News for Sociology of Religion--Mon Apr 28 05:05:52 EST 1997

    NEW YORK—Four of the country's leading institutions dedicated to preserving Jewish history are bringing their collections of archives and artifacts together under one roof in a Center for (New York Times) (*)

    The whole world will have to rethink its prejudices if Malaysia's interpretation of Islam proves successful. James Kynge reports  (*)

    JERUSALEM—Bold black graffiti have recently been scrawled on a wall on the outskirts of Jerusalem carrying an angry message and a bitter memory of the past: ``You won't return us to the transit (New York Times) (*)

  • No headline.
    The Two found their burning bush in an Oregon campground, amid the myrtle and cedar along the Rogue River. They had been on the road for 29 weeks. The deer loped; the gulls cawed; God spoke. (New York Times) (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW YORK—Four of the country's leading institutions dedicated to preserving Jewish history are bringing their collections of archives and artifacts together under one roof in a Center for Jewish History that is to open next year near at Union Square in downtown Manhattan.

    The institutions—the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, the Leo Baeck Institute, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Yeshiva University Museum—are each devoted to a different slice of Jewish life, and their holdings represent an extraordinary wealth of art, letters and documents.

    The various collections include a letter from Thomas Jefferson to New York's oldest Jewish congregation; the handwritten original of the Emma Lazarus poem ``The New Colossus,'' which is a touchstone at the Statue of Liberty; the first Hebrew prayer books printed in America, and correspondence signed by such prominent Jews as Freud, Einstein, Kafka and Sholom Aleichem.

    There is art on a grand scale—engravings, etchings, paintings and calligraphy—including works by Max Lieberman, a president of the Berlin Academy of Fine Arts, who was killed by the Nazis, and an illustrated manuscript dated 1478 telling of the blood libel trial of Simon of Trent. There is even a pair of eyeglasses belonging to the 18th-century German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn.

    The new $40 million center, which is taking shape in a four-building complex at 17 W. 16th St., is notable not just for the breadth of its exhibitions but also because it bespeaks a cultural unity—not to be confused with uniformity by any means _ at a time when much attention is focused on the divide between secular and traditional Jews.

    ``This was not easy, to bring the organizations together when the trend in Jewish life is really the opposite,'' said Dr. Allan J. Nadler, Yivo's director of research. ``There is so much division in Jewish life today. It's so exciting, a major cultural achievement, the possibility of unity in the American Jewish community, where you have so much factionalism along religious lines.''

    The Yeshiva Museum showcases Judaic exhibits of general interest. The Baeck Institute documents German-speaking Jews. Yivo, which is a Yiddish acronym for Jewish Scientific Institute, concentrates on secular Yiddish culture, and the American Jewish Historical Society—the oldest ethnic historical center in the United States—specializes in Jewish Americana. The idea of housing them all together, everyone involved with the project seems to agree, seemed incredible if not impossible, and certainly unthinkable until now.

    But the institutions found they shared a good deal besides a commitment to history: Each had run out of space for its growing collection.

    Bruce Slovin, the chairman of Yivo, came up with the idea for the new center eight or nine years ago when he decided that the Yivo mansion on Fifth Avenue at 86th Street had become inadequate.

    ``I watched our vast and unique collection degrading in basements,'' recalled Slovin, who will also be the chairman of the new center. ``I said: `We can't go on like this. We do not belong on Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile. We're more of an academic institution, where we study archival documents.' ''

    Yivo sold the mansion to a Viennese art collector and, for its new home, selected a site vacated by the American Foundation for the Blind/Helen Keller Institute. Yivo paid $4.4 million for the complex of four buildings on West 16th and West 17th Streets, surrounding a courtyard.

    At the same time, the Leo Baeck Institute was housed in a town house at 129 East 73rd Street that was no less elegant and no more suitable than Yivo's mansion. Discussions began about sharing quarters. Talks also began with the American Jewish Historical Society, which had moved in the early 196Os from its original home in New York City to Waltham, Mass., near Brandeis University.

    Slovin also spoke with Erica Jesselson, a major financial supporter of the Yeshiva University Museum. The museum is now situated on the university's campus in Washington Heights, on the first and fourth floors of a library building. While the museum's exhibits are well regarded, the location has limited its visitors.

    ``Critics don't come uptown, and we are rarely written up,'' said the museum's director, Sylvia A. Herskowitz. ``Worse, we are perceived as a dangerous neighborhood.''

    When finished, the center will have public areas on five floors. A 12-story building on 17th Street and other areas will be used for document storage. School groups and children will have their own entrance with access to the museum exhibitions, the public reception area, a 250-seat auditorium and a kosher eating area.

    Tom L. Freudenheim, Yivo's German-born, American-bred new executive director, is enthusiastic about the coming center. ``I'm a bridge,'' Freudenheim said, pointing to a picture of his father, a Judaica dealer in Berlin, standing next to a Torah crown piece. He has worked at the Jewish Museum and went to Yivo from the Smithsonian, where he was assistant director for museums.

    Ms. Herskowitz and the others made it clear that while the new center would provide a physical unity, it would not mean uniformity of purpose. To make her point, she used a Yiddish idiom, ``Jeder macht shabbos far zich alleyn,'' which means, ``Everyone makes the Sabbath for himself alone.''

    And Carol Kahn Strauss, the executive director of the Leo Baeck Institute, said she saw the new center as a home of independent constituents akin to the congregation of orchestras, ballet companies and operas at Lincoln Center. ``The concept is irresistible,'' she said. ``Whether it works in practicality remains to be seen. My understanding is we will retain our independence and share jointly only the facilities.''

    The architecture was designed to make that possible. ``Building relationships is as important as building buildings,'' said Richard Blinder, whose firm, Beyer Blinder Belle, is designing the new center. ``I talked about what the buildings are to be: a layer cake, together but independent.''

    He stood on a pile of rubble in the space where a great hall will welcome seekers of knowledge, a pile reminiscent of the rubble often strewn so destructively through Jewish history but that here will soon be transformed into a great, forward-looking new center that builds on the Jewish past.

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    The whole world will have to rethink its prejudices if Malaysia's interpretation of Islam proves successful. James Kynge reports

    Suspicions were stirred when a young woman and a man surely too old to be her husband checked into a hotel in Sungei Petani, a town set among paddy fields and coconut palms in northern Malaysia. After a phone call from the front desk, the religious department officials moved in. The couple protested their innocence, insisting they were lawfully married, but were arrested and thrown into cells, separately, for the night.

    The pair were presumed to have broken the Islamic prohibition against khalwat, being in ``close proximity'' with someone who is neither spouse nor relative. The standard penalty for offenders is six months in jail or a fine, or both. To prove their innocence, the couple had a copy of their marriage certificate faxed to the zealous religious officials, but they ruled that only the original document was acceptable.

    The ordeal of the innocent couple served a public purpose. It was followed by a government decree that every state must issue portable, plastic marriage certificates. The idea was that they would sit along with the credit cards, golf club memberships, and snapshots of the children that fill the purses and wallets of modern, Moslem Malaysians.

    From its khalwat card to a new style of lavatory, and from pork-free supermarkets to developing a financial system that qualifies it for Asian ``tiger'' status yet still sits within the strict limits of the Koranic code, Malaysia is a Moslem model. Its crafted modernity undermines the western perception of Moslem countries as mindlessly brutal, veiled, bearded and barely medieval. And it challenges the more austere Moslem regimes of the Middle East, where the reforms are studied closely.

    But, even in Malaysia, conservative clerics are ready to pounce on policy changes and denounce the reformer as heretic. Compromise and contradiction are achievements, hesitant steps in the right direction. In the capital, Kuala Lumpur, hotel rooms have a Koran in the bedside table and a mini-bar stocked with bonsai bottles of hard liquor. Malay women wear the baju-kurong, a body length dress which obeys Islamic customs on female modesty, but is made of gaily-patterned silk and tailored to show off, rather than obscure, the female form. It is a long way from the basic black of Iran or Afghanistan.

