A plane is a convenient place to ponder your own personal relationship
with death. I was crammed into some kind of TWA monster, headed
for a meeting in Tel Aviv. Well, not a meeting, exactly. I had
been invited to participate in a three-day "Cellular intercourse"
with CBJ, the internationally renowned group of physically immortal
people. Immortals, as they are called, are a whole new species
of human being, each of whom has experienced their own personal
The leaders of CBJ travel the world waking up cells and hosting
events such as the cellular intercourse to which I was bound.
You can't, the reasoning goes, be immortal alone. Immortality
requires a quantum evolutionary leap. Immortality requires an
unimaginably high amount of collective oomph.
CBJ, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, takes its name from its leaders.
That's C for Charles Paul Brown, B for BernaDeane and J for James
Russell Strole. BernaDeane doesn't use a last name and she likes
that capital D in there, but no spaces between her first and middle
names. She was a fashion model, before she became immortal, and
she thinks "it's not intelligent to die." She is 56.
Charles, her husband, is the one who first experienced the "cellular
awakening," an experience that inspired him to coin the phrase
"cellular awakening," a fact that he is proud of. Charles,
58, is the spiritual backbone of the group. He's had a lot of
supernatural adventures. Once, his whole body glowed, and another
time he had a dream in which he turned into an antibody. As an
antibody, he was able to kill off all but one darn cell in an
otherwise immortal woman who, sure enough and in real life, died.
Charles used to be a nightclub singer, an Assembly of God minister
and a fashion buyer before he became immortal. He wears a wig.
Critics often ask how come, if he's so good at regenerating his
cells, he can't grow his own hair. He hates this question. James,
the last third of the trinity, sold real estate before he became
immortal full-time. At 44, he is youngest, and he and BernaDeane
and Charles have been fairly candid about the fact that the three
of them share a bed.
So far, CBJ has about 30,000 people from eighteen countries on
its mailing list. But its core members are not nearly that numerous.
The Scottsdale and Tel Aviv centers have the largest congregations,
with the 300 Immortals each; you'll find smaller CBJ groups peppered
throughout Europe, Australia and South America. The Immortals
are people of all ages and religious backgrounds, most of them
college-educated and in their thirties or forties, most of them
in possession of extremely hip and creative wardrobes and most
of them glowing with a very weird but very inviting happiness.
Apparently, one becomes overwhelmed with bliss when no longer
faced with the problem of having to leave this earth and get oneself
to paradise or having to turn into earthworm food or something
else really disgusting and degrading. Plus, if you are immortal
with and immortal lover or friend, then you never have to worry
about being alone; when an Immortal promises to be with you forever,
it is definitely a long-term type thing.
In July and August each year, a thousand Immortals from around
the world go to Scottsdale to unite with CBJ at the annual "convergence."
This is the sixteen-day cellular intercourse that all immortals
talk about with glee and longing.
Can you have cellular intercourse if you have not yet experienced
you cellular awakening? I didn't know. I was so naïve.
I was just trying to get through this airplane ride. I began
feeling a little nervous, like I always do whenever an airplane
starts bouncing so uncontrollably that the overhead compartments
drop their jaws as if ready to regurgitate - and sure enough,
all the carry-on items started falling onto people's heads. I
found myself saying a quick prayer as arms started flailing and
people tried to dodge the briefcases and raincoats and those dang
fold-up luggage carts. "Ahhhh!" a woman shrieked.
People should not shriek on airplanes. Shrieking on an airplane
means death is about to happen, death to all the people on the
Then I thought. Wait a second. Maybe there is an Immortal ont
he flight, headed to Tel Aviv to be with the CBJ. If you're on
the same flight as an Immortal, does that assure that the plane
won't go down? Well, I didn't know. Like I said, I was naïve.
