How I Accidentally Became a Cult Leader
Welcome back to Go Forth and Nerd my name is Jesse Bray also known as Mr Bray and I am your resident nerd.
In this episode I'm going to talk about
How I Accidentally Became a Cult Leader
Disclaimers it's not my intent to convert or disparage anyone for or against any religion, faith or particular practice. However it’s my goal in this episode to just share another layer of who I am and where I’m coming from. It’s also important to note I have many dear friends and colleagues of almost all walks of life - from Mormons, Catholics, Lutherans, Atheists, To born again Christians, to Buddhist, Muslims, Jewish, Baha'i, Jehovah Witness,Hindu, Agnostic, pagan and everything in between. Which I hope illustrates I have a broad acceptance of all people. I don’t need to share my metaphysical world views with someone to be their friend.
While I’m sure there are many people that might find conversations like this uncomfortable, truth said I actually really enjoy talking to people about philosophy or religion, even if that is anti-religious ideals. Why? Well there’s many reasons. One of my favorite reasons is I love learning about religious stories. I’ve mentioned this in the past but what I find so fascinating about religious stories is unlike a large portion of movies, books, and tv shows. Religious stories are told with the intent to be believed.
The author and expert on story Joseph Campbell used to say “myth is what we call someone else's religion”. And as crazy as it might seem today but what we call Norse mythology was at one timethe ancient world view of that set of people. You see stories are what connect people and every faith has their core parables, epics, or poems. And stories that are intended to believed philosophical or religious are like a direct pulse into the heart beat of what makes a person tick. Some might disagree with me while others not but I believe you don't need religion to find purpose, unconditional love or happiness. And I’m not going to argue anyone that wants to make the case that religion can bring about just as much evil as good in the world. That’s really not what this episode is about. This episode is about:
How I Accidentally Became a Cult Leader:
Firstly when I mentioned cult you’ll see I’m using it potentially in a liberal, yet real sense. However, there where no snake handling, comet worshiping, flavor aids or group cuddles. This was a Jesus Cult.
Now statistically speaking 70% of American’s consider themselves Christian and with close to three quarters of the world tracing their faith traditions to Father Abraham I can confidently say I know I’m not speaking to an isolated minority here when I mention I’m a person with my own faith and faith experiences.
I often like to compare Religion to like being in a romantic relationship. It really only makes the most sense to the parties involved. You can observe and study all you'd like but nothing comes close to a substitute for real life experiences. When you're in love you'll even have your own pet names for each other and sort of lovers vocabulary that can at times weird people outside looking in. Even when it comes to religions with the most inclusive sects they can inadvertently puzzle those that are uninitiated. That said it's not my intent to poke fun at religion but to point out why it resonates with many people from my point of view.when seen from the outside they can not only puzzle you, but sometimes even turn your head on a swivel. Romance when it’s in your face even for a hopeless romantic can be nauseating.
My religious journey started on a hot summer with a wild eyed red haired red bearded preacher that was baptizing people in a small pool beside the pulpit in their outdoor amphitheater. There was the typical alter call yet this time it was different at 7yrs old it struck me a like a rope connected directly to my heart. I wanted a piece of these afterlife goods. So I ran up there, was plunged into the icy cold water three times. He whispered some short prayers into my ears that I agreed to and then it was done. I hopped out of the pool feeling like a brand new person. It was a strange thing to be a 7yr old kid with the feeling like you had a new lease on life. And this was really the beginning of many euphoric experiences I was bound to have along with the epic grudge matches with paradigms and inconsistencies I discovered in my tradition. There’s a famous joke about a castaway that’s rescued after many years after living on a deserted island all by himself. When the rescues where escorting the castaway onto their boat they asked him a few questions. “So we’re you the only one on this island”. He replied “Yep just me”. They said “but we saw three straw huts, what were these huts then?”. The castaway replied “oh well that one is my home and that one is my church”. The rescuer doing a double take realizing the castaway only accounted for two of the three huts and they said “what about that third hut?” The castaway replied” oh I don’t goto that church anymore!”
Just like earlier how I mentioned statistically I know I’m talking to people with some sort of religious experience or background equally I’m confident that if you’ve spent any amount of time in a church or community you’ve actively contemplated at some point leaving it in hopes for a better experience. Now why is this part of my life important as a nerd? Well you see this church taught me how to be a nerd. This church though ran by goofy hippies sporting flip flops, pony tails, short and Jesus’ beards were fundamentalist, bible thumpers to use a less harsh term. And they instilled in me a nerd for the word. It was this nerdy passion that took me on to attending seminary, becoming a missionary, working in churches and eventually even planting a church which later became a cult, spoiler alert of course which I bailed on before the destruction got too heavy.
