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Religion News Report

December 26, 1999 (Vol. 3, Issue 148)

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Religion News Report - December 26, 1999 (Vol. 3, Issue 148)
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=== Falun Gong
1. China jails leaders of banned spiritual movement
2. Falun Gong Leaders Jailed for Up to 18 Years
3. China Vows Fight Against Cults
4. Laws curbing Aum to go into effect
5. Japan Cult Leader May Get Death

=== Concerned Christians
6. Relatives of cultists fear worst
7. Apocalyptic Cult Members Deported From Israel;
Families Worried About Possible Mass Suicide

= Ho-no-hana Sanpogyo
8. Ho-no-Hana founder spent 1 bil. yen to meet leaders

=== Y2K / Doomsday
9. Some believers waiting for apocalypse -- but not on New Year's,
experts say
10. Apocalyptic Anxiety

=== Other News
11. China sentences six underground church leaders
12. Civil rights groups plan sign near KKK highway marker in Missouri
13. Filmland jitters over jerky video (Sterling Institute)
14. Chechens feel used by strict Islamic sect
15. Students find Temple-era artifacts dumped by Wakf from Temple Mount
16. Visions of the Virgin Mary are proliferating among devotees
17. Latinos Leaving Catholicism for Charisma of Penecostalism

=== Noted
18. Alternative Religions as a Growth Industry
19. Rev. Robert Schuller, Gordon B. Hinckley and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Discuss the Importance of Religion
20. Christians Are More Likely to Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians
21. Are you there, God? (Templeton Foundation)

=== Books
22. Crisis of faith


=== Falun Gong

1. china jails leaders of banned spiritual movement
CNN/Reuters, Dec. 26, 1999
http://www.cnn.com/1999/ASIANOW/east/12/26/china.falun.gong.01.reut/index.html
A Chinese court sentenced four leaders of the banned spiritual movement Falun
Gong
to up to 18 years in prison on Sunday for a range of charges, including
leaking state secrets, the official Xinhua news agency said.
(...)

The defendants have 10 days to appeal.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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2. Falun Gong Leaders Jailed for Up to 18 Years
AOL/Reuters, Dec. 26, 1999
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?table=n&cat=01&id=1999122609177556
A Chinese court sentenced four leaders of the banned spiritual movement Falun
Gong to up to 18 years in prison Sunday on charges ranging from stealing
state secrets to causing deaths.
(...)

The court sentenced Li Chang, 59, a former deputy director of the Public
Security Ministry, to 18 years in prison for illegally obtaining state
secrets and using a cult to undermine the implementation of the law and cause
human deaths, Xinhua said.

The government says 1,400 practitioners of Falun Gong -- a mishmash of
Buddhism, Taoism, meditation and breathing exercises designed to harness
inner energy and heal -- have died after refusing medical help when ill.
(...)

All four are members of the Communist Party, the Hong Kong-based Information
Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China said. The center
said the trial had been postponed twice, apparently due to international
pressure. U.S. concerns over religious freedom in China have recently focused
on Beijing's harsh crackdown on the movement.
(...)

Last month, in the first Falun Gong convictions, a court on Hainan island
jailed four of the movement's leaders for up to 12 years for "using a cult
to violate the law.''
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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3. China Vows Fight Against Cults
AOL/AP, Dec. 23, 1999
http://my.aol.com/news/story.tmpl?table=n&cat=01&id=1999122312142411
To maintain China's stability, law enforcement officials must redouble
efforts to fight ''evil cults,'' corruption and economic crimes, the nation's
top prosecutor was quoted as saying Thursday.
(...)

Han claimed ''a certain degree of victory'' in the fight against ''evil
cults'' such as the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement. The report did
not elaborate.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Aum Shinrikyo

4. Laws curbing Aum to go into effect
Daily Yomiuri (Japan), Dec. 26, 1999
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/newse/1226po02.htm
Two laws aimed at curtailing the activities of the Aum Supreme Truth cult and
providing relief for the cult's victims--including the more than 5,000 who
were injured or killed in the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway
system--will go into effect Monday.

Although the two laws do not mention the cult by name, they are in effect
directed exclusively at Aum. They were passed in the last extraordinary Diet
session by a majority vote of the three coalition parties and Minshuto
(Democratic Party of Japan).

Recently, the number of clashes between Aum members and residents of areas
where the cult has set up offices or centers of activity has been increasing.
(...)

