Robert Earl Burton founded The Fellowship of Friends in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1970.

Burton modeled his own group after that of Alex Horn, loosely borrowing from the Fourth Way teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. In recent years, the Fellowship has cast its net more broadly, embracing any spiritual tradition that includes (or can be interpreted to include) the notion of "presence."

The Fellowship of Friends exhibits the hallmarks of a "doomsday religious cult," wherein Burton exercises absolute authority, and demands loyalty and obedience. He warns that his is the only path to consciousness and eternal life. Invoking his gift of prophecy, he has over the years prepared his flock for great calamities (e.g. a depression in 1984, the fall of California in 1998, nuclear holocaust in 2006, and most recently the October 2018 "Fall of California Redux.")

But according to Burton, Armageddon still looms in our future and when it finally arrives, non-believers shall perish, while through the direct intervention and guidance from 44 angels (recently expanded to 81 angels, including himself and his divine father, Leonardo da Vinci) Burton and his followers shall be spared, founding a new, and more perfect civilization.

Many regard Robert Earl Burton a narcissist and sociopath, surrounded by a largely greed- and power-driven inner circle. The following pages offer abundant evidence supporting that conclusion.

This archive draws from official Fellowship publications and websites, news archives, court documents, cult education and awareness forums, the Internet Archive, the long-running Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion, the (former) Fellowship of Friends wikispace project, the (ill-fated) Fellowship Wikipedia page, and the editor's own 13-year experience in the Fellowship.

Presented in a reverse chronology, the Fellowship's history may be navigated via the "Blog Archive" located in the sidebar below.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Clever Insincerity"

[ed. - This title comes from a post on the blog The Gentle Souls' Revolution.

In a parallel universe, on America's East Coast, another branch of Robert Burton's rotten lineage persists and, predictably, is generating outrage. Sharon Gans (Alex Horn's widow) and Robert Klein continue Horn's "Work" at centers in New York, Boston and Copenhagen. 

On The Gentle Souls blog, followers of Robert Burton will recognize the material, and readers' comments sound much like those on the Fellowship of Friends - Living Presence Discussion blog. This Open Letter to Current Students (see below) could easily have been written by a former follower of Burton. In the lineage of Fourth Way cults, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

In 2008, Robert Burton belatedly memorialized Horn, over four months after his beloved teacher's death. (Apparently, C Influence and Mr. Horn's astral spirit ran into difficulty transmitting the news to Burton.)

Burton encouraged the use of what he termed "intentional insincerity." On the subject of intentional insincerity (or clever insincerity) and lying, the excellent post below comes from the early days of the Fellowship blog.]

"George Orwell" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, March 13, 2007:
OK, Sheik [blog moderator], I’ll take you up on your offer (Post 43). Thank you for providing this medium. I have the watched the collapse of communism, the rise of dishonest leaders, the atrocities of criminal wars, and the last half-century of political humbug silently, from my vulgar lunar grave, but it took the hooey posted here to bring me back from the dead.

Post 36 from Arthur brings up a point that I often wrote about – the divorce of words and meaning. Arthur apparently no longer expects words to mean anything. They might be a trick. ‘Intentional insincerity’, maybe. Or ‘burying the bone deeper’. ‘The Axe’ (38, 42) doesn’t appear to be able to connect words and thoughts at all.

There’s a number of reasons for the divorce. Mr. Burton says one year that Taiwan is a ‘giant dime store’, or words to that effect – the next year students were studying Chinese culture and collecting Chinese antiques. He once termed ancient Egypt a ‘king of clubs’ culture; within a few years, Fellowship students were making reverent pilgrimages there. His words reflect a current mood or feeling – they don’t reflect the way things really are. To deal with the contradictions, students had to change their relationship to language and truth.

Another example: Great prophecies were intoned and failed. Most students say they ‘didn’t care’. But it did have the effect of teaching them again not to expect the truth, not to expect that words mean anything. Words are used as a mood-enhancer, or background — like Muzak, or wallpaper.

