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Introducing World Now

The Los Angeles Times this week launched World Now. Coverage that once appeared on Babylon & Beyond can now be found by following the Middle East and South Asia threads on World Now.

ISRAEL: Trying classic, digital and celebrity diplomacy

The Palestinian plan to ask the United Nations for statehood recognition has preoccupied Israel's leaders and news media for months, making "September" a code word for trouble ahead. Public officials have sounded dire warnings, each with a metaphor describing what...

IRAN: Key cleric calls for more prayer, less Web surfing

An influential Iranian ayatollah is telling his students to spend more time praying and less time clicking through cyberspace. Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, a conservative Islamic cleric and chairman of the Imam Khomeini Research and Education Institute in Qom, said the Internet is rife with dangers and temptations that lead to family problems.

WEST BANK: U.S. envoys' paper emboldens Abbas to go before U.N.

A paper special U.S. peace envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday that was supposed to sway him away from going to the United Nations was what caused Abbas to take a...

SYRIA: Momentum builds as uprising reaches six-month mark [VIDEO]

Protests continued throughout Syrian villages late Wednesday, which marked the eve of the uprising's six-month anniversary. At least eight protesters were reported dead, three each in Hama and Homs, and one in each Aleppo and and Idleb. The uprising stands...

WEST BANK: 18 years after Oslo, Palestinians try a new tack

On Sept. 13, 1993, current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and current Israeli President Shimon Peres signed at the While House the so-called Oslo Accords, ushering in a new era and hopes of peace in the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The...

LIBYA: Seven keys to post-revolution resurgence

Editoras note: This post is from analyst Lahcen Achy with the Carnegie Middle East Center. Neither the Los Angeles Times nor Babylon & Beyond endorses the positions of Carnegie analysts, nor does Carnegie endorse the positions of The Times or...

SYRIA: Activist's death shakes opposition as casualty count jumps

The body of well-known Syrian opposition activist Ghaith Mattar was delivered to his family over the weekend by security forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar Assad. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Mattar was on the run...

EGYPT: Testimony of top general postponed in Mubarak trial

The testimony of Egypt's top general in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak was postponed Sunday after the military leader said he was too busy with national security matters, including repercussions from a mob attack on the Israeli embassy...

WEST BANK: Palestinians start pro-U.N. bid activities

The Palestinian support group for the United Nations bid to gain statehood recognition announced Saturday a series of activities that would reach a peak when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 23.

SYRIA: Some Syrians decry Arab League chief's visit with Assad

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, visited Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday in an effort to end the bloody crackdown on anti-regime protesters that has gripped Syria for months and led to international condemnation.

EGYPT: Thousands in Tahrir Square angry at slow pace of reforms

Thousands of Egyptians returned to Tahrir Square on Friday, calling on the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to fulfill the demands of the revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak. It was the first in Tahrir since a sit-in in July and early August that lasted for more than three weeks and made similar demands.

Religion and Cult News, Saturday

  • The sentences of three German men found guilty for their leadership roles at the infamous Colonia Dignidad cult in Chile have been increased.

    The cult's founder, former Nazi Paul Schaefer, was sentenced in July 2008 for torturing children.[wpipa id="36637"]

    Schaefer -- whose followers thought he was "God on earth" -- preached an unnamed religion that said harsh discipline would draw them closer to the supreme being.

    The cult leader also followed the teachings of American preacher William M. Branham, one of the founders of the "faith healing" movement, and considered a heretic.

    In April 2010 Schaefer died in prison.

  • California state parole officials postponed a decision on setting free Patricia Krenwinkel, a follower of Charles Manson and convicted killer, after the woman's attorney made new claims that she had been abused by the cult leader or another person.
  • Emma Donoghue's novel The Wonder delves into the cult of fasting girls

    Anorexia is not a new disorder. The compulsion to refuse food stretches as far back as Ancient Greece and into the Middle Ages, when Catholic saints such as Catherine of Siena would eschew meals as a symbol of their piety. Unlike contemporary sufferers of anorexia nervosa, those with anorexia mirabilis (the miraculous loss of appetite) were celebrated for their ability to exist without earthly pleasures.

  • Top 5 a!Eheresies' of 2016: a!EOne God,' biblical authority and more

    What is heresy?
    What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith?
    What is a cult of Christianity?

  • The hunt for FLDS cult leader Warren Jeffs' lost child brides: Three girls married off to Warren Jeffs aged 12 and 13 are still missing 12 years later as polygamist father who has 145 children goes on trial for arranging ceremonies
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church: 49 of every 100 new members eventually leave.

    Theologically this religious sect is considered a cult of Christianity.

  • What if you could become God, with the ability to build a whole new universe?

    That question is skillfully addressed by Zeeya Merali in A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes.

    "This mind-boggling book reveals that we can nurse other worlds in the tiny confines of a lab, raising a daunting prospect: Was our universe, too, brought into existence by a daring creator?"

    Marali is a journalist and author who has written for Scientific American, Nature, New Scientist, and Discover, as well as published two textbooks in collaboration with National Geographic.

  • This post includes highlights from Religion News Blog's Twitter feed. Join 19.700 subscribers for up-to-date religion and cult news.

