217Religion News Blog, May 22 - 24, 2003
- May 24, 2003May 24, 2003
[Internet] Web site of the week: www.apologetics.org
Site director Tom Woodward, a college professor, tells his personal
journey from non-belief to Christian faith. He recalls the "skeptical"
question of John the Baptist, who asked Jesus, "Are you really the
Messiah, or should we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3). Jesus doesn't
denounce John's skeptical questions, Woodward notes, so he doesn't
either. Instead, site moderators have engaged many skeptics in
dialogues that evolved into virtual friendships.
[Destiny Churches] Evangelist's church spawns Christian political
A new Christian political party has links to an evangelist who once
said the "fatherless generation" was the reason New Zealand had so
many female political leaders.
Destiny New Zealand has applied to the Electoral Commission to
register its logo and name.
Its existence has also raised questions about the number of
Christianity-based political parties.
Party leader Richard Lewis said he and party secretary Anne Williamson
worked for Destiny Churches, which has about a dozen branches in New
Zealand and one in Australia. Its headquarters are in Auckland, and it
is fronted by the tele-vangelist Brian Tamaki.
[Christianity] Heresy charges on the increase: Protecting faith cited
Heresy trials, a distant echo of witch burnings, have reappeared on
the American religious scene as part of a bitter struggle between
progressives and conservatives.
Ministers outspoken on thorny social issues have been summoned to
defend their views before church tribunals. So, too, have clergy whose
preaching goes beyond a literal interpretation of Scripture.
Today's church courts don't send people to the stake, of course. But
they can strip clergy of their ministerial authority and of the
paycheck with which they support their families.
"The contemporary church is on the razor's edge, and these people get
cut," said Jay Demerath, a University of Massachusetts professor
specializing in the sociology of religion.
Most recent accusations of heresy have taken place in the mainstream
Christian churches, such as the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians
and Episcopalians. Inhabiting the middle of the religious spectrum,
they house both a traditionalist and a modernist wing.
[Human Rights Violations, USA] Pakistani relives Guantanamo ordeal
A Pakistani man recently freed from US custody at Guantanamo Bay in
Cuba has said he was given injections to make him talk.
Denied prisoner of war status by US authorities, none of the detainees
have been officially charged and they have been prevented from meeting
lawyers or even receiving visitors.
Most have spent the majority of their detention in complete isolation,
punctuated only by routine interrogations.
[Pop Spirituality] Almighty Superstar: God's film career turns comic
Oh, how the Almighty has fallen - if you consider it a demotion to be
brought down to Earth by the movies.
The character of God has become increasingly human and secular in
comedies such as "Oh, God!," "Dogma" and the new "Bruce Almighty,"
suggesting mainstream audiences are more open than ever to wacky,
nonreligious versions of The Man Upstairs.
[Pop Spirituality] Hollywood Gets Religion -- Again
Despite dialogue about good vs. evil, and some "redemptive elements,"
Movie Guide says, the film "contains cryptic philosophical discussions
about choice, fate, control and purpose. No answers are really
reached, but the movie seems to be leaning toward a humanistic view of
Other Christian reviewers agree, though less vehemently.
"From the Christian perspective, I think the filmmakers missed the
mark," said Michael Elliot of the Orlando-based Christiancritic.com
(http://Christiancritic.com). "The Christian analogies don't hold up
anymore. It's a hodgepodge of spirituality. I'm not angry about it.
I'm not offended by it. I think people will be disappointed. It's
filled with an aura of self-importance that it doesn't deserve."
The original Matrix spawned at least 100 Web sites dealing with
Christian imagery, and three books have been written about religion
and spirituality in the film.
[Word of Faith Fellowship] WOFF hearing delayed
A hearing to determine whether four children now residing with a
family inside The Word of Faith Fellowship should be under "the care,
custody, or supervision of the state" has been postponed until next
However the Department of Social Services may seek an independent
psychological exmamination of Shana Muse's four children, who are now
residing with a church minister and his wife, before the Friday, June
The hearing was set for Friday, but the case was continued until the
June 27 docket after an attorney for the Covingtons argued his clients
had not been given enough time to respond to the petitions.
[Witchcraft] Every witch way but loose
A planned TV reality show suggests that Pagan religions haven't yet
made the leap to mainstream acceptance. But for some local witches and
spiritualists, that's not a bad thing.
Emilie May probably can't speak for the vampires, voodoo priests or
psychics of the world, but she knows a thing or two about being a
witch. Certainly she knows more, she feels, than anyone on payroll at
the Sci-Fi Network.
Living la vida Wicca in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minn., May says she's
no stranger to the occasional bouts with ridicule and misconceptions
about her beliefs. It isn't uncommon, she says, for people to look at
the pentagram dangling from her neck and immediately mistake her for a
Satan-worshipping heathen living in a basement full of live goats and
[Laci Peterson] Cult Theory
It's a theory that sounds like a script from a 1970s horror flick, but
the idea that Laci Peterson could be a victim of a satanic cult was in
fact part of the police investigation before her body was even found.
Modesto authorities aren't talking about the satanic cult theory, but
early on in the investigation police briefly looked into the idea
after receiving an anonymous tip, according to a man who was
questioned in the case.