The turbulence ended, just as the turbulence usually does, and
we all took a lot of deep breaths, and eventually, I leaned back
and thumbed through CBJ's book, Together Forever. All
through it are smiling pictures of C, B and J, wearing coordinated
outfits. In the book, you are invited to "sit back, relax
and let the words of Charles, BernaDeane and James stimulate your
cells." I wasn't even sure that I particularly wanted my
cells stimulated. I wasn't even sure that I wanted to be immortal.
Death, after all, is pretty intriguing. Death could be seen
as an unpleasant event you have to go through like birth, before
you plop into some new place, get smacked and start breathing
a whole new oxygen.
But CBJ is convinced that none of us would ever want to die if
we could have Heaven right here. So this is what they are out
to achieve; the creation of a new species of human beings who
can live forever together in their same old bodies in a heaven
right here on earth.
Or right below be on earth, as was the case at the moment. I
watched with interest as the Hasidic Jews on the airplane got
up, put white cloths over their heads, bobbed back and forth and
I thought about the way the Jewish people and I thought about
the way of the people who reared me, the Catholic people, and
I thought about the way people everywhere crave order, meaning
and worth. Heaven offers one way of avoiding madness. Heaven,
in fact, can be seen as a place that was invented by the human
mind as a way of dealing with the fact that there is no Heaven.
By and large, and at the very least, you could say that the human
mind lacks the equipment needed to hold on to the notion of its
own insignificance. The human mind can get totally stuck in a
spasm with a thought like this, and to a lot of people, it's just
not worth it. It is definitely more convenient to have a priest
or a rabbi or a guru organize and give meaning to the universe
on your behalf.
But a sexually ambiguous ex-nightclub singer in a wig?
Well, why not?
I got to the meeting. Like most newcomers, I wondered, just how,
exactly, can CBJ make me immortal? Finding the answer to that
question is harder than you might think. The inquiry, in fact,
involves going through a process that significantly challenges
the steadiness of the needle on your own personal berserkness
gauge. We're talking a serious flirtation with madness here.
We're talking a one-way ticket to the tippy-tippy-tippy edge
of loo-loo land.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. No one walks into an experience
knowing that it will make his or her mind go kerflooey.
The meeting was held in an auditorium in Ramat Efal, a wealthy
Tel Aviv suburb, and it was there that I witnessed a cellular
awakening. It happened after a lot of singing and other entertainment,
which turned out to be a big component of CBJ gatherings, owing,
perhaps, to Charle's nightclub roots. Also, there was a great
deal of hugging and kissing and caressing of bodies, which people
did because, as one Immortal told me, "I must! In fact, I
must hug you right now!" And so, of course, he came to me.
"You are so beautiful," he said. "I love you,"
That became a trend.
It is flattering, I'm sure you'll agree, to have a person fall
in love with you, but to have 250 people fall in love with you
while also falling in love with one another is an awful lor of
love for a mere mortal to know what, exactly, to do with. You
begin to feel rude for not loving back. You may even begin to
fake love. After a while, you think you feel love because your
brain can't handle the discrepancy.
You are having your first official mind-kerflooey moment.
Seated onstage were Charles, BernaDeane and James - or Chuckberrnieandjim,
as they usually referred to, in one breath - along with the Chuck
and Bernie's 27-year-old immortal son, Kevin. (They also have
a 30-year-old immortal daughter, Kim, who was back in Scottsdale.)
Jim took the microphone and explained the way life works in the
"death-orientated culture: into which all of us were, unfortunately,
born. "You are brainwashed by public opinion!" he said.
"You are a member of the biggest cult in the world! You
are all fucking cult members until you decide to jump out of it!"
Death, in other words, is just for stupid and lazy people who
don't know any better.
Next came BernaDeane. She was a lioness let out of her cage.
She growled. She Flirred. She told personal stories. She told
of being raped at 15. And over and over again she demanded a
commitment, a promise to live forever. She demanded more people.
IF more people didn't show up, she was not coming back to Israel.
