Another Young CUT Survivor Speaks
I just ran across this brave, moving, and insightful paper by Merci Victoria Grace Hammon, who was born and raised in CUT. She left the church for good in 2005 and now attends USC, according to her website. Some excerpts with my commentary:
I firmly disavowed my belief in the Ascended Masters in 1999 after reading a number of my mother’s Keeper of the Flame lessons. A Keeper is the first level of membership in the Church; the lessons were too radically right wing and exclusionary for me to swallow. Then after a few years of atheism and a steadily worsening depression, I became re-involved in the Church through the youth program of CUT by going to the Winter Teen Retreat in January of 2004 hosted by the Church near San Antonio, Texas…In addition I was a founding member of and the Secretary to the Knights and Ladies of the Flame, a group of people ages 19-26.
This story sounds very familiar. It took me two tries to leave. I left CUT for the first time in 1984, then went back for more, eventually becoming a minister in 1987 before finally leaving for good in 1993.
I left the Church in January of 2005 because I could no longer stomach (again) the overt politics of the Church. While reading my Keeper of the Flame lessons I found a number of, what I considered to be, totally unbelievable and ridiculous accounts from the Ascended Masters about “black dog men” and other “nefarious beings.” I could not reconcile my participation and my disbelief in core principles of the Teachings of CUT. I resigned from my offices and discontinued my Keepers of the Flame membership.
The depictions of various bogeyman were a fixture in CUT from the beginning. I remember riding in the car with my mom and dad as a young child. They used to spend hours on long drives, imagining and writing down the names of “fallen ones” and “black magicians.” Later, they would do what they called “clearances,” where my mom would read the names aloud, and shout at the top of her lungs for the binding, judgment, and destruction of her imaginary enemies. Her “clearance” sessions often lasted for hours. This practice reached its apotheosis in 1989 (?) during the “12 labors of Hercules” conference. With my mother on the altar, devotees shouted, decreed, and swung their swords for nearly a week straight for the purpose of destroying tens of thousands of vividly described “UFOs” each with a complement of tens of thousands of “aliens” and “dark forces.”
Despite the organizational aversion to anything “psychic,” the CUT session I attended was entirely based on astrology. All the students bought Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s book Predict Your Future: Understand the Cycles of the Cosmic Clock….Each hour on the clock contains a challenge or a spiritual test that relates to the generally widespread astrological profile of the associated sun sign….An explanation given in the course material for Summit Lighthouse exposes some of the rhetoric used in the exercise: “Satellites of planets are meant to act like giant screens that reflect the feelings (pure feelings) of lifewaves on the planet. However when mankind misqualifies the energy of the sun, that misqualified energy is reflected in the moon. The moon will amplify the negative substance of the 12 hierarchies based on its cycle. It is important to make a call when you are aware of this moon substance..
Where do I start with this paragraph? Basically, the term “psychic” was a catchall for anything not officially sanctioned by the authority of the Church. I think this is pretty universal in so-called New Age organizations that operate from authority. If you’re dealing in total subjectivity like CUT was, then you need to make sure people are clear that they are following YOUR “revealed” subjectivity, and not their own. When I was a kid, my dad once referred to an ex-member of the Church whom he didn’t like as a “psychic frippet.”
David Lewis’ dictations and darshan were held in the home of one of his followers off the Van Nuys exit of the North-bound 405. A chart of the I AM Presence hung on a wall above a modest altar behind him, as it did behind Mrs. Prophet. There were about 12 people present. Lewis spent a solid fifteen minutes at the beginning of the meeting telling his story of feeling called to the Masters’ service, being initiated by Jesus Christ, Saint Germain, and El Morya, and of trying to convince the Council of Elders of CUT to consider his willingness to undergo the tests Mrs. Prophet established during her administration of CUT and to be instated as the new official Messenger of Church Universal and Triumphant and the Great White Brotherhood. Instead, David Lewis and anyone who followed his teachings were officially excommunicated from Church Universal and Triumphant and required to undergo a severe time of penance and psychic cleansing if they wanted to return.
I’ve known David Lewis, since I was a child. Of all the people I knew in the Church, David Lewis is at the top of my list of the least likely to become a new messenger. David held various positions in the organization, but mostly, he was involved in middle management, having worked his way up from the mailroom. I guess he spent a lot of time studying the dictations, and the methods used to convince students of his authenticity. The description of his “Darshan” is eerily familiar. My dad started his organization in a house in Washington, DC in 1957. There were only a handful of people in the room, for his debut as well. David Lewis is nothing if not a student of history. Sounds to me like he has a budding flock. Channeling disembodied spirits beats working for a living, I guess.
Comparing the dictation given by Mrs. Prophet and the dictations and darshan given by David Lewis illuminated some deep structural similarities. Both performers rely almost entirely on the present belief of the audience and also the compliance of the audience to not disturb or disrupt the ceremony. Both performers also rely on voice and body movement control in order to present a stable and authoritarian presence. Given that Mrs. Prophet delivered dictations for almost 20 years before the 1980 taping I watched on the DVD, it is not hard to imagine that David Lewis could someday have a more powerful stage presence, a more imposing stage, and a more convincing. Much like any other shamanistic trance, successfully convincing dictations requires the complete absorption of the performer’s faculties so they cannot be visibly distracted and break the fourth wall.
