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How to Tell If You Grew Up in a Cult

Daniella Mestyanek Young's memoir “Uncultured” explores the parallels between her childhood in the Children of God and her time serving in the U.S. army The first chapter of Daniella Mestyanek Young's memoir Uncultured opens with a screech: It is 1993 and Mestyanek Young—then 5 years old—is inside a commune in Brazil, standing at the back of a line of children waiting to be paddled. As she explains, it's a normal day in the Children of God, the cult founded by David Berg in 1968 and made notorious from allegations of sexual and physical abuse. From that unsettling opening, the book follows Mestyanek Young through another decade of growing up in the notorious sex cult, a childhood moving from commune to commune while living in the shadow of near-constant physical and sexual abuse disguised as divine love. At 15, she finally broke free and ran away to Texas, landing a job at Chick-fil-A and enrolling in a Houston high school before going to college and eventually joining the military. But the U.S. Army, it turns out, is grappling with problems not wholly dissimilar from those that plagued the Children of God: violence, misogyny and the constant fear of both. Not just the of a harrowing upbringing and its aftermath, Uncultured presents itself as an exploration of group behavior, and the ways we are prone to programming and indoctrination. When Mestyanek Young and I talked that during a phone call, I reminded myself to make sure to avoid […]

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