Former Cult Members Share The Moment They Realized They Were In A Cult

Former Cult Members Share The Moment They Realized They Were In A Cult

Little disclaimer upfront: Not all religion is bad. That being said, not all religion is good, either. And I don't just mean how you may not like the church down the road because of some minor theological difference.

I'm talking cults, here. These are hardcore, abusive, possibly criminal, and almost certainly shouldn't be tax exempt. It turns out if you can get a bunch of vulnerable people into a room and convince them you are the only thing standing between them and an eternity of pain and suffering, they will do (and overlook) just about anything. All it takes is a narcissist or a psychopath to take these people and turn them into pawns in their little game.

Luckily, these days we have the internet and the biggest threat to a cult is knowledge and outside information, so what we have done here, is gathered stories from cult survivors, and laid them out for you. Learn, and protect yourself from those who would otherwise do you harm.

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24. Gross

The “leader” wanted to split up all the marriages and take the wives for himself, and he wanted to give the husbands of those wives different women to be with. Basically sharing the women, except nobody had a say in who they were to be with. Many people were deeply unhappy and pained by this, but they had to “submit to the holy spirit,” as they would say, and do what they were told. I was a teen at the time my family and I left this cult, so thankfully I was not pawned off on some random guy.

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23. Gotta love organized crime cults

My cousin was in a cult called the “Order of the Solar Temple”. The year was 1992 and at the time they lived in Switzerland. They lived on this cult owned compound and honestly believed every word they were told. They recalled to me that they realized the religion was completely false once they witnessed some mishandling of money which was pocketed by a cult leader.

They were selling firearms and committed organized crimes. They saw that all they were doing wasn’t for some higher power and they were just being scammed. He slipped away one night and moved to Germany. Then in December of 1995 a cave in the Swiss Alps was found with 16 bodies inside that were burned to death as a mass suicide for transcendence. All of the people were traced back to the cult. Good thing they realized what was happening before it really did some damage.

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22. Yep, this sounds like a super legitimate church

I was born into Scientology. Even though I internally questioned a lot when I was younger I had learned very early on not to actually question anything.

My “ah-ha” moment was when I was ready to go onto the next step and one of the other members (who not so surprisingly is also an ex-member now) asked me why I was planning on doing what I was doing - and my answer was “It’s what’s expected of me”. I went home and really thought about what I wanted and realized I didn’t actually agree with most things in Scientology. I started to process to leave shortly after. I had to leave “the right way” since my dad and sister are still very involved and I don’t want to lose them from my life.

Now, this all happened 15 years ago so I'll do the best I can but there is some info I just don't remember or remember incorrectly.

Leaving the "right way" depends on where you are within Scientology. There is public - who goes in, donate, take courses, go to events, but are under no contractual obligation. Class V Org Staff - the place MOST public go to get their services done, and those on Staff "work" there (it's more like glorified volunteerism). You are typically under either a 2.5-year or a 5-year contract and you're expected to work AT LEAST 40 hours a week.

When I was a senior in HS and told them I couldn't work all those hours and it was insane the amount of pressure I had put on me to drop out of HS to go work for them full time. And by full time I mean M-F 9-10, Sat and Sun 9-6 - and there would be events for the public on a lot of Saturday nights that would go until past 11. I did not drop out of school, but it was a point of contention the entire time I was there.

The Sea Org - this is the highest level of commitment within Scientology - and within it, there are more levels - but I don't know much about it since I was never in. I DO know that you have to sign a billion-year contract, you get housed and fed on their dime (but the rooms are essentially closets with a bed and a dresser . . . no real personal space), and would sometimes make about $50 a week. For working 80+ hours a week. You didn't really get 'time off' - if you were there you were expected to be available for anything since you really had no other obligations.

So how I left - as I stated above I was on staff at a Class V Org, and when you do that you don't pay for any services you get. So I had finished one of my services and was talking about what the next one I was going to do was when one of the other staff members asked me why I was choosing the one I did - and essentially I had already started down one of several different paths - so my answer was basically "Its what's expected of me", when I said that he told me to go home and think about what I had said. I did think about it, and over the next few weeks started opening my eyes to things that were happening that I didn't agree with. I realized that I really wasn't happy and that wasn't what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

So I decided I was done and was going to break my staff contract. I don't remember who I told but they started the ball rolling right away. You need to have a "Leaving Staff Sec Check" (basically a super intense, very expensive exit interview - that takes days or even weeks to complete). Once that is complete you're supposed to essentially make amends with anyone you feel you have wronged by leaving. Then - to get back in good standing - you have to pay your "freeloader debt" - so any of those services I told you were free while you were on staff? Well, now that you're off of staff you have to pay back the org for them. And it can be thousands of and thousands of dollars.

My dad paid for my Sec Check because I said I wasn't spending any money on them and he wanted me to be in good standing. I had some money saved up from when my mom had passed away and used that to pay off my freeloader debt (trust me I wish I hadn't done that). But then after that, I essentially make sure to not say anything bad about Scientology around members I know are active. As far as my dad is concerned I still think highly of Scn but that it just "isn't for me". I think my sister knows better but we just don't talk about it. I've been out for just about 15 years at this point, and I still get mail, I still get phone calls, it is still awkward when I see Scientologists I used to be close with - but I am much happier now. I love the life that I have made for myself.

