Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of the Process Church of the Final Judgment
Console your eyes; the Thetans throwing beaucoup bucks at the Dianetics funnel have come to level with us lowly, turning their best tricks toward inspirational--there is now a commercial for Scientology. Commercials for cults! It is a new day, people. In between some slick editing and some guy mouthlusting about my life-- "It's yours!” without a slink of irony--I thought I saw Thora Birch smiling back from my set. What? No. What? There is no Birch confirmation, but this is all to preface that right before I was to read Love, Sex, Fear, Death I was already in the mindset to wonder how one fumbles themselves into a cult.
Not so hard to wonder in the day of the glass-eyed empty drum of the Duggar clan and late-night MSNBC specials about juvenile vampiric sects. I regarded my copy of Love, Sex, Fear, Death with a wary eye in one socket. If you are verdant on your cult savvy, the book’s preface, written by Feral House’s own Adam Parfrey (who also pulls editorial duty), is of immense help. The Process Church of the Final Judgment was a highly controversial—and misunderstood—apocalyptic cult of the 1960’s. What started as a small group called Compulsions Analysis in London later exploded into a global empire with an ever-changing cash cow theology. With their uniformly black garb, coupled with their conflicting silver cross/Goat of Mendes accouterments, and penchant for producing massive amounts of boundary-pushing magazines (A Game of Rape, anyone?) a confused public immediately jumped to label them as a Satanic church. I fully expected the book—written mostly by a former member of The Process’s hierarchy, Timothy Wyllie—to be a full on kvetch about the trickery of cult leaders and their weak prey, lousing with naïveté--oh, the clutching of pearls!--but instead found a curiously open and frank confession of cult life that avoided an easy formula and instead focused on Wyllie's actualization considering, and in spite of, his experience with The Process. To write a simplistic review would surely be a disservice to the book's purpose, which is, essentially, to set the record straight and answer some questions. Aided by recounts from other members--neatly composed into separate chapters, for which I am grateful, dear editor--and over a hundred pages of images, clippings, and samples of The Process' lengthy magazine and editorial history, Love, Sex, Fear, Death leaves no stone unturned.
The biggest boulder (and with the most slippery of slopes, then) was the question of why. Why does a person, an intelligent person of 2 cells to rub, allow themselves to be Jonah'd and swallowed so easily by the whale? After reading Love, Sex, Fear, Death I think, in Wyllie’s case, the initial attraction was the pull of "extraordinary" as well as a sense of purpose and direction. As one of the original members, he was there for the initial inklings of Robert and Mary Ann de Grimston's conceptualized plan. As defectors from--aha!--the school of Scientology, the two utilized their former church's multi-purpose E-meter to hone in on people's insecurities and emotional triggers. This allowed for trauma and vulnerabilities to be smoothed and for an individual's true, subconscious goals to be found and voiced; Wyllie admits the sessions were "immensely clarifying and helpful” in terms of learning a person's reasons for and against achieving their personal goals. I call bullshit; it does not take a weatherman to look around, etc. but in Wyllie's almost sensuous retelling of the situation, the story, I can easily see how a young, intensely intelligent man of wandering direction could pick up and seize this. Later, The Process would stop using the E-meter, later called the P-Scope, in favor of themselves as ultimate empaths. That sense of camaraderie, gemütlichkeit, is intoxicating, and crucial for a cult.
With his retelling, the reader also gets a clear sense of why someone would stay in a cult, which Wyllie pointedly addresses, even after they've reached the point where the stem is off the apple. His vivid recollection of the cult's early time spent in an earnest, impoverished struggle and spiritual openness at the abandoned salt mine of Xtul in Yucatan, Mexico (after which seems to be the downfall of what Wyllie sees as the actual purpose of The Process) and of the physical, spiritual, and emotional work as one of the core members of The Process, he invested to the point of no return. He was one of the “elect,” as he puts it, hearkening back to that feeling of specialness; he was part of an extended family. When the church would later become clogged with power hungry subordinates, many of whom had not been so sacrificial and given so wholly to the spiritual work and abuse, he refused to leave as a determination that "they wouldn't break me."
And at this point I have to concede and say that while I appreciated Wyllie's honest, confessional style, the man doth protest too much in regards to the women. For a man involved in (and in many ways grateful for) a cult whose philosophy borrowed most closely from Alfred Adler, a man influential in the early support of feminism, there was much ado about woman hatin'. I get that there is some serious and justified resentment for Mary Ann, but some of what he says reads as a prayer against the power of the dowdy woman. There is little fault that Wyllie attributes to the supposed gullibility of Robert and himself, for that matter, when it comes to her and later in the bullying actions of chosen matriarchs.
Wyllie and his co-writers give great insight into the history of The Process (the Satanic and Manson murders connections are treated with an honest bewilderment) and while I can follow their tenuous connections (Christ said to love everyone...doesn't that naturally mean to love our most sworn enemy, Satan? Let's incorporate this into our deities chosen for I.R.S. purposes) I mostly appreciated the simplistic, wry personal recounts of the more sensational accusations, the bemused dispelling of myths and, of course, the large cache of Process publications.
Frank Zappa once said that the only difference between a cult and a religion is the amount of real estate they own; haven't the lights left the building? Cult of Personality, indeed.