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Religion News Report

Religion News Report - January 5, 2000 (Vol. 4, Issue 152)

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=== Aum Shinrikyo
1. Authorities suspect Aum firms hid 5 bil. yen in profit
2. Return of the "Face"

=== Falun Gong
3. China Jails Dissidents, Sect Member
4. China official jailed for tipping off sect - group
5. Banned China sect exercises rights on a Boston street

=== Scientology
6. Scientology's Funny Photos
7. Scientology Sect as a bone of contention

=== Mormonism
8. Web Links at Issue in LDS Lawsuit
9. LDS Church Affirms Its View of Jesus

=== Y2K Fallout
10. Millennium sect home from the hills
11. Some took Y2K to extremes
12. Christians fear that extremists poisoned mood
13. Israeli relief as doomsday is postponed
14. Thousands march to dismiss superstition in Central African Republic

=== Concerned Christians
15. Concerned Christians fail to resurface

=== Other News
16. 3 suspected cult members arrested in 'bizarre crime spree'
17. Alleged cult leader defends 'manservants'
18. Final answers missing in disappearance of O'Hair family, despite
19. Nintendo faces 60m writ from Uri Geller
20. The Spirit of Santeria
21. Young black Americans fall under vodou spell
22. No sanctuary ("criminal monks")
23. Believers expect Second Coming to occur on outskirts of Edinburgh
24. ''Witch'' spawns 2 sequels
25. Ohio minister not moving to county (Leroy Jenkins)

=== Trends
26. Church leaders question Creation theory

=== Archeology
27. Dead Sea Scrolls: Inquiring minds want to know

=== UFOs
28. Close encounters of supportive kind
29. ET, no need to call home . . . you'll fit in here
30. Night lights mystery
31. Many report 'green balls' in sky

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance
32. Southern Baptists and the conversion debate
33. Catholics fear for freedoms in new Macao
34. Israeli government guarantees religious liberty

=== Noted
35. Graham doubts Farrakhan can unify
36. Apostles of the Apocalypse: Are we ready for the end?

=== Books
37. The rise and decline of the Messenger (Elijah Muhammad)

=== Aum Shinrikyo

1. Authorities suspect Aum firms hid 5 bil. yen in profit
Daily Yomiuri (Japan), Jan. 5, 2000
Two computer companies linked to the Aum Supreme Truth cult have concealed a
total of nearly 5 billion yen in profit over the past five years, it was
learned Tuesday.

The accountants for the two companies--Poseidon, which is engaged in the sale
of personal computers and SBR in import and wholesale of computer
parts--allegedly have regularly made detailed financial reports to the cult's
leadership over the same period, according to informed sources.

Suspicion is mounting that the cult has been involved in systematic attempts
to conceal profit siphoned off from the two firms, observers said.

Tax authorities plan to start exchanging information with the Metropolitan
Police Department shortly to uncover the sources of the cult funds, the
sources said. The authorities were also said to be considering an all-out
investigation of every private business suspected to have links to the cult.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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2. Return of the "Face"
Mainichi Daily News (Japan), Jan. 3, 2000 (OpEd)
[Editorial roundup of Japanese news weeklies]
(...) Fumihiro Joyu nonetheless had an undeniable mass following.

Though he has announced his intention to return to AUM Shinrikyo, and though
police are poised against his revivifying influence, there are doubts as to
the welcome he will receive from the harassed faithful.

"I wish he wasn't getting out," a believer confesses to Aera (12/27-1/3).

An image make-over is in the works. The old AUM consisted of individuals so
deep into their spiritual exercises that trivial earthly concerns like life,
death and murder were beneath their notice. The new AUM acknowledges its past
excesses and promises to be good from now on. Joyu, Aera speculates, may be
too irredeemably associated with the old order to be anything but a
distraction in the new.

Perhaps so, says Sapio (1/12), but don't count him out yet. His spiritual
standing within AUM assures him a voice. He is a leader among leaders, a
seitaishi, outranked only by guru Shoko Asahara (Chizuo Matsumoto) himself.
Among Joyu's very few equals are the likes of Asahara's wife and mistress.

Keep your eye on the mistress, warns Aera. Her name is Hisako Ishii, and
she's due out of prison (she was jailed for illegally disposing of a corpse)
in spring. Among her other distinctions, she is the mother of an Asahara
child. Her return to AUM will be more significant than Joyu's, Aera predicts.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Falun Gong

3. China Jails Dissidents, Sect Member
Yahoo!/AP, Jan. 3, 1999
Chinese courts have sentenced to prison two dissidents who took part in an
outlawed democratic party and a doctor who demonstrated against the banning
of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, a rights group said Monday.

Barred from attending the trial at Changsha's Intermediate People's Court,
family members on Monday received their first notice of the verdict: guilty
as charged, with Tong sentenced to 10 years in prison and Liao to six years,
the Information Center said.

Tong and Liao bring to at least 20 the number of China Democracy Party
members imprisoned in the communist government's 13-month crackdown to
preserve its political monopoly.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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4. China official jailed for tipping off sect - group
Aol/Reuters, Jan. 4, 2000
China has sentenced an official to four years in jail for leaking a speech by
Chinese President Jiang Zemin on outlawing the Falun Gong spiritual movement,
a Hong Kong-based human rights group said on Tuesday.

