'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

May 14, 2011

Folie a deux: the insane prophets of the Seventh-day Adventists and The Family International

Chain the Dogma  -  May 14, 2011

Folie a deux: the insane prophets of the Seventh-day Adventists and The Family International

With their bizarre beliefs and deluded doctrines can The Family International ever become a mainstream success like the Seventh-day Adventist church?

by Perry Bulwer

The following excerpt comes from a blog article detailing some of the bizarre beliefs and behaviours of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, one of the largest mainstream religious organizations in the world. Not really knowing much about that church I was astounded when I first read it, by way of PZ Myers blog, because without the references to that particular group and its insane founder, Ellen G. White, it could easily have been describing David Berg, the insane founder of The Family International evangelical cult. The full article by Ray Garton, Life Among the Sadventists: They’re Always Watching, starts off with an Adventist produced video that church members actually think makes them look good, but only makes them look like a creepy cult. Here is the excerpt that caught my attention: links in excerpt may be dead; see original article at link above

The Seventh-day Adventist cult’s “prophet” and founder, the alcoholic, masturbation-obsessed habitual plagiarist Ellen G. White, was astonishingly fanatical and legalistic, and let’s face it, folks, crazier than a bag of wet cats. At the age of nine, Ellen was hit in the head with a rock, which resulted in her being comatose for three weeks. Many think this trauma damaged her brain in ways that could have caused her extreme zealotry — I prefer to call it religious lunacy — which involved what she claimed were visions shown her by god, visitations by angels, and even a trip to Jupiter. Others think she was a calculating, greedy, power-hungry fraud. Some think she was a combination of both. Then there are the Sadventists, who believe even today in 2011 — despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, all of which is poorly explained away by the cult, although the explanations are good enough for the believers — that she was a true prophet of god whose writings were divinely inspired and remain an infallible supplement to the word of god. The cult holds Ellen in the same regard as the biblical prophets (something else they deny vehemently to outsiders but acknowledge within the invisible walls that surround the cult). Over the years, there have been endless revisions and changes made in Ellen’s writings by the Sadventist Powers That Be to cover up some of her more embarrassing statements or obvious errors, which seems odd if her infallible writings are divinely inspired. Nevertheless, nearly a century after her death, Ellen’s writings are still the arbiter of doctrine and scriptural interpretation in the cult.

The entire article is very revealing, exposing many of the spiritually abusive doctrines common to fundamentalist, evangelical Christian groups. Here I simply want to point out some of the similarities between the leaders of two of those groups, one a mainstream sect and the other a fringe cult, and their continuing influence on their followers long after their deaths despite being exposed as lying prophets.

We learn in that excerpt that Ellen White was an alcoholic. So was David Berg. Berg’s drinking habits are well documented in his writings, starting in 1971, although most members were unaware of how serious the problem was until he published a so-called confession that was not a true confession at all, as evidenced by the past tense in its title: My Confession!—I Was an Alcoholic! Much of Berg's capricious and abusive behaviour, wild speculations, bizarre beliefs, and supposed prophecies used to control members can be traced directly to the large amounts of alcohol he consumed.

Ray Garton's excerpt next highlights Ellen White's obsession with masturbation as a great evil. It is certainly no revelation that religious leaders of all stripes are obsessed in one way or another with the sex lives of their followers. Sex and death lie at the poisoned heart of religion, after all. The difference between White and Berg, however, was that Berg's obsession was with total sexual freedom, even for and with children, in order to justify his own adultery, incest and pedophilia. As Berg wrote to his followers in 1980:

As far as God’s concerned, there are no more sexual prohibitions hardly of any kind … there’s nothing in the world at all wrong with sex as long as it’s practiced in love, whatever it is, whoever it’s with, no matter who or what age or what relative or what manner! … There are no relationship restrictions or age limitations in His law of love....

Seven years earlier, in 1973, he published a letter called Revolutionary Sex. Until that time, the cult was quite puritanical regarding sex, at least for regular members who were unaware that Berg had been sexually experimenting with leaders of the group for several years, breaking down nearly all sexual taboos. Regular members were not free to date or marry without permission from leaders, let alone engage in sexual activity. Many were not even sure masturbation was approved, but the publication of that letter changed everything. Berg's sexual doctrines became ever more extreme after that, eventually leading to religious prostitution and wide-spread sexual abuse of children.

After Berg's death in 1994, the current leaders of the cult, Karen Zerby, aka Maria Fontaine, and Steven Kelly, aka Peter Amsterdam, carried on his sexual extremism by introducing a new doctrine they called Loving Jesus, which among other things, encourages members, including children, to imagine having sex with Jesus while masturbating or during sexual intercourse. Zerby, like Berg, does not believe adult sexual molestation of children is wrong, stating that “... a little fondling & sweet affection is not wrong in the eyes of God, & if they have experienced the same in the past they weren’t 'abused'”. She also wrote: “This is the very thing the system would like to use against us—sex with minors which they always term child abuse although in our loving Family there would be very little possibility of genuine abuse…”. In order for men to practice the Loving Jesus doctrine they are required to imagine themselves as 'females in the spirit' because male homosexuality is one of the few sexual practices the group considers sinful. Incredibly, Berg taught that even rape is not as bad as homosexuality.

Berg’s writings on that subject demonstrate a dangerous misunderstanding of the nature of rape, which is not about sex, but about power and control. Berg exhorted his female followers to willingly submit to rapists, to surrender to the sexual needs of their attacker in order to be a witness of God’s love. In a series of comics depicting end-time events, entitled Heaven’s Girl, he even instructed the artistic team to include a gang-rape scenario of a young Family teen who willingly obliges her 10 rapists while preaching to them.

Zerby’s own beliefs about rape are documented by a defector from her inner circle who exposed an internal publication entitled Texas Mama Jewels—No. 1 (For Summit Use Only!). That publication is a summary of confidential notes Zerby wrote for Family leaders at a leadership summit meeting held in Texas in late 1991. In that document, Zerby comments on the rape of a Family teen that had occurred some months earlier. In an appalling display of insensitivity toward the young victim of a traumatizing sexual crime, she writes:

I suppose it’s quite a big deal for any of our Teens to be raped, it must have been quite traumatic for her. However, for us adults who have Ffed [Flirty Fishing, i.e. religious prostitution] & been with men who have gotten rather insistent & what you might call “forceful,” I don’t think we should have considered that such a big deal, especially having had Dad's Letter on “Rape” (ML#528) & understanding that the Lord may even allow these things to happen as a chance to witness His Love to others.… Being held at gunpoint must have been very frightening, but since she is married & is already used to lovemaking & versed in sexual practices, the actual rape shouldn’t have been so traumatic.… I hope that the adults didn’t blow it up into more than they should have. I think in fact, that they should have made it very low key in their conversation with her & with anyone else who happened to find out about it. After all, we used to make love all the time with people we didn’t know anything about & who were “beasts” & were out for nothing but sex. But we were able to turn that around & use that “lust of the flesh” to offer them some love of the Spirit. So I think if I were having to counsel K. & comfort her and reassure her, that would be my approach. It sounds a little like a Heaven’s Girl situation, & I hope she took it as such.

As crazy and cruel as it sounds, Karen Zerby, the spiritual leader of a Christian evangelical sect, says she would have downplayed the traumatic experience of a violent rape at gun point and told the teen victim to just get over it. (conservative US courts are just as cruel) And she says she would have based her counselling on a comic book created straight out of Berg's perverted imagination for the purpose of manipulating and controlling the sex lives of his followers and indoctrinating their children.

If you clicked on any of the links in Ray Garton's excerpt above that relate to Ellen White's craziness and lunacy you cannot help but wonder how people today could still believe in and follow such an insane prophet who just made stuff up from her imagination. Obviously, after what you have just read, the same can be said about The Family International. While some speculate that White's religious insanity was caused by physical childhood trauma to her head, there is strong evidence that Berg's religious insanity (at least the sexual aspect) was caused or exacerbated by the psychological childhood trauma of his mother threatening in front of other family members to cut off his penis for masturbating. (Ellen White would have been proud!) That evidence comes from a thorough psychological analysis of Berg based on his extensive writings, Lustful Prophet: A Psychosexual Historical Study of the Children of God's Leader, David Berg, by renowned cult expert Dr. Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta. In my opinion Kent has the most insight and is the most credible academic on the subject of this particular cult, in part because he is one of the few who gives credence to the experience of former members of cults.

(A few days after I wrote that last sentence I learned that on May 7th of this year Dr. Kent gave a presentation at a Polish conference on sectarianism entitled “The History of Credibility Attacks Against Former Cult Members”. I hope he publishes something along those lines as there is very little published research on the issue and many academic apologists consider current cult members to be more credible on the subject of their particular group than former members. In fact, I know from personal experience the opposite is true and have had my own credibility attacked by some of those apologists for exposing their hypocrisy and dishonesty.)

