14. The Letter

I agonized for weeks over what to do. Besides reading the book Snapping* (footnote: * by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman; published by Delta, New York, 1978) that John had told me about. I also talked to a few people who had been cult members and now earned their living by deprograming cult members. I knew that it was quite common for people who had been alcoholics to become alcoholism therapists, phobics, like Sigmund Freud, solve their problem and go on to treat other phobics, and so on. They were not as optomistic as John Davis; there were too many imponderables.

The one thing that I knew for sure was that I was going to move slowly. There was no point in alienating Allen, unless I could do him some good by it. When I told Davis what I had said in that car (when Allen asked me if I thought that his brain was dead, and I replied Yes), he said that he thought that I had said the right thing. That the only way that I would be able to reach Allen was with total honesty. I was pretty good at that, so I decided to write him a long letter, detailing my thoughts and feelings. If he paid any attention to it, it might do him some good. I decided to get all of the help that I could with it; I would let John Davis, Laura and Kit read it. I would also follow it up with a visit, so that I would be able to find out what was really going on. Was this Brother James another Myung Sun Moon? In how bad a shape was Allen? I really had no solid information. Most of what I was dealing with was what Ellen had told me and my own conjecture.

After much work and many rewrites, this was the result:

Dear Allen,
I was going to give this letter to you at Thanksgiving, so that we would have a chance to discuss it. Since you're not coming, I am sending it. We will have a chance to talk about it when I visit Santa Barbara. While I think that the letter is quite clear, I know from experience that everything is subject to misinterpretation; so please reserve your final judgment until we have had a chance to talk.

When I saw you in Michigan, I was astounded at the change. I must say that I prefer the Allen I knew to the "new" Allen. I had the distinct feeling that I was not talking to Allen, but to someone else. I felt that you were separating yourself from me -not the ordinary separation that comes when a son grows up, but a deliberate movement that signified that you have become a stranger, that you no longer wanted the warm friendship that I thought that we have always had. It was, I thought, based on an honest exchange of views between us; I thought that we did not have to agree about things, in order to love one another and that we would always listen and talk together. I missed the gentleness and loving warmth that has always been in you. Instead, I hear someone else's words and feel that I am talking to an actor who is playing a scene. I was disturbed when you told me at the Tuttle reunin that you thought that you were "righteous" in apprehending someone who was stealing food. You were, of course, justified; yet is not something that I thought that my non-violent Allen would relish, as you seemed to. I would expect you to see it as an unpleasant duty rather than something to be proud of. In short, your newly assumed character does not sit well with me -I prefer you as you were. You tell me that you are happier. I have heard the same thing from people on booze and heroine, but I have trouble believing it. With alcohol and drugs, ones life is shortened. In your case, you will live just as long, but what kind of a life will it be? Everything that I know leads me to believe that true happiness comes from a combination of accomplishment and the love of real friends and family. Recognition is nice, but it is not as substantial as the others. A real life can also be quite painful at times, I assure you. I am, therefore, very suspicious of someone who tells me that he is "happy" without anything particular to be happy about. Now, in a time that should be one of tranquility, I am more pained than ever. Yet, one must accept what life holds and try to make the best of it. While I have a reasonable amount of power over my own life, there seems to be little I can do to keep loved ones from paining me except to write them off, and I am unwilling to do that.

When I stayed in Ellen's house, I picked up a bible. It had an inscription by Brother James. As a result, I had a long talk with Ellen about her experience in Santa Barbara. I was amazed. I thought that this kind of treatment of people was reserved for American prisoners in Communist countries. I consider it almost criminal to use someone being in a low point in their life to indoctrinate them into one's way of thinking. When she came back from Santa Barbara, she said that she wanted to be a nurse. I never knew why until she told me that Brother James told her that that was what she should do -she was offered no choices, no opportunity to make up her mind - she was told. Fortunately, she recovered and is now on the way toward some career which is more in keeping with her wishes and talents. It may not be the choice she eventually chooses to stick to, but it will be her choice and I trust that it will be one that does well for her.

