Tag Archives: secular

A Very Special CWR Chistmas

Well readers, it’s that time of year again. Mildewed jack-o’-lanterns are being unceremoniously swept away from doorsteps as families hang lights and holly around their homes. Carols are beginning to play in stores across the nation and cheery folks, bundled up in their coats, are already beginning to make their lists. The elves and reindeer aren’t waiting for December and so, readers, neither shall I. And let me kick off the holidays here at Culture War Reporters by declaring this:

I hate Christmas.

Generally speaking, I always have.

And my family did celebrate the holidays, with my parents (who make Buddy the Elf look like Ebenezer Scrooge) even making a few luckless attempts at getting me to celebrate advent as well.

I’d say that my mom isn’t as bad, but her holiday tradition is- I make no exaggeration- screaming “IT’S # DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!” at the top of her lungs.

But for all the zeal my parents had I was generally free from the hustle and bustle of the season. One of the benefits of growing up in the middle of a primarily Muslim country is that one isn’t generally blasted with “Carol of the Bells” until one is prepared to put a drill to one’s head.

Coming to America, that was something I had difficulty adjusting to, to put things mildly. But that’s not the issue I have- not entirely anyways.

It was the expectation. Continue reading

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3 Life Lessons I Learned in Church (Or, the Hilariously-Sad Realization that I Grew Up in a Cult)

“Here’s an easy way to figure out if you’re in a cult: If you’re wondering whether you’re in a cult, the answer is yes.” ― Stephen Colbert, I Am America

They say hindsight is 20/20. Never has this cultural idiom been so true to me as the moment that  I realized I grew up in a cult. After conducting some personal and academic research about the characteristics of a cult, the scales fell from my eyes and, hallelujah, I could see.

It wasn’t as earth-shattering as I would have expected, in some ways, it was like I always knew. I just had to step out of the cult closet and see for myself.

A few characteristics of a cult include financial mismanagement, abusive behaviour, and attempts to control members through manipulation. During my time in my childhood church I experienced and/or witnessed each of these concerning behaviours. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t the kind of horror movie cult that was sacrificing babies, or drinking poisoned Kool-Aid. Generally, it wasn’t even all that bad. But on the spectrum of church to cult, we had more in common with a cult than the typical church.

I learned a lot from my recent revelation, and I wanted to share what I learned with you. Below, I’ve included three life lessons I learned in church, or, as I like to say, the hilariously-sad realization I grew up in a cult.

Life Lesson #1: Your Time is Valuable

“If God is up at five in the morning for prayer… (dramatic pause)… Then you should be, too!”

Time is arguably our most valuable commodity, and it’s your time that a cult will take the most of. For most cults, controlling your time is almost as good as controlling your money. Since I was quite young I didn’t donate a lot of money, but let me give you a breakdown of how I spent my time:

There are 168 hours in a week. We sleep about 56 hours, and work about 40 hours each of the five workdays. That leaves about 72 hours left to do what we like. In our cult, we were told that our time was spiritual money in our spiritual bank account. If we had free time we weren’t doing enough for the Lord.

In a given week we would spend 19 hours in prayer (both communal and private), 6 hours in service, 4 hours doing street ministry (aka knocking on people’s doors and handing out pamphlets), 10.5 hours of driving ministry (picking up families for church programs), 3 hours youth ministry, 4 hours outreach ministry, and 5 hours in worker meetings or music practice. That left 19.5 hours of free time for 7 days, or approximately 2.7 hours of free time per day. To put it another way: if our free time had been money we would have barely made enough to support a child in a third world country.

When I finally committed to not go to church (cult) anymore, I suddenly had time to do what I wanted. It was as if I had discovered my belly button for the first time as an adult, which would be mind-blowing, to say the least.

Life Lesson #2: Question Everything

“When you come in here, turn off your brain.”

Ignorance is bliss, but cult ignorance? That shit is magical.

The first thing a cult takes away is your ability to question. You are not allowed to question leadership, the lack of faith healings, or the way money is being managed. You are discouraged from receiving a secular education and told to “turn off your brain” so the spirit could lead. Asking certain questions could get you ex-communicated. This meant that the Leaders would restrict any communication/contact between the ex-communicated person and the rest of the church congregation. This delicate practice was meant to somehow force the individual into repentance and to return once again to their (dysfunctional) church family.