Everyone has events in there timeline that help them become who they are today and my personal faith helped me with many of the fires I went through. If you’ve listened to previous episodes you’ll know how I’ve been homeless and bullied and my faith is something that stayed my hand and helped me swallow my hate and frustration. As an adult I like to feel that I can relate to Daredevil in the comics, though I don’t identify as catholic I share many of his ideals about not taking a persons life. I really feel connected to a character that wants to do good no matter what. Daredevil might be Marvel Comics’ Batman but what I really love about him is that he’s a person of faith. Again like I mentioned stories are about connecting with people and there’s a large audience out there of people that have convictions rooted in there faith, like the new Ms Marvel or X-men’s Nightcrawler - though personally I totally dig Nightcrawler kicking ass over his quiet Preacher life. Let’s be honest he’s a super hero and we wanna see our heroes punching out evil not writing sermons, am I right?!
Ok so how did I accidentally become a cult leader. Well if you’re of the conviction that accepts this title I have a very “evangelistic personality”. What does that mean for the layperson/person that thinks that title sounds religious and douch-y. Well put it plainly I love people and I love attention. It's kinda of a classic middle child thing. I’m really good at being friendly to new people and making people feel welcomed. And to continue this silly trumpeting of my own horn I truly don’t feel like I’m better than anyone. I don’t. I’ve had times were I’ve thought I was better only to discover I’m just projecting an insecurity. But to me everyone can be interesting and everyone deserves the time of day. So this is where churches are often like software startups - you need someone that is excited about sharing experiences with people and that are authentic. Problem is I was incredible naive to. Eventually I ended up seeing how the sausage was made in the vein of my bible thumper churches and I realized the path to the pulpit was really just a family business. Not saying all churches or religious organizations do this. Just the several churches that I encountered. After leaving church after church still within my churches “franchise” I saw the gauntlet of horrible things played out before my eyes: from extreme nepotism- people literally having to marry their way in or pastors only ordaining family members, to sex scandals, to extortion. Yet all the while I remained bright eyed and optimistic that this was my calling for my life. So eventually when the opportunity arose for me to have a positive impact on a very small group of hurting people I didn’t need to think twice and plunged right in like my icy cold baptism at 7yrs old. I was convinced this time I would finally help people. There’s an interesting concept in psychology called the wounded healer. It’s where people that are often hurt or suffering can many times make great counselors because they can empathize with their patiences. Well I got hooked into this small group that soon became a not so small group and got completely enmeshed in everyone's life. Then slowly one of the founding families started excluding people as they forced everyone to listen to their megalomaniac sons rantings. They shot down anything and anyone that questioned their authority and they began mentally abusing their group along with kicking out people that they disagreed with. I discovered they this son was manipulating young girls in a very CSI:SVU sorta way while the patriarch was extorting money. It got all sorts of deja vu. What I later discovered after I left was that this particular group was systemically a cult that bred from the personality cults from the Bible thumper churches I was unfortunately involved with. Put another way the same churches I grew up in manufactured people to think and act this way with these isolate Pastor King patriarchs that had zero accountability. If you're sensing some frustration you're correct in doing so. It's incredibly embarrassing to grow up thinking and believing in a way of how the world works only to have it come crashing down around you. It was really only after this last awful experience that I really started to question the views I always had about the world.
i embraced the paradox that science and religion aren’t really in conflict at least to me and that evolution doesn’t topple my metaphyical ideals like some sorta theological game of jenga. I’m also a lot more harsh on people that say that they profess a faith than i am on people that exclude the idea of faith all together. I get it. I honestly wish I could be an atheist but I just can’t. My experiences though not best to share in this episode are just to impacting.
Now why did I ultimately share this with you guys? Well I believe it's important for me to be candid here and I wanted to share something that isn't easy to share. Perhaps I can connect with you on another level that might honestly be hard to talk about. You've heard some pretty heavy stuff about my life but all in the spirit to build community with you guys. And community is at the core the things I value. We all need community and sometimes religion can offer a safe place sometimes it's the furthest from the truth. It's not something I'm proud of but because of my experience dealing with religious bullies I have to admit I have a prejudice about initially disliking preachers when I first met them and that's coming from someone that used to be a preacher. We all need heroes that encourage us to help us not feel alone and for me Kevin Smith is a hero of mine- he made me feel that it was ok to still identity yourself as a person of faith all the while heavily disagreeing with your faith tradition. We need to be free to be our thinkers and follow our own convictions.
And I'm here to say I'm a nerd and a person of faith and if you are too that's great and if you're a nerd sans faith that's cool too! This is a piece of my story that hopefully connects me with people. Thank you all so much for listening you truly are such amazing people. And as always feel free to message me or send me an email if you'd like to chat. Do take care and remember to Go Forth and Nerd!