A Note to Believers: In this and other pages on this site it is not my intention to attack any religious organization or the beliefs of anyone who is satisfied with her or his current religious experience. My aim as a psychotherapist with an interest in the psychology of religion is rather to reach people who, like myself, have for whatever reason found their former beliefs inadequate. My own experience of shattered faith would have been much less difficult had I known that others had gone through something similar. It is my hope that sharing what I have learned will help make things a little easier for others who have also left a "fold" that could no longer contain them.
As is often noted, quality of the material available on the web is extremely variable. While I don't necessarily agree with everything on all of the following sites, and have serious reservations about the tone of some, they offer a lot of information. Remember that the course of internet searching, as in "real" life, is often anything but direct. The internet is continually changing. While I try to periodically check this list, some of the following sites may no longer be active, but in surfing through the list you will likely discover other useful sources of information. Stay open to possibilities, follow your curiosity, and enjoy exploring! Be sure to explore the links that many of the sites I list provide. See where a search for "ex-yourgroup" takes you. Remember, you don't have to restrict yourself anymore!
The anti-cult sites in particular have a wealth of information on a great many groups. If the group in which you are interested is not listed, try the more general sites and use a search engine to locate other sites. Sites about groups other than the one to which you belonged may be helpful as the similarity of experience with a restrictive group regardless of apparent differences is often quite startling, especially if you have had the notion that your group is unique. Most likely you will find that you are not alone after all!
There are also links to religious/spiritual sites on my page, Religious Studies & Spirituality Links.
I've written essays on Restrictive Religious Groups and Psychological Issues of Former Members of Restrictive Religious Groups.
A very accessible article by a scholar of religion on The Nature of Religious Experience
Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion by Marlene Winell, Ph.D. is the best book I have come across on the process of leaving a restrictive religious group. While Winell specifically addresses former fundamentist Christians, her insights can be applied to similar groups ranging from established churches to New Age cults. The book contains an extensive list of resources that would be useful for anyone seeking to broaden his/her spiritual horizon. Dr. Winell has coined the term "religious trauma syndrome" to describe the harmful effects of authoritarian religion. See her Journey Free website for further information.
A troubling aspect of many high demand groups, including some well established churches, is male dominance of women and children who have little or no voice in the community and often even their personal lives. Some Christian groups subscribe to so-called "Headship Theology" which asserts that, just as Christ is the head of the church, so men are the divinely appointed heads of their families and church communities whose authority must not be questioned. In other groups patriarchal oppression may be more subtle but still very much present. Wife Material is the semi-autobiographical story of a woman growing up in the fundamentalist Church of Christ. The author, Deborah Cox, is a Springfield, Missouri clinical psychologist who has also co-authored two books on women's anger. Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women In Extreme Religions is a very readable anthology in which women from a wide variety of religions relate their experiences of sexist religious oppression.
The HBO documentary, "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief," is an outstanding exploration, based on the book of the same title, of one of the most extreme and abusive cultic groups. With eight former members telling the stories of their involvement it presents a convincing account of how intelligent people can be seduced by abusive leaders and irrational beliefs.
There are many Facebook groups and on-line discussion groups for ex-members of various churches and groups.
I am a former Seventh-day Adventist. You may be interested in my story: Leaving the Garden: On Being A Former Seventh-day Adventist. I have also written a couple of articles with a historical focus: The Apocalyptic Background of the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Zoroaster to William Miller and Ellen G. White & The Seventh-day Adventist Church: From the Great Disappointment to a Worldwide Movement. There are also links to other Adventist related material on those pages.
Spectrum, a liberal Adventist journal with no official ties to the denomination, publishes dissenting views and scholarly studies that often diverge from the official General Conference line.
The internet has opened the door to a flood of information about the Adventist prophet and church founder, Ellen G. White, that was for many decades hidden and outright denied by church leaders. A lot of this information is available at Ellen G. White Investigation.