    Also: You are welcome to embed this news feed on your blog or website

    Tweets by @religionnews

    Full story: Religion and Cult News, Saturday

    Religion & Cults News a Wednesday

  • The Berlin attack is right out of the terror handbooks

    The world's deadliest terrorist groups are increasingly open about their intentions, tactics, and targets. Last month, Rumiyah, the slickest terrorist magazine on the Internet market, was very precise. The "most appropriate" killing vehicle, the Islamic State publication advised, is a "load-bearing truck" that is "double-wheeled, giving victims less of a chance to escape being crushed by the vehicle's tires." It should be "heavy in weight, assuring the destruction of whatever it hits." It should also have a "slightly raised chassis and bumper, which allow for the mounting of sidewalks and breeching of barriers if needed." And it should have a "reasonably fast" rate of acceleration.

    In the same issue, Rumiyah urged Islamic State members, or sympathizers anywhere in the world, to hop in vehiclesasteal them, if need beaand attack outdoor markets, public celebrations, political rallies, and pedestrian-congested streets. "All so-called a!Ecivilian' (and low security) parades and gatherings are fair game and more devastating to Crusader nation," the magazine, which is published in several languages, said. [...more...]
    - Source: The New Yorker

    Islamic State calls Berlin attacker a 'soldier' as manhunt for killer resumes

    Berlin attack: Police hunt Tunisian suspect after finding ID papers in truck

    Analysis: intelligence has limits in preventing truck-borne terror

    See: Islam and Terrorism

  • Interview with living members of Heaven's Gate UFO suicide cult

    In March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide inside a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, California. Police discovered their bodies on March 26. It was the largest mass-suicide in U.S. history.

    But the group's website is still available -- and is maintained by two ex-members. Troy James Weaver contacted them:

    So why maintain the website? Obviously if you still believe it, you are a proponent/member of something, right? The reason I ask about suicide, is because if Do and Ti were the only Next Level Members, what does that say about the others who took their own lives? They were human, correct? Not inhabiting a human body, but human? I'm confused by this and what I've read. I'm just trying to understand more clearly. Also, what is a task partner?

    The website is to provide information for their future return. We are designated to maintain and care for it.

    Humans are not to commit suicide. Those 38, and those 38 only, we allowed to shed their human body, take on space-capable, Next Level bodies and depart this planet. No human can do that or would be allowed to do that. We know you are confused about this but those individuals did not commit suicide. They broke the bond of human connection and quickly switched to a Next Level one.

    [Ed. note: Reports showed that there were 39 bodies, suggesting that Heaven's Gate does not include Marshall Applewhite a human.]
    - Source: Fanzine

    More about Heaven's Gate

  • Ex-Scientologists tell disturbing stories about David Miscavige, the a!Epope of Scientology,' on A&E series

    The dwindling Scientology cult can't get a break nowadays. It is exposed to daylight on the internet, on television, on YouTube, on countless blogs and websites, in new book after new book, and by more and more ex-members -- including those who held high ranks and/or were inside for significant amount of time.

    And then there was actress Leah Remini.

    Remini left the 'Church of Scientology' in 2013 a after 35 years as a devout member a and ever since, she has been on a crusade to expose the controversial organization's secrets. Including those persistent stories about cult leader David Miscavige.

    This Washington Post article talks about her ongoing A&E television series, 'Scientology and the Aftermath.' It also highlights the way the 'church' can't help but shoot itself in the foot by -- time and again -- engaging in a hate campaign against those who left the destructive cult.

    As usual, A&E put up a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode and between each act break, given the religion's leaders harshly condemned the series and denied many of the claims. The church also has called Remini an "obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist" who is angry that she was expelled from the church, and that she's doing the series for money; they also said the show is "doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career."

    Scientology likes to call itself a 'church' and a 'religion.' At Apologetics Index, we call Scientology a hate group.

    Here's how the cult destroys friendships, families and other relationships.

  • Full story: Religion & Cults News – Wednesday

    Shincheonji aNew Heaven and New Eartha cult infiltrating churches

    UK: Churches warned of 'deceptive cult' linked to South Korea infiltrating congregations

    Hundreds of British churches, including some of the UK's largest congregations, have been warned against possible infiltration by a group accused of being a "cult" promoting "control and deception".

    The Church of England has issued a formal alert to almost 500 parishes in London about the activities of the group known as Parachristo.

    The organisation, a registered charity, runs Bible study courses at an anonymous industrial unit under a Botox clinic and a personal training company in London Docklands.
    But it is understood to be linked to a controversial South Korean group known as Shinchonji (SCJ) — or the "New Heaven and New Earth" church (NHNE) — whose founder Man-Hee Lee is referred to as God's "advocate".

    It is claimed that some of those who become involved gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives [...]

    A companion article, titled The Korean religious leader on a collision course with the Church of England notes:

    Organisers insist Parachristo exists solely to help "understand the Bible more deeply". [...]

    Former attendees of Parachristo study groups have claimed that existing members effectively pose as new students.

    Shinchonji teaching documents seen by The Telegraph instructs these "maintainers" to "arouse curiosity" of newcomers and "try to be close to each other until the student relies on you fully".

