Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bad Dates

Is now available from all good bookshops and amazon.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Berate your boss...

...Get even with your co-workers, promote your oppressed underlings and spill the beans on anyone and everything that's going wrong in your office.



read more | digg story

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

For Rael

Raëlism


Taken from The Joy Of Sects

Founded: 1973
Country of origin: France
Gods and guiding voices: Raël, the Elohim
Membership: 55,000 claimed worldwide
Texts: Claude Vorilhon: The Message Given To Me By Extraterrestrials; Claude Vorilhon: Sensual Meditation: Awakening The Mind By Awakening The Body; Claude Vorilhon: Space Aliens Took Me To Their Planet; Claude Vorilhon: Yes To Human Cloning: Eternal Human Life Thanks To Science; Claude Vorilhon: Let’s Welcome Our Fathers From Outer Space: They Created Humanity In Their Laboratories
Basic beliefs: Humanity was created 25,000 years ago, cloned by alien scientists called the Elohim. We need to set up an embassy for the Elohim so they can come back to Earth. Meanwhile, let’s have some sexy massages.


The advocates of Raëlism are either scientific geniuses or promotional masterminds – and as their prophet and founder Raël has pointed out, they win both ways. In late December 2002 they gained front-page headlines throughout the world when they claimed that researchers in their company Clonaid had created the world’s first human clone. This was a baby girl called Eve, whom Clonaid claimed was genetically identical to one of its parents. She was born by Caesarean section on the night after Christmas.

Top scientists quickly derided the claim as a technological impossibility. Clonaid initially promised to allow them to carry out independent tests, but then withdrew the offer, saying that they were concerned about the welfare of Eve and her ‘parents’ and wanted to protect themselves from prosecution (human cloning is illegal in most countries). The world’s press began to dismiss the whole thing as a hoax – but not before Raël and his movement had received millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity and ensured human cloning remained where they wanted it on the political agenda – right at the top.

Cloning is a subject dear to Raël’s heart. He not only teaches that the process will form the key to human immortality (when technology is advanced far enough to transfer the memory and personality of a person into their genetically identical double) but also that it was the way in which humanity was created in the first place. We were, he says, cooked up 25,000 years ago as part of a scientific experiment in the laboratories of a race of benevolent space aliens called the Elohim.

Raël first came across the Elohim in 1973 when he still went by the name of Claude Vorilhon and worked as a motoring journalist. According to his book The Message Given To Me By Extraterrestrials, Vorilhon was walking in a volcanic mountain range in his native France when he came across a flying object the size of a small bus sporting a cone with a flashing red light on top and hovering several metres above the ground. A four-foot-tall extraterrestrial in a green, one-piece suit, and with almond-shaped eyes, long, black hair, a black beard and slightly greenish skin, stepped out of this spacecraft and told Vorilhon that he had been selected to spread a message of love, peace and fraternity to all humanity. Vorilhon spent the next few days with the little man – who was called Yahweh, just like the creator of humanity in the Bible – and learned all about the history of the Elohim. He also began to understand his own mission to help set up an embassy for these aliens so that they can eventually make their official reappearance on Earth and give us their wisdom and technology.

A couple of years later, when Vorilhon had taken on the name Raël and was already telling the world of his experiences, the Elohim whisked him away for a holiday on their home planet. There, the Elohim piped knowledge directly into his brain and he met several of Earth’s other leading prophets, including Jesus, Buddha, Joseph Smith (see The Latter-day Saints) and Mohammed. Jesus, said Raël, is a very beautiful man – and very thin.

Later, a robot showed Raël to his room and asked him if he wanted a female companion. Raël, who has something of a reputation as a ladies’ man, said Oui. He was then presented with a beautiful, brunette, biological sex robot. Then a blonde appeared. Then a redhead. Then a ‘magnificent’ black woman. Then a ‘very fine’ Chinese lady and then another voluptuous Asian. Raël just couldn’t decide which of the ‘girls’ to test drive. Luckily, the robot said he could take all six and he shared an ‘unforgettable’ bath with them.

There’s good news for humanity, as Raël says that soon we will all be serviced by these endlessly compliant nanobots. He acknowledges that ‘feminists’ might not like the idea – but then he points out that nobody has any problem about using washing machines or a dishwasher, so why should it be different with sex robots? What’s more, he says, all this android action will remove the curse of jealousy from human relations forever.

Even before the robots came along, Raël had plenty of ways of keeping his followers happy. He’s a firm believer in freedom within consensual adult relationships, and many adherents have been attracted to his Sensual Meditation seminars where he teaches them how to awaken the potential of their bodies for pleasure and love, how to get in touch with their erogenous zones, and how to inspect their bottoms using a mirror.

Until Clonaid was set up in the late 1990s, it was these erotic aspects of Raël’s movement that caused the most controversy. Critics claimed that lonely men were attracted to the group in the hope of getting some orgy action. Raël meanwhile (or ‘His Holiness’ as he preferred to be called), in contradiction to his liberationist philosophy, was said to have told many of his most attractive female followers that they must preserve their sexual favours for the unique enjoyment of the prophets. Of course, this would have redounded to Raël’s advantage, as there’s only one prophet around at the moment – him.

