You are hereA review of the issues and events in the world of cults and religion (2000 - 2010)

A review of the issues and events in the world of cults and religion (2000 - 2010)


Articles in the LOOKOUT section of this website span a number of decades and are re-published on behalf of Adrian van Leen for research purposes. Original dates are being added to articles so as to place them in their correct historical setting(s). Adrian has endeavoured to be as fair and accurate as possible at the time of the original writing, but please note that the original article information may no longer reflect the subsequent or current actions, values, beliefs, positions, opinions, teachings or policies held by individuals, groups and/or organisations referred to in the original published article at the time of writing. As people change and move on, the same often applies to related Internet links; some links referred to in articles may have been changed or may no longer be available online.

LOOKOUT represents the ministry of Adrian van Leen and Lookout Ministries Inc. and therefore remains the intellectual property/copyright of Adrian van Leen and Lookout Ministries Inc.

 

DECADE IN REVIEW (2000 - 2010)

January 2010 marked the beginning of a New Year AND also a New Decade. The usual reflections saw numerous publications and websites look back on the past year and decade, many with lists of TENS - Best of 2000-2009: Top Ten... Songs; Music; Movies; TV shows; Computer games; Books; Websites; Medical advances; Technological products; News stories; Sporting events; Fashion trends; Gadgets; Natural disasters; World events; and the list of lists goes on, and on, and on... Not to be completely outdone, we decided to have our own little list for the decade:

 

MADNESS

The lead up to this past decade was also the lead up to the Y2K new millennium - at least in the Western (Gregorian) Calendar. This resulted in a boom in millennial calculations, predictions, gloom and doom products (books, cds, cd roms, and more). Linked into this feverish foolishness were uncertainties associated with the relatively new technologies of PCs (personal computers). Even the technological "nerds" who, supposedly understood and knew "all about" computers were caught up in dire predictions of computer failure once the clock of 1999 ticked over to a second after midnight. January 1, following the stroke of midnight, would see planes drop from the sky; traffic lights malfunction; electricity grids grind to a blackening close; home computers totally freeze up - and lots of similar technological malfunctioning disasters. The End of the World, as we had come to know it, was to come to an apocalyptic end with the end of the century and millennium. Fear and uncertainty swept across the world. People of all sorts of viewpoints and religious inclinations were caught up in the great consternation.

(Apart from people not understanding computer technology, even more people seemed unaware that our calendars were not strictly correct and accurate - so it wasn’t REALLY, ACTUALLY going to be the year 2000 - other than for calendar convenience - since we have no REAL idea or knowledge as to exactly WHEN time actually began, our dating is all relative rather than strictly accurate or exact.)

But the facts rarely get in the way of a "good story" - and millennium doom and gloom presented enormous scope for doom and gloom stories - which had, by December 31, 1999, exploded into a multi-billion dollar doom and gloom products boom. The "prophets" of doom weren’t too worried that their faulty predictions failed to eventuate - they had made quite a sizeable profit out of it all. Some tried to keep the momentum going with "recalculations" for the future (and more book sales to come). Like all other previous end-times prophetic failures, the millennial madness that immediately preceded the year 2000, after the fireworks were over, it was all "ho-hum" again.

 

MASS MURDER 2000

The year 2000 was definitely NOT a "ho-hum" year for members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG) in Uganda, Africa. This group was a breakaway from the Roman Catholic Church, with several of its leaders claiming visions and communications from the Virgin Mary about Jesus bring the world to an end in January 2000, and taking his followers (members of the MRTCG) to heaven. The main leaders of the group were Credonia Mwerinde, Joseph Kibweteere, Dominic Kataribabo, Joseph Kasapurari and John Kamagara. Long before January 2000, the leaders had encouraged the members to hand over their possessions (what little they had), because soon they would not need anything - all of heaven would be theirs.

The leaders appeased the concerned members when Jesus did NOT come for the in January 2000. They managed to convince them that Jesus was delaying his arrival out of love, so that more could have a chance of getting to heaven. By mid-March 2000, their efforts at appeasement were in serious jeopardy. Members were finally brought together to sing, praise and pray for Jesus’ arrival on March 17.. Some 530, mostly women and children entered the group’s main worship centre. They were not aware that they windows had been sealed and nailed shut. Apparently, after they began their singing, the doors were locked shut behind them, petrol poured and sprayed around and then set alight. The fiery deaths of the large crowd ended with piles of ash and bones, some fused by the enormous heat, near the doors. They had tried to escape, but were murdered in the conflagration.

After the police had sorted through the remains of the fiery tragedy, they began to discover more bodies in ditches, drains, septic tanks and pits in the compound that had housed their worship centre. But that was not where it finished. The group also had other compounds, scattered around Uganda. More and more bodies were found at these other compounds.

The sheer numbers of corpses, the time in discovering them, growing difficulties in identifying deteriorating bodies in the tropical heat, threatened to overwhelm police and forensic authorities and facilities. Even with some outside help the task became too much. Eventually the police settled on an official total figure of just under 800. Most of those who had not been burned to death had apparently been poisoned. At the time, we monitored regular updated reports and tallies of recovered remains and (like others trying to monitor the tragedy) came to the conclusion that the official police statistics had been deliberately scaled back. It seems that actual deaths in this group numbered probably over a thousand - in spite of official claims that death statistics had been exaggerated.

Ugandan authorities claimed that the leaders had not died in the fire, contrary to the claims of some relatives and surviving group members. They issued international arrest warrants later in 2000, but in spite of occasional rumours of sightings, none of the leaders was ever found or arrested.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this 2000 cult tragedy is that, while all sorts of people (journalists, academics, film makers and many others) kept the focus on the November 1978 deaths at Jonestown, Guyana, in people’s consciousness around the world for more than two years, and sporadically after that, not so with the Ugandan tragedy. Within TWO WEEKS the world media stopped reporting on these African cult deaths.

The new millennium and the new decade revealed a jaded and callous world indifference. Who cared what people wanted to believe; who cared about the outcome of their beliefs!? At first the Ugandan police considered it religious mass suicide, but then decided that the evidence revealed murder instead. Many who died were babies and young children - THEY do NOT commit suicide.

 

MUSLIM EXTREMISTS

The past decade has witnessed a greater growth of religious extremisms and fanaticisms than in previous decades. This has been across various religious divides and has included Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and others. However, it has been the most obvious amongst Muslims.

9/11 has become one of the new "words of the decade". Based on the American dating approach of months and then day, it reminds people of the Muslim extremist attacks, using aeroplanes, in the USA (particularly the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York) on September 11, 2001. There were the Bali bombings of October 2002 and the later October 2005; the London bombings and attempted bombings in July 2005.

It is a disturbing exercise to examine lists of terrorist incidents for 2009 and see how many are Islamist related - including attacks on Muslims by fellow-Muslims. It is no wonder that back in 2004, Abdulrahman al-Rashed, who was the general manager of Dubai-based al-Arabiya television, and published a daily column in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, strongly expressed himself.

Following the Beslan school murders in September 2004, Abdulrahman al-Rashed wrote an article headlined: "The Painful Truth: All the World Terrorists are Muslims!" He went on to state: "Our terrorist sons are an end-product of our corrupted culture." After listing attacks by Islamist extremists in Russia, Iraq, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, he added: "Most perpetrators of suicide operations in buses, schools and residential buildings around the world for the past 10 years have been Muslims… The picture is humiliating, painful and harsh for all of us." Al-Rashed rejected Muslim silence, denials or rationalisations, and claimed that the stained image of Muslims could not be cleansed unless "we admit the scandalous facts."

Egyptian Muslim and columnist for the pro-Egyptian government newspaper, Al-Ahram, Ahmed Bahgat, was also scathing in his comments. He stated of the terrorists who seized the Beslan school, that the media images: "showed Muslims as monsters who are fed by the blood of children and the pain of their families. If all the enemies of Islam united together and decided to harm it ... they wouldn’t have ruined and harmed its image as much as the sons of Islam have done by their stupidity, miscalculations, and misunderstanding of the nature of this age."

Governments have legislated for greater politically correct language; urged greater acceptance of ethnic and religious differences and diversity; given great support to minority groups - almost to the point of silencing community majorities; and legislated throughout the Western world (especially) to try and keep the peace - it has not been working very well. Many political leaders seem not to understand the intensity of deep religious conviction - espec ially amongst extremists (in all religions). It takes more than legislating for the majority to accept (and almost conform) to minority groups. In fact, a great deal of legislation can end up being counterproductive, causing more tension and alienation.