Xu Xinmu, a deputy director at Shijiazhuang city's personnel division in
central China, was sentenced on Monday for leaking a state secret, said the
Information Centre of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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5. Banned China sect exercises rights on a Boston street
Boston Globe, Jan. 3, 2000
(...) And in US cities, where word of Falun Gong is spreading through the
Chinese diaspora in home meetings and classified ads, officials are realizing
that Falun Gong is not your average fitness regimen.

At the end of November, responding to scathing criticism from the Chinese
ambassador, Seattle Mayor Paul Schell hastily rescinded his proclamation that
the week of Nov. 29 would be known as Falun Dafa and Li Hongzhi days, after
the group's leader. In August, Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening asked
China to accept his ''humblest and most sincere apology'' for declaring Li
Hongzhi an honorary US citizen. Baltimore's mayor, Kurt Schmoke, and San
Francisco's mayor, Willie L. Brown Jr., made similar retractions.

But politics and religion were purposely at a distance at the Westin's Essex
room yesterday, where several hundred followers of Li Hongzhi shared box
lunches and sat cross-legged on the carpet, comparing notes on the spread of
''Master Li's'' ideas. Afterward, many in the group went outside to do their
exercises in Copley Square.

Chinese government officials have accused Li of causing 1,400 deaths by
discouraging his followers from seeking medical attention. Adherents at the
Boston conference said there was no such discouragement, but that their
health had begun to improve almost immediately as they learned the exercises.

Deborah Massey, who drove 24 hours straight from Columbia, Mo., for the
conference, discovered Falun Gong after experimenting with - in reverse order
- reiki, Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, East Indian religions, Catholicism,
Judaism, the Baptist Church, and the Methodist Church. ''I did a lot of
church-hopping,'' she said.

But her journey, she said, ended three months ago, when she attended one of
the nine-day seminars that are Falun Gong's main evangelical effort.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Scientology

6. Scientology's Funny Photos
Washington Post, Jan. 4, 2000
The Church of Scientology insists that more than 14,000 of its faithful
packed the Los Angeles Sports Arena for a millennial celebration of
Scientology's first 50 years and the "triumph of spirituality over
materialism." To bolster that claim, the church's PR operation posted four
panoramic color photographs of the Dec. 28 event--for use by the news
media--on the Scientology Web site. But then Arlington resident Arnaldo Lerma
entered the picture, reports The Post's Richard Leiby.

The 49-year-old Lerma--an ex-Scientologist who has tangled repeatedly with
church officials since he quit 23 years ago, and today owns an audio-video
and computer business--immediately thought he spotted something fishy: He
says the crowd scenes were doctored extensively.

On Friday, Lerma shared his discovery with the media and posted his findings
on an online Scientology discussion group, and on New Year's Day the church
removed two photos altogether and considerably cropped the remaining two.
Yesterday, when Leiby asked church spokeswoman Janet Weiland for an
explanation, she said there was no intent to inflate the head count. "That
was just a goof when they put it up on the Web," she said. "It was later
corrected." She maintained that the celebration was "absolutely packed . . .
there wasn't an empty seat."

Later, Scientology's Weiland phoned Leiby back to offer further explanation.
"Someone made an independent decision over the holidays to fill in a hole
around the camera crew for aesthetic reasons, and when we found out about
this, the photos were pulled," Weiland said. "That wasn't okay." (Lerma's
analysis of the offending photos, complete with helpful diagrams, can be
found at www.lermanet.com)

Church PR operatives also said in a press release that President Clinton was
"among those sending congratulations" on the church's "half-century of
spiritual leadership." That much is true. In a Dec. 22 letter of "warm
greetings," Clinton expressed gratitude to the Scientologists for "all your
efforts to promote [religious freedom] and to build just communities united
in understanding, compassion and mutual respect."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* The pictures were altered in multiple areas, putting the lie to the
spokesperson's suggestion that "a" hole was filled in.

If there "wasn't an empty seat," why was there a need to fill in "a hole"?
Will the Church of Scientology post the undoctored pictures in support of
its claim?

The original pictures are now at:

http://www.cnbc.cmu.edu/~dst/LApics/Off-site Link

Note: They are huge! (ranging from 2 - 10 MB).

Arnie Lerma's site documents the edits at:

http://www.lermanet.com/PhotoLIES.htmOff-site Link
http://www.lermanet.com/PhotoLIES2.htmOff-site Link

Regarding Mr. Clinton's note... well, at least it didn't mention ethics
(you know... truth, honesty, faithfulness, etcetera).

7. Scientology Sect as a bone of contention
Freie Presse Lokales (Germany), Jan. 2, 2000
Translation: CISAR
The discussion on Scientology gains in acrimony: beginning immediately, the
Zwickau area DGB will cease cooperation with the "Sero" theater group because
it maintains connections with Scientology Kurt Fliegerbauer and intends to
temporarily move into his "Stadt Zwickau" hotel.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Mormonism

8. Web Links at Issue in LDS Lawsuit
Salt Lake Tribune, Jan. 5, 2000
(...) What started as a seemingly simple copyright dispute in U.S. District
Court between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its
longtime critics Jerald and Sandra Tanner is sending shock waves through

Free-speech advocates say the wide-open nature of the Internet, with its
electronic tendrils connecting virtually every corner of the globe, is being
threatened. The church calls it a simple case of copyright infringement.

