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What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?
Religion News ^ | June 17th, 2005

Posted on 06/17/2005 10:10:13 AM PDT by missyme

New Take on Ancient Jewish Spiritual Teachings Has Drawn Celebrities and Criticism

Jun. 17, 2005 - Most people don't have a clue what the spiritual movement Kabbalah is, though they may be aware it has something to do with a parade of stars from Madonna to Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton wearing red strings on their wrists.

Kabbalah has become a multimillion-dollar empire with more than 40 branches all over the world. But is the Kabbalah of the stars the same Kabbalah that Jewish men in Israel have been quietly studying for centuries?

In cryptic and mystical terms, Kabbalah explores the nature of God and the universe. Rabbis have traditionally believed the philosophy behind it is so complicated that it could only be taught to ultra-religious Jewish men over 40 who had spent their lives studying Judaism.

In 1971, with virtually no money, Karen Berg and her husband Philip Berg -- the spiritual leader known to followers as the Rav -- opened their first Kabbalah Centre, turning traditional Jewish wisdom upside down by offering Kabbalah study to women and non-Jews. The Bergs had a simple but radical idea: Kabbalah wasn't just for elite Jewish scholars but was something that could be simplified and taught to everyone

It wasn't until we started really bringing it to the people that they actually had access to this knowledge," Karen Berg told Elizabeth Vargas in an exclusive interview to air on "20/20" tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Their movement picked up momentum quickly, Berg said. "It was almost like Jesus … talks on the Mount and brought people. And they believed in what he said. And they brought more people … God forbid, I'm not saying that we're messiah consciousness. I'm only saying that we built in the same fashion."

However the Bergs built their movement, many followers say Kabbalah has changed their lives. And the adherents aren't just celebrities.

Don Ellis, a former FBI agent who now practices law and runs a bodyguard service, was raised a Southern Baptist in Texas. He says Kabbalah gave him the spiritual answers he'd been searching for. "I studied a number of different religions, spiritualities, searching for something. And then one day, I saw a CD set called 'Power of Kabbalah.' That's all it took for me was that one series. I haven't looked back since," he told Vargas.

There are no Kabbalah Centres near Ellis' home, so he stays connected by listening to their tapes. He said Kabbalah has created spiritual and financial miracles for him.

Spiritual Accessories The Bergs have brought this ancient wisdom out of the dark ages and mass-marketed it, inventing their own must-have accessories like red strings and Kabbalah water, which they aggressively sell and claim will protect followers from "negative energy." At services and classes, they teach that Kabbalah is not a religion but a "technology for the soul" that plugs anyone into what they call the "Light" or God -- a God that has 72 names, which if meditated on, will make your dreams come true.

But rabbis like Yitzchok Adlerstein, a professor of law and ethics at Loyola University in Los Angeles, question some of the practices of the Kabbalah newcomers -- like Britney Spears, who tattooed one of God's 72 names in Hebrew on her neck.

"Using one of the names of God on her neck is going to bring enough prosperity to Britney as my tattooing Britney's name to my neck. I guarantee you," Adlerstein told "20/20."

"What the Bergs are offering is not remotely Kabbalah," he added.

The Bergs insist their writings are a direct interpretation of the Zohar, an ancient text, dense and complex, that contains a mystical discussion of what God is.

"We go directly to the source, directly to the Zohar. We don't teach anything that's ours. We don't claim to be teachers. We don't even care if anyone respects us or not. Our job is to bring content to people, content that wasn't there before. Nothing we do comes from our brain," said Yehuda Berg, one of the couple's sons, who runs the Kabbalah Centres with his mother and brother Michael Berg.

Indeed, the Kabbalah Centres' approach to the Zohar is a far cry from the rigorous intellectual pursuit of Jewish scholars. The Bergs teach that merely to have the Zohar in your possession offers one protective powers, a claim scholars say is ridiculous.

Ellis has spent thousands of dollars buying complete sets of the Zohar for his home, office and family. "That's the telephone line to God. All you have to do is plug it in and you're connected," said Ellis, who admits he doesn't know what the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic text he's reading means. "I have no idea what it says. But anyway, that doesn't matter. This is powerful stuff," he said.

