**This article is based on nonfiction by actual events witnessed firsthand by me; used with permission.
Many people think of a cult as a group blindly following a leader, leading them to doom. However, I'm here to tell you that not all cults are like that. Some cults are more subtle and live in and amongst everyday people. So you may be surprised to find that you know cult members.
Growing up, my family moved a lot. As a result, I had the opportunity to get to know a variety of religious groups and people. Unfortunately, one such group of people I knew was in a cult. This wasn't a cult with a belief in multiple wives; however, they had some very strict rules and requirements of their members that were expected to uphold to the nth degree.
I spent nine years living amongst this particular religious group, which was quite eye-opening. I was very close to one young lady I regularly spent time with over those nine years. These are some of the rules and regulations that she had to abide by, and if I wanted to spend time with her, I also had to comply with the dress code that her religion had set forth.
The first rule was that girls had to wear dresses at all times. I'm not talking long prairie dresses or ankle-length skirts; they were allowed to wear shorter skirts and dresses, as long as they were no shorter than 3 inches above the knee. It was preferred that skirts and dresses be below the knee; however, young growing girls often got away with skirts and dresses as short as 3 inches above the knee.
To ensure that the girls complied at all times, parents would measure their daughter's daughter's dresses after the girls were dressed each morning. After all, a girl grows most in her sleep, so it was entirely possible that the dress or skirt she wore yesterday might be too short today.
It was acceptable to add a row of trim or a ruffle on the bottom of a dress or skirt to continue wearing it for a few more weeks or months, depending on how fast she grew. My friend and I were so used to this that we didn't really didn't give it a whole lot of thought while we were younger; it was only when mini skirts were in style that we really paid attention to our particular lot.
My parents loved that my friend was so modest, so I was encouraged to follow this particular rule even though I wasn't a part of their cult. My parents loved me spending time with my friend and thought it molded me into a better person.
There was no dating. When a group of teens reached courting age (which was determined by how ready they were for marriage, so this was typically after age 17 or high school graduation as the goal was marriage), they would join a group of youth in a similar age bracket.
All get-togethers had to be in a group setting with a parent or chaperone overseeing any get-togethers would want to pair off and get to know each other better they would set up a courtship with the girl's father.
If the father approved of the boy, the father would ask the girl how she felt about that particular boy. If the girl liked him, the courtship would proceed. If she didn't like that specific boy, then her father would tell the boy no, and he would move on to another choice.
The goal of courtship was marriage. To reach this point, the couple would spend time at each other's homes with their family present and get to know the entire family. At no point in time were they ever left alone, and all phone calls were monitored.
After a suitable time, usually, at least six months, if the couple wanted to get married, the boy could ask the father's permission, and the wedding date would be set. Usually, the wedding was about a year after the courtship began.
There were many courtship rules, including that the couple must remain six inches apart at all times. After the engagement, they could hold hands but still couldn't sit closer than six inches until they were married.
Church attendance was mandatory. There were several weekly meetings, and the youth were expected to be at each meeting alongside their parents. It didn't matter if there was a school function the student was supposed to attend; church came first and foremost at all times.
Thankfully there were many programs for the youth at the same time that the parents were in services in this church. The youth could attend these youth programs or sit with their parents. As you can imagine, most of the youth went to their own youth programs, which were a bit more fun.
The youth programs were organized just like the parent's programs, but they were broken up into shorter segments where they would have some time for snacks and outdoor play for the younger children. Teens were expected to start acting as adults as soon as they reached high school.
At no point in time could the girls and boys sneak off together. For Example: If a girl left the room to go to the restroom, every boy had better be in his seat before she could leave the room. By the same token, if a boy left, every girl had better be in her seat.
While education was allowed, girls weren't encouraged to go to college; they were encouraged to marry a young man slightly older with a good job. As a result, the girls never lived on their own before marriage, and when they married, they were now under their husband's and no longer their father's rules.
If her husband allowed her to, a girl could further her education, but few of the girls I knew did this. Instead, most of them were pregnant shortly after they married, stayed home with their children, and managed the household. Of the few I knew that did go to college, they didn't return to college once they had a baby. Instead, they stayed home from that point forward.
This group of people sometimes reminds me of the Amish that I would meet later in life; however, education was through high school for this particular religious group, and their dress code was not as restrictive as the Amish dress code.
While I myself believe in a traditional family, I think that women should be educated and allowed to dress in pants or other attire (as long as it's modest). My friend and I lost track of each other after high school; however, I did see her at a recent high school reunion. She smiled and waved and came over to hug me. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to ask her any personal questions, but she looked healthy and happy.
While my family wasn't a member of this cult, I did gain some valuable skills growing up amongst them. I felt like I'd been raised in the cult for all of the information I knew about them. While their beliefs were slightly different than those of my own family, I value the family bond they helped me learn and establish. I also appreciate the modesty that I learned living amongst them.
I'm not sure I handled the courtship part well, as I was allowed to date and choose my boyfriends. However, I've known many religious groups that preferred courtship over dating, and sometimes, I wonder if it might be safer for some teens.
What are your thoughts on such different cultures? For example, is dating better than courtship, or is courtship more realistic?