I have posted the following five-star review of Prophet’s Daughter on Amazon.There is so much more I have to say about my sister’s landmark book. Given time constraints at the moment, this will have to suffice:
A Gripping Cautionary Tale, September 20, 2008
Erin’s book is an outstanding document, accomplishing two extremely difficult tasks: 1) Providing a history and human context for our mother’s life, and 2) Demonstrating her difficulty coming of age while faced with the expectations of following in her mother’s footsteps, and against a backdrop of constant crisis, “divine revelation,” human fame and idolatry.
It is to Erin’s credit that she did a decade of research, and consulted a wide range of sources both within our family and outside of it. Her book is factually unimpeachable when it comes to its representation of the lives of our parents and the church they founded. Erin went way beyond due-diligence as an author in having her manuscript vetted and triple-checked by every member of our family.
As someone who was right by Erin’s side through most of the events that make up her narrative, I can say that she made every attempt at laser-accuracy. In my view, she has also been gracious and erred on the side of protecting her parents and the feelings of church members at almost every level. As I read through the book, I was often astounded by her dispassionate and unbiased tone even when describing very painful situations. There were many less charitable ways she could have presented the information, and some earlier drafts reflected that.
I speak here specifically to those in CUT who may be disturbed by her revelations, which some have called “salacious.” I ask: What better way is there to evaluate a person’s ethics than how they lived? I would argue that like running for public office, the very act of raising oneself up as a “guru” invites and even demands just such scrutiny. For it is in the nuance of personal life decisions that character is revealed.
I applaud Erin’s discussion of mom’s meddling in her marriage. For Erin’s marriage was by no means the only one to suffer. I saw countless people humiliated and broken up. Whenever mom used to chastise married staff members, she insisted that their spouse be present–often demanding the spouse take her side and reinforce her position. People were told on a whim that their husband or wife was a “fallen one” or “betrayer”–if that person became inconvenient to mom’s agenda. Friendships, relationships and marriages were all expendable. This kind of spiritual hubris only survived as long as it did through the shame of followers to acknowledge it–a code of silence to protect the “sanctity” of the messengership on which they based their lives. I agree with Erin that it must be exposed if it is not to be repeated.
This is reinforced by the example of my own experience. I made the decision in 1985 at the age of 21 to marry Kathleen Mattson, the pregnant mother of my eldest son. Mom was violently opposed to it. She summoned me to her house in Malibu and arranged to have my best friend (a staff member) present at an all-night session where she spiritually threatened and browbeat me and convinced me to send Kathleen away to a CUT center in Vancouver. This separation lasted about 2 months until I realized that my wife-and-son-to-be were far more important to me than mom’s blessing or spiritual pronouncements. I sent Kathleen a plane ticket, and brought her back. When I told my mom of my decision, she first threatened to excommunicate us from the church and to cut off all contact. Rather than admit she might have overreached, she preferred to compound the error by instructing followers that I and her future daughter-in-law be outcast and shunned like pariahs. Eventually she saw that I wasn’t backing down, and she agreed to marry us in a group ceremony with 9 other couples, and accepted us back into the fold. Contrary to the disaster she had predicted, our marriage lasted 10 years and produced 3 (now adult) sons whom she loved dearly. As this episode demonstrates, more people should have stood up to her over the years.
But many people did not, and allowed their lives to be knocked off track. Of course the biggest example of the folly of her spiritual authority was the decision to squander the lifetime endowment of her church in a massively paranoid exercise in survival preparation.
As Erin documents, both she and I played no small part in the shelter drama, Erin on the spiritual side, and I on the engineering side. I felt that if the prophecies were real, we should spare no expense, and we didn’t. Erin gave the confirmations the engineers were looking for, and it became a runaway train of excess.
Twenty years later, now that we have the opportunity to reflect, this memoir should be seen as a cautionary tale. Rather than CUT members circling the wagons because they are uncomfortable, they should be willing to look in the mirror. They need to realize that it was their beliefs and their elevation of the “messenger” to a place of unquestioned authority that led to every abuse. It is the authority-based tradition of “gurus” and “masters” that was the essence of the problem.
Though Erin doesn’t quite reach the same conclusion, it is to me the undeniable implication of her courageous book. Once we remove anything, including spiritual authority, from the check and balance of reasoned analysis, all bets are off. Once a person claims (and people accept) prophecy and “divine revelation,” all manner of abuses and wrong turns can and will result.
Erin’s book succeeds on all counts. It’s a gripping story of our mother’s downfall into paranoia, a cautionary tale about power and group dynamics, and a very personal memoir of her struggles and triumph over adversity. As her brother, as a philosopher, and as a humanist, I’m proud beyond words.