Are You Trapped Inside Someone Else's Prison?

Sep 14, 2022

A few weeks ago, one of my wife's friends reached out to me and asked me the difference between religion and a cult. I feel uniquely qualified to answer that because I've seen the insides of a cult - but most don't understand that it's a cult. 

In response to the friend asking the question, I simply replied, "Religion helps you create a relationship with God, a cult makes you dependent on the dogma and the cult, and keeps you trapped inside the structure of the cult."

I know this from firsthand experience because when I decided that I was finished with the rules, structure, and framework of organized religion and that I was on my very own spiritual path, they held an intervention to convince me that I needed to stay - that the rest of my eternity depended on believing what they believe, and remaining within the structure of the organization. 

From this intervention - the guilt, the shame, the coercion, the manipulation - I saw that I was not leaving a religious group, I was leaving a cult who had convinced its membership to rely on the system they had devised. The goal of the organization wasn't to help me grow to find my own relationship with God and evolve, but to need them for the rest of my life. 

Since then, it's become blatantly obvious that what we typically see as service-based religion is really a business structure which runs for its own survival - not the health of its constituency. 


If I Built a Cult

One day I sat down and outlined a structure and guidelines for if I ever wanted to build a cult. 

  1. I would convince people that they were broken and needed me and the cult for the rest of their lives.
  2. I would convince them that they were not adequate to make their own decisions.
  3. I would convince them that my playbook was right, and that everything else was wrong.
  4. I would convince them that anything that distracts them from complete obedience to me is an evil force.
  5. I would use their basic human fears and worries against them - especially pain.
  6. I would convince them that questioning what I taught them was an evil entity invading their mind which would get them punished.
  7. I would convince them that they needed to remain faithful every week, or risk punishment and demise.
  8. I would convince them that they needed to give me a portion of their income or else they were selfish and would be punished.
  9. I would convince them that their mission was to get everyone else on the planet to join our cult. 
  10. I would convince them that if they strayed from blind obedience, it would lead to eternal and infinite damnation and destruction.

Seriously though. I didn't really try to design a cult, but I looked at my life's experience to see how my parents, their parents, and I got rope-a-doped into believing that we were not equipped to find and relate with God without a church. This was eye-opening for me and helped me understand the coercion and manipulation happening all around the world. When I reflect, the spoken intent is to "share Jesus with others," but it's really to join a church and stay for the rest of your life or risk eternal damnation. 

After I broke loose from the toxic religious beliefs that I grew up in and kept trying harder to embrace, I realized a connection and relationship with God that I never had before. I thought that was religion's intent, but years later I'm still told that if I don't believe certain things about a human teacher 2,000 years ago, I'm going to perish in an eternal fiery pit - but God loves me unconditionally!

I choose better. I choose love. If it's not love, it's a lie. And with that belief the love in my heart has blossomed. I share that love with many others, and they feel the unconditional nature of the love I share - because that's the unconditional nature of the love my God shares with me. 


How This Impacted My Business

Years ago I had a prospect asking about coaching with me. She said she wanted to work with me, but she had one concern - when a relationship expires for her, or when a business commitment ends, she often feels trapped and struggles to exit. Essentially, she wanted to know that it was safe to exit whenever she wanted, or when she felt like our work together had come to a natural conclusion. 

After a few conversations I made her a deal. When she was finished coaching with me, all she needed to do was text me and let me know she was finished coaching, and I would immediately respond "Thanks! I love you, (name)!" I told her there would be zero coercion, manipulation, re-sales, guilt, shame, or pressure. I would release her from her program as easily as she entered. 

That was May 13, 2020, and we are still going strong. In fact, I often tell her that the work that we're doing is some of the most advanced work I've ever taught a client. I still get super excited to jump on the phone with her each week. One day, I'll be just as excited for her when she's decided she's had enough of me. 

Yesterday I had an unscheduled call with another long-standing client. During a random check-in he told me that he was coming to the end of his time in our group, and that our October retreat would be his last dance. He originally joined our group on June 17, 2021, and he had gotten his fill. He said his life was better in every dimension because of all the amazing support he had in his life, and he said that our group played a key role. When he said he was finished, I responded "I love you, brother. I'm glad you're graduating."


That's a word I use often. When a client signs with my business, I have one ambition in mind - get them to where they want to be so that they can graduate. I wear it as a badge of honor when a client lovingly and respectfully concludes our time together. I see my job as to give them everything they need so that they can graduate. But I see so many business-like cults with the intent of keeping their clients and constituents trapped in the structure of the cult. Feeling trapped and being manipulated to stay taught me everything I needed to know about how I wanted to operate in the world - not like a cult. 


The Business of Religion

There is a difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is about finding your own loving and meaningful relationship with God. Religion is business and politics layered overtop of spirituality. Religion looks to teach people God. I'm not sure which human being first considered that God had to be taught, and the students needed to become subordinate to God - but I can't think that they had the purest intentions. 

Listen, if it works for you - cult or not - and if a structure brings you freedom, success, happiness, peace, love, and joy, then keep going and keep choosing what's best for you. 

But make me a deal. As soon as you feel trapped inside the prison that someone else created, please commit to me that you'll see it with open eyes, an open mind, and a heart that knows that a loving organization or person would never entrap you. Ever. 

Photo by Christopher Windus on Unsplash

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