Black Sun Journal
The CUT Years
From early childhood, my constant immersion in worship, prayer, and monastic living forced me to consider existential matters. My parents taught me that my life was meant to be lived in service to God, and all my efforts should be directed toward achieving immortality. I was raised in a religious commune–some would call it a cult. During my childhood, my parents and the other people who raised me prayed incessantly to unseen beings who they claimed were guiding the lives and actions of humans. These beings were supposedly benevolent overseers. But I quickly learned that they were not just benefactors. They exacted a price for their protection and guidance. They enforced a strict code of behavior, violation of which would result in severe punishment (karma), and possible loss of ascension. Threaten someone’s life? That’s one thing. Threaten their immortality? Now that’s something to inspire fear in a believer. Failing one’s ‘mission’ or denouncing God could result in the second death, a concept which was drilled into my head verbally before I had even learned to read. These overseers who we believed had this awesome power over our lives were angels, ‘cosmic beings’ from other planets, as well as ‘ascended’ historical figures from earth. Collectively, they were referred to as ‘Ascended Masters.’
Growing up in this environment offered many advantages: I got a first-hand, first-rate education in the publishing and entertainment business. I got to travel the world. Our family had wonderful luxurious vacations. As a young boy, I met heads-of-state in Ghana, Liberia, and India, as well as the Dalai Lama. In my twenties, I met many prominent academics and celebrities. I formed lifelong friendships with my co-workers in the church, which continue to this day. Through it all, I gained a deep understanding of group dynamics, the power of suggestion, and the pitfalls of communal living.
Now for the disadvantages: I led a very sheltered life. I had to learn the hard way about subjectivity. I had painful encounters with peers in public elementary school who, I quickly discovered, didn’t believe any of what I’d been taught. Later, as a young adult, I was elevated nepotistically to positions of power within the group. Since I had little management experience at first, at times I had trouble empathizing with people and their needs. Through it all, I also struggled with coming to terms with objective consensus reality versus our skewed ‘in-group’ perceptions. There were moments of clarity in my teen years, when I left and lived on my own. Then I rejoined the church as an adult. I became a minister at age 23, and later vice-president. It was a heady role for a 25-year-old, near the top of a non-profit organization with thousands of members and huge land holdings, and total assets over $50 million.
All of this early drama has fostered my intense interest in human nature, (how could something like this have happened?) and a desire to define human experience in naturalistic terms. I needed to know what could lead human beings to imagine things that weren’t visible, and about which there was insufficient evidence. I needed to understand how someone could be so sure of these things, they would base their life on them. Finally, how could such invisible beings take positions on matters of earthly politics?
The church community was extremely politically conservative, and though ostensibly “new age,” it reeked of right-wing fundamentalism. Combining Catholic guilt, the sacraments of communion, belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, along with near-Taliban-style restrictions on dress and human interaction, the church stood human nature on its ear. Mirroring society as a whole, the church tended to demonize nonconformity. (Alternative forms of dress, sexuality, consumption of alcohol or drugs, or leftist political persuasion, to name a few.) This was a great paradox, because the church itself was founded on nonconformity to established religion. One would be hard-pressed to find two greater rebels than my parents.
Given their individualism, their expectations of conformity for others were hard to fathom. I have often thought of the church community in retrospect as a laboratory for the working out of their own personal psychology. While all of us do this to a greater or lesser degree in our lives, the difference is that we don’t have thousands of followers at our beck and call. In accordance with the dictum: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, it is inconceivable that any individual, no matter how ethical, could have survived unscathed at the center of that maelstrom.
It was this awareness, and the church’s disastrous flirtation with millennialism and bomb shelters, that led to my decision in 1993 to finally and irrevocably break with anyone who still subscribed to that belief system.
Starting in 1994, I re-established myself in the entertainment industry. I continued my focus on television editing and post-production, studying and working my way up in the competitive ranks of freelance editors. I had supervised the audio/video department at the church for several years, so making the transition was fairly straightforward.
With some time and distance, I’ve concluded that religion is entertainment. It rivets people’s attention and helps them combat their ennui, with its never-ending drama, tragedy, comedy, and farce. Conducted by paid, professional raconteurs (priests, ministers, rabbis, imams), the pageantry swirls in 4 or 5 dimensions, filling the heads of converts with past lives, an eternal future, tales of virgins and raptures and final judgments, warfare of the good and bad seed in the human population, planted (of course) by extraterrestrials long ago–in short–spiritual Armageddon on demand. The cosmic drama of the ages is happening right now, and the impresario needs your time, money, and incessant prayer–the whole world is at stake!
