The soundtrack to my early childhood wasn’t lullabies or nursery rhymes; it was the scratchy sound of AM news radio. Whenever I was in the car with my mom, or eating a meal at home, “All you need to know, KNX 1070 NewsRadio!” was on in the background. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t such a good idea to have the news on all the time in front of an impressionable young child when the big story of the day was how “The Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez was breaking into houses at random and raping and killing families. And then my parents would wonder why I had such trouble falling asleep at night.
I remember one day there was something on the news about the anniversary of the Jonestown massacre (another totally appropriate, non-nightmare-inducing topic for a young child). This was the first time I heard what a cult was. I remember asking my Dad, “but why would those people all drink the kool-aid if they knew it was poisoned?” I don’t remember what his answer was, but from that moment on I was fascinated by cults.
A few years later I watched a story on 20/20 about the religious group The Family, which reportedly, sought to recruit new members through casual sex. At the time, I was probably in middle school, and to my developing pervert brain and hormone-besieged body, this group of sex-loving, music-producing hippies didn’t seem so bad (I mean aside from the doomsday stuff and the reports of child molestation… yeah, I was a stupid kid). But check out this awesome 80s-tastic video, “Cathy Don’t Go.” There are a lot more like this on youtube.
When I was in high school members of Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide in San Diego. I remember thinking, “how could that many people be so fucking stupid?” At the same time there was a part of me that felt the tinniest bit of envy. That level of devotion and commitment were (and still are) entirely foreign to me.
I think this is what always fascinated me about cults. I never knew that sense of being so convinced of my beliefs that I was willing to give up everything for them. I know that’s probably a healthy thing, especially for someone like me who tended to get attached unsavory types.
Another thing about cults that appealed to me was the stories about people not being able to get out. I have never once been a part of something that wouldn’t let me out (those evil cable and gym contracts don’t count). Every boyfriend, every job, every friendship I have ever had, when I’ve tried to leave, they’ve let me. In fact their attitude is usually, “good riddance, bitch.” I’ve felt trapped in abusive situations before, but that was always because I was too scared of being alone or being without a job, not because someone else was preventing me from leaving.
In high school and college, I’d been approached by suspiciously friendly people at the mall or on campus asking me if I wanted to take a free personality test, go to a party, or take a free course. My internal safety monitoring system would always go off and shout, “Danger! Cult! Run!” I would politely decline, and later wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t.
This question of “what if?” combined with morbid curiosity for a topic that has fascinated me my whole life lead me into the belly of the beast this morning.
There is a religious organization that is pretty big in my city. I don’t even want to mention the name of this group in an article that also mentions the word cult, because they have a reputation for mercilessly going after any and all critics. Also, while I am fairly convinced this organization IS a cult, I don’t know for sure and don’t want to insult anyone’s beliefs. Unlike the cults mentioned above, this group still has many vocal, mainstream adherents.
In one of its centers, this group that shall not be named has a restaurant. A few days ago I found out it is open to the public on Sundays. Two of my favorite things: brunch and cults combined in one! I couldn’t wait.
Before my friend and I went, we were prepared. We made up fake names, and made sure we had cash so we wouldn’t have to use our credit cards. I also made sure to loudly say, “remember Sarah is expecting us in an hour” a couple of times in case anyone got any kidnap ideas. Paranoid? Yes, but you can never be too safe.
I was a little nervous walking in to the place. Everyone was super friendly and smiling. The grounds were absolutely beautiful and there was a lot more activity going on than I had expected. The restaurant was fairly banal and that relaxed me. It was just like a normal ok-ish brunch buffet. Afterwards they did offer us a tour, but weren’t pushy when we declined. Because I have ISSUES, I do feel a tinge of rejection that they didn’t lock the doors behind us and force us to stay. Like I’m not good enough for their stupid bullshit cult?!?! Assholes.
Oh, well. It’s their loss. Besides, if I was going to join any cult, it would be a sex cult.