    They are told to "take notes of the conversation with the student" and report back to the group leader.

    Shincheonji -- Cult of Christianity

    According to the SCJ, their leader - Manhee Lee - is the Messiah or the spokesperson of the Messiah ("Promised Pastor").

    Lee Man-Hee claims that Jesus appeared before him as a "bright heavenly figure." Some see him as God's "promised pastor" who holds the key to avoid impending judgement. Followers believe that Lee Man-Hee is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Reportedly the church teaches that Lee Man-Hee is the angel referred to in Revelation 22:16:

    "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

    The church also believes that Revelation 7:2 refers to South Korea (East) and to Lee Man-Hee (angel):

    Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.

    According to the group's promotional literature Lee Man-Hee is the only person who can testify to the mysteries of the Book of Revelation -- which he claims already has been fulfilled. He is said to teach that the world has already ended, and that we are currently living in the afterlife.

    Shincheonji denies the biblical teaching that people are saved by faith in Jesus Christ -- and not by works.

    The church denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

    Shincheonji's teachings contradict essential doctrines of the Christian faith, thus identifying the group as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

    Sociologically Shincheonji has many cult-like characteristics as well.

    Front Groups; Alternative Spellings

    Note the different spellings of the name of the group: Officially it is Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). Commonly referred to as Shincheonji, but the name is sometimes spelled without the 'e' -- Shinchonji.

    Likewise, the name of the cult's leader is Lee Man-Hee, which is sometimes written as Man-Hee Lee or Manhee Lee.

    Lee Man-Hee founded Shinchonji in 1984.

    Other names related to this movement: Mannam Volunteer Association/Mannam International Youth Coalition (MIYC), International Peace Youth Group (IPYG)/Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ).

    World Peace... and Deception

    Like similar cults, Shincheonji claims it promotes world peace -- but its deceptive nature tends to backfire, like it did when the cult organized the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit (WARP). Wikipedia:

    From 17-19 September 2014 Shincheonji organised their SCJ 6th National Olympiad. It is the major event for SCJ which they hold every four years, and it coincides with Lee's birthday.[3] On this occasion, they also invited many international guests who all believed they were attending a secular "World Peace Summit". As the two events took place simultaneously and in the same venue, it led to significant confusion and embarrassment for international guests who had been misled.

    Here's one blogger's experience at a similar event: "We thought we were going to a world peace festival...turned out to be a religious cult sort of thing."

    See also:

    Full story: Shincheonji “New Heaven and New Earth” cult infiltrating churches

    The attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements

    Research: a brief overview of the attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements is an interesting article by Jean-FranAASSois Mayer, founder and editor of Relioscope -- an independent website that provides 'news and analysis about religions in today's world.'

    The article describes official responses to cults during the 1980s and 1990s.

    Under the heading 'General Comments and Observations,' Mayer writes:

    If we summarize the current situation, beside a few centres receiving local or regional subsidies, three Western European countries a Austria, Belgium[75] and France a have established agencies or centres for monitoring NRMs; these institutions are the outcomes of state initiatives at the national level.[76] Despite the successive waves of concerns about "cults", most European countries do not have state agencies dealing with cult-related issues. In some cases, this has not prevented targeted measures against a specific movement, as evidenced by the years of surveillance of Scientology by German security agencies.

    State-sponsored institutions dealing with cults are supposed to be neutral observers a which was one of the reasons for their founding. What happens in reality is nuanced and should certainly not be over-simplified. In practice, representatives of some official or state-supported agencies are seen more often at conferences of people with shared anti-cult assumptions than at academic conferences attracting sociologists of religion and other scholars conducting fieldwork. This has not prevented some members of these agencies' staff from gaining considerable knowledge through years of work. One should understand that from the start the very roots of such agencies made it difficult for them to be really "neutral" (whatever meaning is ascribed to this word), since they were supposed to help solve a social problem, to support people seen as victims and to deal with deviations. Social scientists studying NRMs usually work from a quite different starting point.
    - Source: Jean-FranAASSois Mayer, Research: a brief overview of the attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements, Religioscope, November 5, 2016

    Mayer also notes that the situation has changed a bit over the past 15 years.

    Firstly, except for the deaths of hundreds of members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda in 2000 (unfortunately, when news of this kind comes from Africa, it does not have the same impact as similar events in the West would), there have been no further major, dramatic "cult tragedies". With the exception of Scientology, which remains quite controversial, most NRMs that were at the top of the list from the 1970s to the 1990s have lost much visibility, and several well-known cult leaders have died: their movements now have a lower profile or have partly reformed themselves (with ISKCON being one of the most significant instances of such internal reforms). There are still tensions within families as a consequence of spiritual quests and reorientations, but they are less associated with clearly identifiable groups. The Western European environment has become more individualistic: the appeal of radical forms of communitarian life has declined, especially at a time when most young people are primarily concerned with getting a job and keeping it. Certainly, the repeated warnings about the dangers associated with recruitment into "cults" have made some people more cautious when encountering missionaries of various persuasions.

