Mar 16, 2018

World Sleep Day: What do different religions believe about sleep paralysis?

Sleep paralysis
Faima Bakar
Metro UK
March 16, 2018

Sleep paralysis is a b*tch. 

If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced it, it’s when you’re conscious but unable to move or speak. It can be extremely frightening to experience. 

Some people have reported feeling like something’s pressing down on their chest, as well as seeing creepy figures in their room who want to harm them, or are unable to breathe. 

So basically, it’s a nightmare on acid. 

Lisa told hers was a horrifying experience: ‘I felt like I was being dragged out of my bed but there was nothing I could do about it. 

‘I had it once before that where I was paralysed and hallucinated that my flatmate was trying to rape me and felt like I was being suffocated and obviously I couldn’t move. It felt so real that if he wasn’t gay, I’d have believed it.’ 

Annabelle has had more frequent encounters. She said: ‘I get this a couple of times a month and have done since I was a teenager! I used to hate it but now it’s part and parcel of my sleep pattern. I also suffer from somniloquy (sleep talking) and I don’t know if the two are linked.’ 

If you’re not particularly spiritual, you’ll look to its scientific explanation. But some religions have different interpretations of what sleep paralysis means, often to do with ghosts, devils, and death. 

If you’re a Muslim, you might have a slightly scarier understanding of it. And it involves devils and spirits. 

‘Sleep paralysis can have a medical cause or a spiritual cause,’ explains Kamal Ahmed. ‘Medically speaking, it has something to do with imbalance in brain activity. 

‘Spiritually speaking it can be caused by an external jinn (intelligent spirit) – meaning a jinn that is not inside the body but outside of the body.’ 

‘My younger brother also had the a similar issue where he would have sleep paralysis and something blowing air painfully in his ear. In this state he is unable to move or speak but he is fully aware of what is happening to him. His solution was to just ignore it and after a few minutes it would stop’ said one user on Kamal’s website. 

So some believe that it’s spirits that taunt you when you’re asleep and potentially attack you. Other Muslims have less terrifying views. ‘I have not been able to find anything in the Qur’an or sunnah connecting sleep paralysis with the Jinn,’ says Islamic scholar Salman Younas, who is studying at Oxford University. 

‘There are certain later scholars that mention it as one of the potential causes for sleep paralysis. However, if this is true, it would certainly be considered the exception.’ 

Muslims who experience it might recite an Arabic prayer, Ayatul Kursi, to force them out of the paralysed state. Similarly, Jewish people have a prayer they say if they experience sleep paralysis. 

‘I have experienced this more times than I can count and I often am frightened and I try to say Modeh Ani to wake up,’ says one user on a Jewish question and answer forum. ‘I feel pretty conscious of what I am doing, I was even surprised that symptoms of sleep paralysis preclude speech because I really thought I said words.’ 

‘When Jews wake up in the morning, they say a short prayer, Modeh Ani, which translates as “I offer thanks to You, living and eternal King, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great”,’ explains Jewish practice website 

‘Jews believe that while they are sleeping, God takes their soul and cleans it, which is why sleep is referred to as 1/60th of death.’ 

Some religious people believe willful sins invite such demons to your sleep. 

‘I could look around the room only as far as my eyes could go because my head and body were immovable. I would hear footsteps and walking around – doors opening and closing while there was nobody else home with me,’ says one Christian. 

‘It was terrifying. I felt an evil presence but unlike many people’s experience with this I never felt anything on top of me or touching me. I believe that the devil was trying to frighten me but since I learned what was going on, the cause and how to stop them, these attacks stopped.’ 

‘Many people who have experienced sleep paralysis say that if they can call on the name of Jesus in their minds that this evil presence leaves them instantly and they are released from the paralysis.’ 

According to the NHS, ‘Sleep paralysis happens when parts of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occur while you’re awake.

‘REM is a stage of sleep when the brain is very active and dreams often occur. The body is unable to move, apart from the eyes and muscles used in breathing, possibly to stop you acting out your dreams and hurting yourself.

‘It’s not clear why REM sleep can sometimes occur while you’re awake, but it has been associated with sleep deprivation or insomnia, irregular sleeping patterns, or even narcolepsy – a long-term condition that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times.’ 

Whatever your beliefs, sleep paralysis is bloody scary. 

Ways to deal with sleep paralysis: 
  • Sleep paralysis tends to get better over time, but you can do some things to help. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep – you’re more likely to experience paralysis if you’re not regularly getting enough sleep 
  • Create a sleeping environment that’s comfortable, quiet, dark, and not too hot or cold 
  • Get regular exercise during the day (but not too soon before bed) 
  • Reduce stress and anxiety 
  • Avoid sleeping on your back 
  • Speak to a doctor if you are regularly experiencing sleep paralysis. They’ll be able to recommend further treatment

Mar 15, 2018

IN DEPTH | How a mysterious cult terrorised an Eastern Cape community

Iavan Pijoos
March 15, 2018

News24 sent a team of journalists to Ngcobo in the wake of deadly shootings between police and members of a confirmed cult. The team spoke to the cult leaders, families of victims, law enforcement and cult experts to piece together a story of brainwashing, vulnerability and violence.

At 20:30 News24 will premiere its documentary Angels of Death; a 30 minute investigation into the cult, its followers and the killings that ensued.

On a hill in Qunu, with a view of the open fields and grazing cattle, Constable Sibongiseni Sandlana, 32, was building his life’s dream.

He had spent the past few years constructing the three-bedroomed house with a double garage, for his parents, siblings, himself and his four-year-old son.

The roof trusses were already in place when he, four of his colleagues and a soldier were shot dead by a group of armed men in the Ngcobo police station, between Mthatha and Queenstown, on Wednesday, February 21.

Two days later, Friday, February 23, seven suspects believed to have been involved were killed in a shootout with police.

Now this shell of a house represents the loss Sandlana's family feels.

Sibongiseni's uncle, Zibone Sandlana, sits in front of the half-built structure, staring at the ground: "He was a good youngster, looking after the family. He was a guy who tried to live peacefully with others."

"We are lost. We are really missing him," Zibone says.

Sibongiseni's sister, Nosibusiso Sandlana, 37, describes him as humble and quiet, just like their father.

"He was a hard-working guy. We used to herd our father's cattle together. He was a responsible person who looked after and provided for the family," she says.

Sibongiseni joined the police in 2015, after taking a gap year following matric. He was planning to further his studies in the police through Unisa this year.

"He liked his job. He never dreamt of becoming a police officer, but it was just a puzzle which came together," Nosibusiso says.

Zibone was watching the news at around 06:00 that Wednesday. "The first thing I saw on the television is that there was a problem at Ngcobo police station. I realised that our son is there."

He immediately went to the Sandlana's house. Police were already there to break the news to the family.

“We started praying and, by God's grace, I knew we had to accept it." It was a hard blow to the the family, he said.

Sibongiseni was the sole breadwinner of the family.

Zibone says he could not believe that a group calling itself a church ­­- the Seven Angels Ministry ­- could commit such a crime.

‘No real church can do something like that’

"No real church can do something like that. I would say it is Satanism. When there is a church, you need to follow God's laws."

Zibone points at the house, takes a deep breath and says: "He will never see the completion of this house, but we will fulfil his wish and complete it."

In Ngxogi, about 30km from Ngcobo, soldier Freddy Mpandeni’s family lives in a two-bedroom house. He was killed along with Sibongiseni that day. The father of four was laid to rest on March 3.

The house is surrounded by tall trees and guarded by skinny dogs. In the yard is a red and white marquee. Freddy’s two broken down Toyota bakkies are parked in the yard. His daughter Wendy Mpandeni's voice is filled with pride as she speaks about them.

"He taught me how to drive in that bakkie. We drove around and listened to his favourite songs. He loved music a lot."

She says he was proud to have been part of the army.

"He loved the shooting range and taught us how to aim the gun. He loved his job."

‘My father loved music, it made him happy’

His son, Ncedo Mpandeni, sits on a plastic chair. Behind him are corn fields and mud huts. The hurt in his eyes is evident.

"My father loved music, it made him happy," he says. "He listened to reggae and RnB. He would play his favourite songs and give us R2 if we could guess the name of the songs."

Ncedo was in Johannesburg when his mother phoned him with the news. He said his father had been shot in the neck and chest while trying to run from his killers.

"I don’t know why these people in Ngcobo changed and became like animals. My father was my best friend. He was my big brother and he was a sweet and calm man," Ncedo says.

Wendy says she heard people in the area speaking about the Seven Angels Ministry.

"I heard of a lady who sold everything and went to that church. I was curious as to what was happening in that church and what the writing on the mountain meant," she says.

The rocky outcrop, visible across the town, has a giant red cross painted on a white backdrop. On one side of the mountain are the words: "In the end of 1260 days is a new beginning".

The words: "Ilizwi lika Yehova limingonaphakade 7 angels [The word of God stands the test of time]” and “Jehova God Angel Forces" are written to the right side of the cross.

‘How are they going to sit in God's presence?’

