The sentences of three German men found guilty for their leadership roles at the infamous Colonia Dignidad cult in Chile have been increased. The cult's founder, former Nazi Paul Schaefer, was sentenced in July 2008 for torturing children.[wpipa ...
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Religion and Cult News, Saturday and more...

Religion and Cult News, Saturday

  • The sentences of three German men found guilty for their leadership roles at the infamous Colonia Dignidad cult in Chile have been increased.

    The cult's founder, former Nazi Paul Schaefer, was sentenced in July 2008 for torturing children.[wpipa id="36637"]

    Schaefer -- whose followers thought he was "God on earth" -- preached an unnamed religion that said harsh discipline would draw them closer to the supreme being.

    The cult leader also followed the teachings of American preacher William M. Branham, one of the founders of the "faith healing" movement, and considered a heretic.

    In April 2010 Schaefer died in prison.

  • California state parole officials postponed a decision on setting free Patricia Krenwinkel, a follower of Charles Manson and convicted killer, after the woman's attorney made new claims that she had been abused by the cult leader or another person.
  • Emma Donoghue's novel The Wonder delves into the cult of fasting girls

    Anorexia is not a new disorder. The compulsion to refuse food stretches as far back as Ancient Greece and into the Middle Ages, when Catholic saints such as Catherine of Siena would eschew meals as a symbol of their piety. Unlike contemporary sufferers of anorexia nervosa, those with anorexia mirabilis (the miraculous loss of appetite) were celebrated for their ability to exist without earthly pleasures.

  • Top 5 'heresies' of 2016: 'One God,' biblical authority and more

    What is heresy?
    What are the essential doctrines of the Christian faith?
    What is a cult of Christianity?

  • The hunt for FLDS cult leader Warren Jeffs' lost child brides: Three girls married off to Warren Jeffs aged 12 and 13 are still missing 12 years later as polygamist father who has 145 children goes on trial for arranging ceremonies
  • Seventh-day Adventist Church: 49 of every 100 new members eventually leave.

    Theologically this religious sect is considered a cult of Christianity.

  • What if you could become God, with the ability to build a whole new universe?

    That question is skillfully addressed by Zeeya Merali in A Big Bang in a Little Room: The Quest to Create New Universes.

    "This mind-boggling book reveals that we can nurse other worlds in the tiny confines of a lab, raising a daunting prospect: Was our universe, too, brought into existence by a daring creator?"

    Marali is a journalist and author who has written for Scientific American, Nature, New Scientist, and Discover, as well as published two textbooks in collaboration with National Geographic.

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Full story: Religion and Cult News, Saturday


Religion & Cults News – Wednesday

Berlin truck attack

  • The Berlin attack is right out of the terror handbooks

    The world's deadliest terrorist groups are increasingly open about their intentions, tactics, and targets. Last month, Rumiyah, the slickest terrorist magazine on the Internet market, was very precise. The "most appropriate" killing vehicle, the Islamic State publication advised, is a "load-bearing truck" that is "double-wheeled, giving victims less of a chance to escape being crushed by the vehicle's tires." It should be "heavy in weight, assuring the destruction of whatever it hits." It should also have a "slightly raised chassis and bumper, which allow for the mounting of sidewalks and breeching of barriers if needed." And it should have a "reasonably fast" rate of acceleration.

    In the same issue, Rumiyah urged Islamic State members, or sympathizers anywhere in the world, to hop in vehicles—steal them, if need be—and attack outdoor markets, public celebrations, political rallies, and pedestrian-congested streets. "All so-called 'civilian' (and low security) parades and gatherings are fair game and more devastating to Crusader nation," the magazine, which is published in several languages, said. [...more...]
    - Source: The New Yorker

    Islamic State calls Berlin attacker a 'soldier' as manhunt for killer resumes

    Berlin attack: Police hunt Tunisian suspect after finding ID papers in truck

    Analysis: intelligence has limits in preventing truck-borne terror

    See: Islam and Terrorism

  • Interview with living members of Heaven's Gate UFO suicide cult

    In March 1997, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide inside a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, California. Police discovered their bodies on March 26. It was the largest mass-suicide in U.S. history.

