People Who've Claimed To Be The Messiah

In our often seemingly pointless work-a-day world, the thought of the return of a messiah of some sort can be comforting, even seductive. But it's a problematic proposition. First of all, how would you know that the savior of mankind and redeemer of his wicked ways had arrived in the first place? And secondly, what PayPal account would you send your tidings to if you wanted to support their compound?

Luckily for us, recent religious deliverers have skewed less in favor of Matthew 6:6's message of "maybe keep those prayers to yourself" and more toward going big or, at the very least, bizarre. The cultural dynamic has changed, and so have the attitudes of Second Comings the world over. These days, there's social media to consider, and a 24-hour news cycle, and the attitudes that people tend to take when you say that your miraculous healing powers revolve firmly around whether or not you can take a good long look at their feet. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Presented here, for the religiously uncertain citizen of the contemporary, is a list of relatively fresh messiahs for your eternal pleasure.

A.J. Miller brings 'messiah' Down Under

A.J. Miller, not to be confused with the alleged weirdo T.J. from the Deadpool movies, is an odd duck. There's a lot to like about A.J.: He promotes a message of universal love and acceptance, and he's based in Australia which, with a number of nightmare fauna that could rise up and kill everyone at any time, could probably do with some divine intervention.

A lot of Miller's claims are pretty run of the mill relative to his chosen field. The ex-Jehovah's Witness says that after his first marriage dissolved he realized that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and his partner, Mary Suzanne Luck, purports to have previously lived as Mary Magdalene. They preach compassion and understanding from their Queensland ministry, Divine Truth. Frankly, interviews and visits to their community paint a pretty idyllic picture of the group grooving on positive vibes.

It all gets a little janky when you go into the ministry's B-sides, like how all illness comes from a surplus of negative emotions, and kids die of malaria because their parents didn't love them enough, and breast cancer stems from a sense of resentment toward either men or women, depending on which side of the body it starts in. Are they perhaps dangerously misinformed about human bodies? We're not here to throw stones. Besides, what we should really be focused on is the great gift Miller has given the world in the form of people with Australian accents saying "there's this bloke who says he's the Messiah."

Apollo Quiboloy doesn't seem to want to use his messianic power

One of the higher profile lords and saviors on the list, Apollo Quiboloy is sort of a big deal. Based in the Philippines, the messiah and leader of the snappily named Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, Inc. was labeled by ABC News as "the most successful of the world's self-labeled saviors." According to Quiboloy, he was contacted by God in the mid-2000s and made aware of his destiny as the second coming of Christ on Earth. His holdings include a mansion and "Prayer Mountain," maintained by a bunch of volunteers who are each given a stipend of around $40 per week, minus the necessary 10% tithing, obviously. He claims, through the power of God, to have the ability to attract wealth and fame and to bring the dead back to life.

That power would be helpful since in 2008 he was accused of orchestrating the murder of a local tribal leader who refused to sell his land to Quiboloy. According to the victim's widow, they had been approached by Quiboloy's representatives about selling the land and, when they said no they were attacked and experienced attempts to burn their house down four times before a pair of men fired guns into their house. Quiboloy and the local politician whom he backed called the claims "totally false." No word on whether an offer of resurrection was made.

Rael says he's the messiah, also doesn't understand history

The saga of Raelienism is sort of a French arthouse reimagining of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas with Ridley Scott-adjacent aliens and swastikas instead of ether. Let's dig in.

Claude Maurice Marcel Vorilhon now goes by the name Rael, making him one of those rare deities made flesh whose name is shorter than the name of their church. He is the founder of Raelienism. He started out as a humble racing journalist and test driver, but in December 1973, his life got flipped upside-down while he was visiting the Puy de Lassolas volcano in France. It was there that he met Yahweh, the extraterrestrial god creature who tasked Vorilhon with his sacred duty: to inform the world of the real truth and prepare them for their place in the stars. The newly minted messiah "almost developed a stomach ulcer" but decided to change his name to Rael and found a religion instead.

And that's the nutshell version of how we got Raelienism, the group of UFO enthusiasts with a real scattershot set of beliefs, including: aliens created human beings; Jesus, Rael, and other religious figures were half-alien half-human hybrids sent to help ease humanity's way to the stars (making Rael Jesus' half-brother, according to one of his late night interviews); free love is awesome; they've cloned a little girl; and there's no shame in giving yourself a vigorous low five. Also, their symbol is a swastika inside a Star of David, so for all their claimed technological advances, it seems like they haven't cured tone-deafness.

Wayne Bent went to jail for his crooked ways

Wayne Bent left the Seventh-day Adventists in 1987 so that he could form his own church, essentially taking his ball and going home, with "home" here meaning "to a compound in Idaho, and then another one in New Mexico."

