(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series. Read the first part, “Victory belongs to Jesus.”)

1977 – Las Vegas, Nev.

After my “meeting with the Lord” in the Hilton Hotel, I went outside and began walking – make that stumbling – through the desert. I didn’t head for the city, but instead out toward the sunset, to wander aimlessly amongst the cactus, sand and piles of dirt. A flurry of dust would occasionally send a bunch of stray papers, beer and coke cans flying this way and that.

My head was awhirl. What had just happened to me? I had gone to my friend’s room to console him because he’d lost a kickboxing match. Then I’d fallen (literally, on the floor, held there by an unknown force) – until I was finally able to rise. Whereupon, I accepted my friend Blinky’s offer to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

And I’d said yes! My God, what  in the hell had I done? I’d been a happy, middle-class, essentially non-believing Jew for 32 years – following the muse, going and doing what I’d wanted. And now I’d become this … thing. And, as far as I was concerned, it one of the worst things possible: Christian! I mean, who in their right mind would want to become one of those people? Oh sure, I had Christian friends – like this crazy gang of Mexican thugs turned kickboxers – and even though I’d actually seen them turn people’s lives around (allegedly) through the power of Christ, I didn’t believe a word of it! It was nuts! Totally impossible!

Two days later, I was back in my house in Los Angeles. I’d come down with a raging fever and had been confined to bed by my doctor. I lay in a pool of sweat, the scenes from the Vegas Fiasco spinning across the movie screen of my mind. For some reason, I couldn’t just throw the whole incident out, though that’s what I wanted to do. I was no more ready to commit to Christianity than I was to commit to becoming a Hari Krishna! If anything, with my background in sociology and anthropology, I considered Christianity as simply another cult populated by a lot of lost souls who’d grabbed on, because, well, everybody needs something to grab onto, don’t they?

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As I recuperated, I took the opportunity to go through the chapters of my life. Let’s see: I’d been raised in a “sort of” Orthodox Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio. My grandfather, a strict, hard-spoken man, had been a rabbi in the local temple. My father worked as a cantor, but our family was no more Orthodox than the man in the moon. We celebrated the Jewish holidays, Purim, Hanukkah and the rest, but we didn’t keep the Sabbath, and we certainly didn’t eat kosher. I liked bacon too much!

After moving to California, my father continued to provide for his family largely from working in the Jewish music world, taking jobs as a cantor and as the head of several highly acclaimed Jewish musical organizations. A gifted composer, he’d had hundreds of his songs and cantatas published and performed. My mother didn’t keep a kosher household. The only time real “Jewishness” crept back into our lives would be when we’d go visit our grandparents – Bubby and Zeda – who kept the kosher food and the “real” food on separate sides of the icebox.

Me, heck, I was just an average teenager. Given over largely to chasing pretty girls (largely non-Jewish) and reading comic books. What’s more, I lived only three houses down from Annette Funicello, whose house I’d walk by after-school (a daily ritual!) hoping to catching a glimpse of her.

In the early ’60s, a small portion of our family accepted Christianity. They lived in Orange Country – a very goyish community, while we lived an upcoming, neighborhood of Woodland Hills, where once again, I cultivated exclusively non-Jewish friends.

The truth is, I didn’t want to be affiliated with any religion. I was too busy engaging in pranksterism, surfing, playing guitar and (of course) chasing girls. I had also begun writing, though this was largely done in secret.

And reading. Always reading. In college, my majors were psychology and anthropology. My area of “specialty” was cults. I was fascinated by the idea that people could actually be brainwashed into believing that anything was God and then – without question – turning their whole lives over to Him. But cultists were a special brand of religious zealot. They were crazy!

I began my own special study of cults, beginning with the Manson Family. The Spahn Ranch, their abode, was only a few miles from my house. Soon, I’d managed to get myself invited to one of their parties. There was no problem getting accepted into the fold: Just pretend to be a “lost soul,” and they’d take you right in. Of course, whenever I’d go to one of their shindigs – which could last for days at a time – I was always armed with my mini tape recorder. Afterward, I kept copious notes.

Through the “family,” I met a professor at UCLA whose specialty was the study of cults. She was into the cult of Huichol Indian Shaman Carlos Castaneda. She had actually gone out into the desert with him to be initiated as a shaman. The woman and I became very close. She was bright, beautiful (I sort of had crush on her), and she seemed to enjoy my inquisitive mind. We argued nonstop about the pros and cons of various cults.

She herself, was into the feminist side of Wicca, and was part of a white Wiccan coven. She had written several books on Castaneda, and I’d spend hours at her house high in the Hollywood Hills, where we’d engage in long, late-night conversations.

As for my own beliefs, I plain old “didn’t care.” I’d had my fill of Judaism. Long before, I’d written Christians off as a bunch of crazy rednecks.

Then something terrible happened. The professor contracted cancer. It was in both breasts. Despite a bad prognosis, she bravely returned to her work. One night she told me a scary story. She said that she’d had a curse put on her by a “black witch” – a member of a group called the Order of the Golden Dawn, which was essentially an offshoot off the Theosophical Society –headed up by Madame Helena Petrovsky Blavatsky. The Theosophical Society was considered to be one of the darkest occult groups.

The professor had invited the woman to speak to her class on “magic and witchcraft” at UCLA.

However, when she’d found that this woman was into the dark side of the occult, she withdrew the invitation. The woman was furious. She responded by cursing the professor. It was a very specific curse. “You will be dead of cancer in six months,” she said, pointing a long hob-nailed finger at her. “And you,” she said to the professor’s teaching assistant, “You shall go blind!”

Six months later to the day, the professor died of cancer. Her teaching assistant had been so frightened by the black curse thrust upon her that she left the U.S. to take up residence in Mexico. But the curse knew no boundaries. The assistant soon completely lost the vision in her left eye.

I had taken up a house-sitting position in the professor’s house while it went through escrow. The place was gorgeous. It was decorated with artifacts from the professor’s travels throughout the world. Strange masks, statues of goat’s heads, Shamanic yarn paintings and “spirit dwellings” filled the entire house.

I’d been in the house for only a week, when I began to experience some very strange symptoms. Nightmares, populated by evil creatures – witches, demons and werewolves – filled my head during the long, sleepless nights.

In my study of cults, I had also taken to reading books by a man named Dr. Walter Martin, an ardent Christian who’d written a book called “The Kingdom of the Cults.” Martin, who had a daily radio program, was indeed a very wise man. He easily dismantled one cult after the other.

Somehow I knew I needed to see him.

One day, I gathered a bunch of the artifacts from the professor’s place and hauled them out to the Christian Research Institute, located in Orange County. When I got there, I found Martin sitting behind a large oak desk. His walls were lined with books

I put the artifacts I’d brought on his desk.

I asked, “Are these evil?”

Martin didn’t say anything for a long moment. Then he turned his chair around to face me.

“Son,” he said, looking me straight in the eyes, “What is your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

The question was totally out of left field and caught me entirely off-guard.

I replied, “W-why, I have no relationship with Him at all!”

(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-part series. Read the first part, “Victory belongs to Jesus.”)

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