Angie writes about her childhood

As the rabid right of the Republicans ramp up their hysterical outrage and make common cause with sore-loser radicals calling for armed insurrection and a new civil war, I turn back to a kinder, gentler time. Here, Angie writes about the profession she was expected to follow and the skills she learned at grandma’s side, running the Home in Zion Ministries:

I have frequent nightmares of starting my own cult. Ideas for different cult audiences and niche markets occur to me quite often….  it’s what I was originally brought up to become. I was trained to cast out demons, heal the sick, bind the strongman, remind God of promises He’d made and hold Him to them. More subtly, I was taught that, while I was utterly wretched and sinful and deserving of hell and death my own self, at least I was better than everybody else….

I know how to manipulate people. I know how easy it is to get sheep to follow you. That’s really the most astonishing part about cults to me – that the leader has to do so little to get people to throw their lives away. Gig was too lazy to really concentrating on fundraising, but people sent her a tenth of their income anyway, unasked. We never lived on a compound or wore funny clothes. Her followers were spread out across the rural United States and Australia. It was a shadow cult, operating in the background, influencing hundreds of little churches and thousands of individual believers. And these believers would call the phone number on the back of her books, and reach me.

They would tell me their story – how far along their pregnancy was, how many children they already had, what complications they were worried about. I treated it like any other customer service job, smiling while I talked to them on the phone, and then taking their order for additional books, workbooks, and teaching tapes. Sometimes I prayed with them right there at my desk, and then a few weeks later they would send us money. Gig lacked organization and drive, and except for me, she was terrible at picking personnel. She routinely hired thieves, whether it was Pastor Steve Bell of Christ Church who stole her books and continues to print her things in violation of copyright… or Van and Nicole…, who paid their private rent and car notes out of the Ministry checking account. Gig didn’t want to have to think about the money, to know about the money. She just wanted to know that it would be there when she ran her debit card.

I spent nearly every weekend as a middle school student working at my grandma’s. My mom or sister would drop me off Friday afternoon and I’d stay till Sunday, swimming at the pool, balancing the bank accounts, and updating up the newsletter mailing list to include every possible person who might donate their tithe to the Ministry. I built the original Home in Zion Ministries web page (now down) with painstakingly hand-coded html, before the days of CSS and rich text editors. I’d never had any training in web design, and had to teach myself as I went along. I also taught myself the inner workings of Microsoft Access, although now I wish I could clear out that space in my head for something useful.

In truth, looking back on things, I alone kept that Ministry running for about two years, until I was old enough to start MacDonald’s at 14. For the next decade, I would work part-time or an as-needed basis for the cult, while earning my primary income somewhere else. It definitely creates an illusion of greater job stability than is strictly accurate. As a centerless, selfless teen and young adult, I tried out a number of jobs and careers. Through high school, I never stayed at a job for more than six months, and most for only three. But I had HIZM to put on my application each time, showing that I’d been steadily working at the same place since the start of 1998, which meant I could selectively leave out 20 or 30 of my past jobs, without any gaps in my employment history. (It’s also a job history that makes me look older, since most 12-year-olds aren’t putting in 20 hour weeks on top of school.)

….

I’ve come to believe that my grandmother’s words are toxic, and I worry about how many people I infected. When I read about Samuel Roubidoux [Robidoux], and realize his parents were at that same weekend convention as Harrison‘s parents, and that I probably met his mother and father, I wonder if my hands placed the book into the box, sealed it, and labeled it. Did I personally send the poisonous words that would eventually lead to a child being starved to death?

From all I could see at the time, what I was doing was simply office work. From all I can see now, I was the [one] number lieutenant for a madwoman’s army. If I had been less competent, would the Ministry have folded sooner? If I had been less driven, would fewer books have gone out into the world? I forgive myself for not knowing better, but I still feel responsibility. Maybe that’s why I have to write this book now, debunking my grandmother, shedding light on the fringes of Christian faith, and absolving some of my own guilt for my part in it. I was raised to be a cult leader, and the paranoid part of me stays ever-vigilant. I worry that I’ll lose just a small sliver of sanity, but it will be the thing that makes the difference, tips the scales, and leads me to be the most ruthless cult leader the world has ever known. (Yes, grandiose thinking is an aspect of narcissism.)

