A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of National Geographic’s “Inside the Cult”. It featured “Michael Travesser” as a messianic leader of a cult in the Southwestern US. Well, the ‘messiah’ has been picked up by the feds for three counts of sexual contact with a minor.
Watching the show a few weeks ago, I felt that I could understand their psychology. No, I didn’t grow up in a cult – but my background was fundamentalist enough that there were parallels. My parents, while die-hard fundamentalists who believed in faith-healing, a 6,000 year-old earth, the “soon to be fulfilled” second-coming of Jesus, and Biblical inerrancy, they were very aware of the fallibility of men (i.e. leaders and ‘false messiahs’). So, there wasn’t a huge danger of falling into a cult. In fact, those beliefs probably aren’t that uncommon in America. I’d guess that maybe 10% of Americans believe all of those things – although they might emphasize it to different degrees.
In “Inside the Cult”, they talked about how Michael Travesser claimed God was telling him to sleep with different women. In one case, he slept with a married woman (the couple were both followers). The husband found the whole thing very hard, but Michael Travesser told him that it was God’s will, and if he has difficulties with it, he needs to talk to God about it. It was amazing how Travesser was managing to escape all blame by convincing people that ‘it was God’s will’. Of course, the followers who bought into that idea put themselves in a position where they either needed to submit to “God’s will” (allow Travesser to sleep with their wives), or rebel against “God’s will” (which would automatically put them on the wrong side of an argument with the most perfect, benevolent being in the universe). It was amazing to see.
Regarding the girls, Travesser claims he never slept with them. (Although, he probably rationalized that he must lie to the big, bad government who is controlled by Satan and the outside world ‘wouldn’t understand’.) One of the girls’ mothers (who was once a follower) came and took her away. She claimed it was only for a short while, but she intended to keep the girl. Travesser had such control that he told the girl to fast until she returned. The result was that the girl’s mother, while she had successfully taken the girl out of the cult, realized that there weren’t a lot of options. The girl wouldn’t eat, so she eventually relented and returned the girl to the cult. The mother might’ve had physically taken the girl from the compound, but Travesser still had the girl’s mind.
At one point, the cameraman started asking Travesser about the three kids (the two girls and the boy). The cameraman said that the children didn’t know enough about the real world to make their own decisions about Travesser’s divinity. Travesser began talking about the evils of the “outside world” – how people live empty lives devoid of God, with their DVDs, their addictions, etc. He was trying to paint his own world as idyllic, while the outside world was worthless and cheap. The kids, of course, had no experience of the real world to even make a judgment about Travesser’s description. The cameraman made the point that the kids had no “proper” experience of the outside world, though. While that was true, Travesser talked about the ridiculousness of living a “proper” life in the outside world (which was clearly an equivocation fallacy by Travesser, though his followers wouldn’t pickup on it). Travesser, meanwhile, was completely serene and confident in everything he said. The cameraman was getting flustered as Travesser played logical games with him. It was just amazing to see because I was shaking my head when the cameraman made his arguments. I anticipate how Travesser would play word games even before he answered. I sometimes forget that most people have no experience whatsoever in understanding the messianic/religious mindset. I’ve seen this in a lot of different instances – where a secular person looks at a completely deluded religious person, and has no idea how to even frame arguments that won’t get turned around. I just can’t help thinking, “Wow. You really have no understanding of their mindset.”
The kids, meanwhile, were going out of their way to confirm their own beliefs about Travesser’s divinity. At one point, one of the girls said that her mother says she’s been brainwashed. She smiles and says (paraphrasing), “Yes, I have been brainwashed – my brain has been washed of all my bad thoughts by God.” Travesser gave an approving nod.
No doubt, Travesser’s confidence, serenity, and logical games looked like confirmations of his divinity to his followers (and the teenage followers especially). And the cameraman’s frustration with the whole thing probably just made him look like a stooge of the devil – frustrated at his inability to disprove Travesser’s divinity, or make any decent argument that wasn’t taken-apart by Travesser’s illogical arguments and games.
Travesser seems to truly believe in his own divinity. Many secular people make the mistake of believing these self-proclaimed messiahs are cynically using people, fully aware of what they are doing. In most cases, I don’t think that they are. Travesser even made a prediction about the end of the world in October 31, 2007. Why don’t these guys ever learn not to make specific predictions? Well, it’s because they really believe their delusion. Everyone else who made a prediction failed because they weren’t the true messiah. In their mindset, it’s okay for them to make specific predictions because they’re the true messiah. Hence, there is no lesson to learn whatsoever from history’s pattern of failed predictions. In their own minds, the situations are completely different. Oh, and what happened after October 31, 2007 came and went? He reinterpreted the prophecy to say that he (Travesser) had been physically transformed (even though he looked exactly the same), and that they were living in the “eighth day”.
Here’s a YouTube clip of the National Geographic Program:
The cult does have access to the internet, and they even upload their own videos. Here is Travesser’s video about the whole affair:
If you want a big dose of their ideas told from their perspective, here are some of their YouTube accounts – which includes videos they’ve made.
I recommend NOT commenting on their videos or in their accounts. If you make the mistake of commenting: BE NICE. Any angry, derisive, or combative comment you make will only play into their mindset that you are Satan’s servant. And remember: anything you do and say will be interpreted through the lens of their existing religious beliefs – which, for them – are absolutely, 100% true. You aren’t going to change their entire worldview with some clever comments.
Most of those videos are very “fluffy” – soft music, pictures of the ‘messiah’, pictures of the evil in the outside world, etc. AniamTyre’s “End of the World Blog” videos are at least more cerebral – where he talks about his beliefs and experiences.
I also found the National Geographic Program on YouTube:
The End Of The World Cult Part 1/5
The End Of The World Cult Part 2/5
The End Of The World Cult Part 3/5
The End Of The World Cult Part 4/5
The End Of The World Cult Part 5/5