In spite of these criticisms, the group has so far been mercifully free of any of the accusations of paedophilia and physical or mental abuse that plague other similar groups. Anti-cult activists have now focused their attention on the apparent scam relating to human cloning. The Raëlists, for their part, claim to have produced another twelve cloned babies since Eve and say that thanks to all the publicity they’ve been getting, their membership has risen to around the 65,000 mark and their beliefs have spread to more than 80 countries. Because of the secrecy that now surrounds their cloning operations, these assertions are no more – or less – verifiable than Raël’s declarations about his frequent contacts with the Elohim.


Holy Smoke!

EMINEMT

Eminem was made an honorary priest of the Raëlian movement after the release of his anti-George W Bush video ‘Mosh’. The prophet Raël declared that the video was ‘wonderful’ and a great example of the kind of freedom of speech that Bush is threatening with his ‘Patriot Acts’ and anti-terrorist legislation.

Unusually, the eloquent potty-mouthed rapper had nothing to say about the receipt of this honorary title.


Taken from The Joy Of Sects

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

06.06.06 - A Date with The Devil

Published in The Scotsman

A date with the DEVIL

SAM JORDISON

IN CASE you haven't noticed, today is 6 June, 2006. Or, put another way, 06.06.06. Or, put another way again, 666, or the mark of the Beast, the Devil's home address and a sure sign of eternal torment for all of us.

In short, it's a pretty unusual, once-in-a-century event. Although, of course, if you haven't noticed it's 06.06.06, that already suggests that the date is far less important than some evangelical Christians have been hoping.


Indeed, if you're still reading this article, you've already proved quite a few people wrong. Because, according to the conspiracy theorists, we should already have been visited by some quite nasty plagues by now. What's more, all copies of The Scotsman should have been consumed by fire, thanks to the giant comet that's due to strike the Earth. And, just supposing that the paper did survive all that, your attention would have been grabbed by the blinding sight of the Lamb of God transporting 144,000 Christian virgins up to heaven - leaving the rest of us to tidy up the mess.

The number 666 has taken on such cosmic significance because of a bizarre verse in the Bible's psychedelic Book of Revelation: "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred three score and six."

No-one has been able to give a straight answer about the precise meaning of these words since they were first transcribed in the fourth century AD. Their significance is anyone's guess.

The current batch of fevered speculators are just the latest in a long history of people convinced that the Beast is about to show up any minute and bring on the Rapture (the technical term for all that nasty stuff with the wailing and gnashing of teeth).

Admittedly, those that think today will mark the beginning of the end are the extremists. But they aren't the only ones that have been worrying. Over in Norway, for instance, a religious organisation has warned its members to remove all combustibles from their churches, test fire alarms and lock their doors. They're worried the local Satan-worshipping heavy metal fraternity will view the devil's day as an especially good one to burn down places of worship.

Reports are coming in from around the world of expectant mothers going to great lengths not to have their babies on 6 June. "I refuse to give birth on that date," Texan Bethany Morian told the Seattle Times. "I'll cross my legs and watch the clock."

Others are even asking doctors to induce the birth of their child early, or delay their Caesarean sections. As mother-to-be Yvonne Colon-Stewart told her local paper in Florida: "I think it's only natural that parents wouldn't want their baby born on the day that's marked for the Devil."

In fact, Colon-Stewart could consider she's got off lightly if her baby were merely "marked". According to advocates of the worst-case scenario, mothers going into labour today could find themselves giving birth to the Antichrist himself: a particularly unappealing prospect, as anyone who's seen Rosemary's Baby will tell you. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the wacky action is taking place in the US, but even UK mothers have been getting worried about today's date. The website of Mother & Baby has seen some animated discussion from nervous pregnant women, several of whom say they've already asked a doctor to bring on their baby early. Closer to home, however, women aren't quite so superstitious. When asked if there had been any reports of requests for induced births or delayed Caesareans, a spokesman for the Greater Glasgow NHS board said: "Certainly not in Glasgow."

In this secular age, it's a good bet that those fearless Glaswegians are in a majority. Certainly, for every Christian worrying about doom and devilry on 06.06.06, there are plenty of marketing executives rubbing their hands in glee. Chief among these are the brains behind the multi-million-dollar advertising campaign for The Omen 666, a remake of the 1976 film due to be released today (instead of the more usual Friday). Judging by the early reviews, however, going to see this film could be the biggest genuine disaster that happens to you today.

Elsewhere, death metal group Deicide, whose lead singer claims to be a satanist, are releasing two songs on iTunes from their upcoming album, The Stench of Redemption. Not to be outdone, the Church of Satan itself has organised a satanic high mass at a theatre in Los Angeles, tickets for which quickly sold out.

Publicists on the other side of the religious divide are getting in on the act, too. The publishers of the phenomenally popular Left Behind books have chosen today to release the latest instalment. This series about the Second Coming, written by right-wing evangelical Christians in the US, has already notched up more than 60 million sales there (and is predicted to hit the UK market in a big way soon). The latest book, called The Rapture, promises to do the business yet again, helped along by all the 6 June publicity. It will cost $6.66.