Most of the stories you hear of people escaping and needing to hide etc - are from the Sea Org. I really don't have experience with that to know how difficult it must have been for those people. I will say that I have watched most of the Leah Remini show and MOST of the stories do not seem made up or exaggerated to me. I can see how a lot of them would have really happened - and it's extremely unfortunate that others don't see the abuses happening right under their nose.

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21. Dodged a bullet there

A friend of mine is adopted. For years he was weighing the pros and cons of trying to find his birth family. One of the major cons was the expense. Anyway, one Christmas, his wife bought him a genetic testing kits, one of those things where you spend a hundred bucks and you find out what percentage of your genetic background traces back to where.

It turns out, when you do this, they also match you on their database to relatives. He found out that he had a genetic cousin who'd also taken the test. He got in contact with the guy, the guy talked to his parents, and they were able to piece the story together.

My friend's parents are married to each other. Back when his bio-mom got pregnant with him, she and the father were not married, and because my friend's bio-dad was with the Jehovah's Witness, he could have been dis-fellowshipped for having sex before marriage. So instead she had the child quietly, gave him up for adoption, then they got married and proceeded to have three more kids. So my friend suddenly found his bio-family, including three full-blooded brothers that he might never have known about.

We joke about how his parents did him a favor by giving him up instead of raising him in a cult. That being said, there are a lot of complicated emotions involved in that kind of situation.

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20. Well at least they are forgiving

Googled my cult's name for the first time (which I thought was just the name of the church) and saw many articles about how the leader was charged for assaulting women. I showed my fellow cult members and they told me "The leader said that all those articles are lying and that we shouldn't believe them." I reflected some more and realized that weekday services at 4 AM and Sunday services that lasted 7 hours were absolutely not normal.

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19. Congratulations on your escape

I was in a cult that was run by a family member. It was a small group, and we were to give 100% loyalty to this family member, financial, and everything. It escalated to be my whole life for a good 5 years and I didn’t know what normal relationships were. I met a guy and he showed me what love actually is. He told me that this “relationship” I had with this family member wasn’t loving and I immediately knew. Told him everything and was out since then.. it was so hard to say “I think I might be in a cult” but I did. Blacklisted family member and other members and haven’t looked back.

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18. One of the most dangerous and violent cults America had ever seen, has a school system.

The CEDU boarding schools were founded by a high ranking Synanon member named Mel Wasserman. If you guys don't know what Synanon is, you should definitely look it up. There's about a dozen of these schools and they are STILL OPEN.

They kept all the teachings but dumbed them down for kids. Every few months we would go through a workshop, called 'propheets', where they would do weird things like make one person sit on a mattress in the middle of the room and have the rest of us pretend like it was a life raft, and you have to scream out all of the reasons you have to live and beg for your life. Staff would walk around, going, "you live, you live, you die", pretty much all down to favoritism.

If you get picked, you get on the life raft, if you don't, you drown, which was a little touchy for me because my older brother had just died from drowning less than three years earlier, but I had to act it out regardless otherwise I would fail the 'propheet' and I would be pushed back, and then I would be there another 3 months until the next one rolls around.

Also, sleep deprivation was a key part. The last workshop was 7 days, and the whole time you have to refer to yourself as "Me". I don't know how to explain this, but pretty much if you told a staff that you didn't want to do something they'd be like, "that's right 'I' doesn't want to do this, but your 'me' does'.

This was right before they dropped you off at a mall (keep in mind, we were all kids who were in the middle of nowhere in Idaho, who have been away from the world for almost 3 years) and you had to 1) buy someone food, 2) get someone's address, 3) talk to someone of the opposite sex, and some other things, but you couldn't tell other people why you were doing it. Think about that next time you’re in a mall (if anyone even goes to malls anymore). You would have approach random strangers and do that, after being shut away for almost 3 years.

When you graduate that 'propheet', the whole school (about 60 kids at once time) gathers around the main room in The House. They play this ridiculous song (The Rose by Bette Midler) and the kids walk one by one with a rose, and walk through the crowd and touch their hands and cry. Just listening to that song makes my heart start beating and really takes me back.

I can go on and on and on, I was there for two years and this doesn't even scratch the surface of all of the weird things we did. When did I find out? Like 10 years later when I really started thinking about it. It all felt totally normal, and I just remembered friends and stuff. That's the scary part. This was not normal, and to all the CEDU kids in here, sorry, you were in a cult. Just really take a minute to think about it. All of the weird sayings, the "agreements", the smoosh piles, the bans, the raps, the jumpsuits, the repetitive music, the scrolls, the workshops, the monitored phone calls, the mandatory Positivity letters, the Outlets, the Peace Talks, the Inner Circles, all of it, and this was all Synanon. That's not even including the propheets my dudes.

I still have my propheet journal around here somewhere...

Some other crazy things.

