ReligionNewsBlog, May 5, 2004
[Books] Unpacking Skinner's Box
It's sad to see an interesting writer go off the rails, but last month that is what seemed to have happened to Lauren Slater. After publishing some genre-twisting memoirs, Slater, a psychologist, wanted to celebrate landmark psychological studies as ''stories -- absorbed, reconfigured, rewritten.'' The result, in her new book, ''Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century,'' is a wayward and powerful blend of science, autobiography and imagination. Writing, for example, about Stanley Milgram's famous investigation at Yale, which revealed students' willingness, under orders, to administer what they believed were painful electric shocks to other people, Slater uses the second person to convey the point of view of one of the obedient torturers, a literary choice that nails her point: we all think we wouldn't turn up the voltage, but Milgram's results showed that 65 percent of us will. Slater's maverick approach elicits unexpected emotions and invigorating transits of thought. It has also called forth the wrath of a battalion of psychiatrists and psychologists, and one irate daughter.
[Unification Church] News World Layoffs To Idle 86 Workers
Several dozen employees at Insight, a biweekly news magazine, and the World & I, a monthly educational journal, sister publications of the Washington Times, are out of work today as both publications wind down operations. On April 16, the magazines' owner, News World Communications Inc., a subsidiary of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, announced it would no longer print Insight and the World & I, as well as Noticias del Mundo, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York City, as of April 30, said News World spokeswoman Diana Banister. A total of 86 people are out of a job, out of 1,200 employees worldwide. A small staff is to stay on to maintain the Insight and World & I Web sites, editors said. "These are the first significant layoffs in the history of News World Communications," Banister wrote in an e-mail. Closing the three publications will save News World "millions of dollars," said Banister, and allow News World to "reposition" its other media assets.
[Islam] Madrid imam hails preacher curbs
Moneir Mahmoud, the religious leader of Madrid's main mosque, says he supports a proposal to restrict what Muslim clerics can preach. Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso wants the law to control what can be said to congregations in Spain's mosques and churches. Spain's recently elected Socialist government is looking for new ways to combat militant Islamic extremism. An extremist group is the main suspect in the Madrid bombings of 11 March. Mr Alonso has proposed establishing a register to control religious activities, both Muslim and Roman Catholic. Mr Alonso says the register would identify who was responsible for leading worship and the type of worship to take place.
[Islam] Spain to monitor mosques
The Spanish government is considering monitoring mosques and imams to curb Islamic extremism blamed for the March 11 terror bombings in Madrid, the foreign minister said Monday. [...] He said such a law would not violate constitutional guarantees of free speech. "We are talking about a phenomenon that can create a breeding ground for terrorism that kills people," Alonso said. "Anybody can say anything they want. But the state has the right to know what is being said when that activity is public and can create this kind of scenario."
[Javan McBurrows] Pastor: I was asleep during boy's fatal beating
A Philadelphia pastor accused of beating a 4-year-old boy to death used a Rip Van Winkle defense at his murder trial yesterday: he swore he had slept through the whole thing. In the nonjury trial's final day, Rev. Javan McBurrows, 52, former pastor of Third Christian Church in Overbrook, told Montgomery County Judge William J. Furber Jr. that he had been napping in the bedroom, 10 feet away from the bathroom where Michael Davis, a parishoner's child placed in his care, was fatally beaten. Last week, Jane McBurrows described seeing her husband repeatedly beat Michael with a metal-edged carpenter's level on the night of Jan. 9, 1999. She said her husband also had clapped his hands together hard three times on either side of the little boy's head. He died hours later at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
[Cloning] Italian Doctor Says Three Cloned Babies Born
Maverick Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori said on Wednesday at least three babies had been born from cloned embryos in reproduction experiments he had collaborated on. Antinori, who has made cloning claims in the past, is viewed with scepticism by many scientists and has never produced any evidence for peer review in the area.
[Polygamy] 'Very unique' ties with FLDS spell trouble for bank
The Bank of Ephraim has poured its trust and money into a polygamist enclave on the Utah-Arizona border since the 1950s, approving high-risk business and consumer loans often backed by questionable collateral. The bank's faith in this Arizona Strip community added to the toll on its bottom line last year -- it lost more than three quarters of a million dollars -- and bank officials acknowledge they are working to rectify problems.
The bank is not the only financial institution that has made loans or extended credit to residents of Hildale, Utah, or Colorado City, Ariz., which are dominated by members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And not all its bad loans have been made there.
