RNB’s Religion News Roundup: Scientology, Tony Alamo’s money, Islam’s headscarves, more…

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RNB’s Religion News Roundup

RNB Religion News Roundup: a compendium of blurbs and links to, for the most part, religion-related stories and religion research resources.

You’ll find religion news stories ranging from serious to seriously offbeat.

• Follow the links before they’re gone…
• Also, read “About RNB’s Religion News Roundup” at the bottom of this item for some info about the material on this page

Scientology


John Travolta: ‘Forever’ a Scientologist, Says Rep

John Travolta rep Paul Bloch denies recent reports that the actor — still grieving over the death of his son — may be leaving the cult.

“There’s no change in the relationship between the Church of Scientology and John,” says Bloch. “He is a member and it’s as it was, now and forever.”

– Source / Full Story: John Travolta: ‘Forever’ a Scientologist, Says Rep, People, July 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Scientology mounts a PR pushback

Faced with years of bad press, such as this indepth report, the Scientology cult is on a big PR push — as always trying to portray itself as a ‘religion’ with ‘answers’ to all of the world’s problems (keep your wallet ready), and suggesting that everything Scientology is all sweetness and light. Dan Neil at the Los Angeles Times admires the slick ads, but gently criticizes both them and Scientology itself:

These are virtuoso pieces, tremendously appealing and remarkably shrewd.

For instance, nowhere in any of the three spots does the church take a defensive stance or refer to any boiling controversy around Scientology.

That would violate the first rule of advertising, which is: Never mention your competition. Nor do the ads bother to associate themselves with any of the oddball trappings of the actual practice of Scientology — no auditing or e-meters and absolutely no discussion of Xenu-focused back story, which simply cannot pass the laugh test in public discourse as far as I’m concerned.

– Source / Full Story: Scientology mounts a PR pushback, Dan Neil, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

That said, should the ads actually lead you to take a look at Scientology, here’s but one of many things you should be aware of:

‘Religion’ with a contract

Wikileaks has posted an ‘Application, Declaration and General Release Declaration of Religious Commitment and Application for Membership in a Scientology Religious Order and for Active Participation on Church Staff.’

The document defines the terms Scientology members must to agree to. Being very detailed the contract reflects a world view that can only be described as paranoid and repressive, e.g. by specifying:

8. I am not related to or connected with any intelligence agency, either by past history or immediate familial connection.
9. I do NOT have a parent or a guardian who is an antagonist of the Scientology religion, or of any organization devoted to Scientology applied religious philosophy.
10. I am not seeking a staff position to obtain material for dissemination to the public via press, radio, television, motion picture or other media. I do not seek to obtain data for any other organization or to disrupt the Church organization
11. I do not have personal debts of a magnitude such that efforts to satisfy them would immediately disrupt or cause me to pull back from my commitment to the Church.
– Source / Full Story: Scientology Class V Org Application, Declaration and Contract, 2009, Wikileaks, July 13, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The site provides links to a PDF version of the contract.

By the way, should you work and/or pay you way up through the ranks, you could become part of the cult’s Sea Org — but not until you sign an agreement by which you contract yourself to the organization “for the next billion years.”

And they’ll call you on it, too:

Scientologists reported for harassing Swedish family

A family from Kävlinge in southern Sweden has reported the local Church of Scientology to the police for harassment after a fortnight of incessant phone calls, local newspaper Sydsvenskan reports.

The Church of Scientology in Malmo” began ringing the family around two weeks ago as part of a drive to update their contact information over current and former members.

The religious sect first rang asking to talk to a woman that, according to their records, had attended a self-realization course in the 1980s.

But it turned out to be case of mistaken identity and the church was duly informed. However since that initial contact the sect has called the family’s phones on more than 70 occasions. Despite repeated requests to stop harassing them, the calls have continued unabated.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Scientologists reported for harassing Swedish family, The Local, Sweden, July 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See also:
A Church’s Lethal Contract that gives the quackery cult the right to hold you “against your will for an indefinite period, isolating you from friends and family, and denying you access to appropriate medical care.”
More info about Scientology
Escaping Scientology — Helping Families Under Scientology Stress

Tony Alamo

Trial reveals evangelist’s hidden cash, properties

Evangelist Tony Alamo, awaiting sentencing on sex abuse charges, has been running a multimillion-dollar empire that hums along without a trace of his fingerprints.

