"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." This is the admonishment that the apostle John gave us in I John 4:1. (Quotes from the Bible are from the NIV version unless otherwise noted.) It's sound advice, particularly in a world where man seeks to appease his sinful nature by creating religions to accommodate it. Or, man seeks to improve his self-worth with a belief system that implies God is insufficient for our needs, or even denies God.
Such is the case with The Forum.
I first heard about it at work, where a friend of mine, Gary, would invite me to go to one of the introductory meetings. The meetings usually occurred on Wednesday night. So, I would politely decline with the excuse that I went to church and had choir rehearsals. But Gary said that sometimes, there were introductory meetings on Thursday, as well. The Forum was a whole new approach to life; I would greatly benefit from it, he said. It would even accommodate my religious beliefs, he said.
This opened up a chance to witness to him, to ask him if he had considered having a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. It turned out he grew up in a Catholic school, where he said they had mistreated him and thus discouraged, he gave up on Christianity.
His biggest complaint was that how can any religion claim to be true to the exclusion of everyone else? I cited John 14:6, from Christ's very own words: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That's a staggering claim for anyone to make. I told him Christ claimed to be God and proved it by his resurrection from the dead. It's a verifiable fact of history.
But Gary sloughed it off by denying historical records as fabrications. Words. The past is unimportant, meaningless. We all have our own perceptions of God. I said, "Jesus is who He says He is. Am I who I say I am, or am I who you say I am?"
Gary pondered a second, and said, "We'll talk about this later."
Weeks later, as it turned out. In the meantime, it was my job to assist Gary at the place where we both worked. We got along fine, with our discussions centering either on work or else the usual banter between friends.
I also requested some literature from the Christian Research Institute about the Forum. They sent a couple of leaflets about "The Strange World of EST." Once EST had become controversial, they changed the name to The Forum. Writer John Weldon reported that the founder of EST, Werner Erhard, had an unsavory past that involved an extramarital affair, business fraud, tax evasion, and dabblings in the occult, plus "Zen Buddhism, hypnosis, Subud, yoga, Silva Mind Control, psychocybernetics, Gestalt, encounter therapy, and transpersonal psychology." Contrast Erhard with the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ -- sinless, perfect, holy, God Himself! Of the two, in whom would you place your trust? The answer should be obvious. And yet, Gary was asking me to commit to a belief system from a criminal expounding doctrines of demons!
Gary saw "The Strange World of EST" leaflet on my desk one day and said, "I used to belong to EST." "Uh-huh," I said, but we didn't pursue the subject.
He didn't give up. Occasionally he would ask me about going to a Forum meeting. It was only $300 for a three-day weekend. Why $300? To serve as an incentive for me to get the most out of The Forum (not to mention, making The Forum operators rich). I declined again . . . and again . . . and again as Gary asked every several days. The introductory meetings were free, but those were held on Wednesdays. I reminded him about choir, and he would say, "Oh, that's right, I forgot." Yeah, right.
I was not the only one he approached. He talked to nearly every one in our workplace, some as many as six times. And he would become upset if folks declined on a moral basis, and there were several arguments as a result. He just wouldn't take "no" for an answer.
Gary pestered me to the point where I thought, well, I'll go to the introductory meeting just to say I went, and he won't bother me about going any more. I figured I could learn the way a cult operated, and maybe get a clue as to why Gary's world view was the way it was. Maybe it would be an opportunity to share Christ with him again. An introductory meeting was available on a Thursday night, and I agreed to go.
Gary was, of course, delighted. "It's like having a taste of vanilla and seeing if you'd like it," he said. A taste of vanilla? Or a taste of sugar-coated poison?
By coincidence, the week we were to go to the meeting, Nickelodeon repeated a Mork and Mindy episode that dealt with EST, only the show called it "Erk." (It was also a coincidence because I normally don't watch Mork and Mindy. I was channel-switching and the subject matter prompted me to stay tuned.) Mork (Robin Williams) needed to get in touch with his emotions, so a friend invited him to an Erk meeting -- which cost several hundred dollars. A group gathered in a small apartment, where the Erk Leader, played by David Letterman, invited comments from the participants, then told them to "sit down and shut up." He would also prevent them from going to the bathroom. Mork protested, saying that living beings needed to be treated with respect. When the group refuses to "sit down and shut up," the Erk Leader said he didn't care about them; he's got their money and he's going to leave in his Rolls Royce. (He leaves only to find his Rolls has been stolen.)