The agency's director general will ask the commission on Monday morning to
apply the supervisory clause to the religious group immediately after the law
goes into effect.

The move is seen as an attempt by authorities to head off whatever dangerous
or illegal activities the group may resort to when its leading member,
Fumihiro Joyu, is released from prison on Wednesday. Joyu, who had been an
influential senior member before his arrest, is expected to take over as the
cult's de facto leader.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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5. Japan Cult Leader May Get Death
Yahoo!/AP, Dec. 24, 1999
http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/ap/19991224/wl/japan_doomsday_cult_1.html
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for a former leader of the Japanese
doomsday cult accused of a nerve gas attack in a Tokyo subway that killed 12
people and sickened thousands.

According to prosecutors, Yoshihiro Inoue's responsibility as a confidant of
Aum Shinri Kyo guru Shoko Asahara and a direct participant in the 1995 attack
was particularly significant, said a court spokesman, who only gave his
surname, Tomidokoro.
(...)

Some victims remain in serious condition from the subway poisoning. Many more
complain of chronic headaches, dizziness, irregular breathing or nausea.

The cult formally apologized for the attack earlier this month, and local
media reported that the group transferred $48,725 from the sale of its
property into an account for the victims.

Some 2,100 followers are still believed to belong to Aum.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Concerned Christians

6. Relatives of cultists fear worst
Denver Rocky Mountain News, Dec. 26 ,1999
http://insidedenver.com/news/1226cult1.shtml
(...) Family members of more than 80 missing Colorado members of the doomsday
cult
Concerned Christians worry that the end of the year could be the
culmination of a nightmare.
(...)

Relatives of his followers fear the worst: When the apocalypse doesn't come,
Miller would create the scenario for his own martyrdom and take his flock --
which includes infants and a 69-year-old widow -- with him.
(...)

Sherry Clark, Tom Clark's ex-wife, who lives in Carbondale, also is spending
her third consecutive holiday season with no clue as to her daughter's
location. As an unofficial spokeswoman for the relatives of the missing,
Clark speaks with family members three or four times a week. "There's fear.
Anxiety. Sorrow beyond belief," she said. "Like I've said before, it's a
living death for some of these people. There's a lot of anger. Embarrassment.
Blame. They blame themselves, some of them."
(...)

Dr. Richard Landes, director of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston
University, has been following the Concerned Christians saga closely. Despite
his expertise on millennium groups, he admits he is mystified about the
whereabouts and agenda of the group -- and specifically, its leader.
(...)

Then, on Dec. 3, news came out of Greece that authorities there had rounded
up 16 of them where they were living in the seaside community of Rafina. They
were deporting the group for the most mundane of offenses -- expired visa
documents.
(...)

Since that day, they have not resurfaced in any public way. Nor are they in
touch with their families. It's also believed that many more remain in
Greece.
(...)

Chavez is not among those fearing the worst.
(...)

"I actually think that they have been misquoted, and that they are not
violent. And I don't think they are suicidal."

That is despite the 1997 affidavit of Cooper's own estranged daughter,
17-year-old Nicolette Weaver. She wrote in an affidavit filed in her Boulder
District Court custody case, "My mother told me in August '96 that we have
only 40 months left on Earth.
(...)

Several family members have at least had some e-mail contact with loved ones
in the group, but they all believe that personal e-mails to group members are
routinely routed through many of the membership. They suspect that replies
purported to be from the intended recipient are actually composed by, or with
input from, others in the group.
(...)

"What used to come back is not really from her," she said. "It's so diluted
(by others' input) by the time it gets back, I don't want to hear it."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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7. Apocalyptic Cult Members Deported From Israel;
Families Worried About Possible Mass Suicide
Fox News, Dec. 21. 1999
http://foxnews.com/fn99/national/122199/apocalypsecults_campbell.sml
(...) Miller, a self-proclaimed prophet and leader of a doomsday cult called
the Concerned Christians, believes these events will set off an apocalyptic
end to the millennium. His followers, he believes, will be saved and sent to
heaven.

"He is really rather cryptic about what he says," said Bill Honsberger, a
Baptist minister and expert on cults who has investigated the Concerned
Christians group. "But he has said the group has to die to make God happy."
(...)

Miller may be such a leader. "I have worked around a lot of people who think
theyíre God," Honsberger said. "I have never met anybody as arrogant as
(Miller). Would his ego demand he go down in flames to get his 15 minutes of
fame? I donít know. But if anyone ever had the personality that could do it,
I would vote on him."
(...)

