Yes, yes. I know you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to hear
about my “rebirthing session” alluded to in last week’s column.
Sorry gang, but you’re just going to have to hang in there a bit more.
You see, I’m still on sensory overload after the plethora of mail I was
deluged with by my loyal readership.
I’d say that approximately three-fourths of the missives I received
were from people who were upset at what they determined were my “unkind”
sentiments in regard to the New Age Movement and its assorted offshoots.
You should all know by now that I’m usually never bugged by negative
mail (in fact, the sharper of you may have even gleaned that I rather
enjoy it. But this particular batch of mail was of a different
nature. Which is to say that it was even stupider than usual. I
mean, some of you actually had the audacity to accuse me of being
Given the rash of incipient psychobabble I had to wade through, I
feel compelled to delineate how I arrived at my current point-of-view,
as regards the New Age Movement (which is, at this point in history, so
thoroughly ingrained into the culture that it’s really no longer
accurate to call it a “movement unto itself”).
And just what is that point of view? Quite simply, it is that the New
Age Movement is not simply a load of horses–t; it is a false,
destructive, damaging and utterly groundless belief system designed
(intentionally or otherwise) not only to prevent people from finding
truth, reality — what you will — but that, if indulged in for a long
enough period of time, ultimately results in a state of hypnosis which
turns its proponents into full-blown Pod People (Please — do me a
favor: don’t ask me what Pod People are. Go rent “Invasion Of The
Body Snatchers” — the original, not the Donald Sutherland
version). Even if you are amongst those whose brains have been turned to
mush from reading one-too-many Deepak Chopra books, you should still
have enough left up there to “get it.”
One more favor, kind people: spare me the e-mails saying, “Well, if
you think New Age beliefs are wrong, what do you have to offer to
replace them?” Sorry, but even if my answer was “nothing” (which it
isn’t), what you need to understand is that my beliefs are
irrelevant. If you don’t like what I’m saying — if it makes you
angry or defensive — that should be enough to tell you that what you
need to do is to take a look in the mirror rather than bug this poor,
overworked columnist about what he believes. Sorry, you can play
that game with your wife or your shrink or your local shaman — but
not with me.
OK, enough said.
So how did I come to be a New Age debunker? Let’s simply say that
I’ve always been a “truth-seeker.” By the time I was in my early 20s –
having rejected both Judaism and Christianity, I’d gone through my share
of gurus — everyone from Meher Baba to Fritz Perls to Krishnamurti –
and had come up feeling unpleasantly empty.
Oh, I was still a “seeker.” I knew that God was out there somewhere,
but I had to admit that I hadn’t the slightest clue as to where He
resided. So my search, by around 1985 (the date of the misadventure
described herein), had a rather haphazard quality about it.
One afternoon, I found myself transfixed in front of the television
set listening to a “sermon” as it were. The speaker who’d captured my
attention was a Doris Day look-alike named Terry Cole-Whittaker. Er,
let me correct that. The Reverend Terry Cole-Whittaker.
I’m sure one of the reasons (besides the fact that she was kind of
cute) that Cole-Whittaker grabbed my attention, was that I couldn’t
figure out where she was coming from. She talked about God, Jesus, about
finding truth (all the right stuff) — only her sermon was replete with
terminology normally reserved for psychotherapists. Which is to say that
she was much hipper than your average Bible thumper.
Also, unlike the usual “religious” TV programming, Terry’s show
actually had good production values (a former film student, I couldn’t
help but notice this stuff).
There were no cameramen stumbling into the picture. The lighting was
great. The editing was crisp, the shots tight; there were even classy,
computerized floating titles.
Then there was the audience. Nowhere to be seen were the puffy faced
rednecks and the shabbily dressed crones evident at, say, a Benny Hinn
sermon. Nary a wheelchair nor a pair of crutches were in sight. Rather,
Cole-Whittaker’s parishioners were bright — if slightly vacant-eyed –
young exec types in their 20s and 30s. They smiled, dewey-eyed, during
her sermon, and cheered feverishly every time Terry got off a good line.
I have to admit it — I liked Terry. I liked her bad jokes and
the dumb faces she made. I liked her irreverence. I liked her big
Pepsodent smile. I liked her body (I kept trying to picture her naked).
In fact, despite myself, I even liked what she was saying.
Not that it was particularly original. Basically, when you stripped
away the shtick, it was your standard “you-can-be-what-you-want-to-be”
positive thinking stuff, sprinkled with the proper dollops of
“religious” lingo. Still, hackneyed as the message may have been, it
was presented with style, wit, and — dare I say it — charm.
Much to my own amazement, when the pitch for the money came (as it
always must) at the end of the show, I found myself writing out a
check. Then, weirder still — I actually put a stamp on the envelope
and mailed it!
