This fascinating video documentary, produced by The Atlantic, not only interviews ex-members of now defunct cult EnlightenNext, but Andrew Cohen, ex-leader, who called his “teaching”, “evolutionary enlightenment”.
Interestingly, Cohen sat down with The Atlantic and admitted that his ego took the wheel; he says that he’s apologizing to ex-members. Is it possible that an ex-cult leader could sincerely be taking responsibility for the damage he inflicted? In this particular interview he can’t bring himself to admit to hurting others; but he does say he’s traveling the world to ” … sit down with people who feel that they’ve been hurt.”
In turn, the ex-members interviewed spoke, without blame or vitriol, about mystical experiences, glimpses into cosmic knowledge, experiences of a hypnotic state, thousands of hours prostrating themselves and repeating the following phrases:
To be free is to know nothing …
To be free is to be no one …
To be free is to have nothing …
…and worshiping a picture of Andrew, i.e. “God”.
Cohen describes a bit about his own spiritual search and the teaching that he claims “unfolded” when people started to follow him. He describes how he started to believe his personal feelings were “objective truths”. He admits to making “a lot of mistakes.”
One ex-member describes the exit process this way: ” … it’s got to feel like coming out of prison and entering the world again … everything was amazing.”
Both ex-members, and ex-leader, admit that they don’t really understand what unfolded.
I admit that I am dubious of Mr. Cohen’s apologies as sincere. But it is this type of dialogue that will shed light on this bizarre and damaging phenomenon called cults. I hope that he is – in fact – able to take responsibility for his hurtful, ego-driven, actions. Maybe Cohen can begin contributing to healing, reconciliation and solutions. In the meantime, though, this video is a start and a worthwhile 20-minute viewing.