Disclosure circles. We had a thing called Raps where we would sit in a circle for 3 1/2 hours 4 times a week and just share, or get yelled at, or have to rat other kids out. Disclosure Circles were like Raps on steroids, and they lasted up to 6 hours. That’s where the staff would have to share stuff about themselves too. I learned that one of the staff assaulted an unconscious girl who partied too much, so that was nice. None of the staff there had ANY kind of certification or degree or was qualified to teach therapy to kid. I don't even think you had to have a high school diploma, and this was North Idaho, in the middle of the woods.

At the end of the 5th propheet, staff and your friends would hold you down as you struggled to get up, and it would give you this weightless feeling and they held you up to a light afterward. That was your rebirth, as you shed your shadow self away. You looked back at your shadow and told it goodbye, and then it was someone else’s turn. The shadow self is something that was connected to the first propheet. You had to draw an ugly image of yourself, and then face a wall and stare at it.

Also during that propheet you had to put your head between your legs and scream out confessions at the floor. If you couldn’t think of anything, you just had to scream at the top of your lungs. There were only about 14 kids to a peer group, so, imagine a room full of 14-17 year olds just screaming, crying and yelling out the most horrible things that had happened to them while staff paced around them, making sure they did a good job.

Again, I can go on and on.

They were able to keep you there until you were 22 if you were enrolled when you were underage. One of my best friends there was there for 4 years. If only you can see how just utterly lost he is right now. I’m afraid to even reach out because he’s so far gone.

Just remember, that this is still going on as you read this, and not a single thing is going to be done about it. This is just CEDU, and there countless other schools out there way worse. In Provo Canyon if you really screw up you get sent to its expansion in Guatemala, and parents are on board with that because the schools all seem so caring to the naive and ill-informed.

What else can you do, except let people know?

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17. This is a pretty common control tactic

I had little moments through the years, but the major one was when my pastor gave me a time limit with friends and a curfew, while my husband was allowed to do anything he wanted. I was apostolic Pentecostal. Pretty much the whole congregation, including family, shunned me. I am remarried now and my husband works with many of the people from that church and they will speak to him right next to me and act like I’m not there. It’s been over 5 years now and they still shun me.

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16. Time to find a new job

I wasn't in a religious cult, but I was in a cult of personality run by my employer, who envisioned himself a guru. When a coworker was told he was not allowed to socialize in his own free time with an employee who had left, I had an "uh oh" feeling. He also refused to speak to us for two days because he was livid that someone had gone on a date he thought he should have been informed about.

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15. Not even once

McKamey Manor... I went through in 2016, and it really is mostly fake but brutal in the wrong ways. For those curious about the haunted house part- They put a bag over my head, and a helmet, threw me into a van and drove in circles while they did various painful/uncomfortable things to me, while shouting at me. Not so much scary as just violent. Was tazed with a real prong shooting tazer, had mouthwash poured into my eyes/throat/nose, was nearly drowned in a tub a few times and waterboarded, was picked up and thrown a lot, ate some mealworms, Dubia roaches, and one hissing cockroach, all alive, and a lot of my own hair- they shaved it.

The first thing they do is wrap you in heavy chains about 100lbs, and force you to lie down and then stand up over and over until you are so exhausted that you really really cannot fight back. But that's the haunt part, I have heard that it used to be really cool, but the actors were all really abusive San Diego druggies by the time I went through, just unimaginative and violent. And Russ had lost most of his properties to bankruptcy by then, so it was done cheaply and in my opinion- with dangerous carelessness. A lot of people I know got really hurt, but none of that went public. The NDA is the only really real part.

The cult part is mostly online, their Facebook page used to be filled with idiots like me posting humiliating things online, vying for attention, in hopes of getting a chance to go through the haunt. The waiting list was fake, it always was, and Russ had a hard time actually getting people to come to his haunt. Myself included, all of the followers would go days without really sleeping, completing really dumb "challenges" like wearing an embarrassing costume and singing a song in a public place, swallowing a lot of lies and hype about a haunted house that didn't really exist anymore, and getting paranoid about other members of the group, tattling on each other for breaking stupid rules, getting "punished" and if you angered Russ or his lady friend, your name would be dragged through the mud, and when he was happy enough in your distress, he would publish information about you to the public, like regular strangers on the internet.

He posted my full legal name, address, phone number, and some other personal information including medical information. He would collect all kinds of info and use it against you. He got more than a few people fired from their jobs, two women divorced from their husbands, tore holes between group members and their families, etc. I got so involved I ended up moving to California, away from my family who hated me now, and ended up homeless when the "Manor Family" was done with me. Russ is a piece of human garbage who preys on young women, addicts, people with mental health issues, and other vulnerable folks. I'm so grateful the whole mess is basically wiped out now, but there's still a lot of fallout still years later.

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14. It's because God made women to be man's partner

The religion I was forced into as a kid was a cult. Teachings included, women are for making babies, no sex outside marriage or you’ll go to hell, birth control is a sin, don’t dress “immodestly” or whatever happens to you it’s your fault because you were “tempting” boys, etc. I was mentally out a long time before I could leave because I managed to see that friendship was conditional on being an unquestioning sheep, and I’m so glad I saw it early because it is undeniably a cult. And the reason I was shunned by the only people I knew as friends were the sheer audacity to ask questions. That’s it. I wanted to know why, and “because God and the prophet said so” wasn’t enough for me.

