While the Raelians seem stranger than most, many firmly rooted spiritual groups began as fringe sects, whose practices and beliefs were greeted with deep skepticism--a description that could even include early Christianity.

A few examples of once-wacky groups and what has happened to their major innovations.

Group Then Now
Seventh-Day Adventists Regarded at their founding as sky-is-falling millenialists obsessed with the purity of their diets. Adventists' interest in nutrition and health led to the founding of a cereal food company by Dr. John Kellogg and a national system of 431 hospitals and clinics. Their views on the dangers of smoking and dietary fats are standard today.
Church of Christ, Scientist From their founding in 1879 until recent decades, Christian Scientists were often identified as fanatics who eschewed basic medical care in favor of healing through prayer. Mary Baker Eddy's research into various healing methods, resulting in her book "Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures," broke new ground in the understanding of the mind-body-spirit connection. Today, spiritual healing is considered a mainstream idea.
Mormons Suspect as heathen practitioners of polygamy, members of this Christian sect were driven from their settlements in Missouri and Illinois, where their founder was beaten to death by a mob. Mormons today are seen as protectors of the traditional family, and include powerful leaders like Sen. Orrin Hatch.
Spiritualists In the early 20th century, mediums crowded Lily Dale, N.Y. and nearby towns, drawing thousands anxious to contact dead relatives through séances. Spiritualism still lives in Lily Dale, but its wider influence is felt in Dial-a-Psychics and television shows like John Edward's "Crossing Over."
Methodists In days when religious disagreements could cause riots, revulsion at the doctrine of Perfectionism--the idea that believers can become perfect in this life--forced Methodists out of England and America's settled colonies. With the frontier the only safe terrain, Methodist preachers converted many early pioneers, making Methodism a major American denomination. Today, Methodists downplay perfectionism.
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