The Tanners, faced with a temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District
Judge Tena Campbell, removed the pages. However, they later posted an e-mail
message from a reader containing Internet addresses where the the entire
handbook could be viewed.

Outraged, the LDS Church asked Campbell to order the couple to remove the
addresses on the theory they were encouraging others to view and make illegal
copies of the handbook pages. Campbell ordered the addresses taken down.

It was as if the wired world had been zapped by a jolt of electricity. "The
Internet is all about linking [Web sites together]," said Jeffrey Kuester, a
copyright lawyer who practices cyberspace law in Atlanta. If Campbell's
ruling stands, "it is going have a chilling impact on anyone who wants to
tell someone else where something can be found on the Web." The copyright
dispute case continued Tuesday with Campbell considering a request by the
Tanners to dismiss the case. Their attorney, Brian Barnard, argued the couple
had copied a 1989 version of the handbook which did not have a valid
copyright registration.

If the Tanners lose and Judge Campbell makes the restrictions against
posting the Internet addresses permanent, Web page operators may eventually
balk at providing links to other sites for fear they may be contributing to
copyright violations, Kuester said.

Last week, Barnard notified the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver he is
appealing Judge Campbell's preliminary injunction banning his clients from
displaying the Internet addresses on their Web site.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has promised to get involved by filing its
own brief expressing its reservations about the restriction.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* How to have your name removed from Mormon Church records

9. LDS Church Affirms Its View of Jesus
Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 25, 1999
In celebration of the new millennium and the 2000th birthday of Jesus Christ,
the LDS First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles have issued a joint
statement affirming their unique view of the man considered a savior by the
world's more than 2.2 billion Christians.

The 15 men in the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles, all
considered "prophets, seers and revelators" by the nearly 11 million members
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, affixed their signatures
to the document sent to all LDS bishops and will be mailed to news media
outlets and placed on the Internet Jan. 1.

It also will be distributed to every church member, much like the
Proclamation on the Family, a statement that lays out the church's belief in
the sanctity of marriage and family.

"To me, it is an important message," said Jennifer Schiel, a member of
Oaks' ward. "Elder Oaks stressed that we believe in a living Christ, not just
the one who died on the cross."

For too long, what most people have known about the Mormon Church are its
prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, its temples, or its
opposition to gay marriage, she said. "Now maybe we can be defined by our
belief in Jesus Christ."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* The statement can be found here:

http://www.lds.org/library/the_liv_chr/the_liv_chr.htmlOff-site Link

Those familiar with the teachings of the pseudo-Christian religion of the
Mormon Church will note the statement studiously avoids addressing most
of the heretical aspects of the Mormon version of Jesus.

=== Y2K Fallout

10. Millennium sect home from the hills
BBC, Jan 2, 2000
Members of a religious sect in the Philippines who constructed a warren of
caverns to shelter from a rain of fire they believed would destroy the earth
at the dawn of the new millennium have returned to their homes.

A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer said many followers of the
Christian sect, who were poised to take up residence in a hillside in the
eastern province of Leyte, were disappointed their leader's prediction of the
end of the world failed to materialise.

Cult leader Cerferino Quinte, 80, had predicted an "all consuming rain of
fire" on 1 January after reading an article about the millennium in a

The faith-healer said he expected to be ridiculed because the rain of fire
had failed to materialise, but stressed that he wouldn't mind because "Satan
is behind all the ridicule".
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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11. Some took Y2K to extremes
Chicago Sun-Times/Bloomberg, Jan. 3, 2000
The new year brought with it plenty of tales of odd human behavior at the
turning of the millennium. Here is a sample of offbeat Y2K stories:

* Two men in Cambodia killed each other fighting over superstitions that a
"millennium bug" would kill people unless they ate a certain type of cake,

* A prison inmate in Concord, N.H., sewed his eyes and lips shut with dental
floss because he feared the new year, officials told the AP. New Hampshire
State Prison guards said they found the prisoner, who was serving time on a
drug charge, in his cell, covered in baby powder and clutching a Bible.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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12. Christians fear that extremists poisoned mood
USA Today, Jan. 3, 2000
(...) Instead, the estimated 100 extremists, fearing arrest and deportation
by the record 20,000 Israeli police on duty, stayed inside their homes and
hostels or went underground.

Sunday, some of the extremists, nearly all of whom are from the USA and
Europe, said they were saddened that Jesus had not returned. But they vowed
to remain in Jerusalem until he does. Others said they were so confused and
depressed that they were returning to their native countries.

With the fears of extremism receding, many Christian leaders have a new
worry. They believe the actions of the extremists, and the coverage given
them by the Israeli media, could harm already delicate relations between Jews
and Christians, who make up only 2%, or 110,000, of Israel's 5.5 million

''It is very important for Christians to communicate to the people of Israel
that we all look at these fringe groups with the same eyes,'' said Johann
Luckoff, director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, an
evangelical Protestant group that promotes Christian-Jewish relations. ''They
make a caricature of what Christians are all about.''

