When I was a child I was not supposed to watch the Disney movie, The Jungle Book. The reason was the snake. The snake hypnotized Mowgli, which meant the movie was a tool of the Devil, designed to innocently introduce demonic forces into the life of anyone who watched the movie. Not only that, the original snake was the devil; the very one who seduced Eve and brought sin into the world.
I say this as a matter of fact, as if this was said directly from the platform on Sunday morning. But the message was given in hundreds of other ways. It was said in the judgmental gossip about someone who was rumored to go to a movie they should not have. It was in a testimonial reference in our written materials about how subtly the devil gets in, in some anecdote about how faith can be compromised, and in the pictures of the destruction that would happen to those who lost their vigilance.
It seems ridiculous now, that we believed that, and even more ridiculous that some groups will avoid the 2016 version of the movie, The Jungle Book, using the same reasoning as we used in the 1960’s.
This movie and our response to it, highlights different aspects of spiritual abuse. The first aspect is the use of teaching to control people. The teaching is that the Devil can control you through anything, and I mean anything. To avoid this infiltration of evil, staunch obedience is needed. The second aspect is peer pressure to obey. If the leaders or others believe that something is spiritually harmful, then the obedient must avoid it. This concept of obedience has been used to vilify any number of things: any Disney movie with a villain, Smurfs, Harry Potter, Music, Movies, boards games, and collectible cards.
This magical thinking, that an object could hold evil powers, created feelings of fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety were designed to make us as believers reject popular culture and cling more closely to the group. It divided the universe into good and bad, and created a simple, black and white, approach to life.
We were allowed only one way to think, and that was the party line. We had to call the movie evil. To alter from the party line was to be an independent thinker- to be like Eve- to want knowledge, to want to think for ourselves. Independent thinking was apostasy, worthy of annihilation.
We would be subversive to say that the movie was not evil. If we stepped out and said, “The Jungle Book is a coming of age tale. It is a story about true friendship, about a self-sacrificing kind of love, where anything is possible if we stick together and love one another,” we would face swift judgment.
This is a real problem with abusive spirituality; abusive spirituality insists on one way. It insists that members set aside their own interpretations and cling to the teaching that the group puts forth.
The anxiety and fear comes from toxic teaching. In the teaching that must be followed, there is an emphasis on danger. Danger leads to death, eternal damnation, loss of family, and loss of community.
For those of us who find ourselves outside of the abusive group, our job is to allow ourselves to question, to experience, and to think for ourselves. We can ask, “Who says so, and why?” We can ask questions and prayerfully consider or meditate until we are comfortable with the answers.
We can grow beyond the induced fear and anxiety by deconstructing the teachings. Why does the group promote fear? Why do they want their members to avoid items of popular culture? What does the group lose if members think for themselves? How does the group benefit by isolating its members?
After deconstruction comes reconstruction. In the absence of what you’ve been told, what do you believe? What does your research show? What makes sense to you today? Are there other ways to think about popular culture? About faith?
Recovery can be painful, but the reward of doing the deconstruction and reconstruction is amazing. Following your own integrity and authentic beliefs, gives an inner peace. The great part is, you begin to realize there is freedom in holding on loosely. There is freedom in not knowing and keeping your mind open. You can look at life as a journey of growth and learning, so you can take in new evidence and change your thinking time after time.
At the end of life do we want to say, "I was right?" Or do we want to say, "I walked toward the light?" Rev. John Plummer 1991.
It was a sunny Saturday like this when I was first shunned. I was walking through a park and saw my friend's son, who was about 8. It looked like he saw a ghost. His face changed and he took off running for his home.
That is how I knew they had read my letter and made my decision to leave official. I felt very sad, but I knew I had made the right decision. The second shun was from a childhood friend. She saw me and did a one eighty and hightailed it. It was terrible to feel like a piece of refuse she could cast aside so casually, and it stung.
There is nothing to prepare you for this. But I promise it gets easier. As you untangle yourself from the web of control, it gets easier to shed the teaching that says you deserve this. It's easier to make new friends. It's easier to not care, and to identify conditional love when you see it, and it's easier to feel pity for those who have to cut you out of their lives. You begin to realize that they are not free, but you are.
Hang in there if you recently left. You are going to have a lot of firsts.Your first shun stays with you. But so do all of your first tastes of freedom. Cherish them. Let them sink in.
Let it sink in that you can now walk into any building, for any reason. You can watch any entertainment you choose. You can make friends who you have things in common with. You can say any words and express your feelings freely. Dress how you like. Get rid of things that no longer hold meaning.
There will be a lot of good first things. Let them sink in.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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