Karen Berg said the message of the Kabbalah text transcends language barriers "because your brain, your subconscious has a way to pick up what -- they're almost like a scanner in a supermarket. You know it's just a code, a bar code. And yet they can manage to take the material they need from it."

Adlerstein says this is nonsense. "The notion that you can mumble a couple of words or find the right mantra, or by focusing on letters with your fingers, is the antithesis of what Kabbalah is," he said.

No Strings Attached -- to Ancient Text The Bergs' Kabbalah promises to make you rich, find your mate, improve your sex life, even get you pregnant. They say so in their books, in which they call themselves the world's foremost authorities on Kabbalah. But critics say they're reducing the ancient tradition to "Kabbalah Lite."

But what's wrong with making an obscure and complicated philosophy accessible to the masses?

Adlerstein says the Bergs' centers aren't truly communicating the message of Kabbalah. "Sure, you can take astrophysics and reduce it to 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,' and maybe people understand that, but it's not astrophysics," he said.

Moreover, Adlerstein says the signature red strings, which the Bergs sell along with texts for $26, have no origin in traditional Kabbalah study. The Bergs say the strings protect followers from negative forces. But Adlerstein said, "To sell it for 26 bucks and attribute all kinds of magical properties to it, again, the idea of reducing Kabbalah to a kind of magical formula, or technology, is repugnant to me," he said.

But the rabbi's criticism doesn't bother Kabbalists like Madonna. "There's a lot of rabbinical organizations who are saying, you know, this is blasphemy -- they're not part of us and they're right, we're not," she said.

But the Bergs have stirred up a controversy that goes beyond interpretation of ancient spiritual texts. With millions in product sales, coupled with the Kabbalah Centres' vast real estate holdings, there is the question of where does the money go?

Some critics say the Bergs pressure their Kabbalist followers to purchase expensive tour packages and that their Spirituality for Kids foundation, which has received millions of dollars from Madonna, has given loans to a private construction company for real estate deals in Los Angeles.

Some also ask why Karen Berg's tax return says she and her family have taken a vow of poverty when their lifestyle is hardly humble. Karen reportedly drives a Mercedes. And she, Michael and Yehuda Berg and their families live side by side in million-dollar homes in Beverly Hills.

Karen Berg likens their arrangement to that of Roman Catholic priests. "Last time I checked, the Vatican looked like a very nice place for people to live for someone who's taken a vow of poverty," she told Vargas.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Crime/Corruption; Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: hollywood; kabbalah; spiritualjourney
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1 posted on 06/17/2005 10:10:14 AM PDT by missyme
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To: missyme

I guess Bahai isn't cool anymore, now it's Kabbalah. Maybe in another decade we'll see Hollywood Gnostics.


2 posted on 06/17/2005 10:13:57 AM PDT by wizardoz
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To: missyme

What????? A fad comin out of Hollyweird??????? Can't be true!


3 posted on 06/17/2005 10:14:19 AM PDT by Millee (So you're a feminist......isn't that cute??)
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To: missyme
Karen Berg said the message of the Kabbalah text transcends language barriers "because your brain, your subconscious has a way to pick up what -- they're almost like a scanner in a supermarket. You know it's just a code, a bar code. And yet they can manage to take the material they need from it."

Neat.

4 posted on 06/17/2005 10:15:02 AM PDT by monkeybrau
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To: missyme

Moron see Moron do.


5 posted on 06/17/2005 10:15:32 AM PDT by cripplecreek (I zot trolls for fun and profit.)
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To: wizardoz

I wonder when the Scientologists are gonna wake up?


6 posted on 06/17/2005 10:15:39 AM PDT by FormerLib (Kosova: "land stolen from Serbs and given to terrorist killers in a futile attempt to appease them.")
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To: missyme

Hollywood is evil in so many ways...


7 posted on 06/17/2005 10:16:20 AM PDT by Battle Hymn of the Republic
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To: wizardoz; Millee

Scientology for the B-list?


8 posted on 06/17/2005 10:16:38 AM PDT by ken5050
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To: missyme
What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?

I can simmer it down to one simple statement:

Kabbalah is the latest opiate for hollywood crowd. In time, they will find some new drug to satiate their meaningless existences.