Religious Jews, the ultra-Orthodox Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman said, fear
that the pilgrims will turn the Jewish state into ''a vast center for

But now some Israelis, particularly secular and moderate Jews outside of
Jerusalem, are expressing outrage at the ultra-Orthodox and urging them to be
tolerant. They also fear Israel might lose some tourism, which accounts for
$3.2 billion annually, or 7%, of Israel's gross domestic product.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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13. Israeli relief as doomsday is postponed
Sunday Times (England), Jan. 2, 2000
(...) For many of those who had been praying for a celestial re-appearance to
mark the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus, the likeliest spot was
the Mount of Olives, where the inhabitants of the world's largest Jewish
cemetery - among them Robert Maxwell - have long been awaiting the second
coming. Early yesterday the mount looked more like a football stadium as
hymn-singing pilgrims at the Gethsemane end struggled to make themselves
heard above the secular chants of exuberant German tourists and the howls of
fundamentalist preachers.

Unlike other believers, however, she was not surprised to find herself still
alive when a warm desert sun rose. The world was never going to end on
January 1, 2000, she insisted. Bogus soothsayers had got it wrong. The world
would end on April 6.

In one sense, White belongs to a rich tradition of religious eccentrics who
have managed to find in Israel's hotly disputed history evidence of future
chaos. Yet unlike the bogus preachers from Texas and Alabama, who turn
themselves into millionaires running pilgrimages to Armageddon and other
biblical venues, White has turned her back on money.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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14. Thousands march to dismiss superstition in Central African Republic
CNN, Jan. 1, 2000
More than 5,000 people marched in the capital to welcome the Year 2000,
saying they wanted to prove to superstitious residents of the Central African
Republic that the world was not about to end.

Fears of an impending worldwide Armageddon had paralyzed some villages in
this country of 2.5 million people, state radio reported.

But local charity and religious groups mobilized to educate the population
and overcome the rumors. They blamed church "charlatans" for spreading the

Superstitious beliefs often spread quickly in underdeveloped villages of the
Central African Republic, where education is often unavailable and beliefs in
Christianity and animist religions often overlap.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Concerned Christians

15. Concerned Christians fail to resurface
Denver Post, Jan. 3, 2000
(...) But for families plagued by their own peculiar Y2K bug - a
self-proclaimed prophet named Monte Kim Miller - the wait may be far from

Mark Roggeman, an avid cult-watcher when he isn't working for the Denver
Police Department, said the group seemed pointed toward what many believe to
be the end of the millennium based on a bizarre 1996 conversation he and
other cult experts had with Miller.

"When we talked to Kim in his living room three years ago, all he told us was
he was on that time line of 3 1/2 years," Roggeman said. "We all assumed the
end of the millennium. We figured Dec. 31." Israeli authorities also keyed in
on that event when they detained and ultimately deported 14 Concerned
Christians last January, citing fears of violence to hasten the Second

Meanwhile, Kim Miller has remained a mystery. Some reports claimed he was
living in England. Another report placed him on the Mediterranean island of
Patmos, where the apostle John was banished by the Romans.

Roggeman credits media coverage for playing havoc with Miller's plans. "He's
got so many problems now," Roggeman said. "All this coverage really rocked
this guy's world. By his prediction and prophesies, he should have been well
in place, in Israel, and ready to go."

But some family members don't place any particular significance on the
turning of the calendar to 2000. Miller may have meant 2001

"I don't consider this a breaking point at all - the Concerned Christians
never said it was," said David Cooper, who has maintained sporadic e-mail
contact with his brother John Cooper. "There's a premise that something would
happen with the coming of the new millennial reign, sometime this year. And
there were dates attached to Kim Miller and Jerusalem, but there was never a
date as far as the whole group.

And while the city remained standing, experts say Miller's ability to change
direction should not be underestimated. One former acquaintance of Miller has
said the group leader might insist that, ultimately, his prophecy did indeed
come true. He could claim the Columbine massacre as a metaphor for the
destruction of Denver - particularly because the date, April 20, happens to
be Miller's birthday.

Bill Honsberger, a Conservative Baptist missionary who has tracked the group
for years, said the ultimate fate of Miller's followers could lie in a basic
question about how much of his own dogma Kim Miller really believes.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

16. 3 suspected cult members arrested in 'bizarre crime spree'
Naples Daily News, Jan. 4, 2000
Three men who police think are part of a Nigerian religious cult were
arrested Sunday night in Fort Myers after what the Lee County Sheriff's
Office said was a series of crimes done for the benefit of the cult's leader,
whom the men refer to as their queen.

The Sheriff's Office said the three suspects are followers of a woman who
calls herself Queen Shahmia. Police said her real name is Richell Denise
Bradshaw, 33.

"This is certainly one of the most bizarre crime sprees we've seen in our
careers," Sheriff John McDougall said at a press conference Monday in Fort
Myers. "She was the queen bee, and they were the worker bees."

Bradshaw, who was not charged with any crime by the Lee County Sheriff's
Office, said she is the queen of the Asaba Tribe of Nigeria. "The three men
who were arrested were my men servants," Bradshaw said. "I know in the eyes
of the police department it looks like a crime. But they've been accused of a
crime that I do not believe."

Bradshaw said although she is not part of any one religious denomination or
sect, she is the sister of Jesus Christ and is on a worldwide tour to spread
the word of God. "It is my pleasure dwelling (in the shadow of Jesus) and I
am his sister," she said. "Everywhere I go, there is a great stirring
according to what father wants to do."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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17. Alleged cult leader defends 'manservants'
MSNBC, Jan. 4, 2000
A woman calling herself "the queen" says she's here to spread the word of
God. However, authorities are trying to connect her group to several armed
robberies around the state.