White and Berg's religious delusions did not stop at sexual matters. White claimed to have had a vision of visiting Jupiter and seeing inhabitants who were free from sin. Berg, on the other hand, not only claimed he had been to heaven 'in the spirit', but that heaven is inside the Moon! In a series of letters to his followers he claimed that the heavenly city described in the final chapters of the book of Revelation was a giant “space city” that was both on its way to our Moon from outer space, and was already inside it. Never mind that the dimensions of the city given in Revelation mean that it is physically impossible for it to fit inside the Moon, the current leader of The Family International, Karen Zerby, still believes it is true, based on an account in a Russian Christian newspaper:

You don't have to believe that NASA scientists got a glimpse of the Heavenly City [by photographing it with the Hubble Space Telescope], nor that it's located in the moon, if you don't want to--it's not one of our fundamental beliefs—but I believe it, because the Lord said it, and I have faith in that!

After stating that, Zerby continues on in that publication to claim that she received a prophecy from Jesus confirming the newspaper article and that heaven is indeed in the moon. It isn't clear whether she personally gave that prophecy or someone in her inner circle did, but that really doesn't matter much because whoever did was simply making it all up. The real liar here is Zerby and whoever gave that prophecy, not Satan or scientists. Here's a few excerpts from that fake prophecy:

14. (Jesus speaking:) Have I not said that I would set signs and wonders in the sky? Therefore marvel not that I do this thing to encourage the faith of those who would believe. For My sheep hear My voice and they follow, and they see My signs and they see My wonders and they believe.

15. So I give glimpses of the great and golden City that you call Space, as it descends! Marvel not that I give unto these a sign, that those who see may believe and be encouraged that a better world is on its way.

16. But be not deceived, for Satan seeks to slip in. Satan walks about and attempts to slip a lie in here and slip a lie in there, as he freely runs to and fro, back and forth, weaving in his poisonous threads of false science. Watch, therefore, and pray, that you be not deceived. For within the tapestry Satan weaves threads of poisonous lies. I allow this that men may choose.

17. Take heed, therefore, that you discern the signs of the times, for Satan also seeks to put signs and wonders in the sky. He does this through the vehicle of science falsely so-called, as he conjures up false facts and pads the statistics with billions or zillions of light years away, which do not exist. The Evil One seeks to explain away My Truth; he seeks to tamper with the Truth, to alter it, and distort My pictures. Know that My City does not lie at the end of the universe--this is the tampering of Satan. My City is near! My City descends, and your redemption draws nigh!

29. And question not the descent of My Golden City, for did I not reveal unto David that My great City is on its way? Time and tide do not exist in the world of the spirit, but only in the realm of man. I open the believing eyes, and blind the seeing eyes according to My purpose. For this reason I do conceal My City in the moon, that it may be preserved and protected until that day when every eye will be opened and every eye will see. And yet I project this picture of My Golden City in all its purity as it journeys through the Heavenlies. For those who would believe, I do allow this glimpse of My City in space, for I am not bound by the tides of time. My City exists, it's real. It's not far off!(End of prophecy.)

This is clearly a case of folie à deux, or a shared psychotic disorder, which according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) is:

  • a delusion that develops in an individual in the context of a close relationship with another person or persons, who have an already established delusion; 
  • the delusion is similar in content to that of the person who already has an established delusion; 
  • and the disturbance is not better accounted for by another psychotic disorder (eg, schizophrenia) or a mood disorder with psychotic features and is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (eg, drug abuse, medication) or a general medical condition. 

The delusions did not stop with Berg and Zerby, however. The Family International members who have remained devoted to them illustrate perfectly how Berg and Zerby's folie à deux developed into folie à famille (madness of all family members) and folie à plusieurs (madness of many).

It is obvious from their publications that Berg's insanity rubbed off on Zerby. So much so that a few years after Berg's death in 1994 she went beyond Berg's claim of merely having visited heaven to claim that she talked with Jesus in heaven before she was even born on earth. Berg had been grooming Zerby since at least 1978 to take over The Family when he died, and he had handpicked Kelly to help her with that task. Members were conditioned through Berg’s letters to accept that plan as divinely inspired, so there was no succession struggle. In fact, Zerby was already running things during the last few years of Berg’s life, and upon his death members merely acquiesced to her and Kelly's leadership. Many prophecies, purportedly from Jesus and Berg, published after Berg’s death, conveniently portray Zerby as the end-time prophetess, Queen of the End, and Kelly as her king. In a 1998 letter titled “Heavenly Birthdays,” both of them are portrayed as pre-existing in Heaven and engaged in conversation with Jesus before he sent them on their earthly end-time mission. The dialogue is very precise, and Maria, already full of hubris from years of glorification by Berg, is supposedly told by Jesus that her earthly birth will be the turning point in world history.

But that's not all. Other published prophecies by Berg claimed that not only would Jesus return in Zerby's lifetime but that she was one of the two end time witnesses referred to in Revelation 11. The other witness, according to Berg, was supposed to be Zerby's son, Ricky Rodriquez, known in the group as Davidito. However, when he committed murder and suicide in a revenge plot against his mother in 2005 it was obvious that particular prophecy was false. Initially, Berg predicted Jesus would return in 1993, but several years before that date it became obvious it too was a false prophecy since certain events as described in the Bible would have had to occur first. But the group, like all apocalyptic groups do when their predictions fail, explained that failure away and continued to preach the imminent rapture.

They continued to preach the rapture was near even after Ricky's death until finally in 2010 Zerby and Kelly changed their minds again, saying that new prophecies revealed that Jesus was going to delay his return for up to 50 more years. (I guess Jesus forgot to tell Harold Camping) Conveniently for them, the new date is far enough in the future that those shepherds in wolves clothing will have become worm meat along with their perverted prophet, so they will not have to face more criticisms for deceiving and exploiting their followers. In the mean time they will continue to hide, as they always have, from any legal or moral accountability for all the horrendous abuse, broken lives and broken families they are responsible for, living far more comfortably than any of their followers ever did with the money they fleeced from their spiritually abused sheep for the past forty years.

All this religious insanity and false prophesying doesn't seem to phase the faithful one bit. Ray Garton says of Ellen White that the Adventists still hold her in the same regard as the biblical prophets and that her writings are considered a divinely infallible supplement to the Bible. David Berg's followers wear the same religious blinders. Berg conditioned his followers early on to believe that certain Old Testament scriptures referring to David were specifically about him and his end-time ministry. This is the intersection where the Seventh-day Adventists, a sect off-shoot, Branch Davidians, and The Family International collide.

In the 1930s an Adventist reform movement developed known as the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, which was based on a belief that the scriptures foretold a new Kingdom of David would be restored in Israel just before Christ's second coming. In turn, a 1955 schism in that movement resulted in the break-away sect, Branch Davidians, made infamous by David Koresh who believed he was the end-time David. David Berg, on the other hand, claimed to have received several prophecies during that same period of the 1950s indicating that he was the end-time prophet. (There is a joke in there somewhere about insane asylum inmates each claiming to be Napoleon.)

Berg believed that certain Old Testament scriptures such as those in chapter 34 of the book of Ezekial and elsewhere refer specifically to him. He wrote:

4. BUT I REALLY THINK HE MUST HAVE HAD ME IN MIND IN A LOT OF THESE, [scriptures referring to David in Psalms, Ezekial, etc.] & I think in many of them He was specifically speaking of me, because they couldn't possibly have been applied to old King David & neither could they be applied to Jesus, which is the way the church tries to interpret them all. You know how the churches are & the preachers, they don't like to confess that there's anything they don't know. So this David was a real mystery for thousands of years & they really couldn't explain it so they tried to apply it so that it either meant old King David or it meant Jesus, because they couldn't possibly foresee a future King David in the Last Days. But the Lord Himself spoke it & applied it & in such ways in certain prophecies that it couldn't possibly refer to old King David or Jesus because some of them were made long after old King David died, about a coming David which couldn't possibly have meant him because he was already long gone.