Ironically, Miller, described as tall and thin and a charismatic speaker,
actually gave seminars and preached often about the dangers of religious
cults, said Mark Roggeman, a Denver police officer who studies cult activity
and helps relatives of cult members when he is off-duty. "Eventually, he came
full circle," said Roggeman.
(...)

The cult has grown steadily over the past few years, Roggeman said,
attracting a diverse membership that has included three aerospace engineers,
a firefighter and a millionaire. Many of the members sold what they had to
give to Miller, he said, and decided to follow Miller for perhaps a variety
of reasons.

"Most people who end up joining a cult think that they are joining one of the
most sincere, profound groups," said Honsberger. "They might be lonely,
discouraged. ... In some ways, they might be disillusioned about God. Along
comes people who really seem to care about you ó thatís pretty seductive
right there."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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= Ho-no-hana Sanpogyo

8. Ho-no-Hana founder spent 1 bil. yen to meet leaders
Kyodo News Service (Japan), Dec. 23, 1999
http://home.kyodo.co.jp/
The founder of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious sect spent more than 1
billion yen in meeting religious and political leaders in 1995 and 1996 to
promote his sect and win public confidence in it, a source once close to the
leader said Thursday.
(...)

The Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo sect ran photos of luminaries taken in such meetings
in its publications and on its Web site.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Y2K / Doomsday

9. Some believers waiting for apocalypse -- but not on New Year's, experts
say
CNN/AP, Dec. 25, 1999
http://www.cnn.com/1999/US/12/25/mil.end.timesreligion.ap/
(...) But experts on millenarian religion say they know of no sects that
expect the apocalypse to actually occur in coming days.

Faiths that formerly talked that way are hedging. For example, the dwindling
Chen-Tao, or "True Way," sect of Lockport, New York, forecast nuclear
catastrophe and rescue by heavenly spaceships at the end of 1999. Now,
spokesman Richard Liu says the 30 members believe the end will come "in the
next year. We have no specific date."
(...)

But in any nation, it's impossible to predict events within small apocalyptic
sects. What outsider could have anticipated the Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate
or Branch Davidian tragedies of the 1990s?

Some authorities had speculated that the close of the millennium might
produce end-times eruptions. However, during panels on millennialism at a
recent convention of the American Academy of Religion, an association for
scholars in various religious fields, they shared no such expectations.
(...)

Literal-minded Christians draw many ideas from the biblical Book of
Revelation, where chapter 20 depicts Jesus' Second Coming and 1,000-year
reign. But, as Robert Royalty of Indiana's Wabash College notes, Revelation
"says nothing about years ending in a thousand."
(...)

Of course, Royalty adds, if Y2K computer problems cause chaos early in the
new year, as hard-right Christians like economics guru Gary North have taught
the past two years, this "could fit into an apocalyptic scheme, just like a
war or an earthquake."
(...)

Boston University's Landes and Richard Abanes, author of "End-Time Visions,"Off-site Link
note upcoming dates that could have more apocalyptic potential than January
1:

-- May 2000: The late Edgar Cayce, a prominent New Age psychic, forecast that
earth's axis would shift in 2000 or 2001, causing massive destruction. Some
expect this on May 5 (5-5-2000) or May 17, when the moon, sun, and five
planets will be in close alignment for the first time since 1962.

-- 2007: Some Bible prophecy buffs consider this year a candidate because it
concludes the generation (40 years) after Jews reunified Jerusalem.

-- 2012: Other New Agers think the earth will be destroyed just before
Christmas because the ancient Mayan calendar will run out of dates.
(Historians say it won't.)

-- 2033: This is a big one for some Christians: the estimated 2000th
anniversary of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

-- Beyond that lie 2076, which is 1500 in the Muslim calendar and could
energize Sufi mystics and New Agers, and 2240, the start of humanity's
seventh millennium by traditional Jewish reckoning.
(...)

In America, the biggest upsurge was led by self-taught preacher William
Miller. The last of his several dates for the end became the "Great
Disappointment" of October 22, 1844. A remnant persisted, though without
date-setting, and became the Seventh-day Adventists. Miller's Bible
interpretation influenced many subsequent end-timers.

As their name indicates, the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also started with a
strong millennial bent, and founder Joseph Smith expected the end around
1890. Since then, the faith has played down predictions.

