One of these “spirit guides” recently showed up on Larry King Live. His name is Michael Bernard Beckwith, and he's the founder of something called the Agape International Spiritual Center in Culver City, California.
Why is it always California?
King has a well-earned reputation for serving up softballs to his guests, and this interview was no exception. King lobbed the set-ups, and Beckwith hammered them home with chutzpah and charisma. With his long dreadlocks and striking features, Beckwith is a guru right out of central casting; so in this uncertain and gullible age, it's not surprising he has found an audience. But his success still begs the question:
Who’s drinking the Kool-Aid?
Judging by the woman who appeared with Beckwith, the answer is scary. King asked her several questions, but before she answered, she stared nervously at Beckwith, as if trying to read in his eyes how she was supposed to answer the question.
Can you say cult? Comparisons with Jim Jones are unavoidable.
Like Jones’ followers, Beckwith’s are likely disaffected outcasts of society, people who probably grew up in the church, but were turned off by the politics and hypocrisy. Still, they were desperate for something – anything – anyone – to believe in, for anything or anyone that promised a better life than the one they were experiencing. Who wouldn’t believe in anything or anyone that promised that?
Answer: Someone who took the trouble to look behind the curtain at the wizard.
There’s little on the Internet about Beckwith other than promotional materials. One site had a vague reference to his having a doctorate in religious science, but offered no mention of where or when. Even on the Agape International Spiritual Center website there are no curriculum vitae, as one would expect from someone who puts ‘doctor’ in front of their name. The site did offer this:
“Dr. Beckwith’s achievement as a humanitarian and emissary of peace have been widely acclaimed. In 2003, his activities were enumerated when he was written into the Congressional Record of the 107th congress. He is the recipient of numerous humanitarian awards, some of which include: The 2004 Africa Peace Award, Thomas Kilgore Prophetic Witness Award, Howard Thurman Stained Glass Window Award by Morehouse College, a commissioned oil portrait for Morehouse’s prestigious Hall of preachers, and the Humanitarian Award of the National Conference for Compassion and Justice.”
That sort of filler is all too obvious to anyone who’s ever padded a resume. When you gotta dig that deep and pile it that high, there’s something rotten in Culver City. Even Wikipedia offered little beyond a sketchy entry that included this interesting tidbit:
“In March 2007, Beckwith with partners, Bob Proctor and Jack Canfield, launched The Science of Getting Rich Seminar (SGR Program). After the official launch of the program, Beckwith was removed from the marketing material due to the perceived commercial nature of the program. However, his audio content remains part of the program. After some changes, Beckwith is now again a Part of The SGR-Program.”
Beckwith and his friends are hardly the first to peddle get-rich-quick, self-help schemes. America has a long tradition of more or less unsavory characters doing exactly that – Werner Erhard, Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, Charles Givens, Glenn L. Turner, Kevin Trudeau – the list is virtually endless.
Then there are their kin; televangelists like Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker and Benny Hinn. And for those just a bit too sophisticated for the racist xenophobia of Swaggert or the coat-waving swoons of Hinn, there's Joel Osteen, the “you deserve to be rich” best-selling author and pastor of a mega-church in Texas.
Why is it always Texas?
What New Age deceivers like Beckwith do is combine the two scams, mixing positive thinking and glorification of greed with an all but irresistible repackaging of religion, spiritualism and mysticism. Their dark art is a twist on the ancient practice of alchemy – they turn people’s baser desires into gold – gold with which they line their own pockets.
Anyone who doubts that should check out the teaser on one website: “Anyone Can Now Capitalize on $12 Billion Personal Development Market.”
Like all purveyors of superstitious religious nonsense, New Age gurus like Beckwith tap into people’s feelings of powerlessness. They appeal to those who desire to have power over material things, power over others, power over death, power even to decide who they will be born as in their next life. No doubt, the promise of such power has a seductive appeal.
Some will say this dalliance with deceivers is only a harmless diversion, a victimless crime that ought to be ignored. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that this dirty business all too often preys upon the poor and the weak, or that sometimes those who drink the Kool-Aid pay with their lives.
The secret is there’s no secret to The Secret; it’s a shell game as old as humankind. And this latest version is just one more sad carnival come to town to take advantage of rubes. The Kool-Aid Kids would do well to put people like Rhonda Byrne and Michael Beckwith to the acid test:
If they can do what they say they can, let them prove it, let them say what they’re going to make happen. If it happens once, they’ve got a coincidence. If it happens twice, they’ve got a theory. If it happens again and again, they’ve got science. Until then, all they’ve got is just another religion, and not a very good one at that.
©2008 Tom Cordle