For some time Oprah Winfrey has been drifting further and further out to the fringes of “New Age” philosophy, which is strewn with “self-help” claims. And her fans have faithfully followed the star without much meaningful critical thinking, somewhat like cult members enamored with a self-styled messianic leader.

oprahnewearth.jpgOprah’s ongoing spiritual odyssey last year included a revelation called “The Secret” (see YouTube clip), a DVD concocted by Rhonda Byrne, a former Australian television and film producer.

Ms. Byrne’s supposed spiritual breakthrough consisted of little more than a synthesis of existing “positive thinking” theories based largely upon what is called the “law of attraction,” essentially you get what you want if you wish hard enough for it.

Skeptic Magazine reporter Michael Shermer labeled Byrne’s bromides “incredibly materialistic and narcissistic…magical thinking…”

But there is a rather dark flip side to the “law of attraction” through its apparent indictment of those that somehow are blamed for attracting negative things.

John Norcross, a psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who researches self-help books stated within a news report, “So that would mean that if you’re poor, you have somehow earned it by your thinking, If you’ve been sexually abused, you’d be surprised to hear that someway, you’re responsible for that…Cancer victims. Sexual assault victims. Holocaust victims. They’re responsible? The book is riddled with these destructive falsehoods,” Norcross concluded.

Nevertheless many of Oprah’s rapt devotees were ready to believe whatever “secret” she had to share, after all, who better than a billionaire talk-show host to lead them into the “promised land.”

For decades Winfrey has cultivated a cult following. And millions of Oprah fans appear willing to do whatever Winfrey wants, whether it’s buy a book or a DVD.

But this year has Oprah Winfrey “jumped the shark“?

Now she is enrolling her TV following to receive enlightenment.

That’s right, USA Today reports that more than 700,000 Oprah fans have recently signed up for a 10-week Web seminar with their talk show sage and her latest guru Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth, yet another self-help book recommended by Oprah’s Book Club.

However, this guru’s bio is just a bit strange.

tolleheadshot1.jpgAfter a somewhat sketchy foray into academia and years of severe depression, Tolle (photo left) on his 29th birthday, found himself in the midst of suicidal despair. He has said, “I couldn’t live with myself any longer” and Tolle “felt drawn into a void.” It was at this juncture that his “mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and fearful future, collapsed.”

Then suddenly “the next morning ” when Tolle woke up “everything was so peaceful” and he had “no explanation for this.”

Some might observe that the young Tolle snapped and had something like a nervous breakdown, but according to Oprah’s latest revelation, this is when her guru became “enlightened” (see Tolle interview)

To see how strange Tolle can be watch this YouTube clip.

Eckhart Tolle’s version of enlightenment includes a belief in what he calls “painbodies.”

Tolle’s painbodies appear similar to what Scientologists call “Body Thetans” (BTs), a pesky, negative and nasty thing that should be shed as soon as possible.

Oprah Winfrey apparently has bought into this “magical thinking.”

Has she been hanging out too much with Madonna and Tom Cruise?

But it just isn’t enough for Winfrey to simply embrace such beliefs herself, she wants to proselytize and convert her television audience.

Are we witnessing the beginning of the Oprah Winfrey cult?

Hundreds of thousands of diehard Oprah fans that not only adore the star, but are willing to embrace whatever belief system she preaches and praises through her television talk-show pulpit?

It seems like that old Oprah, which audiences often identified with, is slipping away and a new identity is emerging.

Oprah may be shedding the cocoon of simple celebrity stardom to evolve into and come forth as something else–a kind of tranformational guru and televangelist.

Stay tuned, but don’t “drink the kool-aid.

Note: CultNews (Rick Ross) has been a guest on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” twice (1989, 1992). And the old Oprah coffee mug still sits up on the shelf.

A purported “cult” based near Albany, New York, seems to have moved from primarily targeting business executives to the potential recruitment of college students, attending singing events.