5. SOME ALSO COULDN'T POSSIBLY HAVE APPLIED TO JESUS because He was not David in any sense of the word, He was a descendant of David & He was Jesus, & only He was Jesus! So He had an absolutely unique place as the only begotten Son of God, the Saviour, the Messiah & the Son of God, & there is no reason why God should have spoken of Him as being David when there was already a David, the old King David, & there was a coming King David. So I'm now convinced that these prophecies which they have a hard time twisting & fitting to Jesus did not apply to Jesus at all, but actually apply to us today, that's the simplest interpretation of all. We don't have to twist or wrest the Scriptures to make it fit Jesus because they really don't. The Scriptures speak expressly of David in the Latter Days, in the Last Days, in the Latter Day He would raise up this king. (Ho.3:5)

From THE DAVID PROPHECIES!--Of the Bible! by David Berg DFO 1642 9/83

Berg believed there would arise a new King David before Jesus returned and he believed he was that David. Only one problem, he was not a king. What's a cult leader to do? That was not an obstacle for him, however, since he merely declared himself a king like other cult leaders have done. As James Chancellor points out,

Prophet of the End Time was not [Berg’s] only title; he was also King of God’s New Nation. He claimed not only absolute spiritual authority over his disciples, but also political authority and the homage due their rightful king. Old Testament passages referring to King David were appropriated for God’s new King David.

James D. Chancellor, Life in The Family: An Oral History of the Children of God (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2000) at 74

 In chapter 1 of her book, The Children of God: The Inside Story from the Daughter of the Founder, Deborah Davis, Berg’s first daughter, describes her elaborate coronation as Queen of The Family in 1972. Click that title to read the full book online. Deborah did not last long in that position. She fell out of favour with her father after she refused his sexual advances. Soon after, Berg began grooming Zerby to be his successor and issuing prophecies invented to establish her as the new Queen. According to the defector I cited above, The Family held a leadership summit meeting in 1996 in Maryland, USA, two years after Berg's death. A pledging ceremony was held in which Steven Kelly, playing the role of King Peter, and a stand-in for Queen Maria (Karen Zerby) sat on thrones dressed up in medieval, royal costumes while every participant came forward, one by one, to make their vows of loyalty. A video of the event was later shown to all Family homes. They do not consider those so-called coronation ceremonies mere fantasy role-playing. Family publications are replete with regal and militaristic language and imagery, and they have referred to themselves, among other things, as the Lord’s army, end-time soldiers, and a new nation. An early Family publication was called The New Nation News. The Family International has always envisioned itself as a spiritual nation, but one that possesses real, divinely ordained powers of conquest and government, which they will wield over all the peoples of the earth as God’s elite during the Millennium. Like I said, folie à plusieurs.

While the Adventists still hold Ellen White in the same regard as the biblical prophets and consider her writings a divinely infallible supplement to the Bible, The Family International takes that one step further. David Berg claimed that his words were not just divine supplements to the Bible but that they were the equivalent to the voice of God. He even told his followers that if they had to choose they should read his writings instead of the Bible:

AND THIS REMINDS ME, THAT YOU, MY DEAR CHILDREN HAVE AN APPOINTMENT WITH ME EVERY DAY, and you'd better not miss it, or you're going to be sorry! To ignore the Word of the Lord through His Prophet is to ignore the Voice of God Himself, and if you're not going to be willing to spend time listening to God's directions, you're not going to get far!

"THE LAWS OF MOSES" by David Berg, February 21, 1972

38. Some of the parts of the Bible are no longer up to date!

42. And I want to frankly tell you: if there’s a choice between your reading the Bible, I want to tell you you had better read what God said today in preference to what he said 2,000 or 4,000 years ago!"

"Old Bottles" by David Berg (ML 242, July 1973)

Berg wrote other letters to reinforce these David delusions, which you can read here, here, here, and here, but beware lest you too get infected by the folie à famille.


After I drafted this article one of my favourite bloggers, Greta Christina, published a blog article with her own take on religious lunacy. The sub-title of my article asks if The Family International could ever become a mainstream success like the Adventists. I could have asked the same thing in relation to Mormonism, which is still one of the fastest growing churches around despite their bizarre beliefs. David Berg, by the way, greatly admired Joseph Smith and his fictional Book of Mormon and borrowed ideas from him, but that's a subject for another article. As Greta points out, holding fantastical, irrational beliefs is no barrier to becoming a mainstream success. I used to think The Family International could never survive the child sex abuse scandals and exposure of the bizarre beliefs of their insane prophets. Now I am not so sure. Here's a few excerpts from Greta's article to illustrate the point, but read the whole thing for more insights:

So is it fair to think that Mormonism -- or Jehovah's Witnesses, or Scientology, or any other relatively new religion -- is really any crazier than more mainstream religions? Is it fair to think that it's crazier than the mainstream varieties of Catholicism or Baptism, Hinduism or Buddhism, Judaism or Islam?

Like I said earlier, when I say "crazy" here, I don't mean "mentally ill." I mean... well, what, exactly?

If by "crazy" we mean "out of step with cultural norms"... then yes, Mormonism really is crazier.

But if what you mean by "crazy" is "out of touch with reality"?

Then it's all equally crazy.

But all religions are out of touch with reality. All religions are implausible, based on cognitive biases, and unsupported by any good evidence whatsoever. All of them ultimately rely on faith -- i.e., an irrational attachment to a pre-existing idea regardless of any evidence that contradicts it -- as the core foundation of their belief. All of them contort, ignore, or deny reality in order to maintain their attachment to their faith.

And by that definition, all religions are equally crazy.


Beware of any religious organization with Family in its name

Gaddafi, The Family International and the Antichrist

The Catholic Church and The Family International: popes and prophets who protect pedophiles

What do Pat Robertson and The Family International cult have in common?

Tony Alamo controls followers from prison, but David Berg controls The Family cult members from the grave

Kings and Queens of Cults

This Is What Wolves In Sheep's Clothing Look Like

Child sacrifice: a review of the documentary All God's Children - the ultimate sacrifice

Self-proclaimed prophets: Phillip Garrido, David Berg and Joseph Smith

Another self-proclaimed prophet who terrorized and sexually abused his cult followers

Child sexual abusers commonly turn to religion to rationalize their behavior

Who is the Real Anti-Christian: the Atheist or the Fundamentalist Christian?

Denied an education in The Family International abuse survivor explains how she wrote her first novel

Novelist describes how she survived childhood of abuse and neglect growing up in The Family International, aka, Children of God

Author's debut novel draws on personal experiences growing up in abusive Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International

UK survivor confirms mother's fears about abusive cult The Family International that tried to recruit her teen daughter

Fugitive leaders of The Family International found hiding in Mexico after former members sought psychological help

Family International a.k.a. Children of God: Once dismissed as 'sex cult,' tiny church launches image makeover

Miss World 2009 contestant, Miss Indonesia, is a member of evangelical cult with history of child abuse

On eve of Miss World pageant South African paper exposes Miss Indonesia's cult connections

Miss World organizers fail to legally gag Mail & Guardian over article exposing Miss Indonesia's cult connections

Enslaved by the cult of sex...for 25 years

Castleconnell area was base for child sex cult, claims victim

Violent sexual abuse, brainwashing and neglect: What it's like to grow up in a religious sect

The Making of a Twisted Sexual Theology: Q+A on "Jesus Freaks"

Underside of cult life emerges

The offspring of 'Jesus Freaks'

The Tragic Legacy of the Children of God

Not Without My Sister [book review]

Cult Activity in Uganda?

Cult Claims To Be "Living by the law of love"

Children of God: Haunted By a Dark Past

Child-Custody Deal Favors Escapee of Notorious Cult 'The Family' aka The Children of God

Cambodian NGO exposed as a charity front for The Family International cult

Member of San Francisco pop duo, Girls, is a survivor of notorious Children of God cult, a.k.a. The Family International

Survivor of abusive Children of God cult, Chris Owens of Girls is one cool musician

Teen died agonizing death from ruptured appendix while parents, relatives and church elders did nothing but pray for 3 days

Irish TV exposes cults in Ireland, interviews survivor of abuse in Children of God, now The Family International


  1. Going Clear: Scientology Exposed

    "... one man’s personal damage can, if transmitted with sufficient charisma and intuitive skill, infect tens of thousands of people..."

    By Laura Miller, AlterNet January 17, 2013

    Several years ago, for a series of Salon articles about Scientology, I was asked to review the founding text of the church, “Dianetics” by L.Ron Hubbard, first published in 1950. The book seemed so clearly the work of a man suffering from particular and pronounced mental health issues that I became, for the first time, curious about its author. Like most self-help books, “Dianetics” frequently invokes case histories or hypothetical scenarios, but unlike most self-help books, Hubbard’s stories featured an alarming amount of violence, specifically domestic violence.

    Over and over, when imagining a childhood source for an individual’s problems, Hubbard spins tales of unfaithful wives and husbands who beat and verbally abuse them, sometimes kicking their pregnant bellies. Perhaps we can attribute some of this to a preoccupation with prenatal trauma; “Dianetics” insists that fetuses can understand damaging statements made to the women carrying them. Nevertheless, to me, the most striking thing about the book — besides Hubbard’s belief that it is “not uncommon” for women to make “twenty or thirty” attempts at a self-induced abortion with orange sticks and other implements — is its author’s assumption that such beatings are a commonplace aspect of most people’s home lives.

