The Movie Divergent & Unhealthy Churches

by Lois E. Gibson

The movie Divergent revolves around a young lady named Beatrice, who later changes her name to Tris.

Watching it, I saw some parallels to unhealthy churches. The movie actually starts with one. The setting is a time in the future after war. A wall is built around the settlement. The voice over says, "Our founders built the wall to keep us safe and they divided us into five groups- factions- to keep the peace. Everyone knows where they belong, except for me." (I believe in there she also names the groups and what distinguishes them from the other groups.) This is similar to the unseen walls unhealthy churches build to keep people from things in "the world" that they think will harm them. If everyone stays in the church group, they will be safe and have peace.

At one point Tris asks someone what's out there beyond the walls, did they know? He shares that they are cities that didn't recover from the war and says, "Let's just say they built the fence for a reason." We never learn what the reason is or what threat lies outside the walls. It is similar to "The Village" in this way, where a community was made and one was to stay inside it for fear of what was on the outside. There was peace and safety inside the walls as long as the rules were followed and everyone knew their place.

Other quotes that explain the system are: "Our founders created a system they believed would prevent future conflict and create lasting peace." "The only way it can survive and thrive is for each of you to take your rightful place. The future belongs to those who know where they belong." "The brilliance of the faction system is that conformity to the faction removes the threat of anyone exercising their independent will." This last quote certainly fits unhealthy churches. They expect everyone to conform and there are consequences if one does not.

When the younger ones come of age, they are tested to see where they belong, which faction best suits them. Most test for the faction in which they were born but they are also free to chose any other faction. Faction over blood is the motto. They are supposed to trust the test; that the test will tell them who they are and where they belong. But there is a danger in choosing as once a choice is made, no change is permitted. And should one fail any testing once they join another faction, they are cast out and become factionless, those without a place in society, something we quickly learn is not good and is looked down upon.

We learn that besides these approved factions, there are some people who don't totally fit any of them and they are the divergents. They have to hide who they are as discovery by others means death. Divergents threaten the system because if you don't fit into a category, they can't control you. They don't conform, their mind works in a million different ways and many are scared of them. They actively hunt and seek divergents as the people have always been threatened by them. Our main character discovers she is a divergent. When her time comes to chose a faction, she chooses to join dauntless, the people who protect this world and enforce the laws. Thus, she leaves her family and all she knew behind.

Unhealthy churches also do not like divergents. They question things and do not conform to all the rules. Both leadership and members watch for them. They may be avoided, criticized and shamed by leadership, and even cast out, which can be equivalent to their death as they are seen as lost. We are told to trust the pastor, that he knows what is best and even where we belong.

The similarities with unhealthy churches escalate as Tris transfers to the dauntless faction and begins training.

When Beatrice starts her training with the dauntless faction, she is given the opportunity to change her name, so she chooses Tris. She is not permitted to ever change it again. Here she first encounters one of the trainers named Four. (I am trying to not share too much of the movie so as to not spoil it for those who will be viewing it later.) The transfers are given new clothes and they each burn their old ones by throwing them into a fire.

In unhealthy groups, sometimes people are given a new identity and some do change people's names. You are expected to never turn back. This is your new life from now on. Some tell you to sever your relationship with family and friends or warn you to not be close to anyone outside the group. You have to trust your group- they are your family now. Many unhealthy groups have clothing and other standard rules and as a person complies, their identity becomes more in line with the group. They may have to give up activities they once enjoyed in order to conform with the church group mindset.

It is soon discovered that everything is not what the new transfers expected. The rules start and they discover they will be graded and those who score below a line on the board are cut and cannot return to their previous homes, but will become the factionless. They were not told this when they were made to choose a faction and they are told it's a new group rule. It is explained that the board (where their names and rankings are listed and those not making the cut appear below a line & are written in red) is their life and they will be graded every day. They are out if they are in the red. When it comes to the second part of the training, the transfers are told if they are below the line, their trainers will waste no more time on them, so some people are unexpectedly made factionless before training is over. The transfers anxiously and fearfully watch their ranking on this board.

Unhealthy churches often create an unwritten grading system of the people inside. When they fail to uphold a rule, their ranking lowers. Those who comply and conform will be used more. Those who cannot make the cut are not allowed to be a real part of the group. Others, such as happens in the film, may point out their failing status to them. The member may become fearful of what their fate may be if the group rejects them. In addition, in unhealthy churches there is often an initial period where they allow new members to mess up. However, after a time, that grace is removed and you are expected to line up and follow the rules.

Near the beginning of their training, one women shares her thoughts and asks a question and we learn, "If you want to survive here, keep your mouth shut." Another rule she discovers is that no one concedes (this pertains to the mandated fights against each other). This was also a changed rule. When she does give up in a fight, her life is threatened and the others stand back and watch as the leader punishes her.

This is very effective in unhealthy churches. The pastor will shame a member (for whatever) and other members sit there and do not intervene. No one walks out and no one stands up and objects to what is happening. They either sit in silence or they "amen" the pastor. This serves as a warning to others, should they also not conform or obey. One also quickly learns that certain questions are not welcomed and should you have one, do not voice it. Members learn to rationalize away their questions or warning signs that something is wrong.

Other things the transfers learn: "One thing you will learn here is orders are not an option." "Watch yourself. We train soldiers, not rebels."

As it is in unhealthy churches, fear plays a part in this film and is one way a divergent can be discovered as they respond differently than others. Fear is actually used in the testing done on every young person so it may be determined to which faction they belong. Fear is also used in the second part of the training in the dauntless faction, as each transfer is given an injection that causes them to live their fears. They are expected to face and overcome them in repeated sessions. Tris is warned that, "They are going to get inside your head and watch how you respond to fear." While fear shuts most down, for Tris it wakes her up. When a person in an unhealthy church finally starts to see that the fear is all smoke and mirrors, they also start to wake up and break out of the fear.

In unhealthy churches, fear is a major player. It is used to make people conform to the rules, to do whatever the pastor asks, to not question, and to keep people attending that church/group. When you fall below the line of what is expected, you may be made an outcast. You may be told to leave and labeled an undesirable; factionless. You may feel pushed out and leave without being directly told because of how you are being treated. Life outside the walls of the group is made to be a fearful thing and you are told your family will fall apart and all manner of bad things will happen.

In Divergent, we find that one faction believes they need to overcome the weakness of human nature. Human nature is seen as the enemy and needs to be eradicated. They believe that is how they'll maintain a stable, peaceful society. Everyone will be safer when everything that makes up a person is wiped away. They have a vision and those with this vision are "called upon to protect the rest." When this program starts to be instituted in the film, the people are told to not ask questions and that what they are having done is just a precaution. The dauntless faction blindly obeys.....

In the end, Tris shares, "Now we have nothing. No home, no faction. I don't even know who I am anymore."

Many who leave unhealthy churches, especially those who were raised in the group, feel they have nothing and no home. They struggle to discover who they are and what their identity is apart from the group.

Can you see the many parallels? I know both the book and movie were not written with unhealthy churches in mind, but those who have come out of such will be able to relate and understand the similarities in what they experienced.


You may write Lois at the email address displayed in the image. No correspondence that seeks to debate will be answered as I have no desire to debate. Understand that due to the volume of mail, not every email may be acknowledged.
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Posted January 22, 2015

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