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Life 102: What to Do When Your Guru Sues You Hardcover – September 1, 1994
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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From Library Journal
In 1978, during a period of self-doubt and spiritual crisis, prolific author McWilliams (Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, Prelude Pr., 1993) met self-styled guru John-Roger. During the following 15 years of devotion and discipleship, he became a key John-Roger operative, ghostwriting such best sellers as Do It! and Life 101 (both Prelude Pr., 1991). Here, McWilliams offers his vivid, and sometimes vitriolic, reconstruction of that decade and a half, framed as a search for the internal and interpersonal dynamics that bound him. McWilliams's edgy humor and engaging style, which sets this book apart from other commendable cult-insider exposes (e.g., Mark Laxer's Take Me for a Ride, LJ 11/1/93), make this a magnetic read for even those little interested in New Age avatars. Add John-Roger's recently revived fame in relation to the California senate race and the broad popularity of his earlier titles written with McWilliams, and you have a hot topic. Recommended, especially for public and church libraries and for large academic religion collections.
Bill Piekarski, Southwestern Coll. Lib., Chula Vista, Cal.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
McWilliams, an astonishingly successful self-published writer, became a follower of the self-styled guru John-Roger during the 1970s. When John-Roger "diagnosed" McWilliams as having AIDs, he also told the writer he had the cure: if McWilliams would write books, put John-Roger's name on them, and give him half the proceeds, he would talk to God. Brainwashed, McWilliams went along with it, and over the next six years wrote such successful books as Life 101 (a New York Times best-seller) while giving John-Roger the credit and the money. Now deprogrammed, McWilliams wants to (a) warn people about cults in general and John-Roger's cult in particular and (b) tell readers what a scumbag John-Roger is--a task he carries out with some relish. The chapter on how John-Roger also duped Ariana Huffington, wife of senatorial candidate Michael, is one of the dishiest in the book. Although McWilliams spells out how he came under John-Roger's spell, it still seems incredible that a brash, funny guy could actually believe that a chubby, balding con man was actually Jesus' best friend. It makes for an intriguing, witty book, though also a rambling and repetitive one. When McWilliams gave up gurus, he must have given up editors, too. Leon Wagner
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IF you talk about India - THE gay out of Tibet or where ever
Its al beliefs and thee sell it , and you know al the white fooks are buying it like à blind dog
IF your in à spiritual pad or with à goeroe
Raid it it wil wake you up
Most of my generation has, in all likelihood, never heard of the MSIA and its guru John-Roger, which are McWilliams's targets (and his targeters, given the unfortunate after-story of this book and its current copyright status) in this entertaining semi-narrative, semi-confession, semi-exposé. New Religious Movements have long since been absorbed into the catch-all of the "new age;" separate organizations like MSIA, TM, the Hare Krishnas, and so on almost seem anarchronistic in this light. The relative obscurity of MSIA actually works to McWilliams's advantage, as he can demonstrate in a "bias vacuum" (something not possible with flashpoint topics like the Unification Church of Scientology) how nobody-NOBODY-is immune to reprogramming.
I'm getting ahead of myself, however. As I mentioned before, "Life 102" is a combination of a confession, biography, narrative, and exposé. McWilliams writes at one point that it represents a catharsis, a way of organizing his thoughts as his legal battles with MSIA loomed. Unsurprisingly, then, "Life 102" is a very roaming narrative. McWilliams constructs a very loose historical framework--the book roughly chronicles the whys, hows, whats, whos, and whens--and feels free to digress when needed, whether to explain, pontificate, or delve further into the "sociopathic" personality of MSIA's founder.
And while McWilliams is clearly bitter, he never lets his bitterness overshadow his core principles. The spirit of "Ain't Nobody's Business" looms over this text. McWilliams claims that he isn't out to show that MSIA is a scam, its principles fraudulent, and its techniques worthless; he maintains to the end that people are free to believe whatever they want, no matter how absurd. Knowing that the testimony of an apostate, and especially an apostate engaged in a legal battle, does not represent the most trustworthy source of information, he ingeniously allows the MSIA and its founder to hang themselves, by liberally quoting MSIA scripture, personal correspondence, and other damning evidence. On one hand, this is likely what led to the withdrawal of "Life 102" from the marketplace; on the other, if even 75% of these transcripts are accurate...
To draw a parallel, it's one thing for opponents of Scientology to claim that L. Ron Hubbard was scientifically ignorant; it's another thing entirely to hear Hubbard's own voice extolling the benefits of cigarette smoking (it cures cancer).
At its core, though, "Life 102" is a cautionary confession, and as other reviewers have noted, it's in this capacity that the book truly shines. Anybody who's ever shaken his head at a bizarre belief system, or wondered how people could *fall* for something so transparent...well, here's your answer. McWilliams may be far from everyman, but he's still an intelligent, funny, perceptive guy who fell under the spell of a movement whose theology (when presented in a detached manner) seems reasonably below the giggle-test cut off. McWilliams maintains that abusive relationships with "cults" are really no different from abusive relationships with people, food, television, spouses, or anything else; reprogramming, he emphasizes, can happen to anybody, at anytime, anyplace, and indeed goes on all the time. He stresses that the stereotype of a "cult member" as a zombiefied, unrecognizable person couldn't be further from the truth. In MSIA, Peter McWilliams was still Peter McWilliams, but used his intelligence, cleverness, and perception to further his activities in the movement. MSIA became a framework, and inside of that framework everything was A-OK. McWilliams may not convince those who believe that they are above the reach of reprogramming, but he at the very least provides a compelling testimony.
The book itself is a delightful read; as one prior reviewer noted, Williams is hardly Tolstoy (except perhaps in volume!), yet his relaxed, conversational style perfectly meshes with the form and function of the book. McWilliams's approach isn't really in the scholarly tradition, yet he knows to present examples and cite evidence to lend weight to even the most bizarre anecdotes. Even the chapters of less universal consequence, like the oh-so-dishy (but still friendly) chapter on Arianna Huffington circa 1994, are fabulously entertaining, especially in hindsight (one aside about Arianna's unsuitability for "anonymous phone voices" is particularly giggle-worthy). The only real time bitterness and hurt come to the surface are in the chapters on John-Roger, and in between the self-deprecating "why was I so naïve?" lamentations, one senses the true source of McWilliams discord. He had done TM, been a Catholic, and so on, and while he no longer adhered to those doctrines, he had walked away with no more than cursory scars. His asides about the Maharishi, while not universally flattering, have no malice to them. John-Roger, though, is different: John-Roger actively sought to manipulate Peter's fears and insecurities for his own ends, and it is *that* regret that drives McWilliam's resentment.
Verdict: "Life 102," while no scholarly treatise, is one of the most informative books on manipulation and personally cults I've ever had the privilege of reading. Its tragic historical context-in the events that inspired the book, in its immediate aftermath, and in McWilliams's horrific and untimely death-lends it all the more power.