Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 222-229 Talks about Family Planning, Oaths and Women’s Special Time

No, no, no – Don’t Touch!

In Judaism it’s also proscribed from nearing the womenfolk during their special time of the month. What’s interesting is that only the latter half of verse 222 implies that the “staying away” is of a sexual nature, saying that men may go near their women as “God has enjoined” when they are done with their womanly ways. The first half of the verse almost makes it seem like you should stay away from women altogether during this time. Is that what it’s saying? If the Quran says that men should stay away from women altogether during their monthly time then I must conclude beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is a man – and that he was, at some point, married.

Planned Parenthood – Quran Style!

I’m having a tough time beginning my thoughts on verse 223, which effectively is God telling people to undergo family planning but that the man makes the family planning decisions. The intended listener of the verse is interesting also, “Women are like fields for you,” which means, for you men – as in, this book is directed at men (or at least these verses). Now, it was my understanding that women were meant to hear the Quran, too; if so, how should this verse be taken? More importantly, what’s the family planning policy?

The reason I find this so interesting is because of the value of family planning to stable societies. However, the key to family planning being efficacious is when women have the control over that family planning and are the ones that decide when to have children and how many to have. Apparently women, in many cases (and largely for biological/evolutionary reasons) make different decisions than men (the whole, they have to nurture for the whole childhood thing while men can go seeding many fields at once – or four wives, as the case may be – thing) when it comes to family planning. So, unstable societies are those in which women have fewer rights (often a result of theocracies that support such a policy) and little control over their own reproductive processes. That results in a lot more children and a lot more adolescent males of ‘warring ages’ who ultimately get restless in societies that also happen to generally be poorer – and that all turns bad. The book I’d recommend on this is one I’ve reviewed on this blog: Sex and War. The end of the verse does note women’s rights but it’s unclear how it pertains to this issue and it is noted that men have an edge over women. How to take that in this work-a-day world?

Swearing up and down

In verse 225, it says that God won’t hold us accountable for what is senseless in our oaths, but only what is so in our hearts. Does that include oaths in which we include God’s name or is this saying that oaths – no matter their form – are invaluable because God cares more for what is in our hearts rather than what leaves our lips? I ask because in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus (in the Ten Commandments) the Bible forbids using God’s name in oaths that will not be kept. It’s bad business. Does that mean that the Quran doesn’t share the same concern or am I misreading?

A Note on Quran Read-A-Long

Please feel free to answer and address any and all questions and comments below or add anything that I’ve left out. I would like to let everyone know that I have learned a ton from Quran Read-A-Long, which isn’t to say from my own readings of the Quran as much as the wonderful contributors who give their time and minds, week after week, to make this a worthwhile experience and a fruitful endeavor. Without them the verses of the Quran, to an amateur reader such as myself, might appear repetative and their richness and diversity of thought and wisdom would hardly be so apparent. Thank you to those of you who contribute, and to those of you who are still just reading along, feel free to join in whenever you have something to say.

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The Cow 222-229

222. They ask you about menstruation. Tell them: This is a period of stress. So keep away from women in this state will they are relieved of it. When they are free of it, you may go to them as God has enjoined. For God loves those who seek pardon, and those who are clean.” 223. Women are like fields for you; so seed them as you intend, but plan the future in advance. And fear God, and remember, you have to face Him in the end. So convey glad tidings to those who believe. 224. Do not implicate God in your oaths to avoid doing good and being pious and keeping peace among men, for God hears all and knows everything. 225. God will not call you to account for that which is senseless in your oaths, but only for what is in your hearts; for God is forgiving and forbearing. 226. Those who swear to keep away from their wives (with intent of divorcing them) have four months of grace; then if they reconcile (during this period), surely God is forgiving and kind. 227. And if they are bent on divorce, God hears all and knows everything. 228. Women who are divorced have to wait for three monthly periods, and if they believe in God and the Last Day they must not hide unlawfully what God has formed within their wombs. Their husbands would do well to take them back in that case, if they wish to be reconciled. Women also have recognized rights as men have, though men have an edge over them. But God is almighty and all-wise.