Unless leaders within the worlds’ religions accept and acknowledge the dangers of extremes and take action to educate and work hard to overcome such extremes, the next decade may even be worse than the one just ended.

 

SCIENTOLOGY

The past decade has been one of Scientology prominence in the media, for a wide variety of reasons.

Scientologist and actor, John Travolta starred in Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth movie. Released in 2000 the movie was not the great public relations coup for Scientology that had been hoped. It turned out to be a dismal failure, panned by critics and the few movie goers who saw it, and being an utter commercial flop. Hubbard’s Church of Scientology won no converts through Hubbard’s science fiction movie.

This science fiction based "religious" group has had a long reputation of being aggressive and litigious in dealing with critics and former members "spilling the beans". Quick to take legal action for any daring to label them as a dangerous cult, rather than supposedly a "church" — they have literally thrown millions of dollars into discrediting and ruining others. But this decade has revealed the tables are turning.

The decade began with serious opposition and legal wrangling against the legitimacy of their "religious" status in Belgium, Germany and France. The decade ended with Scientology being fined some 600,000 Euros (US$900,000) by a Paris Court and convicted of fraud in October 2009. Six Scientology leaders, the French Scientology organisation or office, plus the French Scientology library were convicted or organised fraud — pressuring members for lots of money for questionable gain and using commercial harassment on recruits to sign up for courses and products that were not worth what they were charged. Predictably the Scientologist leadership labelled the French Court decision as "an Inquisition of modern times".
See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/church-of-scientology-convicted-of-fraud-1810284.html

Ex-Scientologists and critics had enough of Scientology bullying, aggression and efforts at silencing everyone who dared to tarnish their polished (but far from accurate) image. Read the story of one former prominent Scientologist, Larry Wollersheim, who had been in Scientology for 11 years and bringing in lots of money for them. After leaving them he took legal action against THEM — it took six years before the case went to court in 1986. At the trial Wollersheim submitted documents that revealed the bizarre stories of aliens, and the evil Galactic dictator Xenu (also Xemu). Scientologists attempted to have these documents suppressed, but the judge made them available for public perusal. Scientology flooded the place with their members so that outsiders wouldn’t have the change to view the documents, but they weren’t entirely successful. Ultimately, the court found in favour of Wollersheim but Scientology kept appealing and failed to make any payments to Wollersheim until he was paid over US$8.5 million in 2002.
Read more at: http://www.villagevoice.com/2008-06-24/news/Scientologys-Crushing-Defeat/full

Since the Internet arrived on the scene in the 1990s critics began to use it to expose many of Scientology’s "darker" aspects. In turn, Scientology started a concerted effort to have critical websites removed, disrupted, hacked, spammed and more — critics had to be removed and silenced by whatever means available. For a while they seemed to succeed, but the tables turned and more and more critics began to share their information effectively. In recent years the many individuals with critical information on Scientology on their websites have been joined by several significant websites and forums, including some ex-Scientologists, born into the group, who have opened a website with the "motto": I was born. I grew up. I escaped.

Ex-Scientology kids is designed, owned, and operated by three young women who grew up in Scientology, and later left the Church. We feel that growing up in the Scientology environment is a unique experience that’s almost impossible to comprehend unless you’ve lived it yourself...Most of the people that write for this site have had extremely negative experiences in Scientology. Some of us have lost our families due to Scientology’s Disconnection Policy, some of us have experienced physical abuse, and some of us were denied a proper education. However, we do welcome pro-Scientology email, comments and forum posts. There’s even a "no registration required" forum area where anyone may anonymously post questions, comments and advice.

One of the three young women actively involved with this website is Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of David Miscavige, current leader of Scientology.
See: http://exscientologykids.com/

Another very significant critical group seeking to expose many Scientology darker realities is simply known as: Anonymous. The group declared war on Scientology in January 2008 and launched a campaign of online interference and public, masked placarded protests outside Scientology facilities around the world, including Australia, Britain and the USA. Scientology has responded, as usual, with name-calling: ’cyber-terrorists, communists, Fascists, Nazis, religious bigots and KKK members’.
Read more: http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/%22Anonymous%22_releases_statements_ outlining_%22War_on_Scientology%22;
http://www.anonstillalive.com/;
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/24/18633568.php

A great deal of the public critical appraisal of Scientology has come about because of the bizarre antics, proclamations and interference of actor and celebrity Scientologist, Tom Cruise. Current Scientology leader, David Miscavige, apparently referred to Tom Cruise as "the most dedicated Scientologist I know". The two seem very close and some Scientology insiders have apparently secretly hinted that Miscavige’s favouritism of Cruise has brought resentment in the ranks.

For some time Tom Cruise became more known for his 2005 strange performance on Oprah Winfrey’s couch and his aggressive behaviour in defence of Scientology, than for his acting ability. He particularly seemed to lose the plot on a Scientology promotional video which found its way onto YOUTube in January 2008, but was probably produced in 2006. Scientology apparently seemed to realise that Cruise was not their best public relations promoter after all, and promptly pulled the video from the Internet - but it had already begun to circulate, and recirculate and can now be viewed on:
http://gawker.com/5002269/the-cruise-indoctrination-video-scientology-tried-to-suppress; see also:
http://www.newser.com/story/16509/cruise-out-to-save-world-in-wacky-video.html

In spite of Scientology’s efforts at positive propaganda and attempts to silence critics, the number of how profile members who have defected from Scientology as greatly increased in recent years. The were insiders and DID know what was going on, and eventually became disillusioned and disgusted. Most have refused to be intimidated by Scientology’s "Fair Game" policy of publicly destroying critics’ reputations (and worse), and are going online, to the media and writing books to tell their stories and expose Scientology atrocities. The year 2009 was particularly bad for Scientology, with some former Australian Scientologists joining other ex-Scientologists by going public and also having Independent Senator Nick Xenophon bring their concerns before the public and the Federal Parliament, labelling them a criminal organisation that needs to be thoroughly investigated for criminal activity.

The Scientology saga did not end with the last decade - it will continue into this new decade, but it is losing its power of fear, intimidation and control — as well as a great many leading members. Though it is trying to bluff its way through the debacle by claiming the are a growing church, the truth is that they have lost many members over the past decade and they will lose many more in the future.

For further information on this aggressive "Church", check out some (or all) of the following websites: (Scientology: The truth rundown special report from the St. Petersburg Times, Aug 2009)
http://www.tampabay.com/news/scientology/article1023717.ece;
http://dailynews.muzi.com/news/ll/english/10095076.shtml?cc=10070&ccr=;
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/12/02/2760093.htm;
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/ynews_ts956;
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/oscarwinning-director-why-im-leaving-scientology-1809929.html;
http://www.xenu-directory.net/; http://www.xenu.net/;
http://www.catholic.org/national/national_story.php?id=34929;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientology_versus_the_Internet;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Chanology;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Clambake;
http://www.scientology-lies.com/;
http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Author_of_My_Billion_Year_Contract_reflects_ on_life_in_elite_Scientology _group;
http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Blown_for_Good_author_discusses_life_inside_ international_ headquarters_of_Scientology;
http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Senator_Xenophon_of_Australia_calls_ for_criminal_investigation_into_Scientology;
http://www.thesmokinggun.com/scientology/scientology.html;
http://www.religio.de/books/atack/contents.htm;
http://www.clambake.org/archive/books/mom/Messiah_or_Madman.txt;

 

MILITANT ATHIESTS


The pundits of politically correct language proclaim that we should not use the word, "militant" in conjunction with the word "atheist", because it is likely to be pejorative. The reality is that the word has been legitimately and appropriately used for more than a century. It aptly described atheism in the Soviet Union before the Iron Curtain came down. It has also been appropriate to describe Chinese Communist Party atheism - especially during the Mao Zedong era.

It is also appropriate to use the term of some Western expressions of atheism during this past decade.

Leading British atheist, biologist Richard Dawkins, was film at a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) forum in the USA in February 2002. His filmed presentation was posted on the Internet in April 2007 and widely watched and circulated. In his presentation he declared: What I want to urge upon you is militant atheism...My approach to attacking creationism is to attack religion as a whole...People are always going on about, how did September the 11th change you? - Well here’s how it changed me, let’s all stop being so damned respectful!
(http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/richard_dawkins_ on_militant_atheism.html)

Dawkins was calling for a militant atheism and less respect, especially to/for religious people. He even showed his own faulty humanity with what might be considered a hint of jealousy because Stephen Hawkin’s books sold better than his.

