Cult Following: My Escape And Return To The Children Of God by Bexy Cameron (pictured)
Book of the week
Cult Following: My Escape And Return To The Children Of God
by Bexy Cameron (Manilla £14.99, 400 pp)
When the filmmaker Bexy Cameron was ten years old, she was accused at home of lying, of being stubborn, of having a resentful attitude and of ‘constant daydreaming’.
For these offences she was forbidden from speaking — for the next four months. During her time on so-called Silence Restriction, she wore a sandwich board on which were written the words, in felt-tip pen: ‘Please do not speak to me.’
As if that were not harsh enough, she was also made to take part in so-called army training, in which she and other children were forced to run around a field, lift heavy concrete blocks, dig holes and fill them up again.
This harsh regime was to prepare Bexy and her friends for the day when they would have to fight the soldiers of the Antichrist, supposedly using lasers from their eyes and flames from their mouths.
Until the age of 15, this was her life: pretty much imprisoned in a religious commune with her parents and 11 brothers and sisters, moving from place to place around Britain.
The Children Of God was founded and led by a man called David Berg, known to his followers as Father David, Moses David, or simply The King.
He was rarely seen by his followers — just as well because he was physically unimpressive — but they were fed constant news about him. Even his bowel movements were recorded and reported.
‘Looking back through adult eyes, I see him as a dogmatic, sexually motivated, gibberish-talking, narcissistic, corrupt, dangerous pervert’, Bexy writes in this vivid, emotional and almost unbelievable account. ‘As a child, to me, he was all-powerful. His unstable mind could change our lives in an instant.’
Bexy’s parents joined the cult in 1972 and for a while were the public face of the movement, which ran communes across the world. Her father joined after a troubled childhood: he was a heavy drinker by the age of 12. Her mother went to ‘rescue’ him, but joined the sect instead.
Religious cult: Members of The Children of God in November 1975
‘My dad always made our lives difficult — an aggressive, angry, violent, dismissive bully,’ writes Bexy. Of her mother, she recalls: ‘She’s always pregnant, always breastfeeding, always giving birth.’
The group’s theology seems rather selective. They certainly didn’t go in for the forgiveness of trespasses. Children were regularly beaten with paddles: oversized chopping boards with holes drilled through to reduce air resistance.
Bexy’s brother Joel was once beaten so brutally he had to be held down by two men.
At first, these were public occasions but the adults eventually detected an understandable resentment among the youngsters they were beating.
The children were made to wear blindfolds, but still knew who was hitting them: ‘Every leader has their signature bruise.’
Sometimes beatings weren’t enough. At the age of nine, Bexy sent a note to her brother, warning him against an informer. When the note was discovered, she was exorcised: pinned face down on the floor so she could hardly breathe.
Filmmaker Bexy Cameron’s (pictured) family joined The Children Of God cult in 1972 and for a while were the public face of the movement, which ran communes across the world
At the age of eight, she was told by one of the men to take off her clothes and get into bed with a boy of her own age. Luckily, somebody else walked into the room and she managed to escape, still clutching her clothes.
Shockingly, adults were encouraged to have sex with children.
There was also the time that Uncle Jude — all the adults were Aunts or Uncles — gave a lecture about rape. He told how one of the aunts, Crystal, was arrested for having underage sex before she joined the cult, and was then raped in the back of a police van.
According to Jude, Crystal did not make enough effort to convert her attackers. ‘Women in the System make such a big deal about sex,’ he said. ‘It’s ridiculous, so many of them calling it rape. It’s just sex. Get over it.’
The System is what the Children of God called the outside world. In the end, Bexy broke free. She befriended a boy from the neighbouring town — where she was taunted as Sex Cult Girl — and they came up with a way to escape.
The Children Of God was founded and led by a man called David Berg, known to his followers as Father David, Moses David, or simply The King. Pictured, Bexy as a child
The plan was discovered and members of the cult met to consider her fate. The unanimous decision was that she must be expelled. Even her parents voted against her.
The narrative is compelling — who could be this cruel to their children? — but it’s sometimes difficult to follow because the story of Bexy’s early life is broken up by accounts of her later career as a filmmaker, visiting other religious communities. Cults have many common factors. The leaders are usually male. They often enforce a rigid social system and have strict discipline. A California cult leader tells Bexy: ‘The slap in the face is what makes the follower obedient.’
There is often a wholefood shop and tuneless happy-clappy guitar music, but the happiness is superficial.
‘So many of my interviews with people in groups feel like they are read off a script, entire conversations can feel that way,’ writes Bexy. ‘I grew up with that feeling of living with people who have been programmed.’
Another universal factor is, of course, the sex. In Arizona, she visits a cult whose leader passes on messages from aliens to his followers.
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the main instruction from outer space is that attractive women should leave their partners and sleep with the leader, whose private parts have healing powers.
Most of this book is like sitting grimly but determinedly through a box set of The Handmaid’s Tale. You read it with mounting anger, but there is at least one lighter moment.
It’s only when Bexy reaches the outside world that she discovers for the first time that the planet is more than 6,000 years old. And where is she offered this startling revelation?
In the middle of a pub quiz.
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