    Most of all, Westerners no longer experience the same fears: we live in the post-9/11 environment. Islamic radicalism looks like a much more serious threat than do small religious movements. Security agencies invest more time in monitoring Salafi mosques or jihadist websites than the followers of Hindu gurus or Japanese new religions. Some religious groups still require attention, but they are no longer the same ones.
    - Source: Ibid

    From 'Cult Wars' to Dialogue

    Indeed, much has changed from about the turn of the century. The so-called 'cult wars' have largely abated in favor of a more constructive, communicative approach in which people with various, often polarized viewpoints share knowledge and perspectives -- agreeing to disagree when and where necessary, but all the while learning from each other.

    The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) -- formerly American Family Foundation -- describes this development in its statement, Dialogue and Cultic Studies: Why Dialogue Benefits the Cultic Studies Field.

    That said, to those people who help victims of cults regain their freedom and deal with the aftermath of their involvment in such movements, the attitude of many religion academics still comes across as rather sympathetic toward what is euphemistically referred to as 'New Religious Movements.'[ref]New Religious Movement (NRM) or sometimes Alternative Religious Movement (ARM) are terms often used as 'neutral' descriptions of what others would refer to as 'cults' or 'sects'[/ref]

    It is not just anti-cult activists who have called out certain academics for their cozy and at times almost PR-like relationships with religious cults

    On the other hand, such academics have also learned that the internet has made it a lot easier for interested observers to scrutinize -- and critique -- their work.

    Jihadism and Deradicalization

    Mayer continues his comments and obervations by saying that Jihadism is now seen by some anti-cult groups as another form of "cultic deviation."

    More recently, as we see young Muslims leaving Western cities to join Islamist groups in Middle East war zones, relatives or acquaintances of these young people have spontaneously explained that they had been brainwashed: this often seemed to them to be the only "rational" explanation for such radical departures. This has quite naturally been grafted onto a "cult brainwashing" narrative. The metaphor of mind control offers an attractive model to explain various situations. Despite initial reluctance by some cult critics to venture into that field, we are seeing what to some extent looks like a new incarnation of the cult controversies around jihadism, with deradicalization becoming a new keyword (as well as a new industry).
    - Source: Ibid.

    Clearly, many expressions of what is known in Islam as 'lesser Jihad' (holy warfare against the enemies of Allah and Islam) -- as opposed to 'greater Jihad' (the personal struggle against sin) are indeed cult-like in nature. The possibility that such recruits are victims of Brainwashing and/or Mind Control -- concepts certain religion academics crusade against with something very much akin to holy fervor -- should not be summarily dismissed.

    That some cult experts see similarities between the recruitment tactics of apocalyptic Islamist terror groups and those of other destructive cults is logical. The process of undue influence is the familiar and follows a predictable tract.

    Not surprisingly Mayer's comments include a nod toward the semantics problems that have plagued the 'New Religious Movements' debates: How does one define terms like 'cult' or 'sect'? According to him, shift from "cults" or "sectes" to "cultic deviations" does not really solve the problem because the term is "not as neutral as it claims to be."

    As James Lewis has observed, "the minority religions lose their chance for a fair hearing as soon as the label a!Ecult' is applied".[94] The shift from "cults" or "sectes" to "cultic deviations" has been an attempt to resolve the dilemma and deal with the tricky issues presented by such a vocabulary without a clear legal basis when it is being used by supposedly "neutral" states. It fits the model according to which only questionable behaviour is targeted, but it fails to really solve the problem. The talk is indeed not merely about deviations, but about sectaires, thus qualifying a very specific type of alleged deviations that most people associate with a specific type of group. It is therefore not as neutral as it claims to be. Moreover, this shift has contributed to wider applications of the label "cultic deviations" to a variety of groups and individuals.[95] The cult controversies of the past decades have thus even led to the modification and possibly the extension of the meaning of words such as "secte" or "cult".

    In the end, the overview is of interest to those who are familiar with the issues discussed.

    Mayer's comments provide some insight into current thinking about the topic from a perspective that seems more worried about the impact of activists on 'New Religious Movements' than about the damage cults, sects, or other groups that engage in cultic deviations have on victims.

    Full story: The attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements

    Does the UKas anti-radicalisation program alienate Muslims?

    Today's edition includes stories about a radicalisation prevention program that may backfire. A protest against Whole Foods over its link to Marc Gafni. Iglesia ni Cristo, a powerful cult of Christianity, endorses presidential candidates. Plus: Religion and Cult News Quick Takes

    Additional items may be posted throughout the day.

    Does the UK's covert propaganda bid to stop people joining Isis alienate Muslims?

    The UK government has embarked on a series of clandestine propaganda campaigns intended to bring about "attitudinal and behavioural change" among young British Muslims as part of a counter-radicalisation programme, the Guardian reports.

    However, the methods of the Research, Information and Communications Unit (Ricu), which often conceal the government's role, will dismay some Muslims and may undermine confidence in the Prevent counter-radicalisation programme, which already faces widespread criticism.

    The paper sees it as a "sign of mounting anxiety across Whitehall over the persuasiveness of Islamic State's online propaganda," but notes that critics say it risks alienating UK Muslims.

    The article says that "[m]uch of Ricu's work is outsourced to a London communications company, Breakthrough Media Network."

    [Breakthrough Media Network's] relationship with Ricu helps them get their own messages to a wider audience, and that they retain editorial control over counter-radicalisation communications.