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 83-86

The Ten Commandments, More or Less

This passage begins with what seems to be a reference to the Ten Commandments because it starts by referencing a covenant with the people of Israel. The commandments here that align with the biblical injunctions are 1. to worship only God and 2. to be good to one’s parents. We get some bonus commandments mentioned in the Quranic version which I think are excellent additions: speak of goodness to men and give charity. There are certain provisions throughout other law-giving moments in the Torah that speak about charity and caring for orphans but not right in the 10 commandments as they are presented here – and this speaking of goodness to men is a great one, I must say.

The Disobeying Israelites

The rest of the passage is about a familiar theme: the Israelites reneging on their promises. They say they won’t kill (also a commandment) but they do. They also claim that they won’t kick their people out of their homes, but they do. Is this reference to kicking certain people out of their homes a particular reference to something in the Bible or does Islam explain what event(s) this refers to in other literature (or elsewhere in the Quran)? Perhaps it refers to inner-tribal warfare (like when the Benjamites go to war with the rest of the tribes of Israel).

The Issue of the Book – Again

The Israelites are asked in verse 85 if they believe only part of the Torah and reject the rest. Within these and other quranic verses it would certainly seem that way. I can’t be sure what this refers to within Islam in particular (though I’d be fascinated to find out if you know), though I can say that within Judaism it seems that this is true.

Jews today, and in Mohammed’s time, no longer obeyed any of the sacrificial laws (a large chunk of the Torah’s laws) because they didn’t have the Temple in which to sacrifice. The rabbis had, by this time, created innumerable additional laws and turned other laws around (it should be added, not maliciously and deceptively but in order to preserve a religion that was no longer Temple-centric) and so if one were to read the Torah that the Jews had in the 7th century and compared this with their practices one would definitely see a series of discrepancies. However, I can’t be sure if this is referring to the actions of the Israelites historically (probably so) or to the contemporary Jews. Maybe both?

Judgment

In any case, a theme that has appeared repeatedly and no doubt one that will reappear again and again as a central tenet of Islam, is that we will all be judged. The bad will be disgraced and the good rewarded. No matter what we do, God is aware and there is no escaping His judgment. Verse 86 makes it clear that there is no value in trading the quality of the next life for anything in this one.

Summary

What do you think of these verses and what do they make you think of? Can you help answer anything that I mentioned above? What can you add to help us understand these verses better?

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The Cow 83-86

83. Remember, when We made a covenant with the people of Israel and said: “Worship no one but God, and be good to your parents and your kin, and to orphans and the needy, and speak of goodness to men; observe your devotional obligations, and give zakat (the due share of your wealth for the welfare of others),” you went back (on your word), except only a few, and paid no heed. 84. And remember, when We made a covenant with you whereby you agreed you will neither shed blood among you nor turn your people out of their homes, you promised, and are witness to it too. 85. But you still kill one another, and you turn a section of your people from their homes, assisting one another against them with guilt and oppression. Yet when they are brought to you as captives you ransom them, although forbidden it was to drive them away. Do you, then, believe a part of the Book and reject a part? Ther is no other award for them who so act but disgrace in the the world, and on the Day of Judgment the severest of punishment; for God is not heedless of all that you do. 86. They are those who bought the life of the world at the cost of the life to come; and neither will their torment decrease nor help reach them.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 72-82 Speaks of Presuming to Know God’s Will

Connection to Last Week

These verses about the perversion of God’s word echo the verses that we read last week and the conversation that JDsg and I had – particularly, I think, verse 75. We read here of a different way of people taking what God wants – which becomes religious legal practice – and perverting it into something else. In those central verses of The Cow last week we read of this happening through questions and not simply doing what was asked, and here we read of it happening knowingly and intentionally.

Verse 78 then produces this notion in a most forward fashion by connecting it to the Book (the Bible) and those who know nothing about it in actual fact (I wonder if this is meant to mean all Jews, or focus on the rabbis, or simply any Jew who doesn’t follow the Book with good intentions or something else) and only that which they wish to believe. Are the fantasies referring to the rabbinic laws or some less specific set of perversions?