Siphiwo Mancoba founded the church in 1986. He believed the Constitution and the country’s schooling system were sinful and that the future of his sons lay with God, not in school.

In February 2016, police and social workers forcefully entered the church to remove 18 children who were reportedly being prevented from going to school.

At the time, it was also reported that older members were forbidden from working and engaging with people outside of the church.

During the shootout with police on February 23, young women and girls were taken away for questioning. At least 40 of those rescued from the cult are under the age of 25. One is around 15-years-old.

‘I tried to stop them’

Lucia Tshaba says her mother and siblings joined the church in 2015.

"That church started a long time ago and my family used to visit there. The pastor - the father of the 7 angels - said you don't need education. That is why I stopped going there. I realised I had to go to school."

According to Tshaba, the church had its own beliefs and congregants never prayed or read the Bible.

"They just had their own culture that was different to the rest of society," she says.

Tshaba’s mother told her that she was seeking an everlasting life to sit next to God.

"How are they going to sit in God's presence when they believe in those seven angels and not in God?"

In 2015, Tshaba's mother sold their family home in Centane (Kentani), about 140km from Ngcobo, to live at the church.

"I tried to stop them, but they didn't explain anything. They just said that the masters of the church said they must stick together."

On Saturday, February, 24, she received a phone call from a friend in Butterworth, informing her about the shooting in Ngcobo. She rushed to check her family was safe.

"I found them at social development. They didn't have clothes with them. They left everything at the church, even my mother's bank card. The church uses her bank card to withdraw money."

Her mother and siblings now live with her in East London. They rarely speak about the church, but Tshaba hopes that one day they will change their minds.

'Going back to the church'

"They don’t want to open their hearts to me. They said they are going back to the church."

Loyiso Dlambulo, a maths and science teacher at Nomaka Mbeki Technical Senior Secondary School in the rural hamlet of Ngcingwane near Dutywa, sold everything to join the church.

He was one of the seven people, including three Mancoba brothers - Thandazile, Xolisa and Philile - who were killed in the shootout with police.

Loyiso’s friend and colleague, Sindiswa Binase, told News24 that he had been a brilliant teacher who loved his work and children.

Sindiswa says Loyiso joined the church with his mother. He said Loyiso broke his leg and cracked his ribs in a car accident in 2015.

Loyiso believed the church helped him survive the accident. According to Sindiswa, Loyiso bought a new, top-of-the-range Audi A4 shortly after the accident.

"He informed us that he is going to donate it to the church and then use his mother's old Polo to get around."

Loyiso resigned from his job following his mother's death and moved onto the church’s premises. After that they only saw him being driven around by the church’s members.

Sindiswa says, after the shooting, she saw pictures of Loyiso on social media. Her calls and messages to him went unanswered.

"We did everything we could to stop Loyiso, but he was very principled and he stuck with what he believed in."

One of the surviving Seven Angels brothers, Banele, says they "know things" that other people do not.

“It's like a payslip with the word ‘confidential’ written on it and you have been given an infinite amount of time, but you find something has delayed you. Things are not going to get better, they are going to get worse,” Banele says.

Banele says he heard a young man in the church saying his elder brother Thandazile “King Gabriel”, had led the attack on police, adding that Thandazile had a way of misleading people.

"This is the end. That is why you are seeing all these things happening. All of us will leave one day, but we don't know how we will die," Banele says.

He warns that there will be a "natural disaster, like never seen before".

A few kilometres from the church is the three-bedroomed house of the Nyanga village chief, Zwelivumile Poswayo. Outside it, a shepherd keeps a close eye on about 50 sheep. The house is surrounded by mud huts and mountains.

Zwelivumile ascended to power in 2005. He says the sign on the mountain was written without his permission in 2016.

"No one knew who put it there. It was written by people who claim they were Christians but their actions did not show that," Zwelivumile says.

He and police immediately visited the Mancoba household.

"There we were told that they are the seven angels."

The pastor's wife, Noluvo Mancoba, told Zwelivumile that after her husband died his body was cremated and his ashes were scattered off the Kei River bridge.

"Before this incident [the shooting] there were rumours of other incidents happening around here, including house break-ins, rape of minors. But it seemed they would pay the community to keep quiet.

“We always said, we never wanted these people [the Mancobas] here. I don't know where they originate from. We hear rumours of the places that they might be from and it seems they were kicked out of these places."

Call to destroy 'church'

Zwelivumile has called on the government to destroy the church and prevent people from building on the plot again.

"We are convinced that many people died and were buried there, without the knowledge of the royal house. We want these people gone," Zwelivumile says.

Zibone hopes justice will be served.

“When you kill a person, you must be punished. We have no power to determine what type of punishment they will get, but we are praying and hoping that they will be punished,” he said.

"There are a lot of these 'tent' pastors who pretend to be holy, but are actually conning people,” Wendy Mpandeni says.

“If there is no employment, the youth will continue to be attracted to these churches because they give them empty promises, saying they will pray for them and then they will become right overnight.”

She wipes away her tears and says: "If I had a message to my father, I would tell him that I still love him and ask him to continue to do his work and protect the community.

Winter Park resident Charlene Edge escaped a fundamentalist cult

Charlene L. Edge is the author of “Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International,”
Charlene L. Edge
One Winter Park resident has a story of manipulation, escape and a fresh start — and she’s sharing it with the world.

Tim Freed Associate Editor
March 8, 2018

Charlene L. Edge is the author of “Undertow: My Escape from the Fundamentalism and Cult Control of The Way International,” which gives a detailed account of how she joined the faith-based group and how it controlled more than a decade of her life. She will be among the panelists at this year’s Winter Park Library Book Festival, which takes place Saturday, March 10. Edge will appear on an 11 a.m. panel titled “Publishing: Traditional, Self or Electronic. Which is Write for You?”

For those interested in learning more about her experience in the cult, Edge will speak at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m on Wednesday, March 21 at Rollins College.

“To me it’s an important story — it has universal parts to it; it’s not just The Way or this terrible cult leader,” Edge said. “It serves as an example.”


It all began in 1970 when Edge was a college freshman at East Carolina University.

“I was looking for more than a college degree,” Edge said. “I was looking for Christian fellowship and some knowledge about the Bible.”

“They said, ‘When you get off to college, be sure to find yourself a fellowship and keep reading the Bible and stay out of trouble.’”

She found a fellowship on campus that met on Fridays — and that’s when she met two people who were recruiting for The Way International.

“These two fellows started to chime in and challenged the minister and had some things to say that I thought were very interesting,” Edge said. “They said, ‘We can teach you the accuracy of the word.’ That’s really what got me going.”

In retrospect, Edge said she realized The Way International was recruiting at colleges because they were looking for future leaders.

Much of the group’s appeal had to do with The Way Founder Victor Paul Wierwille, who was reportedly able to teach people how to speak in tongues and that he could hear God.

Wierwille even was referred to as “our father in the word,” Edge said.

One-and-a-half months later, several women from the fellowship at East Carolina University attended a retreat in Ohio. That’s where Edge first heard Wierwille speak. She became absorbed in his teachings and the idea of learning the Bible, she said. That took a turning point while she was taking a history exam toward the end of the semester in college.

“I thought God was telling me to drop out of college to go work for The Way and spread the word,” Edge said. “I wrote something for this one essay answer, put it on the professor’s desk and left the room.”


That following year, 19-year-old Edge was swept up in The Way Corps. She trained at the groups’s headquarters in New Knoxville, Ohio.

In 1973, Edge fell in love with a man from The Way and got married. The couple was sent off to Los Angeles to recruit more followers. Edge and her husband continued to move up the ranks within The Way’s reach in California.

It was at that point that their marriage started to suffer, Edge said, and the couple separated but were forced get back together by The Way’s leadership.

Edge and her family came back to headquarters in 1976, but the couple separated once again and were later reunited once more under Wierwille’s direction a year later.

“Wierwille was very manipulative with spouses,” Edge said. “It seemed as if he was the authority in your marriage. He was the authority no matter what you were in the ministry.”

Edge was brought on to The Way’s research team, where she helped work on a project for a reference book — a type of dictionary for the Bible that translated Syriac text and listed where certain words are referenced in the scripture.

Edge’s life was consumed by The Way International all the way up until the 1984, when she had a crisis and a realization.

“I wasn’t clued in on the shenanigans going on behind the scenes with Wierwille, including emotional abuse, sexual abuse of women and I’m sure financial abuse,” Edge said. “Over time, he accumulated lots of money, property, airplanes, motor coaches — this was a big ministry in the ’80s; there were more than 40,000 followers in every state in the Union and 36 other countries.

“My whole support system, my whole life was all wrapped up in this group for all those years,” she said. “That was my world.”


That world was turned upside down thanks to a single comment during a research team meeting. There was a discrepancy with a word in Ephesians — a clear example where Wierwille was wrong about a translation and added his own meaning to a word.

“In this moment — in my book, I call it ‘the comment’ because it woke me up – this person sitting next to me said ‘I love Dr. Wierwille, but sometimes his Greek isn’t so good,” Edge said. “I was finding out that there were a lot of things like that that were hushed up or put in a file drawer or denied or that the general believer in The Way never knew about or heard about.