After all, as one of the organization’s foremost professional angle-givers says, ‘We cannot know the truth at our level.’ But surely, since Ouspensky defines the work as ‘the study of lying’, they ought to try. And certainly they might begin by photographing lying, for starters.

One way to observe lying is to watch what a man says, and how he lives. But no! That’s his ‘private life’, his ‘own stuff’, and therefore exempt, they say. But that is nevertheless his being. Without looking at his being, they are left examining his knowledge – usually that means his words. The words from which, paradoxically, they have come to expect nothing anyway. Hence, they have created an inescapable mobius loop and, as an unfortunate by-product, a class of professional angle-givers – people whose lives in no way reflect the elevated words that they speak so prolifically, but whose words continue to ‘inspire’, whatever they might mean (they are, after all, only a pick-me-up). Some of these angle-givers circle the globe, talking, talking, talking.

They no longer [know] how to look at words attentively and critically. Hence, as others have pointed out, the Fellowship organization can send out emails calmly promising to protect their privacy while setting about to violate it. As I pointed out in my landmark essay, words are not selected for meaning, but used in prefabricated phrases and clich├ęs (‘precious teaching,’ ‘beloved teacher,’ ‘willoftheteacher,’ ‘formoftheschool,’ ‘task has ended,’ ‘we thank thee’) meant to convey an ambiance rather than express a thought or feeling as clearly as possible. In some cases, words are used to hide meaning, or convey the opposite of what they mean – ‘opportunity’ means ‘job’ or ‘friction’.

Several people have already been taken to task for alluding to these posts as a ‘crucifixion’ of Mr. Burton – because the word conveys nothing to them. A man who was publicly tried, reviled and humiliated, stripped naked, whipped and bludgeoned to the point of death, forced to carry his instrument of torture and then nailed to it, hanging there till he died in unimaginable agony – is glibly or hysterically compared to the annoyance caused by hearing words that are offensive, but apparently true.

I say ‘apparently’ because people have been invited to refute these words – no one has factually refuted them, though they have repeatedly taken objection to them. They don’t like the way the words make them ‘feel’ – feelings have displaced a sense of truth. Something is true if you ‘feel’ it is true, a ‘lie’ if you dislike it. (Without wishing to defend the person who made the fake post in her name, the woman named ‘Linda’ objects to being portrayed in a ‘false light’, without telling us what, exactly, is false about it – is the persona of her letter a ‘truer light’? In what sense? What does ‘false light’ mean, other to convey her understandable sense of offense?) Someone referred to ‘smearing’ Mr. Burton – but how do you ‘smear’ someone with the truth? Isn’t it rather like being ‘smeared’ with daylight?

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that they so often say, ‘facts lie,’ and they have come to believe this without reflection. That useful truism has nonetheless led them to mistrust and refute the simple and obvious and caused them to stagger around in the darkness for quite a while. Hence, the desert wanderings you see on this website – some posters referred to it as a ‘babel’. People no longer know anymore how to ‘be the words’ because words themselves have lost any meaning — they are an after-dinner drink or designer drug, and no predictor of actions. No one is held accountable for the words that pour out of their mouths – after all, the words were said in the past and they wish to be in the present. The ‘truth’ of five minutes ago is not the ‘truth’ of now. Hence, impulse is given license, and accountability vanishes along with common sense.

And so people here are trying to discern truth when they have lost all standards for truth and any taste for fact – the truth that we can know, the simple facts that are knowable (often binary – sorry non dualists! the light is either on or off). They have lost the taste for truth, as simple as bread. For example, at least a couple posts have said ‘there is no “you” and there is no “me”’ – so then why do they need to communicate at all (isn’t it rather like telephoning yourself)? On this website, they are trying to measure something, but they long ago broke all the yardsticks.

It’s like trying to look for virginity in a whorehouse.

Forgive any typos (I’m not used to a computer keyboard – and I miss my ancient Remington from London – I’m not used to speaking at all these last 57 years!). But please, all of you, read, learn, and inwardly digest my essay, ‘Politics and the English Language.’ Believe me, your disease is well advanced. You have lost the ability to grapple with a simple fact. Some of you can communicate only in quotations, and some of you can no longer think at all.

