The Cult That Is Religion

There was a time in my life when I would rise with the sun every morning to usher in the new day.

The flawless serenity of the new day’s light channeled the physical energy and spiritual fortitude I would need to meet every challenge and seize every chance to make that day better than the last.

Every day would begin with a prayer. If I didn’t pray, my day would dissolve into chaos. I would spend up to an hour meditating and speaking to my creator. It was a special time when all the heaviness and burdens of my mind lifted away.

I believed that the answers to all of my life’s questions could be found in the Bible. It made sense because my grandparents were missionaries who built churches and helped the needy. Their goal was to bring relief and salvation to the poor through the ministry of Christ.

Regrettably, their faith and work skipped a generation.

The dysfunctional home environment created by my parents’ constant marital problems only broadened my growing sense of spiritual disconnect. I had so many questions about eternity, heaven and hell. I needed God to tell me why He would allow my family to endure such suffering and discontent.

I’ve tried many churches and opened myself to many new experiences. Most of them seemed more like social clubs where spiritual wisdom was swapped with mindless feel-good babble.

Only a select few, were places where one could deepen their understanding of the scriptures.

It was in these churches where I could condition myself into a real Christian. But, still, I found it difficult to interact and mingle with many of the other believers whose reasons for attending church were far afield from mine.

In addition to attending services, I sought further enlightenment and religious knowledge through the independent study of the Bible. I was particularly inspired by the life and works of a relatively obscure missionary named Watchman Nee. Nee’s unshakable commitment to spreading the word of God amid all of the poverty and socio-political upheaval of 1920s China recalled my grandparents’ own mission to bring absolution to the needy.

A few years ago my faith was put to the ultimate test following a brief spell at another uninspiring church group.

I became acquainted with a small group of believers of who seemingly shared the same brand of faith as I. After welcoming my sons and me into their group; I developed a close bond with one of the group leaders. She quickly came to represent the kind of mother figure that I had always yearned for.

Once assimilated into the group, I endeavored to purify myself of all of the vices and indulgences that fellow group members claimed would erode my faith and Christian values. And just like that, I avoided television, music, and newspapers. I would fast for a month and pray endlessly. The sense of heightened spiritual awareness instilled through rigid self-discipline was intoxicating. My mind and spirit became one. I was finally at peace with my troubled world.

But then, suddenly, my newfound faith was shattered.

The troubles started when the husband of my new friend called me one night to ask if he could stay at my apartment. He explained that he and his wife had “just had a fight” and that he needed a “couple of days out of the house to cool off and clear his head.”

Caught completely off-guard and remembering the debt of gratitude I owed to his family and the group, I consented.

When he arrived, it became increasingly apparent that he wanted something more than just a roof over his head for a couple of nights.

“She preaches about love, but she knows nothing about love,” he would say to me, pleading with his eyes asking for comfort.

It didn’t take much of this awkward melodrama for me to decide who was to blame for his marital troubles. I thought to myself, ‘how dare this man speak so horribly about the woman who had saved me from my personal hell?’

Little did I know at the time that this incident would spur a chain of events that would land me in an even worse personal hell than before.

She began to demand more and more from me. I gave her my time, my energy, and, worst of all, time away from my kids. My mother tried to warn me, but I was too caught up in my delusion to make an honest reckoning of my predicament.

Her demands became increasingly grueling and selfish. If I didn’t respond immediately to a call or text, she would call me ruthlessly and demand an explanation. If I betrayed the slightest hint of hesitation to her ridiculous demands, she would affect a manner of manipulation that only a being devoid of a soul could successfully employ.

The breaking point came when her brother, a married man, made advances on me, just as her pig of a husband had.

With a heaviness in my heart, I left without any explanation, not a word, nothing. I was devastated. It felt like I parted ways with my family.

It didn’t, however, stop her husband and brother from harassing me over the phone and stalking me in the parking lot of my apartment.

This was without question the lowest point of my life. It took three years of intense soul-searching to achieve the level of mindfulness to break free my patterns of self-destruction.

Today, I’m not active in the church, but I know God is with me. My faith will never disappear, but I’m wise and careful to know the difference between a real church and a cult.

The church is inside you, not something made of brick and mortar, but of love and compassion.

It doesn’t matter which faith you practice, what is important is that you know the value of love; both for others and oneself.

Photo Credit: Johnny Silvercloud Flickr via Compfight cc


Stephanie Ortez

Stephanie is a highly caffeinated mother of two wonderful boys. She is hopelessly addicted to non-fiction books and literature that moves her to tears. She is an admissions advisor for George Washington University online where she assists homeschooled students internationally. Stephanie lives with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. She is a passionate mental health advocate, member of Stigma Fighters. Her writing has been featured on The Elephant Journal, The Mighty, The Organic Coffee Haphazardly and Feminine Collective.

10 thoughts on “The Cult That Is Religion

  1. Mary Rowen Reply

    Thank you, Stephanie. What an awful experience. To trust people that much and then have to leave is the worst, and I’m so sorry it happened to you. I was brought up in a pretty strict Catholic home, and didn’t question much until I was in my late teens, when I started questioning a LOT. Since then, I’ve checked out other churches, and although none have been like the one you describe here, I’ve also come to believe that religion is personal, at least most of the time. There are days when I wish my family belonged to a church, but I haven’t found one that works for us.

  2. Wendy GarfinkleWendy Garfinkle Reply

    Thank you for sharing, Steph. I’m so sorry you were forced to endure this experience and that you were able to extricate yourself from the situation and still retain your faith in God. It’s people like these who give “Christianity” a bad name. 🙁

  3. Jacqueline CioffaJacqueline Cioffa Reply

    Stephanie,

    I’m so glad you were able to share this story, and your incredible sense of faith despite horrible circumstances. I’m sorry that you endured the awful experience in what is supposed to be a safe haven. I commend you for your discipline, and being able to rise up continuing a spiritual life filled with love and compassion. Beautiful piece.

  4. doriowendoriowen Reply

    This is a nightmare story, Steph. And I believe one that could happen in any organized religion. Religions are imperfect, and so can be some of their members. Give me his address–I’ll go trash him! Sometimes no religion, but faith and good deeds, is the best religion. But what do I know? I’m a recovering Catholic girl…..loved your essay! xoD.

  5. Nicole LyonsNicole Lyons Reply

    Thank you for sharing, Steph. This must’ve been a hard write for you, I am so sorry that you went through all of that. But you nailed it here, “The church is inside you, not something made of brick and mortar, but of love and compassion.
    It doesn’t matter which faith you practice, what is important is that you know the value of love; both for others and oneself.”
    Thank you
    N

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