Help!… I was Part of a Cult

By Joel L (Western Australia)

Not so long ago I managed to escape from a large and very powerful cult. I was born into this cult so grew up not knowing any better but still the hold it had over me was strong and my parents and siblings are still part of it.

There were strict rules about who I should and shouldn’t marry, there were clear rules about what I should and shouldn’t do on any given day. We would attend ‘Prayer Meetings’ where one of the church leaders would share interpretations from the bible and implore us to ‘be better people’ (and give money of course). The church leader would be positioned as the one that understood ‘the word’ and would interpret it for us (only males were allowed to have this role).

There was a subtle code of hierarchy and power, with people vying to be part of administrative roles to have greater influence in the community. We weren’t a gated community, but many of us played sports and socialised together, convinced that the world was out to get us.

My break away started when I met my wife, who was not part of this cult. I was clearly told of the harm and shame I would bring to the family, and my wife was told by the church elders that she would be going to hell based on the cult she had grown up with.

At one point I had even convinced her to convert, until we realised we were only doing it for other people’s approval.

The cult I grew up in… is one of the four mainstream religions.

114 thoughts on “Help!… I was Part of a Cult

  1. The word cult these days seems to be linked to a group that excludes others and carries out ‘strange’ practices. ‘Strange’ being a label coming from one that does not understand such practices either through judgment, defense of their own groups or unfamiliarity, which comes from the first two. Defending what you know and judging everything that isn’t that. It’s these two combined that stops us seeing if what we have is actually true and healthy or not.

  2. We forget our bloody history and how the religions came to power. They converted using very unsubtle methods for the conversion you either convert or you will be killed.

  3. The word conversion is a pretty specific word: you become by will something you were not. Yet, we restrict the use of this word for just a few things, much less of the countless conversions we go through in life.

  4. Our doggered perceptions can deceive us from the obvious – the exclusion of people, secluding from society and abiding norms as well as conforming to expectations are behaviours which are common in everyday life. Religions dictate beliefs we ought to be following, social clubs come with rules and even our family home can be a place where we feel stressed, anxious and under pressure. These are all classic examples of cult-like behaviour, yet they are part of our everyday.

  5. If we take cult to mean an organisation that we follow, that has strange rituals and behaviours, and subtly (or grossly) changes the way I behave then I was long a member of the Chelsea and England Football Fan Cult! Its absurd to throw this word around when you understand the true meaning, and as for being a student of a particular way of life – if that offers me a healthier more vibrant way to live my life then I am 100% all in.

  6. So true JL, I love what you present here, we think of cults as being weird and controlling and in sects that are closed to everyone but those that are in it but this is exactly what you expose with the 4 main stream religions.

  7. Great point Joel, to consider the hold that the four main religions can have over people and how we blindly follow through ideals and beliefs makes you realise how religious indoctrination takes over people’s lives.

  8. To read about our four mainstream religions like you have presented opens up a door to really feel how unloving their rules are. And . . . so many of us are living in a cult without knowing it.

  9. The question that often comes when I read similar experiences with what we know as religions is “would Jesus be a christian, Buddha Buddhist etc?” How far away from the original light have we swayed? When we need to place strict rules on how we are to act, who we are to be with and how we should live and that somehow ‘others’ are ‘lesser than’ because they don’t share our beliefs – how far off track have we become? The question then is have we lost track on what religion truly is and have we turned it into something that is so far away from its truth?

  10. What is called a cult has two elements: the organization and the people wanting to be associated with it by free will. The profile of both elements is very specific. In a sense, and although it may be subtle, it is not too farfetched to say that mainstream religions are forms of cults.

  11. This is a great exposure of how institutionalised religions endorse separatism and do not represent the true meaning of what religion is, that is to live together through our connection to God, a connection that is unifying by the virtue of the fact that we are all Sons of God.

  12. I’m back with this again today as I consider how many ‘cults’ I’ve been a part of, indeed much of life, nationality, politics, culture qualifies as a cult for many of us. But here’s the thing it’s an accepted cult, so we feel safe in it, the really interesting thing is how we are ostracised when we do begin to question the long held beliefs we’ve bought into and upheld … then the question becomes are you willing to stand out and say you know what there’s another way here, and I’m feeling to live that way.

