The suicides of Heaven's Gate cult members in California, discovered March 26, stirred me. I felt compassion both for them and for their loved ones. You see, I had an experience that almost brought me into a religious group where my thoughts and actions would have been tightly controlled.
At the time I was a churchgoer who loved the Bible. I had a group of friends who were also spiritual searchers, and one of them seemed very earnest in his quest. He shared with me the things he was finding helpful and encouraged me to follow him. I eagerly went along because I also wanted to feel the kind of power he was exhibiting. Gradually, his ideas and the literature he was studying came more and more to dominate my life. The Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ didn't seem to be a part of them.
Then I began to feel uneasy. The kind of power I was learning about here didn't really have to do with God; it was more the power of the human mind. A lot of effort was involved in developing this mind power, and to some extent it was geared toward manipulating others.
One day another friend said to me, "I don't like the way this is changing you." I was surprised that she would say something like that, but I felt relieved in a way. I told her about my own uneasiness, and she urged me to give up my involvement with that man. I began to see that the ideas I was learning were not bringing me closer to the truth or making me more able to love others. In fact, I wasn't even feeling very good about myself! It took some effort to break free of that one individual's influence-but once I had, I could see how hypnotic and manipulative his actions had been, and I had no desire to go back.
In my case, love for God and the Bible helped me to recognize and escape from that mental manipulation. There is much in the Bible that warns of false prophets and shows the need to be discerning about what one believes. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is quoted as saying, "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (24:4, 5). And a little further on, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (verse 13).
Along with such warnings, the Bible also shows how to discern between false prophets and real ones. Perhaps the most useful warnings are key points in the teachings of Jesus. He made clear that our true work is to love and serve God and to love our fellow men and women (see Matthew 22:37-40). As his ministry shows, this love for others involves healing, both of the heart and of the body. It involves helping people to understand what God really is. Such Christian loving can never include manipulation or exerting personal power over others. It can only turn both us and them back to God.
Jesus taught of the God who is actually Love itself; this is not a deity who hates, has favorites, or establishes elites. In fact, Jesus challenged the elites of his time, showing that even the unlettered fishermen among his followers were able to heal. It's clear from Jesus' ministry that he intended for others to be able to practice his teachings in order to help humanity. Instead of drawing away into a secret society, forming a special clique, or idolizing Jesus himself, his followers were meant to be among the people, healing them and guiding them to a better knowledge of God's impartial love for everyone.
Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science Church on the teachings of Jesus. Her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures refers to the Bible as "the chart of life" (p. 24). And the first tenet of Christian Science states, "As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life" (p. 497). I didn't know of Christian Science at the time of that experience, but I can see now how my love of the Bible led me away from that person's misguided influence and back to God.
As I continued my search for the truth following that experience, I was more careful to pattern my life after teachings that were based on the Bible. In a few years I found myself looking into Christian Science. Studying it has empowered me to heal myself and help others, broadened my interest in and concern for humanity, and helped me love more. It continues to teach me about God and His love for all of us.