Followers who had funneled all their earnings back into Alamo’s apocalyptic ministry testified during his trial about how properties, vehicles, businesses and bank accounts fueling its operations ended up in their names.

Had the jury acquitted the preacher of charges that he took underage girls across state lines for sex, it might have given prosecutors another avenue to charge Alamo, who served four years in prison for tax evasion during the 1990s.

With his conviction, it offers the Internal Revenue Service and former followers pursuing civil court judgments against the 74-year-old a clear shot at dismantling the ministry that allowed him to prey on young girls.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Trial reveals evangelist’s hidden cash, properties, Jon Gambrell, AP, July 237, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

GetReligion makes a case as to why Alamo should not be referred to as an evangelist.

Children of God / The Family

Christian Drifter May Have Killed Two Couples in Separate Beach Murders, Police Say

SAN FRANCISCO — Two couples fatally shot more than 30 years apart while camping in different countries may have been victims of the same man: a drifter who authorities say was part of a Christian commune and disapproved of relationships between unmarried couples.

Joseph Henry Burgess, 62, who died in a July 16 shootout with New Mexico sheriff’s deputies, had been wanted in Canada as a suspect in the 1972 murders of two university students on a Vancouver Island beach, and may be linked to more killings.
[…]

Authorities say the New Jersey native moved to Canada in the 1960s to avoid the draft. He first arrived in the Toronto area, where he bought a .22 caliber rifle, the type of weapon used in the Vancouver Island slayings.

Burgess eventually made it out to the U.S. West Coast, where he lived in a religious commune run by the Children of God and called himself Job, in reference to the biblical figure, Creally said. He reportedly was kicked out of the commune’s boarding house after his rifle made other residents uncomfortable.

Creally said a woman on the beach told authorities that she had seen Burgess cleaning a .22 caliber rifle and said Burgess had told her he disapproved of Durrant and Karlsson’s relationship because they were unmarried. It was not clear what kind of contact, if any, Burgess had with the couple before the killings.

He was gone by the time investigators arrived at the murder scene, but a police dog discovered his belongings, including an identification card and passages from the Bible he had written out, ripped up and discarded nearby, Creally said. His fingerprint was also at the scene.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Christian Drifter May Have Killed Two Couples in Separate Beach Murders, Police Say, AP, via Fox News, July 24, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Problem with this story is that the Children of God actually encouraged sex outside of marriage, for instance as a tool in evangelism — which they referred to as Flirty Fishing.

Sociologically the movement is considered to be a cult.

Theologically the movement, later renamed as The Family International, is considered to be a cult of Christianity since its doctrines and practices are outside the norms of historical, Biblical Christianity. As such, members should not be referred to as Christians.

See also:
Once dismissed as ’sex cult,’ Family International launches image makeover.

Atheism

UK: Atheist Summer Camp

An atheist summer camp for children has been launched in Somerset to offer an alternative to religious camps for youngsters.

Camp Quest UK, which is being held near Bath, offers 24 places. Its website claims the camp is for the children of ‘atheists, agnostics, humanists, freethinkers and all those who embrace a naturalistic rather than supernatural world view.’

There are currently six branches of Camp Quest operating in North America. Organisers said the purpose of the camp was to encourage critical thinking and provide children with a summer camp “free of religious dogma”. […]

– Source / Full Story: Atheist summer camp launched in Somerset, Telegraph, UK, July 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Islam

Much to do about the Hijab

Item: Gaza’s top judge said Sunday that he has ordered female lawyers to wear Muslim headscarves when they appear in court, the latest sign that the Islamic militant group is increasingly imposing its strict interpretation of Islamic law on residents of the coastal strip.

Item: Georgia courtrooms will allow religious headgear after last year’s arrest of a Muslim woman who refused to remove her headscarf in a west Georgia courthouse.

