Religion News Roundup: Aum Shinrikyo, Scientology, Pareidolia, FLDS, and more

RNB Religion News Roundup: a compendium of blurbs and links to, for the most part, religion-related stories you may have missed.

Don’t forget: follow the links before they’re gone…


Jeong Myeong-Seok

Cult sex: Leader’s term upheld

SEOUL – South Korea’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a 10-year jail sentence imposed on a cult leader for sex crimes against female followers.

An appeal court in February had sentenced Jeong Myeong-Seok to 10 years, adding four years to a lower court’s sentence.

Jeong – whose JMS sect stands for both Jesus Morning Star and his initials – was convicted of raping or otherwise sexually assaulting four South Korean female followers between 2003 and 2006 in Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. […]

News reports have said Jeong, who founded his cult in the late 1980s, was still believed to have thousands of followers.

- Source: AFP, via the Straits Times, Straits Times, Singapore, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Aum-Shinrikyo

Life sentence upheld for ex-Aum driver in 1995 gassing

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by [Shigeo Sugimoto,] a former Aum Shinrikyo cult member against a life sentence on murder charges for his involvement as a driver in the deadly 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, judicial sources said Tuesday.

- Source: Kyodo News Service, via Japan Today, Apr. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Japan cult leader still enthralls followers

TOKYO, April 21, 2009 (AFP) – The teachings of the doomsday cult leader behind the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks still have ‘absolute influence’ over followers even though he is on death row, security agencies said Tuesday.

DVDs with speeches by Shoko Asahara are still being used to instruct more than 1,500 followers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult which changed its name in 2000 to Aleph, said the National Police and Public Security Intelligence agencies.

The two agencies said in an annual joint report Asahara, 54, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, ‘still has absolute influence’ over his followers, estimated at some 1,500 devotees using 30 facilities in Japan.

Membership has fallen from a peak of 11,400 before 1995 but the cult also has some 200 followers and several facilities in Russia, the report said.
[…]

- Source: AFP, via AsiaOne, Apr. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Videos and related links about Aum Shinrikyo


Astrology

Bulgaria investigates astrologist for quake claim

Bulgarian prosecutors launched an inquiry on Tuesday to establish whether a famous astrologist who had forecast an earthquake that failed to take place had committed the crime of spreading false information. […]

Leshtanski had said the tremor would cause death and serious damage to the city of some 80,000 people, on the day predominantly Christian Orthodox Bulgarians celebrate Easter.

Bulgarians are highly superstitious, with psychics, healers and fortune-tellers enjoying wide popularity in the Balkan country of 7.6 million.

Panic gave way to anger once the predicted quake did not take place and several people in Haskovo said they would take Leshtanski to court for causing them distress. […]

- Source: Reuters, via Yahoo! News, Apr. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Tony Alamo

Alamo Church Opposes Sealing Lawsuit Over Children

Earlier this month, Tony Alamo Christian Ministries sued the Akarkansas state Department of Human Services over its seizures of children who attended the jailed evangelist’s church.

In a lawsuit filed … in federal court, lawyer Phillip E. Kuhn of Lakeland, Fla., accuses state child welfare officials of conducting a “systematic, persistent and continuous campaign of harassment and intimidation” over the church’s religious views.

- Source: AP via TodaysTHV.com, Apr. 10, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Lawyers for the state have asked a federal judge to seal the records in the case because much of the evidence involves records that federal law requires keeping secret.

But Tony Alamo Christian Ministries wants the case to be open.

In a court filing Thursday, Florida lawyer Philip E. Kuhn says the court case can be open to the public and reporters without releasing the identities of children and families involved. Kuhn also says the openness will help guide the “ship of justice over the turbulent seas of human disputes to the safe harbor of truth.”

- Source: AP via TodaysTHV.com, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Scientology

Man Accused Of Abusing Minor At Scientology Church

A man was arrested today accused of having sex with a teenager at the Church of Scientology in Downtown Cincinnati. Twenty-one-year-old Ben Kasle is charged with two counts of gross sexual imposition. Investigators say he had sex with the girl who is now 14-years-old.

