When the word cult is mentioned, often the image that comes to mind is that of a group of people dressed in dark clothes surrounding a pentagram. We think of the charismatic leaders like Charles Manson and David Koresh, and we tell people not to drink the punch. Cults aren’t necessarily insidious groups, preaching murder, sex and suicide, but many of them have rightfully earned such reputations. In actuality, defining what a cult is can be difficult. Is it a small religious group? What defines small? A few million out of the 7 billion people on Earth? Sometimes what we think is a cult, might not necessarily be a cult.
What gives cults a negative connotation are that they are drastically different from what most people consider acceptable behavior. They challenge commonly held beliefs, and counter social norms. They are often led by charismatic leaders, and, perhaps what makes the reputation of new religious movements so much worse, often those leaders have ulterior motives. They build a movement, not because of actual belief, but out of a desire for power, money or even sex.
These groups aren’t just for the marginalized, or wayward youth. One way cults accomplish their goals, are by recruiting popular celebrities, bringing attention to their movement, and, in a way, giving themselves a sense of legitimacy. We may hope that the rich and famous may have the strength, or the agents, to fight off these groups, but these five new religious movements have managed to break through to a few celebrities.
5. Breatharianism – Michelle Pfeiffer
Plants live on light, and we eat plants to get the energy produced from this light. Why not cut out the middleman, leave the plants alone, and just eat light directly. Don’t think it’s possible? Don’t let the Breatharians hear you say that. Breatharians believe that a person can reach a meditative state in which they can live off prana, the Hindu idea of a life force.
Breatharians don’t actually practice their new age religion fully, otherwise they would all be dead. One of the most popular Breatharian gurus is Jasmuheen, who claims she can go for months without anything to eat or drink. A 60 Minutes special followed her for a week as a challenge, but a doctor stepped in when her health began to deteriorate. The food in her house is only for her husband and daughter, right? Another Breatharian leader is Wiley Brooks, who believes that we all come from a place called 5d Earth. Brooks doesn’t preach living off only air, but instead recommends a diet solely of Diet Coke, what he refers to as liquid light, and the McDonald’s’ Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese Meal, no this is not a joke.
Who would follow such a belief? None other than a younger Michelle Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer revealed during an in interview with, The Telegraph, that she found herself unknowingly involved in a Breatharian cult during the early years of her acting career. She was seeing a couple that was preaching a Breatharian diet, and pushing her continuously to spend more time with them. After disagreeing with the lifestyle she left and now lives as close to Breatharian as possible, as a Vegan.
4. Moral Re-Armament – Glenn Close
Launched back in 1939, Moral Re-Armament was started by Frank Buchman as a response to the atmosphere of militarization in the world. Buchman felt there was a spiritual void needed to be filled. Claiming to be led by God directly, Buchman began the creation of his Christian-based movement. Moral Re-Armament wanted to see a world at peace, a changed world under the dictatorship of God. They taught that there are four absolutes that people must accept: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love. It spread its teachings through the radio, plays, and starting up its own entertainment troupe, Up with People.
On a face value, Moral Re-Armament looks like a small Christian movement that preaches love, and peace. However, one person that knows firsthand what Moral Re-Armament is like from the inside, does indeed believe that the group is a cult. Actress Glenn Close‘s parents were members of the group, and Close was raised within it. In an article in New York Magazine, Close described growing up in Moral Re-Armament as what we would view a cult. Moral Re-armament dictated exactly how it’s members behave and what they believe, repressing their own individuality and instincts. Close has also noted that the group now goes by the name Initiatives of Change.
3. The Kabbalah Centre – Madonna, Roseanne Barr, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie and more
Kabbalah is nothing new, nor is the practice of it necessarily cult-related. Kabbalah is an ancient form of mysticism found within Judaism. However, Kabbalah is not meant for everybody. Not even every Jew is meant to practice Kabbalah, as it is taught that a person may not study the texts of Kabbalah until they have reached the age of forty, and has had at least one son and one daughter. This rule isn’t strictly held, but it is meant to put in a barrier against studying Kabbalah until one has gained knowledge about Judaism and the world in general first.
