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March 26, 2018 | by  | in Features |
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Fantastic Cults and How to Join Them

As all former emos do, I have a habit of reading creepy Wikipedia pages and watching true crime documentaries at 4am. Cults have always fascinated and terrified me; as functional entities presenting themselves as legitimate religions, and as horrific examples of human cruelty and psychological manipulation. The increase of internet users, and the spread and accessibility of social media, puts cults in an even better position to find new victims, but these factors also work to their disadvantage, providing resources that break down the reality of the organizations and their goals. I thought I’d see how easy it is to get in contact with cults, and how they present themselves to those they perceive as an easy target.
I didn’t want to use my real name for this I even used a VPN for filling in online contact forms not only because I’ve been openly critical of some of these groups online, but also because they scare me. Using a website for generating names for erotic fanfiction, I came up with a shortlist of identities: Leslie Garfield, Vivian Peak, Carol Snelling, and Alpha Lowell. I settled on Leslie Garfield, which I chose because I felt it was gender-ambiguous, and I like Garfield the cat. I decided they were born in 1985 because 33 seemed like a good age for a crisis of faith. I registered lesliegarfield85@gmail.com and sent each group the same message via email or online form:


Looking for help

To whom it may concern,


What is your mission? And how can I join you?


Sincerely,

Leslie Garfield

As Leslie I contacted several “religious organizations”, but didn’t get as many replies as I would have hoped; I suspect the newly registered email address may not have made it past several spam filters, or perhaps Leslie’s cryptic message was a bit too spooky even for the cults. My first response was an auto-reply from Full Circle, a “spiritual community center” based on “fostering social evolution”, formed by Andrew Keegan of 10 Things I Hate About You fame   unfortunately the Los Angeles-based temple closed its doors on 20 June 2017, and the group is on an indefinite hiatus. I found this unsurprising, since the last time I checked in on Full Circle they were auctioning signed headshots and personal voicemails from Keegan to raise rent. But other groups did get back to Leslie, and it was then that I became a fully realized cult catfish.

The Church of Scientology


Scientology is your classic modern day cult, full of schemes, abuse, isolation tactics, and blackmail, started by a science-fiction author who is on record saying religion is the best way to make money. Said science-fiction author, L. Ron Hubbard, started Scientology in 1954, originally via his book Dianetics that outlined the science of mental wellbeing (the science being it is fake and you don’t need to worry about it unless you are not a Scientologist, in which case you should join Scientology). According to the religion, everyone is full of “Thetans”, parts of alien-beings that were dispersed after being trapped in a volcano by intergalactic overlord Xenu, and entered human bodies. Trapped within us, these Thetans are the source of all human unrest. Scientology maintains a tax-exempt status as a religion, but charges followers hundreds of thousands of dollars to excel within its ranks, then traps them underground when they start to realize they’ve been taken advantage of. There’s a whole lot more to go into, but in short: they’re evil. The Auckland branch was very excited to hear from Leslie, and replied at 1am on a Monday, which makes me think I was probably not talking to anyone in Auckland.

Hello Leslie,

Anna here from the Church of Scientology Auckland!

Thank you for your email – I can [tell] that you are interested in joining our group – that is very exciting:)

Would you be able to come in to discuss it in person? And if so what would be the best day/time for you?

We are open from 9am till 10pm Monday to Friday, and from 9am till 6pm Saturdays & Sundays!

I am looking forward to hearing back from you!

Kind Regards, Anna

Because the short message I sent reads at best, manic, and at worst, depressive, Anna’s overly friendly tone really skeeved me out, and further supports Scientology’s tendency to prey on the weak. If you’ve ever seen someone with a weird gadget at a market offering you a free stress test, that someone is a Scientologist, that gadget is an E-Meter (a phony piece of equipment that does absolutely nothing), and that stress test is just an analysis of how vulnerable you would be to joining a huge fucking cult. I’ve been to the old Scientology building in Auckland, before they opened their new Grafton behemoth in 2017; a volunteer said I could take photos, but then my friend entered an empty office — every official church related building has this office in case L. Ron Hubbard returns from the dead and needs to type some stuff up, but it’s off limits to everyone who is a not a cultist ghost — which angered the Scientologists. They tried to get us to leave unless we watched a 20 minute introductory video, so we did. My favourite part of the viewing experience was the approximately 35 seconds when a stern woman was not staring at me from behind the television.

But maybe there are some… perks to Scientology? If you’re having trouble finding a flat, you can just join the Sea Org, made up of the cult’s most devoted followers and missionaries, split between compound and naval living. While the Sea Org is not a legally recognized organization, that doesn’t matter when you live in daily fear of Xenu returning you to the volcano from whence you came. You don’t have to worry about unexpected evictions, because joining the Sea Org involves signing a billion year contract. Just don’t ask where Shelly Miscavige is, or have a baby, or contact your family.

Scientology also offers a lot of exciting travel opportunities, deploying you to stalk ex-members all over the globe. But before you do any of that, you have to pay your way into the church — the average cost of “going Clear” (that is, reaching a state of being completely in charge of your mind and ready to properly absorb the church’s teachings) is US$33,000, and that’s before you even begin working on your Operating Thetan levels (when you find out about all the aliens). With the average New Zealand student loan balance as of 2017 at NZ$21,467, what’s a few extra cents here or there to live on a boat with all your bros like, mopping and shit?

