Oct 4, 2018

The Man Who Says He Was Leonardo Da Vinci In A Past Life Does Not Run A Cult, His Lawyer Says

Students hanging pictures of Da Vinci in their homes does not a cult make, argued the lawyer of spiritual healer Serge Isaac Benhayon.

Lane Sainty
BuzzFeed News
October 3, 2018

Faith healer Serge Isaac Benhayon has been labelled as either crazy or a fraud in court, but, according to his barrister, there is a third option: a man of sincere religious belief.

The 54-year-old former tennis coach, who founded spiritual healing business Universal Medicine, is suing blogger and former acupuncturist Esther Rockett for defamation in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

Over the past month a jury of four has heard evidence on wide-ranging issues, including what constitutes a cult, family relationships that allegedly broke up due to Universal Medicine, an "ovarian reading" and other energy-based spiritual healing theories and practices, reincarnation, and alleged sexual misconduct.

Benhayon claims Rockett defamed him in a blog post, comments and several tweets by suggesting he: is the leader of a socially harmful cult; indecently touched her when she saw him for treatment; knowingly makes false claims about healing; engages in inappropriate and sleazy behaviour towards women; is delusional and dishonest.

On the second day of the trial Benhayon testified that he is the reincarnation of Renaissance painter and thinker Leonardo Da Vinci.

On Wednesday morning Benhayon’s barrister Kieran Smark SC asked the jury to entertain the possibility that Benhayon is a man who holds sincere religious beliefs, and not "crazy" or a "fraud" as suggested by Rockett's lawyer.

Universal Medicine is not a socially harmful cult, and there was no evidence Benhayon exercises control over its members, Smark argued in his closing address.

He said people were "free to take or not take" Benhayon's teachings, pointing out that Benhayon's ex-wife Deborah had testified she did not believe her ex-husband was actually the reincarnation of Da Vinci.

Evidence that some Universal Medicine students had hung pictures of Leonardo Da Vinci in their offices or houses proved nothing, Smark added.

"What of it?" he asked. "How does that make it a cult?"
Other evidence suggesting people had ceased listening to rock music or cut out dairy products from their diet due to Benhayon's teachings similarly did not prove it was a cult, Smark said.

He said the organisation's members – known as "students" – numbered in the hundreds at any given time, and in the thousands over the years Universal Medicine has existed, but just a "handful" of people alleged it had caused them harm.

Five examples of relationship or family bust ups the jury had heard evidence about were "typical, ordinary" life experiences and not necessarily due to Universal Medicine, Smark said.

"Out of the hundreds and hundreds of families who must have been involved with Universal Medicine over the years, that's what you've got," he said.

"It's just life ... [Universal Medicine] is just something people become involved with and their lives go on around them."

Smark also suggested to the jury that Rockett had engaged in a "cherry-picking" exercise by plucking out examples, in some instances stripped of context, from Benhayon's considerable output of material about his beliefs to support her case.

Some of these examples related to the allegedly defamatory suggestion that Benhayon "ranted" about sexually explicit things and sexual violence in front of children, the court heard.

It's "hardly surprising" that there could be "infelicitous" or poorly chosen words among Benhayon's 10 books and hundreds of hours of video and audio recordings, Smark said.

He said Rockett had published a "staggering" amount of material about Benhayon and Universal Medicine in a three-pronged campaign designed to bring him down.

She blogged and tweeted about Benhayon, filed complaints to various government organisations, and contacted politicians and the media with her claims, Smark said.
"Miss Rockett, you might think, was obsessed or fixated on Mr Benhayon," he said.

Rockett argued defences of truth and honest opinion in response to the lawsuit.
The jury is expected to retire for deliberations this week.
The trial continues.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.


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