They’ve managed to have a few things pan out they banned smoking in like, the 1800s, so when the whole smoking-causes-cancer thing started, they went “A HA! YOU CANT DENY THE PROPHETIC WISDOM” blah blah blah. but for the most part, they are on the wrong side of history, and they never apologize. They can never be wrong. Oh and don’t forget to give at least 10% of your gross income to them, or else you can’t see family members get married or participate in things like blessing your own baby because you’re not “worthy”.

And don’t get me started on the garments. People will literally feel your upper arm to see if you’re wearing them, and if you’re not you’re instantly treated as either a second class citizen or a target for conversion, and no matter how many times you ask they will not leave you alone. You have to do something extreme, a lot of the time, to get them to stop harassing you, and yes it is harassment. Sometimes that’s something as simple as getting a tattoo. Other times you practically have to call the cops. In short, I’m glad I’m out, and I wish my family was less brainwashed.

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13. How are organizations like this allowed to continue existing

I was born because the church ordered my parents to have another kid. Grew up; Found several documentaries and legal cases against the church I grew up in, including my father's name and my own name. Later a member and my mother admitted it is not a normal church, and my therapist who specializes in cult escapees told me on my first session with him that it is a cult and he used it in his thesis. Also, we have three subreddits for members still in and two subreddits for escapees. I was also stalked, impersonated, and technically kidnapped by members.

I decided to google myself and found an announcement of my birth in a newsletter that the cult sent out. Which was only common with very high ranking members (my parents were high ranked). I had never googled my "church" before. I googled my father's name and the cult's acronym and found entire forums discussing his life, our lives. Why we had to move across the country suddenly to a house the "church" bought at auction when I was little. Every detail had been shared with these people and that isn't normal for a church. For people in another country, who you have never met, to have that much information on you. I commented and received several condolences from people about still being a minor and not able to leave, about having a Dad that got caught between the church and the law.

Anyways, fell down a rabbit hole on the internet and found BBC documentary, a 60 minutes episode, ABC, NBC mini-docs, YouTube channels of escapees, lawsuits from different countries brought against the church. Missionaries run out of the town in Eastern Europe, banned from a country in SE Asia, banned on certain university campuses in the US. It was wild.

Eventually, I brought up my concerns with a peer in the church and she just said "Well, yeah, of course, it's a cult. But I love it here." and left it at that. I just figured she was the average fundamental extremist and the thought of being labeled a cult would lead to social persecution and that would tickle her little psycho-ego. Well a ton of other crazy things happen, I get out and move 25000 miles away, and members who knew my parents would show up at my place at 3 am, try to call the pharmacy to cancel my prescriptions, follow me to class, show up at my work, show up at my new place when I moved; it was crazy. That is not a church. There were hundreds of sister churches with tens of thousands of members all around the globe and they would sic members on people.

Flew home to see my family for a short while and ended up talking to my mom about my concerns. She said blatantly that more than half the time, it is more about control, and the founder of the church (whose wife and daughter are missing, daughter left a suicide note, no body found, and a guy who called him out and published a letter to the members of the church also went missing). She mentioned that it is rarely about faith even at the bottom level and that she would leave if she could. I asked her why she can't just find a normal church and she explained that if she'd left she would've lost her job, our house, and custody of us. Her boss was a member, our landlord was a member, the church owned the house legally, the church had social workers, lawyers, notaries as members. I had seen people leave the church and lose their kids before so many times. They have kidnapped people's kids, they have planted drugs, they have called on church regions with 2k+ members to write a judge in a custody hearing telling them which parent to trust (the one still in the church) and which should lose custody.

I remembered one time my mom came to my godmother's house at a sleepover at like 3 am to pick me up and kept insisting I be quiet. I thought she was just having an episode (really high anxiety on that one). Turns out my godparents had been told by the church to pick me up and not let my parents see me until the church gave the okay. And people don't call the police if it goes to trial the church has your entire life history. Any drug use, and criminal record, and mental illness, any family issues, etc. They can and will spin it so that they are the concerned Christian friend who already has taken care of the kid, and you are the whacko who shouldn't be able to even conceive.

So finally I get into therapy, and my therapist goes "well de-programming isn't really my specialty. I can still see you but let me refer you to a colleague who specializes in this so you can get the help you need.". Go to that guy, we are doing the first session intake thing and he is asking basic questions, I mention the church and say I am not sure it is a cult but it isn't a normal church. He asks the name, I give the name, and he says "Oh! I studied [cult] during my doctoral program, even used them in my thesis!"

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12. Just as God intended

I was born into and spent my early years being raised in a cult. I didn't have any outside contact from the church family until I was six years old, and I was homeschooled for kindergarten.

My home life was abusive. My father was in the military and my mom was poor and uneducated, so we lived with her immediate family who were all church members. I had to start public school when I was six, which was hard for me because at no point did anyone ever explain to me the difference between my family's beliefs and the beliefs I encountered of everyone else at school. I was also bullied a lot for the way I spoke and the way I dressed, as I wasn't allowed to wear pants by my family's rules so I always wore dresses. We were poor, so my dresses were always old and outdated. And ugly, I absolutely hated wearing them. But this type of atmosphere continued for me into high school. I was punished at home when I fought against it.

