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Not Without My Sister – The Power of Fear

November 14, 2010

The good thing about travel is the chance to read again and upon seeing this book on the shelf at Sydney airport I knew that those hours in transit would not be wasted!   Not Without My Sister is at times a challenging and confronting read written by three sisters who were brought up as second generation members of the notorious ‘Children of God’  religious cult. The cult operated under the strict and insanely perverted control of leader David (Mo Short for Moses) Berg and at its height consisted of hundreds of thousands of members spanning all four corners of the world.  The intensely personal and graphic accounts of events portrayed by these three young women is so sickening, bazaar and outlandish that it is hard to believe it possible that so many people adopted and supported the twisted logic of this one delusional man and that is what I find interesting…….

FEAR = An emotional response to a perceived threat.

The book left me feeling intensely saddened and disappointed at how easily innocence can be lost, I don’t want to give too much away about the personal experiences of Celeste, Kristina and Juliana as they manage this beautifully throughout the book.  However, I do want to stop for a moment and reflect upon the key theme behind cult dynamics, the doctrine of fear.

Fear isn’t the unique selling point of a cult, it is not presented first up or even ever, it reaps up slowly but surely and before long you realize that you are lost, alone and needy.  As most of us are never going to even encounter a cult let alone belong to one I think it is useful to look at this controlling mentality in ‘everyday’ life. Through doing that I think it shows that the key difference between fear in a cult and many of our ‘civilian’ fears is our freedom.  Freedom of thought, space and time, the thing that I find strange is that many of us seem very happy to ‘outsource’ our right to free thought and self-expression  and that is where I get a little scared.

Going back to the cult for a moment we have a strong, fearless and headstrong leader with a persuasive argument that goes something along the lines of  “The outside world is so sick, polluted, corrupt and morally bankrupt.  I have found a better way, a way based on love, respect, purity, peace and community.  You need never feel lonely again,  we will make you strong, powerful and happy. We are your kind of people, we love you”.   Of course that sounds adorable, sweet, just what the world needs and so innocent.  ‘You can leave at any time” you are told,  ‘you are free, we respect the power of the individual’  etc etc  but of course that is only true if your individuality happens to be a carbon copy of the groups and that is not very likely at all. Before you know it your self-esteem and individuality are being managed for you.

Every day life is surrounded by cult-type moments and many of us are happy to adopt them into our thinking.  Now before I explain further it is worth noting here that I do not, for one second want to normalise or lessen the experiences of those who have experienced life inside a very real and very abusive cult. I simply want to highlight the similarities between cult and every day fear mentality as……..food for thought.

So, here are a few of my observations on how fear is used to control your free mind (in my opinion)

  1. Fear and beauty – We have got used the idea that our beauty has a ‘best before’ date and do everything in our power to hold back the years, get a shelf-life extension and disguise the inevitable.  At best fear of loosing our looks lightens our wallets of a few dollars, at worst it erodes our self-esteem, limits our enjoyment of life and affects our relationships.  The cult of beauty fear is something we all know about.
  2. Fear and health – It is right to be fearful of some things, indeed we talk about fear being positively healthy in some cases and it is. However, how many of us worry ourselves into an early grave over additives, pollution,  the side effects of medicine, chemicals, sunshine even stress – we worry about everything and work ourselves into a fear frenzy because there is just too much to be scared of and most of it is too hard to pronounce.  Of course we live in a time when even our breast milk wouldn’t pass a ‘free from xxxx chemicals’ audit  and that IS scary but there are some times when the FEAR trumps even the worst that the world and its insane humanity can throw at us. 
  3. Fear of lack of meaning – It is healthy to sit and evaluate your purpose in life every once in a while but far too often we seek meaning in all of the wrong places and end up on a one-way roller coaster into despair and disappointment.   Many societies teach us to want more, to identify with a cult of celebrity / consumerism / excess and while we can all have and enjoy a bit of the good life, getting caught up in it is no fun.  It seems that our cult of  wanting more stuff sits brooding like a  hungry spider in a sticky yet strangely beautiful web as if touching the web is the only thing that matters in life.  We seek meaning in our wallets and spend the rest of our lives running scared from the bills, the ‘what if they find out I can’t afford this’, the debt collectors.  There’s less money in looking for meaning closer to home.
  4. Fear of Change – This dislike of cheese moving is endemic in our society. Why?  Because of all of the above,  we are obsessed with having control as being in control is what makes a person free and we are as free as birds aren’t we?   When people move our cheese without our knowing our centre of control is moved, we become unbalanced and vulnerable, we get scared.   Our lack of love for change is tightly bound in our self-esteem and resilience – both of which are eroded by the above fear inducing states of mind, paralyzing us and leading us to believe that ‘everyone is against us’ and that ‘stuff like this ALWAYS happens to me’.
  5. Fear of THEM vs US – The pinnacle of the fear doctrine and a mentality that is as endemic in our ‘free’ world as it is in any cult.  We like to associate into groups, societies, organisations and movements and indeed, these things can do a lot of good and be life affirming, supporting and inspiring. However, they can also create a polarity and artificial barrier between those that  identify openly with your ‘clan’ and those that don’t and this can manifest into prejudice if left unchallenged.  There will always be more of ‘them’ than us and that can be seen as either an opportunity or a threat.

So, it is on that note that I wish to wrap up my ramblings and invite you to think about your lives and the role that fear plays in them.  Right at the beginning the definition of fear was given –  it is an emotional response to a perceived threat, let’s just think about that for a moment.  Emotional = a natural arousal of our senses in preparation for a programmed response that may be either rational or not.  Response = movement or change in relation to the earlier trigger. Perceived = imagined, grasped by the mind, to become aware of.  Threat = something that could pain, injure or otherwise disadvantage a situation.  So with that in mind it is right to be afraid, to fear, to be scared sometimes  but it is also wise to allow ourselves the benefit of a little time, space and love to adequately address our fears head on. After all  our perception is not always correct and a fear confronted is often just a meer bump in the road of life.

So how do we escape fear?  We go back to basics, shake off our prejudices and square up to that scary thing once and for all, dissecting it slice by slice from the bottom up. Before you know it we’ve put that fear right back into its place and carried on our walk of life as free, unhindered and inspired individuals. 

Fear disappears when you stop feeding it.

 I really recommend reading the book. It’s not easy but it really is worth it.  NOT WITHOUT MY SISTER.

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