Hi Aunt Z,
Let me start off by saying that I love you and your family as well. You covered a lot of different ground in your email. As I see it, you brought up
1) Your perception of me as "wounded" and in pain
2) Me calling Gig a cult leader and holding her responsible for dead babies
3) Atheism and anti-theism
4) The history between Gig and Asshat (I'm not using my ex husband's real name)
5) How I raise my son
6) Peter and the prodigal son idea
7) The role of mental health
Let me get the shorter responses out of the way. I'm sorry Asshat stole from Gig. He stole from everyone, even cashing in Little Man's change jar when he was a month old to buy drugs. He had serious substance abuse problems and was not a nice person. Last year I had to file a restraining order, after he threatened to kidnap my son and kill me. How I raise my son, in a single parent home and outside of a church, is not up for discussion. I haven't provided any insights or suggestions on what I think would be best for your children, and you will do the same for me.
Lumping together points 1, 3, and 6: I'm touched by your concern I suppose, but I'm not in pain and I'm not blogging because I'm "wounded". Atheism has been a huge positive in my life, and is the second greatest thing to happen to me (after Little Man, of course). I did not become an atheist because I'm angry with God or with Gig, or in reaction to any of the aspects of religion I decry on my blog. If you'd like to talk about it, there are three scenarios I can work with.
1. If you have questions, I'll do my best to answer them. A lot of people don't have a clear understanding of what "atheist" means, but it just describes the fact that I don't believe that any gods exist. It doesn't say anything about my outlook or my values, which in many respects are the same as yours.
2. You and I can exchange books and talk about the issues that way. I'll read a Christian apologist book of your choosing, if you'll read something I choose on atheism in exchange.
3. We can agree to never directly converse with each other on the issue of god, religion, and religious education/indoctrination of children.
Now that I've set those issues aside, let me get to what I think was your main purpose in writing me. Gig was a cult leader. I know that this is hard to hear and painful to discover, but it's factually true. Just google "Carol Balizet" and "cult" and you'll be amazed at what you find, and not just on my blog. The International Cultic Studies Association, Apologetics Index, Childrens Healthcare is a Legal Duty, Concerned Christian Growth Ministries, and the Rick Ross Institute (all groups specializing in cults) recognize Gig as a cult leader and Home in Zion Ministries as a cult. (Which sort of answers your question of why I kept working for her even as an adult. Brainwashing takes time to reverse and I was still very much under her spell at that time.)
You didn't live with her during those years, so you may not be aware how crazy and controlling she really was. I don't know if you've read her books anytime in the last twenty years, but my mom and I have. She knows that Gig is a cult leader, too, and she's still a committed Christian. The atheism and the recognition of Gig as a cult leader aren't at all related. (In fact, Rick Ross Institute, CCGM, and Apologetics Index are all Christian cult-watch organizations).
I'm sorry if this wounds you or causes you pain. That's not my intention. It's just a fact, and in part because I did work for her and promote her crazed ideas for so long, I want to make amends to the world. I want to debunk the dangerous lies she told. Children have died, Z. And, sorry, but the facts say they *would* have lived if they'd gotten medical care. I know Gig always said each death she spoke of was unavoidable, but I've read about them now in news articles and cult watch websites. She brainwashed people into putting "faith" above all else, and told them it was blasphemous to respond "in the sight realm" to actual physical problems people were having, and that it was a sin to go to a doctor. In the end, when she was the one in pain, she did go to a doctor. By that point six children had already died as a direct result of her books and her dogma.
I don't know if you remember the story of Harrison Johnson, the little boy who was stung by all those yellow jackets and died from medical neglect in the HIZM office, but I used to babysit him. Gig was with his family that day, and advised them not to get medical care. He would be 16 now, if his parents had never read Gig's books. She killed him. It's taken me 14 years to get to the point where I can recognize that for what really happened.
Regarding the role of mental health in Gig's decisions and actions. I was diagnosed with OCD at 21 and have received multiple additional diagnoses since then. I've long suspected Gig had mental health problems, probably OCD and certainly NPD. However, a high-functioning adult with mental illness is not excused for bad behavior. I have mental health issues myself, and I can be sympathetic to the additional challenges that come with living like this. But I am responsible for my actions and words, just as as she was. If someone is found not guilty of a crime like murder by reason of insanity, we don't convict them of murder but we still do lock them up for the safety of others, in an institution rather than a jail. You can believe whatever you believe, but we have rules on how crazy you're allowed to *behave*.
You seemed to suggest that by simply being an atheist and talking about it on my blog, I am doing more harm than Gig, who directly contributed to the deaths of several children. I don't see how you possibly could make this statement "gently". The sweetest words won't hide the fact that you worship a god you think will send me and my friends to hell, simply for not believing he exists, and that you think he is the source of love, comfort, and morality, and that I'm depriving my son in some way by not teaching him about this deity. Do you really want to have this conversation with me? We can, but you almost certainly won't like what I have to say.
I'm more than willing to talk about Gig's effect on the world with you - or not. I do recommend you talk to my mom about it. She has a lot of insights about Gig over the decades, and was a lot more involved in Gig's personal satellite during the baby ministry days. She's also read a lot on abusive churches and Bible-based cults, written by Christians, on how to make sure the group you belong to is healthy and not heretical. Since I think you're more likely to respect what she has to say, both because she's a Christian and because she's your sister not your niece, I think you should probably talk to her. I know you don't like this, but I'm not making it up.
A Christmas present for Little Man would be grand, as long as it's not a Bible or something like it. I'll get your children religiously neutral toys in a similar respect of your right to educate and instruct your children as you see fit. I'm glad to hear you're getting treatment plan for Lil C and testing for Lil J. I only wish I'd had access to health care and mental health care as a child. Because of Gig and her beliefs, I didn't.
This is what I'm thinking of sending. But on the other hand, I remember that I don't even really like her. Yes, she's my aunt and I love her in that obligatory family reflex way. But in 2006 when I was living in my car and asked her for money for diapers, she referred me to the homeless shelter for help. (She married rich, so it's not like she couldn't have spared a pack of Pampers.) She used to make sarcastic comments about me as a teenager that really enhanced some of my insecurities and certainly made my eating disorder worse. When I was a kid, in a cult, at that time being sexually abused by a neighbor, she would pinch my bottom and tickle me, after I'd scream for her to stop. And she'd laugh. (So did my favorite aunt. It's taken me a long while to realize that I'm not overly sensitive - they were just jerks.) I don't actually want to spend time with her or talk with her individually. We're not that close and I don't respect her opinion that much. Really, I just want her to recognize that her mom ran a cult, or just leave me alone about it. I don't want family guilt when this book comes out. If she never speaks to me again because of this, either because I'm an atheist or because I called a spade a freaking spade, it's not actually going to bother me.
So maybe I cut it down to simply the groups that called HIZM a cult and the recommendation to call my mom. Maybe I just pull myself out of it. Or send her an email that says, "You're a moron who believes a man lived in a freaking fish belly!" Probably not that last one.
I called my best girlfriend in the world last night to vent about all this. She's a hippie spiritual Jesus type, and dating a Satanist. She's gotten over my disbelief now, which is fantastic. I love this girl because she came up with the perfect solution to cheer me up.
"Chica, we gotta get together and stir shit up. Let's go to a bar and get in a chick brawl!" Just the thought of hitting somebody and pulling someone's hair made me perk right up. :)
The image for today's post is of the Jonestown mass suicide, which is probably what most people think of when they hear the word "cult".