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Consumer Protection for Spiritual Seekers
By David Sunfellow

From Smorgasbord 4
Friday, December 5, 1997

Little is known about the true origins of the world's major religions -- or for that matter, their founders. On the one hand, we have scriptural accounts that have been passed down, often inaccurately, through countless generations. And on the other hand, we have the founders themselves -- mysterious figures like Krishna, Lao Lse, Buddha, Moses, Jesus that left little, if any, "first-person" accounts of their lives, teachings, perceptions, intentions, struggles, innermost thoughts. And yet, billions of human beings regard these faiths, and teachers, with awe, reverence, and in many cases, infallibility. How can so many human beings, from so many different cultures, invest themselves so fervently in religions that are thousands of years old without knowing how, exactly, they came to be?

If I could, I would like to visit these ancient faiths and meet their founders. And I would like to take the rest humanity with me. Together, we could ask questions, poke around, see what really happened, and what didn't; we could brush aside centuries of embellishment, biased story telling, and inaccurate record keeping; best of all, we could view these ancient visionaries and legendary events through the eyes and minds of 20th century human beings who know a great deal more about our planet, human psychology, other religions, philosophies and cultures, and life in general than our isolated, often very primitive-minded ancestors did.

Would humankind's great religions, masters, teachers, and prophets survive such a visit? Would ancient seas still part with the tap of a stick, manna still fall from the skies, virgins still give birth to glorious babes, the dead still rise from their graves? Perhaps. And perhaps not. The only thing that is certain in my mind is that we would come away with a very different view of what really happened than the ones we have been spoon fed, through multitudes of middlemen, over the ages.

One of the reasons I think that ancient history would see some dramatic revisions if it could be revisited today, is because of how modern history has been made. In the last few hundred years numerous religious movements have emerged, gathered believers, and begun to shine like mighty suns in the eyes of their believers -- even though many of these new faiths, and founders, were far from divine. Indeed, while some of these movements were genuinely inspired, the success of many contemporary religious movements has had less to do with clear blue bolts of divine inspiration, and more to do with the passage of time, the glorification of real and imagined events, and gullible seekers who didn't do their homework.

All of these movements, even those that are outright fabrications, are, of course, meeting needs and feeding souls. The fact that so many people are drawn to them is evidence of this. But how truly inspired are they? How reliable are they as vehicles of human transformation? How can you and I discern which ones to hang our spiritual hats on?

One of the central purposes of NHNE is to help create a global network of spiritual seekers that can discern the true nature of spiritual claims, promises, predictions, practices, ideas, movements -- and make this information available to everyone in the world. While evaluating all aspects of human spirituality might seem like an impossible task, I believe it is only a matter of time before we have the resources we need to thoroughly scrutinize whatever claims and/or belief systems are put forth -- both past, and present. Beginning with a simple, no-holds-bared search for the truth, we will be able to find out if the stories and/or events that various religions base themselves on are true. Does a tribe of aboriginal metahumans really exist in the outback of Australia (as Marlo Morgan claimed in the early editions of her best-selling book, "Mutant Message"), or did Morgan make the whole story up (as she later confessed)? Did Joseph Smith, the Founder of MORMONISM, really transcribe The Book of Mormon, which claims to be "another testament of Jesus Christ," from gold plates given to him by "a glorified, resurrected being" named "Moroni," or did he concoct this new gospel himself (http://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/plagiar.htm)? Is SCIENTOLOGY, which is based on the belief that 75 million years ago there was a galactic confederation of more than 70 planets that solved their population problem by chaining people to volcanoes on Earth and blowing them up, a bona fide religion (as its faithful proclaim), or is it primarily a money-making machine concocted by a troubled science fiction writer (as TIME MAGAZINE (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Fishman/time-behar.html), FORBES MAGAZINE (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Fishman/forbes-behar.html), and numerous other sources claim)?

When it comes to contemporary spiritual movements, we can answer these questions with little difficulty (if we really want to). And once we have answered them, we can document our answers for future generations, sparing them from falling into the spiritual sink holes some of us fell into.

Ancient spiritual movements are another matter. Aside from relying on current archeological research, modern scholarship, personal experiences and intuitions, we might have to wait a few more decades, or centuries, before ancient claims can be effectively evaluated. But someday, there will probably be ways that legendary cities can be reconstructed from fragmentary ruins, prehistoric bones can be transformed into flesh and blood, genetic material can provide detailed personality profiles, ancient conversations and events can be revisited by Star Trek-like manipulations of time and space. Even more likely, we will probably be able to see how various belief systems affect our minds, emotions, physical bodies, and relationships. And when that day comes, religion as we know it today will cease to exist. Holy books, and codes of human conduct will no longer be necessary because it will be clear to everyone what kind of thoughts, and beliefs, align us with the divine, producing peace, happiness and fulfillment, and what kind of thoughts and beliefs don't. In the meantime, good detective skills can help us determine the validity of most spiritual claims. And so can knowing a little bit about human nature and human history.

While most of humanity continues to cling, unquestioningly, to all kinds of dubious notions, religious and otherwise, a growing number of people are waking up and beginning to ask hard questions -- which brings me to the point of this article:

In 1936 an organization called "CONSUMER REPORTS" was created to test, compare, and evaluate new products that were beginning to flood the American marketplace. Now, 61 years later, CONSUMER REPORTS tests everything from cars, computers, and stereos to wine, fast food, and cocoa mixes. It has state-of-the-art laboratories, major offline and online publications (see "News Watch" for information about their new website), and a long history of blowing the whistle on dangerous, bogus, and sometimes potentially life-threatening products, as well as providing thoroughly researched recommendations as to which products consumers should buy, or avoid, and why. Our planet desperately needs an organization, composed of caring, open-minded, non-judgmental, objective, truth-loving spiritual seekers, that can tackle the volatile, ever-changing world of spirituality in the same way. NHNE is seeking to rise to that calling.

There are, of course, other organizations that are seriously investigating spiritual and paranormal claims. One of the most well-known is THE COMMITTEE FOR THE SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF CLAIMS OF THE PARANORMAL (CSICOP), publishers of the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER. Composed of both lay people and well-known scientists (like the late Carl Sagan), CSICOP has a global network of supporters, numerous affiliate centers in the United States and around the world, and growing contacts and influence in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, as the name of their flagship publication implies, CSICOP is an organization of "skeptics." Indeed, with close ties to secular humanism, they are not only skeptics, but they don't believe that God or other supernatural forces exist -- and they're putting their money where their beliefs are by doing everything possible to debunk every kind of far out claim, belief, and group they can.

Another organization that shared similar goals, but used cruder, less ethical tactics, was THE CULT AWARENESS NETWORK (CAN). Originally created to track, hound and hopefully sink various organizations that it considered to be cults, CAN eventually went out of business due to lawsuits filed by people its organizers helped kidnap and "deprogram." Ironically, CAN's trademark rights and stylized logo, ended up being sold to a SCIENTOLOGY-related law firm, which was CAN's most bitter enemy.

NHNE, of course, has no desire to go after anyone as CAN did, nor are we interested in debunking anything and everything that suggests there may be more to life than meets the eye as CSICOP does. Believing that we are spiritual beings pilgrimaging through a confused world, we want to separate lies, distortions, and guesses from the truth; once and for all, we want to know the true nature of our existence and God's plan for us, and our world.


If these purposes speak to you, we invite you to join us!


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