- Source: KYpost.com, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Pareidolia

‘Face of Jesus’ found in a Kit-Kat

The astonishing vision emerged on Good Friday after a website called for oddball religious discoveries. “I was amazed. I just took a bite and then I saw the face of Christ in it,” the finder told the NU.nl Dutch website.

- Source: Metro, Apr. 20, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

According to this article the capacity for people to recognize familiar patterns in random images, such as sailing ships in the clouds, is called pareidolia.

“People see what they want to see,” said Sylvia Grider, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University. “It’s a manifestation of human creativity.” […]

The phenomenon of pattern recognition developed from a survival instinct. It enabled early humans to associate the shadow of bamboo, for example, with a dangerous tiger’s stripes, or an infant to recognize its mother’s face among others.

James Randi, a former magician who now debunks paranormal claims from the James Randi Educational Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, said he once discovered the image of Donald Duck in a hotel’s plywood door.

Bonus: browse through some books at Amazon.com to see what they’ve got to say about pareidolia


FLDS

No legal aid for B.C. polygamist

BOUNTIFUL, B.C. — A B.C. man charged with practicing polygamy will not get legal aid to defend himself in court.

Winston Blackmore, the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is said to have at least 19 “spiritual” or “celestial” wives. […]

He was arrested along with current FLDS bishop James Oler, 44, in January.

The two men, who lead competing religious sects in the community of Bountiful will be in Cranbrook court on May 22.
[…]

- Source: Canwest News Service, via the Calgary Herald, Apr. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Polygamist leader to leave Canada for land case

One of two Bountiful, B.C., religious leaders charged with practicing polygamy will have his passport returned so he attend a land dispute settlement conference in the United States. […]

Lands belonging to the church were placed under the control of an independent judiciary by the governments of Utah and Arizona in 2005.

Oler had been invited to attend a conference on the matter and judge agreed that he could go.

He has to post a cash deposit of $40,000, which will be returned when he again surrenders his passport April 28th.
[…]

- Source: Canadian Press, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Wyoming: State’s high court says widow of Jehovah’s Witness entitled to death benefits

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Legal Newsline)-The state must pay benefits to the widow of a Jehovah’s Witness even though her late husband refused “reasonable and necessary” medical treatment, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled. […]

Williams died at age 67 at a Cheyenne hospital in 2006, after his family refused to allow doctors to use blood products to treat injuries he suffered in a work-related automobile accident. […]

While being treated at United Medical Center in Cheyenne, he and his wife instructed doctors that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and that no blood products were to be used in his treatment. […]

Dr. M. Whitney Parnell, the treating physician, said Williams died after essentially bleeding to death at the hospital.

The Wyoming Workers Safety and Compensation Division refused to pay death benefits, arguing that the Williams family would not allow him to be treated by physicians.

In its ruling, the justices said the state failed to prove that by refusing blood-product treatment, Williams died. The court ordered the state to pay.

“The critical evidence is Dr. Parnell’s testimony,” Justice Michael Golden wrote for the court’s majority. “While she testified Mr. Williams would have had a better chance of survival with a transfusion of appropriate blood products, she never quantified his chance of survival in either event.”
[…]

- Source: Legal Newsline, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See our comments on the ‘no blood’ policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It is profoundly sad to see how many people die due to quackery based on this cult’s false teachings.


Falun Gong

China’s decade-long ban on Falun Gong holds firm

Now entering its second decade, China’s relentless drive to obliterate the Falun Gong spiritual sect has left a human toll ranging from the deaths of followers in custody to the self-exile of others and the beatings of their lawyers.

Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of a protest by an estimated 10,000 practitioners who stood silently around the Communist Party leadership compound in Beijing, alerting the government to the group’s strength and wide appeal.

The April 25, 1999, demonstration was intended to show how Falun Gong believers had learned compassion, forbearance and tolerance, said practitioner Bu Dongwei in a telephone interview from the United States, where he fled six months ago.