    The compromises are born of interaction between Malays, who must be Moslem by law, and minority races, such as Chinese and Indians, who have freedom of religion. The constraints have inspired ingenuity. The Arab Malaysian Bank, is marketing an Islamic credit card - it is designed to reject payments for nightclubs, massage parlours and other proscribed activities.

    In spite of the explosion of wealth, the apparent spread of materialism, and some signs of decadence, the practise of Islam has intensified. The designer-dressed faithful routinely bring their mobile phone to the mosque. And, more seriously, Malaysia's leaders are arguing that their style of rapid industrialisation is part of a broader Asian Renaissance. They argue that, in Europe, the Age of Reason undermined the Age of Faith, leaving countries and continents spiritually barren.

    In Asia, on the other hand, and in Malaysia in particular, technological development, mass education and modernisation are being complemented by a flowering of communal religions. The individual is empowered, but not to the point of challenging God's right to rule.

    Anwar Ibrahim, deputy prime minister, likely next prime minister and author of ``The Asian Renaissance'', is himself something of a renaissance man. A former student radical imprisoned for his beliefs in the 1970s, he has described himself as a ``fundamentalist''. But he quotes from Confucius and Shakespeare, and once persuaded the cabinet not to ban rap music. ``The lyrics are good, the music is good,'' he says of the genre, to which he was introduced by his teenage daughter.

    His eclectic, Moslem modernism is shared by Mahathir Mohamad, the present prime minister, who recently went to Hollywood during Ramadan, the Moslem fasting month, to star at investment seminars. He neither ate nor drank during daylight hours while staying in the citadel of western creativity and sin.

    At home, Mahathir has set about changing the Islamic justice system. Malaysia's system of government is staunchly secular, while the dominant political party is wholly Malay and therefore Moslem. The justice system is similarly bifurcated: there are civil courts which are administered centrally, and separate Shariah (Islamic) courts answerable to local state authorities.

    It is clear that Mahathir has little respect for the Shariah apparatus. He accused it of being dilatory in its business, and inconsistent and sometimes too harsh in its rulings. He then began a process of bringing the Islamic courts under greater central supervision.

    ``Only when Islam is interpreted so as to be relevant in a world which is different from what it was 1,400 years ago can Islam be regarded as a religion for all ages,'' says Mahathir. Like many others in Malaysia, the prime minister believes that the Koran should not be interpreted too literally - the tolerant, forgiving spirit of the holy book should be its starting point.

    Such flexibility is also at the heart of attempts to make the financial system more Islamic. Banks have introduced products to get around a Koranic prohibition on charging or receiving interest. Stockbrokers have drawn up ``Islamic indices'', which contain companies thought to be free of haram (un-Islamic) business activities. A refinement has let investors see what percentage of a company's operations are haram, which includes serving alcohol or pork, involvement in gambling, and taking out interest-bearing loans.

    ``For most investors, the dividing line is about 30 per cent. If a company is more than 30 per cent haram, people think that it is beyond the pale,'' said one Islamic fund manager.

    Recognition of Malaysia's efforts from the traditional guardians of the faith in the Middle East had been grudging. But, last month, Saudi Arabian authorities presented Mahathir with the King Faisal International Prize, prestigious in the Arab world, because ``his wisdom and moderation as prime minister of Malaysia have reflected the magnanimity and forebearance of Islam''.

    However, only weeks before the award was presented, Malaysia was thrown into a foment by suggestions that its Islamic ``model'' may be deeply flawed or at least vulnerable to the excesses of the west. Newspapers warned of an alarming increase in drug addiction, corruption and teenage prostitution.

    It was an opening welcomed by the conservative clergy, who urged an immediate return to their brand of ``orthodoxy''. Mahathir searched for more secular solutions. He held a cabinet meeting in a Japanese tea house, where the intricate ritual of the ceremony and the discomfort of the sitting position tested his self-control. He admitted that the wave of ``social ills'' was more prevalent among Malays than non-Moslem races.

    For some though, this is hardly surprising. ``The young Malays are totally schizoid,'' says Hishamuddin Rais, a film director who spent 20 years abroad in political exile, much of it the London suburb of Brixton. ``Are we firstly Malays and then Moslems or the other way around? If Moslems first, then should we all start behaving like Arabs? There are no clear guidelines.''

    As a Malay film-maker, Hishamuddin cannot show a woman's naked armpits on screen. Yet such sights are common in imported television soap operas and melodramas. Another telling contradiction is that, in spite of an alarming rise in reported Aids cases, senior Islamic academics refuse to allow the use of condoms by Moslems.

    But nowhere is the threat to the envisioned enlightened society clearer than in the treatment of women. Zainah Anwar represents Sisters in Islam, which promotes women's rights. I met her for lunch in Bangsar Baru, the trendy quarter of Kuala Lumpur. Nearby was Finnegan's, a new Irish pub, and a bar called Big Willies.

    ``The Islamic authorities are always stressing family values,'' says Zainah, ``but by their policies they are breaking up families.''

    One problem is polygamy, legal and increasingly common. Islam states that there must be good reasons for a man to take extra wives, and lust is not one of them. But today, says Zainah, most of the women becoming second, third and fourth wives are ``pretty young things''.

    If an existing wife protests, she can be quickly divorced - a man need only say ``I divorce you'' three times and pay a nominal fine to an Islamic court for failing to gain its approval.

    And, in the north-east state of Kelantan, modernisation is hardly on the map. There are no bars and discos. Men and women use separate check-out counters in supermarkets and sit segregated in auditoriums. It is the only state controlled by an opposition party, the Parti Islam se Malaysia, the leaders of which believe that the customs of Islam and the words of the Koran are not open to modern, flexible interpretations.

    Life there has a simple quality, removed utterly from the hubbub of Kuala Lumpur. Hotel assistants are effusively friendly but hopelessly inefficient. On one evening recently, as the sound of the call-to-prayer reverberated across the low-rise city, a man and his son cycled slowly to the estuary to watch a glorious sunset in silence.

    ``We are following a path of slower development which has to be in pace with Islam,'' says Anwar Tan, a town councillor. ``In Kuala Lumpur, everyone is so busy that nobody has time for the important things in life. You never see your children there because you are always in a traffic jam.''

    The chief minister of Kelantan is Nik Aziz, an elderly and softly spoken man in a white turban and gown. He supports (but has not yet introduced) full Islamic justice, which would punish thieves by amputation and adulterers by stoning. Women, he has suggested, should refrain from wearing lipstick because this could arouse impure thoughts in men.

    But when asked about Kuala Lumpur's attempts at forming a modern Islamic state, the chief minister's eyebrows arched upward in pity. ``We look at them (central government) not only as our enemy but also as our patient. We need to give them a cure.''

    In many ways, Malaysia is walking on the high-wire of social engineering. But it is not alone. The changes taking place here are influencing and are mirrored by neighbouring Indonesia, the most populous Moslem nation on earth.

    If Malaysia succeeds, then south-east Asia, historically on the fringe of the Moslem world, could become its modern centre. And then the west would have to rethink its own preconceptions and prejudices about the ``Moslem''.



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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    JERUSALEM—Bold black graffiti have recently been scrawled on a wall on the outskirts of Jerusalem carrying an angry message and a bitter memory of the past: ``You won't return us to the transit camps!''

    The slogan is a reference to the hut and tent encampments where Sephardic Jews from Arab lands were first housed in Israel after their mass immigration here in the 1950s.

    For many Sephardic Israelis, those shantytowns symbolize what they consider to be years of discrimination at the hands of a European-born establishment that wanted to mold the new arrivals in its own image.

    The old resentments flared anew last week after a decision by Israel's attorney general to indict Aryeh Deri, a powerful Sephardic politician and the leader of the strict Orthodox Shas party, for his role in an influence-peddling scandal that shook the government.

    Deri is alleged to have pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint an attorney general who would grant Deri a plea-bargain in a corruption trial.

    But the decision to indict Deri alone among the officials involved in the scandal, including the prime minister, was immediately portrayed by Shas supporters and many other Sephardic Jews as another case of mistreatment by a secular elite dominated by Ashkenazic Jews, who have a European background.

    Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein has flatly rejected the assertion, but the bitterness caused by the decision has exposed deep currents of ethnic resentment that were thought to have receded over the years.

    Several other Israeli political leaders have cautioned against a divisive ethnic debate. But some of the earliest reservations voiced about the decision to indict only Deri have come from Sephardic members of the Cabinet: Foreign Minister David Levy and Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.

    At a giant Shas rally last Wednesday, Deri tried to channel the anger over the decision to prosecute him alone into a sweeping indictment of the secular European-born Zionists who led Israel in its early years. He accused them of subverting the religious traditions and morals of Sephardic Jews.

    The Sephardic immigrants had ``left the Arab countries to live here as proud Jews without fear,'' Deri said, but they were given ``new education, Zionist education to create a new person.''

    He called Zionism ``a movement of heresy, a secular movement that wants to create a new Judaism.'' After recalling the hardships of the first immigrants, he accused the Israeli authorities over the years of disrupting traditional Sephardic families, offering them an ``inferior'' education and trying to remake them into a new ``European, Western generation.''

    Deri and his Shas party, asserting that they are leading a religious and social renaissance among Sephardic Israelis, have gained popularity by providing cheap schooling, child-care and welfare services in economically depressed towns and neighborhoods. Shas' growing popularity was reflected in national elections last May, when it won 10 seats in Parliament and control of two government ministries.

    State budgets funneled to Shas institutions have helped it to expand, widening the pool of party supporters. Statistics published on Sunday in the Haaretz newspaper showed a rise in pupils studying in Orthodox schools, including many children of Russian immigrants, and a decline in secular public school enrollment.

    Iris Mizrahi, a Sephardic commentator, argued in a recent broadcast on Israel Radio that Deri, who has become one of Israel's most powerful politicians, had come to symbolize a new sense of self-worth for many Sephardic Jews after years of discrimination.

    ``We have courts that explain the laws of the state and the proper moral guidelines, but the Sephardic community doesn't buy it any more, because they've felt what Ashkenazic justice means,'' she said. ``It's a fact that 80 percent of all prisoners throughout the years of the state were Sephardic.''

    As an alternative, Shas argues for the supremacy of Jewish law, scorning the rulings of Israel's justice system as anti-religious.

    At the Shas rally, Rabbi David Yosef, the son of the movement's spiritual leader, called the decision to indict Deri an attempt by ``anti-religious elements to destroy Sephardic Jewry.'' Turning to his audience, he asked: ``What do you think of the rule of law?'' A chorus of boos went up from the crowd.

    Such messages worry some political leaders of Sephardic background who are not Orthodox.

    Shlomo Ben-Ami, a member of Parliament who is running for the leadership of the opposition Labor Party, said that Shas is filling a vacuum left by a shrinking state welfare system that has left the delivery of social services to interest groups like Shas that operate with government funding.

    Deri was twisting the history of Sephardic Jewry, which in medieval Spain had interacted with both Islam and Christianity, argued Ben-Ami, who is a historian.

    ``Sephardic Jewry was a synthesis of tradition and modernism,'' he asserted. ``Deri is distorting history. He is returning to the ghetto.''

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    The Two found their burning bush in an Oregon campground, amid the myrtle and cedar along the Rogue River. They had been on the road for 29 weeks. The deer loped; the gulls cawed; God spoke.

    The year was 1973, a restless time. It was not so unusual to find people in a prolonged wandering, sea to shining sea, trying to get lost to find themselves.

    But even among these wayfarers, The Two were a curiosity. There was nothing of the bohemian in these middle-aged Texans. Bonnie Lu Trusdale Nettles, 46, was a registered nurse from Houston, a recent casualty of the marital wars and the quietly forceful mom of three teen-agers and a 12-year-old. She loved to shop.

    Marshall Herff Applewhite, 41, was divorced and had two children of his own. Son of a Presbyterian minister, he was an opera singer, a voice professor and a choirmaster, well known in Houston's small arts community as a bon vivant. His love of a good time had only recently been turned inside out by his self-willed gift for prophecy.

    Their friendship was slightly more than a year old, and from the start, they had rarely left each other's sides. The relationship was chaste, but their minds were complementary and their passions the same. Like so many through the ages, they wanted to escape mankind's eternal predicament, to find a way to get out of life alive.

    To that end, The Two would eventually cut and cobble a farfetched theology from the scriptural and the occult. Mrs. Nettles knew her Bible, but she also charted the stars, summoned the dead in seances and took guidance from the voice of someone she called Brother Francis, a 19th-century monk. Applewhite, himself a novice mystic, had once been a seminarian and could quote the Gospel front to back. He believed that Armaggedon approached and that only the righteous would emerge at God's side from the volcanic depths of reckoning.

    How their jerry-built doctrine evolved—and how it attracted others into a lethal fusion of church and space known as Heaven's Gate—is a study of people in a vertigo of psychic and religious upheaval. America now knows The Two as Guinea and Pig, Bo and Peep, Do and Ti, the dead shepherds of a dead flock. Five weeks ago, their search for immortal truths led Applewhite and 38 acolytes to a mass suicide in California.

    Unfathomable as this spiritual misadventure may always be, an extraordinary record has been left behind, including soul-searching letters that have been buried in boxes for the past two decades. The Two frequently wrote down their thoughts, in private correspondence in the early days, in entreaties and manifestos later on. These testimonies are the plot points in a very peculiar passage, the journey from sincere religious zeal to delusional beliefs in a divine calling and finally to what most psychiatrists would call outright psychosis.

    These delusions would prove to be a human lodestone. Hundreds passed through the group in 24 years, and there might easily have been more than 39 among the dead if all those still loyal to the teachings had stayed in the group. Some of those closest to The Two had left the group for one reason or another and now wonder whether they missed a chance at a heavenly ascension. Interviews with these people provide an intimate portrait of day-to-day life in what amounted to a scrub room for the mind.

    Camped along the Oregon coast in July 1973, while meditating amid the wild iris and rhododendron, The Two believed that God had finally revealed to them their ``overwhelming mission.'' That was not entirely unexpected. The Two had been reporting instructions from God for some time, although this was their first major assignment. They were to be the ``two lamp stands'' mentioned in Revelation, they said, and from then on, God would see the world through their eyes.

    ``We are not anything we were in the past,'' they wrote to Sharon Morgan, a friend in Houston. In a letter to her daughter Terrie, Mrs. Nettles passed along the urgent news, adding insistently, ``I am not kidding, baby, this is for real.''

    But if they were now to be God's earthly light, the rest of their calling was not very clear. Where should they go, and whom should they tell?

    Once again, The Two, as they came to call themselves, hit the road, this time driving more than 8,000 miles in one summer month: a rudderless, zigzag between California, Utah, Montana and Idaho. They went up to Canada and down to New York. Their money ran out. They slept in a tent. They often ate only rolls and butter.

    All the while, a close review of their letters shows, they talked and talked about their mission, almost exclusively to each other—God's truth undergoing rewrites, with this earthshaking hypothesis and that Biblical proof, ideas exploding in them like percussion bombs.

    From time to time, they stopped to sell their blood at blood banks, to work at menial jobs or to share their sacred information with the unenlightened, making a call at a church or a religious bookstore. But people were not inspired. The Two did not come across as 20th-century successors to Jesus. They seemed like two weary Texans driving a little green rust-bucket.

    ``Bonnie and I are discovering more and more that the `religious' and `loving' are the last to see or accept our truth,'' Applewhite wrote.

    Rejection summoned anger, and the anger darkened them.

    Before, they had been collectors of almost any belief, gathering things like Tarot cards and theosophy like fruit off a tree. They read the defiant psychiatry of R.D. Laing and the breezy pop wisdom of ``Jonathan Livingston Seagull.'' A 30-page manuscript that they tried to publish under the title ``I Can't Believe That—But You Must'' bore the influence of Eastern thought, discussing the karmic inheritances from a person's previous lifetimes.

