Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Cult

     I was a freshman at the University of Anchorage and the year was 1993. Halfway through the Fall semester, I was attempting to reorganise my notebook when I noticed that another student was speaking to me. He was a quiet fellow who spoke in a pronounced up talk style (stressing the last syllable of every word). I looked up from what I was doing and said hello. He seemed to me to be somewhat awkward in his mannerism and social skills, but I asked him what he wanted. It turned out that he was trying to invite me to a bible study on Wednesday. Having been raised a Catholic and having studied the Bible as literature in high school, I agreed to his invite.
    Wednesday rolled around and I found myself at the Spenard Rec. Center off of Minnesota Drive. There were only a handful of cars in the large parking lot, so I assumed that I was early and proceeded in. I wasn't early; there were only ten or so twenty-somethings in attendance and I was the only one who was a guest. I, being a young single guy in the AK, noticed that the guy to girl ratio was promising. There were four or five pretty girls and six or so guys. I was immediately approached by the entirety of the congregation and was welcomed to the group with genuine acceptance. This, of course, made me feel good. Rob was the one who invited me out, so it was he who introduced me to the rest of the gang. I felt like a part of something good and being that I was having troubles on the home front, I was relieved to feel so much caring and, dare I say, love, from my new-found friends.
    As the weeks turned into months, I started to spend all of my free time with the fellowship and was ignoring my two best friends in the process. My mom noticed a change in by behavior- for the better- and said that she was glad that I had found something to fill the void in my life. My dad, on the other hand, being a strict Catholic, wasn't too thrilled with my new found faith. He decided that as long as I kept my grades up and stayed out of trouble, he wouldn't have a problem with me. I was attending church at the rec-center twice a week on Sunday and Wednesday, and was praying before each meal (like my family used to do).
    Eventually, my holier than thou attitude started to affect my already precarious relationship with my family. I was trying to convince my family to see the light of my church, which was called the Greatland Christian Church, but they ridiculed me and called me a Bible-thumper and said that I had been brainwashed. Of course, my pastor told me that this was a common reaction of the non-believers. One day, my dad came to me and said that he had seen on the t.v. show 60 minutes, an expose on a church that started up in Boston. It was called the Boston Movement and was accused of blackmailing its members who tried to leave the flock. He asked me to find out more about my church and said that he hoped that it wasn't affiliated with the Boston Movement. It occurred to me that it probably was due to the fact that before I could be baptised into the church, I had to compile a Sin List. The list was to begin at my earliest remembrance of breaking one of the Ten Commandments. I of course didn't list everything that I had done, mainly due to the statute of limitation on some of the shenanigans I had partaken in in my youth. I did say that I had stolen candy and toys as a child and had constantly disobeyed my parents and had pretty much been a little shit for most of my life. Then there was the case of touching ones self in an inappropriate manner, a 'menage a uno' kind of thing. They were all but salivating at the anticipation of reading how often a day and how many days a week I embarked upon this journey. I felt a little uncomfortable because of the pretty girls in the flock, but was assured that each of the ten or so members had completed a list of their own and had felt better for it. They were right about feeling better, I wasn't ashamed of my actions but was remorseful. They accepted me for who I was and solidified my bond with the Church.
     Back to the Boston Movement. I asked my pastor about the origins of the church and about the stories in the media. He confirmed my suspicions and replied that sometimes drastic measures had to be taken in order to save souls. I asked about the morality of blackmail and he said that God works through his disciples in many ways and that the path to Hell was full of good intentions. The pastor then asked me why I had not been giving very much money during the collections at church. I reminded him that I was a college student, still living at home and had no income nor allowance. He said that he understood, but that it was important to sacrifice my comfort in the name of God. I took this with a grain of salt and said that I would try.
    The months wore on and I was beginning to see a pattern in the 'recruitment prospects'. I noticed that there were no families being invited to church nor the elderly or down-and-out. All I ever saw were social misfits who seemed to need a place where they could belong. I asked my pastor about our demographics and he told me that the old were set in their ways and that couples with children didn't have time for church. WTF? I grilled him about the need to save everyone and not just those who were easy targets with money from mommy and daddy. He had no reply and told me to think and pray to God for forgiveness at having questioned His authority. Okey-dokey. I was starting to see through the mist of blind-faith and decided to challenge everything that I had been told.
    I started inviting homeless people to church and was met with outrage for my actions from the flock. I then asked them if it was not our mission to save every soul that we could for the glory of God, and was this mans soul not worth saving. They couldn't argue with my logic until my pastor escorted the homeless man out of the rec-center and told us all that the man had given up on God a long time ago. I, being raised Catholic, still remembered God as a forgiving person... no matter what you had done. I told the flock what I thought and said that I had had enough. I started to leave and the pastor asked to speak with me in private. I agreed.
    We talked about my waning faith and my errant behavior, then he pulled out a piece of paper... it was my Sin List. He said that he would hate to have to release the information to my family and friends and that I should reconsider my choice of leaving. He said that I was one of the most charismatic people he had ever met and that I had great potential in the church. This sounded kinda like a bribe to me but I was dead-set in my decision. I told him that I hadn't listed everything on my list because of the statute of limitations thing and informed him that I knew were he and his wife lived and that I had been a bit of a pyrotechnics geek in my youth and that I was fascinated with fire. His eyes went wide and he handed me my list. I took it, stood up, and left the room. On my way out, some of the girls were crying while the guys were talking quietly to Rob, my sponsor.
    I had been with the church for almost a year and had ostracized myself from my family and friends. I had a lot of patching up to do and vowed to disrupt the efforts of the church's recruitment practices every chance I got. I eventually moved from Anchorage and never saw the flock again.

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