Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Watch out for newspeak about doublethink...

In the novel 1984 George Orwell used the term "doublethink" to refer to a form of self hypnosis required to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. In the novel he states...

"The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth."

Wayne Bent or Michael Travessor, as he is know by his followers, has been skillfully using this technique to claim that he tells the truth, while lying. He claims to be moral while practicing immorality. The reason I am covering this topic again is that I have been reading some disturbing statements by Wayne Bent and his followers that show signs of the possibility of self destruction.

In my brief discussions with Wayne Bent's followers they have emphatically denied that they are currently considering the option of suicide. If this commitment extended into the future unconditionally then there wouldn't really be an issue. In my discussions with a TerryCzap who's homepage is the Strong City homepage there is one sticking point that involves doublethink.

When asked "If Wayne Bent or Michael as you call him asked you to commit suicide, would you? Yes or No," this is answered by the statement..
"To your second ridiculous question (suicide). I will not be committing suicide at any time, as you yourself are probably doing right now.

Notice how this is worded. TerryCzap can deny any current plans of committing suicide and yet not answer the question. When further pressed about whether or not he would commit suicide if asked by Michael or Wayne Bent TerryCzap replied...
Now your question that you have asked so many times has been answered. “Following the Bible” means to do everything God tells that person to do. Abraham obeyed God and proceeded to kill his own son (as the heathen were doing) until an angel stopped him."

Or in my discussion with Liberty I got the final statement...

"I will not be talking to the devil in a human body."

And Grace stated within the comment section of my earlier post..

"We are, of ourselves and without God. Every man is, and you included. We were born in sin, born evil. Our human nature, yours and mine, is only evil continually without God giving us His very own heart (a new heart, Ezekiel 36) that doesn't sin. The Bible says all have sinned, and that every imagination and thoughts of man's heart are evil continually, that all are under sin, and that there is no one that does good, not one."

This pretty much negates anything that anyone other than Wayne tells them, no matter how illogical or immoral and explains why I will never get a direct NO answer in regard to any command that Wayne gives them, hypothetical or not.

Wayne Bent or Michael explains the problem of adultery in this way in his blog post called "The Heart Of The Events in The Land"...
"The first great weight was when the Father separated two women from their husbands. They would later be known as my Two Witnesses. When they left their husbands it was not something I would have expected at the time. I had not even imagined it. Weeks later, when the Father drew them to me, I was thrust back and forth between a heavenly acknowledgment of how the Father was markedly directing His will, and the natural, human, earthly view of impending “adultery.” This was the hardest time of my life."

Note the switch. Adultery is no longer defined by God or the bible. It is a natural, human, earthly view as apposed to a "spiritual" one. More doublethink and newspeak. Brilliant in a sick way. It makes things very hard to keep track of.

If they consider Wayne Bent to be the messiah or God then, just as Abraham was asked to kill his own son, then they would be obligated to follow what ever Wayne Bent asked, even if that request appeared to be immoral, much like Abraham being asked to kill his own son. Wayne applies this explanation to his apparent adultery or a phrase that is used, "God's strange act." So in a hypothetical situation where Wayne asked his followers to commit suicide, they possibly would "voluntarily." The costs of not obeying Michael or Wayne Bent would be so high in their belief, any sense of voluntary is essentially lost. This request could also be worded in a spiritual way, rather than a literal request, much like pressure to have sexual contact was worded within texts from the Song of Solomon with the situation set up carefully so that a "spiritual" form of deniability could be maintained.

On a side note they refer to Wayne Bent as the Son of God and yet there are denials that he is Jesus, but he has the spirit of Jesus in the form of Michael. This is important to note because it allows them to deny things in a literal sense and yet claim them in a spiritual sense. And we have seen where spiritual nakedness has been transformed into literal nakedness and spiritual consummation has become literal sexual consummation.

In another example of doublethink they deny that adultery has been committed because the women were technically, according to them, divorced, while it clearly is adultery according to biblical statements about any man sleeping with another man's wife and God's hatred of divorce for any reason. In an odd twist they appeal to a secular definition of divorce in this case, not a biblical one. I am assuming this because I can't get anyone to answer my questions in regard to their beliefs on the biblical definition of divorce which is due to infidelity only.

Now, up to now, there haven't appeared to be any indications that there are suicidal tendencies other than refusals to eat by the two children who were taken in the documentary on Strong City by Ben Anthony and Wayne Bent himself, while in prison. The term they use for this hunger strike is fasting. As is typical, they redefine their actions using a form of what George Orwell refers to as Newspeak. Instead of refusing to eat they term it as fasting. This changes their actions into a religious practice, rather than a threat of self destruction or protest.