9 posted on 06/17/2005 10:16:41 AM PDT by Turbo Pig (...to close with and destroy the enemy...)
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To: missyme

It's just chic, like Heroin-Chic, and AIDS-chic, or Lesbian-Chic. Just a way of keeping a name in the news. In a few months it'll be forgotten, while Cutting and Cannibalism will be "In".


10 posted on 06/17/2005 10:18:15 AM PDT by theDentist (The Dems have put all their eggs in one basket-case: Howard "Belltower" Dean.)
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To: missyme

"I have no idea what it says. But anyway, that doesn't matter. This is powerful stuff," he said.


ROTFLMAO!!!!!!! There is a sucker born every minute.


11 posted on 06/17/2005 10:19:02 AM PDT by FeliciaCat (I like my money where I can see it...hanging in my closet.)
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To: missyme
Karen Berg likens their arrangement to that of Roman Catholic priests. "Last time I checked, the Vatican looked like a very nice place for people to live for someone who's taken a vow of poverty," she told Vargas.

Except, of course, that the Pope has never taken a vow of poverty.

Diocesan priests take vows of celibacy and obedience, not poverty.

And the Pope doesn't exactly live high on the hog.

I doubt either of the Bergs would be caught dead driving something as declasse as a Jetta.

Still and all, a fascinating article on this odd phenomenon.

One of the things the Bergs teach is that one not only does not have to understand Hebrew or Aramaic (the Zohar is written in a mixture of both), but one does not vene have to know the letters. Just running one's finger over the lines of the text is good enough.

And of course, the Zohar that you can buy for $70 or so dollars in a Judaica shop is not good enough - the Zohar doesn't "work" unless you buy the $500 Kabbalah Center edition.

12 posted on 06/17/2005 10:19:33 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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Comment #13 Removed by Moderator

To: wizardoz

It was Bahai. Then Scientology. Now Kabbalah. My call is that Sufi is next.


14 posted on 06/17/2005 10:21:30 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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To: missyme
Just had an idea. I am going to invent me some new whacky religion and see it it will catch on in H-Wood. I could make millions off of idiot stars.

Hmmm...I need some sort of "symbol" to base it on. Perhaps a golden bull, or cow, or something...
15 posted on 06/17/2005 10:21:49 AM PDT by Gator101
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To: missyme

Such a bunch of fools. Kabbalah is supposed to be meaningful after you've mastered learning torah (what you'd call the old testament) and observing its rules. Of course the Hollywooders ignore the bible and rules, and just go straight to the "spiritual" stuff.

If they realized it was bible they wouldn't like it, so they just skip that part.


16 posted on 06/17/2005 10:22:02 AM PDT by Betaille
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To: missyme

a diversion like all the other 'religions' so they can try and escape thier conscience and the one true God.


17 posted on 06/17/2005 10:22:40 AM PDT by Hammerhead
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Comment #18 Removed by Moderator

Comment #19 Removed by Moderator

To: missyme

Reverand Ike says,
"We are talking GOD POWER!
And what color IS God POWER?
GOD POWER is GREEN POWER!
GREEN, the color of MONEY!
How can you do god's will,
if you're poor!
Get in touch with the GOD POWER
in YOU!"


20 posted on 06/17/2005 10:23:17 AM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: missyme
a parade of stars from Madonna to Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton wearing red strings on their wrists.

To remind'em where they left their thongs.

21 posted on 06/17/2005 10:24:48 AM PDT by Calusa (Say Nick, was ya ever stung by a dead bee?)
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To: missyme
Rudderless Yuppies.

Believe in nothing, fall for anything.

22 posted on 06/17/2005 10:24:50 AM PDT by MarineDad (Whenever mosques and JDAM's meet, civilization benefits.)
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To: Gator101

Or you could create your own holiday like Kwanzaa.


23 posted on 06/17/2005 10:25:04 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
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To: wideawake

"It was Bahai. Then Scientology. Now Kabbalah."

For some it's still Scientology I think. Theyre a pretty scary cult. They used to have those "stress test" tents outside my old office, I wanted NOTHING to do with those people.


24 posted on 06/17/2005 10:25:09 AM PDT by Betaille
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To: missyme
What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?

