Category Archives: Cults

Innocence in a Culture of Bigotry

You can talk to family members separately and each person will offer descriptions that sound like none of them came from the same family. Given that acknowledgement, my story is that my younger sister was a bully who was skilled at presenting herself like a victim and as a result routinely enjoyed my mother’s indulgence and I her scorn. The endless arguments led my brother to decide to be Switzerland. It would have meant more than I can adequately express to have him defend my honor. Here’s the thing about the notion of neutrality, when it comes to bullies or outright evil: not taking a side, is taking a side. During World War II Switzerland had a policy of denying entrance to Jews trying to escape the Nazis. Tens of thousands of would-be immigrants died because they were turned away by Switzerland. That’s how neutral looked to Jews fleeing genocide.

Switzerland and the Holocaust

If you are willing to take a position and maybe even help, how do you decide? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? The challenge is that often identifying the true victim is challenging because not every wronged person makes an ideal hero. We want to cheer for the unjustly accused as long as they suit our idea of someone blameless. If there are any shadows cast on someone’s character or details from their past that make us uncomfortable, then it gets muddy.

In early 2000, Adnan Syed was sentenced to life-plus-thirty-years for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. His guilt or innocence has been debated for many years by countless people. The debate went viral as a result of the podcast “Serial.” I was among the record-breaking number of people who listened in 2014. It was compelling. But in the end, “Serial” did not leave me with a clear conclusion, just disappointment. (I never listened to season two.) My perception is that Adnan did not make the perfect wrongly convicted hero, but was instead a flawed human being and in many ways an enigma. His story was told by producers who did not sufficiently address the impact of cultural and religious bigotry. It was addressed, yes, but not adequately

“Serial” – season one

Since the 2014 podcast I had not forgotten about Adnan; then, earlier this year, I met author Rabia Chaudry who wrote Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial (2016). In her book, she owns her bias as a family friend and advocate for Adnan. She has become an attorney since his conviction, and is the person responsible for convincing the “Serial” producer to take on his story. What I observed from the podcast in 2014 and I maintain now, is that I don’t believe that what happened to Adnan would have happened if he was a Caucasian/non-Muslim.

The bigotry began by the police not investigating the victim’s white boyfriend (or anyone else), and going out of their way to connect Adnan to the murder, while using his religion for motive. They chose their suspect then set about proving it. Claiming his religion was his motive is like saying that anyone who is Christian could have a motive for murdering an abortion doctor. The most shocking initial public display of apparent systemic bigotry was at his bail hearing. Prosecutor Vicki Wash argued that “…he has limitless resources…if you issue him bail you are issuing him a passport to flee the country…There is a pattern in the United States of America where young Pakistani males have been jilted, have committed murder, and have fled to Pakistan…” (p.97). There is no such pattern. And there was never any reason to jump to that conclusion about Adnan and his community. In place of evidence, the prosecutor used religious and cultural bigotry.

I was at a picnic last summer and somehow the subject of the plain Mennonites and Amish came-up. These women wear a yarmulke-like net cap called a covering. I compared it philosophically to a hijab. The response was that the Mennonites and Amish don’t commit honor killings. I hope that if you’re reading this, I don’t have to explain how far-fetched this assertion was. But just in case, the link below has actual data on honor killings which are not exclusive to Muslims or men commiting murder, though of course, it’s always women who die.

Honor killing awareness

What I am willing to say is that when I see women needing to take special measures in their dress to accommodate their religious and cultural customs, it disappoints me. I support their right to do so, but I wish they would make a different choice. I wish this of the Amish, and I wish it of women wearing the hijab. These practices exist in the context of male dominant cultures, which are many. Male dominance is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t always even see it. It’s just not conscious for most people. It’s one of those norms we have come to take for granted.

Our justice system is another norm we take for granted, with little questioning. We want to believe that people get what they deserve so we don’t feel vulnerable. But the system has a deep inherent flaw in that it is an adversarial system set-up to have winners and losers. Lots and lots of losers. And most of them are poor. Read their stories. The drive is not for truth or justice. It is to win. At any cost.

The Pennsylvania Innocence Project

I don’t know if Adnan did it. But I do know that he did not get treated justly because he is a Muslim. I choose to believe if enough of us care about making our defective system more just, it can happen. I believe if we send our intentions into the Universe things will happen, though not without us taking actions as well, of course. Don’t know where to start? I do. Start by reading more. If you read with the intention of impacting change, I promise you that the Universe will present you with ideas and opportunities. At least choose to not be Switzerland. -J.B.