America's infamous right-wing commentator Ann Coulter is also publishing a book today. She's the woman who once appeared on the cover of Time magazine, under the headline "Ms Right", and who called for the forcible conversion of all Muslims to Christianity. Her most famous comment about the environment is: "God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'" She's also a canny selfpublicist: 06.06.06 is the ideal date to release a volume she's entitled Godless. Of course, her publishers insist that it's just a coincidence. By contrast, fans of the heavy metal band Slayer are going all-out to make the date memorable, having organised The National Day of Slayer. "Why should the Republican Party have all the fun with their National Day of Prayer?" they ask on their website, www.nationaldayofslayer.org. The homepage also encourages followers of the band to stage a 'Slay out', which involves bunking off work during the day to listen to their favourite band at full volume and then holding a huge party in the evening.

The group themselves are releasing a five-track EP called Eternal Pyre today. Interesting to note, however, is the fact that Slayer had originally intended to put out a full album and launch their world tour, the Unholy Alliance, Preaching to the Perverted tour. Sadly, those plans had to be put on hold because a group member has had to go into hospital for gallbladder surgery. Such karmic bad luck could lead you to suspect that there might be something to this 666 business after all.

The fear of 666 is certainly serious enough for someone to have coined a very impressive sounding name for it: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.

What's more, some of the biggest corporations in the world have succumbed. The most famous legend is that when the microchip giant Intel introduced the 666Mhz processor in 1999, they called it the Pentium III 667 rather than risk association with the Devil's number. The US highways agency also removed all signs for Route 666 in 2003 and changed them to the far less interesting 491. In 1999 the Moscow bus 666 was changed to 616 and, when South Korea first sent troops to Iraq, they added seven to the original contingent so 673 men went to help George Bush's crusade instead of 666.

In a lovely ironic twist, even Ronald Reagan, former president of the US, asked local officials to change his house number from 666 to 668 when he moved to an address in Los Angeles in 1999. Ironic because, until he passed away the former president was thought to be one of the leading candidates for bearing the mark of the beast.

To see why, count how many letters there are in each of his names: Ronald Wilson Reagan. And look at what he did to Nicaragua. The White House's current incumbent has also become a prime suspect for the suspicious: he's George Walker Bush-Jr. See what they did there?

Crazy as those theories sound, however, they have nothing on the idea that it's the internet we should all be afraid of. Counting alphabetically, the Hebrew number equivalent for 'w' is 6, and "www" is, of course, the preface for almost every web address. Geddit?

In turn, those afraid of the worldwide web are nothing like as mad as the people convinced that the number 666 is hidden in every barcode because the binary equivalents of three long double lines you can see at the beginning, middle and end of every code are equal to 6-6-6. And they aren't a patch on their even more extreme cousins who believe that, pretty soon, we're all going to have said barcodes implanted into our skin so that the mark of the beast will be upon us - exactly according to the prophecy.

Funnily enough, even if you do want to take the Book of Revelation literally it's odds-on that 06.06.06 is a pretty meaningless date.

Professor Greg Snyder of Davidson College in the US, one of the leading experts in the study of the ancient practice of number mysticism (known as 'gematria'), says that the number 666 is most likely to refer to Nero Caesar (a Roman emperor who was particularly unpopular with early Christians, thanks to his habit of turning them into candles) because when that name is transliterated into Hebrew and the numerical equivalent of each letter is added up, the total comes to 666.

As Snyder points out, the prophecy therefore refers to events in AD 64/65, so we've now got nothing to worry about - especially since Nero died in AD 68. An even more compelling argument against the significance of 06.06.06 comes in the years 1906 all the way back to 106. Mankind has managed to successfully live through the 20 other 06.06.06s with pretty much nothing of any significance happening on any of them.

The Great Fire of London did put the fear up a few doom-mongers back in 1666, but even that great conflagration failed to spark the end of the world.

What's more even Todd Strandberg, the creator of the Rapture Index (a website which tracks hundreds of world events and biblical prophecies to try and gauge the likelihood of the Antichrist actually arriving) and one of the most Armageddon-hungry pundits out there, has stated 06.06.06 is nothing to worry about.

"On 7 June, we'll be laughing at this whole thing," he says. Let's hope so.

• Sam Jordison is the author of The Joy of Sects (Robson Books, £9.99).

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hare Krishna

Taken from The Joy Of Sects

The International Society of Krishna Consciousness, AKA Iskcon, AKA Hare Krishna

Founded: 1965
Country of origin: India
Gods and guiding voices: Hare Krishna
Famous associates past and present: George Harrison, Allen Ginsberg (briefly)
Texts: The Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, translated by His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada
Membership: 5,000 worldwide
Basic beliefs: By sincerely cultivating an authentic spiritual science, devotees are told they can become free from anxiety and achieve a state of pure, unending bliss. Each one of us is part of the all-powerful, all-attractive God Krishna. The most effective way for achieving God consciousness is to chant: Hare Krishna.


If nothing else His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada was a master of timing. Had he started a daily routine of ritual chanting in a New York park at any other time than the mid-1960s he would probably have been ignored as a harmless, if unusually ugly, eccentric. As it was, he quickly became a worldwide phenomenon.

Prabhupada was 69 when he first arrived in America. He’d already had a successful career working as a manager in a Calcutta chemical plant and raised a family (which he’d abandoned when his wife burned some of his holy books). In 1965 he became convinced it was his life’s task to spread Krishna Consciousness, a religion dating back to the sixteenth century when a Bengali saint, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, founded an ascetic monastic order based on repeatedly chanting the name of the god Krishna.

