Satchidananda, the founder of “Yogaville” may have died in August, but his die-hard followers want to keep his memory alive. They staged a “remembrance weekend” to honor the man many say developed a “cult” following.

In a rededication ceremony a crane was used to pour water from “holy rivers” over the multi-million dollar edifice known as the “Lotus Shrine,” which the late guru had built within his ashram compound known as “Yogaville,” reported the Daily Progress of Charlottesville.

However, what the local Virginia newspaper failed to report was the devastation caused by Satchidananda to many members and families during the guru’s reign over his “spritual” kingdom that began in the 1960s.

The man his ardent disciples called “Sri Swami Satchidananda Maharaj” and wish the world to remember as a selfless and celibate “spiritual leader” was actually a faker, sexual predator and liar, according to some former members. Apparently, the swami wasn’t so celibate with his female secretaries and traveling companions.

When a sex scandal broke about Satchidananda in the early 90s many members left, while others deeply invested in the group through years of devotion seemingly chose denial instead. As the ever “spiritual” swami said, “Don’t judge me, I am your guru. If you choose to believe it you can leave right now. Or, if you have faith, you can stay and continue in my service.”

Many cults die with their founders. However, when there is a large residue of assets such as property, businesses and cash the incentive is there to carry on. Satchidananda left behind such a tangible “legacy.”

The guru’s remaining devotees seem intent upon maintaining that “legacy.” And it appears that Yogaville, like the deceased “swami,” has developed its own history of abuse allegations.

But no matter how much “holy” water Satchidananda’s followers pour out at Yogaville nothing is likely to wash away the allegations of abuse, which taint both its former leader and the ashram.

Reed Slatkin was once rich, popular and a minister within the Church of Scientology. He knew many of the church elite who frequent its “Celebrity Centers” and was their respected financial advisor. Over half of Slatkin’s clients were fellow Scientologists.

Then came Slatkin’s fall from grace. He lost money, declared bankruptcy and faced criminal charges. His investment business turned sour and seemed to be little more than a classic “Ponzi scheme.” Slatkin eventually plead guilty to 15 counts of fraud, money laundering and conspiracy.

Now it has come out that one of the former financial guru’s trusted inner circle actually betrayed him. Daniel Jacobs once a Slatkin associate and confidant cut a deal with prosecutors and provided evidence against his former friend, reports Associated Press.

Can the fallen minister now seek solace and spiritual comfort from his church in what must be a time of deep personal need? No. The Church of Scientology excommunicated Slatkin earlier this year.

Apparently stealing money from its members is an “unpardonable sin.”

Despite its troubled history Narconon has now been given an initial go-ahead to open a new facility near San Diego by the county Planning Commission, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Narconon is a controversial drug rehab program closely associated with the Church of Scientology and based upon the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, its founder. It is also largely staffed by Scientologists.

Call Narconon’s toll free number and it is likely you will be talking to a Scientologist.

Hubbard’s concoction for drug treatment includes vigorous exercise, hours of saunas, megadoses of niacin and ingesting cooking oil.

William Jarvis, a professor of public health at Loma Linda University in Southern California once said, “The idea of sweating out poisons is kind of an old wives’ tale. It’s all pretty hokey.”

However, the county Planning Commission apparently didn’t consult Professor Jarvis and either ignored or didn’t take the time to review any other research and/or findings regarding Narconon.

The San Diego Union-Tribune article did not even mention Scientology.

According to the article it appears there was no meaningful discussion at the commission’s meeting about the program’s connection to the controversial church or any of Narconon’s historical problems.

But not discussing Scientology when talking about Narconon is like ignoring an elephant in the room.

Actress and Scientologist Kirstie Alley knows that. She is the spokeswoman for Narconon and touts how Scientology saved her from drugs.

Nevertheless, Narconon was once denied certification for a facility in Oklahoma, though later they managed to open a center in that state.

And a Narconon program for kids was rejected by the Florida school system.

A Narconon program in Utah, which received state funds, eventually caused enough controversy that such funding was stopped.

In Sweden an expert who testified before the Swedish Board of National Health questioned the efficacy and validity of Narconon’s approach to treatment. He concluded, “there is no documentation to show that the Hubbard method of detoxification from drug abuse conforms to scientific standards and medical experience On the contrary, one may from a pharmacological point of view strongly question the idea of using enforced sweating to expel drugs from the body. The risks and side effects of the treatment method have also not been evaluated in a serious way. Methods that have not been evaluated and/or rest on incorrect theories should not be used in Swedish medical care.”