But the size and discipline of those who gathered unsettled the communist leadership, ever wary of independent groups that could threaten its authority.

Two months later, the group was labeled an “evil cult” and banned, its leadership arrested, and a campaign launched to forcibly reconvert millions of believers. Anyone practicing Falun Gong or even possessing materials about it could be arrested.

Followers say the crackdown cost the lives of 3,200 practitioners, including 104 last year.

The government says some Falun Gong followers have died in detention because of hunger strikes or refusing medical help. But it denies any have been intentionally killed.

U.S.-based spokesman Levi Browde said since 1999 the group has recorded more than 87,000 cases of torture and estimates that anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million practitioners have been detained for various lengths of time.

Though less visible now that Falun Gong has been driven underground in China, the crackdown remains as vicious as ever, he said.
[…]

- Source: AP, via The Columbian, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Maury Davis

Killer-turned-pastor preaches redemption, but victim’s son outraged

MADISON, Tenn. – Maury Davis doesn’t look like a low-life murderer. … Middle-aged. Impeccably groomed. Beloved pastor of a church with more than 6,000 members, host of a Sunday television show watched by 125,000. International evangelist. Husband of 23 years, father of four.

He’s all of that – but he’s also a killer.

“I did something heinous, not just awful,” says Davis, who slit the throat of 54-year-old Jo Ella Liles in broad daylight …

After a jailhouse conversion and eight years in prison, Davis became a prominent evangelist, inspiring many with the story of his remarkable redemption. It has brought him phenomenal success.

Davis’ achievements, clean record since the crime and the high regard in which he is held leave his victim’s son disheartened.

“I’m seeing somebody who had great success at my expense, at my mother’s expense,” says Ron Liles. “How can you not feel a little hostile?”

Davis says he tells his story to draw people to church and to help others “understand that throwaway people may be salvageable,” not for profit.

The story raises uncomfortable questions: How much punishment is enough? At what point is someone redeemed? When is it time to forgive?
[…]

- Source: Dallas Morning News, Apr. 19, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Church and State

Ky. courthouse’s Ten Commandments debated in court

CINCINNATI — Including the Ten Commandments in a “Foundations of American Law and Government” display in a Kentucky courthouse is not a governmental endorsement of religion, a conservative Christian group told federal appeals judges Thursday.

The group is challenging a U.S. District Court ruling that barred displaying the Ten Commandments with the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence and other historical documents in the Grayson County courthouse in Leitchfield, Ky., about 75 miles southwest of Louisville.
[…]

- Source: AP, via Kentucky.com, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Witchcraft

Nigerian Witchcraft: Pastor fights deceitful counterparts

A Nigerian pastor has called on fellow pastors in Nigeria to stop deceiving people with the notion of witchcraft. Apostle John Okoriko, the founder and president of Solid Rock Kingdom Church in Nigeria has described the practice of pastors as shameful and manipulative. However such assumed witches and wizards are always the poor in society.

“It is embarrassing in 21st century where every nation is going scientific and to space that we are still talking about witchcraft. It is time we faced reality and not absurdity,” the pastor was quoted as saying.

The scotching attack was specifically aimed at renowned evangelist, church founder, film actor and movie producer, Mrs. Helen Ukpabio, who claims to be able to identify witches, deliver them from their evil power, or cast them to the abyss.
[…]

- Source: Afrik.com, Apr. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Books

Deseret Book demotes ‘Twilight’

Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer broke with horror-novel tradition when she created vampire characters impervious to the sun. Deseret Book, however, has decided that Meyer’s best-selling vampire romance books will no longer see the light of day — at least on the shelves of its chain stores. Customers may instead request Meyer’s 2005 novel Twilight — or its three companion volumes, New Moon , Eclipse and Breaking Dawn — by special order for either store pick-up or delivery by mail. […]

Owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the bulk of Deseret Book’s business comes from the sale of religious titles. Meyer, who graduated from Brigham Young University after earning a bachelor’s degree in English, is a member of the church.

- Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Apr. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

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