This description falls right in line with my longtime comparison of religion to entertainment. It seems to me that the only requirement to become a new messenger of the Ascended Masters is serviceable people skills, and knowledge of the expected theatrics. It also helps to know group dynamics, and organizational politics, so as to be able to ward off the inevitable challengers. When one takes a look backward at the motley crew of messengers of the so-called “masters,” this populist and pseudo-mystical showmanship was the one thing they all had in common.
The Church emphasis on self-improvement and spiritual and intellectual study lends itself well to education: “The encouragement to look inside one’s heart (one’s own experience of reality) as a guide to truth is a one of Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s most frequently cited aphorisms. These four points [I will touch upon the other three points later] produce one of the most salient points of the Church and the Teachings – the empowerment of the individual to seek truth, to be creative in that search, to be courageous in the search, and to be confident of one’s ability to find reality and truth. Funnily enough I believe that the Church’s emphasis on self-reliance, taught from a very young age, discouraged the vast majority of its children from remaining involved past the onset of puberty.
CUT’s individualist streak is the most puzzling and inconsistent. Merci is right on the mark here, in a sense that we were always taught to think for ourselves, (within the church framework, of course) and we were given an above-average education. Not too useful a thing if you’re hoping to retain converts into subsequent generations.
As a child I was warned not to tell people the name of the Church I was in, though the Church defined everything about my life. At no point in my life has the Church been something that was cooperative with the world I lived in. I was not allowed to eat mostly anything that other children ate or participate in their world as fully as they were able to. For instance, in the first grade I was given and told to wear earplugs at a friend’s roller rink birthday party because the roller rink played rock music. My oldest brother, Austin, was given a red sweatshirt by our aunt one Christmas. When he got home the sweatshirt was taken away from him because the color red was said to anchor sexual and violent energy and was inappropriate to wear. The sense of isolation and otherness that Church kids outside of Montana experienced extended beyond the realm of birthday parties and Christmas presents.
Merci is right on the mark here again. This is exactly what happened. Basically, there was no freedom for teens in CUT, and no acceptance of any purpose or agenda other than that of total dedication to the teachings. When I was 16, I was also forced to return some maroon clothing I had received as a Christmas gift from my girlfriend, with the explanation that I was simply not allowed to wear that color.
We were told that we are spiritual warriors in the fight against the False Hierarchy. My mother especially emphasized this and has recently told me that because all seven of her children were conceived with that purpose in mind and have all since left the Church, she is deeply disappointed in every single one of us.
This reminds me very much of the Bible quote often used to justify turning one’s back on one’s family: “And thy enemies shall be they of thine own household.” Matt. 10:33-36
Personally, I am disgusted. My mom treated my sisters and I the same way when we left the church. Thankfully, my mom eventually apologized for it. Marsha Hammon, if you’re reading this, YOU OWE YOUR KIDS A BIG APOLOGY. If you want any relationship at all with them, you better realize it’s not your children who have betrayed you, but rather you who have betrayed them! You have possibly done irreparable harm by raising them in the manner you did. A word to the wise should be sufficient!
In the summer of 2004 I went to the Freedom Conference at the Church headquarters in Corwin Springs, Montana; I was a counselor at the youth camp. On the last night of camp, CUT President Kate Gordon (there are two, the other is Lois Drake) gave a speech to the youth about the emerging “blueprint” for the future of the Church and the Teachings. She wants to move CUT into the mainstream of American religions and said that the alienation from society that we all experienced as children was one of her motivating factors. “I raised children in the Church. I know what you guys went through, and I’m sorry,” she said.
I reserve my harshest criticism for those who naïvely think somehow the theological train-wreck that is Church Universal and Triumphant can be redeemed, repackaged, and sold to the masses. It may happen, but it won’t be any kind of moral victory. Rather, CUT will be just another in a long line of groups who trade on human gullibility, fear of death, and fear the unknown.
The CUT cosmology was created out of the whole cloth by several generations of charlatans. It has been freely embellished by more charlatans. It is nothing but a witch’s brew of New-Age fundamentalism, 1950s social conservatism, and patriarchal authoritarianism dressed up in the disguise of some overarching cosmic destiny. Kenneth Paolini summed up the tradition of “masters” organizations nicely, in his book title: 400 Years of Imaginary Friends.
Like most religions, CUT has always been, and always will be a belief system which is completely incompatible with individualism, critical thought, human nature, and healthy child rearing. What Merci describes in her paper, and what I witnessed in my childhood is nothing short of child abuse. Children and teens were always an inconvenience to the Church. We asked too many questions, we had too much libido, and we weren’t willing to take no for an answer. Until CUT and other religions, wake up to the reality of human nature and human shadow, they can never hope to act for the betterment of humanity.
Kate Gordon, if you’re truly sorry for what happened to the children, I say to you: CUT is not fixable. I issue this challenge to you: if you truly want to make amends, your only reasonable choice at this point is to fold up the organization, sell its assets, and donate the proceeds to the Gates foundation. Or–better yet–the Center for Inquiry!