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Religion News Report

December 1, 1999 (Vol. 3, Issue 138)

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Religion News Report - December 1, 1999 (Vol. 3, Issue 138)
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=== Waco / Branch Davidians
1. Waco reignited

=== Falun Gong
2. China Said to Detain 35,000 in Sect
3. China state-run publisher hit for Falun Gong books

=== Scientology
4. John Travolta, Out on the 'Battlefield'
5. Ruling delayed on critic of church
6. Scientology feud 'concerns' judge

=== Unification Church
7. Suspicion Follows Rev. Moon to South America

=== Jehovah's Witnesses
8. Witnesses face more shut doors

=== Breatharianism
9. Public inquiry into cult follower's death ruled out

=== Islam
10. Lyric From the Koran Is Off-Key in Lebanon

=== Other News
11. Missing child believed starved to death, official says
12. New religious cult under fire for fraud (Ho No Hana Sanpogyo)
13. EBay Nixes Heaven's Gate Auctions
14. Millennium sect heads for the hills
15. Hospital deal creates religion questions (SDA)
16. Battle won as Sikh school joins state sector

=== False Teachers
17. 'Apostle' of prosperity puts Cleveland church in crisis

=== Noted
18. The celebrity way of yoga
19. Alpha to The Rescue

=== Interfaith / Interdenominational / Religious Pluralism
20. Southern Baptists warned; Chicago religious leaders question mission plan
21. Conference to focus on religious unity

=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance
22. Idaho Christians Rally Round a Cross on a Hill

=== Books
23. President of Christian Research Institute Takes on His Peers In
Controversial New Book About Y2K
24. 'A Pecular People' - The Mystical and Pragmatic Appeal of Mormonism
25. Harry Potter Readers Say Christian Right Is Wrong


=== Waco / Branch Davidians

1. Waco reignited
St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.sptimes.com:80/News/112899/Floridian/Waco%5Freignited.shtml
(...) What McNulty found became grim accusation in a documentary, Waco: A New
Revelation, to be released this week, and evidence in a wrongful-death suit
against the government slated for trial next year.
(...)

Some did not believe the government. McNulty, at the time an insurance agent
in California, began a search for answers that would devour his finances and
his waking hours for seven years.
(...)

Before the fledgling company could capture a single G-rated frame, the Van
Vleets heard that Michael McNulty, the bulldog of Waco critics, now resided
in Fort Collins. There were questions about Waco still begging answers. Maybe
McNulty had something for MGA.
(...)

A friend of McNulty's in Arizona, David Hardy, had helped dig up a lot of it.
Hardy, a former Interior Department attorney, first sued the ATF for access
to the evidence in 1996.
(...)

Van Vleet and McNulty were the first private citizens to get into the
evidence rooms. They were not looking for the Davidians' story, but the
government's.
(...)

An attorney for Waco survivors and descendants in a wrongful-death suit
against the government says he had been denied access to the evidence since
filing the case in 1994. McNulty's work proved critical to keeping the suit
alive, says Michael Caddell of Houston, until he and other attorneys were
given access by a judge last summer.
(...)

The extreme right has long made the late Vince Foster its poster boy for
conspiracy theories. Van Vleet says the White House counsel shot himself in
the head July 20, 1993, three months after Waco, out of guilt. As the Texas
Rangers' contact person during the standoff, Foster could not live with what
happened, Van Vleet says. Foster's widow told investigators Waco had been on
his mind. Foster's involvement indicts the Clintons, says Van Vleet.

The only name Van Vleet injects with more venom than the president's is that
of the president's wife. "What do you think of Hillary Clinton?" he asks,
like some litmus strip on one's politics. On this late afternoon in October,
Van Vleet is headed to the studio because he wants to share how the film
"connects the dots" to her.
(...)

He has invested more than $1-million in Waco: A New Revelation -- he says
there are no outside investors -- and undisclosed millions more in the
company. Inside the deceptive exterior, towers of shelves brim with expensive
synthesizers and servers. State-of-the-art computers crowd desktops. On one
sound-baffled wall hang 16 keyboards -- there are 60-plus in the building,
almost all of which can be played by remote on computer software.

His is a self-contained empire capable of filming, editing, graphics, sound
effects, music and marketing. A New Revelation will be ready for
direct-to-video sales and a limited theatrical release next week, Van Vleet
says. The documentary will be sold through ads, a Web site
(http://www.waco-anewrevelation.comOff-site Link) and direct marketing to groups who know
"the country is out of whack."

"More and more rights are being taken away," says Van Vleet. "As long as
people have money in the bank, it doesn't matter to them. But you have to
keep the government in check."
(...)

Crime was rampant in the overpopulated state, McNulty feared, and the
government intended to leave him defenseless.

He lobbied against an assault-weapons ban introduced in the State Legislature
after a fatigue-clad gunman sprayed a Stockton schoolyard with an AK-47 and
killed five Southeast Asian children in 1989. McNulty says the ban on several
types of guns was an "overreaction."
(...)

He founded COPS, a group opposed to gun control and government interference.
(...)

McNulty hosted a radio talk show on KHNC in nearby Johnstown, a station the
Southern Poverty Law Center labeled anti-Semitic and racist. He was already
hip-deep in his work on Waco. McNulty, a congressional aide once observed,
is No. 1 in the "nut-case crowd."

"All we've been doing is asking questions," McNulty counters. "Those who
would prefer to keep Waco a dark, deep secret will do their best to portray
us as radical nuts, but we just don't fit the mold. I'm not out attending
militia meetings. I'm not a member of a white Aryan group."

McNulty spent more than $400,000 of his savings investigating Waco and
co-produced the 1997 documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement, hooking up
with former television reporter Dan Gifford, who had also worked on the gun
permit lawsuit. The film was an Academy Award nominee in 1998; in September
McNulty won an Emmy for investigative journalism.
(...)

Critics labeled the film extremist propaganda. "Nothing shows the federal
agents murdered those people and set the fire (at Waco). I think it's a
disaster that they (filmmakers) have gained a lot of credibility," says Mark
Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center's publication, Intelligence
Report.
(...)

The Van Vleets and MGA were not involved in the first documentary. Theirs,
says McNulty, is less cinematic but harder-edged, drawing the noose tighter
and higher up the ladder in D.C.
(...)

On a Wednesday in November during the last hectic days of the congressional
session in Washington, D.C., the group from Colorado screened its documentary
at the Union Station theaters for lawmakers, staff and the press.

Rick Van Vleet borrowed an AMC badge from a theater employee and positioned
himself at the exit. "What did you think of the film?" he asked departing
members of the media. They would glance at his badge, then talk. "Riveting,"
said one.

