Dec 5, 2005

The Rise of Dominionism

Frederick Clarkson
Political Research Associates
December 5, 2005

When Roy Moore, the Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, installed a two-and-one-half-ton granite monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state courthouse in Montgomery in June of 2001, he knew it was a deeply symbolic act. He was saying that God’s laws are the foundation of the nation; and of all our laws. Or at least, they ought to be.1 The monument (wags call it “Roy’s rock”) was installed under cover of night – but Moore had a camera crew from Rev. D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries on hand to record the historic event. Kennedy then sold videos of the installation as a fundraiser for Moore’s legal defense.

They knew he would need it.

The story of Roy’s rock epitomizes the rise of what many are calling “dominionism.” It is a story of how notions of “Biblical law” as an alternative to traditional, secular ideas of constitutional law are edging into mainstream American politics.

As readers of The Public Eye know, dominionism—in its “softest” form the belief that “America is a Christian Nation,” and that Christians need to re-assert control over political and cultural institutions—has been on the rise for a long time. Since The Public Eye first began writing about dominionism ten years ago, the movement, broadly defined, has gained considerable power. Recently however, the term has become fashionable with some lumping every form of evangelical Christianity and every faction in the Bush White House into one big, single-minded imperial dominionist plot. Dominionism is narrower and more profound than that. It is the driving ideology of the Christian Right.

It comes in “hard” and “soft” varieties, with the “hard” or theocratic dominionists “a religious trend that arose in the 1970s as a series of small Christian movements that seek to establish a theocratic form of government,” according Political Research Associates Senior Analyst Chip Berlet. The seminal form of Hard Dominionism is Christian Reconstructionism, which seeks to replace secular governance, and subsequently the U.S. Constitution, with a political and judicial system based on Old Testament Law, or Mosaic Law (see box). Not all dominionists embrace this view, though most dominionists look back to the early years of the American colonies to argue that before the Constitution, “the United States was originally envisioned as a society based on Biblical law.”2

Berlet’s distinction between hard and soft dominionists is clear and broad enough to describe the two main wings of the movement. But these viewpoints, like the terms “theocrat” and “theocracy,” are openly embraced by few. They are terms used by outside observers to understand a complex yet vitally important trend. So for people trying to figure out if a conservative politician, organization, or religious leader is “dominionist,” I notice three characteristics that bridge both the hard and the soft kind.

Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles.

Pieces of dominionism spill out in the day-to-day words and activities of our nation’s leaders all the time. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) routinely hosts tours of the Capitol for constituents, Congressmembers and their staffs by Christian nationalist propagandist David Barton. President George W. Bush claimed during one of his presidential campaign debates with John Kerry that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has said the United States should be governed under Biblical law.

And a dominionist— Sen. Sam Brownback (RKS) —is a hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination for 2008, while other dominionists are challenging the GOP through the Constitution Party, the third largest party in the nation. Moore himself is challenging a business-oriented incumbent in the GOP gubernatorial primary in Alabama for 2006.

Hard dominionists like Moore take these ideas to their extremes. They want to rewrite or replace or supplement the Constitution and Bill of Rights to codify specific elements of Biblical law. This would create a society that would be a theocracy. Soft dominionists like Brownback, on the other hand, propose a form of Christian nationalism that stops short of a codified legal theocracy. They may embrace a flat tax of 10% whose origins they place in the Bible. They are comfortable with little or no separation of church and state, seeing the secular state as eroding the place of the church in society.

Dominionism is therefore a broad political tendency—consisting of both hard and soft branches—organized through religiously based social movements that seeks power primarily through the electoral system. Dominionists work in coalitions with other religious and secular groups that primarily are active inside the Republican Party. They seek to build the kingdom of God in the here and now.

The three-shared Dominionist characteristics of religious supremacy, Christian nationalism, and theocratic visions are on vivid display in the politics of Moore’s ally, Rev. D. James Kennedy, the prominent televangelist. In early 2005, Kennedy displayed Roy’s rock at his annual political conference, “Reclaiming America for Christ” in Ft. Lauderdale. “For more than 900 other Christians from across the United States,” reported the Christian Science Monitor, “the monument stood as a potent symbol of their hopes for changing the course of the nation.”

“In material given to conference attendees, [Kennedy] wrote: ‘As the vice-regents of God, we are to bring His truth and His will to bear on every sphere of our world and our society. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government … our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors—in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Kennedy, the Monitor noted, “regularly calls the United States a Christian nation that should be governed by Christians. He has created a Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington that seeks to evangelize members of Congress and their staffs, and to counsel conservative Christian officeholders.”

The Monitor story shows Kennedy manifesting all three characteristic of a dominionist: he is a Christian nationalist; he is a religious supremacist; and his politics are decidedly theocratic.3 But of the three characteristics, Kennedy would embrace the first, but deny the second and third.