With all these distractions and compelling dramas to entertain, how can a believer even pay attention to–let alone care about–the flesh and blood people in their life? Sadly, regular old 3D-reality, and tired old ‘human need’ seem to be no match for the grand charade.
Religions also come with a bonus: they purport to explain the origins of the universe, and pretend to take away the fear of death and existential pain. Would that they could. But for believers, that empty promise makes religion the ultimate distraction and escape from day-to-day living. No film, TV show, or video game could ever come close. Too bad religion doesn’t come with a parental advisory:
WARNING: May be harmful to your sense of reality.
My entire family extricated themselves from CUT in the 1990’s, and we now enjoy a bond we could never have had before. And none of Mark and Elizabeth Prophet’s many grandchildren have shown the slightest interest in their grandparents’ religion–CUT will not have a genetic lineage.
Fortunately, the experience didn’t prevent me from doing what I had always dreamed: Forming my own media company–incorporated in 2004–for TV promotion, advertising and marketing, Spring Media Group.
Black Sun Journal
I started Black Sun Journal in 2001, ironically, weeks before the September 11 attacks. I had intended the journal to be a forum where I could discuss my views and experiences against the backdrop of my earlier life as a minister and VP of Church Universal and Triumphant. I wrote two original pieces called, "What is Black Sun Journal?" and "Why is Black Sun Journal?" Things have developed quite a bit since since I wrote these early posts, but they still capture the original spirit of what I intended to accomplish.
After September 11, 2001 much of my discussion centered around the national crisis.
But I also kept true to my central purpose, which was to explore the depths and Jungian "shadow side" of human nature and human psychology as they related to political and social events. A central theme was also the almost entirely negative effect of organized religion on the human experience. This topic for me is both intensely personal and political.
A total of eight issues of Black Sun Journal were published, at first on a monthly schedule. (All the original content has been re-posted in the current BSJ archives.) The original .html site is here. As my job responsibilities began to interfere, I cut back on my blogging, and eventually stopped altogether in late 2002. It had been a little ambitious, given my limited web skills at the time, and was also a little too early on the blogging curve. The constant updating of .html pages took away from the joy of writing, and eventually became way too much work.
In April of 2005, in honor of my mom’s 66th birthday, I launched Black Sun Journal 2.0, as a Typepad site. I also wrote about the last conversation I had with her before her mind was completely destroyed by Alzheimer’s.
The Typepad format was a much better and more interactive and immersive experience for me. I learned a lot and met a lot of new friends on the net. Special thanks to the crew at Goosing the Antithesis, Aaron Kinney at Kill the Afterlife, and Matt Crandall at 10,000 Reasons to Doubt the Fish. Later, after launching BSJ 3.0 as a custom wordpress application, I became friends with Tobe38 of A Load of Bright, John P from Spanish Inquisitor, John Blackman of Evolutionary Middleman, and Heather and TW from Why Don’t You Blog? I also helped Ebonmuse of Daylight Atheism to get the Humanist Symposium started, hosting the 3rd edition of that carnival. In August of ’07, John Blackman submitted my article Atheist Metaphysics and Religious Equivocation to the Richard Dawkins site which resulted in about 10,000 unique visitors.
Thanks also to my webmaster, at Hexanet communications. My traffic has grown from almost nothing at first to averaging nearly 2,500 5,000 15,000 unique visitors per month. I’ve written about 300 670 750 posts and responded to hundreds of emails and comments. Though it’s been a lot of work, it provides not only an empowering platform, but an amazing atmosphere for learning from and interacting with others. Thank you, everyone, for being that mirror for me.
I’ve also introduced some new authors on BSJ, and it’s quickly becoming a team effort. Morgaine has written on shadow work and Simone de Beauvoir, and shady character and Laurence have contributed heavily to the Atheist of the Week feature.
Here is what BSJ readers have to look forward to: More and better Atheist of the Week articles, more direct reporting, starting with an upcoming story on my meeting with David Borden of DRCNet at the 2007 NORML conference, Morgaine’s upcoming interview with a 12-year-old female atheist, and much more. Since all this work is entirely pro bono, I’ll be looking for ways to monetize the effort and make it self-sustaining, possibly through a small number of ads, possible 501(c)(3) status to allow for grants and contributions, and a possible merchandise store. But the primary focus will always remain ideas and activism.
Last December, I began work and launched Atheism Online 2.0. I took over the site from its former owner and gave it a new look and feel. So far, over 50 sites are signed up in the directory, but there is much more work to be done. I feel bad for having neglected this for so long, but something had to give.
