Religion News Briefing: Scientology, Ayn Rand, Ronald Weinland, more

This is Religion News Blog’s roundup of news reports dealing with religion, spirituality, religious cults, and related issues.

checkmark German police cracks down on Salafist Muslims

German authorities today launched a nationwide crackdown on Salafist Islamist groups. DPA says

Salafism is considered the fastest-growing branch of Islam in Germany and is considered radical, and even dangerous, for its fundamental views. Believers want a theocracy governed by Sharia or Islamic religious law. […]

Strict Salafists reject social liberality and try to live what they see as “pure” Islamic lives, imitating how they consider the early Muslims lived – they would see all women completely veiled, and regard homosexuality as a serious sin. It is thought there are around 4,000 believers in Germany.

According to the Associated Press the raids were conducted by 850 police officers in seven of Germany’s 16 states.

The Deutsche Welle says German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said on Thursday that the government has banned the Millatu Ibrahim group, a Islamist Salafist group based in Solingen in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia for opposing Germany’s constitutional order and endangering the public peace.


Two other groups — DawaFFM and DWR, whose initials are the German abbreviation for “The True Religion” — are under investigation to determine whether evidence exists to ban them as well.

There are believed to be about 4,000 active Salafists in Germany, the state-owned broadcaster ARD reports. Authorities believe the Salafists want to create a Sunni Islamic caliphate opposed to Western democracy.

checkmark Sanctions against nuns spark backlash

The Vatican last week censored a nun’s book on sexual ethics, saying that Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, contradicts Catholic doctrine on key issues such as gay marriage, homosexuality and divorce.

Using justice as a framework for sexual ethics, Sister Margaret Farley had written that masturbation, gay marriage, and divorce could be seen as morally acceptable.

In The Boston Globe Lisa Wangsness notes that last week Sister Margaret Farley’s book rocketed to number 13 on Amazon’s bestseller list.

Wangsness, who does a good job of explaining the background to the story, says the church’s edict was the latest crackdown by the Vatican and US bishops on American nuns who as scholars, activists, and institutional leaders push the boundaries of Catholic doctrine.

The church hierarchy says it is simply acting to preserve the purity of the church. […]

“The Vatican’s view is this: If we foster a purer, more orthodox church, it will be naturally more attractive to people, and one way to create a purer church is, in part, to enforce these doctrinal rules,’’ said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and culture editor of America magazine.

As an aside, it should not noted that many Christians believe that Roman Catholic teachings historically have distorted many of Christianity’s key theological doctrines.

checkmark How a Scientologist Loses Faith in His Church

Last November The St. Petersburg Times (since then renamed The Tamba Bay Times) published an exposé on the Church of Scientology’s extreme fundraising methods.

One of the videos accompanying that story featured, among others, ex-Scientologist Synthia Fagan.

Now Tony Ortega at The Village Voice reports that Dave Fagen, Synthia’s husband, has posted a book-length description of his decision to leave Scientology on his blog, “My Side of the Story.”

Dave has written his account with his former Chicago Org co-workers in mind, and he knows that his reader will naturally wonder about Synthia’s decision to talk to the Tampa Bay Times and whether he simply followed her out of the church. So he carefully explains how each of them lost their faith in the church and its leader, Miscavige.

David Miscavige has been under fire as a number of former top Scientology staff members have leveled accusations against him, saying he engaged in physical or mental abuse.

Then, at the end of last year, former Scientology executive Debbie Cook wrote an explosive email accusing the Church of Scientology of becoming a hollow moneymaking machine run by an autocratic ruler.

Ortega says

Cook’s e-mail spelled out in high relief what ex-Scientologists had been telling us were the issues causing so many longtime, dedicated church members to flee the organization. It had nothing to do with Xenu, the jokes of late-night comedians, the constant bad press, or even the global protests. Cook’s complaints were all about a cancer eating away at Scientology from its guts: a crisis in faith over the leadership of David Miscavige.

And he notes that Fagen’s many-chaptered blog “in its entirety reflects and amplifies Debbie Cook’s own litany of charges in very interesting ways”

Critics have long referred to the cult as $cientology. After all, Scientology is known for selling its allegedly spiritual teachings at exorbitant prices:

Scientology — Business or Religion?
The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power
Scientology as a business
The cost of Scientology
The high cost of Scientology
Prices up to OT8 and beyond
Research resources on Scientology

checkmark Doomsday prophet Ronald Weinland guilty of tax evasion

The end of the world didn’t come quick enough for doomsday prophet Ronald Weinland. He was found guilty Wednesday of federal tax evasion.

Weinland’s defense attorneys told jurors during the eight-day trial that their client deposited church money in Swiss bank accounts because he believed society was in its “final days,” and that before Jesus Christ returns, the U.S. financial system would collapse. Weinland’s website claims the beginning of the end of earth as the human race knows it started on May 27 – just eight days before the start of the trial.