When I was 17, my dad arranged a relationship for me with a man, who I moved in with. Not to go into explicit detail but this relationship was abusive. I grew sick, and when I was sick, he took me to a doctor. The doctor put me on a lot of psychiatric medications that made me very zombified, and I gained a lot of weight. I went from 120 pounds to 220 in a year. The guy I was with was really disgusted with me and he ended up moving back in with his parents, leaving me abandoned on the side of a road after vacating our apartment. I was 19, and I had no idea what to do other than call my parents. They begrudgingly allowed me to come home but the atmosphere was still abusive, and I just felt like I had to leave. I ended up living in homeless shelters for about a year, and I was in and out of mental institutions for about two years straight. But the people that worked at the hospital set me up on government assistance programs while it was happening.

The Obama years were good for people like me. I was able to get housing assistance, with my own apartment. I did not qualify to live in group homes because I was considered too naive to be able to handle it. No one knew what else to do with me other than put me in my own apartment and give me a caseworker. She visited me twice a week and taught me basic life skills, like how to shop and how to use a debit card. So I got food stamps and social security and basically learned how to live a self-sufficient life. I was 21 when all of this was happening.

Eventually, I was doing so well that my doctors let me come off my medications. It happened very slowly over time because I was on a lot of them. After about two years I was medication free, and I'd lost 100 pounds in the process. I was 22, and I decided I wanted to go to college. I was still seeing my case worker once a week, but I started taking buses to classes at a community college for computer technology. I was a pretty blank slate when I was choosing my major, but technology really fascinated me so I wanted to learn more about it.

Being educated in college was completely eye-opening for me from a scientific perspective, but I still struggled with feelings of allegiance to my old church. I'd always felt it was "just a church" and that my family were just misunderstood people.

So while I was at college, I still maintained close contact with a few church family members, who were hosting a refugee woman from South Sudan. She barely spoke English. Her family had all died back at her home, and she'd come to the States as part of a Federal refugee program. She was also pregnant. We found out from a doctor's visit that the baby had not developed lungs, and would be stillborn. He recommended an abortion. My church family had an intercessory prayer meeting over this event where they decided that the woman would not have the abortion, but we would let her have the baby at home and then we would hold it as it died. Which is exactly what we did. I watched that woman push that baby out in like 15 minutes, and then we all held that little baby as it died.

I was 23. THAT was the moment I finally figured out I was in a cult. I had memories of doing similar things when I was a young child, but now here it was in my face. I lost my mind a bit, but eventually, I got it together, finished college, and cut off all contact with my family and my church family. I'm in my 30s now and am actually doing quite well, considering the start. I've worked with cult specialists and deprogrammers to get to where I am now. I haven't spoken to any of my family or church family in almost nine years, and for the most part, they leave me alone.

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11. There's a time and place for everything

When I showed up at my religious university as a freshman and went to my first computer science class, and the professor made us read a section of scripture before the lesson and open with a prayer. I was also one of only three women in the class and he would constantly joke about how we all needed to get married so we wouldn't have to program anymore.

This was at Brigham Young, the religious college run by the Mormon church. And this moment stood out because I was on my first few days of college and I'd just moved from a liberal city to Utah, and all of a sudden I was hit with the fact that women weren't viewed as equals in this religion I'd grown up in. The professors would talk about how women were taking up seats that could go to men who needed to support their families, and how our educations would be a waste because we would all drop out and have kids anyway. Jokes on them, I finished my degree at a different university and I've been working as a software engineer at a big three tech company for a few months now.

My professor also invited me to quit my job as a computer science TA for another professor so I could come work for him, and he bragged that he had a 100% success rate of marrying all his female TAs to their single male coworkers. There were no boundaries, and I never really felt like I was treated as a person. I transferred and it was the best choice I ever made.

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10. Welcome to the Bible Belt

I did a high school exchange in the states when I was 16/17 (I'm from New Zealand). The town I was placed in was super small and close-knit and extremely traditional, I went to church with them and honestly the first service I attended I was expecting a camera crew to jump out at anytime, I was holding back laughter and had to leave the room because I found everything so ridiculous, as weeks went by I realized it wasn’t a joke, these people were serious, I would still have to leave the room but not to laugh- instead to hide in the bathroom and cry.

I had to attend the youth group classes also with my host sister and the pastor was teaching this whole generation of kids such vile mindsets. He told them that blacks and gays are not to be tolerated, especially not in these walls (the church). He would teach them that god only serves them if they go to their church because they are the only ones that are worth gods time. He taught them that dinosaurs never existed and the University of Tennessee planted the “fossils” around the world. The moon is not real and is instead just a ball of light(similar to the sun).

They would stand up during services and cry, hold their small children above their heads, and the adults would scream, I have no idea what they would yell but every time was so passionate. My last day in the states they pulled me up to the front and gave me a bible they said “Now we know for sure that God is able to serve even in other countries, as you go home and he will be in your heart forever.”