NXIVM, a corporation that sells workshops also known as “Executive Success Programs” (ESP), is linked to entertainment events for A capella college singing groups. One was staged during December and another event is planned for next month (April 4-6 in) in Albany.

esp7.jpgThere are reportedly 15,000 A capella singing groups at colleges across the country.

NXIVM/ESP devotees are called “Espians,” and they are led by failed multi-level marketing guru Keith Raniere (photo left), whose followers call him “Vanguard.”

It appears that college students, a traditional target for groups called “cults,” may have become the latest focus for NXIVM.

In a paid advertisement run by the Albany Times-Union made to look like a news report Raniere proclaimed, “The event [was] intended to get people out to support these college students and share in their joy for producing music.” He added that the audience would be “uplifted by the art and really experience an inspired closeness towards fellow humans.”

However, a suspicious and much older A capella group called “Simply Human,” which is not composed of college kids and reports that Keith Raniere is one of its “musical directors,” “hosted and created” the event, according to CASA (Contemporary A Capella Society).

A Capella Innovations,” the orgnaization behind the December event, which took place at a large and popular venue The Albany Egg, also seems to be linked to NXIVM. The orgnaization says its purpose is to “promote innovation, evolution and unity in the A Cappella community.”

Long-time NXIVM supporter Clare Bronfman, daughter of billionaire Seagrams heir Edgar Bronfman Sr., was the December event’s producer. And Ms. Bronfman’s brother, Edgar Bronfman Jr. head of Warner Music Group, flew in to judge participating college singing groups.

Interestingly, Edgar Bronfman Sr. once told Forbes Magazine that his daughter was involved in a “cult.”

The Forbes article titled “Cult of Personality” reported, “people see a darker and more manipulative side to Keith Raniere. Detractors say he runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families and inducting them into a bizarre world of messianic pretensions, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices.”

Popular acts were booked at the December Albany event deliberately designed to attract a young audience, such as the House Jacks, Denise Reis and The Fault Line. College a capella groups that reportedly performed included UMass Dynamics, MIT Resonance, Brandeis Voicemale, Binghamton Crosbys, RW Vocal Infusion, BU in AChord, UMass Doo Wop Shop, U Maine Bear Vocals, UVM Hit Pause, Clarkson Golden Knotes and Smith Vibes.ednnovations Conference

kreuk.jpegThe young audience’s interest was probably also piqued by the featured attendance of TV actresses Kristin Kreuk and Allison Mack, from the Warner Brothers series Smallville, who acted as “Masters of Ceremonies.”

CultNews previously reported that Kristin Kreuk (photo right), who plays Lana Lang on Smallville, has been involved in NXIVM.

Apparently Ms. Kreuk’s involvement, which seemed to begin around June 2006, has continued unabated.

Clips of Kreuk hosting the event can be seen on YouTube, she is posed in front of a banner with a quote attributed to “Keith Raniere.”

If all Vanguard and his Espians want is to support the arts, that’s fine.

But if Raniere’s interest in singing is simply a ploy to lure college students into NXIVM, those invited or attending such entertainment events should beware.

See the following reports:

“A Forensic Psychiatrist Evaluates ESP”

“A Critical Analysis of Executive Success Programs Inc.”

“Robert Jay Lifton’s eight criteria of thought reform as applied to the Executive Success Programs”

Some NXIVM program participants have sought psychiatric treatment subsequent to attending the group’s intensives, one participant was hospitalized and another committed suicide.

Note: Tempermental A cappella enthusiasts often insist on various spellings and combinations regarding this phrase or musical term. 

A new book has been released about the business, religious, media and political empire constructed by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, designated “messiah” and leader of the Unification Church.51seszfolkl_ss500_.jpg

Bad Moon Rising: How Reverend Moon Created the Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right and Built an American Kingdom by John Gorenfeld published by Polipoint Press was released March 1, 2008, and is now available at

Gorenfeld says:

“Years ago, Moon was widely considered a dangerous madman, like Jim Jones or L. Ron Hubbard, the inspiration for TV specials with names like ‘Escape From The Moonies.’ His group was notorious for prying young people from families, persuading them to sell flowers to pay for Moon’s mansions and yacht, and marrying them to strangers as a show of domination. Not only is he still around, but he is richer and more influential than ever.”