Claiming to Know God’s Will

I want to talk about the notion in verse 80 about claiming to know God’s want, will and ways. This, I think, is a common problem and extends far outside the bounds of the Quran, Islam, or its perception of those who impute things to God.

Everybody does it (purport to know God’s will), and they do it with such excess that they’ve destroyed the concept of God’s will in their constant hammering away at the idea. What do I mean?

People say, “God wants this or God wants that.” “God wants me to do this.” Etc. etc. This is the opposite, in a sense, of the Arabic phrase “inshallah” which means, “if God wills it.” This phrase says, yes, it’s possible that what is being discussed will occur but only if God wants it to become so.

If someone believes in God and if this someone thinks that God controls everything then it follows that after anything has occurred, God willed it to be so or at least, in a more passive sense, allowed it to happen. Okay, that’s fine and I can accept that if it’s someone’s belief.

Death and BLTs

However, to assume that God wants anything – whether something as serious as another’s death or as meaningless as you eating a BLT (though I’m guessing few Muslims think God wants them to eat BLTs and if He did that wouldn’t seem meaningless), is to impute our own desires and wishes onto God. This, I think, totally undermines the notion of God’s will. It follows that thinking that God wants something and carrying it out ourselves means that God must have wanted it because he allowed it to happen. This connects back to inshallah in the opposite way that I previously characterized it and makes me wonder to what degree we can apply this concept to things that we insist on making happen.

For instance, (and this is just an example and not meant to reflect my own stance one way or the other), if an abortion takes place, must we assume that God willed it since it happened? My guess is probably not.

The Issue at Hand

Now, what we have here is a big conversation about determinism verses free-will and that is not the issue, whether theologically inclined or otherwise, that I want to hash out here. If you’re interested in that, check out the conversation between myself and JDsg from the first Quran Day post (HERE). What I want to bring up is the constant attribution of our will to God, which is what seems to be pissing off Quran verse 80 of the Cow. We should not walk around imputing to God what we think He wants. To focus the issue, this leads to an enormous body of jurisprudence when God would have said, “Just do what I told you and stop asking questions,” (see last weeks verses) and to a whole bunch of fantasies about what we think we know when we’re actually perverting God’s will (re: this week’s verses).

To assume God’s will is futile and quite frankly, I think pretty obnoxious. In fact, it’s a very papal concept, and I think that many of us can agree about the presumptuousness of the papal notion of being God’s mouthpiece on earth. Hey, maybe that’s what God had in mind when He told Mohammed in verse 80 that this was a problematic thing to do – to know that you weren’t going to burn because God had supposedly promised certain things. Of course, I wouldn’t presume to know that because I don’t think that anyone can know God’s will…especially when that will coincides so eerily with our own.

Follow up

What do you think of these verses? What do you think of assuming that we know what God wants? Can you help me answer some of the questions I posed here?

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The Cow 72-82

72. Remember when you killed a man and blamed each other for the deed, God brought to light what you concealed. 73. We had pronounced already: “Slay (the murderer) for (taking a life).” Thus God preserves life from death and shows you His signs that you may understand. 74. Yet, in spite of this, your hearts only hardened like rocks or even harder, but among rocks are those from which rivers flow; and there are also those which split open and water gushes forth; as well as those that roll down for fear of God. And God is not negligent of all that you do. 75. How do you expect them to put their faith in you, when you know that some among them heard the word of God and, having understood, perverted it knowingly? 76. For when they meet the faithful, they say: “We believe;” but when among themselves, they say: “Why do you tell them what the Lord has revealed to you? They will only dispute it in the presence of your Lord. Have you no sense indeed?” 77. Do they not know that God is aware of what they hide and what they disclose? 78. Among them are heathens who know nothing of the Book but only what they wish to believe, and are only lost in fantasies. 79. But woe to them who fake the Scriptures and say: “This is from God, so that they might earn some profit thereby; and woe to them for what they fake, and woe to them for what they earn from it! 80. Yet they say: “the Fire will not touch us for more than a few days.” Say: “Have you so received a promise from God? Then surely God will not withdraw His pledge. Or do you impute things to God of which you have no knowledge at all?” 81. Why, they who have earned the wages of sin and are enclosed in error, are people of Hell, where they will abide forever. 82. But those who believe and do good deeds are people of Paradise, and shall live there forever.