“Your world is totally not what you thought it was,” she said. “I couldn’t take it all in psychologically. I’m a truth-seeker, and thank God, because that’s how I got out. I decided, ‘OK, now what do I do?’”

Edge quit the research team and eventually left The Way International in 1987, in the midst of a sudden power struggle following Wierwille’s death in 1985.

Edge returned to college and finished a degree, and finally divorced her husband in 1991.


Today she lives in Winter Park with her new husband, Hoyt, whom she married in 2002. She still has questions about faith and religion, but at the same time, she’s not actively seeking those answers out anymore. It’s been a long time she’s opened up the Bible, and she’s traveled with her husband across the world and witnessed many different religions and philosophies.

She decided to tell her story about her time in The Way through a written account, and her book has been an experience that’s brought peace and closure, she said.

When asked what she believes in today — whether it’s a philosophy or a religion — Edge smiles and gives a simple answer.

“Go with the flow,” Edge said. “I want to be present in my life. I don’t want to be worrying about whether I’m earning rewards in heaven. I don’t know if there is going to be a heaven. I’m concerned with, ‘How am I doing today?’”

Mar 14, 2018

Police bust sect, acolytes enslaved (3)

Forced to donate money, in Marche, Emilia Romagna

14 March 2018

(ANSA) - Rome, March 14 - Italian police on Wednesday busted a 'macrobiotic' sect that allegedly enslaved acolytes and forced them to donate money.

The alleged sect operated in Emilia Romagna and Marche, police said.

The members were allegedly enslaved, police said, through stringent dietary restrictions and the prevention of all contact with the outside world.

One of the so-called acolytes of the macrobiotic sect lost so much weight that she ended up wighing only 35 kg, police said.

Five people were placed under investigation.

The sect's guru, Mario Pianesi, told his followers "drugs don't work, they only get rid of symptoms, medicine kills, doctors are killers", members of the sect told police.

The man managed to persuade sick sect members to abandon traditional medicine and follow his macrobiotic diet to allegedly solve their physical and psychological problems, police said.

Mar 13, 2018

Moving them nearer to execution, seven former AUM cult members transferred from Tokyo detention center to other facilities

Reporters gather in front of a detention center in Tokyo on Wednesday following reports that the Justice Ministry has started transferring seven former members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, who are now on death row, from the facility to detention centers in other areas.

MAR 14, 2018

The Justice Ministry began transferring seven of the 13 former Aum Shinrikyo cult members on death row from a Tokyo detention center to other facilities, sources close to the matter said Wednesday, likely moving them one step closer to execution.

As the Aum-related trials wrapped up in January, the ministry is believed to be considering when they should be hanged for the series of crimes they committed that left a total of 29 people dead.

According to the sources and support groups, the seven members are: Tomomasa Nakagawa, 55, Tomomitsu Niimi, 54, Yasuo Hayashi (currently Koike), 60, Kiyohide Hayakawa, 68, Yoshihiro Inoue, 48, Masato Yokoyama, 54, and Kazuaki Okazaki (currently Miyamae).

The founder of the cult, Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remains at the Tokyo detention center, they said.

All 13 death row inmates linked to the doomsday cult had been housed in the Tokyo facility, including Asahara, 63, who masterminded the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack, one of Japan’s worst terrorist incidents. The strike on the Tokyo subway system killed 13 people and left more than 6,000 others ill.

There are execution facilities in Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. It is unclear to which facility the seven members were sent, the sources say.

Around 190 people with ties to the cult were indicted. In addition to the 13 sentenced to death, six others were given life sentences.

The 13 inmates were involved in the Tokyo subway attack, the 1989 murders of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, an anti-Aum lawyer, his wife and son, and another sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994.

The first batch of trials ended when the ruling on former senior AUM member Seiichi Endo, 57, was finalized in December 2011 but the court actions resumed when three former Aum followers, who had been on the run for nearly 20 years, were arrested in 2012.

The series of trials finally came to a close in January after the Supreme Court upheld a high court life sentence on Katsuya Takahashi, 59, one of the three who had been on the run.

In Japan, it is customary not to hang death row inmates until the sentences of their accomplices are finalized.

Mar 10, 2018

Brazilian church with NC ties facing lawsuit to shut down over forced labor

Associated Press
March 10, 2018

SAO PAULO - Brazilian labor prosecutors have filed suit to shut down a church and school with ties to the U.S.-based Word of Faith Fellowship, saying the church and its leaders "reduced people to a condition analogous to slavery."

Brazilian authorities opened multiple investigations after The Associated Press reported in July that leaders of Word of Faith Fellowship in rural Spindale, North Carolina, created a pipeline of young Brazilian congregants who told the AP they were brought to the U.S. and forced to work for little or no pay.

The focus of the civil suit is Ministerio Evangelico Comunidade Rhema, Word of Faith's branch in the city of Franco da Rocha, along with that branch's church-run school and its two ministers, Solange da Silva Granieri Oliveira and Juarez de Souza Oliveira.

In the March 1 filing in a labor court in Sao Paulo state, prosecutors included extensive excerpts from depositions laying out harrowing details of a wide range of abuses within the Rhema church, including how long the marks from a beating with a ruler were evident on a child's body.

Children and adults alike said they were worked to the point of exhaustion. One member reported sleeping only four hours a night for weeks on end, while others said they worked 12 hours at a stretch, often into the dead of night. All spoke of their fear of punishment, social isolation or separation from their families if they didn't agree to work.

"In some cases, violence was used to ensure the 'voluntary' work," the filing said.

"Throughout the civil investigation, it was crystal clear the power of control and psychological pressure exerted by the pastors," it said.

In addition to asking a judge to dissolve the church and school and distribute its assets among congregants, the prosecutors seek to have the church pay a fine of at least $153,000 to a workers' compensation fund and at least $15,000 to each victim.

Word of Faith Fellowship is a secretive evangelical sect founded in 1979 by Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. Over the decades, it has grown to a congregation of nearly 750 people in rural North Carolina, with hundreds more followers extending to Brazil, Ghana and other countries.

Dozens of former congregants in both the U.S. and Brazil have told the AP that Jane Whaley rules all the branches with an iron fist and that church members - including children - are regularly verbally and physically attacked in an effort to "purify" sinners.

An email to the Franco da Rocha church and a message left on Granieri Oliveira's cell phone were not immediately returned, but investigators said church leaders have denied any wrongdoing.

Jane Whaley's attorney, Noell Tin, issued a statement saying, "These allegations are vigorously disputed not only by Ms. Whaley but also numerous members of the Word of Faith Fellowship. The church looks forward to presenting a very different view in the Brazilian courts."

The lawsuit is the most significant legal action taken against the church in Brazil since the AP documented how Word of Faith steadily took over two local congregations and instituted its strict fundamentalist practices.

The prosecutors cited AP's stories in their court filing.

The lawsuit said forcing students to work severely interfered with their education at the Rhema school, with lessons canceled or students pulled out of class. The prosecutors also said that only three of the 25 teachers in the school were officially registered.

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The depositions provide many details previously reported by the AP, such as allegations that Brazilians entering the U.S. on tourist and student visas were forced to work, a violation of the visas' stipulations, and that many had their passports seized.

The filing also echoed AP's reporting that congregants were forced to clean churches and the houses of sect leaders, renovate homes, teach in church-run schools and work for companies owned by church members in both countries.

"Our team of investigators felt there was no choice but to take action" because of the mountain of testimony collected, said Andrea da Rocha Carvalho Gondim, one of the prosecutors on the case.

Brazilian prosecutors also are looking into possible improprieties in a land deal involving the church, and education authorities in two Brazilian states have said they are investigating allegations that church schools physically and psychologically abused students and redacted textbooks in violation of state policy. The country's federal police are investigating the allegations of human trafficking of members to the U.S.

A judge will determine the actual amount of the fines and how victims are compensated, said Fabiola Marques, a professor of labor law at the Pontifical Catholic University in Sao Paulo, who is not involved with the case.

Prosecutors also have asked that cleaners who work at the church and teachers at the school be retroactively registered. Marques said that would entitle them to backpay and benefits.

Maria Reis, who has said her son was psychologically abused at the Rhema school, expressed relief at news of the court filing.

"We are very happy with this," said Reis, a longtime member who broke with the Rhema church because of what she called its abusive practices. "Everything that was wrong, everything that was covered up, has to be exposed."

While the case is being examined, prosecutors have asked that the judge take immediate preliminary measures, such as suspending the church and the school and ordering them to stop any forced labor.

In the U.S., state and federal authorities also are investigating Word of Faith Fellowship. An AP report in February 2017 cited 43 former members who said congregants were regularly punched and choked in an effort to "purify" sinners by beating out devils.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation said it still has an active investigation, but could not provide an update. The U.S. Attorney's office in North Carolina also said its investigation was ongoing.

Two Doctors Connected To The "Deep Sleep Therapy" Medical Scandal Are Suing Over An ABC Journalist's Scientology Book

The doctors say ABC journalist Steve Cannane defamed them in his account of the tragic events at Chelmsford Hospital in the 1960s and '70s.