Prabhupada set off in a boat for the most spiritually dark place on Earth – America – carrying little more than a pair of kartal cymbals, a suitcase and eight dollars. His fortunes began to improve when a group of well-educated hippies spotted him chanting away in the Tomkins Park in New York’s Lower East Side and adopted him as their guru. Within a year he’d opened the first ISKCON centre, started publishing a magazine called Back To Godhead, was feted by countercultural icons like Allen Ginsberg, and had appeared at fashionable events in Haight Ashbury alongside acid Messiah Timothy Leary and the rock group the Fugs – writers of the song ‘Group Grope’. Over in England George Harrison helped produce a single called ‘Hare Krishna Mantra’, which reached number 12 in the UK charts, and when Prabhupada visited the country he was driven from Heathrow airport in John Lennon’s white Rolls-Royce.

Soon Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna monks were a common sight in the West’s larger cities; easy to spot with their flowing robes, beatific expressions and shaved heads (with just a small lock of hair left to grow at the back in case the god Krishna ever wants to grab it and carry them off to heaven). Their distinctive chanting was heard from Oxford Street to Montreal: ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare’ (O energy of the Lord, O all-attractive Lord, O Supreme Enjoyer, please engage me in your service). They touted books at international airports. Motorway bridges were adorned with the legend: ‘Say Gouranga – Be Happy’.

All those smiling faces and that exuberant dancing belie a strict lifestyle, however. Adherents are forbidden to eat meat, fish or eggs. There is no gambling, no sex other than for procreation within marriage and strictly no intoxication. All recreational drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee are prohibited. Members also wear a necklace with 108 beads, each representing the Hare Krishna mantra, which must be chanted in full. The complete set must be repeated a minimum of sixteen times a day (that’s 1,728 Hare Krishnas – about two hours’ solid chanting). Monks who live in the temples rarely manage more than six hours’ sleep on hard floors. Women (described by Prabhupada as ‘prone to degradation, of little intelligence and untrustworthy’) are subservient to men. Adherents are encouraged to relinquish close family ties.

Still, until Prabhupada’s death in 1977, the movement went from strength to strength. But soon after, it was engulfed in scandal. Eleven devotees were appointed to act as successors to the old guru, and put in charge of various international regions. Several of them proved to be wholly unsuitable. In West Virginia, for instance, Keith Ham was given a thirty-year jail sentence in 1987 for racketeering, mail fraud and conspiracy to commit murder after two bodies, partially dissolved in acid, were discovered in the creek near his commune. Handsadutta Swami, the man in charge of the northwest of the US and parts of Southeast Asia, hit the press after developing a taste for fast cars and hoarding weapons. The leader in London, James Immel, was dismissed from his post in 1986 amid accusations of drug abuse and sleeping with female disciples. His headless body was discovered not long afterwards in a shop called Knobs and Knockers on Regent’s Park Road. Next to it, the police discovered one of his former disciples, sitting with Immel’s severed head in his lap and muttering, ‘The beast is dead.’

More recently the organisers have tried to concentrate on ascetic saintliness and put the mistakes of what they call ‘the bad old days’ behind them. Fortunately, they’re nowadays far more likely to be seen spreading Krishna’s love by feeding homeless people, selling books (by the year 2000, they claimed to have sold more than 450 million) or banging tom-toms than to be caught stabbing each other (yes, that happened too).

Cult Hero

The God Krishna

Unlike the monks who so fervently chant his name, the Hindu God Krishna was not into self-denial. The Vedic legends portray him rather as a blue-skinned, four-armed flute-playing trickster. He hides the clothes of women bathing, he encourages married women to play around with him in the moonlight, he expands himself into 16,000 different forms so he can marry 16,000 princesses at once – and fathers ten children with each of them. One of his many incarnations also spends its whole time snoozing.



Words of wisdom:

‘The word “guru” means heavy.’

His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada

‘Philanthropists who build churches and hospitals are wasting their time.’

His Divine Grace AC Bhaktivedanata Swami Prabhupada


Taken from The Joy Of Sects

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Cosmic Ordering

From The Scotsman 8 April 2006

Everything you always wanted to know about sects

SAM JORDISON

NOEL Edmonds is finally getting what he wants. After years in the TV wilderness, following the undignified exit of Noel's House Party from BBC1, he's back with a vengeance. His new show, Deal Or No Deal, is a massive hit, he's been given a £3 million contract to move the format to Channel 4 and he's just been able to buy a £10 million dream house in Devon.

And, apparently, this run of success is all thanks to the cosmos.


Edmonds amazed viewers of Parkinson last Saturday night by revealing that he has become a devotee of Cosmic Ordering - a new faith based on a million-selling book by the female German author Barbel Mohr - and it's thanks to the messages he's been writing to the universe that all his wishes have been coming true.

"You'll think I'm away with the fairies," says TV's Mr Tidybeard.

That's certainly the conclusion I was rushing towards: he's mad. The alternative - that there's some sinister force at work in the universe that gives the man who brought us Mr Blobby exactly what he wants - is too horrible to contemplate.

Fortunately, it's easy to prove that Cosmic Ordering is a load of bunk. If every reader of this piece were to ask the cosmos politely for Edmonds to conduct the entire next series of Deal Or No Deal dressed in a Playboy bunny suit it still won't happen. Or if Scotland and England fans were to request that their team win the World Cup, one group is bound to be disappointed (and let's face it, they probably both are).

