Human Potential Seminars
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©1999|
|Human Potential seminars are often 50-60 hour intensive programs designed to unleash “human potential” and achieve enlightenment.|
Human Potential Seminars
EST/The Forum, Lifespring, Actualizations, Momentus
Info at a Glance
Description: Human Potential seminars are often 50-60 hour intensive programs designed to unleash “human potential” and achieve enlightenment. A number of significant New Age seminars are offshoots of the philosophy of Werner Erhard or Jose Silva (Silva Mind Control).
Founder(s): Werner Erhard (est/The Forum); John Hanley (Lifespring); Stewart Emery (Actualizations); Daniel Tocchini (Momentus). Related seminars include founders John-Roger (Insight Seminars); Dennis Becker (Impact Seminars); Bob White and Duncan Callister (Life Dynamics); William Patrick (the now defunct Mind Dynamics).
How do they claim to work?: Forum leaders allege their methods have the ability to radically empower individuals through unleashing the untapped powers of the mind. Because each individual’s mind determines or shapes reality, once people experience their true (divine) potential, they are allegedly able to influence all areas of their lives for the better.
Examples of occult potential: Altered states of consciousness, psychic development, spiritism.
Major problem: The generally monistic or solipsistic worldview assumes a false view of man, a false view of the world and a false view of how people are to live in the world.
Biblical and Christian evaluation: In general, both the anti-Christian teachings (monism, humanism, occult philosophy) and practices (visualization, meditation, self-hypnosis, psychic development) mean that participation in these seminars is proscribed.
Potential dangers: Self-deception over one’s abilities; possible occult influences; conversion to Eastern-occult worldviews.
“I believe that the ‘belief’ in God is the greatest barrier to God in the universe—the single greatest barrier. I would prefer someone who is ignorant to someone who believes in God. Because the belief in God is a total barrier, almost a total barrier to the experience of God.” (Werner Erhard, “All I Can Do Is Lie,” East-West Journal, September 1974 (rpt), p. 2.)
“How do I know I’m not the reincarnation of Jesus Christ? You wouldn’t believe the feelings I have inside me.” (Cited in Jesse Kornbluth, “The Fuhrer Over Est,” New Times Magazine, March 19, 1976, p. 42.)
Note: Est was “retired” in 1985, however, the beliefs of Werner Erhard and est live on in the Forum, Lifespring, Actualizations and in other ways and places in society.
The change from est to The Landmark Forum had more to do with public relations and marketability than with any fundamental change in philosophy. The duplicity in how est was packaged and the many legal, financial and ethical allegations against Werner Erhard were causing a significant problem for public perception of est, not to mention its profitability. Soon after the revealing “60 Minutes” expose of est on March 3, 1991, Erhard left the country. Two years later Erhard’s problems were chronicled in the scathing unofficial biography by Steven Pressman, Outrageous Betrayal: The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from est to Exile (St. Martin’s, 1993).
In essence, est was repackaged by Werner, his brother Harry Rosenberg and other leaders to resolve its public relation problems. The public liability of Erhard was dealt with while the same basic philosophy remained. In a similar vein, a more tolerant and sophisticated Lifespring today has resulted in major increases of its attendees, not to mention revenues. And now we even have a “Christianized” Lifespring called Momentus.
Erhard is “gone,” but his philosophy remains and it would not be surprising to discover, despite denials, that, wherever he is, he still pulls the strings. Landmark alumnus Walter Plywaski, a Colorado electronics engineer, commented in Time magazine March 16, 1998, “Erhard is like the Cheshire cat. He has gone away, but the smile is there, hanging over everything.”
There are many places where the similarities between Scientology, est/The Forum and Lifespring are clear. To fully understand est, one must also understand Scientology. In fact, Scientology has allegedly accused Erhard of stealing the essence of his program from L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. To fully understand The Forum (or Lifespring) it is essential to understand est. To fully understand Momentus, one must understand both est and Lifespring.
Through human potential seminars, millions of people today have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to try and find everything from solutions to their personal problems to meaning in life. But despite the promises made by promoters and the relatively brief expense of time—one or two weekends—the problem is that the “enlightenment” these seminars deliver is unhealthy and potentially dangerous.
In terms of their worldview and ethical impact, despite the “profound psychological insights” and “dramatic personal transformation,” from a Christian perspective they remain deceptive and inconsequential. Indeed, little or no research is done by these groups to validate objective claims, or to establish unambiguous criteria for evaluation, or to define successful training or to record the failures and harm done some participants and the implications thereof.