So how could the county Planning Commission in California so easily approve Narconon for a new facility?

Scientology has a powerful lobby in California and a stable of celebrity advocates in Hollywood. Perhaps such lobbying overwhelmed the Planning Commission? The commission voted 4-0 in favor of the facility. One member was absent.

Residents opposed to the proposed Narconon center seemed to object largely due to land use questions and security. They claim the recent approval will be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors. Hopefully, that body will do a better job exploring the facts than the Planning Commission did.

According to evangelical Christians who monitor cults and religious abuse, there is a serious problem within some churches regarding authoritarian control and accompanying abusive behavior, reports the Toronto Sun.

The professionals interviewed essentially said this is not about the bible, it’s about behavior.

They cited specific criteria to recognize a potential for problems. This included the lack of any meaningful accountability for leaders, unconditional submission, legalism, perfectionism, elitism and a leadership that is hostile and/or punitive regarding its response to criticism and/or critical questions. These features were pointed out as behaviors frequently found within abusive religious groups.

How can someone exercise caution when choosing a church?

It seems that the more accountability is evident, through elected boards, denominational oversight and financial transparency, the safer the church or organization is likely to be.

Independent churches with pastors who have little or no meaningful accountability may be benign, but appear to represent a greater risk. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” has often proven to be a good proverb.

Many Roman Catholics today are struggling with this issue. That is, what to do when a clerical hierarchy has little real accountability and is not responsive to the concerns or questions raised by its laity.

Many denominations within North America have chosen to create a more democratic form of church government, which includes the general membership in an elective process with real power sharing.

Many congregations and denominations effectively hire or fire their pastors or rabbis. And it has become relatively common for church boards to negotiate contracts with clergy, which clearly outline parameters and spell out expectations explicitly.

However, it is interesting to note that though North America is known for its democratic ideals and the United States for the Statue of Liberty, many North Americans live largely under some form of totalitarianism in their religious life.

This is certainly a personal choice and that prerogative is somewhat ironically guaranteed by the US Constitution.

But authoritarian church government may produce sad results, as seen through the escalating controversy about sexual abuse amongst Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so clearly defined by the article recently run within the Toronto Sun.

UC Berkeley is perhaps one of the most “politically correct” campuses in the United States. If you don’t speak PC there you might find yourself “communicationally challenged.”

Recently an article was run in the Berkeley Daily Californian student press about “suspected active cults on campus.” That’s sort of a PC way of simply saying “destructive cults are recruiting here.”

One student advisor said, “I’m very cautious with the word ‘cult’, as its definition is hotly debated.”

Is this guy PC or was he coached by the university’s legal staff? Maybe both.

Some lesser-known groups are named, but the “usual suspects” eventually emerge.

Two big “suspected…cults” named within the Berkeley article that work almost any worthwhile campus, are the “International Church of Christ” (ICC) and the Unification Church.

Rev. Moon’s Unification Church is perhaps the “gold standard” for “suspected…cults,” and has been diligently working campuses since the 70s. Moon’s followers were historically once identified by the now politically incorrect name—“Moonies.”

General Douglas MacArther once said, “Old soldiers never die…they just fade away.” But contrary to that analogy elderly “cult leaders” like Rev. Moon seem to soldier on relentlessly. He is now an octogenarian and controls billions of dollars. And Moon’s minions are still actively working college campuses, as attested to by the Berkeley article.

Of course one “Moonie” told the Daily Californian, “Rev. Moon is a great religious leader.” Right, and Saddam Hussein is a great humanitarian. Though it should be acknowledged that Rev. Moon’s cash and media holdings have garnered him some clout amongst politicians and religious leaders like Jerry Falwell.

It’s often hard to identify Unification Church recruiters, because their sponsoring organization names keep changing.

Historically, Moon’s Unification Church has used literally hundreds of front organizational names. For example, his current incarnation at UC Berkley is the “Family Federation for World Peace.”

UC Berkeley’s other substantial “suspected…cult” is Kip McKean’s ICC, once called the “Boston Church of Christ” or simply the “Boston Movement.” The ICC has been banned by scores of American colleges and universities.

Like Moon, McKean’s operation uses different names too, such as “Campus Advance,” “Upside Down Club,” “Alpha Omega Club,” “Campus Christian Movement,” “Christian Advance” and “Students Advocating Christianity Today.”

Both of these “suspected…cults” emphasize the value of personality—specifically, the leader’s personality.

