Enlightened or Made Light


A topic of considerable interest is the quite typical, vitriolic and condescending set of dynamics which mr. Pittard and mr. Priddy describe in their posts of January 6, 10, 16  and 19 respectively, and encounter from people like Michael Hollander, a man who himself has a vested interest in remaining a staunch believer in Sathya Sai Baba, even if his vested interest is ‘merely’ ideological and self-enhancing in nature. It seems so sine qua non of cult development and cultish behaviour, no matter the cult or the size of it, once it develops into some type of hierarchical organisation.

Here in the Netherlands we just witnessed one week of nationwide broadcast on the issue of cults and cultish behaviours, 24/7 documentaries and reruns, concerning various religious movements both of domestic significance and of international importance.

Under the general header VERLICHT OF OPGELICHT (A rough translation of this punlike title would be something like: ‘Enlightened or Made Light’) several of the largest national Dutch broadcasting companies (NTR, VPRO, IKON, NCRV, KRO) joined hands in this major undertaking, which was aired for a whole week on HOLLAND DOC 24, between January 7 and 13, 2012. This marathon attracted quite a bit of attention, albeit mainly on the internet.

(See this link:  http://www.hollanddoc.nl/live/verlicht-of-opgelicht.html.)

As can be gleaned from the photo above, used by the networks to entice viewers to watch the whole week, Sathya Sai Baba’s image figured center stage. This picture is in my opinion a perfect illustration of the double entendre in the title ‘Enlightened or made Light’. Was Sathya Sai Baba enlightened, a god-man, an avatar even, or was he one of the greatest con artists ever, one who made light of so many of us ‘mere mortals’? Whatever the answer, he featured prominently during the whole week, specifically through a regular rerun of the Dutch feature-length documentary Sathya Sai Baba, Als in een spiegel (1993).

This YouTube clip gives a quick impression of the wide range of documentaries shown, from orthodox christian cult figures to hindu and spiritist ones and, last but not least, a shorter feature on the debunking efforts of the so-called rationalists.

Below screenshot stems from early on in the international version of this highly controversial movie.

This next screenshot highlights the international version’s title, Sathya Sai Baba, As in a Mirror, a literal translation of the Dutch ‘Als in een Spiegel’, in reference to Corinthians 1-13.

The whole feature can, I intend, be viewed on this blog in the near future, in its entirety (1 hour and 32 minutes). 

In this YouTube fragment a few characteristic elements are shown.

Other subjects during this in-depth cultweek on Dutch television were the Bhagwan (Sri Rajneesh) movement, as seen through the eyes of a young child (now a grown woman), who was part of it through her mother’s involvement, and got sexually accosted by grown men in the Amsterdam commune, among other things (Title: ‘Communekind‘).

As the Netherlands per se was concerned, a documentary on ‘Lou de Palingboer’, a charismatic Christian prophet in the fifties and sixties, was of strong interest, I thought, as it made clear in a nutshell the internal makings of this type of leader, and its following through time. Lou, a simple, uneducated palingboer (i.e. an eel fisher and seller), had an epiphany back in 1927 and turned seer and mystic, with at first a close but tiny group of believers. He and his wife propagated the idea that he could walk on water, and maintained he could not die, as he was God himself incarnated. This tiny cult movement gradually turned into a nationwide following, which lasts until now, fifty years after his sudden demise (due to untreated pneumonia). His followers did not want to believe he had died, and tried to revive him by laying their hands on him and forming a human mattress to keep the body warm. Only after more than four days they lost hope of his resurrection. Still, they maintain to this day that Lou is alive, and vehemently deny all rumours and reports that he slept with young girls and boys and other women besides his own wife, because he was ‘pure’ and was beyond sexual desire because he had lost all ego.

The similarities with Sathya Sai Baba are to some extent quite striking, I found, just as in the examples of the most famous of Dutch faith healers, Jomanda, and of the American cult leader Dan Gayman (Children of Israel).

One common denominator in most of all documentaries was the constant, unrelenting and very unloving attack on former cult members/ followers, which seems so in contrast with the general message of these kinds of movements. It is as if all who left are ‘of Satan’, no matter how founded their step and how well underpinned their critique.