In Pretoria South Africa an “occult expert” testified during the trial of an alleged “Satanist,” accused of subjecting children to sexual abuse and religious rituals.

During her testimony the expert witness told the court about her own past occult involvement and experiences, which included “astral projection.” She is now a “reborn Christian.”

The expert claimed that she could “sense negative vibrations on a crime scene or when meeting someone.” And said that upon meeting the man accused she felt “a cold tingle down her spine,” reports

The expert then pointed out that a Christian parent she met connected to the case created no such response.

It seems incredible that an “expert” in a criminal trial would be allowed to provide such subjective testimony.

Rather than offering the court meaningful insights based upon an objectively established expertise, this “expert” offers the court “vibrations” and a “cold tingle” to demonstrate her points.

Hopefully the judge and/or jury will reject such nonsense, which rather than reflecting expert opinion grounded upon facts, sounds like the bias and strange imaginings of a self-styled witch-hunter or exorcist.

The defendant should be tried based upon the physical evidence and/or through eyewitness accounts that prove his crimes objectively. Likewise, any expert opinion should fact-driven and relevant.

A high-ranking leader within the United Pentecostal Church International (UPCI) plead guilty to a misdemeanor for sexual misconduct, reports the St. Louis Dispatch.

Rev. Ronald Oree Nation, 70, was caught having sex in public park, an unseemly sight for a minister from a group that prides itself upon “holiness standards” regarding personal conduct and dress.

But undress was apparently the issue in this criminal case.

Nation, once the Sunday School director of the UPCI at its headquarters was suspended him without pay and then went into retirement.

The court in St. Louis has decided the first two years of Nation’s retirement will include probation and he must pay a $1,000 fine.

The UPCI essentially believes that those who do not accept their interpretation of the bible regarding baptism and a “oneness” belief that rejects the trinity will be condemned to hell.

The arrest and guilty plea of Rev. Nation is no doubt a deep embarrassment for the UPCI, which is in the habit of pointing out the sins and failings of others.

It looks like the Church of Scientology is looking for a handout from the federal government through President Bush’s “faith-based” initiative.

A Scientology minister attended a meeting in Alaska apparently to see if there might be money available for his church, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

But the Scientologist expressed concern that groups, which have experienced “discrimination,” would not receive money. This appears to be Scientology-speak for groups often called “cults”

The Lt. Governor of Alaska assured everyone there that he intends to “define religion broadly.”

Get ready for the lineup.

Controversial groups called “cults” such as the “Moonies,” Krishna and Scientology will likely be lining up to get their slice of the Bush pie.

Personality cults and Communism have historically often gone hand in hand–from Stalin to Mao.

Oddly, today the only remaining political legacy of Stalinism is not in Russia, but within North Korea under the regime of the “Great Leader” Kim Jong Il.

And now an interesting historical exhibit has opened at Moscow’s Museum of Russian Contemporary History, titled, “Stalin: Man and Symbol.”

This retrospective explores the strange phenomenon of Stalinism through its residue of artifacts and memorabilia, which fills two rooms, reports the London Telegraph.

Stalin died in 1953 after a reign of terror that lasted thirty years and in many ways paralleled the modern history of North Korea.

Millions of Russians died through Stalinist purges, forced labor, gulags and mass starvation. But all this took place while the evil despot was seen as a benign father figure of almost supernatural stature, as the artifacts now on exhibit attest to.

Sound like the “Great Leader“?

But today Russians overwhelmingly recognize the horrors of that era, though a small minority still long for the certainty that accompanied Stalin’s rule.

There were no loose ends or ambiguity in Stalin’s Russia. He was the “great leader” and seemed to have all the answers.

Looking back it was Stalin’s total control of Soviet society, which enabled the dictator to essentially “brainwash” his people.

Russians were kept ignorant and unable to obtain and asses the information necessary to think outside of the box Stalin constructed, then known as the Soviet Empire.

Today some in Russia fear that admiration for President Vladimir Putin might evolve into another “personality cult.” However, it is doubtful that he has the will or the infrastructure to implement such a reactionary change.

Plainly put, Putin probably couldn’t close the box again, even if he wanted to. Russia is now a far more open society.

Old pensioner’s fond memories of Stalin seems like a longing for childhood, when daddy told them stories, controlled their lives and provided for the necessities.

It is very difficult for a totalitarian state to make the transition, from a society built upon learned dependence and absolute authority, to one based instead on independence and the value of individual freedom. In a free society people are expected to think for themselves.