CultNews has often been asked, “Whatever happened to the Moonies?” As if the purported “cult” had suddenly disappeared after becoming marginalized and insignificant.

But as Gorenfeld reveals Rev. Moon instead became a multi-billionaire and a formidable fixture in American politics, who exerts his influence through media assets such as the Washington Times and United Press International (UPI).

The Bush family in particular has forged friendly ties to the would-be messiah, who has donated to their political campaigns, presidential libraries, pet charities–not to mention handing out generous honorariums for speaking engagements.

President George H. Bush has reportedly made millions on Moon’s lucrative lecture circuit.

At one time “Moonie” David Caprara ran the so-called “faith-based initiative” from an office in the White House.

The growing political influence of Moon reaches even into the UN, where his long-time devotee Josette Sheeran is now heading the UN World Food Program.

Neil Bush, younger brother of George W. Bush, just days ago called upon Paraguay’s president courtesy of a business federation founded by the Rev. Moon, reported Associated Press.

Gorenfeld’s book reveals how Moon’s influence crept from the fringes of America into the mainstream of American politics.

No one knows exactly what salary evangelist Benny Hinn pays himself annually from his ministry’s funds, but a decade ago he stated it was more than $500,000.

Since then sources say Hinn has apparently quadrupled his take to somewhere around $2 million per annum.

bennyhinn_narrowweb__300×3870.jpgEstimates have placed the annual gross contributions made to Benny Hinn’s ministry at about $200 million.

How is it that this oily preacher manages to haul in so much cash?

Has everyone forgotten the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which landed PTL Club founder Jim Bakker in prison and his wife Tammy Faye in divorce court?

Now incredibly even Bakker is back in business, plying his trade again by using virtually the same pitch.

Perhaps given such a startling reversal, it’s not hard to understand the continuing success of Benny Hinn, the peripatetic “prophet,” who hops around on a Gulfstream jet, stays overnight in presidential hotel suites and maintains a fleet of luxury cars.

After all, Hinn’s multi-million dollar so-called California “parsonage” has parking for ten.

Maybe a borrowed donkey and night sleeping under the stars was good enough for Jesus, but doesn’t this 21st Century “Man of God” deserve more consideration?

Meanwhile, Iowa senator and Baptist Charles Grassley doen’t seem much impressed by Hinn’s supposed spiritual authority. Grassley is currently investigating the minister’s finances and wants some detailed disclosure.

But Pastor Benny apparently thinks that opening up his books may be “sinful” or even “satanic.”

The evangelist envoked the Constitutional doctrine of church and state, hoping to hide behind what has been called the “wall of separation,” for his salvation.

But does making money in the “name of God,” mean special treatment when it comes to the tax code?

In a recent visit to Brisbane Pastor Benny drew audiences in the thousands. One night Hinn cooked up quite a convenient revelation. “This is a prophecy,” he said. “You are about to see the biggest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. You are going to see prosperity like you never dreamed of. Money is being transferred from sinners to the righteous.”

“Are you righteous?” Hinn asked the crowd.

Of course those assembled answered in the affirmative, anxious to get their slice of the heavenly kingdom.

But to get what they want from God, according to Benny, believers first need to put up some earnest money.

He explained, “The Jews were taught by God how to give. When they brought their gifts to the Lord, it was only the best…God deserves the best. You give God the best and you’ll get the best from him. Are you here for God’s blessing? What are you going to give the Lord tonight?”

By “the Lord,” what Hinn really means for practical purposes, is himself.

So “sowing the seed” with “God,” literally means giving your money to Benny Hinn.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald Hinn hauled in about $800,000, through just three performances.

