Scientology critic updates critique; Beard cutting cult sentenced

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In today’s edition of Religion News Briefs: a man who quit his job because of the number ‘666.’ How the Scientology cult wants to charge you an arm and a leg for a piece of blue sky. And in Papua New Guinea superstition again leads to the savage murder of a woman accused of being a witch.

Also: Russia jails an ‘extra-terrestrial’ who claims he came from the planet Sirius. The Pope resigns, and the leader of a beard-cutting cult (huh?!) gets 15 year in prison.

Jon Atack was a Scientologist for nine years. He left the Church of Scientology when he discovered the criminality which put eleven members, including the founder’s wife, in prison.

After he left he spent years research Scientology, talking with former members, and documenting the false claims of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard before writing A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed.

Written over 20 years ago, the book has stood the test of time — a standard work that is still considered a must-read for anyone researching the controversial movement.


Now Atack, who is at the center of what cult defender J. Gordon Melton refers to as an anti-Scientology network in the UK, has vastly updated his book.

Let’s sell these people a Piece of Blue Sky is the new, unexpurgated, unabridged version of the classic history of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology.

Jon Atack discusses his new book with cult expert Steven Hassan

Pope Benedict XVI says he will resign

Pope Benedict XVI was one of the oldest new popes in history when he was elected in 2005. He is currently 85 years old.

Frail, but in good health, the Pope told a meeting of Vatican cardinals today that he “had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Previously known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he is known to have said he never wanted to be Pope.

He took the leadership of the Catholic Church just as the child abuse scandal started to break — what the BBC terms “one of the fiercest storms the Catholic Church has faced in decades.”

Catholics consider the Pope a successor to the apostle Peter. Protestant and Evangelical Christians do not see him as such, just as they reject many extra-Biblical and un-Biblical doctrines of the Catholic Church.

Pope Benedict XVI reportedly is only the second Pope ever to resign.

Live coverage at The Guardian

Live coverage at the BBC

Pope Benedict XVI resigns: Journalistic resources for covering the historic development

Renegade Amish Beard-Cutting Cult Leader Sentenced

Samuel Mullet, a renegade Amish cult leader whose followers engaged in beard- and hair cutting attacks against fellow Amish they disagreed with, was sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison.

Mullet and 15 of his followers were convicted last September of federal conspiracy and hate crimes.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence for Mullet.

The 15 other clan members received prison terms ranging from one to seven years.

Amish believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards once they marry. Cutting it would be offensive to Amish.

Prosecutors believed the attacks on those who had rejected Mullet’s edicts were motivated by religious differences, which is the reason they charged Mullet and his clan with hate crimes.

Former members of Mullet’s clan say he ruled the group with an iron fist. They claim he forced some followers to sleep in a chicken coop for days, and allowed members of the clan to beat other members who disobeyed him.

They also claim Mullet has been “counseling” married women in his clan, taking them into his home “so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.”

These accusations were not part of Mullet’s trial.

A number of Amish had asked the judge not to release the cult leader.

In the media Mullet’s group has been referred to as the Bergholz clan, a reference to their location.

‘Extra-terrestrial from Sirius’ Jailed

Konstantin Rudnev, a Russian cult leader who described himself as an “extra-terrestrial from Sirius,” has been jailed for 11 years for sexually abusing his followers.

The 45-year-old, who called himself Great Shaman Shri Dzhnan Avatar Muni, was convicted of rape, drug trafficking, sexual assault and “creating an organisation that infringes on people’s personality and rights”.

The cult he created in 1989 was called Ashram Shambala. At one time it had garnered as many as 30.000 followers at ashrams across Russia, making it one of the country’s largest religious cults.

Followers were also located in Denmark, Greece and Ukraine.

Members of the cult were told to abide by Rudnev’s book, “The Way of a Fool,” in which he gobbled together teachings gleaned from a mixture of books by Carlos Castaneda, fragments of eastern religions, esoterism, pagan cults, shamanism, yoga and Tantrism.

The book told believers to reject traditional lifestyle choices such as having a family, bearing children, studying and working

Russian news agency RIA Novosti says “Video records found by investigators showed some Ashram Shambala followers had been subjected to violence and sexual abuse.”

It also writes that followers “often lost their money and property and abandoned their relatives and friends, and many of them were reported missing.”

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 Russia has seen a proliferation of home-grown cults.

Woman Accused of Witchcraft Is Killed in Papua New Guinea

A woman accused of witchcraft was burned alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in Papua New Guinea yesterday.

Relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died the day before had accused 20-year-old Kepari Leniata, a mother of one, of sorcery.

Witnesses said several assailants stripped the woman and tortured her with a hot iron rod, before she was bound, doused in gasoline and thrown on a heap of tires and rubbish that was then set on fire.

Police officers says they could not intervene due to the large crowd that watched the barbaric act.

Kepari’s husband, a prime suspect in her murder, is believed to have fled to a neighboring province.

In 2010 an Oxfam research project concluded that legal reform and education are essential to reduce the damaging effects of sorcery beliefs in Papua New Guinea.

Oxfam said, “Many people in Papua New Guinea do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death. Instead, they attribute them to supernatural causes called sorcery or black magic – sanguma in the local pidgin.”

Several years ago authorities in Papua New Guinea said they would toughen laws against murders based on accusations of sorcery.

But Oxfam’s report explains that “because the fear of sorcery is greater than the fear of breaking the law, people believed to have committed black magic have been subject to shocking ‘payback’ murders, torture or punishments.”

The report also points out that “belief in black magic is so ingrained the government recognizes it under the 1971 Sorcery Act. This punishes those practicing black magic with up to two years’ imprisonment. Murderers can reduce penal sentences by alleging black magic was involved.”

Last year the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said accusations of sorcery are also commonly used to take away women’s land and/or their property.

Man quits job after third run-in with ‘666’

A 52-year-old maintenance worker resigned from his job at a company in Tennessee after his W-2 tax form was stamped with the number 666.

The Book of Revelation, in the Bible, identifies the number ‘666’ as the “mark of the Antichrist” or “the Beast.” The number often seen as a reference to the Devil.

Walter Slonopas, a born-again Christian, says that after getting the W-2, he could either go to work or go to hell.

What makes the story extra strange is that this is not the first ‘666’ incident Slonopas experienced at the company:

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014