[Christianity] Small groups embrace Christian gatherings
The worship service has begun at Axxess, one of hundreds of small emerging churches sprinkled across the United States and other Western nations. Rather than sanctuaries, many of these church communities meet in bars, coffee shops and other places frequented by young adults. Many members are in their 20s and 30s. Most are disillusioned with traditional churches. "These congregations are a little bit different. They recognize that transformation comes from relationships," said Brad Cecil, pastor of Axxess. "We meet at a coffeehouse. It's much more casual. We have breakfast together; we sing." These Christians are trying to recapture some of the intimacy of the early church, and members stress the importance of community and faith, said Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School and professor of church history at Wake Forest University in Winston- Salem, N.C.
[USA] Prisoner abuse: What about the other secret U.S. prisons?
We must all, like President George W. Bush, share a "deep disgust" at the pictures of U.S. military personnel subjecting Iraqi detainees to humiliating treatment. The problem, however, is that this does not appear to be an isolated incident. Across the world, the United States is holding detainees in offshore and foreign prisons where allegations of mistreatment cannot be monitored. It has also been accused of sending terror suspects to countries where information has been beaten out of them. The classic case, of course, has been Guantánamo, Cuba, which the Bush administration deliberately chose as a detention facility for more than 700 detainees from 44 countries in an attempt to put them beyond the reach of the U.S. courts - and of any courts, for that matter.
NOTE: The current torture controversy did not occur in a vacuum. It is the fruit of America's double standards regarding human rights. The USA's "do as I say, not as I do" approach is looked upon with disgust by people around the world - as well as by many Americans who are fed up with Washington's hypocrisy. As U.S. politicians take every opportunity to claim that God supports and blesses their efforts, the publishers of Religion News Blog believe that Christians ought to be among the first to speak out against America's well-documented abusive behavior.
[USA] Abuse Investigation Includes 25 Deaths
Twenty-five Iraqi and Afghan war prisoners have died in U.S. custody in the last 17 months, including two Iraqi detainees who may have been murdered by Americans, senior defense officials said Tuesday as the Bush administration moved to contain international outrage over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Pentagon officials released few details of the 25 deaths, which they said were among 35 cases of possible instances of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers.
[Judaism] Belgium Jewish museum moves into ex-Nazi quarters
Belgium's new Jewish museum opened Wednesday in a restored building that served as a Nazi police station during World War II, as part of efforts to boost the museum's profile and keep alive the Jewish community's culture and history. The Jewish Museum of Belgium, which operated for 14 years in makeshift quarters above the Beth Israel Synagogue in a rundown section of Brussels, moved to the swanky Sablon quarter, near major art museums, the royal library and the city's Great Synagogue.
[Nigeria] Nigerian Muslims say 300 killed in "genocide"
Nigeria's top Muslim leader says 300 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Sunday's attacks by Christian militia in the town of Yelwa in the central Plateau state.
Justice Abdulkadir Orire, secretary general of the Jama'atu Nasril Islam, described the killings in the remote farming town as "genocide" and said they took the death toll from three months of ethnic violence there to at least 700-800 people. "The information we have is that 300 people died and they are mostly Muslims. We call it a genocide because they are killing women and children," Orire told Reuters in a telephone interview from his Kaduna headquarters. The conflict between the Christian Tarok tribe and Muslim Fulani is rooted in competing claims over the fertile farmlands at the heart of Africa's most populous nation, and it is fuelled by religious and ethnic differences between the groups. [...] Analysts say the feud between the Tarok farmers and nomadic Fulani cattle herders has been fuelled by irresponsible allocation of land by the government and growing lawlessness across Nigeria. Yelwa has already witnessed one of the most horrific massacres of the conflict, when 48 Christians were killed by Fulani militia in a church that was later burned in February. [...] Ethnic, religious and political violence in Nigeria has killed more than 11,000 people since the election of Obasanjo in 1999 ended 15 years of military rule.
[Homosexuality / Lesbianism] Church vote condemns homosexuality
Delegates at a United Methodist Church conference voted Tuesday to condemn homosexuality and to reject a statement saying Christians disagree on the issue. Gay rights supporters wearing rainbow-hued stoles, or clerical scarves, stood throughout the emotional debate at a Pittsburgh convention center. One symbolically smashed an empty chalice at the end of a communion service after delegates voted 579-376 to declare, "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." Later, however, the church's highest court handed gay rights supporters a partial victory by ruling that it doesn't have authority to overturn the acquittal of an openly lesbian minister, the Rev. Karen Dammann, by a jury of 13 Methodist clergy in Seattle in March.
