Apocalyptic 'New Jerusalem' Sect Falling Apart

In Mexico's strange town called New Jerusalem, there's no freedom of religion. You can't play soccer, either. But John F. Kennedy is a saint, explains reporter Chris Hawley.

With its spiritual leaders dying after 35 years of all this, things in New Jerusalem are getting weirder, Hawley wrote this week in the Arizona Republic. "Townspeople look like extras from a Robin Hood movie. Women wear headscarves and brightly colored dresses. Monks garbed in brown or black mix with priests in white robes." Among things banned: TV, radio, alcohol, makeup and pants for women.

Strangeness is the hallmark of sects and cults (cults are typically defined by charismatic leadership and abuse). Followers tend to weak ties to society when they sign up, experts say. And of course many members are born into a group and have no conception of societal norms.

Among the craziest cults:

  • Heaven's Gate adherents thought hitching a ride on comet Hale-Bopp in March 1997 could allow them to survive the apocalypse.
  • Raëlians believe in UFOs, mind transfer and reincarnation.
  • Peoples Temple followers literally drank Reverend Jim Jones' Flavor Aid in Guyana, killing 913.

"The end is near" is a common theme in sects and cults. One widely reported prediction nowadays puts the apocalypse in the year 2012.

Meanwhile in New Jerusalem, apocalyptic deadlines come and go, Hawley reports. And the end, it seems, may come from within, as in internal fighting. The Virgin Mary is credited each time the world survives, but residents are becoming more divided — they fought over whether to build new elaborate tower while the streets remain unpaved — while the Mexican government tries to gain control. The group's leader died in February and other elders are dying off, and Hawley reports that even those who stay say things aren't what they used to be.

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