Momentus and Mashiyach Ministries
In our Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs we very briefly touched upon Momentus Seminars. We were unable to find sufficient information to do other than issue a general warning. In the last two years however, more information has come to light so that we may clearly declare it off limits for Christians. The problem is not the good motives of founder and former Lifespring trainer Daniel Tocchini, or whatever Christian elements or instruction are in the training. The problem is the nature of the training as a whole. From Internet reports and those who have taken the training we may discern the following:
1. Momentus appears to be a toned down “Lifespring for Christians” in an outwardly Christian format and with a somewhat Christian philosophy. Given the fact that Momentus founder Daniel Tocchini was a Lifespring trainer for almost ten years after he became a Christian in the early 1980s the influence of Lifespring could be expected.
2. Manipulative methods are used that exceed the bounds of Christian ethical instruction. “The basic Momentus training involves four intense, 13-hour days of group personal teachings and exercises designed, as one graduate put it, ‘To tear down who you are and then rebuild you from the bottom up.’”
3. Sin is primarily defined as being a victim. As it was in est, there are no true (adult) victims; you are responsible for what happens in your life.
4. As far as changing one’s behavior, Momentus training is as important as sanctification by the Holy Spirit.
5. The Momentus vision of Christian discipleship is one in which Christ and the Cross are not central in the training.
6. The philosophy is more humanistic than biblical, more therapy than theology, and it includes elements of Gestalt, Transactional Analysis and abuse recovery methodology. Truth is apparently judged by emotions more than by Scripture.
7. The same kinds of negative reports by graduates found in est/The Forum and Lifespring appear to be present in Momentus.
On its website, the Messiah Lutheran Church in Highland, California, concluded, “By firsthand accounts and Momentus literature, this organization appears not to be Christian but rather est and Lifespring-type training with a Christian veneer.” It also noted (we have heard similar accounts) that Momentus has caused division in churches and even church splits. In addition, the following similarities are noted to est/The Forum and Lifespring:
- There is a controlled, regimented environment.
- Lifespring processes are used, such as the Red/Black game and Lifeboat.
- High pressure tactics break down participants.
- It can be powerfully life changing.
- Existing paradigms are broken down to create a new reality; “reality is defined by present experience” not objective truth.
- Experimental and anti-intellectual emphasis; the focus is on “being rather than doing.”
- A mandatory two-page “hold harmless” release and a psychologist release for those in therapy: “Each prospective trainee is asked to sign a ‘hold-harmless’ contract acknowledging … that emotional and/or psychological damage may occur but is not the legal responsibility of Mashiyach Ministries and that the trainee will never reveal the contents of the training to any non-graduate…. This contract is virtually identical to the contracts used in Lifespring, The Forum, and other human potential movement groups.”
- Graduate testimonials are nearly identical to est/The Forum and Lifespring.
- The Momentus experience can be difficult, even harrowing. Killing the Victim, a standard Momentus text, explains: “In the training, there is no attempt to relieve the pressure that comes from the confrontation between what you say you believe and inconsistent behavior. Participants are encouraged to use the discomfort and tension they may experience as energy to compel them to change their lives.”
[The Messiah Lutheran Church] website also reviewed the first Momentus book, which summarizes the philosophy underlying Momentus,Killing the Victim Before the Victim Kills You by Tocchini and two associates, Derek M. Watson and Larry Pinci. Significantly, the book positively acknowledges Lifespring founder John Hanley. Excerpts of the review follow:
There is a blurring or twisting of concepts of subjectivity throughout the book. At heart, what they seem to promote is a “mind over matter” philosophy, where if I can just change my attitude, I can change reality…. I think it is probably closer to the truth to say that they have taken the program from EST and added a veneer of Christianity. The flaws in their theology indicate that they don’t have a truly Christian model of personal transformation. All the psychological and spiritual dangers of EST are probably present in Momentus.
Their attitude toward the church in general is suspicious and critical. They seem to have encountered a lot of suspicion from local churches whose members have gotten involved in Momentus…. They attack churches for being either “gnostic” (their code word for charismatic, experience centered) or “textualists” (a code word for doctrinally centered)…. At least four of the many people listed in their acknowledgments are former leaders in The Way International….