Mmmmm. Apprehension. If The Forum was anything like "Erk," then -- But, hey, I was only going to the introductory meeting. What could possibly happen?
Thursday came around. The meeting would last from 7:45 to 11:30. Gary invited me to take my checkbook. Twice. He seemed certain I'd be so overwhelmed by the presentation that I'd sign up for The Forum that night.
"Imagine sacrificing something of value when you go to the meeting," he said, "so you can get the most value in return."
That was easy. I was sacrificing my time, time that would otherwise be spent on doing overtime work. Our employers requested us to do extra work so we could complete our project before the deadline. I preferred to work, but decided to give the meeting a try, if only to stop Gary's continual nagging.
The meeting was to be held at the Western Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles -- where only a week before President Bush had stayed while investigating the aftermath of the recent riots. Gary offered to drive me there, and I accepted. I trusted that he would not turn the trip into a pitch for The Forum, or lecture me about it on the way home. Little did I know.
We left work at 6:45, and ate a meal at a nearby Chinese restaurant. We chatted about our goals in life. Little did I know that goal-reaching was one of the topics addressed by The Forum.
On the way he said, "I have to tell you I'm very pleased that you decided to come tonight." After a pause he said, "I'm curious. What do you think you'll get out of the meeting?"
"Well, as a writer I'd like to examine other points of view," I said. And this was true. My byline has appeared in certain trade publications. It's possible that, one day, I would write about a character involved in a cult (I didn't mention "cult" to Gary) -- and my first-hand experience that evening would therefore prove educational. Boy, did it ever.
We arrived at the Western Bonaventure, a futuristic-looking tri-column building seen in such films as Logan's Run, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Fantastic Journey.
Outside the conference room, Gary was greeted like an old friend by the Forum people (whom I shall call "Forumizers"), who all had happy faces. Meanwhile, I mouthed a silent prayer to the Lord.
We signed up at a table, though I was careful not to provide my complete address, and I listed only my work number. One question asked, "When may we contact you, before or after 5:00 p.m.?" and I checked off, "before" -- a ready excuse to say, "I'm busy," if need be.
They handed me a glossy brochure that extolled the "benefits" of enrolling in The Forum. It contained a list of upcoming Forums and a questionnaire asking about the Introduction to the Forum. It also had a registration card which stated the registration fee is non-refundable. Ouch.
According to the brochure, The Forum is from the Landmark Education Corporation of San Francisco. By attending the program, four Continuing Education Units can be earned. "The CEU provides a permanent record of your participation in a non-academic credit educational program."
But what is The Forum?
The brochure's cover statement reads, "The Forum provides direct access to the source -- of accomplishment, of enjoyment, of self-expression. With this access, you are able to shape your own actions, your performance, and your results. The impact is like putting your hands directly on the controls that govern your effectiveness, your creativity, your vitality, and the satisfaction you take in being alive."Sounds nice, but what is this "source" they're talking about? Certainly not Jesus Christ.
Recall that John said, "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." (I John 4:2-3)
Throughout the evening, The Forum -- and what happens at The Forum -- is only vaguely defined. The main pitch centers on the alleged benefits one receives by attending it.
The pitching began as soon as I walked through the door.
Thanks to my name tag, I was immediately on a first-name basis with everyone in the room.
"Hello, Bob." I was greeted by Nancy, a tall woman dressed primly like an airline stewardess, who was all smiles and happy to see me. "How are you?"
"Oh . . . just peachy," I said. (I didn't feel like saying the old cliche, "fine.")
My name tag was white, while Nancy's was yellow -- the better to determine the prey from the predators, I suppose.
Jesus said, "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew 7:15)
The conference room was spacious. Several rows of some 40 chairs were arranged like a semicircle, divided by a center aisle. The stage was an elevated platform, which had a blue director's chair. On each side of the chair were two chalkboards, with the left chalkboard listing the dates of upcoming Forums. Next to the chairs were two water dispensers with cups. In the rear, beside the entrance, were Forumizers overseeing the sound system.
Nancy asked if I wanted some water to drink; I declined. She then escorted me and Gary to the front row. Gary began to sit down on the second chair from the center aisle seat. Well, I didn't want to sit on the center aisle seat. I sat to the right of Gary, in the third chair. Whereupon he moved and sat on the fourth chair, on the other side of me. I was now closer to the speaker than Gary was. This also left two seats open on my left. Nancy explained they wanted to have chairs available for couples.
