A few years back I had this friend, a very intelligent guy, very critical, who I knew at the time for a few months.
One day he turns to me and says "look, I think it's time I told about this organization I'm part of- it's called THE CENTER OF LIGHT and it's changed my life."
That for me was the beginning of the strangest period of my life to date.
This CENTER OF LIGHT, he said, was a spiritual guidance center created by his high school teacher and her janitor husband- who as it turns out- is in fact god's messenger on this earth.
My bullshit light immediately turned on, but when he started going on and on in great detail about how this couple can actually do magic, freeze time, read minds, create matter from nothing – I was naturally intrigued. This wasn't coming from some wacko on the street- but from a respected friend.
For a period of a few weeks he insisted I come to a gathering they were holding, and In the mean time, he gave me the janitor's book- which he wrote and his wife edited. On the front page it said: "the book you are holding in your hands is holy (no less), and the words written in it are the actual words of god"…
The book was an autobiography of this man's very uninteresting life- only among the characters appearing in the book was no other than GOD. Specifically the Jewish god I might add- which as mentioned engaged in real recorded conversations with this Janitor.
The point of the book was to be a good person, believe in god, and – JOIN THEM IN THEIR QUEST TO BUILD A CITY OF THEIR OWN (jonestown
The day came when I went to this gathering to see if they could really do magic, and although I didn't see any (of course), it was amazing to overhear the conversations of the people there- sharing with one another the stories of how they all individually saw this couple preform magic.
"and then she made golden mushrooms sprout from the ground!"
"and then she controlled streetlights with her thoughts!"
And so on…
When I finally got to talk with the wife and asked to see magic, she said- "I don't owe you a dam thing, and I'll tell you more than that- either you're in or you're out- we don't want tourists!"
As you can imagine, I'm not a part of the CENTER OF LIGHT. Not surprisingly, telling my friend i wanted nothing to do with it cost me our freindship…
Today It's a rather small group, but it's gaining power because it sells itself as a new age center for yoga and such- only the teachers are all adherents of a belief in a janitor and his wife who claim they're on a mission from god. And of course they serve as recruiters.
What does the couple get out of it? Money, power… or maybe they really do believe it themselves.
But this whole experience raised a larger question for me: how are cults different than religions? How is god revealing himself to a janitor in 2001 any more ridiculous than god revealing himself to a 99 year old senile Shepard in 5000 BC?