Cults - or “new religious movements”, to use the politically correct term - have been a lifelong obsession for me. For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by what certain groups of people believe and just why they believe it, especially when the beliefs are so crazy that you can’t imagine anybody ever actually falling for them. Cults become even more entertaining when there are allegations of misconduct made against church higher-ups, turning them into a source of perpetually entertaining news. Yes, I love cults, but it is a love that is purely superficial. I am a spectator, a curious third party watching from the sidelines. I would never actually join one. However, the same cannot be said of certain celebrities.
Celebrities have been drawn to cults for as long as they have existed. Maybe it has something to do with the promise of continued success or the apparent guarantee of attaining a higher level of spiritual fulfillment that can be offered by more mainstream churches. Whatever the reason, celebrities love cults and cults love celebrities (or, more accurately, cults love the money of celebrities). In this article, we’re going to be looking at some famous faces who have signed up to and bunkered down with new religious movements.
Here are 15 celebrities who are in cults right now.
15 Serena Williams - Jehovah's Witness
Serena Williams is arguably the finest tennis player the world has ever seen. Along with her sister Venus, Serena has turned tennis into a mainstream sport in the United States and has become an equally mainstream celebrity in the process. She has appeared on dozens of talk shows, including Ellen and The Late Show with David Letterman, to discuss her life and career, but has frequently avoided any talk of her religious beliefs. This means many are unaware that both Williams sisters are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Today, the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion is viewed as one of the world’s tamer new religious movements, but it remains very much a cult. Church officials have drawn criticism for deliberately mistranslating passages of the Bible in order to suit their own agendas and have been accused of the mishandling of sexual assault cases within the community of believers. Former Jehovah’s Witnesses have claimed that the religion actively discourages independent thinking and brands those who leave the church as “mentally diseased”.
14 Paul Reubens - Church Of The SubGenius
Paul Reubens has had a tough couple of years. His various legal troubles are another story for another article, so suffice to say here that they very nearly ended his career and, for a little while there, it looked like Pee Wee Herman would never be seen again. It was during this turbulent period of his career that Reubens found comfort in the teachings of the Church of the SubGenius, which is, ironically, a parody religion.
The Church of the SubGenius was founded by Ivan Stang and Philo Drummond in the latter half of the 20th century with the intention to satirize the mainstream religious institutions of the time. However, the church quickly took on a life of its own and drew in hundreds upon thousands of followers through its criticism of society. Unlike other parody religions such as the Pastafarian movement, the Church of the SubGenius has a set system of beliefs and teaches the existence of a number of deities, the most powerful of which is referred to by believers as “Jehovah 1”.
13 Madonna - Kabbalah
The actual teachings of Kabbalah vary depending on who you ask and the religion itself is pretty hard to pin down, but it is commonly described as an “ancient Jewish mystical interpretation of the Bible”. So yeah, that’s a pretty vague definition, which is perhaps why so many celebrities have been drawn to the religion and the Kabbalah Centre of Los Angeles.
Perhaps the most famous follower of the Kabbalah tradition is pop singer and general attention seeker Madonna, whose dedication to the religion is such that she tries to avoid performing on Friday evenings, the onset of the Shabbat. Although there were rumors that Madonna left the church in 2006 following the alleged mishandling of donations, she was photographed attending a prayer session at the Kabbalah Centre International in 2016.
12 Angus T. Jones - The Seventh-Day Adventist Church
Angus T. Jones started out his career as a child actor and achieved wild success in 2003 when he was cast as Jake Harper in the sitcom Two and a Half Men. Child stars are notorious for crumbling under the pressure of their early fame, but, for a little while, it looked like Jones was going to be the exception to the rule. In 2012, however, Jones discovered the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a religion which equates diet and exercise with spiritual purity, and it was all downhill from there.
After being baptized by the church, Jones took to social media to bash Two and a Half Men. After describing the sitcom as “filth” and announcing that he no longer wanted to be involved with it, Jones urged the public to stop watching the series, which led to him being absent for the entirety of the show’s 11th season. Today, Jones keeps his film and television work to a minimum so as not to interfere with his religious studies.