Andrew Davidson’s Debut Novel, The Gargoyle, is Worth Every Penny of the 1.25 Million He Was Advanced

Now, personally, I have no idea how one gets awarded 1.25 million dollars as an advance on a first book, but when people start bidding, who knows what crazy things can happen. Then again, maybe it’s not so crazy. The book is spectacular. The writing is fresh and interesting, the style engaging and seductive, and the humor edgy and risque. You don’t want to put it down but you’re not annoyingly attached like a crappy Dan Brown novel.

In short, it’s a great read.

One thing I really loved about it was the endless religious imagery and integration of religious concepts, all discussed by the main character, who was, as luck would have it, an atheist. Now, talking about symbolism abstractly in regards to a book you may not have read really seems silly, but I don’t want to ruin anything for you or give any plot spoilers.

I will say, however, that you will be doing yourself a service if you constantly bear the book’s title, The Gargoyle, in mind. It holds beautifully throughout the entire novel.

And the history! Multiple periods, personal characters, a variety of places. You learn so much and from a guy who’s done his homework, too. Great research went into this book, and the author does a wonderful job of integrating and crafting the material, bringing us through times and places beyond our own but that become so very close through the telling of his story.

As you’ll see, Dante’s Inferno has a prominent place in The Gargoyle and as it’s been sitting next to me on my desk for months now, I suppose it’s finally time and only fair that I pick it up. I’ve always wanted to and this provided sufficient impetus.

Have you read The Gargoyle? What’d you think? Will you read Davidson’s next book? Was this one worth the advance he got? Get your own copy of The Gargoyle.

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Quran Day: The Cow 47-59 Recounts Exodus and God’s Relationship with the Israelites

Though there are an endless number of things to say about these verses, I’m going to go with two in particular: the first is the events recounted in Exodus and recalled here and the second is this notion of remembering.

What Comes from Exodus

Verse 49 begins a list of things that happened to the Israelites in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the one that begins with the Israelites’ enslavement. God recounts how He saved the children of Israel from Egypt, parted the sea to aid their escape, communed with Moses, and how the Israelites made a calf, how God gave Moses the Book and Discernment (which I believe means the Bible and Prophecy, though instead of prophecy perhaps wisdom and [juris]prudence), how God sent manna and quails, etc.

Another hot topic in these sections is the Israelites’ disobedience (and they were so unruly between Egypt and Canaan that it’s a wonder they got anything – worse than bratty children in the backseat of a car!), and God’s continual mercy as he forgave them and still allowed them to go forward.

The Actual Bible in the Bible…and Then in the Quran

I would like to point out three things though. First, how it says that God gave Moses the Book. As I take this to mean the Bible, I must say that according to the Five Books of Moses, this didn’t happen. God didn’t give Moses a book (to read about Moses’ biblical authorship and the specifics of Deuteronomy’s mention of this, click HERE). Now, of course, this isn’t too important because the inherited tradition is that God did give Moses the Bible (or at least the beginning of it) so we’ll move on.

My Trouble with Verse 58

The second thing is verse 58, the one part of the events recounted (which admittedly seem to extend outside of Exodus), that I don’t understand or at least can’t match up to anything in the Bible. I don’t remember God ever saying that or anything like it to the Israelites, but perhaps it’s the Quran’s way of saying that God gave the Israelites every chance to go to Heaven (this great city?) and that they just had to do it a certain way and as the following verses showed, they just kept sinning and perverting God’s word.