That's easy. They are facinated with majik and anything but the truth of Christ. It's just another way for them to be their own god.

25 posted on 06/17/2005 10:26:13 AM PDT by Frank_Lee_Speaking
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To: missyme
What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?

The main reason is because it's not Christian, but it still makes them feel like they're being "spiritual".

26 posted on 06/17/2005 10:28:20 AM PDT by k2blader (Was it wrong to kill Terri Shiavo? YES - 83.8%. FR Opinion Poll.)
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To: Betaille
They have stress test kiosks in the subway in NYC.

It is a frightening scam, but but very few people fall for it. Probably fewer than 50,000 Americans are active Scientologists and almost all of them live in Southern CA or Clearwater, FL.

27 posted on 06/17/2005 10:28:20 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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To: Frank_Lee_Speaking

"They are facinated with majik"

I think they like anything "spiritual", but must avoid biblical faiths at all cost since those involve rules. Plus, they fundamentally look down on traditional faiths/values, so they can't find spirituality in those. That's why they're so easy to get into cults.


28 posted on 06/17/2005 10:28:37 AM PDT by Betaille
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To: missyme
merely to have the Zohar in your possession offers one protective powers

Mmm.. Fetish idolatry. At least they might bgin to understand how other people feel about their Sacred Text. That good thing for a 'progressive'.

29 posted on 06/17/2005 10:30:47 AM PDT by Calusa (Say Nick, was ya ever stung by a dead bee?)
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To: k2blader

The really interesting thing is that none of them, maybe not even the Bergs, know what the red strings actually mean. And there is a real meaning to them.


30 posted on 06/17/2005 10:31:04 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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To: k2blader

"The main reason is because it's not Christian, but it still makes them feel like they're being "spiritual"."

Yep. They desperately want spiritality, but they can't find it in Christianity or REAL Judaism (as opposed to this kabbalah center nonsense) because then their hollywood friends would say "What are you, like, a Republican now?"


31 posted on 06/17/2005 10:31:18 AM PDT by Betaille
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To: All

"Ellis has spent thousands of dollars buying complete sets of the Zohar for his home, office and family. "That's the telephone line to God. All you have to do is plug it in and you're connected,"...

That "telephone line" is what you get with Jesus, not this satanic khabblah-blah-blah counterfeit.


32 posted on 06/17/2005 10:32:11 AM PDT by FNG
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To: missyme

The goal seems to be to feel a sense of connection to a Higher Power which doesn't affect one's "lifestyle choices". Kind of like gazing lovingly at a baby picture while neglecting the crying baby right next to you.


33 posted on 06/17/2005 10:32:38 AM PDT by rightwingcrazy
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To: wideawake
Adlerstein says the Bergs' centers aren't truly communicating the message of Kabbalah. "Sure, you can take astrophysics and reduce it to 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,' and maybe people understand that, but it's not astrophysics," he said.

In the same way, Ho-wood Sufis will just go round and round until dizzy and call it a spiritual high.

34 posted on 06/17/2005 10:32:53 AM PDT by Veto! (Opinions freely dispensed as advice)
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To: FNG

The guy claims to be a former SBCer, too.


35 posted on 06/17/2005 10:33:24 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave troops and their Commander-in-Chief)
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To: tet68

Actually, we here at the Church of the Future tm.
are way beyond red string bracelets.

Join the church of the future and learn these amazing skills.

How to keep the SAME TANK of gas in your car for MONTHS
at a time!
Learn the power of Hydrovibrational Meditation in YOUR
own shower!
Get a discount on sacred wafers.
Learn the meaning behind the phrase, "A handshake and a piece of the PIE!"
Arm your self with wrist rockets and vegetable ammo and
prepare to take on the Swiss Guard!

You'll howl with delight and shed pounds with laughter
at our monthly CARTOON ministry!

Enjoy the spiritual comradery at our weekly get togethers,
cash bar in the kitchen and don't pay any mind to the dead
cat in the freezer, we are saving him for later.

Pastor's note, Don't expect us to tell you what to believe,
you've got to figure THAT out for yourself.

Church of the Future tm.

Wasteing the Present, Expanding on the Past, Into the Future!