    I wanted to find out if Hubbard had grown up amid such abuse, or had experience of it in his adult life, so I went online to poke around. What I found, on assorted anti-Scientology websites and discussion forums, seemed so outlandish and extreme that I decided not to refer to those charges at all in my review. I couldn’t be sure they were substantiated.

    Scientology has involved preposterous claims from the very start — from before the very start, actually, since “Dianetics” (published two years before the foundation of the church) promises that a “clear” (an individual who has succeeded in using the Dianetic “technology” to free him- or herself of all impairing “engrams”) will attain assorted superpowers. These include healing his or her own disabilities and illnesses, as well as perfect recall, the capacity to perform “mental computations” at lightning speeds and various forms of mind reading and control. Scientology’s critics, on the other hand, accused Hubbard of — yes — domestic violence (including an incident in which he demanded that his second wife kill herself to prove she really loved him), to bigamy, lying about his service in World War II, engaging in black magic rituals and throwing followers who displeased him off the high deck of his ship. The church has countered such attacks by flinging accusations at its critics, from public drunkenness to adultery and homosexuality.

    continued in next commment...

  2. The whole mess seemed like a seething farrago of bizarre fantasies, vendettas and nightmares, indistinguishable from whatever grains of truth lingered here and there. A phenomenally diligent and rigorous investigator could probably sort it all out, but the Church of Scientology is notorious for using nuisance litigation to hound skeptical journalists to the brink of destitution and despair. Who’d be up for that?

    Lawrence Wright was, and my long preamble is all by way of explaining why his new book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief,” is so invaluable. There have been other exposés of the church — including last year’s fine “Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion” by Janet Reitman, a book Wright praises in his own — but this one carries the imprimatur of both Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, and the New Yorker magazine, where Wright first wrote about the church in a story on its cultivation of celebrity members, as exemplified by movie director Paul Haggis.

    The church adopted its scorched-earth policy toward critical journalists back when Paulette Cooper published “The Scandal of Scientology” in 1971; she was subsequently slapped with 19 lawsuits, as well as subjected to a harassment campaign with the stated intention of seeing her “incarcerated in a mental institution or jail.” What the organization did not foresee was that the effectiveness of such tactics could never be more than short-term. So ominous is the reputation of the Church of Scientology in this respect that when a major news organization of legendary rigor committed itself to an exposé, there could be no doubt that it was fact-checked to a fare-thee-well. The result, extended to book form by one of that organization’s most esteemed journalists, is completely and conclusively damning.

    Not that Wright is the least bit intemperate in his account of the improbable rise of Hubbard from an unimpressive career as a naval officer and pulp science-fiction writer to a millionaire guru presiding over a high-seas empire of slavish devotees to reclusive leader holed up in a well-appointed mobile home. He doesn’t have to be. Hubbard’s outrageous shenanigans and flagrant misdeeds speak for themselves, so Wright need only convey the facts with a minimum of hoopla. He strives to be fair, noting all the ways that Scientology resembles other religions that began as suspect or fringe movements, but he catches church spokesmen in so many lies and unearths so much evidence of malfeasance that his caveats do tend to get swamped.

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  3. It turns out that even the craziest stuff I read on the Internet back in 2005 is essentially true, and that the history of the church under its current megalomaniacal leader, David Miscavige, is, if anything, even more disgraceful. (Hubbard died in 1986.) Wright has assembled an overwhelming number of confirmed reports of Miscavige punching, kicking and otherwise attacking church leaders, often without warning or explanation. He details a well-developed system of isolation and indoctrination imposed on the members of Sea Org. (Scientology’s equivalent of a clergy), creating a population that provides the church with virtually free labor and submits to extravagantly harsh and humiliating punishments, such as cleaning bathroom floors with their tongues and scrubbing out dumpsters with toothbrushes. Meanwhile, Miscavige lives in luxury, bathed in Kim Jong Il-levels of totalitarian hagiography, at the church’s secluded base in rural Southern California.

    Wright’s particular interest is in how the church courts and coddles its celebrity members. These Scientologists are carefully shielded from the harsher conditions and uglier aspects of the organization. Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Anne Archer and Jenna Elfman number among the church’s most prominent trophies, as did Haggis — before he became disgusted with the leadership’s refusal to denounce an anti-gay ballot proposition in California and decided to dig beneath the flattering, gleaming face it presents to its celebrity members. Wooing emerging actors and entertainment-industry players was one of Hubbard’s most inspired initiatives, and the church continues to deploy such people strategically, introducing balky local politicians to movie stars and fostering the impression that a Scientology affiliation will help Hollywood aspirants climb to the top of a ruthlessly competitive profession.

    I could go on and on, listing Hubbard’s tall tales, paranoid delusions and eccentricities, as well as Miscavige’s brutalities and tidbits from the famously wacky and decidedly unscientific Scientologist cosmology. All of it makes for a wild ride of a page-turner, as enthralling as a paperback thriller. But I keep coming back to my original impression of “Dianetics,” and the sobering realization that one man’s personal damage can, if transmitted with sufficient charisma and intuitive skill, infect tens of thousands of people, many of whom believe they’ve been helped by it.

    Hubbard, as Wright acknowledges more than once, was a charmer, with a knack for manipulating people. He knew, somehow, that there is no behavior more likely to foster fascination and dependence than intermittent reinforcement, enveloping approval and assurances of future bliss shot through with unpredictable episodes of domination, insults and terror. That is the dynamic of the abusive family, a dynamic that prevails in Sea Org. and the hidden enclaves of Scientology. From what Wright reports, it looks like my curiosity about Hubbard’s earliest years will never be satisfied. But now I can make an educated guess.


  4. As they turn 150, Adventists still pray for the apocalypse

    Daniel Burke, Religion News Service April 10, 2013

    A small band of believers has mushroomed to more than 17 million baptized members, including 1.2 million in the U.S. Nearly 8,000 Adventists schools dot dozens of countries. Hundreds of church-owned hospitals and clinics mend minds and bodies around the world.

    You might expect Adventists to celebrate their success while marking their church’s 150th anniversary this May. There’s just one problem: the church wasn’t supposed to last this long.

    Back in the 1860s, the founders of Seventh-day Adventism preached that Jesus would return – and soon. That’s why they called themselves “Adventists.” By Second-Coming standards, the church’s long life could be considered a dismal sign of failure.

    “If you took a time machine and visited our founders in May 1863, they’d be disconcerted, to say the least, that we’re still here,” said David Trim, the church’s director of archives and research.

    Current Adventists aren’t exactly excited about the anniversary, either.

    “It’s almost an embarrassment to be celebrating 150 years,” said Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, the church’s director of education. “But it’s also an affirmation of faith in Christ’s return.”

    Adventist leaders have slated May 18 – the Saturday before the 150th anniversary – as “a day of prayer, remembrance and recommitment to mission.” On May 21, Adventists will hold a small ceremony at church headquarters in Silver Spring, Md. Don’t expect balloons or birthday cake.

    “In one kind of way it really is a sad event,” said Michael Ryan, a vice president at the church’s General Conference, its top governing body.

    “We’re a church that by its name believes in the Second Coming of Christ, and we have been hopeful that long ago Christ would have come and taken the righteous to heaven and this world would have ended.”

    But Jesus told Christians to occupy themselves until he returns – advice that Adventists take to heart.

    Ryan, the church’s director of strategic planning, said he eagerly anticipates projects to open health centers in poverty-stricken communities and a 26-story hospital in Hong Kong. Besides worshipping on Saturday – the biblical seventh day when God rested – Adventists may be best known for their healthy lifestyles. Studies show they live about 10 years longer than their neighbors.

    Of course, most Christian churches preach the Second Coming, and nearly half of Americans believe Jesus will return in the next 40 years, according to a 2010 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center. But few American churches have been built on the ashes of apocalyptic dreams.

    Adventism was founded in the aftermath the Great Disappointment, which dashed the hopes of some 50,000 followers who expected Jesus to arrive in 1844. Some had sold their possessions and let their fields lie fallow. The celestial letdown drove a few insane, crushed under the weight of what social psychologist Leon Festinger would later call “cognitive dissonance.”

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  5. But the movement did not disintegrate, as Festinger argued. Instead, early Adventists like James and Ellen White adjusted their beliefs. Something of divine import had happened in 1844, even if it wasn’t the Second Coming, they taught.