The most ardent apocalyptic group, Jehovah's Witnesses, fixed in turn upon
1881, 1914, 1918, 1920, 1925, the 1940s and 1975. The denomination also
taught for eight decades that people living in 1914 would survive to see the
end. But four years ago its Watchtower newspaper dropped that doctrine.
(...)

J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, believes these and many other
examples discredit the conservative Christian cause. "Publishers should stop
wasting trees on this stuff. And consumers should demand a refund," he
writes.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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* It should be noted that Charisma magazine itself supports all manner of
aberrant and heretical ideas, teachers and movements with no regard for
either sound doctrine or the demise of trees.


10. Apocalyptic Anxiety
Fox, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.foxnews.com/vtech/122499/y2kanxiety.sml
With an unusual number of terrorist warnings issued by the government, the
potential for Y2K-triggered technical dysfunction and an assortment of
fanatics prophesying the end of days, some people feel anxious about New
Year's Eve.

Psychologists and Y2K experts say that such anxiety is a healthy, rational
response to an unknown situation. According to the American Psychological
Association, anxiety is an adaptive evolutionary reaction that can help
improve survival odds by warning us of risk or danger.

Anxiety becomes a problem only when it leads to intense apprehension or
spiraling panic accompanied by physiological responses in the absence of an
actual threat.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Other News

11. China sentences six underground church leaders
Fox/Reuters, Dec. 25, 1999
http://www.foxmarketwire.com/wires/1225/f_rt_1225_7.sml
Six leaders of underground churches in China's Henan province have been
sentenced to labour camp for being criminals of an "evil cult,'' a Hong
Kong-based rights group said.

Atheist China bans Christians worshipping outside of "patriotic churches''
set up under the control of the Communist Party, which has long linked
Christianity with imperialism.

Authorities in Henan's Nanyang city last week sentenced David Zhang and Zheng
Shuqian to three years in labour camp, the Information Centre of Human Rights
and Democratic Movement in China said. Shen Yiping and Wang Jiasheng were
sentenced to two years while Feng Jianguo and Jing Rongqi received one year.

This could indicate that China's 40 million underground church participants
may be branded as belonging to "evil cults,'' the Centre said.
(...)

The China Fangcheng Sect and the China Gospel Sect are the two biggest
Christian groups in Henan and have an estimated 500,000 members, the Centre
said.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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12. Civil rights groups plan sign near KKK highway marker in Missouri
CNN/AP, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.cnn.com/1999/US/12/24/kkk.highway.ap/index.html
The Adopt-A-Highway signs sponsored by the Ku Klux Klan on a stretch of
Missouri freeway may soon be overshadowed by a larger sign, this one
promoting racial diversity.

A coalition of civil rights groups has decided to place a billboard along
Interstate 55 in south St. Louis County at the site where the KKK will be
picking up trash as part of a state sponsorship program. Last month, the
Missouri Department of Transportation was forced by a court to allow the Klan
to participate.
(...)

The billboard is expected to read, "Freedom of speech protects all people
even if they are wrong."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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13. Filmland jitters over jerky video
NY Post Online, Dec. 26, 1999 (Column)
http://www.nypostonline.com/gossip/20459.htm
Some nervous Hollywood movers and shakers have been caught on videotape
frolicking naked, beating drums, leaping up and down and shouting, "I'm a
Jerk!"

They are all pillars of the Hollywood community who took $600 weekend
male-bonding seminars organized by A. Justin Sterling, founder of the
Sterling Institute of Relationship.

Sterling's teachings say that men are natural jerks and should learn to
accept and embrace their jerkiness. Ideally, men are combinations of Clint
Eastwood, Mahatma Gandhi and Curly from the Three Stooges.
(...)

Sterling is a 57-year-old Armenian whose real name is Arthur Kasarjian. Many
of the ideas for his seminars seem to come from EST, popular in the '70s.
Five years ago Warner Books published Sterling's book, "What Really Works
With Men," which was ridiculed by several critics. Even so, his seminars, in
New York, Oakland, Los Angeles, Toronto and Worcester, Mass., have been
growing in popularity in recent months.
(...)

Cult expert Rick Ross told PAGE SIX that he had been contacted by a number of
prominent Hollywood figures who regretted taking part in Sterling Institute
seminars.
(...)

