RNB Roundup: Virgin Mary, Scientology, Neural Buddhism, Bible Study Excuse Note, and more

“RNB Roundup” is a collection of clippings, snippets, links, commentary and other items that, in one way or another, relate to the topics normally covered in Religion News Blog.

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Virgin Mary Tracker

The Virgin Mary has been sighted in Monterey, California:

A California man says he can see the image of the Virgin Mary in his leg after a motorcycle accident.

Marc Lipton said he was riding his motorcycle when he lost control and slid about 50 feet along the road.

Lipton said he wasn’t wearing leather chaps at the time because he was close to home.

Lipton said he believes the Virgin Mary protected him from further injury when the motorcycle slid out from underneath him.
– Source: California Man Believes He Sees Virgin Mary In Wound, WCSH6.com

Meanwhile, a man in Illinois has seen Jesus in a wooden dooroffsite.

‘Honor’ Killings

‘My daughter deserved to die for falling in love’
When 17-year old Rand Abdel-Qader met a British soldier in Basra, she dreamt of romance. Five months later she was murdered in a savage attack by her father. But there will be no trial: this was an ‘honour killing’. So wrote The Observer (UK) two weeks ago:

It was an innocent infatuation but five months after Rand, a student of English at Basra University, met Paul, a 22-year-old soldier posted to southern Iraq, she was dead. She was stamped on, suffocated and stabbed by her father. Several brutal knife wounds punctured her slender, bruised body – from her face to her feet. He had done it, he proclaimed to the neighbours who soon gathered round, to ‘cleanse his honour’.

And as Rand was put into the ground, without ceremony, her uncles spat on her covered corpse because she had brought shame on the family. Her crime was the worst they could possibly imagine – she had fallen in love with a British soldier and dared to talk to him in public.

Rand was murdered last month. That the relationship was innocent was no defence. She had been seen conversing intimately with Paul. It was enough to condemn her, because he was British, a Christian, ‘the invader’, and the enemy.
– Source: Her crime was to fall in love. She paid with her lifeoffsite The Observer (UK), Apr. 27, 20087

Now, in a remarkable interview the girl’s father, Abdel-Qader Ali, explains why he is unrepentant – and how police backed his actions

It was her first youthful infatuation and it would be her last. She died on 16 March after her father discovered she had been seen in public talking to Paul, considered to be the enemy, the invader and a Christian. Though her horrified mother, Leila Hussein, called Rand’s two brothers, Hassan, 23, and Haydar, 21, to restrain Abdel-Qader as he choked her with his foot on her throat, they joined in. Her shrouded corpse was then tossed into a makeshift grave without ceremony as her uncles spat on it in disgust.

‘Death was the least she deserved,’ said Abdel-Qader. ‘I don’t regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslimoffsite that honours his religion,’ he said.

Sitting on a chair by his front door and surrounded by the gerberas and white daisies he had planted in the family garden, Abel-Qader attempted to justify his actions.

‘I don’t have a daughter now, and I prefer to say that I never had one. That girl humiliated me in front of my family and friends. Speaking with a foreign solider, she lost what is the most precious thing for any woman. ‘People from western countries might be shocked, but our girls are not like their daughters that can sleep with any man they want and sometimes even get pregnant without marrying. Our girls should respect their religion, their family and their bodies.

‘I have only two boys from now on. That girl was a mistake in my life. I know God is blessing me for what I did,’ he said, his voice swelling with pride. ‘My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.’

Abdel-Qader, a Shia, says he was released from the police station ‘because everyone knows that honour killings sometimes are impossible not to commit’. Chillingly, he said: ‘The officers were by my side during all the time I was there, congratulating me on what I had done.’ It’s a statement that, if true, provides an insight into how vast the gulf remains between cultures in Iraq and between the Basra police the British army that trains them.
– Source: ‘My daughter deserved to die for falling in love’offsite, The Observer (UK), May 11. 2008

According to Human Rights Watchoffsite, “Honor crimes are not specific to any religion, nor are they limited to any one region of the world”
Judging by news reports, the practice appears most prevalent among Muslims.
In the initial story quoted above, The Observer says that “Last year 133 women were killed in Basra – 47 of them for so-called ‘honour killings’, according to the Basra Security Committee. Out of those 47 cases there have been only three convictions for murder. Since January this year, 36 women have been killed.”
Last January, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

While statistics are notoriously hard to come by due to the private nature of such crimes and the fact that very few are reported, the United Nations Population Fund approximates that as many as 5,000 women are murdered in this manner each year worldwide. Undoubtedly that’s a low estimate, as reports from Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories, among other locales, are filtering in at an alarming rate. Add to the list Germany, Sweden, other parts of Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, and it’s clear that young Muslim women in the West are becoming increasingly vulnerable.
– Source: Honor killings: When the ancient and the modern collide, San Francisco Chronicle, USA, Jan. 23, 2008

Something is terribly wrong if someone’s devout observance of a religion that claims to be peaceful can drive him to savagely murder his own daughter — apparently without feeling any remorse, whatsoever.