P.S. From my essay, since it’s not clear many of you still read books:

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

"Spock" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 24, 2010:
[From blogger, James Mclemore:] ” – curiosity question – Is it thought that sociopaths can recognize each other? And if so, I wonder what that recognition would be from across a room. Just ‘competition’ for the available prey?”

One thought: Because sociopaths are highly skilled at lying, they’re probably very quick to recognize when someone else is using the same skill.

I think most people underestimate just how prevalent the Art of Lying is in the FOF. And one thing to keep in mind – Lying is not only what people say, but it’s also largely what they don’t say, or what they leave out – what’s often called lying by omission.

It’s the latter that I think is the bigger problem in the FOF. After all, there’s little need to lie directly if no one is asking difficult questions. The main thing is to not offer any more information than you absolutely need to for your own benefit, even if leaving that information out will lead to serious consequences for someone else. By not divulging certain important details, it prevents people from understanding the truth and taking action that would run counter to your agenda.

Part of lying is the control and management of information. You don’t want too many people learning too much too often. So if you essentially outlaw questions about certain topics, outlaw discussions about certain topics, and expel those who break those laws, you keep the information under control.

In the Fellowship of Friends, there are numerous examples of lying by omission about topics that are essential for the health and well-being of hundreds of individuals:

- There is little transparency about how money is being used. When a person joins, they are told they need to pay money, but they are not told the full amount that they’ll need to pay, nor are they told exactly what the money will be used for. If people knew what the money was being used for before Day 1, I have no doubt that thousands would not have joined.

- As someone mentioned above, young men are not told that they’ll be recruited for sexual interactions with the cult leader. If there is anything noble or even benign about this, why not divulge? This important fact is always left out when a prospect is considering entry into the cult. You may say “for obvious reasons.” Well, yes. But it’s another example of lying by omission that has serious consequences for people. There is no doubt that thousands of people would never have joined the Fellowship of Friends if they were aware of this fact before Day 1.

- Another lie by omission is the fact that the Fellowship of Friends has a guru who predicted cataclysmic events that have never occurred. “Prospective students” are obviously not given this information when they show up for meetings. And without a doubt, it would be a rare occurrence for someone to join if they were given this information. If you disagree, try to picture the conversation.


There are many more examples of lying by omission in the FOF.

Regarding the number of followers who remain in the FOF, I’m going to have to agree with post No. 1 above – “What you should know about Robert Burton and the Fellowship of Friends.”…

“In the last four years, several hundred followers have left the Fellowship of Friends, and many followers continue to leave. It’s believed that slightly over 1,000 members remain worldwide, but reliable statistics are not publicly available.”

I realize there have been some ongoing discussions about these numbers, and there’s someone who enjoys stepping in occasionally to say the number is at about 1,500. Why on earth, given all of the lies above, would anyone believe ANY number that is presented to us? Whatever the number given, subtract a significant amount. This is another example of information management, and information control, which is a form of lying by omission.

The idea is to not provide the entire story, because the true and complete story is not a good one, and it could have negative effects on the agenda. The last thing that Burton wants is for people to start thinking, “Wow, a lot of people are leaving. More than usual. Why is that?”

Well, the that’s easy… It’s because “Why is that?” is a question. And we can’t have questions being asked, and particularly we can’t have truthful answers.

So James, if you want to recognize a sociopath,… Just look for someone who is very good at lying, and especially for someone who has not a concern in the world about how those lies affect the lives of the people around him.

"Spock" wrote on the Fellowship of Friends Discussion blog, January 24, 2010:
[Responding to] 146. Wouldnt You Like To Know.

Yes, very relevant, too. The type of lying that Ouspensky described was “lying to oneself” — pretense, pretentiousness, delusions, providing opinions about topics that we can’t possibly know anything about but pretending that we know all about them (the afterlife, “men” No. 7, whether someone is conscious, what their “chief feature” is, when California is going to fall, how we’re going to become an “ark”, the Ray of Creation, Worlds 48 and 96, etc.). And then another example of this type of lying is pretending that we agree with the above opinions, and then absorbing the same opinions for ourselves and pretending that we also know them.

