Religion News Blog, June 21 - 23, 2003
- ReligionNewsBlog.com, June 23, 2003
[Hate Groups] Scientology class suits shy Hindu
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), June 24, 2003
Mrs Nallathambi, a Hindu, was unaware that The Athena School is Sydney's only
Scientologist school. But she liked what she saw, and enrolled Raja at the
beginning of last year. "Now he's more confident, there's no more tears," she
said. "At the other school he had no friends, now I can't get him to come home
at the end of the day.".
The Athena School has 90 pupils, from pre-school to year 10, and eight teachers,
who have reportedly completed six months training in L. Ron Hubbard teaching
techniques, rather than holding formal qualifications. Fees are about $1500 a
The principal, Clare Holbrook, says that no religion, including Scientology, is
taught. But the school does base its teachings on Hubbard's philosophy of
education, centred around the theory that children, like adults, need to "learn
how to learn".
Values are inculcated through a Scientologist booklet, The Way to Happiness,
whose principles would not look out of place alongside the commandments of the
Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions.
NOTE: The Way to Happiness is one of Scientology's prime recruitment tools. It
was written by the cult's founder L. Ron Hubbard, who simply rewrote values
promoted by other religions, but which he himself did not live by. In fact,
Hubbard was a hate-monger, who promoted and condoned the hate and harassment
activities the Scientology organization is known for.
[Hate Groups] Experts say World Church struggling
When a white supremacist group moved to this central Wyoming town surrounded by
the Wind River Indian Reservation last winter, residents fretted for their
Six months later, however, it is the World Church of the Creator whose future is
Experts say the group has begun to buckle under financial and legal troubles and
Riverton residents are starting to breathe a little easier.
No new headquarters have been built, nor any hate marches or rallies staged. And
fears about violence, recruiting and the group's effect on the local economy
have not materialized.
In fact, the group's local leader, Thomas Kroenke, feels he's been a victim of
discrimination; he's lost his job, and local banks and a print shop have refused
[Judaism] Jews reclaim their place in Germany
Bunimov is far from alone. He is part of an extraordinary revival that is taking
place in Germany today - a country where Jewish communities are being reborn at
a faster rate than anywhere else in the world.
New statistics reveal that Germany has overtaken Israel as the most popular
destination for Jewish émigrés, less than 60 years after the Nazis sought to
exterminate Jews forever in the Final Solution.
Before the Second World War, the half a million Jews in Germany were the most
assimilated in Europe. By the end of the 12 murderous years of the Nazi regime,
only 15,000 were left.
Now, each month, 1,200 Jewish people are arriving in Germany. As a result of
this accelerating migration, the Jewish population in Germany has swollen from
33,000 in 1990, the year of reunification, to almost 200,000 today.
[AntiSemitism] German president announces conference to focus on anti-Semitism
Berlin is to host a conference on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the
means to quell it, German President Johannes Rau announced here Sunday.
Rau, at the conclusion of a luncheon meeting with President Moshe Katsav at Beit
Hanassi, told reporters that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer had reported to
him on Israel's concerns about anti-Semitism and the need for action.
When asked whether Germany has made the distinction between classic
anti-Semitism and the current surge of anti-Semitism that is more in the nature
of anti-Zionism, Rau said that Germany is exploring numerous initiatives to rid
itself of both anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism.
[Islamism] Al Qaeda mutating like a virus
But the bad news, delivered over the past month of spectacular killings, shows
that, like a virus, Al Qaeda and its allies are fragmenting, mutating and
Part of the problem, analysts say, was the war in Iraq, which unsurprisingly
created a new wave of animosity toward the United States and Britain, acting as
an effective recruiting tool among disaffected Muslims.
The failure to locate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the existence of which
were used to justify the invasion, has reinforced the belief that America was
cynically "sacrificing blood for oil" in a desperately poor and barely
But most alarming, Middle East experts say, is the sacrifice of the long-term
U.S. policy of supporting secular, rather than Islamic governments in the
region, leaving the way open for extremists.
"This war has been a gift to Osama bin Laden," says Saad al-Fagih, the
London-based director of the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia.
"First of all, very few people in the region supported his argument that America
wanted hegemony over the Middle East. At the same time, they believed that if
there were an invasion of Iraq, the Baath party and its supporters would put up
a serious fight."
However, al-Fagih says, "the fact that America actually waged war in Iraq showed
that bin Laden was right. And when the Baath party supporters gave up so easily,
it was a major defeat for secular Arab nationalism."
