Masters of Deception

In this last chapter on the New Religious Movements, I will single out a few that were clearly based on deceit and spiritual manipulation. As in the other chapters, I have changed the names of individual members.


In March 1987 Mr Sullivan from Northampton informed us that his son-in-law had joined the Rajneesh community in Oregon, USA, adopting the new name Shana. He had left his wife and two children. Could we help in any way? A similar request came from a priest in Manchester in September 1987. One of his parishioners had upped sticks to join Rajneesh leaving her husband and children. In February 1989 a distraught Mrs Fielding from Newcastle asked us how to help her daughter who had become one of the ‘orange people. In May of the same  year Mr and Mrs Fitzpatrick from Surrey told us their 23-year old son had met Rajneesh in India, and was thinking of living there for good.

Who was Rajneesh?

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Among gurus Rajneesh may be called a super-writer and super-manipulator. Small wonder. He came from a Marathi business family and lectured in philosophy for some years at Saugar University in India. Thus he learnt to cross-pollinate good commercial sense with an uninhibited love of talking. He soon reaped the fruits. When I visited Rajneesh Ashram in Poona in 1979, it was a veritable supermarket of religion which offered 65 courses a month to an estimated 1,400 disciples and which published 45 new Bhagwan titles a year. The profits were handsome and if a religion’s success could be judged by income, Rajneesh would score high.

As in all commerce, luck is needed too. Good fortune smiled on Rajneesh in the sixties when throngs of disenchanted hippies visited Bombay en route to the legendary beaches of Goa. It was just the kind of audience the master had prayed for. Indians did not, and still don’t, take him seriously. Those confused, sexually mixed-up and parent-craving youths, however, required the medicine that he could give them. They took to him, talked about him at home and so provided the first network of contacts that soon spanned the world.

What did Rajneesh teach? In a nutshell, that every person should develop himself or herself fully; that every doctrine, practice or moral principle that helps should be retained, the rest discarded. Rajneesh’s talks and writings are endless rambles to justify these basic tenets. In doing so he draws on every conceivable religious tradition in history. He quotes from Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian literature. He quotes them in any way he likes, criticising, commending or giving a new interpretation. Because his source material is sound and because he is well-read and intelligent, some of his statements make sense. The western approach to religion is too notional, he tells us. Science destroys life when it demystifies it. Most sexual problems arise from repression.

Strong winds cannot blow all morning, as Lao Tsu warned us and Rajneesh’s books prove him right. A good deal of their contents is plain rubbish. Who could seriously defend that Hitler was a vehicle for Maitreya, supported in the first part of the war by Ashoka’s estoric circle of nine? Or what to think when we are told that the Hindu concept of time reflects the original calculatimg power of the human brain? People in Britain unconsciously witness to this. “In England, they change the date at midnight. That makes no sense, really. It looks absurd. No one will awaken out of his sleep just to change the date. It is illogical, impractical. The date must be changed in the morning. But why in the night? In India it is 5.30 in the morning when it is midnight in England! There was a world before Mahabharat when the Hindu mind ruled over the whole world. Whenever there was morning in India, that was the time to change the date.” (I Am The Gate, Poona 1975, pp. 209-211).

More upsetting than such absurdities is the shallowness of it all, the claim to give guidance while doling out such a miserable hotch-potch.

If I seem unnecessarily harsh in my judgment it is on account of my conviction that, indeed, many were misguided. When I visited Rajneesh’s centre in Poona in 1979, it was not the master but the disciples that impressed me most. Those flocks of orange-clad young men and women from Europe and America who claimed to have found a peace and joy they could not find at home. They were living witnesses to a lack in our society and to an emptiness in the way we live our Christian faith.

The person of the master played an important role in binding the disciples. The questions addressed to the guru in the public sessions often reveal an almost hysterical devotion.