11 James Van Der Beek - Kabbalah
Although Madonna is the most famous face associated with Kabbalah, there are plenty of other celebrities who adhere to the religion. Actor James Van Der Beek is one of them.
James Van Der Beek is perhaps best known for playing the role of Dawson Leery in the now semi-iconic television series Dawson’s Creek. He has also appeared in How I Met Your Mother, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, and Franklin & Bash. Van Der Beek has been open about his dedication to Kabbalah and has spoken at length about the religion and its teachings. In August of 2010, the actor married a business consultant by the name of Kimberly Brook at a Tel Aviv Kabbalah Centre. The couple has four children, whom they are raising in the religion.
10 Laura Prepon - Scientology
Laura Prepon’s career can be defined by two shows: That '70s Show and Orange is the New Black. Both shows were wildly successful and both shows brought Prepon an equally wild level of fame. Orange is the New Black turned her into a role model for confused teenage girls everywhere, which would have been a good thing had she not used her influence to tout the merits of the Church of Scientology.
Prepon first came out as a Scientologist in 2007 and has since credited the church and its auditing with helping her overcome the negative emotions which were affecting her ability to make decisions and take control of her life. In a 2015 interview with the Church of Scientology publication Celebrity Magazine (creatively named, I know), Prepon praised the religion, saying “Honestly, I’ve become more me.”
9 Andrew Keegan - Full Circle
Andrew Keegan achieved his greatest fame in his late teens and early 20s and is perhaps best known for his roles in Party of Five and 10 Things I Hate About You. These days, however, Keegan has abandoned his acting career in favor of heading Full Circle, which he has described as “a non-denominational spiritual community center where people of all beliefs and backgrounds come together to meditate, practice yoga, and engage artistically.” Others have more accurately described Full Circle as a cult.
In 2015, Keegan and church officials found themselves in hot water when the Full Circle temple was raided by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. ABC officers discovered significant quantities of the alcoholic beverage Kombucha, which the church admitted to distributing without necessary licensure.
8 Jaden Smith - The Orgonite Society
As the son of multi-award winning actor and comedian Will Smith, Jaden Smith has some pretty big shoes to fill. In an attempt to drag himself out of his father’s shadow and establish himself as an independent celebrity, the younger Smith has become involved in a series of wacky trends and fads, one of which led to him founding The Orgonite Society.
According to Smith, the goal of The Orgonite Society is “to distribute vibe-cleansing pyramids, hockey pucks, and rectangles”. Although the sect is likely little more than the work of a couple of teenagers going through an identity crisis, Smith apparently based a number of the faith’s teachings on the work of Bhagwan S. Rajneesh, a sage from India who encouraged group sex and instructed his followers to contaminate Oregon salad bars with salmonella, resulting in the biggest bio-terror attack in the history of the United States.
7 Tom Cruise - Scientology
Is there any celebrity more synonymous with Scientology than Tom Cruise? For a long time, the church relied on John Travolta to bring in media attention, but as soon as Cruise signed up Travolta was kicked to the curb and Cruise was deployed to television talk shows in order to spread the apparently good word of L. Ron Hubbard.
Cruise and church leader David Miscavige are known to be close friends and in 2004 Miscavige awarded the Mission: Impossible star the Scientology Freedom Medal of Valor in recognition of his contributions to the faith. When speaking of her 2012 divorce from the actor, Cruise’s ex-wife Katie Holmes cited his fanatical dedication to Scientology as the reason for their split. In the months following the divorce, Holmes claimed that she had reason to believe Cruise and the church were planning to abduct her daughter, Suri, and re-indoctrinate her into Scientology.
6 Val Kilmer - Christian Science
Val Kilmer’s film career spans across three decades and is likely to go on for a couple more before the screen legend is finished. In his time in front of the camera, Kilmer has appeared in such classics as Top Gun, Batman Forever, and The Prince of Egypt. He also played the role of Jim Morrison in the 1991 biopic The Doors.