    Meanwhile, Adventist leaders brought dejected believers together, feeding the hungry and bonding over their shared disappointment. While keeping watch for Jesus coming in the clouds, Adventists also turned an eye to earthly time, setting Saturday as their Sabbath and preaching the value of healthy living.

    Over time, Adventists’ social bonds and distinctive doctrines “led to the creation of a church which survives and prospers today as one of the fastest-growing denominations in Christendom,” writes Stephen O’Leary, a scholar at the University of Southern California.

    When those doctrines sail against cultural winds – as when Adventists are forced to work on Saturday, or famous members back Creationism – church solidarity strengthens, scholars say.

    Adventist growth is especially intense in Latin America and Africa, where people are attracted to the faith’s blend of ethereal optimism (Jesus is coming soon!) and earthly education (Eat your vegetables until he does.)

    “It’s a religious movement whose belief system compensates for both human needs and human longings,” said Edwin Hernandez, a research fellow at the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Latino Religion.

    But some Adventists worry that the church’s modern success may bring Adventism full circle: a movement haunted by the hereafter becomes preoccupied with the present.

    Adventism thrives because of the urgency of its message, argues church historian George Knight. Countless missionaries have crossed the earth to warn of Jesus’ imminent arrival. “When that vision is gone,” Knight writes, “Adventism will become just another toothless denomination that happens to be a little more peculiar in some of its beliefs than others.”

    But Adventist leaders say the apocalyptic pull is still strong at church headquarters, especially during planning sessions. “I see that in our education system,” said Beardsley-Hardy. “Not wanting to over-invest in building because Jesus is coming.”

    Beardsley-Hardy said she feels the same tension in her personal life. Should she sock away extra money in her retirement account, she wonders, or gratify immediate needs?

    As a child, Beardsley-Hardy said she was convinced that every passing thunderstorm heralded the Second Coming. Now 54, with two children and two grandchildren, she said that sense of urgency is returning.

    “I’m getting back to waiting,” Beardsley-Hardy said. “But I’m kind of glad the Lord has tarried.”

    Daniel Burke is associate editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service. He joined RNS in May 2006.


  6. Seventh-day Adventists: From doomsday sect to health advocates

    By Jeff Kunerth, Orlando Sentinel Bangor Daily News June 07, 2013

    ORLANDO, Fla. — In the Seventh-day Adventist church, they call Oct. 22, 1844, the “Great Disappointment.” It was the day the world didn’t end.

    The church, celebrating its 150th anniversary this month, traces its origins back to a doomsday sect of disillusioned believers in the prophecy of William Miller. The Harold Camping of his day, Miller proclaimed a date for Jesus Christ’s return, and when that didn’t happen, about 3,500 disappointed believers regrouped to form the Seventh-day Adventists in Battle Creek, Mich.

    But since then, the Adventists have refocused from certain death and destruction to fitness and a healthy future. In the Adventists’ faith, health is representative of The Creation and healing as part of The Restoration.

    “The idea of restoration is what birthed the Adventists’ emphasis on healthy living, wholeness, vitality, life to the fullest,” said Michael F. Cauley, president of the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

    The Adventists’ theology of healthy living — diet, exercise, rest and fitness — extends to its hospitals. Since the first Adventist sanitarium was founded in 1876 by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek, the Adventists’ network of hospitals, clinics, fitness centers and sanitariums has become the largest not-for-profit health-care system in the United States.

    Headquartered in Altamonte Springs, Fla., the Adventist Health System operates 44 hospitals and 16 nursing homes across the United States.

    The hospitals sprang up wherever there were large congregations of Adventists, mostly in the Midwest and South. In Orlando, Fla., the first Adventist hospital opened in 1908. But it wasn’t until 1973 that the hospitals were united under one corporate system, said Don Jerrigan, president of Adventist Health Systems.

    The Adventists trace their religious beliefs in health and fitness to church founder Ellen G. White, but their emphasis on exercise and a vegetarian diet goes back to Kellogg, who along with his brother, Will Keith Kellogg, invented the corn flake.

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  7. In his day, Kellogg was the health and fitness guru to the celebrities. His sprawling five-story, Victorian-style sanitarium attracted Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, John D. Rockefeller and Dale Carnegie.

    Today, the tenets of Adventist healthy living — no alcohol, no smoking, no caffeine; regular exercise; a diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains; drinking plenty of water; small portions of meat; and nuts as the preferred snack food — are the Golden Rules of successful aging.

    In carrying out the church’s theology of health, the hospitals were born of health care reform back in the 1860s when the Adventists bucked the prevailing medical thought that cigarettes were good medicine. And that continues today as the Adventists push health and longevity as the antidote to the rising costs of hospital care.

    The hospitals’ no-smoking policy predates the ban on smoking in restaurants and bars. Their cafeterias were vegetarian before health food became fashionable. Their earliest hospitals included gymnasiums, the precursors to today’s fitness centers.

    But just as the Adventists have influenced society’s ideas about healthy living, modern culture has affected the hospitals. About 10 years ago, the hospitals started relaxing their strict prohibition against meat and caffeine. You can now buy 5-Hour Energy drinks in the hospital gift shops and a hamburger in the cafeteria.

    In recent years, the denomination’s preventative-medicine approach has spawned the Healthy 100 initiative based on medical studies that show Adventists have a high percentage of centenarians.

    “It produces more people living to be 100 than any other lifestyle,” said Des Cummings, Florida Hospital vice president.

    Throughout its history, a denomination once viewed by Protestant churches as less-than-Christian has moved to the forefront of a health-conscious America. Still not traditionally Christian — Adventists believe Saturday, not Sunday, is the Sabbath — the church’s theology of faith and fitness places it in the center of mainstream America.

    For most Americans, living a long, healthy life is its own reward. For Adventists, there’s an added benefit: They might live long enough to still be around when Christ returns.


  8. NOTE from Perry Bulwer: I've just discovered that the link to the article by Ray Garton at the beginning of this article is dead. Link rot is a real problem on blogs.

    I've searched to try and find that article again, but so far can't find it. I have found a website and bog by a Ray Garton, who I assume is the same person, but I could not find that article on his website or blog. Here are the links to those for anyone interested in trying to follow up on that article.



  9. Hallucination or Divine Revelation

    "Madness" used to be considered an affliction of the spirit—demonic possessions, or Godly visions. Now it's treated as a medical issue. What does this mean for contemporary believers?


    What is the difference between a homeless man who claims to speak to God and a saint who says the same? When I posed this question to Andrew Scull, the author of the recent book Madness in Civilization: A Cultural History of Insanity, he chuckled and cited a quip by the philosopher Bertrand Russell: “From a scientific point of view, we can make no distinction between the man who eats little and sees heaven and the man who drinks much and sees snakes.”

    When Russell said it, it was an atheist’s diss against mystical visions, and against religion generally. Coming from Scull, it’s more of an invitation to explore the complicated relationship between religion and madness over thousands of years of cultural history. Scull argues that stories of the supernatural—often paired with stories of madness—have long been a source of power for religious organizations, proof of their authority to interpret the presence of the divine—and evil—on earth.

    Over time, though, the relationship between religion and madness has become more ambiguous. Science has transformed the way many modern believers and religious institutions approach faith. For a long time, the influence of God or Satan was a sufficient explanation for all sorts of phenomena, from so-called possessions to the kinds of visions supposedly experienced by Catherine of Siena or Teresa of Avila. Now, those who decode visions and possessions are psychiatrists, not priests, and explanations are rooted in the individual mind, not the interference of God or the devil.

    In the deserts of ancient Israel, a homeless man who was said to have visions and perform miracles was revered by some as the son of God. Which leaves two questions: How should claims of divine encounters be interpreted in the modern world? And if a homeless man on the street were actually the messiah, would he be recognized?

    * * *

    As it turns out, being a biblical prophet isn’t a foolproof shield against accusations of insanity. “If you look at the history of the Old Testament prophets, the answer is hard to disentangle,” Scull explained. “Many parts of their lives are seen as mad or possibly possessed, and only over time do some of them get reinterpreted as inspired.” Throughout biblical times, apparent mental disturbances were often seen as divine punishments or demonic possessions. Rarely, they were understood as heavenly visions. But even this boundary was fluid. “Saul is seen at one point as behaving like a prophet, then later on people see him as not entirely right in the head, attributing that to God punishing him for not slaughtering everybody when he was supposed to,” Scull said.

    Throughout biblical times, apparent mental disturbances were often seen as divine punishments or demonic possessions.