North Korea’s Stalin was ironically born in Russia and died in 1994. But unlike his Russian prototype he left behind a family dynasty. Now Korea’s second Stalin rules over a closed, controlled and isolated domain with another son and heir apparent in waiting.

The question is, how many “Great Leaders” can North Korea endure?

Hopefully, one-day North Korea like Russia, will have an exhibit rather than a ruler to reflect upon the meaning of its own personality cult.

The museum curator of the Stalin artifacts said, “The exhibition is supposed to show how far propaganda can carry people in the praise of one person.”

Falun Gong staged what seemed like a carefully coordinated public event for “master” Li Hongzhi, reports the Orange County Register.

Hongzhi’s devotees have become adept at creating media and photo ops for their vaunted spiritual leader.

The man who says he can “levitate,” “become invisible” and knows the “top secret of the Universe” made a personal public appearance in the Anaheim Convention Center before 1,500 of his followers.

Though his disciples claimed they didn’t know if Li would come, it appears more than likely that this event was carefully planned and members knew in advance that Hongzhi would arrive.

One devotee said, “Everyone had a ticket. Everyone knew each other.”

A seemingly transfixed disciple observed, “He spent four hours answering questions and didn’t even open a water bottle. He didn’t need a break. He didn’t need to stop and think to answer. His compassion never changed. For us to see him was amazing.”

Doesn’t this sound a bit like Unification Church members at a mass wedding rhapsodizing about their “master” Rev. Moon?

In a somewhat cryptic statement an ardent follower said, “This was a very special occurrence, and we know Orange County will benefit from his presence.”

Falun Gong members believe Li Hongzhi actually has a personal impact on the stability of the universe. Not unlike many groups called “cults,” Falun Gong appears to be defined and driven by its leader’s persona.

What the Orange County Register failed to report about is Li Hongzhi’s racist writings and bigoted public rants. This certainly would not have gone down well in politically correct Disneyland.

Moreover, the Falun Gong leader has made sensational supernatural claims about himself and his supposed superhuman powers that easily define him as either a megalomaniac, a charlatan or both.

According to Hongzhi he can “personally install” falun (a wheel of law) in his followers abdomens, which in turn provides for their good health.

This would be a neat trick for a stage show in Las Vegas. And maybe Vegas would be the best venue for a man like Hongzhi in the United States.

David Copperfield move over, and make room for the real “Master” of “Grand Illusion”!

The Independence Party of New York arguably swung one election, for the mayor of NYC, in favor of Michael Bloomberg.

But soon there may be “a seismic change in NY politics” facilitated by the party, which notably includes former “New Alliance Party” presidential candidate and Fred Newman disciple Lenora Fulani.

Pundits claim this planned change could make New York “a three-party state,” reports

NY law currently requires that voters enroll as a Democrat, Republican or Independence party member to be eligible to vote in party primaries. However, a proposed change would allow 2.5 million additional independent voters to vote in the Independence party’s primary.

This would be ten times the 260,00 Independence Party registration now.

What this ultimately may mean is the makeover of Fred Newman’s disciples, who occupy pivotal positions in the Independence Party’s power structure, into potential “king makers.”

Instead of just helping out a local benefactor like “Mayor Mike,” Newman and his “Social Therapy” crowd could garner much heavier statewide political connections and corresponding largesse.

Fred Newman and his following have often been called a “cult.”

Will this possible shift in NY voter registration provide for political power sharing with a “cult”?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Transcendental Meditation (TM) seems to be building a kind of self-contained world within Iowa.

Some might see this as a kind of “cult compound,” rather than a conventional city.

However, six new modular dormitories will soon provide space at “Vedic City” for 1,600 more of the guru’s devotees, reports the Fairfield Ledger.

Maharishi’s public relations people say this will bring the community to some magic number, which they call “super radiance.”

The guru’s spokespeople also claim that some TM members can “fly,” based upon special flying lessons mandated by Maharishi. They are called “yogic flyers.”

Apparently within this special world created amidst Iowa farmland reality is a bit fuzzy. Could that be the result of living within a bubble created and controlled by one man? And will that bubble ever burst?

Well, probably not for the foreseeable future.

Expect to see more yogic flyers and other TM types landing in Iowa soon to take up residence within this strange domain and alternate reality.

A Mormon scholar says the Book of Mormon, which is supposedly historical, is actually only “inspirational fiction,” reports Christianity Today.

