Religion can be a sticky thing – what is one person’s undeniable truth is completely bizarre to another. But when you attach the ugly word “cult” to discussions of religion, people start picturing naked orgies, suicide via Kool-Aid and all sorts of crazy things. Of course, some cults are a bit crazier than others and anyone who takes a step back and looks at them objectively has no choice but to say “What the…?” And so it goes with these, seven of the most bizarre cults of them all.
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Founded by some dude named George King in 1954, the 650 member strong Aetherius Society claims that after learning yoga, King developed psychic powers that allowed him to learn the secrets of the universe. King claims that a voice told him to “Prepare yourself!” and that he was to be the voice of an Interplanetary Parliament, which I’m guessing involves E.T. and ALF dressed in those really powdery wigs? I don’t even know.
Naturally, King ran with this and formed the Aetherius Society, whose stated goal is to prevent the annihilation of Earth by improving cooperation between human beings and various alien species. The group is named after Aetherius, who they claim is something called a “Cosmic Master” from Venus, and that if people pray hard enough then disasters can be averted. The group’s ultimate goal is apparently to pave the way for some dude called the “Next Master” who they think is going to show up in a giant flying saucer and whoop some heathen ass. Also, they think Jesus and Buddha both came from Venus which doesn’t seem all that plausible considering that men are supposed to be from Mars and women are supposed to be from Venus, but who’s to say what’s true in these strange and troubled times?
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The Brethren aka “The Garbage Eaters” – well, now you know how they cracked this list – are a group of vagrants who shun all material things and are forced to break with their loved ones in order to devote themselves to the cause, which as far as I can tell involves a bunch of homeless people eating out of dumpsters because, uh, it says so in the Bible. Or something.
Naturally, the group is obsessed with the Apocalypse because, well, who isn’t these days? Also, the children of the group are not allowed to laugh or play, at least not until Jesus comes back. On the plus side, coloring is allowed and lest you think the whole thing sounds completely terrible, the Brethren make a point to stress that they have no written laws against bathing or soap or shampoo or anything like that. It’s just sort of understood that those sorts of things are too fancy for the Garbage Eaters. Where do we sign up!
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Formed in Japan, the followers of Mahikari believe that a dude named Yoshikazu Okada is a prophet. Apparently, Okada, suffering from a high fever (hmmm…) was transported to a magical land where he saw an old dude with long flowing white hair, uh, scrubbing his clothes clean. Naturally, Okada returned to the land of the living convinced that because he saw some old man doing his laundry that he was now a missionary of God. Sure, why not?
Of course, since Okada is a crazy person, he also claims that the old dude told him that it’s his job to prepare Earth for the coming Crazy Person Olympics also known as Armageddon, which will involve the reincarnated spirits of warriors still pissed off from an ancient nuclear war gone wrong between the mythical continents of Atlantis and Mu. He also claims that some of these spirits were actually alien warriors from Venus because you can’t be a good cult leader if you don’t invoke alien warriors from Venus. It’s all in the handbook.
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The Freedomites formed in Canada in 1902 as an offshoot of a Russian religious sect. What makes the group unique is that they are notorious for their nude protests. Seriously, in researching this I found a picture from the early 1900’s of a bunch of old weirdos with Civil War looking beards wandering around completely nude, like a horde of unshaven Abe Lincoln impersonators. And those were just the women.
But the Freedomites weren’t content to just stand around buck-ass naked in protest of materialism. They also burned their own money and, here’s where things really get weird, carried out bombings and acts of arson, all while completely naked. It takes a true act of faith to blow shit up while your junk is just dangling in the wind there just waiting for a stray flame to be caught in the ol’ kindling. Today, there are still 2,500 Freedomites in Canada and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if these dudes end up with their own reality show on MTV. After all, naked people plus explosions equals ratings. I just hope after writing this that I’m not set on fire by some weird naked dude. I’ve got enough things to worry about.