"Hogwash," Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, says of the entire
effort. "I think these men are doing a great disservice. They're fueling a
movement that thrives on wild conspiracy theories."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Falun Gong

2. China Said to Detain 35,000 in Sect
Washington Post, Nov. 30, 1999
http://search.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1999-11/30/108l-113099-idx.html
Chinese police detained more than 35,000 practitioners of the Falun Gong
spiritual movement in Beijing alone between July 22--the day the group was
banned--and Oct. 30, a human rights organization reported today.

The Hong Kong-based Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic
Movement in China reported that the figure was announced here on Friday
during a speech to Communist Party stalwarts by Vice Premier Li Lanqing.
According to the account, Li described the campaign against Falun Gong as
"long term, difficult and complex" and said Falun practitioners were being
"stubborn."

If accurate, the account would be the clearest indication to date of the size
of efforts to crush Falun Gong's enduring opposition to the government ban.
The human rights organization reported having three sources for the contents
of Li's speech but did not identify them.
(...)

The government estimates that 2 million Chinese follow Falun Gong; other
estimates place the number closer to 10 million. At the height of its
popularity, the sect was actively promoted by the government and sold 55
million books--all printed on state-run presses.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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3. China state-run publisher hit for Falun Gong books
AOL/Reuters, Nov. 29, 1999
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?table=n&cat=01&id=1999112905150596
China has suspended a state-owned publisher and fired staff members for
printing books promoting the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, the
official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

The State Press and Publication Administration (SPPA) suspended the Qinghai
People's Publishing House in the northwestern province of Qinghai for its
release in January of four books promoting Falun Gong, Xinhua reported.

Although the books were published months before Communist authorities banned
Falun Gong in July, SPPA officials told Xinhua the publisher had seriously
violated China's laws.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Scientology

4. John Travolta, Out on the 'Battlefield'
Washington Post, Nov. 28, 1999
http://washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/style/A48280-1999Nov26.html
Something otherworldly is happening inside Hangar 12, something they're
trying to keep secret. But we can tell you this much: John Travolta is
involved, and so are space aliens.

Soldiers have secured the perimeter. "Warning: This establishment is under
permanent surveillance by the military police," a sign says. Absolutely no
trespassing, by order of Canada's minister of national defense.
(...)

It's only a movie, the authorities say. The Canadian military is simply
renting a secure facility to Travolta and his film crew. Here is the official
story: Inside Hangar 12, they are making an $80 million sci-fi epic called
"Battlefield Earth."
(...)

Okay. But what's the real story? At the end of the millennium, you can't
believe press releases.
(...)

So is "Battlefield Earth" a recruiting film for Scientology? Nonsense,
Travolta says. The movie, he keeps telling reporters, has absolutely,
positively no connection to Scientology. No sirree.
(...)

But maybe this has everything to do with a cult: a paranoid, insular group
that refuses to answer further questions from the press because it hopes to
wring as much money from the public as possible and doesn't believe in giving
away its secrets for free. It's about a hierarchy that hopes to dominate the
world with its propaganda and turn us all into robotic supplicants.
(...)

Scientology says its therapies can make people smarter, healthier, more
successful.
(...)

But there's a reason the church is often called controversial. In France this
month Scientology staff members were convicted of fraud. A German court ruled
that Scientology used "inhuman and totalitarian practices." A California
appeals court branded its treatment of one member "manifestly outrageous."
(His award of $2.5 million for "serious emotional injury" was twice upheld by
the U.S. Supreme Court, but he has never been able to collect.) Scientology
believes such findings are the result of religious intolerance.

Church policy letters show that Scientology wants to eradicate psychiatry and
psychology, as well as gain control, or the allegiance, of "key political
figures" and the proprietors of "all news media." Its avowed goal is to
"Clear the Planet" – that is, to turn everyone into a Scientologist who has
achieved the level of "Clear" through Hubbard's books, drills and E-meter.

Celebrities are key to the crusade to clear the planet. Hubbard realized in
Scientology's early days that the public adores and mimics celebs – not
because they're necessarily intelligent or enlightened, but because they're
rich and famous. In 1955 – five years after publishing his cornerstone text,
"Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health" – he ordered followers to
bring stars into the fold, knowing their magnetism would attract ordinary
pew-packers.

Writing "Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000," Hubbard revisited the
space operas he'd churned out for pennies a word before he started his own
religion.
(...)

Hubbard had disappeared to escape the scandals that engulfed his church in
the late '70s. Scientology was besieged by lawsuits alleging fraud,
brainwashing and criminal conduct, and was tarred by the indictment of
several top officials who had infiltrated federal agencies, bugged an IRS
meeting and burgled files the government kept on the group. Hubbard himself
was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1978 criminal case; his third
wife, Mary Sue, was sentenced to four years in prison for orchestrating the
schemes.

He turned to writing what he called "pure science fiction." But it's not
difficult to see connections between his fiction and his religious teachings.
(...)

Since the early '50s, the founder's sacred writings have focused on his
belief that Earthlings are the pawns of aliens. Hubbard taught that the
psychiatric establishment – which always looked askance at his theories – was
not just a present-day evil, but a timeless one.
(...)

"Battlefield Earth" wasn't the first time Hubbard mixed themes from Holy Writ
and blazing ray guns. In 1977, he penned a screenplay titled "Revolt in the
Stars," featuring an intergalactic overlord named Xenu and his psychiatric
advisers, Stug and Sty.
(...)

The plot of "Revolt" mirrors a sacred Scientology text called "OT III" (which
stands for Operating Thetan Section III). It is revealed to Scientologists
only after they pay tens of thousands of dollars and undergo many hours of
intensive "processing" to prepare them for the Xenu message.

The scripture – widely leaked by disgruntled ex-members – describes how the
exterminated alien beings were fused into clusters in the volcanoes and
attached themselves to human spirits. To become truly free, Hubbard teaches,
parishioners must detect these aliens and get rid of them using the E-meter
device.
(...)

"Revolt" was shopped around Hollywood in late 1979 but never made it to the
screen. Undaunted, Hubbard turned his imagination to a book he titled "Man,
the Endangered Species" – later to be called "Battlefield Earth." Also around
this time, a young actor named John Travolta began his journey into the
uppermost levels of Scientology, learning about the secret agenda of the
aliens, the implanters and the psychiatrists.
(...)

Operating Thetans learn about the evil Xenu, survive the so-called "Wall of
Fire" and begin to divest themselves of alien infestations. The revelation
that humans are controlled by alien spirits prompts some Scientologists to
quit the church, but to others it confirms Hubbard's genius.
(...)