Benny Hinn would make the fictional “Elmer Gantry” blush.

After all, in the end Gantry appears to have a conscience, but Benny Hinn does not.

Preying upon people that are sick and suffering by telling them that they must pay to receive God’s blessings, sounds more like blackmail than preaching the Gospel.

CultNews receives regular emails from Benny Hinn supporters, who say that criticiszing him is tantamount to “coming against God.”

This self-proclaimed prophet is supposedly an “annointed” hero, and not a huckster.

CultNews has also been told that it’s a plan of the “devil,” to raise questions about Benny Hinn, which could incur God’s holy wrath.

But Jesus answered questions and advised his followers to “love” their “enemies.”

And critically evaluating leaders is certainly well-within the parameters of the New Testament. In Galatians Paul quite harshly criticized and then condemned corrupt leaders.

And as recorded in Acts Peter didn’t automatically rebuke Paul’s critique of his teachings. Instead, Peter slept on it and subsequently realized that Paul was right.

So should Pastor Benny receive any more consideration than Jesus or the apostles?

Charles Grassley certainly doesn’t seem to think so. And it probably didn’t take a “prophecy” to prompt the Iowa senator’s concern about Pastor Hinn’s finances.

CultNews reported the death of Sri Chinmoy in October of last year, the guru often called a “cult leader,” died of a heart attack at his home in Jamaica Queens, New York. He was 76.

Chinmoy considered a “holy man” by his disciples, was dubbed “sleazy Sri” by the New York Post, when it was revealed that he exploited some of his female followers for sexual favors.

chinmoy6001.jpgThe Chicago Tribune called Chinmoy the “gonzo guru” for his incessant publicity stunts, which included lifting massive weights with the help of a mechanical device.

Chinmoy seemed willing to do almost anything to get his name in print.

Despite their guru’s apparent egomania, Chinmoy’s devotees persistently attempted to spin him into some sort of selfless saint pursuing peace.

But it looks like a posthumous title for Chinmoy might be the “greedy guru,” denoting a man more selfish the saintly.

CultNews obtained a copy of the “Will of Chinmoy Kumar Ghose” (aka Sri Chinmoy) and rather than demonstrating that he had few concerns about the material world, his final testament proves that cash was often the focus of his consciousness.

Chinmoy left behind a financial residue totaling millions of dollars in net assets, which were held by him personally rather than the nonprofit he controlled called “Sri Chinmoy Centre Church Inc.”

The “estimated testamentary assets of the estate” were “in excess of $2 million” according to a statement filed by Chinmoy’s designated executor David K. Burke of Jamaica, Queens, where many of his remaining followers continue to reside.

According to Burke the guru had $150,000.00 in various bank accounts, and “six real properties” all under his name.

Four of the properties are located in Jamaica Queens.

Two properties appear to be private residences, one is located in Victoria, British Columbia and another in Tarpon, Florida.

Did these properties serve as Sri Chinmoy’s selfless seasonal retreats?

The guru stated in his will that he had no “surviving relatives” and left everything after his death to the “Sri Chinmoy Centre Church, Inc.,” which will continue to perpetuate his name.

Benjamin Spector, a former devotee wrote, “Many of Chinmoy’s disciples will go into their senior years with no social security and ineligible for Medicare…”

Spector says, “Most of us gave up college and our careers for him.” The former follower worries, “After ten, twenty, thirty years of living in a cult, who will look after these ‘weird’ people in whites and saris? They have no job skills, and most were too poor to ever see a doctor or dentist.”

Will any of the guru’s millions be set aside to take care his past or present disciples?

Or will everything continue to fuel an endless posthumous promotion of his name?

What about the living?

Spector recalls, “The Guru promised us all ‘a ticket to heaven’ and all we had to do was to become his devoted unconditional slaves and willingly sacrifice our current lives for the promise of a heavenly future.”

Maybe David Burke should consider offering some compensation for former and current Sri Chinmoy devotees interested in redeeming those tickets.