"Be Sealed" Against The Truth
A seal is supposed to separate the desirable from the undesirable, like an airlock on a spacecraft, a ring on a piston, or a wax impression on a royal edict. Its purpose is to keep air or explosive pressure in, or an impostor’s proclamation out. Seals are something we generally need, and when they work we take them for granted. Over-the-counter drugs are sealed, to prevent malicious tampering. Hotel toilets used to be "sanitized for your protection" and sealed with a little paper band. People in cold country re-seal their doors and windows with weatherstripping before the winter. You really want your oil filter seal to hold so that you don’t have your engine seize up in the middle of the desert. Seven astronauts lost their lives in 1986 when an o-ring seal on the Space Shuttle’s solid rocket booster failed and released a plume of fiery gases that destroyed their vehicle.
You get the point. When it comes to space travel, products, and other mechanical devices, we can all agree proper seals are very important. Vital even. But a "seal" is not a good way to treat information. Sealing oneself against information is a sure-fire way to become stultified and out of touch with reality.
Let’s take two of our examples above, the toilet and the bottle of Tylenol. Both have seals applied because of the fear (or past actual event) of contamination. Once something has been "factory sealed" or (we hope) sealed by the hotel staff, we can be sure there is nothing harmful waiting for us inside. This is the goal. But what if the product tampering occurred in the factory, before the seal was applied? What if the hotel staff failed to clean the toilet, then put the paper band in place anyway?
A seal is only as good as the authority that applies it. Which is why oversight and verification are very important to keeping the trust of a population that lives far from where its products are made. The 2008 melamine scandal in China is a perfect example of what can happen when that trust is violated.
Very shortly after my sister’s book Prophet’s Daughter was released, CUT leadership began a feverish campaign of damage control. In their perfect world, they would like to seal people from the information in the book. Their letter to their membership is reproduced below.
Before I comment on the letter, I must reflect a little on the current state of CUT, and the options which remain for the organization. We’re talking about a church which, for the first 40 years of its history, was run as a personal fiefdom of its founders (my parents) who had complete access to its treasury. They followed an ironclad philosophy of "L’etat c’est moi," except it was a church, not a nation. Let me cite a few examples, in no particular order:
- In 1986, in CUT v. Mull, the jury awarded $1.5 million to Mr. Mull, of which $521,000 was punitive damages against Elizabeth Clare Prophet. The jury intended specifically to punish her personally for what the appellate court later called "despicable conduct." CUT members ultimately donated the funds to pay the entire judgment. The CUT board justified this by saying Prophet was acting in her role as messenger. But this is disingenuous, because the incorporated church had already been hit with a separate judgment. Clearly it was the intent of the court that Prophet suffer the loss personally–but this never happened.
- Permanent staff members were required to donate 100% of their assets to the church, a rule that was strictly enforced when people were applying for shelter space. This included the proceeds from the sale of staff homes and businesses. When my grandparents home was sold, my mom followed the letter of her law by donating the money to the church, but then used it to purchase homes (double-wides) my sister and I lived in with our families on the Ranch. Other staff were not given that privilege and most lived in cramped work-camp housing. Toward the end of her career, she raised funds directly from large donors (which would have normally gone to other church projects) to build herself a large complex near Ranch Headquarters, which included an oversized swimming pool. She justified this by establishing "swimming hours" where staff could come and use her pool.
- Throughout her tenure at the church, her living expenses were paid directly by the church. Her small salary was inconsequential–her real lifestyle reflected an income that would have been in the middle six-figures, but because no payments were made, it was never acknowledged or taxed.
Since my mom resigned from the organization in the late 1990’s, it has been run much more like a traditional non-profit. The organization’s staff has shrunk drastically, it now pays them more competitively, and as far as I know there is no one who has direct access to its treasury. In short, they’ve gotten their house in order.
But now what? I’ve mentioned the conflict between the CUT literalists (ministerial council) and the pragmatists. I’ve discussed how the stricter the rules of a given church, the higher the cost/benefit ratio for members: People who are willing to make the investment of time into a stricter church dislike free-riders–those with insufficient piety–who they view as diluting their experience. But regardless of internal politics, the overriding concern for an organization in CUT’s position has to be self-perpetuation of their religious tradition.
In chapter 5 of Breaking the Spell, Daniel Dennett explains how religious traditions are memes which ultimately take on a life of their own. And when he says life, he means all the features of biological life including metabolism and self-replication.
We can observe today the birth and swift death of cults, as the early adherents lose faith or lose interest and drift away, leaving hardly a trace after a few years. Even when members of such a group fervently want to keep it going, their desires will be thwarted unless they avail themselves of the technologies of replication. Today, writing (not to mention videotape and other high-tech recording media) provides the obvious information highway to use. And from the earliest days of writing, there has been a keen appreciation of the need not only to protect the sacred documents from damage and decay, but to copy them over and over, minimizing the risk of loss by ensuring that multiple copies were distributed around.