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Nuns, Cows and Inspiration

There was a summer when I sang “How do you solve a problem, like Maria?” 52 times.  I was home from college andSOM76 managed to get a miserable summer job in a tourist trap during the day and playing a nun on stage at night.  I suspect I was not good at it, but I don’t really know.  I do know I got in trouble for talking trash within ear-shot of the little “Von Trapp” children off stage.  I seemed to need something to balance wearing a habit every night.  It was hard to view it as serious theater because backstage was a livestock sales barn, usually with cows.  The mooing and the cow dung were equally distracting.  And contrary to the delicious rumor, I did not go bar-hopping in my nun’s costume, though I wish that it had been me.

When the “Sound of Music” movie was in theaters in the early sixties, Karen Armstrong had just joined a severe, conservative convent in England at the age of 17.  The day her family took her to the convent, they went to see the “Sound of Music” after they said good-bye, while she was entering an entirely different world than the movie convent.  Armstrong spent seven long, painful years there and many more recovering, but eventually wrote The History of God, and many other books.  I just finished reading her first book, Through the Narrow Gate, and re-reading her follow-up memoir, The Spiral Staircase.

These two Armstrong books reminded me of The Empty Mirror: Experience in a Japanese Zen Monastery, by Janwillem van de Wetering, and the book by my friend The Orange Robe (Marsha Low Goluboff).  I admit that not everyone is fascinated by people who go to extremes on their own spiritual quest, but I am.  In Armstrong’s case, she was in pre-Vatican II draconian communities that sounded quite like prison to me.  For van de Wetering, it was in a Zen Buddhist monastery in Japan with austere conditions that resulted in high-risk weight loss and numerous very serious physical and mental ailments.  My friend Marsha travelled the globe living on next to nothing that she most often had to scrape-up for herself in a guru-centered cult, Ananda Marga, which she calls a “spiritual sect.”

It is easy to be amazed by people making such personal sacrifice of physical and emotional comfort.  Granted, the stories I’m referring to here are written by people who have left the group.  Those who stay are less likely to write books that appeal to others or offer more than proselytizing.  Still, we can learn more about an organization, or a family for that matter, from those who have left.  Take a look at the black sheep of a family and you will learn more, faster.  Well, in my family that’s me, so maybe I’m biased.

What struck me in all three books was the arbitrary and brutal behavior of many in leadership who were viewed by themselves and others as spiritually advanced.  While I can understand the value to challenging and managing our own ego, I have never liked the people in power having to ‘break’ others. Upon arrival at the monastery, van de Wetering said, “In every training the ego is broken, the ‘I’ is crushed,” (p.17.)  Armstrong described that approach by saying: “We are, the great spiritual writers insist, most fully ourselves when we give ourselves away, and it is egotism that holds us back from that transcendent experience…” (p.279).  Armstrong offered another way of looking at the ascetic search for God or enlightenment; “…a disciplined attempt to go beyond the ego brings about a state of ecstasy,” (p.279).  Really?  Is it just another buzz?  The Buddha himself, moved on from asceticism and to the middle path (The World’s Religions, Huston Smith, p. 85).

One reason I am so skeptical of extreme lifestyles is a result of growing up around plain Mennonites and Amish.  What I have seen from all three books and while growing up, is that people are people.  By my idea of ethical behavior and compassionate interaction, I don’t see any greater measure of ethics and compassion coming from the Amish, the convent, or the Zen monastery.  For you religious readers I would say: Orthodoxy is not Piety.  For those of you scratching your heads at that one, I will add that rigid religious practice does not guarantee religious enlightenment or even sincerity.  In fact, often the severity of practice is in itself a distraction.

What I have learned from these stories is the value of ordinary life; for example, the struggle of staying employed and sane as an ethical person.  For many people, this is a fierce internal battle.  It’s just not that easy to find a civilized work environment where you don’t have to worry about who is going to throw you in front of the political bus, or how many people will be laid-off to protect the CEO’s inflated salary.  Your ego doesn’t need to be broken when it is beaten down by life every day.  I think more of us need the creativity and strength to keep some balance and perspective in our lives without being demoralized or immobilized.

