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It's Not the New Agers You Have to Worry About

Mt. Shasta, like many prominent mountains, is associated with plenty of legends and mystical occurrences, the most well-known of those being that the Lemurians live in the mountains. And of course there are supposed paranormal events, Big Foot sightings, vortexes, and other supernatural happenings. It's a mecca for people who believe in the healing power of crystals and sacred waters.

The mountain does have a strong appeal. I was drawn to it as much as any of the new-agey types are, but in the sense that I needed to summit it. The view from the top is where the real magic is, where you really can feel connected to the universe.

Mt. Shasta is the whole reason I came to Redding. And while I'd read about the area's legends, I'd read nothing about the city of Redding. All I knew is I wanted to hike Shasta, and coming from and going to a small town, I needed to stay in a decent-sized place where I could take care of a variety of appointments, go to a gym, and have some interaction with human beings for a while.

I've often found that AirBnB hosts reference events or places in their listings that are apparently well known to people in that area, but someone from out of town would know nothing about. I simply ignore these references, such as the headline of my Redding place which stated "Sparkling New Modern Home. Near Bethel. Sleeps 6". What's Bethel? I didn't know and didn't care. 

Well, well, well. It turns out that Bethel is a "hyper-charismatic megachurch" and Redding is an "epicenter of modern Christian culture." I found this out when I went on a date my second week there and the guy lowered his voice significantly when he talked about it because the church members have a stronghold over the town. I later corroborated some things he said with other locals I met. Bethel is a cult. The article I linked to states:

“Redding is their test case of turning a city that is a democracy into a theocracy,” says Laura Hammans, a member of Investigating Bethel, a Facebook group with more than 1,000 members. She says the church’s influence feels like it runs through the core of the city. Redding’s mayor, Julie Winter, is a Bethel elder; Bethel paid the salaries of several police officers when the city couldn’t afford to; a Bethel-connected nonprofit took over management of the city’s civic auditorium and now holds Supernatural School classes there; Bethel’s influence was central to getting a direct flight from LAX to Redding approved last year; and there’s a $150 million Bethel expansion underway that will triple the church’s capacity and allow the school to grow by 1,000 students. For some, the line separating church and state is hard to trace at this point, threatening the integrity of the city. “They have this really well-organized program to innervate everything with their influence,” says David Boone, another member of Investigating Bethel.

Yes, you correctly read that part about the school of supernatural ministry, or "Christian Hogwarts". Even beyond the Bethel stronghold, Redding is crazy religious. There were so many Christian bookstores and recreation centers in town. It wasn't unusual to hear Jesus music playing on the radio in retail shops. This was a home four doors down from where I was staying. Yes, that is a fence made to look like stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them.

home fence made to look like stone tablets

If you know me, you know that organized religion is the thing I hate most in the world. It is used to justify murders and wars and endless crimes against humanity and to brainwash and control people, especially women. But this is America - land of the Amish and Mormons and Orthodox Jews and endless other harmful religious cults that dislike education and science and women's rights. So I'm not surprised to find this Bethel cult in Redding, California. I'm also not surprised that Redding has a huge problem with heroin and opiate addiction because devoted adherents of any religion are generally the most hypocritical people I know. The love and compassion and forgiveness and helping your fellow man that Christian religions preach are rarely practiced, and people addicted to drugs are viewed as dirty sinners who need to learn to help themselves.

The Mt. Shasta/Redding dichotomy felt to me like the Boulder/Colorado Springs dichotomy. Where people exist on one end of the lunatic spiritual spectrum, people on the other end must exist as well to balance things out. As much as I think the new-age people are just foolish, they tend to be less harmless than those in mass, organized religions. There are notable exceptions (also often involving sexual exploitation of women), but if I had to choose a side, I'd pick the woo-woo people over those actively soliciting money and power to keep women "in their place" and meddle endlessly in the affairs of others.

I do want to mention that even though my AirBnB hosts were, I presume, Bethel members, they were lovely people who didn't bring religion into our interactions in any way. The cottage was indeed sparkling clean, with modern and high-end appliances and furnishing, in a convenient location, and I was quite happy with my stay there. 

And I did get my own moment of worship at the altar of nature where this woman belongs, 14,180 feet into the sky. 

woman on the top of a 14,000 foot tall mountain