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.


EditorExactus said...

A well-balanced, thoughtful piece of insight and careful analysis. Thank you. This is definitely a positive contribution to understanding this group and how they got to where they seem to be.

WMD in Houston

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Harty,

You said, "The complete mystification of this group is evident by the complete openness in which they share what they believe to be true"

Did it even occur to you that the openness you see that is so mysterious to you is because we have nothing to hide? That we have not done anything wrong biblically or lawfully either, and that we can stand before God with a clear conscience?

You can know what God did with us from our earliest inception because it is openly posted on the website in word and videos. I could tell you have read some of it because you quote from the site. But you do not believe us, which is to say that you do not believe God. He is the One, God alone, that brought these events to pass in this land, not a man. Earthly desire and human flesh did not lift a finger to bring about any event of any kind here. Father's every instruction has been followed to the letter.

But then again, you do not believe the testimony of His witnesses. Apparently, you are dead to the life of God and you have no Holy Spirit in you to witness in your heart that these things are true.

You expound on things you know nothing about and write as if you know what happened here with us. You were not here, and so you cannot judge these things. You judge from your own beliefs and perceptions of who you think God is, but the heart of who God is is in all of the articles and videos, and you do not see it. Why?

I will tell you why. It is because this is your own judgment. You judge the Son of God, the second coming of Christ in human flesh as antichrist.

"And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." 1 John 4:3

Anonymous said...

Hi, Richard! I read your blog from time to time. You say here that people who take seriously the ideas of sin, salvation, and punishment have to "engage 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."

All I can do is lament the fact that this was your understanding of Christianity--a kind of life that is exactly what Christ came to free us from. There is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." None. The demands are finished. It's precisely because perfection is unachievable that we must rest--completely rest--in Christ's perfection which will be put into our account, achieving the unachievable for us. There isn't any fear in life or fear of death at any time for those who have joined themselves to Christ.

If someone was asking you to be "worthy of God's love" and "be good enough to be saved," that is a travesty and a lie--and of course that would cause fear and obsession! The only one worthy and good enough is Jesus, and he freely (FREELY!) gives not only his forgiveness, but all the credit from his perfection so that we can stand before God without fear. We are always ready for death because Christ has already done the work once and for all. This is what the New Testament says.

In fact, in direct opposition to the idea that we must meet a high level of demands, Paul writes in Romans 4:15-16 that if we were to be judged by laws and demands, we would never be worthy of God because the law brings about punishment when we fail (and we often fail). This kind of life would lead to the despair you described, and God wanted to free us, not enslave us. This is why, Paul say in 16, God freely gives the gift of himself and heaven based on his grace alone--so that he can guarantee it to all who love him. We can't mess it up. If he saved us when we were unworthy--how much more will he love us now that we have been saved, no matter what happens (Rom 5:6-11)--"nothing can separate us from the love of Christ," not even our future sins. That is Christianity, and I hope and pray that someday it will look beautiful to you!

Unknown said...

What really bothers me is this mans constant thoughts are about sex. Just thinking of him this way make me want to vomit!
I was sexually abused by two pedophiles, this man has this same demonic spirit this takes hold of them.

Mr Bent Weiny is no dummy!
Has everyones devotion,
their money,
doesn't have to work or lift a
His "drones" do it ALL!
All he has to do is sit on a rock in the sunshine watching birdies and butterflys while conguring up another roll in the hay!
He was living like a king and has all the sex he wants, any time he wants it.

He's got these women thinking of their lower passions, mind control and mob mentality!
The younger girls hormones are raging and their natural sexual drives and desires have been misguided because Mr Bent Weiny/satan has control of their minds as well.
Young girls this age have sexual fantasies, is only natural.
But when they have been misguided and talking about this with one another it only fires up their desires needing realease.
No doubt were told "self release" a mortal sin, save those desires for this psycho's desires!

He must have a brain tumour causing his body to produce an over abundance of testosterone!along with demonic posseion and is under full control of demonic spirits.

I knew one of his followers from where we once lived, she has severe mental illness, is clear she's no longer taking her psyche meds!
She was always concerned about her food/diet. Often carried around very tattered and worn brown paper bags with several glass jars containing lemon slices, tofu and well water.
She wore cotton clothing, covered every inch of her body as was a sin to show any skin!...that is unless laying naked w Mr Bent Weiny!
For sure his "tools" were fully engorged ready for action having young girls laying naked beside you begging to have their relationship consumated!
Just look at the glare in her Ami's empty eyes.
When satan is through using his minions, it ends up a tragic deaths and destruction.
No doubt this STORY, just like all the ones before them, will have a very tragic ending and isn't going to be very long.
He's painted himself into a corner.
Mr Bent Weiny will myrter himself in prison and or the other prisoners will carry out "justice" as pedophiles and child molesters aren't very well liked.
His days are numbered as well as his followers.