One thing that is worrying the Hollywood types is that Sterling has been
coming under increasing media scrutiny. WNBC's Michele Marsh produced an
expose on Sterling's neanderthal philosophy earlier this year. Stephen Yafa
wrote a profile of Sterling in December's Details, and Jeanette Walls warned
of the naked rituals in her MSNBC.com column.

The fear is that the heightened media interest may increase the likelihood
that the embarrassing tapes will become public.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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14. Chechens feel used by strict Islamic sect
The Toronto Star, Dec. 24 ,1999
http://www.thestar.com/thestar/editorial/news/991224NEW32_FO-WARD24.html
(...) Bored and penniless, like many in Grozny on the eve of the 1994-96 war,
he saw his friends slipping into apartments where they were taught the
mysteries of the ultra-strict Islamic sect that had become a new cult for
young Chechens.

Before long Sharip was also drawn in. ''It began with books,'' he says. ''We
got free Arabic texts and lessons. Then we moved on to reading the Koran in
classical Arabic.''

It was an innocent enough beginning. But five years later, Sharip is bitter
about the Saudi-based radical sect that he says helped destroy Chechnya.

Wahhabi money is said to be funding the Chechen rebels' battle against the
Russian forces and, many Chechens quietly believe, indirectly fuelling the
war that has cost hundreds of civilian lives and made hundreds of thousands
refugees.
(...)

Moderate Muslims by inclination, most Chechens had shunned religious
extremism although they felt strongly about their mystical Sufi brand of
Islam. But with Russia's military against them, and the West offering no
help, they began to take comfort in a faith that delivered material as well
as spiritual support.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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15. Students find Temple-era artifacts dumped by Wakf from Temple Mount
Jerusalem Post, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.jpost.com/Editions/1999/12/24/News/News.660.html
Archeology students yesterday presented artifacts, including possible
remnants from the First Temple, they said they uncovered in piles of fill dug
out of the Temple Mount by the Wakf [Moslem trust] and dumped in the Kidron
Valley.

The finds are the first items ever found from inside the Moslem-controlled
Temple Mount, where archeologists are barred from digging.

The students also claimed that the Wakf had sifted through the fill before
loading it on dump trucks and had removed large items of value. Antiquity
Authority officials confirmed this, saying that items such as columns and
large decorated building stones had been kept on the mount.

The fill comes from some dump trucks loaded with dirt, stones and ancient
artifacts dug out of the Temple Mount two weeks ago by the Wakf. The digging
was to hollow out a controversial emergency exit to the underground prayer
hall, known by Jews as Solomon's Stables and by Moslems as the Marwani
Mosque.

"The Antiquities Authority doesn't want to say this officially, but what the
Wakf is doing is not just destruction, but stealing ancient artifacts," said
Zachi Zweig, 27, a third-year archeology student at Bar-Ilan University, who
led a group of volunteers to the dump last week.
(...)

The presentation angered Antiquities Authority officials, who accused the
students of theft. "This is nothing but a show disguised as research," said
Jon Seligman, Jerusalem region archeologist. "It was a criminal deed to take
these items without approval or permission."
(...)

Prof. Amos Kloner of Bar-Ilan University took issue with the presentation of
the findings at a professional seminar, but backed his students nevertheless.
"What the Wakf did on the Temple Mount is an archeological crime," he added.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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16. Visions of the Virgin Mary are proliferating among devotees
Star-Telegram, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.star-telegram.com/news/doc/1047/1:RELIGION65/1:RELIGION65122499.html
(...) As the second millennium draws to a close, visions of Mary are
proliferating among Marian devotees. Unlike Talone Sullivan's, a troubling
minority contain apocalyptic warnings of a "chastisement" of floods, plagues
and other disasters if people do not repent.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, has written that "one of the signs of our times is that Marian
'apparitions' are being multiplied in the world. From Africa, for example,
and from other continents, our appropriate section is gathering reports"

The church is characteristically cautious about the phenomena. Even Pope John
Paul II, whose devotion to Mary is well known, has warned against "vain
credulity," saying the test of devotion lies in trying to imitate Mary's
virtues.
(...)

All of the apparitions have communicated a prophetic message -- and some,
notably at La Salette and Fatima, have contained an apocalyptic element as
well.
(...)

McFadden and Talone Sullivan play down the apocalyptic aspect.
(...)

Talone Sullivan makes daily postings on
http://www.nervline.com/therock/appar/emmits/frontier/emmitsbu.htm
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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17. Latinos Leaving Catholicism for Charisma of Penecostalism
Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 25, 1999
http://www.sltrib.com/1999/dec/12251999/religion/11080.htm
Once the most loyal of Roman Catholicism's New World offspring, Latinos are
undergoing a religion revolution with tens of thousands, if not millions,
choosing to worship within newer evangelical faiths.