Al Qaeda, which is fighting to install an extreme form of Islam across the
Muslim world, has become an even-stronger magnet for disaffected Muslims who
feel the only way of stopping Washington's mammoth military machine is through
[Aum Shinrikyo] Aum members held over swindle
Three members of Aum Shinrikyo were arrested Monday on suspicion of swindling
goods worth 500,000 yen from a mentally ill man.
Police also searched several locations, including an Aum facility in Nishinari
Those arrested were identified as Akira Hori, 43, head of Aum's Osaka branch;
Nobuyuki Handa, 38; and Eiichiro Motomura, 38.
They are suspected of swindling about 400 books on medicine and religion and
about 10 computer software applications from the 31-year-old man on Oct. 14.
[Catholic Church] Clergy and laity search for answers to crisis amid bitterness,
Eighteen months after the clergy sex abuse crisis erupted in Boston, and a year
after the U.S. bishops took steps to assure Catholics that predator priests
would no longer serve in active ministry, efforts to move beyond the crisis in
this troubled archdiocese are stalled. And even with the hope generated by a new
archbishop (and reports indicate that such an appointment is imminent) most
signs point to a situation that will likely get worse before, or if, it gets
[Freemasonry] Remaking the Masons for the 21st century proves a challenging task
With the average age of Canadian Masons hovering in the mid-60s, the danger of
the secret society dying off has grand masters doing what was previously
unthinkable - placing recruitment ads in newspapers and forming public relations
divisions for tactics on how to sell Masons to a new generation.
At a national conference in Winnipeg last April, discussion papers included
Crisis in Masonry: "Highlighting that our failure to adapt to the present is
resulting in decreasing membership and devaluation of the Craft," and Public
Awareness: in which "community involvement is the method of promoting the
Ideas for quick fixes include one-day classes in which the ancient three-month
process of initiation is compressed into a convenient drive-through format for
today's busy young man.
The idea is a controversial one, with many Masons fearing the push to increase
membership will dilute principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.
[Religion in the Workplace] Spiritual Consultants Come to the Workplace
Doug Underhill is an outside consultant for McKinney Aerospace in Texas, but
he's not slashing or streamlining production. He's paid to talk to employees
about their personal affairs, feelings and spirituality.
Gil Strickland founded the company in 1984 with one chaplain -- himself.
Nineteen years later Strickland has expanded his service to 35 states and 343
cities with 1,200 chaplains on staff. Strickland, a former special assistant to
evangelist Billy Graham, got the idea of on-staff spiritual advice from his
37-year career as a U.S. Army chaplain.
"We took the military model of chaplaincy and just moved it over to the
corporate world," he told Fox News.
Marketplace Ministries believes that employees bring personal problems to the
workplace and would like to talk about them; a service that is beneficial to
both employee and employer.
[Mike Tabb] Prosecutors Drop Plea Agreement In Tabb Case
It appears accused killer and minister Michael Tabb will face a jury of his
peers after all. The former Troup minister is accused of beating his wife Marla
Tabb to death inside their church parsonage.
[Evolution / Creationism] Evolution vs. creation: The debate continues to
It's been 150 years since Charles Darwin published his first book on evolution.
It's been nearly 80 years since the famous "monkey trial" in Tennessee where
biology teacher John Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in public
It's been nearly 40 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the teaching of
evolution can't be banned in classrooms.
However, the conflict between religion and evolution continues.
[Evolution / Creationism] The evolution of a scientific-religious controversy
-- The mapping of the human genome shows 98 percent of the genes of humans and
chimpanzees are the same.
-- A Gallup poll shows nearly half of Americans don't believe in evolution.
Forty-five percent say humans were created as is, 37 percent say humans evolved
with God's help, 12 percent say humans evolved without God's help.
[Evolution / Creationism] Lehigh professor shakes up Darwinists
Darwin was right about the evolution of species, Behe says. However, Darwin
didn't know about the makeup of the cell. So Darwin did not apply evolution to
something important: biomolecules, the basis of all life.
In his research, Behe concluded Darwin's evolution did not hold up for
A molecule is "irreducibly complex," which simply means it is made of several
parts that are absolutely necessary for the entire unit to work, Behe says.
He uses a mousetrap to illustrate that concept. If one part is taken away, it
won't work at all. That means biomolecules can't evolve by Darwinian natural
selection, Behe argues.
All of this meant Behe disputed Darwin, who for scientists has become nearly
"First you have to knock the king off the hill before someone else can go up
there," he says.