  13. And that’s just it, we mis-use the word cult for our convenience, ignoring the fact that any rule bound system like many of our mainstream religions are in fact cults … and often ones we inherit and take on unquestioningly … food for thought here.

  14. “I was born into this cult so grew up not knowing any better” – this is the thing. Whatever the circumstances we might have been born into, everything around us is set up to sustain its ideology and it becomes very hard, if not impossible, to even contemplate a possibility that there may be another way, until we come upon those who reflect that there in fact is another way.

  15. Thanks Joel, you graphically expose how mainstream religions separate people from each other. The Way of The Livingness is religion universally inclusive of all.

  16. What we regard as normal in mainstream religion today we abide by unless we speak up. What right does one have over another to accuse another of being in a cult when the truth be known is that they belong to a cult themselves? If we belong to a group where we devote ourselves to someone or something then by the dictionary we are in a cult yet when this truth is exposed alarm bells are set off, voices are raised and an ‘how dare you!’ look is cast upon; the more we express truth the less it becomes the norm.

    1. It is surprising when we really consider what we have allowed as normal. I remember reading parts of the Old Testament.. a foundational part of my original religious affiliation, and clocking how brutal the stories were with lots of fire, brimstone, hewing and killing, retribution. All this in God’s name? It makes no sense.

  17. Great sharing Joel- when something gives us true freedom from within we are told its a ‘cult’ because others may find it challenging that we have stepped into something where we are more free to choose.

  18. A great exposure of the prejudice and judgement in society that states what is and is not deemed to be a religion and a cult. It is interesting that there is such reaction about people making the choice to take a more honest look at the way they are living and being willing to taking loving responsibility for themselves and reconnect to the truth of who they are through the Way of The Livingness without any rules, regulations or persuasion of any kind brings up so much judgement, prejudice and offensive name calling from others.

  19. Such open honesty. From my own experience it takes great nerve, strength and a deep acceptance of the inner heart, that part of us that feels what is energetically true and what is not, to be able to step out of such deeply influencing experiences that have been a part of our lives.

  20. The perspective of how we interpret anything with our own eyes is very much affected by the angle that we consider if from. If all that you want to see are faults and imperfections that is all you will see.

  21. Yes JL, I was brought up in a similar cult although I am thinking perhaps it is the same cult as your wife came from. “going to hell” was always the big threat in this particular cult, particularly if you were to disobey the rules that kept you separate from ‘the others’. This cult believed it was superior to the others as it was the only true religion; so convinced was it that over the centuries it killed, maimed and tortured all those who dared to think otherwise.

  22. I have always associated cults with some kind of doctrine or dogma where people were controlled in some form to comply … so it makes sense that mainstream religions could be classified as such. A fascinating read from someone who can speak from the authority of having lived under that control.

  23. Normal’s only criteria is that enough people are practising the same behaviours so it becomes common practice. So no one questions the status quo and plays balls with the rules.

    There is so much more to being normal than just fitting in.

  24. It is funny how the way we live as ‘normal’ does look like when you choose another perspective…but when I think about it – it is not so funny, but sad and alarming. The way we choose to look at things, life and people is powerful and the question arise: do we use this power careful and in integrity – or not?

  25. There are many ways mainstream society could be labelled a cult because many of the things we do are so so strange and hurts us in so many ways, but still we seem to abide by it. In the country I was born in you are automatically a member of the protestant church, but no one asked me if I wanted to join nor was I asked if I shared their view of life, which I later realised I didn’t, in fact I grew a mistrust of God, the word God because of how they spoke of him. Now later on in life I can speak more freely about God knowing that it’s natural and it’s been part of me since I grew up, and what I also realised was that the feeling of being held was me being in connection with the field of God so it was then strange hearing about a God that was grander that I was when I was feeling as grand as I was.

  26. Beautifully expressed and exposed JL, mainstream religions separate us all from each other, and we take on beliefs without questioning whether they are true or not and that make no sense yet we accept them as ‘normal’ because the majority within society have adopted those beliefs as the way to live and ostracise those that do not conform to the same way of thinking.

