In the last week there were terror attacks in Bangladesh, Iraq, and Turkey. In the U.S. two black men were killed by police, and then police were killed in retaliation. For people who grew up in apocalyptic groups, and later left them, these days are especially stressful. The news coverage is especially triggering, causing fear, doubt, and insecurity. This is a conditioned response. In other words, the group trained you to respond this way.
Apocalyptic groups lift obscure passages from Scripture, chain them together, and claim to have an advanced knowledge that others cannot access. The argument goes that the reason the group has the knowledge is because they are God’s chosen group. How do you know they are God’s chosen group? Because they have special knowledge. It is circular reasoning, but it is difficult for group members to shake.
The circular reasoning is difficult to shake because of all the other factors in play. By isolating group members, and demonizing outsiders, the group members are cut off from outside influences. Group members cannot research other views of those passages because they will be labeled as unfaithful if they do. If they ask questions, they are labeled as rebellious or conceited. They are taught to suspect information from anyone outside the group.
The group entrenches their apocalyptic teaching be repeating it at every opportunity. Soon the member is viewing world events through the apocalyptic lens. An earthquake is not an earth quake; it is sign validating the group’s interpretation. A squabble is not a squabble; it is a fulfillment of prophecy according to group teaching.
For people who are out of the group, it is quite unsettling when local, national, or world events are in turmoil. It can make a person want to run back to the group (and that is what the group hopes will happen). It’s difficult to hold your ground when you are being manipulated and triggered.
A person has other choices though. Instead of running back, they can examine the passages through a new lens. They can read the Scripture as a historian and a literary critic. They can ask, who was the audience of this original message? What was the author trying to tell them? What does this mean for our time? And what do scholars outside of the group have to say about the passages?
A person can also choose to limit their exposure to media. Or become a critic of the media itself. Who is the media ignoring? What is the media not telling us? Or one can use statistics and history to analyze what is going on. Are there more earthquakes than before? Or have we become better at detecting them? Is there more war and instability? Or is it relatively the same?
Ex-group members can seek help from other ex-group members to help them analyze the evidence and deal with the anxiety. There are many people who can serve as role models, many people have done the research and can explain the alternative explanations of Scripture. They can provide the community you need to deal with the triggers and lies.
Take heart. It’s been a rough week. But many people are out there who are working to reduce the violence and end the injustice. There are many moderate believers, who do not promote extreme ideologies. As Mr. Rogers told us, whenever tragedy strikes, look for the helpers.
Evil does not get the last word.
Many of the Bible's passages that are used as today's "prophecies" are thought to be written after the fact, and are more like reports telling of what happened before the writer's time.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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