Last night I watched a documentary on More4 called A Long Weekend with the Son of God, all about Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop, a 48-year-old Russian man who's managed to bag himself 4,000 followers who believe he's the second coming of Christ. They live together in a village community in deepest Siberia, where they go about their lives according to the teachings of Torop, or Vissarion, as he is known within the cult (sorry, community).
Vissarion's every word is recorded in an ever-growing collection of comprehensively-indexed, leather-bound gospels, which appeared to already stretch to far more pages than the original Bible. Which makes you wonder, what does a man with so much to say have to, well, say? Not a great deal, as it turns out. At one point a female follower looked to the good books for guidance on how to cope while her husband was away, only to find some cryptic words about how Vissarion can make up more laws when required. And when we finally meet Vissarion, things don't become any clearer. There are no profound parables from this incarnation of Jesus, just long, drawn out platitudes intoning followers to be "Righteous" and seek "the Truth, delivered in painfully slow monotonous sentences. Those expecting deep philosophical insights from the Second Coming need not apply. Perhaps as a godless heathen I protest too much, but if you ask me Vissarion isn't the Messiah, just a very boring boy.
If there was anything interesting to learn from the cult, it wasn't coming from their Messiah. It was certainly intriguing to see the hyrdid religion Vissarion had created for his followers, but we didn't learn much about that from his on-screen appearances. It's a strange mixture of old-fashioned Christianity and new-age paganism, with lots of dancing and singing in circles, which at time made parts of the documentary look like scenes from the Wicker Man (albeit without the sex and human sacrifice). To Vissarion's followers, Earth is a Gaia-like, sentient organism that man has brought to the brink of ruin, and they're pulling it back in their own small way through their subsistence farming and veganism.
What wasn't entirely clear was what cult-leader Vissarion was getting out of it all. There is obviously the submission of his loyal followers to his eternal wisdom, but usually when you look closely at cults, the leaders' rewards are often of the more earthly, sex-and-cash variety. We did at one point see a disciple deny that new members must hand over all their worldly possessions but, while Vissarion did have a slightly nicer house than the others, he didn't seem to be living in luxury. And while he did have a young wife, he didn't seem to have laid sexual claim to the rest of his female followers.
He did, however, have his very own quad bike. Perhaps he was happy with that. Each Messiah to his own, I guess.
If you're in the UK, you can watch A Long Weekend with the Son of God on 4OD.