Many acquaintances talk of Travolta's warmth and kindness. But he shows a
more pugnacious side when talking about church enemies – described in
Hubbard's writings as "suppressive persons." Skeptical journalists,
ex-members who sue Scientology, government investigators or family members
antagonistic to the sect would all qualify.
(...)

In Scientology writings, a suppressive person deserves no mercy. He may be
"deprived of property or injured by any means by any Scientologist,"
according to a 1967 Hubbard policy letter. "May be tricked, sued, or lied to
or destroyed."

Travolta never speaks about such policies in mainstream publications. Nor
does he mention his Operating Thetan status, which, according to church
teachings, gives him the ability to control "matter, energy, space, time,
form and life."
(...)

No matter what Travolta's role, disaffected former Scientologists say the
movie will serve to boost the church's membership and reinforce Hubbard's
anti-psychiatry message. But Young – who worked as an image-builder for the
church for 20 years before he became disgruntled and quit in 1989 – detects a
more subtle strategy.

"In one sense, John Travolta is right – this is not a book about
Scientology," he says. "But it's a way for people to discover Scientology.
It's a lead-in."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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5. Ruling delayed on critic of church
St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 30, 1999
http://www.sptimes.com/News/113099/TampaBay/Ruling_delayed_on_cri.shtml
After a nine-hour hearing Monday, a judge said he needed more time to decide
whether one of the the Church of Scientology's most vocal critics can
continue to picket in front of church properties in downtown Clearwater.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas E. Penick Jr. said he will rule Thursday
on the church's request that Robert S. Minton, a New England millionaire, be
permanently ordered to stay away from Scientology buildings.

Minton, who crusades against Scientology, was arrested Oct. 31 on a
misdemeanor battery charge after he pushed his posterboard picket sign into
the face of Richard Howd, a church staffer who had followed him all day with
a video camera
. Scientology lawyers said it was the third time in the past
two years Minton had behaved violently toward Scientologists.
(...)

DeVlaming said there was a pattern in which church operatives exaggerated
minor physical contact with Minton and other Scientology critics, then called
police to report a battery in hopes a judge would enjoin them from going near
church property.
(...)

Minton called Howd's reaction "dramatic," adding a reference to a top
Scientology celebrity: "I thought it was worthy of John Travolta." He said he
was calling police at the time because Howd had jostled him on the sidewalk
and placed his camera lens within two inches of his head.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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6. Scientology feud 'concerns' judge
Tampa Tribune, Nov. 30, 1999
http://www.tampatrib.com/news/tues1003.htm
(...) After hours spent Monday viewing obscenity-laced videotapes of
Scientologists and antichurch protesters confronting one another on public
streets, a judge held off ruling on a permanent injunction against a
prominent church critic.

"I'm concerned that both sides seem to have a fetish with getting within two
feet of one another,'' Judge Thomas Penick said. "I saw in video after video
that you couldn't get a piece of paper between these people ... the whole
situation concerns me, quite frankly,'' the judge said in Pinellas Circuit
Court.
(...)

In a series of videotapes, church members could be seen getting within inches
of Minton and other placard-carrying protesters. In some, church members
screamed insults, and in others they complained of being bumped or stepped on
and were asking that colleagues call police.

Minton and other protesters can be heard responding with vulgar sexual
taunts. On the witness stand Monday, Minton said that in every instance he
and his fellow protesters were echoing taunts made off-camera by church
members.

Howd, Minton said, fell dramatically to the street after being bumped with
the placard. Police Officer Mark Beaudette, who arrested Minton, testified
he would not have been knocked down by such a blow.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* For more documentation about Scientology's record of harassment, see

http://www.apologeticsindex.org/s04.html#cosharass


=== Unification Church

7. Suspicion Follows Rev. Moon to South America
New York Times, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.nytimes.com/library/world/americas/112899brazil-rev-moon.html
(...) Moon, the 78-year-old founder of the Unification Church, who has been
rebuffed in the United States and is facing financial trouble in his native
South Korea, is seeking to reinvent himself here in the South American
heartland.

Through a venture he calls New Hope East Garden, Moon has bought thousands of
acres of pasture land and spent some $30 million, according to the project's
manager, in hope of building a spiritual and business empire here that is to
include investments in agriculture, industry and tourism, as well as a
university.

Such investment was at first welcomed in the neediest part of Mato Grosso do
Sul, a state whose own governor describes it as a land of "2 million people
and 22 million cows." But increasingly, Moon's visible presence here is
generating the same sort of opposition and suspicion that has followed him
elsewhere around the world during a long career as the self-proclaimed "true
father" and successor to Jesus Christ. "No one knows what he's up to out
there, what are the objectives of his investments or the origins of his
money," the governor, Jose Orcirio Miranda dos Santos, said in an interview.
"This has become an issue of national security, and I think an investigation
is needed."

Moon's initial warm reception has quickly chilled, with charges in the news
media and from local church officials that the sect is involved in improper
activities. In October, local Roman Catholic and Protestant churches jointly
issued an open letter accusing Moon of 10 forms of heresy, urging "the people
of God to keep their distance from the Unification sect," and calling on
local officials to "have the courage to remove this danger."

"More than a sect, this is a business that hides behind the facade of
religion in order to make money," said Monsignor Vitorio Pavanello, the Roman
Catholic bishop of Campo Grande, the state capital. "He is trying to build an
empire by buying everything in sight."
(...)

While he was once believed to have about 30,000 followers in the United
States, the current number of church members is believed to be about
one-tenth that number.
(...)

In recent years, Moon has been active in Uruguay, Brazil's southern neighbor
-- so much so that the capital, Montevideo, is now derisively called
Moontevideo by some.
(...)

"When they first began acquiring property here, we expected that they would
promote and contribute to the prosperity of our region by generating jobs and
taxes," said Marcio Campos Monteiro, the mayor of Jardim, a town of 21,000
people. "But all they seem to be doing is stockpiling land, without producing
anything or hiring from the local labor force."
(...)

Civic and church groups have also begun to complain loudly, and have even
charged that local youths are being recruited and sent off for indoctrination
in Sao Paulo, where the sect has its Brazilian headquarters. Though local
police declined to discuss the matter, there are also complaints that
converts are being held against their will at New Hope.
(...)