Those two chairs were soon occupied by a couple of elderly Jewish men. The visitor sat beside me; his name was Malcolm, and he wasn't sure exactly what he was doing here. Meanwhile, Gary had left for the water cooler and returned with a cup of water for me. This I found odd, for surely he had noticed I had declined a drink a minute earlier. I accepted the cup; we both drank. (Presumably the water was untainted.)
I overheard some Forumizers talking about how emotional these meetings could be. Perhaps they planned it that way?
I referred Gary to the director's chair. Why would the speaker use a director's chair? Gary said it was probably easy to fold and move it. But, I thought to myself, was the director's chair a subtle way of conveying authority to the speaker? A stool or regular folding chair would have been moved just as easily.
Then began the presentation.
I took notes, not only paying attention to what was being said, but to how the pitch was delivered. I shielded my notes from Gary, who would occasionally glance at what I was writing. These were my personal observations, meant for no one's eyes but my own. Guarding my privacy apparently bothered Gary, as I was later to learn.
The blond Hostess took centerstage and welcomed us, appearing bright and perky and ready to share the secret of Life. She didn't say what The Forum was, but when it began, how long it lasts, and how many participate.
She claimed The Forum began in 1975, and now has over a million people throughout the world attending. The sessions are held in an auditorium or college auditorium over a three-day period: from 9:00 in the morning until midnight (or "about 1:00 a.m.," according to the brochure), Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are breaks every 2-1/2 hours, with half-hour meal breaks. Monday the participants recover from their "ordeal" (my word, not theirs), whereupon they return Tuesday night for a final brainwashing -- I mean, session, from 7:30 to 10:45. A hundred people attend each Forum.
The Hostess said if one wants to be a Forum Leader -- and paid -- the process lasts 8 to 15 years, with applicants working with small group sessions. But the brochure says the training "includes three to seven years of full-time, rigorous and specialized study, preparation, and practice." Now, Gary had earlier mentioned he was working with small groups as a junior Forum Leader. This meant that he, too, was involved with "rigorous and specialized study, preparation, and practice."
What are the alleged results of The Forum? The Hostess listed five, "customized" to each individual:
All for $300. Isn't that nice? Of course, one can enjoy all these benefits and more simply by having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and by following principles found in the Bible. And it's free!
Paul told the Corinthians, "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." (Corinthians 3:4-5)
The Hostess explained how she got involved in The Forum. She said she used to work on the McCloud show (to impress visitors with her background in show biz, no doubt). A friend invited her to The Forum, saying that it was great but she didn't say what The Forum was (just like now, eh?). After rigorous persuasion she finally relented and attended the introductory session with the attitude of "They're not going to get me." (Note that she's getting the skeptics in the audience to relate to her.) But she did attend The Forum, which she claims changed her life (but still, for some undisclosed reason, can't say what The Forum is!). She concluded her testimony by saying she had a positive attitude in changing a flat tire.
Next came Alan Cahn, the Forum Leader, a short man with a receding hairline, exuding smiles and charm. He marched to the stage amidst the applause, and he assumed his position on the director's chair.
"I had three purposes tonight," he announced, "and they all involve you." And so he listed them:
Mr. Cahn (or is it, 'con'?) compared the invitation to The Forum to an invitation to a wedding. He looked at me and said, 'What would you say to an invitation to a wedding?"
"I'd say yes," I quietly replied.
"Say it louder, so everyone can hear," he said.
"Yes!" I exclaimed.
"Yes! Of course you'd say 'yes' to a wedding. What would you say to a wedding?" he asked the audience.
"Yes!" they echoed.
(Let the carnival begin!)
He continued: "Or, you can say 'no. No, I'm not interested.' It's up to you to accept or decline invitations. No matter what you do, you'll be invited to The Forum. Value doesn't happen in spite of you."
His eyes darted about the audience, maintaining careful eye contact with everyone, just like a master public speaker.
"How you listen determines how much value you get from tonight," he said. "Listen with a concern for the quality of life, as if your life depended on it."
Oh, boy. What a way to grab our attention. So I took notes. Lots of notes. Notes which you're reading right now.
"You have more information than you can use, so you repeat the same patterns," Cahn said. According to Cahn, we humans entrap our potential by sticking to our daily routines, by taking a shower at a certain time each day, or eating our food the same way. Cahn calls our daily routine a "strategy." Strategies, he says, don't allow for extraordinary results, because extraordinary results don't come from strategies.
Sounds nice, doesn't it? The audience seemed to think so, even though the statement is circular reasoning. But what did it all mean?