    However, a series of Ricu and Breakthrough documents seen by the Guardian show that Ricu privately says it is the one retaining editorial control, including over the products produced as part of these partnerships.

    Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war: The Guardian unravels the secretive workings behind a campaign to stop UK Muslims from falling prey to Islamic State -- The Guardian, May 2, 2016

    Prevent strategy 'sowing mistrust and fear in Muslim communities': UK's terror watchdog urges review of government's anti-radicalisation scheme, saying it is significant source of grievance -- The Guardian, Feb. 3, 2016

    'You worry they could take your kids': is the Prevent strategy demonising Muslim schoolchildren?: Teachers now have a statutory duty to spot signs of a!Enon-violent extremism', with children as young as three being referred for anti-radicalisation. Does the policy safeguard vulnerable pupils — or discriminate against Muslims? -- The Guardian, Sept. 23, 2015

    Abuse Groups to Protest at Whole Foods 365 Launch in LA over links to Marc Gafni

    National advocacy organizations for raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse issues are backing a protest at the inaugural opening of Whole Foods 365 store, May 25 in Los Angeles. Planning is underway for a coordinated protest at a Whole Foods store in New York City.

    The protests are in response to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey's link to spiritual leader and former rabbi Marc Gafni, as reported by The New York Times in December.

    More than 100 rabbis have authored a petition demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni.

    Understanding the Marc Gafni Story, Part II, Mark Oppenheimer -- Tablet, Dec. 29, 2015. A follow-up to the New York Times story mentioned above.

    Marc Gafni: Wikipedia

    Why You Should Boycott Marc Gafni's Movie, "RiseUp", Huffington Post, May 3, 2016

    Cult expert Steven Hassan keeps track of the Marc Gafni story on Twitter.

    Philippines: Powerful cult of Christianity endorses presidential candidates

    Iglesia ni Cristo, one of the largest and most powerful religious movements in the Third World, has officially endorsed Rodrigo Duterte for President and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for Vice President in Monday's national elections.

    Members of the cultic movement vote en-bloc, falsely laiming that the Bible teaches the practice.

    The Inquirer writes:

    INC announced its endorsement through a circular read during worship service by executive minister Eduardo Manalo, who called on the sect's members to vote as one on Monday.

    "This is based on the teachings in the Bible that were taught to us even before we were accepted as members of the Church of Christ. We have faith that it is God's teaching that there shouldn't be division among us, but that we should be one in thinking and one in judgment," Manalo said in Filipino.

    The INC head cited I Corinthians 1:10 and Romans 15:6 in claiming that the sect's unity came "in the name of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God and for the sake of the church."

    Theologically Iglesia ni Cristo is a cult of Christianity, since the movement's teachings and practices fall outside the boundaries of the Christian faith.

    Sociologically INC has some cult-like elements as well.

    Recent scandals involving the Iglesia ni Cristo cast doubt on the practice of bloc voting. Will INC members still obey their ministers on election day? -- Rappler, May 1, 2016.

    Revolt in the Iglesia ni Cristo: Over 100 years old, no one ever imagined the INC was in the throes of dissension in 2015, with no less than members of the family entangled in a bitter quarrel -- Rappler, Dec. 23, 2015.

    Former INC pastor flees Philippines to seek refuge in Canada -- Asian Pacific Post, May 5, 2016

    Religion and Cult News Quick Takes

    Full story: Does the UK’s anti-radicalisation program alienate Muslims?

    Nobody joins a cult, but it is easy to get radicalized

    Today's edition contains stories about the Palmarian Catholic Church, how easily people get radicalised, and what IS jihadists have in mind for Europe's cities. Also: tongue-in-cheek, How do Operating Thetans get in touch with eachother? And is Crossfit a religion? Finally: Religion News Blog's new design.

    Religious cult took our sister from us, says family

    The Palmarian Catholic Church, a secretive Spanish cult is in the news.

    The family of a Wexford pensioner, whose body lay undiscovered in her home for two months, believe the public should be vigilant to "the dangers of alternative faith-based groups, sects and cults".[...]

    A member of a group known as the 'Palmarian Catholic Church' - a highly secretive Spanish sect that broke away from the Catholic Church and has declared a series of its own 'Popes' - Bridget effectively was forced to cut herself off from her family when she became involved with the sect in the late 1970s, around the same time she returned to Ireland to look aft er her parents.[...]

    Michael Garde, Director of Dialogue Ireland, an independent trust that works to promote awareness and understanding of new 'religious' movements and cultism in Ireland, told the Irish Independent: "We are regularly contacted by families who have seen a loved one lost to the Palmarian church. We are deeply concerned by the group and how it destroys families and isolates people, especially the elderly. There are also reports that the Palmarians are targeting younger people and students."

    Mr Garde said there have been many examples of Irish people adjoined to the Palmarians selling their homes, or leaving their property to the group in their wills, with proceeds going to the 'church' which has its headquarters in the remote Spanish town of Palmar de Troya, where it has a lavish basilica behind high walls.
    "Groups like the Palmarians have undue influence on people, they remove the rational capacity for people to deal with things. In Ireland, these groups have left behind a trail of hundreds of people no longer connected to society."

