Reviews: ‘Undertow’ and ‘The Cult That Snapped’

undertow-300pxIn 1999, journalist Karl Kahler self-published The Cult that Snapped: A Journey into the Way International. It was riveting, both as a history of the Ohio-based cult and as a personal account of one man’s experience within it.

Kahler’s approach to the material was effective. He began by giving readers a seat at the turning point in the history of The Way – the reading of a document called “The Passing of a Patriarch.” The document was written by the Rev. Christopher C. Geer, head of the Way’s European arm. Geer had been personal bodyguard to Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of the Way, and in 1986 Geer recounted Wierwille’s last days before his death a year earlier.

More significantly, Geer accused The Way’s existing leadership of straying from its mission. No one was spared. Not the Way’s second president, L. Craig Martindale. Not the vice president, Wierwille’s oldest son Donald. Not the Way Corps, the energetic and fiercely loyal group of Way followers enrolled in a four-year program of education and indoctrination.

The Passing of a Patriarch would ultimately prove to be The Way’s undoing. The cult still exists today, but it is a shell of its former self.

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Speaking in Tongues: More than Gibberish, Less than Language

Once again, this article was originally posted on the Godless Mom blog. I’ve made some minor changes. Happy reading. 

The headquarters of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) was about a two-minute drive from the office where I worked in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The foundation had, and still has, a longstanding challenge: a $1 million award to anyone who could demonstrate, under scientifically verifiable conditions, the existence of the supernatural.

At the time, I was a Bible-believing Christian who practiced speaking in tongues, the God-given ability to bring forth prayer and praise to God in a language I had never learned. How easy would it have been, I thought, to drive over to Randi’s office, speak in tongues in the presence of a linguist, have the linguist identify the language, and collect my check.

I never tried. I never even thought of trying. And there was a reason for it: deep down, in a reserved section of my heart that I never wanted to admit existed, I knew that I faked speaking in tongues. I faked it from the first time I did it, under the caring guidance of my Bible-believing roommate in the Bronx.

Unless they’ve done it, most atheists don’t understand speaking in tongues. They dismiss it as “bull” and “gibberish.” It’s not. It’s more than that. No, it’s not what believers claim it is. It’s not an earthly or extinct language. It’s not the language angels speak to each other in heaven. But it’s not “gibberish” either, and to understand that, you need to understand what gibberish is.

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Seeing the Dark

Originally published on GodlessMom.com

I was born into a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and it never occurred to me to be anything else. As a child, I never considered “other religions,” and never fully realized that people held different views about God, Jesus, right and wrong. By the time I first heard the claim that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were a cult, I was no longer an active “member.”

I already need to clarify. In the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you’re not really considered to be a member until you are baptized. For those born into it, this typically happens at a young age. The age is not fixed, but 12 or 13 is common. The child needs to be old enough to make a conscious and responsible decision to accept the faith.

I was never baptized. When I was 12 years old, my parents separated and later divorced. Divorce is forbidden in the Watchtower Society, so there was too much cognitive dissonance for my parents to continue taking me to the Jehovah’s Witness churches (known as Kingdom Halls).watchtower-magazine

Thus, I left the Jehovah’s Witnesses without ever having made a conscious, responsible decision to either join or leave. I survived my experience as a Jehovah’s Witness without ever being truly captive to the organization, by its own standards.

This is not to say I was not a Jehovah’s Witness. I was, in a very real but childlike sense. I believed it was the truth. I shared my faith with my friends (in a matter-of-fact, often arrogant and condescending way). When my friends asked why I never said the Pledge of Allegiance in class, my answer was that I was a Christian. When they said they were Christians, too, my response was that they were false Christians, while I was a true Christian. It never occurred to me, in my innocence, that I was deeply insulting them. It was just the way things were.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday and I didn’t miss it. I received Christmas gifts from family members who defied my parents, but we never gave any. I never recited the Pledge of Allegiance (once I knew it was “wrong”). I was one of them. Sort of. I never knocked on doors because that was an activity for the baptized, and I never made it that far.

I never went back.

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