I am a sucker for paradise. It’s no surprise, given my cult upbringing, that I crave utopia and heaven on earth. When I think about Eve in Eden, I wonder if I could have shown her bravery, could have left the Garden. Would I have the courage to exchange health, safety, comfort, leisure, and plenty for freedom, knowledge, and uncertainty? I doubt it.
When I read dystopian fiction, I long to live in that structured world of order. A place for everyone, and everyone in their place. Assigned careers and scheduled pregnancies and a stiltifying sameness that brings comfort. Sure the lead in Truman Show is being terribly exploited and everyone he knows has been lying to him his whole life, but his life still looks appealing to me.
I didn’t leave my cult because I questioned the morality or wisdom of my leader. Instead I destroyed the cult, by accident, out of my love for my leader. She needed hip replacement and other medical care and I wasn’t about to let a lifetime as a faith healer stop me from getting her enrolled in Medicare so she could get surgery. Many, many faith healers wear corrective eyeglasses, but a plastic hip is a bridge too far. She had to close up shop. She chose surgery over keeping the con going.
That’s the only way I can imagine myself choosing the forbidden fruit: if it is to save another. I will question and rethink my values if they’re causing harm to another. But I rarely defend myself or my own interests. I was raised by my leader to be her scapegoat and understudy, and to constantly switch roles from supplicant to spiritual leader as she asked. I wasn’t raised to keep myself safe or provided for.
Kindness and love for another drove me to abandon my beliefs and change the rules. The problem of pain has always haunted me, but in Eden there supposedly was no pain in childbirth, no sickness, no death, no hard toil labor, no hunger or thirst. In Eden all their physical needs were provided for. All they lacked was freedom and free will.
And I don’t know if I could choose freedom and free will against a prison paradise. I’ve lived with unmet needs every day of my life; having no unmet needs sounds like a worthwhile trade. People love to quote slave-owner Thomas Jefferson on how those who would exchange freedom for peace deserve neither. I’ve always hated it, knowing as I do what freedom costs and what a phenomenal hypocrite he was to ever speak on freedom.
I spoiled the “garden” of my cult, destroyed it out of love. I suppose in truth I was never Eve. I was the serpent, come to tempt my leader to embrace modern medicine and leave faith healing behind. Like the serpent, I only spoke the truth. I did not lie or deceive her. I simply asked her to trade in her dystopia for the terror of freedom.
I would torch the Garden of Eden and salt the earth to save another, especially someone I love. I would sacrifice paradise a thousand times over to spare human suffering. But I might never leave if no one needed me to. If no one else’s health or happiness depended on me, if I hadn’t become a young mother at 22, I would probably be in a cult right now. I want the comfort of a plan, the certainty of a prophecy, the reassurance I don’t have to be in charge.
My first church, my first home, my first family were all part of a cult. I can’t amputate the parts of my soul that feel they best belong in a cult. Every day I am head of my own household is a terrifying wonder, and I still dream of a wealthy marriage to save me from income earning responsibilities. Real cults cause real harm and have real costs, and these are what get most ex members to go. Eden sounds too good for me to reject. Eve is the real hero. I’d stay in paradise if I could.