Cahn introduced a Forum term for tearing down "strategies." It's called a "breakthrough." A "breakthrough" is something that vastly changes your life, in areas of your life important to you -- provided you attended The Forum, that is. If you didn't attend The Forum, you wouldn't achieve your "breakthrough."
The Forum Leader continued his psychobabble, sprinkling it with jokes and anecdotes to keep the audience giddy with laughter. I didn't think his jokes were amusing, and I recalled a TV Guide article where some comedians place a "professional laugher" in the audience. The professional laugher would laugh at the comedian's jokes. The audience would thus be prompted to laugh -- not necessarily by the comedian, but by the raucous way the professional laugher laughed. Likewise, Forum-trained individuals would of course laugh at the alleged humorisms told by the Forum Leader. But this is only speculation on my part.
Then came time for testimonies.
Cahn, the Forum Leader, started with his story. He claimed to be a former therapist; he studied the sciences; he was an engineer; he practiced religion; he attended a Zen monastery. In short, he "knew everything."
My. What impressive credentials. What would convince such an intelligent man to attend The Forum? No doubt the potential Forum converts wanted to find out. And, no doubt, Cahn was going to tell them.
As it turned out, a friend of his told him about the wonders of The Forum. He told him to go, again and again. His friend nagged Cahn into going, as Cahn actually admitted to the audience.
Sound familiar? Cahn was nagged into going to The Forum. Just as the Hostess was nagged into going. Just as Gary had nagged me into going. Just as Gary was nagging the other people at work into going. Just as visitors in the audience had been nagged.
"But I know everything," Cahn had told the persistent friend.
Said the friend, "That's why I want you to do it. You act like you know everything."
So Cahn finally went to The Forum. According to Cahn, he went rejecting his past, rejecting his education, rejecting religion.
Rejecting Jesus Christ.
And Cahn endured the "years of full-time, rigorous and specialized study, preparation, and practice" to become, eventually, a Forum Leader. A paid Forum Leader.
He was relating another anecdote about a woman he had trained in Portland -- when unexpectedly, that woman rose from her chair and claimed to be the one. Reunion time, as the Forum Leader was delighted to see her, and they hugged and hugged and the audience went "awwww." How emotional. I suspect this was staged. I mean, if they knew each other, why didn't they have their joyful reunion before the meeting?
After everyone calmed down, Cahn went to the second chalkboard and outlined goals people usually have, in order of importance from least to most: self, relationships, family, work/career, society issues. To reach these goals quickly -- achieve "breakthrough" -- one must attend The Forum.
But what is The Forum?
He explained: "The Forum is what man or woman is unto himself. The Forum won't end until we all achieve breakthroughs. Our promise is to help you investigate what it is to be human. Afterwards, what's next for "me." You don't leave with new information. By the end of the Forum, you'll feel comfortable with any group of people."
Yeah, but what is The Forum? Cahn only revealed The Forum's purpose, when it ended, and the results. He didn't say what happens to participants during the sessions. The Forumizers allowed visitors to ask questions throughout the evening, but when asked about The Forum, the answers are evasive. The visitor is told what The Forum does for you, rather than what it is or what happens at the sessions. As Cahn himself later admitted, "Your friends can't give you The Forum, you have to take it."
Next came more testimonies from various people in the audience who had attended The Forum. They volunteered, of course. Even Gary, though he was not selected. It was a cross section of people from all walks of life, it seemed. There was an old man, a disabled woman, a black lady, a young executive, a teenager. There was also a fat woman who, thanks to The Forum, could ignore the ridicule of her weight. One woman commemorated her testimony to her dead brother.
A mother said she attended The Forum because she wanted to communicate with her kids -- and she broke down in tears! "Awww," went the audience, and the Forum Leader comforted her. I studied the woman closely. Was she for real? Was she putting on an act? She looked back at me through tear-smeared eyes and wiped them with a hanky. She sat down.
Even if she was sincere, they were playing the audience like a fiddle.
These were, allegedly, a random sampling of people -- some average, some not-so-average -- a representative cross-section of the public. Yet all were eloquent in their testimonies. I thought this to be suspicious. Speaking in public can be unnerving. The term is called "stage fright." To be able to express yourself eloquently in public takes a lot of confidence, a lot of practice. The people giving their testimonies showed no fear, no apprehension. Would Joe Average be so articulate in public?
Yet another enticement to join The Forum.
