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After Growing Up in a ‘Cult,’ Alumna Says Education Was a Way Forward

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“Did you grow up in a cult? Take this quiz and find out now.” As a teenager, Flor Edwards could not get to the quiz in Seventeen magazine fast enough.

“I answered yes to all five questions — and not just yes, but a resounding yes,” she said.

The quiz was how Edwards discovered that the first 12 years of her life were unlike those of her peers at the Los Angeles public school she attended. But aside from discussing it with her siblings, Edwards kept this revelation to herself.

“It was a story I stuffed away,” she said.

Years later, while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications at Cal State Fullerton, Edwards said she began to find her voice.

“A big part of my healing process was education,” she shared, recalling how learning journalism techniques inspired her to begin penning a memoir and how political science classes prompted her to examine her story in a societal context.

“I wasn’t allowed to read or write as a child,” said Edwards, who primarily grew up in a compound in Thailand. “But from an early age, I saw this real power in words.”

The Titan alumna ’11 (B.A. communications) — who went on to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing from UC Riverside and is working toward a second master’s degree in English literature at Cal State Long Beach — recently shared insights from her 2018 memoir, “Apocalypse Child: A Life in End Times” during a book discussion hosted by CSUF’s Religious Studies Department.

Faculty members Jeanette Reedy Solano and James Santucci led the discussion focusing on The Children of God, a controversial religious movement in which Edwards was raised. Founded in 1968, the group believed that as God’s chosen people they would be spared from a looming apocalypse.

“From an academic point of view, The Children of God was a sect (a group that emphasizes certain beliefs of a church while ignoring others) based on Christianity,” said Santucci, a professor of religious studies.

“In 1971, however, a number of parents began calling The Children of God a cult (a group not based on a church but some other tradition) because there was a massive recruitment effort and they believed children were being brainwashed.”

When the end of the world did not happen in 1993 as predicted, and the group’s founder died a year later, Edwards’ family left the movement and settled in Southern California.

“It’s really interesting to hear about the group from the outside because for me, this was just my life,” Edwards reflected before answering some commonly asked questions.

Did you ever have doubts about the teachings of the ‘cult’?

“I think I did have questions and doubts, but one of the techniques that the cult had was to inhibit us from thinking critically about anything. If we actually thought about things, if we had our logical minds in place, we would have immediately known something was up.”

Do you feel an obligation or desire to counter other ‘cults’ that are still out there?

“I feel like the right answer should be yes, but in reality, just dealing with my own experience is enough in itself. I’m not that fascinated with cults, and I really don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to stop them. My responsibility is to find my own voice, talk about it, write about it and open up that conversation.”

What’s the one thing you want people to know about ‘cults’?

“Cults and sects serve a purpose in society. A lot of times people think they’re the cause of something, but they’re the symptom of something in society. These groups give people a sense of connection, purpose and belonging — these are basic human needs. If you’re not getting that, you’re going to go somewhere to find that.”