MOORE AND THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

The notion we often hear in public these days—of the supposed suppression of Christian expression by an alleged secular humanist conspiracy—stems largely from the works of Reconstructionist R.J. Rushdoony and those of the Reconstructionist- influenced writer, Francis Schaefer. Tim LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson also echo these claims.

The charge can be heard across the decades in Christian Right claims that “secular humanism” is being taught in the public schools and that Christians are “persecuted” in America. A recent variation of this claim was made by soft dominionist, Dr. Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. “The greatest threat to religious freedom in America,” Land declared, “are secular fundamentalists who want to ghetto-ize religious faith and make the wall of separation between church and state a prison wall keeping religious voices out of political discourse.”4

Virginia Reconstructionist Rev. Byron Snapp maintains, “religious pluralism is a myth. At no point in Scripture do we read that God teaches, supports, or condones pluralism. To support pluralism is to recognize all religions as equal.”5 This is, of course, exactly what the U.S. Constitution requires.6 It is because this is so, in part, that there is such a desperate push for what Rushdoony called “Christian revisionism” of history.

Arguably, Moore is emerging as the leading Christian Reconstructionist politician in America. So let’s return to the story of Roy’s rock.

A few years ago, Moore was an obscure Alabama county judge. He gained notoriety when the American Civil Liberties Union sued because he insisted on hanging a hand-carved Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom and opening the proceedings with a prayer. While the case was ultimately dismissed because the plaintiff lacked standing to sue, Roy Moore became a nationally known as the “Ten Commandments Judge.” Moore, 58, turned his notoriety into election as chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court in November 2000. Six months after his inauguration, he installed the now-famous monument. The ruling by Federal District Court Judge Myron H. Thompson in the inevitable lawsuit declared that the display constituted “a religious sanctuary, within the walls of a courthouse.” He ordered Moore to remove it; Moore refused, and he was ultimately removed from the bench.

Judge Thompson was additionally troubled by Moore’s partnership with Rev. Kennedy. He wrote that it “can be viewed as a joint venture between the Chief Justice and Coral Ridge, as both parties have a direct interest in its continued presence in the rotunda…. In a very real way, then, it could be argued that Coral Ridge’s religious activity is being sponsored and financially supported by the Chief Justice’s installation of the monument as a government official.”

Moore became a cause celebre and a popular speaker at major gatherings of such organizations as the Christian Coalition and Eagle Forum. He was publicly courted to head the national ticket of the overtly theocratic Constitution Party in 2004 and he appeared at numerous state party conventions while being publicly coy about his intentions.7 (Founded in 1994, it was originally called the U.S. Taxpayers Party.) The GOP was rightfully concerned that Moore might divide Bush’s conservative Christian constituency and threaten his reelection.

But he was able to use this leverage to move elements of the GOP in his direction. Moore and his attorney Herb Titus (vice-presidential candidate of the Constitution Party in 1996) drafted the Constitution Restoration Act, which would allow local, state and federal officials to acknowledge “God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government” and prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from gagging them. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) signed on as the bill’s main sponsors, and announced its introduction at a press conference in Montgomery, Ala., in February 2004.

That same day, a conference sponsored by Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law drew a who’s who of dominionists and dominionist-influenced Christian rightists, including Howard Philips, Herb Titus, John Eidsmoe, Phyllis Schlafly, Alan Keyes and representatives from such leading Christian Right organization as Coral Ridge Ministries, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and Eagle Forum. One of the featured speakers was Rev. Joseph Morecraft, a leader of the theocratic Christian Reconstructionist movement.8

Both the House and Senate held hearings on the bill in 2004, and Sen. Shelby reintroduced it in 2005 (S.520). As of September, it had eight GOP cosponsors. In the House (H.R.1070) Rep. Aderholt had 43 cosponsors. It is a classic and pioneering “court stripping” bill, stripping the Supreme Court of its power of oversight. The clear presumption of the bill is that God’s law is, once was, and should always have been the cornerstone of law and jurisprudence in the United States. While at this writing, the bill has not, and may never progress out of committee, the depth of support for a bill of such profound consequence is one fair measure of how far the most overt dominionist agenda has come.

The rhetoric of Roy Moore, David Barton and other Christian Right leaders not withstanding, the framers of the U.S. Constitution explicitly rejected the idea of a Christian Nation. The framers, seeking to inoculate the new nation against the religious persecution and warfare that had wracked Europe for a millennium, made America the first nation in the history of the world founded without the blessing of an official god, church or religion. They were leaving behind local theocracies that had governed the colonies for the previous 150 years in which only white propertied men who were members of the correct, established sect were able to vote and hold public office. One of the formative experiences of the young James Madison was witnessing the beating and jailing of Baptist preacher who preached—it was against the law in Anglican Virginia.