Scientology — another religion (of sorts) that suggests it is all sweetness and light — continues to have PR problems.
This month’s worldwide ‘Anonymous’ protest — which took place over the weekend — addressed the cult’s so-called ‘Fair Game’ policy.
Newsblaze writes:

A church is the last thing you would associate with Mafia-style revenge tactics. Yet the Church of Scientology has developed a fearsome reputation across the media, Government agencies, and the critical community. This notoriety is a consequence of a Scientology policy known as “Fair Game” – almost a license to kill, granted to Scientologists when dealing with anyone considered ‘enemies’ of the church.
– Source: Scientology’s Unfair Gameoffsite, Newsblaze, May 12, 2008

Indeed, the ARS Acronym/Terminology FAQ — related to the alt.religion.scientology Usenet groupoffsite describes the policy as follows:

Fair Game: the notorious Scientology policy describing how to deal with critics, ex-members, and other undesirables dehumanized with the label “Suppressives”; they may be “Sued, tricked, lied to, or destroyed,” as per policy. A more recent policy has banished the WORDS “Fair Game”, but the policy of what to do to these “SPs” or “Suppressives” cannot ever be cancelled, as it is Hubbardian scripture, and his words cannot ever be altered in any way per Scientology’s policy.
– Source: ARS Acronym/Terminology FAQoffsite

Small wonder that the cult has a history of unethical behavioroffsite.
Scientology’s own glosssary does not list the term, probably because the cult claims that the ‘Fair Game’ policy has been cancelled.
Perry Scott explains:

Fair Game was NOT cancelled. The TERM ”Fair Game” may not appear Ethics Orders because ”it causes bad public relations.” Read this carefully:

From HCO Policy Letter of 21 October 1968:

”The practice of declaring people FAIR GAME will cease. FAIR GAME may not appear on any Ethics Order. It causes bad public relations.”

”This P/L does not cancel any policy on the treatment or handling of an SP.”

(SP = Suppressive Person, an Enemy of Scientology)

In other words, ”HCO Policy Letter of 18 October 1967, Issue IV” […] is still in effect. There are also numerous recent examples of Fair Game being carried out.

So, not only is CofS, Inc. not believable by their reputation and actions, the ”Cancellation” policy is a deliberate MISQUOTE of the actual policy. The reason for the ”Cancellation” is not because it was the Right Thing to do, but because Fair Game causes negative publicity!
– Source: Perry Scott, Message to the AR-vent discussion list, March 21, 2001 — quoted hereoffsite

Newsblaze relates how, five years after the unethical policy was allegedly cancelled, the FBI made an interesting discovery:

A Church of Scientology document seized by the FBI in 1977 detailed a plan titled “Operation Freakout”. Its objective was to “get P.C., (American author, Paulette Cooper) incarcerated in a mental institution or jail or at least to hit her so hard that she drops her attacks.” The criminal conspiracy against Cooper actually began years earlier when she published “The Scandal of Scientology,” a book that was critical of Scientology. They used dirty tactics to defame and intimidate Cooper, including a smear campaign and fabrication of bomb threats. A typewriter was used to print threats on paper stolen from Cooper by Scientology operatives. In 1973 (5 years after the bogus ‘cancellation’ of fair game law) she was indicted and arrested for a crime she didn’t commit – a crime entirely invented by the Church of Scientology. The government canceled the trial later that year, and the seizure of documents in 1977 finally exonerated Cooper.– Source: Scientology’s Unfair Gameoffsite, Newsblaze, May 12, 2008

Paulette Cooper relates her experiences in her article, Looking over my shoulder, The Inside Account of the
Story That Almost Killed Me
Less Afraid
In response to a string of highly publicized protests by Anonymous, the Church of Scientology has tried many of its fighting tactics that formerly worked — name-calling, claiming to be the victims of religious bigotry, playing the misunderstood victim, abusing the legal system, etcetera.
Yet despite the cult‘s history of hate- and harassment activities, today lots of people who oppose the cult are less afraid of Scientology’s unethical behavior.

At Saturday’s “Operation: Fair Game: Stop,” Anonymous’ latest installment in a series of monthly global protests, one local member abandoned his ridiculous three-pronged disguise of glasses, a fake nose and a mustache. Instead Mike Vitale wore his name in white letters emblazoned across a black cotton T-shirt.

