April 27, 2007
After a particularly disastrous freshman year at my public high school, my parents and I chose to transfer me to a decidedly more quiet school. This school, which we will call Unidentified Religious Cult-like School (URCS, for short) had been recommended to us by several friends I knew who went there. I’m sure the school had some redeeming qualities—in fact, while I went there, I quite liked it. For the most part.
Now, however, looking back on my experiences there, I can’t believe the things I was taught and the stuff with which they indoctrinated us. Example: Mr. Hedwig. Mr. Hedwig was a short (I’m talking 5’4” short) man with a scruffy gray beard and a cane. He never went without his black 1950s-private-eye hat. He even had an eye patch. To make things even weirder, he didn’t even need this eye patch. He wore it for entertainment. Though what kind of fun an eye patch brings, I don’t know.
Mr. Hedwig taught the most interesting—and frankly, most deviant—class of all, philosophy. But it wasn’t a real philosophy class; the term was just a glorified word for cult class. I did learn a lot of about the church institution through history and doctrine and some other things that are considered “normal” by the religious sector of our population. But most things he told us were very fringe beliefs.
One day I walked into class and sat in the back, my head on the desk, ready to sleep as I usually did in that class. I was not a very participatory student. While the other kids were bright and energetic and always raised their hands (they even said Sir and Ma’am), I was content to slump over and drool. As I was drifting off, I heard a sentence that I was sure I had misunderstood.
“Students, did you know,” Mr. Hedwig bellowed, “that the world does not revolve around the sun, as your sinful science books teach you?”
Our heads all perked up. What? What was Mr. Hedwig saying?
“If you look in the Holy Word,” he went on, jabbing his finger at some random verse on some random page, “you will clearly see that the sun revolves around the earth.”
If only this was an isolated incident. It wasn’t. Throughout my next years there, I was instructed that the world was created in seven literal days, that the earth was a little more than four thousand years old, and that if you had an abortion, you would immediately be sent to hell. Fire-and-brimstone hell. Actually, everything we did would send us to hell.
One day the headmaster (we didn’t have a principal, we had a headmaster) informed me that women weren’t supposed to work at all. The “fairer sex” had to stay home and take care of the children, because that was what God had intended. The girls at the school had to wear skirts because “women weren’t created to wear pants.” What was this, the year 1900?
We were young and impressionable (URCS offered preschool through high school classes, and even at the ages of five and six the administration was drilling this into the kids’ heads), but I knew. I knew that I was in a cult. No, we didn’t live on a commune, no, I wasn’t forced to have sex with the leader, but it was a cult school none the less.
My parents never believed the stories I told them. “You must have not heard correctly,” my mother always said. “No person in their right mind would ever say that.”
And that’s just it. They weren’t in their right minds. They weren’t raving lunatics; they were calm, serene, nice, and completely unflappable in their beliefs.
Thankfully I escaped the cult after two years. That was when I was sent to the real loony bin. I don’t doubt that the two circumstances are related.
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