    But now hellfire was the only hearth they huddled around. ``OK, brace yourself for some hard facts,'' Applewhite wrote in another letter to Mrs. Morgan, who has since remarried and whose last name is now Walsh. ``Our Father is NOT the `sweet' and loving Father in the ways we thought.''

    Modern religion is just the devil's tomfoolery, The Two concluded. What God required was unconditional love of him alone. ``Man must break from ALL ties that bind him to this earth: mother, father, brother, sister,'' Mrs. Nettles wrote, denouncing the love of family, oddly enough, in a letter to her daughter Terrie. She allowed that this message was scary and that she and Applewhite ``now wonder about our sanity—but we cannot deny what we know.''

    Their bleak doctrine would undergo a long gestation. During the first year of the mission, there was no mention yet of UFOs, but The Two already believed that all sensual desires must be stifled, whether they presented themselves ``in a brutal football game or in the back seat of a car in the moonlight.'' Early on, they had also begun to talk of leading others on a physical ascension to a Level Above Human.

    That ascension was imminent, they believed. As the ``two lamp stands'' of Revelation, interpreting Chapter 11: 3-13, they would soon be killed by the unfaithful, only to regain life three and a half days later and rise up in a cloud. In the words of The Two, the Lord would then ``pull the trigger'' and begin the world's destruction.

    On May 18, 1974, after 16{ months on the road, Applewhite and Mrs. Nettles returned to Houston to anoint Sharon Morgan as their first disciple. A bright, well-spoken woman and the mother of two young daughters, Mrs. Morgan was caught in the undertow of a bad marriage. Twenty months earlier, she had taken solace from the two when they were running classes in ``mind-soul-spirit awareness.''

    Mrs. Morgan marveled at their wisdom and was later convinced of all they told her about their godly mission. Still, indecision tore at her. Her daughters needed her, but so did The Two—and it was they who appeared to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

    Six days later, she packed a small bag, took off her wedding ring and folded $25 into her pocket. She left one note for her husband and another for the girls. It might be best, she explained, to imagine that God had simply taken her away in death. The younger daughter was not quite 3, and Mrs. Morgan was leaving at noon. She arranged for a baby sitter.

    On the road, Mrs. Morgan's job was to visit occult bookstores and metaphysical centers, meeting people and setting up appointments. She would nervously pace the floor, praying for God to guide her, looking for the human pulsing of good vibrations.

    Then, when ready, she would ask: ``Would you be interested in talking to two people who can tell you how to leave this planet and take your body with you?''


    Raised in Houston, Bonnie Nettles, then Bonnie Trusdale, was born in 1927 and born again in Christ in 1938. As an adult, drifting from her Baptist upbringing, she would conclude that she had been born at other times as well, though all those lives preceded this one. Her husband, a businessman, was not so convinced.

    Their marriage of 23 years had been a gradual wilt, but what seemed to bring it to dissolution in 1972 was an overpopulation of spirits. Not only was Brother Francis—the long-dead monk _ loyally at Bonnie's side, but she also called on other deceased souls through mediums. On Wednesday nights, the Nettleses' living room was kept dark as her ``circle group'' made still more connections with the beyond.

    Not surprisingly, Mrs. Nettles felt like something of an outsider in what passed for normal society. ``Mom and I didn't seem to fit in with everyone else,'' said her daughter Terrie. ``We'd go out and stare into the sky, and we'd swear we had seen a flying saucer. We thought, `Wouldn't it be fun if it'd just pick us up and take us away.' ''

    Several fortune-tellers had recently read Mrs. Nettles' future, where a mysterious man she had yet to meet loomed. He was tall with light hair and a fair complexion—an apt description for Herff Applewhite.

    The Two met in March 1972, but there is disagreement about how it happened. Applewhite's writings are heavy with kismet: he said he was visiting a hospitalized friend when Mrs. Nettles entered the room and their eyes locked in a shared recognition of esoteric secrets. Terrie Nettles insists that The Two met at a drama school in a theater. Applewhite was teaching. Mrs. Nettles' son was a student.

    Either way, Mrs. Nettles immediately did the requisite astrological readings and found an uncanny alignment between her stars and Applewhite's. That fascinated him, and he became enamored of her. However odd her ideas, Mrs. Nettles was smart, widely read and self-confident. She could rig together seemingly unrelated beliefs until all the cosmic tumblers locked into place and the universe appeared to have order.

    Applewhite was badly in need of such a nimble intelligence. He had a revelation that needed interpreting. A few months before, while walking on a beach in Galveston, Texas, he felt that he had been given a private tutorial by the Lord.

    ``He said a presence had given him all the knowledge of where the human race had come from and where it was going,'' said a friend, Hayes Parker. ``It made you laugh to hear it, but Herff was serious. And he didn't seem crazy.''

    Months before, Applewhite had returned to Houston from Taos, N.M., where he had opened a small restaurant with a deli counter. Called the Sunshine Company, the cafe was well located in a central plaza, and, with likable Herff bantering with customers, it seemed a success. Still, he believed himself to be a talented musician and an excellent teacher. Fulfillment would never come to him in a sandwich.

    Until then, his life had taken more than the usual twists and turns. He was the promising son of Herff Sr., a dynamic, if somewhat forbidding, man, whose life's work was starting churches in small Texas towns. The son seemed inclined to follow his father into the ministry and even began the training, but he changed directions toward music.

    That seemed sensible. Applewhite's voice was a bright, big baritone, and his diction was flawless. He sang opera, but with acting skills, good looks and a comic's timing, he was probably a better fit for the stage. He tried to catch on in New York in parts of 1960 and 1961, but getting a start in show business proved hard, and he was already a family man with a family's bills to pay.

    Teaching was a more reliable vocation, and it could also make use of Applewhite's charisma. An impeccable dresser, he enjoyed being the center of attention. He was exceedingly generous and tirelessly social. Directing civic and college choral groups, as well as church choirs, satisfied his abiding desire to be the impresario.

    But while Applewhite was a success at getting university jobs, holding onto them was a problem. He chafed under authority. And at times he suffered emotional problems, the reason he cited in 1970 for leaving the University of St. Thomas in Houston.

    ``He was behaving somewhat oddly at the time,'' said Father Thomas Braden, then the university's president. ``Just talking to him, he would mention things that had no connection to the thing he said before.''

    Just before he left, his love affair with a wealthy young woman had been halted by her disapproving family. Their pressure, said one of Applewhite's friends, who insisted on anonymity, included violent threats, and ``we were all concerned for his safety.''


    Applewhite's divorce in 1968 was also a painful experience. It came after 16 years of marriage. He and his two children were living in different cities, and he saw them infrequently. Other causes for the emotional difficulties are harder to pin down. Applewhite's close friends—even those who felt they were confidants—are surprised now at all they did not know. The man was like a hologram, shifting character when seen from a different angle.

    In some circles, Applewhite was the dashing man about town, never happier than when he had a well-off, well-dressed woman on his arm. In others, he was a firmly rooted gay man who lived with a longtime lover in the Montrose section of the city.

    Inevitably, some have surmised that Applewhite was vexed by his bisexuality, even to the point of a sexual-identity crisis. ``At one moment, he could argue that homosexuality represents a higher form of consciousness, yet at another, he could be very sensitive about his `straight' reputation,'' said Robert W. Balch, a University of Montana sociologist who has written about The Two in scholarly journals.

    But the extent of this tension is difficult to assess. His ex-wife and his gay lover from his Houston years have refused to be interviewed. Some gay friends insist that Applewhite was relatively comfortable with his bisexuality _regardless of the secrets it required and prejudices it raised.

    By 1972, when he met Bonnie Nettles, severe stress was certainly a companion. Applewhite was in the midst of a life meltdown. His father had died the year before. His career as a professor was probably at an end. He had lost his cachet in Houston's social circles. He was in debt, friends who had lent him money said.

    At the same time, he found old answers no longer satisfactory for new spiritual questions. He had dipped into some trends of the time: the teachings of mystics, lone retreats into the desert, the literary science fiction of Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. He now believed that UFOs were the objects people had once taken to be angels, his friend Parker said.