    But the group's website is still available -- and is maintained by two ex-members. Troy James Weaver contacted them:

    So why maintain the website? Obviously if you still believe it, you are a proponent/member of something, right? The reason I ask about suicide, is because if Do and Ti were the only Next Level Members, what does that say about the others who took their own lives? They were human, correct? Not inhabiting a human body, but human? I'm confused by this and what I've read. I'm just trying to understand more clearly. Also, what is a task partner?

    The website is to provide information for their future return. We are designated to maintain and care for it.

    Humans are not to commit suicide. Those 38, and those 38 only, we allowed to shed their human body, take on space-capable, Next Level bodies and depart this planet. No human can do that or would be allowed to do that. We know you are confused about this but those individuals did not commit suicide. They broke the bond of human connection and quickly switched to a Next Level one.

    [Ed. note: Reports showed that there were 39 bodies, suggesting that Heaven's Gate does not include Marshall Applewhite a human.]
    - Source: Fanzine

    More about Heaven's Gate

  • Ex-Scientologists tell disturbing stories about David Miscavige, the 'pope of Scientology,' on A&E series

    Scientology Aftermath

    The dwindling Scientology cult can't get a break nowadays. It is exposed to daylight on the internet, on television, on YouTube, on countless blogs and websites, in new book after new book, and by more and more ex-members -- including those who held high ranks and/or were inside for significant amount of time.

    And then there was actress Leah Remini.

    Remini left the 'Church of Scientology' in 2013 — after 35 years as a devout member — and ever since, she has been on a crusade to expose the controversial organization's secrets. Including those persistent stories about cult leader David Miscavige.

    This Washington Post article talks about her ongoing A&E television series, 'Scientology and the Aftermath.' It also highlights the way the 'church' can't help but shoot itself in the foot by -- time and again -- engaging in a hate campaign against those who left the destructive cult.

    As usual, A&E put up a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode and between each act break, given the religion's leaders harshly condemned the series and denied many of the claims. The church also has called Remini an "obnoxious, spiteful ex-Scientologist" who is angry that she was expelled from the church, and that she's doing the series for money; they also said the show is "doomed to be a cheap reality TV show by a has-been actress now a decade removed from the peak of her career."

    Scientology likes to call itself a 'church' and a 'religion.' At Apologetics Index, we call Scientology a hate group.

    Here's how the cult destroys friendships, families and other relationships.

Full story: Religion & Cults News – Wednesday


Shincheonji “New Heaven and New Earth” cult infiltrating churches

Man-Hee Lee

UK: Churches warned of 'deceptive cult' linked to South Korea infiltrating congregations

Hundreds of British churches, including some of the UK's largest congregations, have been warned against possible infiltration by a group accused of being a "cult" promoting "control and deception".

The Church of England has issued a formal alert to almost 500 parishes in London about the activities of the group known as Parachristo.

The organisation, a registered charity, runs Bible study courses at an anonymous industrial unit under a Botox clinic and a personal training company in London Docklands.
But it is understood to be linked to a controversial South Korean group known as Shinchonji (SCJ) — or the "New Heaven and New Earth" church (NHNE) — whose founder Man-Hee Lee is referred to as God's "advocate".

It is claimed that some of those who become involved gradually withdraw from friends and family and actively lie about their real lives [...]

A companion article, titled The Korean religious leader on a collision course with the Church of England notes:

Organisers insist Parachristo exists solely to help "understand the Bible more deeply". [...]

Former attendees of Parachristo study groups have claimed that existing members effectively pose as new students.

Shinchonji teaching documents seen by The Telegraph instructs these "maintainers" to "arouse curiosity" of newcomers and "try to be close to each other until the student relies on you fully".

They are told to "take notes of the conversation with the student" and report back to the group leader.

Shincheonji -- Cult of Christianity

According to the SCJ, their leader - Manhee Lee - is the Messiah or the spokesperson of the Messiah ("Promised Pastor").

Lee Man-Hee claims that Jesus appeared before him as a "bright heavenly figure." Some see him as God's "promised pastor" who holds the key to avoid impending judgement. Followers believe that Lee Man-Hee is the second coming of Jesus Christ. Reportedly the church teaches that Lee Man-Hee is the angel referred to in Revelation 22:16:

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

The church also believes that Revelation 7:2 refers to South Korea (East) and to Lee Man-Hee (angel):

Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God.

According to the group's promotional literature Lee Man-Hee is the only person who can testify to the mysteries of the Book of Revelation -- which he claims already has been fulfilled. He is said to teach that the world has already ended, and that we are currently living in the afterlife.

