Clones. Robot-like. Cult-oids. These words all conger up images of people living on autopilot and acting in ways that are very similar to each other. That’s what sect life was like. Very little individuality. In fact, most attempts at individuality were considered willful and selfish. Virtually the same clothes. Same hairstyles. Same language. Same way of thinking. Same routines. Same rituals. Same social circle.

I wasn’t asked what made me happy – what hobbies I would would like to pursue – it was more important to be sitting in their services multiple days per week. Pursuing individual hobbies was an act of rebellion. It wasn’t serving the Lord. Sports were frowned upon. Any extra-curricular activities. Anything that took you away from the Bible, the services, and pondering the Lord’s swift return. Even pets were discouraged.

What they don’t realize is that this sets kids up for depression. Kids are supposed be running around, not sitting still and silent. They are supposed to explore the world, and different options and opportunities. No birthday parties were allowed. No Christmas trees or decorations. No TV. No entertainment. No movies. No radio. And they kept telling me that they didn’t have rules, that these restrictions were all for my benefit! Yeah, right.

I’m not sure why they appear to think that sameness amounts to holiness. If God had wanted a relationship with “robots” then He would have created us all identical, with the same looks, the same personality, the same gifts, the same character and temperament. But He delights in our freedom (He gave us free will after all) and delights in our uniqueness. He is the Artist. We are the canvases upon which he creates many masterpieces – no one the same as the other. All original. All a unique expression of who He is. All created in His image and likeness. God is joyous, creative, vibrant, happy – so why can’t we also be these things this side of heaven? We are supposed to be. That’s why Jesus came.

The sect members in general have a dead look in their eyes. Its like hope left the building years ago. What hope do you have when most of life’s pleasures, experiences, and opportunities for relationship (including one with your Creator) are curtailed and out-of-bounds? I felt hopeless and helpless at the young age of 7. I already knew I couldn’t have the hobbies I wanted, or an education beyond high school, or real friends, or travel to exotic destinations (you cannot travel anywhere where there is not a congregation, and there are very few congregations). I knew at the age of 7 that I would never see the pyramids, or Rome, or any of the other wonders of the world.

God created this world beautiful and lush for his tenants to enjoy. But toxic religion tries to limit us. It tries to take away the free will that was granted to us by our Father. I’d love to know what Jesus says to them when they pass on to heaven – maybe “my child, you didn’t need to be a slave, or to live like a pauper, or to control everything in my name…all I wanted was your HEART”.