"When shall we learn that we are related one to the other, that we are members of one body.... Until the spirit of love for our fellow-workers, regardless of race, color, creed or sex, shall fill the world, until the great mass of the people shall be filled with a sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice cannot be attained, and there can never be lasting peace upon earth."
-- Helen Keller
GENERAL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q. Is The Agape Order a cult organization?
A. Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 1998, provides ten definitions under the entry cult. The definition intended by your question, however, is probably number six:
cult (kult), n. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.
Here is that definition as applied to the Agape Order:
Accordingly, no, the Agape Order is obviously not a cult.
I suppose at most, we might term the AO a quasi-religious organization. "Religious" because it possesses some of the outward trappings of a religion such as rites and robes, and focuses on the moral and ethical dimension of existence, as religions do, or purport to do. But "quasi" because "religion," strictly understood, arguably consists of a body of people united in their belief in a diety or metaphysical entity of some kind (often referred to as "God," or by a term with a generally similar meaning).
The Agape Order neither asserts nor denies the existence of a diety or metaphysical entity. We unite solely around the desire to learn and live the love ethic, and we posit that it can exist whether or not "God" or any other metaphysical entity exists.
The love ethic, in all its sublimity and power, is our sole and only uniting element or principle!
Q. Does The Agape Order definition of Agape extend to non-human animals such as dogs, cats, or cows, or to other species of organism such as plants or insects?
A. While we recognize that certain belief systems, such as those rooted in the Hindu concept of Ahimsa, consider it morally unacceptable to harm life of any kind, this is not the predicate upon which the AO was founded. Agape essentially means "brotherly love," and thus is the focus of AO love for one's brothers and sisters in the human race.
However, the Agape program is relevant to individuals of any philosophical, religious, or spiritual quarter, provided they believe in the primacy or importance of the love ethic, and commit to living this principal in their lives every day, across every situation and circumstance.
It is also not incomprehensible that the kind of individual drawn to the AO message of universal love would likewise be drawn to a perspective or philosophy that reveres all life.
Q. There is an apparent great interest today in the metaphysical, including such notions that spirits both good and bad exist, and can, and in some cases have, visually appeared or otherwise revealed themselves to living persons. Assuming that they exist, shall we love such beings, and how?
A. Yes, we must love these beings. Especially given that they are understood to be, in many cases, human beings, which is to say departed brothers and sisters who have have simply undergone the death of their physical body. Such metaphysical theories include, for example, the notion that some of these individuals are unaware that they have died, or are aware but simply afraid or confused and unsure as to how to proceed.
Since, according to this perspective, such beings are indeed human brothers and sisters except now in a different form, there is no reason to withhold love from them. We must love them to the best of our ability as we would any other human being, consistent with the ability to do so and their ability to receive love in the usual manner given their new form. Were you to see or otherwise experience such a brother or sister now in spirit or "energy" form, simply breathe, compose yourself, remain unafraid, and calmly ask, "How are you? How can I help you?"
Q. What is the difference between The Agape Order and the Agape International Spiritual Center?
A. Here is the basic statement of definition of the Agape International Spiritual Center, culled directly from its official website:
The essence of Agape is best described by its founder, Dr. Michael Bernard Beckwith: "When I founded the Agape International Spiritual Center and community in 1986, we “visioned” it as a movement that would take a stand for love, for peace, for being a beneficial presence on the planet. That’s why it was named "Agape," which in Greek means unconditional love. Agape’s vision is fueled by the love of God, the One, indefinable yet unmistakable Presence whose vehicle on earth is the human heart and soul. My aspiration is that every individual who is touched by the vibration of Agape is inspired to cultivate a heart of love as wide as the world."
The Agape Order believes in the primacy of the love ethic, and urges individuals of any philosophical, religious, or spiritual quarter to commit to learning this principal, and live it every day across every situation and circumstance. We do not ground our belief in Agape in any metaphysical system or belief, as does the AISC. Thus, for example, while a Christian, Jew, or Muslim, or atheist, agnostic, or humanist could all rightly join The Agape Order, thus strengthening the movement for Agape in the most comprehensive possible way, only the first class of persons, religious believers, would reasonably be expected to seek, or obtain, membership in the Agape International Spiritual Center.
Simply put, the AISC is a religious organization; The Agape Order, strictly speaking, is not. Other indications of the religious orientation of the former are its Annual Revelation Conference, and the fact that explicit mention of "God" is made in the first three of the five Spiritual Principles listed at the Agape Movement website.
