The three biggest threats to human flourishing are gods, dictatorships, and the unchecked exploitation of ecosystems. All three are interdependent pathologies. So I write about politics, ethics, systems, and philosophy, with a focus on connecting those three terrible ideas to their real-world consequences.
We all want the freedom to do as we choose. Liberty. But many of us are not so keen on other people being free to do as they choose. And that drives us toward authority and strongmen. Many people have a keen sense that others should be “in their place.” Hierarchy. We talk a good game about “justice for all” in America, but we repeatedly vote against equality. All of these tensions reach a breaking point once people start talking about their “gods” and immortal “souls.” Divine edicts make political compromise and coexistence impossible. And that logjam goes right back to the core essence of religion and spirituality–humanity’s original sin.
Since I founded this site in 2001, I’ve never wavered from my passion to confront the lies and manipulations of religious and political demagogues. And to call out the hypocrisies being used to prolong hierarchy, authority, tradition, superstition and fear. Because gods, dictatorships and ecosystem destruction aren’t just being foisted upon humanity by a few evil people. Too many of us find ways of convincing ourselves to participate in this suicide pact. Too many of us have soft spots for gods and dictators, so long as we think they’re on our side. And too many of us want the spoils of the Earth, at the lowest cost, no matter who gets hurt.
You’ll find fearless anti-theism and anti-fascism here. And a no-compromise approach to climate justice. We’re killing our civilization with carbon emissions and other pollution, and it’s far later than you think. Step up and make a difference.
I invite you to explore both past and present content. You’ll find a wealth of information. Some of it is focused on my personal story, which continues below.
Joe Occhipinti teaches as adjunct geography faculty in various places of learning and is a life-long advocate of universal justice and environmental stewardship. Joe emigrated from Italy as a child and has lived in Canada and Argentina. He has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad, is an avid hiker and nature lover, enjoys the practice of martial arts, and occasionally loves to work with his hands, woodworking and other crafts.
My “New-Age” Cult Escape
From my first awareness, I was immersed in worship, prayer, and monastic living, which forced me to consider existential matters. My parents taught me that life was meant to be lived in service to God, and all my efforts should be directed toward achieving immortality. During my childhood, my parents and the others who raised me prayed incessantly to unseen beings who they claimed overshadowed our lives. These beings were supposedly benevolent. But I quickly learned that they were not just benefactors. They demanded a price for their protection and guidance. They enforced a strict code of behavior, on pain of severe spiritual punishment, and the possible loss of ascension.
Threaten someone’s life? That’s one thing. Threaten their immortality? Now that’s something to inspire fear in a believer. Failing one’s ‘mission’ or denouncing God could result in being forced to live countless future lives paying off karmic debts, or even the second death. Soul death was a concept which was drilled into my head verbally before I even learned to read. These overseers we believed had this awesome power over our lives were angels and Archangels, ‘cosmic beings’ from other planets, as well as ‘ascended’ historical figures from Earth. Collectively, they were referred to as ‘Ascended Masters.’
My parents Mark and Elizabeth Prophet were the founders of the Summit Lighthouse, later known as Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT).
Growing up in this environment offered many advantages: I got a first-rate education in the publishing and entertainment business. I travelled the world in luxury. As a young boy, I met heads-of-state in Ghana, Liberia, and India, as well as the Dalai Lama. In my twenties, I met many prominent academics and celebrities. I formed deep friendships with other cult members, a few of which continue to the present. Through it all, I gained a deep understanding of group dynamics, the power of suggestion, and the pitfalls of communal living.
Now for the disadvantages: I led a very sheltered life. I had to learn the hard way about being different. I suffered painful ridicule from peers in public elementary school and junior high who didn’t believe any of what I’d been taught. I also struggled with coming to terms with consensus reality versus our skewed ‘in-group’ perceptions. There were moments of clarity in my teen years, when I left and lived on my own. Then I rejoined the church as an adult. I became a minister and department head at age 23, and later vice-president. It was an intoxicating role for a 25-year-old, near the top of a non-profit organization with thousands of members and total assets over $50 million.
Since I had little management experience, I didn’t always treat people well. I look back with no small amount of regret at my sense of entitlement, and my lack of empathy. The only role models I’d had were “messengers of god” who spoke with divine authority. Even so, my position never felt quite right. People feared me, but when push came to shove, they only cared about the real power behind me, which was my parents and their voluminous “teachings.” I eventually got tired of the fear, the power games, the nepotism, and the control that came with my position.
