Examples of individuals who left their group?
September 20, 2022 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm fascinating by individuals who leave their group, usually at great personal cost. I imagine this is a genre, but I don't know what it is. I'd love to read stories about these people. Here are examples in different categories.

1) Activists who flip sides

* Michael Shellenberger was a traditional environmental activist for decades. Now he speaks out against this group and is a kind of heretic. See his book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All.

* Mark Lynas was one of the most vocal anti GMO activists. He changed his mind.

2) Fundamentalists who leave their religion / cult

* Leah Remini left Scientology and made a documentary about it.

* Rebecca Musser, and other former members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, participated in a documentary called Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey.

* American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi posed as an Indian guru, created a New Age cult, and revealed his true self to his followers in the documentary Kumare.

* Abraham's father is said to have created and sold idols. In Genesis 12:1 he was commanded to leave his family and go to a new place.

3) Political whistleblowers

* Edward Snowden

* Julian Assange and Wikileaks

Here are more whistleblowers: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_whistleblowers
posted by daniel.poynter to Religion & Philosophy (37 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

Educated by Tara Westover
posted by damsel with a dulcimer at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2022 [12 favorites]

Focussing on the "at great personal cost," When One Parent Leaves a Hasidic Community, What Happens to the Kids? "One of the most painful difficulties that leavers faced was the risk of losing their children."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:34 PM on September 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

Not sure if there was any personal cost involved here, but Arianna Huffington used to be a prominent Republican politico and commentator. She married a Republican Congressman (who later came out as gay), was a key supporter of Newt Gingrich, and created a website in the late 90s to urge President Clinton to resign.

I distinctly recall her doing a repeated TV segment with Al Franken called "Strange Bedfellows" where she and Franken would appear in bed together and debate politics - Franken as the liberal and Huffington as the conservative. (My memory said Daily Show but the internet says it was on one of Bill Maher's shows.)

Of course, she later became disenchanted with the GOP, and started the Huffington Post, a distinctly liberal news website.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

From Housewife to Heretic is Sonia Johnson's memoir about being excommunicated from the Mormon church because of her support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
posted by FencingGal at 1:42 PM on September 20, 2022

The Netflix series Unorthodox is about a woman who leaves an Orthodox Jewish community, based on the real-life memoir of Deborah Feldman, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 1:43 PM on September 20, 2022 [11 favorites]

My Abandonment is based on a true story of a man who hides with his daughter in Forest Park in Portland (a large wooded area).
posted by hydra77 at 1:46 PM on September 20, 2022

Some previouslies from AskMe: "How to rebuild and move on when everything you ever knew is gone" and "Book recommendations: Stories about leaving religion behind."

Also one from MetaTalk, "MeFi's own...," relates tangentially to a thread from Fanfare: "Unorthodox (Netflix mini-series)." FYI, I haven't looked at the 10-year-old thread carefully--I just remember it being a part of Metafilter history.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2022 [4 favorites]

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander, another leaving-Orthodox memoir; and I second the hell out of Educated by Tara Westover.
posted by scratch at 1:47 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

individuals who leave their group, usually at great personal cost

It takes an unusual kind of person to do that. We need awkward sods — troublemakers and whistleblowers and non-conformists and iconoclasts — but they're often very difficult people to like in their own right.
posted by vincebowdren at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Lots of these in the Ex-Gay community.
posted by Melismata at 2:03 PM on September 20, 2022

I recommended Jeanette Winterson in one of the Previouslys linked by Wobbuffet. I will add Rebecca Stott's memoir In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult, about her family leaving the Exclusive Brethren. Like Winterson, Stott was not an adult when she left the sect, but much of the book is about her father's experience.

I don't think you want fiction, but just in case - there is a genre of romance time travel books where one or the other of a couple ends up living their life out of their own time, which is about as radical as you can get in separating from your group. And, thinking about that, real people who emigrated before there were easy ways to keep in contact with family and friends, or travel back, would be another example.