Thomas W. Murphy is a Mormon, but also the chairman of the anthropology department at Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington. Murphy wrote within a published paper “DNA research lends no support to traditional Mormon beliefs about the origins of Native Americans.”

This college professor like other Mormon scholars before him, who have questioned the historicity of their faith’s scriptures, is now subject to excommunication and expulsion for his views. This has frequently been the fate of Mormon academics that in some way question the church’s teachings.

Joseph Smith supposedly translated the Book of Mormon from ancient “golden plates,” which conveniently later disappeared. Smith claimed these plates were the historical record of an ancient people that once thrived in America. However, no archaeological or historical evidence has ever proven this.

Nor does science substantiate Smith’s claim that ancient Hebrews migrated to North America. Murphy wrote, “To date no intimate genetic link has been found between ancient Israelites and the indigenous peoples of the Americas.”

So what do you do if you are a faithful Mormon?

Denial seems to be the preferred response.

Mormon leaders continue to spin apologetics to explain their lack of historical proof. Though increasingly it seems like they are running on empty.

In a prepared response to Murphy a professor at Brigham Young University stated, “We didn’t think the arguments were good enough to respond to,” reports BYU News. He then spun apologies rather than respond to the substance of Murphy’s points.

Needless to say that most faithful Mormons seem willing to accept whatever their leaders say. One BYU student who sat through the presentation commented, “I thought it was very effective.”

Here is the rub.

If Joseph Smith made up the Book of Mormon, which appears to be the case, where does this leave the religion he created that now includes millions of adherents?

This would mean Smith was not a “prophet,” but rather a clever con man. And Mormonism’s claim that it is “the restored Word of God,” based upon Smith’s revelation, then collapses.

Certainly Mormons have the right to believe whatever they want, but history is based upon proven objective facts, not subjective beliefs.

When Mormonism entered the realm of purported history it became subject to the type of scrutiny not typically applied to spiritual claims.

The Scientology drug rehabilitation program known as Narconon, which is the basis for a pilot project now operating within a Mexican prison, will not be adapted and/or funded for any prisoners within Nevada, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Narconon has drawn considerable criticism and controversy over the years. The program is based upon the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Not even an offer for a free trip to Mexico could convince the overwhelming majority of state legislators to support a proposal by Reno Republican Representative Sharon Angle to bring the program to Nevada.

Angle first claimed it was partisan resistance by Democrats that doomed her proposal. However, when the Republican Governor of Nevada nixed her effort it seemed virtually no one was really interested.

So Scientology will not receive a reported $15,000.00 per inmate for treatment, from either Nevada or any other government source to implement its regimen of saunas, vitamins and oil rub downs that somehow are supposed to cure drug addiction.

Perhaps the controversial church, which has been called a “cult,” should stick with Scientology celebrities like Kirstie Alley, Lisa Marie Presley and Tom Cruise, who have plenty of extra cash–instead of trying to get taxpayer’s money.

It looks like church and state remains essentially synonymous and virtually seamless in Salt Lake City. That is, it’s difficult to see where one stops and the other begins.

Mayor Rocky Anderson has largely caved in to Mormon Church (LDS) demands that freedom of speech be ended around its historic temple area.

The controversy began some time ago when the city sold the church a block adjacent to its Temple Square, but that sale did not include the easement, which provided for free access and expression.

Never mind.

The church strictly enforced its own rules anyway prohibiting any speech or activity it didn’t appreciate, such as born-again Christians speaking critically about the LDS and handing out tracts.

Enter the American Civil Liberties Union.

A court decision later forced the church and the city to allow free expression on the block.

Never mind.

The Mormon Church used its considerable muscle to pressure the city into a solution it sought to circumvent the court decision. That is, sell LDS the easement through a land swap.

Now it seems that church and state are again united in Utah and single minded regarding how best to run Salt Lake City, reports the Salt Lake City Tribune.

The deal to swap property owned by the church for the easement has received the blessings of the church and city council, which is completely composed of Mormons. In a seamless media event both made the appropriate pronouncements and announcements for the plan.

But is likely there will be more litigation.

Never mind.

City coffers will no doubt spill forth the funds necessary to defend the LDS solution.

What Salt Lake City residents have learned, is even though approximately half are now non-Mormon, what the LDS wants it gets.

So much for democracy, free speech and pluralism in Utah. Brigham Young would no doubt be proud of Mayor Anderson for bowing before a higher authority.