1992, 11/21 – 12/07. I Am Suppressed So Our Church May Grow. But Our Church Does Not Grow, Because I Am Suppressed

These journal pages are part of the source material for my book,Captive Congregation: My Fourteen Years in the Church of Bible Understanding, which is available as a Kindle book or in paperback.

The title of this section comes from the idea that we had to suppress everything about ourselves that did not promote the “good” of our communal church organization, but the church was not growing, probably because we were suppressed. How could I work effectively for the good of the church if I was frustrated and held in chains because I had to suppress myself? How can a community grow if its members have to repress and deny all their desires and longings? But this was what we were expected to do.

In these journal entries, I was also talking about my extreme thralldom and bondage to the COBU system, and ultimately, to Stewart Traill’s control over my life.

-*-

[note, a page is missing here, but it will be added later]

or other than that which is prescribed. Individuality is discouraged and looked upon with suspicion. I can’t entrust myself to anyone. When I bring my ideas to others, I feel cheapened. It’s hard to talk to most here about anything.

We have to sacrifice everything for the common good, yet somehow, the common good doesn’t want to give anything good to the individual. (So how is there any “good” in the common good, in the collective sharing of good?) We are not here for what we want, but for God’s will. Yet it seems that God, in his will, would be a lot more benevolent than that and would include making it good for us!

Aren’t we merely a collection of deprived individuals? That is the only “common” we have, and that is not very good. If we are here for God’s will, it seems like God would be more generous than that, since he is the Creator and Maker of all things in the universe. Why would God want to deprive us of everything?

Supposedly we are giving up smaller goods for a greater good.

And there are goods, though each one is two-sided: We have freedom from the world, but we have isolation. We have freedom from divorce and unhappy relationships, but no marriage. We have freedom to work together unhindered, but little individuality, choice or free time.

But these “greater goods” seem oppressive and demeaning to the individual and are also physically demeaning. My person is suppressed so that the community may grow unhindered from selfish ambition, but the community doesn’t grow, possibly because I am suppressed. I see nothing here for me, yet I am supposed to be receiving good by giving up my own good and my own rights. But it is more like a jail or a reform school or a Nazi prison camp, where I am hindered by all kinds of rules, regulations and even threats if I get out of line. So, where is the good? It must be enforced by force. My contribution is not given all that willingly. I must suppress and kill everything about myself: my attitudes, interests, desires – even my self.

I suppose that when this is finally accomplished, a great good may not necessarily come from it for me or for others, but that I will not care anymore what happens to me or what I get. And this will be salvation from self and from being dissatisfied. It’s like getting a lobotomy. This is why I try to keep a diary and try to read. I am trying to keep my individuality alive, if only in secret, while I live outwardly in conformity. They can police my outward ways, but hopefully not my inward thoughts, but there is certainly a lot of pressure that comes from that. We must have total uniformity in thought and action.

I was fortunate to have to work a wood floor job that kept me out of the meeting tonight.

There was a white dove over the doorway at Red Hook tonight. An omen maybe of better times in the fellowship? The Puritans would have said it was a good sign. Some brothers were mocking this idea.

[After a late night meeting at the Red Hook Warehouse (which I missed because of work and arrived just as it was ending), when we were all outside and Stewart was outside, a white dove was perched above the doorway of the warehouse. We all saw it and were talking about it. Even Brother Stewart saw it. It was like an omen. Stewart dismissed its meaning, but a lot of brothers and especially the sisters, were saying that it symbolized the Holy Spirit.]

November 23

I am feeling more and more like a slave, or that I live in a Nazi prison camp. “Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.” I must really keep my mouth shut. I keep breaking my vow of silence out of frustration or that normal human need to talk to someone. (Also probably from that old view that one must be honest about everything and speak the truth, even about himself.) But when I talk to someone, I just feel like I am getting myself in trouble, or feel like I am giving out evidence on myself for some future investigation. And I also don’t get that feeling of having been set free now that I have talked about it, but that I have only opened up a greater possibility for myself of getting in trouble or having somebody reveal what I said at some future truth-speaking session.

Brothers seem shell-shocked from last night’s meeting.

I was riding into work with Paul B. He was telling me about how in his earliest days in the fellowship, he had a relationship with Cathy S., when he was 21 and she was 18.(How did we get on that subject? Because I was talking to him about the Watson brothers, in a long line of reverie type talking. The value of such a thing is that I bring up many things by association. Then I can delve further into a subject that comes up. I ought to engage in random conversation more often with an open ear toward something I may want to probe into.)