When I think about what you and your colleagues did to Ellen, it makes me very angry. There is a name for it, but I'll wait until the end of the paragraph to tell you what it is. First let me describe the process: it consists of getting someone when they are at a low point in their life and, instead of helping them to feel better, taking advantage of their condition to indoctrinate them with their ideas. It is used with prisoners of war; the only difference being that the captors are the cause of the misery as well as the indoctrinators. I am aware that this technique was used on you and for some reason, which I do not understand, you consider it perfectly acceptable. I can think of nothing which I consider more immoral. It is called mind rape -and that is exactly what it is. It is considerably more immoral than the Salvation Army technique of trading food to a hungry person in exchange for listening to a sermon -at least in this case, a person has the option of rejecting what the sermon presents. In the case of mind rape, the victim, feeling hopeless, is literally hypnotized into swallowing the whole business. If a person manages to escape, he may recover , as Kris did. If he stays, the process is continued so that any independence of mind that a person may have is squelched. People who are brain washed become zombies. They cease to be aware of the effect of their behavior and dress has on others. This is especially apparent in the Hari Krishna, but it is also true of other groups. They assume that others see them as their fellow zombies do. It fits a definition of temporary insanity -provided that it is temporary. Unfortunately, it can be permanent.

I have questioned whether I should not have ordered my (older) children to do what I wanted them to do. I could have, but it struck me as immoral at the time. Now, I look at you being told what to do by someone who neither knows you or loves you as I do, and I wonder if I didn't make a big mistake. I thought that your keen mind would enable you to distinguish the real from the fake. I think that you have been hoodwinked by some very unscrupulous people. I hope that you regain your independence before it is too late -before you have wasted a large part of your very precious life on a fictitious existence.

Most people are born into some religious tradition and it seems to them to be the only correct one. Most also stay with the tradition that they were brought up in. It feels comfortable, and most religions have parts built into them that would make someone feel very uncomfortable -even treasonable- to leave the religion that they were brought up in. These religions vary from the worship of the sun, religions with many gods, monotheism which conceives of a creator beyond the capacity of man to understand, to religions with prophets to whom god supposedly speaks. These priests mediate between man and god. There are religions with intensely personal gods such as Christianity. Each religion considers itself to be the "true" one and some sects of Mohamedanism and Christianity see it as their mission to convert everyone else -sometimes preferring to kill the infidel if he will not embrace "the truth". They also vary from being relatively sensible to being stark raving mad (look up the Skoptsy, Holy Rollers and others too numerous to mention who have now disappeared). They vary from being exclusive as are the Jews to proselytizing as do some Christian and Muslim groups. I chose to raise my children so that they could choose what suited them at the time, since I believe in none of them. I also had no reason to turn my children against religion -after all they have to live in a world in which the vast majority of people are believers. You have chosen to embrace a religion. You are over 18 and are therefore responsible for that choice and its consequences. I had hoped that you would have chosen a religion which allowed more independence of thought than the one which you have chosen.

All people live most of their childhood in a tunnel where they can only see what is in front of them. Most spend the rest of their lives that way. It is not surprising that they choose to retain the religion of their childhood. Some, who have left it for a time, return to it in old age -it is a great comfort. Some change religions and a rare few abandon religion altogether. Among this rare group are some who manage to see a good deal of what the world is all about and acquire what, for want of a more descriptive word, is called wisdom. For me, wisdom seems desirable since it is better to understand than to walk in darkness. This is a matter of faith with me and I have devoted (and still do) my life to trying to understand myself, others, the world and the universe. Needless to say, I have merely scratched the surface and most of what I now understand has come as a result of considerable effort and, sometimes, considerable pain. I therefore am quite irked by people who understand little, yet claim to have found the whole secret of life. I am particularly irked by those who claim that it was all discovered two or four thousand years ago -or longer. I am pretty accepting of foolishness in young people; it is unavoidable. (although I have occasionally come across some true understanding among rare young people, and I am always amazed by it). I have no patience with old or young fools who insist upon parading their foolishness and proselytizing. A shrink I knew said that if someone is crazy and he can find eight people who are willing to share his insanity, he is no longer crazy -he has become a religious prophet.

There are techniques for gaining adherents to a cause that have been known for a long time. The words brain washing are new, but the techniques are old. They are to make someone feel that he or she belongs and that no one but the group or the guru can provide the love that he or she needs. If you have any doubt about this as a technique, and think that this is what love is, look at how someone is treated who leaves the fold -or better still, try leaving yourself if you can stand the pain. Remember that when you left home, your mother was very unhappy to see you go. Still you remained her son. I have been greatly pained by you and you have not been tossed aside -nor will you be. To preserve myself from intense pain, I may choose not to look, but that is all.