  • “When I first saw you, Bhagwan, I felt I had found protection. Bhagwan will protect. But I’m asking myself ‘How is Bhagwan going to protect me from Bhagwan himself?`”
  • “I love to be in your presence. . . Bhagwan, what type of game are you playing with me? I dreamed of you, Bhagwan. You told me ‘Drink me, eat me, breathe me’.”
  • “Listening to you I feel as if I am dying. You are my peak, my Everest, so beautiful and so far away, and yet incredibly close.”
  • “You are the best whisky-coke l’ve ever had. l stumble out of your lectures every day, my head spinning. Should I give you up as a bad habit?”

Sathya Si Baba

In the Spring of 1986 we were approached by a woman in Golders Green, London, who told us that her son had travelled to India and had become a follower of Sai Baba. Did we know about him? I certainly did. Because I had come across him while working in India. Sai Baba hailed from Andhra Pradesh, the  Indian State that had been my own main mission territory.

Sathya Sai Baba

Sathya Sai Baba claimed to be the reincarnation of an earlier Hindu saint, Sai Baba of Shirdi. The Shirdi Sai Baba had always kept a sacred fire going. The modern Sai Baba used to routinely produce ash, vibhuti, in his right hand, ash  which he would generous distribute to followers. The ash, he told everyone, came straight from Shirdi Sai Baba’s sacred fire . . . At times he would go round large crowds shaking ash from his right sleeve into thousands of eager hands, buckets full of it. It was one of the ‘miracles’ he performed.

Slight of hand was his strength. When meeting rich people in face-to-face interviews to give them personal guidance, he would, on their departure, mysteriously materialise a piece of jewellery, a Swiss watch or something similar and give it as parting present. Each year, during Shiva Ratri celebrations watched by thousands, he would go into convulsions – and then, from his mouth, extract a gold lingam, the replica of a male organ representing Shiva’s penis.

These were just tricks of magic as was later confirmed after his death in 2011. In a number of Sai Baba’s residences were found hoards of such objects: 104 kg in gold ornaments; 552 kg of silver articles; thousands of pure silk sarees; you name it.

However, Sai Baba’s message was always positive and constructive. He frequently repeated: “Love all, serve all. Help ever, hurt never.” He used to say: “I have come to light the lamp of Love in your hearts, to see that it shines day by day with added lustre. I have not come on behalf of any exclusive religion. I have not come on a mission of publicity for a sect or creed or cause, nor have I come to collect followers for a doctrine. I have come to tell you of this unitary faith, this spiritual principle, this path of Love, this virtue of Love, this duty of Love, this obligation of Love.”

Moreover, the Sathya Sai Organisation which he founded, with over 1,200 Sathya Sai Centres (branches) in 126 countries, undertook many charitable service activities. These included a network of free hospitals, clinics, drinking water projects, auditoriums, ashrams and schools.

Moses Berg – sex for free

In September 1986 Mrs Parsons from Chelsea informed us that her eldest son wanted to join the Children of God. He was a happy-go-lucky boy, unwilling to take on responsibilities, attracted by free sex . . . In April 1988 twenty-year old Debra Fuller from Croyden approached us about her friend Graem who was caught up in the Children of God. Should she go along with Graem to see what it was all about? In July of the same year a religious sister from Newbury rang about a Catholic boy who had joined the sect. He lived in a small commune of three families. In October 1994 Mandy Lawton rang up from Ramsgate. She told us that she had been a member of the Children of God for 15 years. She had now left with six of her seven children. Was concerned about her eldest daughter who was still living with them . . .   The list goes on.

Moses Berg with one of his women

Son of travelling evangelists Moses Berg, popularly ‘Mo’, turned against institutionalised religion. Impressed by the love-hungry hippies of the US 1960’s he founded the Children of God, also known as the Family of Love. On entering the movement, converts were given a new name, usually of biblical origin. They surrendered all possessions including money, with a tithe of all ‘earnings’ going to headquarters.  Though there were married couples in the movement, the emphasis was on ‘shared sex’. Members were encouraged to satisfy anybody’s
sexual needs as an expression of love. Because Mo discouraged contraception, the number of children born into the movement increased, with uncertain  parentage.