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  10. One of the main points of Scull’s book is that interpretations of madness have changed dramatically over centuries and across cultures. It’s unclear, for example, whether manifestations of madness in ancient times would be recognizable as mental illness today. But Scull does offer a sort of common-sense definition of how instances of madness have been identified over time: disruptive behavior, disturbed perception, loss of speech, diminished emotional or rational control. Especially in the early centuries A.D., he writes, identifying and curing this kind of behavior helped Christianity spread across the eastern Mediterranean and, eventually, the Roman Empire. During this time, healings and exorcisms were a common preliminary rite before baptisms. Just as Jesus had demonstrated a power to cast out demons, so early Christian leaders claimed to rid people of demonic possession—or lead them away from sin, if their madness was seen as punishment from an angry God.

    Divine visions were also an important part of how Christians proved their spiritual authority and claimed to distinguish their religion from that of pagans (although the legitimacy of the visions depended heavily on who was having them, and who was interpreting them). “The presence of miracles and saints was an important calling card of Christians—that’s the way they converted pagan Europe,” Scull said. Christian leaders collected and distributed the body parts of saints and martyrs as relics and urged laymen to pray to them for divine intercession. They believed certain people who had divine visions could produce demonstrable miracles, including ridding people of supposed possessions, and those powers were thought to linger after their death. “Typically, saints whose martyrdom had involved beheading or some damage to the head—those were the saints who seemed to have particular power over mental disturbance,” Scull said.

    In the Middle Ages, as medical practice began to develop, cases of madness were often treated as both spiritual and physical. “Physicians conceded that some cases of madness were really possessions, or things that belonged to divine,” Scull said. Those cases might be referred to priests. But others, the doctors argued, “were theirs, because they were rooted in the body, in the humors.”

    In Europe, things started to change in the 16th century. These were the first days of the Scientific Revolution and the so-called Age of Reason, marked by the rise of rational philosophy and scientific invention. The Catholic Church was still an incredibly powerful force in European culture, but it also wasn’t the same institution as 10 centuries prior. Powerful challenges to the Church’s authority had spread through Western Europe. During and following the Protestant Reformation, accusations of madness were often used as a form of political power, used to argue for the legitimacy of one Christian denomination over another.

    In the Middle Ages, “physicians conceded that some cases of madness were really possessions, or things that belonged to divine.”

    In the 1760s and 70s, for example, an Austrian priest named Johann Joseph Gassner started performing exorcisms across southwestern Germany, treating everything from “blindness, manic propensities to dance … the epileptic, the lame … the hysteric, and the crazed.” Protestants ridiculed these alleged healings as vestiges of Catholic superstition, and some Church leaders felt sensitive to this criticism.

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  11. Others cautioned against the political instability that might accompany rising fears of demons and possessions. Eventually, Pope Pius VI ordered the priest to stop performing the exorcisms. “The Pope himself surely did not kill off popular beliefs in the Devil and possession,” Scull writes, “but [this incident] did indicate the degree to which polite society was distancing itself from older religious accounts of illness and suffering, and of madness in particular.”

    Yet accusations of madness helped other kinds of Protestantism spread. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, accusations of witchcraft and possession were powerful tools used by rival Christian groups, Scull said. For example, the preacher John Wesley, who led a Methodist revival in England in the late 18th century, was a “forceful advocate of spiritual health of the mentally disturbed through communal rituals of fasting and prayer.”

    By the 19th century, particularly in Western Europe, many doctors who studied mental illness began to push back against divine interpretations of visions. A famous French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, claimed that all Christian saints were hysterics, experiencing mystical visions that were really just signs of underlying pathology. This, Scull said, was part of a deeper polemical argument against religion’s power in society. By that time, “most hospitals in France, and most of those ministering to the mentally ill, were the religious orders,” he said. “There’s a big fight under the surface through the 19th century—an attempt to laicize those institutions, and make medicine free of the competing interests of clerics. And that’s felt nowhere more profoundly than in the question of madness.”

    Asylums began acquiring medical staff. “Madness,” as a term, fell out of favor, and was seen as a slur on the sick. This was a clear turning point in the way insanity was understood in the West: Madness started to be understood as an affliction of body, not the spirit.

    * * *

    The transition over time from “madness” to “mental illness” is a linguistic tweak that accounts for a larger metaphysical reshuffling. This is a recurring theme in Scull’s work, which largely focuses on the West: Insanity, he argues, is culturally dependent, as is the language used to describe it. He does make some references to how madness was treated in non-Western cultures, and these reinforce his broader point: The words people use to describe mental illness say a lot about how they understand the nature of existence.

    In early Islam, for example, prophetic healings for insanity included prayers, bloodletting, and “cauterization of the head with hot irons.” This last technique was used, Scull writes, because demons and spirits were believed to be afraid of iron. Not coincidentally, the Arabic word for “genie” or “spirit” isjinn—the word from which majnoon, or “crazy,” is derived.

    Until very recently in China, “madness was never interpreted as a distinct illness, but was instead, like other forms of ill-health, seen as deriving from a more comprehensive corporeal and cosmological imbalance,” Scull writes. The words mostly commonly used to describe possession and mental confusion, kuang, feng, and dian, were common-sense descriptions of symptoms (such as loss of verbal or emotional control), rather than an ongoing state of being mad or insane.

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  12. In the decades following World War II, the focus of psychiatry shifted away from the psychoanalytic techniques advocated by Freud and his followers and toward biological factors and causes. As Steven Sharfstein, the former president of the American Psychiatric Association, put it, public discourse around mental illness transformed from “the biopsychosocial model” to “the bio-bio-bio model.” This shift matters for the relationship between religion and madness. Even those who remain deeply religious in the U.S. or other developed countries likely accept some version of the biological view of mental illness. Some religious leaders have been vocal in their acceptance of this; in a 1996 speech, for example, Pope John Paul II called mental illness “the most absurd and incomprehensible [affliction].”

    In 2012, roughly a quarter of American religious congregations reported instances of members speaking in tongues.
    Yet for some, religion still plays an important role in treatment: A 2003 study published by Health Services Research found that more people reach out to members of the clergy about mental-health issues than to psychiatrists or doctors. And some traditions also remain actively open to evidence of divine influence in everyday life. In 2012, for example, roughly a quarter of American religious congregations reported instances of members speaking in tongues, a five-percentage-point bump from what was reported in 1998. But even prominent religious institutions have faced awkwardness in their teachings about possessions and visions. Pope Francis often speaks about the influence of Satan, and last summer, he officially recognized the International Association of Exorcists, a small group of roughly 250 priests who still follow the practice of casting out demons. On the other hand, the Vatican’s process for legitimizing miracles and canonizing saints is as close to technocratic and rational as it can get while still involving supernatural encounters: Medical miracles, for example, often go through years-long investigations by multiple panels of local clergymen, doctors, theologians, and Vatican advisors.

    As “madness” became “mental illness,” the role of religion in explaining out-of-the-ordinary behavior has faded significantly, and medicine has taken its place. It’s not that strange happenings have faded from importance in religious life; it’s that in the shadow of modern medicine, it’s more difficult to discern between the strange phenomena of the brain and the potentially stranger phenomena of the supernatural.

    Which brings back the initial question: In a time of prescriptions and psychiatry and an ever-increasing focus on the brain, what’s the difference between a homeless man who talks to God and a saint who does the same? To a skeptic, the question is irrelevant; both are equally insane. Scull himself is not necessarily interested in this question; he hinted that he’s not personally inclined toward religious belief. But for the faithful, the difference between the homeless man and the saint may be one of history, more than anything; the homeless man suffers the distinct disadvantage of talking to God today, rather than 10 centuries ago. Stories of visions and possessions seem to be of an earlier time, when madness was seen as just another manifestation of the power of God, and the devil. As such, the consequences of modern psychiatry are intellectually different for those who believe and those who don’t. Scientifically minded believers may accept that mental illness is a medical issue, but that may also make it more difficult to accept the possibility of a divine vision. For non-believers, seeing God is the disease. But the faithful risk something greater: mistaking Him for disease.


  13. The Cult of Two

    Understanding Jonestown

    by Loren-Paul Caplin - Screenwriter, Playwright, Narrative Teacher & Consultant

    Huffington Post October 22, 2015

    It's easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled -- Mark Twain

    My cousin died in November 1978 in the Jonestown Massacre, the largest mass murder/suicide in American history. Gene Chaikin was a lawyer for Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. His wife Phyllis and their two children David and Gail were also members of Peoples Temple and ardent followers, at least for a while, of Jones.

    I am currently writing an eleven-part scripted TV series inspired by Gene's and his family's life and death in Peoples Temple. What drew me to this project was this question: How could someone like you and me - an educated, mindful, middle-class person - end up dead, deep within the belly of a cult, in the remote jungles of Guyana?