Item: Female police officers in some UK towns are being issued with headscarves to wear when they visit a mosque. They are expected to put the scarfs on shortly before they enter the mosque, in keeping with Islamic custom. … This year, the fire service unveiled full-length skirts, hijab headscarves and long- sleeved shirts for Muslim women recruits to wear in fire stations and for events such as school trips.

See also:
Why Muslim women wear the veil

Australian admits plotting to kill thousands

MELBOURNE (AFP) – An Australian convert to Islam on Tuesday admitted being part of a terror cell that plotted to kill thousands of people by bombing major sports events, just moments before his retrial.

Shane Kent, 33, pleaded guilty to being a member of a group led by radical Islamic cleric Abdul Nacer Benbrika, who told his followers they could kill women and children in the pursuit of holy war.

Kent also admitted involvement in the cell’s plans for a bomb attack on sports events including the Australian Football League’s (AFL) 2005 Grand Final, which attracted some 92,000 fans and a TV audience of millions.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Australian admits plotting to kill thousands, AFP, July 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Seven Muslims arrested in North Carolina for planning ‘violent jihad’ as homegrown terror looms over America

A father, his two sons and four other North Carolina men are accused of military-style training at home and plotting ‘violent jihad‘ through a series of terror attacks abroad, security officials said.

The group was led by Daniel Patrick Boyd, a married 39-year-old who lived in an unassuming lakeside home in a rural area south of Raleigh, where he and his family walked their dog and operated a drywall business, federal authorities added.

But two decades ago, Boyd, who is a US citizen, trained in terrorist camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan and fought against the Soviets for three years before returning to the United States.

No specific terrorist plans or targets overseas are listed in the charge sheet released yesterday, although it claims some of the defendants traveled to Israel in 2007 with the intent of waging ‘violent jihad’ and returned home without success.

Pony takes place of guide dog for blind Muslim

In the US a miniature pony has taken the place of a guide dog for a blind Muslim woman.

Cali is the first guide animal for Ramouni, 28, a devout Muslim whose parents – Jordanian immigrants – would not accept a dog into their home.

Dog saliva is considered unclean in Islamic teaching, although dogs are permitted to be used as work animals, such as guards or shepherds.

– Source / Full Story: Pony takes place of guide dog for blind Muslim, AFP, July 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Nigeria’s anti-education preacher

Radical Islamists have attacked government buildings in two northern Nigerian states, a day after clashes erupted in a third state in the region.

The trouble centres on a radical Islamist group whose spiritual leader, Mohammed Yusuf, lives in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.
[…]

He has attacked Western education, including the work of the university in Maiduguri, declaring it to be haram (forbidden).

His preaching attracted a number of university students, who left their studies to join his movement.

It is these students who have spread Mr Yusuf’s message to neighbouring states.

But his views are not supported by many local Muslims – who have prevented him from using their mosques, and called in the authorities.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Nigeria’s anti-education preacher, BBC, July 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Christianity

Restructuring, not schism, ahead for Anglicans

The head of the Anglican Communion said Monday that restructuring the world’s third-largest Christian denomination appears inevitable in the face of irreconcilable differences on sexuality and the Bible.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams forecast a “two-track” model that could leave the U.S. branch of the Communion, the Episcopal Church, out of decisive roles and without standing as a representative voice in the 77-million-member global Anglican church.

His statement comes two weeks after clergy and lay leaders at the Episcopal governing meeting voted by 2-1 margins to welcome the election of gay and lesbian bishops and to give “generous discretion” to blessing same-sex weddings.

– Source / Full Story: Restructuring, not schism, ahead for Anglicans, Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY, July 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Trafficking in human body parts

Dr. Saly Satel — a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of “When Altruism Isn’t Enough: The Case for Compensating Kidney Donors” — isn’t surprised by the New Jersey organ scandal:

Even by New Jersey standards, Thursday’s roundup of three mayors, five rabbis and 36 others on charges of money laundering and public corruption was big. But what put this FBI dragnet head and shoulders above the rest are the charges of trafficking in human body parts.