  27. JL how great that you and your wife allowed yourselves to feel the imposition of this type of religion and that you both chose to escape this “cult”. The thing is often most of us are not aware of these kind of impositions anymore as they become a very normal part of how we live and see the world. Thank you for exposing it.

  28. This is a great expose of the obvious so called acceptable ‘cults’ in our society and the hold they have on us if we choose to give our power away to them. So good to hear that you escaped JL. . .

  29. It’s so true that there are so so many cults out there in the world and humanity aren’t even willing to admit it. Some cultural groups even behave in cult like ways, dictating what religion one must be aligned to, that you must marry within your culture and that there is a certain way to dress and behave. It’s rather ridiculous that Universal Medicine has been labelled a cult, because for me they are the only organisation out there who is saying let go of all the beliefs, ideals and impositions of how you need to be or who you need to be and truly be yourself. I have never been in a group of such diverse people.

  30. Well said JL, when we are imposed upon by rules and regulations to be a certain way, live a certain way and to look on others a certain way, what happens to our free will and where is the love in that? The only religion in my experience that presents a way of living with true free will and love for self and everyone with no persuasion, converting, judgement or imposition in any way is the Way of the Livingness.

  31. It’s quite remarkable how we’ve logged our idea of a cult as being about a relatively small group and have completely bypassed those areas in our society where cults on a grand scale are so embedded that we’ve stopped discerning and questioning the truth of things. Just because something’s big and mainstream doesn’t automatically make it genuine or true.

    1. Ha! So true! “Just because something’s big and mainstream doesn’t automatically make it genuine or true.” – reminds me strongly how we use the word ‘normal’. We use it for what many of us do and live – but a lot of it I can not call ‘normal’ at all in a true sense!

  32. So true, the rules, dogma and isolating beliefs of the main religions are a suffocating cult. I too have freed myself of the restrictions and mindset of an established religious group. The Way of the Livingness is the religion of love in every choice and the way you live, there are no rules, dogma and love is the essence of all humanity.

  33. I picked up on your line of thought as soon as I started reading your blog JL. We should assess all aspects of our lives even the ones that have been there since the day we have been born, as these are the most insidious ones.

  34. A great punchline that turns the whole debate about what is a cult on its head. Isn’t it time we took the blinkers off our world and viewed the truth of things, especially in relation to organised religion? Universal Medicine carries no expectation of others, no rules or requirements. Just a willingness to discern your very own truth, to feel it and to know it.

  35. JL since reading your blog, I realise that I also grew up as part of a major cult from which I managed to escape (at least physically) when I was eighteen. Following a number of sermons on Hellfire, and Brimstone I realised that this was not in line with the love I knew God to be.

  36. JL thank you for sharing your insights on religions, this has been a real eye opener to me as I never considered the main stream religions as cults, but of course that is exactly what they are.

  37. It would not surprise many people JL that some of the mainstream religions could be classed as cults, the more I know what a cult is the more I know Universal Medicine is NOT one!

    1. I absolutely agree Roslyn. When you consider all the rules and regulations of the mainstream religions and how they attempt to indoctrinate people to their way of thinking they do feel very cult like. Universal Medicine on the other hand has failed completely at being a cult because of its’ lack of rules and the fact that you are allowed to disagree or not with – and are actually encouraged to discern for yourself – whether what is being presented is true or not.

  38. Wow, JL, when you said the cult is one of the four mainstream religions it made me ponder on the catholic religion I grew up with, and the control it has on you- telling you what you can or can’t do, in the name of good; about birth control- anti contraception and antiabortion and sexual preferences- anti same sex marriages.
    Woman are not allowed to become a priest.
    If you choose to marry someone who is not Catholic, and not baptised, they will not marry you. But if your partner has been baptised e.g. Greek orthodox you can get married but not receive communion (Holy bread).
    If you lie or are disobedient to your parents or church rules, or miss church on a Sunday you have sinned, and must go to confession, otherwise you cannot receive communion.
    Um….Sounds very similar to what you have described JL.

  39. Great blog JL, I was also indoctrinated into one of these insidious, manipulative cults which controlled people by heavy guilt trips. Many people have come out of one of these mainstream religions with deep psychological problems. Much evil has been done in gods name.