And she screamed "I want you to see how important it is
to lay some money down on the three of us!" She spun on
her heels and threw her head down. A pause. A breath. She looked
up from beneath her long blonde bangs, giant eyes in a too-small
face, a puppy dog, a kitty cat. Suddenly, she threw a pure sex
smile, a giant come-and-get-me-big-boy grim, followed by
"Woooooo!" said the crowd. "Weee! Woooo!"
The cellular awakening I witnessed happened to a curly-haired
Israeli woman in a state of near hysteria. She was handed a microphone.
She was weeping. She was shaking so hard she needed help standing.
"I feel!" she shouted finally, "I feel! I don't
know what I feel. It's something. I've never been through, my
body is making the choice, my body is talking to me, my body is
saying so many things! And my mind is fighting it, I know it's
hard for me to accept it. Right now, I don't know anything!
I don't know if you know what I'm talking about, but please say
something to me and make it easier for me!"
"Wooo!" said the crowd.
They jumped to their feet and cheered and screamed and rejoiced
almost uncomfortably, as if a grand slam had just been hit with
two outs in the bottom of the ninth in the seventh game of the
Series. They did this often, so it was hard to tell what, exactly,
the score was. The cheering worked pretty much the same way as
the love. Pretty soon, you're clapping because everybody else
is clapping. Pretty soon, you're clapping uncontrollably. Pretty
soon, you're believing in what you're clapping about because the
old brain cannot stand the discrepancy. It's either believe and
clap or don't believe and don't clap. Your brain can't handle
any other combination. And you don't want to be rude
Min-kerflooey moment No. 2.
Chuck stood up to help the hysterical woman. He took the microphone.
He was wearing all black topped by a leopard-print vest. His
outfit worked nicely with BernaDeane's leopard-print leggings
and Jim's all black ensemble. Chuckbernieandjim almost always
wear coordinated outfits. These were very fancy and very fine
clothes, and you never see Chuck, Bernie or Jim in the same outfit
"Your body is there, ready to receive and transmit!"
Chuck said to the woman. "Woooo!" said the audience.
"But there's a torment that happens!" said Chuck.
"Right!" the people shouted. "And that's
what you're getting; you feel an intelligence of your body that's
sending signals to your brain, and you're thinking things you
never thought before ["It's true! Right"], and
it's contradictory to the program that is already there, you need
to go with the new ['Right on!'], you're reprogramming
here! ["woooo!"] CBJ, I wish, I tell you, I wish
we could really brainwash every one of you! ['Wooooo!]
But we can't do it - not only brainwash but to body-wash! ['Woo-hoo!']
Because even for the DNA to change the genetic intelligence that
has been there, but we are waking up that gene! ['It's true!']
There is an immortal gene within the body already! ['Yes,
, yes, yes!'] We're waking up that immortal gene to where
it becomes the predominant gene in the body and consumes the genetics
that accepts that death is inevitable!"
"Woooooooooooooo! Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha! Wheeee! Woo-hoo!"
And so on. Chuck eventually got into more-religious-type talking,
at one point insisting that he was not a god, thank God, because
"being a god is a lonely, lonely place, and all you can do
is masturbate." Chuck used the word "masturbate"
a lot. Beyond that, he would use a lot of other words that strung
together sounded something like the hum of an air-conditioner,
followed by "Oh, I could go on and on," and he would.
It was not uncommon for Chuck to speak in one sentence that was
a full twenty minutes long.
It's hard to follow a sentence that long. Now imagine eight continuous
hours full of sentences that long. Now imagine three straight
days of eight continuous hours full of sentences that long. And
no breaks. Not even for lunch. If the leaders had it their way,
you wouldn't even get a break when you went to take your own personal
toilet time; in Tel Aviv, they want to put speakers in the bathrooms.
In Scottsdale, these bathroom speakers have been in place for
some time now.