In his presentation Dawkins made factually incorrect statements, building "straw men" and then pulling them down. He emphasised, with quotes from colleagues, that religion must not be questioned, is not allowed to be questioned, because that’s the way it has always been. The truth is, of course, that religion (and especially Christianity) HAS been questioned throughout history, including by many of its adherents; and there HAVE been changes and developments in thinking and theology. Just because these questions don’t end up with Dawkins viewpoint and rejection of God and all things religious does not make it correct to state that all religion is the same and none can be rationally examined and questioned (he’s obviously never visited a large Christian bookshop and seen the wide and diverse range of thought which nevertheless remains Christian and supporting God-centred belief).

He made known that in his opinion religion is corrosive to science and science is corrosive to religion - pulling out statistics that most elite thinkers and scientists are atheists. While he acknowledged that there is still a good percentage of scientists who believe in God, and quite a number believe in Jesus Christ - he just ignores them and their thinking, clearly imputing they are inferior thinkers.

Dawkins declared in the British newspaper, The Guardian, October 11, 2001:

Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/oct/11/afghanistan.terrorism2)

It is clear that Dawkins lumps everyone in together and fails to recognise that not ALL religion (not even ALL Islam) is extreme and dangerously fanatical. He continued his flawed perceptions and misrepresentations in his 2006 book, The God Delusion.

A number of other atheists have written books attacking religion, some particularly aiming at Christianity, during the last decade. They, along with Dawkins, can legitimately be described as militant atheists, and include Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, amongst others.

British philosopher and atheist, Julian Baggini, considers that the militant atheism of Dawkins, et al, "the New Atheist Movement is destructive" as it "reinforces the view that atheism is primarily a negative attack on religious belief... is arrogant, and attributes to reason a power it does not have". He defines militant atheism as "Atheism which is actively hostile to religion", which "requires more than strong disagreement with religion - it requires something verging on hatred and is characterised by a desire to wipe out all forms of religious belief. Militant atheists tend to make one or both of two claims that moderate atheists do not. The first is that religion is demonstrably false or nonsense and the second is that it is usually or always harmful."
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Militant_atheism;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Baggini;
http://www.fritanke.no/ENGLISH/2009/The_new_atheist_ movement_is_destruc tive/)

While some have written books against religion, and, in some cases specifically against Christianity, others have attacked religious faith in other ways, like the bus advertising campaign.

The idea originated with British comedy writer, Ariane Sherine, and launched in October 2008. Americans in Washington were first on the bus - and began advertising the slogan: "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness’ sake".

The British slogan: "There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" began appearing on buses in January 2009. The same (or very similar) slogan spread to buses in Barcelona and other major cities in Spain. Slightly different slogans were used in other countries and cities, such as: "You Can Be Good Without God". In Italy they wanted to use: "The bad news is that God does not exist. The good news is that you don’t need him" but that was considered too inflammatory and they settled for: "The good news is there are millions of atheists in Italy. The excellent news is they believe in freedom of expression".

The Atheist Foundation of Australia began organising a bus campaign using the slogan "Atheism - celebrate reason", but only managed to get it moving and on the buses in Tasmania by late 2009. Their efforts on mainland Australia were not successful. They are hoping to get their slogan(s) on the buses during 2010 - but bus companies and other public advertising companies can be selective in what advertising they will or will not accept, so time will tell.

The final phase of the British atheist campaign focused on labelling children. They used large billboards, rather than smaller signs on buses, depicting a young girl declaring: "Please don’t label me" followed by "Let me grow up and choose for myself".

Attitudes towards the atheist slogan advertising campaigns have varied amongst different members of the community - Christians and non-Christians alike. Some Christians reacted with angry militant responses, worse than the militant atheists behind the campaign.

Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, commented in an interview in August 2009: "We seem to be hard-wired to have a belief system of some kind. Even atheism. I understand that in Britain recently, some people paid to put atheistic slogans on buses – someone paid! That’s religion! Once you’re paying money to put slogans on things, well it’s either a product you’re selling, a political party or religion."

Others defended the right of any group to promote their ideas in public, suggesting that, in fact, it was a positive situation in stimulating discussion and thought in which Christians could participate and to which they could contribute positively. After all, Christian groups had been permitted to advertise on the buses in Britain. In addition, many Christian Churches, believing in believer’s baptism for those able to make their own choice of following Jesus Christ, would be in agreement with the overall concept of the final phase of the British campaign - that people should be allowed to make their own choice (and the right and ability to make that choice is also acknowledged, through confirmation, in other Christian Churches).

One of the things that has become obvious about atheists in the past decade, for those who may not have been aware of it, is that adherents in this religious group of people, who religiously put their faith in the proposition that there is no God, are as diverse and varied in their thinking and expression as followers in all other religions around the world.

There are those who hold their beliefs with an open and balanced attitude, enabling them to agree to disagree with others, with respect. They may not agree with some ultimate religious beliefs, but they are able to see, and even acknowledge, the good in religions. There are also the bigoted, extremist and militant atheists who arrogantly dismiss all others who do not agree with their point of view - even more moderate atheists. They don’t differentiate between balanced, moderate believers in God and the extreme, bigoted religious fanatics (with whom they have a great deal in common - including a fairly closed mind - in spite of their protestations).

Christians also need to be able to agree to disagree with respect. Some Christians, like some militant atheists, are arrogant, bigoted and obnoxious. Such people often contribute to the militancy of atheists and others through their aggressive dealings with those who differ from them. They have forgotten that Jesus taught we are to love our enemies. They have forgotten that Peter taught: "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
(1 Peter 3:15-17)

(The following are various responses to Dawkins and others worth checking for yourself:

http://www.atheistdelusion .net/ - Has an excerpt from a book by former well-known atheist think, Anthony Flew, There Is A God - How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (Harper Collins, New York, 2007);

http://invizweb.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/15-questions-militant-atheists-should-ask-before-trying-to-destroy-religion/;

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rj-eskow/15-questions-militant-ath_1_b_37954.html;

http://www.theaustra lian.com.au/news/opinion/john-heard-god-is-not-responsible-for-war-and-suffering/story-e6frg6zo-1111113694005;

http://atheismexposed.tripod. com/" target="_blank">http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/blogs/the-religious-write/we-shall-all-be-changed/20091103-hv8v.html; http://atheismexposed.tripod. com/)

 

JW’S CHANGES

Over the past decade the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) organisation, the Watchtower and Bible Tract Society (WBTS), has made numerous changes. Many are subtle and not obvious to the average non-JW - or even the average JW. A great number, if not most, relate to legal matters and are aimed at lessening the potential for legal action against the organisation and especially its leadership.

Restructuring: At the beginning of the decade there was some leadership and business restructuring, so that the most senior of the "Governing Body" could no longer be taken to court over issues such as death resulting from JW teachings against blood transfusion; shunning (excommunicating) and separating from families those "guilty" of disobedience, e.g. by allowing a blood transfusion or even something like celebrating Christmas with non-JW relatives without immediate repentance; reporting child abuse, and more.

Child sexual abuse: The decade has seen an increase in legal action, and growing scandal over child abuse by elders and other JW members. Official Organisation teaching on child abuse (and similar issues) was that God had revealed (in Scripture) that such incidents cannot be reported to anyone unless there were 2 or 3 witnesses to the incident. The "claimed" victim’s testimony (no matter how many times the incident was supposedly repeated) was inadequate to present it before the elders. They also believed such matters were only to be dealt with by JW elders, and not any outside authority (not being part of God’s theocratic Government, such authorities have no standing or respect amongst JWs).

The scandal of child sexual abuse is not limited to the Roman Catholic Church - a favourite JW target for attack - there have been thousands of cases come to light amongst JWs around the world - in Australia, North America and elsewhere. A former elder became so disturbed by what he discovered - and the deliberate inaction of the JW hierarchy, that he commenced a group called, "Silent Lambs" to expose the scandal of abuse, especially among the JWs, and to provide support and a voice for victims. "Silent Lambs" is now ten years old. It has done a great deal for abuse victims over the past decade.

