1993, 08/16. “The Devil Puts Those Thoughts In My Mind Too.”
In this section, I talked about the techniques used by the cult to deny my legitimate reasons for doubting this way of life, questioning it or wanting to leave it, and its techniques for denying my (naive) suggestions about how to improve things.
The title for this section comes from what the sisters on the church council said to me when they were sent to talk to me about how I was speaking my mind about what was wrong with the cult and its leader. They admitted that they thought exactly the same things I did, but they smiled and said, “The devil puts those thoughts in my mind too.” Though they were in agreement with me on these things, apparently, they decided to blame the devil as the source of these thoughts, as a way to sweep it all under the rug and to not have to deal with it.
Today is August 16th, 1993. I’m driving and I want to talk about a few things that are on my mind. I was thinking that we don’t read the Bible at our meetings. We’re The Church of Bible Understanding that never reads the Bible in its meetings. If I brought that to anyone’s attention, they would probably provide some rationale, some reason, like how we’re not ready to learn from the Bible. At the meeting last night, Stewart told us, “You need to get these basics down before you can get to the real thing.” That is probably Stewart’s rationale for why we don’t open the Bible in our meetings and read from it. And I thought about how Stewart’s teaching are really like an abstract Christian philosophy. It has Biblical or Christian things in it, but the driving force behind it is really one man’s ideas. In some ways, it’s like the teaching of the Manichees, who separated the material world from the spiritual world, in a way that is not done in the Bible. They believed that the material world and the human body were evil.
Last night, some of the sisters on the Council talked to me. And as always, I feel compelled to say that they were kind. They weren’t making cutting remarks. Even though they laughed at what I was saying, I didn’t feel like they were trying to put me down. But Christy and some of the other sisters said something that alarmed me: “We think these things too. We’ve thought all those of things.” That shocked me, because they were telling me, “We think the same thing you do.” And I asked them, “What tricks do you use to sweep it under the rug, since you say you think these things too?”
Unless this was a tactic. “I’m just like you” is a good way to negotiate. It’s a way to disarm the other person. Instead of disagreeing, their response was, “Oh, I know what it’s like to be that way! I think just like you.” So this helps deflate anything I was saying. Maybe that’s what they were doing. They were trying to bridge the gap. Because they were saying that they have the same thoughts I do about Stewart and our church, all the time.
But they have a device or a mechanism to rid themselves of such thinking.
Let’s turn that around. They’re like me, they’re people who are hopelessly trapped in a situation. In their case, they’re trapped in their bad marriages. And I suppose that whenever they have these critical thoughts and realizations about our church, they can’t deal with it, because of what it would mean for them to deal with it.
So, they were telling me, “Read books by John Bunyan.” In other words, they were trying to encourage me by telling me to read Christian books instead of thinking about these things. Well, that’s what I’ve always done. I look at my situation. I can’t leave it and I can’t fix it. So I slip away into the world of Christian books and other kinds of books that I hope will help me deal with it all.
And I have opened my mouth a few times again recently, speaking up to Stewart and to others, and I really don’t want to go back to keeping quiet again. In fact, I need the safety valve of being able to say just what I think. I consider the damage caused to my psyche by having to keep my mouth shut. Yes, there were people in history who had to do this. If someone was in the French Underground, they couldn’t reveal to anyone what they were doing. It could be psychologically damaging to live that way, but then, think of the alternative. Plus a person could feel that he was working for a great cause and that it had to be that way, because they were in a war. But in my case, I figure that it doesn’t have to be this way. And I have to weigh out the costs in the damage to my person and to my psyche for going underground and keeping these thoughts in.
I just had an interesting experience in the New York Bible Society. A man who worked there asked me if I attended church on Sunday and I said “I’m in a live in group, so yes and no.” He asked what group it was and I said The Church of Bible Understanding. And he said, “Do you know the history of that church?” I guess he was assuming or testing me to see if I was new to our church and if I needed to know about it. He said, “The Church of Bible Understanding is cultic.” And I said, “Yes, it’s highly cultic.” Then he talked to me about the story in the bible about the son who knew his father’s will who said yes, but didn’t do his father’s will. He said, “God has shown you these things and you’re like the son who said yes, but didn’t do his father’s will. God showed you all these things and yet you don’t do his will, as far as leaving there.”