For Vitale, it’s no longer necessary to obscure his face with the cheap gag getup. The Church of Scientology already knows who he is and where he lives. Days before the protest focusing on “fair game,” the method L. Ron Hubbard concocted in 1967 to silence critics, Vitale received an ominous and vague letter from a Church of Scientology-connected law firm threatening legal action against him for his involvement with Anonymous. “People were definitely quite concerned,” he said of his fellow Anons. “I got asked more than a few times if this means I’m going to cut out.”

But he arrived, undeterred by the warning or the creepiness that the Church of Scientology learned of his once-guarded identity.

The move didn’t rattle other Anons who assembled across from The Church of Scientology’s New York headquarters on West 46th Street either. “From the start people were always afraid, but I what I’m seeing is that people are letting go of that fear more,” said Desu, who wore a shirt with Anonymous’ headless suited emblem and his Guy Fawkes mask relaxed around his neck. “Some of them are not even wearing a mask or sunglasses.”

Many were even more defiant, saying hello to a conspicuous video camera parked in a window at the org. Annie, a member from Long Island, ferociously waved up at its lens. Though known online as Pentagram she applied for the group’s protest permit last month, which requires disclosure of information members try so hard to conceal: name and address. She claimed that about two weeks ago she was photographed by a mysterious trench coat wearing woman near her home. “I live way out on Long Island, so if they want to waste their gas and drive two hours to snap pictures of me I’ll give them a cup of coffee,” she laughed.

DeMiNe0, the administrator of epicanon.com, the main community site for NYC Anons, also ditched his disguise. In the past month he has received two “cease and desist” letters from Church of Scientology lawyers. “They even put fake information in these cease and desist letters,” DiMiNe0 said, talking of references to threats the Church of Scientology claims Anons have made. “Who are they trying to fool? I am one of the people who researches this type of thing every day.”
– Source: Anons Go Unmasked at Latest Scientology Protest, Village Voice, May 12, 2008

Want to know more about Scientology? Apologetics Index has a collection of research resources on Scientologyoffsite See also, Why We Protestoffsite and Enturbulation.orgoffsite

Offbeat Sermon of the Week

The publishers of Religion News Blog have been Christians long enough to know that we could fill an entire blog with this topic alone. So it is with great restraint that we highlight just one example for now.

Pastor Steven L Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, expounds on the King James Bible phrase, “him that pisseth against the wall.”
Hat tip for that video goes to Keith Walkeroffsite


On the Opinion Blog of USA Today, Mary Zeiss Stange — professor of Women’s Studies and Religion at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y — says:

Before one applauds the roundup at the ‘FLDS Corral,’ we should first look at what’s taking place in the nation outside the Eldorado compound — where anti-cult stereotypes can cause government to forget about some religions’ pesky First Amendment protections.

Arguably, the raid was spurred more by negative stereotypes about FLDS and members’ practice of polygamy than by a thorough investigation of evidence.

It isn’t the first time this has happened to a religious group in Texas that diverged from the norm on the issue of plural marriage. The YFZ Ranch raid resembled, in some respects, what happened 15 years ago to David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in Waco. Then, as in the FLDS situation, alarmed and alarming reports from disaffected former sect members fueled media “exposs” which, in turn, whipped up popular antagonism.

In 1992, CPS had investigated Mt. Carmel and found no indications of child abuse. Yet the following year, after a 51-day standoff, then-attorney general Janet Reno authorized the “dynamic entry” and use of tear gas against the Davidians out of concern, she said, for the children’s welfare. The outcome was lethal: 80 Davidians, including Koresh, died in the resulting conflagration on April 19, 1993. When women didn’t escape with their children, the FBI blamed the children’s deaths on their mothers’ failed “maternal instinct.”

A similar dynamic was at work in the raid on YFZ Ranch, although it was, as a spokesperson for the Texas Public Safety Department phrased it, more “diplomatic” than at Waco. “Not a shot was fired.”

The feminist in me cringes at rising to the defense of a group so patently patriarchal as FLDS. But it isn’t much of a stretch to defend the religious rights of groups with whom one mostly agrees, is it? I, personally, find the kind of spirituality practiced on the YFZ Ranch deeply troubling. I find the pop-romanticization of polygamy in HBO’s Big Love equally problematic.

But, both as a feminist and as a scholar of religion, I also recognize that we as a society can applaud the YFZ raid and its potentially dire consequences for hundreds of women and their children, only if we blind ourselves to some other salient facts:
– Source: What does Texas church raid say about us?offsite USA Today

Meanwhile, since the raid on their Yearning For Zion ranch, the FLDS have set up three web sites:

Captive FLDS Childrenoffsite
“This site will keep you informed of the latest information and events in relation to the innocent children being returned to their parents.”
Multimedia. Includes a timeline of events during and after the raid.