Jeff Bent is obviously seriously emotionally unstable and will end up totally breaking down as his father goes into downward tailspin.
He was NEVER a sworn law enforcement, and was only a volunter unpaid Reserve.

If/when Mr Bent Weiny is released, he will be able to take back charge of his followers and they will all end up dead.
I'm thankful those children are no longer under his demonic control.

They will need years of special counceling and therapy but I doubt they will ever be normal people and will never fit into society.

The girls laughing and constant giggling showed they really are nervous and unsure of what is happening to them.
When they described this virgin consumations with Mr Bent Weiny, they wrote that this was very physically painful, but they were able, with much prayer allow this "act" to continue.
What this tells us is that Mr Bent Weiny had sexual intercourse with them.
Every woman knows the first time is very painful.
Mr Bent Weiny doesn't use normal termanology and word verbage.
I nearly vomited when he claimed doctors stick fingers into womens sexual parts while having sexual thoughts!
Oh my!...what a twisted and bent mind.
Then he has the cajonies to state he has more authority than a physcian to do something to a young girls body....
He babbles and boast when you are married you don't just consumate your marriage just one time.
How many times a day was this guy climbing on these women? Several times a day?
What is he doing for sexual release now he's imprisoned?
No doubt this perverted demented mind is addicted to sex, another sign of demonic control, always dealing with lower passions.
Sexual demonic control is the strongest possesion.
It takes an act of GOD, the real and true God of Heaven, fasting, prayer and complete submission to God for release of sexual demonic posession.
I don't see any humility or humbleness before the Lord by Mr Bent Weiny!
This will be another shameful news story, cult leader takes the lives of others and self.
They will suffer two deaths!
The second death will be forever!
Lord have mercy on those innocent children who have been lead astray by demonic filled "leaders".

Richard Harty said...

Hello Grace,

You stated, "Did it even occur to you that the openness you see that is so mysterious to you is because we have nothing to hide?"

I don't believe that you have anything to hide in your own minds. That is why I believe that what you are doing is not malicious, but because you believe what you are doing is the best thing to do.

You also said, "You can know what God did with us from our earliest inception because it is openly posted on the website in word and videos. I could tell you have read some of it because you quote from the site."

I watched the almost 2 hour video you have on your web site and it is even more telling than the documentary. I also read extensively various posts and apologetics on your site as well. I can find no rational explanation of why Wayne Bent should be lying naked with under age girls or having sex with his own daughter-in-law. In a Biblical sense this would clearly be breaking the commandment against adultery.

What I did see was Jeff Bent's extreme discomfort and grief and his statement that he was an evil person. Because you believe that Wayne Bent is the messiah, you have abandoned any internal sense of right or wrong in regards to what ever he says is true.

I also see clearly that the end of the world did not come as predicted on Oct 31, 2007. All I see is a series of more hoops to jump through to keep the intensity up. To me, this looks more like an addictive cycle than a search for truth.

If you did not have any doubts you would hardly be so defensive. I can understand why you need his claim of messiah to be true. The cost to your own well being, if it is not true, is at extreme risk.

I have great sympathy for where you are now and I wish no ill will toward you or anyone at Strong City. The coming days will not be easy and if you find yourself coming to doubt Wayne Bent's claims, I hope that you seek out resources that can keep you alive and well.

Anonymous said...

Amy, You said, "God freely gives the gift of himself," and you quoted the verse, "There is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." This is true, but 99.99999% of mainstream Christianity does not believe God ow do what He says. The grace they believe in is cheap, and not the real gift of God Himself in man. You can see it in the way they live. Their life has no lightning from heaven and it just becomes a chore to try to do everything right, while slipping up once in a while.

Jesus didn't sin and this Gift of His Life, the one that doesn't sin is what we are given. The verse, "Sin shall have no more dominion over you," Romans 6:14 means what it says. I chose to believe God when He brought it to me, and told me I could live a life free from sin. Truly those who are IN Christ Jesus, living the life He lived aren't condemned. This choice to believe the Word of God would save professed Christians a lot of trouble, heartache and guilt. But the majority of professed Christians will not choose this Life because it costs too much. There is a cross and it costs them all their earthly desires, loves, and sins.