No doubt about it. I’d been stung.
The only time I’d ever sent money to a TV evangelist was when I’d
mailed ten bucks to a guy named Reverend Ike (a sort of a combination
Little Richard and Jimmy Swaggart). In return, I received a tiny square
of red material called a “prayer cloth,” which I was instructed to put
under my pillow each night, and which would bring about untold miracles
in my life.
Terry didn’t hawk prayer cloths, but it wasn’t long after my first
donation that I began receiving “love-grams” from her ministry. Each
missive contained a return envelope with a request for your “love
donation” (“no matter how small!”). Amazingly, I responded by sending
I also received Terry’s newsletter, “The Good News,” a predictable
rag, chock full of testimonials from people whose lives had been
“transformed” by Cole-Whittaker. Moreover, each newsletter featured lots
of photos of Terry rubbing shoulders with assorted celebrities. Yeah,
old Terry knew how to work the room, alright.
At that point in my life, one of the things that interested me was
overcoming my chronic inability to manage my money (witness my sending
donations to Cole-
Whittaker). So when one issue of the newsletter announced a
Cole-Whittaker class called “Mastery In Wealth” (which promised to “get
you in touch with your natural money consciousness”), I found myself
pulling out the old checkbook once more.
Two weeks later, on a balmy summer’s eve, I showed up at UCLA’s
Wadsworth Auditorium, where the class was being held. Inside the hall, I
immediately felt something was wrong. It took me a second to figure out
what it was. Aha — that was it. Everybody in the room was
walking around with these ridiculous smiles pasted on their faces. A
roomful of smiling people! What the hell were they all smiling at, I
asked myself as I took my seat.
Soon I noticed something else. There was a definite “look” to the
people attending this course. For the most part, the women were
grown-older cheerleader types. Many sported “Terry” hairdos (Doris Day
circa 1950s) and clothes (Rodeo Drive chic). There were even a handful
of outright Terry-clones!
The men were also of a type. I couldn’t help but notice that a large
percentage of them were homosexuals. Also, nary an aging hippie or
leather clad rock ‘n’ roller were in sight. Rather, there was an
abundance of neat, Ivy League haircuts, expensive Don Loper shirts, and
penny loafers. The term wasn’t really around quite yet, but there was no
doubt about it.
What really struck me though, were the faces. They were all waxy –
as if someone had buffed them with a floor polisher.
Once in our seats, we were greeted by a “facilitator” — a waxy faced
yuppie named Bob Northrop who instructed us to call him “Reverend Bob.”
Reverend Bob thanked us for “creating the space” for him to be there to
“help” us. He also informed us that Terry wouldn’t actually be there in
person; rather, she would conduct the class via video — like a
benevolent Big Sister.
The lights dimmed and Terry appeared onscreen, looking as charming as
ever. The minute she opened her mouth to speak, the audience began
applauding. They applauded after virtually everything she said. The more
it went on, the creepier I felt.
All the while Terry spoke, Reverend Bob, standing stage left, gazed
out over the crowd, a knowing smile on his face. At the conclusion of
the first half of the evening’s lecture, the house lights went on.
Reverend Bob announced that there would be a 20-minute break, during
which we should go into the lobby to get our “homework assignments” for
the following week.
The “homework” consisted of a whole slew of Terry’s books, which were
“mandatory reading” for the class. The $185 course immediately shot up
to around $500 with the purchase of all the books (without which, we
could not “pass”).
“You might feel like you’re being sold,” Reverend Bob said with a
straight face, “but it’s all in your mind.”
A gnawing feeling growing in my gut, I left during the break (without
purchasing my “homework”). I’d already shelled out the $185 fee for the
class, but I wasn’t about to open up my checkbook again.
On the drive home, I tried every trick in the book in order to
overcome the feeling that I’d been suckered.
I couldn’t pull it off.
It was at this point, I decided to write a story. I phoned my editor
(I was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times at the time) and pitched
him. He gave me the go-ahead. A huge weight lifted. In one magical
moment I was miraculously transformed from would-be-chump into expose
artiste extraordinaire. Not only did I feel relieved — I felt (dare I
say it?) potent.
The following week’s class was more of the same. This time the
facilitator was “Reverend Ron”– a tiny, irritatingly neat fellow who I
instantly hated. For approximately 40 minutes Reverend Ron blabbered on
– in a maddening monotone — about how we were “all one” and how
“through our love” we were “moving the planet forward.” All the while he
spewed this slop, Reverend Ron kept this terrible smile plastered on his
face. The guy didn’t fool me for a second. I knew a bully when I saw
one. Oddly, Reverend Ron brought back memories of my old high school gym
teacher, Mr. McAffrey — a sadistic little swine who delighted in giving
us swats that left our rear ends bruised with huge welts for weeks. What
I’ll always remember is that McAffrey carried out his duties with a
frighteningly blissful smile — the very same smile I now recognized on
the face of Reverend Ron.
