There is a great article in this week’s New Yorker (subscribers only) about a New Age guru named Benjamin Creme, “the most delicious-sounding religious leader since Pope Nougat V,” according to Stephen Colbert. An eighty-seven-year-old oil painter, he is tracking the movements of the elusive Maitreya, who it turns out is the final prophet of God (yes, another one). One of the Maitreya’s followers makes the following equation, which would make even a charismatic rabbi blush with shame: “God + Adam + Noah + Abraham + Jesus + Moses + Muhammad + 12 = 19.” This is meant to illustrate an obscure piece of gematriya he had read in the Qur’an, where the weighty number nineteen makes and appearance in a verse about Hell-Fire (a typical Qur’anic threat to unbelievers. We’re quaking!)
The twist in the story is that the Maitreya has been identified. His name is Raj Patel. Apparently some of Patel’s biographical details chimed with those of the mysterious Maitreya, which probably isn’t hard if your messiah is, in Creme’s words, “tall, broad-shouldered, six feet three. But he might not look quite like that. He can change his clothes and expression in such a way that it would be hard to think it was the same person.” Creme refers to the Maitreya, predictably, as Master.
It’s too interesting an article to pass up, and I’ve only outlined it here. I suggest anyone interested in the way religions appear in the world give it a read. What is asserted by Creme is at once so specific (“six foot three”) and vague (he’s apparently a wily shapeshifter) that it could be applied to anyone, even a reluctant prophet like Mr. Patel, whose verdict on Creme’s ideas is, “Bonkers.”
The moral of the story is that every religion starts in a similar way. Just look at the history of Mormonism if you don’t believe me. It’s not particularly off the wall if one considers the central claims of all other religions. The whole point being that any old sci-fi garbage can become a religious movement if it has adherents. Look at Scientology. Study a thousand different religions and behind every prophet you will find a charlatan like Joseph Smith or Benjamin Creme, making up nonsense about invisible beings who are out to save us from our destructive ways. They all have secret literature, receive instructions from voices in their heads, and declare once and for all that they have the skeleton key to unlock Truth.
Don’t think for a second that your religion – if you profess one – is any different. Truth is not to be found in such places, but from patient and honest inquiry into the natural world. All prophets are full of shit. But you knew that, right?