It is fascinating that God tells the Israelites to repent in these verses because repentance and forgiveness by God were concepts entirely absent from ancient Israelite religion (that is, the religion reflected in Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy). I believe that forgiveness and repentance are very important concepts in Islam and so it’s interesting that in recounting ancient Israelite history, the Quran has God emphasizing the importance of repentance to the Israelites, though the concept was never there and doesn’t exist in that part of the Bible, beyond basic apologizing after the Golden Calf incident, but certainly not as a theological emphasis or doctrinal necessity.

Finally, though a quick summary, I would like to say that for the most part this section captures the gist of the Old Testament. God did the Israelites a lot of favors from Egypt forward, the Israelites treated God poorly and were totally ungrateful, and then throughout the Prophets the Israelites are accused, like verse 59 here, of perverting the word of God and being sinners. Thus, retribution was sent, ultimately for the Jews in the form of the Babylonian Exile.

Remembrance

The last thing I want to mention is the way many of these verses start, emphasizing “Remember.” This makes me think of the Passover holiday celebrated by Jews that is designed to make Jews remember the many things that God did for them. Jews recount the events so that they never forget what they owe God. That feeling, though obviously in brief, seems echoed here based on the interweaving of God’s great actions, mercy and forgiveness.

What do these verses make you think about? What can you add to our understanding of these verses? Is there any part of the summary of ancient Israelite history that you have trouble placing as a biblically recounted event?

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The Cow 47-59

47. Remember, O Children of Israel, the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 48. Take heed of the day when no man will be useful to man in the least, when no intercession matter nor ransom avail, nor help reach them. 49. Remember, We saved you from the Pharaoh’s people who wronged and oppressed you and slew your sons but spared your women: In this was a great favor from your Lord. 50. Remember, We parted the sea and saved you, and drowned the men of Pharaoh before your very eyes. 51. Yet, remember, as We communed with Moses for forty nights you took the calf in his absence (and worshiped it), and you did wrong. 52. Even so, We pardoned you that you may be grateful. 53. Remember, We gave Moses the Book and Discernment of falsehood and truth, that you may be guided. 54. Remember, Moses said: “My people, by taking this calf you have done yourselves harm, so now turn to your Creator in repentance, and kill your pride, which is better with your Lord.” And (the Lord) softened towards you, for He is all-forgiving and merciful. 55. Remember, when you said to Moses: “We shall not believe in you until we see God face to face,” lightening struck you as you looked. 56. Even then We revived you after you had become senseless that you might give thanks; 57. And made the cloud spread shade over you, and sent for you manna and quails that you may eat of the good things We have made for you. No harm was done to Us, they only harmed themselves. 58. And remember, We said to you: “Enter this city, eat wherever you like, as much as you please, but pass through the gates in humility and say: ‘May our sins be forgiven.'” We shall forgive your trespasses and give those who do good abundance. 59. But the wicked changed and perverted the word We had spoken to a word distorted, and We sent from heaven retribution on the wicked, for they disobeyed.

Quran Day: The Cow 40-46 Address the Jews and Their Scriptures

The Jews’ Position in Islamic Society

The direct addressees of these verses are the Children of Israel, which is to say, the Jews. As you may know, Muslims consider Jews to be ‘people of the Book,’ that book being the Bible. Because Muslims believe that the Bible is revealed scripture from God – with the Quran being God’s final communique with men – Jews and Christians are both respected as people who acknowledge Allah and follow his word, just not all of it. For this reason, in Muslim culture, Jews were given the status of dhimmi, a second-class citizen (pretty good compared to anyone who wasn’t Jewish, Muslim or Christian) and paid an additional tax and were subject to additional rules (related to dress, their houses of prayer, living situation, etc.).

The Jews and Their Scriptures in the Quran

In any case, this passage of the Quran acknowledges the traditional relationship between God and the Jews, with God recalling all that he had done for the Jews (presumably, freeing them from Egyptian bondage, giving them a homeland and protecting them so long as they were good). This was part of the covenant, which verse 40 calls a “pledge,” though I’m curious about the original Arabic. Is the root of the word b-r-t/s?