  40. It’s just so crazy isn’t it? I remember learning that there was such thing as being an atheist. I felt relieved when I heard about it because the amount of religious stuff being thrown at me and from two opposing religions at the one time was enough for me to make a very clear decision that neither felt right or true.

  41. Great sharing JL that shows very clearly and simply how imposing mainstream religion is and how accustomed we are to those belief systems that we don’t even realize how we have them normalized.

    1. I very much like how you did put this in words Rachel – that “we don’t even realize how we have them normalized.” This makes clear the power we have here. WE are the ones who have normalized something that is not ‘normal’ at all in a true sense. But why, is the question. We have come so far from truth in our daily live that it is sometimes hard to see all through this lies and illusions we created. But to take the responsibility again about this creations is a good start to get a better, wider view. …Even it may be very confronting and alarming what we will see and become aware off – it is also empowering us again in a conscious way.

  42. Wow what a powerful piece, it’s interesting to feel that as a society these 4 main religions are not seen in this way by the majority. Yet the moment one connects to something that feels true and begins to question the accepted norms, and perhaps even begins choosing to live in a more honest, truthful and loving way, then the label of cult gets thrown around. For me there is no truer religion than Universal Medicine for it has supported me recognise to that life begins with me, living with love and responsibility for my choices and allowing me, along with many others the true freedom to feel what is truly going on in life.

  43. A great article JL, I love the way you convey this truth of mainstream religions can be described as a cult.

  44. We never view cults as something mainstream. They’re usually associated with strange behaviour and out of the ‘norm’. Interesting how you describe how much of a hold the religion had on your life and controlled many of your movements and what you could do. The Way of the Livingness as presented by Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine is a religion that asks nothing of you and is not imposing. It allows us to live life from love and from our inner-heart with great care and respect for all. This is the religion of my choice and it definitely is not a cult.

  45. This is a great point the mainstream religions are restricting a lot of people in their behaviors, this is not clearly recognized as it is seen as something that is just there, nothing to change about it.

  46. These are some prime examples of what the anti-cult groups use against those they may not like – tarring others with the same acts they themselves preform! How does that make any sense when the seeming point of an argument is to say “They are harming and this is how they do it and we don’t do this”?

  47. This is great to read JL, the imposed rules and being told how to live do sound like a cult and yet these cults are mainstream religions and are accepted as ok in our society, they don’t feel ok.

  48. So well said, I was at a four main religion ceremony this weekend and felt like I was being told I needed to be a very certain way, to follow Jesus who is the only son of God, or I would be left out of a place in heaven – damned. It felt like fear mongering. Doesn’t sit right for me… not one bit.. and it does tell you how you need to live = definition of cult. You are absolutely right about that JL.

  49. This is a fabulous article shedding a new perspective on some of the customs and religions that we have come to consider ‘normal’ but don’t bring us back to equality or love. I am realising that just because something is accepted as normal doesn’t make it right or true for us – especially if it doesn’t bring us back to brotherhood. When we look at other cultures and religions this stands out quite clearly e.g.. female genital multination, bull fighting, women being considered dirty and excluded when they are menstruating, the list could go on and on. But we tend to have a blind spot for the things we accept in our own culture. Universal Medicine and the reflection it consistently has offered over the last 15 years, keeps allowing me to step away from this fog.

  50. I love this Joel. It so clearly shows how we accept many ideals, rules, regulations and restrictions in our life as ‘normal’, yet under a different light they make no sense what-so-ever. It also shows the mockery of our way of thinking that we so easily dish out the label ‘strange’, ‘abnormal’ or even ‘cult’ to something simply because it may be showing a different way.

  51. Your sharing is VERY interesting- many people should read this because it is definitely an eye opener. Because everyone is following a religion it doesn´t mean that this is the truth. Truth would never demand or set any rules. Great you could realize this and find the way back to be and live like you truly are.

  52. My parents never went to church but did send us as children.
    As a child going to church I was told to sit in a certain pew, I remember no one smiled, people felt angry and even as young as I was this confused me. This all changed when I began making my own loving choices. Thank you JL for sharing.

  53. Powerful piece JL. Many people would disagree with what you are saying because of their cult beliefs.
    I know for me the only way out of groups like these is to feel what is true in your body – bring on Universal Medicine who are all about the body.. ..