For those who no longer accept the Adventist version of the gospel but continue to identify as Bible believers, here are a few of the many sites run by former Adventists who have adopted an Evangelical or Fundamentalist perspective that regards Adventist doctrines as heretical:
Also check out the many links from the above sites.
World Wide Church of God - Herbert W. & Garner Ted Armstrong
With shared 19th century roots, the World Wide Church of God and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have many similar beliefs and practices. And controversies. The Painful Truth and The Ambassador File have a lot of information on “Armstrongism" with the latter also having information about the Philadelphia Church of God.
Later Day Saints (Mormon)
Jenny Morrow is a Utah psychotherapist and ex-Mormon who does podcasts entitled "Ask An Ex-Mormon Therapist" which are available from iTunes or at askanexmormontherapist.com.
For those who no longer want to be on the church books QuitMormon.com offers free legal representation for the often tedious process of officially resigning from the LDS.
The Way International (TWI)
International Church of Christ/Boston Movement
One of my most surprising discoveries as a former believer in the Bible as the literal word of God, was that not all forms of Christianity limit believers to "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. If you "find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, in the questions than in the answers, have religious interests and longings but cannot accept the beliefs and dogmas you associate with Christianity, and are repelled by claims that Christianity is the only way,” you may be interested in The Center for Progressive Christianity.
Biblical scholars who approach the Bible as a historical document have come to some conclusions that present a serious challenge to the belief that the Bible is the inerrant and literal Word of God. "From Jesus to Christ" is an outstanding PBS Frontline presentation on early Christian history. "The Bible's Buried Secrets," despite the rather unfortunate title, is an excellent PBS Nova program about the history of the Hebrew Bible (also known as the "Old Testament" by Christians).
Humor is a great way to recover from religious abuse. If you can laugh about it, you are no longer caught in it. For a very well done parody of "holier than thou" fundamentalism that is often mixed with right wing politics, visit the Landover Baptist Church. (NOTE: This is definitely not a real church and may be offensive to some people!)
Ultra-Orthodox & Chasidic Judaism
Cults & Spiritual Abuse of All Kinds
While anti-cult crusaders are sometimes overly alarmist and naive about religion in addition to often being closely allied with the religious establishment, they perform an invaluable service in pointing out potential dangers of authoritarian groups. The following sites have a wealth of information about various "cults," religious and secular, along with extensive resources for those who have been involved with such groups:
Nori J. Muster is a former member of the International Society for Krisna Consciousness who has written a well balanced account of her experiences in the group. She also has an excellent online Cult Survivors Handbook and The Nitty Gritty On Cults site with the slogan: “Don’t join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!”
Sexual Abuse by Religious Leaders
Among the many stories I have heard of abuse in religious communities, the most appalling involve sexual abuse. I've repeatedly heard about pillars of the spiritual community, ministers, priests, evangelists, teachers, lay and youth leaders of many groups and denominations, exploiting those who looked to them for spiritual guidance. Psychoanalysis tells us that what is repressed will likely be acted out. As conservative religion so often supports the repression of sexuality, sexual acting out is not at all uncommon in conservative religious communities. Far too many leaders in religious communities take advantage of the trust placed in them to try to fulfill their own secret desires which are explained as "temptation by Satan" with perpetrators, having "repented" and been "forgiven," set free to abuse again . Following the pattern of repression, those who should be safeguarding members of the community look the other way, ignoring the victims of the sexual abuse perpetrated by its serial offenders.
Here are some of the many websites with information about sexual abuse within religious communities:
Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (SNAP) is primarily focused on sexual abuse by Catholic priests but has some information about abuse in other churches and groups. No matter what the religious organization, patterns of abuse and the devastation that results are basically the same.
Original Material & Photograph ©2009 James C. Moyers
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Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Alameda County, CA Photo © Jim Moyers
Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, Alameda County, CA Photo © Jim Moyers
INTERNET RESOURCES FOR FORMER MEMBERS OF
CULTIC & FUNDAMENTALIST GROUPS