Verse 41 is fascinating because it tells the Jews that they should recognize the holiness and from-God-ness of the Quran, these very verses, because it verifies (and complements) “what is already with” them, which is to say, the Bible (or at least the Old Testament). The next few verses are an exhortation along similar lines, telling them not to be misled, and then verse 44 asks why, if the Jews have read the Scriptures, do they not understand the veracity of this text.

My Thoughts

Though the Children of Israel will come up again and again throughout the Quran, this first mention sets up the historical attitude of Islam towards Judaism, which is that it must be respected as having understood part of the picture, but that the religion still rejects that which it knows should be true. I think that this attitude is well-intentioned and one of tolerance, but does not go the full mile when it comes to our modern sentiments about acceptance.

Still, for an idea originating 1400 years ago, we should appreciate what it’s doing and not expect it to conform to our modern wishes. Fortunately, there are many Muslims today that take this farther and recognize that Jews (as well as Christians) have a right to worship God to the extent that they please, acknowledging those of His scriptures that work for them. I only hope this attitude spreads, not just among Muslims but Christians and Jews as well.

Some Questions and Related Articles

What do you think about these verses? What are your thoughts on the modern need for inter-religious toleration and acceptance verse the right of a religion to believe its traditional teachings (whether related to Islam or not)?

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The Cow 40-46

40. O Children of Israel, remember the favours I bestowed on you. So keep your pledge to Me, and I will mine to you, and be fearful of Me, 41. And believe in what I have sent down which veifies what is already with you; and do not be the first to deny it, nor part with it for little gain; and beware of Me. 42. Do not confuse truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth knowingly. 43. Be firm in devotion; give zakat (the due share of your welath for the welfare fo others), and bow with those who bow (before God). 44. Will you enjoin good deeds on the others and forget your own selves? You also read the Scriptures, why do you then not understand? 45. Find strength in fortitude and prayer, which is heavy and exacting but for those who are humble and meek, 46. Who are conscious that they have to meet their Lord, and to Him they have to return.

Interview with Psychologist and Author, Marlene Winell, about Recovering from Religion

Today we’re going to speak with Marlene Winell, psychologist, author and educator. Marlene has spent her life trying to help people recover from lives that have been torn asunder by religion and religious indoctrination. She has made it her mission to help people feel better about themselves, and their choices and to begin living their lives again.

Marlene runs retreats, one of which is actually happening this weekend. You can read about her and her work on her website by clicking HERE. If you or anyone you know could benefit from speaking with her, please don’t hesitate to contact her. For now, please enjoy this interview with her about her book, work and experiences helping people recover from religion.

What got you interested in the work you do?

I find people fascinating and it is very rewarding to be of help. I come from a missionary background so it is natural to be in a helping profession, but this is very different because I assist people in developing their own resources from within, not an external source.

Please tell me about your book, Leaving the Fold.

My book is Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion. It’s the only self-help book for recovering from harmful, restrictive religion. My own story is one chapter. The first half names and describes the important issues in recovery, along with many examples from my interviewees and clients. The second half is about concrete steps for recovery with exercises to do.

How about a word about your retreats?

“Release and Reclaim” retreats are small group experiences where we spend a weekend together telling our stories, getting support, and doing healing activities together. It’s a powerful experience because you are with real people who understand. Past participants have described it as a big turning point in their recovery.

Who are they designed for?

People who have decided to leave their religion and need some help and support.

How often do you have them?

For the last 3 years, it’s been twice a year, but I’d like to do more, particularly in other areas of the country.   I could use some help organizing them.

What do you hope to accomplish at the retreats?

“Release and Reclaim” refers to letting go of old, toxic beliefs and systems and then reclaiming one’s life and one’s self. The biggest area of healing is overcoming the fear that has been conditioned at a deep level.  People then learn to trust themselves again and reconstruct their lives based on their own inner wisdom instead of external authority.

What kinds of techniques do you use to accomplish these goals?

We use discussion, writing, guided imagery, art, movement, and group exercises such as psychodrama. It’s a combination of both intellectual and emotional methods.

What kinds of religions are people when they come to you?

