The 'NewHeaven'

Arizona Republic/July 28, 1993
By Cathryn Creno

"Quit buying into death. We're offering you the greatest freedom there has ever been on this planet." -James Russell Strole

"I want to break the appointment with death in your body. We're the new heaven!"

-Charles Paul Brown

Physical immortality, I was told, cannot be experienced intellectually.

To have the "cellular awakening" that would start me on the path to eternal life, I would have to set my reporter's notebook aside.

So began my invitation to becoming immortal from a Scottsdale group called CBJ.

"It's a feeling of pure aliveness," Daniel Hirtz, a 35-year-old CBJ member from Austria told me two weeks ago.

Genna Massey, 41, said her cellular awakening happened at a CBJ seminar in London. After the program, she staggered to the stage, fell into the arms of one of the group's leaders and felt like she was "plugged into a generator."

"Something snapped in my heart," she recalled. "I was exploding. I couldn't sleep. I was seeing all these colors. I just knew I had found my people and I didn't even know I was looking for them."

Cellular awakening sounded intriguing. Mystics and yogis have used similar language to describe enlightenment. Could CBJ have found a shortcut? I decided to find out.

Last Friday, I arrived fashionably late (it's uncool for immortals to be compulsive about time) for the opening of CBJ's annual "convergence" at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort Hotel.

About 1,000 immortality seekers from around the world are expected at the convention, which ends Aug, 8.

CBJ's name is derived from the first initials of the organization's leaders: Charles Paul Brown, BernaDeane and James Russell Strole.

Brown, 58, is the founder.

On Friday, after a standing ovation from about 600 followers and a performance by a local rock band - chanting "keep generating!" - brown strutted like a faith healer.

"Get off death row!" he shouted. "I'm opening the prison doors for the cells and atoms of your body!"

Brown first felt the generator feeling described by Massey in 1959 when he was studying to become a gospel preacher and seeking spiritual answers to the death of his wife, who was killed in a car accident.

'Electricity from the cells'

It was a feeling of "electricity from the cells," Brown said. Afterward, he concluded he was physically immortal.

In 1960, Brown met BernaDeane, now 56. She was a preacher's daughter who thought "death is unnatural." The two began traveling around the preaching immortality to anyone who would listen. In 1968, Strole, now 44, joined the circuit.

Today, the trio share a $150,000 annual salary, a car and a home near Pinnacle Peak and make frequent lecture tours through places such as Europe, Israel and Australia. The funds came from member donations, seminar fees and sales of tapes and T-shirts, which are paid to CBJ's non-profit Flame Foundation.

Fire and Brimstone

CBJ literature emphasize that it is not a religion. But the tone of the event was fire and brimstone.

"I don't care that there's no proof," BernaDeane cried as she urged followers to make the leap of faith. "The biggest cult on this planet is the cult of death, and I don't belong to it."

The crowd went wild, and I tried to blend in with the mostly young, fit and fashionable immortality seekers.

I poured myself a glass of water from a large tank in the back of the room. No one sips coffee, alcohol or soda pop at CBJ functions.

The guy next to me mixed some sort of powder that looked like algae into his water and gulped it. I tried to look like I was having fun.

But earlier, Brown had launched attacks on the news media, cult deprogrammers and others who have dared to question CBJ's doctrine. It dawned on me that the anti-media message probably would interfere with my cellular awakening.

"They just don't understand, because their death programming goes so (expletive) deep," Brown said about the media. He was upset by an article in the August issue of GQ, written by a reporter who attended a three-day CBJ seminar in Israel.

After a few days of hugs from members and long hours of lectures, the reporter started making phone calls to people back in the States and accused them of being part of a death cult.

Change of Heart

Later, the reporter apparently went through a change of heart. In the article, she reveals that Brown wears a wig (hair follicles evidently do not become immortal); BernaDeane thinks death is "embarrassing"; and the three get edgy when outsiders get nosy about how much money the Flame Foundation takes in.

People were glancing at me and my notebook. No one was smiling. I felt like a kid at a new school who unknowingly wore the opposing team's colors to a pep rally.

Meanwhile, Brown's remarks about reporters were getting nastier. "They say BernaDeane, James and I sleep in the same bed," he snarled. "Well, it's none of their damn business. Most people can't even stay together for one year. We've been together 21 years."

Afterward, Bob Fisher, CBJ's California public-relations consultant, urged me not to take the comments "too seriously."

"They're just very hurt and wounded right now," Fisher said.

Another source of CBJ's pain a Rick Ross, a Valley cult-deprogrammer who was a consultant earlier this year for the FBI on the Branch Davidian standoff near Waco, Texas. Ross says he has a "thick file" of complaints about CBJ from relatives of members.

"They haven't found the Fountain of Youth, they've found the Fountain of Cash," Ross said.

Ross called CBJ's cellular awakenings "a manipulation of trance and mind control."

"What it boils down to is you have to be with the group and touch members of the group to live forever. If you become disconnected, you will die," he said.

Massey, who, like many other CBJ members, moved from England to Scottsdale to be closer to other immortality seekers, defended her behavior, however.

'Programmed to die'

"It's impossible to live in a world that is programmed to die," and seek immortality, she said.

One reason CBJ's need to be together is that immortality requires regular "cellular intercourse" with other immortals. This kind of intercourse does not involve nudity or sex - hugs, hand-holding or emotional intimacy suffice.

"In England, you just don't touch people," Massey explained. "but most people really need to be touched and loved and wanted. To me, having people who want me alive forever is more important than anything."

Around 11 p.m., as the program ended, everyone but me headed to a reception. I bolted for the door.

As I drove south on Scottsdale Road, I stopped at a light near the Sugar Bowl restaurant. Inside, families were talking, laughing and eating ice cream together. Outside, a teenage couple lingered. They looked like they already knew a lot about love and intimacy. And they didn't have to pay $1,000 each to stay at the Plaza and seek immortality.

I stepped on the gas, eager to forget my fantasy of immortality and get home to my husband, my dog and my cat.

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