FLDS Truthoffsite
The beliefs and history of the FLDS

Truth Will Previaloffsite
A collection of opinions regarding the FLDS, the raid and its aftermath.

When you view those sites, keep in mind that the beliefs and practices of the FLDS — at least under its currently jailed ‘prophet’ Warren Jeffs — have long included child- and wife stealing. To wit, Ms. Stange may want to read these ‘salient facts’:

Richard Holm lived in a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community in Colorado City, Arizona, before the Eldorado compound was built in Texas. But in late 2003, Warren Jeffs, now serving jail time for being an accomplice to rape for arranging the marriage of a 14-year-old, took away Holm’s family in the span of a few days. His story shows the plight of men connected to the FLDS.

“I’m not FLDS anymore, I’m so thankful to be out of that damn garbage,” Holm says. “It went from a fairly decent religious persuasion, yes, believing in plural marriage; my father had 10 or 11 wives when he died in ’72; but he had a large family, and we had a nice time growing up, things were fairly decent until the Jeffs people got into leadership positions, Warren being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“Warren was taking more and more control and interfering in people’s lives. And it happened gradually at first starting years ago; he must have had something on his dad, Rulon Jeffs, to let Warren start having control; and that’s when Warren got into the driver’s seat of the church, where he got to be designated as spokesman for his dad, who was then incapacitated.

“So under that condition Warren started getting more and more aggressive on requiring things of the people and blaming it on his dad, saying the holy prophet wanted this and the holy prophet said that, so he was able to hide behind the smokescreen for some of these exotic, strange requirements. He was conducting church meetings, preaching, calling for contributions, things that were creeping up on the people and being more intrusive by the week. There were more and more requirements until it just became a tyrannical dictatorship—he called it a benevolent dictatorship, building up Zion . . . but religion of force is religion of evil and of the devil.

“Well, after quite a bit of talk leading up to it, he started ripping families apart—there were one or two or three family separations. After his dad died he raped and pillaged, ripping families apart; his dad died in Sept. of ’02; it took him three months before Warren made the claim that he was to be his dad’s successor; he was the new prophet; he called on two of his father’s younger wives and one of his brothers to say his father wanted him to be successor. Warren all the time was saying God was going to require more and more of the people. In the different church meetings he would talk more of sexual relations between husbands and wives, when and when not to—it would get so graphic it would be embarrassing.

News coverage has labeled the FLDS Eldorado Compound as the “holy land” where Jeffs’ most apprised and ardent followers from the Utah and Arizona communities went to live. But Jeffs would excommunicate men he didn’t like, or reassign their wives and children to other men. Holm says he wasn’t the only one.

“There were roughly 300 families that were ripped apart by warren and his cohorts—there’s quite a bit behind that,” Holm says. “Warren is a very jealous character—he never said why he did it [excommunicated men], and I was left to just guess as most of the men, but in his jealousy and anger, he was just being vindictive and kicking people out for some jealousy or past supposed sin or some disagreement. There wasn’t any clear-cut picture of it. If you displeased the prophet, you lost the ‘priesthood’ and would be kicked out.

“Lyle Jeffs, Merril Jessop, William Tempson—Warren has a group of henchmen loyal to him, and he’s rewarded them with other men’s wives. A large number of those families in Texas [San Angelo] are those that have been ripped apart from other men and reassigned, and kids are taught when that happens, that the new daddy is their priesthood father; and because their real father lost priesthood he’s a wicked man and will have nothing to do with them again. So many of those kids over there are victims of that kind of trauma.
– Source: The Road to Eldorado: Expelled from the FLDS, Soutwest Texas Live, May 12, 2008

See Apologetics Index for background information about the FLDS.

Militant Atheism… or Neural Buddhism?

Lo and behold, over the past decade, a new group of assertive atheists has done battle with defenders of faith. The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it.

The atheism debate is a textbook example of how a scientific revolution can change public culture. Just as “The Origin of Species” reshaped social thinking, just as Einstein’s theory of relativity affected art, so the revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world.

And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going end up challenging faith in the Bible.

Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states.

This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.

In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.

In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.
– Source: The Neural Buddhistsoffsite, David Brooks, Op-Ed Columnist, May 13, 2008

Bible Study Excuse Note

An intoxicated Fremont woman who failed to negotiate a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through on her way to a Bible study class had her license to drive revoked for 18 months.
– Source: Woman guilty of dwi on way to bible studyoffsite SeacoastOnline.com, May 13, 2008

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday May 13, 2008.
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