But Richard Ofshe, author of Making Monsters: False Memories,
Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria, says organized satanic cults are a
"I think you'd be better off suggesting Saddam Hussein really did it,"
Ofshe told ABCNEWS.
[John Rubio and Angela Camacho] Parents accused of decapitating kids
to be tried separately
A young couple accused of strangling and then decapitating their three
young children will be tried separately, a judge ruled Thursday.
State judge Benjamin Euresti granted a defense motion to separate
proceedings against Angela Camacho, 23, and John Allen Rubio, 22.
May 23, 2003
[Islam] Looking for the place where Islam is flourishing in the United
States? It's the suburbs
Definitive statistics are hard to come by, but some Muslim leaders and
sociologists, backed by anecdotal evidence, say the fastest growth of
mosques is occurring in the suburbs.
That was also the conclusion of a 2001 nationwide study of mosques by
the Council on American Islamic Relations. "This is more and more
where Muslims are living," said Ishan Bagby, a professor at the
University of Kentucky who conducted the study.
As was the case with waves of European, Asian and Latino immigrants in
past decades, Muslim immigrants settled in the cities. As they
established businesses and prospered, they -- or more commonly, their
children -- moved to the suburbs.
"The Muslims are following the exact same pattern," Bagby said.
Out of 800 mosques surveyed, Bagby found that 77 percent of those in
suburban locations saw their congregations grow by 10 percent just
from 1999-2000, while 53 percent of urban mosques saw similar growth
over that same period. The council plans a second study in 2005.
[Nuwaubians] Work on Nuwaubian building continues
The Broad Street property was deeded in March 2000 to Nuwaubian
founder Malachi Z. York - who brought a group of followers from New
York in 1993 to create a compound near Eatonton in east Georgia's
Putnam County. Plans for the bookstore were received by the
Athens-Clarke County Building Permits and Inspections Department in
In January, York, also known as Dwight York, was sentenced to 14
years in prison after admitting in a negotiated plea agreement that he
molested numerous children at the Putnam County compound and at his
Athens mansion on Mansfield Court.
Last week, the contractors listed on the building permit for the
Broad Street structure - Eatonton-based Nuwaubian General Contracting
- asked the building permits department for permission to relocate an
office in the building.
[Exorcism] Parents sentenced for exorcism gone wrong
Walter Zepeda was possessed by the devil.
His parents, devoutly religious members of a Pentecostal church that
believes in such manifestations, knew that much to be true.
They had seen their shy 19-year-old son engage in behaviours that
could only signal the presence of Satan.
So Diego Zepeda-Cordera called his friend Alex Osegueda, a fellow
member of the Missionary Church of Christ and a man of equal devotion,
to help him rid his son of the evil. They had no idea the seven days
of forced confinement it took to drive away the devil would also,
literally, drain the life out of Walter.
He lost nine litres of fluid as he lay strapped with men's ties to
metal chairs in the basement apartment he shared with his family in
this western Ontario city. Ultimately he died of dehydration.
[Alternative Healing] Reiki, acupuncture fail to get official nod
There is some disappointing news for the practitioners of alternative
systems of medicine like reiki, acupuncture, magnetotherapy, pranic
healing, hypnotherapy, colour therapy, aroma therapy, music therapy,
reflexology, gems and stone therapy, electropathy, electro-homeopathy,
urine therapy and auto-urine therapy.
The Centre has formally rejected pleas to include them also under the
official list of indigenous systems of medicine.
The list now covers ayurveda, siddha, unani, homeopathy, yoga and
naturopathy and unani and there is a separate department under the
Union Health Ministry that seeks to protect and nurture them.
The rejection comes in the wake of a case filed in the Delhi High
Court in 1998. On a direction given by the Court, the Centre had set
up a high-level committee of experts headed by the Director General of
Indian Council of Medical Research to examine the merits of various
streams of alternative medicines.
While the case pertained specifically to electropathy and
electro-homeopathy, the panel had looked into other systems also and
come to the conclusion that no system other than those which were
already recognised could be approved on the ground that they did not
satisfy even some of the basic requirements.
[Hate Groups : Scientology] Church requests that trial be moved
Earlier this spring, as the Church of Scientology prepared for its
biggest trial in recent history, professional researchers combed
Tyrone Square Mall asking Pinellas residents what they thought of the
"A cult," said person after person.
"Scam," said one. "Crooks," said another.
The researchers, hired by the church, questioned 300 people. Their
findings were grim: Four out of five had unfavorable things to say
The church concluded that the negative opinions Pinellas residents
hold toward Scientology are so deep and widespread, it could not get a
fair trial here.
This week, it took the unusual step of asking the court to move a
civil trial out of this area because, it says, potential Pinellas
jurors have been prejudiced by negative media coverage.
[Laci Peterson] Peterson Case: Mystery Woman Comes Forward
woman who called police to say she could clear Scott Peterson's name
is reportedly in defense team custody.
Defense team sources told KNBC-TV in Los Angeles that the woman is
providing them with crucial information that may lead to the killers
of Laci Peterson and her unborn son.