"Regardless of what my three men servants have been accused of, I am here to
represent my father's kingdom and their love for me is sure," she says.

"The people have been accusing us of being gypsies or of being this cult
because it is simply something you do not understand," she says.

It's something that sheriff's deputies don't understand either, and their
investigation is continuing.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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18. Final answers missing in disappearance of O'Hair family, despite
Dallas Morning News, Dec. 29, 1999
Since Madalyn Murray O'Hair, the grande dame of American atheism, vanished
from her Austin home one hot day in August 1995, the mystery has only grown

After more than four years of intensive investigation and colorful media
speculation about missing gold coins and grisly deaths, some details have
emerged. A relentless FBI investigation has provided a steady seep of detail
that uncoiled a complex tale of greed and violence that authorities say
suggests Mrs. O'Hair, her son and granddaughter were abducted and murdered by
two ex-cons.

But no definitive answers have been provided. No bodies have been found,
despite an extensive FBI search, including a three-day hunt at a 5,000-acre
ranch about 120 miles west of San Antonio in April.

Until early December, no charges had been filed in the case. After all this
time, just what happened to the woman known as the "most hated person in
America" remains elusive.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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19. Nintendo faces £60m writ from Uri Geller
The Guardian, Dec. 29, 1999
Uri Geller, the millionaire paranormalist, is suing the computer giant
Nintendo for more than 60m for allegedly using his image in its best-selling
Pokemon game without his permission.

He claims that a Pokemon card he discovered while Christmas shopping in Tokyo
is based on him. The "pocket monster" portrayed on the game card and
collected avidly by children all over the world, carries two bent spoons in
its hands, and is described on the card as a magician and "psychic".

But the most telling similarity between the Japanese monster and the Israeli
psychic is its name. While in the west the monster is called Alakazam, in
Japan its name is "Un-geller" and comes in two versions, Good Un-geller and
Evil Un-geller.

"I'm very angry about this. I wouldn't have given permission for an
aggressive and, in one case, evil character to be based on me. This is not
even anything to do with the old question of whether I'm a magician or a real
psychic. It's a straight theft of my persona."

Surrounded by controversy since he started bending spoons at the age of
three, the 53-year-old former Israeli paratrooper has always guarded
unlicensed use of his name. His lawyers are also considering action against
the furniture chain Ikea over a stool called Uri, which has bent and twisted
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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20. The Spirit of Santeria
Washington Post, January 4, 2000
(...) Hernandez is one of about a dozen high priests, or babalawos, in the
Washington area who practice Santeria, an Afro-Cuban faith with roots in the
Yoruba region of Nigeria.

The religion, once largely unknown in the metropolitan area, venerates saints
and incorporates a belief in divination, spirit possession and the sacrifice
of animals to appease the gods. It has become more visible in the 20 years
since the Mariel boat lift brought Cubans such as Hernandez to the District.

Santeria now attracts several thousand adherents in the region who cross
ethnic, racial, professional and religious lines. There are at least half a
dozen botanicas throughout the area that sell the wares that santeros use:
from herbs and animal parts used for potions to candles to ceremonial pots.

Santeria is also controversial because of its use of animals for sacrifices.
Practitioners gained significant protection from the U.S. Supreme Court,
which ruled in 1993 that such rituals are protected by the Constitution.
"Inside these four walls," Hernandez says, "no one can tell me what I can do
with an animal."

Although most followers of Santeria are of Caribbean and Latin American
descent, whites and African Americans are exploring the religion.

"Personally, everything I knew about Santeria seemed so dark, a little
scary," said Karen Emmons, a Buddhist and registered nurse who drove from
Warfordsburg, Pa., to attend the ceremony. "I come from a Christian
background and anything that's not of the light is not necessarily good. So I
had to move beyond that."

But Emmons said she doesn't see much difference among religions. "Everybody's
looking for happiness, peace and joy in their life," she said. "I think there
is one God with many different faces and people need to see that."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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21. Young black Americans fall under vodou spell
The Observer (England), Dec. 26, 1999
Thousands of young African-Americans are straying off the Christian path in
the search for God. Increasingly they are turning to Yoruba, which they cite
as the historical faith of young, black America.

African-based religions like Yoruba, Santeria, Candomble, Lucumi and Vodou
are grounded in the belief that ancestral connection is integral to spiritual
well-being. Worshippers dance, drum, chant and recite prayers - messengers of
God are sometimes believed to visit the bodies of the worshippers.

For many black Americans, the experience is more satisfying that the church
services of their parents. 'This is not an alternative religion,' says
Dorothy Ferebee, a Yoruba centre administrator in Philadelphia. 'It is not
something that is just a fashionable trend at the moment: this is more than
just a passing movement. A growing disillusionment with Christianity is only
part of the explanation. There is a growing perception that if you're black,
then this is something that is in your DNA.'

In the US, Yoruba has been pilloried as a satanic religion - ceremonies are
held in underground basements and city apartments. Yet the religion prospers
in many metropolitan cities, especially those with large immigrant
populations from the Caribbean and Latin America.