The ones who gave their testimonies remained by their seats. Since they were scattered throughout the room, those who listened would turn their heads to pay attention -- a nifty way of keeping awake during the presentation.
About this time I had an urge to go to the bathroom. Then I noticed that all the rear doors had "Do Not Use" and "No Exit" signs placed on them. I had not noticed these signs earlier in the evening. And I began feeling apprehensive. Were they not going to allow people to go to the bathroom? "The Strange World of EST" had mentioned that in their sessions, people were not only verbally abused, they were prevented from going to the bathroom, as part of the "mind-blowing" techniques they employed. (Which also happened in that Mork and Mindy episode.) Could it be that's why the Forumizers were almost insistent on giving me water to drink, to build that bathroom urge?
No. I was being overly concerned. They were allowing people to leave, but only through one door. But, why was it necessary for them to seal up the other doors? Did this not violate a fire safety code? To leave, one must go through one door. As I was later to learn, this meant going through a gauntlet of people saying how glad they are you came, asking what you thought about the meeting, wishing you would come back, and taking your questionnaire.
I also wondered, though, if restricting room access was a type of preconditioning, so that at the Forum, one would think sealing the doors was a part of the training -- until it was time to go to the bathroom. But then every door would be sealed, and you would be trapped until the Forum Leader allowed breaktime.
"The Forum is not about the truth, it's about what will give you power," Cahn said. He cited tennis player Boris Becker's use of visualization techniques to improve his game.
He then told the audience members to get themselves a partner, to discuss the "breakthroughs" we wanted to achieve. I pair with Gary, and for five minutes we discuss our goals in life -- even though we already told each other what they were.
The evening drags on. Two hours have passed. To keep everyone alert, the Forum Leader has left his director's chair and he roams the aisles, continuing his psychobabble:
"People rely on their past to determine their future. How do you take the past out of the future? We leave it in the past. 'Why' is unimportant.
"In The Forum, you get out of your own way in the areas of life that matter to you. Committing [to The Forum] is the hardest part of The Forum."
Cahn then proceeded with the Hard Sell. He addressed the skeptics in the audience by making jokes about doubters joining The Forum. "If you're half-interested, walk to the water dispenser, hide under the tablecloth and fill out the form, then bring it to us."
The audience laughed.
"Your friends can't give you The Forum. You have to take it."
In other words, they're not going to tell us what The Forum is.
Cahn then added some more pressure to the visitors, saying, "Ask your friends why it's important to join The Forum."
I looked at Gary. I didn't even bother asking the question. I didn't like playing to the tune of Cahn's fiddle.
Gary said, "It's moving. It's fulfilling. You get to know people genuinely. It's not a replacement for religion. It even enhances your appreciation of religion."
Yeah, right. Gary was asking me to deny the fulfillment I already have with Jesus Christ. For me to accept the psychobabble of The Forum would mean Christ's grace -- even gospel -- is insufficient.
In Galatians 1:6-8, Paul said, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!"
And, Paul said, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8) [Note that this verse is not against the use of apologetics -- see here -- "Bob" is using this passage correctly. - JPH]/P>
It was clear that Gary had been deceived by these people, and was now helping them deceive others. But was he aware of that? He had been involved with EST/The Forum for years. Their philosophy was ingrained in his life; it had become precious to him. From his point of view, he was doing me a great service in bringing me here. How could I convince him to leave The Forum?
Cahn gave us a half-hour to fill out the registration forms -- or, if we weren't going to join, the questionnaires. I used the opportunity to go to the bathroom. When I returned, Gary was waiting for me -- with a full cup of water! I declined his generosity.
"Do you have any questions about The Forum?" he asked as we returned to our seats.
"Yeah," I said. "What really goes on at The Forum?"
"Well, it's a session of questions and answers where people get to know one another." Gary declined to be specific. "If you're going to join, you don't join for me, you join for you."
"Well, I'm not interested," I said. I changed the subject by asking him to do something work-related he earlier said he'd draw up for me. As we sat down, immediately we were approached by two Forumizers. A young man chatted with Gary while a dark-haired woman named Raine greeted me. She introduced herself as a schoolteacher and proceeded to talk about the benefits of attending The Forum, which according to her, relieved the "combat fatigue" teachers usually get from unruly youngsters.
Notice I didn't get a moment to myself to think. The highpressure sales pitch continued. And next to me, Malcolm was surrounded by two Forumizers trying to convince him to join. To his credit, he smelled a rat and he left the meeting with his friend (who, alas, was a Forumizer).