A scant 13 years later, Bent was in his living room when he says that God told him that he was the messiah. Not wanting to argue with omnipotence, Bent shruggingly accepted this, and he also accepted instructions to change his name to Michael and a heads up about the coming apocalypse, due October 31, 2007. As we've seen, that's all pretty boilerplate stuff for a second coming. It's the rest of what God told Bent that gets horrific.

As detailed in the documentary The End of the World Cult, Michael/Wayne would later receive instructions from on high to sleep with three married members of his congregation, including his son's wife. However, it was the revelation that he was supposed to "lay with" seven virgins that landed him in prison in late 2008. Despite the testimony of the girls claiming that he simply got undressed with them while they harmlessly lay in bed together (something Gandhi also claimed to do), the 67-year-old Bent was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison. He was released in 2016 after divine intervention failed to save him from developing skin cancer, and now he regularly updates the world on his thoughts via that holiest of media, the humble blog.

Brian David Mitchell thought kidnappings were messianic

For the nine months following June 2002, the world was captivated by the mysterious disappearance of 14-year-old Salt Lake City resident Elizabeth Smart. Suspicions and accusations flew in several directions, including toward Elizabeth's family and a local handyman and ex-convict named Richard Ricci.

Against all odds, Smart was found alive the following March. She had been kidnapped by a man named Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell, who, pleasant spoiler alert, will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, claimed in his manifesto that he had been visited by God in November 2000 and tasked with a holy messianic mission. Calling himself Immanuel, he was to take seven virgin brides and restore plural marriage to the Church of Latter-day Saints. He also said that he was destined to battle the Antichrist and to rise from the dead after three days. Descriptions of the crimes he and Barzee committed against Smart are horrifying, to the point where it seems necessary to point out, just one more time, that Mitchell is in government custody and will be for the remainder of his days.

Smart herself, meanwhile, grew up to be an astonishingly balanced adult, a mother of three, and an advocate for missing and exploited children.

This messiah embraces modern music hits

Regardless of your views on modern-day messiahs and other religious figures, you have to admit that a lot of them run into branding problems. What might be a serious and heartfelt message about one's theology can, without proper camerawork and lighting, come off as something Adult Swim would air to fill time in the early 2000s. Add to that the potential for details to be lost in translation when presented overseas, and you've got a recipe for confusion. And that's about as solid an introduction to INRI Cristo as you're going to get.

On the one hand the Brazilian Cristo, born Alvaro Thais, seems to be 100% committed to the part. The 71-year-old self-labeled reincarnation of Christ dresses in white robes with a red sash and wears a decorative crown of thorns. On the other, he frequently appears on late night comedy shows, including at a Brazilian roast making fun of him, and has what seems to be an amateur Despacito parody video with lyrics about himself posted to his official website. In 2011 he noted that the end of the world would come the next year, but to his credit, he clarified before 2012 actually arrived that he meant the world would only end "for all those who will die in 2012," according to the Christian Post.

Charles Manson claimed to be the messiah, among other things

Strange though it may sound, severe mental illness and a deep conviction that you are the messiah intersect pretty frequently. For receipts, let's turn to an obscure new age religious figure who rose to prominence in the 1960s, only to have his days of ministering cut short when his name became synonymous with crazy-eyed, swastika-headed lunacy.

There's so much to unpack about Charles Manson, what with the cult and the series of murders committed on his instructions and the aforementioned swastika head and the zany, rambling television interviews, so you'd be forgiven if you didn't realize that part of his doctrine involved the fact that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. The supposed reasoning behind his followers' 1969 killing spree was the hastening of a race war that would bring on the Apocalypse.

Although Manson was arrested and, in 1971, sentenced to death (later changed to a life sentence) his dangerous brand of weirdness continued to resonate with his followers after his incarceration. Most famously, in 1975, Manson superfan Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme confronted President Gerald Ford with a .45-caliber handgun. One of the last of Manson's supporters, she now lives in a skull-covered home in New York with a fellow Charles Manson enthusiast who was convicted of manslaughter, which just bodes wonderfully for everyone. For more on the adventures of Manson and company, there's also the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

Sun Myung Moon believed love could fix (almost) anything

The Reverend Moon was the founder of the Unification Church, a South Korean Christian sect that's been called a dangerous cult. Followers of Moon, dubbed "Moonies," believe that he was sort of the Second Coming; less a messianic reincarnation of Jesus and more of a high-budget sequel.