It was hard to cry the excuses. I said, “It’s hard to leave!” He said, “Really? Why don’t go to St. Paul’s Church? They have a program for homeless men.” (I’m a little too old for a program, and besides, I know people I can live with.) He said, “You’re like a drowning man in a river. He has a way of escape available, but he says, ‘No, let me stay in here a little while longer.’ You know God’s will, why aren’t you doing it?” Now, I can’t brush all of this off the devil. You know, the devil speaks through other Christians! That’s a well-instilled fear among us here. It’s not right to have that fear. But that has always been the view which has been sold among us.
(Stewart said that that the devil can use other Christians on us, well-intentioned as they might be, to tempt us to leave the only true way.)
Life is so bad here. God must know that people want to get out. I would that think the Lord of the Universe is able to supply another alternative for burned out people like ourselves who just need to get away. This man hit upon those sensitive issues such as, “Do you get a stipend?” I told him, “I get a meager 30 dollar allowance, which I spend on food. But I got my tax return, though, 550 dollars!” I think of how shallow that sounds.
(We were allowed to keep 25% of our tax return.)
And, when I told him that we’re self-supporting and that was why we have to work a lot, he said, “COBU doesn’t get contributions from other churches, because they know it’s a cult.” That’s true. It’s not like we’re unknown out there. It’s not like, “We’re a small group, not many people know about us!” Actually they do know about us. There’s probably a grapevine in the city about who’s who. But also, any Christians who have more than a passing knowledge of Christianity have heard about us, and all they need to hear is that we’re cultic. Well, you might say, “They haven’t really checked into us, so they don’t know. It’s not fair, unless they come and see!” The fact is, we are cultic and there’s nothing to disprove that we are cultic.
And, I always talk about my present dilemma, and that man touched upon my present dilemma, which is: should I stay or should I go? Is this a cult or isn’t it? Is this really God showing me this is a cult, or isn’t it? If it is God who showing is me, then this is what I should do. If it’s not God who is showing me then, it’s not what I should do. Or it’s something in between, like God is showing me through my powers of reason what is wrong here, but that doesn’t mean I should leave.
I’ve been thinking about the cost. It really costs me as a human being to live this way. And there is also the other idea of, why can’t I go away and try the other side for a couple months? This is unheard of here.
I can almost predict my reaction today, the feeling of being emptied out and discharged. Some of that comes from yesterday, when I passed around my Exit Statement, which nobody wanted to read anyway. But it was the very act of doing that and not backing down from what I say about Stewart causes me to feel this way. I didn’t confront Stewart in a meeting this time, but I’m not taking it back anymore, no matter what they do, even if they come after me and all that! And no one confronted me on it.
I’ve come to the realization that I’m not going to take it back. The usual scenario has always been that I’ve got to take it back out of fear and in order to to still be able to live here. I can’t do that anymore, and I won’t do that anymore. Maybe I won’t speak up so boldly this time. I told one of the brothers today that I’m not going to stand on a soapbox. And a lot of brothers and sisters got mad at me at first, but then they realized what I was doing. Until now, I had never said these things about Stewart while also saying at the same time that I was leaving, so maybe that’s why they weren’t coming after me. When somebody is leaving our church, everyone puts on their kind faces. That’s first thing they do to try to get someone to not leave. Be kind, talk kindly to him.
But I was thinking about how I was probably going to be exasperated today. And I’m surprised to be alone, though I thought I might be alone today. I’m just wandering around the city. I might end up over at the library or over at Dave and Chris’s place. And I notice that I have been left alone to myself today to see what I will do. It would be so easy to leave. I have a van, I can get my belongings and show up at Dave’s place. Yet, there seems to be a barrier that is hard for me to cross. Would it be easier to just go to Dave’s place and spend the night? That way, I can see what it’s like there, and how it is to leave the church. And then, I can come back to get my things later.
You see, there’s always the issue, real or imagined, that even though I realize all these things, is what I am thinking real? I suppose also, our church doesn’t allow reality testing. I would like to test to see if these things I think are real. Not that I haven’t already put it to a test, but I would like to make a final test by getting away from here and seeing what my life is like. Let me try life on the other side. There’s no way a person can go out and do a reality test, like changing your major in college. Leaving is such a big deal. Yet this is something I would really like to do.
And now I’ve been saying to people, “Uh, hey folks, I think I’m going to leave!” And I see that I have been treated kindly now, so I could just sort of slip back into the flock. I could put the paper I wrote away and put my objections away. I got my polite first warning and no one is going to bother me too much if I just stop now and go back to being obedient and towing the party line. “You made your little protest now. Now slip back into the fold. There, there now, I’m sure you needed to do that. Yes, we all have thoughts like that too. We understand now. Now come on, work together with your brothers. We all need Jesus, okay?” But, I would like to get away. I’m always in the milieu.