Raine was all smiles, and was delighted to learn what I did for a living. "What breakthroughs would you like to have?" she asked. O.K., so I decided to play the game. I kept my answers deliberately vague in the hope she might leave me alone, since she didn't know much about my field. "Oh, I want to improve my speed and accuracy."
I told her what I did.
"Uh-huh. What do you hope to achieve with that breakthrough?"
That wasn't the answer she wanted, but she kept smiling. "But, isn't there a certain level you want to be better at?"
"No. I'll always try to improve myself."
She seemed stumped. She brushed her hair aside, then said, "But in what way would you like to be better?"
"Well, to be as good as [a certain, well-respected person in my field]."
"Uh-huh. And when you're as good as he is, what then?"
"Then I'll be more experienced than I am now."
The interrogation continued a couple more minutes, then Alan Cahn returned to the stage and announced breaktime was over. Raine and I parted company (whew!). "Nice to meet you," she said. I looked around, and noticed that half the audience had left. In the seat that Malcolm's friend had vacated sat a worried-looking middle-aged black woman.
Cahn had people raise their hands who decided to join The Forum. He also asked non-joiners to raise their hands. He also asked for the undecideds. In each case I refused to raise my hand. I was too busy writing notes.
"Congratulations on those who joined [The Forum]," Cahn declared. "We wish to recognize those that won't join, or may join." He glanced in my direction. "In a place where there is a fence, people are either on one side or the other. People aren't comfortable sitting on the fence. When there is an opportunity to go either on one side or the other, there is no need to stay on the fence."
Cahn gave another invitation, but I declined to respond, still writing notes.
"In either case we still want your feedback," he said. "In your brochure you have a questionnaire. Take it and fill it out." He looked at me and said, in front of everyone, "Do you have a questionnaire, Bob?"
"Would you like to fill it out?"
He blinked, then moved on to a person needing help with their questionnaire.
Gary expressed surprise. "Why don't you fill it out?"
I told him in a lowered voice, "I want to take it home with me."
"I don't want to feel pressured into filling it out."
"Pressured. Ah," he said somewhat grimly, as if he recognized what I was saying but disagreed with me.
Then the black woman next to me asked to see my questionnaire. I told her I really didn't want to give it up.
"I'm just curious about it. I didn't have a questionnaire when I first came to The Forum. I'll give it back to you."
So I handed it to her, and she read it while Cahn invited questions from the "on-the-fencers." His purpose, obviously, was to tear down the reasons for not joining The Forum, out in front of the audience. One young man raised an objection, and Cahn deftly spouted some psychobabble on who people are as human beings.
"When Forums are done in prisons, the prisoners claim they are better off in prison with The Forum than they were when they were free," he claimed, though he gave no evidence to support that claim.
To make the young man feel good he said, "Good question."
"Human beings perform better when there's an extraordinary threat or emergency," Cahn said. "Remember Starman? (The name of the alien played by Jeff Bridges, in the movie Starman.) He said, 'Human beings are at their finest when things are at their worst.' If you want to be at your best, why wait for a threat? The Forum is You inventing that life is urgent without waiting for a threat.
This, of course, denies the Biblical truth that Paul relayed to the Philippians: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)
Cahn said, "Living like everything will be O.K. means today isn't O.K. Live your life like everything is now, and your goals are new."
What the Forumizer was advocating was, of course, instant gratification: the idea that you must get what you want now. Why wait? Why be patient?
The Bible, on the other hand, promotes the value of patience. In James' epistle (James 1:2-5 and 12, KJV), the apostle says, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, anting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. . . . Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him."
And Paul told the Romans, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Romans 5:1-5, KJV)
Cahn continued by changing some definitions: "The Forum is not a new club to join. There is only one club: humanity. The Forum is a new way to work within that club."
The Forum Leader closed the session by saying, "Earlier you asked your friend if you should join The Forum. Ask the same question again, only this time modify it to say, 'Should I really join The Forum?"
Good grief! The pressure never ends! I looked at Gary, somewhat skeptically, without asking.
"Yes, you should really join," he said.
"No thank you," I said. I took the questionnaire from the black lady.
"Any reason?" Gary asked.
"None that I can say," I said. I was tired, and I had a headache. It was 11:30. I had endured a high-pressure sales pitch, and I didn't feel like debating the issue. I preferred to discuss it later, when my mind was clear, I had time to digest my notes, and when I had obtained objective information about The Forum from other sources.