  54. It’s awful the separation that occurs between people from engaging in organised religion and yet often we don’t even stop to think about it. That’s how indoctrinated we can become – but then that’s the game.

  55. I too grew up in one of those 4 mainstream religions and I totally agree that it is a cult. We were forced to believe the most ridiculous things that made no sense what so ever but even worse we were robbed of our own voice and our knowingness of God.

  56. Excellent blog JL and a great observation. Most people would never see a mainstream religion as being a cult but I feel you are spot on. Well done on breaking free from what you knew wasn’t the truth.

    1. I agree, well done on breaking free. You can so easily get caught in a cult, if you are not connected to your truth. For you to be able to feel truth, you could recognise what was not true.

  57. What we sometimes accepted as a “normal” does not mean “normal” in a truthful way…it just mean that we are used to.
    Like an infection (an ill) – just because many (or nearly all) are affected, you would not say this is normal or required.
    On the other hand we have the tendency to do exactly so: as soon nearly everyone does something, it’s becoming “normal” – Even it is ‘living with back pain’, ‘working without joy’ or ‘Religion has something to do with church’.

  58. I wasn’t expecting that twist!
    To expose the truth JL has clearly put the focus on the deception and control humanity are willing to accept.

  59. What a very enlightening blog on how the mainstream religions have caused separation and disempowerment through the power and structure they wield . Not to mention war , rape and genocide all in the name of God. That does not feel like unity and brotherhood to me .

  60. Yes JL, when we really look at some (or a lot) of our major institutions, religious or non-religious, we can see that cults are very much alive in and amongst mainstream society with so many not even realising they are part of it. Great blog!

  61. Wow, what an ending! It’s quite shocking to look at what goes on from the eyes I did when I read the first part of the blog. It’s exposes that what we see as familiar is acceptable, as part of the “norm”, when it very much should not be. If we all looked at religion like this, would we be so accepting?

  62. It is amazing how the mainstream religions over the centuries have managed to set up a stage play.
    What is always repeated, portrayed and seemingly held as high ideals are the classical values those religions were once founded upon. Values like equality, brotherhood and freedom. Yet their meaning has been perverted to such an extent that now these words serve only as a hollow shell, masking the very “worldly” aspects of these religions.

  63. Yes when you shine that ‘cult torch’ on what is considered normal, there is a lot to see about how restricting mainstream religion actually is on people and their everyday lives.

    1. Well said sarahflenley. There are so many things in the mainstream religions but also outside religions, that are considered normal but are not truly supportive of the people being part of it.

    2. I love this, the ‘cult torch’. We don’t need to venture too far to see that much of ‘normal living’ as it is perceived today is confirmed within ‘should’s’ and ‘shouldn’ts’. And it seems these rules from mainstream religion have one thing in common –to keep us in a box and not shine too bright, let’s keep along one track and not let ourselves express freely with the innocence and joy we had as children. The rule says that joy and innocence doesn’t belong in adulthood, and life in general. There are rules to abide and follow and if we veer away from them the finger will be pointed — naughty!!
      But it’s off the tightly controlled track that there is the open space we can all live from with ease, without should’s and shouldn’ts that keep us capped and small. Anything less than that, anything that imposes the belief and idea that we’re confined to the rules of a church that judges us and even damns us, needs that cult torch to be shining on it.

  64. Thankfully something inside you made you stop and question. It is inspirational to know that even though you had a lifetime and knew no other way, that you still had the ability to question.

  65. Thanks JL. I would say an accurate portrayal of the harm of the bastardised version of religion that has been interpreted and imposed upon the world. Religion as we know it seems to be you are either with us or against us but is that really what religion was meant to be?

  66. This is a great point that is raised here. It is interesting to note that the word “cult” was hijacked by the mainstream christian religions in America in the early parts of last century to defame any religious movements that were not aligned to their beliefs. It is interesting as well to note as you have pointed out that many of the criticisms of Universal Medicine – that are actually not true – such as dogma, rigidity of beliefs, etc are actually tenets of many mainstream religions, and yet the media rarely looks to label religion by these tags in the way it has Universal Medicine. One therefore has to question whether it correctly understands the definition of the word “cult” and what it truly means.