    This website provides information and support to those affected by Palmar de Troya / Palmarian Church cult.

    Earlier this month the New Zealand Herald published an article about Maria Hall, who was a nun in the Palmarian Catholic Church.

    Established in the 1970s, after four young girls claimed to have seen a holy apparition on farmland near the village of Palmar de Troya, the Palmarian church has distanced itself from Rome; it's created its own rites, liturgies and its own bible.

    Ms Hall's life within it was dominated by religious rituals, sleepless nights, punitive regimes and temperamental superiors. The daily routine was controlled by tolling bells, endlessly gruelling domestic tasks all done in the compulsory silence enforced outside of prayer or song. She slept in a tiny room, with a threadbare blanket on a wooden bed, wore ill-fitting hand-me down clothes and shoes and was cut off from friends, family and the rest of the outside world, with no television, radio, newspaper or telephone.

    When her father and sister did one day make the trip across the world to visit her, she was only allowed to see them only twice in her ten minute breaks. "Many years later she [my sister] told me that she felt like I had died." Eventually this thankless commitment eroded what was left of her once unfaltering faith. She left and was cast out of the convent with nothing but a plane ticket home, some money and a shoulder bag containing her bible, writing pad and passport.

    At home, in New Zealand, Ms Hall had to "relearn" what it meant to be human.

    Maria Hall has recently written REPARATION: A Spiritual Journey, described as the true story of one woman's journey from the sweeping coastlines of New Zealand to the barren plains of Southern Spain, from youthful hope to deep despair, and from sin to reparation.

    If you want to dig deeper, check this research paper by Dr Magnus Lundberg of Uppsala University, Sweden.

    Dialogue Ireland has additional information as well.

    The story of a radicalisation: 'I was not thinking my thoughts. I was not myself'

    If you think you would not ever find yourself in a cult, consider these words:

    Nobody joins a cult.

    You join a self-help group, a religious movement, a political organization.

    They change so gradually, by the time you realize you're entrapped — and almost everybody does — you can't figure a safe way back out.
    - Deborah Layton, survivor of Jim Jones' Peoples Temple cult

    This story in The Guardian in a case in point. Maysa, a teenager from Brussels, was a music fan and a a!Eray of sunshine' at school. But an encounter on social media had changed her within a year.

    "I was so nearly there, just hours from leaving. I was there in my head: in Syria, with Islamic State," the 18-year-old says. [...]

    Her parents are Muslims, but not rigorous. Maysa first donned a jilbab -- a long and loose-fit coat or garment worn by some Muslim women who observe the Islamic dress code -- after she had put on some weight.

    After she posted a selfie wearing her new clothes on social media, she was contacted by another woman also in her late teens. They went shopping together, and some time later Maysa was introduced to a group of young women from a similar background to her own.

    First the conversation was about Islam, and the failures of many so-called Muslims. Then about politics, and the worldwide persecution of Muslims. Then finally about Isis, and life in the new "caliphate", and how good life was there. [...]

    "They told me how there was no crime and no discrimination in the Islamic State. They spoke about relations between men and women, and said that I would find a good husband, even if I would be one of several of his wives. They spoke about fighting the unbelievers and the heretics, but never mentioned any violence or executions or anything like that," Maysa says.

    Within weeks, her new friends provided Maysa with a cheap mobile phone with a pre-paid sim card and told her to keep it secret. It was on this phone that she was contacted, usually by text message, and told where and when the next meeting of the group would take place.

    When the group told Maysa it was time to travel to Syria (they would help her, regardless of whether or not she had a passport), something held her back. "And then came the threats: if she did not travel with them, Maysa would be tracked down, her family and friends too, and the consequences would be terrible."

    Read the article, which also addresses the reason why parents and other family members usually don't notice anything is wrong until much later.

    Learn more about brainwashing

    What the Paris Attacks Tell Us about IS Strategy

    The new jihadists have our cities in their sights, German news weekly Der Spiegel says.

    The attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and Copenhagen at the beginning of 2015 weren't isolated cases, Peter Neumann, a professor of security studies at King's College London, warned in his new book "The New Jihadists," published in September in German. He believes what we have just witnessed are the "first, very dramatic warnings of what will play out on the streets of Europe in the next decades." Europe, he cautions, is standing "at the precipice of a new wave of terror that will still occupy us for a generation to come."

    How much do you know about Jihad?

    How do Operating Thetans contact each other?

    British film maker Louis Theroux -- whose latest film is a feature length documentary entitled My Scientology Movie -- used Twitter to contact John Sweeney, the BBC journalist and author know for, among other things, the Scientology and Me documentary.

    Note Sweeney's tongue-in-cheek reply:

    Not sure what an Operating Thetan is? Operation Clambake explains what Scientology is trying to sell. It should be clear that there are no Operating Thetans.

    Consumer Alert: Scientology

    Is Crossfit a religion?

    A for-profit gym franchise founded in 2000 that now has 13,000 licensed operators serving at least two million exercisers, CrossFit a like television, sports fandom and health fads a has become the focus of study by researchers trying to pinpoint what constitutes religiosity in America. [...]