But anyway, Paul was talking about getting manuevered. [This phrase meant a woman manipulating a man through deceit. Stewart always warned us that the sisters were going to get over on us if we were not careful.] Can any brother have a relationship without getting “manuevered” by the sister? It seems as if the choice is either to have nothing, or to get manuevered, or some other undesireable thing. I am sinking into hopelessness over the idea of never being able to have a relationship. I am 35 now. It’s the same thing I used to think when I was 30, that if I want sex, I have to die for it. I can have sex any time I want – but I just have to pay for it with my life.

[And I would pay for it by losing my salvation, because I could not have a relationship with a woman legitmately according to COBU standards and neither could I “overcome” the tricks of these manuevering women – as Stewart called the sisters – so that I could be in control and rightly take one of them in marriage. So, then the only way I could have sex under these terms and conditions was to leave Jesus and get it by fornicating, thereby losing my salvation. This was the scenario Stewart set up in our minds over many years of talking this way to us.]

And now, I think, what is going to change this? What am I waiting for? For some future period of bliss where everything will be okay? It’s always somewhere in the distant future, when I will be able to have these things. (And whatever else I may desire. I might as well get what I can now, because things are not likely to get better. I shouldn’t defer things until later and hope for a “better day.” Things are probably as good as they will ever get in the church. Well, I don’t think I should try to get sex right now, but I mean, whatever else I want. (Everything from doing artwork, to studying and learning languages. Realizing that there is no “deferred future.” That right now is it, it is all I will ever get. I keep my life on hold for some future time when, I think I will be able to do things, but right now I am patiently “sacrificing” and waiting until that time. But the future comes and it is always like right now, a continuation of the same thing. What am I waiting for? Why be “good?” Why be a good little monk, or a chess piece or a pawn? A pigeon in his pigeonhole. I have got to start thinking and making plans, to not live a reclusive or shelved life as I do now. It’s so easy to go to sleep and just do my work every day and live just hoping not to get a beating, doing whatever I can to stay out of trouble and to attract no attention to myself, and that’s about it.

***

M. just asked me something. I returned her looks with a direct look myself. I thought it would be too obvious, but she became helpful in return. I stared right at her. I looked at her face, her hair. Is this really so bad? It is wrong to keep men away from women, for whatever reason? If she is willing to play with me, I am willing to play. I will go as far as I can. Sure, this is probably wrong. Probably a lot of things I think are wrong.

[I was naive if I thought I was going to defy group norms and get something started with any sister.]

This is nothing but total frustration. I am drawn to go try to get a prostitute. The cost is high. I’m not willing to do it, but I am tempted. I talk about this too casually. I guess because I have never really done it before, so I don’t know the result. Not like [brother’s name withheld] who is deathly afraid to do it. He has learned, as the Bible says, “why embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” The Bible says to have your own well (wife) instead of streams of water in the streets, but that opportunity is not given to me. I would be eternally grateful to God if he gave me a wife. Far more than just “now I have someone to have sex with,” because also I think it would be salvation from the path of ruin. It gets to the point of “marry or die,” or so it seems. I know this is a formidable problem. Maybe it’s just my pride that I never got married.

[I was looking for causes in myself, like the kind that Stewart Traill told us we had. He always said the brothers never got married because of pride, fear of women or unfaithfulness to Christ and not that we were in a system that was forbidding its members to marry.] 

If fear is the only real or basic motivator, maybe this will finally get me there. But it also seems that our whole social situation is diametrically opposed to marriage as well. It’s hard to believe that a life such as ours can actually exist in this 20th Century world. (Except maybe in mental institutions or in jails.) It’s hard to believe that my life could be so controlled by one human being. Even if Stewart is not there to dictate our every move, he has set up our values, laws, standards and barriers. He has created our entire world and universe. I can’t overcome these barriers. Maybe Stewart doesn’t watch me every minute, but for anything that has to do with coming out into the open, he is the banker, the moneychanger. He himself, or the rules he has created, are in entire control of the transaction. I know this. I feel this. If only I could get some sister to agree to have a secret relationship with me somehow. That would take a real conspiracy. Stewart rules over every social transaction and every situation between two or more people.

I will make my star chart, I will do the rules. But I don’t see much hope. Maybe it is because I must look to Jesus, not to this society.

I am aflame with passion and I don’t want to be fully honest with anybody out of fear and shame. Probably also because of pride.

I am thankful for being delivered today. Things worked out so I have to stay with Paul for a night job, so I can’t go driving back to Red Hook alone and be open for temptations. I decided I wanted to get outside to the van because I am just sitting there now and I think I will not be needed until Jay leaves, so I said I’m going out to the van.

