I’ve been reading recently Dominic Sandbrook’s fascinating account of the 1970s. In his book, Sandbrook tells of con man named Warner Erhard.
Erhard was a car salesman from Norristown, Pennsylvania. In the late 1960s, he left his wife for a younger woman. He began dabbling in Scientology, Buddhism, and therapy, when, in 1971, he claimed to have received a revelation while driving in his car on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Inspired, he organized workshops lasting two consecutive weekends. He would charge people hundreds of dollars to attend.
His training was to submit attendees to incessant questioning and locking them in uncomfortable, hot rooms for hours at a time—without access to bathrooms. In some ways, it was as if he was maintaining a military boot camp.
His purpose in all of this was to strip away the “layers” of personality that had accumulated in his clients through the years. His method, he said, would help people to reach the essential nothingness of “the person within.”
Instructors would yell at the students and call them obscene names. After finally laying aside their personalities, participants were invited to “take responsibility” for their failures. Once they had gone through all of the training, Erhard would issue this pronouncement, “You are omnipotent. You are a god in your universe.”
Hundreds of thousands of people paid for this training. Celebrities including John Denver and Valerie Harper participated. Ultimately, Erhard grew rich. By the end of the decade, the workshops ceased due to allegations of sexual abuse and charges that Erhard was creating a cult.
I am amazed at the extent to which people will go to find spiritual peace. Surely, we Christians, carrying the message of the Prince of Peace, can find some of these lost souls and share with them the Good News of Jesus. Perhaps, some would even listen.