IN THE lexicon of trigger words — vocabulary that, by its association, brings on anxiety and stress — one would not expect to find such terms as “forgiveness” or “joy”. But to Petra Velzeboer and Dawn Watson, these are words that summon up a childhood of guilt and control under the cultic guardianship of the Children of God.
These two now successful businesswomen were brought together for the first time in Afterlives (Tuesday 9 June, repeated Monday of last week, Radio 4). They talked of their experiences and how they had moved on.
There has been a lot to move on from: a deracinated lifestyle that involved moving from one community to another; loneliness; emotional and physical abuse; and, in young adulthood, alcohol dependency and suicidal impulses. To talk of forgiveness conjures up one of the many ways in which the cult instilled a sense in its followers of unworthiness and vulnerability.
And yet they take what might be regarded as an unfashionable view of victimhood and reparation. Of the guru that exploited so many, Ms Velzeboer is prepared to acknowledge the good as well as the bad. You have a choice, she says, of how you deal with the hurt.
There is a danger that the #MeToo movement fixates on the pain without equipping women with the resources to move on. Part of that moving on is to take responsibility for one’s subsequent actions. It was not, Ms Velzeboer admits, the cult’s fault that she took her children for a ride in her car while under the influence, or the cult’s fault that she had a serious crash.
We could have heard more from these two remarkable individuals. In the hands of the new breed of podcast producers, their stories might have furnished a mini-series, complete with cliff-hanger narration — something like Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate productions, whose six parts are being released over the course of this month.
And a slow burn it certainly is. It tells the story of a white supremacist from Louisiana, David Duke, and his bid for mainstream acceptance through the electoral system. That we know of him through Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, and not as a United States Senator, is enough to tell us that the story does not turn out well for Mr Duke; but the wealth of contextual detail that such a time-generous production can afford is as fascinating as it is unsettling.
He started his career as a rabble-rouser on the campus of Louisiana State University, at a time (the late 1960s) when even the most outrageous views were allowed a platform in “Free Speech Alley”. The effectiveness of this ultra-tolerant policy is exemplified by an anecdote in which a black student followed Mr Duke on to the podium, cut his hand, and challenged the Klansman to compare the colour of their blood. The Shakespearean resonances are compelling; and too much for Mr Duke, who declined the offer.