"Let's go home," I said. I hoped Gary wouldn't argue with me on the way -- but such would not be the case.
We were just about out the door -- when suddenly Gary veered away to the left. "There's someone I've got to say 'hi' to," he said. So there I was, having to endure the gauntlet of Forumizers at the door. One boy was collecting questionnaires and insisted I give mine to him. I declined, turned and ran into Raine. She was smiling. Raine said she was glad I came that night; it wasn't often she met someone from my field; she hoped I would come again to another meeting. I thanked her, and I turned to find Gary -- and ran into the black woman, who also expressed her appreciation at my being at the meeting. She was smiling, too.
On the surface, I'm sure these well-wishers had the best intentions; they wanted to give me a good impression of what it was like to be Forumized. But I didn't want to be Forumized. I had had enough pressure for the evening; I was tired; I wanted to get out.
There was one double door that didn't have a "no exit" sign. I considered escaping through that route -- but then, Gary was my ride home. I had to find him. Which I did. I didn't want to run the gauntlet again, and since I wanted to keep my questionnaire for further study, I wanted to leave through the double door. Gary said, "No, we should go out the front way. What's the problem?"
"There's no problem. I just want to keep my questionnaire, and I want to get out."
Oddly, Gary bristled, thinking it strange that I should react so negatively and saying I was the one causing the problem. He went to the Hostess, who suggested I fill out the questionnaire and they would give me another copy to take home. But no, I didn't want to take the time to fill any forms; I just wanted to keep my copy and get out. So the Hostess gave me clearance, and Gary and I were allowed to leave.
Gary's anger flared. He couldn't understand my attitude. Why was I reacting so "negatively"?
"I don't like being pressured," I said.
"We don't pressure anyone. We just give extended opportunities."
"I was being pressured. Look it up in the dictionary. You're ignoring the definition."
Webster's College Dictionary defines "pressure" as "4. harassment; oppression; stress. 5. a constraining or compelling force or influence."
As you've learned from this testimony, the Introduction to The Forum is a prime example of what it's like to be pressured. And if this nearly four hour session was just a taste of The Forum, how much more intense was The Forum itself?
"You're reacting like you're being a victim," Gary said. "It's your perception that's wrong."
Whee. Psychobabble time. Gary harangued me all the way to the car, and at the car.
"Why did you bother coming to the meeting?" he asked.
"I told you. I'm here as a writer gathering information."
"You're giving me B.S. Don't give me B.S." he snapped.
What was I to do? I was telling him the truth. Was it my fault he wouldn't accept that? Besides, his contention that I was lying angered me. But, it became apparent that Gary would believe only what he wanted to believe. I simply said, "Let's just go home." I was too tired to argue, and it was worthless arguing with someone who didn't -- or wouldn't -- understand.
"Look. I'm sorry," he said firmly. "When I left you at the entrance, I was being manipulative. I was trying to help."
And I was stunned. I couldn't imagine a friend manipulating another friend, for any reason. The end doesn't justify the means. And Gary felt it necessary to manipulate me? His apology rang hollow.
So, apparently the Forumizers feel it necessary to lure people into their system, not only by nagging and pressure, but through manipulation and deceit. This approach contrasts sharply with Christianity. To wit:
2 Corinthians 4:1-2 states, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
Considering this evidence, no one can truthfully say that The Forum is compatible with, or accommodates, or is an improvement upon, Christianity.
Gary drove to the entrance of the parking garage, realizing he forgot to have his parking ticket validated by the Forumizers. "I can stay in the car and you can go get it validated, if you'd like," I offered. "No," said Gary grimly, and he gave $11.00 to the parking attendant, and we drove off.
Gary made accusations that I had a "secret hand" in my card deck, that I wasn't being upfront with him about what I felt.
Well, of course not. If I wanted to keep my impressions to myself, that was my business. I have a right to my privacy. Why should he be angry that I choose to keep my feelings to myself? Not that it was any of his business. (These were my thoughts, though I did not express them.)
Gary said he was upset that I was being "sneaky." Which meant he had drawn the wrong conclusion from my guarding my privacy. I had shielded my notes from his view, and I did not convey my impressions of the meeting to him. Still, I have a right to my privacy, but I resented that he implied that I was being deceitful. "Sneaky" suggested deceit. I do not equate withholding of information with being deceitful.
"What do you mean, 'sneaky'?" I asked, rather heatedly.
"You know what I mean. I don't want to talk about it."
