Once Madonna was a star at the top of the entertainment industry and only Michael Jackson seemed to shine as brightly.

However, both stars have dimmed since the 1980s and though Madonna may not have plunged into the abyss like Jackson, she certainly has gone downhill.

Critics say her latest “re-invention” isn’t “quite in sync” and she seems “a little desperate” reports Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Of course no pop icon can hope to remain permanently fixed as a star shining forever, but some like Cher, Tina Turner and Bette Midler have done rather well at maintaining their longevity.

Tina Turner didn’t retire until 60, while still selling out large venues.

Cher didn’t hang up her concert wigs until she reached 56, walking away after a highly successful “farewell tour.”

Madonna will be 46 next month.

The formula for enduring diva-hood seems to be carefully sustaining your fan base.

However, “Madonna’s dogmatic kabbala babble…[was ] an utter bore to her hard-core fans,” says the pop culture editor of One2One Magazine.

Unlike Cher, Tina and Bette—Madonna seems to think giving her fans what she thinks they need is more important than what they want.

Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie give 10-week Kabbalah Centre courses as birthday presents to their friends reported the London Telegraph.

It seems like the Kabbalah is the only material these days for the former “Material Girl.”

There are books by Madonna for children based upon the “Kabbalah,” and crates of “Kabbalah water” backstage during her concerts. She reportedly encourages her tour crew to “get into the groove” by studying the religious text.

Madonna has even changed her name to “Esther” as another nod to her newfound faith reported the New York Post.

Her next planned tour is not a series of concerts, but an apparent pilgrimage to study in Israel with a hundred of her Kabbalah pals reports Associated Press.

Madonna also has plans for a new feature-length documentary scheduled to be shown at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, which will supposedly explain her devotion to Kabbalah reports World Entertainment News Network.

But respected rabbis and serious scholars have dismissed the version of “Kabbalah” Madonna has taken up, not to mention the people that teach it to her.

The Chief Rabbi of England issued an unprecedented public warning about the Kabbalah Centre and the South African Chief Rabbi said, “There have been cases of spiritual and psychological damage caused by the centre,” reported The London Times.

The Vatican has also placed the organization on its watch list reported MSNBC.

The version of Kabbalah Madonna promotes is based upon the teachings of Philip Berg, which have been derided as “McWisdom,” a kind of self-serving fast fix hodge-podge of magical mumbo-jumbo including red string to ward off the “evil eye,” special water to “meditate” on and other assorted products.

Madonna’s husband Guy Ritchie also appears to be bitten by the Berg bug and like his wife is suffering career setbacks. “Gone are the days when Guy was at the forefront of British cinema” says The Sun.

Some may wonder how Madonna the street-smart star known for her tough cynicism could buy into something like this.

A thoughtful article about “Celebrity Sects” run by The Scotsman explored that question.

“Once you are a Madonna-type figure you basically live in this very egocentric world, surrounded by sycophants who agree with everything you say,” remarked an expert on the psychology of fame.

So why not have a religion that panders to celebrity status and pays special homage to a star’s self-centered concerns?

The Bergs no doubt cater to Madonna, after all she has brought them increasing attention, recruits and money.

Kabbalah Centre devotee and sitcom star Roseanne says of her fellow celebrities , “Sometimes we get better and inspire other people to get better but none of us is altruistic–we’re all pretty selfish, fear-driven people,” reported The Mirror.

“Nobody would be a celebrity if they weren’t severely damaged…We’re looking for all the love we never got as children or whatever,” she added.

And the Kabbalah Centre often seems to pick up damaged goods.

Elizabeth Taylor, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are all examples. Each with their own set of personal problems hanging on them like paparazzi.

After receiving a Golden Globe for her role as Evita in 1996, there was no nod from Oscar for Madonna.

Approaching middle age and without the film career she had hoped for the star became a single mother.

It was about this time that she was reportedly introduced to the Kabbalah Centre.

Madonna’s much reported childhood loss of her mother left the girl looking for something to fill that void.

And perhaps now her fear of aging, a fading career and/or the desire to somehow remain relevant may have motivated Madonna to become an almost full-time Kabbalah Centre devotee.

But one thing seems almost certain now, Madonna’s diva days are fading away. And largely it appears because of her ever-escalating devotion to an alleged “cult.”

The star seemingly admitted as much when she mockingly modeled a T-shirt labeled “cult member” while visiting the Kabbalah Centre in LA.

