This I Believe

Kristen - Bridgewater, Connecticut
Entered on June 12, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

I’m trying to be more skeptical. By nature I’m a true believer, a stalwart follower of “the way.” In fact, I was once a member of a fundamentalist cult called The Way. The Way believed in devil possession and exorcism. We sold slick classes on the Bible and the benefits of positive thinking. At its peak, the charismatic leader of the group, affectionately known as “The Doctor,” skillfully convinced over 50,000 people that his interpretation of the Bible was the only correct one on earth.

After leaving The Way, I went actively looking for the devil. I believed I belonged in Hell for forsaking the Doctor and his “way.” The Doctor taught that seminaries were the breeding ground of Satan because they did not teach what he taught. So I went to divinity school.

At school, I read the classics. I learned the importance of reason, doubt and textual criticism. I started thinking critically. Once again I believed I had found “the way” in rationalism. Reason served me well for a while. Then like any other absolute system, it started to crumble. Here’s what happened:

The other day, when I arrived on the floor of the prison infirmary where I work, I was informed that one of the inmates had levitated from his bed. He had been chanting naked and crying all night for Jesus and the devil to take him away. Then he was seen shaking violently on his back on his bed, arms outstretched like a crucifix. That’s when he started to rise up off the mattress. The nurse had seen him, so had an officer and a captain.

Of course I believed them, every word. I threw over all the good sense I had been trying to develop and reverted to my default program of uncritical acceptance. As the unit social worker, the first thing I did was call in the Chaplain. He showed up with a priest and promptly pronounced the man possessed. Distressed and confused, I stayed out of work for the next five days.

When I returned to work, everything had calmed down. The man was “clothed and in his right mind.” But I learned that it was psychotropic medication, not exorcism, that changed him. An officer later told me that the prisoner had performed the same “trick” for him and then laughed about it.

So I’m trying to be more skeptical. Maybe the man levitated, maybe he didn’t. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see it. Someone once said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” Cult leaders don’t want you to know that. They don’t want you to think for yourself. They only want you to believe that anything against their way is wrong.

For me, what is wrong was the wholesale surrender of my mind to the cult. The “way” comes in many forms. I believe that complete, unquestioning faith in anything, be it a man or a religion, will get me into trouble. A healthy skepticism seems like the way to go.