Won't Go Gently: Group Dedicated To Living Forever

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - "Never say die" could be the motto of supporters of the Eternal Flame Foundation.

"Hell no, we won't go" also would be fitting.

These people believe they are physically immortal.

"It's not intelligent to die, it's embarrassing to die," said BernaDeane, 53, one of the founders of the foundation and wife of another founder, Charles Paul Brown, 55.

"It is normality not to die," she said.

The foundation's adherents believe that a "cellular awakening" transforms the chemical makeup of their bodies, erasing the death programming in their bodies' cells. Once this has taken place, they say, cells no longer age, and eternal life is possible.

About 600 of them from all over the world met recently in Scottsdale to celebrate their "cellular connections," or direct contact between the cells of their bodies.

Because of this connection, they claim, they never will leave each other, and none of them ever will be alone. Having overcome this fear of rejection, they are free to live their lives to the fullest, unhampered by inhibitions and constraints.

BernaDeane and Brown, along with the third leader of the movement, James Russell Strole, 41, call themselves, collectively, CBJ. All three live in Scottsdale.

Dr. Peter Jolma, head of pathology at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, called the theory of cellular awakening "wishful thinking."

"There's absolutely no scientific evidence to support that," he said. "It's so far-fetched, it's beyond even the fringes of common sense and science."

The founding trio say their movement is not a religion, even though it enjoys tax-free status. Neither is it a philosophy, and the founders adamantly deny it is a cult.

Yet pictures of CBJ are for sale, and followers write love letters and articles that sing their praises.

BernaDeane said this is because they have brought a new way of life to their followers.

"We give praise to others, a feeling of esteem, self-worth, the desire to live," Strole said. "Why not praise each other, give value to each other? The whole planet needs this."

People are involved with Eternal Flame not because they're brainwashed, but because their feelings come from the heart, Strole said.

"This is the bond, the intimacy, to be totally alive," he said.

Devotees at the meeting couldn't put their finger on just what the group represents, nor would anyone admit or discuss the possibility that any member of the group had died.

Most of them, like Ed Beaudette of Scottsdale, mentioned an enhanced quality of life and the realization that before CBJ transformed their lives, they had been merely existing, without joy.

Schmuel and Raya Bendror of Naharia, Israel, who are 61 and 51, respectively, described their conversion as a "physical experience" making them accepting of all humans, even Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

CBJ charges for seminars and workshops. Participants said that any other money involved is voluntarily given. There is no tithing, they said, nor is any figure suggested for contributions.

"It's as expensive as (members) make it," Massey said. "People do give money to support CBJ. But it's voluntary. I give what I feel I can. I wish it could be more."

Those involved with the group say nontraditional thinkers always meet skepticism. They don't care that the rest of the world may think they're nutty.

If they're right, they'll have the last laugh.