    An overpowering notion about heavenly connections had entered his head, perhaps caused by stress or some genetic chemical time bomb or a combination of both. In this frame of mind, many psychiatrists say, Applewhite was vulnerable to paranoid disorders. Sometimes, a person who cannot handle reality makes up a new one, restoring self-esteem with the vainglorious idea of being God's special deputy. Persuading others can then be an important part of sustaining the fantasy.

    Certainly, Mrs. Nettles was convinced. Applewhite's divinations put her on a pedestal. She was to be the sage, he the speaker. Their futures were twinned as they took to the road on New Year's Day 1973.

    Mrs. Nettles' three youngest children stayed with their father. Terrie Nettles, then a 20-year-old skeptic, recalled that after their travels, The Two did not seem like plain old Herff and Bonnie anymore. There was a certainty to their celestial bearings.

    ``They were like magnets,'' she said. ``They had this unbelievable power. Suddenly, I felt privileged to be around them.''


    When The Two became The Two plus one, things occasionally seemed out of balance. Sharon Morgan, devoted as she was, was also a scrappy professional woman—a real estate agent—and had a mind of her own. The Two called her Chela, which they said meant ``student'' in Sanskrit. They would sit her down for two or three hours, with Applewhite lecturing and Mrs. Nettles at his side.

    Applewhite could be a spellbinder, but his acolyte sometimes had questions. She allowed her forehead to tighten into deep furrows and offered theological interpretations. That proved an irritation, Mrs. Morgan recalled. The Two did not want their sacred gold spun into someone else's brittle straw.

    One of Mrs. Morgan's concerns had to do with money. The Two occasionally used her credit cards, which she did not mind. But they also skipped out on their food and lodging bills at motels. They explained earnestly that they obeyed no earthly laws: ``The Lord will be as a thief in the night.''

    But as a deadbeat, Mrs. Morgan was nervous and conscience-stricken. Deceit by The Two troubled her, like the discovery of a flaw in a precious gem.

    Only four weeks into the mission, the disciple experienced a ``dark night of the soul.'' Guilt was gouging at her heart about her daughters. She looked forward to a stop in Dallas, where she was to visit an old friend.

    The friend did not greet her alone. She had alerted Mrs. Morgan's husband, who grabbed Sharon, threatened to have her committed and brought her home.

    Mrs. Morgan stood in the living room as her two little girls marched in. The 2-year-old ran over to hug her, but the 6-year-old, Kimberly, hung back.

    ``Will you stay?'' Kimberly asked, the hurt floating from her eyes in tears.

    ``Yes, I love you so much,'' the mother answered.

    Mrs. Morgan's missionary days were over, though she would not be without second thoughts. At times, she felt that she had disappointed God and forfeited her place on the Level Above Human. She also regretted the grief she had caused The Two.

    Not only had they lost their sole disciple, but they were arrested within a few days. Mrs. Morgan's husband had charged them with credit card fraud. The complaint was soon dropped, but a routine check by Texas police showed that Applewhite was wanted in St. Louis for auto theft.

    Nine months before, he had rented a Mercury Comet and driven blithely away. He still had the automobile.

    Applewhite spent the next six months in jail, primarily in Missouri. Decades later, he is still remembered there by his public defender and at least one jailhouse guard. Few inmates serenely claim God's authorization for stealing a car.

    Applewhite was released in early 1975. His time in jail had been busily spent in contemplation, though he seemed unsure about where he would practice his calling. He wrote a new resume, apparently hoping to win a teaching job in one of his specialties: music, religion and the metaphysics ``of mind and motivation.'' He said he had ``spent much time in seclusion for study.''

    Secluded as he was behind bars, he also wrote a statement of beliefs that described the cosmic vision he shared with Mrs. Nettles. A central concept was the metaphor of the caterpillar, which got to the heart of the folly of mainstream religions, he said:

    The idea that a good life leads to heaven is as silly as believing that if a caterpillar ``dies a good caterpillar, it will mysteriously awaken in a rose blossom and live there forever with the king butterfly.'' People, like caterpillars, must go through a chrysalis stage, overcoming their humanness in preparation for life in the Next Level, he said.


    That apprenticeship requires a teacher, Applewhite wrote. Jesus was one, sent by his Father. Now, 2,000 years later, there are two more, a man and a woman, he contended. A ``demonstration'' of their truths would come ``within months,'' he predicted, when, like Jesus, The Two would be killed, only to be resurrected in a ``cloud of light.''

    That awesome cloud is what ``humans refer to as a UFO.''


    Once reunited, The Two went to America's great incubator of new, eclectic, guru-led religions. They went to California.

    Applewhite's jail-drafted canon was now their calling card. From a hotel room in Ojai, Calif., they mailed dozens of fliers to churches and spiritual centers.

    Clarence Klug, a 72-year-old mystic with a fetching twinkle in his eye, was among the few to inquire further.

    Klug invited his students to meet The Two in Los Angeles at the home of a friend, Joan Culpepper, a psychic whose motto was ``weird turns me on.'' She invited others. In all, 80 people showed up at the meeting, held in May 1975, many of them crowded together on the floor.

    The Two made a modest entrance, dressed in loose-fitting running suits and settling into chairs before the fireplace. In most settings, they would have seemed perfectly ordinary, though here they were distinctive because they had short hair and did not wear any T-shirts advertising an urgent cause.

    Applewhite did the talking: ``We are The Two prophesied in Revelation,'' people remember him saying. ``God has sent us here as an experiment, so you might call us Guinea and Pig.''

    In the next 30 minutes, Applewhite laid it on the line: This is who we are. If our message speaks to you, then follow us. If you follow, then you must obey everything we say. That includes giving up your possessions, your family and your entire identity.

    As remembered by Ms. Culpepper, so often a glutton for strangeness, The Two were entirely unconvincing. She asked Applewhite sarcastic questions, calling him Mr. Pig. No one, she thought, would find the meeting a change-your-life experience.

    She was wrong. Two dozen guests were absolutely goggle-eyed. Guinea and Pig had made a connection right into their emotional fuse boxes. The notion of taking a spaceship to heaven was a kick, but what people really found captivating was the idea that heaven was a physical place within mortal reach.

    Among the enlistees were the young and old, the poor and rich _ a film editor, an accountant, a waiter. That would remain the pattern in years ahead. Only a few recruits could be considered among life's losers. These seekers shared a willingness to make extreme sacrifices in search of spiritual truth. They were after enlightenment. To them, it made perfect sense for so towering an aim to require an equal amount of renunciation.

    Most had already been shopping the counterculture for higher truths, like those offered by Guru Maharaji, Sri Chinmoy, Paramahansa Yogananda, Transcendental Meditation and peyote buttons. Yet they were also responding to beliefs well rooted in the common soil of modern America.

    Even today, in a more strait-laced era, a Gallup poll finds that 22 percent of all Americans believe in reincarnation, 25 percent in astrology, 42 percent in possession by the devil and 72 percent in angels. Regarding UFOs, 45 percent think such spacecraft have visited Earth; 12 percent believe that they have seen one themselves. Most people find accommodations between the religious mainstream and their own sidelong rivulets.

    The members of The Two's initial group of followers were, of course, more accommodating than most. But in many cases, mainline churches had provided them with conceptual bridges to their conversion.

    Christianity had not kept its hold on Michael Conyers, 23, a musician. But it taught him the ``Saviour myth,'' as he put it: that a special being must ``save'' people before they can get to heaven. There was also the ``hierarchy idea,'' the notion that clerical go-betweens must lead the way to God.

    Lee Ann Fenton, 19, studying biology in college on a scholarship, had been reared as a Catholic. The church offered her ancient rituals, but what she wanted was immediate salvation: ``I wanted to overcome the human condition in this life, not the next.''

    Dick Joslyn, 26, a college graduate and former Navy missile-launching officer, was fascinated by the subconscious. In The Two, he sensed people with an entree into the depths of the mind. He liked the fact that they did without the usual trappings of grandiosity, the flowing robes and burning incense.

    The day after the meeting at Ms. Culpepper's house, Joslyn met privately with Applewhite. ``I know you're not con artists,'' he recalled saying nervously. ``That means, either you're who you say you are, or you're absolutely mad.''