[Polygamy] FLDS church teachings lead members into financial mire
As the millennium approached, many followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints felt encouraged to max out their credit cards and exhaust their personal loans. The end was near, FLDS leaders said, and the bills would never come due. "We were going to be lifted up and the wicked would be destroyed," said Pam Black, whose now deceased husband Martin did as told. "I remember him spending on his own teeth." Only the world didn't end and the bills are coming due. Consider this case: One Hildale family piled up $47,612 in credit card debt for "living expenses" before filing for bankruptcy late last year
[Robin Marie Murphy] Cult murderer could return to Fall River
She was 17 when she was put behind bars. Today she is 41, and next week when convicted cult murderer Robin Murphy returns to the community to live at a halfway house, she returns to a different world, a new world. [...] Her reacclimation to life outside prison, experts say, will be an Herculian task that many cannot overcome. "There are going to be huge obstacles for her to succeed in today's world," said the co-executive director of Worcester's Dismas House, David McMahon. "The adjustment to life on the outside after being institutionalized for more than 20 years is huge, but there are ways to succeed." Murphy was imprisoned at the age of 17 for the grisly murder of city prostitute Karen Marsden. She was granted parole by the state Parole Board and is slated to be transferred to a halfway house on May 15.
[Transcendental Meditation] Sem pleads not guilty
Shuvender Sem pleaded not guilty today in the March 1 stabbing death of Maharishi University of Management student Levi Butler. Sem, 24, appeared in front of Judge E. Richard Meadows this morning with his court-appointed attorney, Les Lamping of Washington, after being ruled competent to stand trial.
[Hate Groups] Hoarder of Arms Gets 11 Years
An East Texas man whose stockpile of weapons triggered an exhaustive investigation into a suspected domestic terrorism plot was sentenced Tuesday to 11 years in federal prison. "For the record, I am neither a terrorist or a separatist," William J. Krar, 63, told U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis in Tyler, Texas, protesting how the government had characterized him. [...] Krar, an arms dealer with connections to white supremacists, was arrested after he tried to send fake documents, including United Nations and Defense Department identification cards, through the mail. The package was delivered to the wrong address. The documents had been addressed to a member of a New Jersey militia. The group, according to its website, thinks the federal government has grown too powerful. The militia is prepared "as a last resort to come to our nation's defense against all enemies, foreign or domestic."
[Kashi Ashram] Enlightenment: Ma's ashram
As others who left the Kashi Ashram before him, Richard Rosenkranz now expresses amazement, sometimes horror, at things he did and allegiances he held while a member of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavatis new-age religion congregation in Roseland. And, as those who went before him, he now believes he was in a cult, whose leader manipulated and controlled her followers down to the smallest detail of their lives. He and others say she used mind-control tactics some experts might describe as brainwashing and most would admit are powerful forms of persuasion, if not coercion. [...] According to several experts on the sociology and psychology of cults, the life Rosenkranz and other ex-Kashi members describe at the ashram closely resembles a cult. But whether Ma Jaya strove to, or even could, brainwash them is another matter entirely. [...] As for brainwashing, academics have been debating the question since the 1950s, when there was "a misunderstanding of Chinese indoctrination" of American prisoners during the Korean War, Melton said. Many studies since have refuted the idea of brainwashing, but the term persists in the American lexicon, leading Melton to conclude that while the public may believe brainwashing exists, the scientific community does not. However, many cult researchers do not deny that coercive persuasion can and often does occur. "Brainwashing is a mystery," Balch said, "but groups can use very powerful means of persuasion (that get) people to do things they would never have done before." And Ohio psychologist Paul R. Martin goes even further. He says brainwashing can and does occur with "uncanny resemblance" among battered women, political prisoners and religious cults.
CAUTION: This article quotes J. Gordon Melton, a cult apologist whose work has rightly been referred to as "a travesty of research." He is known for his ability to ignore or simply dismiss negative information about the cults he studies.
[Shadowmancer] Harry Potter's new rival
For parents who love seeing their children read but, as Christians, worry about Harry Potter's positive depictions of witchcraft, today's arrival of G.P. Taylor's Shadowmancer would seem a godsend. The book, already a hit overseas (it spent 15 weeks at No. 1 on British book charts), offers parents an alternative to author J.K. Rowling's juggernaut Potter series while promising young readers a similar tale of adventure, but with biblical references vs. flying brooms. And in the writings of British author Taylor, a vicar in the parish of Whitby, good always outweighs evil.
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