However, it's worth considering just how crazy Edmonds's theory really is. After all, the belief that mysterious and unaccountable forces will help any of us out if we just ask them nicely enough is one of the fundamentals of nearly all religions - and most people regard those as perfectly normal.

And is writing little notes about our hopes and dreams any worse than believing in homeopathy, for instance? Than thinking that traces of elements that have no known curative values will cure cancer? Or, for that matter, is it any less rational than deciding that wine can turn into blood, and if we mutter The Lord's Prayer every day we'll get to meet all our friends again in heaven and whoop it up together for eternity?

Indeed, in this secular age it almost makes more sense to opt for Cosmic Ordering instead of Christianity, which has been a busted flush ever since we discovered the world is round and wasn't created in seven days.

It's human nature to want to believe in something. It's far nicer than deciding we're just spinning round on a cold rock in the middle of space for no reason at all. And - let's face it - there are many far madder, badder and more dangerous faiths out there than Cosmic Ordering. There are all kinds of people I'd set the crazy-doctors on to before I turn them loose on Edmonds.

I'd advise strongly that they have a word with Tom Cruise about his belief in Scientology, the benefits of silent, sedative-free births and the misdeeds of an evil alien called Xenu.

I'd send them round to Madonna's to question her conviction that a piece of suspiciously expensive Kabballah string will improve her life. More urgently, I'd get them to cart off Ruth Kelly for claiming that her support for the Roman Catholic church's sub-sect Opus Dei isn't incompatible with her work as our Education Secretary...

In fact, that list could go on for pages and pages. Compared with most of the bizarre cults and New Age faiths out there at the moment, Noel's touching trust in the power of sending little letters to the cosmos seems positively benign and even rather sensible.

It's just a shame he didn't ask for better dress sense when he was writing them.

ARTHUR BLESSIT

Famous associates: George Bush

Basic beliefs: An evangelical Christian determined to fulfil a Biblical prophecy and take the cross to every land on Earth, Arthur Blessit, born in 1941, has been touring the world since 1969, dragging a 10ft-long cross behind him.

Blessit once hosted an all-night Christian nightclub in the centre of Hollywood's Sunset Strip, where he urged hippies, bikers and hookers to "drop a little Matthew, Mark, Luke and John" instead of their customary downers and LSD. At the end of the 1960s, however, Jesus proposed a new trip. He told Arthur to take the cross to all countries on Earth. By 2000, the intrepid evangelist had walked through 301 nations. He made no exception for even the tiniest: even the Vatican City and the Orkney islands have played host to the indefatigable fundamentalist.

In total, Blessit claims to have walked 36,500 miles and is planning to launch a two-inch fragment from his cross into space. He has also printed more than 20 million stickers bearing the legend "Smile, God Loves You" and intends to launch these into space too. And, yes, Blessit is his original name.

BREATHARIANISM

Founded: 1993

Membership: 5,000 claimed worldwide

Basic beliefs: Breatharians believe it is possible to live on light alone, that unpolluted air contains all the nutrients necessary to sustain life, and not eating food will actually increase longevity.

This spiritual diet's best-known advocate is Ellen Greve, below right, who took up Breatharianism after she was "told" to change her life by her spiritual mentor, St Germain, a Frenchman last seen living in the sixth century. In 1999 she claimed she'd spent the last six years living on nothing more than herbal tea and the odd chocolate biscuit.

However, when the Australian TV programme 60 Minutes challenged her to practise what she preached in front of its cameras, she quickly became ill. Within 48 hours she was showing signs of serious dehydration. After four days she had lost a stone and the experiment was cancelled. Breatharianism received more bad publicity when another prominent advocate was filmed tucking into a chicken pie.

The Breatharian diet has also been blamed for several deaths, including that of Verity Linn, who was found dead in a remote part of Sutherland after fasting.

CREFLO DOLLAR MINISTRIES

Founded: 1986

Membership: Dr Dollar's World Changers Church has a congregation of around 24,000.

Basic beliefs: A nondenominational Christian church teaching total life prosperity: spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and (especially) financial wellbeing.

Few preachers have had a more appropriate surname than Dr Creflo Dollar. He claims to be in touch with "the Biblical formula" on how to increase earnings. It's simple: if you give him a seed he will sow that seed and you will receive the bountiful harvest. Sceptical? Look no further than Dr Dollar; he's living proof that it works - for him.

He lives in a million-dollar home and drives a Rolls-Royce. "When I'm pursuing the Lord," he says, "those Rolls-Royces are pursuing me."

THE FINDHORN FOUNDATION

Founded: 1962

Membership: 14,000 visitors a year, home to several hundred

Famous associates: Ruby Wax, comedian Phil Kay, Waterboys singer Mike Scott

Basic beliefs: Members are part of a living laboratory where sacred works and spiritual beliefs are tested every day.

The Foundation won't adhere to any one religion. It also has a quantifiably beneficial effect on the local economy and ecology of its home on the Moray coast, bringing in millions of pounds a year and pioneering alternative energy usage. It feels a bit harsh to include them here.

Then again, Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean set the whole thing up because Eileen was instructed to do so by her "inner voice", and because Dorothy discovered a rare ability to hold conversations with vegetables - particularly cabbages.

Caddy and her husband settled in the sand dunes near Forres and established a settlement. It has expanded into a huge ecological housing complex and conference centre, as well as a nondenominational "spiritual community". It has a thriving mini-economy based on a printing press, education and organic box-delivery.