See: http://www.silentlambs.org/ http://www.silentlambs.org/personal_experiences/mystory.cfm;
http://www.silentlambs.org/Historyofsilentlambs2.htm;
http://www.silentlambs.org/education/transcripts.cfm; http://www.silentlambs
.org/newsletter/NewsLetterItem .cfm?SendoutID=565: http://blog.christianity today.com/ctliveblog/archives/2007/05/watching_the_wa.html" target="_blank">http://jehovah.net.au /pedophilia.html; http://blog.christianity today.com/ctliveblog/archives/2007/05/watching_the_wa.html)

Elite Class: Originally only 144,000 people (who became JWs) would be acceptable to God ("salvation"). The problem was that they became such "good" religious "sales people (today: "preachers", "publishers" "witnesses") that they converted far more than 144,000 people. This resulted in a new teaching - that God’s people (JWs ONLY!) were to be divided into two classes: "the domestics", the "great crowd" etc AND the "anointed" - those who, alone, would go to heaven (for a thousand years - to rule with Jesus over all the other JWs here on the earth - after the Battle of Armageddon).

That Generation: Members of this elite group of JWs, the anointed (how do you know if you are one of them? If you know you’re one, you are one; if you don’t know if you are one, than you obviously are NOT) were either alive, or born, in 1914 and there would be some remaining at the End of the World and Jesus return with his heavenly armies. As this group of (now ancients) doddery remaining JWs diminishes in number (before disappearing altogether) the teaching on "that generation that will not pass away" keeps changing. See, for example: http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/generation.php;

Loss of members: Over the past decade the decline in JW members has been significant. More are dropping out or are being "disfellowshipped" (excommunicated) than in earlier decades. It is also taking many, many more hours "door knocking" - "publishing" - for each new convert baptism. Their own statistics reveal their strong decline (even though 2009 was a bit of an exception). (Check out: http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/statistics.php)

Blood transfusions: There have been subtle changes to the Organisation’s policy on blood transfusions. In the past, JW members who allowed life saving blood transfusions, and failed to "repent", were actively "disfellowshipped" and formally denounced and banned with others being notified of the action. Now, any JW member who allows a life saving blood transfusion, and fails to "repent", will be regarded as automatically having "disassociated" themselves from the organisation (in other words they, themselves, rather than the organisation, will be responsible for their "disfellowshipping" - that way the Organisation can’t be blamed - or sued - for the subsequent loss of contact with family, friends and more).

Publications: Throughout their history the JWs have been known for their literature distribution. For several decades free copies of the AWAKE! and the Watchtower magazines were widely distributed by their "publishers" (who actually paid for them - and then freely distributed them. A huge worldwide unpaid team of sales people who purchased the products themselves before distribution - no wages, no freebies, products paid for; with that form of a franchise, the Organisation couldn’t help but make lots of money). In recent years the handing out of free current issues of this magazine have been diminishing, if not disappearing. Part of the reason for this could be the fact that both magazines are now available for free downloading on the Internet - usually as audio (sound) files, rather than print issues. There are now two Watchtower issues online, the public issue and the study issue. This provides a different, and free, format of obtaining these JW publications and probably explains why most free print handout copies tend to be dated past issues. (Here at LOOKOUT were are always interested in receiving print materials - such as print copies of the AWAKE and Watchtower and other literature such as brochures and books - also from groups other than the JWs)

Properties: At the beginning of this current new decade the JWs Government Body has been busy selling off real estate the have held in Brooklyn, New York for many decades. It remains to be seen how much more property they will divest in the future, In the USA and other countries. Some former JWs are convinced the writing is on the wall and that the Governing Body is having great difficulty in ensuring a stable future.

(For some further information on the JWs check:
http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/sitemap.php;
http://jehovahswitnessesvideo.blogspot.com/2008/01/watchtower-library.html;
http://www.watchtowernews.org/; http://www.freeminds.org/doctrine/education/jehovahs-witnesses-higher-education-and-misrepresentation.html;
http://www.freeminds.org/; http://www.bible.ca/Jw-changes.htm)

 

CULT TO CHURCH MAJOR SHIFT

LOOKOUT/CCG Ministries began in late 1979. For the first two decades of this Ministry our focus, media involvement, range of enquiries, and overall activities related mostly to cultic groups ranging from Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians through to Hare Krishnas, Moonies (Unification Church/Sun Myung Moon), Rajnees-hies/Orange People, Muktananda’s Siddha Yoga, T.M. - Transcendental Mediation to Raelians, "brown" and "grey" aliens, Alien "walk-ins" and more. All these various groups ranged across a number of categories such as Western Pseudo Christian Exclusivists; Eastern Pseudo Christian Exclusivists; Eastern Mystical; New Age Spirituality; Human Potential, and the Occult. All these were demonstrably outside mainstream historically orthodox and Biblical Christianity. Many of the groups within these various categories went through their expansion (growth) stages and moved on to their consolidation (keeping members) stages. Many are still around, but no longer expanding; sometimes struggling to maintain their existence. In some cases there are now very few young members (in contrast to their early expansionist years), and in others many of the young people who were born and grew up in these groups, have left or are leaving (often spreading their stories and concerns via the Internet).

In spite of the dislike of the word "cults" by some academics and "politically correct" activists, the word has been sued appropriately in many cases, and "cults" were amongst our major concerns - concerns shared by church and community leaders, as well as the media, during the first two decades of our existence.

Extreme Christian Fringe Groups were also a major concern during those earlier decades. These were generally groups that promoted most Christian basics (in accepted doctrines) they were often on the fringes of mainstream orthodox Christianity with some of their beliefs; were led by a manipulative and controlling leadership; were generally social isolationist and often attempted to isolate members from their normal support networks of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances (from workplaces, college or universities, sport and other community clubs and organisations) in order to keep members dependent of the group’s leader(s). The impact of these groups is often as damaging to relationships and personal growth and faith development as the worst or most extreme of the cults.

Today the problem of these Extreme Christian Fringe Groups continues to increase. They are multiplying rapidly around the world. The vast majority of people getting caught up with such groups have little Biblical understanding or background and are unable to see the problems until a great deal of personal damage has occurred. This growth of Christian fringe groups and their extremes has led to the republishing an updated and expanded version of our 1989 book: The Problem of Extreme Christian Fringe Groups, by our Director, Adrian van Leen.

Over the past decade, enquiries about cults have diminished and been replaced by a growing volume of enquiries about problems in various denominational and mainstream Christian Churches. Many have been along similar areas of concern, in spite of denominational differences. The vast majority of calls for help have expressed a deep concern over two main areas: inappropriate leadership styles and lack of sound and Biblical teaching.

Expressions of these two problems have included manipulation and extreme control/domineering by pastors/leader (often younger than many in the congregation); people over 45-50 actually being told they are not really wanted because they’re holding back progress and development (they are of the "old paradigm" and the pastors/leaders, with their training and knowledge, are of the "new paradigm"); pastors/leaders claiming that THEY are the church CEO’s and THEY run the church, and when they ultimately don’t get their way in everything, many "spit the dummy" and leave - often threatening (and sometimes succeeding) to take half the congregation with them; and more along those lines. Many pastors have been told through training seminars that they need to assert themselves more; that Jesus, as the Chief Shepherd, was an entrepreneur fattening and building up his flock - as a sheep farmer does - to make a profit. Some pastors/leaders have insisted on organising all church activities for other people (e.g. home study groups, and more) but wouldn’t conduct home groups or Bible studies themselves, especially "after hours" (their hours being 9 to 5 in the church office).

Enormous numbers of faithful Christians, especially long-time members, have been deeply hurt by this style of leadership and have been crying out for a Biblical model of Christ-like Servant leadership, where leaders lead by example of patient love and understanding; study and teach Biblical messages from the Bible; actually get alongside people and exercise pastoral care; set the tone of their congregations by their Christ-like examples rather than dictatorial declarations.

There is also an increasing concern amongst Christians in congregations over lack of sound Biblical teaching in relation to faith, salvation and Christian living.

These concerns are not so much about change, as they are about excessive change for the sake of change and the way in which change is brought about, or attempted to be brought about.

In the past decade, in relation to our Ministry and work, more people have been hurt and damaged by the Church than by traditional cults. There has to be a better, more Biblically appropriate way!