Shincheonji denies the biblical teaching that people are saved by faith in Jesus Christ -- and not by works.

The church denies the doctrine of the Trinity.

Shincheonji's teachings contradict essential doctrines of the Christian faith, thus identifying the group as, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

Sociologically Shincheonji has many cult-like characteristics as well.

Front Groups; Alternative Spellings

Note the different spellings of the name of the group: Officially it is Shincheonji, Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). Commonly referred to as Shincheonji, but the name is sometimes spelled without the 'e' -- Shinchonji.

Likewise, the name of the cult's leader is Lee Man-Hee, which is sometimes written as Man-Hee Lee or Manhee Lee.

Lee Man-Hee founded Shinchonji in 1984.

Other names related to this movement: Mannam Volunteer Association/Mannam International Youth Coalition (MIYC), International Peace Youth Group (IPYG)/Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ).

World Peace... and Deception

Like similar cults, Shincheonji claims it promotes world peace -- but its deceptive nature tends to backfire, like it did when the cult organized the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit (WARP). Wikipedia:

From 17-19 September 2014 Shincheonji organised their SCJ 6th National Olympiad. It is the major event for SCJ which they hold every four years, and it coincides with Lee's birthday.[3] On this occasion, they also invited many international guests who all believed they were attending a secular "World Peace Summit". As the two events took place simultaneously and in the same venue, it led to significant confusion and embarrassment for international guests who had been misled.

Here's one blogger's experience at a similar event: "We thought we were going to a world peace festival...turned out to be a religious cult sort of thing."

See also:

Full story: Shincheonji “New Heaven and New Earth” cult infiltrating churches


The attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements

Research: a brief overview of the attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements is an interesting article by Jean-François Mayer, founder and editor of Relioscope -- an independent website that provides 'news and analysis about religions in today's world.'

The article describes official responses to cults during the 1980s and 1990s.

Under the heading 'General Comments and Observations,' Mayer writes:

If we summarize the current situation, beside a few centres receiving local or regional subsidies, three Western European countries — Austria, Belgium[75] and France — have established agencies or centres for monitoring NRMs; these institutions are the outcomes of state initiatives at the national level.[76] Despite the successive waves of concerns about "cults", most European countries do not have state agencies dealing with cult-related issues. In some cases, this has not prevented targeted measures against a specific movement, as evidenced by the years of surveillance of Scientology by German security agencies.

State-sponsored institutions dealing with cults are supposed to be neutral observers — which was one of the reasons for their founding. What happens in reality is nuanced and should certainly not be over-simplified. In practice, representatives of some official or state-supported agencies are seen more often at conferences of people with shared anti-cult assumptions than at academic conferences attracting sociologists of religion and other scholars conducting fieldwork. This has not prevented some members of these agencies' staff from gaining considerable knowledge through years of work. One should understand that from the start the very roots of such agencies made it difficult for them to be really "neutral" (whatever meaning is ascribed to this word), since they were supposed to help solve a social problem, to support people seen as victims and to deal with deviations. Social scientists studying NRMs usually work from a quite different starting point.
- Source: Jean-François Mayer, Research: a brief overview of the attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements, Religioscope, November 5, 2016

Mayer also notes that the situation has changed a bit over the past 15 years.

Firstly, except for the deaths of hundreds of members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God in Uganda in 2000 (unfortunately, when news of this kind comes from Africa, it does not have the same impact as similar events in the West would), there have been no further major, dramatic "cult tragedies". With the exception of Scientology, which remains quite controversial, most NRMs that were at the top of the list from the 1970s to the 1990s have lost much visibility, and several well-known cult leaders have died: their movements now have a lower profile or have partly reformed themselves (with ISKCON being one of the most significant instances of such internal reforms). There are still tensions within families as a consequence of spiritual quests and reorientations, but they are less associated with clearly identifiable groups. The Western European environment has become more individualistic: the appeal of radical forms of communitarian life has declined, especially at a time when most young people are primarily concerned with getting a job and keeping it. Certainly, the repeated warnings about the dangers associated with recruitment into "cults" have made some people more cautious when encountering missionaries of various persuasions.