And taking the insanity a huge leap forward, we actually pretend that we have “verified” or confirmed or proven these ideas (unbelievable, isn’t it?!) and walk around telling everyone that we have “verified.” And by nodding in agreement, or by not questioning these ideas, we give our tacit approval, and therefore reinforce more of the same, and more of the same.

This type of lying is different than what I describe above. But you’re right, lying as O. described it is also a huge pasttime in the FOF.

Another thing… Lying, Ouspensky wrote, was one of the five major obstacles to awakening. But — get this — it’s rarely, if ever, discussed in the FOF. And if it is discussed, it’s usually a fairly short discussion and not given the sincere treatment that it deserves. And the topic of lying is ESPECIALLY not discussed with the finger pointing squarely at ourselves and “the school” and “the teacher.”

Hell, “the Teacher” doesn’t lie. Don’t even go there.

Lying for sociopaths and malignant narcissists is different than the lying that O. described, because they do actually KNOW that they’re lying. Lacking any conscience, there are no internal checks and balances that say, “You know, maybe I should divulge some details to these people.” No. Burton and his enablers have absolutely no qualms about leaving out important details, omitting important facts — no matter what the consequences for anyone around them.

"Open Letter to Current Students" published by Cult Education Institute, April 9, 2002:
By a former long-term student of "The Work" (Sharon Gans School)

I am writing this open letter to any current "students" within the Sharon Gans' "Fourth Way School," or any others concerned. As a former student, I am aware of the fear, defensiveness and loneliness that often come from being secretive. That secrecy is somehow justified as necessary in order to protect "School"-- which is portrayed as "sacred"-- from those outside the group. I also know how difficult it can be to admit when something is wrong, after having invested so much time, energy and money to support it.

We were told repeatedly that leaving the school would mean losing everything. This would include the loss of my opportunity to "awaken," to realize my "possibilities," to "evolve," as well as the loss of many long-term friendships, which gave me a sense of belonging and community. I was terrified. As a result, it was very difficult for me to acknowledge the inherent problems I saw, and to be strong enough to walk away.

I now know that belief in the integrity of the school's stated ideals is not the same as supporting its conduct. The philosophical ideas Sharon Gans appropriates can and should be separated from her teaching methodology and behavior. In this sense, behavior and belief are distinct and separate categories.

If you feel that something is "not quite right" regarding the Gans school, whether at its "classes" or as exemplified by its teacher's conduct, you are not alone. Perhaps you, like many past students, are feeling unhappy or unfulfilled after years of trying to implement Sharon Gans' teachings.

Please understand that any system that requires an end to meaningful critical inquiry, free expression and open discussion is not about honest dialogue, the free exchange of ideas, growth, improvement and increased awareness. Instead it is simply a system that takes away individual free thought and replaces it with someone else's concept of what your truth should be.

Hopefully, you have read the information collected on this website with an open mind and a "nickel's worth of trust." Most often Sharon's students are told things on a "need-to-know" basis. But now it is possible to easily obtain information to better understand the Gans school, both as regards its actual history and teaching methodology. It appears that the behavior of those "in charge" at the school ironically often contradicts an objective definition of evolution, happiness, and integrity.

Please ask questions. Be brave and investigate, despite the anger and fear you may encounter. You should not feel fear about openly discussing anything that might contradict the opinions of your "teachers." Evaluate and reflect upon everything you have experienced. Do this within the sanctity and privacy of your own heart. This may require breaking free from, and going beyond fear and anger. But if you really are seeking truth, consciousness and your possibilities, it's worth the effort.

There are many students who left the Gans school after completing the process I have outlined above. And we have found real freedom, both within our minds and hearts. Many of us have rediscovered family and friends while also regaining our sense of integrity, honesty and, ultimately-- happiness.

The development of consciousness should not be dependent upon a group or person. Many of Sharon's former students have learned this the hard way. But we found there was tremendous support, encouragement and healing waiting for us. There can be a better life "on the other side."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

1 comment:

  1. A parallel universe that incredibly, sounds even more disturbing in some ways than the Fellowship of Friends! Wow1