And rather than following the career trajectory of enduring legends such as Tina Turner or Cher, Madonna seems intent upon following in the footsteps of Dianna Ross.

But unlike the troubled former 1960s superstar Supreme who was jailed for drunk driving, this descending diva may find her fall not fed by literal intoxication, but rather by a religious one instead.

A rather interesting group called “The Gentle Wind Project” (GWP) of Maine is being investigated by a nonprofit agency in California.

The Special Investigative Agency (SIA) announced at its website today that it has been asked to investigate the 20-year-old New England group, which provides “healing cards” to the public for rather hefty suggested donations.

SIA stated that they were “contacted by nearly four dozen people from across the United States and the United Kingdom reporting that…the ‘Gentle Wind Project’…bilked many out of thousands of dollars.”

John and Mary “Moe” Miller founded GWP. The Miller group manufactures so-called “instruments” in the form of cards and pucks, which they claim have healing powers.

SIA reported that these claims “are not supported by any scientific evidence.”

Dr. Robert S. Baratz, President of the National Council Against Health Fraud told the San Diego Union Tribune late last year, “They find people who are desperate and ingratiate themselves to these people and then take advantage of them down the road.”

SIA reports, “Experts we have talked to state there would be no value whatsoever in these instruments.”

Whatever result users subjectively feel can be ascribed to a sense of “emotional well being, but that would have nothing to do with the instrument itself.” SIA stated.

The suggested donations for GWP “instruments” can range from “$450.00 to $7,600.00.”

According to GWP their instruments are based upon “high-frequency temporal shifting, matrixed with millions of pre-defined etheric modifications operating in a vertically and horizontally oriented polarization.”

Dr. Baratz called this “gobbledygook…high sounding phrases that mean nothing.”

But the Millers say that they manufacture their instruments based upon knowledge they have received through “telepathic impressions in the form of engineering blueprints” from “a place outside this Earth and its astral system.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not evaluated GWP’s instruments.

GWP claims that 3 million people around the world have used its instruments and that there are 12,000 “instrument keepers” in the United States, hundreds reside in California.

SIA says that its preliminary investigation “reveals that there are serious financial improprieties within the ‘nonprofit’ organization of the Gentle Wind Project.”

“It is our opinion that the Gentle Wind Project has made and is currently making a lot of money to support the extravagant lifestyle of their board of directors. All of this—at the cost of unsuspecting victims,” And SIA reports that it is now “putting a case together to submit to the US Attorney’s Office for review.”

Note: GWP has sued former members and various websites, including the Ross Institute (RI), for either linking to and/or posting comments made by former members. RI and myself are defendants in this action for linking to critical comments about GWP and also for giving GWP a “Flaming Website” award after the group attacked me personally on its website.

Tom Cruise is running in a relay today through LA as an “Olympic torchbearer,” honored for his so-called “humanitarian” work according to a Yahoo Press Release.

Samsung Electronics sponsored the actor citing his supposed “humanitarian” efforts through such organizations as “Applied Scholastics International,” “Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (HELP)” and “The New York Rescue Workers Detoxification Project.”

All these organizations have links to Scientology.

So isn’t Cruise really just shilling for Scientology rather than acting as a “humanitarian”? And running the relay as part of his ongoing personal marathon promoting the controversial church?

One example is the actor’s support of so-called “detoxification.”

Recently the star said, “It’s been almost three years since the attacks [on the World Trade Center] and thousands are still suffering”

The former “Top Gun” turned “Last Samurai” has opened “detoxification facilities” under the banner of the “NY Rescue Workers Detoxification Project,” which is based upon the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard founder of the Church of Scientology.

Cruise’s sister/spokesperson and fellow Scientologist says her brother “will open several more of the facilities through the rest of the year” reported Agence France-Presse.

However, the claims that form the basis for treatment at the clinics Cruise promotes were recently described as “irresponsible” and “pseudo-science,” then subsequently shunned by public schools in California reported the San Francisco Chronicle.

“We’re not going to have cults and religions preaching their line in our schools,” said a California Board of Education President.

The “preaching” he’s talking about is through school programs sponsored by Narconon, another project linked to Scientology.

The key concept behind Narconon treatment, just like Cruise’s clinics, is that the body somehow stores toxins indefinitely in fat. Scientologists preach that these poisons can be purged through a combination of sweating in a sauna along with doses of niacin and cooking oil.

Medical experts publicly repudiated this theory and were quoted at length within the San Francisco Chronicle.