Additionally, the conception and understanding of love of The Agape Order is ground in a kind of realpolitik. Thus, The AO urges members and others to seriously consider our second thesis, that a full and complete flowering or implementation of love is impossible in a global culture predicated officially on money, capital, and profit, not love, cooperation, and people. Indeed, AO asserts that the normal operation of the global hyper-capitalism of today inhibits the personal and social development and practice of love at every turn. Moreover, individuals interested in further exploration of this thesis have an informational and organizational vehicle available in the form of Brotherhood of Man, the sister organization of The Agape Order.
In contrast, neither the perspective nor program of the Agape International Spiritual Center apparently includes this critical element; nor does Dr. Beckwith's Association for Global New Thought. Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating dramatic structural economic change late in his career, said: "...power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic."
"Love without power." Failure to recognize and address this problem is the grand deficit not merely of the Agape International Spiritual Center, but arguably most, if not all, systems of religious or spiritual belief. The AO call to scrutinize the juxtaposition of the global profit system with our aspiration and attempt to build a world based on love, is our attempt to pair love in the most realistic and effective way possible with the power that such an objective requires, and that is referred to, and indeed recommended, by Dr. King.
Cult of Personality
I don't know Dr. Beckwith and I have not studied him, so I cannot assert that his is a cult of personality. But what I can do is observe factually that the AISC, at least in the form of its website, appears to widely and openly promote Dr. Beckwith himself. For example, as of this writing, August 26, 2010, there are five photographs of Dr. Beckwith on the AISC homepage, alone. There is a photo on the AISC "About" page, with the following testimonial by Dr. Lawrence E. Carter, Dean of Morehouse College International Chapel:
"If it is so as Emerson stated that every institution is but the lengthened shadow of one person, then the Agape International Spiritual Center is indeed an extension of Dr. Beckwith and his vision of a world joined together by humanity’s highest spiritual and social evolution."
There is also a web page at the AISC site devoted specifically to Dr. Beckwith, which also presents his photograph, and the link for the AISC Online Community, contained on the Ministers page, also consists of a photo of Dr. Beckwith. This is a total of eight photographs of the founder on just four pages. I did not review every other site page. Perhaps this is the real cult organization.
In my present August 2015 cursory review of several of the web pages of the Agape International Spiritual Center website, I could not help but notice, unfortunately, that there is a large photograph of Dr. Beckwith smack dab on his home page, itself. I then jumped to its "About" page and again saw a photo of Dr. Beckwith. So, this organization still appears to promote the man as much as the idea. This is utterly at odds, I'm afraid, with the basic approach of The Agape Order, which deliberately promotes the idea far over the man, and in fact really doesn't promote the man, at all.
The self-promotion, or at least promotion of the individual, suggested by this display of photographs is a significant difference between the two organizations, since, in contrast, at the website of The Agape Order you will find neither a photo of the founder, this writer, nor any mention of my name. I avoid this specifically to forestall the impression that this organization exists for self-promotion or aggrandizement, or any reason other than the promulgation of brotherly love.
Another difference, which weight you can assign as you prefer, is that as of August 2016 the Founder of The Agape Order has $.60 in the bank. In contrast, I'd be very surprised to learn that Michael Bernard Beckwith was anything but a millionaire. Does this invalidate his ideas, or even necessarily compromise them? No, his ideas are what they are, and they are inadequate regardless of his revenue stream. Why? Because the stress and misery of billions on this planet has little to do, or certainly not only to do, with their attitude and state of mind, which is the only, or certainly the principal, territory that Dr. Beckwith traverses. Addressing only states of mind makes his approach and philosophy an "interior" one, like Buddhism. True, he urges people to broadcast their changed attitude into the world in the form of, for example, better health and increased income, and self-and-social actualization of all kinds.
The reality, however, is that the fundamental problems of Humanity are systemic, not individual. These problems find their root in overwhelming measure in the way that our global system of class rule, primarily capitalism, operates--and this is a colossal sphere in which changes in attitude, prayer, appeals to God or the Universal Mind, or other such individual, belief-based notions will accomplish next to nothing for the great mass of Humanity, regardless of what they may accomplish for a given individual. God doesn't control your paycheck, and in overwhelming measure you don't either, no matter how hard you work or how invaluable you make yourself to your company. Your boss controls your paycheck on behalf of the owners of the company, which is competing in the new global marketplace, and thus required by the rules of capitalism to keep costs as low as possible--and your paycheck is the largest cost in running any business. Does Dr. Beckwith address this? And if so, realistically? In a manner that will bring radical improvement to billions--not just the relatively tiny number of people who have the time, money, energy, and interior fortitude to sustain their Beckwith Beliefs? Most people could not, yet most or many people on this planet are suffering.