While the LDS Church and other sects also are harvesting converts among
disaffected Latino Catholics, it is Pentecostalism that reportedly is reaping
the majority -- up to 70 percent by some estimates. In homes, storefronts and
former movie theaters from Mexico to Guatemala and Brazil to Peru,
Pentecostal churches claim revival. The movement has spread beyond borders,
reaching Hispanic communities across the United States, even in Utah, where
the Salt Lake Valley is dotted with fledgling Latino congregations.
(...)

Experts allow that the charismatic style -- with its emotional worship and
speaking in tongues -- is gaining some acceptance within Roman Catholicism,
but still maintain Latinos will continue to migrate toward Pentecostalism in
the 21st century.
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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=== Noted

18. Alternative Religions as a Growth Industry
New York Times, Dec. 25, 1999
http://search.nytimes.com/search/daily/bin/fastweb?getdoc+site+iib-site+55+0+wAAA+religion
(...) A growing number of scholars have begun to fill in the gap, however,
working in an unconventional academic specialty they call new religious
movements. This emerging field has not only attracted traditional religion
experts but also psychologists, anthropologists and literary critics. It has
even brought forth a separate study group within the American Academy of
Religion
called the New Religious Movements Group, for scholars interested in
the topic.
(...)

It is "a growth industry in the academy," said Phillip C. Lucas, an associate
professor of religious studies at Stetson University in De Land, Fla.
(...)

Although new faiths are often summarily dismissed, yesterday's new religion
may be today's powerhouse. Consider the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, the Mormons, which began with a handful of people in an upstate New
York village in 1830 and now counts more than 10 million members worldwide.

William Ashcraft, a professor of religious studies at Truman State University
in Kirksville, Mo., said that most new-faith adherents see themselves as set
apart from the surrounding culture. "Scholars have come to think of these
groups as anybody who is alternative to the mainstream," he said.
(...)

Mr. Ashcraft and Ms. Basher are coordinators of the New Religious Movements
Group, which has held sessions on Christian Science, New Age beliefs, goddess
worship
, the Hare Krishnas, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, new
Hasidic groups, conversion, women's roles and attitudes toward violence.

Like most experts, however, they don't use the word cult. "Practically every
religion we know of is labeled a cult in some country," Ms. Brasher said.
(...)

More recently, the cultural upheavals of the 1960's helped diminish the
social taboos against religious experimentation. As Mr. Lucas explained,
"There is far less stigma attached to searching outside the mainstream when
it comes to one's own religion." And today, new technologies are once again
causing upheavals in American life. "I do think it's easier to be involved in
a new religious movement now because of the Internet," Ms. Brasher said.
"Geography is no longer destiny. It's easier for small religious groups to
form. They've got a medium through which they can encourage each other."

Scholars whose research puts them in contact with new faiths can share their
work in a new journal, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent
Religions, which is edited by Mr. Lucas.
(...)

Although experts point out that new religions vary widely, they do concede
that those bitterly hostile to society have a potential for violence, like
Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese group that used poison gas in the Tokyo subway,
or Jim Jones's People's Temple, which engaged in a mass suicide in the
jungles of Guyana. They argue that a better understanding of these groups'
beliefs may help government agencies deal peacefully with them, avoiding
encounters that can lead to loss of life.

But containing violence isn't the only motive for the fascination with new
religious movements. Many scholars argue that these groups are often the
purveyors of more widely accepted ideas.

"In the alternative religions of today," Ms. Brasher said, "could be our
habits and cultures of tomorrow. Some of those are very exciting and some of
those are quite scary."
[...more...]   [Need the full story? Read this]
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19. Rev. Robert Schuller, Gordon B. Hinckley and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Discuss the Importance of Religion
Larry King Live/CNN, Dec. 24, 1999
http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/9912/24/lkl.00.html
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE
UPDATED.
(...)

SCHULLER: I'm here because I'm very interested in praying for peace and doing
what I can to bring peace on Earth, good will to men. I've had a wonderful
past few days, spending hours and several meetings -- three in his home --
with the leading Muslim thinker and leader in the world, the grand mufti of
the great mosque in Damascus invited me to come there. And that's what
brought me here to the Holy Land. And I...

