Anbyŏn-ŭp There are many kinds of prejudices in the world; political, religious, cultural, racial, gender. You name it, they’ve got it. Most, if not all, are born from ignorance and fear of what is “different”. My little brother had a dream that was almost destroyed by prejudice. It was not prejudice against his idea; it was a brilliant one. It was not even prejudice against him as a person; he’s a cool guy. It was prejudice against his upbringing.
When I last saw him, my brother spoke with great enthusiasm about an idea he had for a project involving a popular sport in the country where he lives. He went about finding sponsors, equipment, and most importantly, a major sports league to work with. He put in a lot of time and hard work, demonstrating a massive degree of commitment, initiative and ability. Everything was a green light. The project was in its first stages of launching.
But then something unpredictable happened; though perhaps it should have been predictable. Somebody somewhere brought up the fact that he was born and raised in a cult. They had read my book, which made worldwide ripples a number of years ago and just like that, working with my brother was not okay anymore. The reasons stated being a “moral obligation to [their] organisation” and “can’t afford to put the reputation of the league in jeopardy at all”, they had “to be cleaner than clean”. The inference being that working with my brother would somehow sully them? That his unfortunate childhood might rub off on them at least, and put their reputation in jeopardy at most.
It’s like telling a refugee from Afghanistan who escaped the war as a kid, that you will not give him a job because he was born in a country where the Taliban once ruled. You’re sure he’s a nice person, and you realise that he himself is not Taliban, but you do not want the unfortunate nature of his birthplace to tarnish the reputation of your company.
I’m sure, like me, you would call this logic “stupid”. It appears our society is overrun by stupidity. You cannot even call it ignorance anymore when the facts are out there in black and white and everything you want to know can be found with the click of a computer button.
When I wrote the book, it was with the intention of opening up, what was for decades, a hidden world. Together with two sisters, we shone a spotlight on the underbelly of the Children of God cult. We named names, we listed dates, quoted evidence and did it all so thoroughly that the group could not deny the core accusations of institutionalised abuse and basic human rights violations.
We wrote it with one primary goal: force them to change their inner policies and make restitution to a generation of children harmed by their dogma.
We wrote it for one reason: so our younger siblings and children still in the group could have a normal life that we were denied, with the possibilities that we were not given. So they could get an education, medical care and their basic human rights. So they could grow up with opportunities which would allow them to explore their full potential in life.
With a massive hemorrhage of membership and monetary support drying up, due to all the negative publicity and information on the internet, the group was finally forced to disband in 2010. Our dream was realised. Our family was free.
Knowledge may be power, but it is also a two-edged sword. It certainly felt like a stab in my gut to learn that the same book which had helped free my siblings to go out into the world and follow their dreams, had become the source of roadblocks now being put thrown up in their paths to prevent their realising them.
Sadly, this is not a new story. When ex-cult kids try to integrate and make a life in society like every other Joe Blow out there, they quickly discover that society is extremely intolerant of the unusual and different, fearing what they do not understand. They soon learn that to exist in society, they must hide their identities, bury their pasts and recreate an entirely new persona. Most of my friends who were born and raised in cults are successful lawyers, artists, musicians, teachers, nurses. They work in every sector, from banks to NGOs to the self-employed. They are successful, hard working, contributing members of society. Yet across the board, one thing is true of all: nobody knows they are cult babies. Not their employers, not their friends and colleagues, and often, not even their spouses. They have completely recreated their identities and they have done this because they fear the stigma of their origins. A stigma created and cultivated by ignorance, stupidity and a sensationalistic, irresponsible media.
We were born into a cult. So bloody what? ‘Cult’ is short for ‘culture’. We grew up in a different culture from what is considered ‘normal’ by society today. And because of where we were born, entirely without choice, we must wear our origins like a cloak of shame, or a giant scarlet letter. “I’m a cult baby. Careful. We are, by default, damaged. The ‘crazy’ that is cult has been automatically transferred onto us. Come too near, and it will rub off on you.”
What do I tell my younger siblings now? You are free to do whatever you want in life. You have a dream, go for it! You can do and be whatever you like! Become anybody…but not yourself. To thine own self be true…unless you are a cult baby. Then be anybody else. Anybody at all. Just not you. Because the cult was right about one thing: the world will never understand.