If you come across someone who says “Merry Christmas” to you today, Sept. 11, rest assured that this person isn’t celebrating the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in our history.
Years before 9/11 became synonymous with terror and mourning, followers of The Way International celebrated it as Jesus’ actual birthday.
The Way’s founder, Victor Paul Wierwille, outlined his reasoning in his 1982 book Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed, available on Amazon.com for a price so ridiculously high (as of this writing) that the only recommendation I have is to respond with laughter.
Now, a quick Google search will reveal that other groups have come to the same conclusion, so I’m not going to examine their sources to try to trace them back to Wierwille. Besides, it’s probably easier to trace them to Wierwille’s source, Ernest L. Martin, whose book is far more ridiculously priced on Amazon. Martin was part of a different cult, The Worldwide Church of God, before that group went mainstream.
Martin’s book, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, was published in 1980, and Wierwille cites him as a source. This was a new thing for Wierwille, as his previous books lifted passages from other sources wholesale without attribution. It helps to understand that Jesus Christ Our Promised Seed was written by a committee under Wierwille’s supervision, with Wierwille taking credit and responsibility for the contents. The contributors to Wierwille’s book were scrupulous in adhering to publishing standards regarding plagiarism in a way that Wierwille previously had not been.
Not long after I became an atheist, a couple of family members attempted to talk me back into the fold of Christianity. Both were rude about it (and naturally accused me of being rude about it). But one of them was more interesting than the other. I’ll call my cousin “John” for the sake of this post.
John was deeply troubled by my deconversion. Honestly, I think he took it as a personal insult. And for some reason, he seemed to believe that my former faith was evidence of the veracity of Christianity. “Oh yeah, well you used to believe in God and Christ!” I mean, so what? That’s what happens when you change — you no longer believe the things you used to believe. What does that prove?
But John was interesting for another reason. He and one of his faith-brothers, let’s call him Jack, bombarded me with arguments about why I’m wrong. And it wasn’t until they did that I noticed something others probably noticed about me during my days with The Way International and its offshoots. John and Jack are in a cult, and they don’t even know it.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that “cult” is a loaded word that means different things to different people. I’ve seen some fun definitions.
- A cult is what a big church calls a little church.
- A cult is a religious movement where there’s someone at the top who knows its a scam. A religion is the same thing, only that person is long dead.
- A cult is a religion that thinks your religion is wrong.
There are others, usually concocted by cults to deflect the “cult” label. For this post, I’m going to use this broad definition, recognizing that others may apply: A cult is a sect of a larger religion with unusual doctrinal interpretations considered heretical by the larger group. These doctrinal differences, in the cult’s view, make them better than the larger religion and are signs that the larger religion has been corrupted.