Madison went on to become the principal author of both the Constitution and the First Amendment. Among the many historical issues faced by dominionists who embrace Christian nationalism and seek to revise history in support of their contemporary political aims, one is so clear and insurmountable that it is routinely ignored: Article 6 of the Constitution bans religious tests for holding public office—no more swearing of Christian oaths. By extension, this meant that one’s religious orientation became irrelevant to one’s status as a citizen. It was this right to believe differently, that set in motion the disestablishment of the state churches—and set the stage for every advance in civil and human rights that followed.

GRANITE ROCK BEGETS A SLATE OF CANDIDATES

Moore has taken his show on the road, speaking about his alternative view of American history at major and minor Christian Right conventions, and displaying the monument. It is typically cordoned off with velvet ropes and viewed with reverence, awe and rubber necking.

Moore leveraged this notoriety beyond the lecture tour into a campaign for governor of Alabama. Not only is he given a (long)shot at winning the June 2006 GOP primary against the incumbent business oriented GOP governor Bob Riley, The Atlantic Monthly reports Moore is assembling “an entire slate of candidates to run under his auspices in the Republican primary… Moore has, in effect established a splinter sect of religious conservatives bent on taking over the Republican Party, and his reach extends to every corner of the state.” This has establishment types in both parties worried. “In style in if not in substance,” the article concludes, “Moore’s religious populism is a lineal descendant of the race-baiting that propelled Wallace to the statehouse a generation ago.”9

Moore evidently set out to provoke a confrontation with the federal courts over the Ten Commandments monument—one he was destined to lose, much as Alabama Governor George Wallace lost in his defense of legal segregation 40 years before.

Some GOP strategists fear that if Moore wins, he may set up a confrontation with the federal government by once again installing the Ten Commandments somewhere the federal courts are likely to rule violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment.10

CONCLUSION

The sudden rise of a Christian Right agenda in many states and the federal government has taken many by surprise. It may be tempting to see Roy Moore as an exception, but his rise is reviving old coalitions. In 2004, his former spokesman and legal advisor, Tom Parker, was elected as an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. At Parker’s request, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas made the trek to Montgomery to swear him in. Ex-judge Moore then also swore him in. “The Chief’s courage to stand for principle over personal position inspired me and animated voters during my campaign for the Alabama Supreme Court” said Parker. “So, I have been doubly blessed to have been sworn into office by two heroes of the judiciary.”11 But Parker’s politics has additional roots in the politics of the Wallace era. He has longstanding ties to neoconfederate organizations such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and the white supremacist League of the South and calls his home “Ft. Dixie.”12

While Alabama has its distinctive politics, we can also see dominionist politics in the mix of the aggressive efforts to restrict access to abortion and to deny equal rights to gays and lesbians—and in the efforts to teach creationism and its variant “intelligent design” in the public schools.

Naturally, people look for explanations for how it has come to this. There are many factors for this trend, just like any other important trend in history. But many Americans, regardless of their political orientation, seem genuinely baffled and obsessed about one or another factor in the rise to power of the Christian Right: they look to issues of funding, mass media, megachurches, dominionism, and so on. It is all of these and more. However, following the logic of Occam’s Razor, that the best explanation is usually the simplest, I offer this: the Christian Right social movement, fueled by the growing influence of dominionist ideology, gained political influence because it was sufficiently well organized and willing to struggle for power. And now they are exercising it.

While most dominionists would say they favor the U.S. Constitution, and merely seek to restore it to the original intentions of the founders, in fact, their views are profoundly anti-democratic. The dominionist worldview is not one based on the rights of the individual as we have come to know them, but on notions of biblical law. Among the political models admired by the likes of D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Reconstructionist writer Gary North is the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a government ruled by the intensely Calvinist Protestant sect, Puritanism. In the dominionist worldview, the biblically incorrect (and those of other religious views) are second-class citizens at best. While few would admit to the clear implications of Christian nationalism, dominionism in the short run necessarily means, as a matter of theocratic public policy, reducing or eliminating the legal standing of those who do not share their views.

Indeed the dominionist movement and its allies in Congress are actively seeking to eviscerate the capacity of the federal courts to protect the rights of all citizens. Developing a coherent understanding of the ongoing role of dominionism in the dynamic growth of the Christian Right movement will be integral to any effective counter strategy in this, one of the central struggles of our time.

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTIONISM?