Lane Sainty
BuzzFeed News Reporter, Australia
March 9, 2018

Two doctors who worked at a Sydney hospital embroiled in the deep sleep therapy scandal of the 1960s and '70s are suing ABC journalist Steve Cannane over his Walkley-shortlisted book about Scientology in Australia.

From 1963 until 1979, hundreds of patients were subject to "deep sleep therapy" (DST) at Chelmsford Private Hospital, in which they were drugged and left deliberately comatose for days in an attempt to treat their psychiatric conditions.

The treatment at the hospital, led by psychiatrist Dr Harry Bailey – who championed DST in Australia – eventually prompted a royal commission, which concluded in 1990 that DST was "very dangerous" and that 24 people had died directly as a result of the treatment.

In Cannane's book Fair Game one chapter details the role Scientology played in uncovering the events that unfolded at Chelmsford. It focused on nurse Rosa Nicholson, who smuggled documents out of the hospital that were eventually provided to the NSW attorney-general by Scientology's Citizens Commission on Human Rights group.

But two doctors who worked at the hospital and who are mentioned in Fair Game, John Herron and John Gill, claim they have been defamed by Cannane's account of the Chelmsford scandal.

In documents filed in the Federal Court last year and obtained by BuzzFeed News, Herron and Gill say Cannane and publisher HarperCollins Australia defamed them by suggesting they persisted with DST despite other doctors having deemed the treatment dangerous, and despite being aware of the number of deaths it caused.

Cannane wrote in Fair Game that several psychiatrists had stated their opposition to DST and said it was dangerous by the time it was carried out at Chelmsford.

"These advance warnings from the significant figures in the medical profession did not deter Bailey and his fellow Chelmsford doctors, John Herron, John Gill, and Ian Gardiner. Nor did the death toll mounting before their eyes," Cannane wrote.

Herron says in the court documents that Cannane's book implied that his "gross negligence as a psychiatrist nearly killed his patient Barry Hart" and that he caused Hart to deteriorate in 10 days from a fit 37-year-old man to a person in "agony and distress, vomiting blood and unable to move his limbs".

Herron and Gill also allege they were defamed by implications their "gross negligence" as psychiatrists caused the death of many of their patients; that they lied to their patient's families about how ill their family members were, and denied them visitation; and that they defrauded their patient's health funds, among other things.

Gill is only mentioned by name once in the book, whereas Herron is mentioned several times. They have each filed a lawsuit.

Herron and Gill are both seeking several orders from the court, including damages, that the book be recalled and destroyed, and that any future reprints exclude Chapter 14 in its entirety and any references to the two men.

A spokesperson for HarperCollins Australia told BuzzFeed News they intend to defend the lawsuits.

"We stand by the content in the book, and intend to vigorously defend our position. We have no further comment at this time," the spokesperson told BuzzFeed News via email.

Rebekah Giles from Kennedy's Lawyers, acting for Herron and Gill, told BuzzFeed News the book had made "numerous false and seriously defamatory claims" against the men.

"The doctors are disturbed by the book’s chapter featuring their names, in that the author and publisher never attempted to make contact with them, and instead relied on false accounts and claims that will be strenuously defended in court as part of actions to hold the publishers to account," she said.

The Royal Commission into DST, presided over by justice John Patrick Slattery from 1988-1990, concluded it was a "very dangerous procedure" and said Dr Bailey had routinely provided false death certificates and avoided coroner's inquests.

"A large number of patients were treated for complications, these being mainly infections, pneumonia and deep vein thrombosis," Slattery wrote in the royal commission report. "The unconscious condition and immobile position contributed to these complications.

"There was incontinence of urine and faeces and impaction and retention. There were restraints used to prevent falling from the bed, fractures and falls, vomiting, skin breakdown and metabolism imbalance. At the end of the treatment there were gross visual distortions and hallucinations and severe weakness."

Dr Bailey killed himself in 1985, facing criminal charges, and therefore did not give evidence to the royal commission. Slattery wrote of Bailey in his report: "His role was central. Without him, there would have been no deep sleep therapy."

Herron gave evidence for 29 days at the commission, and Gill for 20. The second volume of the 14-volume report, titled "The DST Doctors", dedicates a chapter each to Bailey, Herron, Gill and Gardiner.

There have been several lawsuits in relation to the events at the hospital, including a 1980 civil litigation between Herron and Barry Hart, where a jury awarded"compensatory and aggravated damages against [Herron] for wrongful imprisonment, assault and negligence". Sixteen years later, Hart unsuccessfully appealed the decision seeking further damages.

In 1993, the High Court upheld a permanent stay on proceedings against Herron, Gill and Gardiner that had been initiated in the NSW Medical Tribunal, effectively granting them immunity against prosecution for their actions at the hospital.

The Fair Game chapter focusing on nurse Rosa Nicholson questions whether she had been planted there by Scientologists in order to uncover what was going on at the hospital.

Cannane describes the role Scientology played in uncovering the abuses at Chelmsford as "arguably Scientology's finest moment in Australia".

Larry Nassar’s First Accuser Is Taking On Another Big Target—This Time, Within Her Own Evangelical Community

MARCH 09, 201811

Rachael Denhollander addresses the media following the sentencing of Larry Nassar on Feb. 5 in Charlotte, Michigan.

Rachael Denhollander was the first woman to publicly accuse USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexually abusing her as a teenager, a step that ultimately led to more than 250 other victims coming forward. Denhollander was a 15-year-old gymnast when Nassar abused her during physical therapy sessions. In 2016, she reached out to the Indianapolis Star to tell her story. She also filed a criminal complaint against Nassar and eventually delivered the final victim-impact statement in court after his conviction.

The Nassar story has faded from the headlines since his dramatic sentencing in a Michigan courtroom in January. The disgraced doctor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. But Denhollander, now a 33-year-old lawyer and mother of three, has not gone away. Instead, she has turned her attention to another sexual abuse scandal—this one in her own evangelical community.

The alleged cover-up of a pattern of child sexual abuse within a large Protestant network now called Sovereign Grace Churches has been a major story in American evangelicalism since 2012. That’s when a lawsuit was filed alleging a pattern of sexual and spiritual abuse within the network—and not just abuse itself, but pressure to “forgive” those actions, internal policies discouraging reports to law enforcement, and ostracism for families who refused to help cover up crimes. The suit was dismissed in 2014, but a former youth leader, Nathaniel Morales, was convicted in a separate case of abusing three boys. In an attempt to move on from the thorny and slow-moving scandal, Sovereign Grace tweaked its name, moved its headquarters from Maryland to Kentucky, and replaced several of its top leaders.

To many of its critics, the organization has not done enough to repent and atone for its sins. Founder C.J. Mahaney, meanwhile, left the organization in 2013 but has successfully fought to retain his status as a leader in evangelical circles. Denhollander has spent the last several weeks speaking up about the case in a series of interviews and detailed public statements. She calls it “one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen.” This has led to a tense series of dueling statements and accusations closely watched by Christian media outlets. Thanks to Denhollander’s activism, Sovereign Grace has been forced to explain itself more deeply in the last few weeks than it has in the previous five years.

This week, Denhollander got results. Mahaney, the group’s former president, announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing from a major upcoming conference that attracts thousands of pastors and church leaders. “Given the recent, renewed controversy surrounding Sovereign Grace Churches and me individually, I have decided to withdraw from the 2018 T4G conference,” Mahaney said in a statement, adding that “No one should interpret my withdrawal as an acknowledgment of guilt.”

Denhollander did not pluck the Sovereign Grace case as her next cause randomly. In her court testimony in January, she mentioned in passing that her advocacy for sexual abuse victims had led her to lose friends and also her church community. In a later interview with Christianity Today, she said that her own church in Kentucky had been involved in rehabilitating Mahaney’s reputation, a stance she’d objected to as unjust and hurtful to victims. When she went to church leaders with documentation of her concerns, she said, they dismissed her precisely because she was an abuse victim—“essentially saying that I was imposing my own perspective or that my judgment was too clouded.” Eventually, she and her family left that church.

Sovereign Grace’s first response to the Christianity Today interview was a brief statement acknowledging the difficulty of “responding to false allegations” without appearing unsympathetic to victims, but saying that Denhollander was “mistaken” in her characterizations. She responded at length on Facebook, emphasizing her legal expertise in sexual assault cases and asking the group to allow an investigation by GRACE, a respected Christian organization that specializes in sexual abuse in institutional settings. The church network responded with a much lengthier statement, which Denhollander called “misleading.” She is not backing down. “This call does not rise from a sort of Javert-like obsession with SGC, but from the knowledge that evangelical churches are plagued with serious problems related to how we respond to and counsel victims of sexual assault,” she said in her most recent statement. “In fact, experts have stated that both the amount of abuse, and the failure to report it, is likely worse than in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Though Denhollander’s doggedness in calling for accountability for Sovereign Grace and Mahaney has received less mainstream attention than her testimony against Nassar, it is just as bold. Sovereign Grace, like USA Gymnastics, remains a large and influential institution. And while Mahaney has many critics, he remains a leader in the mainstream evangelical community. Denhollander has been scathing in her assessment of how evangelicals handle abuse in their own communities. “The ultimate reality that I live with is that if my abuser had been Nathaniel Morales instead of Larry Nassar,” she told Christianity Today, “I would not only not have evangelical support, I would be actively vilified and lied about by every single evangelical leader out there.” Her activism in the Nassar case has made her a hero in the mainstream press, and she’s now fielding speaking offers from secular groups including the Ms. Foundation, according to an admiring profile in the current issue of the conservative evangelical magazine World.