    ``That's right, Dick. Which do you think we are?''

    To believe the former, he would have to lay dynamite across his life, giving up his parents, his car, his apartment and his career as a model. Things had just begun to go his way. His face was about to enter millions of homes. Dressed as a skydiver, he would stare out from boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes.

    Still, he decided to join. Within days, he was among those trying to find their way to the holy ground along the Rogue River. Symbolically, the spot was marked with a cardboard lamb. The Two were now spiritual shepherds of a flock. Scorning the use of human names in favor of those in a nursery rhyme, they called themselves Bo and Peep.

    The acolytes did not know what to expect—and neither did The Two. They would later admit that the sudden appearance of this retinue had left them addled. What were they to do with 20 dependents?

    First, they had to keep them busy. Applewhite could talk about the Next Level for only so long. He sent people into the woods to listen for God.

    Inevitably, there was restlessness within the group, sometimes even impertinence. People wanted to know, When is the spaceship coming? The Two said it could happen at any time, probably within three months, certainly within a year. Patience was stressed as one of the Next Level's tests.

    Days later, The Two finally devised an agenda. They would remake the flock in their own image, sending them out two by two as penniless missionaries to traverse America. Hardships were instructional, they said. The twosomes would suffer cold, fatigue and rebuke. They were to ask for people's charity, but they were never to beg or steal. The Two delivered no more homilies, as they had to Sharon Morgan, about thieves in the night.

    The plan was to reconvene two months later in a Wyoming campground. Most did so, though others dropped out. The reward to the faithful was to be around when the mission went public.

    Meetings were soon arranged for school auditoriums. It was an exciting time, followers say. Although Bo and Peep were growing ever more shy in talking about spaceships, their new zealots could not hold back the bait. Posters said ``The Two'' would speak about UFOs: ``Why they are here. Who they have come for.''


    The most successful meeting took place in September 1975, at a motel in the seaside town of Waldport, Ore. Within days, 20 new disciples abandoned their possessions, said goodbye forever to loved ones and went off with what was quickly becoming known as ``the UFO cult.''

    ``It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' David Van Sinderen, 27, told friends. A highly personable man with a ponytail and a passion for environmental causes, he hailed from a prominent Connecticut family. His father was the chief executive of the Southern New England Telephone Co.

    Along with David was his 22-year-old girlfriend, Susan Strom, a botany student about to graduate from Oregon State University. Her father was a well-known lawyer in Omaha who later became a federal judge. Soon after Ms. Strom's departure, she wrote to her family, saying, ``The only way I reconciled leaving you is that I can help you from the Next Level, God's Kingdom.''

    These vanishings understandably upset those left behind. The police were called. Detectives were hired. Journalists snooped.

    A few weeks later, as The Two brought their message to Chicago, the story sprang into the national news. The CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite reported: ``A score of persons from a small Oregon town have disappeared. It's a mystery whether they've been taken on a so-called trip to eternity—or simply been taken.''

    Dick Joslyn was ecstatic at this brush fire of publicity. He recalled thinking, ``Now Bo and Peep will do the `demonstration' and get killed and prove who they are, and we'll all go on the ascension.''

    But The Two were in a fright. They had wanted the light of attention but not the heat of scrutiny. So they went into hiding.


    The flock was dispatched on road trips, with The Two staying in touch through a secretive relay of phone messages and notes sent to post office boxes. The group had about 200 people at the time, former followers estimate.

    The press had been highly skeptical of The Two, and what they craved now was control of their public image. They agreed to help two writers, Hayden Hewes and Brad Steiger, in the writing of a book. They assumed the writers to be sympathetic, but the book, ``UFO Missionaries Extraordinary'' (Pocket Books, 1976), disappointed them. It did not proclaim The Two's divinity.

    The authors did not suggest any deception on the part of The Two. ``We did voice-stress tests,'' Steiger recalled. ``They believed what they were saying.'' In fact, The Two wanted to time the publication of the book to coincide with their anticipated assassinations. Failing that, they proposed starving themselves to death, Steiger said.

    Nine months went by before the flock came back together, in June 1976, this time in Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming. The Two had declared the recruiting of souls complete. Now it was time to ``clarify the butter,'' as Mrs. Nettles put it, separating the pure from the impure.

    Only 100 members were left in the group—and some of them were not sufficiently serious, smoking marijuana or having sex. These were intolerable transgressions. Stop it or go, The Two declared. And many left.

    There was another announcement that disillusioned some people. The Next Level had sent word that the ``demonstration'' was off. Character assassination by the media had been demonstration enough.

    All that winnowing left fewer than 70 disciples. They made up the ``class,'' preparing for the Next Level with lessons from The Two, who renamed themselves after notes on the musical scale, Ti, for Mrs. Nettles, and Do, for Applewhite.

    The class teachings were improvised. The Two claimed no individual memories of their lives on the Next Level, saying knowledge came to them through psychic communication from the ``fathers.'' The Next Level was a place without sex, each body born much as a flower sprouts from a vine. Every being had one ``older member'' to guide it. Mrs. Nettles, for instance, was Applewhite's father in a parental chain that led all the way to a ``chief of chiefs.''

    The Two admitted that much about the Next Level perplexed even them. In class, one would sometimes mutter to the other, ``No, that's not right.'' They would excuse themselves and go off to iron things out.

    This period in the group's past, 1976 to 1979, could be called the campground phase. During this time, the students slept in tents, and The Two slept in a small camping trailer. Warm months were spent in the Rocky Mountains, cold ones in Texas.

    Money was little problem. David Van Sinderen had access to a trust fund, a possession he had not been urged to leave behind. The total in the fund was unknown to other group members, though Lee Ann Fenton, who did much of the bookkeeping, says $300,000 to $400,000 is a reasonable estimate.

    The money financed something like a holy boot camp. Each day was structured down to the minute. The goal was to cleanse the mind of its sense of self. Prohibited activities included trusting one's judgment, inappropriate curiosity and any desire for attention.

    Partners were assigned, with one acolyte watching the other's obedience to the regimen. Each bathed in six minutes, using exactly a gallon of water. They worked in 12-minute segments, returning to a command post for a new assignment or simply standing and meditating about the satisfactions of providing service to the group.

    ``When you'd get a bad thought, you'd tell yourself it wasn't you, it was an agent of Lucifer,'' Michael Conyers said.

    Experiments were tried. People would concentrate for hours on the pitch of a tuning fork. Or they would wear blinder-like visors so they could see only straight ahead.

    Yet complete focus was elusive. The self seemed an invincible companion. Some members of the group even found themselves counterproductively competing for status, thinking about how they could think less than the next person. Others thought obsessively about failures, thinking endlessly about why they thought so much.

    Nick Cooke, 36, was a sculptor who had deserted his 10-year-old daughter to join the group. He quit in defeat two years later. Others seemed better able to shed the self ``and it bothered me _ and it bothered me that it bothered me,'' he said.

    For those who stayed, bonds formed, not just to The Two but to one another. That was one of the paradoxes. The disciples had forsaken one family for another.

    Days were often fun. The Two were not humorless; they acted with gentleness. ``They were more like parental figures or that cool high school teacher you thought so much of—not quite your buddy, but someone you could talk to,'' Joslyn said.

    Group members were permitted to occupy their spare time with ``approved'' games, like Yahtzee, Clue and croquet. They read mysteries. They watched a television powered by a generator. Applewhite would point out the all-too-human frailties of contestants on ``The Price is Right.''

    During the nights, small teams of stargazers kept a vigil, watching for that magic gash of speeding light that might be a spaceship. After all, it could come at any time.

    Once, in a South Texas campground, Mrs. Nettles felt sure of a telepathic communique from the Next Level: Their spaceship was about to come in. Everyone packed up. They waited all atwitter through the night, but nothing happened.

    ``Well, I feel like I have egg on my face,'' she apologized at daybreak.