In order to demonstrate your “true faith” you were required to leave your logic at the door and take everything on faith, no matter how absurd some of the services would get (running around the building and shouting at the top of your lungs was a frequently occurring event). While this kind ignorance was truly blissful, it quickly got out of hand.

Growing up in a cult was a lot like growing up in a tiny magical bubbleMy tiny bubble consisted of a small intimate group of people that saw each other every day. Like most charismatic churches we believed in faith healing, prosperity, and gifts of the spirit (speaking in tongues).

However, we also believed we could:

  • change the weather
  • drive cars without gas
  • teleport
  • pray back a woman’s hymen so she could re-lose her virginity on her wedding night (honest truth)
  • pray away the gay
  • chase demons out of the church (this actually involved physically running around)
  • pray over adult video stores to close them down (it actually did close down two weeks later, BTW)
  • repel bullets through prayer (when the persecution came)
  • pray people out of the grave.

It was a strange, wonderful, magical bubble, to say the least. But it was also a bubble that needed to burst.

For me, the pin that burst the bubble came the day we were asked to pray for a specific group of people to die.

We prayed, and they died, further justifying our beliefs in our magical powers.

It was scary, scary to be in a group of people you love and have grown to know over decades, then, one day, to see them all pray in mindless fervour for someone to die.

This is when the magic ended, I no longer viewed the world through the foggy haze of my magic bubble. I suddenly realized this was all crazy and I had no choice but to leave.

Life Lesson #3: Know When to Walk Away, And Know When to Run

“I don’t trust people with an education, they think too much with their head.”

As cliche as it sounds, things aren’t always meant to last forever. Leaving the safety and security of the community was hard. It was like a divorce; a divorce where you had to separate yourself from every single member of your family one by one. Although I came out relatively unscathed, there were people who I cared about who lost everything: family, money, and community.

The loss of community was the most heartbreaking. It left many bewildered and asking themselves a multitude of questions: What had been the point of all that hard work and time? Why did we pray so much? Why did I give away so much money? And why did I needlessly hate myself for natural body functions? Masturbation jokes aside, after leaving, or rather running, from the cult that I grew up in I learned that I don’t need their edification in my life to have purpose. I could live and make my own choices, without fear that God or church will disapprove. In my cult-free life I have found joy and purpose. Plus, there’s no one trying to steal my money anymore.


The writer of this post has chosen to remain ANONYMOUS.

BURAAQ: Two Brothers, A Superhero, And the Truth About Islam

adilkamil

Kamil and Adil Imtiaz.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to connect with Adil Imtiaz, one half of the two sibling team responsible for the comic book BURAAQ, which stars a Muslim superhero. While he was the illustrator starting out he shared, and continues to share, creative responsibilities with his brother Kamil, and was more than happy to talk to me a little bit more about how this project came to be and why.

Ms. Marvel, as you may have guessed, came up in conversation, and I ended up learning a few things about Islam that I didn’t originally know.
Throughout our talk it was clear that this character and all he presents is a passion for Adil, and that he believes it can, and has done, good things for Muslim youth.

After thanking him for finding the time to speak with me about his work we got right down to questions and answers, the latter of which he was very ready to provide.

Evan: Now I can’t wait to get into talking about BURAAQ, but before we get there would you like to say a few words about yourself?

Adil: Adil Imtiaz is my name. I’m an IT professional, just so you know. And I came here from Pakistan back in 1990; me and my  brother and my family. So we’re here with our families and that’s pretty much it as far as my background is concerned.

Evan: Would you say that your interest in comic books began at a very young age?

Adil: Absolutely. Even in Pakistan as kids, my brother and I used to have a stack of comic books by our bedside. Every night we used to read Marvel, DC, superhero stories. We were, and still are, fascinated with sci-fi and superhero stories and characters.

