- Cut to the Cults

Welcome to the Big Dance

Exclusive Analysis
By Lambastes O. Bloom

Albuquerque region - Albuquerque's the toughest region in the tourney. All of these teams have pedigree, though the Solar Temple probably doesn't deserve a four seed. The Branch Davidians have been favorites all year, with key wins over Arizona and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Both games look to be close.

Branch Davidians (1) vs. The Order of the Solar Temple (4)

Storyline : The Order of the Solar Temple (17-11, 12-5 in conference) comes out of the NAT (New Age-Templar) Conference with a lot to prove. A less-than-stellar regular season led many fans to write them off, but a last-second win over archrival The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn won Solar Temple a ticket to the big dance. Expect them to exploit their "Transit to Sirius" - in which cult members ingest the sedatives Mydasta and Digozine, shoot themselves, and set the bodies on fire - to full advantage in the paint; the ability to read auras makes them a tough defensive match-up. A lack of depth may hurt them: the Temple's lost 74 members to suicide and NBA drafts in the past years. Another weakness is predictability: cult members worship the number 7 and tend to repeat everything seven times.

Vernon "David Koresh" Howell's Branch Davidians (31-6, 0-2 vs. US Government) come into the tourney strong, with big wins over Holy Cross and Stanford. Of course, having failed rockstar-cum-God Incarnate Koresh on the point doesn't hurt the Davidians' chances, either. Then again, he's dead, so that could go either way. Likewise another 80+ Davidians, who opted for an early exit after their defeat at the hands of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. That thumping by BATF at Apocalypse Ranch left the home crowd disillusioned; since then the Davidians have been on a 20-2 tear. The momentum's on their side.

Both teams favor self-immolation; either could be in trouble if they start trading fouls down the stretch. And Koresh is a streaky player, often distracted by his collection of "wives" or in-depth analysis of the Seven Seals.

Who to Watch : Charismatic gurus on both sides: Koresh has yet to show up for a predicted 1996 resurrection, and that makes his followers all the hungrier. They want this title. French-Canadian Joseph di Mambro heads the more cosmopolitan, international Solar Temple, bringing an Old World sophistication to the game. The game of combining medieval Templar mysticism with New Age fantasy.

Pick to Win : The Davidians. Still, root for the Temple - a first-round victory could set them up to face the Moonies in the regional semi-final.


Jehovah's Witnesses (2) vs. Unification Church (3)

Storyline: The Jehovah's Witnesses (Fightin' Bearcats, 26-5) come into the tourney with a lot of confidence, declaring themselves God's only representative organization. (Whether this means they are bigger than Jesus is unclear.) They'll need that confidence when facing the Moonies, who, despite their lower seed, outmatch the Witnesses in worldly wealth. Witnesses shun those who are "disfellowshipped" from the sect; expect the team to ritually sever ties with anybody who commits a stupid foul late in the game. Also watch for the refusal of blood transfusions and the claim that germs are a myth, two key Witnesses plays.

The Unification Church (23-7, key losses to sanity and reason), known as the Moonies after self-proclaimed "Lord of the Universe" Sun Myung Moon, is a tough draw for the Witnesses. Moon, who is both the Second Coming and a convicted tax evader, owns the Washington Times and UPI Newswire. He's also taken credit for saving the souls of Hitler and Stalin, for which we should say.uh, thanks? To teach teens the dangers of sex, the Moonies force them to drink a cup of someone else's spit. If you like swapping bodily fluids so much, kids, you'll surely enjoy drinking saliva. One should also note Moon's abstinence-only sex-ed program is government-funded.

The Witnesses look outmatched on paper - then again, that's why we play the games. And pray.

Who To Watch : Moon's coaching strategy is right out of Bobby Knight's playbook. "Particularly those who are sleeping and hiding, Reverend Kwak's baseball bat will fall upon you at any time," he tells players who slack off. He's also known to tie unbelievers to radiators and have them beaten.

Pick to Win: Smells like an upset! Moonies by 3.


