Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spiritual Recovery and Religious Freedom

In my opinion, it may be not so easy to clearly define what is spiritual recovery and what person can be considered as spiritually recovered.

I live in Russia. Although according to Russian Constitution there is no state religion and all the religions are equal, it is not really so. There is so called traditional religion for Russians which is Russian Orthodox Church. Most religious people in Russia (more than 75 percent) belong to this church. There is a very strong pressure in society that "if you are Russian, you have to be a member of Russian Orthodox Church" (or an atheist, but not a member of any other religious group).

In Russia, there are a number of rehabilitation centers for former members of cults that have a purpose to convert them into Russian Orthodox Church. In these centers, priests of Russian Orthodox Church and some psychologists work together to do so. According to their definition, a recovered ex-member of a cult is the one who is an active member of Russian Orthodox Church.

Since, as far as I know, most readers of my blog are not members of Russian Orthodox Church, they will disagree with this definition. I disagree as well. Actually, I never wanted to be a member of that church. I preferred and prefer evangelicalism. However, there are not so many evangelicals in Russia, only about 1 percent of the total population. They are definitely a religious minority.

Some national minorities in Russia are ethnic Muslims. So, there are about 10 to 15 percents Muslims among the population of Russia. For example, Islam is traditional religion for Chechens. Actually, as far as I know, there is even more heavy pressure on Chechens to become Muslims than on Russians to become members of Russian Orthodox Church. In Chechnya, people are required to keep some Muslim rules. Once, in a Chechen forum, I wrote about my Chechen ancestors. The first question they asked me was: "Are you a Muslim?" Again, there is the same principle of traditional religion: "If you are Chechen, you should be a Muslim."

I guess that most readers of my blog will agree that, having a mixed Russian and Chechen background, I do not need to become either a member of Russian Orthodox Church or a Muslim in order to be considered recovered from a cult and that I can be an evangelical. However, the problem is that a number of evangelicals consider that a person who is recovered from a cult, at least, from a Bible-based cult (a cult of Christianity or an abusive church), should be an evangelical. By the way, many Russian evangelicals think this way as well.

I think here there is some conflict between spiritual recovery and religious freedom. Well, I am completely for religious freedom. I believe that anyone can choose any religion or be an atheist. Can an ex-member of a cult make this choice or is he/she limited in his/her choice? I think an ex-member of a cult as well as any other person can choose any religion or atheism. This means that he or she can choose any other religion and leave Christianity completely or he/she can choose to be an atheist.

There is also another question. Does an ex-member of a cult need to come back to the same religious system that he or she had before joining a cult? For example, a person was a Christian. Then, he or she joined a cult. Does he or she need to become a Christian after leaving or he/she can become, for example, a Buddhist or an atheist? I think this person has a right to become a Buddhist or an atheist.

Then, there is a problem what is spiritual recovery at all. In my opinion, spiritual recovery is getting rid of the spiritual problems that are caused by the cult involvement and that frustrate spiritual quest and spiritual progress. For example, an ex-member of a cult may reject God because he or she was spiritually abused. He/she may still feel a need in God, but turn away from God because of memory of spiritual abuse. On the other hand, an ex-member may get rid of all the negative feeling toward God, but because of some philosophical reasons decide to choose atheism. These two situations are different, though they may look similar outwardly. I think that the first person needs spiritual recovery while the second one does not need.

The point is that not all the people who change their belief system, do that because of mind control or spiritual abuse. People do that because of various reasons, and these reasons may be completely philosophical and have nothing to do with any abuse or trauma.

For example, once, I read about a German who was a Christian, then, became a Jew, and later became a Muslim. As far as I understand, she was not in any cult. Just, being a Christian, she did not agree with the Christian concept of God (the Trinity). She became a Jew, but she did not like that Jews reject Jesus. Then, she contacted her neighbors Muslims and came to conclusion that Islam matches her concept of God (Muslims consider Jesus as a prophet and believe in one God, but deny the Trinity). So, her reasons of changing religions were philosophical. They were not caused by some experience of abuse.

So, I think a person needs spiritual recovery if he or she has some spiritual problems caused by the cult involvement that frustrate his/her spiritual life. However, any person, including an ex-member of a cult, may choose any religion or atheism and may change his/her religious system at any time. I think this is a distinction between spiritual recovery and religious freedom.