Moon preached on a number of controversial subjects. He believed strongly in the eradication of communism and the reunification of Korea. His big claim to fame, however, was his enthusiasm for mass weddings, called "blessing ceremonies," in which groups of up to 30,000 couples would get hitched en masse. Marriage, he taught, was the most holy sacrament, and the best thing that could happen to a person. Love conquered all, according to Moon, as long as you weren't gay, in which case you were a "dung-eating dog."

There were other problems with Moon's teachings and lifestyle. Former members of the Unification Church have described a cult-like lifestyle involving forced labor, indoctrination, and sleep deprivation. Moon's ex daughter-in-law also said that, contrary to his public persona, Reverend Moon was an enthusiastic philanderer who had more than a few God-sanctioned affairs. Moon passed away in 2012, and his church is still estimated to have over a million members.

Francis Herman Pencovic brought the sci-fi to the house

Francis Herman Pencovic founded the (deep breath) Wisdom Knowledge Faith Love Fountain of the World in 1948. He dressed in robes, grew out his hair and beard, and became Krishna Venta, a San Fransiscan rebirth of Jesus Christ. As is often the case with messiahs and their new religions, the promotional kit for the Fountain of the World was easily digestible: It preached the abandonment of ego and a search for deeper wisdom. As you swam toward the deep end you had more interesting philosophies, like how Jesus came here on a spaceship and how Pencovic had no navel.

The teachings of Pencovic were brought to an abrupt end on December 10, 1958, when two of his ex-followers killed their old spiritual leader in a suicide bombing. According to an investigation into the incident, they were angry that the guru had seduced their wives.

Fun fact: Charles Manson is believed to have hung out at the Fountain of the World for a little while after the death of Pencovic, making the compound sort of a hotbed of self-labeled messiahs. History is a hoot.

Tony Quinn has never claimed to be the messiah...

Irish businessman Tony Quinn wants, among other things, to "transform the world through mind technology." What does he mean by that? You'll just have to attend one of his five-figure seminars or visit his Space Jam-level personal website to find out.

So there's a lot going on here. Tony is, among other things, an ex-bodybuilder, an oil company investor, a self-help magnate, a doctor of hypnotherapy, an alleged sex criminal, and, according to his followers, Jesus. While he's never come out in public and claimed to be a messiah or the son of God, members of his old communes were pretty uniformly under the impression that they were reincarnated disciples and that Quinn was their savior.

It would be difficult to cover everything that Tony Quinn teaches, but a big chunk of it revolves around the infinitely debunkable theory that humans only use a small percentage of their brains. It's also worth noting that he appeared in The Secret, a new age supernatural self-help treatise that has definitely never been associated with fraud or negligence and, on an unrelated note, Quinn will pray for you for a nominal monthly subscription fee.

For Hogen Fukunaga, it was all about feet

You know, in this world of constant sequels, reboots, and half-hearted reimaginings, it can be refreshing to come across something that you've never seen before. Pairings of words, for example, that you wouldn't associate with one another, like "giraffe butter" or "funk sitar" or, in this case, "foot cult."

Hogen Fukunaga had a foot cult. What does a foot cult do? Well, feet come into play. According to Hogen, aka "His Holiness," he and his disciples were able to read the soles of people's feet to diagnose diseases, tell their fortunes, and, most importantly, point them in the direction of expensive seminars that would fix pretty much anything that was wrong with them. Oh, and Hogen was also the third part of the trilogy of saviors, preceded by Jesus and Buddha, and wielded cosmic power while being guided by "the voice of heaven." All of this and more can be read in the transcripts of his trial for fraud, where he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Shoko Asahara's road to doom

Shoko Asahara was born Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955 and lost most of his sight to glaucoma early in his childhood. After terrorizing his fellow students at a school for the blind, he studied traditional medicine, a career that sort of led to his later arrest for the distribution of unregulated substances. ("Give a mouse a cookie" or whatever.)

By the end of 1984, he'd changed his name to Shoko Asahara and formed what would become the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect, a group with a mishmash of ideologies yanked from Buddhism and Christianity, with a heavy emphasis on the idea that Asahara was the one true leader and the son of God. He strayed, however, from the message of Jesus in a few significant ways: Jesus, for example, probably wouldn't have given the go-ahead for his followers to strangle a lawyer, his wife, and their 1-year-old child to curtail legal actions taken to help free underage cult members. Asahara's beliefs that the world needed to be purged of sin in nuclear fire and that the group's time was best spent saving heathen non-members from eternal damnation by killing them before the Last Judgment were also questionable. They did this by orchestrating and executing a pair of chemical weapons attacks against the citizenry of Japan in the 1990s, causing at least 21 deaths and thousands of injuries

The actions of Asahara and his followers became Japan's deadliest domestic terrorist attacks, and he was executed in 2018.