Eventually, if not before and if not sooner or later - the newcomer
interested in learning how, exactly, CBJ can make her immortal
forgets what her original question was.
Mind-kerflooey moment No. 3. Your brain has just settled into
a very deep snooze. Your brain cannot bear - and can you blame
it? - to try to figure out what the heck is being said in another
one of those sentences, so it is checking out.
Pretty soon, you'll be offered a new brain. And it won't be as
conflicted as your old one. It will come to you prepackaged with
all the answers to all the world's problems. "How convenient."
You'll say, and you'll buy it, seeing as your old brain isn't
working anymore. In fact, that snoozing old thing won't even
register the transaction.
At that moment, you will have been officially sucked in. Make
no mistake about it: People get sucked into the darndest things.
You think you're too smart or too clever to get pulled in by
the hose of one of life's hungry little vacuums. You are wrong.
Hear this loud and clear: YOU ARE WEONG. A sucker is born every
minute, and so is a suckee.
The microphone got passed around, and everyone was invited to
give "expressions." The people would face CBJ up there
onstage and say things like "I have such a praise for you."
And "I feel your penetration." And "Your cells
have impregnated me."
And "I'm yours! Every cell is yours! I'm yours 100 percent.
You need it, you deserve it, you cannot go on without it, it's
flesh, 100 percent. It's all I want. I want to give it to you,
my flesh, 100 percent. You need it so much. You must be covered
physically! Let me in! Let me in al the way ! Please! I love
you! I love you so much! I'm covering your flesh! I'm covering
your flesh now!"
And "I want to make a lot of money and I want to give you
a lot of money."
And "I got paid and I took a number of hundred-dollar bills
and I put them in my pocket. And that was the money that was
burning. It made me feel that I never knew what it was to burn
with physical passion before. That was my gift to CBJ."
And "I'm giving to CBJ every month now more than my salary.
We don't need to keep a savings. 'Savings' is another code word
we use to mean something bad will happen to us. Nothing bad will
ever happen to us if we will be together and be with CBJ!"
And "Here's a check for a thousand dollars."
And finally, "If you don't pay to CBJ, you are committing
You may find this all a wee bit preposterous. How could any sane
human being stand up and swear his life and bank account away
to three show people in leopard-print outfits who sing bad songs
and yell at you and demand your commitment and demand your money
and promise to never leave you for all eternity and -perhaps most
remarkably - convince you that you actually want then in
your life forever? Easily. It's a process that sucks you in,
not the content.
I did not arrive at this conclusion without a certain amount of
my own personal psychic discomfort.
It is easy, I tell you, if you sit long enough in the landscape
of some very odd picture, to begin thinking What is wrong with
me? Instead of What is wrong with this picture? You
see that everybody else thinks this odd place is normal, and because
you don't see it as normal, well, then you must be abnormal.
You start questioning yourself, your judgment gets wacky, you
don't want to be odd, you want to fit in, so you become normal
as defined by the abnormal picture. You become odd.
I became odd. Berserk? I became furious. Uncharacteristic and
unformed rage came out of me as I sat in those meetings. The
rage bounced all over the place. I put the rage onto my family.
I put the rage onto the Catholic Church. I put the rage onto every
church. I put the rage onto Jim and Tammy Baker, Jim Jones, Sun
Myung Moon, Satan, Jesus and a lot of other people I had never
I put the rage, finally, onto my shrink.
From Tel Aviv, I made more than a few long-distance calls to my
shrink in which I accused him of being a cult leader, of trapping
people with the promise of psychic or spiritual freedom just so
he could rob them of their money. He was pretty silent on the
other end of the line. The truth is, shrinks don't like being
called cult leaders. Anyway, I felt better. I felt righteous.
I would never, ever, give a single penny to another human being
in exchange for a good feeling.
This was a major mind-kerflooey moment. At some point, you eschew
all your past ties - fire your shrink or your family of your church
or your friends - and wipe the slate clean, making sure your snoozing
old brain has no chance of waking up.
