Girl at the End of the World tells of Elizabeth Esther’s upbringing in The Assembly, a fundamentalist cult begun by her grandfather. It takes us through her childhood and early married years in the group, through her escape, and to the present day.
I’ve read Elizabeth Esther’s blog for years, so I was already familiar with her voice. I knew this book would be poignant, but I was unprepared for how deeply emotional it was. I suppose it was especially intense for me since I spent years in a cult and cultic movements. Much of what she said felt breathtakingly familiar.
The cult in which Elizabeth grew up focused on community living, control-based authority, external evidences of holiness (strict dress codes, for example), and “redeeming the time” (aka working so hard and so much that you don’t have time for anything outside the cult). These are all common attributes of cults. Elizabeth’s story, however, brings these attributes to life in vivid color. She’s a gifted storyteller.
The books title derives from The Assembly’s hyperfocus on the coming return of Christ and the end of the world. Their end-times theology was fueled by fear and the group made extensive plans for how to survive in any last days scenario—such as a secret meeting places and passwords.
Elizabeth describes how all of this affected her. As an emotional, imaginative child, The Assembly’s intense, spiritually abusive, fear-based belief system left her broken. She talks about what it was like to navigate the world while still trying to please her parents, what it was like to fall in love in a cult, and to begin a family there.
What I admire most about Elizabeth is that she knew her own mind and even as a teen planned to escape. In spite of how far The Assembly pushed her, she still had the inner strength to secretly break the rules until she was able to get out.
I also admire Elizabeth’s forceful voice against abusive child-training techniques espoused by The Assemby and others in many fundamentalist belief systems. She’s a strong woman who is using her horrific experience for good.
There were a couple of things with which I disagree. One is that Elizabeth states that what makes a cult is its practice rather than theology. Although The Assembly’s doctrine of salvation would have passed muster in evangelical circles, it was their spiritually abusive practice that made it a cult. However, having been in a cult myself, I fully believe that doctrine is just as key as practice in determining whether a group is aberrant. What we believe informs our actions. Abusive treatment of others by a church is always rooted in bad theology.
The other thing that leaves me a little sad is that ultimately Elizabeth gravitated toward a church with a theology of works-based salvation. I’ve observed that typically people who leave cults have one of three responses: They fully embrace salvation by grace and all that comes with it; they reject Christianity altogether; or they go back into a differently-flavored but still works-based religious system.
However, there’s no denying Elizabeth’s passion for her topic and the poignancy with which she writes. This book will provide excellent insights for anyone who has family members in a cult, who’s been in a cult and is seeking to recover, who is interested in a religious organization but senses some red flags, and for those who simply wish to find greater understanding of extreme fundamentalism and spiritual abuse.
- Elizabeth’s site
- Elizabeth’s Twitter
- Elizabeth’s Facebook
- More Info about Elizabeth
- Read Chapter One here
- Elizabeth’s Bio
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. This post also contains Amazon Associate links. This simply means that I receive a small commission from anything you order through the link. Thank you for your support!
I’ll be excited to see you there!