In the ICC there is actually a system they call “discipling” to help members develop just the right kind of personality. Some say “follow the leader,” but in the ICC it’s more like clone the leader. And the prototype for this cloning process appears to be Kip McKean.

One ICC leader put it this way, “It would suit me just fine if I could leave this place and say you know – I just want to be exactly like Kip. I just want to be exactly like Kip. That would be enough.” Another claimed, “Kip McKean is the greatest living treasure that God has given the kingdom on the face of the earth today.”

Moon is a bit more presumptuous than McKean. According to a recent ad campaign that cost him more than $700,000, “Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha – even God – have told him he is now ‘the Savior, Messiah and King of Kings of all of humanity!'”

This would seem to trump McKean’s title of “greatest living treasure.” After all, Mr. Moon does have seniority.

Rev. Moon also appears to prefer a more traditional approach to “mind control,” such as isolated camps, retreats, sleep deprivation and dietary control.

So what’s a naïve college freshman to do?

The student advisor at UC Berkeley says, “All groups should be open to some questioning. Be critical, and talk to friends and family if you are ever in doubt.”

However, this response frequently doesn’t work. Don’t expect “suspected…cults” to be honest and/or forthcoming. And some may say, “Satan brings doubts.” They may also claim that family and friends don’t understand their spiritual ways, thus their feedback is essentially meaningless and should be ignored.

The best way to respond to “suspected…cults” is through research. Students should investigate and gather substantial information about a group before becoming initially involved. This can easily be accomplished by making use of the Internet or library.

Instead of asking questions from family members and friends who are typically ignorant, it is more practical to first query search engines on the Internet such as Google and Yahoo or request help from library staff at a periodical desk.

Many “cults” claim, “We have been persecuted by the press.” And, “They lie about us on the Internet.”

However, this type of response should raise serious suspicion. It is almost always proof that the group has something to hide.

A Berkeley devotee of Rev. Moon told the Daily Californian, “We cannot understand a person of great heart and thought [i.e. Moon] with a small mind.”

A more relevant observation would be, we cannot make a truly informed decision without sufficient information. And decisions about potentially unsafe groups should be made carefully.

A French cult called the “New Lighthouse” expected the end of the world to come this Thursday, but its leader Arnaud Mussy has now bumped the date, reports VOA News.

Well what do you expect from a man who says he’s Jesus reincarnated?

Mussy has proven to be somewhat feckless in his previous prophecies. There have been two other failed predictions. However, in the cult business three strikes doesn’t necessarily mean you’re out.

An Apocalyptic prophecy can be a useful device for cult leaders. Such predictions create a sense of urgency to gather the faithful together. And of course the leader promises safety for his or her chosen.

One example was Elizabeth Claire Prophet, who even built bomb shelters in Montana to protect her group the “Church Universal and Triumphant.”

And once within this crisis mode members are frequently easier to manipulate.

Mussy also eerily follows in the footsteps of Luc Joret, the former leader of the Solar Temple. Perhaps that’s why French authorities continue to have his house staked out. Joret ultimately created his own self-styled Armageddon through a group mass suicide in Switzerland during 1994. Many of Joret’s followers were French-speaking.

Now Mussy and his group are holed up in a house waiting for the end, which he says will come “very soon.” The supposed “Jesus” insists that they have no intention of killing themselves.

Again, that’s what another cult “Heaven’s Gate” said too. They even published an official statement against suicide on the Internet. However, they later all committed mass suicide outside of San Diego in 1997.

French authorities seem to feel it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Mussy claims he will drop the cult and resume a regular job if things fall through. But can he so easily stop being a “savior”? If history is any guide, probably not.

Arthur Allen Jr. leader of the “cult” group “House of Prayer” came out swinging in a dramatic belt-wielding performance before his devoted followers on Sunday.

The pastor convicted for child cruelty is headed for jail and sentenced to ten years probation, but he told his flock, “I can’t go against God. I can’t bow to the will of man.” He also claimed that “evil forces” brought him down, reports the Atlanta Journal.

But it was Allen’s own arrogance that really brought him down, though obviously he can’t accept this.

Cult leaders are often defined by their megalomania. In this sense Allen parallels David Koresh, who likewise thought any opposition to his teachings was somehow “against God.”

However, most Christians would instead call opposition to child abuse “Godly.”

Allen, an apostle of abuse, essentially told his followers to disregard the court and to keep beating their children. However, submission to civil authority is mandated within the New Testament. But such biblical exegesis would probably not persuade Mr. Allen. Like Koresh who also abused children, he seems to have his own idiosyncratic interpretation of scripture.