Many people who are getting drawn into cults make desperate calls
to their loved ones, maybe without even knowing why they're calling
and maybe saying stupid things. If you're lucky, you call someone
who knows the signs and will call you back. If you're really
lucky, you call someone who knows how to awaken your old brain.
It will be like someone slapping you and waking you out of a
You will say "Whew." You will say "What just happened
to me?" Like everyone else, you will be stunned and amazed
and 100 percent dumbfounded when you realize that you, too, are
vulnerable to the seduction of a cult.
No one wakes up in the morning, looks in the mirror and says "hey,
I think I'll join a cult today." It doesn't work that way
I flew home from Tel Aviv, got my brain unwashed, made some calls
and then headed for Scottsdale, the CBJ mecca.
To help gain some perspective, I met up with Rick Ross, a cult
deprogrammer. I visited him at his Phoenix condo. He did not
try to hug me. It was a relief. He explained that he specializes
in Bible-based cults - most notably (and formerly) the Branch
Davidians of Waco, Texas - but he also happens to be an expert
of CBJ, since it is right in his backyard.
We say in the living room, and he popped a tape into the VCR.
"When deprogramming," he said, "I use this one
for comic relief." He clicked the remote, and there on TV
appeared Chuckbernieandjim, trinity of coordinated outfits. They
were talking about cells and intercourse and penetration and immortality.
"People coming out of cults usually feel kind of humiliated
and depressed about what they got sucked into," Rick said.
"And then they see this and they go 'Oh, that would be even
And they crack up, laughing." He said CBJ is
fun to study because "it's a good example of how ridiculous
a cult can be."
I did hear of a more ridiculous cult. It was affectionately termed
"the Two-Dollar Haircut Cult" by a lawyer I met. Some
lady in the Midwest goes around pronouncing that she can teach
you how to perfectly cut a head of hair in two minutes. If you
charge $2 for the haircut and work full-time at this, you can,
she claims, become a zillionaire. So you pay your money and go
to her seminar, ostensibly to learn how to cut hair. Once in,
you learn that you have to free your mind before you can achieve
the knowledge of the $2 haircut. Can't free your mind? Come
to the next seminar, and the next, and the next. Before you know
it, two years into seminars and she still hasn't gotten around
to talking about hair. But it doesn't matter - you've long forgotten
your original purpose for attending.
It reminded me of CBJ. "Charles Paul Brown, BernaDeane and
JamesRussell Strole are like all the other cult leaders,"
Rick said emphathetically. "They're feeding off of their
followers, taking advantage of them, luring them with the promise
of eternal life and then turning that into a way to suck them
into the group and exploit them, take their money, take their
time, take their commitment, turn it around for recruitment of
other victims, and on and on it goes, like some kind of pyramid
scheme with the leaders at the top benefiting constantly financially."
He showed me his file on CBJ, which basically consisted of little
phone-message slips from people saying 'Help!" These were
from families of folks who had gotten involved with CBJ, and the
mood states of the callers seemed to range from the terrified
to furious. That wasn't funny. It also wasn't funny to think
of the cancer victims and the HIV-positive people who had gotten
sucked into CBJ as a last hope.
Rick's phone rang a lot. All the calls that day were from frantic
people with questions about Waco. Nobody, of course, knew that
the Branch Davidians compound was soon to go up in flames. Nobody
knew that the innocent people inside would soon meet their death
due to the facts that (a) like humans everywhere, they were susceptible
to a cult and (b) Really Big Law-Enforcement Agencies and Important
People, including the president of our own United States of America,
are astoundingly ignorant as to the insidious nature and fundamental
workings of the more than 1,500 cults in this country. Authorities
should definitely think about getting educated before they go
after other people with guns and tear gas and extremely loud recordings
of the screams of animals being slaughtered.