I’m down in Greenwich Village and it’s a beautiful summer day. I’m out of our highly structured environment and I would like to stay away for a while. There are women everywhere on the streets here. This makes me feel devastated. I realize that if I stay in our church, I absolutely cannot have a woman in my life, unless I get into secret vice or start a double life of picking up women or if I have a “secret” girlfriend, like some priests in the Catholic Church. Priests are forbidden to marry, so they find a way to have a girlfriend down the block and they go to her apartment. I don’t want to live like that. Yet every day, it’s thrust in my face, these women walking around with not much on. Now, we’re supposed quell our biological impulses.
(I was expected to deal with this issue by denying it, and if any of us ever talked about it, we were told that this is not the real issue and that our need for Jesus was the real issue.)
Another thing that God showed me I should do, and that I know I should do, is that if I’m aflame with passion, it’s better to marry. Whatever troubles, trials and tribulations there are in married life, it’s better than being sexually immoral or aflame with passion. It would be better for me to have the trials and problems of marriage than to be like this. But it’s absolutely impossible to get married here. There are a lot of things we can’t do here. I can’t go away for an afternoon. I always feel like I’m being watched and that I can be tracked down and will have to give account for my time, because as Stewart says, “Christians don’t take vacations.” Yesterday, I told Paul, “I know how to work the system. There are little things I get to do. I know how go to the library for an hour when I want to.” And Paul said, “Christians don’t debate over whether they can come down off the cross for an hour.” He actually said that. It’s amazing, some of these things I hear. I guess Paul tells himself the same thing and that’s what he lives by.
Of course, this is all faulty logic. Anyone with a mind can see through it. And I’ve been talking to others here about it. Their response to me has been, “You should urgently put your flesh to death and not go by your own thoughts.” Kevin was on my case, asking, “Are you word-washed or thought-washed?” I should have said I’m brainwashed. All of this is a device to shut down my ability to analyze critically and to think for myself. Because, they are telling me to not think for myself.
And Kevin telling me that I should be word-washed, in principle this is right. But, that means whatever Stewart tells us, because Stewart is who we get our “word” from and all of our church’s teachings from. We have to go by the teachings of our church and what Stewart says. No one would admit that, but if we find something in the Bible which is different than what Stewart tells us, we are told that it’s not right. So, we have to go by the view Stewart presents to us and we must kill our own thoughts. That’s what they’re saying to me. There is a strong negative reaction on the part of others here when I push that control away from myself and say no to it. That’s just one more of the many things I’m aware of.
And these sisters who say they think the same things I do. Maybe their situation is hopeless and they can’t go anywhere else. But then, God might be showing them what is wrong here and a way to deal with it. But they categorize this as thoughts supplied by the devil. Maybe these sisters get together to talk about those things and help each other ignore them. Maybe God is telling them to talk to people in other churches. The view here is that there is no outside help for them, there is only the COBU view. These sisters have such problems in their lives, yet you wouldn’t see them going to talk to pastors at Times Square Church or other churches. Maybe they talk with the pastors of the Christian school their children go to, but even then, the Christian school is a compromise because we don’t have our own school. We don’t want the children in school in the world, so we put them with the nice Christian people. But remember, don’t take their views too seriously, but it’s better than having their children taught in schools in the world. And that’s basically the way the whole thing operates.
I wish I could get some divine reassurance about what I’m thinking and what I’m doing. What that man at the Bible Society said is true. It’s not like I haven’t thought of it before. God is not going to give me that reassurance. Or, these thoughts are the reassurance, these thoughts are God’s voice. What, am I waiting for a lightning bolt from heaven or for an angel to grab me by the hand to pull me out because I’m hesitating?
And there’s the overwhelming effect of trying to talk to everyone here about this and facing the onslaught of, “Brother, you’re really being deceived.” That is very effective, because when I say these things to everyone in this group, the echo that comes back is, “You’re crazy, you’re crazy, you’re crazy, you’re crazy.” And I start wondering if they’re right. I begin to doubt.
I have my own thoughts, but there is this other loud message that says, “Kill your critical thinking apparatus. Don’t go by your own thoughts.” And, “Oh yes, I think those things too and they seem really true. But you know that the devil is a liar. He puts thoughts in your mind.” And, “I’ve heard all these things, I’ve thought them myself.” Or, “Think of all the people out there who left our church. It’s miserable when you go out there.” I get that coming back at me too.
