Recently (through Guruphiliac on Facebook) I found this article (in five parts) about the Rajneeshee commune that used to be in Oregon in the 80's. TLDR: swami moves to Oregon, buys 100 square mile ranch, tries to establish a commune/town and butts up against the local constabulary/zoning officials, which results in poisoning of the local public, poisoning of officials, arson, attempted murder, a pitiful attempt at voter fraud, and just general meanness. Swami deported (to rise again with a different name), scheming minions arrested, ranch sold to someone who turned it into a xian youth camp (of course).*

I've also recently sponged up Going Clear by Lawrence Wright, Under the Banner of Heaven by Jack Krakauer, and am contemplating the new biography of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn (although I remember how squeamish I got when I read Helter Skelter when I was younger, and keep putting it down when I glance through it at the bookstore). Just to name a few off the top of my head. (Oh and The Man in the Rockefeller Suit which is more evil con man story than anything, but still gets clumped in my head with the others.)

It just makes me wonder: why am I drawn to this stuff? Is it the lure of the mesmerizing leader? Is it the many acts of grotesque evil that are committed in the name of religion? Is it the blind followers who do what they're told without question? or the followers who stand up to make a difference? Given my past involvement in Landmark Education, which while not a religion still has cult-like tendencies, my guess is all of that and more. I think I still bare a bit of shame at being drawn into Landmark so easily, so perhaps by reading through these books I can more readily spot those wretched individuals who take advantage of others. Perhaps that is my altruistic reason. And another reason would just be that I want to sit and smoke my schadenfreude pipe. Also I've often thought that if I ever had the means to go back to school, this is what I would study-the cult of personality, the religious being irreligious, the followers who need someone to tell them what to do. I just find it fascinating.

So I guess the question is: what's your "traffic accident" (should look away, can't look away) guilty pleasure in the realm of religiosity? Also any other books that you've read along this line that you would recommend?

Thanks for reading! Reg

*I kept thinking as I read the article that they went about this the wrong way and instead should have taken as an example of a successful overtaking of a town from our own Iowa city of Fairfield, which hosts (albeit reluctantly in the beginning) the Maharishi "university" to which people from all over the world flock to in a deluded attempt to learn flying meditation. But that's beside the point, I suppose.

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Joan-thanks so much for your wonderful response. It sounds to me like you and your family have some good boundaries that work for you in terms of the forum. While I have no qualms about telling someone to "fuck off" now, when I was younger I was much too nice, too malleable, too innocent, too trusting and would never have even considered the possibility that I could tell someone (not my friend, not in a joking way) to "fuck off". I have few regrets in life, but one of them would have to be not developing an adamantine backbone long before I did. There are a couple things specifically that happened during the forum and the advanced forum that I wish I had had the guts to stand up and yell "Hell no!" Victim blaming a woman who had been sexually abused by her father when she was young-a prime example. Why did I even accept in my own mind that this was an acceptable way to work through someone's problems? And why was that girl not in real therapy instead of trying to get a quick self-awareness kick? Why didn't I stand up and pull that girl from the room? Uch. It just makes me sick to my stomach. Now I would react differently. Now I would stand up. No one deserves to be told that THEY are the jerk for being assaulted. And reading that this is still going on at forums all over the world just makes me mad.

The other thing that stands out in my mind is that during the advanced forum (is it still called that? I think it might have a different name now) we are told that at some point in our past-way back when we were young-something "happened" that informed our viewpoint of our lives, we came up with a "story" about what happened, and that is how we've lived our lives ever since. I really struggled with this because I had nothing I could think of that would fit. It was seriously distressful. Everyone else, it seemed to me, had clear episodes that they could pinpoint. I had nothing. Certainly I had memories of my childhood, and traumatic events that had happened, but it was hard to say "well, that time I fell of the horse and broke my arm really changed how I saw the world" (cause I still went horse riding and I didn't blame my brother that I was riding with) or "that time I saw our dog get run over by a truck" (cause I still love dogs and it was an accident and the farmer came up and apologized until he couldn't apologize anymore so I don't hate farmers or trucks). I was just stuck. So I took a vague memory and embellished it a bit and used that. Yes. I made something up. Why didn't I admit to not having something? Sheer cowardice.

At any rate. It's in the past and I've learned some valuable lessons.

Thanks for the link to Ed Lindaman! I'm going to have to look through those. I'm (more than) slightly envious of your studies! I ponder occasionally what I would study if I could go back to school. My communication studies/film theory degree is hardly helpful in my job as a chef!