Most of all, Westerners no longer experience the same fears: we live in the post-9/11 environment. Islamic radicalism looks like a much more serious threat than do small religious movements. Security agencies invest more time in monitoring Salafi mosques or jihadist websites than the followers of Hindu gurus or Japanese new religions. Some religious groups still require attention, but they are no longer the same ones.
- Source: Ibid

From 'Cult Wars' to Dialogue

Indeed, much has changed from about the turn of the century. The so-called 'cult wars' have largely abated in favor of a more constructive, communicative approach in which people with various, often polarized viewpoints share knowledge and perspectives -- agreeing to disagree when and where necessary, but all the while learning from each other.

The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) -- formerly American Family Foundation -- describes this development in its statement, Dialogue and Cultic Studies: Why Dialogue Benefits the Cultic Studies Field.

That said, to those people who help victims of cults regain their freedom and deal with the aftermath of their involvment in such movements, the attitude of many religion academics still comes across as rather sympathetic toward what is euphemistically referred to as 'New Religious Movements.'[ref]New Religious Movement (NRM) or sometimes Alternative Religious Movement (ARM) are terms often used as 'neutral' descriptions of what others would refer to as 'cults' or 'sects'[/ref]

It is not just anti-cult activists who have called out certain academics for their cozy and at times almost PR-like relationships with religious cults

On the other hand, such academics have also learned that the internet has made it a lot easier for interested observers to scrutinize -- and critique -- their work.

Jihadism and Deradicalization

Mayer continues his comments and obervations by saying that Jihadism is now seen by some anti-cult groups as another form of "cultic deviation."

More recently, as we see young Muslims leaving Western cities to join Islamist groups in Middle East war zones, relatives or acquaintances of these young people have spontaneously explained that they had been brainwashed: this often seemed to them to be the only "rational" explanation for such radical departures. This has quite naturally been grafted onto a "cult brainwashing" narrative. The metaphor of mind control offers an attractive model to explain various situations. Despite initial reluctance by some cult critics to venture into that field, we are seeing what to some extent looks like a new incarnation of the cult controversies around jihadism, with deradicalization becoming a new keyword (as well as a new industry).
- Source: Ibid.

Clearly, many expressions of what is known in Islam as 'lesser Jihad' (holy warfare against the enemies of Allah and Islam) -- as opposed to 'greater Jihad' (the personal struggle against sin) are indeed cult-like in nature. The possibility that such recruits are victims of Brainwashing and/or Mind Control -- concepts certain religion academics crusade against with something very much akin to holy fervor -- should not be summarily dismissed.

That some cult experts see similarities between the recruitment tactics of apocalyptic Islamist terror groups and those of other destructive cults is logical. The process of undue influence is the familiar and follows a predictable tract.

Not surprisingly Mayer's comments include a nod toward the semantics problems that have plagued the 'New Religious Movements' debates: How does one define terms like 'cult' or 'sect'? According to him, shift from "cults" or "sectes" to "cultic deviations" does not really solve the problem because the term is "not as neutral as it claims to be."

As James Lewis has observed, "the minority religions lose their chance for a fair hearing as soon as the label 'cult' is applied".[94] The shift from "cults" or "sectes" to "cultic deviations" has been an attempt to resolve the dilemma and deal with the tricky issues presented by such a vocabulary without a clear legal basis when it is being used by supposedly "neutral" states. It fits the model according to which only questionable behaviour is targeted, but it fails to really solve the problem. The talk is indeed not merely about deviations, but about sectaires, thus qualifying a very specific type of alleged deviations that most people associate with a specific type of group. It is therefore not as neutral as it claims to be. Moreover, this shift has contributed to wider applications of the label "cultic deviations" to a variety of groups and individuals.[95] The cult controversies of the past decades have thus even led to the modification and possibly the extension of the meaning of words such as "secte" or "cult".

In the end, the overview is of interest to those who are familiar with the issues discussed.

Mayer's comments provide some insight into current thinking about the topic from a perspective that seems more worried about the impact of activists on 'New Religious Movements' than about the damage cults, sects, or other groups that engage in cultic deviations have on victims.

Full story: The attitudes of Western European states towards new religious movements


Does the UK’s anti-radicalisation program alienate Muslims?

Today's edition includes stories about a radicalisation prevention program that may backfire. A protest against Whole Foods over its link to Marc Gafni. Iglesia ni Cristo, a powerful cult of Christianity, endorses presidential candidates. Plus: Religion and Cult News Quick Takes

Additional items may be posted throughout the day.