Recent reports in the Brazilian news media have also suggested that the sect
may be involved in drug trafficking and other forms of contraband smuggling
across the notoriously porous border with Paraguay in order to generate
revenues.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* The cult's own web site reports Moon saying:

http://www.unification.net/news/news19991024.html
(...)
My 80th birthday will be one of a kind in God’s dispensation, because a
new millennium begins from that point. So we need to invest every effort
to make a gift. Isn’t this wrong, for a parent to talk to his children
about what to give him? But you will be humiliated and punished if you do
not do it and I want you to become the best possible men and women. When
we go over this hill, if anyone has more wealth than I do, you will be
stuck there. By now you should be able to offer everything to God. That’s
why I gave the blessing of being able to give the Total Living Sacrifice
Offering. So you are in the position of New Testament and your children
are Completed Testament, and the offering is Old Testament, all things. So
three stages are together offered. So you have to go to Jardim for 40-day
education. Without that, you cannot register for the Kingdom.


=== Jehovah's Witnesses

8. Witnesses face more shut doors
Dallas Morning News, Nov. 27, 1999
http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/1127rel3witness.htm
Every week, for five decades, Joe Mayfield has knocked on doors -
conservatively, about 60,000 of them.
(...)

But these days getting a foot in the door - or even lobbing a brief message
across the moat of modern commotion - isn't easy.
(...)

Some say it is taking the Witnesses full circle, back to the way things were
nearly 2,000 ago when the early Christians, also then a distinct minority
religion, went to the marketplaces to tell their story.

"We try to go to parking lots, laundermats, store to store," said Mr.
Phillips, a 50-year-old disabled plumber.
(...)

Membership is up from less than 500,000 about 50 years ago to about 5.8
million today, according to the Brooklyn-based organization. Most of the
growth has been in countries around the world.

Jehovah's Witness monthly periodicals, The Watchtower, a Bible study guide,
and Awake!, a general interest tract, are translated into dozens of
languages. They are printed in batches of 22 million and 19 million
respectively and distributed around the world.

In 1998, the 1 million members of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the United
States spent 182,823,355 hours "preaching" in the field, going door to door
or otherwise evangelizing, according to the group's meticulous accounting of
members and their activities.
(...)

Witnesses have broadened their strategy, maneuvering around the boundaries of
closed communities by writing letters or phoning prospects, but only on a
small scale.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Breatharianism

9. Public inquiry into cult follower's death ruled out
News Wire (England), Nov. 29, 1999
http://www.lineone.net/newswire/cgi-bin/newswire.cgi/
skynews/uk/story/1999/11/c--1999-11-29-3n23.html
The death of a woman who followed a cult which encourages "living on light"
will not be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry, it was confirmed today.
Alasdair MacDonald, procurator fiscal for Dornoch, north east Scotland, said
the decision had been taken in conjunction with the family of Verity Linn.
(...)

Ms Linn is thought to have been a follower of Australian new-age guru Ellen
Greve, known as Jasmuheen, who advocates "breatharianism" or "living on
light". A diary found among her belongings suggested she had been taking
part in a spiritual cleansing programme.

She was also a member of the Findhorn Foundation in Morayshire, but members
of the educational and spiritual establishment, founded in 1962, denied any
involvement with Jasmuheen.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Islam

10. Lyric From the Koran Is Off-Key in Lebanon
International Herald Tribune, Nov. 30, 1999
http://www.iht.com/IHT/TODAY/TUE/IN/beirut.2.html
When he goes on trial for blasphemy in Lebanon this week, Marcel Khalife, one
of the Arab world's best-loved singer-songwriters, is prepared to give the
court an earful - whether or not he is sentenced to prison.

''I'm going to ask them, 'What am I doing here?''' said Mr. Khalife, who
stands accused of offending Islam by singing a brief verse from the Koran.
(...)

If found guilty, Mr. Khalife faces a prison term of six months to three
years. The trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
(...)

That stanza angered the Dar Fatwa, the senior Sunni religious authority in
Lebanon. Quoting from the Koran is fine, the clerics said, but setting its
verses to music and accompanying it with instruments is off-limits.

''When you include a musical instrument to accompany the Koran, you go beyond
the respect due the word of God on earth,'' said Mohammed Kabaneh, the grand
mufti.
(...)

The prosecution of Mr. Khalife is actually an encore performance. His song,
first released in 1995, attracted attention almost immediately. But an
indictment against him two years ago was dropped, reportedly at the prompting
of the prime minister at the time, Rafiq Hariri.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

11. Missing child believed starved to death, official says
Boston Globe, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/332/metro/Missing
_child_believed_starved_to_death_official_says+.shtml
One of two children missing from an Attleboro religious community and feared
dead is believed to have been starved to death, because a member of the
community had a vision in which God told the mother to switch the child from
solid food to breast milk.

Samuel Robidoux was 10 months old when he disappeared. Police believe his
body, along with that of a stillborn cousin, Jeremiah Corneau, was buried in
Baxter State Park, in central Maine, in September.
(...)

The information comes from a journal seized from the sect, and referred to in
a search-warrant affidavit made public Friday, according to the Attleboro
Sun-Chronicle.

As Samuel's condition worsened, his mother, Karen Robidoux, became more
tormented, the journal stated. But other members of the sect said Satan had
been using the sight of her son to try to get to his mother, according to the
newspaper report.

Police were first alerted Nov. 10 to the disappearance of the two children by
David Mingo, an estranged member of the community. Mingo is involved in a
custody dispute with his wife who is still a member of the sect, said
Letourneau.
(...)

Members of the sect refused to cooperate with the investigation. David
Corneau told police his son had been stillborn, but invoked the Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to say where the
infant's body is buried.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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12. New religious cult under fire for fraud
Mainichi Daily News (Japan), Nov. 30, 1999
http://www.mainichi.co.jp/english/news/news03.html
Following the furor surrounding AUM Shinrikyo, another religious
organization, Ho No Hana Sanpogyo, is coming under the legal-suit cosh.

Ho No Hana is being sued by people demanding the return of exorbitant fees
they paid to take part in religious rites that were supposed to relieve them
from earthly troubles.
(...)

Typically, the group first encourages members to listen to people's personal
troubles and then advises them to take part in rites, which carry fees, to
help solve the problems.

Hogen Fukunaga, the head of Ho No Hana, justifies charging fees by saying in
a statement to the courts that "funds paid by followers are a contribution to
heaven."

While those involved in the suits claim that they were forced to pay up,
Fukunaga denies that Ho No Hana members made people part with their cash.
"Although we asked them to take part in our practices, they themselves
actually made the decision to do so," he said.
(...)

After looking at the soles of the daughter's feet in a so-called "sole
examination," Fukunaga recommended that she take part in Ho No Hana
practices, and members told her mother to pay 18 million yen in fees for
practices and a scroll.
(...)

The mother ended up withdrawing her savings and borrowing money from
financial institutions to pay the fees.
(...)

