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(Image via educationnsw.com.au)

Peter Wicks details his experience being educated at a school run by a religious group he regards as more of a cult.

SO, JULIA BAIRD AND THE ABC have declared war on Christianity. At least that's what some would have us all believe.

My view is that if there was a war involving Christianity, it is one that the religion has been waging on the public for decades and perhaps centuries. Anybody unsure of this only needs to look at the statistics on the sexual abuse of children.

However, it is not just sexual abuse that runs rampant in the Christian faith. As we have seen reported recently by Baird and others from the ABC, there are some that are committing horrific acts of domestic violence and sexual violence, including rape upon their wives and believing the bible justifies their actions. Not why people sometimes refer to the Bible as the "Good Book", I'm assuming.

Today, I wanted to talk about a different kind of abuse perpetrated by some preachers of the Christian faith — and it is a form of abuse I believe to be frighteningly prevalent and one that is, in my view, positively evil. I know all too well of this abuse as it is of a type I witnessed first-hand for a number of years, and one I have seen the results of many years later.

The abuse I speak of is psychological abuse.

Mental abuse, brainwashing, whatever you want to call it, is frighteningly common and is done for all kinds of purposes. Some of these may include control, financial reward, sexual gratification and, for some, I'm sure it just makes them feel like some kind of god.

How I came to experience this firsthand takes me back to when I was a kid attending high school. It may surprise you to know I was not the best behaved boy as a young lad and, after some differences of opinion with the public high school I attended, my parents thought it may be in my best interests to attend a private Christian school.

When I first arrived at Redeemer Baptist School, it was a high school with no more than 50 students, but by the time I left it had a few hundred, and included primary and infants students as well.

The Redeemer Baptist Church are a breakaway group from the Baptist Church and they were based in Castle Hill in Sydney. They all lived in the same block and did everything together. The head of the group – or cult as many viewed them – was a man by the name of Noel Cannon. Noel Cannon is deceased now, and the group is now based in North Parramatta, on the historic Burnside Homes site.

Many of the kids I went to school with had parents who were part of the Redeemer Baptists and lived in that block in Castle Hill that was referred to as "The Community" or "The Commune".

The kids from the Community had a different life to those of us from the "outside". They didn't hear normal music, only gospel music. They didn't watch the same TV shows as us, or see the same movies. They didn't read the same books.

But there were other differences. They dressed differently to us, they looked similar to how members of the Brethren look now.

All of their friends were from the Community, we went to the same classes, but if we did something wrong they'd rat us out in a heartbeat. None of them were punished by their parents — all discipline was determined and dished out by Mr Cannon or his deputy.

The boys from the Community were always neat, tidy, well spoken, but also very shy and guarded for the most part. It was like they knew there was a whole other world outside their confines but had heard so many bad things about it that they were either scared, or totally dismissive, of it.

The girls with their long hair in plaits were different. They had an air of arrogance about them that is hard to describe. It was like they knew us outsiders were going to fry in hell while they enjoyed the spoils of heaven. They had an air about them that, in hindsight, seemed to sit somewhere between the Manson Family women and the girls from the Westbro Baptists. To me it seemed like some kind of hypnosis.

None of us referred to our teachers as Mr or Mrs. If the teachers were married, we referred to them as Uncle or Aunty; if they hadn't been married off yet, we referred to them by their first name. When I say married off, I mean just that. All of the teachers were from the Community and the leader arranges all of the marriages in the Community. This has allegedly led to some questionable bloodlines and, later in life, I learned the local police used to joke that they'd need a special DNA kit for a crime in the Community.

The Community is now headed by John Cannon, the son of founder Noel and someone of whose existence I was not even aware of as he didn't live in the Community when I attended the school. John showed up much later, around the time of his fathers death; most I have spoken with believe the financial rewards were just too tempting.

(Image via redeemer.nsw.edu.au)

In recent years I have caught up with many of those I went to school with and have seen first hand and heard the result of these years of indoctrination by what is believed to be a highly profitable organization, church, or cult.

Some of those I have met are no longer in touch with their parents due to leaving the Community. Upon leaving the Community way of life, you become an outcast and are disowned by those of your family who stay.

One former elder of Redeemer, Alan Nutt, in 2005 shared his concerns with Channel Nine's Daniel Street over the division of families within the community:

"...it’s very deliberate brainwashing to change people’s mindset about personal relationships, family relationships. To be told constantly that your parents are no good, ultimately the young person believes that and therefore if I’m going to make it in this life, I need to be in another household where I’m going to be ‘properly’ cared for."

However, the major issue with those who attended this school whilst I was there in later life is their self-esteem, particularly in the women.

This is no accident.

(Partial transcript of Channel Nine's 'Sunday', 20 March 2005)

It is only later in life you have the luxury of hindsight. Looking back, I can see the damage being done to the minds of these girls in what I view as a very deliberate manner.

Girls all look the same in the Community, because individuality is frowned upon. A woman’s purpose in life is to be a subservient housewife and, if lucky, a teacher at the School.

Those lucky enough to become a teacher were allegedly woefully underpaid for the privilege.

Former Community member and teacher Vanessa Bromhead told media she was paid $11,000 per annum, while other teachers were being paid over $60,000 in public schools. Ms Bromhead was one of a a group of 14 teachers who sought payment from the Church after claiming to be underpaid.

Girls at the School, whilst I was there, were in my view constantly put down and belittled by teaching staff. This wasn’t done in an obvious fashion, but in subtle ways so that it went unnoticed.

Girls were encouraged to dob each other in for having “inappropriate” thoughts. This does not necessarily mean sexual or romantic, but can be questions of faith. Thinking the wrong way would lead to ridicule from other students and subtle digs from teaching staff. A girl had to know her place.

A later addition to the school — a brand new school building right behind a historic home (Image via redeemer.nsw.edu.au)

Being encouraged to rat on your mates led to girls, in particular, having serious trust issues. Boyfriends and girlfriends were not allowed at any age, and girls were always made aware that boys were predators, with smiles and evil intentions.

At least girls who lived outside the Community had some escape; for girls within, the mind games were relentless.

To give you another idea of how bad girls were made to feel, several times I have heard it alleged that girls from the Community were not allowed sanitary pads without getting the go ahead from Mr Cannon.

So many women I know of that attended this school bear some awfully significant mental scars, which are painfully obvious.

To those women, I would like to say do not allow yourself to be what they made you — be what you would like yourself to be.

I don’t claim to have come out unscathed either. I certainly emerged with a healthy distrust of organised religion and a disdain for the “holier than thou” attitude, which has also carried through to my political views. It has always been my experience that those calming the moral high ground are usually anything but holy.

I’ve heard stories of sexual abuse and suicide regarding former students, but can only confirm that they wouldn’t surprise me if they were true — I don’t know for sure that they are.

What scares me, however, is that having seen the result of those who started at Redeemer Baptist in high school, I can’t imagine the psychological issues with those who have been there since infants.

Yes, there is a war being waged, the aggressors think they are above the law and have a tax-free status.

And they don’t work at the ABC.

You can follow Peter Wicks on Twitter @madwixxy.

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