My work with BSJ has brought the kooks out of the woodwork. A former CUT member, in an escalation of his multi-year harassment campaign, has registered a domain and put together an impostor site at www.seanprophet.info, which he launched in April of 2007. On it, he re-caps some of my sermons from when I was a minister over 15 years ago, holding them up as the “Real Sean C. Prophet.” But those documents no more reflect the truth about who I am today than if he had posted a collection of scribbled drawings I made in kindergarten. Further, the blatant deception and identity theft (he now calls himself the “webmaster” of seanprophet.info, as if he has standing to speak for me) makes a mockery of his so-called “religious morality.” Verifiable truth, as he well knows, stands on its own and does not require these underhanded methods.
As I also discussed last year in my post on Murdering the Apostate Part 1: Afraid of the Darkness, this is the typical and characteristic response of ‘true believers.’ It’s a pattern which I find all-too-familiar. I’ve watched it since I was a child. The idolaters have always tried to rhetorically murder and/or demonize anyone who speaks out against their beliefs. For normal believers, this process takes the form of simple argument, and having pursued the argument to their satisfaction, they go about their lives. But for fanatics and extremists who have placed so much of their life’s essence into their ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy–the apostate has to be neutralized at any cost.
It’s clear that fanatical believers who fall into this category must actively oppose anyone who challenges the tenets of their chosen belief system. They cannot be content with differences of opinion without perceiving other beliefs as an existential threat. Taking a philosophical page from The Matrix, their imaginary spirit-world has become "the real” and the physical world has been reduced to what they consider a "prison” and an "illusion.” They devalue all earthly pursuits, since they believe they will have an eternity to look forward to after they die. So any threat to their fantasy becomes, like the specter of the "second death,” a threat to their eternal life.
Maintaining this hall of mirrors becomes a lifelong obsession, and no price is too high, no dishonesty too extreme. It’s all justified in the name of their suppressed anxiety and fear of death, which is ironically much stronger than that of atheists. Because of this, they will hang on, white-knuckled, until they expend their lives in pursuit of the afterlife delusion. In Islam, we see the result of this psychology is that any apostate is actually physically hunted down and murdered, or a fatwa is issued to that end.
Fortunately, western society has tempered the methods of such extremists, if not their zeal.
But there is much more at stake than theology: We are on the brink of unparalleled opportunity. I’ve been a huge fan of Ray Kurzweil for many years. In his various books, he has articulated his ‘law of accelerating returns.’ Every day, the news gets better. Developments in computers, nanotechnology, and medicine keep peeling back the layers of the mysteries of life. And progress is speeding up at an exponential rate. We are getting far closer to understanding consciousness–and it looks like it’s a strictly physical phenomenon. We are learning more and more that our bodies and brains are basically self-replicating machines. By understanding ourselves, humanity may find the freedom and knowledge it has long sought through religion. These wonders may become a physical reality within our lifetimes.
At the same time, we face unparalleled risks from vestigial god-belief. I enthusiastically endorse The Brights, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and many others. They’ve helped give a new sense of urgency as well as put a new face on the philosophical movement, and it’s gaining strength. In The End of Faith Harris demolished the refuge long held by religious moderates by demonstrating how they make the world safe for extremists. In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins eliminates any remaining hiding places for theists by showing how theology makes transparently erroneous claims about the universe. And in Breaking the Spell, Daniel Dennett helped me answer my youthful question about “how could this happen?” Professor Dennett, thanks, I get it now.
I applaud Al Gore, Ted Turner, and countless other visionaries in the global warming fight. We face dire risks from atmospheric carbon, and the political costs of oil production and use. What used to be a vague notion has now turned into a groundswell following the release of An Inconvenient Truth and the IPCC report.
I want to add my voice to the chorus. This is the first phase of that process. I’ll be putting out the call for other authors to submit articles in the near future. Later, I plan to create a bona fide non-profit organization to promote reason, sustainability, and policies which minimize human suffering worldwide.
I can promise that though I’ll strive to stay high-concept, there’s a lot of battles yet to be fought. Righteous indignation has its place. There’s a lot of consciousness-raising to be done. So I’m not going to shirk from my traditional stance of pointing out hypocrisy in religion and government. And I’m not going to back off talking about my parents’ religion. After all the years we wasted worshiping and battling phantoms, it’s the least I can do.
So happy birthday to Charles Darwin this time! You brightened our world! Thanks for giving me a great reason to launch Black Sun Journal 3.0.
contact email: sean at seanprophet dot com