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January 22, 2007

Cult of the week

Why do the faithful always fall for fraudsters?

He wears gold Rolexes and diamond-studded rings. He owns mansions, luxurious cars and, according to his daughter/accountant, received a salary (not counting gifts) of $136,000 in 2005. No, he isn’t a highly-paid working man. He’s simply Jesus Christ Man.
Jose Luis De Jesús Miranda, a 60-year-old Puerto Rican ex-convict and former heroin addict, has followers in over 20 countries, including the United States. The question isn’t why he’s doing it—as De Jesús said in an NBC interview, “Everyone should be rich,”—the question is why are people actually listening to him? The man is leading a cult, one that preys on the most universal and important of beliefs to human beings: religion. It is brainwashing at its most fundamental, but, disguised as religion, his movement is unstoppable.
De Jesús, who preaches that there is no sin, no hell and no devil, diverges greatly from common Christian beliefs and repeatedly states in his sermons that not even the Pope knows the truth like he does.
Jesus Christ Man, however, is far from consistent in his speeches. His teachings, and for that matter, his life, are full of contradictions, beginning surprisingly, with the issue of his own identity. When De Jesús founded Creciendo en Gracia (Growing in Grace) in a Miami warehouse some 20 years ago, he claimed a few hundred followers. As both his movement and reputation grew, so did his title. In 1988, according to the Miami Herald, he announced he was the reincarnation of the Apostle Paul. In 1999, he dubbed himself “the Other,” a sort of spiritual demi-god who would pave the way for Christ’s second coming. It wasn’t until 2004 when he proclaimed himself to be Jesus Christ and the sole interpreter of the gospel.
“Well, it’s like you,” De Jesús says in a Houstonpress.com interview, in respect to the issue of why it took him more than 30 years to decide he was Christ. “You were a young man, then you got married, then you became a father, then your kids have kids and you became a grandfather. You grow into things in life.”
… “I believe he’s the lord,” said Alvaro Albarracin, in a Miami Herald interview. “I will be thankful to him in as many ways as I can, especially with money, because money is nothing.” According to the Herald, Albarracin, who started Dial tone Internet, a very successful Web-hosting company he recently sold for $16.5 million, contributes $12,000 a month to the ministry and now dedicates his life to “Dad.” Named the entrepreneur of entrepreneurs, Albarracin helps other parishioners set up businesses that feed money into the ministry. According to the Miami Herald, the most devoted of these hundreds of business owners make De Jesús their CEO. The rest simply give him 20 to 80 percent of the take, which, for Leonel Martinez, a medical equipment importer, is $50,000 a year.
… So where does all the money go to? Certainly not to the poor or others in need of aid. No; according to De Jesús in a Miami Herald interview, “Everything I get goes to making sure the word is spread.”
De Jesús, for example, is not content with a few million followers (the exact number of which cannot be confirmed, since Creciendo en Gracia holds no record of its members). Instead, he envisions what his Web site (www.jesucristohombre.
com) proclaims as “the Government of God on Earth.” The government, run by himself, would eventually get rid of any religion and follow only his teachings, bringing all nations to the obedience of faith. “I will be the president of the biggest government this Earth has experienced,” he says proudly on a CBS interview.
… Under De Jesús’s tutelage, his followers have destroyed icons and books from Christian churches, torn pictures of the Pope and other religious figures, and violently protested other religions. While many are blind to De Jesús’s motives and actions, a few see it for what it truly is: a dangerous cult.
“Growing in Grace,” says cult expert Rick Ross on a Today Show interview, “does appear to fit the primary criteria of a destructive cult: an absolute authoritarian leader, a process of persuasion that can be seen as brainwashing and then finally exploitation of the members.”

In other words, just like any other organized religion.

UPDATE 01/28/07: Newsweak has now picked up on this one.

Posted by Stephen at 12:05 AM in Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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