Then Fukunaga examined his soles, and said, "Your life is bad in the past,
present and the future." Following the recommendations of Ho No Hana members,
he paid 610,000 yen to take part in a session to aid his situation in
Shizuoka Prefecture.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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13. EBay Nixes Heaven's Gate Auctions
APB Online, Nov. 29, 1999
http://www.apbnews.com/newscenter/internetcrime/1999/11/29/ebay1129_01.html
Citing legal concerns, the Internet auction Web site eBay has temporarily
banned sales of possessions formerly owned by the Heaven's Gate cult.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, eBay halted auctions of Heaven's Gate
items, including two of the infamous bunk beds on which cult members were
discovered after they committed a mass suicide in 1997.

In recent months, eBay has come under fire for allowing sales of
controversial items like Nazi memorabilia and guns. But a spokesman for the
San Jose-based company said it was the online descriptions of the Heaven's
Gate items, not their history, that led to their removal.

Attorneys contacted eBay last week to express concern that the items were
listed as being owned by Heaven's Gate, spokesman Kevin Pursglove told
APBnews.com. The attorneys "raised some questions about appropriate use of
the name in dealing with intellectual property rights," he said. "So we
agreed at that point to remove the items while we work on the best way to
have the material described."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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14. Millennium sect heads for the hills
BBC, Nov. 19, 1999
http://news2.thls.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia%2Dpacific/newsid%5F528000/528165.stm
(...) A religious sect in the Philippines believes that the new millennium
will mean the end of the world, so it has gone to the lengths of constructing
a warren of caverns where its followers can shelter from a rain of fire that
they believe will destroy the earth.
(...)

Together, these caverns are big enough to accommodate 128 families - more
than 700 people - from the Christian sect.
(...)

The leader of the sect is a faith-healer who concluded that the end is nigh
after reading an article about the millennium in a magazine.
(...)

Members of the sect are due to assemble there on 20 December to await the end
of the world.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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15. Hospital deal creates religion questions
St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 29, 1000
http://www.sptimes.com/News/112999/NorthPinellas/Hospital_deal_creates.2.shtml
(...) So they looked to Adventist Health System for help and took a tour of
the group's hospitals. The national chain of more than 30 hospitals was
founded by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

"When we'd go visit (a cafeteria), it was like, "There's nothing here to
eat,' " Deslatte, vice president of the Baton Rouge company, recalls. "There
were no caffeinated drinks."

Because the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that people should abstain
from "unclean foods" listed in the Bible, Adventist hospital cafeterias are
typically vegetarian. The church also teaches abstinence from stimulants like
caffeine, as well as alcohol and tobacco, as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Also, because the church observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday until
sundown Saturday, Adventist Health System's corporate offices close at 3:30
p.m. on Fridays.

While the Louisiana executives admired the Adventists' business sense, they
wondered how much the group's religious convictions might affect the
operation of their hospital.

Tarpon Springs leaders now must ask that question as they negotiate with AHS
and its local business partner, Tampa's University Community Hospital, to
take over Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital, which operates in city-owned
buildings.
(...)

When it discussed the possibility of bringing in Wall Street corporations to
take over the hospital, the Tarpon Springs City Commission feared profit
motives might adversely affect care. With Adventist Health System, it will
also consider whether there might be undue religious influence.

Adventist Health System is "very much a Christian health care organization,"
said spokeswoman Christine To. Conflict can arise when one denomination's
beliefs begin to influence health care in a public hospital that serves
people of many religious traditions.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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16. Battle won as Sikh school joins state sector
The Guardian (England), Nov. 29, 1999
http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,108986,00.html
Britain's first state-funded Sikh school will be officially opened this week,
marking the successful end of a two-year local campaign.
(...)

State funding is critical in enabling such schools to expand, but they must
satisfy the department for education and employment that they will adhere to
general education criteria, such as following the national curriculum.

The Sikh school will retain its unique religious characteristics, with the
faith remaining central to its work. Boys wear the traditional Sikh turban
and girls the long-flowing falwar kameez, with a blazer.

The strict routine of collective worship is a key element of the school day,
and takes places in a designated area, the gurdwara, which is shared with the
local community for individual worship and even weddings.

Religious instruction is compulsory, and the school ensures that the students
learn their mother tongue, if they do not know it already, and are aware of
the principles of Sikhism. Punjabi is offered at both GCSE and A-level, and
students can also take Sikh studies at AS level.

Since the general election in May 1997, ministers have approved public
funding for six minority faith schools which were previously independent,
and there are more in the pipeline.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== False Teachers

17. 'Apostle' of prosperity puts Cleveland church in crisis
Cleveland Plain Dealer, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.cleveland.com/news/pdnews/metro/ca28fer.ssf
Standing in the center aisle of Full Gospel Evangelistic Center, a solitary
figure silhouetted against the Romanesque-style architecture of this stone
cathedral, Bishop Matthew Ferguson was getting angrier by the moment.
(...)

He was God's apostle to Middle America, he told them, one of Jesus'
modern-day 12. He talked of making Full Gospel the mother church of a
religious empire that would grow to 2.5 million within five years. He told
church leaders he would make them millionaires within a year, and free
members from their personal debts.
(...)

But this Sunday in June many churchgoers had heard enough. Instead of falling
in line, this would be a different kind of watershed, setting off what would
become a mass exodus from Full Gospel.

Today, more than half of its 300 members have stopped attending the
once-thriving church on Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and many of its ministries
- the church's lifeblood - have been shut down. Not even the bishop's wrath
could stop the flow of Full Gospel members to other churches.

"I'm not threatening anybody, but I've seen this happen in ministry and I say
this to warn people," he said of his critics in one sermon. "I've seen it
within three years after people start coming against me. I've seen it, not
just once, not just twice, many, many times within three years - they either
have a stroke, they have some kind of incurable disease or die physically
dead."

If Ferguson hasn't made millionaires out of his followers, he certainly has
acted like one. Since coming to Cleveland, he and his wife bought a $580,000
home in Solon's tony Chagrin Highlands development and purchased resort
property along a fairway of a new Jack Nicklaus signature golf course in the
Ozarks. [See word-faith; spiritual abuse]
(...)

How could an outsider come into a landmark Pentecostal church, declare
himself one of the 12 living apostles and take over a congregation expecting
a $2 million insurance settlement? Ferguson isn't talking.

"Somebody say, "Respond.' Respond, for what. I don't respond to no devil,"
Ferguson told Full Gospel members in a Sept. 5 sermon addressing The Plain
Dealer's inquiries. "I tell them to shut up."