Rick showed me the checklist of criteria used to discern if a
group's leaders are employing mind-control techniques ( a list
developed by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, a sort of guru for
cult deprogrammers), and you could see CBJ line up ever so perfectly.
We talked about milieu control and pseudo-science and "love-bombing"
and repetition. "They hammer the message in over and over
and over again," Rick said. "Again and again and again
and again. Constantly, It's reinforced, that's the program;
'You cannot be separate from us, you must be with us, you must
have contact with us or you will lose your life, you'll start
' So there's this fear coercing these people to stay
in the group."
He said CBJ is a con job, a moneymaking machine, a scam. "We're
talking about three people who found a hustle from which they
can make more money than anything else that they've ever done
in their lives. And they are
I mean, what's their background?
Hype, sales, selling people. Entertaining people, pulling people
in, persuasion techniques. They've simply put what they've learned
over the years together into their current road shows, which is
I visited Charles, BernaDeane and James at their home in the Pinnacle
Peak Estates in north Scottsdale. Their house is pale pink.
Their Cadillac is bright white. Their harley-Davidson is sort
of a deep salmon. We stepped outside onto the patio overlooking
the pool and the Jacuzzi and a golf course with golfers on it.
We made small talk, which is pretty big talk when you are making
it with an Immortal. We talked about how CBJ wants to make physical
immortality available to all people on the planet, and we talked
about why people can't just be physically immortal all by themselves.
BernaDeane did not join in the discussion. BernaDeane went inside
and retrieved her manicure set. She did her nails and then leaned
back in the sun and took a nap. Meantime, Chuck likened human
beings to the molecules in a laser beam: It takes a lot of them
to fall into place, and only then can they pierce the shield of
death that for all time has imprisoned life.
"But what about money?" I said and asked them to tell
me how much money, exactly, they make.
The question, first of all, woke BernaDeane up. The question
caused an apparent revocation of my own personal invitation to
any future cellular intercourses. The question did not go over
well at all.
JIM: I don't think it should be public knowledge what we earn.
It's not that we have anything to hide in that area.
BERNADEANE: We have nothing to hide.
JIM: People think we have a lot more money than we do. We walk
with high-self-esteem, we dress well; it's how the person displays
They went on and on about how much money they didn't make and
about how I shouldn't be so interested in money anyway. Finally,
they said they did not know, precisely, how much money they make,
but they could certainly get those figures for me.
I did some math in my head. It costs $845 to go to the annual
CBJ convergence in Scottsdale. If the expected 1,000 people show
up, that's close to a million tax-free dollars for Chuckbernieandjim.
(CBJ, or "Flame Foundation, Inc." is listed with the
IRS as a church.)
Anyway, the event I attended in Tel Aviv cost $175. About 300
people showed up, so that's another $52,500. The three-day event
I attended in Scottsdale cost $175, times 400 people, so that's
another $70,000. They have about twelve of these events a year.
They also have parties; it costs $15 to get in. It costs $25
to subscribe to the CBJ magazine, Forever Alive. It costs
$6 for each of the twice-weekly CBJ meeting. It costs $1 for
a pitiful sheet of paper listing fellow Immortals. It costs $20
for a CBJ "DEATH SUCKS" T-shirt, $5 for the "FRIENDS
DON"T LET FRIENDS DIE" license plate holder and $99.95
to subscribe to the CBJ cassette series, so you can enjoy cellular
intercourse int he privacy of your own home.
All those dollars could add up something like $2 million a year,
but it's the "heart money" that makes up, perhaps, the
biggest chunk of cash. I talked to people who give the organization
$5,000 a year, and I talked to people who give so much more than
that they were too embarrassed to tell me how much. And it was
odd the way so many of the Immortals said the same thing, almost
word for word, about money: "I wish I could give more to
CBJ, and I don't care what they do with the money."
I asked Chuckbernieandjim how they respond to people who accuse
them of being a cult.
"Oh, nobody says that anymore," BernaDeane said.