And movies, of course. Hollywood as you can see is all about superhero films. And we used to draw comics and superhero characters as kids. I got sidetracked when I had to focus on higher education, pursuing a career. I had to put it on the back burner so to speak.

buraaqpreview

Evan: In the PDF I was given to review you and your brother’s mission was very clearly stated, and I’m just going to reiterate it for all my readers:

  • To provide a clean, fun (halal) and positive entertainment media alternative for our Muslim youth.
  • Reconnect our Muslim youth to Islam and make them feel proud to be a Muslim.
  • Enable interfaith dialogue and increase positive Islamic awareness.
  • Our principles are based on the Quran, Islamic values, and the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

How long this been in the works? It seems particularly relevant now given recent events in North Carolina [with what I’m going to call a hate crime]-

Adil: Well, no, actually. This is something, the idea was born back in 2009 actually. Especially after 9/11 things changed in the US. And in the media, traditionally, Arabs and Muslims have been portrayed in a negative light in Hollywood, but after 9/11 things really picked up steam; a bunch of crazy people around the world who claim to be Muslims and other agencies at play, not to get into politics…

Sammy Sheik as Mustafa in American Sniper.

Continue reading

What Are We Afraid Of?

Well folks, October has come and gone, and gone with it is the movie industry’s litter of trope-y, recycled Halloween cash-ins.

Yes, I’m talking about you. Now get out of here. Scram.

This means we can get back to the horror movies being made as movies first, rather than cynical money-grabs.

Excluding the Paranormal Activity franchise, but obviously that goes without saying…

See, say what you like about horror flicks (and there’s no shortage of criticism to be leveled), I do truly believe this is a genre just as important as any other- heck, possibly even more. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s a better gauge for contemporary culture than the things we fear most as a society. Continue reading

Culture War Correspondence: Modesty

EVAN: Welcome, readers of various genders, ages, personal beliefs, et cetera, to yet another installment of Culture War Correspondence. This week both Kat and I will be discussing how people need to stop being so gosh darn proud all the time. Seriously, take it down several pegs.

It’s hard for ginger cat not to feel a little proud.

Wait, no, I meant the other definition of modesty, particularly, though not restricted to, what people wear. Sorry, my notes got mixed up. No, I do not in fact take notes for these segments.

KAT: Ah, modesty. If you grew up in a Christian school that will be a very familiar term. Especially if you were a student of the female variety.

But what got you thinking about the topic to begin with?

EVAN: As our readers may know, as a believer myself I’m also primarily familiar with the issue via the Christian subculture, and I spent a good chunk of time last week debating it. And yes, as you said, it basically solely revolves around women.

Continue reading

Culture War Correspondence: Atheist Churches

GORDON: Brothers and sisters, we are gathered together today in the eyes of…

well, nothing. Today’s discussion will cover the growing number of atheist churches in the West.

EVAN: That may seem like a ludicrous concept to any and all of you, so I think before the two of us really begin discussing this movement that originated in the UK [of course] I think it would be good for us to share what our first impressions were of that term.

So, Gordon, what did you imagine an atheist church was, or would be like?

GORDON: Well, my immediate reaction to the concept was that it’d all be some kind of satire, like Pastafarianism, though the more I thought about how one would actually function, the more I kept returning to some kind of a cross between a support group and a study group.

Continue reading

Let’s Talk About The Hijab

We make no pretension of being unbiased here at the CWR. We have our particular axes to grind and banners to wave. Evan, you’ll notice, often covers the place of Asians in culture- in no small part because Evan is a combo of a few Asian peoples himself, and more directly affected by that issue. I, alternatively, grew up in the Middle East, and after having spent pretty much the entirety of my life with Arabs and Muslims (not the same thing, shouldn’t have to explain that), I’m more sensitive to Middle Eastern issues- Islamophobia in particular.

I could spend all day railing on the treatment of the Middle East/Arabs/Occupied Palestine/Muslims/etc. The way Arabs/Muslims are singled out for scrutiny and criticism. Casting Indian actors to play Arabs, since Arabs don’t match their own stereotype. The lack of appreciation for the key role the Middle East played in preserving and advancing science and philosophy.

You get the idea.

So rather than trying to tackle a single issue that could be (should be, and has been) covered by an entire academic book, I’m going to hit up super-specific issue.

The hijab. Continue reading