All of this early drama fostered my intense interest in human nature. I wondered how something like this could have happened in a free society? I wanted to define the religious experience, in naturalistic terms. I needed to know what could lead people to have a personal relationship with beings that weren’t visible, and reify myths. I needed to understand how people could become so certain of these legends, they would reorient their lives in service to them? Finally, how could invisible beings take such strident positions on matters of Earthly politics?
The cult was very conservative, and though ostensibly “new age,” it was suffused with fundamentalism and patriotism. There was Catholic guilt, the sacraments of baptism and communion, belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and long hours of high-speed chanting. The cult punished nonconformity. Nothing “worldly” was allowed. No fashionable clothing or hairstyles, no sex outside heterosexual marriage, no LGBT anything, no dating or marriage without permission, no drugs, alcohol or rock music, no unapproved television, books, or films. This was a paradox, because the church was founded on nonconformity to established religion. You’d be hard-pressed to find two greater rebels than my parents. Yet they ran their fiefdom with military discipline.
They claimed great freedoms for themselves. Indulgences they had participated in–or struggled with, they banned for others. While all of us engage in small hypocrisies in our lives, the difference is that we don’t have thousands of followers. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. No cult leader can maintain their ethics while holding so much power over others. Sooner or later everyone with unaccountable power shows their ass, and my parents were no exception. My stepfather went to jail in 1989 on federal weapons charges. My mother’s nuclear war prophecy failed in 1990. We’d spent everything we had, building a huge, expensive underground bunker capable of holding 756 people. For what? Her words had consumed so many years of so many lives.
When I realized it was all for nothing, I wanted no further part of it. In 1993 I left the cult for good, with a U-Haul, a few thousand bucks, my wife, and three young kids.
After the cult
By 1994, I was back to work making television. I moved up quickly. I had supervised sound and television production at the cult, so making the transition to editor wasn’t too difficult.
It took me some time to get my life settled. By 1996 I was doing well in my career, my financial worries were behind me. I had five good years up through 9/11, during which I finally got to live life on my own terms. I worked hard, raised my kids and didn’t really think about god or religion at all. Sometimes living well is as good as it gets, and there are few better places to do that, than Los Angeles, California.
With some time and distance, I finally was able to conclude that the cult stories had all been bullshit. What else could they be? It became clear to me that I was right at home in the entertainment business–because that’s what religion is. It rivets people’s attention and assuages their fear of death temporarily, like a sedative. Many see it as a quest for meaning. But religion destroys real-life meaning and replaces it with a really insulting fantasy that you’re supposed to pretend isn’t a fantasy. When you go see a film, even a great film, it doesn’t follow you home, or into your bedroom. It doesn’t demand you go back the next week, and every week after that, and see that same film again, and teach it to your children.
Religion’s never-ending drama, tragedy, comedy, and farce is performed by professional raconteurs (priests, ministers, rabbis, imams). The pageantry of eternal life and death swirls in 4 or 5 dimensions, filling the heads of converts with destiny, purpose, meaning, past lives, an eternal future, tales of virgins and raptures and final judgments, warfare of the good and bad seed in the human population. In some religions, there’s even aliens involved! It’s spiritual Armageddon on demand. It’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but real. The cosmic drama of the ages is happening right now, and only your prayers and money can save the day.
The world, and your eternal life, are at stake!
With all these compelling dramas to entertain, how can a believer give their full attention to flesh and blood people? Sadly, plain 3D-reality, and tired ‘human needs’ like food and shelter and health care, seem to be no match for the grand charade.
Religions purport to explain the origin of the universe, and replace death with eternal life. Would that they could. For believers, that empty promise makes religion the ultimate distraction from day-to-day living. No film, TV show, or video game could ever come close to being that perfectly escapist. Too bad religion doesn’t come with a child-proof cap, and a parental advisory:
Black Sun Journal History
I started this site in 2001, just weeks before the September 11 attacks. I had intended the journal to be a forum where I could discuss my views and experiences against the backdrop of my earlier life as a minister and VP of Church Universal and Triumphant. I wrote two original pieces called, “What is Black Sun?” and “Why is Black Sun?” My thinking has evolved, and my life has changed quite a bit since then. But those posts still capture the original spirit of what I intend to accomplish.