I try to fight this stuff. I know that these fears of my own self, this distrust of my mind and my body, is left over from the decades of Fallen Man belief. And yet – at two in the morning, when I can’t sleep, the idea suddenly occurs to me, “The best way to start a cult – start a cult survivors group and invite them all away for a long, intensive, brain-washing weekend!”

And then I worry that I’m evil.

Angie, a survivor of Home in Zion Ministries, blogs here.

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Gay marriage—why the opposition?

The blogger at Soob says:

Early last month my home state, Vermont, became the first state to legalize gay marriage via statute….

…never have I met a coherent argument against gay marriage that didn’t include either religious prejudice or blatantly subjective bias. No argument has ever convinced me that, on the whole, the recognition of gay marriage is an inherent danger to me, my fellow citizens (beyond their selective and imaginative discomfort) or my society. Now, a decade after legalized civil unions and a month after legalized gay marriage, I’ve yet to see even circumstantial evidence here in my state to support the cause of those in opposition, much less anything strictly empirical.

Random Thought: Jorge Luis Borges on writing

From the Wikipedia article on Jorge Luis Borges:

Borges’s cosmopolitanism allowed him to free himself from the trap of local color. The varying genealogies of characters, settings, and themes in his stories, such as “La muerte y la brújula”, were Argentine without pandering to his readers. In his essay “El escritor argentino y la tradición”, Borges notes that the very absence of camels in the Koran was proof enough that it was an Arabian work. He suggested that only someone trying to write an “Arab” work would purposefully include a camel. He uses this example to illustrate how his dialogue with universal existential concerns was just as Argentine as writing about gauchos and tangos (both of which he also did).

Christmas lights

Christmas lights are derived from candles meant to remind the sun to come back and stop making the days shorter. The bulbs represent fruits that pagans used to tie to tree branches so that the trees wouldn’t forget to bear fruit.

funny pictures of cats with captions
more funny cats

Stupid court!

The U.S. Supreme court has reversed the decisions of 3 district courts and 3 circuit courts and declared Bush’s 2003 ban on “partial birth abortions” to be constitutional. There’s no such medical procedure. The Center for Reproductive Rights says:

April 18, 2007: In a stunning reversal, the Supreme Court rules against women’s health and in favor of abortion restrictions. In its ruling upholding the Federal Abortion Ban case, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively overturned 30 years of precedent and announced that women’s health is no longer a paramount concern. The Center for Reproductive Rights said the Court’s decision paves the way for state and federal legislatures to enact additional bans on abortions as early as 12 weeks, including those that doctors say are safe and medically necessary.

Who does what around the house?

A man and his wife were having an argument about who should brew the coffee each morning. The wife said, “You should do it, because you get up first, and then we don’t have to wait as long to get our coffee.” The husband said, ” You are in charge of cooking around here and you should do it, because that is your job, and I can just wait for my coffee.” Wife replies, “No, you should do it, and besides, it is in the Bible that the man should make the coffee.” Husband replies, “I can’t believe that, show me” So she fetched the Bible, and opened the New Testament and showed him at the top of several pages, that it indeed says
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…”HEBREWS”

Did Christ exist?

There’s a question that it seems hard to get an objective answer to. I’m looking for sources that are neither believers nor atheists. Here’s a review of the facts and who believes them, on religioustolerance.org.

From Impact Press, “Did Jesus Exist–and Does It Matter?

Viewing the biblical Jesus as a pastiche woven from stories of various pagan gods, demigods, and heroes adapted to a first-century Jewish milieu, many scholars have noted striking similarities between Jesus and his pagan counterparts. For example, the Persian sun-god Mithra, widely worshipped in the Roman Empire before the inception of the Christian era, had 12 disciples, performed miracles, was buried in a tomb, rose on the third day, was called the Good Shepherd, identified with the lamb, considered “the Way, the Truth and the Light, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah;” his principal festival was held on what was to become Easter, and he instituted a Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in 313 C.E. (Common Era), he was influenced by the pell-mell conversion of Roman soldiers from Mithraism to Christianity. The biblical Jesus gave them a sort of home-grown Mithra

See also “Dates for early Christian writings” (previous).