"Crossing the floor" is the term in UK politics for MPs who change party allegiance, which might be another search term. Don't know if it is used in other countries.
posted by paduasoy at 2:13 PM on September 20, 2022

I have to go pick up my kids in like two minutes, so I don't have time to find a link or even remember her name, but there's a woman who left the Westboro Baptist Church, and there have been a handful of profiles of her. I believe the New Yorker did one. Megan Phelps maybe? Sorry I'm not more helpful. But she's an interesting story, as you might expect.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:16 PM on September 20, 2022

A couple great narratives about leaving the Hasidic Jewish community

Reply All podcast 2-parter "Exit and Return" (part 1, part 2) about a man who actually didn't intend to leave his community, he just stumbled on outside knowledge while doing research online and couldn't un-see what he learned

Memoir "Becoming Eve" about a trans woman who was formerly a Hasidic rabbi
posted by radioamy at 2:28 PM on September 20, 2022

there's a woman who left the Westboro Baptist Church

Conversion Via Twitter (The New Yorker)

And this: "Derek Black was an avowed white nationalist until his identity was discovered by classmates in college and he began the long journey towards repudiating his beliefs. NPR's Michel Martin talks with Black and reporter Eli Saslow about the new book Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist."
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:01 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Part by Lauren Hough. About growing up as a member of the infamous cult The Children of God, trying to figure out how to have a life beyond it, trying to understand her parents' relationship to the cult and to her. Very good memoir.
posted by evilmomlady at 3:11 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Not exactly a cult, but the Kibbo Kift was an eccentric outdoor/woodcraft organization led by an autocratic and fickle leader in the early 20th century. In 1925, a group of Kibbo Kifters led by Leslie Paul challenged the leader over democratic principles, and the whole group was summarily ejected from the organization. While the Kibbo Kift leader crowed over how the ejected group would inevitably fail, Paul and others went on to found the Woodcraft Folk, a children's outdoor organization that's still going to this day. The Kibbo Kift evaporated entirely by 1935.
posted by scruss at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2022

Response by poster: Wow, you all are amazing. I love this community!

Other helpful search terms include "deprogramming" and "exit counseling."

There's definitely a rich vein of literature about people leaving various fundamentalisms. I think the (secular) publishing industry and its audiences has a strong appetite for those stories.

Conversely -- and to flip my original question upside down -- it'd be interesting to also read stories of people leaving modern life for some fundamentalist group. Bonus points if they aren't just preachy from their new bubble of certainty, but are self-reflective about the psychological changes along the way.

I wonder what would happen to a reader's mind to read tons of accounts of people going into, and leaving, bubbles of certainty. Even more existential confusion or less? :)
posted by daniel.poynter at 3:29 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is what about 80 percent of the episodes of the podcast "Mormon Stories" are about. Mostly it's people leaving the mainline LDS faith, but some eps are about fundamentalist LDS groups. You might also like the recent documentaries/articles about NXVIM and Lula Roe. You might also find the term "high-control group" helpful in your searches.
posted by Charity Garfein at 3:50 PM on September 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are interested in the move from left-wing to the right-wing, the podcast Know Your Enemy (a fantastic podcast hosted by leftists about the history of the US right wing) regularly does podcast-length episodes about right-wing figures who started out on the left. The history of neoconservatism is littered with former Leninists!

I haven't read it yet, but my understanding that Daniel Oppenheimer's book Exit Right is all about the left-wing to right-wing phenomenon.

