Searching for Elsewhere: Born into a cult. How to survive?

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Graeme Johanson’s Searching for Elsewhere (Ginninderra Press, 2023) provides a compelling answer. His memoire, a gripping story from beginning to end, deals with the dangerous manipulation of young lives brought up in an extremely controlling sect with bizarre rules, destroyed families and strict separation from the World.

The way out is painful. Graeme’s powerful story tallies with many studies of the Exclusive Brethren. He writes with no bitterness but is forensic in his analysis of his childhood and powerfully delicate in accounting for his escape.

This story begins with two boys using their younger brother Graeme’s ankles as target practice for their air rifles. This episode sets the scene for the conflictual and destructive life of an eccentric family in a fanatical cult. It is a classic memoire of escape.

The Plymouth/Exclusive Brethren believe that its members only are chosen for heaven. Life on earth is a struggle against sin and the World, to be endured not enjoyed. They have arcane rules to keep the faithful in line and are vindictive in punishing the least dissent. They shun deviants from within by separating families in a totalitarian environment. Graeme’s youthful mind was filled with all the Evils. Eating with strangers was Evil, as was keeping pets, indoor plants, fax machines and girls wearing slacks. He was isolated physically and socially from “the World”, at school and elsewhere. No sport, no movies, no TV, no radio, no concerts, no Easter, no Christmas, no non-Brethren friends, no prospect of a fulfilling life, no university. More recently, the Exclusive Brethren have established a school system to avoid contamination, a system which abhors the normal academic trajectory. in one school, highly intelligent girls studying personal development knew that achieving excellence was useless: they would be married soon and become mothers: university is not an option.

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