Kilmer was raised as a Christian Scientist and is still active in the religion today. For those unfamiliar with Christian Science, the movement is most famous (or infamous) for its belief that sickness is merely an illusion and can be eradicated by prayer, with no need for medical intervention. It’s crazy, yes, but Val Kilmer, along with thousands of others across the United States, really believes it. In fact, Kilmer has claimed that his belief in God helped cure him of cancer (though I suspect he was taking some medicine on the sly).
5 Donny Osmond - The Mormon Church
Donny Osmond achieved his greatest fame alongside four of his older brothers in The Osmonds. After leaving the family band, Donny went on to enjoy a nice bit of solo success and was launched into teenage superstardom by songs such as Go Away Little Girl and Puppy Love. The vast majority of Osmond’s adult life has been spent trying to recapture the fame of his youth, with his most memorable role in recent years coming in the form of a cameo appearance in the music video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s hit White and Nerdy.
Osmond, along with his brothers and sisters, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arguably better known as the Mormon Church. The beliefs of Mormonism are unique and often confusing, with one borderline racist teaching claiming that those who misbehaved in past lives were cursed by God to be born with black skin in this world. Osmond has stated that his major regret is not having devoted himself more to the church in his younger years, saying “It would have been nice to be able to have served a regular full-time mission.”
4 Kirstie Alley - Scientology
Scientology is the celebrity religion. Founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1954, the religion teaches that human beings are essentially prisoners on the planet Earth who have been doomed to a cycle of birth and rebirth by intergalactic dictator Xenu. According to Hubbard’s teachings, Scientology is the only way through which a person can save themselves from endless reincarnation, though little evidence is available to support his claims (despite the fact the religion claims to be based on science).
Among the many celebrity adherents of Scientology is former Cheers actress Kirstie Alley. Alley has been steadfast in her dedication to the church and regularly appears on television shows to defend its teachings and the behavior of current church leader David Miscavige. Alley has even sacrificed friendships for the sake of the cult and in 2013 described her former best friend and ex-Scientologist Leah Remini as a “bigot” and her “enemy”.
3 Brian McKnight - The Seventh-Day Adventist Church
Brian McKnight has the dubious distinction of having the third most Grammy nominations without winning a single win. Despite his lack of Grammy success, McKnight is generally recognized as one of the finest minds in R&B today. A multi-instrumentalist, he is a master of guitar, piano, bass, trombone, and even the flugelhorn.
McKnight is a fifth-generation Seventh-day Adventist and credits the church with giving him both the confidence and the platform to pursue music at a young age. According to the singer, he was encouraged by church elders to form a gospel quartet with some of his friends, which brought him a degree of recognition and admiration within his community. McKnight would go on to pursue a career in gospel music before being introduced to jazz by his older brothers.
2 Beck - Scientology
Although mainstream success has constantly eluded him, Beck is recognized by many as one of the finest musicians in the world today. In 2015, he stunned the music industry when he beat out favorite Beyoncé to win the Grammy for Album of the Year for his ninth album Morning Phase.
You’d think that a guy as remarkably intelligent as Beck, a multi-instrumentalist and gifted singer-songwriter, would know better than to get caught up in the teachings of a new religious movement. Unfortunately, the Los Angeles native is yet another celebrity devotee of Scientology and has been involved with the church for most of his life. Discussing the Church of Scientology in 2005, Beck excitedly proclaimed “It’s unbelievable the stuff they are doing.” Yes Beck, it certainly is unbelievable.
1 George Benson - Jehovah's Witness
Pittsburgh native George Benson may not be particularly well-known in the mainstream music world, but those who really know their stuff generally acknowledge him as one of the most gifted guitar players alive today. As well as being at the absolute top of his profession, Benson is reportedly a high-roller in his religion. A documented Jehovah’s Witness, Benson is said to be a church elder, although it is difficult to find any proof of that as the church keeps its records private.
Benson began playing the guitar and ukulele at a young age and was quickly deemed to be a prodigy. This is noteworthy as it puts him in the same box as another former child prodigy and Jehovah’s Witness. The late Michael Jackson, who rose to fame as a member of The Jackson 5, shared Benson’s faith and love of music, though he eventually left the religion and flirted with Catholicism and Islam before his death in 2009.