What of them? Most of them have not, and never will, hear of the program of Michael Bernard Beckwith. Shall we implement a massive marketing campaign to inform the world of the perspectives and recommendations of Dr. Beckwith...drop leaflets from the sky and saturate their local media markets all around the world? And what if we did? What percentage of the suffering billions would actually be substantively helped by this? I said substantively helped--meaning, able to pay rent, buy food, afford education, fend off death squads and other repressive forces, and simply afford everything else needed to live a reasonable life in the 21st century?
Do you see how preposterous this all gets? This kind of "solution"?
Those advocating revolution, like this writer, speak of something called "Reform," and the common politico-philosophical question in such circles is "Reform or Revolution." Keep the existing system but try to improve it, or scrap it altogether and start from scratch. Since Dr. Beckwith doesn't appear to advocate the abolition of capitalism, he is part of the "Reform" camp. Reform, however, has been tried since the beginning of capitalism, and where has it gotten us? Not only has the fundamental inequality of income persisted and indeed gotten worse, but the planet now has the lovely reality of global terror to negotiate. Reform, no matter how sincerely or attractively packaged, clearly does not constitute a real answer, "real" meaning plausible for billions, comprehensive, and permanent.
While Dr. Beckwith's students and other adherents are sitting meditating and chanting to their higher power, their rent is going up, their job is inching ever closer to elimination either by a robot, a replacement computer, or transfer overseas to a cheaper labor market, their air and water is becoming ever more polluted and toxic, their neighbors are making ever more noise with leafblowers and every manner of noisy device and activity and if approached are ever more likely to vindictively turn up the volume further, and their products are becoming ever more cheaply made because that increases profits for companies already operating on razor-thin profit margins because of global competition. Then there is the inescapable problem of incompetence: did you ever order a hamburger and get a cheeseburger? Buy the white stove and they delivered the gray one? Ask your mechanic to thoroughly check all four tires, yet within 24 hours you got a flat? Pay exorbitant local taxes yet your local kids park is still under repair for two years straight? Your medical tests came back on Friday with a dire result requiring immediate action, yet your doctor's office waited until Monday to notify you?
If you've experienced any of this or similar mishaps you've been the victim of a global epidemic called incompetence. Art Carey's unique and excellent book "The United States of Incompetence" chronicles this reality. Now, as if the levels of incompetence of product and service providers weren't bad enough, from doctors and hospitals, to fast-food outlets, to automobile dealerships, and providers in every sphere and sector of industry and society, now the United States is increasingly entertaining the genius notion of legalizing marijuana. So now, your taxi driver, doctor, pharmacist, roofing contractor, restaurant cook, university professor, mailman, policeman, or gas furnace repairman will not only be incompetent--he or she may be stoned, too.
How is Michael Bernard Beckwith going to solve all this? Unless Dr. Beckwith starts advocating systemic solutions for these obviously systemic problems, I'm afraid that he's not going to solve much of anything. In some proportion, depending on the individual and the particular twists and turns that their lives take, he'll lift the spirits and increase the chance for happiness and success for an extremely tiny group of people on this planet. But that's not a global answer, and it's probably not going to work long-term for even his present adherents. Feel-good solutions generally don't. Unemployment requires a job, not a feel-good solution. Cancer requires treatment, not a feel-good solution. And importantly, they both require a long-term plan based on structural change to prevent them from happening again. The death of a loved one requires a sober and mature acceptance, and a healthy mechanism for expression of grief, but also structural change to prevent such deaths since so many of them occur not naturally, but because of social and especially economic inadequacies like toxic air or water, medical mistakes, or defective products or services. In all these spheres, for anything other than a balm for the individual as they attempt to cope with a tragedy or hardship, the solutions offered by Dr. Beckwith are simply nowhere near substantive enough.
Structural problems require structural change--and Dr. Beckwith does not appear to offer it.