You can find the church online at scientology-auckland.org and fill in a form to contact them, and they totally won’t use your details to find out where you live.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate was started by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles (known as Do and Ti, respectively), with a goal of reuniting with the extraterrestrial race they believed themselves to be a part of. When Ti’s body left our physical realm (she died), it only increased Do’s insistence that he was an alien reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The majority of the cult committed mass suicide in 1997 at Do’s instruction, in an attempt to leave earth by catching a ride on a spacecraft tailing the Comet Hale-Bopp, heading to a planet they referred to as “Next Level”. But a few stayed behind to run the emails.

The representative for Heaven’s Gate got back to Leslie pretty quickly, and the email was as bleak as it was brief:

Our mission is to maintain the website, emails, and the physical and intellectual property issues.

The Group ended in 1997. There is nothing to join.

 

I felt bad for them, cult thing aside. I replied with my condolences and asked if they were still following Do and Ti’s teachings, and they said they “still follow the ways of Next Level”, which I assume means watching all the videos left behind and wearing cool tracksuits. I would love to know what maintaining the Heaven’s Gate website entails, since its design clearly hasn’t been updated since the ‘90s.

If you want to make a spooky new online friend out of the person on the other end of Heaven’s Gate’s email address, there might be something in it for you; the group’s deaths made the Nike Decades shoe morbidly iconic all 39 members were found dead draped in purple sheets with matching black tracksuits and box-fresh shoes but Nike stopped production of the line after the bodies were found. Heaven’s Gate might still have a few pairs around (if they weren’t confiscated as evidence) that you could get your hands on, and then sell outside Area 51 Cuba Street for a sweet price; at the time of writing you can score a pair for NZ$9,138 on eBay. And don’t fret, you can catch Hale-Bopp on its next trip past Earth in the year 4380 intergalactic utopia is within your grasp.

You can visit the Heaven’s Gate website at heavensgate.com, or email someone with presumably the most low-maintenance office job ever at rep@heavensgate.com.

Gloriavale Christian Community

Are you absolutely sick of having to make your own decisions? Are you worried that when your degree finishes, you’re going to have to go out into “the real world”? Are you haunted by the idea that you are definitely going to die alone? The answer is the tight-knit Christian community of Gloriavale, New Zealand’s solution for those who crave a traditional Amish lifestyle but also want to mess their kids up real bad. For some reason New Zealand media has a real boner for portraying Gloriavale as an idyllic moral paradise because children do what they’re told there, but they’re told to get married at 16 and give birth to endless babies so it’s actually quite bad.

Gloriavale’s rep addressed all of Leslie’s questions in their reply, but failed to mention anything about the rampant child abuse:

Hello Leslie.

We are a Christian community, who follow and live the kJV bible, we live together, have all things in common, and wait earnestly for the coming of the Lord.

You are very welcome to come and visit and see for yourself, and stay and take it from there.

Just let us know the date and time you would like to come.

Kind Regards

Rebecca Temple

Gloriavale Christian Community

I was surprised how easy it seems to be to visit the Gloriavale community and how willing they were to have Leslie attend, even seeming to imply you could go there once and never leave if you settled in quick/got knocked up immediately (though you’d have to get married in the same day, heaven forbid you conceive out of wedlock).

If Victoria isn’t offering you enough artistic stimulation, and you don’t want to go to Massey because you’ve got some weird thing about it, Gloriavale has many outlets for the young (female) creative: from painting murals for child weddings, to sewing clothes for child brides, to sewing clothes for the eight children you had in eight years, to making your very own conservative sack dress to hide your sinful ankles. Men may find a hidden aesthetic beauty in butter churning, and Christ Himself. Alternatively, you could break in and try free all the victims of sexual abuse, brainwashing, and slave labour. It’s a real Sophie’s Choice.

Gloriavale have their very own website at gloriavale.org.nz, where you can tell them about your highly fertile womb through an online form on their contact page.


Hillsong Church

Hillsong has strong roots in Australia and New Zealand — Brooke Fraser recently won them a Grammy! — so it would be the most patriotic big time cult to join. For the most part, Hillsong masquerades as a legitimate church, it’s only when you go deeper that you realize it is just God’s pyramid scheme. They’ve been building momentum recently through celebrity endorsement, counting pop superstar Justin Bieber and ASMR artist Selena Gomez among its membership. They hate gay people, don’t pay staff, and have allegations of child sexual abuse against them, but they sure do make some mild pop tunes. If you sign up to Hillsong you too can rock out without sin to some inoffensive guitar music, that can either be about someone you want to bang missionary style after you get married, or your pure love for Jesus. To enhance their hip and funky vibe, Hillsong employs young ripped pastors like Bieber’s personal pastor Carl Lentz, who dresses in expensive streetwear and has those lines on his torso that go down towards his junk. Lentz currently oversees religious-based couples counselling between on/off couple Bieber and Gomez; allegedly it was part of the church’s mission to get the two back together as a testimony to the healing power of Je$us. If the leaders of Hillsong could wear One Direction’s skin, they would, and then they would take over the world.

I didn’t get a response from Hillsong, but if you go to hillsong.com there is a huge button that says JOIN, which made me nervous so I didn’t click it.

Young Nats

Their party lost the election and everyone thinks they’re a bunch of posh nerds. On the upside, blue is a very flattering colour. Don’t know how to join them. Don’t care. Nerds.


Disclaimer: Please do not join cults. They are bad and will take your money, your livelihood, and some may even kill you. Basically the opposite of live laugh love. Feel free to drop out of uni though. Please do not @ me Scientologists. Also Leslie Garfield is not real and any similarities to persons real or fictional is purely coincidental.

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