 

INTERNET IMPACT

When LOOKOUT commenced (as CCG Ministries) in 1979, our major means of communication and information sharing was through ‘snail mail’ (postal services) and telephone. As people came to hear about us, and as our Ministry reached out across Australia and overseas the volume of postal mail and telephone calls increased. The daily trip to the letter box out the front was something of an adventure: ‘What would today’s mail have in store for us?’ There was almost competition to see who would collect the day’s mail. There was also a considerable postal volume going out of the office most days.

Then came a technological change (and the requirement of new equipment). We were asked what our fax number was. Fax machines (short for facsimile transmissions) enabled ‘hard copies (printed letters and other documents) to be sent to most places in the world by telephone (across the telephone landline). That was quite revolutionary. It eliminated problems of mispronunciations and misunderstandings (especially with expensive international telephone calls). Now people ‘at the other end’ could receive your message or correspondence almost instantly at the price of a telephone call.

But that revolutionary development paled into insignificance with the development of desktop computers (personal computers - PCs), internetworking (the Internet) and Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the World Wide Web. Email protocols and web browsers were developed to use the World Wide Web on the Internet. Mosaic was replaced by Netscape which was eventually replaced by Microsoft Explorer and a range of other (free) web browsers. Whilst originally planned as a communications tool for governments and military, by 1996 the World Wide Web (www) and the Internet had exploded into the public arena - and nothing has been the same since!

Even though some of the ‘experts’, didn’t fully grasp the technology of computers and the Internet - hence the over-hyped Y2K scares leading up to 2000 - the past decade has seen even greater development in the whole use of PCs and the Internet.

These developments have enabled the sharing of information and resources as never before. As micro technology has increased more and more information is able to be stored and contained in smaller data files.

Library shelves of encyclopedia sets and multiple reference volumes are able to be stored on CD-Roms, and thumb drives, replacing floppy disks for temporary storage and for transferring data are getting smaller but with increased storage capacity.

Remember the old 5-inch floppy disks? Then came the smaller 3-inch floppy; followed by the special 100MB Zip drive disks - to 16GB thumb drives. And that just relates to the ongoing development of temporary storage devices!

With all sorts of external hard drives, as well as all the temporary storage devices, the storage capacity of information continues increase, but in smaller equipment. You can literally store several library shelves of large books, plus several filing cabinets of documentation, on some small gadget in your pocket.

The Internet enables people around the world to make all that stored information available to anyone else in the world who wants to access it.

The Internet has become a researchers great delight. As individuals, groups, companies, universities - and all sorts of other organisations - place information that they hold on to their computers and connect up to the Internet, others can then tap in to this enormous, and rapidly expanding, pool of information.

This great sharing of information has provided a fantastic way of learning, checking things out, and more, including for our Ministry. It has become a very valuable research tool for our organisation. We are now able to source a great deal more information than we were in the past.

It has also brought significant problems.

The problem of time - to do all that research and checking that you just would not have been able to in the past (and therefore would not have needed so much time).

The problem of information overload. The ever increasing volume of information available for accessing over the Internet is mind blowing. You could spend 24/7 accessing information, and there is still so MUCH more to learn and discover. It can become TOO much.

The problem of sorting fact from fiction. The Internet is a great tool for spreading information - but not all that information is accurate, balanced, or helpful. The information you can access on the Internet is VERY, VERY mixed. It requires some critical thinking skills, and access to other information sources, to be able to determine the accuracy or fairness of the information found.

There ARE reliable sources of information to be access on the Internet, but there are also gross distortions, half-truths, misinformation, and a whole range of other unreliable material accessible through the Internet.

Great caution and discernment are required in order to uncover truth and accuracy of knowledge and information.

That’s just on the positive aspects of information access through the Internet!

Then there are real reasons of concern on the impact of the Internet on families, Christians, Christian leadership and the Church in general.

The range of information and other data that people are sharing over the Internet is enormous. From good ‘stuff’ to destructive ‘stuff’ - it’s all ‘out there’ accessible by one and all.

There are many great sites sharing good Christians material, including sermons. You can read, hear, and often watch and hear, preachers from around the world who have put their sermons (and often themselves) on accessible websites. That sounds good, and it IS good - but even the ‘good stuff’ can be abused AND IS abused.

Preachers have always valued the input of others who have shared sermons, sermon illustrations, preaching insights and guidelines. Books of sermons have provided ideas, inspiration and encouragement for preachers going through ‘dry seasons’, but it has always been regarded as inappropriate and outright theft, to take the sermons and materials of others, without any acknowledgement, and present them as one’s own. Plagiarism has been warned against, spoken about, preached on in theological colleges and seminaries, as well as pulpits, yet it has become one of the biggest pulpit problems of today.

With so much material (including whole sermons and sermon series) available on the Internet, more and more preachers are using these as a shortcut to pulpit preparation. Sermon plagiarism has taken on epidemic proportions across denominations, raising serious questions of integrity. When preachers are discovered to be serial plagiarists the consequences, including disillusionment, can be devastating. What is even more disturbing is the fact that many ministers involved in plagiarism (the theft and unacknowledged use of other people’s sermons, illustrations, outlines and more) see nothing wrong with the practice. It is an issue that does not seem to have been taken seriously, or addressed, by denominational leaderships or ministerial committees/fellowships. (See our TACL of Mar-Apr 2009 for an article on this issue.)

Another major impact of the Internet on Christians, including Christian leaders (pastors, elders, youth workers, and others) is the growing problem of addiction to online pornography. There is nothing new about sexual curiosity, but we have moved way beyond under the counter or camouflaged sealed nudist publications and men’s magazines. The risks of being seen checking out sex shops have also been removed. Everything that was ever previously published in limited circulation and restricted availability sex and pornographic publications is now readily available for perusal on the Internet. For many, including those in the Christian community, sexual curiosity has degenerated into full-blown addiction to online Internet pornography. The destructive results to individuals, marriage relationships, families, and church communities, continues to increase at alarming rates.

Some denominations have had to set up special counselling services for clergy and clergy families impacted by online Internet pornography. The problems and needs are far from being overcome. The ready availability of this material for perusal in the privacy of one’s home (personal study, bedroom etc.) leads many people to, erroneously, assume they can surf the Net for all sorts of pornographic material and remain undetected.

The tragic case of Australian Assemblies of God, Mike Guglielmucci, his deceptions and fraudulent claims, all had their origins in his destructive addiction to pornography since the age of twelve! (See TACL Aug - Sep 2008, pp. 18-24) He was one high-profile pastor whose ministry and reputation was destroyed by his pornographic addiction, and whose deceptions disillusioned many thousands of others. The tragedy of easily available online Internet pornography is that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors and other church leaders and members, whose lives are being destroyed through that availability.

We believe the Church, the Christian community at large, has not really become adequately aware of the problems and seems unprepared to constructively deal with the issues.

There are two other important aspects of the Internet that need to be mentioned.

Our language has also been impacted by the Internet over the past decade. Who would have thought a funny company name would become a well-used verb amongst computer literates? Google, the name of the Internet search engine company, has so effectively monopolised searching for information across the Internet to the point where dictionaries now officially list: ‘to google’ as meaning to search for information from those millions of computers connected through the Internet.

Prior to the Internet’s effective cyberspace access to the availability of the conglomerate of facts, opinions, information, misinformation on all subjects imaginable, people used to consult libraries and books, friends, community leaders, individuals and organisations known as reputable sources of knowledge, informations, expertise, and the like, when they wanted to ‘get things right’. There were recognised sources of information, truth and help, to which people could, and most often would, turn for the information to guide and help them deal with many of life’s issues.

That has all changed!

Now people first ‘surf the Net’ - they ‘google’ for answers to their questions about life, thinking, theology, and a whole lot more. The Internet has become the main source, and major influence, for people’s ideas and concepts about everything imaginable. This includes people’s thinking and interpretations about God, Jesus, the Bible, self, life’s purpose, direction and the like. The reality is that more people are influenced in their thinking and understanding about significant issues by what they find on the Internet than by what they may learn from Sunday sermons, Bible teachers, religious leaders or religious (including Christian) writers.

Australians (Singaporeans, and Christians in many other countries) are adopting American (USA) versions and interpretations of Christian concepts and Biblical understandings (and misunderstandings) because they take their theology from the Internet and Americans have the greatest volume of information and material available on the Internet ‘explaining’ Christianity. The fact that many groups and individuals, claiming to be Christians, are actually far removed from historical and orthodox Christianity escapes the vast majority of people who are influenced by diverse Internet theology and thinking. The fact that a great deal of the theology and thinking presented on the Internet can be very parochial, limited and biased (and ‘hung-up’ on local cultural, community, political or legal issues) also seems to escape the vast majority of people who are influenced by diverse Internet theology and thinking.