In this, I have to refer (briefly) to education in our country.  I don’t have the research to present you with a full treatise here.  What I have are stories: stories of laid-off teachers and entire schools systems that are chronically under-funded in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  This week 30 school children went to see the governor of Pennsylvania with 4,000 letters.  He refused to see them.  Most of the state is controlled by white Republicans who see the School District of Philadelphia as poor blacks who have no right to expect the same education as white children of privilege.  Why is this ok?  Why is education considered a luxury?

That’s a long walk around the barn to say: what can I do to make a difference when I’m hanging on to my job by my fingernails and watching those in power abusing those who have even more meager resources than I do?  How do I manage my daily stress, and still find energy to make my voice heard?  And worse, will it make a difference?

What I’m hanging on to is knowing people like my friend Sara.  She took a vacation day to go to the state capitol to try to get callous legislators to care about education.  Every day she works full-time, cares for her mother and family, volunteers on two nonprofit boards, and was the volunteer of the year at her church.  At work she is fierce and vocal about workplace ethics and she has my back.  Always.

I can tell you I find more religious ecstasy in knowing Sara than contemplating my navel or being bullied by religious extremists.  I know there are more like her.  Truthfully, I’m not in her league.  But I aspire to be, and promise to keep trying harder.

If I have distressed you, then I do have a suggestion.  If you get really bummed, just put in the “Sound of Music” soundtrack and sing along really loud.  Nothing works for me better than the goat-herd song.  Just don’t stop listening to your conscience and protecting your soul, whether it is from your own ego or from bullies, in religion or at work.  –J.B.

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Cults 101: If it chants like a duck, it’s a duck

When it comes to cults, I believe in the duck theory.  You know, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, chants like a duck, then it’s a duck.  Of course not all of us have personal experience with cult members, but I propose that every family has some religious zealot of one persuasion or another.  It matters  when zeal turns into obsession and religion (or politics) turns into a cult.  People
get blown up, drink Kool-Aid, lie, cheat, and steal out of so-called religious
devotion, so none of us are immunized against the potential harmful effects of
cults.

Cult is one of those words that is more potent in its connotation.  A simple semantic definition is insufficient because defining a cult is a subjective process.  Merriam
Webster’s
first definition is “religious veneration” and the third definition refers to groups regarded as “spurious.”  (The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions description is so broad that I found it to be no definition at all.)

How about an inside look at a real cult in a newly published book?  It is written by someone who was in Ananda Marga for nearly 20 years before leaving disillusioned.  And if you’re thinking this could never happen to you or anyone in your family, I beg to differ.  Author Marsha Goluboff Low is a nice Jewish
girl from the Philadelphia suburbs who was attracted to Ananda Marga just
before graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.  The Orange Robe: My Eighteen Years as a Yogic Nun, is a page-turner with life lessons for all.

Goluboff Low grew up in a harsh, cold household which nurtured low self-esteem and loneliness.  See what I mean?  There are a lot of people who can relate to
that kind of childhood.  She was at Penn at the end of the sex-drugs-rock’n’roll sixties, and found herself “longing for God” (p.5).  She was attracted to what
she saw as the peace and joy of the Ananda Marga devotees with whom she met and
started to meditate.

Ananda Marga was founded in India in 1955 by a railroad worker with spiritual gifts
and a vision of service to humanity.  Goluboff Low described him in the introduction as having a “magnetic and spiritual presence.”  Over the years she
met with him on several occasions and has accounts in her book of her own mystical experiences which she attributes to him.

There is no question that the author worked tirelessly to serve humanity, making
great personal sacrifices.  She had significant spiritual experiences giving her periods of bliss.  For many years she felt Ananda Marga offered her what her birth family did not.  As a student of religion, I would say the single most compelling issue that is woven throughout the book is this: how can a spiritually inspired and gifted guru tolerate an organization lacking in compassion for its members and who engage in ethically compromising actions?  I choose to believe that the Ananda Marga Guru was gifted and started with admirable goals.  However, when his ego merged with his spiritual potency and personal charisma, it created a dangerous
combination.