(This was very reinforcing in my earlier years in church. Occasionally someone who had left COBU returned and said how horrible their lives had been out there in the “world.” Stewart said if we left the Church of Bible Understanding, we would crawl around on this earth until we died. We would be spiritually dead, although our biological life would continue until our physical death. I had some experience wandering around purposelessly before coming to COBU, though it was not all death and destruction, my previous experience seemed to reinforce what Stewart told us.
And Stewart said that before we came to COBU we were ignorant, but now we knew the truth. We could not go back to not knowing to truth and if we left, we would know were not serving the truth. Our lives would be utterly miserable as a result. Stewart painted a much more horrible story of life on the outside than the cult leader Jim Jones did. Jones told the people in his compound in Guyana that there were poisonous snakes in the jungle and there were mercenaries out there who would kill them, and that they would never make it very far past the fence. But Stewart’s words to us were the same kind of fearful portrayal of life on the outside of the cult.)
But, what if God is showing me this? And see, there’s always that need for divine reassurance, “Well God, show me!” Throw that fleece out there and say, “God, if it’s your voice, make something happen for me to know.” And if something did happen, then I would say, “But God, how do I know that was you? How do I know it wasn’t just the devil providing a false sign? God, make something happen so I know!”
I see myself at a point of being closer to leaving than ever before. It has to do with a person’s ideological thinking too, where he has to get to that point within himself. On one hand, it’s easy to throw a bag over my shoulder and walk down the street. But I need to come to a decision within myself, or to a certain resonance in my thinking, where it’s clear to me. I have have become this way now, is another way of saying it.
Look how many problems are caused by our church. Stewart tells us to be desperate and urgent at all times. I see more women on the street here. I’m in an untenable position where I know I can’t do anything about my desire for sex and marriage. I’m going to have to talk away my problem with this too. You know, “seek first God’s kingdom and all these things will be given unto you.” Yes that’s true, but I’m not going to get any sympathy either. If marriage is not a part of our church’s agenda, I just have to suffer in silence. Because I do get tired of “fellowshipping” with the brothers about how I’m tempted. We do allow brothers to say “I’m temped.” But if I went beyond that and said, “I actually do need to get married” or, “marriage is forbidden here, maybe I should leave to get married.” Then brothers will talk to me to set me straight, but they’re not listening to me or hearing me out. Sometimes I wonder, why do I even need to be heard out? But, I’m not being heard out. The place they’re coming from is, we have to set this guy straight, and if he acts up, he’s just a brat.
An example of this is what Orlando said to me last night. He was just doing what Stewart was doing. Last night, Stewart lined up all the smart alecks, which fortunately for us, were the middle and new brothers this time. He said, “Find out who the smart alecks are. Get their names.” This was an example of how Stewart labels people. And I was thinking about how Jim Jones worked the crowd, categorizing people by labels. It’s humiliating. It also puts a mark on these people, so all the others will get on their case. It’s inhuman and cultic.
And later, after the meeting, Orlando asked me, “Are you a smart aleck?” And I said, “Yes, that’s how it works. When anyone has a real objection to anything, you reduce it to the lowest common denominator, painting everyone with the same brush.” I can never have a legitimate objection to anything. Everything is attributed to “my flesh,” or that I’m like a kid who got caught in the cookie jar, who is saying he didn’t like his spanking. Everything is reduced to the level of the five year old boy who doesn’t like what he’s being told. And, either you be a good boy, or you cry about your punishment and you’re being a brat. And that, ultimately, is our church’s characterization of what I am doing. Since, there doesn’t seem to be the element now that I’m like a political assassin.
(The last time I spoke up, I was told that I was attacking the leader of the church. It was reframed back to me that I had just tried to assassinate the leader of our group and I was dealt with swiftly and forcefully, as if I were a political criminal.)
I’m not getting that treatment anymore, but it’s still highly effective. One reason it is effective is that I’m not perfectly complaining, so they probably sense undertones of me lashing out in frustration when I speak, which they seize upon very well. And they say, you’re just a little boy and you’re crying, you’re a smart aleck. I have to admit, their labeling has an effect on me. They’re like artists who draw caricatures of people, where a few features are exaggerated and made prominent. And it’s humorous, because it works. And they are caricaturing me as a bad little boy. And within their caricature, the way of reform is presented. The way of reform is to stop being a smart aleck and to come back to the fold and tow the party line, because you’re being a smart aleck, so there’s your way of escape if you want it. So in other words, anything I could ever have an objection to can be reduced to this caricaturization.
Read the next section of Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry Cult Leader here: The Great COBU Wall Of Silence.
These pages, as well as my other pages, A Day In The Life Of A Cult Member and The Tangled Web, are part of the source material of my book, Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.