False prophets, easy profits

January 08 2003

Increasingly in our times, traditional religions are being outflanked by a proliferation of new religious movements, which for some years have been winning over many members of our society, above all the most impressionable and those least educated in religious matters. Surprisingly, there are many famous people among these, including the young actress Liv Tyler, launched by Bernardo Bertolucci in the film Stealing Beauty, who has been enchanted by the religious sect ‘the Children of God’. This cult, born in California in the hippy period of 1968, counts among its adherents all the family members of Tyler’s current boyfriend, Joaquin Phoenix, brother of the famous actor River Phoenix who died from a drug overdose two years ago. Some years back, this sect was under investigation for tax evasion, abuse of minors and encouraging prostitution. The sect now calls itself ‘the family’, and has reportedly renounced its more controversial practises. Joaquin would like to return to the fold with his girlfriend Liv. And yet the words of the cult’s founder, Moses David Berg, who died in 1994, still have a sinister ring: ‘People have a terrible need for sex,’ he said to his followers. ‘Satisfy them to show that you are truly capable of love.’ Many of his ex-followers filed complaints against him because he forced new female members of the sect to become slaves to the sexual appetites of the male ‘disciples’.

Thousands, perhaps even millions of people, thirsting for spirituality and other noble values which have been devoured by modern civilisation, end up as easy prey for the unscrupulous. The guru of the month becomes their only hope of salvation, a shining light in a world shrouded in darkness. At the end of the millennium, the world is thronging with new religions: from movements based on the Bible and Christianity, like the Mormons, Jehovah’s witnesses and the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon to cults descended from ancient oriental religions like the Hare Krishnas, to New Age communities and clandestine groups which practise Satanism and Black Magic.

These new cults have managed to involve millions of disciples - normal people but also many famous ones who are weak-willed or bored with fame.

Scientology holds the secret to the universe, affirms John Travolta, referring to the ‘religious’ philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard, an ex-writer of science fiction who died of cancer in 1986. Many famous names have gone in for Hubbard’s ‘purification programmes’; Tom Cruise, Lisa Marie Presley, Karen Black, Ann Archer, to name but a few. Even Paul Newman and Mohammed Ali undertook the ‘psychic-mental cures’ of Dianetics, although both denied ever joining the movement. The Church of Scientology guarantees privacy and luxury therapy in a villa which is like something out of The Arabian Nights. Naturally, all these famous names are then asked to dedicate their lives to promoting the ‘cause’. This type of exploitation takes in people from all walks of life, until they discover that the ‘guru’ is just a vampire who sucks the life from their soul and the money from their wallet.

In the witness box, Marie Thérèse Massard broke down in tears. Every time, they managed to make me hand over a cheque. I didn’t protest because I was scared. She is suing 23 members of the Church of Scientology in a case still in progress (at the time of writing - Ed) in Lyon, France. They had promised to free her mind from ‘negativity’, but instead, they manipulated her psyche, fed her massive doses of vitamins and fleeced her of a million francs.

All these phenomena and all the anxiety which exists betray the fact that the human heart has always had an incredible need for Truth, and for Love. Truth and Love constitute the nucleus of Christ’s message, a message which was communicated to humanity almost two thousand years ago. Why, then, do so many people search to satisfy their needs elsewhere, far from the path which Christ Himself revealed to us? Perhaps it is because they cannot find a believable witness of Christ’s truth, a person like them, but one who is able to give living witness to the light of the Truth, and the colour of Love. Here, brothers and sisters, all of us have to take some share of the blame. The ball is in our court.

Updated on October 06 2016