Just as medical doctors are finding that many patients now consult them AFTER checking their perceived conditions and best cures and treatments on the Internet, much the same is happening in Church circles. People listen to preachers, Bible study leaders and others, after having made up their minds on things as a result of their Internet ‘googling’. The fact that a great deal of congregational thinking and theology is now often very different from what preachers and Bible teachers may have learned in church history and theology classes at college or seminary, probably escape the awareness of many in church leadership.

Traditional many cultic groups recruiting through ‘door-to-door’ visitation, some street work, and the use of literature, now one of the major means of recruiting is through their Internet website presence. In the past, cultic groups tended to ‘outdo’ Christian churches with their literature and advertising presentations (often having more money available for those purposes), now they ‘outdo’ many churches and Christian organisations with the presentation quality of their websites AND they tend to keep them updated and current far more than a lot of Christian churches and groups. Again, they probably have, and certainly spend, far greater resources and personnel on maintaining and active and attractive presence on the Internet.

Small way-out groups, both religious cults and occult groups, in some isolated ‘backwater’ tended to remain relatively unknown and obscure in the past. Apart from recruiting a few ‘locals’ other recruits tended to be ‘isolated strays’ who wandered into their recruiting sights. This is another of the things that have completely changed as a result of the Internet.

All sorts of cults and groups, including dabblers in all aspect of the occult, are now able to recruit new members from around the world through the global outreach and connections of the Internet. Small way-out groups may still remain ‘weird, way-out and bizarre’, but they are no longer isolated and obscure. They can, potentially, become very visible and known through the Internet, especially through such Internet features as YouTube.

After a decade of declining ‘visibility’ and even declining memberships, cults and the occult are again on the increase, but in a less ‘visibly apparent’ form. Their growth is happening more and more on, and through, the Internet.

The growth of Internet recruiting by cultic, occultic and religious fringe groups, and the increasingly widespread influence of Internet theology and thinking have significantly affected our organisation, as well as the Christian community in general.

Fewer people, than in the past, are turning to us as their first source of information about cultic groups and Christian teaching to counter them. It has impacted the number of enquiries we now receive. We do find ourselves involved in helping people sort through helpful and unhelpful, accurate and inaccurate, material. Sometimes people think they have found truthful information, until we are able to show them it was actually misinformation.

With the increasing Internet presence of cultic and religious fringe groups, and their recruiting and influencing of people around the globe, there is so much more that we need to be aware of and gather information on. Our volume of research work, sometimes just to keep up with what is going on, continues to increase.

We have limited resources of both funds and people to dedicate to our own Internet presence and cannot possibly compete with cultic and fringe groups on the Internet, or with Christian groups specialising in Internet activities. We have to continue dealing with the impact of the Internet (as do other Christians, Churches and groups), and constantly seek relevant approaches and ways of providing help for people affected by cultic and religious fringe groups, whether through the Internet or in other ways.

 

COMMUNICATIONS & SOCIAL NETWORKING REVOLUTION

Today’s generation is the most ‘plugged-in’ generation ever! People are constantly connected to communication gadgets.

Some years ago I saw an amazing sight in Singapore (at least it was amazing then!) - I saw a Chinese young with a girl attached to either arm while he was walking along, speaking on one mobile phone (hand-phone), holding another phone in the other hand and having a third clipped to his belt!! It was all very much a macho status thing, and something of a weird public effort to impress.

But the three mobile phones he had were just that: telephones! All you could do with them - apart from walking around and being mobile - was to speak and listen. Those clunky mobile phones of the past have shrunk in size and grown in the range of uses and capacities. Now those tiny things have become telephone cameras with Internet connectivity and almost total computer functionality. Then there are also the iPods and music formats MP3 and MP4, and a whole lot more. It is now almost impossible to walk down the street in cities, suburbs or around shopping centres and NOT see, at least some, people plugged in and listening to, or even talking to, someone or something (including inside supermarket shops, bank teller queues and lots of other places).

Communications today involve checking and reading emails; checking messages on Facebook; checking mini-messages on Twitter; checking on messages and comments on anyone of a number of other social networks on which a person might have a presence or with a person might be connected. There are over 500 social network sites with which people can link up - general ones like Bebo, Facebook and Twitter, and hundreds of special interest sites catering for the interactions of people with common interests such as the photo-sharing site, Flickr.

Apart from just checking emails and messages, one is also expected to answer most of these (instantly, if not the day before!). The there are the problems of spamming; hacking; phishing; and the need to check for and deal with trojans and viruses. In addition, there is the problem of malicious cyber-bullying; date-baiting; and other socially destructive Internet behaviours to deal with.

All of these take their toll in time, energy and emotions.

Communications technology has NOT freed us up - it has, to a large degree, enslaved several generations within a decade. People are having to treated for Internet addictions; new Internet stress disorders; marriage counselling and more. Children and young people are being taught distorted relational concepts. Friendship now means having a long list of Internet contacts on Facebook; keeping in touch has become so addictive that people tweet each other on Twitter throughout the day. Face to face and direct inter-relational contact and communications have become rarer and more distant.

The problems between teenagers and parents - and parents and teenagers - are not new. Amongst teenagers of the past, especially girls, personal diaries or journals, provided ways of expressing your opinions and feelings without the threat of rejection or arguments. These personal diaries were often hidden: - under the bed (where mum would always find them); at the back of ‘intimate apparel’ drawers; in wall spaces and cavities; in hollow tree trunks (a temptation for termites and other bugs); in tin containers buried under rocks in the backyard, and so on. Some young people became proficient journal/diary writers - and chronicled their daily lives. These diaries, generally, remained private and ‘secret’. NOT anymore! Blogging has become a social Internet way of journalling where almost NOTHING is private anymore. There are now numerous mothers (and fathers) who try to communicate with their teens - face to face - direct personal interactions - only to be constantly frustrated. ‘How was your day today?’ ‘Okay!’ ‘What did you do today?’ ‘Nothing much!’ ‘What are you planning to do tomorrow?’ ‘Nothing!’.....etc.

BUT...

There’s a good chance mum and dad can find out a WHOLE LOT more by checking their teens’ Internet blogs. What is answered verbally with monosyllables is often expounded on, with the (would-be?) skills of a journalist, in personal Internet blogs. Both brief and enormously lengthy ‘articles’ of information about personal daily activities and happenings are regularly shared with the whole world through blogging on the Internet. The personal journal and diary have gone public - in a BIG way, through the Internet. Often very personal, as well as general, information is shared for all to read - by some in the strange and naive belief that Internet blogging is personal and private -which it most definitely is NOT. Nor, by the way, is email correspondence (in spite of ‘legal’ warnings and disclaimers that the email is ONLY for the intended addressee - and anyone who inadvertently [or otherwise] is sent the email, shouldn’t read it; should immediately delete it; should notify the sender that it went to the wrong addressee). Don’t blog, email, or ‘facebook’ information you are NOT prepared to be seen or read by strangers! In spite of security measures (which some people never seem to take anyway), nothing that is posted on, or sent through, the Internet is ever completely secure or safe from discovery by others. Cautious use is wise use.

All of these information technological (IT) developments have increased time requirements for using and dealing with them; increased emotional stress levels in dealing with all the time competitors; increased addictions and compulsive behaviours for many; increased tensions and brought more divisions in marriages and other relationships; increased workplace demands and stresses, as well as increased confusion and uncertainty over competence in using ever-changing technology.

The Christian community - collectively as well as personally - needs to come to grips with the impact of all these developments and provide help and guidelines in prioritising; more appropriate relational and communication skills; finding time for God as well as each other.

 

A DECADE OF MORMONISM

As mentioned in our January-February TACL, many groups, organisations, commentators and other individuals in the publishing industry saw the conclusion of the previous decade and good opportunity to comment reflectively on that past decade In January, and beyond, as did we.

It included leaders and journalists in, or associated with, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) (Mormons). The Mormon Church owned Deseret News began a series focusing on a range of decade-reflective topics, including Church activities and influence, in January 2010, with this standard introduction: The First Decade — A new millennium was born amid concerns about the Y2K bug. Far more real fears unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001. Deseret News and Associated Press writers today continue a series of essays examining the major developments of the past decade and their impact on Utah and beyond.