Chicago Region - Chicago gets the best of the New School, with Scientology facing off against Heaven's Gate, and the Rapturists taking on the Beast of the East, Aum Shinriyko, best known for its 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. Though their styles of play are similar - do whatever you can, every day, to make Armageddon happen! - the Rapturists will easily handle Aum, so let's take a look at:


Scientology (1) vs. Heaven's Gate (4)

The Storyline: Scientology comes out of the WAC conference with an all-star starting line-up: guards John Travolta and Tom Cruise, Sharon Stone at center, forwards Beck and Isaac Hayes. And this team is deep! Coming off the bench are Courtney "Fucking Insane" Love, Giovanni "Ethnic" Ribisi, and Kirstie "Get in my belly!" Alley, any of whom can score 20+ points and pull down a few crucial boards. Head coach L. Ron Hubbard, who has ascended to the level of Thetan, bodiless and separate from the Universe, keeps a tight reign on his team. "We'd rather have you dead than incapable," he says, encouraging his team to practice as hard as they play. All of these people believe anyone who besmirches Scientology's good name (through criticism, for example) is "fair game" - open to a systematic process of character assassination and harassment. As front man Tom Cruise sputters, " Some people, well, if they don't like Scientology, well, then, fuck you."

If Scientology is the cult of Hollywood megastars, Heaven's Gate (21-1, key loss on that whole "seriously, there is a UFO behind the comet Hale-Bopp" thing) is its low-rent Southern Cali cousin. Scientology has L. Ron Hubbard, chronic liar and science fiction writer; Heaven's Gate has Marshall "Do" Applewhite, a disgraced former music teacher whose horror at his own latent homosexuality caused him to found a cult of celibate, alien worshipping followers. Thirty-eight of them followed him to the next level in a 1997 mass suicide. That's team spirit. Will it be enough to lift this team of web-designers and castratos over the hulking behemoth of Scientology?

Who To Watch : The corpse of Sonny Bono, Scientologist. See if his
bodiless Thetan form takes wing.

Pick to Win : Scientology. Scientology conquers all. If it's a close game, expect the lawsuits to start flying; Scientology is infamous for its tactics of legal harassment worldwide. (Hello, lawyers!) Says Hubbard, "The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win." That's what we call a Tenacious Defense!


Syracuse region - Narcissism is the heavyweight in this region. The committee, impressed by wins over Altruism, Honesty, and archrival Self-Absorption, gave it the overall #1 seed. A perennial contender, Narcissism has had trouble living up to fans expectations in recent years, which could make for an interesting bracket. The Raelians, in their first tourney since 1973, are looking to earn some respect.


Narcissism (1) vs. Objectivism (4)

Storyline: Narcissism's had an amazing year behind senior leaders Star "Of course I'm famous! Look at my name! Star! " Jones and Paris "Does this backless shirt make my vertebrae look fat?" Hilton. Solipsism and grotesquely inflated self-importance have been on a 22-3 run - the best in the mid-major Lesser Peccadilloes Conference. Star had a great performance after the Indonesia tsunami tragedy: Reminding viewers that she'd vacationed in that area a mere month earlier , Star declared that God must've seen fit to spare and bless her. For those of you keeping track at home, God's score sheet now reads "300,000 anonymous Indonesians = 1 Star Jones." (God presumably measures by weight, not by volume. And He recognizes the dearth of fat, obnoxious role models in His world.) As for Paris - well, it's Paris's world; the rest of us just live in it.

Objectivism's claim to fame is the brutal efficiency with which it can turn an ordinary, if naïve, teenager into a total asshole. The Objectivist Bible, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged , a 1200-page tome despised by critics and professional philosophers, survives like a mental STD carried on by successive waves of disaffected teens. Trying to keep a teenager from developing a superiority complex is like trying to keep a baby from eating lead paint chips. It's not gonna happen. Objectivism capitalizes on that tendency with a worldview that boils down to, "It's cool to be a conceited jackass. If we were all conceited jackasses, I'd be the Mayor of Utopia-town." Pop philosophy at its worst, cited by Alan Greenspan and women on AdultFriendFinder who want to cheat on their husbands, Objectivism had a huge following in the late '50s. Its inner circle, guided by "the light of reason" was filled with sexual affairs, emotional and mental manipulation, and sloppy rationalization.

Neither team is known for strong team play. Narcissism and teamwork go together like peanut butter and battery acid.

Who to Watch: Star Jones. Oh my. If that woman is not the authentic
asshole of the world, the abyss from which all that is evil and ignorant
emanates, I will eat my hat. Ok, granted : Hitler was worse.

Pick to Win: Natural, pathological self-absorption, or pathological self-absorption justified by stilted writing and paper-thin characters?! Oh my stars and garters, what brave new world that has such choices in it. Give the gold to Narcissism, if only because no one reads anymore. Readin's for 'tards.