Although relatively benign, the Findhorn people are rather unusual, as you can tell by looking at the books on sale in their shop: Baby Om, Gay Spirit Warrior and Raising Psychic Children.

Prominent members have hugged trees and describe it as a "sexual" experience.

EXEGESIS

Founded: c.1980, now defunct

Famous associates: Carole Caplin, right, Mike "Tubular Bells" Oldfield

Basic beliefs: Money - good. Leaving therapy sessions before they're over - bad.

Exegesis ceased to exist in the mid-1980s after David Mellor, the Conservative Home Office minister at the time, described it in Parliament as "puerile, dangerous and profoundly wrong".

However, its influence was felt almost 20 years later when one of its most prominent former members, Carole Caplin, became embroiled in a scandal with Cherie Blair.

Exegesis specialised in alternative therapy, designed to "rebirth" participants by encouraging them to face up to their innermost fears and desires, tell the truth at all times and also tell fellow members what they hated about them. Organisers called it "raising the confront". The group dissolved amid the customary murky rumours of brainwashing and group sex, after which Caplin set up her own company and established herself as a "lifestyle guru".

In the 1990s she introduced Cherie Blair to the healing power of crystals, as a potential aid to swollen ankles among other things.

MATRIXISM

Founded: 2003

Basic beliefs: Reality is multi-layered and The One will come and bring world peace some time before 2199 - as predicted in the films. Yes, this is a religion based on a blockbuster film. Matrixism started as a spoof on the internet, but now claims to have 500 genuine followers.

They have four basic principles: belief in the prophecy of The One (that's Keanu Reeves in the film); acceptance of the use of psychedelics as sacrament (they favour mescaline); acceptance of the semi-subjective multi-layered nature of reality; and adherence to the principles of one or more of the world's religions until such time as The One returns.

Becoming a Matrixist is easy: just go to http://www.geocities.com/matrixism2069 and click on a link entitled "join".

This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/critique.cfm?id=539792006

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Osho

An extract from The Joy Of Sects

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Sannyasins AKA Osho

Founded: 1971
Country of origin: India
Gods and guiding voices: The Hindu pantheon, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
Basic beliefs: Bliss is a birthright. God is the universal consciousness and the enlightened Bhagwan himself is the beginning of a totally new religious consciousness. Man determines what conduct is permissible. Basically an amalgam of Western psychotherapeutic practices and Eastern religion.


Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had a simple commandment for his followers, the Sannyasins: ‘Enjoy!’ Unlike other more ascetic gurus to have emerged from India in the 1960s and 1970s, he demanded little from his followers in the way of renunciation – and lots in the way of carnal pleasure. ‘Wait not for Godot!’ he preached. ‘The more you risk, the more you grow.’ His was an intoxicating promise: enlightenment, bliss and lots and lots of sex.

The ashram he established in Poona in India in 1974 quickly became a New Age Mecca. It attracted thousands of young Western disciples sold on the charismatic teacher’s mercurial wit and unique brand of Eastern mysticism. Marked out by their happy expressions and orange clothes (dyed at the Bhagwan’s instigation, to reflect the colour of the sun) they quickly spread their guru’s teachings and popularised his unique forms of taboo-breaking therapies. In these sessions, known as dynamic meditation, pupils were encouraged to destroy their religious and social conditioning to find out who they really were. They wore blindfolds – or nothing at all – and explored their deepest selves by screaming, fighting and, inevitably, shagging. Broken limbs were common, as were broken relationships. The latter came thanks to the teachers’ propensity to encourage their students to watch their partners having sex with another person – so they could confront the emotions that this betrayal provoked.

In spite of, or maybe even because of, these extreme practices, the ‘Rajneeshees’ continued to expand in number. Soon they spread out across Europe, establishing themselves in stately homes like the one they named ‘Medina Rajneesh’ in Suffolk, where 400 of the Bhagwan’s followers established themselves in the early 1980s – seemingly in utopian contentment.

Sadly, there were a few signs that all was not well in paradise. One of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s more chilling suggestions was that prominent female followers should become sterilised so that they could better practise his teachings. Ugly rumours of child abuse and the destruction of family life slowly began to surface. The guru’s ever increasing wealth also began to attract the unwanted attention of the Indian tax authorities.

To escape from a whopping bill, Rajneesh packed up his 150,000-volume library and, claiming medical problems, entered the United States (along with twelve tons of luggage). It was there that things really fell apart. Shortly after he’d settled his followers in a 60,000-acre $6million ranch on semi-desert scrubland near the small town of Antelope in Oregon, Bhagwan Rajneesh took a vow of silence (or as, he put it, he determined on a course of ‘speaking through silence’.) The day-to-day running of the huge community fell to his follower, Ma Anand Sheela.

Sheela took to wearing robes and calling herself ‘queen’. Fences, complete with guard towers, went up around the compound and disciples armed with Uzis patrolled the Bhagwan’s residence. Many of the commune’s 15,000 members were forced to do twelve hours work a day for no pay. While they succeeded in clearing and planting 3,000 acres of land, building a 350-million-gallon reservoir, a 10-megawatt power substation and a functioning dairy farm, only Sheela and her coterie seemed to live in any comfort. The others had to endure unbearable hardships.