This specific course of treatment is commonly called the “purification rundown,” which is a Scientology religious rite repackaged for sale through various programs linked to the controversial church, such as the Cruise sponsored project in New York.

Cruise tells rescue workers they can rid themselves of toxins picked up by working at Ground Zero trough the “rundown.”

But this approach is “not grounded in science,” a drug counselor told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Narconon program in California, just like the clinics Cruise touts, claim that residual toxins exit the body in colored ooze.

A California medical doctor dismissed this claim and stated, “I’m not aware of any data that show that going into a sauna detoxifies you from toxins of any kind. ”

But for Mr. Cruise this is not a matter of scientific data, instead the actor relies upon his religious faith.

The Hollywood star like his fellow Scientologist and Narconon spokesperson Kirstie Alley firmly believes in the preaching of L. Ron Hubbard.

Hubbard a Sci-fi writer turned prophet called his “purification rundown” a “tissue-cleansing regimen.”

However, a San Francisco School Superintendent summed it up quite differently. She said, “teaching the kids…a philosophical or religious belief, as opposed to science” is a “no [no].”

So shouldn’t New Yorkers “just say no” to Tom Cruise too?

The chief medical officer for the New York City Fire Department seems to think so. He concluded that there is no “objective evidence” to support Cruise’s clinic crusade.

And since when is promoting “irresponsible” “pseudo-science” without “objective evidence” considered a “humanitarian” endeavor?

Tom Cruise will no doubt doggedly continue in his faithful marathon run for Scientology, but should he be acclaimed for it?

After seven years of wrangling through a process of seemingly endless litigation the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Scientologist Lisa McPherson is over.

Some see it as the practical finale of a bitter battle. This view certainly includes the latest judge to sit on the case, who ardently encouraged a settlement to bring him some relief reports the St. Petersburg Times.

However, for former Scientologists who often suffer in silence and others that have placed themselves at risk by opposing the organization Time Magazine once called the “Cult of Greed,” this ending may seem somewhat disappointing.

Many would prefer to see the “cult” face the proverbial music in a court of law, instead of getting off the hook through a settlement in the nick of time.

And this settlement includes the usual “gag order” preferred by Scientology reported the St. Petersburg Times, which prohibits the plaintiffs from disclosing its terms and just how much cash Scientology parted with to essentially buy their silence.

Lisa McPherson is dead and nothing will bring her back, but it would have been meaningful for Scientology to be compelled through a court proceeding to explain its treatment of the 36-year-old woman, which led up to her untimely death.

It appears that millions of dollars have changed hands and the McPherson family has been well provided for.

It is also likely that the plaintiff’s counsel Ken Dandar walked away with at least a million dollars from the settlement, though he offered cryptically, “Things are not always what they appear to be.”

Perhaps suing Scientology is like mud wrestling with a pig, the litigant and his or her lawyer gets covered with mud, while the pig actually has a good time.

The Church of Scientology seems to have turned litigation into something of a religious rite. Its founder L. Ron Hubbard reportedly prescribed litigation as a means of battering and/or silencing critics.

After seven years of battering the McPherson family finally found that a settlement was preferable to wrestling a judgment against Scientology in court.

No doubt Scientology will spin the story its own way.

The organization will probably tell its faithful and anyone else that’s listening that there was never really any substance to support the Lisa McPherson lawsuit.

And loyalists from Tom Cruise to the not so elite “Sea Org” (full-time staffers) will likely accept whatever explanation the organization offers.

The rest of us will never know the details.

We can only surmise that something must have gone terribly wrong to send Ms. McPherson over the edge running naked down a Florida street. And something even more bizarre may have led to her death after many days of confinement under the direct supervision of Scientologists.

Scientology has taken steps recently to make sure its “religious services” are essentially exempt from further lawsuits. Its members now routinely sign documents that largely immunize the organization from meaningful accountability and allow Scientology sweeping prerogatives regarding such things as medical situations and decisions, not to mention confidential files.

This all makes it much more difficult for another Lisa McPherson lawsuit to arise against the organization in the future.

Other than the bad press Scientology endured there will be no reckoning regarding Lisa McPherson.

First criminal charges were dismissed concerning the death of Lisa McPherson and now there won’t even be a civil trial.

Has Scientology topped O.J. Simpson?

But of course there is that undisclosed settlement they had to pay out.

However, given the purported vast wealth of the anointed “Cult of Greed” this may have amounted to little more than a quick dip into petty cash.

The Lisa McPherson wrongful death lawsuit ends, not with a bang, but a whimper