then you probably know that already; yet there may be surprise value in my story.

Also a long while ago, I once knew a family of several daughters, one son, a mother, and a divorced husband/father who was mostly absent and is largely irrelevant to all this. The family was largely dysfunctional, with the adult children lurching from one crisis to another, with two to three of those adult children being parasitical on others (mostly upon friends or lovers), one other, the oldest of the siblings, trying to hold the family together in her own way (the mother being largely ineffectual and irrelevant, albeit often present), and one absent daughter, whom several in that family would tell me about. With outrage; every time they spoke of her, it was to say that absent one had joined a whacky religious cult, who had demanded that the young woman cut off all contact with her family. The family spoke quite seriously of possible kidnapping and deprogramming of the sibling who had joined the cult.

At this time, the Western world was slowly coming out of a period where strange religious cults and other odd groups, such as the odious "est" or the far worse Scientology movements, were all the news. Cultural exchange, started off by the Beatles and their flirtation with Indian mysticism, would result in the large-scale exchange of things misunderstood by both sides, so brilliantly and satirically documented in part by Gita Mehta in her book "Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East". One example of a sect then famous is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON, a.k.a. as the Hare Krishnas). Another example is The Children of God, with their lovebombing, and their alleged open use of sexual seduction to win converts. One more example was the Orange People, a.k.a. the Rajneesh movement, some of whose leading figures caused significant tensions in Oregon, leading up to the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack in The Dalles, Oregon. I've personally heard very nasty stories of Orange People institutions and behaviour, whether in the West or in Pune (Poona), India; I have no reason at all to doubt the stories, and some reason to accept them as told to me, but without more substantiation or relevance, I won't repeat them here.

So to hear someone had joined a whacky cult, and that the cult had told the person to cut off all contact with their family, seemed only too plausible. It's not a story one would look much askance at even today; cults do exist. Cults have always existed throughout human history, and doubtlessly always will, humans being what they are. At that time and in that class, kidnapping and deprogramming did not seem too extreme.

Nonetheless, by various accidents of fate (I get around), I actually met the young woman in question, and I met the cult. Knowing much about the family as I did, and then meeting the cult and woman, turned everything on its head. The cult was a small religious group, based on various Hindu and quasi-Hindu beliefs, with additions. It included a rather conciliatory approach in trying to accommodate almost every other god there was - the group not only honoured Hindu gods, mainly Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi, Avalokiteśvara (Guanyin) etc., but it also honoured Jesus Christ and the Buddha.

The group itself used various techniques common to meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy. On the whole, the group's beliefs seemed somewhat ludicrous in the number of gods to be observed; but the group's actual practices seemed on the whole mostly quite psychologically healthy. A large part of that may have been the group's on-the-spot leader. The actual top leader and inspiration for the sect lived in India, and was a woman. The local group leader was a very decent man who would happily discuss anything. His wife was far more stern and puritanical. The group in that city seemed to function well, and its members (many of whom I met) for the most part seemed to each function well and psychologically healthily. The group and its members got along quite well without any of the excesses and sheer idiocies of the Orange People, without the obsessiveness of the Hare Krishnas, without the hypocrisies of other such quasi-Hindu sects I've met. The group ate meat, disparaging enforced vegetarianism (though it accommodated vegetarian members).

The young woman who had joined that group had, like most of her siblings, had a very troubled teenagehood. She had attempted suicide several times, and at one stage had had a depressive phase so severe that she had been diagnosed as schizophrenic at the time (wrongly, in my opinion; but it was a place and time where official diagnoses of schizophrenia were handed out like confetti). After quite a few years, she and her young child had joined this religious sect, and she gave every impression of being quite rational and stable both in short-term and long-term. She also seemed quite genuinely happy. I will add I am not easily convinced of things like this; I do have experience of life and people on the edge, as well as a certain native scepticism and a tendency to dig.

Her siblings were another matter. As I said before, the oldest tried keeping everything together and people out of too much trouble, but, in my opinion, in defence of her siblings she wilfully closed her eyes to much. Another sister of hers was an alcoholic, who repeatedly got into trouble for repeated drunken violence, theft and fraud, and was quite simply a parasite on whomever she could fasten. Another sister was nowhere near as bad, yet also displayed some manipulative, parasitical behaviour. The youngest of them all was the only male of the siblings, and at that time he displayed a semi-parasitical behaviour and a tendency to violence too. As said, the mother of the lot was ineffectual and given to empty bluff, and the father simply absent.

Indeed, the religious group had taken the young woman and her very young child into their ashram (their house of religious community and shared living). Indeed, they had told her she should cut off all contact with her family (though they did not enforce that in any way). Nonetheless, she was happy to talk to outsiders such as me*, she was honest, not under any duress (psychological or otherwise), and bluntly, she was far better off without her siblings, some of who would have begged or stolen the little money she had. She was certainly making a better, more based life for herself than all her siblings, with the possible exception of the oldest sister, who was also making a relatively decent life for herself.

I've not had any contact with anyone mentioned in this, including that group, for decades. It's quite possible the group no longer exists; I do not know. It's possible none of the main characters in this true story are alive any longer. Most were significantly older than myself; some lived lifestyles which would heavily predispose to shortened lifespans. In my life I've seen a lot of people die; some of these people were certainly not aiming for health and longevity.

But it does mean: appearences can be deceiving. Stereotypes can be both fully right and fully wrong at the same time. Prejudices can be both fully correct and false simultaneously.


* She did give me one compliment, which may bias me. She told me I had a great end-of-the-line sense of humour, which she explained as the sense of humour of someone who has gone almost to and has seen the end of the line, and has come back. In my opinion, she was accurate. Others like my bleak sense of humour too, so it was not a unique assessment.

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