    In an increasingly secular America, all sorts of activities and subcultures provide the meaning that in the past, at least as we imagine it, religious communities did.

    "Skeptics might scoff that Crossfit is just a gym," Mark Oppenheimer writes, but "[i]t is a culture that can produce effects more often associated with church."

    Join Religion News Blog on Twitter

    We encourage you to join 18,200+ others in following Religion News Blog's Twitter Stream. On this website, though, we go beyond Twitters 140-characters limit.

    Tweets by @religionnews

    This information was curated by Anton Hein, the founder of Religion News Blog.

    Full story: Nobody joins a cult, but it is easy to get radicalized

    Are you old enough to remember Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?

    Are you old enough to remember the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?

    Oregon Public Broadcasting, Nov. 21, 2012

    In 1981 this spiritual leader from India spent $5.75 million on a remote piece of property in Oregon and invested millions more to build Rajneeshpuram as a spiritual retreat for thousands of his red-frocked followers.[ref]They used to be known as Rajneeshees or "Orange People," because of the orange and later red, maroon and pink clothes they used from 1970 until 1985[/ref]

    The East Oregonian recalls

    In news clips from the 1980s, Rajneeshees line the road for the Bhagwan's daily drive-by in a vehicle from his fleet of more than 90 Rolls Royce automobiles. Rancho Rajneesh, as some called it, had its own newspaper, fire department, night club and mall.

    The Rajneeshees clashed with locals over land use. The utopian desert commune collapsed after Rajneeshees were convicted of infecting four salad bars with salmonella in The Dalles, the Wasco county seat, in order to hamper voter turnout and swing an election. Other crimes included attempted murder, arson, election fraud and wiretapping. About 10 followers were imprisoned. The Bhagwan was deported for immigration violations.

    751 people were poisoned in the 1984 bioterror attack. According to Wikipedia, "The incident was the first and single largest bioterrorist attack in United States history. The attack is one of only two confirmed terrorist uses of biological weapons to harm humans since 1945."

    The Rajneesh had hoped to incapacitate the voting population of the city so that their own candidates would win the local election.

    The Rajneesh actually did gain political control of the nearby city of Antelope.

    But by 1986 they were all gone.

    Oregon Public Broadcasting, which produced the fascinating documentary shown above, says

    Twenty-five sannyasins would be convicted of crimes: arson, wiretapping, immigration fraud, election fraud and attempted murder. Ten would serve time in prison.

    At the end of it all, Wasco County Judge Bill Hulse predicted (correctly) that somebody would write a book about what had happened there: "The people who read that book," he said, "will think it's fiction."

    The East Oregonian reports that

    Montana billionaire Dennis Washington bought the seized property for a cool $3.65 million as a destination resort, but ran into zoning problems. The Washington family donated the property to Young Life in 1996 and has continued support with additional donations.

    Given Bhagwan's open disdain for Christianity, it ironic that his former land now is home to the world's largest Young Life camp -- a Christian camp.

    Speaking of irony, the paper also writes

    When planners couldn't decide what to do with the Bhagwan's house, a 1997 range fire decided matters. A finger of the fire raced down the ridge and torched the residence, the only one of 300 Rajneeshpuram buildings to burn.


    Born in 1931 as Chandra Mohan Jain, also known as Acharya Rajneesh, in the 1960s he changed his name to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and in 1989 to Osho. Though he died in 1990, he still has an international following.[ref]Wikipedia entry on Rajneesh[/ref]

    Want to know more? Rajneeshes in Oregon: The Untold Story, a special report by The Oregonian, is a great place to start. Includes FBI and police reports.

    See also:

    • Seeing a cult through a child's eyes
    • Rajneesh Foundation - The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power

    Full story: Are you old enough to remember Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?

    Escaping Polygamy a and Scientology

    Going Clear, Alex Gibney's smash documentary that exposes the Scientology cult to daylight, was HBO's highest-rated documentary premiere in almost a decade. By popular demand it is going to be back in theaters.


    By the way: the documentary has seven Emmy nominations.

    "I want to leave and I want to leave now, but I'm scared and don't know who I can trust."

    That anonymous text message opens LMN's documentary series Escaping Polygamy.


    "This show is not like 'Sister Wives'" Fox News headlined. It sure isn't. Rather than sugarcoat polygamy, this series highlights what it is like to be trapped in an insular polygamous group.

    The series follows the work of three sisters who left the Kingston clan, a secretive polygamist group based in Salt Lake City, Utah known as the Order, as they help both loved ones and strangers break free of polygamy.

    Which Groups Practice Polygamy?
    10 Polygamist Wives Who Escaped Unbelievable Abuse

    Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved?

    From the head-in-the-sand department: Obama's looking-glass Islamic World.

    Reality check: The Religion of Peace

    Full story: Escaping Polygamy — and Scientology

    Religion News, Wednesday July 15, 2015

    Scientology quacks at work:

    After a Church of Scientology-backed group helped organize a campaign against it, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed legislation that would have given Texas doctors more power to detain mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune.

    The group in question is the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) -- a Scientology front group that fights against alleged abuses in psychiatry and psychology. (Yes, it's an odd name. Scientology and human rights do not normally go hand in hand).

    After all, Scientology hates psychiatry with a passion.