    Yet after that letdown, and after others as well, the faith of most followers remained intact. That kind of acceptance is typical for members of the many groups over time that have believed in specific dates for a UFOs descent, or the messiah's arrival or the Second Coming. When predictions fail, belief often grows stronger. The disappointed claim that the unfulfilled prophecy had merely been a test of their faith or a misreading of portents.

    When longtime disciples did leave The Two, they rarely quit because of a rupture in belief. More often, it was out of boredom or a rebellion against the rules or frustration with their own progress.

    One night in 1977, Joslyn sneaked out of the campsite in Wyoming. He stumbled through the darkness until he found the road. The wind was groaning, and he was scared, half-expecting The Two to drive up and confront him with his betrayal. He walked all night. At dawn, he sat down for breakfast at a truck stop outside Cheyenne, Wyo. He studied the place hard—the dreariness of the cafe, the dead-end lives of the truckers and the waitresses. This is what the world has to offer, he thought.

    Joslyn hitchhiked home to the campground. He was back before lunch.

    He would stay another 12 years.


    In 1979, the group moved indoors. Attrition had culled it to 40 members or so, numbers easily accommodated in two or three houses. Some members expressed reservations: Would a spaceship be able to find them in the lights of residential sprawl?

    The Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge was the group's first location. Later, they hopscotched across the Southwest. The Dallas area was a repeated choice. The Two were fanatics about security, afraid of meddlesome authorities and the desperate detective work of scuttled families. The group rarely stayed in one place more than six months.

    They did not skimp on rent. ``Ti and Do said the Next Level did not want us living in meager means,'' said Ms. Fenton, the bookkeeper.

    Usually, the group took a separate house for The Two. At times, they also rented mountaintop chalets in the Rockies.

    Good use was made of John Craig, who was 41 when he joined in 1975. In his earlier life, he had been a wealthy real estate developer, and he had six children. His expertise at negotiating leases was of great benefit. Ms. Fenton said Craig had also contributed support from a family inheritance.

    By 1981, some members began to get jobs. The Two wanted the group to become financially self-sufficient. By then, Van Sinderen's trust fund was running low, Ms. Fenton said, though there would remain enough for occasional $10,000 withdrawals in emergencies. (The fund was entirely depleted by 1989, she said, although Van Sinderen ``rediscovered'' $30,000 to $40,000 in annuities in 1991.)

    There was risk in allowing people to take outside jobs. With so many people going in and out, there might be a breach in security. And members would be exposing themselves to the world's temptations, though Do and Ti believed that most of the flock was well-immunized against such infection.

    Still, secretiveness could not be stressed enough. Only menial work was accepted at first, nothing that related to one's actual skills. Applications were filled out with fictions. People drove without licenses.

    ``We only began to use our real names when we were sure no one was looking anymore,'' Ms. Fenton said.

    Members then sought better jobs suiting their talents. Even then, subterfuge was deemed necessary. Phony resumes were submitted, which required elaborate ruses. Phone numbers for out-of-state ``references'' would ring back to the house through call-forwarding. Members pretended to be past bosses and dispensed high praise.

    Margaret Richter, a high school valedictorian, was a computer whiz. David Geoffrey Moore was a master mechanic. Susan Paup was a technical writer. They were among the dependable who never had any trouble finding work. Employers were invariably pleased. Group members were punctual, impeccably groomed and collegial but not gossipy. They ate bag lunches.

    Quite rapidly—and with only a dozen or so working—the group's after-tax annual income rose to $300,000 to $400,000, Ms. Fenton said. These were ample sums for frugal people living communally.

    Members without jobs worked in the houses. Each day required intricate scheduling that endlessly dealt with minutiae: who would peel carrots, who would bag garbage, who would drive whom to work. A Procedures Book, big as a phone directory, was kept. It mandated the direction for pulling a razor while shaving and the proper circumference of a pancake. The lesson here was not so much that there was a single right way to do things but that unquestioning obedience was essential for a Next Level mind.

    In the mornings, people left home with exactly $5 in spending money and 25 cents for a phone call; each penny had to be accounted for. At times, there were assigned seats for class sessions, and even for watching television.

    Clothing was generally purchased by The Two, avowed masters of mall shopping, especially at T.J. Maxx and Burlington Coat Factory. Apparel, even underwear, was shared. Any attachment to a favorite garment was deplored.

    Some of these practices had an obvious self-squelching function. Others were merely experimental. Different sleep cycles were tried. Special diets included all pasta, all vegetables, all protein-enriched Kool-Aid and dinner rolls. For a month, the group drank a concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. Various enemas were employed for purification.

    Everyone has human addictions, the group was taught. Ms. Fenton was addicted to ``giving and receiving affection.'' Joslyn was addicted to egotism. Craig was addicted to stubbornness. Angela Skala was addicted to pie.

    Yet ridding oneself of addictions—or even simple bad habits _ could become an addiction of its own. The human ``vehicle'' could get used to any regime and then crave it, members were told. Now and then, a satisfied vegetarian was confronted with a meal of sloppy joes.

    There was one addiction, however, whose cure could not be considered addictive. This was sex. Abstinence was never to make the heart grow fonder. Sex was forbidden—doing it, thinking it, dreaming it. Sleeping arrangements were often segregated by sex, though gay men slept with women and lesbians with men.

    Violators of sexual taboos were expected to announce their lapses to the class, though the confessing was restricted to euphemisms like ``a major sensual slippage'' so as not to stimulate anyone inadvertently. Full details were then either told to Ti and Do or written to them in a note.

    ``Shame and fear were your impetus to keep under control,'' Michael Conyers said. ``You were trying to define yourself as a pure vessel'' in the leader's mind, he explained. ``Your punishment was him denying you his approval.''

    In private, Applewhite could be sympathetic. He understood heterosexuality, he said. He understood homosexuality as well. He called them both primitive, animalistic acts, but Conyers recalled him saying, `` `Heterosexuals were less evolved than homosexuals, who had at least overcome the attraction to< women.' ''


    Men, Applewhite said, were less able than women to control the physical valves of carnal need. Steven McCarter had a problem with sexual fantasies. Michael Fiester sometimes had an unwanted orgasm at the movies. Most everyone became aroused from time to time.

    The most sex-beset members pressed Applewhite to consider the one obvious solution. Why not undergo castration?

    The thought, some recall, made Applewhite cringe.


    Bonnie Nettles lost an eye to cancer in 1983, but exactly when this trained nurse accepted the reality of oncoming death is unclear. Her doctor at the time told her that the disease was probably coursing through her body, said a former group member who insisted on being identified by the pseudonym ``Sawyer.'' Mrs. Nettles scolded the doctor for his ignorance.

    To the group, Do without Ti was as hard to imagine as the sun coming up without light. Mrs. Nettles and Applewhite felt the same. Every heavenly voice they had ever heard spoke of an ascent together, side by side into the stars.

    But the cancer was not done. It moved to her liver. In the summer of 1985, Mrs. Nettles, using the false name Shelly West, died in Parkland Hospital in Dallas. Applewhite later said: ``Ti experienced no symptoms prior to the week she left her vehicle, and for the most part, her vehicle slept through the transition. We're not exactly sure how many days it might have taken her to return to the Next Level.''

    But if her spirit had been willing, her flesh had not. Her ``broken-down vehicle'' was left behind, its ashes spread in a serene Texas lake. This leftover body—clearly earthbound—would have puzzled the group a few years before, but a major shift in thinking had already occurred.

    The Two were always trying to tune into the Next Level as if it were some distant radio station blurred by static. At times, they heard something that required a major theological update, and such was the case with the matter of physical ascension. The human form, as it turned out, was not always supposed to remain on Earth. To the contrary, a parallel body with a different molecular structure _ grown as a human mastered Next Level knowledge—was the one usually ordained for heaven.

    With this the case, there seemed no need to mourn Mrs. Nettles, yet Applewhite made no secret of his sense of loss. She was his ``older member,'' his guide through their shared awakening. He said he was unsure if he could lead the class on his own, even with her encouragement from the Next Level.

    Applewhite now sometimes seemed grief-worn, his ballast gone. To Lee Ann Fenton, he appeared to want a way out, ``his own disease or his own suicide.''