After September 11, 2001 much of my discussion centered around the national crisis. The attack really broke me. I realized in an instant, that no one would be safe, anywhere, so long as religion continued to hold power. And that feeling has stuck with me ever since. I’ve made it my mission to do everything I can, to fight the scourge of religion and spirituality, as long as I have breath.
But I’ve also kept true to my central purpose, which is to explore the depths of the “shadow side” of human nature and human psychology as they impact political events. Most of what drives our decisions, is below the level of conscious awareness. And that’s a huge problem.
A total of eight monthly issues of Black Sun Journal were published in 2001 and 2002. Later I converted to a blogging format, first on Typepad, then Blogger, then a WordPress site v.3 in 2007.
I’m now up to Black Sun Journal v.4, and I’ve included most of the original content. What’s gone are the smaller microblogging posts. There were a lot of good links, but they’re just not topical today. What I’ve kept are longer, more in-depth articles I wrote about important ideas, or my personal story. I’ve added current updates and commentary, better images and headlines, but I’ve tried to avoid doing much substantive editing to the original text.
There was a time when I used to engage with active cult members. For the moment, I’ve left their comments up on older articles. (We’ll see how long that lasts). Some of my posts from that era also chronicle their flagrant intellectual dishonesty and trolling behavior. But it’s clear to me now, how much of a waste of time it was engaging with them. The ones who came to attack me, were on a divine mission. I represented an existential threat to their lifelong ideological commitments, so they felt it was their duty to “witness” against me. And they would never stop disparaging me, until I banned them.
Thankfully, I had a whole other audience of skeptics and atheists, and people who were genuinely in recovery from religion. I really enjoyed those interactions, and made quite a few friends I still talk to.
Blogging Hiatus, National Progressive Talk Radio, and The Radical Secular
I’m a little sad that during the 2010s much of what I wrote was on Facebook, and not on the blog. I let Black Sun Journal languish almost completely. I’ll be mining everything I wrote in the past decade, for any concepts and ideas that remain relevant, as I resume a more regular posting schedule here, going forward.
From 2012-2014, I produced a podcast called National Progressive Talk Radio in which I interviewed dozens of pretty darn famous activists, authors and politicians, a few of whom are sadly no longer with us. There were a total of 56 episodes. The NPTR site is long gone. But I’ve reposted all the episodes right here. That was a really fun and educational project for me. I wish I could have continued it. I was reading a book a week, and producing an hour-long podcast, while working full time as a television editor. It wasn’t sustainable, no matter how much I wanted it to be.
Guests included Guy P. Harrison, Jamila Bey, Dr. Peter Boghossian, Rep. Steve Cohen, Steve Hill, David Brin, David Fitzgerald, Dr. Jared Diamond, Dr. John Boik, Dr. Walter M. Brasch, Douglas Noll, Kassie Siegel, Robert Parry, Dr. Christopher Ryan, Dr. Cathleen Mann, Kenneth Thomas, Matthew Alper, Mark Hannah, Sean Faircloth, Frank Cipolla, Dr. Jack Rasmus, Wayne Besen, Matt Thornton, Hemant Mehta, Robert Greene, Brian Dunning, Mark Floegel, Jennifer Hancock, Dan Lashof, Rocky Anderson, Dr. Victor Stenger, Lee Camp, Caryn Hartglass, Matt Staggs, Troy Boyle, and Lou Grinzo.
Then, in 2020, Christophe Difo and I founded a podcast and video series called The Radical Secular. Our tagline was “A demand for justice, equality, and rational public policy.” Later we were joined by Joe Occhipinti and briefly by Drew Scott. We managed to somehow crank out 89 episodes together, some of them more than two hours long. All jam packed full of both research and commentary on secularism, anti-fascism, and social justice. Joe and I withdrew from that project in June 2022, due to time constraints and creative differences. But it’s still going strong with Christophe Difo and Liz Wilson.
I’m gratified to be able to showcase all my creative work from the past two decades in one place. And I’m nowhere near finished. So expect more written content. During the late 2010s I also got about half a book written, and you’ll see some chapter excerpts in the future.
I’m sure to be diving back into more audio and video production at some point in the future. I’m don’t know what form that will take, although I’m itching to do more interviews with great guests, I always learn so much.
Note that the YouTube channel from The Radical Secular (which was originally the Black Sun Journal channel) is now back to this branding, and all The Radical Secular episodes are still fully available there.
My friends, it’s been quite a journey, and I couldn’t do it without all of you.
Welcome to Black Sun Journal v.4!