Many cults start as a religious sect.  By sect I mean a small, non-traditional religious group.  Sects perform a service by challenging the
status quo of mainstream religions and their inevitable inconsistencies and
corruptions. The difficulty comes with growth and what happens next to the sect.  Often it stagnates or in-breeds to become a cult.  I give you the Amish.  Originally championing pacifism and simplicity, the Amish got stuck.  If you
picture them as some quaint group leading a pastoral life you are naive.  Their costumes reflect being stuck in time, not a theological imperative.  Can you
really believe that God thinks buttons are sinful?  The Amish are strictly patriarchal with the local bishops having unquestioned power and influence.  Education after eighth grade is not allowed.  If a member of an Amish family chooses not to be Amish, they are no longer considered family.  And then there is their reputation for animal cruelty, which I have observed to be well-deserved.  It’s not all barn-raising and pie-baking.

Here are some considerations I would like to suggest are taken into account when
trying to make a distinction between religious groups, religious sects, and
religious cults.  This is my Red Flag or Chants Like A Duck List.

  1. Size doesn’t matter.  Whether large, like
    the Mormon Church, or small like the Branch Davidians, what goes on inside is what makes a cult.
  2. Yes I am God.  Personally, I think we should question anyone
    who says they speak for God, but when the veneration is of the individual then the practice is human and not divine.
  3. Give me all your money and go get some more.  If financial
    surrender is a condition of participation, you should worry.  If ethics are compromised to keep the organization funded, run the opposite direction.
  4. We’ll tell you when you can have sex, with whom, and if you can procreate.  There is a place for government or religion stating
    ethics or making laws on sexually aggressive behavior, for example.  It makes sense for the government to outlaw rape and religious organizations to address mutual respect.  However, when it comes to actual consensual activity and breeding – that should only for the individual to decide.
  5. Leave your conscience at the door.  If you
    surrender your money, you conscience won’t be far behind.  If you are required to surrender either, then you are signing up for a cult.

If you think all this doesn’t matter then think about political cults I wrote
about in the Sri Lanka blog (5/7/2011) who were originating suicide bombs
before we associated that activity with the Middle East.  The Orange Robe addresses immolation (self-sacrifice, in this case burning oneself while alive).  I am unwilling to see torching oneself as an act of devotion but rather one of delusion.  Whether suicide bombers, or monks on fire, I don’t see these as mentally healthy, happy people.  Any Guru, Imam or other religious leader that allows, encourages, or endorses this behavior has left the realm of religion and crossed-over to the dark side of cults.

The Orange Robe is unafraid to address that dark side of Ananda Marga and the author owns up to her own questionable activities.  It is a story where personal
courage and conscience survive the cult’s oppression and manipulation.  Marsha Goluboff Low joined Ananda Marga for the right reasons, and left for better ones.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know the author and read an early draft of
this book several years ago which earned me a mention in the acknowledgments.  But be assured that if I didn’t like this book I might tell her a polite social lie and say I did, but I sure wouldn’t write about it here.  I know for a fact the author labored over this book for years, but it is so well-written that it seems effortless.
Her world travels and spiritual journey are truly compelling.  I encourage you to give this book a chance. – J.B.

P.S.  This is someone you want to travel with.  She can survive anywhere!

The Religion of Me, Part Two: The Mega-Church

There is a seventy-something woman I know well whose father was a pedophile.  I asked her if she was abused by her father and her response was that she doesn’t remember details of her childhood.  I’m told by my social work friend that her memory-blocking is a symptom of abuse.  In any case, I don’t see how it is possible that she could have had a healthy, happy childhood.  Whether or not her father abused her, he and his in-denial wife established a dysfunction household way beyond the everyday grousing most of us do about our families.  That is what takes me to Eddie Long.  As the “bishop” of a 25,000-member Georgia “mega-church” there were symptoms of corruption and impropriety (at best) that 24,999 people chose to overlook.  That was one giant dysfunctional social club.

First of all, the words “mega” and “church,” in my view, are mutually exclusive.  The discussion of religious topics or the word ‘god’ being tossed about about does not a church make.  Political rallies talk about god, Klan rallies talk about god, Masonic ceremonies talk about god.  Even stadium revivals may have a religious theme or inspire spiritual transformation, but these events do not constitute a church.  I’m not going to tackle the definition of church here, today, but I do want to make the distinction of what about this story raises religious questions.  Granted, this is a sensational story on many levels, but not many aspects are really about religion.

An MSNBC morning anchor interviewed a commentator who described Long as running a “ministry of prosperity.”  First of all, there is no such thing.  That is not a “ministry.”  It is religious-themed theatre where a motivational speaker tells folks what they want to hear.  It is not for the common good or the good of the disadvantaged.  It is established and maintained to promote the personal comfort of the leader and the members of his club.