The woman reportedly alleges that the deaths are linked to a satanic
or cult killing and that "crazies" are involved.
May 22, 2003 (Continued)
[Science and Religion] Moon walkers recall spiritual, philosophical
The last man to walk on the moon says getting there may have been
mankind's greatest technological feat, yet that aspect of the Apollo
missions is mostly forgotten three decades later.
Instead, people have philosophical and spiritual questions about the
lunar landings. They want to know how it felt and what it looked like,
whether the astronauts were scared and if they felt closer to God,
says Eugene Cernan.
[Hate Groups] Hale's church sued over use of name on Web site
The racist church led by Matt Hale is thumbing its nose at a federal
judge and has set up a Web site in Australia to broadcast its name,
World Church of the Creator, and sell its wares in violation of a
court order, attorneys suing the church alleged Wednesday.
Hale is being held behind bars and awaiting trial on charges he tried
to have a follower kill Joan Humphrey Lefkow, the federal judge in the
case. Hale has denied any wrongdoing.
Lefkow ruled last year that Hale's group was violating a trademark by
using the World Church name, which had been registered by an Oregon
church, the Te-Ta-Ma Truth Foundation.
Last month, she held Hale's group in contempt of her order, fining it
$1,000 a day and ordering its Web site shut down because it continued
to use the World Church of the Creator name.
The Web site was shut down, but attorneys for Te-Ta-Ma noted in court
filings Wednesday that the Australian Web site has popped up now,
announcing on its home page that "Our Church is called The Church of
[Baha'i] Despite Grave Danger, Iran s Bahais Study at Underground
Started on a small scale in 1987, the secretive BIHE (Bahai Institute
of Higher Education) has been operating stealthily, under great
duress, in Bahai living rooms, garages and offices across Iran.
In what has been called "an elaborate act of communal
self-preservation," the BIHE valiantly attempts to provide an
education for the community's deprived youth, bucking a state effort
to prevent future generations of Bahais from reaching any positions of
influence in Iran.
At grave risk to their lives, Bahai teachers, professionals and
volunteers have cobbled together a complex system of administrative
deception, offering a variety of subjects, disseminated mostly through
smuggled course materials, photocopied and hand-delivered to students.
[Pop Spirituality] 'Matrix' hailed as best treatise on God ever made
Predicting the future is dangerous, especially when a world-be prophet
puts her thoughts in writing.
But that's what author Phyllis Tickle did two decades ago when she
wrote: "Books are about to become the portable pastors of America."
That turned out to be true. Now, in light of "The Matrix," she is
updating that prophecy about how Americans talk about faith.
It helps to flashback to a statistical earthquake that rattled
the book business.
In 1992 the company that dominates sales to libraries saw a
stunning 92 percent rise in its religious trade. Then in 1994
religious sales by the giant Ingram Book Group soared 246 percent. In
a few years this niche grew 500 percent, said Tickle, who has covered
this trend for Publishers Weekly and in several of her two-dozen
The growth "was malignant," she said. "Bookstore owners kept
telling me people would vanish into that back corner where the
religious shelves were and stay for hours. When they did that, you
just knew they should have been going to see their pastors. But they
weren't doing that."
And in 1999 everything changed again.
"When 'The Matrix' came out, it became the best treatise on
God-talk that has ever been made," said Tickle.
[Falun Gong] China Rejects American Falun Gong Appeal
A Chinese court has rejected an appeal by an American linked to the
banned Falun Gong spiritual movement who was sentenced to three years
in prison on charges of sabotage, the U.S. Embassy said Monday.
The charges against Charles Li appeared to be related to incidents in
which Falun Gong activists broke into Chinese television signals to
show videos protesting the government's 4-year-old ban on the group.
[Unitarian Universalism] A Heated Debate Flares in Unitarian
Mr. Sinkford, who was elected in June 2001, has been urging the
nation's 225,000 Unitarian Universalists to reclaim a "vocabulary of
reverence." He has called the effort a main goal of his presidency of
the noncreedal association.
In recent sermons, talks and articles, Mr. Sinkford said he was struck
by the fact that the association's Purposes and Principles, or mission
statement, "contain not one piece of traditional religious language,
not one word." The statement has inclusive generalizations about human
dignity, justice and "the interdependent web of all existence," but
omits mention of God. It serves well as a broad ethic, he said, but
does not do much "to capture our individual searches for truth and
Explicit religious language would better acquaint people with life's
"religious depths" and "ground them in their personal faith," Mr.
Sinkford said in a recent interview. It would also help liberals wrest
religious language back from the religious right, he said.
[Pop Spirituality] 'Matrix' makes its way into courtrooms as defense
"The Matrix Reloaded," a futuristic action movie about a band of
hackers rebelling against their mechanized overlords, has already
taken over the nation's movie screens. Now it's threatening to take
over courtrooms, as well.
But while moviegoers have been entranced by the Keanu Reeves vehicle,
coughing up more than $90 million in the sequel's opening weekend
alone, it remains to be seen whether jurors will buy the
"Matrix"-based insanity defenses that have cropped up lately.
So far, they have.
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