According to a federal criminal complaint filed in district court in New Jersey, Levy Izhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn conspired to broker the sale of a human kidney for a transplant. The cost was $160,000 to the recipient of the transplant, of which the donor got $10,000. According to the complaint, Mr. Rosenbaum said he had brokered such sales many times over the past 10 years.

“That it could happen in this country is so shocking,” said Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the Red Cross.

No, it isn’t. When I needed a kidney several years ago and had no donor in sight, I would have considered doing business with someone like Mr. Rosenbaum. The current law—the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984—gave me little choice. I would be a felon if I compensated a donor who was willing to spare me years of life-draining dialysis and premature death. […]

– Source / Full Story: About That New Jersey Organ Scandal, Sally Sate, Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Ever So Briefly

• UFO-spotting Turkish night-watchman regards aliens as ‘the world’s policemen

• Georgia (USA) courtrooms will allow religious headgear after last year’s arrest of a Muslim woman who refused to remove her headscarf in a west Georgia courthouse.

• Jacksonville, FL — A once anonymous blogger [is] suing the megachurch he was part of and the pastor. The blogger, Tom Rich, claims his identity was unfairly revealed by JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office] and church officials after he posted critical articles on his blog, called FBC Jax Watchdog, about Pastor Mac Brunson of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville in 2007.

• A pastor who broadcasts a religious show on cable television known as “Vandana” and who operates a website at vandana.org., allegedly fraudulently induced investors, including some who knew of him from his religious activities, to invest more than $2 million in a purported jewelry business. Samuel Solanky, 61, aka Samee Solanky, was charged Monday with mail fraud for fraudulently obtaining investments in a non-existent jewelry business.

• Would God back universal health care? Religious texts give us a good idea. The common theme: Don’t turn your back on the needy, Oliver Thomas opines in USA TODAY. Thomas is a minister, lawyer and author of 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You: (But Can’t, Because He Needs the Job).

• Some residents of the Irish hamlet of Finnis, near Dromara (Co. Down), fear that a recent storm, which felled a haunted tree, has now set free an evil spirit.

• Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols says the lack of whole grains and fresh food in his prison diet violates his Christian religious beliefs — but hasn’t been able to demonstrate how and why. Nichols’ friend Timothy McVeigh was executed in June, 2001, for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

• A Virginia Beach pastor will spend 10 months behind bars for stealing more than $200,000 from his former church and its insurance company. Kenneth L. Montgomery was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison, with all but 10 months suspended.

Twittered

Religion News Blog’s editors twitter religion news. Follow us for stories like these:

• Labyrinth offers twist to church visit: http://bit.ly/ndf52

• Would God back universal health care? http://bit.ly/XMzcW

• My Year Among the Naked, the Pagan and the Vegan: http://bit.ly/M8MmA

• Bizarre run of evangelist Tony Alamo may be over: http://bit.ly/y18sU

• Fear and Death in a Mormon Town in Mexico: http://bit.ly/12faFe

• Fears of an Islamic revolt in Europe begin to fade: http://bit.ly/q586h

• Furore over model’s whipping sentence: http://bit.ly/fdtzj

• ‘I wasn’t able to pray. It took me years to recover’ http://bit.ly/UZLhd

• Muslims refuse to use alcohol-based hand gels over religious beliefs: http://bit.ly/vByd6

• Gaza’s top judge: Lawyers to wear Muslim headscarf:http://bit.ly/3yai1

• Faith healing trial: father saw sickness as ‘test of his faith’ http://bit.ly/12MKeC

• Mad cow swapped so Hindus can hold sacred ceremonies: http://bit.ly/13JhIH

• Convicted evangelist Tony Alamo says he’s a prophet: http://bit.ly/98dSK

• Interfaith relationships require strength: http://bit.ly/3zYutL

• From Italian fascist to Assembly of God evangelist: http://bit.ly/2cgFKD

Follow our Twitter religion news stream for more religion stories.


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This post was last updated: Jul. 28, 2009