There’s a terrific story CNN story by John Blake on Long (the best mainstream secular reporter covering religion today);  the link follows.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/09/28/long.new.birth/index.html?hpt=C1

On the other hand, if you’re just sick of the nonsense, then I’ll give you a short-cut check list.  Here is my top ten list: Top 10 reasons to suspect your clergy has his hands in the wrong place.  Here are some things that a few of those 24,999 folks should have noticed.

10.  He’s has to hold a news conference to defend himself.  If he is a man of God, then news stories are irrelevant, aren’t they?  He is fighting for his image and income, not to protect a real ministry.

9. He’s wearing more bling than the little old ladies on the front row or gangster rappers.  In fact, the bling on his finger is the size of a Super Bowl ring.

8.  He doesn’t travel with his wife.  C’mon folks.  This is a little something girls in bars learned about traveling salesmen and lounge lizards a long time ago.  Did not one of you 24,999 folks find a married (allegedly straight) guy traveling around the world with young men slightly hinkey?

7.  Is your clergy driving a better car than you?  He’s not just driving a better car than congregants, it’s a $350,000 Bentley for crying out loud.  With this lousy economy and his millions couldn’t he find domestic luxury to his satisfaction?  How about a nice Towne Car?

6.  Your clergy is sending photos of himself in spandex taken on his cell phone in his bathroom.  (That one really doesn’t require any other comment, does it?)

5.  He’s running a charity to help the poor but lives in a $1.4 million dollar estate and pays himself $1 million a year salary.

4.  There are more pictures of him around the “church” than any religious icons and he tells you questioning him is the same as doubting God.  This is the “Religion of Me” personified.

3.  The use of personal pronouns in his sermons and sound bites.  As I said in my previous column, personal pronouns are a big red flag.

2.  He has sound bites.

1. A ministry of hate.  If anyone in any pulpit is teaching hate messages, it is the sign of a personal or political agenda.  Remember when Southern Christians found justification for slavery in the Bible?  One key to Eddie Long’s prominence is his condemnation of homosexuality.  While it now seems obvious that was some kind of self-loathing, he was engaged in a ministry of hate.

Of all the sordid details in this ever-unfolding story, there were two comments from Long I found especially disturbing.  In speaking to a minister of a smaller church, Long said with envy, “I may have the numbers but you have the love.”  If you are running a church so people love you, then it really isn’t a ministry, is it?  That’s Cult 101.  He justified his lavish lifestyle by describing himself as a CEO.  Again, this is using religion for big business and personal gain not working to help the poor or support the spiritual growth of congregants.  The behavior I found the most disturbing was how he cultivated young men for several years, but didn’t start traveling with them until the legal age of consent (17 in Georgia).  That’s not an accident.  That’s premeditated, calculated manipulation.  Again, what were the 24,999 other church members thinking while this was going on?

Writing about such a lurid story may seem like I’m grabbing low-hanging fruit.  I challenge you to get a ladder and look for the rotten apple still on the tree.  There are smaller examples of clergy in every religion using their position to promote themselves and their own agenda.  As long as the folks listening accept whatever they are told without question or challenge, then these same dynamics will continue to hurt the untold many.  I blame the 24,999 folks sending Eddie checks and Sunday morning amens because he was telling them what they wanted to hear not what they needed to hear, and they were averting their eyes from some obviously creepy behavior.  Wake up and smell the spandex chafing.

“The market has become God”

That is a quote from Jim Wallis on MSNBC’s “Hardball” (5/21/2010) in an interview with Chris Matthews.  You won’t often find me agreeing with an evangelical Christian, but Wallis and Matthews did an inspiring job commenting on BP’s oil disaster in the Gulf – a disaster for which we will all be paying for many years.  The link to the Matthews-Wallis interview is below.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036697/#37282539

Wallis challenged Glenn Beck of Fox “News” for attacking social justice churches.  Beck is quoted on Wallis’ website saying, ‘churches are being used by progressives to bring about the fundamental transformation of America.’  If only that was true – it seems to me that most churches are snoozing.  Beck’s criticism of social justice Christians is from the outside looking in.  (Bear in mind that he is Mormon and the National Council of Churches does not count the Church of Latter Day Saints among Christian denominations.)