I did “slip up” a little bit when Jay questioned me about that – though I know I am not really needed right now and I was just sitting there on the jobsite and I can’t read or do anything without looking like I am loafing. I said, “Look, this isn’t all-day slave labor!” This really bothers me. I am slave labor on tap, to be used day and night. My own wants and needs are not even second place. They are not supposed to exist at all. I am supposed to be a completely selfless robot. I know that if I made a big deal about this, I would eventually be talked to by the brothers or the councils or even the kingpin himself [Stewart]. Stewart would start by asking everyone something like, “So, what is this one doing?” Really, it wouldn’t be a fair trial at all, just a summary execution. Or, if Stewart didn’t start in with me, the others would bring me up in front of Stewart to be punished. I have no power over that man, I am completely clay in his hands. I just have to shut up and hope for mercy or a light treatment from him. Everybody else is just here to ratify Stewart’s will. I would really like to have a go with Stewart and to be able to win just a little something. Just to show I have a little autonomy, that I do in some measure, have some control over my destiny. It is very hard to present my case before a man who is absolutely God. It is hard to believe that this exists in 20th Century America. Everybody else here just ratifies Stewart’s will. They gave up their minds and control of their lives long ago.

It looks like Stewart is in great control because everybody here is the psychological type that would stay around here and accept this. All others leave. So, it just looks like Stewart has such great control and ideas, and that his wisdom is great.

And really, Stewart does have great insight into human behavior and people. To stand before him is to be suddenly flipped upside down and hung by my feet, swinging my arms trying to fight. I have already lost. Our whole society, at least outwardly, agrees with whatever he says, so there is no point in looking for sympathizers. He is like John Noyes in that respect. Noyes talked to everybody in terms of Perfectionist ideals. Therefore, to question or criticize him, one was questioning those ideals and the very reason for existence of the Oneida Community. It is the same here. To question Stewart’s treatment of me or what he said, besides questioning Stewart’s competency, I am also questioning the whole universe he has created, which is supposedly based entirely on the Bible. If I question a piece of it, I am questioning the entire thing. It doesn’t work that much of it could be true and some things wrong, even very wrong. To question, I put myself in jeopardy, exposing myself as one who doubts Stewart’s teaching. This will never be forgotten. Those who doubt Stewart’s teaching live in a very precarious position. (It would be better to do just about any sin than that, except maybe murder.) Maybe because all the others know I know. For this way of life to be truly effective, besides being carried out in total isolation, everybody must go along with it. Questions are not allowed to be asked. Everybody has to play. Everybody has to put their lives on Stewart. Though Stewart says your life is on you. Really our lives are on Stewart as evidenced by the amount of total control he has over us. I know I am completely blocked. I am not free and I am unable to go anywhere. Yes, I can exercise by walking to work and slip off to the library. (Though even that must be done clandestinely. It would at least bring disapproval if known. What kind of institution is controlling my life if I can’t even go to the library?)

I can’t go anywhere. (Contacts with our families are severely limited. But then again, who would want them to know too much?) There really isn’t anywhere to go. I must sleep at Red Hook or be in Manhattan, where most of the jobs and church activities take place. I can go to the library or to Freedom Place, but really, there is nowhere to go and I don’t know anybody anywhere. So, even if I am free to roam the city, I can only come back here.

It is an effective form of imprisonment. Total isolation and total dependence on this group for everything. Yet this group doesn’t give me anything but a place to live and a phony sense of security, while demanding plenty from me and woe to me if I complain about it. How does this place exist in reality? How can the imprisonment be so effective, inwardly and outwardly? And how can it be also absolutely impossible to form relationships with members of the opposite sex? How does this have such an effective and total hold on me? One way is through fear. I quiver in fear and certainly don’t respect myself for it, since I say I really don’t believe it and don’t think it is right. I try to act aloof from it, as if it didn’t really have me in its grasp and I wasn’t its prisoner. But really I am a total prisoner. There are probably worse prisoners than me here, those who try to deny it and say it really doesn’t hold them.

The other fear that holds me is fear of exposure in any way: the fear of punishment, of ostracism, of banishment. I guess I have feared ostracism all my life. I always used to hate it. I’ll put up with anything other than being banished from a group, especially a group that is my own reality and source of esteem or the only group to which I belong: to wit, the people I live with. It’s horrible to be an outcast, even if I say it doesn’t really bother me. I remember being an outcast for a good part of my young life. I really hated it. It used to make me feel bitter.

Now, to be thrown out of the only world that I have known for the past 12 years, it is too much. I’d rather buckle under and be a coward. It is too much, not even mentioning the socio-economic difficulties of starting over a new life somewhere else.