KING: Yes, the idea is to...

SCHULLER: ... preached to the mosque...

KING: The idea of bringing religions together, right?

SCHULLER: Absolutely. I have seldom met with a man whom I felt an immediate
kinship of spirit and an agreement of faith and philosophy quite like I have
with the grand mufti of the faith.

And then I spent a great deal of time with the chief rabbi here in Israel,
and he wants to meet the grand mufti, and I think maybe I can get the two
together. If we do...
(...)

KING: President Hinckley, do you think, really, it's possible that Reverend
Schuller's dream and what Archbishop Tutu just said can happen? Do you think
that all peoples, all religions, despite your differences, can come together?

HINCKLEY: Well, I would hope so. I hope that's a possibility. I think that
things are better than they've ever been. We have differences, of course we
do, but there's a greater spirit of tolerance, I think a greater spirit of
acceptance of other religions. We must recognize that all our men and women
are sons and daughters of God. If they're sons and daughters, they're
brothers and sisters. We're all of one great family, the family of God. And
we must learn to get along, one with another, respect one another.

KING: Hasn't always worked out that way, though.

HINCKLEY: No, it hasn't worked out, but Christianity hasn't failed. It's the
greatest success story in the world. When all is said and done, it's
succeeded in doing so very, very many things. And the fact that we still have
problems that we've not overcome in human relationships does not mean that it
has not succeeded.
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* A Dutch, Christian newspaper recently headlined an article about Mr.
Schuller by calling him "An evangelist without a Gospel." This in
reference to Mr. Schuller's aberrant and heretical teachings. The same
could, of course, be said about Mr. Hinkley, whose Mormon religion - while
claiming to be Christian - has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus Christ,
the Son of God as presented in God's Word.



20. Christians Are More Likely to Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians
Barna Research Group, Dec. 21, 1999 (Press Release)
http://www.barna.org/cgi-bin/PagePressRelease.asp?PressReleaseID=39
Divorce may not be popular, but it remains common in America. A new study by
the Barna Research Group (Ventura, CA) shows that one out of every four
Americans adults have experienced at least one divorce. One of the surprising
outcomes to emerge from the study is that born again Christians are more
likely to go through a marital split than are non-Christians.
(...)

Among the characteristics that do not seem to be related to divorce are
educational achievement, household income, and political ideology.

Surprisingly, the Christian denomination whose adherents have the highest
likelihood of getting divorced are Baptists. Nationally, 29% of all Baptist
adults have been divorced. The only Christian group to surpass that level are
those associated with non-denominational Protestant churches: 34% of those
adults have undergone a divorce. Of the nationís major Christian groups,
Catholics and Lutherans have the lowest percentage of divorced individuals
(21%). People who attend mainline Protestant churches, overall, experience
divorce on par with the national average (25%).

Among non-Christian groups the levels vary. Jews, for instance, are among
those most likely to divorce (30% have), while atheists and agnostics are
below the norm (21%). Mormons, renowned for their emphasis upon strong
families, are no different than the national average (24%).
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21. Are you there, God?
Salon, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.salon.com/books/it/1999/12/24/templeton/index.html
The Templeton Foundation invests millions so scientists might prove that
faith works. But their answers aren't what Sir John Templeton wants to hear.
(...)

But now into this awkward breach a larger-than-life gentleman has stepped.
His name is Sir John Templeton, a brilliant mutual funds manager and
committed Christian, a billionaire modestly domiciled in Barbados who
established a charity known as the Templeton Foundation with the exuberant
aim of reconciling the rival claims of religion and science. Recently, he has
sponsored a number of science-religion conferences and discussions such as
the open debate between Nobel Prize laureate Steven Weinberg and
physicist-turned-priest John Polkinghorne, held in April 1998 at Washington's
National Museum of Natural History.
(...)

Now Templeton has earmarked $40 million for the Foundation's pursuit of the
ultimate intellectual Grail: scientific proof that faith really does pay --
in both the literal and figurative senses -- and that religion has a
statistical basis underpinning it much like winged aircraft and off-shore
investment.
(...)

Two years ago, the Foundation announced that it would fund experiments by
professor Russell Stannard of the Open University and Herbert Benson of the
Harvard Medical School into the medical effects of prayer.
(...)

The carefully guarded results will likely be published in the year 2000.
(...)