I believe that people who try to convert others and gather a "flock" are usually obsessed with having personal power over others. They are potentially dangerous as was Rev. Jones. They are dangerous by grace of those who are foolish enough to follow them. In fact, the height of human folly is to blindly follow anyone, be he dead or alive. It might be justified in times of great peril, but certainly not now. I would feel that I have failed as a parent if one of my children blindly followed anyone, including me.

I talked to people who deal with cult members, and read everything that I could find about it. I even thought about a "deprogramming" for you, but then thought better of it. If I assault your mind, how am I different from those who "programmed" you in the first place? I have decided to wait until your reason returns of its own accord, as I hope that it will. Please understand that I love you very much, so the only thing that I can do is wait. I will be here, should you decide to come home. Just as it is unthinkable for me to assault the body of one of my children, so is it also unthinkable that I would assault his/her mind. I believe, as did Ghandi, that you cannot do good using evil means; and I believe that brain washing a human being is about as evil as one can get, short of murder.

I am having trouble dealing with my feeling of having failed you as a parent; that I did not adequately prepare you to go out alone into the world. I just learned that it is the custom in my tribe not to interfere with the experiences of a man who has reached his majority (13 years of age). Without being aware of this, I did not interfere in anything that I did not think was life threatening. I now believe that I should have interfered more than a year ago. I assumed, mistakenly, that it was an experience that you would outgrow in a short time. I did not prepare you for human duplicity as I should have. The people who have influenced you in the past were, I felt, good people from whom you had much to learn. I was not sufficiently aware, although I should have been, of your extreme trust in people. It opened you up to being brutally exploited by unscrupulous people. Now that it has happened, I realize, in retrospect that I was negligent. I hope that you can forgive me. I was concerned that Ellen believed in elves at an age when most children have discarded Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy - I should have worried about you. I think that trust is good, provided the person involved is trustworthy -but no one should be trusted absolutely, including ones parents. (If it sounds as if I am contradicting myself, it is because I have very mixed feelings and have not yet sorted them out.).

There is one principle in understanding human behavior, to which I have never found an exception (although I suppose that there must be one somewhere). That is "Everything that a person does is for gain". Sometimes the gain is obvious, such as money, praise, power, pleasure and many others. If someone offers you something where the gain does not seem obvious, it is always a good idea to look for it -because it is always there. If someone offers to sell you something, the gain (money) is usually obvious; if someone offers to "give you something for free", it is usually a swindle.

What do parents gain from having children? It is very complex, but some of the more obvious gains are a feeling of fulfillment, of accomplishment, someone to love who will love you etc. For Laura and I, one of the most important things are a feeling that we have done a good job in raising our children, which leads to some wonderfully good feelings. In other words, the more successful the child is, the better the parent feels. I would like to qualify this by saying that I view successful living as dealing with life in a reasonable manner. I do not consider it to be becoming a superstar or famous or a doctor etc.

Now, I have no idea what Brother James has to gain, but it would be a very good idea for you to examine this very carefully. Is it that same good feeling that parents get (something that the best teachers feel) or is it money or power over people? It would be in your best interest to examine the motives of your parents and Brother James very carefully. His motives may be above reproach, or they may be otherwise. I believe that what he has done to you is evil. If he is doing it for pecuniary gain or power, he deserves to be imprisoned. If he is doing it because he feels like a surrogate parent, he merely deserves to be ignored. It is also worth remembering, that in this country, money is power! While I have no idea of the details, I believe that you might be being exploited (used for someone else's gain). Either you are being financially exploited and are being used for someone else's profit or you are being manipulated by someone who wants power over people. If you open your mind, you will know what is happening.

I would like to say a few words about that wonderful "high" that a person gets when they feel that they have found something wonderful. I get that feeling when I think that I have made an important discovery, solved an important problem, or seen or heard something that has touched me. I remember one that I had with you, when I felt exceptionally gratified by something that you did or said. It is interesting that I remember the feeling, but not the precise circumstance that engendered it.It is one of the nicest things that life has to offer. But I know that it is an illusion and that it is real only in my own head. I therefore carefully test these "revelations" and, usually, find that they are not true, but that they are quite useful -provided that I don't act on the basis of them. To an artist or scientist, it is the source of creative energy; but if he takes it at face value he is insane. For example, suppose that an person has a vision of something that he would like to paint. If he is a skilled artist, it can become a superb painting. If, on the other hand, he knows nothing about painting, it will resemble the paintings of little children which are considered fine only by the kid's parents.There is nothing wrong with an unskilled person painting something, but if he tries to sell it in an art store as a masterpiece, he is crazy. I have had my crazy times, but fortunately, they didn't last too long -sooner or later, reality managed to bring me back to the real world.