I don’t believe Stewart’s interpretation of the world. Some parts of it are right and he does have great insight into people and he knows how to use that to keep all of us at bay. But I don’t believe in this little world Stewart has created for us, off in this little isolated corner. He feeds us a lot of outrageous garbage and expects us to buy it, or else he will use coercion and threats to make us accept it. If it is so true, why must it be enforced? Why are we kept as guinea pigs in a cage? Stewart will not let anyone get near us. There are no guest pastors and there is no working with other churches, who would be able to see what Stewart is doing or what is going on with us. Stewart doesn’t want that. There are no outside influences, no other reference point available to compare with. Why not? Maybe because then we might see what is going on and we would start to ask questions.

In this isolation, not even the Bible is much help, because to everyone here, the Bible just means what Stewart says it means. (Even the scholars in the Shakers and the Perfectionist societies aways found that the Bible said what their leaders said it meant, and found verses to back up their viewpoints.) And if I do find things in the Bible that seem contradictory to what Stewart teaches, well so what? Tough luck. There is nothing I can do about it except maybe believe it secretly. The Bible says I can get married, it is not a sin? What can I do about it? There are no marriages because we all live in the church, therefore the control is too intense and the normal reasons why people get married by our age are obliterated. Or, if the Bible says that God created things to enjoy? Well, if you are wise, you are wise for yourself. In other words, keep it to yourself. Don’t broadcast it or you might get in trouble for calling Stewart’s teaching into question. But, the whole while I feel guilty while I do those things, because it is not in our teaching, so I worry.

So, how do I get out of this control, especially when these things are society issues or have to do with other people and can’t be done off in a corner?

Stewart is God; Stewart is Lord. He has taken his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. But, I am not ready to confess Stewart as Lord. I don’t believe in Christian Communism. I have seen its effects on people and it is not very good. There are short-term benefits, but nobody survives it for long. The control is too great. Peoples’ lives are crushed. I can’t take it. I don’t believe in it. Any plan for me to return to it would have to include some kind of way to escape this. I am not interested in living my own life if it is only going to belong to someone else and I am bound in chains. And to find out that I still don’t have any say or decision making power in my life, that my life is still totally controlled by a man, or if not that, by an institution. Where I am only given the illusion of being able to make decisions, where I must say I am free, but know that I am not free. I am not interested in my own life then. I don’t see how I could be motivated to work at it then.

[Stewart Traill motivated us to work by coercion, abuse and other forms of manipulation, in order to do these things he said were God’s will. I could not see myself being motivated to do God’s will if it did not include my own freedom, rather than just being in bondage.]

This church has no reference to, or takes no regard for historical Christianity. There is nothing about how other Christians lived through the ages, no word on doctrines through the ages, no chance to compare it to what we learn here. Stewart is God, because his word is law. He doesn’t want any comparison, though maybe he studies these things on his own. He certainly doesn’t tell us. Again, this could only take place in a dark corner. This way of life, I mean.

I will not be here much longer. I also know I will not be here for long because I have been talking about some of these things with Paul. Some way, somehow, Paul will betray me, or he will feel like he is concealing a conspiracy and must make himself clean from it, or make a clean break from “darkness.” It is weird to have to live in fear and to hide what and where I am. Stewart’s icy fingers reach their way into even my private thoughts. I doubt everything I do that is not part of the prescribed program.  

[By this I meant that Stewart’s influence reached into my inmost thoughts, causing me to doubt everything I thought and did which was not a part of the program and agenda and the belief system that Stewart had for me. It was powerful form of control indeed. I might confide my thoughts in my friend Paul, but he also would feel this pressure, and would eventually inform on me to the others.]

November 24

Working at Greenlife. I got up this morning and jogged for the first time at the Red Hook track, one mile. It was good. I did some reading.

Thoughts in my head seem to alarm me. About Christian Communism, how it’s a mix of Jesus and something else. If you add anything to the Gospel, it is no longer pure and no longer grace (see Galatians). Historical Christianity contains nothing of this. All the great revival movements: Charles Finney, Jonathan Edwards, etc., never advocated communal living as the only way to live a Christian life or for salvation from social ills. It never entered into their discourses and they never tried to start a community. This is the source of that strange weird pull on my life. It seems more of a hindrance than a help. I have become a pawn for a chessplayer and his designs on me and his experiments in beekeeping culture, or genetic expirements. I think I am receiving Christianity here, but it is an admixture at best. I know I am not free. I know I am in thralldom to a man. I also know I am forbidden to say that under severe penalty. The game must go on.

