Sunday, March 27, 2016

Moral Authority and Wasted Years

One of the fundamental questions that people ask, after watching the documentary is, "why would anyone join a cult?"  Most people cannot understand how or why anyone would follow someone like Jim Baker and obey his directives; it is just unfathomable to most people.  I believe that the larger or grosser problem of cults like The Source Family is the fact that people hand over or surrender their ability for making their own personal decisions and choices; handing over all moral responsibility to one central figure to make their decisions and choices for them, even in life and death situations.  Once you surrender your personal power to another individual, then your choices are no longer your own.  One definition of moral authority is the following: "the capacity to convince others how the world should be" which absolutely sums up what Father Yod was able to achieve within his 'source family', because most of the people who devotedly followed the man believed him to have a supreme moral authority equal to that of God.  The problem with so many spiritual and quasi-religious leaders and gurus is they begin to believe they are the voice and embodiment of a supreme and almighty presence on earth, and are destined or preordained to lead people.  Which is exactly what happened with Jim Baker when people began to follow him, and because of his followers believing him to be 'the voice of God'; they willingly surrendered their will and began to adopt and adhere to Jim Baker's first two commandments of his 'Ten Commandments for the Age of Aquarius' which were:  1) obey and live by the teachings of your earthly spiritual father 2) love your earthly spiritual father more than yourself.  For many in The Source Family, Jim Baker surpassed all other gurus, spiritual leaders or teachers around at that time; but he was also offering a free place to land, where the only requirement really needed to join were working in the restaurant and attending 'class' every morning where Jim Baker began cultivating his following; attracting his own 'spiritual' children by offering a seemingly idyllic alternative lifestyle where the pursuit of 'spirit' was to have been the primary objective, but where he also nurtured a 'spiritual' elitism among his followers by convincing them they were chosen by God to lead humanity into the approaching new age of aquarius.  But, Jim Baker did own a restaurant and could provide a livelihood for everyone who showed up to join his cult, which was a sanctuary from the streets of Los Angeles for anyone who even feigned an interest in what Jim Baker was saying; people who knew a good thing when they saw it.  In the late sixties/early seventies many people like myself were wandering and moving around the country searching for communes and groups of likeminded people who had also experienced the transformative results brought on by the hallucinatory and mystical effects of LSD, psilocybin and other mind-altering drugs that many people during the sixties and seventies had experimented with and even used on a regular basis which induced feelings of peace and love towards their fellowman.  So, many people were seeking out alternative ways to live their lives that were counter to the prevailing culture.  A result of the drug-induced mind-expansion of the sixties and early seventies was that people began to search for answers to their existential questions about the meaning and purpose of life and many people were in a quandary about what to do with their life, after having 'dropped out' from mainstream society opting for 'alternative' lifestyles where returning 'to the garden' became more appealing than the materialism and consumerism found in our Western culture, which is also what lead many people to adopt Eastern philosophies and mysticism casting about for a 'teacher', master or guru to follow who might provide them with answers to life's 'mysteries' and/or lead them to nirvana.  Finding The Source Restaurant was like finding an oasis where free food and a place to stay was being offered by a fatherly-looking man who was also offering a fast track to enlightenment, and finding such a place populated by your own peers most who were wearing their hair long just like you; at first seemed like an idyllic situation.  It was a situation that made it that much easier for Jim Baker to gather his own group of followers and devotees to operate his restaurant and generate much needed income.  Thus, by providing a livelihood for people it also facilitated Jim Baker in acquiring his own 'spiritual' followers; people who were impressed with his physical appearance and the 'teachings' that he was espousing to whomever would listen.  People became enthralled by the outward appearance of a man who looked like Moses and the all-white clad disciples that were beginning to surround him:  people whom he proclaimed were the 'forerunners of a new age'; a heady and appealing 'new' prospect for many of the disaffected that showed up.  