A public ritual is a great way of preserving content with high fidelity, but why are people so eager to participate in rituals in the first place?…What motivates them to join in? Consider what we can call the shamanic-advertising hypothesis. Shamans the world over conduct much of their medicine in public ceremonies, and they are adept at getting the local people not just to watch while they induce a trance in themselves or their clients, but to participate…
Once people find themselves in the chorus, other motivations can take over. Anything that makes the cost of non-participation steep will do the trick, and if community members get the idea of encouraging other members not only to participate but to inflict costs on those who shirk their responsibility to participate, the phenomenon can become self-sustaining.
A somewhat less obvious design feature was the inclusion of incomprehensible elements! Why would this help the transmission? By obliging the transmitters to fall back on "direct quotation" in circumstances where they might be otherwise tempted to use "indirect quotation" and just transmit the gist of the occasion "in their own words"–a dangerous source of mutation. The underlying idea is familiar enough to us all in the (usually despised, but effective) pedagogical method: rote learning. "Don’t try to understand these formulas! Just memorize them!"…Say the formula exactly! Your life depends on it! [Emphasis in original]
Now, from the perspective of self-replication, don’t the enforced decree sessions for hours every day make just a little bit more sense? Does anybody in those sessions really think very much about the words they’re repeating? Regardless, they will remember them for the rest of their lives–and no doubt pass them on to their children.
When considering any actions or statements by CUT leadership, they must be taken in this context. CUT is a memetic life-form, which has recently been fully separated for the first time from its parents. Every teaching, ritual, and practice espoused by this organization represents an attempt to spread its memetic DNA and replicate itself as widely as possible.
Erin’s book is a cruise missile to the core of CUT’s DNA–direct divine revelation. If divine revelation wasn’t happening, and the masters weren’t "objectively real," what’s left? Some of Erin’s detractors have attacked her motives, others have come out saying the damning information doesn’t matter–that expecting perfection of a messenger is "idolatry." Maybe it would be, but this is a straw man argument. It’s not what Erin is saying at all. She’s simply recounting her experiences with her mother, such as they were, and leaving people to draw their own conclusions.
I would observe that if the message itself could be proven to be accurate by empirical means, it would not matter very much what else the messenger said or did. I think we could all agree we’d put up with a lot of idiosyncrasies in a true oracle. But since there is no proof behind the message, nor any way of testing it, (and at times when the prophecies have been tested, they have failed miserably) then the primary question becomes about the role of messenger as exemplar of the teaching she professed. Godly behavior and a life of sacrifice and practice of her principles would have gone a long way to demonstrate that connection. But if the messenger can’t prove the message empirically and fails to live it, those are serious issues indeed. Far from being a question about idolatry, it just becomes inauthentic.
CUT’s leadership is well aware of this problem, and it’s a big one. The letter below is proof of that. They harp strongly on the idolatry theme:
We strive on this Path to worship the Christ, not the human, and Mother was the first one to insist that we not idolize her. In our view, Mother lived through her hardships and delivered magnificent, life-changing teachings. These truths are timeless and unchanging. It is empowering when we take a moment to recall what our lives were like before we found The Summit Lighthouse and how the masters have graced us with personalized experiences that none of us can deny. Mother and Mark delivered this gift at a great cost, often sacrificing their personal relationships to do so.
How convenient for them. Interpreting, it’s something like the presidential debates: "I really don’t want to talk about my opponent, I just want to ask you ‘are you better off now than you were before you found the teachings?’" Then they shift to the other foot with an appeal to people’s notoriously inaccurate subjective religious experiences. Members are sitting ducks for this kind of talk, and they know it. Then it’s back to a thinly-veiled excuse for any bad behavior: "Life was so hard for them being messengers that whatever they did was excusable–’cause they brought us the teee-chings."
But as I said earlier, if there was independent verification–if the shelter prophecies had been real, for example–then we would have reason to overlook personal failings. But if the teachings were false or inaccurate–plus the messenger didn’t live them–what possible good could they be? Making a person "feel" good isn’t enough. You can get that kind of subjective "spiritual" high from many different kinds of entheogenic drugs, from marijuana to LSD to ayahuasca. I know many CUT members already went through their years of drug experimentation. I always wonder if they ask themselves what makes them think their current spiritual trip is any different?
But now comes the zinger, bringing it full circle to my discussion of sealing. One of mom’s favorite metaphors was "the flaming sword which cleaves asunder the real from the unreal." The real, of course, was the spiritual realm, and anything she thought came from it. The unreal was the material world, the "carnal mind," demons, or anything that was inconvenient or that opposed her "mission" or that of her church. Often times in dictations, the final words were "Be SEALED…in the light of the heart." Obviously, someone was reading their dictations when they wrote the following paragraphs:
We support your independent decisions to read—or not to read—the book, as your Holy Christ Self directs you. If your choice is to read it, we recommend a sound foundation of spiritual work for your attunement and sealing [emphasis added] to internally process what Erin has written. When you are resolved with your own reactions you will be a great help to others who look to you for stability and steadfastness on the Path.