Mostly Bible-based groups – Christian fundamentalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-Day-Adventists. . . but also Eastern religious cults. The key is an authoritarian mindset.

What are their largest issues with their religions?

They have grown to realize that their religion has it wrong – intellectually, emotionally, morally, socially – and that it is possible to give it up and move on, despite the fear. Many have been hurt in some way.

Are they generally still embedded in their religions when they come to you or have they already left their religion and are now lost and in need of guidance?

They have already left but they haven’t worked through all the issues and some are afraid of letting go entirely. The phobia indoctrination is very powerful, which is why the group dynamic is also so helpful. I have a beginning retreat and more advanced retreats. At the first one, people are often pretty terrified; they need to tell their story and get support for their new insights about what was wrong. Later on, the groups are helpful for people reconstructing their lives with confidence and self-love. We also have participants who have been out of their religion for quite a while but have deep-seated “left-overs” they want to address.

What are your personal thoughts about religion?

I think people do need to have a framework of values and beliefs to use in approaching life, but it does not have to be a religion.  An organized religion with rigid dogma is not good because it robs the individual of the responsibility (and the privilege) of critical thinking and forming one’s own conclusions.

Despite the difficulties you see that people experience with religion, do you believe that religion has certain benefits or a certain value? If so, what are those/is that?

A group which provides community and a place for shared values that serve human needs in a tolerant, inclusive manner can be a good thing. Churches that emphasize the more humanitarian teachings of Jesus rather than his death on the cross provide better guidelines for how to actually live. But belonging to any group should always be done responsibly, i.e., never give away your right to think and feel for yourself.

What do you do for people after the weekend retreat is over to help them maintain what they’ve learned?

We have a confidential online support group with monthly conference calls. People also make friends at the retreats and stay in touch on their own.

Do people ever lapse back into old religious patterns or is this generally a turning point in their lives?

We have never had anyone return to their same religion. Some have retained a personal spirituality or belief in God but on their own terms, which I encourage. I have an article about this.

The retreat is most definitely a turning point for many people. I have followed up with past participants, many of whom have told me this. One man who traveled here from New York had been isolating himself in his apartment, overwhelmed with guilt and fear, never venturing out except to go to work. He was terrified when he arrived at the retreat and very quiet at first, afraid to tell his story. Then with the warmth and acceptance of the group, he shared and participated. On the last day, he gave everybody big hugs, and left smiling. About two months later, I spoke with him and he said the burden of his abusive religious past had lifted thanks to the retreat. He had new friends, was going out, and was also back into playing music he loved. Returning to his religion was simply not an option and he felt free for the first time.

A woman who came to the retreat was leading an outwardly successful life with career and family but had secret fears about the “Rapture” that would shake her up despite being irrational. The retreat helped her let go and even laugh about the idea for the first time. Two years later, we talked and she said the retreat was a turning point for her – she had had no more anxiety attacks.

What do you think is most important about the work you do?

I provide a safe, therapeutic place where it is okay to question religion first of all. In terms of healing and growth, my approach is to empower people, and I think I have found good ways of doing that!

What advice would you give to people who are struggling with their religions but who are unable to attend your retreats or work with you?

Don’t be afraid. Read everything you can. Trust yourself for a change and don’t believe the self-serving lines you have heard from your religious group about how sinful and dangerous it is to question. Get support of some kind. On-line forums can be good – stay away from the ones where religious people try to shame you. Take baby steps into the larger world and find out what’s going on and how other people are approaching life. Try new things in small ways and learn to enjoy life here and now. Congratulate yourself often for your courage.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Working with me may not be as hard as it seems. I talk with people on the phone a lot, and it works well.  We can make the cost affordable. The retreats also have affordable options, so don’t rule it out. The investment is worth it considering the time, effort, and money it can take to get therapy, or the loss of living fully if you don’t get better. I’m open to traveling if someone wants to organize a retreat in their area too.

That was wonderful, Marlene! Thank you.

If you’d like to read past interviews with ex-cult members, please click HERE and HERE. If you have any questions for Marlene, please feel free to ask them in the comments or contact her directly with more personal matters.