Behe says his reservations about evolution come from scientific research, not
his personal theology (he's a practicing Catholic).
[Zen] Bringing Zen into prisons
Since spring, Schireson has led small groups of Zen practitioners from the
Modesto area, North Fork and Fresno into Valley State Prison for Women. They
volunteer every other week to meditate with inmates who are serving sentences as
short as six months and as long as life.
They also periodically visit Central California Women's Facility across the
street, which houses similar inmates, as well as those condemned to death.
"The conditions in prison are not that different from conditions in a
monastery," said Schireson, who has studied Zen in the United States and Japan.
Though classes are secular and do not go into the religious aspects of Zen
Buddhism, the outreach has become a unique way for the local Zen community to
practice and share together, Schireson said. Volunteers said that seeing the
personal growth and gratitude of the women has deepened their own practice.
[Islamism] Debating An Islamic Ideology
During several stints in prison, he was exposed to different interpretations of
Islam than the Wahhabi doctrine that has dominated Saudi Arabia for more than 70
years. Al-Nougaidan says his prison readings turned him into one of Wahhabism's
Now a 33-year-old writer, al-Nougaidan is at the forefront of an emerging debate
in Saudi society that asks whether Wahhabism is a root cause of militant Islamic
violence around the world. The question has taken on a new urgency after last
month's suicide bombings of foreigners' three housing compounds in Riyadh, which
killed 34 people.
"Many of today's radical groups draw at least part of their religious
justifications from Wahhabi ideology," said al-Nougaidan, who rarely goes out in
public and does not answer his cell phone because of the numerous death threats
he has received. "For too long, Saudi society has been exposed to only one
school of religious thought. It teaches hatred of Jews, Christians and even
other Muslims who are deemed too liberal."
[Hate Groups] Tom just says no to prescription drugs
Tom Cruise wants to get your children off drugs.
Not coke. Not pot. Not smack.
We're talking about medications doctors prescribe to help them conquer learning
disabilities such as hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder.
Last week, Cruise went to Washington to push one of the key causes of his Church
Scientology's fight against medicines is rooted in its fear of psychiatrists.
[Asatru] Napa couple fights racist image to bring Nordic worship to prisoners
A Napa couple is tapping into an ancient Nordic religion to lead a growing
number of prison inmates toward a spiritual awakening.
Guided by Norse gods and goddesses, John and Monica Post are leading the rapidly
growing National Prison Kindred Alliance (NPKA). At their last count, the Posts
said they sent out more than 11,000 newsletters to imprisoned followers of a
religion called Asatru. They also run Himminbjorg Publishing, which offers books
and material on Asatru, and John founded a church called The Temple of Wotan to
assist the alliance's work within American prisons.
While the Posts say their work is devoted to providing a spiritual anchor for
people who desperately need it, not everyone is enthusiastic about their
efforts. As recently as last year the Posts were linked to an organization that
some experts say supports white supremacy, which has caught the attention of
groups trying to prevent race-based violence. Watchdogs including the
Anti-Defamation League say the Asatru religion is being manipulated to offer
ideological support for white supremacists.
[Islam] History or Myth? Local Muslims object to recent lecture
As Moses Saleh sat in the cavernous sanctuary of a Modesto church recently, he
felt trapped. He was listening to Christian author Dave Hunt lecture on the
subject of Islam -- and Saleh, 62, a lifelong Muslim, was growing more and more
"We tried to shake our head or raise our hand (to argue)," the Modesto resident
remembered, but the speaker interrupted and stopped Saleh and other Muslims in
attendance. "We (felt) just like captives."
There were many things he wanted to say -- points he wanted to dispute,
statements presented as facts that Saleh said were false. But he did not have a
chance. Feeling frustrated, he and the handful of other Muslims left partway
through the lecture.
Saleh and other Muslims at the recent lecture did not remain quiet after leaving
the church. Several got together to write letters to Calvary Chapel, local media
and the Modesto Police Department.
[John Hagee] Business Express: Critics say John Hagee's compensation is too high
"If you're not prospering, it's because you're not giving," he repeats.
For four decades, Hagee's message has motivated his members to give millions to
And it is a message that has helped his nonprofit television arm, Global
Evangelism Television, become a prosperous, global, moneymaking family
enterprise that has netted millions year after year peddling prayer,
inspirational books, tapes and the promise of prosperity.
[Jerry Falwell] Falwell Gets Rights to Web Addresses
The Rev. Jerry Falwell says he has won the rights to two Internet domains that
use his name after he threatened to again sue the man who set up the parody Web
Falwell said Wednesday that an Illinois entrepreneur decided to turn over
jerryfalwell.com and jerryfallwell.com rather than face further legal action.