  67. Thank you JL, this is very exposing. As a child it is very difficult not to conform to the ideals and beliefs of the close societal group we are brought up in believing it is the truth. It can be very challenging to break free from those chains when we discover something bigger and grander. Congratulations on your courage to step free.

  68. What you describe here JL is so true of many religions. Once you are a member of their congregation you become in affect part of a sect or cult with many rules and ways to keep you hooked in. The Way of the Livingness is the only religion that I know of that has no hooks, no rules, no hierarchy and no intimidation tactics. It is the only religion that asks you to follow nothing except that of your inner heart.

  69. Yes JL I too was raised in a cult but managed to escape. It is interesting to note that the word cult is usually only applied to groups or organisations that the user of the word is trying to belittle, despite the word cult being applicable to many situations such as you have described here. The use of the word cult is obviously in the eye of the beholder… or the detractor as the case may be.

  70. Congratulation for your way back to your truth!
    Who ever claims power over another by the “right” of someone had said – alarm bells should ring out loud!! Anything that tells us we are not supposed to live with love for each other – is nothing but a dictatorship. Even if it is presented “in the name of love/ god/ allah” The only rule in life that – if we ever talk about rules – should be mentioned is the respect and love for one another free of judgement.

  71. The cliff-hanger at the end was a surprise, yet not at all, having been sent to school linked to a religion where there were so many rules and regulations, particularly for someone who did not belong to the religion in question! I definitely felt like an outsider who would never fit in and luckily was taken away after a couple of years.Great blog JL.

  72. Well said Joel, well said. It shines a light on the absolute absurdity of calling Universal Medicine a cult.

  73. Wow, goes to show cults are alive and well in our society not hidden away in some remote location. Cults are about control and making the members as powerless as possible it’s certainly not based on the love, salvation and freedom they profess to be. We do have a choice to take our power back which you did JL, amazing and thanks for sharing.

  74. Great Blog JL. “A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister” by this definition the school yard bully that grows and becomes the boss is no longer the bully just a hard to live with person that is in charge. Perspectives change when you are the one standing on top of the hill looking down.

  75. It is astonishing that what we accept as mainstream religion is in fact so controlling, so limiting, and so unloving. Well done, JL, for seeing through and getting out of it.

    1. Thats the point we all grow up with this imposing institutionalized religious believes and don’t even realize it because they are so normalized that we are not aware of it. Thats also the intention behind most religious institutions to become the mainstream, blend in and then accuse others of being a cult, undermining any truth presented.

  76. This blog makes a very important point: the word ‘cult’ cannot be separated from the word ‘religion’. As such, what sense does it make to use it? To me, none. It does not bring much to the table. Using it is to play ball with the fact that there is legitimate religions and other ones and to feed (literally) a legion of characters associated with the more than dubious anti-cult industry. So, why don’t we stop using the word cult and stick to the word religion? It has much more truth to offer.

  77. Great article JL. I have been associated with Universal Medicine for 12 years and have never experienced anything even slightly resembling that, so I was reading it thinking how awful it must be to be in a real cult and have those restrictions in your life and that control imposed upon you… yet never stopping to consider that this was a mainstream religion! Wow. I am speechless. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. When we evaluate those mainstream religions we can see how cult-ish they are, but they have become accepted over time. For their many followers I suppose they think that their religion is better than no religion, but looked at in the light of JL’s blog it is clear that they are without true love.

  78. Wow – this is fantastic. I agree many mainstream religions are incredibly cult-like. It’s absolutely nuts what we come to accept as normal, I remember visits to the church as a child and being told what I should and shouldn’t do, think, say and feel, as a child we come to accept it, but as an adult we know this clearly isn’t right.

    1. It is as though they are cults that have wide acceptance and so therefore not many question the practices. If some new religion or way of being was to pop up with so many rules and dictations of a similar kind, I doubt it would get very far.

  79. Thank you for sharing JL, it is fascinating how we can grow up contained in a bubble, making that our reality and allowing what we see to be tainted by the judgements and perceptions we are brought up with instead of seeing the reality of what is going on both in the world and around us.

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