Now it is estimated that there are more than 800,000 practising worshippers
nationwide - New York and Miami are two of the religion's largest centres,
with 300,000 and 70,000 followers respectively. But there are also pockets of
Yoruba in cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and San
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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22. No sanctuary
Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), Jan. 1, 2000
(...) Her homecoming after two years overseas should have been a happy affair
for the energetic 24-year-old and those close to her. Instead, the Cobcroft
family of western Sydney are in shock over her sexual assault and murder in
the forested grounds of a Thai Buddhist temple.

Thai police were appalled by the brutality of her alleged attackers, Vichat
Kaoewgamnerd, 14, who was expelled as a novice monk two days before the
killing, and a male companion, Pairote Yomyart, 19.

Both Vichat and Pairote, the sons of poor rural parents, had reputations for
petty theft and drug use.

Vichat's mother and father had thought a period as a monk might help improve
his character. A large number of the 500,000 men in the Thai monkhood are
novices. Monks receive donations of food and other necessities from the
public, and Thailand's 80,000 Buddhist temples can be used as a refuge from
enemies, arrest or poverty.

"Something needs to be done about dishonest and violent people going into
monasteries as monks," said one long-time foreign resident of Bangkok. "The
problem is getting worse."

One monk was arrested after carrying out a bizarre ritual using a stillborn
baby. There have been cases of monks killing each other in feuds over money
and of others building personal fortunes by establishing sects. One former
Thai monk was sentenced to death in the United States for a double murder
during a robbery.

Monks in Thailand have variously been convicted for dealing in heroin,
prostitution, robbery, embezzlement and murder. Such crimes have been dubbed
"saffron scandals" and one commentator condemned "Satans wrapped in yellow
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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23. Believers expect Second Coming to occur on outskirts of Edinburgh
Independent News (England), Dec. 31, 1999
One of Britain's most mysterious churches, which is said to house the Holy
Grail, has become the focus of speculation about the imminent second coming
of Jesus Christ.

Believers have lately been visiting the tiny 15th-century Rosslyn chapel on
the outskirts of Edinburgh, convinced that it is the site where Christ will
reappear, as predicted in the Book of Revelation.

The Gothic chapel, which includes many masonic references, is devoted to the
Knights Templar.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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24. ''Witch'' spawns 2 sequels
Yahoo!/Variety, Jan 4, 2000
(...) In the wake of Artisan Entertainment's runaway hit "The Blair Witch
Project'' the anticipated sequel has turned out to be not one, but two

The original film, a horror mock documenatry shot in black and white, cost
about about $40,000 to make and ended up grossing $140.5 million at the
domestic box office last year.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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25. Ohio minister not moving to county
Dallas Morning News, Dec. 28, 1999
The Rev. Leroy Jenkins' church is not happening now. The charismatic
minister and self-proclaimed hands-on healer has put his 7-acre tract in
rural Collin County up for sale, just eight months after his arrival in

Mr. Jenkins, 63, said Monday that his effort to relocate his ministry -
originally called the Church of What's Happening Now - from Ohio to a site
near Princeton was thwarted by animosity from some local politicians and the
desire to continue a traveling ministry.

Mr. Jenkins is basing his decision on hearsay, said Princeton City Council
member Pat Talley. While the minister's property lies just yards from
Princeton's city limits, the city can put no constraints on his business, she

But the minister's claim to have a well of holy water didn't sit well with
council member Harold Grounds. "I'm kind of skeptical of somebody who starts
talking about holy water," Mr. Grounds said. "If he had come in here as a
regular evangelist, that would be different."

However, he said, he heard reports that some Princeton council members had
referred in public meetings to his church as a cult, among other things, and
that had offended and threatened him. "But I also feel that I'm needed too
much in the world to just stay in one place," he added. "I think I can do
more by just traveling."

Mr. Jenkins, who considers himself a traditional preacher, has served time in
a North Carolina prison for conspiracy to commit arson, been acquitted of
federal tax-evasion charges in Ohio and spent 18 months on probation in a
Florida theft case.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Trends

26. Church leaders question Creation theory
BBC News, Dec. 27, 1999
The majority of leading public figures including church leaders and
politicians do not believe in the Biblical version of the Creation, according
to a survey.

A study by BBC Radio 4's Today programme provided a snapshot view of the
state of Christian faith at the end of the 20th Century, and revealed the
majority doubt the Virgin Birth.

The most revealing answers however, came from members of the clergy. Of the
103 church leaders who took part in the survey - including Church of England
and Catholic bishops and Methodist ministers - only three said they believed
in the literal, Biblical, version of the Creation in which God created the
world in six days.

Asked whether they believed that Adam and Eve really existed, only 13 of the
church leaders said yes, with 80 saying no. Nor was the Virgin Birth
universally accepted, with nearly one in four saying they did not believe in

The majority, however, believed in the Resurrection and that God was able to
influence events on Earth, and nearly all the churchmen believed the Ten
Commandments were still applicable.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Archeology

27. Dead Sea Scrolls: Inquiring minds want to know
Miami Herald, Dec. 28, 1999 (Opinion)
Kenneth Hanson, an adjunct professor at Rollins College and the University of
Central Florida, is author of Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story. His book,
Words of Light: Spiritual Wisdom from the Dead Sea Scrolls, will be published
this spring.

