This "religion" I lost is the philosophy espoused by A. Justin Sterling, founder of the Sterling Institute in the bay area. The Institute's stated purpose is to "transform the quality of people's relationships by defining the differences between men and women." Sterling's philosophy focuses primarily on the subordination of women to men and the necessity of women to defer to men on every possible occasion. Apparently there will be peace in the world if we all follow this doctrine.
I am only disclosing information about this "religion" that has already been published countless times in newspapers across the country lest I be sued for breach of confidentiality. Though we supposedly have freedom of speech, that didn't stop the group's founder (Sterling) from filing suit against a woman that spoke publicly about her experiences in the cult (ahem, group) during an interview on Canadian television. There are tens of thousands of men and women who have joined Sterling's Mens Division and (its counterpart) Family of Women of which I was a member.
How does this relate to religion? The Sterling "community" is a religion and cult of sorts. As members of the women's group, we were asked to attend meetings for which no information would be disclosed to us prior to the event. We were repeatedly told to have trust and faith in the leaders at any cost and not to question, only to "support." During the initial "weekend" event, we were deprived of sleep, our freedom was restricted, and we were asked to remain silent for hours at a time -- apparently to help we "womenfolk" practice being peaceful and taking direction from others. These practices promoted Sterling's philosophy that women should be selfless and egoless in relationships, and men should be aggressive combative egotists. Initial weekend events for the men warned that they may engage in acts of violence or the threat of violence -- apparently to help the men develop their aggressive combative nature. Graduation from the women's weekend included a tearful candlelight procession and ceremony -- men's weekends involved naked (I'm not kidding) rights of passage into manhood.
Any questions we had about the content or nature of Sterling events were met with the same request, that is, that we should trust the leadership to take us to a place where we wanted to be. Resistance to these practices demonstrated a lack of faith and commitment to Sterling. Losing faith in the group meant losing faith in men and women and there were heavy heavy emotional recruiting techniques that were part of every meeting. Needless to say, I turned out to be a Sterling "dropout" and was eventually kicked out of the group for asking too many questions. I have since been in contact with Sterling graduates, and I still respect these men and women who are sincerely trying to find answers to life's questions, but I can no longer support the ideas and practices.
People are not bad, but ideas can be bad -- just like religion, a bad idea that keeps on going. Apparently Sterling's wife could no longer champion her husband's belief system (or bad ideas) either as she filed for divorce in 1994.
When AOF [Atheists and other Freethinkers] member Dave Flanders spoke at our August meeting, he told us what it felt like when he was losing his religion. He described the experience akin to losing a lover. I understand this analogy because when you embrace a philosophy or religion and later must reject it to maintain your intellectual integrity, you go through a grieving process. Ultimately you are liberated, freer than you ever were before, but still you may be alone looking for answers yet again. Why haven't we been hearing more about these groups in the news? Because people are afraid to speak out about their faith. Or they are questioning their belief systems and it may even be embarrassing to them to admit they put their faith in the wrong thing. It's taken more than two years for me to reconcile my feelings about this group. That's the kind of hold that this (somewhat archaic) belief system had on me.
After this experience I've concluded that for a myriad of reasons, faith does serve the needs of people who are still looking for answers. When a seemingly logical "answer" arrives, the answer does meet our needs, at least temporarily. We bask in the satisfaction of having found the answer. But later when we investigate, dissect, and critique the answer, we (sadly) find enough holes in the theory to cause rejection of the idea altogether. So here I am again looking for answers to life's problems, but now I keep my intellectual integrity with me at all times.