Although the question starts out asking about religious movements that might differ from the Christian religion founded on the Apostles of Christ, it immediately delves into a New Age modern religion – Breatharianism. There is no connection whatsoever between Christianity and this New Age group. The fasting aspect is based on a form practiced by Tibetan monks. Yet you took the documentary you viewed to be about people “behaving in a way that undermines the common arguments for trusting the gospel accounts.” Could I suggest that the people in question have no connection with any of the claims of the Christian Apostles, and that there is a need to make a clear distinction between Christianity and people setting up religious movements that are based on Hindu and/or Buddhist religion?
To establish this fundamental difference, it only takes a brief examination of Breatharianism to see that it must be classified within the broad spectrum of Hindu/Buddhist faith, not Christianity. Here is the background to Breatharianism, as reported in two British newspapers when a lady who seemed to be following it was found dead on a remote Scottish lochside in September 1999. I have two newspaper articles here beside me, which I kept, and my information comes from them.
Verity Linn died near Elphin in Sutherland and had spent eight years at the New Age Findhorn Foundation in Forres, Morayshire. Two days after beginning a fast, she travelled by bus to the spot, walking the last three and a half miles, then setting up a tent. She kept a diary which showed her interest in a 21-day programme of ‘spiritual cleansing’. It recorded details of her ritual and the fast, noting that she was getting weaker as the days went by. Her naked body was found by a fisherman on 16th September 1999. (As reported in the Scottish Daily Mail, 22 September 1999.)
The apparent connection with Breatharianism was made in Scotland on Sunday, 26 September 1999. An article was headed, “Calls to ban cult guru who lives on air – New Age leader plans Scottish visit as her teachings are linked to deaths by starvation”. It described a woman called Ellen Greve, who became known as ‘Jasmuheen’, writing 10 books on how humans can become spiritually pure by surviving without food or drink, and coming to Britain to promote her latest one. After the death of Verity Linn, calls came to ban Jasmuheen from entering Britain, as two other deaths had been linked to her teachings. She protested, saying she doesn’t have disciples nor did she run a cult “but I can teach people how to discover their full potential, and part of that is discovering that you don’t need food to live.” She claimed to have lived without food and drink for two years and that some of her followers have not touched food or drink for six years. She founded the Movement of a Positive and Awakened Society after discovering the power of Pranic light, held by Eastern spiritualists to be a light from God that exists inside everyone. At one rally she held in Australia, 20,000 people attended.
Then came a report of a 75-year-old man called Buzia Wucher saying, “Two years without food and it’s great.” He said, “Before you can give up all food you must go through a high-intensity 21-day preparation routine. During the first seven days you feel a little bit heavy, your mouth is very dry and your tongue sticks to the top of your mouth. You don’t have any hunger pangs though – you’re beyond that.” This founder of the Bonn School for Self Meditation added, “During the first seven days you drink juice and water, then you reduce the amount of juice until finally you don’t drink anything. Now I drink perhaps two to three glasses of water a day and very occasionally I drink herbal tea… But after those [first] seven days, I felt a great surge of energy, which increased from day to day. Now I only need to sleep for two hours a night. I can do everything. I feel very close to God, who talks to me on a regular basis. I never intend to eat again.” He spoke in praise of Jasmuheen – “she is so close to the spirits”.
None of Jesus’ Apostles even hinted at any such practices. On the contrary, they all agreed that ‘spiritual cleansing’ is a work of the Holy Spirit in people who repent of their sins and place their faith in what Jesus Christ did to deal with their sins. They even condemned those who try to inflict dietary restrictions on Christians. Check out Colossians 2:16-23, 1 Timothy 4:1-5 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4. I would suggest that Breatharianism fits the warnings given in the Bible there. But its practices fit in perfectly with Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, in which this modern New Age cult has its roots.
It is your last paragraph that is important, and which is why I’m answering your question. The difference between Jesus’ followers dying due to belief in Jesus, and the possible deaths of followers of Breatharianism, is that the latter were following a religious system that promised elevated spiritual ‘cleansing’ and power; they felt they had to do something to achieve something. Christians, however, have to stop striving to earn or merit spiritual ‘cleansing’ or power because nothing they can do will give them that. Only after they have been saved by God’s unmerited grace can they experience a cleansed conscience and spiritual newness of life. They are called to live as normal - eating, drinking, marrying, proclaiming Christ by word and deed - and if they are killed because of that, it’s because others sought to kill them – not by them risking death due to stopping eating and drinking.