Religion News Roundup: vampire-free school; Scientists who believe in God; FLDS: ‘compound’ or ‘ranch’?

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

See the end of this article for some details and disclaimers.


Vampires

Headmaster: No Vampires At Our School


BOSTON — The headmaster of one of the city’s most prestigious exam schools is dealing with an unusual rumor sweeping student classrooms. … “Supposedly 3 students believe that they are vampires and today when a student was bitten the police were informed,” wrote one student in a message to TheBostonChannel.com. “I heard that one girl was arrested another suspended.” Police, however, denied reports that anyone at the school was bitten. The rumors were strong enough to cause anxiety among the student body and disrupt classes on Thursday. … Interest in vampires among young people has been rekindled in the past year with the release of the hit movie “Twilight”.

– Source: WCVB, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Buddhism

Dalai Lama’s visit to Albany, NY sponsored by entity related to controversial group


Most of the Dalai Lama’s upcoming U.S. appearances are sponsored by universities and Tibetan cultural organizations. …
But the announcement in January that the Dalai Lama would visit Albany as the guest of the EHF raised eyebrows. That’s because of the affiliation among the Bronfman sisters, EHF and NXIVM, which is also known as Executive Success Programs. NXIVM is a Colonie-based company that conducts personal-growth training courses.

Detractors say NXIVM (pronounced Nex-ee-um) is a cult-like organization. Critics include former participants and cult experts. NXIVM has been the subject of a number of stories in the media since its founding in 1998. Former participants have alleged that NXIVM training involves psychologically damaging mind-control techniques.

– Source: Times-Union, Mar. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

FLDS

Government Matters: Do FLDS live on ‘ranch’ or ‘compound’?


Willie Jessop, the FLDS spokesman, is handing out souvenirs – bottles of salad dressing with a label that looks familiar but seems just a bit off. The dressing is Hidden Valley ranch. But instead it says, “Happy Valley: The Original Compound.” … It’s an impressive parody, and the “Texas Attorney General’s warning” on the back drives the joke home: “Looks like ranch, tastes like ranch, smells like ranch, feels like ranch,” it states in the traditional all-caps text you’d expect to see on the back of a bottle, “but it’s really ‘compound.'” …

The sect has long chided the media covering it for referring to the YFZ Ranch as a “compound” and not a “ranch.” (They’re also not thrilled that I keep calling the FLDS a “sect,” but now that People magazine has called it a “cult” on the cover of two issues, “sect” probably looks a lot better.) …

So which should it be? …

– Source: San Angelo Standard-Times, Mar. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Find out in the article itself.


Scientology

Palm Springs TV station KESQ continues its series of investigative reports on the Scientology cult compound near Hemet, California. Yes, cult. Yes. compound. We believe in — and promote — religious freedom. But we also believe in telling the truth, calling a spade a spade.

Life Inside Scientology Headquarters ‘IntBase’ in Hemet

There is actually a three way war going on here. There is a group of protestors who often gather outside the gates. There is a group of Scientologists who left this place but still believe in their religion away from the reach of church administration. Those who remain behind these gates do so because they believe they are saving the world. The question some are now asking is: at what cost?

News Channel 3 continues its investigation Tuesday and Wednesday night at 11. Former Scientologist Maureen Bolstad speaks out about her years inside the Hemet Scientology headquarters.

– Source: KESQ, Mar. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

KESQ begins its third week of covering the Church of Scientology headquarters near Hemet, CA by looking into the confidential security arrangements inside their center.


Alan Thompson

Pastor Accused Of Fleecing Flock

Pastor Alan Thompson, 35 of the Calvary Baptist Church in Covington is charged with two counts of financial identity fraud and one count of financial transaction fraud. He’s accused of stealing the identities of some of his parishioners. … Detective Seals says Thompson used information from church records to fill out credit card applications on the internet.

– Source: WXIA, Atlanta, GA, USA, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Islam

Bristol muslims: ‘We can’t let radicals silence us’

Muslim extremists are getting too much attention at the expense of the moderate majority, claims a Bristol community leader. “The radicals are getting the limelight and the mainstream Muslim view is not being reported,” Farooq Siddique, of the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society, told the Brisol Post. He hit out following a conference on Sunday which he organised for 120 Muslim representatives…. They came from Yeovil, Exeter, Bournemouth and Gloucester for talks held partly to thrash out how to fight extremism. “Our community must now grab the bull by the horns,” Mr Siddique said.

