Eyes Wide Open: What It’s Like to Leave a Cult

Posted: September 20, 2015 in atheism, religion
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It has been approximately one year since my “shelf” came tumbling down. For those unfamiliar with the shelf terminology, it is a common ex-Mormon descriptor for where one puts all the information that conflicts with their religious belief system. It is nearly impossible to interact with others in this world and not encounter information that conflicts with the supposed truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or any other religion for that matter. Naturally, people are resistant to the idea that something so critical to their world-view might be wrong, so such conflicting information gets shoved into the dark recesses and corners of the mind on a metaphorical shelf… until that shelf can handle no more.

In a years time, I have become a drastically different person. A stronger person. A more emotional person. A better person. Most of all, my eyes have been opened. WIDE. It is as if I was literally blind. As I take in the world around me with my new perspective, I am made constantly aware of information that seems new to me but has clearly been the common knowledge of everyone around me. Or at least everyone that has already, similarly, had their eyes opened. I find myself wanting to speak up, to share my experiences and my new-found knowledge, and to advocate for those going through struggles I’d previously overlooked, only to realize that there are already countless books, quotes, videos, magazines, and individuals that have disseminated such knowledge for the public.

Countless historical figures and current leaders and public figures have reached conclusions similar to those I’ve only been discovering in the past year, and I feel like I’ve fallen behind. I feel as if much of my time has been wasted believing in nonsense and fairy tales. There are some bouts of anger mixed in there – anger toward the institutions that deceived me, profited off my trust and ignorance, encouraged me to turn a blind eye to the truth, and shaped my perceptions in an effort to prevent my “escape”. And, of course, there is more anger now that I have escaped, as this same institution paints a picture in the minds of those still ensnared, in which I and those like myself are the bad guys.

I was so blissfully unaware… and it wasn’t even because the information I needed to have my eyes opened was prevented me. It was because the “tint” with which I viewed this information prevented me from recognizing it for what it was or prevented me from accepting it. When introduced to the concept of “cognitive dissonance”, I realized that my own subconscious was working against my pursuit of the truth in order to maintain my personal happiness and peace of mind. I had a delusional narrative that blocked or reinterpreted any information that didn’t fit my worldview so that I could continue to believe I was not mistaken and thus avoid making any changes.

My belief gave me comfort in the face of fearful challenges both personal and worldwide. To reject this belief would mean facing the fear. It would mean accepting an entirely different worldview, and it would mean re-writing my narrative from scratch. Of course, it was easier to avoid such massive changes, so despite my desire to pursue truth, my own mind was working against me to keep me in the dark, to keep me trusting, to keep me in the cult.

Eventually though, the blinders finally came off. My shelf started to crumble, and I was “free”. Such a transformation did not come easy, and it is difficult to describe just what factors made it possible. More than anything, though, I know it would have been impossible without the following:

1. My willingness to examine my beliefs with scrutiny.

2. The assistance of those who’d been in my position.

3. Honesty.

4. Persistent study and research.

5. Critical thinking and experimentation.

6. Logical thought and the scientific method.

Now, I find myself in an interesting position. I am a changed person, because I was finally able to “see” what had been staring me in my face all along. I had to work hard to reach this point, and yet… now it all seems so obvious. Questions that were previously unanswerable now click into place and just make sense. And in one year, I have come to realize and understand more about myself and the world around me than I was able to learn in a lifetime while blinded by belief.

But my family… remains in the dark. And because of their tainted worldview they now see me as fallen. They pity me. They worry for me. They fear for me. Yet, I am happier, healthier, and more at peace with myself and the direction of my life than I ever was before. They have no reason to pity, worry, or fear and it hurts that I cannot easily remove the blinders from THEIR eyes so that they can also see as I do. Without a willingness, on their part, to examine their beliefs with scrutiny and apply the same principles of study, research, critical thinking, experimentation, logical thought, and the scientific method, they will forever remain in that darkness. They will forever maintain their faulty perception of the world.

And as I reflect on this “new” position I find myself in, I realize it is not so new. For every individual who’s similarly had their eyes opened has faced backlash from friends, family, loved ones… and the general populace at large holds tightly to their religious delusions and treats atheism like a disease in need of eradication. The new fear is now, will I someday meet a crazed fanatic convinced that they must remove my heathen voice from this earth to please their God? And whether or not that IS to be my fate, will I have made any difference in this world before I do go?

The problems we face on this earth are massive, and a large part of the struggle to remedy those problems is in convincing those stuck in their own cultish mindsets that these problems exist and that we are capable of fixing them. Together. With the greatest minds of history already being largely ignored, what difference will MY voice make? It’s daunting and overwhelming. And now, without my faith, where is my comfort?

To conquer what would otherwise lead to feelings of despair, I must find myself relying on hope. Not in a God. Not in an afterlife. Not in a fairy tale. — In life. In science. In prosperity. In humanity. In technology. In ingenuity and creativity. In intelligence and critical thinking. I am, and forever will be, a progressive and an idealist at heart. My hope in the abilities of humanity to see reason and evolve to embrace a brighter future is what gives me a sense of purpose. I may find myself repeating a mantra that’s been getting spoken for decades, but if I do not add my voice to that of these other enlightened individuals, if I do not do my part… then I may as well have remained in the cult.

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