Who Is Mistral Dawn?
Mistral Dawn is a thirty-something gal who has lived on both coasts of the US but somehow never in the middle. She currently resides in the Southeast US with her kitty cats (please spay or neuter! :-)) where she works as a hospital drudge and attends graduate school. Taken By The Huntsman is her first effort at writing fiction and if it is well received she has ideas for several more novels and short-stories in this series. Please feel free to visit her on FaceBook or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Hey Everyone! :-)
Today, I'm going to share with you something that not a lot of people know about me. Before we begin, please let me beg your indulgence. This will be a long one.
What you probably don't know is, I was born into, and raised as a member of, a cult. Yep, that's right, a cult. My parents were, and still are, Jehovah's Witnesses, and I was raised as part of that cult. Now, there are a lot of stories I could tell you about cult life, some of which would probably horrify you, but I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to talk about something that has a greater impact on society, prejudice and why it seems to be so prevalent. Now, these are just my opinions, of course, but you can decide whether or not you agree after you read them. ;-)
You see, as someone who ran away, as far and fast as I could, from the cult that defined the only life I had ever known, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out why anyone would choose to join or remain in a cult. I will say, the answer to that question probably varies greatly among cult members, and I certainly can't assert that the things I'll discuss here apply to every member. But, through 20-plus years of close observation, I have come up with some general themes I think apply.
First, there's the comfort of the familiar. If you're born into the Jehovah's Witness cult, your life is strictly controlled. You are limited in how much contact you're allowed to have with people who are not cult members, and how much you're allowed to interact with various aspects of society. For instance, Jehovah's Witnesses aren't allowed to socialize with non-Jehovah's Witnesses outside of what is necessary for work or school. In fact, Jehovah's Witnesses have a term for people who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, they are called "worldly people." And worldly people, in the view of Jehovah's Witnesses, are both dangerous and inferior to Jehovah's Witnesses.
Another way Jehovah's Witnesses isolate themselves is by strongly discouraging education. Children whose parents are Jehovah's Witnesses are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities at school. For one thing, it would require unnecessary association with worldly people. And for another, it would take time that would be better spent in the "preaching work," which is what Jehovah's Witnesses call it when they go door-to-door and try to convert people to their cult. Any education beyond the minimum required by law is proscribed. I won't go so far as to say it's strictly forbidden, but anyone who tries to pursue a higher education often faces extreme pressure to stop and may receive censure from the authorities within the cult.
So, as you might imagine, the combination of these two things often leads to an extremely narrow worldview. In fact, exposure to anything outside their limited experience can be quite jarring for Jehovah's Witnesses, and they often have a hard time assimilating new ideas. At least, that has been my experience in dealing with many of them.
Add to this, the fact that family members are not excluded from the rule about not associating with worldly people. And people who leave the cult are viewed as even worse than people who have never been a part of it and are shunned by everyone, including their families. Which means that anyone who leaves the cult often loses their entire social network and support system. Of course, that's probably exactly what the cult leadership wants, what better way to maintain control over people?
But that doesn't answer the question of why people join the cult who aren't born into it, and I don't think it fully answers the question about why people choose to stay, either. So what does? After all, it would have to be something pretty compelling for people to be willing to cut off all contact with their children, parents, siblings, etc. It's not easy to convince most people to be so cruel to their close kin.
For the answer to that question, I've had to look at what some of the perceived benefits to cult membership might be. This has been quite a challenge for me because, as you might have guessed from this post so far, my experiences with the cult have been less than pleasant. So, it has been something of a stretch for me to try to find the "good" aspects of cult life. But I've tried, and you can see for yourself if you think I've succeeded.
I'm not going to get into all the doctrinal dogma of God and righteousness and whether a person will end up in a good place or a bad place at the end of their life or what form that will take. These are things that many, if not most, religions express opinions on, so they are not unique to the cult. The same goes for the sense of community and fellowship. Any activity that involves human interaction and revolves around a common interest will likely result in those. No, what it boils down to, in my opinion, is the license it gives people to feel superior to other people.
Now, this is not unique to Jehovah's Witnesses, or cults in general, by any means. Human beings like to think they're special. And we are. All of us. Every single person on the planet is unique and special in their own way. Everyone has their own talents, abilities, and interests, and we are all, every one of us, special. But we are not any more special than any other person.
However, we like to think we are. And we like when other people think we are too. What's more, we often gravitate to anything that will allow us to sustain our illusions about how special we are. And sometimes those things do have the effect of actually making a person noteworthy in some way. People might try to distinguish themselves through education, inventing something, accomplishing something that is useful to humanity in some way, discovering and documenting something new and interesting or important, creating something beautiful or that entertains others, etc, etc. There are all manner of productive avenues that people might pursue in order to "leave their mark," so to speak. And that's not a bad thing, at all.
And the argument can certainly be made that a person can earn special regard for themselves through their actions. Especially, when those actions benefit others. But not everyone can, or wants to put in the effort, to do those kinds of things. So, what about them? How can they make themselves feel special?
Well, the easiest and fastest way is to create an "in" group and declare yourself part of it. That's what Jehovah's Witnesses have done. And, in my observation, that's what pretty much every group that declares themselves to be superior to other people does. Jehovah's Witnesses justify their perceived superiority by believing they, alone and apart from all other religions, know what God's will is and have His blessing. They believe that their faith in their own superiority will be vindicated at Armageddon when God will kill all the people on Earth except Jehovah's Witnesses. So, subtract roughly 8 million people from the total world population, and that's your death toll. And this is something they look forward to! Charming, right?
Are the beliefs of any group that tries to hold themselves above any other group any less vomit-inducing? Have you listened to the News lately? There seem to have been lots of charming people expounding on their thoughts in recent weeks, haven't there? And once you've established yourself as "better" than someone else, it's pretty easy to deny them the same rights that you have and dismiss their suffering too, isn't it?
So, why is this type of belief so prevalent? I mean, most of us, when we hear someone speaking about other people this way, realize how disgusting it sounds. So, why do so many of us fall into the trap of thinking this way? Because we get to be special! We don't have to do anything, learn anything, accomplish anything, or contribute anything. All we have to do is be something and not be something else. And since we get to define what the "in" group is, it's pretty easy for us to be a part of it, isn't it? And how many of us will ever get the chance to be special in any other way?
Of course, that doesn't make prejudice okay. I'm trying to come up with a possible explanation for it, not justify it. There is no justification for considering yourself superior to others and denying them rights or failing to be compassionate towards their pain. But I think sometimes it helps to understand the reasons we do things, especially if we want to try to keep ourselves from doing them. If you want to fight an addiction, you identify the things and circumstances that make it more likely that you will indulge in the thing you want to stop being addicted to, and you avoid those things and circumstance.
I look at prejudice the same way. I don't want to succumb to the tendency to regard myself as better than anyone else, so I try to figure out why that tendency exists in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong in the conclusions I've reached, I'm not an expert in human psychology, after all. But I think I've at least managed to identify part of the equation. And now what I need to do is keep that in mind if I start trying to look for ways I might be special in some way. I need to remember, that yes, I am special. And so is everyone else. And that's okay.