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Chen Tao is a Taiwanese cult that literally means “True Way.” And so what is the True Way? Well, according to them, the truth is that the world is trillions of years old and has gone through several different epochs, all ending in terrible disasters, and that a handful of survivors were saved each time by God who swooped down in a giant spaceship like some sort of Holy Han Solo to save the day. Because again, you can’t be a proper cult unless you have God ghost-riding a UFO.
The group became renowned for its prophecies which, of course, all failed to come true, with its leader claiming that the group would find a “Jesus of the West” who would look like Abraham Lincoln. There’s not a lot of monstrously ugly tall dudes hanging out in top-hats these days, though – well, outside of Williamsburg, Brooklyn anyway – and so the group decided he was full of shit and disbanded. The leader, Ho-Ming Chen, broke down and said that he misunderstood God and offered to allow his followers to stone him and crucify him, but they all just went home instead, leaving poor Chen to roam the Earth alone, like the dude from Kung Fu, searching for Abe Lincoln and awaiting God in his spaceship, just like it said to do in the Bible.
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Raëlism was founded in 1974 by a French race car driver named Claude Vorilhon, also known as Raël, and teaches that life on Earth was created by scientifically minded aliens (naturally…) named the Elohim. These Elohim lied to people and claimed that they were angels, hence all that business in the Bible, and that certain historical figures such as Jesus and Buddha were Elohim messengers sent to teach people how to live right.
With the requisite alien nonsense out of the way, let’s get to what truly separates Raëlism from the rest of the nut-job pack. First of all, the group teaches something called “Sensual Meditation” which is as weird and ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds. Second, and this is where they really jump up on the podium and make a grab for the gold, they claim to have perfected human cloning and that one of their members actually gave birth to a clone. Good ol’ Raël did the natural thing then and offered to try to clone Hitler so that we could bring him back and put him on trial and then punish him for, well, for being Hitler. Eventually, if I have this right, the group claims that everyone who has ever lived will be cloned by the aliens and brought to trial – the aliens are currently compiling evidence on us and our thoughts via supercomputers – which is certainly a unique take on the Apocalypse, I’ll give them that.
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I considered talking about Scientology here but if I did Guyism would probably end up being owned by Tom Cruise following a lengthy court case and as much as I still love Top Gun, I don’t need to spend the next month hooked up to an E-Meter confessing my sins to Pope Cruise. Besides, everyone knows the Scientology deal by now anyway and I want this to be about learning and looking at things from a different perspective.
And with that in mind, let us consider Christianity. I can already hear the passionate defenders of the faith gearing up a holy crusade against me in the comments, but just chill out for a moment. This isn’t a condemnation of Christianity. I just want everyone to take a step back and realize just how truly bizarre an idea it really is.
After all, the entire religion is founded on the premise that some mysterious figure in the sky (probably from Venus if we’ve learned anything from this article by now…) sent some dude to Earth to teach us how to love or something, and then we murdered that dude and three days later he came back to life like one of the zombies from the Thriller video and probably scared the shit out of all his friends.
Naturally, we commemorate this perfectly reasonable event by going to a giant building every Sunday where dudes in ceremonial robes feed us cake that is supposed to be this dead dude’s flesh and drink wine which is supposed to be his blood. So basically, zombies and cannibalism with a hint of weird alien stuff thrown in. And I haven’t even talked about all the weird shit in Leviticus. And if you aren’t down with all of this, you’re labeled an enemy of the people and wicked and all that good stuff and are to be shunned by the True Believers. Sounds like a cult to me. Sure, it’s a gigantic cult which sits at the very center of our collective culture, but let’s call a spade a spade here, you know? If we’re going to make fun of all the rest of the groups on this list, let’s take a look at our own culture’s dominant religion and it's ways, which are undeniably really, really bizarre, and that’s why nothing else could possibly be number one on this list.
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(Previously published on March 6, 2013.)