– Source: This is Bristol, (UK), Mar. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

And here are the kind of lunatics they are up against:

hate preacher: I want Sharia law in Britian

Radical Muslim Anjem Choudary has brushed aside a Scotland Yard probe into his inflammatory speeches to demand that Britain should become a Sharia state. His voice rising with passion and ­vigour, he told his growing army of followers in central London on Friday night: “Let me tell you something – the Sharia will be implemented in Pakistan, it will be implemented in India and Bangladesh and even down the road in Downing Street.” He was sharing a platform with four other senior members of Islam4UK, a new organisation which is attracting the sort of believers who loyally followed hate preacher Abu Hamza before he was locked up. Muslims around the world will rise and eventually conquer the White House, said Choudary, comparing the struggle ahead with that faced by Muslims hundreds of years ago, who constantly brushed the dust of battles from their eyes as they conquered nations. Astonishingly, he compared himself to Noah from the Old Testament in one ranting outburst.

– Source: The Express, UK, Mar. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Polygamy

Senate leader to revive polygamy task force bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday he would reintroduce legislation setting up a federal task force to crack down on polygamy-related crimes and would urge new Attorney General Eric Holder to take action as well.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Mormon convert, made a push for his measure last year after the raid of a polygamous community in Texas grabbed national headlines. Now, a year later, the Nevada senator says he still believes the federal government needs to step in.

“These people who are doing this — many of them are doing things that are immoral, and in many instances illegal,” Reid said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “There’s a lot of welfare fraud that goes on, domestic abuse that goes on. … I think we have an obligation to help these women and children who are being victimized.”

Asked whether he would bring back his bill to create a federal task force, Reid said, “I sure am.”

– Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Last January, the Salt Lake Tribune wrote that the [f]acts don’t fit claims of FLDS welfare fraud:

Allegations that members of a southern Utah polygamous sect are guilty of widespread welfare fraud were raised repeatedly this summer during a U.S. Senate judiciary committee hearing. … But welfare data from Utah, Arizona and Texas do not support the claims.

– Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 4, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Bahá’i

England Dan (Dan Seals) dies

Dan Seals, who as part of the duo England Dan and John Ford Coley sang the hit “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” and other 1970s soft-rock touchstones, has died. He was 61.

– Source: Los Angeles Times, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

England Dan and John Ford Coley made two albums for A&M– Fables and I Hear the Music. Not only did these efforts meet with less success than the duo had hoped, but the two men were dissatisfied with their lives in general.

Accordingly, they decided to concentrate more on their religion, the Baha’i faith, which seeks to promote the belief that all people are part of a spiritual whole.

– Source: Dan Seals Biography, MusicianGuide.com — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Science vs. Religion

Britain has sold its soul to pursuit of ‘reason’ over religion, Catholic Archbishop warns

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Birmingham, claimed that because only provable facts are considered valuable, arguments based on morality and spirituality are ignored.

Faith has been relegated to a private, individual pursuit and the country has sought to define itself by secular and material standards.

But he warned that society lacks cohesion when there are no common values, while the virtues of compassion, respect and tolerance cannot survive once they have been severed from their roots in Christian teaching.

He argues that schools must be allowed to teach children what is good and bad, and that faith schools are belittled because their critics do not realise the importance of their contribution.

His claims are made in a chapter of a new book about the rise of secularism, called The Nation That Forgot God, which is co-edited by the Conservative MP Edward Leigh.

Mr Leigh says Britain is the “most extreme” example of the secularisation of the West. He blames the decline in churchgoing, and the consequent rise in family breakdown and crime, on the now dominant view that “the individual is his own master” and that people feel free do whatever they want.
[…]

– Source: Telegraph, Mar. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Britain ‘not a secular society’ – Archbishop of Canterbury

Britain is not a secular country but is “uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion”, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said …. He dismissed ideas that Britain is “secular” or “religiously divided” were cliches and said: “I don’t believe we are living in a secular society and I don’t believe we are living in a deeply religiously divided society.

“I believe we are living in a country that is uncomfortably haunted by the memory of religion and doesn’t quite know what to do with it and I believe we are living in a society which is religiously plural and confused and therefore not necessarily hostile.”

Dr Williams said church attendance may not be as high as it once was but although Britain may have become “secularised” it is not yet “secular”. “We are haunted, we need somewhere to put certain bits of our humanity and there’s nowhere else except religious language and imagery,” he said.