    I was a Religious Studies Major and had the good fortune to have studied under Mircea Eliade, the author of The Sacred and Profane and From Primitive to Zen, and one of the preeminent professors of Religious Studies. I was not raised religious per se. My gravitation toward Religious Studies had everything to do with my personal quest for meaning. I arrogantly believed that politics, philosophy and psychology were, each in their own manner, at best precursors and/or obfuscators of some deeperraison d'etre. I was convinced that Religious Studies was the most direct route toward uncovering the apparently secret truths and answers to the gigantic questions that young students are prone to ask (and that some not-so-young students of life continue to ask): What's it all about? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

    Certainly, each religion that I studied provided plenty of answers to the big questions. But for those answers to be believable, for them to make sense - not in an academic way but to land with the resonance of a nuclear life-changing blast - I learned that one had to fully immerse themselves into the total belief system that that religion offered. Joseph Campbell said there are as many gods as there are people who believe in god. I believed in something unseen; something eternal, something without a name or face, something that held all answers to all questions, but without the commitment of accepting another's prescribed system of belief. Along the way I played California Spiritual Musical Chairs, sampling various practices and religious systems. But this was California in the late 60's and 70's - and I had the luxury to consider such matters.

    Although Jim Jones and Peoples Temple reflected the traditions of the Black Church, by the time the nearly one thousand members migrated to Guyana in the mid-seventies, the gospel they worshipped had become an expurgated version of the New Testament as cherry picked by Jones. It was very light on Jesus and big on communal sharing, the absence of pride and the subsuming of self to the ideals of an idealized version of communism. To me Jones, the leader, was far less interesting than his followers. Jim Jones was commonly similar to many of history's failed and troubled leaders: Charismatic, empathetic, egomaniacal, prophetic, offering a grand carrot of hope and the means to achieving a better life, and a big, stern stick if you even considered an alternative.

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  14. But if Jim Jones was a cliche each of his followers were unique. Each followed a very personal and specific calculus of life experience that led them, in their own way, toward giving up themselves to what they sincerely believed was a cause that was bigger and more worthy than their own lives. I'm mostly referring to the honeymoon period of their involvement before coercion, fear and possible retribution served to even further inexorably bind them to the group.

    In my quest to understand how someone like my cousin and his family could end up where they did, I felt I had to understand how I might conceivably make similar decisions. I began to look into other groups that had similar qualities and held a similar pall of nearly blind devotion over their members. Not surprisingly, I began to see similarities everywhere: from corporate ethos to all kinds of devout adherents of both organized religions and boldly unorganized anti-religion mindsets (atheist fundamentalists). Surprisingly, however, I began to notice similarities of equal magnitude in small groups, groups of tight friends, and colleagues. This I found to be especially true in the basic relationship of romantic couples: the cult of two.

    The word cult originally did not have a negative connotation. It was loosely defined as a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object. It was not used to describe a group as much as for the act of worship and/or religious ceremony. It was first used in the early 17th century, taken from the French culte, from Latin cultus (worship). But increasingly, into the Twentieth Century, the term cult grew synonymous with socially deviant and/or unique practices.

    Today, when we speak of cults or cult mentality, we think of near zombie-esque adherents following the intentions and commands of a central authority, people whose behavior changed from the way we knew them before they entered their group. We think of people whose words and even vocal intonations, more often than not, resemble those of their leader and/or of their fellow group members. Members of cults - we are absolutely certain - are those who are absolutely certain about things that in the light of fact checking just aren't so. When we confront a person like this about how they've changed or even challenge the accuracy of what they believe, they either become defensive, or they simply begin to pull away from you, from anyone or any area that might question their relationship to their authority; their belief system; to each other.

    This sounds familiar. There are clear similarities between this behavior or tendency with many, if not most intimate relationships, including my own. Aren't we fiercely defensive of any criticism of our significant other, whether the criticism has any validity or not? Don't we take on mannerisms and shared perceptions of each other? Don't we pull away from anyone or any group that we feel might threaten our union? Don't we find ourselves entertaining new experiences gained from our partners that we might not have otherwise encountered? Sometimes these might include adopting a new philosophy or even a new religion, all in order to maintain our relationship. And none of these traits are particularly considered negative. On the contrary, these are among the singular aspects we desire in a family, in a relationship: Security, constancy, love, loyalty, and devotion. In short our own private cult of two with its attendant system of adoration, ritual and personalized practices. So what's wrong with this?

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  15. I have a former student who had been in military intelligence in South Korea. His job was to debrief North Koreans who defected to the South. He interviewed hundreds of defectors who told him that they all left because of starvation, that they all quickly saw that they had been lied to about how worse off South Korea was. Within months, according to my student, all of the defectors craved the community closeness that their previous us against the world lives provided them.
    The intense bonding between soldiers that takes place during life-threatening battles is notoriously fervent, even irrational, as some have been known to sacrifice themselves for one another. Like the blind bond between parents and their young children, it's beyond logic.

    No one will ever know for certain the precise whys and hows of the life decisions and choices that each Jonestown resident made which led them to that final horrific moment. Clearly, extreme, long-term fatigue, malnutrition, chronic fear (of a world against them and of recrimination from their possible disloyalty) were among the factors. But long before November 1978, years earlier when they decided to move en masse from Northern California to Guyana, they had already made life-defining decisions that could easily have included such human cult of two aspects: They did not want to disappoint their spouses or friends or Jim (who they had accepted as their political and spiritual leader). They did not want to lose the closeness they felt within their us against the world family/community. They did not want to give up on a shared idealistic dream. This is the simple emotional mortar that binds couples to one another, the exact stuff that comprises any serious relationship.

    When the relationship becomes abusive, when one or both people are abused and suppressed, then the power of the cult of two becomes more glaring. It's common in an abusive relationship for people not to admit or even see that they are being abused or abusing the other. The inexorable power that binds in the cult of two is the exact amorphous substance of any community. As people search for deeper psychological reasons behind cult mentality and how to understand what happened in Jonestown, I suggest that one starts by examining their own relationships and how easy it is to not rock the boat.

    I started out wanting to understand how someone like myself or my cousin could end up among the dead in Jonestown. I found some answers, very basic, very human answers. My cult of two will be different than another's. The cult of two: I, Thou, that relationship between one and another be it loved-one, friend, leader, God, is constant. Each victim's version is unique.

    This article will also be available at the Jonestown report.


    Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple


  16. Christian School Principal Jailed for Child Rape

    The principal of a tiny Seventh-day Adventist school in Washington state has been arrested for allegedly molesting and abusing two young girls.

    by ​Katie Zavadski, Daily Beast April 3, 2016

    The principal of a tiny Christian school in a small Washington town has been charged with sexually assaulting two female students. Prosecutors say Douglas J. Allison, 55, even claimed that one of the young girls asked for it.

    Allison was the principal and one of just two teachers at the Mountain View Christian School, a Seventh-day Adventist school that has just a dozen students. He is charged with raping and sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl and her classmate, who came forward during the investigation.

    Seventh-day Adventists are a Christian denomination who believe Christ’s return to Earth is imminent. Unlike most Christians, they observe the sabbath on Saturday.

    The denomination was founded in 1863 and has more than 18 million members worldwide, including former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson.

    And the church has built more than 8000 schools, like the one run by Douglas, around the world. His wife, Judy, who is not under investigation, was the school’s sole other educator.

    The Mountain View Christian School’s website has since been suspended, but a cachedversion shows it billed itself as one “committed to providing quality education in a Christ-filled environment.”

    “The Mountain View Christian School family exists to show children Jesus, nurture their love for Him and others, teach them to think, and empower them to serve,” the websiteread. “We believe that true education develops the spiritual, mental, and physical powers of each student.”

    Court documents say that what occurred at Allison’s school was far from holy.

    According to an affidavit filed in court, the mother of the 10-year-old was alerted to the alleged abuse by a cousin who attended the same school. The cousin told the alleged victim’s mom that she had “witnessed the teacher tap [Child 1’s] butt, and that it made her uncomfortable.” When the mother asked her daughter about it, she said Principal Allison, known to kids as Mr. A, “had been touching her privates every day at school.”

    The document says the girl told Allison to stop it, but he continued to touch her. The girl’s two brothers, in the same classroom, told their mother they hadn’t seen this happen, but the girl said the abuse had been happening every day since the start of fourth grade.

    According to the school’s now-defunct website, Doug Allison taught grades 5 to 8, while his wife taught grades 1 to 4. Court documents, however, say that Doug Allison taught grades 4 and up, while his wife taught the three lower classes.