The most bizarre incidents occurred outside the ranch in the local town of Antelope. The huge numbers of Rajneeshees enabled them to force the results of the 1984 local elections and take over Antelope’s local council. They decided to rename the hitherto upright Oregon backwater Rajneeshpuram. When attempts were also made to rig local county elections by shipping thousands of homeless people onto the ranch, resistance to the Sannyasins grew stronger. Sheela responded by having her followers dump salmonella into the salad bars of several local restaurants. Antelope therefore gained the dubious distinction of being the site of the first successful bio-terrorism attack in US history.

Eventually, Bhagwan Rajneesh emerged from his silence and attempted to distance himself from his disciples. He said that Sheela had been running the place like a ‘fascist concentration camp’ and went on the talk show Good Morning America to emphasise that those with him were ‘fellow travellers’ rather than followers. He also called on the FBI to conduct an independent investigation into the ranch. The FBI quickly found an extensive eavesdropping system that was wired throughout the commune residences, public buildings and offices. They also uncovered a secret laboratory where experiments had been run on the manufacture of HIV as well as salmonella.

Sheela confessed to having a rather ‘bad habit’ of poisoning people and was sent to jail. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh himself was charged with criminal conspiracy, 34 counts of making false statements to federal officials and two counts of immigration fraud. He paid a $400,000 fine and was given a ten-year sentence – suspended on the understanding that he would leave the United States. He returned to India in disgrace and died not long afterwards.

Many of the communes across Europe dispersed in disillusionment and surrounded by their own scandals. In spite of everything, however, many remain faithful to the Bhagwan’s teachings. His spiritual descendents (now calling themselves Osho) have maintained his ashram in India as a major tourist attraction and spiritual retreat. In England, meanwhile, they have a thriving community in a large house in Dorset, Osho Leela. There, they run ‘Singles Weekends’ offering parties, meditations, ‘bundles of fun and … who knows!’


CULT HERO

The Bhagwan

Mohan Chandra Rajneesh was born in 1931. After working as a philosophy teacher for several years he accepted what he saw as God’s plan for his life – spiritually transforming humanity. In 1971 he assumed the modest title of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, meaning ‘The Blessed One Who Has Recognised Himself As God’. He established his first ashram shortly afterwards.

During his life the Bhagwan wrote more than 60 books and recorded upwards of 500 tapes. In addition to embracing the spirit of God, he also embraced the spirit of the 1980s, accumulating millions of pounds and no fewer than 93 Rolls-Royce cars. He said that he’d lived in poverty and lived in richness. ‘Believe me,’ he continued, ‘richness is far better than poverty.’ He claimed to be a man of very simple interests. He was ‘utterly satisfied’ with ‘the best of everything’.

Towards the end of his life, addicted to nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and haunted by the accusations of sex abuse, tax evasion and poisonings, the Bhagwan retreated back to his original ashram in Poona. In 1985 he declared that his religion was dead – and that it had, in fact, been invented by his followers. He said he was glad not to have to pretend to be enlightened anymore. Then, in December 1988, he told his followers that his body had become host to none other than Guatama Buddha. However, when the Buddha disapproved of his use of the Jacuzzi, Bhagwan banished him from his body and said that he was now Zorba the Buddha instead.

He died in 1990, instructing his doctor to dress him in his favourite socks and hat beforehand. When his disciples asked what they should do with him after he passed on he replied, ‘Stick me under the bed and forget about me.’


Words of Wisdom


‘The second problem I had (with my health) was my back … I cannot sit on [an ordinary] chair. It may be comfortable, but my back will not fit with it. Similarly I can use only one car. I have used all cars, and the best in the world; but the seat of just one car, one of the models of Rolls-Royce, the Silver Spur, fits with me perfectly. It is not their costliest car; their costliest is the Corniche, then the Carmargue. The third is the Silver Spur. So I tried a Corniche – it didn't work, my back trouble started. But with the Silver Spur it has settled completely.’

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh


HOLY SMOKE!

Religious Ecstasy

Ecstasy was first brought to Europe by the disciples of the Bhagwan. He had adopted the drug as his new spiritual elixir, and his army of orange people evangelically distributed it around the world. Some even set up laboratories to manufacture their own supply.

To buy The Joy Of Sects, click here

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cargo Cults

An extract from The Joy Of Sects

The famous Cargo Cults of Melanesia and New Guinea provide a fascinating model of exactly what happens when men use religion to explain forces they don’t understand – and how easy it is for religions to adapt when their promises are unfulfilled.

The remote Pacific islanders had long held the belief that the spirits of their ancestors would one day return to them, loaded down with booty. Back in the nineteenth century, they lived in a society where the technology hadn’t progressed much beyond the Stone Age. So, when the first Europeans arrived on their shores on huge steam ships bearing gifts that they couldn’t even imagine being made, the islanders were pretty impressed. So impressed, in fact, that a new religion was born out of the old beliefs: the worship of ‘cargo’ (cargo is pidgin for goods of any kind). It seemed that the ancient prophecy was coming true – and how.

Over the following years belief in the power of cargo grew stronger. A number of prophets sprang up claiming divine snakes had given them special knowledge of cargo. They set up practices like doctors, curing afflictions on the basis of their familiarity with these snake-spirits. To encourage more cargo to arrive, they also began to affect the lifestyles of the Europeans, who had now settled on the islands and received frequent shipments of the goods. These quasi-European prophets forced other islanders to do their gardening for them, wearing trousers and hats and copying what they knew of the white man’s lifestyle – including sipping at late-afternoon cocktails.

