I did not choose my cult obsession. The cult obsession chose me.
Ever since I first viewed Leah Remini’s docu-series, ‘Scientology and the Aftermath' about her, and others’, traumatic experiences in Scientology, I have been slightly obsessed. I hadn’t previously known anything about the religion except that Tom Cruise was in it, and something about John Travolta. I also kind of knew that they were against psychotropic medications and psychiatry because of that awkward Matt Lauer interview. Regardless, something seriously drew me to the show. If I ever saw that it was on tv, I was locked in. And that was when I had to watch it on cable… with commercials! (If you understood how vehemently I hate commercials, you would understand how much I liked this show.)
In hindsight, my growing obsession with Scientology, and then other cults, makes a ton of sense. I should have realized it much sooner, to be honest. I think I officially started making some connections when they aired a two-hour special dedicated to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
My grandmother was an active Jehovah’s Witness until she passed in 2020. My father and older brother are ex-members of the religion and are very openly resentful about their time spent in it. I’m not exactly sure how they/we made that dynamic work, but we maneuvered around it enough to still be in each other’s lives.
Anyway, for years I would rewatch the series, knowing I really really liked it, but I never considered myself to have personally been in a cult. But then 2020 happened.
There is one episode in particular (season 1, ep. 10) in which different subject matter experts discuss the tell-tale signs of a destructive cult that set off the lightbulb. Steven Hassan is a leading cult expert who was once in the Moonies, a very famous destructive cult. Since his escape in the 1970’s, he has dedicated his life to educating people about their susceptibility to this kind of influence. In his career he has deprogrammed psychiatrists, medical doctors and scientists - debunking the myth that only gullible, less intelligent people are capable of joining a destructive cult and making decisions against their best interest.
But watching the episode in 2020, during one of the toughest periods of my life, listening to Hassan explain his BITE model and list questions to determine if you are in a destructive cult, I found myself saying yes to almost all of them. I am still processing my personal experience, but the basis of my understanding is grounded in the fact that I, and everyone else, was indoctrinated. This also helps me take things seriously, and not personally. Instead of trying to figure out how people can believe terrible things that do not make sense, I start with the knowledge that we all can, and have, been intentionally manipulated by people with a plan.
I believe cults are so attractive and successful because of their supply of certainty and purpose. But that’s for another post…