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9. Gotta love the theatrics, though

I was invited to join the Mormons. One of the most important experiences is going to the Temple. No one told me anything about what goes on there, so imagine my surprise when I found myself in an all-white room with a movie screen and an entire audience of church members dressed in white. The ritual itself involved watching a movie depicting the fall of Adam and Eve.

The minute the Satan character appeared onscreen I just broke out giggling. All of these adults were mesmerized and taking all of this VERY seriously. The ritual also included costume accessories (veils, sashes, hats) that the adults were told to put on at various points in the presentation. And secret handshakes.

I left the Temple knowing it was a cult. I have been heartsick about it ever since. All of it is Freemasonry dressed up as something else.

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8. The Pokemon evolve, and we all know that is heresy

Grew up in an Assemblies of God church. The pastors convinced all the parents that Pokémon was demonic and of the devil.

This was back in the early two thousands and all my classmates were playing the GameBoy games and the Trading Card Games. My school mates were all hosting Pokémon card parties at each other's houses and my parents wouldn't let me watch the show, play the game, or go play cards.

I just wanted so badly to fit in. I stole money from my family members and shoplifted so I could have cards and experience the awesomeness that is Pokémon. I hid a stash in my bedroom.

My parents found it and shared how hurt and disappointed that I was playing a "satanic" game with the whole "life group" (church small groups that meet in homes). They guilted me into "repenting" and surrendering my Pokémon cards and GameBoy. They proceeded to organize a special bonfire where they burned my cards, GameBoy and the cartridges of the games while everyone prayed over me to "cleanse me" of the devil.

Basically, I had an exorcism but for Pokémon.

When I finally got to America for college at age 17, I downloaded the game and played it in my first summer. I told the story to my other friends who helped me recognize that it was spiritual abuse.

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7. Don't diss Mormon potatoes

I was raised Latter Day Saint, which isn't a cult per se but there are some strong cultish tendencies.

I had a hard time with discerning fact from fiction for a while when I was a kid because I was surrounded by adults who claimed to literally hear the voice of God speak to them when they prayed, or attributed stuff like finding the keys you lost earlier that day in a location you definitely would have left them to the direct intervention of God in worldly affairs. i.e. God is real, he's here on earth, he talks to me and helps me find stuff I misplaced.

I participated in a baptism for the dead, where I was "baptized" in place of someone who died a while ago (whose name had been submitted to the temple by a family member, probably), where I changed into a white jumpsuit and was dunked under the water by an elder in my faith in a tub of lukewarm water held elevated from the ground by twelve life-size gold painted oxen statues. It was cool though because afterwards, we went go-karting. I lost all the races but it was still fun.

I was told the end of days was right around the corner, and I needed to prep some food and stuff for when Jesus came because before Jesus came the geopolitical situation had been prophesied to make it difficult to get food. So my mom had a bunch of instant potatoes in the basement for when Jesus came back.

The shooting of a child predator/emotional abuser/arsonist/killer/self-styled militia leader was pitched to me as a tragic martyrdom.

Good times.

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6. What a rollercoaster ride

This all started in the early 2000s;

Just shy of turning 18 while in college, I was going to weekly drum circles, monthly camping excursions with friends and just having fun in general with local pagans. It was a nice change for me since I was raised in a strict Catholic household and knew the church was a pile of hypocritical garbage. For years this went on, and it was a lot of fun, all of the same people were there, a good core group of 20 of us ranging between 18 to 60 years old. Some new people would come in and out of the group, but usually never stayed very long.

I'd go to camping festivals at nudist colonies, it didn't make a difference, everyone was respectful, and it's not like I'd stare at anyone's body because the vibe wasn't like that. In fact, years later I don't remember anything of those weekends other than great food, bonfires, great talks around said bonfires and awesome music with friends (think burning man but on a smaller scale and less mad max and sand). I am now in a relationship with one of my best friends from that time and friends with his parents because of all of that.

Enter a new guy into the fold about 3 years in of my going to the group, mid to late 50s. Conversations he started usually revolved around sexuality, freedom of expression, and how terrible society makes hooking up seem like such a sin. If we could all tune in to our desires we'd have a far better experience than what society gives us an illusion of what physical love is. People started going to this one guy's house for dinner, but I usually declined to go because I was a young 20 something woman at that point and most people going were in their late 40s to 60s, therefore not much in common with me.

Well one night at one of the caping festival weekends, I was told by someone there was going to be some sort of celebration around the bonfire, so I went. USUALLY, these sorts of things involved drumming, dancing, playing music and singing together around the fire. Turned out there was just a bunch of people doing it by the fire representing each cardinal direction on the compass for the elements in order to create energy to heal Mother Earth. So I was like alright, good for you and left to go back to my camp because it was at midnight, I was exhausted, and I really just wanted to dance around the fire.

This was one of the biggest festivals I had been to, so I didn't know many of the people at the bonfire EXCEPT the new dude who apparently orchestrated it and some of the newer people who'd go to his house for dinner.

I wrote it off as no big deal, pagans being hedonistic, which is acceptable but not my cup of tea. A few weeks later, more people from the core group started going to his house for dinner, and some as young as me so I decided to go. Well, to my delight we had a drum circle after dinner. It was a house on private property in the middle of nowhere, so that was cool. He had a big barn we'd go in and out of while hanging out, but something felt off.