But she is also a devout Christian, with impeccable credentials within that world. She received her law degree from a Christian school, and has contributed to anti-abortionand Creationist websites. She and her husband met through a blog she maintained about “Christian worldview” issues, and he is now completing a Ph.D. at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. That dual authority means she is better positioned than anyone to call for a reckoning on sexual abuse within evangelicalism.

Denhollander’s riveting statementat Nassar’s sentencing hearing was effectively a public testimony of faith. “Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing,” she told Nassar. “And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.” It was an extraordinary moment of public evangelism, a weaving together of biblical themes like sacrificial love, forgiveness, repentance, and justice, worthy of any pulpit in America. If Denhollander’s response to Sovereign Grace is any indication, she’s not wasting her next chance to speak.

Why did The Beatles come to India (again and again)? This book has answers without being starry-eyed

Ajoy Bose’s ‘Across The Universe’ is clear-eyed and not a hagiography. ‘Jai Gurudeva!’

Samit Sinha
March 10, 2018

I must confess that before I came across Ajoy Bose’s third book, Across the Universe, I had neither heard of the author nor of his first two books – on India’s Emergency and Mayawati. With those precedents, a book about The Beatles did strike me as odd.

The first thing I noticed about the cover was an allusion to Sgt Pepper, with a liberal sprinkling of saffron. Most of the figures in the pantheon bore a passing resemblance to their real selves but the rendition of John Lennon was rather appalling. This was somewhat redeemed by the inspired Abbey-Road-on-Lakshman-Jhula image on the back cover.

It is only fitting that an Indian should take on the task of writing the full story of the band’s three-year affair with India. Meticulously researched, the result is a compelling tale. It is indeed a labour of love and his love for his subject is evident on every page.

But instead of a hagiography, Bose reveals insightful glimpses into the main characters. While most of the incidents, anecdotes and quotes in the book are borrowed from previously published sources, there are a handful of new nuggets as well, thanks to his first-hand interviews with some of those who were there.

It began before Rishikesh

Across the Universe focuses on the band’s connections with India from their first encounter with Indian musical instruments during the filming of Help! in April, 1965 up to their Rishikesh retreat between February and April 1968, when they had come to deepen their understanding of Transcendental Meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While Ringo (and wife Maureen) and Paul (and his girlfriend Jane Asher) had arrived later and left earlier, John and George (along with their partners) were there longer, right till the abrupt, bitter end.

This was not the first visit to India by the Beatles. Apart from a brief layover in Calcutta in June 1964, they had first set foot in the country on July 6, 1966, on the way back to England from a distressing tour of Japan and the Philippines. Despite having originally planned to spend time in India, feeling traumatised by the Philippines experience, they had abandoned the idea and were anxious to return home as fast as possible. Only George and roadie Neil Aspinall intended to get off in Delhi to buy a sitar.

But as it turned out, unavailability of seats for the Delhi-London leg of the trip resulted in an unscheduled sojourn. Even without the shelter of anonymity in India that they were expecting, they nonetheless managed to spend a relaxed day sightseeing and shopping. The highlight was a visit to Rikhi Ram and Sons – subsequently a famous shop in Delhi’s Connaught Place – to buy Indian musical instruments.

From this trip onwards, Harrison, the Beatle with the deepest devotion to Indian music and spirituality, would return to India multiple times. His last would be to Varanasi three months before his death, where his ashes were finally scattered in the Ganges according to his wishes and Hindu rites.

Making Mahesh famous

Coming back to Rishikesh and to the end the book, it does not provide a conclusive answer to the one big question: what provoked Lennon to depart hastily from the ashram. Did the Maharishi really come on to Mia Farrow and/or to one or more of the other female acolytes? I guess we will never know for sure, but we do know that eventually none of the other Beatles or any of those who were present was convinced of the Maharishi’s impropriety.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is largely forgotten in India. In fact today even the locals better know the Chaurasi Ashram in Rishikesh as the Beatles Ashram. But ever since his association with the Beatles, his teachings continue to attract a large worldwide following, even ten years after his death. Acclaimed movie director, David Lynch started the Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace in 2005, which advocates Transcendental Meditation as a way for better learning and peace. The foundation counts the two surviving Beatles – both knighted since then ­– amongst its most ardent supporters.

The Beatles did help make the Maharishi famous globally, and were also instrumental in putting Indian music and spirituality on the world stage, but it was not completely one-sided. Apart from learning Transcendental Meditation, of which they remained lifelong, albeit intermittent adherents, their stay in India resulted in many of their later classic songs. Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda, his book on the impact of Indian spirituality on the West, referred to the Beatles’s expedition to Rishikesh as “the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those forty days in the wilderness.”

Right up there

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I couldn’t help but pick a bone with the author in reference to one stray sentence towards the beginning – perhaps the only discordant note in an otherwise harmonious narrative. It is a casual reference to Elvis Presley as a pop star, lumping him with Ricky Nelson and unforgivably, Cliff Richard.

Without meaning any disrespect, the latter, despite his redoubtable success and pop star fame, was an innocuous Elvis wannabe. Presley, on the other hand, was an original, truly deserving the crown of the King of Rock and Roll, whose recordings of That’s Alright (Mama) on July 5, 1954 and Heartbreak Hotel in January 10, 1956 are two seismic events in the history of rock.

True, in his later years he was a pale, and at times, ludicrous shadow of his younger self, but Lennon himself was the first to admit that without Elvis there would have been no Beatles. Such was their enduring reverence that even as they covered many of their idols – Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins and some others – they never released an Elvis cover in their entire recording career.

There are literally hundreds of books that borrow their names from Beatles song titles. More than fifty of these are novels – Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, for instance – but there are many more that are chronicles of the band’s short career and long influence. Out of these, only a few can claim any literary merit. Can’t Buy Me Love and You Never Give Me Your Money are two such.

While Hunter Davies’s The Beatles is outstanding and the only authorised biography in existence, another book of the same name by Bob Spitz is also worth a read. A couple of other notable ones are Shout! by Philip Norman and Revolution in the Head by Ian MacDonald.

However, the most exhaustive and authoritative work by far is Mark Lewisohn’s All These Years: Volume 1: Tune In, which runs to a thousand pages and only covers their story up to 1962. Lewisohn expects to release the second volume in 2020 and the third in 2028! Those prepared to wait another 10 years will no doubt be rewarded with the most comprehensive and definitive account of the Beatles yet. Bose’s literary effort deserves its place alongside these better books.

Across the Universe: The Beatles in India, Ajoy Bose, Penguin Random House.

Fruit of Shrimadbhagwat Katha is not eaten but adopted

Central Chronicle
March 10, 2018

“The fruit of Shrimadbhagwat Katha doesn’t have either peal or the seed inside it. Hence, it can’t be eaten; instead, it is drunk, which means it is heard. The Guru helps one in removing darkness from his life. Guru stands on first, Bhagwan on second and Maa Saraswati on the third place in Prayers (Vandana).

Guru gives us good virtues and guides us to noble path. Guru is Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar (Shiva). A true Guru is one who practices what he professes.” These words were spoken by the Katha Vyas Acharya Shri Badrish Ji Maharaj, on the sixth day of the Shrimadbhagwat Katha recitation programme.

The programme, which is being organized by the grace of His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ji and in the presence of his disciple and the Chairman of Maharishi Organization Brahmachari Girishi Ji, will last till March 16 and is being held in Maharishi Utsav Bhawan at Brahmanand Saraswati Ashram, Chhan, Bhopal.

The sixth day programme started with the customary Gurupujan and the Vyas Gaddi pujan by four Vedic pundits from the Maharishi Ved Vidya Peetham which was followed by the prayer and the Bhajans sung by the devotees.

Shrimadbhagwat Katha Vyas Acharya Shri Badrish Ji Maharaj, on the sixth day of the program, said, “There are six tastes in whatever we eat. There are six types of happiness and six stages of life. One who posses six types of specialties, is called Bhagwan.”

A huge crowd of devotees from nearby places and Maharishi organization made their presence at the Brahmanand Saraswati Ashram to benefit from the Shrimadbhagwat Katha recitation.

Mar 9, 2018

Junk science leads to father's wrongful arrest, false accusation of raping his son

Radley Balko
Washington Post
March 8, 2018

During the ritual-sex-abuse panic of the 1980s and 1990s, children undergoing recovered memory therapy and other dubious psychological treatment recounted crimes so horrific and depraved, they’re hard to even think about. They described bizarre satanic-themed sex abuse where children were penetrated with knives. They described orgies with adults and children who could barely walk. They described animal and human sacrifice. A big reason why these kids were believed despite the complete lack of physical evidence — if children were murdered, there should have been children in the area who were missing (there were no such missing children); the children who described being raped should have showed signs of sexual abuse (they didn’t); there should have been bloody knives, animal carcasses and other evidence of these rituals (there weren’t) — is that the gruesome details seemed too macabre and perverse to have come from the imagination of kids.