The series varied in its topical coverage with some articles lacking depth, most ignoring the less-pleasant aspects of the decade - particularly relating to the Mormon Church - and most of them being more spin than substance in their efforts to present Utah and the LDS Church in a positive light. There were even blatant errors - either through carelessness or in a deliberate effort to present negative issues in a more positive appearance - as the claim that the USA PBS television production was done in 2005 in honour of the bicentennial of the birth of Mormon founder, Joseph Smith. It was anything but that - and came out in 2007.

In March 2010 the glossy (print issue) of the official LDS Church magazine, Ensign, presented even more spin and superficiality with a seven-page spread of extremely brief and selective "highlights" of all the decades up to this one since Joseph Smith began Mormonism in 1830. For the 2000-2009 decade it listed the following "Church Events": Church has more non-English-speaking members than English-speaking. President Hinckley dies; Thomas S. Monson becomes 16th President of the Church. 1,000,000th missionary called. The Conference Center is dedicated. 130 temples in operation. Church Membership: 13,750,651. Number of Stakes: 2,858. "World Events": Terrorist attacks. U.S. and allies invade Iraq. Indian Ocean tsunami kills more than 225,000. Global financial crisis.

Mormon leaders (known as the General Authorities - the GA) hold conferences twice a year in Salt Lake City - the geographical "heart" of Mormonism. In past decades these conferences were held in the famous Mormon Tabernacle (not to be confused with the adjacent Salt Lake City Mormon Temple). Conference numbers outgrew the architecturally interestingly interior of the Tabernacle and a new Conference Center was built. The Conference Centre, with its auditorium seating 21,000 (and a separate theatre seating a further 850) was completed in April 2000 and used shortly after for the LDS General Conference that year.

Wealthy Mormon Boston businessman, Mitt Romney, came to prominence through his involvement with the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. Dubbed by some as the Mormon Olympics, the 2002 Winter Olympics began with controversy. In 1995 the International Olympics Committee (IOC) awarded the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City. This brought great jubilation to the heart of Mormon territory and the Salt Lake Organising Committee (SLOC). It seemed all was going well, until December 1998. Swiss IOC member, Marc Hodler, spilled the beans and revealed to the world that Salt Lake City’s "squeaky clean" image was well and truly tarnished. The head of the SLOC, Tom Welch, had already resigned in 1997 and replaced by Frank Joklik. Associate and Senior Vice-president to both men, Dave Johnson, announced his resignation - along with Joklik - in January 1999. At least two other SLOC members resigned later. The scandal was one of the worst in modern Olympics history. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and another ten were sanctioned for their behaviour in the Salt Lake City scandal. The scandal involved SLOC members "gifting" scholarships to children of IOC members; huge cash gifts; political campaign funds; medical expenses and treatments; free travel; even providing prostitutes in some cases. More than US$3 million was spent by the SLOC in an effort to secure votes to host the 2002 Winter Olympics.

In this, worst scandal of Olympic Games modern history, Romney was called in to help save the whole venture from collapsing. For some he is regarded as the saviour of the 2002 Winter "Mormon" Olympics - though others are convinced he used it to his own advantage. Romney found extra funding and commercial sponsorships; raised a huge "Mormon army" of volunteers - including Mormon missionaries - to provide support and contact with athletes and visitors from around the world. Drawing on his own experience as a Mormon missionary in France years ealier, he encouraged Mormon Missionaries to use language skills in relating to visitors in their own languages.

Mitt Romney, relative of one of the Mormon Church’s Apostles and Prophets, Marion G. Romney, went on to become the 70th Governor of Massachusetts (from 2003 to 2007) and then attempted to run for the White House in 2008. He failed in that attempt. His attempt, however, put the focus back on his Mormon connections and raised questions about Mormon beliefs about Satan/Lucifer and Jesus being literal brothers (see our Tacl Jan-Feb 2008, pp.15-20). Though Romney’s White House ambitions failed in 2008, he is apparently considering the possibilities for 2012.

Mormons celebrated the bicentennial of founder, Joseph Smith, Jr.’s birth, on December 23rd, 2005.

It brought its share of "mixed blessings" for the Mormons and the LDS Church hierarchy. Like so much of the Mormon’s official dealings with the truth and reality about their founder and much of its own history, it was a case of overwhelming people with old claims repeated, pious platitudes about Smith as Prophet and calls for faith in the official Church version of Smith’s history. They continued to promote faith enhancing history and what has been labelled as faithful scholarship, "scholarship" which conforms to current orthodox LDS Church official teachings about history and doctrine - rather than objective, evidence-based historical reality and truth. LDS "virtual truth" became more entrenched as more objective scholarship was shunned during 2005 in a process that had begun during the 1980s.

An interesting paper discussing attempts to promote Mormon studies at secular universities - but of the faithful scholarship, style and approach - highlights part of the problem of Mormon history and how it is presented:
http://www.unc.edu/~jcduffy/faithfulscholarship.pdf

Others raised concerns about the problems of the historical claims made by the LDS about its founder, Joseph Smith, Jnr., during 2004-2005, as seen in the following:
http://www.religionnewsblog.com/9751/joseph-smiths-bicentennial-renews-debates-over-prophet (repeated elsewhere e.g.
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/12/19/smith_bicentennial_ renewing_debate_over_mormon_founder/;
http://www.religionnewsblog.com/9751/joseph-smiths-bicentennial-renews-debates-over-prophet);
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId= 5067554

Many decades ago, Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th Mormon President, Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the LDS Church (and the second President with exactly the same name) made the following claim:

"CHURCH STANDS OR FALLS WITH JOSEPH SMITH. Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who wilfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed; his claims should be refuted, and his doctrines shown to be false, for the doctrines of an impostor cannot be made to harmonize in all particulars with divine truth. If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect. The doctrines of false teachers will not stand the test when tried by the accepted standards of measurement, the scriptures. ALL ATTACKS ON WORK OF JOSEPH SMITH FAIL. There is no possibility of his being deceived, and on this issue we are ready to make our stand. I maintain that Joseph Smith was all that he claimed to be. His statements are too positive and his claims too great to admit of deception on his part. No imposter could have accomplished so great and wonderful a work. Had he been such, he would have been detected and exposed, and the plan would have failed and come to naught. In the plan of salvation, as it was made known through Joseph Smith to the world, there are no flaws. Each part fits perfectly and makes the whole complete. Attacks have been made from the beginning to the present, and yet everyone has failed. The world has been unable to place a finger of upon anything that is inconsistent, or out of harmony in the revelations to Joseph Smith, with that which has been revealed before, or predicted by the prophets and the Lord himself." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1954, vol. 1, p.188-9)

During the past decade scholars and others, including ordinary Mormons, discovered and accepted the evidence that Joseph Fielding Smith was very wrong in his boast. We AGREE with Joseph Fielding Smith that, when it comes to Joseph Smith, "There is no middle ground." Joseph Smith HAS been "exposed" and shown to deceive and "mislead the people"; his claims HAVE been "refuted"; "his doctrines" HAVE been "shown to be false"; evidence reveals that there HAVE been "many errors and contradictions" which WERE "easy to detect" - especially when examined in the light of the Bible - read in context - and historical Christian orthodoxy. J. F. Smith’s final sentence here, "The world has been unable to place a finger of upon anything that is inconsistent, or out of harmony in the revelations to Joseph Smith, with that which has been revealed before, or predicted by the prophets and the Lord himself", is grossly incorrect and a typical example of denial and bluff.

The sad reality is that there are Mormons who have been deliberately kept in the dark and have been discouraged from actively thinking for themselves. Most have been denied access to information that might contradict the official LDS claims about Joseph Smith and the Church’s version of its own history. Sadder still, there are now many Mormons, including Mormon scholars and historians, who have discovered the truth that the official LDS history has been altered and sanitized without acknowledgement or explanation (some have even exposed these things by writing more accurate histories themselves), but have attempted to stay within Mormonism because they enjoy and appreciate being part of Mormon culture (especially in Utah). Some others even acknowledge these things and say it doesn’t matter because accurate information and knowledge aren’t enough - faith and an emotional testimony, conviction, of the (nevertheless) "truthfulness" of the LDS Church is all that really matters.