After some thirty seconds, I said, "Gary, are you aware of what you just did?"
"You're holding back from me, just as you accuse me of holding back from you."
He said nothing, and I said nothing. He drove onto the freeway that took us back home. A few miles down the road, he said, "That was awfully brave of you to come tonight."
I said nothing. Why would he consider it bravery to visit an introductory Forum meeting? Did he consider there were dangerous aspects to The Forum? Surely he did.
After a few more miles, Gary said, "Look, I'm sorry for what happened back there. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
I said, quietly, "I appreciate you saying that."
Of course? What an odd thing to say. Was Gary sincere, or wasn't he? To the practitioners of New Age philosophies, words are just scribbles on paper, or sounds coming from the mouth, lacking any meaning. Was Gary's apology just words, spoken only to reestablish a relationship between two human beings, but lacking in substance or meaning or sincerity?
He tried to get me to talk about my feelings, but I was not ready to say what I felt about The Forum, not until I could get objective proof that this was a dangerous cult. So I told him, "Gary, if I told you what I think, it would be very detrimental to you."
We finally arrived at work, where I had parked my car.
"Before you go," Gary said, "is there anything you'd like to say that you would regret not saying later on?"
I sighed. "Gary, I'm frustrated."
And I struggled with the right words to say, all the while praying the Lord would touch Gary's heart. As I recall, I said something like, "I'm frustrated that I can't find the right words to say without coming across as judgmental. You're involved with something that you find very precious. I care about you, and I'm concerned that you're dealing with poison -- spiritual poison. And I wouldn't tell you that unless was true. I didn't want to tell you earlier because I'm still gathering information."
Gary seemed to be moved. I was sincere, and he took note of that. He basically repeated what I said for clarification, saying, "You're afraid I've become trapped in a cult. And you're still getting information to see if The Forum is a cult."
"So that's your 'secret card' hand that you didn't want to tell me about."
"If that's what you want to call it."
So, he tried to assure me that everything was all right, then basically reiterated why he left Christianity and restructured his life in another belief system.
"But Christianity isn't just a belief system. It's a personal relationship with Jesus Christ."
Just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:5, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake."
Again, Gary said, basically, that people who had relationships with Christ could still commit acts of atrocity, like Christians murdering Jews, he said. No one is perfect; no one is free from sin. [The idea one could "still murder Jews," or anyone, and be sanctioned by Christianity, is false -- for an essay on the relationship between faith and works, see here. Note as well that Christianity began as an offshoot of Judaism. For more on this issue see here -- JPH]
I said, "You mean you would tell God you don't want to have eternal fellowship with Him, because Christians murdered Jews at the Spanish Inquisition or because Jim Bakker committed fornication?"
"What does that mean?" Gary said. "Basically, everyone's perception of God or Jesus is different. When we try to define God we confuse the map with the territory. We limit God when we define him. What gives the concept of God power is the mystery of who or what he is, and I would rather believe in the power of the concept rather than the concept."
I forgot to make the point that God is who He says He is, not who man says He is -- but if Gary didn't believe me before, he wouldn't believe me now.
Clearly, we were talking two different languages. He was arguing from the New Age plane of doublespeak, and I could see that further discussion at this point would be fruitless.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."
Gary wrapped up his philosophical diatribe by saying, "I'm a free thinker." He smiled.
"But would you be willing to examine the evidence?" I said.
I felt a loss of words. For all Gary knew, I could have meant evidence that discredited The Forum, but I meant the objective, historical evidence for Jesus Christ, the reasons to put one's trust in the living Son of God. But how could I talk about historical realities if he didn't believe in objective reasoning? Or reality, for that matter? He had told me before that the past didn't matter, a concept straight out of The Forum (which had been mentioned in the introductory meeting). According to the philosophy of The Forum, if we are bound by the past, then our human potential is bound.
Remember what Cahn said? "People rely on their past to determine their future. How do you take the past out of the future? We leave it in the past. 'Why' is unimportant."
If the past didn't matter to the Forumized, then they see no reason to test the historical evidence of the Bible.
How does one penetrate a philosophy that ignores logic? I, as a layman, lacked the knowledge and training of a theologian, or someone prepared to deal with New Age philosophies that denied the foundations of reality. This added to the frustration of witnessing to my friend.
A few hours later, Gary attended the latest Forum. A three day period of brainwashing into spiritual oblivion, followed by a wrapup session on Tuesday night. And he continues to do that.
Please pray for him, and for those like him.
A report from Time magazine