They didn’t, of course. And this is where the whole scandal gets truly horrifying: The gory details came not from the kids, but from the imaginations of the police officers, prosecutors and psychiatrists. They came from the very people who were supposed to protect the kids. Theywere the ones conjuring images of the kids involved in orgies, sacrifice and murder.

I was reminded of all of that when I read this crushing story out of Florida:

After he was accused of molesting his young special needs son, Jose Cordero spent 35 days in a Miami jail and was barred from seeing his family for months.

The allegations did not come directly from the 7-year-old boy, who has autism, speaks little and cannot write on his own. Instead, they came from the child’s elementary school teacher who claimed he relied on a technique called “hand over hand,” guiding the boy’s hands with his own to write down the disturbing details of sexual abuse.

This form of “facilitated” communication is a science that has been largely debunked in the wake of high-profile scandals involving wrongfully accused parents over the past couple decades.

That didn’t stop Hialeah police from arresting Cordero in October. But Miami-Dade prosecutors soon grew suspicious of the teacher’s story.

The boy, working through the teacher with the same technique, later made even more outlandish claims, using words and phrases familiar to adults but not to young children. And when paired with another teacher and specialists, the boy could no longer write a single word, let alone repeat detailed accusations about molestation.

Weeks after the initial arrest in October, prosecutors rushed to get Cordero out of jail while they awaited results of DNA testing. On Wednesday, after those tests came back negative, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office officially dropped the sexual battery case against Cordero.

“Due to significant inconsistencies within the victim’s disclosures coupled with controversial means by which the disclosure was obtained, and a lack of corroborating witnesses, the state would be unable to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt at this time,” according to a final State Attorney’s report released Wednesday.

The conclusion of the case now raises questions whether the Hialeah elementary special-education teacher, Saul Fumero, made up the allegations — and whether the Miami-Dade school district knew he was using a largely discredited method of communication with the autistic child.

And not just discredited. There was never any reason to think this was legitimate in the first place.

James Todd, a psychology professor at Eastern Michigan University who has studied facilitated communication, reviewed the State Attorney’s final report and said the school district still bears responsibility.

“The bottom line is that that school let a teacher use a technique that was never credible and was already scientifically discredited in the early 1990s,” said Todd, who has worked as an expert for people falsely accused in similar cases. …

Researchers and critics deemed facilitated communication nothing more than junk science preying on the hopes of parents who long to communicate with their non-verbal children. Even the American Psychological Association, in 1994, declared there was “no scientifically demonstrated support for its efficacy.”

“There’s not one study in 25 years that holds up to scientific scrutiny that shows that this is a viable means of communication,” said Dr. Howard Shane, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School …

The Miami Herald did find at least one researcher who stands by the method, but this isn’t the first example of a parent being wrongfully accused because of it.

Here’s the part that reminded me of those old ritual-sex-abuse cases:

“Essentially, we and experts in the field believe that the facilitator is ‘writing’ the message and not the student/user,” Kevin McCormick, director of the Palm Beach County school district’s special education department, said in an email.

The teacher also claimed that the boy told him that his mother was involved, and that his sister had “been conditioned to be a sex slave.”

Here again, in the name of protecting children, someone entrusted to take care of a kid has caused irreparable harm by concocting images of sexual abuse that came not from the kid, but from the caretaker. The teacher admitted that he had no training in “facilitated communication,” though if he he did, I’m not sure it would matter — he would have received training in a bogus technique. The article does not say whether the teacher is still working at the school.

Deferred Enlightenment: One man's wild journey from Ithaca to the ashrams of India

Nick Reynolds
March 9, 2018

“God was shorter than I thought he’d be. Even though it was quite a warm day for the end of March, he was bundled up as if he were on a visit to the North Pole. Over his orange silks he wore a bulky, bright red down jacket. His head was covered by a knitted orange woolen ski hat, and around his neck was a matching scarf. He was followed out of the limo by the siblings, Suresh and Anjali.

The chant reached a crescendo. Baba Rudrananda entered the building, flanked by his two young Indian disciples. With a wave of his hand, he motioned for the musicians to stop playing. Within a few seconds, the chanting ended. Rudrananda greeted the devotees with folded hands and the call, “Jai Gurudev!”

“Jai Gurudev!” cheered the crowd. Then there was silence, as if everyone in the lobby were holding their breath in anticipation of what the guru might do next.”

–Robert Schneider, ‘The Guru’s Touch’

Decades after leaving the Indian village of Ganeshpuri and his life behind the thick walls of the ashram at its center, Robert Schneider is still coming to grips with the events that led him two oceans away from Ithaca as a young man in search of enlightenment, only to find a trauma that would shape his life forever.

His parents deceased at critical junctures in his life – his father, in a car crash at the age of seven and his mother, of cancer, one decade later – Schneider admitted himself to be in a vulnerable place in 1982, depressed, depleted and in search of something to fill the newly dug hole in his life. A child of Bayside, Queens, Schneider was left in limbo in Ithaca – his home of about ten years – in melancholy and seeking purpose. It was around that time he started listening to his brother.

Some time in the late-’70s, his older brother had dropped out of Cornell University, spending his days on his sister’s farm on Etna Road in a haze of pot smoke and a mystic’s vision of the world painted by philosopher Alan Watts, the polarizing author some credit with raising recognition of eastern religions in the west in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There, he met a young woman who, in her time in the Catskills, had studied under thelegendary guru Muktananda – considered the chief envoy of thethe Siddha Yoga Dham Movement in America – and imparted in him the principles of meditation and the path to enlightenment, which inspired him to pursue his own path toward unlocking his spiritual energy and transcendence of self.

“At first I thought my brother had joined a cult,” Schneider recalls. “We all did, and kind of laughed about it.”

In his vulnerability and longing, however, his brother’s words begun to offer something Schneider felt he was lacking. And one day, Schneider made his first trip up Buffalo Street and into the City Yoga Center, looking to begin his path toward a higher state of being: whatever that might have been.

“I think I was really looking for some kind of father figure, because I had lost my own father and then, my mother,” Schneider said. “I was just desperately miserable, and this gave me this kind of hope that if I followed this path, I could attain a transcendent state of consciousness behind this small presence of Bobby Schneider. That was the appeal – to follow this guru and attain this exalted state of consciousness.”

Seeking more and with some inheritance to spend, he left the city and college for the Catskills – the start of a four-year journey that would take him a world away to  a small river town in India and theBhagwan Nityanand Samadhi Mandir, where in search of transcendence he, instead, found trauma.


In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the guru, or spiritual teacher, has existed as long as disciples of the faith have practiced. But the greater idea of the guru – as a phenomenon – first begun to gain momentum in the 1960s, spurred into popular culture by academics like Watts and embracement by popular figures such as The Beatles, whose guitarist, George Harrison, drew heavily from Indian influences following the band’s 1966 U.S. tour, where he and then-wife Pattie Boyd went on a pilgrimage to Mumbai where Harrison studied sitar and met several gurus, including Maharishi – the most holy and enlightened of the gurus.

It was around that time, The Pluralism Project at Harvard University notes, that the termguru, or spiritual teacher, became a household word. However, in some sense the word did not carry a similar weight to what it did overseas, where merit and a pre-established hierarchy determined legitimacy.

“In India, it is taken for granted that some gurus are more genuine representatives of their traditions of learning than others,” they write, describing a phenomenon known as the “rush of gurus” into the United States. “In America, all had a chance to attract a following. Some came and went quickly, sometimes amidst controversy. Others came and settled into the American landscape, where their influence is still felt today.”

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation and the eventual guru of the Beatles, was among the first to arrive in 1965. That same year, Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada – the founder of the Hare Krishnas, arrived in New York City, spreading his message to passersby in Tompkins Square Park. There were others whose impressions were short-lived, like that of Guru Maharaj-ji (best known for hisembarrassingly sparse rally at the Houston Astrodome in 1973, which was supposed to set forth a millenium of ceaseless peace) and Swami Satchidananda, best known for his appearance at Woodstock in 1969.

And then there was Swami Muktananda, whose founding of the Siddha Yoga Dham Movement in 1970 inspired thousands of followers and numerous ashrams throughout the country, including the center of the faith in New York State with his facility in Walden, New York, which would influence dozens of practitioners across the state eventually serve as a home to none other than Robert G. Schneider, an impressionable teen from Ithaca, New York.


Where many modern gurus of the era dealt their message with flash and awe, Schneider’s first steps on the road to enlightenment – seva – were spent in the kitchen and dishroom of the ashram, where, he befriended another young man who grew up in the ashram. His parents were devotees of the guru there – Swami Rudrananda – and given his background, Schneider assumed he would be extremely spiritual; assuming that someone who was born into the group must’ve been in this evolved state of consciousness. Instead, Schneider was offered a window into a world he had previously not been aware of.

