The World Comes to an End, BUT...No Church People Were Hurt!
As I continue my journey into what I consider my "new life" and leave the brainwashing of Herbie's cult behind, I find myself continuously examining everyday occurrences and analyzing my feelings and reactions to determine if there are any vestiges of the Worldwide Church of God left. I recently accepted I will most likely never be able to leave the experience completely behind. In some small way it will always be with me. Since it is the only religion I've ever known, I cannot neglect to acknowledge that I am who I am partly because I was raised in the Worldwide Church of God.
One of the more profound feelings I have experienced since freeing myself from the cult has been a sense of belonging to a larger "congregation", if you will, that of mankind as a whole. I am now free to pursue friendships and cultivate relationships with whomever I meet and find interesting. I have been continually amazed at how easily I have formed friendships with people I encounter, which helps immensely to fill the void that leaving the church has left in my life. That is not to say that what I left behind was meaningful or even valuable. I spent the better part of my 25 years in the church "looking for love in all the wrong places", as I tried to form relationships with people whom I had absolutely nothing in common with. I have suffered through enough uncomfortable, stilted conversations and empty, meaningless "fellowship" to last a lifetime.
Why did I, like many people, keep trying to fit a square peg in a round hole? How did I develop this enormous sense of obligation that prevented me from asserting myself in relationships where I usually had nothing in common with the other individual and quite often ended up being used and abused? I think it comes from the same attitude which enabled ministers to report after a natural disaster happened in some region of the world..."But thankfully no church people were hurt!" How ludicrous is such a statement and even more so the attitude behind it?! Often, we would hear about hundreds of people killed, maimed or otherwise injured and often left homeless and penniless, but it didn't matter, so long as "No church people were involved!" We were continually bombarded with the idea that other "church people" were the only people of any value or importance in the world.
I now mourn the many friendships that I never nurtured with "non-church members" throughout the years. I had very few friends during my school years. In high school I spent my time at church dances and activities with pathetic, older single guys hitting on me instead of going to dances and being involved in activities at school with kids my own age. I felt guilty about the relationships I developed with friends from school...with kids who DIDN'T encourage me to smoke or drink or have sex, unlike some of the "church" kids, whom I was FORCED to spend time with, their only virtue being they attended church.
I am also learning, for the first time in 30 years, that people of all races, religions, colors and backgrounds are basically the same. They are all basically good and we are all basically working toward the same goals in life. As I've said before, it feels good not to be part of some "specially selected and set apart" group of people. I am embarrased and ashamed when I recall how narrow-minded, egotistical and narcissistic we were as a group in the Worldwide Church of God. If there was ever a group that mirrored the major personality traits of its leader, it would have to be Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God! Who were we to think that we were so much better than those not supposedly "called" into God's "one true church". How arrogant to place a lesser value on a human life simply because the person wasn't part of our "church".
Interestingly enough, it seems most of us who have left the cult have suffered from this attitude also. How many of us have "good friends" in Worldwide Church of God or one of the splinters who stopped speaking to us or associating with us after we broke away? I realized that these were empty, meaningless relationships when they ceased to exist when we severed our affiliation with the cult. I can't say that it didn't hurt at first and it continued to hurt until I realized there was never really anything there to begin with. Then I beat myself up over the wasted years and countless friendships I missed out on.
Now, when I hear about the families devastated in the earthquakes in Turkey and see parents frantically searching through the rubble for their lost children, I cry. My heart aches for the families displaced from their homelands all over the world as a result of political or ethnic conflicts. Closer to home, my husband belongs to the civilian auxiliary of the Air Force and helps to perform search and rescue operations all over the state, thus helping our daughter to understand that we have an obligation to our fellow human beings, regardless of what church they may belong to.
Now, when I hear of some catastrophe or natural disaster somewhere in the world, I don't even stop to wonder if there were any "church" members involved...I lament the fact that some of my fellow human beings are suffering. It feels good to be a part of this group...and membership is truly world wide!
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