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THE WORLD'S gone mad. A major Hollywood star appears devoid of all common sense when it comes to matters of religion, and the same malady is on display in the life of a leading presidential contender.

THE WORLD'S gone mad.

A major Hollywood star appears devoid of all common sense when it comes to matters of religion, and the same malady is on display in the life of a leading presidential contender.

First, there's Tom Cruise. According to the just-out unauthorized biography of Cruise by Andrew Morton, one of filmdom's biggest stars is now an enlightened leader of the sect whose members believe that deceased founder L. Ron Hubbard will soon re-emerge. Hubbard died in 1986, but Morton writes that Scientologists have detailed preparations for his return that include maintaining apartments around the world complete with some of his personal property.

Morton reports that the motto of the Church of Scientology is "We Come Back," and claims that Hubbard was expected to return 20 years after his death.

Which is why when Tom Cruise's wife, Katie Holmes, became pregnant, "True believers were convinced that Tom's spawn would be the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard," Morton writes.

Scientology issued a statement calling the book a "bigoted, defamatory assault." But, of course, these are the same people who believe that 75 million years ago an intergalactic warlord injected millions of alien souls into earth's atmosphere, that those aliens, called Thetans, continue attaching to human bodies today, and that these Thetans harbor the "false ideas" of organized religion and are the root of all the world's problems.

At least Tom Cruise is just a celluloid leader, and not, say, the chief executive of the free world.

That role is being sought by a man who adheres to a religion founded in 1830 by a farmboy named Joseph Smith. Smith told his followers that he had been visited by Jesus and charged - at age 14 - with restoring the purity of the church. One of his religion's primary texts, the Book of Mormon, was drawn from gold plates buried in the ground. Today, participants wear special undergarments to remind them of the tenets of their faith, and refrain from drinking anything with caffeine in it.

No wonder some Americans are reluctant to support Mitt Romney for president. A Gallup poll conducted in the days after Romney delivered his "Faith in America" speech found that 17 percent of voters said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon presidential candidate. That's the same result Gallup got when asking a similar question about Romney's father, Michigan Gov. George Romney, when he was running for president.

NO DOUBT THESE people are largely Christians (like me) and Jews.

We're clearly aided by an ability to spot a whopper when we hear one, a skill obviously lacking in Scientologists and Mormons. Maybe it's our grounding in the Old and New Testament that enables us to easily size up the preposterous nature of the customs that guys like Cruise and Romney follow.

I'm thinking we have certain street smarts emanating from our belief in the Good Book that's given us the ability to filter out obviously bogus beliefs.

After all, we know that the earth was created in seven days, and that the son of its creator was born to a virgin mother. Indeed, a star over Bethlehem led three wise men to the scene of Jesus' birth, and, 30 years later, he walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee.

If only the Mormons and Scientologists would take the time to read those stories - and with them learn about the great flood that Noah survived by building an ark and loading two of each animal onboard, or the drowning of Pharaoh's army after Moses parted the Red Sea - they'd surely come to their senses over the obviously fictitious lore surrounding L. Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith.

Heck, say what you will in this time of war with radical Islam, but not even Muslims would fall for the trappings of faith that Cruise and Romney have.

Islam, too, is founded on the sound perspective of the Koran, including the idea of 72 virgins standing ready in heaven to greet those who've achieved martyrdom.

Truly, one man's faith is another man's bunkum. *

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at