Whatever you decide, we hope this will be a time of deep internal bonding to your Christ Self and a strengthening of our united determination to bring these teachings through The Summit Lighthouse to every person in need. Personally, as we consider the trials Mother faced, it gives us even greater love and compassion for her—and a renewed hope that we can also do great works for God in spite of our own imperfections. The publishing of this book brings to us the opportunity to examine ourselves and strengthen the relationships that we have built over the years with our gurus.
Again, translating: "This book looks really bad for us, and we know we can’t stop you from reading it. So we hope you will do lots of decrees and think really, really hard about how great the teachings are. Then, you know, ignore and "process" everything Erin said with the violet flame, and decide for yourself how really great the teachings are. Then, you know, decide how much more of your life you want to dedicate to your spiritual stability and ignoring what you’ve just read, and steadfastly convincing other doubters and spreading these great teachings all over the world. You know, strengthening that relationship with the "gurus," whether the messengers were perfect or not.
This is a direct attempt at an authoritative separation from–and asking members to deliberately ignore–the truth. And it comes complete with the "seal" metaphor and a pretty new logo to match. It’s very much like product adulteration at the factory (before the seal goes on). Or putting the tissue paper band on an uncleaned hotel toilet. What CUT leadership is doing is asking members to form a deliberate mental block against damaging information. Which doesn’t seal OUT the information, it seals it IN to the very future of the organization. From now on, members and leadership alike will have this information sealed in at the foundation of their faith, and like slow-acting acid, it will erode their attempts to maintain product purity.
It’s entirely natural behavior, when looked at from the standpoint of a memetic life form fighting for its very existence. Survive first, deal with contradictions later. Except there is no later. Memes don’t have to make sense or be consistent. The human mind doesn’t require truth in order to espouse or transmit a meme. So it’ll be a 100 degree day in February in Corwin Springs before the CUT leadership ever makes any substantive attempt to adjust their stance. It’s just not what meme replicators do. They’re slaves to the meme, not its master.
But they now have a serious moral problem. They’re aware of the information, now corroborated from the closest spiritual source to their "messenger," so they’re responsible for it. When my mom made her confession to me about abuses of power, she wasn’t doing it in a vacuum. She saw the harm which she had caused through her deliberate insulation of herself from checks and balances. Once she realized how far she’d strayed, she took the amazing, courageous and unusual step of disavowing her actions.
Much as people don’t like to think about it, her disavowal necessarily and inescapably reflects on the authenticity of any teachings which came through her. For example, some of the worst abuses took place in the sacristy, directly behind the high altar–within 15 feet of where she stood to give "dictations." How can she be abusing someone on a given day, screaming at the top of her lungs as I saw her do on many occasions, then walk a scant 15 feet to the high altar and deliver a true gospel for the "Aquarian Age?"
Mom admitting her abusiveness was the single most valuable thing I ever saw her do. And at that moment–knowing I had the determination to pull it off–she told me to "tell everyone" what she had said. She started a chain reaction in my psyche that still hasn’t come to its conclusion. The past seven years of my writings on BSJ owe their intensity and persistence directly to that request. My love of science, humanism, and critical thought were strengthened as I began to realize they were the only defense against falling prey to coercive spiritual manipulation–the very type of violations she committed.
Some of those she misled and abused now form CUT’s leadership. They have not taken the lesson. Instead of forging a loyalty to truth and their own humanity, they are taking her erroneous message and spreading it "to every nation," with ambitious hopes of trying to form a new global religion. After reading Dennett, I understand now the organization has become an amoral memetic life form. Like the Catholic Church, the Mormons, or the Scientologists, CUT is concerned primarily with survival, and increasing its political power. Where there’s power, there must be propaganda. And CUT’s propaganda is beginning to smell just as foul as those other Machiavellian rackets.
It’s hard to believe that history is repeating itself. Once again, they’re building a religion based on exclusive revealed truth (which they think is more true than all the other religions). They’ve created an in-group and an out-group, specialized jargon, a heaven and a hell (astral plane) and a final judgment (second death). And I watched it go from an odd group of people personally dedicated to my parents to its current expansionist form. Without a messenger, it’s now an empty self-perpetuating publishing machine devoted to endlessly copying (and embellishing) stuff my parents pulled out of their heads or lifted from other "masters" movements. I’ll never understand how after all the failed prophecies and scandal, people are still buying it.
If I or my sisters had been a little more calculating, I’m sure we could have figured out a way to profit from the situation. But I couldn’t have lived with myself. You see, I actually care about what’s true and I think Erin does too. As for the CUT presidents’ wishes that "mother’s children" find "resolution and peace?" I take them at their word. And I sincerely wish them and their families well.
But as to what I think about their professional positions at CUT, and their complicity in promoting these toxic teachings? They should know better. Yet they continue to press on. That represents either willful stupidity or unforgivable cynicism.