Over the McDonalds they would steal away to eat, Schneider learned of the guru of one ashram embezzling money, or the story of a disciple of another ashram in Oakland, California being kicked out for the statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl only to return elsewhere in a similarly influential role. But wanting to believe in the path, Schneider denied it all – despite the inner conflict over his faith.

“ And I thought to myself these gurus, who were supposed to be omniscient, would’ve known that these were bad people... So I started to have these doubts,” Schneider said. “But I  would look for ways to justify it, or rationalize things. I thought the gurus were so compassionate, that they would let these people stay despite them being really bad, in order to keep them close to keep them from doing what they’re doing. I constantly knew that there was something wrong, but kept finding new ways to rationalize it.”

Still empty in his search, he looked toward the source, to India, and the promise of eventually finding something greater and, just 18-years-old, he booked a flight to Mumbai, bent on starting a new life. But it didn’t offer what he expected, and he said he never obtained any sort of elevated sense of consciousness while he was there. And then, one day, the illusion he’d believed in for so long vanished, and the news came out that the guru he had invested years of his youth following was molesting a lot of the young girls and older women in the ashram, a similar story to so many gurus of the era.

“He preached celibacy, so in order to attain this state of enlightenment, he said we should be celibate and conserve our sexual energy – our spiritual energy,” said Schneider. “To find out he wasn’t keeping his vows, wasn’t doing what he was teaching… that was very devastating.”

For many, our modern understanding of eastern religion comes from a place of warmth and romantic intrigue. In the popular memoir-turned major motion picture, ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ we learn of the protagonist’s journey into the exotic depths of her own soul, “getting her groove back” via that “South Indian old lion” to find her inner self. Charming a story as it was, the truth, often buried behind the colorful spectacles and intrigue of the gurus’ public personas, was much uglier: the ‘old lion,’ like many religious leaders, was accused of hypocrisy, shadowed by allegations of child molestation and other detailed episodes of exploitation. Any combination of words in a search engine will give you a similar result – Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh,Bikram Choudhury, Asaram Bapu and even the great Muktananda himself – accused of similar crimes, their teachings mired in hypocrisy and scandal. Even Schneider himself – beaten for perceived incompetence or other motivations – said he saw a level of corruption to make him doubt his own beliefs to the point where he – now a Buddhist – left the way and the goal which once, had been his life’s work.

“I no longer have this goal of enlightenment,” he said. “I don’t even think I really believe in it anymore. For me, the most important aspect of Buddhism is ethical conduct and I certainly didn’t learn that in the first group. We were asked to do all these illegal things like smuggling, and there was a lot of exploitation going on, so I never learned ethics or kindness or compassion in the group.”


It wasn’t until 1989 and his application to New York University’s Film School – a continuation from his work as a cameraman in the ashram – that Schneider first thought to put his story to paper. First imagined as a screenplay, his pitch eventually gained him admission and was forgotten about, as he set to make a life for himself as a commercial filmmaker. Then something unique, that could only happen in the era of social media, happened: he reconnected with an old friend from his Ithacan adolescence, Manette Pottel, married her, and left Belgium, New York City and his previous pursuits behind to live with her, in Maine.

But he couldn’t leave the ashram behind. And, the story burning in his mind, Robert G. Schneider set to write a book.

He thought briefly to write a memoir and even, after the first draft of his novel, considered the thought further. But he had so much more to tell – Schneider wanted to capture it all, from the opulent hypocrisy of the worst of the mystics to bringing closure to his own trauma, reconciling his past with some sort of spiritual equilibrium that had proved elusive for so long. Most importantly, Schneider was in pursuit of a sort of deferred justice, an airing of wrongdoing and exploitation that, especially in the wake of events like the #MeToo Movement, seems all too timely. The final product is something remarkable.

Spanning more than 700 pages, Schneider’s book, ‘The Guru’s Touch,’ is a journey spanning from Ithaca and the campus of Cornell University to the deepest recesses of the far-east in a rollicking story that molds the best of bleeding heart memoirists with the hard-hitting social commentary most without first hand insight behind the scenes could ever hope to grasp at. Schneider’s book brings you as close as one can get to the purest image of the truth that can be distilled from a side of the Far East few of us ever have the opportunity to see, built largely on a caricature of the outsized illusions cast by the exploitative methods of the most shallow of the movement’s religious leaders. The process of writing the book – entailing five years since the couple’s 2012 marriage –  even took him back to India, to give Schneider the time to interview locals in Ganeshpuri, India, where the ashram was located.

But as thorough as the book is factually, the virtue of fiction actually allows Schneider to reach a more powerful of the truth: By casting a hybrid of himself and his brother as the protagonist and the antagonist – the fictional guru – as a mash-up of all the corrupt leaders to come before, Schneider sought to create the most accurate image of the phenomenon that was: a facade, appropriating a greater truth for selfish gains.

“What I found in so many religious groups, especially eastern religious groups, was the leader – the guru – tends to have these narcissistic, sociopathic tendencies,” said Schneider. “A lot of them are guilty of sex abuse and exploiting their devotees, and I wanted to write a whole indictment of this ‘institution of the guru,’ which I couldn’t have done with a memoir… since I was dealing with the successors, they weren’t guilty of the same crimes. They were guilty of others, though.”

In real-life, Schneider never got his revenge and for years, was left without closure. With this book, he said he sought not only reconciliation for his own confused past – the untimely death of his parents, his denied salvation, his missed chance for self enlightenment – and instead, wrote his story to share with the world, in the hope to not just reclaim lost opportunities of justice for himself, but others as well.

“Even though it’s a story that took place during the 1980s and even though Indian gurus may not be as popular in the west as they used to be,” Pottel said. “This book is really about men abusing their power and taking advantage of women in the ashram. It’s an indictment of rape culture, of a culture that privileged the powerful.”

Mar 8, 2018

Setback for victim in Nithyananda rape case: K’taka HC says she cannot implead further

The victim’s counsel told TNM that they are thinking about approaching the Supreme Court after accessing a certified copy of the HC order.

Soumya Chatterjee

The News Minute
March 07, 2018

In a setback to the whistle-blower and the victim in the rape case against godman Nithyananda, the Karnataka HC on Tuesday directed that they can no longer implead in the case and will only remain as witnesses.

The HC has also stayed the proceedings against Nithyananda and his associates in the trial court till it hears a discharge petition filed by him.

The victim’s counsel told TNM that they are thinking about approaching the Supreme Court after accessing a certified copy of the HC order.

“We are of the understanding that we should have been given the right of hearing. This is because in 2014, the apex court had clearly said the prosecution was not doing its job until we stepped in,” Ashwin Vaish told TNM.

This recent development comes after the Supreme Court in December 2017 had asked the trial court in Karnataka to go ahead and frame charges for a speedy trial. The apex court also said that the trial court need not take any documents provided by the accused in its defence.

Following that, Nithyananda's discharge petition was disallowed by the trial court and he approached the HC. This is incidentally the third time that the self-styled godman has approached the HC regarding this case.

Meanwhile, Nithyananda also failed to appear before the trial court on the day of framing of charges, on medical grounds.

“My contention is that the entire process is for the victim. Why should they not be heard in the case especially when all these arguments were considered by the Supreme Court when the accused had got a favourable verdict from the High Court,” the victim’s counsel asked.


Lenin Karuppan, a former disciple had exposed the controversial godman and registered a complaint with Chennai police in 2010. In this particular case, Nithyananda is accused of raping a former female disciple in the garb of religious practice.

Also read: Sexual crimes committed in the name of God: A look back at 'Swami' Nithyananda's 'sex contract'
A case under sections 295 A (insulting religious belief), 420 (cheating), 376 (rape), 377 (unnatural sex), 506 (i) (criminal Intimidation) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code was registered against Nithyananda in 2010 by the Ramanagara police after the case was transferred to them.

Since the complaint in 2010, Nithyananda has been arrested twice and been granted bail from High Court, which delayed the start of the trial. It was only after Nithyananda got a favourable decision from the High Court that the victims approached the apex court.

In 2014, the Supreme Court had dismissed a petition by Nithyananda seeking to quash the chargesheet against him. He continued to file petitions to delay the proceedings and submitted documents claiming innocence including a fabricated potency report.

The controversial godman is also involved in other legal proceedings, including a case where he is contesting his sacking as a pontiff at Madurai Adheenam Mutt. The Madras High Court had recently warned Nithyananda that it will issue an arrest warrant if he does not rectify his “misleading” affidavits.