I was blowing up about Stewart. And after a while, I was no longer blowing up about Stewart. I really think if I could have a woman, it would undercut that. I really need a wife. Maybe I could arrange a marriage with a Chinese woman. I am half serious when I say that!

[In my mind was casting about for ways to circumvent the COBU system and get married. In earlier years in the church, a brother used to have female penpals in Taiwan who sent him letters and pictures.]

The problem is, there is no escape from this. I can’t win, there is no escape from this. I just don’t have the gift that the Apostle Paul talked about.

Stewart is a crook, a crook pure and simple. It’s obvious that he forbids marriage and gets us to work for nothing and to have nothing.

I need to keep a record of these things. These are my real thoughts. I am lying to myself if I try to say I don’t think them or if I try to bury them (to hide them from myself, I mean). This book is going to be a cross section of my real thoughts, the real me.

Paul and I went to the Triumph Restaurant for an hour. I ate a lot. Paul was talking to me about old times in the fellowship and about the loft days. Interesting. I feel a lot better now, able to work. I think if I were married, I would be a lot better off.

I have been hearing a voice saying, ”the lake of fire.”

[This is what Stewart Traill was soon to promote: “the lake of fire club.”]

December 7

I slept late today. We have evening and night work. Yesterday was one of these “heat” meetings. Things are arranged so nicely. Stewart says that anyone who is “turning” [claiming to be repenting and starting over] is supposed to be putting heat on the others. This of course leads to a lot of chattering and haranguing by those who wish to show they are turning and who need human targets on which to do their thing. What are they going to be able to say if they claim that they are turning, but don’t say they have been putting heat on others? If they don’t have any shrunken heads or scalps hanging from their belts? We live in a strange place, a strange society. More and more I think that Christian communism, or communism in any form just doesn’t work.

Stewart asked the sisters last night if they have turned or have repented. There was a lot of nervous “yes” saying. Not a loud shout of gladness or thankfulness. But right now, the brothers are the targets. What sister would voice her own doubts about her salvation or eternal state? They don’t want to receive the abuse they would surely receive otherwise. If a sister said she had doubts about her own salvation, she would quickly be asked, “why?” Of course, the answer would be because she has not made up her mind, turned and reached repentance. So, the sisters murmur their yes answers in order to keep this whole charade going. They are supposed to apply the heat to us older brothers when they see us, or when we call in to the office. But they never look glad. They look like they have to do it.

In fact, nobody ever looks glad about anything here. How much pressure can any of the sisters apply to us brothers when secretly, they think they are the same as us, or don’t really see any difference? But they are glad that the attention is diverted elsewhere and will gladly play the game just to have a little peace. Who wouldn’t, seeing the intense abuse they are subjected to? It was pretty bad when it was their turn and I am sure they wouldn’t want to return to it.

[A couple years before, Stewart was abusing the sisters at the meetings. He started this almost immediately after saying, in 1989, that he had repented, had been teaching wrongly and had left out grace from all his teaching.]

Stewart is a lot like Hitler in this respect (in fact, in a lot of other ways), because he uses a “bad people” group as political leverage for power, advantage and dramatic effect. Just as Hitler used the Jews as leverage and as a focal point for all wrongs and to rally people against. (And also to maintain his power. Hitler told people what they liked to hear, that these bad people were the cause of all their woes. It works pretty well here too. Watching us older brothers undergoing our heavy punishment under Stewart’s strong-arm methods keeps everybody else, as well as the older brothers, obedient and quiet, careful not to do anything that would call the same wrath down upon themselves. By this, Stewart asserts his authority as he vaunts himself over us and magnifies his accomplishments.

Does anyone else dare to get out of line? Without such abuse, that is, one group of people in the church is always undergoing intense punishment and even deprivation, what would happen? Without this diversion, would people notice that there is really nothing worthwhile going on here? Or that this man is a nobody, or is even using us?  But it’s like diversionary theater. It provides a good show as others smugly sit back and watch somebody else get it. It also shows them what to expect if they get out of line, so it has this purpose also.

Well, these are some of my most secret thoughts. Whether they are right or wrong, one thing is for sure, they must remain a secret! That quote from John Stuart Mill would be most appropriate here – the idea that people must guard themselves in a society where there is surveillance and where no separate or dissenting opinions are tolerated. I think this is a very harmful way to live. I’m sure it takes its toll on me, in the suppression of my person and in the mental wear and tear caused by being circumspect and keeping myself under wraps and having to guard my every word.

You can read the next section of the journal here: The Loft Life. And Our Lofty – But False – Ideals

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