Chuck said it was stupid, pointing out that people can, after
all, leave CBJ at any time. He said that Scottsdale is no Waco.
There is no compound. There are no gates. You are free to come
to the meetings whenever you want, and you are free to leave whenever
It's entirely your choice, they said. and it's not a very complicated
choice. You can stay or you can leave. You can live or you can
I wondered what it must feel like to be immortal and then to suddenly
be asked to be mortal instead.
I found a couple I'll call Albert and Marie. When they realized
eighteen months ago that their 23-year-old son had gotten involved
with the group of people who claim to be physically immortal,
they tried to reason with him.
He blew up, according to his parents. "He will just get
up and scream and beat his chest," said Albert, a Washington
D.C. attorney. Marie, a writer and community activist, recalled
two of the more intense incidents: "He basically had a psychotic
fit, which I don't mind if I never see again. He gets up and
his pupils dilate and he's shaking and he's yelling things like
'You want me dead! That's why you're saying things like that!
You're trying to kill me!" Or he's saying 'You're dead!
This is from their handsome, athletic, creative, cum laude son.
Like many CJB's truly devoted followers, their son eventually
moved to Scottsdale. (He had met up with CBJ while living in
Tel Aviv.) You can be a part of CBJ while living anywhere in
the world, but Scottsdale is generally considered the CBJ paradise.
Most people live in group residences, six or seven to a house;
many volunteer to work in the Flame Foundation office, CBJ's U.S.
headquarters, and faithfully attend meetings two times a week.
Albert and Marie reported dramatic personality changes in their
son after he joined CBJ. He couldn't hold a job, not even a menial
one. He couldn't find his way into the city from the airport.
When he came home to visit, he was vicious to his brothers and
sister. "He does not let a moment pass without pointing
out their faults and telling them how they could all be fixed
of they would just join CBJ," said Marie.
"He's lost his autonomy," she continued. "He has
surrendered his identity; he doesn't think for himself anymore,
and that literally means he does not think for himself
thinks he is part of a special elite. He thinks he can't leave
the group because if he leaves he will die. It's become a phobia."
Albert and Marie have no idea how much money their son has given
to CBJ; all they know is that his inheritance from his grandfather
was gone within a year of his joining CBJ. So far, they have
made two attempts at exit counseling with their son. Both failed.
Other families have made serious attempts to pull their loved
ones out of CBJ. Back in 1983, a Tulsa family, seeking a court
ruling that their 77-year-old mother was incompetent to manage
her affairs, charged that she had been biked out of $150,000 by
CBJ, which at that time was known publicly as Eternal Flame.
The judge denied the petition "with great reluctance,"
but the publicity surrounding the case did some serious damage
to Eternal Flame. A Phoenix television station secured the services
of a Gray Panther with a tape recorder and sent her to Eternal
Flame meetings. The station then ran a week of special reports
featuring recordings of Chuckbernieandjim saying their usual inflammatory
things, denouncing family, demanding attendance, and just generally
behaving like creepy cultists. Then 20/20 ran a segment that,
in the handy TV way, was accused, tried and convicted Eternal
Flame, while entertaining millions with the story of a cult that
preys on old people.
When I mentioned the 20/20 investigation to Chuckbernieandjim,
Chuck sort of gulped. Then he said, "I as so glad you brought
that up." He said it is a painful memory for him, so painful
that at one point he began to weep and Jim had to hold him up.
"We were set up," Chuck said. "There was such a
the payoffs were unbelievable
we were maliciously
it was a nightmare, everything, I wanted to hide,
I wanted to run away forever
we wanted to sue, but we couldn't
get an attorney that would touch it for less than $50,000 down."
And he didn't have $50,000. In fact, he went bankrupt. Bernie
went bankrupt. Jim filed for bankruptcy.
But that was then, and this is now. Things are going better now
than the "Eternal Flame" name is no longer used and
Chuckbernieandjim feel positively resurrected as "CBJ."