What's the source of these millennial revelations? Those voluminous texts of
hoary antiquity, better known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Stored in earthen
jars and hidden in desert caves for centuries until discovered in 1947, these
ancient writings have become cash cows for tabloid journalists. One went so
far as to state that one of the fragments spells out the name Elvis: "It
says he will be a beloved prophet who will retire to the Holy Land when his
mission in other countries is finished.''

I've been scouring the Dead Sea Scrolls in the original Hebrew for more than
two decades and find nothing of the kind. There is a Hebrew word -- El --
generally translated as God that appears repeatedly, but I have yet to find
the syllable vis attached to it anywhere.

Until then, I will content myself with what the ancient Judean sect, who
called themselves the "Sons of Light,'' and whom history has identified as
the Essenes, really wrote about the future, as they perceived it.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== UFOs

28. Close encounters of supportive kind
The Australian, Dec. 28, 1999
[see UFOs]
Perth artist Tracey Taylor says she was three when she was first abducted by
aliens. The last time it happened, she claims, was just a few nights ago.
The 23-year-old is one of about 300 people in Perth who believe they have had
a close encounter with extraterrestrial beings.

Her case and dozens of other supposed abductions have been documented and
brought to public attention through a support group founded by therapist Mary
Rodwell. Ms Rodwell, with fellow counsellor Elizabeth Robinson, began the
Australia Close Encounter Resource Network (ACERN) in 1996 after dozens of
her clients claimed to have been taken by aliens and had displayed similar

Ms Taylor said the support group was a lifesaver that had "validated" her
strange experiences that, up until then, had been dismissed as the product of
a wild imagination.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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29. ET, no need to call home . . . you'll fit in here
The Australian, Dec. 28, 1999
Alien implants, mysterious metal objects from outer space and bizarre
encounters of the fourth kind sound more like an episode from The X Files
than an exhibition for public consumption.

But these arcane objects and events form the basis of Phenomena, a touring
showcase on extraterrestrials and unidentified flying objects the first of
its kind to open in Fremantle.

It's also the world premiere and project director Brian Borshoff said its
popularity demonstrated the growing fascination with UFOs and the idea of
extraterrestrial contact.

He said people are so fascinated by the subject that UFO sites have the
highest hit rate on the Internet and five of the 10 most popular films in
history were about either UFOs or extraterrestrials.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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30. Night lights mystery
The Press/NZPA (New Zealand), Dec. 29, 1999
UFO fever is threatening to break out after a rash of calls to police about
fast-moving, coloured lights in the sky north of the city.

Police received six calls over two hours from several different areas north
of Auckland on Saturday night but have been unable to explain the lights.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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31. Many report 'green balls' in sky
San Diego Union Tribune, Jan. 3, 2000
A green flash of light in the sky was reported by many people across Southern
California last night, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said.

"I have gotten 500 million calls about the green balls," Joubert said last
night. "Pilots saw it, police saw it, people saw it. All I can say is it is
not an air traffic control issue because it did not show up on our radar, but
it was definitely there."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* Later reports say these items "probably" were meteors.

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance

32. Southern Baptists and the conversion debate
Star-Telegram/Religion News Service, Jan. 1, 2000
My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, finds itself embroiled in a
dispute on many fronts concerning its evangelistic plans and activities.
Religious leaders in New York and Chicago, and now even the White House, have
expressed concern about religious intolerance and the possibility of violence
connected to those plans.

The church was commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations.

There have always been millions of people who do not believe this message.
Some of these are deeply committed adherents of other religious faiths, such
as Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Most historic faiths make sweeping claims
about the truthfulness of their holy writings and the universal applicability
of their deepest beliefs.

Some of these faiths are likewise evangelistic and thus actively engaged in
the effort to win converts.

Evangelistically minded Christians are not claiming that persons of other
religious faiths must be prevented from believing their faith or sharing it
with other people. Nor are we asking the government to suppress the religious
beliefs of those of other faiths. Nor are we interested in coercing anyone
into some forced profession of Christian faith. Nor is any form of violence
even remotely under consideration.

What Southern Baptists and other evangelistic Christians are doing is what we
have always done -- believing the core truths of our faith and in obedience
preparing to spread that faith as effectively as possible. Most of the
Southern Baptist documents that have created such a stir in recent months are
simply the same kinds of internal prayer guides and mission strategy
statements that have for generations been used in the evangelistic work of
Christian groups.

What is really happening here is a fundamental clash of world views. That
clash is not between, say, the Muslim world view and the Christian world
view. Both of these faiths, radically different in content, do at least have
real substance and truth claims that are not infinitely elastic.

The current clash is actually between a world view in which there is such a
thing as absolute truth and another in which there is not.

But those who would call Southern Baptists or any other evangelical Christian
group to renounce their evangelistic efforts will run into a brick wall,
because this is a decision we are not free to make.

(David P. Gushee is director of the Center for Christian Leadership and
associate professor of Christian Studies at Union University in Jackson,
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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33. Catholics fear for freedoms in new Macao
Boston Globe, Jan. 3, 2000
(...) With Macao now back under Beijing's control, the diocese that once
ruled over all churches in China and Japan is facing its greatest challenge
yet. A Roman Catholic Church that for centuries was arguably more powerful
than the local government itself will have to survive and thrive in a country
whose leadership does not even recognize the Vatican.

