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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Reg, Thank you again for your rapid response. I have heard so many people state that Landmark was a scam or a cult. I asked many people why they thought that and have never received a definitive answer. 

I, too, went through the Forum and could not abide the leader, the long hours, hard chairs, and the processes they presented and have not gone back for more. I completed the Forum just before I was diagnosed with cancer and I took the whole year off from thinking, just healing. 

I had the great advantage of having very similar training from Ed Lindaman when he was president of Whitworth University. His soliloquies were masterful.  I earned a Masters in Applied Behavior Science in 1979 under his keen eye. He used the same principles of self-responsibility, seeing opportunity where others saw obstacles, and reaching inside one to find solutions. He transformed Whitworth University with his new methods of teaching, experiential learning, really. Nothing complicated or mysterious. Just solid principles of pedagogy. 

My daughter urged me to take the Forum because she knew the authors I studied and the kinds of work I did for my master’s was very similar to Whitworth's. I took the Forum and was delighted as well as dismayed. The principles were there, but the processes were different and I, too, had many of the feelings you report. 

My daughter and son, their spouses, children and two of my older great-grandchildren took the training appropriate for their age groups. I have been amazed at the outcome. There is no more whining, badgering, complaining, tattling, hitting, yelling, and name calling that had crept into their lives. I had trained my three children not to whine or do that other awful stuff that some parents tolerate. After the training, they learned how to express themselves honestly without blaming, they took responsibility for their own feelings and behaviors, they perceived conflict as an opportunity to find better solutions and problems became occasion for expanding possibilities. They all learned at Landmark, as I had learned at Whitworth, that thinking in the future tense and thinking in terms of prefer-abilities was an option. 

Landmark re-affirms my experiences, as you stated:

"your life has meaning and the meaning it has is what you want it to mean."

I agree, wholeheartedly, about the marketing they do during the hours and hours of training, and my daughter and son-in-law agree with that assessment as well. It is almost unbearable, although I have not taken any other classes. Laura and Larry have and they disagree with that aspect, even as they gain new learnings as they go along. 

I was told at Landmark that I had a racket and my response was they had better believe what I said about family violence, I tell the truth, and it is still going on without recourse for the battered family members. They could call it a racket or anything they wanted, and the fact is, family violence continues today just as it did 39 years ago when I ran away, or 33 years ago when I finished my master’s. The way I managed Landmark nonsense was to say, “Fuck you” to Landmark leaders. In fact, it was at Whitworth that I learned to say, “Fuck you!” My Victorian upbringing ended at that time. 

I was angry enough at Landmark to do what I needed to do. They had no right to tell me what my rights were and I had no interest in following their sophomoric rules. I guess the thing that happened to me was I knew I had to take charge of my own life and I had no need of a leader telling me what I could and could not do. 

You are quite right about their leadership style. I guess that is when the child student becomes the adult student and takes charge of his/her own life. We had no name calling or humiliation and if we had I don’t know what I would have done. I hope I would have challenged them. 

I had already lost friends and family members when I refused to tolerate family violence and domination of one person over another. I learned that at Whitworth. I came from a long line of wife and child batterers and I found my most formidable enemies were the women of my family. They perceived themselves as being submissive to husbands and the children should be controlled by any means necessary. I simply put my foot down and said no more assault, verbally or physically, when I am present. 

My experience with leadership was only at the Forum and I can’t speak of the rest of the training. Werner Erhard had trained Ed Lindaman when he had a leadership role the Apollo Moon Rocket Project and Ed had to learn how to lead and work together as a team in order to develop materials, tools, fuels for space travel. It was a whole new industry and they needed new management skills. Team building skills are very different than pyramid skills and you may be correct about the changes that gook place after Erhard was no longer there. I will talk to Laura and Larry about how they experience the leadership. 

I don’t know anything about Scientology, except I experience famous members as foolish. I know nothing of Sterling.  

Your point g) sounds like threats and assaults to me. Oh! I do hope Laura and Larry don’t tolerate that kind of leadership. If they do, I will have to have a talk with them. 

What I experience is that the older member of our four generation family practices good interpersonal relationship skills and the younger ones, down to the four year old, learn by osmosis. I see no guilt inducing action of any of the adults. Guilt is an ugly and unhealthy parenting style and I will check that out. 

I did cut ties with family members, but that was 33 years ago during my master’s training. In order to be healthy, I had to set limits and tell them what I expected from them and what I was willing to do. 

The word “racket” is a jargon word that quickly indicates a whine, needless gossip, reporting over and over there is a problem and doing nothing to either solve the problem or reframe an attitude. An example here is that some people keep saying they are going to leave Facebook and then do nothing to leave, or do nothing to change attitudes, but continue to whine about it. A racket gets very old for the readers, and is of no use to the writers. 

I am so sorry you had such a hard time leaving the group. Perhaps that was part of your learning, to take charge of your own life and find meaning, purpose, delights, and strengths inside yourself. For you, I would say leaving was the healthy thing to do. If I had experienced the same action as you, I would feel like it was a cult, as well. 

Depression and anxiety are two of the common emotions people describe when they are under the influence of religion, loaded with obligations and loss of independent thought. What you describe is like religion. You are wise to find the courage within yourself to find yourself. After all, you have all that you need to be self-sufficient even as you build interdependence with others. 

My cancer was an opportunity for our family to come together as a team to work and get through the dreadful experiences of treatment and facing the unknown. But a well trained family, with communication skills, high levels of trust, and commitment to a common purpose are things of wonder. 

I have not been harassed by calls or invitations and so I wonder if your experience is typical of the usual Landmark program. If so, you have a very legitimate complaint. If you have volunteered you have more information than I. Perhaps people in the Spokane group have had the same experiences as you, and I will be listening and looking for such signs. The group I was in had a lot of old schoolmarms and retired people in it and we can be a cantankerous bunch at times. You are quite correct in saying Landmark is not equipped to handle mentally ill or unstable people. 

Thankfully, you had loving parents who were willing and able to provide you with the nurturing you needed. 

Thank you for the lead to "How to think about weird things”. Critical thinking is key to health and happiness. You write so clearly and concretely, I don’t have to wonder what you mean. I appreciate the time and attention you gave my question and hope you are doing well. Looking forward to more communication with you. 


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.




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