Anonymous said...

I am answering some the points you made.

I understand how you see things. And I want you know my heart is peaceful and rests in Father's word to me about every experience He has given me here, and the fact that He brought me here. He has not failed me one single time and He is all I have. I don't worship a man. Michael represents, and is the symbol of what every Christian has — God in human flesh, marriage to God alone.

The explanations I have given you and on our website pages would answer any honest inquiry. Sometimes the truth is best explained by contrasting it with the lie. Jesus used this form of teaching in Matthew 23. It may seem like defensiveness to you, but that is not my feeling of it.

In your original post you repeated the lies told in the movie. We wrote about what did happen on October 31st here:

And in this recording done prior to October 31st, Michael is responding to Ben's questions. He states over and over that he didn't know what was going to happen on October 31st. It wasn't about the world ending at that very moment. That was what Ben said, not us.

And if you watched Larry King Live last night, you would have heard Jeff say that Michael didn't have sex with his wife. He and Christianna had separated, and are legally divorced.

And one more thing. Jeff stated he was evil. This is true. 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 is a hard saying for those who think of themselves as good.

This isn't about events, it is about spirit — what spirit does one have, God's or the devil's. It's about eye salve — who's eyes do you see through, God's or the devil's. It's about the controversy between God and Satan. The lines are drawn and the issues clear if one has eyes to see them.

Feel not sympathy for me, but for yourself and your family as in the verse, But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Lu 23:28

Richard Harty said...

Hello Grace,

I am responding to this statement you made...

"And if you watched Larry King Live last night, you would have heard Jeff say that Michael didn't have sex with his wife. He and Christianna had separated, and are legally divorced."

Now Jeff may have said this but I saw Wayne Bent state that he consummated his relationship with Christianna more than once. This was clearly an answer to the question Ben made in regard to sexual relations. In my dictionary consummate means to have intercourse, which would fall under the category of having sex.

I would say that Wayne Bent's account would have far more weight than Jeff's, wouldn't you?

And what do you do with the statement in Malachi 2:16 where God says, ""For I hate divorce," says the LORD." Why would God or Father ask his son to be involved with something He hates?

In Matthew 19:8 Jesus or in your belief Wayne himself stated, "He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." Why would Jesus manifested in Wayne do something based on hardness of heart? This clearly negates any claim that the Spirit of Jesus is within Wayne on a Biblical basis.

While I don't appeal to Biblical authority, it doesn't appear that Wayne can either in this case of divorce. Surely you must see Wayne's responsibility in being a part of a divorce. He certainly did not try to prevent it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Richard,

I understand what you are saying about what the results can be of the extreme foci you experienced during your upbringing. Having lived in many different locations during my childhood and attended many different SDA churches and schools, I have run across people who have that kind of focus. It is especially distressing for young children to be taught such a rigid and stressful approach to God's loving care for us, for children are so conscientious and so concrete. However, I don't believe it is everyone's experience, and I hope it is in the minority.

On another topic, I notice that Grace took exception to your use of the word mystification. When I read what you said, I translated it in my mind to more of a sense of mysticism, where the writings and responses of the Strong City group take reality and translate it with mystical meanings. Is that somewhat along the line of what you meant?

In the King interview with Jeff Bent, one thing that stood out to me was his apparent belief that everyone listening would have an understanding of what he meant by various phrases from the book of Revelation. Yes, innocent (naive) and wounded was how he came across.

Richard Harty said...

Hi Lynndel,

You stated, "However, I don't believe it is everyone's experience, and I hope it is in the minority."

I'm sure that it's not everyone's experience. I do think that this severe model is present in the writings of Ellen White (writings considered authoritative by the Seventh Day Adventist Church), along with a number of other views. It is evident that she, herself, was a victim of this same type of movement that was predicting the end of the world.

"On another topic, I notice that Grace took exception to your use of the word mystification. When I read what you said, I translated it in my mind to more of a sense of mysticism, where the writings and responses of the Strong City group take reality and translate it with mystical meanings. Is that somewhat along the line of what you meant?"

Mystification is a term used by John Bradshaw in reference to the state of ignorance within toxic family systems. It captures the state of being where family members act in harmful ways and yet are confused by the reactions and are oblivious to the results of these harmful practices. They are mystified by it all.

SK said...

Very interesting post, Richard. I would love to hear your whole story. FYI, I am no longer SDA (left my senior year in high school over the doctrine of justification).


Richard Harty said...

I was invited to post a series of articles on my journey on the following blog. You can read more about my story there...

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