I keep forgetting that my first experience in a cult was in a branch of Aimee Semple McPherson's Los-Angeles-based Angelus Temple from the age of four to about ten. As were all the children there, I was taught to memorize "God is Love" bible verses and songs like, "Yes, Jesus loves me. The bible tells me so." And hear how the "almighty God of the Israelites" smote the Baal-worshipping Canaanites and generally all other non-believers as the "good folks" descended from the slaves in Egypt pressed their way back into the "promised land." According to everyone from the Sunday school teacher to the right reverend Willard Glazer, The Word in the scriptures (a word with its own connotations, for sure) was the be-all and end-all of "spiritual" reality.
After finding out that the right reverend was kiting the take from the collection plates, my family relocated religiously to a newer, bigger, "better" and clearly more "glorious" religious manse nearby. "Better," for sure, but my developing brain continued to be pelted with similar messages about the clear and complete authority of The Word. So much so that -- while I began to have my doubts in view of the glaring hypocrisy of some of the "true believers" there -- I was utterly mystified by what I ran into in college freshman Philosophy 101. (Which today would be called "Critical Thinking.") Hey! These people were saying that The Word was just that: a bunch of words that might or might not reflect actual reality. OMG!
"Naughty, naughty," the younger riders on my mental school bus asserted. While the more mature ones began to ask more questions. But the questions were still framed in words, and looking for "better" beliefs. Because I was still decades away from understanding that "the word is not the thing, not the fact, not what is." The word is just... a word, a symbol, a representation, a part of a map. And that the map is merely a collection of symbols and representations that -- as we well know from using our handy GPS's -- may or may not be accurate.
I didn't find this out until sometime after I had bought into the words pitched at me in 1) L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, in 2) a magazine article enthusing about Werner Erhard and est, and 3) listening to friends wax ecstatic about Richard Corriere and the Center for Feeling Therapy. Still a sucker for The Word(s) -- especially because these words seemed so different from those of childhood -- I bought E tickets for all three.
Fortunately, the differences between the words and the actual experiences were evident in fairly short order, and I trotted myself off the premises after relatively minor financial investments in all three cases. BUT... because I was then a fully conditioned, instructed, socialized and normalized sap for money, property and prestige -- as well as "better living through modern, mind-expanding chemistry -- I continued to hunt around. I had to get past that to even begin to move on. But not until other words developed in my own version of the common cult-ural Consensus Trance sucked me into a real mess resulting in sufficient "incomprehensible demoralization" (stone cold clean and sober, btw) to energize further exploration.
Even more fortunately, I did that academically and with the guidance of such as those listed in the resources and references of the earlier articles linked below. Wayne Dyer, Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, David Burns, Vincent Ruggiero and Jeffrey Young taught me how to think critically at long last. And Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman, Arthur Deikman, Mark Galanter, Steve Hassan, Eric Hoffer, Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, Janja Lalich, Michael Langone, Rick Alan Ross, Margaret Thaler Singer, and Madeline Tobias taught me how to see through the manipulations of the priests and gurus. But it was Jiddu Krishnamurti and Charles Tart who truly broke me of my addiction to The Word, and provided the basis for a system of empirical observation that freed my abused mind forever from the manipulations of those who torture The Word into meanings that are often wholly unrepresentative of any actual reality.
I got a lot more than I bargained for, for sure.