Wallis and others are assuming responsibility for trying to place a wake-up call to all of us regarding environmental sustainability.  This should mean something when you can go on numerous websites, right now, and see tens of thousands of barrels (what size is a barrel?) of oil polluting the ocean every day.  CNN’s link is below.

http://www.cnn.com/video/flashLive/live.html?stream=stream3&hpt=T1

Speaking for Christian theology, part of the problem lies in fundamental Christians and their interpretation of Genesis 1:26 in the King James version which talks about “dominion” over the earth.  Many interpret this as a license to abuse.  Wallis challenges Christians to be stewards of God’s creation.  The link below will give you several things to think about if you want to hear more from Wallis and his colleagues.

http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.home

No matter what religion you are, if you are reading this you are breathing and probably want to be able to drink water in the near future.  If we continue to allow the destruction of our home planet, we’re making it more difficult for safe breathing and drinking water in the future.  (And don’t get me started on coal mining.)  We should be angrier with BP than how we react to $4 per gallon for gas.  Remember that?  Yeah, we were all plenty pissed about that.  Well, guess what: this is worse.

“BP has to be held accountable to the common good,” said Wallis.  Matthews answered saying, “Mankind’s interests trump the marketplace.”  Wallis added, “The market is the means and not the end.”  Healthy capitalism can be successful at putting food on many tables, but unregulated capitalism becomes a greedy bully that will steal our lunch money and pollute the natural resources from which that food comes in the first place.  Whether you are religious, atheist, agnostic, or secular humanist, what’s happening now can’t continue.  Get pissed off.

Comment here and tell us what you think you can do. -J.B.

Underwear and Religion and the Amish

Every trip to Lancaster County provides me with something to ponder, and Mother’s Day 2010 was no exception.  On one of her trips to the mall, my sister-in-law saw an Amish woman shopping in Victoria’s Secret.  When the woman, in full ‘plain’ garb, was asked by the enthusiastic salesperson if she would like to apply for a credit card, she said she already had one.  Seriously, I am not making this up.  Why is this incident different from the mysteries beneath the burqa, or the Mormon’s wearing their own special underwear?  It is and it isn’t.

My understanding of the underlying theology justifying Mormon (LDS) ‘Jesus jammies’ and Islam burqas leads me to conclude there is a subtle difference with the plain Mennonite and Amish garb.  The wearing of burqas and LDS garments connects members to each other.  In this, they share a common trait with the plain people.  However, both LDS and Islam women have a view of protection or shielding from the outside world.  The simple dress of plain folks means they are demonstrating their desire to be apart from the materialistic world to the world.  They immigrated to Pennsylvania about 300 years ago rejecting fanciful fashion statements like buttons.  Obviously, staying stuck in time in how they dress does not guarantee someone is free from modern materialism of Victoria’s Secret hot lingerie underneath those costumes.

Being in the world but not of the world is straight from the Christian New Testament (I John 2:15).  While sound in their doctrine, the practice is not so simple.  Since most of the people of these sects are forced to stop their education at eighth grade, their intellectual development and social experience is extremely limited – which makes rationalization so much easier.  That limited worldview allows them to consider telephone landlines sinfully connected to the materialistic world, but cordless cell phones (without a visible hardwire connection) sin-free.

There is one story for me that is even more titillating than finding an Amish woman in Victoria’s Secret and that is reading the words “felony charges” and Mennonites in the same sentence.  The Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era (4/16/2010-link to story follows) reported on three plain Mennonite adults hiding a teenage runaway from her parents and the police with the intention of taking her with them from Lancaster County to Kentucky.  It’s hard to know what they were thinking because they were unwilling to testify at their hearing.  I would suggest they considered themselves uniquely qualified to interpret God’s will and expected a bonus from Him (patriarchal culture – of course God is male) for saving a lost teen from her worldly and ungodly parents.

My point is not to vilify extreme religious sects but to make the point that in choosing extreme practices, hypocrisy is a near certainty.  In trying to be separate from the rest of society, it will be difficult to survive, making interaction nearly unavoidable and conflict inevitable.  In fact if you want to be spiritually above the outside world, you probably don’t want to start kidnapping their young. We heathens get a little testy about such activities.  We will be happy to ignore your underwear, but you can’t have our offspring for your cult.

Want to weigh-in? -J.B.

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