Have a great day! I'm really enjoying the conversation! Reg

Oh, Reg, you were young, unsure of yourself, didn't have the tools you needed to face the cold world. You do now. You couldn't defend the incest victim because you didn't know how; now you do! A painful memory, indeed, and as so often happens, the painful learnings come from deep down inside from places that we are not even aware of or know that are there.

I had trouble because I did have painful memories very deep and that I thought I had buried. They came out in full force at Forum and I had the tools from Whitworth that helped me allow them to surface and to take charge of my healing.

Having no deep pain is a good thing, and that says a lot about the quality of life your parents provided you. I hope you are able to tell them of your appreciation for providing a safe, secure, stable home in which to grow.

I do feel angry that Landmark put you through that, and you felt you had to fabricate in order to fit in to their expectations. That is the great lesson for you and a good one to get. Not a nice way to do it however. You can stand tall, head held high, shoulders strong, back bone of steel and arms of velvet. You sound comfortable in your own skin and I rejoice in reading your experiences.

I am interested in learning about your being a chef! Food is one of my great passions. What are your favorite menu items to make? Do you like ethnic cooking? Do you have a garden or grow herbs?   

Bon appétit!


Thanks for your good thoughts, Joan. Yes, I am very much aware and appreciative that I had the most boring, wholesome, healthy childhood a person could wish for, and my parents have been told many times how thankful I am to them for that!

My food passion is bread and pastries, but I pretty much do it all. I'm the chef for a sorority, and then in the summer I do farmers markets where I sell artisan breads and european pastries. I do have a garden and more and more of it is becoming an herb garden since I like to use the fresh herbs for the breads. I'm also planning this year to put in more bee-friendly flowers and plant less veggies since I usually end up trading with other vendors at the market for veg. I have a huge asparagus patch. I love asparagus!

I love making soup of all kinds. For ethnic foods I love Moroccan and Indian. How about you?

Reg, this is great news! You do recognize the stability from which you came and have stated to your parents that you appreciate them. 

Your cooking, gardening, bee interests all ring my bells! Breads and pastries bring so much pleasure into the world. How can anyone be unhappy when they have a fresh piece of bread with butter, a comfortable chair, and peace and quiet? Maybe a companion: human, dog or cat or bird, or whatever. Family and friends you love and who love you. 

You might enjoy participating in Sentient Biped's group,


I'll take you up on that!

Joan, even though you did not have near as many unpleasant experiences as Reg, and you found more positives than negatives with Landmark, my personality is such that I would not put-up with the negatives at all.  I would have when I was young, but not now.

You are a wise man! There is no reason to put up with the negatives. The young man who led our group may have had a different style than the many she attended. In any event, I now understand why people describe Landmark as a cult. 

The basic material Landmark uses is mostly the same as I had at Whitworth. The principles of the interpersonal and personal relationships are valid; it appears Landmark has turned them into a marketing monster. 

Reg, Landmark sound very cult like to me.  But, even if they're not, I wouldn't put-up with the way they act for more than 10 minutes.  I'd be out the door.

I was a milk-toast kind of guy most of my life, but as I got older, I more and more became outraged at someone telling me what to think and do.

I find it amazing that the older I get the less shit I take from others. I was relating this story to my niece yesterday because I was emotionally exhausted from reliving some of this and she was all 'Oh hell no. They could just fuck off." She's 26. I'm a bit envious that she's got it so together already.

I like Stephen King novels. 

And I've read and watched documentaries about Jonestown.

Reading about cults illuminates religion.  Cults are religion without the societal approval. 

Jim Jones was quite similar to Jesus.  People thought he was the most loving man they'd ever met.  He started a group which was supposed to be an ideal community.  He was anti-racist.  His group faked healings, as Jesus seems to have done. 

But look at what Jim Jones ended up doing.  .  He ordered his 900 cult members to kill themselves.  If they didn't comply they were murdered. 

Jim Jones sheds new light on Jesus.  Jesus was killed young, while he was still hopeful and idealistic.  If the Romans had been nicer overlords, maybe Jesus would have committed mass murder too. 

Jim Jones would also be a fascinating charismatic leader to study. I have to admit I only know the plot points. I might have to look up some books on him at some point.

The Jonestown story is heartwrenching.  These charismatic leaders seem very people-oriented.  But they also distance themselves from their followers.  I don't think anyone around Jim Jones would really have known him as a person.  He was too busy with his Mission.  Same for Jesus.  

The cult leaders are trying to satisfy a need for love and acceptance and safety by surrounding themselves with followers.  And with the religion they can avoid being seen as a human being. 

I knew someone who was a bit of a cult leader.  He was a Communist atheist though.  Very idealistic, full of hostile judgement, controlling. 

One becomes wary of anything idealistic, seeing how badly idealism is perverted by cult leaders - and, many would say, by religion in general. 


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