“The piles of flowers that you see on the site of road accidents are the most potent symbols of a society haunted by religion and not clear on what to do about it. “The church is still a place where people have got the emotions that won’t go anywhere else.”

– Source: Irish Times, Mar. 22, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The Church Around The Corner

‘The Church Around The Corner’ is where we keep offbeat religion news. Like so:

Jesus Christ’s face appears on broken meteorite

Russian scientists noticed the image of Jesus Christ on the meteorite which fell down on the Earth about 100 years ago. The image is identical to the one that appears on the Shroud of Turin.

The meteorite cracked into two as it rammed into the planet in the Far East of Russia. The image of Jesus Christ’s face can be seen on the split. The meteorite was dubbed Boguslavka, after the village where it had been found.

– Source: Pravda, Russia, Mar. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Baptist preacher runs again for office he bilked

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The former president of a national organization of black Baptist churches, who spent four years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from the denomination, is running for the position again.

The Rev. Henry J. Lyons was forced out as leader of the National Baptist Convention USA in 1999 after an investigation revealed he abused his power in the convention to steal about $4 million. He used the money to buy luxury homes and jewelry, and to support his mistresses.

– Source: AP via the Miami Herald, Mar. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Hate Crimes

Greek Jews ‘shocked’ after Holocaust denier is acquitted by Athens Appeals court

The Greek Jewish community said Friday it was “shocked” after neo-Nazi militant Kostas Plevris, who wrote a book denying the Holocaust and containing offensive references to Jews, was acquitted by an Appeals court in Athens. […]

Plevris had been convicted in first instance in December 2007 and condemned to 14 months of imprisonment on probation for three years for “racial insult”, “incitement to hatred and racial violence” on the basis of the 1979 anti-racist law.

At the time, the Jewish community saw the trial as a key test of the Greek authorities’ determination to deal with anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in a country where anti-Semitic literature such as the infamous “Protocols of the elders of Zion” is on sale in bookshops.

The charges against Plevris were also brought by the Helsinki Monitor and the “Anti-Nazi Initiative” organization, two human right Greek NGO’s.

He immediately appealed the sentence.

– Source: European Jewish Press, Mar. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Resources for Religion Reporters

Cult-related terminology

Members of a religious cult called 1 Mind Ministries are being prosecuted for the death of a child. The child’s mother has agreed to plead guitly and testify against the group’s other members — unless her child rises from the death. The woman’s attorney says, “This is something that she absolutely insisted upon, and this is indicative of the fact that she is still brainwashed, still a victim of this cult,” he said. “Until she’s deprogrammed, she’s not going to think any differently.”

Cult-related terminology is often confused or misused in media reports. Following are links to research resources on some cult-related terminology and concepts:

brainwashing or mind control refers to the unethical use of persuasion methods with the aim of recruiting people into joining or remaining involved with a group, movement, or cause.

Deprogramming refers to a process that reverses alleged brainwashing. It is controversial in that the process is usually started without the voluntary cooperation of the person being deprogrammed. The term ‘deprogramming’ is often used incorrectly.

Exit counseling is a voluntary approach to helping those involved in cults make informed decisions about their group affiliation. It is used instead of the controversial process of involuntary deprogramming, which involves coercion.

Thought reform consultants are committed to voluntary exit-counseling. Exit-counseling itself was designed to replace involuntary deprogramming. However, at one time some organizations and individuals blurred the distinction between the two practices by claiming both could be either voluntary or involuntary.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cults

Cult Experts

Easter

The Religion News Writers Association has some suggested angles and resources for religion reporters:

Jewish-Christian relations: taking stock at the holidays

The arrival of Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday on April 5, and Passover, which starts at sundown on Wednesday, April 8, is an occasion to reflect on the inextricable bonds between Judaism and Christianity. But recent events have also shown once again how fraught this relationship can be, despite decades of successful dialogue.

– Source: ReligionLink, Mar. 31, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Books

A Roman Catholic and an atheist have teamed up — not for the first time — to write a book about religion:

Almighty Empire With a Global Reach

In their new book, “God Is Back,” John Micklethwait, editor in chief of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, that magazine’s Washington bureau chief, argue that religion is “returning to public life” around the world, that “the great forces of modernity — technology and democracy, choice and freedom — are all strengthening religion rather than undermining it,” that these days “religion is playing a much more important role in public and intellectual life.”