The sites spoofed Falwell's views on the Bible and his fund-raising methods.
[History] A filmmaker's journey
Q: How was your faith impacted by producing this series?
A: Sometime ago, I went on a film mission with the World Bank and [television
station] WETA in Washington, D.C. We were doing a series of films called "Global
Links" that looked at development in the developing world. I made a stop in
Tokyo, then in Thailand, which is a Buddhist country. All the while I'm reading
and trying to learn about the Buddhist faith. After that, we went to Jakarta,
Indonesia, which is a Muslim community. I went from this Christian culture to a
Buddhist culture to a Muslim culture to a Hindu culture. One of the things I
found out was the universality of spirituality. For most of us, a religious
faith or spiritual experience is part of being fully human. It really doesn't
matter where you find your spirituality --- just find it and experience it and
be fully human.
[History] Book explores history of U.S. blacks, their influence on religion
This is the first story in This Far by Faith: Stories from the African American
Religious Experience, a new book that spans this country's history of blacks and
the role of religion in it. The book by Juan Williams and Quinton Dixie covers a
broad swath of African-American religious history and its impact on this nation.
Almost anyone would learn something new from the book.
It gives plenty of what one would expect, with stories about Baptists and black
Methodists, the civil rights movement and luminaries such as abolitionist
Sojourner Truth and civil rights legends Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
It also features stories about the Oblate Sisters of Providence, an
African-American order of Catholic nuns and black Jews. It talks not only about
the Nation of Islam but also related sects such as the Moorish Science Temple of
America and the Nation of Gods and Earths, a splinter group also known as the
Five Percent Nation of Islam or Five Percenters.
The book talks about the formation of such prominent denominations as the
Nashville-based National Baptist Convention, the largest black religious body,
and the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal
[History] Keeping the 'Faith' of Henry Hampton
''Without that belief -- that we are more than what the world says we are -- we
would not have survived.''
So begins the six-part series ''This Far by Faith,'' a searing look at how the
deep faith of African-Americans has sustained them in the journey from slavery
to equal rights over the last 300 years. Black churches provided solace to
beaten slaves, a place to socialize, a way to develop a sense of self separate
from that imposed upon them by whites, and the galvanizing force that propelled
momentous social change.
Running on WGBH Tuesday through Thursday nights, the series covers a huge swath
of history: the days of slavery, Reconstruction, the migration to the north, the
Jim Crow and civil rights eras, the Black Power movement, and the growth of
Islam among African-Americans.
[Hate Groups] Zundel offered release if he left Canada: Lawyer
The federal government offered to set jailed Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel free
to travel to the country of his choice if he would plead guilty to being a
national security threat, says his lawyer.
And a senior government source told The Canadian Press the national security
certificate could still be dropped altogether if Zundel would return immediately
to his native Germany.
"We'd gladly buy Zundel a ticket back to Germany tomorrow," said the federal
But Germany, where Zundel faces up to five years in prison on charges of
suspicion of incitement of hatred, is the last place he wants to go.
[Jehovah's Witnesses] Judge: Elders not required to report abuse
Jehovahs Witnesses elders were obliged not to report complaints of sexual
abuse made during confidential pastoral counseling sessions, a judge ruled
earlier this month.
Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge William Groffs ruling sets back a
lawsuit brought by two sisters against their former congregation in Wilton and
the national Watchtower Bible & Tract Society.
The sisters will appeal the ruling, their lawyer said.
ReligionNewsBlog.com, June 21, 2003
[Yoga] A Skeptic in Yogaland
I had come to the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, just down the beach from the
Club Med on Paradise Island, in late February of this year, under gentle but
firm pressure from my fiancée, Francine, a newly minted yoga teacher. I liked
yoga, but on an occasional, casual and almost entirely physical basis - it
helped iron out aches and pains. I am a devout agnostic on spiritual matters,
and while New Age flakiness is always good for a joke, I didn't see much point
in immersing myself in it.
All in all, there was something endearingly goofy about the ashram. The regular
M*A*S*H-like announcements over the public address system - "Om nama Shivaya,
so-and-so, call on line 1, Om shanti." The sight of an orange-robed swami
shaving at the next sink at 5:45 a.m. The way everyone, including me, flocked to
the tiny campus store after dinner to visit the overpriced snack foods and $52
sweatshirts. The way the whole place looked like an enchanted miniature-golf
course at night.