Philip Berg decided that he didn’t agree with this idea, and decided to popularize Kabbalah through the Kabbalah Centre. The Kabbalah Centre teaches anyone and everyone Kabbalah. Berg and the people working at the Kabbalah Centre have turned themselves into their own offshoot of Judaism, that has many Jewish leaders annoyed.
In truth, the Kabbalah Centre is a crafty business scheme, selling “religious” items to the rich and famous. Red strings meant to ward a person from evil are sold for $26, while a variety of other products are sold on their website.
The Kabbalah Centre has attracted a lot of big names. Madonna may be the first to blame for shining light on the Kabbalah Centre, sporting her red bracelets and even handing out tickets to visit the Kabbalah Centre at her concerts. Supporters of the Kabbalah Centre are easy to spot with their red strings, or through paparazzi catching them walking into one of its buildings. Some other big names associated with the Kabbalah Centre include Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Roseanne Barr, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Mick Jagger, Lucy Liu, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie.
2. Children of God – Joaquin Phoenix and Rose McGowan
David Brandt Berg came from a line of disillusioned evangelists who went off to do their own thing. His mother believed she had visions from God that spoke of the coming apocalypse. In the late 60s’ Berg, inspired by his mother’s prophecies, and his own decided to spread the Christian faith to the rebellious hippie generation. Unlike other evangelists, Berg didn’t want to lead them away from their hippie lifestyles, instead incorporating it into Christianity. The movement he started grew into a worldwide apocalyptic cult, preaching a fundamentalist view of Christianity.
While they believed fully in Christianity, and the coming end of the world, they also had extremely flexible views on sexuality, and spoke to ghosts. The Children of God members have been accused sexual abuse. It is believed that it was common for adults to sexually abuse children, and the cult has been raided and its members charged with child abuse several times over the years, though many cases have been dismissed.
While major stars didn’t join the group, quite a few celebrities happen to be those children who were raised within its Christian hippie communes.
In an article for the UK news site The Daily Mail Rose McGowan revealed that her father was a leader of the Italian chapter of the Children of God, and she grew up deeply entrenched in it. She has stated that she managed to get through the experience without being sexually abused, and her parents eventually left the cult when they became aware of the child abuse occurring within it. Singer Christopher Owens also spoke out about growing up up in the cult to The Guardian newspaper, describing the experience as being horrifying. He left when he was 16, and went through a lot of difficulties adjusting because of the experience.
Also, both of the Phoenix brothers, River and Joaquin grew up as members of the Children of God, moving from commune to commune with their parents. Eventually the Phoenix parents left the cult to become non-cult Christian missionaries. The Phoenix brothers seemed to suffer from their experience, with River dying of an overdose in 1993.
1. Church of Scientology – Kirstie Alley, Leah Rhemini, John Travolta, Tom Cruise and more
A science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, began preaching his own form of spirituality based on Freudian psychology, and people that practice this spirituality find that doing so reveals divine truths about the origin of humanity. These truths actually come from one of L. Ron’s own science fiction books. L. Ron’s followers believe that humans are actually made from the souls of aliens who were brought to Earth.
To understand the story of Scientology, try watching John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, a movie that was funded by the Church of Scientology. That’s right, Travolta happens to be a Scientologist. He has been a member of the church since 1975.
One of L. Ron’s ideas was that the dissemination of Scientology relied upon the recruitment of celebrities. He began recruiting celebrities early on with Scientology Celebrity Centers to attract them. Travolta happens to be one of the most outspoken Scientology supporters, but the one that everyone has been paying attention to is Tom Cruise. Cruise is militant with his beliefs, leading him to a controversial appearances such as The Today Show when he made very opinionated comments about psychiatry and medication.
Cruise has even admitted during a court deposition that Scientology was part of the reason his marriage to Katie Holmes failed. Other celebrities in the Church of Scientology include Kirstie Alley, Jason Lee and Leah Remini who recently left.