With all this switching back and forth between spiritual and literal applications of various ideas the following statements by Wayne Bent in his post called "Modern Day Witch's Brew are possible warning signs...

"I would rather die than live any longer in this wicked world of lying, prejudice, persecution, and dark vile sensuality."

What is troubling is that Wayne has been promising that they would not see death before they would be taken to heaven.

"I am ready to be offered, and ready to go. I am so homesick for the songs of the angels and the consciousness of only my Father and those who are in love with Him, and I want to take all of my children with me. We must leave this world behind, or we would spiritually die as the wicked are spiritually dead."

And this recent explanation is particularly telling...

"The Father opened to me that He was taking His betrothed bride to Himself, and that the earthly marriages of human bondage and tension, where one human is over the soul of another human, were to be no more. This change is necessary now because the natural marriage that God intended does not exist any longer. The beast (State) now effectively owns the family, and this is especially observable when the State can simply kidnap the children of a family at will. Everyone is under the domination of the State and this is especially marked in the forced public education system. The Father was making me into a parable to show to His children, if I would yield to His instructions. He was going to set the believing soul free forever from the beast and his hypnotic forcefulness. I was greatly resistant of this change, because of how this would make me look and of how it would make God look, but He told me to let Him worry about how He would look, and I had no recourse but to die the death as to how I would be made to look in the process of following my instructions."

This last statement states that the kidnapping of the children is the reason that marriage doesn't exist anymore and that's why he [Wayne Bent] was forced by God to consummate his relationship with 7 women/virgins and implies that because marriage doesn't exist anymore, no adultery could be possible. Fortunately, in this statement, he is defining his death [crucifiction] with public humiliation. As long as this is what it means to die to the world then I think actual suicide is on the back burner. Unfortunately the previous statements refer to a literal death or "I am ready to be offered, and ready to go."

Because I couldn't get a Yes or No answer in regard to whether or not they would commit actual suicide when and if Michael asked them, I believe that there is still a possibility, depending on the mental state of Wayne Bent. And if Wayne Bent literally dies, then his statements about wanting to take all of his children with him might have a more fatal application. It could just as easily be "spiritualized" to take away the suicidal reality and suicide could simply become another of "God's strange acts."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The evolution of religion and its assumptions...

In the following TED talk Daniel Dennett outlines his ideas on looking at religion as a natural phenomenon. He has said that he likes to look "under the hood" of religious technology. The reason I am putting this up is that this blog could be seen as something about the current evolution of religious thought in what is becoming what some call a post-christian world. Often images of beatniks and a society that embraces hedonism comes to mind when we are asked to contemplate a post-christian era. In the aftermath of the worship of self, I think we are seeing some shifts toward more positive alternatives. I believe we are seeing this evolve with somewhat obvious influences such as Oprah hosting Ekhart Tolle's 10 online classes on his new book A New Earth. This is not saying that Eckhart or Ophrah are starting a new religion, but I think we are seeing people blend many things from various traditions and asking new questions of their own that older religions haven't addressed. With more freedom of information I think we are seeing a transformation of what many of us have considered to be truth.

This process of evolution has not been without its fall out and the reactionary return to traditional religious practices from failed cults that are often amplifications of their guru's dysfunctions, which often move toward the very thing being avoided. This can be seen within cult like devotion in many parts of the spectrum of beliefs. Looking under the hood of religious belief is not for the feint of heart. This process can cause one to question parts of themselves that have no replacement. If one is unable to face such mysteries or doesn't have an alternative system of support, this awareness of uncertainty could be fatal. I think its important to have some type of stop gap or safety net psychologically. This may be the function of what is called denial, fanaticism, belief itself, certain types of fundamentalism, and even faith. For other people a guru or holy books can serve all or part of this function. I think that in the world today, the ability to live with uncertainty is very important.

When I have dialoged with people around their beliefs or their approach to life I have observed that all of us have a set of assumptions present within our world view that are unprovable or taken for granted and in some cases, so real to that person, that to question those assumptions would seem ridiculous or unthinkable. One particular striking example of this was when I was viewing a documentary on Japanese culture in the mid 80's I saw the American interviewer ask some Japanese businessmen, who were living out the expectations of their families, what they would do if they could do what ever they wanted. This question was so foreign to their world view that most of them had never even thought of the question, let alone understand what it meant to want something for your own life. For the most part they laughed at the question. And probably equally unbelievable, to most Americans, is the notion that satisfaction is found in giving oneself for the group so totally that one's individuality is almost lost. These two cultural assumptions are present, each in its own culture, almost unconsciously.

