By Kristen Johnson
Holy Hell is a truly accurate title of a documentary film that truly scared the holy hell out of me. It is completely gripping, disturbing, and terrifying. And, frankly, I think it’s a documentary that each and every person should view and discuss, with serious prayer, because it could involve each and every one of us.
The film documents the life of a man who lived in a cult for 22 years. What starts as a life-changing experience of people who are really seeking something, perhaps seeking God in some form, eventually turns to psychological and sexual abuse.
What is really disturbing about the leader of the group (The BuddhaField) is that he is a licensed hypnotherapist. He goes by many names, but most people call him Michel. He is an incredibly gifted ballet dancer, a former actor, and a complete psychopath. Because of his hypnotherapy background, he is incredibly gifted at mind control and at convincing his “disciples” that they will die without him, that it is a gift to them to be able to serve him, and that they would be nothing without him.
Many aspects of the film will completely break your heart. Clearly, these are people who were really and truly looking for God or enlightenment or something that is missing. (This is a feeling that likely all of us have felt at one time or another in our lifetimes!) They formed a big family and they really all loved each other. That was the hardest part – listening to people talk about their heartbreak when the group broke up and they all lost the friendship of each other. Sadly, the group reformed yet again in Hawaii and many of the people in the original group (from all the way back in 1985) are still there and of course new disciples continue to join the newly formed group.
The scary part of the film is that it could happen to any of us, no matter what we may think. When watching the film, I kept thinking “good grief, how can these people be so stupid?” But, I am reminded of my own experiences of psychological abuse in Church as a kid – basically being so terrified of going to hell from it that I had to see a counselor at the age of 12! I am reminded of marrying the wrong person at the tender age of 19, and staying in an abusive situation for 3 years because he was a “Christian.” I realize now this sounds completely insane – but mind control can happen in “normal” churches and we don’t recognize it until it’s too late.
I pray for healing for these lost souls who have been so wounded, particularly the young men who were sexually victimized by their leader over many decades. I hope that they find what they need and that they find a real relationship with God. Clearly, this won’t be an easy process, so mostly I pray for peace.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 (NRSV): Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with all of you.
Serve all with love.
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