The following Monday, I called the Cole-Whittaker’s offices to
request an interview on behalf of my paper. Frankly, I figured they’d
jump at the chance for some ink in The Times . I was wrong. The
person on the other end of the line curtly informed me that Terry’s
schedule was “full” for the next several months. She’d either be
attending meetings, taping her TV show, traveling or “meditating.”
After umpteen phone calls, I finally got Terry’s personal PR agent
(she was repped by the firm of Solters/Roskin — heavy duty cats) on the
phone. They gave me the same run around.
So these guys were gun shy. … And for good reason, I would soon
discover. A background check on Cole-Whittaker (her real name was Terry
Reith), included four failed marriages, as well as a career as
motivational speaker that’d recently bottomed out. Terry’s most recent
marriage was to a businessman named Leonard Radomille. When they’d
initially gotten together, Cole-Whittaker had called Radomille her “soul
mate,” but the marriage had ended 15 months later when she’d dumped
“Reverend Leonard” –complete with a full page kiss-off in her
During his time onboard the Cole-Whittaker bandwagon, Radomille had
been responsible for the handling of the Cole-Whittaker ministry’s
Radomille’s background was much juicer than Terry’s. He’d been
involved in a number of scams before he’d “gotten religion.” There were
numerous civil suits pending against Radomille. In one, Radomille and
his brother had been accused of fraud, as well as violation of the
California Corporate Securities law. In another case, Radomille was
accused of “aiding and abetting” a known criminal who’d been indicted in
numerous tax fraud schemes.
“After tax shelters comes religion,” scoffed Robert Gilleran, an
attorney who’d previously worked with Radomille. Gilleran was the first
person I contacted who was willing to say anything remotely negative
about the Cole-Whittaker ministry. Prior to that, all I’d gotten by way
of answers to my questions was “I don’t recall,” or “no comment.”
Ron Ramos — the former executive in charge of Cole-Whittaker’s
fund-raising events –also felt like talking. After Radomille had
entered the picture, Ramos had resigned. Not only had he been appalled
at the $20,000 per-month salary that both Cole-Whittaker and Radomille
were taking, but also at the huge clothing allowance and monies spent on
private planes chartered to cart them around. “I’m g–d—– embarrassed
I ever got involved with them!” Ramos said.
Ramos’ wife Kay — the former producer of Terry’s TV show — was even
more candid. “Terry constantly needs to be the center of attention,” she
told me. “She’ll stop at nothing to get there. I’ve never seen someone
so intent on being rich, famous and special. The last straw came at
Ron’s birthday party,” she continued. “A bunch of us got together for
dinner, and Terry just took over — kind of like it was one of her
little ‘Science Of Mind’ classes. She and Leonard wanted us to declare
them as ‘the source’ of our lives. I just blew up. Right after that we
left the ministry.”
Once the Ramos’ had spilled the beans, the dam broke all by itself.
Suddenly, I was besieged with calls and letters from ex-ministry members
(many of whom refused to allow their names to be used for fear of
reprisals from the Cole-Whittaker people).
The most damaging testimony came from a woman named Miriam Slater.
Slater, along with nine other people, had filed suit in L.A. Superior
Court against Cole-Whittaker, her ministry, and an affiliate
organization — the World Healing Center — for incidents that had taken
place during a group “re-birthing” session. (Re-birthing is a
deep-breathing technique that the Cole-Whittaker people claimed provided
the fastest possible method for “moving to the next spiritual level.”)
The lawsuit stated that during several sessions, the participants
were forced to submit to “extremely brutal and sadistic behavior,
including beatings (for those who resisted The Holy Spirit), genital
grabbing, enforced nudity, spanking and psychological humiliation
–included being gagged, diapered and having to sit for hours in one’s
own feces and urine.”
“We were promised a loving and supportive atmosphere, for which we
paid $5000 each. What we got instead was an intensive program of
physical and mental torture which was designed to indoctrinate us into
these people’s way of thinking,” Slater told me. It was an absolute
nightmare of violence and brainwashing. It took me over a year to repair
my life, and I’ve had to be professionally deprogrammed,”
What did she think was the reason for the abuse? Slater minced no
words in answering my question. “Power, plain and simple. These people
Tune in next week as our intrepid reporter travels deep within the
bowels of Cole-Whittaker’s organization. Watch as he enters the belly
of the beast,
ultimately submitting to take part in a “re-birthing” session (sans
diapers), in Part 3 of “Demonic Convergence.”