Mar 7, 2018

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Religious (Dis)Affiliation and Depressive Symptomatology

Matthew May
Oakland University, Rochester, MI, USA
Sage Journals
Society and Mental Health
December 29, 2017

Religious affiliation is generally associated with better mental health. The nonreligious, however, currently constitute one of the fastest-growing religious categories in the United States. Since most of the nonreligious were raised in religious homes, their growth raises important questions about the mental health of those who consider dropping out of religion. In this article, I use longitudinal data from the Portraits of American Life Study to examine the impact of religious affiliation on mental health. Specifically, I compare individuals who dropped out of religion (leavers) with individuals who considered dropping out (stayers) and individuals who are more consistent in their religious (stable affiliates) and nonreligious (stable Nones) affiliations. I find that stayers experience more depressive symptoms than any other group and that they experience a greater increase in depressive symptoms over time. My findings are consistent with identity theories in sociology, and they provide evidence that a strong religious or secular identity is an important contributor to mental health.
Article first published online: December 29, 2017 May1Oakland University, Rochester, MI, USA
Corresponding Author: Matthew May, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Social Work, and Criminal Justice, Oakland University, 371 Varner Drive, Rochester, MI 48309-4485, USA. Email:

Does Faking Religion Lead to Depression?

According to a recent study, individuals who consider leaving a faith, but do not, tend to experience more depression than those who decide to leave.


Daily beast
March 3. 2018

At the recent National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump called the United States a “nation of believers.” The highly Christian language of his speech—focused on the Bible and being “created in Jesus Christ”—underscored for some the president’s focus on Christian nationalism and the exclusionary nature of his vision for America.

Of course, there can be real problems when a nation circumscribes who belongs and who doesn’t by whether they are people of faith. That type of social duress can be culturally and personally unhealthy. In fact, according to a recent study in the journal, Society and Mental Health, individuals who consider leaving a faith, but do not, tend to experience more depression than those who decide to leave.

The research, done by Matthew May, assistant professor of sociology at Oakland University, analyzed the still data-wealthy Portrait of American Life Study (PALS), which (through 1300 interviews) focused on the religious life of 2,610 participants from 2006-2012.

“PALS,” says May, “is the only data set that asks people if they have seriously considered dropping out of religion.”

May looked at those who left a religion altogether (“leavers”), those who considered dropping out of religion, but did not (“stayers”), those who never considered leaving (“stable affiliates”), and the nonreligious (“stable nones”). Tracking responses from the Portrait of American Life Study, he was able to show a correlation between depressive feelings and remaining in a faith for “stayers.”

“Although most people never think about dropping out of religion,” May tells The Daily Beast, “a growing number of people are leaving the pews. Social scientists tend to give a lot of attention to these ‘leavers.’” These are “the Nones”—the spiritual, but not religious, atheists, and agnostics—and, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, they are roughly 24% of Americans.

But, as May points out, “we haven’t given much attention to the people who think about leaving and decide to stay.” This group intrigues him the most, and he sees room for more research into what drives their struggle.

“We all have many identities that reflect the different roles we occupy,” says May. “Each of these identities comes with certain expectations, and we tend to look to others to see if we are meeting these expectations.” Distress occurs when our identities do not match what we believe others expect of us—and this instability can be especially true for those considering leaving religion.

Caleb Lack agrees with the results of May’s study, seeing a strong player in doubt. He serves as associate professor of psychology and practicum coordinator at the University of Central Oklahoma, and director of the Secular Therapy Project. The Secular Therapy Project connects the non-religious who need mental health services with mental health professionals.

“I’d say it both matches our experience and isn’t unexpected based on what we know about how uncertainty impacts us,” says Lack. “If we exist in a state of uncertainty, such as what exists if I am not sure about, or wavering back and forth between, religious belief and doubt, then people are naturally more vulnerable to developing anxiety and depression.”

There are good reasons to not underestimate the instability of doubt, says Lack.

“Doubt is often framed in religious communities as showing that you aren’t a ‘good’ Christian or that the devil is tempting you and you are too weak to resist,” Lack explains. “Given that, many people who have doubts either get shamed by their communities when they express doubt or feel shame at their ‘weakness.’”

This may, he says, lead individuals to withdraw from their social support groups, such as friends or family.

Kevin (last name is withheld to protect his privacy), a 40-year-old seminary graduate, knows the difficulty of extricating oneself from a faith tied to family.

“There are definitely times where I get the feeling of being trapped and unable to express my true thoughts, which does lead to moments of depression,” says Kevin.

“I have opened up to only a couple friends and somewhat to my wife to provide some outlet,” he says, “but having to avoid or hide from certain topics often weighs heavy on my mind. I would not say that I have a feeling of worthlessness, but definitely can get a feeling of hopelessness.”

Raised in an independent Baptist church, which he considers fundamentalist in nature, Kevin has yet to fully leave and embrace all aspects of his new identity.

“From a private perspective, I no longer identify as a Christian. From a public perspective, I have let others draw their own conclusions,” he tells me. He’s not in church or affiliated with a faith organization of any kind, but it gets complicated with family.

“I believe that it is family relationships that prevent me from leaving fully. I am concerned that disclosing that I have left Christianity to my parents and my wife’s parents will lead to greater every day strife for both me and my wife. I am constantly weighing this decision in my mind to see if, and when, I am ready to take on this challenge.”

A similar struggle in that middle-place of identity can also be found for Muslims who have considered leaving Islam.

May’s research “matches my experience, both personal and professional,” says Sarah Haider, co-founder of Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA), an organization that “advocates for acceptance of religious dissent, promotes secular values, and aims to reduce discrimination faced by those who leave Islam.”

As with Kevin in Christianity, ex-Muslims may never disaffiliate from Islam completely.

“I would say a majority of those who join our communities, and no longer believe in the faith, continue to be affiliated with the religion publicly and do not ‘come out’ due to fear of persecution,” explains Haider. “They routinely express frustration with the life they are living and the choices denied to them.”

This struggle with authenticity, she says, is a source of distress. “It doesn’t seem natural or easy to force yourself into living a lifestyle you don’t believe in.” This, she adds, brings in “elements of isolation, negative self-views, a sense of hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts. They may feel as if they have surrendered their future, as their choice to stay often has far-reaching consequences.”

Being caught between two worlds, she says, means individuals are culturally expected to marry someone who does not share their perspective on the world. Parents may be frustrated with expectations on how they will raise their children, or even—should those parents choose to leave Islam later—find themselves ostracized by their children.

May says that the act of leaving enables a person to embrace a new identity and to “alleviate this distress.” But what is really considered “leaving?” As with Kevin’s situation, or in the case of former Muslims, considering dropping out of a faith, or even the very notion of having left, falls along a spectrum.

Still, for those who manage to find their path out entirely, this acceptance of a new identity can mean an entirely new life.

“[My] faith background growing up was mostly non-denominational,” says 26-year-old Jordan Harper from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and “that most closely aligned with Reformed Baptists.”

Reformed Baptists are “very conservative,” Harper adds, meaning there are “no women in leadership, no women teaching except for young (usually middle school age and below) children. [This meant] no drinking, [and] no dancing when we lived in the Midwest, but [the rules were] more lax on those points on the East coast and the Rocky Mountain region when I was older.”

Homeschooled, Harper eventually left that world and went to college at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.

“I joined the Lutheran church as I searched for something I could better tolerate. [I] started in the Missouri Synod, which is extremely conservative, and the last church I attended before I finally left Christianity was an extremely liberal...ELCA church [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America].”

That all ended in 2017, when Harper left religion entirely.

No longer a Christian, Harper now identifies as spiritual and settled on “eclectic paganism, with a dash of Chaos Magick thrown in.” Additionally, that journey also involved a new public gender identification.

“I am ambigender,” says Harper, “both male and female simultaneously without much if any fluidity or switching.” Being ambigender means foregoing the gender binary terms of “he” and “she” for “they” and “them.” In that process, they took on the new name of Jordan Harper—a choice that represents a new life.

Harper already struggles with a depressive disorder, but says being in the church stoked that strong cognitive dissonance. This new freedom allowed that to dissipate.

“Changing my name became very symbolic of that time in my life, and an appropriate memorial to a time when so many charades and secrets were allowed to end, and the emotional chaos finally found some peace.”

So how should one go from being a “stayer” to a “leaver?”

Secular Therapy Project’s Lack sees these transitions out of a faith, which for his group frequently involves secularity, as a journey one should never take alone.

“I would recommend finding someone nonjudgmental and supportive to discuss this with,” he says. “That could be a friend or a family member, or it could be a mental health professional, such as those in the Secular Therapy Project.”

EXMNA’s Haider urges careful forethought in leaving.

“Some of these negative feelings can be alleviated by leaving religion,” she says, “however the chances of success appear to be higher the earlier one gathers the courage to be open and honest about themselves.”

She adds that getting an education and a good job can provide the independence one needs to be free to be themselves. “Distance and independence can do wonders for [one’s] psychological well-being,” she says, particularly, “for those who feel as if they are being coerced into a faith they have doubts about.”

In the end, stayers and leavers want to be understood and respected for being true to themselves.

“Others should know that, at least in my case, dropping out of my religion is not a decision made lightly,” says Kevin, adding that “it is not the result of some tragedy, nor a momentary lapse of reason,” rather, “one cannot simply believe something one no longer believes.”

But this, he insists, should be a chance for openness, not boxing someone into a religion.

“I would want for others to have open, true dialog with me about my positions. I would want for others to be willing to accept individuals regardless if they share the same beliefs or not.”