Templeton also believes the world's religions offer attitudes worthy of
emulation such as optimism, even-temperament and productivity, ideal
qualities for a corporate employee. And like the effects of prayer, Templeton
believes scientific laws can explain these attributes.
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=== Books

22. Crisis of faith
Salon, Dec. 24, 1999
http://www.salon.com/books/feature/1999/12/24/scientists_religion/index.html
Scientists who use evolutionary psychology to explain religion are ignoring
facts and missing the point.
(...)

Why people believe in God is the central question of Michael Shermer's new
book "How We Believe." Director of the Skeptics Society and an ex-born-again
Christian himself, Shermer has a general fascination with belief; this book
might be seen as a companion to his previous "Why People Believe Weird
Things," a portmanteau study of "weird" beliefs from ESP to Holocaust denial.
Though Shermer abandoned religion in his own life, he retains, he says, a
deep appreciation of its role in other peoples' lives. But despite that
appreciation, like many contemporary scientists who try to explain religion,
he's leaving out evidence and missing a really critical point.

In 1998, along with MIT social scientist Frank Sulloway, Shermer set out to
conduct a survey on why people believe in God. The results were both
intriguing and surprising. The number one reason given (29 percent of
respondents) was the apparently good design of nature or the universe. The
number two reason was a feeling of God being present in everyday life (21
percent). In third place (at just 10 percent) was the answer that belief in
God is comforting, consoling or relieving. The fourth place answer (another
10 percent) was that the Bible says so.

One unexpected result here is that only one in 10 people gave the consolation
response. That is significant because so many secular intellectuals,
particularly those opposed to religion, seem to assume that the desire for
psychological comfort is the primary engine of religious faith.
(...)

The latest addition to this line is Wendy Kaminer's Sleeping with
Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and the Perils of Piety," [
reviewed: http://www.salon.com/books/review/1999/11/17/kaminerOff-site Link ] a
well-intentioned though curmudgeonly tirade against various forms of
"irrational" belief currently sweeping our nation. Halfway through her book,
Kaminer trots out the view that "people believe in deities because they would
find life unbearable without them." But as Shermer's study reveals,
consolation is not the driving force of many Americans' faith.
(...)

Shermer rightly notes that one of the core functions of religion is to
provide a society with myths that help to bind the community together. In
this postmodernist age that is a fairly uncontroversial view -- though of
course it is rejected by religious fundamentalists, for whom there are no
myths, only Absolute Truths. What is troubling, however, is Shermer's claim
that there are universal, or near universal, religious myths.

Two such myths he identifies are that of a messiah and that of a coming
apocalypse.
(...)

Shermer's desire for universal religious patterns is central to his project
of finding a "scientific" account of religion. Science (at least in the
modern Western sense of this word), is a search for universals. Yet his
hankering for such an account seems to have blinded him to the incredible
diversity of the phenomena -- he seems to see only those bits of religion
that suit his purpose.

The most cursory look at Australian Aboriginal religions, for example, would
have told him that the very idea of universal religious patterns may be an
illusion. These ancient religious systems seem truly alien to Western minds
on first encounter. Consider also an account I heard recently of an Eskimo
shaman who healed the soul of a troubled young woman by stitching into it the
soul of an arctic sea bird. What remotely Christian parallel is there for
this? For all his claims to universalism, Shermer's book remains deeply
Christocentric, a quality that, because it is so unconscious, calls into
question the rest of his explanatory framework.
(...)

Hand in hand with this universalizing is a tendency to equate religions
everywhere, even the very term "religion," not just with Christianity, but
with right-wing American fundamentalist Christianity. Kaminer's book is a
prime example of this elision. Although she offers the occasional disclaimer
that not all religious believers are Christian fundamentalists, that is the
only version of "religion" to which she gives serious attention.

None of the pictures of "religion" that Kaminer or Shermer describe in their
books mesh with the intellectual Catholicism in which I was raised in my
native Australia.
(...)

What is at stake here is no mere quibble, as a brief example will reveal.
Several years ago I attended a lecture by Oliver Sacks in which he suggested
that Hildegard of Bingen's mystical visions may have been the byproduct of
migraines. The Christian claim, however, is that Hildegard was communing with
God, that her writing and music came directly from the divine mind.

Now as a Jesuit friend once pointed out to me, Hildegard may well have been
having migraines, but that doesn't mean she wasn't also communing with God.
The point is that religious people claim a reality beyond the purview of
physical science. For them, science cannot, in principle, explain what
Hildegard "saw."
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