These days, the demographics of the group include only a small
number of old-people. Immortals. Now there are HIV-positive
Immortals, Immortals with cancer, as well as plenty of your more
genetic Immortals who, like mortals everywhere, have a serious
problem with the notion of being abandoned.
The pit of loneliness is the one sure hell all humans come to
know. If it is not the trickiest piece of the human soul, it
is, certainly, the most easily tricked.
Finally, about that money question. I waited for Chuckbernieandjim
to get back to me with those figures. Eventually, I got a call
from Carlos, Chuckbernieandjim's personal assistant. They wanted
to meet with me, Carlos said. And so at the appointed time, Chuckbernieandjim
met me by the fireplace in my hotel lobby. Chuck and Bernie were
theme-dressed in black and white.
Jim's outfit didn't match. He said, "The uncomfortableness
you feel with us now isn't something personally with you, it's
how we've been scrutinized, and we're learning ways to handle
it. Because we're dealing with a real, you might say, it's a
revolution in its own self."
HE explained that he is on a mission to raise the consciousness
of the world in terms of how much money social workers make.
"I'd like to see social workers millionaires," he said.
"I think they should be as highly paid as a professional
basketball player, for example."
CHUCK: We encourage prosperity.
BERNIE: For everyone.
JIM: I feel personally that what we're doing is the greatest step
for humankind that's ever been taken.
BERNIE: At this point, I feel like I am a manifestation of physical
JIM: And you know, I'm proud to say, you know, I like money and
I want to make more money. I'm out to raise that consciousness,
you know, to where not only social workers but everybody in human
development - and if we put as much money into, or at least 25
percent as much money into, human development as we do into war,
we could have a whole different world. So, okay.
They declined to answer the question of just how much money, exactly,
they make but insisted that they cach fall well within the range
of middle-class income-earners, and that the Flame Foundation
takes in about $750,000 a year, total. Interestingly, the Flame
Foundation has just declared projected annual sales of $1.4 million
in a Dun & Bradstreet report.
"We don't ask people how much money they make, nor do we
ask how do you have your sex," Jim said. That's the distinction
I'm getting at. I don't want to tell people about my personal
sex life, just like I don't want to tell people how much money
I was getting bored with the money question, which was taking
three days to answer, and I certainly didn't want to get into
a discussion of how they enjoy their sex - I didn't even feel
like imagining it - and so I said good-bye.
Where will CBJ go from here? On to billions, if they have their
way. It was Chuck who said at one meeting that it's going to
take billions of dollars to get the word out to the world. So
that the genetic shift to immortality can happen to all mankind.
And those billions needed to come quick, he said; there was no
time to waste. It's hard to understand what, exactly, the rush
is, given the fact that eternity is definitely a long-term type
Anyway, the point of this whole story is that mind-control, through
reform and brainwashing are not illegal in America, so here's
a way to make a buck, if you have the energy. You just make it
up as you go along, and whenever you're confronted with a blatant
inconsistency, you'll need to think quickly, so get ready. Okay?
So say, for example, that an Immortal with AIDS dies and so does
another terminally ill Immortal. How will you explain this?
How can you possibly justify the existence of a dead Immortal?
Do what the pros do.
The terminally ill Immortal was eating too much bacon, said Chuckbernienadjim.
This is a true story. Chuckbernieandjim had asked that diseased
lay to please stop eating bacon. She didn't, and so sure enough
And that Immortal with AIDS, he turned out, in the end, to have
been keeping a big, ugly secret from Chuckbernieandjim. They
didn't find this out until after he was dead. They found out
that he had been
clipping obituaries. The fool! He had
been saving mementos of friends who had dies of AIDS. Said Chuckbernieandjim,
"You can't imagine what something like that does to the cells
of your body."
If you've done everything else right, your followers won't even blink.
(Jeanne Marie Laskas is a free-lance writer.)