From The Scotsman 8 April 2006
Everything you always wanted to know about sects
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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".
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