A former Way member and Momentus trainer recalls:
I was Team Captain in the April and July trainings. My husband and I became sponsors for the September training; we sponsored two more trainings (and lost about five to six thousand dollars doing so) before severing ties with Mashiyach. Perhaps half the area sponsors were ex-Wayers, as was founder Daniel Tocchini. He wasn’t deeply involved…. At one point I heard one of the trainers say that there are no victims (except for children who were sexually abused). I did my best to adapt this stance for my experience and myself but it did not work…. As team captain and then sponsor of the Momentus Training, Mashiyach held my husband and I responsible for everything that went wrong with any training. For example, a few people who took the training had to be either heavily medicated or hospitalized after the training due to the emotional intensity of the training. As sponsors we were blamed (although they avoided using that word) for not coaching the team on whom to enroll in the training. No responsibility was taken by the trainer for what occurred during the training that would cause such a response….
John [ex-Way leader John Lynn] recruited participants directly from his mailing list of former The Way International (TWI) members. I believe John had an interest in leading former TWI members to feel that they were responsible for whatever abuse they endured while associated with TWI so that he could absolve himself of his responsibility…. The Momentus Training was a convenient tool for ex-TWI leaders to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the pain and abuse they had a hand in causing…. Daniel is not trying to brainwash people and he does not believe brainwashing is possible. However, after reading about brainwashing, I think some of the exercises in the training could be considered brainwashing techniques….
So many Way people are drawn to this in my opinion because they are so accustomed to doing what a Way leader tells them that they just do what John (or whoever) tells them to do. John has a big mailing list of ex-Way people. I have seen him pull it out and just make call after call to sign people up for the training. That is NOT how people are supposed to be enrolled by MMI’s usual standards.
All this is probably why the “News Watch” section of the Christian Research Journal reported:
Mashiyach Ministries has received considerable criticism from secular and Christian religious movement researchers, both for its roots in the New Age human potential group Lifespring, and for its assumptions and practices that critics say are contrary to social and mental health and to sound biblical principles of discipleship and personal growth…. the persistence and consistency of negative reports from dissatisfied graduates do indicate that a fundamental problem surfaces wherever the trainings are held…. Critics also point to the “fruit” of Mashiyach Ministries, which includes a significant number of emotionally troubled graduates; failure to produce tangible, notable changes in many graduates’ lives; and a number of churches that have undergone destructive internal battles and divisions between the Momentus advocates and church members who have not attended any trainings…. Santa Rosa Christian Church eventually suffered a church split over the issue.
Est/The Forum reserves the very last portion of its training for recruitment to additional seminars like Momentus. When participants are in a state of emotional exaltation over their “incredible transformational insights,” they are at that moment signed up for more seminars (save $100 off the $700 Advanced Program, etc.). In a similar fashion:
… By conducting the “free-will” offering at the end of the training, Mashiyach Ministries realizes its maximum benefit from grateful new graduates before they have a chance to think twice about their experiences. As one recent graduate told the JOURNAL concerning his donation, “If I was willing to invest $150 in something I hadn’t even experienced and knew relatively little about, how much more do you think I was willing to give when I thought I had just experienced the greatest life-transforming event of my Christian walk?”… There is also a strong motivation to press Momentus graduates to attend the variety of additional advanced programs, each with its own price tag.
Finally, the abusive language of est/The Forum is also present in Momentus:
Dick Williams of Grace Fellowship in Santa Rosa, California, notes that “The foundational presuppositions behind the training are essentially the same as Lifespring.” Williams also brings up the use of swearing during the trainings…. One of the more persistent complaints received by the Christian Research Institute from churches is that parishioners who have completed the Momentus trainings develop speech habits of swearing that are highly offensive to other Christians. As one pastor told the JOURNAL, “Liberty in Christ is one thing. This isn’t liberty, it’s an offense to Christ.” David Serio, a Christian who left part way through a Momentus training, comments, “The very act of regressing people back to their past and encouraging the free, uninhibited expression of anger, including the use of profanity, if need be, is totally and completely unbiblical. This is not biblical Christianity, it is humanistic psychology.
Although Tocchini briefly suspended trainings in 1993 with the stated goal of making Momentus training biblically compatible, this information indicates that this has not yet occurred, and it may not even be possible. “The organization has yet to silence successfully the concerns raised by critics. Nor has it successfully convinced critics that its behavior and teaching are essentially and qualitatively different from the human potential movement and are instead throw away Christian.” That is to say, Momentus’ connection to Christianity is tenuous at best.
- “New Watch,” “‘Lifespring’ for Christians? Momentus and Mashiyach Ministries Attract Followers and Controversy,” Christian Research Journal, January-March 1998, p. 43.
- In ibid.
- “Summary of Problems in Momentus Training,” from Messiah Lutheran Church website, http:// e2.empirenet.com/~messiah7/tw_momentus_summary.htm.
- “News Watch,” Christian Research Journal, pp. 6-7.
- Ibid., p. 7.