China has promised that the former Portuguese colony, like the former British
colony of Hong Kong, will continue to enjoy freedom of religion, civil
liberties, a Western legal tradition, and a capitalist economy for at least
50 years.

Macao's Catholics are banking on that vow, and most dismiss comparisons to
mainland China, where the communist government controls the ''official''
church, and where Catholics loyal to the Vatican worship in illegal,
underground churches.

Yet some worry that the Chinese government, historically suspicious of
influential religious movements, may exert a slow squeeze on free worship in
Macao. That may already have begun, with the arrest and deportation last
month of members of Falun Gong, a Chinese sect based on Buddhism, Taoism, and
breathing exercises that Beijing has outlawed on the mainland as a cult.
Falun Gong remains legal in Macao and Hong Kong, but in the week that Macao
was returned to China, its members were accused of illegal assembly.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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34. Israeli government guarantees religious liberty
EWTN/Zenith, Jan. 2, 2000
On behalf of the Israeli government, Prime Minister Ehud Barak congratulated
his Christian compatriots of all denominations and Christians worldwide on
the occasion of the New Year.

"The government of Israel trusts that the wishes for peace, security,
economic wellbeing and coexistence based on mutual respect may be shared by
the citizens of all communities. The government is determined in its
commitment to guarantee the right of Christians to freedom of religion,
worship and access to the Holy Places. These rights, as well as those related
to economic stability and personal security, must always be safeguarded so
that the Christian community can continue to prosper, free of worries over
civil, social, economic and personal security," Barak's message stated.

In another message to Christians worldwide, Israeli President Ezer Weizman
said: "The State of Israel gives much importance to the Christian population
and will do everything possible to guarantee that all Christians in the
country enjoy full security and mutual respect.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Noted

35. Graham doubts Farrakhan can unify
News & Observer, Jan. 3, 2000
The Rev. Billy Graham says Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is not the
person to preach unity for all races and religions. Graham told "Fox News
Sunday" that Farrakhan could not be the unifying figure he now says he wants
to be.

"I doubt if he could," the North Carolina evangelist said, noting that
Farrakhan had asked to meet with him. "His views and my views will be very
far apart, and it would be very difficult for us. We could be friends, but it
would be very difficult for us to say that we are the same or that we could
be the same religiously."

Graham also offered comments on controversial plans by the Southern Baptist
Convention, his own denomination, to send evangelists into Chicago to try to
convert Jews and Muslims.

"I normally defend my denomination. I'm loyal to it," Graham said. "But I
have never targeted Muslims. I have never targeted Jews. I believe that we
should declare the fact that God loves you, God's willing to forgive you, God
can change you, and Christ and his kingdom is open to anybody who repents and
by faith receives him as Lord and Savior."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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36. Apostles of the Apocalypse: Are we ready for the end?
CNN, Jan. 2000
(...) One fear of public officials, academics and others is that some
radicals among the doomsayers may attempt acts of violence in the name of
satisfying such prophecies.

Although this year's millennial fervor actually has been milder than
researchers expected, there is still no shortage of end-time believers of all
faiths, from some Protestant evangelists warning of the imminent reign of the
Antichrist to Muslim extremist groups endorsing a "jihad" against Israel.

Many of those listening to these religious soothsayers are average Americans
who would not consider themselves predisposed to apocalyptic thinking.

Few soothsayers, however, are reserving an exact date for the end. Some
Christian ministers are making vague predictions of a cataclysm somewhere
around the year 2000. Many leave their calendars blank, warning followers to
be prepared "at any time."

Scores of preachers have seized upon Revelation's compelling visions to evoke
various interpretations of the end of days.

In his book, "Israel's Final Holocaust," Jack Van Impe, founder of one of the
world's largest evangelical Christian ministries devoted to prophecy, applies
an almost literal view of Revelation to a modern context.

Most scholars contend, however, that John was merely writing in code to
Christian churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

As for preachers who read more into the book, Hanson says they are taking the
wrong approach. "The use of the Bible to predict the end of the world ...
constitute[s] an abuse of scripture," Hanson says. "The message that these
groups derive from scripture through their perverted reading is one of cruel
vindictiveness against the vast majority of the human race."

So what happens if the expected apocalypse does not materialize on schedule?

Millennial scholars fear we will see a backlash against various religious
groups as conservative Christian leaders seek to explain why their
predictions did not come true.

Religious movements out of the mainstream, such as Jehovah's Witnesses or the
Wiccans, could be targeted, according to Ontario Consultants on Religious
, an organization that promotes understanding of all religions.

Another concern: agents provocateurs. Some radical doomsayers could act to
ignite a religious war, thus triggering Armageddon.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Books

37. The rise and decline of the Messenger
Miami Herald, Dec. 26, 1999
[Nation of Islam]
The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. Karl Evanzz. Pantheon.
704 pages. $28.50.

To be truly engrossing, a biography must not be content merely to excavate
the details and significance of its subject's life. It also must provide an
understanding of the evolving historical context within which the person
existed and operated. In The Messenger, Washington Post reporter Karl Evanzz
fulfills this latter requirement ably, not only examining one of the most
intriguing figures of the 20th Century but also grounding Elijah Muhammad
firmly within the history of black nationalism, the civil rights movement and
the state of race relations from the late 19th Century to the present.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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