Allen appears ready to go to prison and take as many of his flock with him as possible. He asked them on Sunday, “You mean you’d go to prison?” And one devotee responded, “We thank the Lord for the way you’re leading us.”

Allen seems to leading his followers to prison. But perhaps the pastor believes that prison is the “Promised Land.” That is certainly what the judge promised Allen when he was sentenced. Amen?

Scott Caruthers created a “cult” called “Beta Dominion Xenophilia” or BDX in Baltimore. And it seems that he didn’t take disloyalty lightly. One of his followers was marked for murder because she somehow demonstrated less than the expected fealty to her leader, reports the Maryland Sun.

Now Caruthers is claiming an insanity defense.

What was once apparently an article of faith amongst BDX members now may be largely the basis for that defense. The 57-year-old “cult” leader claims he is a “space alien” that communicates with a “mothership” via cats.

But despite such bizarre claims, which most people would call “crazy,” the prosecution’s psychiatrist says Caruthers is at least sane enough to stand trial. Maryland must have a pretty low threshold for sanity.

This rather twisted criminal case is now winding its way forward to the courtroom and Caruthers’ counsel is trying to suppress evidence. Apparently the “alien” from outer space especially liked the sound of his own voice and archived incriminating recordings.

Could this be a case when a “cult” leader’s own rants convict him?

It remains unclear at this time if any cats will be called to offer corroborating testimony.

During the immediate aftermath of September 11th volunteers from Scientology worked Ground Zero frequently clad in their “Scientology Volunteer” T-shirts. One such volunteer later plumbed that experience to produce a book, reports the New York Post.

During the first few weeks after September 11th members of the Church of Scientology served food and coffee to workers at Ground Zero and at times did what they call “touch assists,” which is essentially a form of faith healing.

Scientologist Juliet McIntyre, a 20-year-old “aspiring actress,” worked at Ground Zero for three weeks. In her new book she tells of the suffering and hardships she endured through the often-uncomfortable environment, including less than adequate sleeping accommodations.

But maybe McIntyre should be grateful that she was working above the rubble instead lying below it, or mourning the loss of a family member?

The NY Post says that the Scientologist made herself the “central character” of the book and September 11th became merely her “backdrop.” Perhaps a little less narcissism and a bit more focus would have served the author better.

Scientologist John Travolta is mentioned in the book, he visited at Ground Zero. And other than their common faith, McIntyre and the celebrity are likely to share another distinction. Her self-indulgent tome appears bound for the same status as Travolta’s box office bomb “Battleship Earth.”

McIntyre’s book deal does look just a bit opportunistic. So when Scientologists “volunteer” is there always a catch or hidden agenda? Is their public compassion at times contrived and linked to some self-promotional effort?

In McIntyre’s case September 11th seems to have provided her with attention and money.

Yogi Bhajan of 3HO may only be a relatively obscure “cult leader” to most folks, but to the people of Milford Massachusetts he is “the head of the Sikh religion in the Western Hemisphere,” reports the Milford Daily News.

It doesn’t seem Daily News reporter Aaron Gouveia did much research for his story “Pretzel Logic,” which reads like a promotional press release from the guru and his group. This must have made the yogi happy, but probably not many mainstream Sikhs who often see him as an embarrassment and say his teachings are spurious.

Sikh historian Trilochan Singh once called Yogi Bhajan’s teachings “a sacrilegious hodgepodge.” And his supposed title of “supreme leader” is non-existent. Such titles are not historically conferred by Sikhs.

Instead of leading Sikhs throughout the Western Hemisphere, Bhajan actually is the leader of a relatively obscure group known as “3HO” that is located largely within three states in the US—California, New Mexico and Arizona. The dwindling sect reached its peak in the 70s and now has perhaps 2,000 members.

3HO devotees are rarely Indian Sikhs. Instead they typically come from white middle-class backgrounds and were recruited as converts by the guru in the 70s. And 3HO members virtually worship Bhajan, which is typical for “cults,” but not for Sikhs.

Bhajan himself is a former customs agent from India with a history of sexual misconduct allegations. And 3HO has been plagued by scandals, including a drug bust by DEA that ultimately put one of the group’s top leaders in prison.

Aaron Gouveia is not the first reporter to apparently be duped by Bhajan & Company. CNN was also taken in, they featured him as a Sikh spokesman after the murder of an Indian Sikh in Mesa, Arizona. That man was mistaken for a Muslim in a hate crime shortly after September 11th.

Whatever happened to fact checking?