Jonestown (2) vs. Raelians (3)


Jim Jones and the People's Temple (20-10, killer band name) started in Indiana in 1956 as a group that helped feed the poor. By 1979, it had morphed into a cult of personality hidden deep in the woods of Guyana - an isolated camp of 1,200 followers known as "Jonestown." That year, Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Jonestown to investigate charges that People's Temple members were being held against their will. Ryan and four others were killed by Jones's followers; soon after, 914 cult members were dead, many having drunk cyanide-laced punch. The punch was grape, the strategy misguided. If Jones expects to go deep in this field of 16, he's going to have to play to win in this world, not the next. Or learn how to lose gracefully. A little maturity goes a long way.

The Raelians (21-9, RYE-ely-ens) get credit for being the first cult to claim to have cloned a human being, and for changing their logo from a swastika inside the Star of David to a pinwheely-looking thing. That was probably a good PR move. Playboy 's spread with three smoking-hot Raelian chicks didn't hurt, either. It distracted from the fact that Claude Vorilhon, the group's leader, claims to have met UFOs on a volcano in 1973. The UFOs, in flawless French, explained they were the real creators of humanity. They told Vorilhon, now known as RAEL, to spread their word. Their word seems to be "legs," as the Raelian philosophy preaches sexual freedom and liberation - if you can find/make an orifice, give it a whirl! The Raelians will probably get blown away on the court, but they throw an awesome after-party.

Who to Watch: The UFOs. If the Raelians get help from the Elohim, our extraterrestrial creators, this game could quickly turn. Another thing to watch would be your Kool-Aid. Do not let Jim Jones near it. REPEAT: Do not let Jim Jones near your Kool-Aid.

Pick to Win: Jim Jones can coach with the best of them. Have you ever tried to "suicide" 914 people? It's like herding cats. Jones can handle that, and he can handle RAEL.


Austin Region - Looks to be the lightest region. Sole heavyweight here is Charles "The Family Man" Manson, which should make quick work of the Dionysian mystery cults. Or will he? Helter Skelter could come early this year! Consumerism vs. Amway looks to be an even match - both teams are known to elevate buying and selling as the salve for the void inside each of us, but Amway also sells soap. Expect a thrilla!


Charles Manson (2) vs. Dionysus (3)


Charles Manson and the Family (18-6, 0-1 vs. Bugliosi) are a bit worse for wear going into the tournament. No one's really paid much attention to old Charlie, who occasionally comes up for parole (0-9 vs California Board of Prison Terms). Despite his claim that, "I am only what you made me. I am a reflection of you," Manson's an aging, defanged boogeyman with - yeah, ok - eight murders to his credit. But Charlie was always more a manager than a man of action. If he wants to win this tourney, he'll need to spread the ball around, get everyone involved. You can't just go out there with a swastika carved in your head and think you're going to do it alone. Not when you're past retirement age.

Dionysus and the Maenads (20-5, 1-0 vs. Zeus) are in a similar situation. Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, revelry, and poets, hasn't been himself since Euripides's time. All but forgotten by modern society, he has to settle for the worship of college students who don't even know who they're getting plastered for. Dark days - or at least a rebuilding year - for Dionysus, who used to wander the Greek countryside with his wine-crazed Maenads, tearing apart whoever they met.

Two stumbling dynasties. Whose will be done?

Who to Watch: Manson and Dionysus are titans of the field, obviously: Dionysus the only god born of a mortal woman, Manson the only man to recruit followers dumb enough to misspell "Helter Skelter." (People, if you're going write on the walls in your victims' blood, strongly consider a first draft. There's nothing more embarrassing than a sanguinary grammatical faux pas. That'll get you shivved in the big house.)

More interesting, though, will be the post game. The Maenads will tear the audience limb from limb as the Family writes "witchy" slogans in the splatter. Bring the kids!

Pick to Win: Dionysus has conquered death; he's been to the underworld and back. Manson is your disheveled, crusty-underpants grandpa babbling, "You're in the zoo, Man. How do you feel about it?" We'll go with Manson.



