I’ve explored and tried to understand religious thought of a fairly wide variety of well-known religions. Understandably, I’m most familiar with Christianity, since I grew up in America, however I have read materials, religious texts, and tried to understand Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Scientology, and Mormonism. I grew up as a Lutheran, attended catechism as a teenager, joined the Mormon Church (officially called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) at age 20. I served in various lay capacities of that organization for over 25 years, and after learning more about its inner workings and the beliefs of the LDS religion, I left it behind before the turn of the 21st century. I consider that good, but far too long to learn a basic truth. This is my indictment on the dishonesty of religions.
At first introduction into most of these organizations, and for many people who become committed to their teachings, the religion of choice, looks harmless and to many seems to provide personal benefit. It appeals to people who are seeking answers to complex questions of who we are, how did we get here, finding our way through competing ideas and personal identity, adopting a moral code, and where we end up after death. Over a period of time, while learning more, testing the ideas and logic of said organization through objective examination, you may find that some of your most closely held beliefs and self-identification, are formed by the purveyors of myth and perversions of intellect.
A religion or sect most often will appeal to fear or threats of rejection, requires the individual to become obedient / subservient in acts of self-hatred, isolation from contrary resources or people who may alter your commitment, aggression toward others outside the group, renunciation of family and friends in order to prove commitment to satisfy peers or arrogant, arbitrary and controlling leadership.
Another hallmark of many of these belief systems are the subtle and not so subtle methods they employ to keep you in the group. These include, but aren’t limited to, repetitious readings, group meetings which encourage people to give talks and presentations about their commitment to the religion and it’s leaders, and only reading or viewing materials which promote the religious group. Many unique phrases or words are used or words redefined to carefully construct and enhance the individual to group identification and involvement. Some organizations have cleverly institutionalized mind & emotional control by making the patron purchase materials as steps in a never-ending scheme to perfect themselves. Words like training or study guides are euphemisms for indoctrination as an outcome. People may later learn to find themselves so embedded in a religious culture through personal associations, family, and routines, they don’t see how they can ever give it up.
Understanding these beliefs and the intentions they produce can provide clues on how to impact behavior change.
“Lip service” of those who profess belief are usually put to the test by the prompting of lay leaders or clerics through several types of heinous acts, such as martyrdom, polygamous marriages, debasement of women, sacrificial denial, and patronage through large donations. Acceptance of bogus and ancient myths over rational and provable thought is the hallmark of those who eschew testable and accumulated scientific knowledge.
Promises of great reward are most often made for those with the deepest commitment to the clever machinations of manipulative, egocentric, charismatic leaders. They most often demand that you give up your hopes, dreams, enjoyment of life, to enhance theirs, under the guise of pleasing some remote entity that neither can be seen, or doesn’t have agreed upon attributes and purposes.
Those with the strongest group identification will have a foundation built upon the writings, teachings, visions and prophecies of people who have a questionable history or nebulous past. A cult will impose their will on your researching other sources for information, sometimes in more subtle ways through ostracism, reprimands, or peer criticism. Close examination of who these leaders are or were, or if they even existed as described, is officially frowned upon, and sometimes grounds for corrective (private judicial group proceedings) action by the group through expulsion, re-education, or in some extremes
After leaving the LDS church, I’ve never been happier. My life’s purpose has been enhanced through continuing my own education. The artificial group think, the control, and redirection of my life through the limited vision of other people has been eliminated. I’m not advocating other people live their life in a way that is acrimonious, or makes them unhappy with their culture and friends. I’m just unwilling to turn my life over to people who think they know what’s best for me, but have a such limited understanding of reality.