    When a detective interviewed the cousin who initially reported the inappropriate touching, she said she’d seen the second alleged victim, aged 11, sit under Allison’s desk and play with his cell phone while the teacher sat at his desk. “She has seen [Child 2] sit under Mr. A’s desk all day long with his cell phone,” interview notes in the complaint read. “About two weeks ago [the cousin] saw [Child 2] sitting on Mr. A’s lap at school.”

    “During the ensuing investigation, detectives discovered a second victim, an 11-year-old female student at the school,” the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release. “The second victim disclosed to Detectives she had been sexually assaulted in similar fashion by Allison.”

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  17. The 11 year old alleged similar over-the-pants inappropriate touching of her genitals. On one occasion, she said, the teacher showed her the Urban Dictionary definition of the word “ulus” on his phone.

    The Dictionary.com definition of the word refers to a traditional knife used by Eskimo women. On the Urban Dictionary website, however, the word is defined as the scientifically-impossible “large penis that has been inserted into an anus, so deep and for such a long a period of time, that the penis is partially digested.”

    According to the complaint, the 11-year-old’s mother called Allison and allowed police to listen in on her conversation with the principal. When she confronted Allison with the girl’s allegations, the principal allegedly admitted to touching her and said he was under investigation. He said he touched the girl “only a few times,” the complaint alleges. It adds that Allison said he “touched her where she asked” him to.

    “She asked you to touch her vagina?” the mother asked.

    “Yes, she did,” the teacher allegedly replied.

    In a later conversation with police, which was videotaped after his arrest, Allison allegedly confessed to touching the girls over their clothing and digitally penetrating one of them while the class was studying.
    He also allegedly confessed to making the 11-year-old touch his genitals and let him place his penis in her mouth.

    Allison is charged with 12 counts of child molestation and child rape, according to court documents.
    In bold, the complaint adds: “It should be noted that Douglas is 55 years old. [Child 1] is 10 years old and [Child 2] is 11 years old.

    The school was still advertised on the Sequim Seventh-day Adventist Church’s websiteSunday. An associate pastor who teaches a once-weekly Bible study at the school toldKOMO News that the church is “very, very sad.”

    “Our congregation is grieving. We love our kids, we love our families. We’re praying for complete healing, for complete justice,” Collette Pekar said. “All humans have the potential to do horribly awfully things and just the realization that these things can happen is overwhelmingly sad.”

    Calls made to the school number listed on the site were not returned.

    “Mr. Allison is a schoolteacher of minor children, and the allegations are that he molested and potentially raped children in front of his class while other children were watching,” prosecutor Michele Devlin told the judge at Allison’s bond hearing. “He is a danger to any other child out there.”

    The judge set Allison’s bond at $100,000. It’s not immediately clear whether Allison had an attorney.

    A spokeswoman for the Seventh-day Adventist church said Allison was put on leave as soon as the allegations surfaced. “We are taking care of our students by putting in respected and trusted teachers to take over the teaching responsibilities, and providing counseling and care for families that have been affected,” Becky Meharry said.

    But when detectives spoke to school officials about the investigation, the Chairman of the Board, John Gatchet, allegedly said he’d already had a conversation with Allison about not touching students after a parent complained about Allison putting his arms around kids and hugging them earlier in the school year.

    A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Gatchet said he was not available and hung up.
    Subsequent calls were unanswered. Archie Harris, the school’s superintendent, did not return a request for comment.

    But not everyone in the community was quick to distance themselves from Allison.

    “As a Christian, God loves the sinner but hates the sin,” Greg Reseck—a teacher at another Seventh-day Adventist school in Port Townsend—told King5. “But even if he’s convicted, I will still consider him my friend.”


  18. For UFO enthusiasts at Oregon festival its all extraterrestrial

    By Emily McFarlan Miller Religion News Service May 25, 2016

    McMINNVILLE, Ore. (RNS) Jan Woods believes.

    She’s sure she saw a UFO back in 1978 when she was living in Nevada, something she spotted in the sky that was so amazing, she said, she had to pull her car over by the side of the road.

    That’s one reason Woods, who now lives in Adin, Calif., attended the country’s second-largest UFO festival earlier this month. Another? She wanted to enter her dachshund — a “good sport” named Skeeter wrapped in silver duct tape and green cellophane — in the alien pet costume contest at the 17th annual McMenamins Hotel Oregon UFO Festival.

    There was something for everyone — true believers, fun seekers and those in between– at the festival May 12-15 outside Portland — just as there’s something for everyone who’s ever looked up into the skies and wondered about something bigger than humankind.

    Angels, demons, aliens — it’s all the same to Clyde Lewis, speaking in an episode of his Portland-based paranormal podcast “Ground Zero” that was broadcast from the McMenamins UFO Festival.

    “We come from spirituality to the idea of the space age, and now coming together, we come to the realization that all people on this planet have an idea that something is out there watching us, whether it’s a god, an angel, a demon or even an alien,” Lewis said.

    “It’s all extraterrestrial.”

    Christopher D. Bader, associate professor of sociology at Baylor University, agrees the difference between belief in the paranormal, such as UFOs, ghosts or Bigfoot, and belief in a religion is not that great. Both require faith, he said.

    “People view the paranormal differently from religion, but to me it’s the same type of phenomena,” he added. “It’s belief in things that cannot be proven. That’s the currency of religion.”

    The professor researched people who believe in the paranormal for the book he co-authored, “Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.” He also is one of the principal investigators for the Baylor Religion Survey.

    Those who are marginally religious tend to be the most interested in the paranormal, Bader said. Many very religious people don’t doubt the paranormal, but ascribe a different meaning to it, believing what appears to be an alien actually is a demon, for example.

    People who aren’t interested in religion tend not to be interested in the paranormal either.

    The difference between the two beliefs: cultural acceptance, he said.

    “The majority of people in this country profess to be Christian of some sort,” he said. “So Christian groups — you might call them the accepted version of the paranormal or the accepted version of the supernatural.”

    McMenamins Hotel Oregon began hosting the UFO festival after historian Tim Hills stumbled across a famous 1950 UFO photos taken by Paul and Evelyn Trent on their farm outside McMinnville.

    Hills thought that first event might attract 25 people; the crowd overflowed the room into the hotel’s restaurant and hallway and onto the sidewalk, he said. And 17 years later, the event brings 7,000 to 10,000 people to downtown McMinnville, a city of 33,000, from as far as Florida.

    This year, for the first time, the festival’s speakers focused on a single sighting: the Phoenix Lights, a mass sighting of five orbs in a “V” shape that were reported moving over Phoenix on March 13, 1997.

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  19. Longtime director of the National UFO Reporting Center Peter Davenport called the sighting “probably the most dramatic event in the history of modern ufology” because of the number of witnesses, the size of the craft they reported and the interest the military apparently took in it.

    For festival speaker Lynne Kitei, witnessing those lights outside her home near Phoenix set her on a journey that made her more aware of serendipity, of the connectedness of the universe and of what she described as the “potential we have as human beings.”

    Kitei had no previous interest in UFOs and hadn’t grown up in organized religion. As a physician, she always looked for logical explanations. But she was also open to whatever might walk in her door, she said, and so what she experienced was profoundly transformative.

    She set aside her career as chief clinical consultant of the Imaging-Prevention-Wellness Center at the Arizona Heart Institute to research what had happened, producing a book and documentary on the subject.

    “Nobody said they had a revelation or anything religious at all, but the spiritual awakening is just amazing — in real time and long term — that these phenomena impart to the experiencer,” Kitei said.

    The effect a perceived paranormal experience has on a person “really has a lot to do with how conventional they were before they had that experience,” said Bader. It’s a lot more life-altering for someone who has never considered spotting a UFO or Bigfoot than for someone who has investigated the paranormal, he said.

    For instance, “Most Native American tribes are deeply spiritual,” said Jonathan Dover, a former law enforcement officer with the Navajo Federal Rangers. Dover, who has investigated many paranormal cases, had seen circling lights similar to those described in the Phoenix Lights in Leupp, Ariz., the night before the mass sighting.

    “What we find interesting with Native American groups and UFOs is they just take it for granted that they’ve always been there. … This is just how it is; whereas over here it’s something that’s fearful or it’s something that’s shocking, I guess,” he said.

    It was their beliefs that brought three missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the UFO parade through downtown McMinnville, too.

    The trio, wearing bright yellow “UFO volunteer” T-shirts, are serving the McMinnville area through the church’s Oregon Salem Mission. They’re always looking for ways to serve the community, they said, and someone in their congregation had mentioned the parade was looking for volunteers.

    They couldn’t wait to tell their families back home about it, they said. But the idea of life on other planets wasn’t particularly earth-shattering to them.

    “We believe that God’s created his children in his image,” said one missionary, who asked to be identified as Elder Carlisle. “The possibilities of God are endless.”