That statement, though apocryphal, is quite true. But here's my take on it ..
If you don't follow Jesus, you won't end up following no one, you'll end up following Charles Manson.***
I know a girl who is 15 and Catholic. She knows nothing of the Faith. She does not know who Pontius Pilate was. She does not know who Judas was. She does not know what the Sermon on the Mount was. She knows there's a cross associated with Easter, and that's about it.
But she does know Charles Manson. She has watched biographies on him and knows his story pretty thoroughly
She has a weird admiration for him. This is nothing new. Twenty years ago I cast an actress who was 18 at the time and who was absolutely nuts about him.
This 15-year-old admits Manson "crossed a line" - like killing helpless pregnant women - but what appeals to her is his music, his ideal of bringing together a commune, a group of hippies devoted to love and peace.
But you can't be a cult leader devoted to love and peace, whose disciples adore you, without becoming in your own mind and in their minds "like God". And you will feed demonically on their adoration, and your desire for love and peace will become a lust for power, violence, terror and control.
The worst thing about a cult is that it is the corruption of our best.
Our desire for devotion, our hunger for a family of believers working together for the same lofty goal, our longing for intimacy with a group of people who understand us and care for us - these things are meant for Christ and His Church - but these are things that can be side-tracked into an improper devotion to an ideal or a man rather than a proper devotion to God.
My own experience with cults was back when I was a member of a group of actors whose leader was a bit of a cult leader, and who - for better and worse - made us feel we were all special members of a very special and esoteric thing, this theater company, this group joined together for good, a group that shared and cared and supported each other - all the while the leader was playing mind games with us and sleeping with the actresses who fell for him.
I have written about this before, but it strikes me here that those who are most open to the message of the gospel are also those most open to abuse by cults. It takes a kind of misfit to want to follow Christ fully; those who are content and satisfied in the world show less desire for that. Victims of abuse, children of severely dysfunctional families, addicts and others are prime targets for a man who peers into their souls and tells them he can take them to paradise. But they are also the kind who are most open to Christ, for they know most intimately how badly they need Him and how much they long for Him.
And even if we stop shy of joining a cult, we still sin in giving this very devotion to things of the world and not to the One Who made the world and Who redeems it.
And if we are to live out the desire for devotion implanted in us all, the choice is not Christ or nothing. The choice is Christ or Manson.