    Once, while he was in the mountains with only Ms. Fenton and a handful of group members, the grand purpose of Applewhite's life seemed to be unspooling, and he confided doubts.

    ``Am I crazy?'' she recalled him asking. ``Should I tell everyone to go home?''


    In 1988, Applewhite returned to the question that had confounded him and Mrs. Nettles from their first days on the road: What to do with what he knew?

    His Next Level fathers wanted the prophecies spread. Applewhite sensed that. They were placing ideas into the minds of creative humans.

    How else could one explain movies like ``Star Wars''? he asked the group. Who else was Luke Skywalker if not Do in his long struggle against the forces of the devil?

    But from experience, Applewhite knew all too well that going public was hard. So the group would re-emerge cautiously, at first doing a small mailing to New Age centers on behalf of the Next Level, rebutting loose talk about ``hostile space aliens'' who were supposed to be abducting humans and even eating them. Members also went to Sexaholics Anonymous meetings in Los Angeles, sharing what they billed as better methods for ebbing the libido.

    But Applewhite knew that more needed to be done, much more. He once again told the class that decampment for the Next Level seemed imminent. The close of this ``age'' was at hand. Lucifer now controlled Earth. Humans must perish. They would be ``spaded under.''

    In 1992, the group, then living in Laguna Hills, Calif., paid to broadcast 12 of its homemade videotapes via satellite. In 1993, it published long screeds as advertisements in newspapers worldwide. At all times, it offered to answer the letters of anyone interested in what was then being called the ``final offer.''

    Few responded, which Applewhite found unsettling. He believed that he had an obligation to troll the planet for any humans ready for Next Level education.

    The class had now dwindled to about 25. Some of the most faithful had left: Michael Conyers in 1988, Dick Joslyn in 1990, Lee Ann Fenton in 1991 and Michael Fiester in 1992.

    Applewhite, so sensitive to the Apocalypse's approaching flames, was confounded by all this human indifference. Still, he felt duty-bound to deliver his prophecies. In 1994, the group sold most of its possessions, except for its cars, vans and portable computers, split into four evangelical teams and once again hit the road.

    Reflecting back across the millennia, Applewhite wondered whether Christ had not tried hard enough. As Sawyer said, ``Do thought Jesus had probably made a mistake—getting bumped off too early.''

    Sawyer—as he calls himself—is a gaunt man with a scruffy underhang of beard. During his 19 years in the group, he was close to Applewhite but longed to be closer.

    ``I felt Do was my father—I still do,'' he said. He envied the greater spiritual contact that others enjoyed. After Mrs. Nettles died, her place at Do's side was generally taken by women, most often Susan Strom and Julie LaMontagne, who was a nurse.

    Unable to lessen the distance, Sawyer blamed himself. He had failed to obliterate his sensual nature fully. ``I was a male with a male's sensual vibrations, and perhaps Do couldn't stand to be around me,'' Sawyer said. ``Do was homosexual, so he partnered himself with females to remove temptation.''

    To smother the ashes of his sexual drive, Sawyer wanted to be castrated. The group had occasionally discussed the procedure. From a practical point of view, Applewhite could see its merits; after all, it is commonly done on animals other than humans. Still, he hesitated to grant his approval. ``Do worried about someone going to the police and saying, `Look what they made me do!' '' Sawyer said.


    But over the course of a few years, Sawyer and other men tried hard to convince him. ``This was really no different than olden days when manservants to the queen would be castrated so they couldn't try anything,'' Sawyer said.

    Finally, Applewhite allowed inquiries to be made. American doctors routinely said no, but a surgeon's assistant in Mexico was willing enough. In 1993, Steven McCarter—perhaps the group's most gung-ho disciple—won a coin flip against Sawyer and became the first to have his testicles removed. The operation, which is not complicated, was nevertheless botched. McCarter's scrotum failed to drain properly, resulting in massive swelling.

    ``Do felt terrible,'' Sawyer said. ``He wanted to turn himself in to the police. He felt he had let a student do something that was improper, but I said, `No. Do, let's take it a step at a time.' And that next step was to take Steven to a hospital.''

    In years ahead, Applewhite and seven others were castrated. By then, Sawyer, feeling compelled to do some thinking while outside the group, had left. Presumably, he said, ``they went ahead after finding a better doctor to do it.''

    In any event, the group's focus for 1994 would shift singlemindedly toward cross-country proselytizing. Applewhite was superseding the group's ``final offer'' with what he now called the ``last chance.'' As in his early days as a prophet, he expected to provide a ``demonstration.'' His murder would be followed by his ascent.

    ``He thought we'd be killed in the streets, zapped by fundamentalists or something,'' Sawyer said. ``He wanted to be more than just the 250th Jesus to come along.''

    Sometimes, Applewhite allowed himself optimism about his soul-saving campaign. He wondered aloud how he would handle things if thousands wanted to join. He joked: What if a UFO lands on the White House lawn and its occupants order the president to cooperate?

    But the group traveled for nine months with little to show for it. While it grew to 45 people, most of the recruits were ``lost sheep,'' members who had quit and now wanted back in. There had been some heckling from audiences, even derision, but no assassin ever unsheathed a weapon.

    So what of Applewhite's ``demonstration?'' At times, he grew sullen, followers said. He speculated, Maybe we are supposed to provoke a government attack? (Indeed, with vague notions of that in mind, the group purchased two rifles, three revolvers and two semiautomatic pistols in the following year. Many felt uneasy around the firearms, however, and they were put into storage.)

    There was another, more obvious way to die, of course. It required no outside participants. Do had considered it for years: Must he be the candle? Or could he be the flame?

    In mid-August in 1994, while in Boston, Applewhite suggested that ``it may be necessary to take things into our own hands,'' Sawyer recalled. By September, the group had moved to a warehouse near San Clemente, Calif. Do's mood had swung back to good cheer, but he was still mulling over the means to a fatal end.

    Off to one side of the building were offices. Applewhite called a meeting to discuss suicide. He had done some research. There were potions to make it painless, he said.

    He asked, Did anyone have qualms about such a death? ``A few actually said they did, though they were newcomers,'' recalled Sawyer, who was then still in the group. ``There were a couple of others who said that while they'd do it, it was a fearful thought.''

    The leader nodded. He was only checking. It was just something to think about.


    Applewhite knew he had been wrong before. With or without Ti helping him, Next Level information was hard to decipher. That had always been the unnerving part of the mission. He needed sure signs.

    In July 1995, astronomers sighted the Comet Hale-Bopp. Its icy core was an astonishing 25 miles wide. Such a titan appears maybe once in 200 years.

    To the group, that would have been intriguing enough, but there was more. Someone had photographed a small, trailing shower of light. UFO buffs would spread the rumor: A spaceship was approaching in the comet's wake.

    By the fall of 1996, the group was running a computer-consulting business and living in a gated estate in affluent Rancho Sante Fe, Calif., where extravagant houses were spread far apart and zoning laws banned street lights, preserving a skyward view of brilliant, starry nights.

    The group bought a top-of-the-line telescope, then returned it. Spotting the UFO might not have been that important to them. They were avid students of heavenly transportation. Spaceships, they had often read, could make themselves invisible at will.

    For most members, mass suicide now seemed like a great relief. They were very frightened. Do's earthly vehicle was 65 years old and beginning to show the relentless disrepair of age. What if he were to leave them, just as Ti had done?

    Instead, with barbiturates and vodka, they could all outlast mortality, they thought. Farewell videos were bequeathed to the world. Happy prospects were written across the exiting faces.

    Do himself left various words of parting. After the suicides _ and before the ``spading under'' of all earthly life—there would be a brief window of time for those who wanted to join the group, he said. The preferred locations would be in the West or Southwest. Calling out the names Ti or Do would alert the spacecraft.

    Otherwise, the class for overcoming humanness was over. It had gone on for 24 years, at least as people here on Earth would measure it.

    On the Next Level, this was only a flutter in time. Do did the precise calculations before he left.

    He had been teaching the humans for 31 minutes.

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