Also related - Vivian Gornick's book The Romance of American Communism is basically a look back at committed Communists from the vantage point of several decades after the CPUSA had any kind of meaningful presence on the left. Not all of her subjects went right-wing or even became disillusioned with Communism, but many did. It's a terrific book and I think will scratch this itch.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:03 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day writes about her involvement in socialist/anarchist groups and how she eventually left them for Catholicism.
posted by FencingGal at 4:08 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

it'd be interesting to also read stories of people leaving modern life for some fundamentalist group

I wouldn't call it a fundamentalist group, but I think the classic of this genre is Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:50 PM on September 20, 2022

Rachel Dolezal has tried to leave whiteness…
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:06 PM on September 20, 2022

there's a woman who left the Westboro Baptist Church

Conversion Via Twitter (The New Yorker)

Megan Phelps-Roper later wrote a book, Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. It is both fascinating and heartbreaking.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:42 PM on September 20, 2022

I've followed the career of Michael Coren with interest. He was an annoying right-wing Canadian media pundit for many years, but he made a shift to more moderate/progressive views around 2015.
posted by ovvl at 6:00 PM on September 20, 2022

Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook is a novel exploring the effect that the revelations about Stalin’s purges had on her generation of committed CP members in the UK.

Women Talking by Miriam Toews is another novel, this one about a group of Mennonite women grappling with sexual assault in their community. Based on a true instance of mass drugging and sexual violence, but departs from any reported journalism about the events.

There is a book frequently cited here about the end days of Jim Jones’s cult, I have not read it.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:14 PM on September 20, 2022

Political writer/activist David Horowitz went from being a leftist whack job to a right wing whack job.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:25 PM on September 20, 2022

Carolyn Jessop’s memoir ”Escape” is a harrowing story of her getting out of a fundy Mormon sect.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:46 PM on September 20, 2022

Elgen Strait grew up in the Unification Church (Moonies) and left. He does a podcast and has given a number of other interviews.

Elna Baker has talked a lot about leaving Mormonism. She's a producer for This American Life.

Another term you may want to search for is defector. Many fascinating stories of defectors came out of the cold war, and not all of them defecting to the West.

Daryl Davis is a black man who befriends KKK members and convinces them to quit. Sort of a meta version of what you're looking for.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:33 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Check out Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It's a harrowing memoir detailing her journey from Islamic fundamentalism in Somalia to a position in the Dutch Parliament. She is very introspective about how and why her mindsets gradually changed, the immense costs of leaving her culture behind, and the internal struggle that is ever-present.
posted by oxisos at 9:43 PM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Mattieu Ricard has a 1972 PhD in molecular biology from the Institut Pasteur but left science for the Himalaya to become a Buddhist monk. The Monk and the Philosopher by Revel, Jean-François; Ricard, Matthieu (1999), is his book length discussion with his philosopher father about life the universe and everything.
posted by BobTheScientist at 12:27 AM on September 21, 2022

G***y Boy by Mikey Walsh is a harrowing but readable autobiography of how he, a sensitive young boy growing up into a gay man, eventually fled his violent romany family upbringing.

Note: the book title, the author, and the people in it, all straightforwardly use the word g***y; however I have masked it due to metafilter policy.
posted by vincebowdren at 12:53 AM on September 21, 2022

Another commenter mentioned the Westboro Baptist Church, there have been books written by different people who left. There is also some links to interviews, Ted talks, etc in the references section here
posted by yohko at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another category is people changing social class. I heard a really interesting lecture years ago about women who marry into a higher social class (in the UK) and how damaging it can be for them - having to or feeling they have to leave friends and family behind, and learning a new set of acceptable behaviours. Lynsey Hanley has a memoir about this, as does Andy Hargreaves (I haven't read either, but both look interesting). One of the classic examples is Tony Harrison's poems about his relationship with his father following - see Book Ends.
posted by paduasoy at 7:35 AM on September 22, 2022

Sorry, I should have said that the two memoirs are about moving social class, rather than specifically about marrying up.
posted by paduasoy at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2022

If you're interested in more memoirs from people who have left Scientology, there's a whole list of Books By Scientologist Survivors over at GoodReads.
posted by kristi at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2022

Response by poster: Just found this one too:

"Robert Stone is an award-winning, Oscar- and Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker. His most recent film, Pandora’s Promise, documents the anti- to pro- conversion of five leading environmentalists who support nuclear energy in light of climate change."
posted by daniel.poynter at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2022

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