Mo concocted teaching from the Old Testament and from occultist beliefs, such as astrology and spiritism. He claimed to have received inspiration from a Gipsy king ‘Ibrahim’ and other departed spirits. Mo emphasised the apocalyptic last days and the imminent return of Christ foretold in the Scriptures. Only the ‘Children of God’ (in contrast to the ‘Children of Man’) can escape the consequent devastation. Mo labelled all establishment institutions -governments, churches, schools, mainstream medicine – as the doomed ‘satanic system’ which must be avoided. MO-letters, regular circulars written by Berg in biblical style, with numbered verses, were placed on the same level (if not higher) as Scripture of which they were said to offer true interpretation. Some of letters contain instructions on flirty fishing (gaining converts by sexual seduction) and the role of group and child sex within the movement.

Mo may have started from a genuine belief that the moral values of Western society were in decay and that the message of Jesus’ love and salvation should be spread as far and wide as possible, unfettered by convention or tradition. But in fact he unleashed both in his personal life and that of his followers unbridled sexual promiscuity and even child abuse.

Ronald Hubbard – fake mental healing

Between 1986 and 1997 we counselled members of ten Catholic families whose relatives were caught in the clutches of Scientology. They hailed from Harlow, Mill Hill, Southwark, Uxbridge, Banbury, Manchester. Liverpool, Northampton, Cork and Edinburgh. A veritable tale of human destruction . . .

Ronald Hubbard,

Ronald Hubbard, creator of Scientology, had spun an elaborate web of ensnarement. Members were usually trapped by their undergoing free ‘personality tests’ in Scientology shops strategically positioned in local high streets. The test would be declared to be positive except for some minor problems that could be solved by taking a suitable psychological course – which would need to be paid for. At the end of the course another test with similar outcome: the need for a higher, more expensive course, and so on. Members would soon be paying thousands of pounds, and if they could not afford this, be coaxed into signing declarations of debt – which could only be paid off by service to Scientology.

To underpin his pseudo-psychological views Hubbard invented a convoluted network of imaginary entities. Basic is the Thetan in us, the spirit, which is eternal and has lived in millions of incarnations. The personal goal for a Scientologist is the elimination of engrams, painful experiences from the past. Auditing, that is counselling,  help him to rid himself of these self-erected barriers, to advance from the state of pre-clear to clear, and with that to gain total freedom of one’s Thetan. An important tool for the Auditor is the E-meter, a kind of unsophisticated lie-detector, said to register the pre-clear’s engrams which should be released from his mind. As an OT, operating Thetan, he can then help to achieve the general goal, namely to make this planet clear and create paradise with happy, fulfilled people.

The movement claimed to be a Church, probably to benefit from a preferred tax status. But there is little mention of God, let alone Christ, in its teachings. Much more can be said about Scientology. From my experience it was a huge money-making behemoth, enslaving some people and ruining the lives of others. To warn people off I wrote an article about the movement in 1996 with the title Is Scientology a Religion?

Christian Sects and Esoterics

Time and space do not allow me to give a full account of all the new religious movements we dealt with during those years. I will just mention some more by name.

Among the sects that derived from Christianity we came across the following: the Unification Church, also known as the Moonies; the Central London Church of Christ; Insight; the Way International; the Worldwide Church of God and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Esoterics cults also flourished, that is cults based on the occult. We counselled families of members involved in EST and Exegesis; Eckankar; Emin; the Aetherius Society, the Rosicrucians and the School of Economic Science. We met a number of Catholic women who were involved in Witch Covens. One woman who was a member of a Satanic Circle came to us a number of times for advice on how to get out. She said she felt harassed by other members. In the end, I am afraid, she decided to remain in the group. Blackmail and pressure from her husband who was also a Satanist prevailed in the end.