'I Was Kicked From a Christian Sect for Arguing About Aliens and Abortion'

I grew up in Roswell, Georgia going to a really fancy, hippie-style school. We sat on bean bags instead of desks and kept chickens as pets. It was really nice and I did well there, but when I was 7 years old, my parents got divorced. I had to move to a small town in South Carolina and started attending a private Catholic school, which was a big change.

By the time I reached the eighth grade my family could no longer afford to fund my education privately, so I moved to a public school. I struggled with how some of the other students behaved, and one day I called out a boy for cheating off my test. He tried to attack me, but that didn't end well for him. I'd always been taught to defend myself if a boy messed with me, so I kicked his a**.

Around the same time, my mom had fallen very ill; she had a hysterectomy that went wrong and she nearly died. My parents were trying to figure out what to do with me and my mom found what she thought was a good homeschooling option. I would go to classes once or twice a week and continue the rest of my schooling at home.

Lochlan O'Neil
Lochlan O'Neil is a costume designer who helps run an exotic pet sanctuary. She told Newsweek about her experiences with various religious and spiritual movements.

Accidentally joining a fundamentalist Christian sect

I didn't really notice any red flags at the beginning. At that time, I was 13 years old and had gone from a Montessori-like school to a strict Catholic school and then a public school—all of which I thought were pretty weird.

The first thing that stuck out to me about this new school was the rules about their uniform. Girls had to wear skirts that were below the knee, so I went to Abercrombie & Fitch and bought the cutest, shortest below-the-knee skirt I could find.

Immediately after arriving, I was told I needed something longer and more modest—which I thought they should have specified in the handbook—so I asked my dad for something new. This time, I chose a full-length maxi skirt in tie-dyed blue and green.

The next week a teacher told me I had chosen: "One of those sinful fashion skirts." I couldn't win, first my skirt was too short, then it was too colorful. I had no idea what they were talking about.

The third week, I decided I would just show up in pants—there was nothing in the handbook forbidding girls from wearing pants. But they didn't like that either. At the time, I just thought these teachers were so stupid and needed to get better at writing their handbooks.

Eventually, I found a suitable skirt, but I started to find our classes quite strange. Instead of science, we were taught: "Biology through creation." Teachers told us that dinosaurs were not real and that weather forecasters were sinners—only God could predict the future.

One day, we watched a documentary about how aliens were not real, because God would never put something as smart and perfect as us on another planet. Afterwards they asked whether anyone had any questions, so I raised my hand.

I explained that, actually, if aliens did exist on other planets, I found it very doubtful they would look and act the same as humans, because it's likely we'd be much farther along in terms of evolution. I told them that aliens may not look exactly like us, but could exist in the form of bacteria or microbes. I thought I had solved the problem for them, but they didn't really like what I had to say.

At the end of the school year, we had to do a presentation for our "logic" class and I was given the subject of abortion. I used logic to argue that a woman's right to choice was a good thing and shortly afterward, my dad was told that I wasn't allowed to come back. I was a bad influence on the other students and no longer welcome.

It wasn't until I was 16 years old I discovered this group was part of a fundamentalist evangelical Christian sect, that I would describe as a cult.

They believed in pronatalism, in strict Biblical inerrancy, and the idea that women must be submissive to men—along with hateful rhetoric about LGBT people and other minorities. I realized they were trying to brainwash me into their way of thinking, but it just didn't work.

A brief encounter with Scientology

When I was 16 years old, I moved to Denver with my dad, who would often have to travel for work. He didn't want to leave me alone so my partner, Robin, would stay with me.

We were living downtown, which was expensive, but we didn't have any money. We were always looking for something to do, and one summer's day, we decided that the Church of Scientology might be able to offer some free entertainment.

Both my partner and I had heard a lot about the organization through TV, magazines, and documentaries—so we decided to try and figure out what it was all about. We saw an advert for an open house at a local Scientology center and said: "You know what? There's free food, there's air conditioning, and it's on the bus route. We're going."

Lochlan O'Neil
Lochlan, pictured as a teenager, had brief encounter with the Church of Scientology when she was 16 years old. Lochlan O'Neil

When we arrived, we realized we were the only two people who had shown up. We gave them fake names, ate some cheese bread and took the personality test. We were put in an air-conditioned room and watched a movie about dianetics, a set of beliefs created by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.

We were having a great time, until someone started trying to sell us stuff. We told them we didn't have any money and left, but decided that we would definitely be going back again.

For a couple of weeks, we would put on wigs and give them different names. We went back four or five times and thought we were so slick. I didn't think there was any way they could see past us, but eventually, our plan unraveled.

"We know it's you two giving the same names," the lady at the door said. "We're removing you from our marketing lists. You need to find something else to do."

Once again, I was told I was not welcome, but all I could think about at the time was how bored I was—what were we going to do now?

Rejecting an occult secret society

Five years later, Robin and I were still looking for free, fun things to do—our goals had not changed in half a decade. This time, we saw an advertisement for some kind of ritual ceremony at a local witchcraft store. Naturally, we decided to go.

When we first showed up, there were four people all wearing strange outfits that I thought looked like they'd been purchased at a cheap Halloween store. The room was tiny and dark, but totally lit up by candles.

They began chanting and I started to laugh because their Latin was so bad. They were calling upon the gods of ancient Egypt—which I thought was strange because they weren't speaking in ancient Egyptian—but their pronunciation was horrible.

I was still trying to stifle my laughter when I was asked to drink out of a chalice as part of their holy sacrament.

"You're not actually going to drink out of the chalice, are you?" Robin asked me.

There I was, in a dark room full of weird, poorly dressed pharaohs. Of course I was going to drink out of the chalice. I was a little disappointed to find it was just cheap wine.

Lochlan O'Neil
Lochlan and her partner, Robin, declined an invitation to join a secret society. Lochlan O'Neil

After the meeting, the members asked whether Robin and I wanted to go to one of their basements to play Mario Kart, which we politely declined. When we got home, we did some research and found out they were part of a secret society devoted to the study of the occult.

It turns out that specific group has a lot of very dubious opinions about various aspects of society, so we were pretty glad we left. But six months later, one of the members knocked on my door—having presumably got my address from public voting records—asking whether I would reconsider joining the group. Once again, I declined.

I think the main lesson I have taken away from my experience with various religious movements is that I am incredibly annoying to people who expect obedience. I asked too many questions, and I was not submissive. I was not somebody that they could easily manipulate; whether it be to spend money or wear long, gray skirts.

I think one of the reasons I never picked up these groups' tactics is because I'm not great at social cues. In my opinion, many new religious movements rely on enforcing social hierarchy to recruit new members—well, that's not something I'm able to recognize, so they're out of luck.

I don't believe anyone who joins a new religious movement of any sort is a bad person. On the contrary, I feel many can be victims, who want to be a part of something and feel loved. They don't want to upset other people or go against the grain; I think it's natural to want to conform.

But I believe that it's always important to look into what someone is telling you, what you're learning and see whether it falls in line with known manipulation tactics.

Lochlan O'Neil is a costume designer who helps run an exotic pet sanctuary. You can follow her on TikTok at @lochnessofficial or Instagram at @lochlanoneil.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek's My Turn associate editor, Monica Greep.

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