Exotic People, Exotic Religions

You like to see their faces, but do you know what's in their heads?

by Tompaul Wheeler


Lights, camera, transaction

Tom Cruise claims that Scientology has given him tools for living and "a larger comprehension of the world that we live in and of the spiritual being that I am."

Invented by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, Scientology has targeted celebrities since its early years, establishing numerous Celebrity Centers around the world. "Celebrity Center is truly an oasis in [Hollywood] for every artist on any level in their career," John Travolta told the Scientology magazine Celebrity. "This is an ultra-safe environment. It is the safest place in town for me. This is a place where I know I have friends I can trust."

Can you clear me now?

Scientology promises to "clear" people of unhappiness, beginning with a free personality test that inevitably reveals the need for further assistance-at ever steeper prices. It promises self-fulfillment and success through unique spiritual practices and counseling, and it charges tens of thousands of dollars for the complete program. Scientologists use an "e-meter"-a simplified lie detector-to measure emotional trauma, claiming they can cure unhappiness as well as physical defects such as blindness.

In the 1960s Hubbard added a new-and yet more expensive-wrinkle to Scientology's services. It seems that 75 million years ago an evil alien ruler banished billions of aliens to Earth, and today we're possessed by their spirits, also known as "thetans." In order to reach the highest level of "clear," those thetans must be banished. It'll cost you only a few grand a thetan.

Celebrity members give Scientology legitimacy and publicity, despite its small numbers. Calling itself a religion has helped protect it from charges of deception and fraud.

Here a God, there a God

Scientology says its philosophy is compatible with any religion, but it's really a mishmash of paganism and gnosticism. Its creation story has no supreme being, suggesting that we're all potential deities.

Scientology rehashes a lie and a temptation first told in the Garden of Eden-we're naturally immortal and can achieve godlike status and knowledge through our own efforts. It's an enchanting lure to someone who already feels on top of the world. "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil?" (Genesis 3:4, 5).

Kabbalah Garden-variety lies

The false promises of godhood and immortality echo through many religions, including that of the Kabbalah Centre, a worldwide organization attracting such celebrities as Madonna, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, and Britney Spears.

The Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah dates back to the thirteenth century, but the Centre's feel-good version barely resembles the original. Established in the 1960s by Rabbi Philip Berg, the Centre popularizes-and, its critics say, waters down-the principles of Kabbalism. What's left is superstition (including holy water and red bracelets to ward off evil) and self-flattering promises of enlightenment and knowledge.

In his book Becoming God, Rabbi Berg says we can "reassemble the puzzle of Creation." We do this by seeking "the light" (and, if you're Madonna, singing about it). Berg speaks of the "99 percent world" beyond our immediate senses, which we contact "during those rare moments of clarity, rapture, mystical insight, expanded consciousness, epiphany, or tuning in to pick the winning numbers in the lottery."

Thank you, drive through

Tired of waiting on God? Berg's brand is all about putting you in the driver's seat. His creator isn't a father and friend; he's a vending machine. Berg is all about positive and negative energy-and manipulating reality through focusing on various Hebrew letter combinations for your needs, from finding love to protection from harm. Britney Spears now has one of the "72 names of God" tattooed on her neck, a letter combination associated with "the power of healing."

The Bible introduces us to a God who watches out for us and says, "Before they call I will answer" (Isaiah 65:24). He longs to hear from us-not so we can try to push His buttons, but so we can trust Him to supply all our needs.


Lego my ego

Life is full of suffering, so deal with it-no matter how many lifetimes it takes. That's the message of Buddhism and one that actors Richard Gere and Orlando Bloom embrace wholeheartedly.

According to a USA Today article, Gere meditates daily to "break down the barriers of ego." The goal, Gere explains, "is to become happier. . . . It's about promoting a state. And it's not an action, it's a process. . . . We're all moving away from suffering and toward happiness. We just don't know how to do it, so we mess up every time."

Buddhism teaches that happiness isn't found in possessions or achievement but through letting go of self. Or, as actress Kate Bosworth muses, "If you, like, have everybody taking 10 minutes a day and really focusing on, like, positivity and a better world and a better self, imagine all that, just all that positivity going out there."

Fast karma

In Buddhism what goes around comes around. Like the Kabbalah Centre's idea of negative and positive energy, Buddhism teaches that we get what we deserve. And since we keep getting reincarnated, if you can't catch a break in this life, it's probably something you did back in the Bronze Age.

Though Jesus made clear that actions have consequences, He shattered His disciples' karmic ideas when they asked who sinned to cause a man's blindness from birth-the man or his parents? Jesus answered as He always did-with grace. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in His life?" (John 9:3).

And so God ever seeks to redeem us, whether we "deserve" it or not (and the truth is, we never do). While Buddhism promises nirvana if we just let go long enough, Jesus promises redemption if we just let God.


This is a test

Millions of Mormons, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, live in North America, including Gladys Knight, Donny Osmond, and actor Rick Schroeder. In the early 1800s New Englander Joseph Smith claimed to have found ancient golden tablets inscribed with the words of the ancient Book of Mormon. The book purported to reveal lost truths, including that Jesus visited North America after His resurrection and claimed to restore the gospel from corruption.

Like Scientology and the Kabbalah Centre, Mormonism promises its followers advanced knowledge. It begins with the idea that people originally existed as "pre-mortal spirit beings" before coming to earth, all sons and daughters of God just like Jesus. As Donny Osmond writes on his Web site, "Our Heavenly Parents want their children to have every opportunity to receive all the blessings and privileges they enjoy. For that to happen, it was necessary for us to obtain physical bodies of flesh and bone, to come to earth and be tested on our faithfulness and willingness to keep the commandments."

If we pass, we can move up the ladder to godliness-like Jesus did. In the words of former Latter-day Saints president Lorenzo Snow, "Mormons believe that as man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be."

In contrast to the Bible's gospel, which urges us to "come boldly unto the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4:16, KJV), Mormonism's scores of temples around the world are open only to members "in good standing" (deemed worthy by yearly review). Though the New Testament teaches that earthly temples are obsolete, Mormonism teaches that temples are necessary for sacred rituals and the sharing of secret knowledge. Their temples are dedicated to the doctrine of an immortal soul.

Mormonism echoes the serpent in Eden, who tempted and deceived Eve with promises of godliness and natural immortality. Mormonism mixes traditional Christianity-emphasizing strong families, moral values, and hard work-with elements of gnosticism, paganism, and legalism.

God saves those . . . who believe in Him
While self-help religions may seem like just the latest fad, they've always been around. Every false doctrine begins with the idea that we can somehow, in some way, "do it on our own." Jesus tells us to just trust in Him. Though sin has made us inherently evil and doomed us to eternal death, "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

That one beautiful text is enough to counter the claims of every false religion.

Tompaul Wheeler is a freelance writer who earned his Master of Divinity Degree from Andrews University.

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