Regional Semi-final - Amway (4) vs. Manson (2)

Storyline: Assuming Amway (15-13, upset win over Pittsburgh late in the season) takes Consumerism in the first round - not a given - the Fightin' Free Enterprisers will be up against The Family, led by fan-favorite Charles Manson. Amyway's got the numbers on their side: the $6 billion a year business has 1.25 million members in the U.S., compared to Manson's motley collection of freaks and outcasts that peaked at 100. Amway's the more subtle team, as well - what's the better way to take over the world: peddling Manson's hodgepodge apocalypse and impending race war.or.a system of distribution that turns Amwayers into franchisees who sell to friends, family, co-workers, anyone they can get their hands on, for the promise of wealth without work? (Ha ha, rhetorical question.) And while the Manson family's murder of pregnant Sharon Tate was horrible, Amway's Dream Night spectacles - part infomercial, part pep rally, part Sermon on the Mount - are a wholly different level of creepy.

As Manson put it, " You know, a long time ago being crazy meant something. Nowadays everybody's crazy." He's a dinosaur next to the Amwayers, who are what you might call "functionally" as opposed to "just plain bat-shit" crazy. They've channeled their doubt and insecurity into socially acceptable forms, a process Manson could never quite grasp. Forget the ranking: Manson's the underdog here. But don't underestimate him: "From the world of darkness I did loose demons and devils in the power of scorpions to torment." He's a poet, ladies. And he's available.

Who to Watch: Dexter Yager, Amway golden child, wields a giant gold crucifix as he jumps around the stage encouraging members to avoid "stinkin' thinkin'." Manson's still working the swastika thing. Would you let either of these men baby-sit your children?

Pick to Win: We still like Manson. He's got that ineffable something the French call je ne sais quoi. He gives us a little tingle, down in our pants.


Final - The Rapture (1) vs. Narcissism (1)

Storyline: The Rapturists (record unavailable - God is their only judge) comes into the tournament strong, led by politicians such as Gary Bauer and Tom DeLay, fire-and-brimstone preachers like Jerry Falwell, and "Left Behind" authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. The Dueling Dispensationalists believe these are the End Times - and anything from the tsunami in Asia to the strength of the British pound against the dollar can be a sign of impending Armageddon. Luckily for them, the Rapturists will be beamed up to Heaven before the final conflagration, so they can afford to be optimistic: a plaque in Republican Tom DeLay's office reads, "This could be the day." (One assumes it's next to the laminated poster of a cat hanging from a branch, captioned "Hang in there, baby!") These are the people who run our government and pretty much own the Red States (That vast benighted realm between LA and NYC to you latte-sipping New York Times readers.)

But don't count Narcissism out simply because it's opposed by God and a coterie of powerful movers and shakers. America has proven time and time again - in times of war, in times of crisis, and now, in times of vague, free-floating terror - its strength of will when it comes to gazing lovingly into the mirror. Mirror mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? Oh, what a surprise! It's meeeeeee !


Who to Watch: Narcissism vs. God! It's like the Civil War all over again! A house divided against itself cannot stand! Seeing America's two most cherished ideals clash may be too much for small children - best if you smother them in their sleep before the words that are written come to pass.

Pick to Win: God, who may or may not be Star Jones, only knows. Odds are 3-2 in favor of narcissism, because this is America, and even the rapturists are fascinated by nothing more so than their chosen, righteous selves.

Who didn't make the cut? Who should've?

1. Nation of Yahweh - hate cult peaked in the '80's, with temples in 22 states preaching blacks as the true lost tribe of Israel. Leader Yahweh ben Yahweh promoted the random killing of whites and Jews; 14 murders were connected to the cult. So why aren't they in the Big Dance? Could be because they've fallen off in power since the mid-eighties.or it could be because of the white man.

2. Promise Keepers - preaches a male-only version of fundamentalist Christianity; "promises" to keep women in the kitchen where they belong. Though it fills stadiums of men chanting, "We love Jesus; yes we do! We love Jesus, how 'bout you?" the light show and use of airplane special effects - the flight into manhood! - are oddly fey. Like Ned Flanders, but creepier. Just as hairy, though.

3. Wicca - Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

4. Deepak Chopra - a former medical doctor turned proponent of New Age.well, "gobbledygook" would be the polite term, Chopra's snared high-profile clients like Oprah and Demi Moore. Then he got caught plagiarizing. And possibly frequenting prostitutes. That didn't hurt his genius for self-promotion, but it did deny him a seed.

5. Breatharianism - promoted by the 42-year-old Australian Ellen Greve, who also calls herself Jasmuheen. Breatharianism encourages followers to live on nothing but light; several followers have died as a result of malnourishment. Considered a lightweight.

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