36 posted on 06/17/2005 10:33:37 AM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: Alouette; Ziva

Perspective on Kabbalah? I hope this ping reaches you before sundown.


37 posted on 06/17/2005 10:33:59 AM PDT by Clemenza (Frylock is my Homeboy)
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To: rightwingcrazy

"The goal seems to be to feel a sense of connection to a Higher Power which doesn't affect one's "lifestyle choices"."

EXACTLY. I think you just put it perfectly.


38 posted on 06/17/2005 10:34:04 AM PDT by Betaille
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To: Betaille
Of course the Hollywooders ignore the bible and rules, and just go straight to the "spiritual" stuff.

Yeah. Their approach to spirituality is sort of like the Chomsky approach to economic theory. "Okay, since the state never will wither away let's just skip that part and jump straight to the world shall live as one part." Sort of a Lenin-to-Lennon approach.

39 posted on 06/17/2005 10:34:13 AM PDT by wizardoz
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To: missyme

I thought there were fascinated with Scientology?


40 posted on 06/17/2005 10:34:21 AM PDT by Fawn
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To: FNG

"That's the telephone line to God. All you have to do is plug it in and you're connected,"...

Sorry, I can't take dial-up, it's DSL or nothing!


41 posted on 06/17/2005 10:35:06 AM PDT by tet68 ( " We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us...." Henry V.)
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To: Gator101
Just had an idea. I am going to invent me some new whacky religion and see it it will catch on in H-Wood. I could make millions off of idiot stars.

There you go! My dad, God rest his soul, used to say that if you want to make millions, start a religion or a labor union.

I saw Kathy Lee Gifford on late-night talk show last night describing her interest in a new musical based on the life of Amy Semple McPherson, a charismatic preacher/healer in SoCal in the 1920s. So, if you start a religion, do it with flair! Become a character that some Ho-wood star would pay millions for the rights to portray on film.

42 posted on 06/17/2005 10:38:48 AM PDT by Veto! (Opinions freely dispensed as advice)
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To: missyme
What's Behind Hollywood's Fascination with Kabbalah?

They reject Judeo-Christianity outright, so they latch onto any cult, fad, or guru that comes their way.

43 posted on 06/17/2005 10:40:36 AM PDT by SkyPilot
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To: wideawake

you forgot Marx.


44 posted on 06/17/2005 10:42:43 AM PDT by epluribus_2
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To: Clemenza
Authentic Kabbalah:

Kabbalah 101

The Hollyweird craze that calls itself "kabbalah" is "kosher-style scientology"

45 posted on 06/17/2005 10:44:42 AM PDT by Alouette (The only thing learned from history is that nobody ever learns from history.)
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To: missyme

The phony Kabbalah crowd have the wisdom of Korach. In the end, the results will be similar. Maybe it's no coincidence that California is getting a lot of earthquakes.


46 posted on 06/17/2005 10:45:14 AM PDT by sheik yerbouty
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To: missyme

A religion that makes you feel better but never tells you there is anything wrong with you and you need to repent. Let's see, why would the most superficial people on earth be attracted to it?


47 posted on 06/17/2005 10:51:08 AM PDT by Taliesan (The power of the State to do good is the power of the State to do evil.)
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To: Gator101
Just had an idea. I am going to invent me some new whacky religion and see it it will catch on in H-Wood. I could make millions off of idiot stars.

Hubbard beat you to it....Scientology.
48 posted on 06/17/2005 10:51:38 AM PDT by hummingbird ("If it wasn't for the insomnia, I could have gotten some sleep!")
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To: rightwingcrazy
The goal seems to be to feel a sense of connection to a Higher Power which doesn't affect one's "lifestyle choices". Kind of like gazing lovingly at a baby picture while neglecting the crying baby right next to you.

Bingo.

Getting all weepy eyed about the "Life Principle" one day, then attend a rally for the right to kill babies the next.

49 posted on 06/17/2005 10:56:03 AM PDT by Taliesan (The power of the State to do good is the power of the State to do evil.)
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To: wizardoz
Maybe in another decade we'll see Hollywood Gnostics.

Sounds like a quiz show for b-list celebs.

50 posted on 06/17/2005 10:57:44 AM PDT by TC Rider (The United States Constitution 1791. All Rights Reserved.)
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