Does the UK's covert propaganda bid to stop people joining Isis alienate Muslims?

The UK government has embarked on a series of clandestine propaganda campaigns intended to bring about "attitudinal and behavioural change" among young British Muslims as part of a counter-radicalisation programme, the Guardian reports.

However, the methods of the Research, Information and Communications Unit (Ricu), which often conceal the government's role, will dismay some Muslims and may undermine confidence in the Prevent counter-radicalisation programme, which already faces widespread criticism.

The paper sees it as a "sign of mounting anxiety across Whitehall over the persuasiveness of Islamic State's online propaganda," but notes that critics say it risks alienating UK Muslims.

The article says that "[m]uch of Ricu's work is outsourced to a London communications company, Breakthrough Media Network."

[Breakthrough Media Network's] relationship with Ricu helps them get their own messages to a wider audience, and that they retain editorial control over counter-radicalisation communications.

However, a series of Ricu and Breakthrough documents seen by the Guardian show that Ricu privately says it is the one retaining editorial control, including over the products produced as part of these partnerships.

Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war: The Guardian unravels the secretive workings behind a campaign to stop UK Muslims from falling prey to Islamic State -- The Guardian, May 2, 2016

Prevent strategy 'sowing mistrust and fear in Muslim communities': UK's terror watchdog urges review of government's anti-radicalisation scheme, saying it is significant source of grievance -- The Guardian, Feb. 3, 2016

'You worry they could take your kids': is the Prevent strategy demonising Muslim schoolchildren?: Teachers now have a statutory duty to spot signs of 'non-violent extremism', with children as young as three being referred for anti-radicalisation. Does the policy safeguard vulnerable pupils — or discriminate against Muslims? -- The Guardian, Sept. 23, 2015

Abuse Groups to Protest at Whole Foods 365 Launch in LA over links to Marc Gafni

National advocacy organizations for raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse issues are backing a protest at the inaugural opening of Whole Foods 365 store, May 25 in Los Angeles. Planning is underway for a coordinated protest at a Whole Foods store in New York City.

The protests are in response to Whole Foods co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey's link to spiritual leader and former rabbi Marc Gafni, as reported by The New York Times in December.

More than 100 rabbis have authored a petition demanding that Whole Foods sever ties with Gafni.

Understanding the Marc Gafni Story, Part II, Mark Oppenheimer -- Tablet, Dec. 29, 2015. A follow-up to the New York Times story mentioned above.

Marc Gafni: Wikipedia

Why You Should Boycott Marc Gafni's Movie, "RiseUp", Huffington Post, May 3, 2016

Cult expert Steven Hassan keeps track of the Marc Gafni story on Twitter.

Philippines: Powerful cult of Christianity endorses presidential candidates

Iglesia ni Cristo, one of the largest and most powerful religious movements in the Third World, has officially endorsed Rodrigo Duterte for President and Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for Vice President in Monday's national elections.

Members of the cultic movement vote en-bloc, falsely laiming that the Bible teaches the practice.

The Inquirer writes:

INC announced its endorsement through a circular read during worship service by executive minister Eduardo Manalo, who called on the sect's members to vote as one on Monday.

"This is based on the teachings in the Bible that were taught to us even before we were accepted as members of the Church of Christ. We have faith that it is God's teaching that there shouldn't be division among us, but that we should be one in thinking and one in judgment," Manalo said in Filipino.

The INC head cited I Corinthians 1:10 and Romans 15:6 in claiming that the sect's unity came "in the name of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God and for the sake of the church."

Theologically Iglesia ni Cristo is a cult of Christianity, since the movement's teachings and practices fall outside the boundaries of the Christian faith.

Sociologically INC has some cult-like elements as well.

Recent scandals involving the Iglesia ni Cristo cast doubt on the practice of bloc voting. Will INC members still obey their ministers on election day? -- Rappler, May 1, 2016.

Revolt in the Iglesia ni Cristo: Over 100 years old, no one ever imagined the INC was in the throes of dissension in 2015, with no less than members of the family entangled in a bitter quarrel -- Rappler, Dec. 23, 2015.

Former INC pastor flees Philippines to seek refuge in Canada -- Asian Pacific Post, May 5, 2016

Religion and Cult News Quick Takes

Full story: Does the UK’s anti-radicalisation program alienate Muslims?


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