    The cult's primary goal is to "clear the planet" by "obliterating psychiatry."

    To normal people the organization is known as the destructive space-alien cult that teaches, promotes, and engages in quackery:

    Medical claims within Scientology's secret teachings
    Scientology versus medicine
    The healing claims of Scientology

    Here's a site you'll want to bookmark and use: What is Scientology?

    In our view, CCHR is morally reprehensible -- a dangerous hate group.


    So here's the moment more than 30 people, mostly women and children, made their way to freedom after escaping the IS barbarians who kidnapped them.


    This footage -- filmed in Northern Iraq -- is part of Escape From ISIS, to be broadcast by the UK's Channel 4, tonight at 10pm UK time.

    The Independent says

    In August 2014 the area was attacked by Isis, with the militants killing hundreds and capturing 3,000 Yazidi women and young girls.

    Isis locked up their captors and forced many to convert to Islam; the kidnapping has been described as the largest of its kind this century.

    We steadfastly refer to IS/Isis/Daesh members as barbarians. These depraved savages -- who pretend to be Muslims -- have no qualms committing the most horrendous crimes.

    Last April Human Rights Watch released a report that documents how Isis has carried out systematic rape and other sexual violence against Yezidi women and girls.

    Human Rights Watch documented a system of organized rape and sexual assault, sexual slavery, and forced marriage by ISIS forces. [...]

    "ISIS forces have committed organized rape, sexual assault, and other horrific crimes against Yezidi women and girls," said Liesl Gerntholtz, women's rights director at Human Rights Watch. "Those fortunate enough to have escaped need to be treated for the unimaginable trauma they endured."

    Incidentally, while climate change is seen as the 'top global threat,' the Pew Research Center says Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger

    Wheaton chaplaincy staffer Julie Rodgers [attracted to women, celibate] backs same-sex relationships, quits the evangelical college, Religion News Service reports.

    The news of Rodgers blessing committed, same-sex relationships has upset many evangelicals who have presented her as a model gay Christian. [...]

    The most critical portion of Rodgers statement wasn't her affirmation of same-sex relationships but her condemnation of how the church treats celibacy.

    "I've become increasingly troubled by the unintended consequences of messages that insist all LGBT people commit to lifelong celibacy," Rodgers wrote.

    "No matter how graciously it's framed, that message tends to contribute to feelings of shame and alienation for gay Christians. It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-lovea!A|. It's hard to believe we're actually wanted in our churches. It's hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us."

    Are you a Christian sharing fake news? Cut it out!

    Twelve years in, US bishops' sexual abuse charter is facing challenges.

    US Catholics at every level need to guard against "a tendency for complacency" toward the sexual abuse crisis says Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

    "We have established procedures and policies, and we think that we have that in place," he told Catholic News Service. "There might not be that ongoing mindfulness and certain small things might start to slide. They are not really paid attention to the way they should."

    We may add to this page throughout the day. Got an appetite for more right now? Join 16.600 people who enjoy our Religion News Twitter feed.

    Full story: Religion News, Wednesday July 15, 2015

    Brazilian Evangelicals set up a asin freea alternative to Facebook

    A group of Evangelical Christians in Brazil have set up Facegloria -- a sin-free version of Facebook, the Telegraph reports.

    The service is patrolled by volunteers who prevent the posting of all-too-revealing selfies, 600 banned words, and anything related to homosexuality or, for that matter, the whole LGBT alphabet of lifestyles.

    The paper notes that 42 million of Brazil's 202 million people are estimated to be Evangelicals — and that the "fervent Protestant movement continues to make inroads into traditionally dominant Catholicism."

    Brazil has the world's biggest Roman Catholic population.

    However Evangelicals, who numbered just six per cent of the population in 1980, are now 22 per cent, while the Catholic total has dropped from 90 per cent to 63 per cent.
    At that rate, Evangelicals will become the majority by 2040 and Facegloria hopes to be riding the wave.

    But the term 'Evangelical' is rather flexible and not clearly-defined. For instance, the Telegraph says that

    the biggest-selling books in Brazil over the last two years have been autobiographical works by Edir Macedo, who founded the powerful Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in 1977, and owns the country's third-biggest media group.

    Macedo and his church are controversial, to say the least. Both have a seemingly insatiable appetite for money.

    Many Christians consider the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus) to be theologically a cult of Christianity.

    It promotes the teachings of the Word-Faith Movement, with a particular emphasis on the seed-faith doctrine.

    According to this teaching God cannot bless you (with health and wealth) unless you 'sow' a seed of faith (yes, money -- 'donated' to the church).

    Perhaps Brazilia's evangelicals have yet to find the story about Jesus and the money-changers.

    Anyway, Facegloria has attracted 100,000 users in its first month, and the folks behind it expect to have 10 million users in Brazil in 2 years time. After that, the world.

    Acir dos Santos, the mayor of Ferraz de Vasconcelos -- and the person who provided the start-up capital -- says there's no limit.

    "Our network is global. We have bought the Faceglory domain in English and in all possible languages. We want to take on Facebook and Twitter here and everywhere," he said.

    Full story: Brazilian Evangelicals set up a ‘sin free’ alternative to Facebook

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