Multiple people tried to get me to go into the barn with them, and eventually, it dwindled down to just a few of us and that same older new dude. He told me he wanted to show me something and talk to me about something kind of serious. By the time we moved from outside to a room inside the barn I had been avoiding, there was a circle of people that silently came in while we talked. What I remember of the conversation, he told me that the body is sacred and in order to be purified and ready for what lies ahead of me, I had to submit myself to him and be accepted into the group by a group of people surrounding us while we hooked up because only then would I gain Nirvana.

You bet I noped out of there, straight up bolted and never talked to most of the people again from that night. Who knows what would have happened... I didn't care to find out.

Evidently, this group turned into a giant cult where they have weekend retreats but everyone has to bang this guy so they can get some weird achievement unlocked so that OTHER people can hook up with them in this order. People donate money and time and all kinds of stuff to this new ground they purchased and this main dude has written it off as a tax write off because he's now got it listed as a religious group and retreat.

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5. If the Dalai Lama doesn't like you, maybe some self-reflection is in order

I used to be with the New Kadampa Tradition. It really struck me as odd that everything cost money at a Buddhist center. It's the only one I've been to that charges anything for anything. I've been to several Buddhist centers/temples over the decades. I was Kadampa for about five years maybe and was a trusted member at Vajradakini in Irving, TX (now Arlington), and at Kalpa Bhadra in Wichita. I spent a year in Albuquerque attending the Shakyamuni center.

There were always talks about it being a cult since it was in the news those days. The Dalai Lama had outlawed a central practice within Kadampa and Gelugpa ("Tibetan") lineages based on a string of killings within his monasteries and shadowy history of the aforementioned practice. Even though his decree only affected Gelugpa-lineage Buddhists, Kadampas felt especially attacked. It was then commonplace to see Kadampa Buddhist monks and nuns in full robe protesting outside of areas where the Dalai Lama was; shouting, holding signs, making noise, ignoring precepts. I am largely glossing over this debacle, but it's what had the New Kadampa Tradition in the news.

Seeing angry Buddhist monks and nuns shouting in protest, practically everything costing money, the New Kadampa Tradition actually having its own publishing company which copyrights its reading materials, prayer books, and posters? Would Geshe-la (Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, founder of New Kadampa Tradition) or the New Kadampa Tradition actually sue for plagiarism when one believes they are spreading the Dharma?

And then there's the actual Dharma (Buddhist teachings) within the New Kadampa Tradition. The first thing you learn there is that what the teacher says goes. The teacher is to be seen as an emanation of his teacher, and his teacher an emanation of his teacher, all the way back to Buddha Shakyamuni. So your teacher is to be seen as the Buddha himself. Sorry to get political, but that's like saying Bill Barr's summary of the Mueller Report should be seen as the Mueller Report itself; since it was passed down and summarized by an authority figure who is not the originator of the report.

It's a very difficult thing to pin as a cult, though. I believe everyone I met has full faith in the New Kadampa Tradition. It is a very seductive thing as well for any Westerner looking into Buddhism. The entire idea behind the New Kadampa Tradition is to make Buddhism accessible to the West. If you've ever gone to an Asian Buddhist temple, you might know how difficult it is to insert yourself. Not only is it - most of the time - corrupted by their region's culture, but it's also not usually in English.

There are also "wrathful" aspects of Buddhism. Buddhism has a somewhat heavy focus on death; the fact that we will die, and it could happen before you finish this sentence. So there is some imagery to reflect that. That might be a little unsettling to Westerners. So a lot of the wrathful aspects of deities aren't displayed. Rather they have smiles on their faces with bright colors around. There is even more altering to Kadampa Buddhism than to, say, Gelugpa because of this "Westernization".

It just seemed to me that everything about the New Kadampa Tradition was in direct opposition to what the Buddha taught. I'm in no way a Buddhist scholarly master (I think such a thing might, again, be in opposition to the Dharma), so I can't say for certain.

They eventually kicked me out because I was there all the time. I thought I was being a good Buddhist always at the center; cleaning, changing offerings, helping newcomers. They said they felt I saw it as just "a place to hang out". I rode my bike ten miles a day to get there and back until I moved in across the street.

All in all, something just did not add up about it. I don't hate it though. Everyone there was 1,000% awesome (except the two who kicked me out - but they never seemed overly "Buddhist" to me; always arguing, upset with people, concerned with money, never in a state of equanimity). I actually attended Shakyamuni and Kalpa Bhadra after I got kicked out of Vajradakini. The people within the New Kadampa Tradition are amazing people who are just trying to have an honest go at this Buddhist thing; even the ordained members.

I just think what the Buddha intended was something different from this. So I'm largely non-partisan now. Maybe mostly Zen. I just want inner peace.

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4. Nothing shocks me anymore

When I was 20 I ended up making friends with an oldish woman (about 40) in the neighborhood of where I worked as a nanny. Right off the bat, she was super nice and she had mentioned her husband was a pastor of a new church (The Door) and invited me to have dinner with them after a few meet ups at the park. I got to know her family, including the pastor husband and to be honest, they were really sweet and endearing people. At that point, it had only been a few years since my mom had died and my relationship with my dad wasn't going well so it really felt nice to be involved with this family that seemed so sincere. It didn't take much for me to agree to attend their church.