As an example, read the following May 2008 blog by Mormon, Timm Malone, as he comments on one of the writers of the "New Mormon History" - and also read the responses to his comments: http://latterdaycommentary.blogspot.com/2008/05/new-mormon-history-grant-palmer.html - notice his acknowledgement that the whole story is NOT told: "A faith-promoting history may leave a few things out" , and "I will always maintain that there has been no cover-up, but I know that the church has been very careful to ensure that what is presented by the missionaries and in our classrooms is faith-promoting. This may mean leaving some stuff untaught". He acknowledged that some of the untaught "stuff" is damaging to the faith of many who discover what they were NOT taught, but that he and his wife "have, and what most members of the church have that protects us from the doubts that can be caused by exposure to the non-Orthodox new Mormon history is revelation. Our testimonies are not based on an intellectual understanding of things and they never were. There are things that our heart just knows even if they do not make sense to our minds." He goes on to claim that "I can say that I have specifically prayed about this issue and have received a comforting witness to my soul that the way the Brethren are handling our history is fine with me. I do not claim to know the mind or will of the Lord about how things may change in the future in this area. I trust the Brethren. [the top LDS leaders - General Authorities] ...I have concluded that this is just one of those tests through which some people have to pass. The revelation of which I speak is not about the history. It is about trusting the Lord. It is about knowing that the prophet and apostles really do act on behalf of the Lord in directing the church. My testimony is not based on intellect alone. It may not be logical to some but it is real to me.",

This shows another sad reality: "True Believers" will allow others to do the thinking for them and end up feeling good about the lies and half-truths they have been fed.

For recent (and current) varying attitudes to Mormon history and Joseph Smith (and to remaining anonymous if you hold or promote unorthodox Mormon views) also check out the following websites:
http://www.mormonthink .com/files/sunstone.pdf;
http://www.mormonthink.com/whoarewe.htm;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mor-mon_history;
http://www.irr. org/mit/" target="_blank">http://www.irr.org/mit/mormon-america-br.html; http://www.irr. org/mit/;
http://www.exmormon.org/;
http://www.mormoncurtain.com/start_here.html;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ _of_Latter-day_Saints

Gordon Bitner Hinckley was the 15th President, Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the LDS Church for much of the past decade. He became a Mormon Apostle and joined the "Brethren" (the GA - General Authorities) in 1961, having been an assistant to the Mormon Apostles since 1958. Hinckley had trained in journalism in college and gained early employment with the Mormon Church’s Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee. He had many years of media and marketing experience. He was one of the top three Mormon leaders (a member of the First Presidency) from 1981 until he became the very top man in 1995 at the age of 84.

He had been influential in many areas of Mormon Church life and leadership over those many decades. His skills and background in media and marketing enabled a number of developments to take place during his years of influence.

In past eras the Mormon leadership determined that the best way to deal with critical evaluations of Mormonism and exposures by former Mormons, was to ignore them all, remain silent, encourage the "faithful" to avoid reading, talking or thinking about the controversial issues and simply maintain their "trust" of the "Brethren" - the GA - Mormon Apostles in the general hierarchy. That began to change gradually during the 1980s on. The efforts of people like Salt Lake City residents, Jerald and Sandra Tanner (of significant Mormon background) with their publication of previously unpublished and uncirculated old authentic historical documents and materials began to lift the veil on the hidden reality of unofficial Mormon history. Treatment of Mormon scholars who also began to uncover, speak and write about authentic historical evidence and material (much of which was in conflict with the official Mormon Church "orthodox party line") made more and more Mormons aware of hidden aspects of their religion and its history.

Mormon apologetics - defending Mormonism from its critics and some of its own scholars - was developed. Initially, "unofficially", but ultimately endorsed by the top LDS leadership. Some of these included: FARMS - Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (BYU) - begun by Mormon lawyer, John W. Welch, in 1979. In 1997, Gordon Hinckley suggested that FARMS become an official part of the Mormon Church’s Brigham Young University. He claimed that: "FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. . . . I see a bright future for this effort now through the university." It was officially incorporated into the University, under several differently named institutions until it finally ended up as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Its declared purpose is to: "Describe and defend the Restoration through highest quality scholarship; Provide critically edited, primary resources (ancient religious texts) to scholars and laypersons around the world; Build bridges of understanding and goodwill to Muslim scholars by providing superior editions of primary texts; Provide an anchor of faith in a sea of LDS Studies."

N.A. Maxwell became a Mormon Apostle when Hinckley became a counsellor on the First Presidency in 1981. According to the official Institute’s website at BYU he apparently declared: "The Book of Mormon will remain in the realm of faith. It has a bodyguard of scholars who now surround it and protect it from the frail attacks often made on it. But even so, it’s the witness of the Spirit that matters most." Maxwell died in 2004

Along with the Neal A Maxwell IRS/FARMS, other Mormon apologetic groups include: FAIR - Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research; SHIELDS - Scholarly and Historical Information Exchange for Latter-day Saints; plus numerous Internet websites including: Mormon Answers; ProMormon; Mormon Apologetics and Discussion Board; and many others. Some of these use a relatively moderate approach, while others are as aggressive and polemic as some anti-Mormon and Ex-Mormon sites. Almost all seek to persuade readers that faith is far more important than fact - and Mormons, especially should have faith in the "Brethren"!

(See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_for_Ancient_Research_and_Mormon _Studies)

The efforts of these Mormon apologetic groups and individuals have significantly increased over the past decade.

However, it should also be noted that former Mormons and other critics of Mormonism, including Christian apologists, have also increased their activities and Internet presentations.

In our TACL issue of October 2003 (pp.11-16) we made readers aware of three issues: 1. references to an early (1960s) paper by our Director in which he declared the Book of Mormon (BOM) story of Middle Eastern migrations to the Americans and the notion that American Indians had originated in the Middle East, was invalid nonsense; 2. reference to an official statement from the Smithsonian Institutions National Museum of Natural History denying any validity to the BOM as a source of information relative to American archaeology; 3. revealing the story of former Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) Mormon Bishop, Simon Southerton. Southern was an Australian scientist by profession (and for many years a faithful Mormon by conviction) who became involved in DNA studies relating to America’s Indian peoples. As a result of his studies, and other discoveries of being lied to by the LDS hierarchy, he became disillusioned and began to publish his findings on DNA contradicting the BOM. Since then he has been treated abominably by the Mormon Church and its leadership. But others confirmed his findings and it became a serious issue of conflict that the Mormon masters of spin worked hard to whitewash. It remains a serious issue of conflict with official Mormon claims. For further information about the DNA issues, Southerton’s findings and treatment, and how it has been handled publicly and by the Mormons, check out:
http://www. exmormon.org/whylft125.htm;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Southerton;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/. Genetics_and_the_Book_of_ Mormon; http://irr.org/mit/southerton-response.html;
http://mormontruth .blogspot.com/2005/10/simon-southertons-opinion-of-newsweek.html; http://www.mormonwiki.com/Book_of_ Mormon_DNA.

William Lobdell, in covering the story for the Los Angeles Times, declared in the heading for his lengthy article in February 2006: Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted - DNA tests contradict Mormon scripture. The church says the studies are being twisted to attack its beliefs. Read his full story at:
http://articles.latimes.com/2006/feb/16/local/me-mormon16.

(Official LDS Church response and spin: http://www.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/dna-and-the-book-of-mormon)

A major part of Mormonism has always been its missionary programme.

For years young men have been going on voluntary (self, or family, funded) missionary service for two years. Young women have done eighteen months missionary service. The white shirt, ties and dark trousers, short back and sides haircuts, (and often riding bicycles) were all part of the required uniform code that have made Mormon missionary identifiable around the world.

There were also uniform lessons that the missionaries had to share.

These were virtually learnt by rote, and they were not permitted to present these lessons to potential enquirers or possible converts in their own words.

What is not commonly known is that not all young Mormon missionaries are involved in the door-knocking Mormon outreach programme. Some are involved as labourers in Mormon building projects, others serve as volunteers in distribution centres from which everything - from Mormon books, magazines to temple garments and "sacred" Mormon underwear are - sold and distributed.

The official LDS Church magazine, Ensign, for March 2010, announced that during the past decade the one millionth Mormon missionary was called.

What the magazine did not state (or otherwise indicate) was the fact the missionary numbers are declining, and overall they are winning fewer converts. The numbers of Mormons called to be missionaries in 1998 were 60,000; in 2007 there were 52,686 and in 2008 there were 52, 494.

The following was taken from a two part TACL edition "Decade in Review" Jan/Feb & March/May 2010 Vol 31