[Hate Groups] Few problems expected at Aryan Nations meeting
Law enforcement agencies anticipate few problems when the white supremacist
organization Aryan Nations holds its annual world congress this weekend in a
north Idaho state park.
Kootenai County sheriff´s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said law enforcement officers will
keep watch at Farragut State Park, but don´t expect any disturbances.
Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, 85, said he expects 100 to 200
participants at the event, which will feature several speakers and neo-Nazi
skinhead rock bands.
[Hate Groups] White supremacist to leave Michigan
A man referred to by some civil rights groups as one of the country's most
extreme white supremacists says he's leaving the area and heading south.
Meanwhile, area leaders are forming a community coalition and creating a
diversity training program to combat the racist and anti-Semitic messages of
James P. Wickstrom.
About 150 people showed up for a forum Monday at Temple Israel to discuss
Wickstrom's presence in the community.
"This is not the community that accepts this kind of organization in our midst,"
said Betsy S. Kellman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League in
[Harry Potter] Deconstructing Rowling
J. K. Rowling is an Inkling. That's the well-argued thesis of John Granger's
fine book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter. Granger demonstrates the absurdity of
the claim that Harry Potter is anti-Christian. And even if you've never worried
about charges brought by misguided fundamentalists, The Hidden Key will
substantially augment your understanding of what's really at stake in Harry's
The Inklings were originally a group of Oxford dons who wrote Christian fiction.
The most famous of them are J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Lord of the Rings
and the Narnia series never mention Christianity overtly, and in Tolkien's
books, religion itself is absent from the plot. Yet these mythopoeic books aim
to "baptize the imagination" of the reader to teach her the importance of
fighting for the right, no matter how powerful the forces of evil may appear.
Rowling has confessed herself to be a great fan of C. S. Lewis, her use of "J.
R." for her byline evokes "J. R. R." Tolkien, and she is a member of the Church
of Scotland (that's Presbyterian, for American readers).
[Cafeteria Religion] Oprah fans get into the spirit
Once upon a time, this kind of devotion was reserved mostly for the likes of
Mohammed and the Virgin Mary.
But Winfrey - a child of poverty who built a media empire and became America's
first black female billionaire - delivers a message of success through spiritual
growth that has inspired near-religious fervor among her fans.
Some fans clamoring for tickets to Winfrey's long sold-out, eight-hour personal
improvement seminar at the Tampa Convention Center seem to be on a pilgrimage of
their own - seeking an audience with Oprah in a way that mirrors old-style
revival meetings, complete with personal testimony and spiritual healing.
[Religion Statistics] Sharp rise in Muslim population underlines changing face
of Irish society
There are 19,000 Muslims living in Ireland and almost 6% of the population is
made up of non-nationals. The Census 2002 figures released yesterday show a
sharp rise in non-Catholic groups, underlining the rapidly changing face of
The Muslim community is represented by 40 nationalities and is one of the new
religious forces in Ireland narrowly trailing the Presbyterian population. The
Methodist community is also increasing rapidly, with 10,000 living in Ireland.
[Mormon Church] Mormons and a massacre: Was Young at all responsible?
[Review of American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows]
In "American Massacre," Denton's case for Young's responsibility is
circumstantial, but it is powerfully, persuasively circumstantial.
[Terrorism] Iranian Dissident Group Labeled a Terrorist Cult
In its four-decade history, the People's Mujaheddin has had many identities --
mass political movement in Iran, tank-equipped army-in-exile in Iraq,
U.S.-designated terror group. Now, former members and people who watch the group
say it has become essentially a cult.
"They use the term democracy," said Ervand Abrahamian, a City University of New
York professor and author of "The Iranian Mojahedin." But "there's no shred of
democracy in the Mujaheddin. Rajavi decides who you sleep with, who you marry,
who he sleeps with -- everything."
Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, has collected testimony
that Mujaheddin members were threatened or imprisoned if they tried to quit.
Many who did leave were first "obliged to make a taped confession of being a
spy" for Iran, according to researcher Elahe Hicks. Hicks wrote that some
ex-members were handed to Iraqi security agents, who reportedly tortured them.
Rajavi even asserted control over the sex lives of members, according to
analysts and former members. He married Maryam Abrishamchi in 1985 after
ordering her husband, Rajavi's assistant, to divorce her, according to
Abrahamian. "It looked like wife-swapping; he claimed it was an ideological
revolution," he said. "If you had any objection to this, he'd say you're not
revolutionary enough and don't believe in women's rights."
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