This is a quote from a book called Snapping. It is a quote from Marjoe, who was a child evangelist: "When I was traveling," he said, looking back on the old days, "I'd see someone who wanted to get saved in one of my meetings, and he was so open and bubbly in his desire to get the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful and very fresh, but four years later I'd return and that person might be a hard-nosed intolerant Christian because he was better than anyone who drinks and better than the world because he had Christ. That's when the danger comes in. People want an experience. They want to feel good, and their lives can be helped by it. But then as you start moving into the operation of things, you get into controlling people and power and money."

It is very natural when faced with difficult and conflicting decisions to want to be relieved of them, particularly if the conflicts seem insoluble. At the same time, the kind of growth that makes one a wise and mature adult comes as a consequence of dealing with these conflicts. I am not saying that it is necessary to court conflict and pain in order to grow, but dealing with difficulty is an important element. If something is too painful, avoiding it is sometimes a good idea, but continual avoidance of conflict by letting someone else (real or unreal) make the decisions results in mental stagnation and mental sterility. True, most people are in that state, but I had hoped that my children would not be among them.

I have thought, what do I have to offer you, should you chose to follow a path that I might consider reasonable? I can't offer you answers, happiness or eternal life. My way involves continual questioning; and when an answer is found, tomorrow's searching may show that it was wrong. Happiness? Some, but interspersed with pain. At the end, not another life, but an end of life, with your elements returning to whence they came to be recycled by the life that comes after. Not very delicious, I must admit. Why do I follow it? First, I follow it because I love life; it is all that I know, and contained within it are all of the beautiful things that only being alive can offer: love, warmth, the beauty of the stars and moon, a sunrise and sunset, a white day after the snow has stopped, good food, the joy of knowing that my heart is circulating blood through my body and that my eyes see, my ears hear and my brain can think. I think that I feel things with great intensity because my mind is not cluttered with "have tos and shouldn'ts." I find it ressuring and warm to have Laura lying next to me in bed, feeling her warmth and waking up with someone to talk to who I know cares about me and whom I care about. I can look back on my accomplishments which, while they are not much, are a source of pride for me; and I can look forward to more accomplishment in the future. I have passed my genes on to the next generation (including one gene I shouldn't have) and have contributed to the rearing of 8 members of the next generation. My life has gotten progressively better with time and I expect that life will continue to improve until my health goes. I don't want to die, but know that that is the way that things have to be (no death, no life) and I accept it. It is this acceptance that brings peace and I suspect that it is that state of grace that the religious ones talk about. It also includes acceptance of people as they are, without judging them. (Why don't I accept you? I do! What I don't accept is your living Brother James's life instead of your own.). Mostly, I have power over myself (not others). Most of my life I have been more or less under the control of others: parents, teachers, politicians etc. Now, while I make no claim to true independence, I am in more control of myself than most people can even aspire to. I understand a great deal about myself, others and the nature of the world. I have fewer illusions than most. My mind has penetrated difficult problems, including what is happening to my son. Think, for a moment; what will you be able to say about yourself at 60?

The thing that frightens me the most is that once a person has abdicated his ability to reason, he has no defense against a crazy prophet like James Jones who instructed all of his followers to kill themselves -which they did. It is far from harmless. It is analogous to walking in an area full of deep pits and cliffs at night without a light.

I tried to guide you into becoming an adult human being -not a sheep. What I have heard from you leads me to suspect that you have abandoned reason and have left the world of living, feeling, thinking people. Please come back - I miss you.

P.S. I would like to affirm that I have never done anything with or to you where I did not have your welfare as the primary consideration. I have made mistakes, but please do not impugn my motives -they were always concerned with your welfare. I love you very much.

John Davidson said that he thought that it was a "dynamite letter" and that I aught to send it.

Both Laura and Kit also thought that it was dynamite -and that it was just as likely to push Allen off the deep end as it was to do him some good. I decided that I didn't want to take the chance of driving Allen either to the depths of despair or further into the arms of Brother James. Kit agreed to take the letter with her when she went to visit Allen on the following week. In that way, she could pick up the pieces if he fell apart. The week after that, I would go to Santa Barbara, and we could discuss it.

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