But scores of interviews in Cleveland and St. Louis, church records and
visits to several services along with taped sermons reveal a tale of human
ambition stoked by claims of divine authority meeting the faith of ordinary
churchgoers. Ultimately, it became a test of faith.
(...)

Ferguson is a case study in prosperity theology writ large, someone who
claims with all the fervor of a new convert to be God's excellent example of
one whose faith has been rewarded in this world.
(...)

In April, according to church minutes, Ferguson appeared before the church
elders and board of directors and told them of God's plan for him to take
over as pastor of Full Gospel.

"The Lord said, "I sent you as an apostle, there are three I sent to America
and you are one of them. . . . I'm giving you mid-America. Your
responsibility is mid-America.' "
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Noted

18. The celebrity way of yoga
The Times (England), Nov. 30, 1999
http://www.the-times.co.uk/news/pages/Times/timfeafea01003.html?999
(...) Astanga - pronounced ashtanga - was almost unheard of in the West ten
years ago. Today there are 10 million practitioners in America and hundreds
more here. It has become the fastest-growing yoga school outside India and is
the one that also explains Sting's incredible equipoise.
(...)

It would be tempting to dismiss this as just another celebrity fad were it
not that both singers have been devotees for several years. Madonna began to
practise astanga yoga to get back in shape after the birth of her daughter,
Lourdes, now aged three (Jodie Foster took it up for the same reasons and
Paul Simon is a devotee) but anyone who has embarked on this road will
testify that it is not a practice for the faint-hearted or flippant.

The ultimate objective of all yoga postures is to realign the spine in
preparation for meditation. Many Indian yogis and teachers are bemused by the
emphasis we place, in the West, on getting our legs wrapped around our ears
or our heads grazing the ground when we bend forward with agonisingly
straight legs. As Madonna and Sting can confirm, astanga yoga is not about
gymnastics; rather it is a moving meditation that also happens to leave you
feeling fantastic and in great shape.

The postures or asanas you practice in astanga yoga are exactly the same as
those you learn with other forms of yoga. The big difference is that they are
performed in a formal sequence which you learn to practise on your own.
Before you move into any of these positions you first heat up the body with a
series of dynamic movements designed to allow for greater stretch.
(...)

Heating the body is a major departure from the more static forms of yoga. To
do this, astanga students first learn a special type of breathing called
ujjayi breath.
(...)

Astanga yoga may be hugely popular among celebrities - in London Ruby Wax and
Mariella Frostrup both practise it at the Life Centre in Kensington - but
among more traditional yoga practitioners, it has had a bad press. This is a
shame because the things that are said to be "wrong" with it are usually
frowned on by people who have never taken a class. If these critics are
students of other yoga forms then they appear to have forgotten the basic
Hindu philosophy which lies behind all yoga study: that there are many
different paths to the same goal and that all should be tolerated.
(...)

The reason this is a family business is that Sharath is the grandson of the
astanga yoga guru Sri Pattabhi Jois who, at 84 and after 60 years, is still
teaching awestruck Westerners this technique. Guruji, as his followers call
him, is the founder of the Astanga Yoga Institute in Mysore and is generally
credited with having resurrected astanga yoga from the ancient Vedic texts -
much to the disgust of many other Indian yogis.

I was staying at a Sivananda yoga ashram in India this summer when the
director of the school of yoga asked: "What is this awful 'power yoga' I have
seen in the American gyms?" The irony of being in India and being asked to
explain anything at all about yoga was not lost on me. Neither was his tone
which made it plain that this practice was, in his eyes, bordering on a
heresy.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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19. Alpha to The Rescue
TIME International, Nov. 22, 1999
http://www.pathfinder.com/time/magazine/articles/0,3266,34666,00.html
(...) Called the Alpha course, the sessions are surprising because the
Christian Church in Britain, as in many parts of Western Europe, has been in
a seemingly endless decline since the l960s.
(...)

It's a 10-week introduction to the basics of the Christian faith--what is new
or revolutionary in that? Quite a lot, it turns out, when the course is
written, organized and presented by Nicky Gumbel. Gumbel, 44, an Old Etonian
and ex-barrister, arrived in 1986 as a curate at Holy Trinity Brompton, an
evangelical Anglican church minutes from Harrods. htb, as the church is
known, already offered a Bible study course but Gumbel rewrote and revamped
it in 1990 to appeal to nonbelievers, lapsed churchgoers, or anyone searching
for the meaning of life.

So many people were searching, and so appealing did they find Gumbel's
recipe, that the five Alpha courses available at htb in 1992 have now swelled
to more than 13,000 around the world. They are not confined to the Anglican
Church. The 7,000 courses running in Britain, 2,000 in the U.S., 160 in
Germany and 129 in Russia are offered by churches of denominations ranging
from Catholic to Lutheran. So far, 1.5 million people worldwide have taken
the course, with another 250,000 currently enrolled. "This is a significant
movement," says Annabel Miller, assistant editor of the London-based Catholic
weekly, the Tablet. "It's having an amazing success in the Catholic Church."

One reason for that success is Alpha's slick marketing and hugely efficient
business operation, with an annual turnover of $8.3 million. A 100-member
full-time staff runs the project from offices in htb's grounds, keeping tabs
on Alpha websites, on courses held in most of Britain's prisons and more than
half its universities, and on the Alpha books, videos, audio tapes, a
newspaper and 50 international Alpha conferences for church leaders organized
every year by htb.
(...)

Those who worry Alpha is some sort of cult are usually convinced after
finding a warm welcome with no pressure to remain. But there are critics who
feel Alpha, with its disapproval of divorce and abortion, is too morally
fundamentalist. Others are uneasy at the charismatic side of htb, where
members of the congregation may suddenly speak in tongues, faint, laugh, or
endlessly shake on receiving the Holy Spirit through a special
blessing--experiences which are not normally associated with staid
Anglicanism.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Interfaith / Interdenominational / Religious Pluralism

20. Southern Baptists warned; Chicago religious leaders question mission plan
Star-Telegram, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/doc/1047/1:RELIGION11/1:RELIGION11112899.html
Religious leaders are asking Southern Baptists to reconsider sending
thousands of missionaries to Chicago next summer as part of the church's plan
to expand outside its southern stronghold.

Members of an interdenominational coalition say they fear that the
missionaries' presence could spark violence against Jews, Hindus and Muslims,
whom the Southern Baptists have said they want to convert to Christianity.

"While we are confident that your volunteers would come with entirely
peaceful intentions, a campaign of the nature and scope you envision could
contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes," said a letter from the
Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
(...)