One of the strengths of story telling is that by changing the adversaries within the story to characters we can identify with and then placing them in situations where they have to make decisions that might require them to act out of the cultural norm, one can suspend prejudice. A classic example of this is the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story the social outcast performs acts of mercy and generosity toward social insiders in dire straights. This would be the modern equivalent of a gay man helping Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist church, after he suffered a severe accident, by paying off the mortgage so he wouldn't loose his home, paying for his hospital care to get him back on his feet, and making sure his family was provided for in his absence.

Certain episodes of Star Trek were very good at this process of suspended prejudice. From the old series, with William Shatner as Captain Kirk, there was an episode called "Let That be Your Last Battlefield" in which the last two survivors of a planet were in a fight to the death. They had pursued each other all across the galaxy with the intent of killing the last of the other side. In the end it was discovered that the only difference between them was that one was dark skinned on the left, with the other side white, and the other was dark skinned on the right, with his other side being white. This was clearly an illustration of the insanity of racial discord in this country. The story was able to suspend prejudice by allowing us to see an irrational battle going on between others which we might easily judge without realizing that we were judging ourselves. In the United States at various times there were assumptions that black people, women, and others were not as qualified to vote or to even be human. These were so deeply ingrained that to consider that any of these weren't true was seen as immoral by many people in this country.

This brings me to the point of this post. Because each side doesn't understand the assumptions of the other, there is often a process of having two different dialogs. Each appeals to their own assumptions, expecting the other side to simply "get it." When this doesn't happen, the other side often demonizes their opponent, because what other reason would someone want to continue to practice or believe in harmful things? At least harmful according to one side's assumptions.

In the past the solution has too often been "might makes right." One solution that Daniel Dennett suggests is that if one religion is taught, why don't we teach about all systems of belief or unbelief? Let's put everything into the arena of ideas and let each person choose for themselves in an informed way. In many ways the internet has begun to provide this place of interchange and there is no doubt in my mind that religion, as it has done in the past, will continue to evolve.

I plan to continue this dialog in another post. I want to explore how assumptions can give the illusion of valid conclusions and can work out as being rationally right, but in practice mysteriously fail...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cult Think: The abuse of spirituality?

This post is probably the most personal post that I have shared because it resonates with my own experience in many ways. It borders on many of the delusions that I grew up with in regards to sin, salvation, and punishment. These were not only delusions, for they created a state of being that few people understand, unless they have gone through religious indoctrination. When most people see cults they tend to write them off as a bunch of crazies or people who aren't too bright. In reality cultic teaching is a form of "meme" that does not respond either to reason or intelligence. When people break away from such groups it is very remarkable.

Most people see a very simplified exterior and are not aware of the extreme suffering that goes on inside the type of believer who takes their religion very seriously and engages the demands of that religion under the deception that not only is their present life at stake, but the quality of their life for all eternity. The stakes are high and the responsibilities are unachievable.

Until now, I hadn't come across anything that could capture the experience of this type of indoctrination. A world view that creates a constant fear of doing the wrong thing; a constant self monitoring of one's own thoughts and actions; a never ending vigilance to determine if one is worthy of God's love; a state of being where one is asked to think low of themselves and yet be good enough to be saved; a continual state of emergency because at any moment Jesus could come and through one mistake one might not be ready; an infection of ideas that creates a hell of obsessive painful introspection.

I came across this film because I was sent an email from a Timothy Benjamin, who is a member of The Lord Our Righteousness Church, a commune located near the Colorado border in New Mexico in a place they call Strong City. He sent me the link to this film and the Strong City web site. The following film is an inside look at an end of the world cult at Strong City, New Mexico, by Film-maker Ben Anthony of Firefly Film and Television Productions. He was allowed inside access to the cult for 7 months in early 2007. The film looks at the members and their leader Michael Travesser, a 66-year-old former Seventh Day Adventist pastor previously known as Wayne Bent, who separated from that church in 1987, who modestly calls himself the Son of God. He has been preparing his followers for doomsday for the last 20 years. The film starts in the months before Michael Travesser predicted the end of the world on Oct 31, 2007.

Because of my personal experience with years of painful introspection based on what I was taught, this film resonates with me in a very personal way. It may be hard to make the connections because of the sexual abuse issues within this cult and the extreme dysfunction of the people seen in the film. It should be noted that another major cult that we know of as the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh was also composed of former members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and involved a leader who practiced similar sexual abuses with his members.

