In previous posts I have reported on the recently released film Angie and shared my own experiences at the Albany sex commune, Centrepoint. I now turn to the spirituality present and provide commentary, again given from a Christian perspective. In essence, founder Bert Potter taught and (through his commune) provided strong opportunity for others to rebel – against societal expectations in the first instance, but ultimately against God [and of course His ways/commandments]. When boiled down it is that age-old, oft-repeating story – man trying to go his own way!
My previous post gave us the key to understanding the spiritual leadership of Bert Potter when he ran Centrepoint in the 1980’s. “Give yourself permission . . . ” was the phrase. This rebellion against societies absolutes, or a moral code did not occur in a vacuum. Bert wasn’t some loser or a fool and he didn’t suddenly take on a spiritual leadership of hundreds of stupid people, standing up and suddenly saying, “I’m it! Follow me!” with a large following of blind and gullible people appearing out of nowhere behind him.
No, Bert established a commune with alternative values as a progression of his own spiritual events and his following increased as his spiritual leadership matured. In the crimes.co.nz article previously recommended, the path that Bert took can be seen and has been explained clearly:
Interested in human psychology, he [Bert Potter] attended the Esalen growth centre in California for three months. Upon returning to New Zealand he gave up his business and decided to pursue a career in therapy. This led him to Dunedin and the setting up of the ‘Shoreline Human Awareness Trust’. What Bert termed “encounter groups” met at his home for nine-day sessions which lasted 11 hours each day. During this period, Bert’s marriage came to an end and his wife filed for divorce. Bert’s groups were ‘delving into different behaviors’ and Bert’s wife’s stated reason for their separation was that she did not believe in his new path. [emphasis added]
We all know what his ex-wife’s code means . . . sexual freedom. Playing the field. Unfaithfulness. Adultery. Call it what you will. If we didn’t know this before the exposure of his criminal acts, we do now.
The Christian world-view is that there is a Creator, and that we are therefore accountable to Him. Submission per se is naturally unpalatable to mankind for we all seek to “go our own way”, putting ourselves ahead of others; seeking personal gratification over submission to godly counsel, particularly as presented in the person and message of Christ. Put another way, we have to pay a price in humility to “do the right thing”; most choose not to, and particularly if we think we are smart and don’t want to end up crucified like the Master.
Centrepoint was essentially a sex commune. Bert created the perfect environment for men (and women of course) to engage in unrestricted sexual activity as the norm. Centrepoint was a small, ‘free’ eco-system that existed within the strict societal norms of the day, but was cocooned with a shield of unity under a spiritual leader, Bert. Bert set the values and his spirituality dictated that of those around him and under his care – whether they knew or actively supported and agreed with him or not.
This spiritual leadership is normal – we all have dominion over something (even if it is only our own life) and often others (any parent or other leader will have care of others). The thing that Bert did was socially repugnant to many from the outside, but it was normal for him and those present joined with him in unity.
Rebellion against something expressly forbidden by the Creator [in this case sex outside of marriage] brings consequences and a lot of the trouble people like Angie (and to a lesser extent, I) experienced was because we engaged with evil. Bert was and is seen by many in the wider, and Christian community as evil. According to my read of reality, he was/is no more evil that you or I. He simply chose to enjoy evil and created the environment where others could “give themselves permission” to live outside of God’s rules.
In this sense of salesmanship and the promulgation of an ungodly value-system, Bert is widely seen as a cult leader. Bert denied this consistently countering correctly that he never forced adherents into sex or forced them to stay at Centrepoint and [as far as I know] to a large extent this is actually true. What Bert did though was laid the table, placed the food on it and invited those who were hungry to eat, after he did or at times, with him. That it was poisoned and created trauma and oppression rather than the freedom that the hungry sought was hidden and to a large degree to his personal benefit. Deception at its heart.
The Christian understanding of human nature is that since the Fall, we are all tarnished with a propensity to err; that we are essentially blinded by our own pride. We call this sinfulness and we call an immoral or ungodly behaviour a sinful act but the best understanding of sin is that it is a state of being, rather than a description of a person or an act.
Centrepoint caused trauma for those who engaged because its core spirit was one of rebellion; it fostered selfishness in the name of freedom, and was actually a trap, ensnaring those who believed the deception. Sadly many (like Angie) did, and by the grace of God I didn’t.
This is an age-old story, running all the way back to the Garden of Eden when the deceiver tempted our forebears to taste of the forbidden fruit, in order to see and to be like God.
If we are all eventually accountable to our Creator (a core Christian message), it is then incumbent upon each one of us to choose wisely in the light of truth . . . logic applied onto facts. Reason on Evidence.
Bert Potter and Centrepoint have gone now – Bert died in 2012 and the commune was reshaped several ways in the time since his imprisonment – new owners have taken the assets over and the various participants, supporters and victims have spread out doing their own thing. The legacy of this unique New Zealand creation [good and bad] however remains as both Angie and I have shared. In the next and last post in this series, I delve into the nature of that legacy and pass commentary on how this affects us in a society where the rebellious, ungodly spirit behind Bert Potter has gained wider influence.