The Chicago visit is to be the first in the Southern Baptists' "Strategic
Cities Initiative," a plan to expand the church, based in Nashville, Tenn.
Other cities on the tour include Phoenix, Los Angeles and Boston.

A Southern Baptist spokesman, Herb Hollinger, said the goal is to spread the
Gospel in urban areas, "maybe door-to- door knocking, maybe neighborhood
block parties."

Hollinger would not comment on the letter because he said that he had not
seen it, but he said the missionaries will not specifically target Hindus,
Jews and Muslims.
(...)

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty
Commission in Nashville, called the letter an attempt to be "thought police."
(...)

About 100,000 Baptist volunteers will take time off from work to travel to
Chicago at their own expense to spread the news of Jesus Christ, he said.
"Billy Graham does the same thing when he comes into one of the large
cities," Land said. "If you love those outside the faith, you tell them about
Jesus. Evangelism is not an act of hatred; it is an act of love."

Land said the Southern Baptists will carry out the plan even if some don't
like it. "The Gospel is always going to offend the world," he said. "We have
a choice of either obeying God's command or surrendering to the world and its
values."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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21. Conference to focus on religious unity
Star-Telegram, Nov. 26, 1999
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/doc/1047/1:FAITH3/1:FAITH3112699.html
One of the most ambitious conferences to support unity of faith -- the
Parliament of the World's Religions -- will have about a dozen residents of
Tarrant and Denton counties present when it takes place in Capetown, South
Africa, Wednesday through Dec. 8.

Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Bahais, Roman Catholics, Protestants,
Jews, neo-Pagans and people of many other faiths will be represented at the
meeting in Capetown, said Sister Kay Kolb, of Denton.
(...)

The first Parliament of the World's Religions was held in 1893 in Chicago,
and a century later the Parliament again convened there. At the 1993
conference, participants wore buttons declaring: "There is One God. We Are
All One."

But Miller said the Parliament doesn't have the goal of combining all the
world's religions.

"Creating a megareligion is not the intent at all," she said. "That was never
the intent. We do want to acknowledge that all religions find their
foundations are in peace and in God and in tolerance and respect for one
another."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Religious Freedom / Religious Intolerance

22. Idaho Christians Rally Round a Cross on a Hill
New York Times, Nov. 29, 1999
http://www.nytimes.com/99/11/29/news/national/idaho-cross.html
For 43 years, a 60-foot white cross has stood like a Christian beacon on the
eastern skyline of this city.
(...)

No one objected when the Idaho Jaycees built the cross on public land in
1956. To avoid a potential constitutional challenge from the American Civil
Liberties Union, the Jaycees bought the tiny spit of land on which the cross
sits for $100 in 1972.

Two weeks ago Rob Sherman, a Chicago talk-radio host and an atheist, ignited
a passionate debate here in a speech to Idaho atheists by suggesting that the
land transaction was rigged and that a federal lawsuit should be filed to
bring down the cross.

"It's blatantly unconstitutional," said Sherman, a former spokesman for the
American Atheists Inc., a nonprofit group that promotes separation of church
and state. "Whenever government editorializes about religion by putting a
religious symbol on public land, it creates a climate of bigotry,
intolerance, hatred and tyranny against non-Christians in general and against
atheists in particular."

Sherman's statements galvanized an outpouring of support for the cross.
On Saturday afternoon, the police said, 10,000 people marched down Capitol
Boulevard carrying "Save the Cross" signs and singing religious music.
(...)

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican, pledged to support the cross, as did Sen.
Larry Craig, R-Idaho. "The separation of church and state was never intended
to suggest or promote atheism," Kempthorne wrote in a Nov. 23 letter to the
Jaycees.
(...)

Letters to the editor in local newspapers have been running 10-to-1 in
support of the cross.
(...)

The debate is not limited to Idaho. American Atheists Inc. is challenging a
109-foot cross on Mount Davidson near San Francisco. A cross on public land
in Eugene, Ore., has already been removed after a challenge by the ACLU.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Books

23. President of Christian Research Institute Takes on His Peers In
Controversial New Book About Y2K
Excite/PRNewswire, Nov. 24, 1999 (Press Release)
http://news.excite.com/news/pr/991124/tn-book-author-y2k
(...) Author, radio show host and president of the Christian Research
Institute, Hank Hanegraaff, questions the credibility and accuracy of some of
the top religious leaders in America on their views of the Y2K bug in his new
book, "The Millennium Bug Debugged." Hanegraaff cites Jerry Falwell, Dr.
James Kennedy, James Dobson, as well as other religious figures as buying
into the "sensationalism" and the "selling of fear" phenomenon sweeping
through Christian circles.

In "The Millennium Bug Debugged," Hanegraaff produces contrary evidence to
some of the most widely-quoted and publicized "examples" of the possible Y2K
"crisis." With follow-up phone calls and simple research, Hanegraaff
dismisses many of the stories as rumors and rhetoric. He also dogmatically
opposes what he terms as "fear-engendering conspiracy theories" from popular
authors and speakers who have capitalized monetarily on their doomsday
predictions.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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24. 'A Pecular People' - The Mystical and Pragmatic Appeal of Mormonism
Los Angeles Times, Nov. 28, 1999
http://www.calendarlive.com/books/bookreview/19991128/t000108316.html
(...) If opponents of Mormonism have often asked, "Can't we stop the Mormons
from being Mormon?", ostensible admirers of Mormons as people have often
asked, at least by implication, "Can't we have Mormons--but without
Mormonism?"

This is a circumstance not unknown to minority religions with their peculiar
beliefs and customs. But Mormonism is unique in this country's historical
experience for being so thoroughly American--deeply intertwined with the
history of the United States, especially the West--yet with enough deviation
that it becomes more jarring than a religion genuinely alien to American
culture. For that reason, Mormons and the Mormon Church have reason to be
glad that Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling's new book, "Mormon
America,"
Off-site Link succumbs to neither extreme in reporting on Mormonism. The Ostlings
(the co-authors are husband and wife, both journalists and non-Mormons;
Richard Ostling was a long-time religion reporter for Time magazine) have
succeeded splendidly in their aim to produce a "candid but non-polemical
overview written for non-Mormons and Mormons alike, focusing on what is
distinctive and culturally significant about this growing American movement."
It is a scrupulous, fair-minded account, one that neither shies away from the
controversies that have shaped the perception of Mormonism nor has any
particular ax to grind about them.

I say this as a lapsed, inactive Mormon, someone who was raised in a
devoutly Mormon home and many years ago served a two-year mission for the
church, someone who today is non-practicing, although fundamentally
sympathetic to the church and its culture (this bit of autobiography is
important in a field in which so many commentators bring agendas, hidden and
otherwise).
(...)

