Monday, November 22, 2010

Our Lord’s Ersatz Competitors


David Shayler Sergei Torop, "The Vissarion" Pastor Apollo Quiboloy
Sun Myung Moon José Luis de Jesús Miranda. "Jesus Christ Man" Teófilo Vargas Seín, "Prophet Aaron"


Folks, some introductions are in order. First, top from left to right: David Shayler; Sergei Torop, “The Vissarion”; Pastor Apollo Quiboloy. Bottom line, from left to right: Sun Myung Moon, “Lord of the Second Advent”; José Luis de Jesús Miranda, "Jesucristo Hombre"; Teófilo Vargas Seín, "Prophet Aaron."

I didn’t know much about the top three until today when I watched this NatGeo documentary entitled The Second Coming. Shayler is British and the only one without followers, probably because he’s the least articulate of the trio. He went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to let people know that he – “Christ” - wasn’t dead, but alive. A half-truth, to say the least. He overstayed his welcome at the basilica pretty quickly. Of the three, however, he’s probably the only one who is honest.

“The Vissarion” is probably the oddest of the three, and the coolest looking, the most intriguing, and the one most surrounded by pomp and circumstance.  He’s a clear product of Russian Orthodox mysticism. His followers, located at his complex in Siberia and surrounding villages, sing some gorgeous hymns in his honor and the Vissarion regales them with some, soft-spoken pearls of his own brand of also ersatz wisdom.

Pastor Quiboloy is the Filipino answer to Korea’s Sung Myung Moon and it’s equally politically connected with the Philippines' elite. His operation is PTL’ish (remember the PTL Club) in its scope. His worship services  – in his honor – are entertainment montages and his lifestyle is lavish.

The next three didn’t appear in NatGeo’s documentary but I include them here to illustrate the point I’ll make later in this post.

Of course, Sun Myung Moon of Korea, founder of the Unification Church, is no stranger to controversy and the Washington power circles. He’s better known for his mass weddings, one of which included former Archbishop Milingo of Zambia. I remember back in the early 1990s how his followers bent over backwards denying that the Korean was “the Lord of the Second Advent” until Moon gave them permission to proclaim it after he “revealed” himself as such.

José Luis de Jesús Miranda, aka "Jesucristo Hombre" is a recent addition to the mix. You might remember his interview in NBC’s Today Show. He’s Puerto Rican like me, and also from my own hometown of Ponce. He’s the founder of “Creciendo en Gracia”, a “prosperity gospel” cult with him at the center. Miranda has called himself “The Antichrist” and many of his most devoted followers have tattooed the number “666” to their bodies. Of the six, he’s the most obvious conman.

The sixth, Teófilo Vargas Seín or "Prophet Aaron” is the least known but the longest in the business of being God’s latest and greatest. He’s also Puerto Rican, the cofounder of the “Mita Church”, founded by a Puerto Rican Pentecostalist named Juanita García Peraza, who took the additional step of calling herself the “incarnation of the Holy Spirit” and started accreting followers, after which she received the name “Mita” which supposedly means “Spirit of Life” in some sort of glossolalic language. Aaron is her “child in the Spirit” and her successor. The Mita Church gained widespread recognition after Hillary and Chelsea Clinton highly-publicized visit to the church’s headquarters in San Juan during the 2004 primary season, don’t ask me why.

All these men are spawns of their culture. Five of them have mixed generous amounts of capitalism and business practices in their mission. Moon, Quiboloy, and Miranda are millionaires in their own right. All of them are “mystics” of some kind and three of them are of Pentecostal background. And then, there are their followers who like to dress in white, except Miranda’s who apparently are allowed to accessorize differently. They all look happy, even static in the presence of their lords and messiahs.

I suppose that, if one wants to be cynical, one may ask if our Christ, our Jesus, was just another of one of these lame messiahs, a deluded Jew suffering from an early case of Jerusalem Syndrome? If Jesus wasn’t who He said he was, he was either another conman or a madman. Or, he was just like David Shayler, but highly misunderstood and then mythologized by generations of deluded disciples down the centuries: an illusion based on a big misunderstanding which, ironically, has fed the need for later claimants of the messianic mantle to being “truly anointed” and for “getting it right” this time around. The atheist in particular loves this narrative, the most likely to provoke confusion, disappointment, and despair in the believer.

But as I hear all these men speak, I discover nothing ineffable in what they say. What they say is quite ordinary, unoriginal, shallow, and sentimental. They all reveal an inordinate preoccupation with their own selves. They all carefully cultivate their images. Oh, and they are all extremely Anti-Catholic, particularly Miranda who minces no obscenities in his frequent tirades against the Church. What they say and what the Jesus of the Gospels says cannot be compared; the former are chaff, Jesus’ words are wheat.

And then there is the Cross. The ersatz messiahs are not willing to shed one drop of blood for anyone, much less die for you. Suffering does not appear in their calculations, or at least messianic suffering. Their outlooks are quite triumphalistic and their narcissism all too evident.

Let me remind you of the obvious:

4…“Watch out that no one deceives you. 5For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,a’ and will deceive many. 6You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of birth pains.

23At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25See, I have told you ahead of time.

26“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather. (Mathew 24: 4, 23, 26 NIV)

I say “the obvious” because we’ve been forewarned. Jesus, the real one, told us this would happen, that false christs and prophets would arise who would deceive many and so they have. The ersatz messiahs want to emulate, perhaps even surpass Christ in his glory but not in his suffering. Their delusion is satanic in its root, for all aspire to be the Son of Man and take his place at the right of the Father and rule as God. They all want to claim the Throne as their own:

12How you have fallen from heaven,

O morning star, son of the dawn!

You have been cast down to the earth,

you who once laid low the nations!

13You said in your heart,

“I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne

above the stars of God;

I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,

on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.c

14I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High.”

15But you are brought down to the grave,

to the depths of the pit. (Isaiah 14: 12-15, NIV)

These half dozen men, along with many undocumented others, serve a social purpose: that conning people as poor facsimiles of Jesus Christ is fairly easy to do and very profitable. They also serve a prophetic purpose, for they point us toward the time when the King of Kings will squash their heads in the same manner that He did to the original pretender. Don’t let yourselves be deceived! Rejoice because we have been granted to see these times!

Maran atha! Come Lord Jesus!