Religion: I AM in a Jam

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Happiness, Happiness, Happiness is ours, Down to us the Presence sends clouds of golden showers. Filled with Joy, filled with Bliss, as we go along, Life for us has now become a never-ending song. (I AM joy song, to tune of "Jingle Bells.")

For strange religions the U. S. has a capacity boundless as its hope and gullibility. Most cockeyed cult of all is the Mighty I AM Presence. Last week I AM's leaders were filled with anything but Joy and Bliss. Indicted in Los Angeles (U. S. crazy-cult headquarters) for mail frauds were 24 of them, headed by Mrs. Edna Wheeler Ballard ("alias Joan of Arc, Jesus and Lotus Ray King") and Donald Ballard ("alias Edona Eros, Robin Hood and Lafayette").

The Government charged that the cult, led by the Ballards (who paid taxes on a 1939 income of $150,000), has collected more than $3,000,000 from deluded followers since 1930. "Lafayette's" blonde, estranged wife Marjorie told of the Ballards' $1,000-a-month hotel suite, of her mother-in-law buying "clothes enough to stock a store" and two $50 corsages of orchids daily, appearing at I AM meetings with a 12-carat diamond ring, an 18-carat diamond breast pin, many another "love gift" from believers. Retorted "Joan of Arc": "We have never asked a human being for a dime to carry on this activity, through the mails or otherwise. . . . We have offered only good and love for America beyond all words to describe."

The Ballards, however, have used plenty of words to describe I AM, most of them confusing. They claim to be the "Accredited Messengers" of a group of spirits whom they call the "Ascended Masters." These include Christ and Moses, but the chief revelator is one "Saint Germain." St. Germain's precepts appear in a series of Ballard-edited books which adepts of the Mighty I AM Presence study. The 20,000 who follow the precepts and live an "I AM Presence-like life" are called "Hundred Percenters." Last week bewildered Hundred Percenters met in their "temples of instruction," wondered what to do next. Pending the trial's outcome, most decided to continue their abstinence from meat, alcohol, narcotics, tobacco, sexual intercourse, onions and garlic.