In predictable response to all this absolute socio-economic chaos, you and your fellow citizens are becoming ever more mentally disturbed and physically ill--especially the mounting exasperation and anger at your fellow citizens, and if you're a thinking person, at the system itself that you recognize as playing a key role in all of this. Moreover, drug use, whether marijuana, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, cigarettes, food, pornography, sex, celebrity obsession, sports obsession, self-mutilation, misguided spirituality, crime or violence, or any other activity used in the attempt to buffer misery, reduce stress, and provide some kind of happiness that the majority of the economically-struggling population can afford, is rooted in the reality that We Serve the Masters--we're all slaves under capitalism. Since slaves, by definition, are highly stressed, miserable, and poor, they reach out for whatever bromides, pacifiers, narcotics, or other reality buffers they create, find, or are made available. In the present-day, food is a popular one, which is why we now have a worldwide twin obesity and diabetes epidemic.
This is a summary of the reality of the individual and social chaos of 21st century capitalism and the kind of society that naturally grows up around it. It's obvious that changes in attitude and a personal adoption of a New Age, New Thought, or for that matter just about any other interior philosophy, no matter how personally uplifting, will have essentially zero effect, because these problems all share the same two causes, capitalism and its concomitant egoism, which are systemic problems. In other words they are rooted in our system of capitalism and system of interpersonal behavior, a part of culture. Systemic problems by definition require a systemic solution, which Dr. Beckwith does not appear to be offering. In reviewing his material, I have thus far encountered zero calls for the elimination of capitalism. Such a program would be too controversial, too political, and thus too alienating for the general public. I'm not necessarily accusing Dr. Beckwith of intellectual dishonesty. I have no reason at present to doubt that if he genuinely thought that capitalism was the problem, he'd likely integrate a call for its replacement into his program. The problem is the very fact that he apparently does not realize that it must be eliminated.
Whether sincere or not, his perspective, and consequent principles and program for change are missing the mark, the actual problems, by a country mile. Dr. Beckwith is like a physician treating his patient, society, not for the illnesses that it actually has, capitalism and egoism, but for the maladies that he wishes it had, a psychic, spiritual, attidunal or related deficit. A malpractice suit may be in order.
The two organizations, then, The Agape Order (AO) and the Agape International Spiritual Center might be understood as very loosely overlapping, although our respective predicates for belief and action are different, as are the implications of our respective theses. Ultimately, AO focuses only on the primacy of love, interpersonally at least, and as a central organizing principle of a new society, at best. We leave it to each individual to bring along whatever other beliefs they wish. Adherents of Michael Bernard Beckwith, for example, can join or otherwise affiliate with The Agape Order with no compromise to their existing Beckwithian beliefs.
January 31, 2017
In addition to my reading at the Beckwith site, I've just begun watching him in a YouTube.com video recording of one of his live presentations, titled The Answer is You. It's something of a church-style extravaganza, complete with inspiring male preacher-inflected African-American orator, African-American female soul vocalist complete with 25-person backup chorus, and teary-eyed audience members gazing with adoration at Mr. Beckwith, as he preaches.
The presentation proves itself misleading and inadequate even before Mr. Beckwith opens his mouth, through its title: the answer clearly is not you, the individual, but we, the collective, especially in this age of global connection. He appears to present yet one more interior philosophy, like Buddhism, that ignores the realities of the external or real world, especially the economic realities. And he drives it all home and makes it all go down easy by wrapping it in a multimedia cloth. I've no doubt that many are inspired and "feel better" after leaving his presentation.
But one wonders about the longevity of this feeling, as the real-world of unpaid bills, low income, toilet overflows, crime, global terror, climate change, relentless commercialism, and nasty neighbors intrudes. Has Mr. Beckwith told us how to negotiate all this, and more, and to do so successfully day-after-day? For the duration of our entire lives? Do his words, many of which probably sound like gobbledygook even to many of his adherents, accomplish this?
I actually consider this man dangerous, a pied-piper who appears to peddle an answer that, to my mind, seems far too close for comfort to a feel-good illusion. Considering all this, his seeming cult of personality as described above, makes it all that much worse.
Learning the power, and committing to a proper and robust practice, of Love, a philosophy and world-view based on the reality that without cooperation and indeed concern from others we simply cannot be happy or self-actualize, is a far more realistic and thus much better choice for personal and social transformation.
I will continue to acquaint myself with Dr. Beckwith's work and remark accordingly.
~ Love Yourself, Love Others ~
THE AGAPE ORDER