I am not saying that Seventh Day Adventist teachings promote any of these clearly immoral practices, but I believe there are some common elements in how people are taught to believe. Seventh Day Adventism and Christianity in general are not alone in these types of instruction. I have observed these same types of cultural controls in other religious organizations. I think it is important that we look at these types of indoctrinational practices so that we can "inoculate" ourselves from coming under the spell of the "inside track" to God. I will comment more after the film.

What is most striking to me is the obvious grief that Jeff Bent (son of Wayne Bent) is going through as the interviewer is talking to his father about sleeping with his (Jeff's) wife. And yet Jeff continues to believe that he is in a privileged position as the right hand of God. The other moment is how a man who has given his wife to Wayne explains how Wayne helped him through that hard time. One has to ask the question, "What causes this type of complete disconnect with one's own internal moral compass?"

I think the key is how some religions tend to ask the believer to give up their own sense of what is the best path for them to either a leader or a book. I have come to believe that the best spiritual instruction is the instruction that helps people develop their own independent awareness based on reason and empathy.

Some key teachings of Adventism that, I believe, set up these people to fall under the spell of Wayne Bent and in many respects caused Wayne Bent to fall under his own spell, are teachings that have as their basis fear, shame, or both. When I grew up in the Adventist church there was a strong apocalyptic emphasis, with teachings based on the prophetess Ellen White, that saw the United States as eventually becoming an evil power used by Satan to kill and persecute "true" Seventh Day Adventists. In the film you will see a ceremony where the 7 virgins have these bowls and these bowls are poured out.

What is being ritualized and possibly seen as a reality is Wayne Bent as the incarnation of Christ pouring out God's wrath in the form of the Last Plagues on the earth. At the end of these plagues, at the darkest hour for the "true" church, Jesus will come and rescue his followers and take them to heaven while destroying the earth and leaving the wicked behind destroyed. This was seen as a soon coming reality when I grew up and the purpose of religious practice was to perfect one's character so that when probation closed, just before the 7 plagues were poured out, one would be protected from the plagues. The teaching was that if a person had one un-repented sin they would be lost and subject to God's wrath.

The original purpose of the break away group that eventually became The Lord Our Righteousness Church, was to go someplace where they could perfect their characters in preparation for the soon coming of Jesus. This is an extremely high pressure gig. You will notice that when the interviewer asks Jeff Bent if he is a good person, he replies that he is an evil person. This is all part of the trap of this type of teaching. The goal is to perfect your character and yet you can never know if you have because you are always evil or not good enough. This is an extremely painful place to be and unless one can let go of their beliefs, they will be stuck there. I would say that suicide risk would be very high.

It is possible that Wayne Bent found a possible solution to this by becoming God. And it would be in the interest of his followers to commit to this because they would have the inside track. And you would have a guarantee of salvation if you became one of the 7 virgins. This would remove the shame load and engage an ego high. This would manifest more like an addiction, which by its very nature, does not respond to reason. One of the girls threatened to commit suicide if she could not "consummate" her relationship with Wayne Bent. You will see this same shame cycle manifest in the video Strong City did to answer the Firefly documentary.

In one of the girl's stories she says that she was not aroused by Wayne and couldn't "consummate" the relationship. Using language from the book of the Bible called, "The Song of Solomon," a very erotic poem often connected with the relationship between God and the church, she describes how she took 11 months of intense training with Wayne Bent before she could "open her gates" to him. The reason Wayne Bent said that she couldn't be aroused was because she was chosen by God to live out the message of those who are not "aroused" by the truth.

The complete mystification of this group is evident by the complete openness in which they share what they believe to be true. There is a child like nature to their obliviousness of any accountability to common ethical considerations. There is even a childish cluelessness to Wayne Bent evident in the apologetic way in which he answers the questions of the interviewer during the film. I believe this is due to years of being taught that no good thing can come from any human person, even oneself, and tortured by perfectionistic belief systems.

They are so mystified that even when the end of the world does not come on Oct 31, 2007, they are ready to set another date for the end of the world and jump through the next set of hoops Wayne sets before them. This seems to further verify the addictive nature of this process. It also may indicate the extent in which their psychological commitment requires them to protect their egos and the danger of coming to a full realization of what is real, too fast.

If there is a way out of this, it will not be without a lot of pain. This is a train wreck waiting to happen. Hopefully this will be managed more skillfully than Waco and we can learn from these people, and their openness, how to prevent harmful belief systems from creating these types of tragedies. One hopeful note is that Prudence Welch is one cult member who has been able to break away and was responsible for reporting the abuses going on at Strong City.