In spite of all these efforts, the prophets still didn’t manage to get their hands on much cargo. However, the cult developed further when missionaries started interfering with the islanders in the early twentieth century. A unique form of Christianity emerged. Somehow, the interesting belief came about that Christians worship a god called Anus. The stories in the Bible, as the islanders saw them, told how Anus created Adam and Eve and gave his treasured handiwork cargo of steel tools, canned meat, matches and rice in bags. However, when Adam and Eve annoyed Anus by discovering sex, he sent a great flood to destroy mankind. Luckily, when he sent the flood, Anus had also given a wooden steamboat to a man called Noah and made him its captain. Humanity survived, but when Noah’s son Ham disobeyed his father, his cargo was taken away from him. The bereft Ham was sent to New Guinea, where his descendants were now convinced that they could get his lost cargo back if they worked hard enough at pleasing Anus by singing hymns and praying to him. So, many of the natives did as the missionaries requested. They laboured in their houses, sang their songs and muttered their prayers. By the 1930s, however, they’d worked out that they were being deceived. While the islanders put all the effort in, the foreigners who did nothing received – and kept – all the cargo.

Just as disillusionment began to set in, the Second World War arrived and the islanders once again revised their opinions. Vast amounts of war material were dropped on the islands during the Pacific campaigns against the Japanese Empire. Those who acted as guides and hosts to the visiting American soldiers reaped the benefits. Suddenly, the long-promised cargo was arriving in huge quantities.

Sadly, when the war came to a close, the cargo stopped coming just as quickly as it had arrived. It was then that Cargo Cult activity reached its peak. It was also then that its fame spread around the world as returning servicemen recounted the incredible things they had seen. To outsiders, these stories seemed almost too incredible to be true. In an attempt to convince the cargo to return, the islanders created straw aeroplanes and runways in the jungle (complete with landing lights made from torches) in the hope that they would cause boxes of cargo to fall from the sky again. They carved headphones from wood, and wore them while sitting in home-made control towers. They waved the landing signals while standing on the runways, marched around parade grounds in the jungle carrying bamboo rifles, and stood saluting in front of flags of their own devising. If you don’t believe it, just look at the photos.

Inevitably, when the elaborate devices of the islanders failed to bring in the promised loot, disillusionment once again set in. Most of the Cargo Cults have gradually died out. However, on the island of Tanu, more than fifty years since the Americans were there, thousands still hold the belief that one day a GI called John Frum will come down from their local volcano and deliver the cargo of prosperity to each and every one of them. It hasn’t happened yet, but the prophecy is open-ended enough to ensure that this time, it will never be proved wrong. Maybe one day we’ll all be worshipping John Frum. After all, stranger things have happened.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Well, did Tom Cruise dance with aliens?

"Hello, we're from the Church Of Jesus Christ Of The Latter Day Saints…"

"Great," I said, "Come in."

"What?"

Mormons who are out cold-calling don't normally expect that kind of response. Abuse, yes. Door slamming, undoubtedly. There was even one sad occasion involving hot pursuit with a blow-torch, the two smart young men informed me after I'd finally persuaded them to cross my threshold and drink some water - not tea, they don't touch caffeine. My enthusiasm had floored them. It was only when I explained that I was writing a book about cults, cranks and religious eccentrics that they began to understand. They were so unsettled that they agreed to talk to me anyway.

It was less than a week since I'd signed my contract and I was already completely obsessed. I knew that I was because of the wistful half-smile on the face of my long-suffering girlfriend Eloise when she came downstairs to discover me and my new Mormon friends deep in conversation about the angel Moroni. The last time I'd seen that look had been in a multi-storey car-park in Luton where I was taking pictures of obscene graffiti for my previous book about Crap Towns. It's the kind of expression I imagine a doting mother adopts when her young child proudly presents the 'art' it's created on the walls of her living room.

Back then, Elly had allowed me to persuade her to spend extended periods of time in Thurso and Morecambe and even Hull. Small wonder that she blanched visibly when I started to rant enthusiastically about Findhorn, a foundation in the windswept far North East of Scotland established because of the communicative powers of the local cabbages…

Trooper that she is, she didn't complain. Not when she found her house full of Jehovah's Witnesses, nor when a peaceable evening stroll a few weeks later ended in us being chased up the road by a member of the Jesus Army who was shouting: "To think that Jesus died for you."

However, I still count it fortunate that Elly was spared my most debasing experience. This occurred in the Scientology Centre on London's Tottenham Court Road where I blew a whole afternoon's patient research with one foolish remark:

"This isn't quite what I was expecting," I said. "I was told there's lots of stuff about aliens."
.
"What a load of crap!" yelled the now furious, but hitherto cloyingly polite representative. "Where did you hear about that?"

"Er…"

"Come on! It's bullshit! Do I look the kind of person that would believe in aliens?"

"Er… maybe I read it in relation to Tom Cruise or something. Something about…"

"Oh please. Tom Cruise is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Do you think he looks like the kind of person that you'd find dancing around with aliens?"

It was a question I honestly couldn't answer.



--

Appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 1 Jan 2006.

I had to leave the Scientology Centre in a hurry as a result of this exchange.