Prosecutors argued the teachings of Weinland’s ministry were no excuse for not reporting the foreign accounts to tax collectors. Prosecutors also alleged Weinland illegally wrote off personal expenses as church expenses to evade $357,065 in taxes from 2005 through 2010.

checkmark Ayn Rand

Movieguide says that “Part 2 of a movie trilogy of Rand’s popular novel ATLAS SHRUGGED is scheduled to be released this October. MOVIEGUIDE® interviewed producers behind the movie version.”

The guide also provides a link to the Spiritual Counterfeit Project’s new journal, which features an article PDF file discussing Ayn Rand’s philosophy from a Christian perspective.

Spiritual Counterfeits Project is a Christian discernment ministry involved in Christian apologetics and countercult education.

checkmark Accused pastor’s church gets tithe from woman’s disability check

Last April California pastor Lonny Lee Remmers was charged, along with two of his associates, with child abuse and other felonies. They are accused of physically assaulting a 13-year-old boy and forcing him to dig his own grave as a way of disciplining him.

Remmers heads the home-based Heart of Worship Community Church in Corona, California. Former members have referred to the church, which counts 10-15 members, as a cult with Lemmers controlling what books you read, what Bible version to use, and which movies you can watch.

The former members said Remmers attempted to dictate church members’ activities through intimidation.

The Press-Enterprise documents that “Remmers, 54, has left a trail of emotional, physical and financial pain behind him since the late 1980s, according to court records, news accounts and interviews with family members and associates.”

In another report the papers says Remmers apparently included a tithe to his Heart of Worship Community Church out of a church member’s disability check when he wrote up a budget for the woman.

The budget shows a $100 monthly tithe to the church out of the church member’s $962 monthly disability check, her apparent sole income.

In the assault case Remmers and his associates have pleaded not guilty and are free after posting bail. Judge Becky Dugan has set a July 17 date for a hearing where the attorneys will discuss their preparedness for the case.

checkmark Ban Pro-Ana websites, distraught parents implore

The Daily Mail says

A distraught couple are calling for a ban on anorexia and suicide websites following the death of their daughter.

Her family believe Monday night’s tragedy came from reading and writing on websites where girls idealise slim celebrities such as Kate Moss, while describing how they cut themselves and contemplate taking their own lives. […]

The tragedy, and Rosie’s family’s planned campaign against the offending websites, will add to concern about online communities that encourage vulnerable youngsters to starve themselves and take their own lives.

Dr Alice Cole-King, a psychiatrist, said: ‘There is a growing body of evidence that vulnerable and distressed people can be unduly influenced by suicide and self-harm promoting websites.’

In 2008, the French Parliament voted to outlaw such websites:

The law is the first attempt anywhere in the world to stamp out the “pro-ana” movement, a cult-like attempt to promote anorexia as a lifestyle which began in the United States eight years ago.

The bill stalled in the Senate.

See also:
Anorexia now cult figure named ‘Ana’
Self harm in the digital age PDF file by The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI)

checkmark New York City Urges Requiring Consent for Jewish Rite

New York City health officials proposed on Tuesday that Orthodox Jewish parents be required to sign a consent waiver before they can take part in a circumcision ritual that is believed to have led to the deaths of at least two babies in the city over the past decade.

The proposal, introduced at a Board of Health meeting, represents an escalation of the city’s efforts to curtail the ancient Jewish procedure of metzitzah b’peh, in which an adult male, usually the circumciser, places his mouth directly on the wound created by the removal of the infant’s foreskin to suck away the blood.

Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report based on city information that said that from 2000 to 2011, 11 newborn babies in New York contracted the herpes simplex virus after the ritual. Ten of those babies were hospitalized; two suffered brain damage, and two died.

More stories to check

Former preacher becomes a poster boy for unbelief: Jerry DeWitt is beginning to develop a national profile in the small universe of organized unbelievers, for he’s a rarity: a former preacher, an erstwhile Pentecostal pastor from small-town Louisiana who little by little lost his faith right there in the pulpit, even as he exhorted others to fervent belief.

After pastor charged with child cruelty, church leaders debate corporal punishment: Fall-out from Creflo Dollar’s arrest: When the book of Proverbs can be cited by supporters and detractors of corporal punishment, it’s not surprising that right and wrong gets muddied.

Accused GP Richard Scott says GMC persecutes Christians: A General Practitioner in the UK has accused the General Medical Council (GMC) of persecuting Christians after denying trying to convert a patient. But Scott — who told a patient “the devil haunts people who do not turn to Jesus” — has been given a warning about his behavior.

It’s official: God does heal, says Advertising Standards Authority ruling: A Christian group is to be allowed to claim that ‘God can heal’ following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority yesterday. But Healing on the Streets has been told it can only use the phrase on its website and cannot include it on printed material.

A spokesman for the ASA confirmed: “We acknowledged that HOTS volunteers believed that prayer could treat illness and medical conditions, and that therefore the ads did not promote false hope.

“However, we noted we had not seen evidence that people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers and concluded that the ad could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.”

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014