In retrospect, it was a smart move on Jim Baker's part, because he gained people to run his restaurant without having to pay them a wage, and he gained the 'spiritual' children or followers that he sought.  So, more people showed up at The Source Restaurant and joined 'the brotherhood', drawn to either the food and a free place to stay, or the promise of having 'secret esoteric teachings' revealed to them, along with the outward appeal of a group of longhaired people all dressed in white sitting around a man who proclaimed he had reincarnated from Atlantis, and many who simply followed their spouses and siblings in joining.  Jim Baker looked the part of a father; an older, bearded man with a big grin giving bear hugs telling everyone who showed up, 'welcome home' making them feel they belonged and were one of his 'spiritual' children, but where soon some of his female 'spiritual children' became sexually attractive to him.  There are many former family members who feel they lost or wasted years of their life, by stopping and dropping everything they had going on in their lives to join and follow Jim Baker.  Coming out at the end of all of it; many people felt they had lost chunks of their lives by remaining in The Source Family for years.  Because after 'the family' ended people had a difficult time trying to adjust back into 'normal' society and put their lives and careers back together; lives and careers that had been put on hold and suspended; which is one of the predominate regrets that I've heard from several former longtime Source Family members; how much they regret the years of their life spent in 'the family'; although the documentary has tried to present 'success stories' at the end of the film; which is hardly accurate and not representative of the larger majority of former members.  Anyone who joined The Source Family essentially put their lives on hold, some selling all of their material possessions or surrendering them upon joining 'the family', where they attempted to adopt and live by the 'teachings' of Father Yod allowing him to rename them while giving up their identities and individuality to adhere to and abide by the groupthink of 'the family.'  It was virtually impossible to pursue your own career or your own life, while being in a cult such as The Source Family, where individual accomplishment and personal achievement were nonexistent, unless it was acceptable and allowed within the confines of the group.  Nobody took outside jobs or pursued outside careers while being in The Source Family, because everything and everyone revolved around the decisions and choices that Father Yod made for the entire group, which is why it felt so very liberating when 'the family' finally ended.  Being liberated from the restrictive and isolating dictates of one man and his council of 'women' where group compliance became an imperative; so it felt exhilarating to make your own personal choices once again.  A childlike dependence had ensued where everyone would go to Father Yod for every little thing; looking to him and asking his consul and advice about virtually everything; something that Jim Baker was keen on doing and if you wanted to be in 'the brotherhood', you had to obey whatever dictate was handed down by the man we all called 'father'.  There was no topic or subject that Father Yod would not broach, even instructing family members how to use/fold toilet paper and wipe their bottoms!  But, as more and more people began to join 'the brotherhood' it became necessary to have everyone look and behave in a homogeneous way; where everyone began to dress alike, and everyone was allotted the most basic of  'source family' accoutrements like a sleeping pad or mattress, a copy of Jim Baker's book Liberation; and the standard issue robe for the men, which was basically just a dress:  a front and back sewed together at the sides, along with a 'meditation' shawl and for a time a coveted sheepskin to sit on during morning meditation.  Those were the standard issue accoutrements given or allotted to anyone joining 'the brotherhood' in the early days, when there was still plenty to go around, but as more and more people began to join 'the family'; there were fewer and fewer resources and less accoutrements to go around; and so unless someone still maintained connections outside of 'the family' and had access to money; they simply 'got by' or went without while in 'the family'.  But, nobody went to the dentist or the eye doctor to get glasses; absolutely none of the everyday things that people do in 'normal' society were done in The Source Family.  Women did not have ultrasounds, or access to a gynecologist; all of that was just not done, while in The Source Family.  Jim Baker wanted to be recognized as a great spiritual leader/teacher and an authority on health and nutrition, and he wielded an unquestioning moral authority over his followers and he relied on the most devoted around him to uphold and enforce his edicts and carry out his directives; something that every cult leader has found to be necessary.  In every cult throughout history, the cult leader depended on their most loyal devotees to carry out their directives in order to hold sway over their followers.