They assert that “religion is becoming a matter of choice,” something that individuals themselves decide to believe in instead of something imposed upon them, and that “the surge of religion is being driven by the same two things that have driven the success of market capitalism: competition and choice.”

The authors made similarly sweeping generalizations in their previous book, “The Right Nation” (2004), generalizations that were proven almost comically wrong by the midterm elections of 2006 and the 2008 election of Barack Obama. … One of the problems with “The Right Nation” was that the authors selected information and examples that supported their thesis, while ignoring or diminishing data that contradicted it, and they employ a similarly flawed methodology in “God Is Back.” […]

– Source: New York Times, Mar. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

• See also: God Will Provide — Unless the Government Gets There First

50 Nobel Laureates And Other Great Scientists Who Believe In God

Free e-book, available in English and Russian [download]

The book 50 NOBEL LAUREATES AND OTHER GREAT SCIENTISTS WHO BELIEVE IN GOD comprises well-documented quotations from some of the most influential scientists and writers in the world.

In the course of my 11-year search I have studied hundreds of books, articles and letters – primarily those found in the archives of the National Library of Bulgaria (Sofia), Biblioteca Comunale di Milano and the Austrian National Library (Vienna). I have also corresponded with many contemporary Nobel Prize-winning scientists who have shared their personal beliefs about God.

I believe that this book will inspire believers, that it will give hope to seekers and that it will challenge those who think that religion and contemporary science are in an insurmountable conflict.

– Source: Nobelists.net

Ethics

Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials

A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guanta’namo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said. … The move represents a step toward ascertaining the legal accountability of top Bush administration officials for allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But some American experts said that even if warrants were issued their significance could be more symbolic than practical, and that it was a near certainty that the warrants would not lead to arrests if the officials did not leave the United States.

– Source: New York Times, Mar. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Comments from New York Times readers are overwhelmingly positive about this development.

The publishers are Religion News Blog have long spoken out against America’s forked-tongue approach. America cannot pretend to be the world’s police, when it cannot even police itself.

One RNB reader recently commented that if torture prevented even one attack, it would be worth doing it. The writer claimed to be a ‘Christian,’ but clearly hasn’t read much — if anything — of the Bible.

Quite aside from that, America has discovered that its ‘the-end-justifies-the-means’ approach does not work:

Detainee’s Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida’s tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida — chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates — was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” and other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed. […]

– Source: Washington Post, Mar. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Nevertheless, there is some predictable whining from those involved:

Top Bush advisor denounces Spanish torture probe

A former top US government advisor who faces possible indictment in Spain for his role in establishing the Guantanamo Bay prison camp described the case against him as “outrageous.” Douglas Feith — a key advisor in president George W. Bush’s Pentagon — told Fox News that moves before a Spanish court to indict him for facilitating torture were an effort to “intimidate US government officials.”

– Source: AFP, Mar. 31, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Outrageous? What’s outrageous is that politicians in the USA — a country that constantly chides other nations regarding what it considers to be human rights violations — promoted, condoned, and lied about the use of torture, and now expect not to be prosecuted. That’s outrageous.

Feith uses, well, tortured logic. There is no intimidation involved. Merely an investigation into alleged violations of international law. But as the Chinese say, “It you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps got hit.”


Also Noted

‘Eye for an eye’ approach does not pay, study

Researchers concluded that people who apply a “tit-for-tat” attitude to life are more likely to be unemployed, have a smaller circle of friends and be less happy.

By contrast, those in the habit of repaying good turns from others were likely to earn higher salaries, have more friends and enjoy life more.

The study, published in the Economic Journal, suggests that those who favour the New Testament maxim of turning the other cheek to the Old Testament call to repay and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth are more likely to enjoy fulfilment in life.

– Source: Telegraph, UK, Mar. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Spooky! Haunting Photo Baffles Ghost Busters
Chicago has its own witchcraft school
Meet the 13 most powerful Muslim women in Britain + Britain’s most powerful Muslim woman named

And this… totally off-topic, but too weird not to mention:

Car mechanic told to turn off radio in garage because he does not have a licence
Garage owners told to stop customers driving in with their radios on
Woman who plays classical music to soothe horses told to get licence

What happened over there in England? Did the UK contingent of the Taliban manage to introduce Sharia law?


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This post was last updated: Apr. 1, 2009