They were relatively new to the area and the husband new to the role of pastor. Their church was a small building in a strip mall and at that point less than 20 people were members. I didn't have much experience with religion at that point in my life so the Sunday services seemed on par for what you would expect. I regularly ate lunch with them after services and ate dinner at their house once a week almost.

They were a mixed bag of what you would expect from evangelical Christians. They held some very fundamentalist views like it was a sin to ever drink alcohol and they didn't believe in dating but instead "courtship" but at the same time they didn't look like the Duggars or anything. All their kids attended public schools, the mom and daughters all were allowed to wear jeans and such. So it was odd, they weren't stereotypical.

A few things did raise some flags at first. Like how they seemed downright giddy at the prospect of their oldest daughter who was 17 to graduate so they could then pray for a righteous husband for her and she could start her own family. That was... yeah. They also were insistent with a young pregnant member of the church that she reconcile with her cheating boyfriend that kicked her out and marry him right away before the baby could be born. That didn't sit right with me but the final straw came right before Christmas.

They invited me to this big church event involving their mother church and all other branches nearby. Most of the night was typical religious partying and then came the testimonies. The final one being from another pastor who got up there and told his tale of how he used to be a violent drinker who regularly abused his wife and children, including almost killing his youngest by trying to lock him in the dryer. Then he had his 'come to Jesus' moment after his wife finally left him and he went to church, finding God and all that.

He was saved and convinces his wife to come back to him, etc... And the whole time everyone is "praising God" while he tells his story, I'm just sitting there horrified by this man that just admitted to beating his wife bad enough to land her in the hospital and that she took him back. Just like that! No prison time, no counseling or anything. He found God and that was good enough to erase everything?

The next day I went online to look up this church for the first time and one of the first things that pops up is an article from ex-members and one story included was awful. A former member found out her husband had been abusing their 8-year-old daughter and turned him into the police. Almost immediately her pastor was over trying to convince her to drop the allegations, forgive him and take him back. "Jesus would want you to forgive." And "God doesn't want your family torn apart", "With enough prayer, he can be back on the right path", etc... She refused though. She was then shunned by the church as they chose to support and back her husband. And reading that I just thought "Yeah I could see that happening with these people." And that was the end for me.

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3. Ahh the old "Only we can save you" shtick

When I was stationed in Okinawa in the late 90s, I went to this "church" that seemed to be a pretty generic Christian church, but they met in a small room above a store. Didn't think much about it until they got a new pastor. They owned a house in town and always invited everyone over for some cookouts and Bible study. The new pastor was actively encouraging the enlisted service members to move into the house and get the housing allowance to support the house.

Then he wanted to see our LES (think paystubs) to ensure we were supporting the church enough. I think the final straw was when they started taking attendance for their seven days (yep, you were expected to attend some church thing seven days a week) of services and trying to shame anyone that didn't make it to something.

I didn't tell them I wasn't going anymore, just stopped showing up. They knew where my barracks room was and sent "soul savers" to get me back to the church. The last time they talked to me, they again went with the shame route, that no other church would get me into heaven, and I told them I think they proved I made the right decision.

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2. I wonder what the logic is here

I attended a South Korean cult but thankfully didn’t join in the end.

I had just moved to Korea at 18yo and didn’t really know anyone. I was just starting to learn Korean (conversational, but still low level) and didn’t really have a lot of friends yet.

Someone invited me to go to church with them, and they were really nice and I wanted to meet people. I had a lot of fun at this church. The people would take me out to eat, help me with Korean, and even help me with my homework/test prep.

It was 100% the nicest church I’ve ever visited, and I felt like a had a place to fit in now. This is how they suck people in. Also, there was a female pastor who was super hot and would sometimes let people (always younger men) stay with her if they needed a place. I always wondered if this was an intentional tactic to try to lure more young men in because this specific church (one location of many) seemed to only go after men.

Eventually, they started pressuring me to make myself unhealthy saying that there was a balance between physical and spiritual strength (I love bodybuilding, so being physically strong was an issue). They were pressuring me to lose muscle and try to make myself sick if possible, to make my body as weak as possible. They said if I didn’t my soul would grow restless and crawl out of my mouth when I was asleep.

I repeatedly said I wasn’t interested but wanted to continue attending this church. This was not acceptable at all. They strongly pressured me to start making myself sick. I stopped going to the church and they waited outside of my school for me and followed me around for what seems like a couple of months. They knew my class schedule and were always outside trying to talk to me. Eventually, in the end, they backed off and I never heard from them again.

Another guy from the church also got creeped out and left and we’re still good friends to this day.

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1. It's like a diet cult

Ex-mormon here. For a long time, I knew it was "cult-ish" but I always rationalized that it wasn't really a cult. Maybe like a diet version of a cult. Then I realized that in order to get to the top level of heaven (yes, there are levels) you must wear their special magic underwear, that you can only buy directly from the church. You also must tithe 10% of your income. You'd think that if you're paying them so much money anyway, then the magic underwear would be included for free. Nope. You gotta buy it from them.

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