The problem of the Book of Mormon for devout believers illustrates why,
within Mormonism, the relevant subject, the most threatening subject, is
history and not theology. A religion that has made, so to speak, many
seemingly rash claims about historical matters is specially liable to assault
from the discipline of history; likewise, too, a religion that has with
scandal and controversy in its past but that also has made a concerted
attempt over decades to scrub and polish and airbrush away that past in the
interests of achieving respectability must worry about prying historians. To
a significant extent, historians with sufficient interest in undertaking
these questions of early Mormon practices, sources and doctrines have
themselves been Mormon. They have been caught, however, between a genuinely
deeply held Mormon theological principle that the advancement of all
knowledge is to grow closer to the glory of God and the institutional
church's awareness that history is dangerous.
(...)

Notwithstanding this troubling tension, these Mormon historians' inquiries
have taken them into the roots of Joseph Smith's beliefs in magic, sources of
Mormon temple ceremonies in Masonic rites, male bonding among early Mormon
leaders, the role and status of women in the early Mormon Church and, of
course, polygamy. As might be expected, their findings and conclusions have
not always been congenial to the church, especially insofar as those findings
have been deployed by the (very tiny) band of Mormon intellectuals
and--sometimes the same people but not always--social activists who would
like to reform the Mormon Church, particularly in matters of gender and
sexual orientation. The church has reacted sharply in the last decade by
removing various of them from teaching posts and excommunicating them. The
Ostlings document these struggles with admirable dispassion, understanding
fully, as everyone involved does, that an institution that has constructed so
elaborately a sanitized past for itself is likely to continue to find itself
discomfited by history.

I sometimes wonder if I might have remained a moderately devout Mormon had
I done what I suspect many educated Mormons actually do in the face of
uncomfortable historical evidence, which is to conclude implicitly--very
implicitly--that none of this matters in its literal truth or falsity.
(...)

The Ostlings make very clear that the institutional Mormon Church has, by its
own standards, undertaken a deliberate march toward modernization even if it
cannot quite characterize it as such; yet the unreformed church has long been
set in its ways in a modernizing language.

In a hierarchical church, in which authority comes from the top down, this
may not seem an important consideration. If the hierarchy seeks to modernize
the church, to get rid of old and embarrassing and disreputable doctrines,
then it seems self-evident that it can simply do so and the faithful will
follow. What matters to Mormons is their "living prophet"; the Ostlings are
correct to quote the late Mormon Church president and prophet Ezra Taft
Benson that "a living prophet trumps dead ones." But when the institution is
a church and a religion, then the rhetorical tools by which that trump is
played matter a great deal. It matters whether the tools of modernizing
language have in some sense already been used and used up; for the attempt to
reuse them inevitably raises questions of authenticity and legitimacy, even
in a religion which prizes obedience above everything else. And rhetoric
matters especially, one might think, in a church which purports to operate by
direct, divine revelation.
(...)

Questions of authenticity and legitimacy in the march toward change are most
evident at the fringes of the Mormon world. By and large Mormons worldwide
are happy--relieved even more, perhaps--with the tendency of the church to
draw itself more into the mainstream of Christian denominations and to
simplify, rather than complicate, the theology in order to make it more
universally appealing to populations around the world.
(...)

The Ostlings document very well, however, that resistance to the march by the
institutional church toward mainstream Christianity and reform has produced
at least a small wave of reaction, something that has come to be called
"Mormon fundamentalism."
(...)

While making Mormonism mainstream and "respectable" within the culture of
suburbia has provoked reaction and radicalism, Mormonism has also experienced
the growth of another modestly disaffected group, a small but growing body of
intellectuals within Mormonism who experience these days what the Ostlings
describe as "palpable worry and alienation." It is, however, important, as
the Ostlings observe, not to overestimate the relevance of this intellectual
class and its discontents to the Mormon Church just because it is a group
which naturally tugs at the heartstrings of intellectuals, writers and
journalists outside the church. After all, church discipline in the 1990s
aimed at purging Mormon dissident intellectuals, as "Mormon America" says,
"barely registered on the Richter scale" of reaction among the church's rank
and file.
(...)

Although church authorities deny that there can be within Mormonism a "loyal
opposition," an intelligentsia that is able to express itself within a
certain range of tolerance of opinion, as a counterpoint to blind obedience
to the church hierarchy, in fact it is an indication of the growing
intellectual and moral confidence of Mormonism that its intellectuals do not
simply drift away--I suppose I am a minor case in point of drift--rather than
remaining to dissent.
(...)

Kenneth Anderson Teaches at American University Law School, Washington, D.c.,
and Is Legal Editor of "Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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25. Harry Potter Readers Say Christian Right Is Wrong
Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 27, 1999
http://www.sltrib.com/1999/nov/11271999/religion/778.htm
(...) Christian conservatives have made headlines by attacking the Harry
Potter adventure books as violent, death-obsessed and Satanic. But Christian
opinion on the skinny kid with glasses turns out to be far more charitable
and not so monolithic.
(...)

"There are some distinctly Christian themes in those books, so much so that
I'd like to preach a sermon on Harry Potter," says the Rev. John Kraps, a
Methodist in Cupertino, Calif., who dressed up as Potter for Halloween and is
"frosted" over criticisms of Rowling's series. "We love Harry Potter, and our
whole family is outraged by the opposition of the Christian right."

Contrary to what some news reports have implied, Christians who admire
Rowling's fiction turn out to cut across denominational and political lines.
(...)

Many clerics and theologians extract explicitly Christian themes from the
books: Potter's mother is a Christ figure, hovering over the stories, who
died so that her son might live; Potter has a special destiny that he is not
fully aware of, much like numerous biblical prophets and perhaps even Jesus
himself.

Looked at from this point of view, Rowling's books are not so much
anti-Christian as they are fully Christian, drawing on the legacy of fellow
British writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, whose popular children's tales
about the magical lands of Narnia and Middle Earth were written as Christian
allegory.
(...)

"They are wonderfully told stories, but the subject matter is a bit
u nsettling," says Paul F. Ford, author of the Companion to Narnia and
professor of theology and liturgy at St. John's Seminary in Southern
California. "Rowling refers to the dark arts as if they're trivial. I don't
know if you can treat it so benignly."
(...)

Not so much is known about Rowling's religiosity, or lack thereof. What seems
clear to her champions -- Christian and otherwise -- is that Harry Potter
teaches lessons about endurance, kindness, wisdom and love. Potter and his
friends do not indulge in the in-your-face put-downs seen on TV and in
movies; in Rowling's books, Berry points out, "the bad guys do that."
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