Woody Allen once wrote a short story in which the protagonist’s soul left his body to paint the town red on its own. After sitting around at home for hours: “I knew that my soul had returned to me when I heard a voice say, ‘Do you wanna pass me those raisins?'”
I was reminded of this while watching The End Of The World Cult in which a former sailor named Wayne Bent described the moment that God first spoke to him. He was idling in an armchair one afternoon when, he says: “God said to me, ‘You are Messiah.’ And I accepted.” Well it would be rude not to.
Like all self-proclaimed Messiahs it’s easy to dismiss Bent as a nut, because he is. But what is it that pushes these people to the point where they’re not content to merely follow God’s word, but actually proclaim themselves as His son? Simple: the chicks. It’s the same old story: some opportunistic schlub convinces a bunch of easily manipulated souls to follow his word, they shack up together in the desert, and he’s allowed to have sex with whichever woman he desires. Really, the lengths some guys will go to.
However, I do believe that Bent – who renamed himself Michael Trevesser – actually did believe he was the second coming, or at least that he’d managed to successfully delude himself in order to justify his behaviour. With his wooly beard and gentle manner he certainly looked the part. Unfortunately, it was the part of The Muppets’ creator Jim Henson. Bent lived on a commune named Strong City in a remote corner of New Mexico with around 60 followers. He believed that the world would end on 31 October 2007, something he and his brethren anticipated with rapturous delight.
In order to prepare for this momentous event, God told Bent to gather seven virgins, one of whom was just 15. Director Ben Anthony – who gained unprecedented access to Strong City – filmed two girls happily recounting the moment when God told them to “stand naked” in front of Bent. How did this thought get into their heads? Perhaps it had something to do with the post Bent wrote which encouraged women to stand naked before Him. Bent claimed that it wasn’t sexual. He did, however, admit to having sex with his son’s wife. “God came down on Michael and forced him to consummate with Christiana,” said the grandson of God calmly. “It was a terrible, strange act of God.” It was a bit, yeah.
Inadvertent amusement aside, there was something terribly angering about all of this: Bent had systematically broken the spirits of vulnerable people to the point where they believed that the outside world was evil and that death was salvation. When Judgment Day came and went without any fanfare, Bent wouldn’t grant Anthony a further interview. It wasn’t surprising: false deities seldom have answers.
Dec. 13, 2007 Column: Television