Appreciating connection (oh, also cult stuff?)

My friends have joked on me about my fascination with cults. It’s even influenced some of my art at times (like this music video.)

The whole Jonestown horror and the film The Sacrament by Ti West. The Invitation is another good one. The music video for “Premonition of the Hex” by Circa Survive. Bizarre belief systems like Scientology. (Watch The Master if you haven’t already.) Warren Jeffs, the child rapist and leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I was reading the Rolling Stone article “Children of Scientology: Life After Growing Up in an Alleged Cult”, and it talks about people who were raised in that system as children and then leaving it. Of the many interesting aspects of that article, one thing kind of stood out to me – the differences between adults and children when it comes to cults, specifically leaving them.

The article talks about it thusly:

“People who join and leave as adults have the luxury of connecting with their past selves, [a cult expert and therapist] says. ‘For them, it’s about reconnecting, rediscovering, re-everything. But SGAs don’t have that. Their identity is the cult.’”

The term “SGAs” in that sentence stands for “Second Generation Adults.” Basically, a first generation adult leaves their family to join a cult. For the SGA, the family is the cult.

If you had to start over and relearn almost everything as an adult, how difficult and terrifying would that be? (For a non-cult documentary where someone had to start over in a different way, the film Tell Me Who I Am is good, maddening, and heartbreaking.)

All of this got me thinking about the idea of connection. Our connections with friends and family. Our past familial histories and how they can affect us. Even some of the nature vs. nurture argument.

Part of that comes from the same Rolling Stone article above where one of the former Scientologists is aware that her mother is Jewish, which means that according to tradition, so is she. The article mentions that “it’s one of the few things that she was before she was a Scientologist.” That’s the connection she was trying to explore.

There have been times in my own life where I have felt somewhat disconnected, not nearly on the level the people in that article must be dealing with by any means, but at least a little. There is so much I don’t know, even about my own family history.

But even with those moments of disconnect, I never had to start over from scratch. I never had to explore aspects of a previous identity that I never had. Even when I left the belief system I was raised in, I didn’t lose everything. My family didn’t disown me; my friends didn’t stop talking to me. (Many of my friends left belief systems as well though – some before me, some after.) 

But I’m lucky in that fact. I can be my authentic self without it costing me those connections. I understand that not everyone can say that.

Since we’re wrapping up the holiday season of such a strange, trying clusterfuck of a year, connection seems so important. Some people skipped out on seeing family during the holidays (not enough to slow this fucking pandemic apparently, but still…) More people are dealing with isolation, loneliness, depression, along with anxieties about whatever else is going on in their personal lives. It’s been rough for a lot of people.

I guess in this last bit of 2020, maybe it’d be nice for us to take a moment to appreciate the connections we have – to the friends and family that love us, to the strangers that show us kindness, and to the memories of those gone before us.

I hope you and yours have a happy new year. Thanks for reading. Much love.

-Josh

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