WERNER ERHARD WAS BORN John Paul Rosenberg. He took his new moniker on a cross-country plane trip, as a combination of two names he read in an in-flight magazine: quantum physicist Werner Heisenbergdeveloper of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principleand then-economics minister of West Germany, Ludwig Erhard.
As to the man’s character, the late Buckminster Fuller effused in the New York Times (in February of 1979):
I have quite a few million people who listen to me. And I say Werner Erhard is honest. He may prove untrustworthy, and if he does then I’ll say so.
That endorsement came, of course, from the same futurist who, only a few years earlier, had whole-heartedly endorsed the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. At the time, Fuller and Erhard were splitting the proceeds from a series of public “conversations” between the two of them.
Erhard’s est training had its roots in many other well-known therapies and disciplines.
Indeed, Mark Brewer
in an article for Psychology Today, found traces of Zen, Scientologywhich Erhard once followedDale Carnegie and gestalt therapy in the core teachings of est (“Erhard Seminars Training”):
What the training is more than anything else [is an] application of classic techniques in indoctrination and mental conditioning worthy of Pavlov himself.
Yet, the relatively low concentration of things “Eastern” reportedly did not stop the former used car salesman, Erhard, from pondering his own high position in the cosmos:
“How do I know I’m not the reincarnation of Jesus Christ?” Erhard once wondered of a friend (Pressman, 1993).
In other times, Jim Jones asked himself the same question, coming to the conclusion that he was exactly that reincarnation
(Layton, 1998)as well as having more recently been Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Wanna-be rock star and alleged pedophile David Koresh, tooof Waco, Texas, i.e., Branch Davidian infamybelieved himself to be Jesus Christ
(England and McCormick, 1993); as did Marshall Applewhite of Heaven’s Gate
One can, however, always aim higher. Thus, in the autumn of 1977, as reported by Steven Pressman in his (1993) Outrageous Betrayal, during a beachside meeting of est seminar leaders in Monterey, one participant got to his feet.
“The question in the room that nobody is asking,” the man told Erhard solemnly, “is ‘Are you the [M]essiah?’”
The room grew silent as Erhard looked out to the curious faces of some of his most devoted disciples. After a few moments he replied, “No, I am who sent him [i.e., God].”
Marshall Applewhite’s spiritual partner, Bonnie Lu Nettles, likewise believed herself to be an incarnation of God the Father
Given reported feelings such as the above among the formerly encyclopedia-selling “God”Erhardand his seminar trainers, it is hardly surprising that alleged horror stories such as the following should surface:
“Most of the people I’ve seen at our clinicand they come in after the training in fairly substantial numbershave suffered reactions that range from moderately bad to dreadful,” the executive director of New York City’s Lincoln Institute for Psychotherapy reported in 1978. “They are confused and jarred, and the same patternelation, depression, feelings of omnipotence followed by feelings of helplessnessare repeated over and over again”....
In March 1977 the [American Journal of Psychiatry] published the first of two articles ... that described five patients who had [allegedly] developed psychotic symptoms, including paranoia, uncontrollable mood swings, and delusions in the wake of taking the est training (Pressman, 1993).
(2004) lists additional relevant published concerns.
Erhard himself has reportedly “hotly denied any damaging effects from the est training” (Pressman, 1993).
Early graduates of Erhard’s four-day est seminars included John “Windy Kansas Wheat Field” Denverwho wanted to give up his singing career to become an est trainer. Also, Diana Ross, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Yoko Ono. More recently, Ted Danson, Valerie Harper, Roy “Jaws” Scheider and numerous other Hollywood stars have taken Erhard’s courses.
At any rate, as if to argue that the harsh discipline of any “holy man” directed toward his followers simply begins a cycle of abuse with future generations of disciples, we have the following allegation:
Those who worked closest to Erhard often witnessed his own tirades and yelling bouts, and sometimes felt free to mirror his own behavior when they were in charge (Pressman, 1993).
Erhard’s home life may have taken tragic turns as well. For, Werner’s daughter Deborah once alleged that he had
coerced one of his older daughters ... into having sexual intercourse with him in a hotel room they were sharing during one of his frequent out-of-town trips (Pressman, 1993).*
“Thank you for sharing.”
* Erhard has denied all allegations of abuse. Jane Self’s (1992) 60 Minutes and the Assassination of Werner Erhard has further offered a staunch defense of Erhard against the uncomplimentary picture of him painted by the media. There, she alleges that the orchestration of his downfall can be found within the Church of Scientology. In that same book, Erhard’s daughters are quoted as retracting their previous allegations of improprieties on his part, having supposedly made them under duress.
Dr. Self does not address the alleged negative effects of the est seminars on their most vulnerable participants nor, in my opinion, convincingly refute Erhard’s reportedly messianic view of himself. (Curiously, though, both she and Werner’s friend Mark Kamin refer to Erhard’s public downfall as his being “crucified.”) Nor, unlike Pressman (1993), does she delve into the serious, alleged behind-the-scenes issues with the Hunger Project. (That project was Erhard’s failed attempt to wipe out starvation by the year 2000.) Instead, she simply repeats the “public relations” line on that topic.