While Rev. D. James Kennedy of the Coral Ridge teleministry appears to represent “soft dominionism,” he is a borderline case. Some of the political agenda he, Moore and their allies pursue strikes me as hard dominionist. And by this I mean rooted in Christian Reconstructionism, a theology that arose out of conservative Presbyterianism in the 1970’s. It asserts that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel should be the basis for reconstructing society towards the Kingdom of God on earth.

Led by the movement’s seminal thinker, the late Rev. R. J. Rushdoony, Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life, art, education, health care, government, family life, law and so on. They have formulated a “biblical worldview” and “biblical principles” to inform and govern their lives and their politics. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly described this view: “The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s Law.”13

It has been difficult for many Americans to accept the idea that a theocratic movement could be afoot, let along gain much influence in 20th century America, but Robert Billings, one of the founders of the Moral Majority once said, “if it weren’t for [Rushdoony’s] books, none of us would be here.” This does not, of course, mean that everyone influenced by Rushdoony’s work is a Reconstructionist. Rather, as Billings indicated, it provided a catalyst and an ideological center of gravity for the wider movement of ideas that have percolated throughout evangelical Christianity, and parts of mainline Protestantism and Catholicism for the past three decades.

The original and defining text of Reconstructionism, is Rushdoony’s 1973 opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law – an 800-page explanation of the Ten Commandments, the Biblical “case law” that derives from them and their application today. “The only true order,” he wrote, “is founded on Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion.” In brief, he continues, “every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare.”14

The Chalcedon Foundation, a Reconstructionist think tank under whose auspices Rushdoony did most of his writing, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a conference on the life and work of Rushdoony.

Interestingly, the Chalcedon Report, the journal of the Chalcedon Foundation, recently reported that Roy Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law is preparing “to hold seminars that will teach judges, lawyers, and law students about Biblical Law as the basis of America’s laws and Constitution.” “There is a lot more being written and said about this than there was a few years ago,” Moore told Chalcedon Report. “The truth that’s been cut off for so long is being brought out into the open, and it will prevail.”15

Frederick Clarkson, “On Ten Commandments bill, Christian Right has it wrong,” Christian Science Monitor, April 21, 2004.Chip Berlet. 2004. “Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements.” In Abby Ferber, ed, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.Jane Lampman, For evangelicals, a bid to ‘reclaim America,’ The Christian Science Monitor, March 16, 2005.Brent Thompson, “Baptist idea of religious liberty affirmed at doctrinal conference,” Baptist Press, September15, 2005.David Cantor, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, Anti-Defamation League, 1994.For a detailed discussion, see Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997.Fred Clarkson, “Will Roy Moore Crack the Bush base?” Salon, May 4, 2004.Joe Morecraft III, “Restoring the Foundations,” Counsel of Chalcedon, June 2004. This speech is “An Exposition and application of Psalm 11 given at Judge Roy Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law conference in Montgomery, Alabama, February 13, 2004.”Joshua Green, “Roy and His Rock,” The Atlantic Monthly, October 2005.Nina Easton, “Conservative’s popularity may be problem for GOP,” The Boston Globe, June 14, 2005.Tom Parker for Justice, http://www.parkerforjustice.comHeidi Beirich and Mark Potok, “Honoring the Confederacy: In Alabama, a well-known Supreme Court candidate lauds an antebellum slave trader and appears with hate group leaders,” Intelligence Report, Fall 2004.Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997, pg 78.Ibid, pg, 79.Lee Duigon, “Is There Hope for Our Judiciary? Yes, Says Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore,” Chalcedon Report, October 6, 2005.







Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He co-founded the group blog Talk To Action and authored Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @FredClarkson.

http://www.politicalresearch.org/2005/12/05/the-rise-of-dominionismremaking-america-as-a-christian-nation/#sthash.WH7PgunH.JKL9bZNN.dpbs

Jul 14, 2005

When Prophecy Never Fails: Myth and Reality in a Flying-Saucer Group - Diana G. Tumminia

Oxford University Press
July 14, 2005 - 
Social Science - 240 pages

Of the approximately fifty percent of Americans who believe in UFOs, a fraction are devotees of one of the numerous UFO-based new religious movements.

The Unarius Academy of Science is one of the oldest of these groups. Founded in 1954 by "Cosmic Visionaries" Ruth and Ernest Norman (also known, respectively, as Archangels Uriel and Raphiel), Unarius is devoted to teaching the all-encompassing Uranian Science.

Combining elements of pop psychology, new age thought, and science fiction, the Science asks its students to channel messages from the infinitely intelligent Space Brothers and to heal themselves through the practice of past-life therapy. Unarians await the arrival of spaceships, manned by the Space Brothers, that will bring to earth advanced intergalactic technology that will benefit all humankind. Tumminia has been conducting research on Unarius for over a decade - attending meetings, inteviewing members, and studying official Unarian literature and videos. Here she offers an inside look at this fascinating movement. She pays particular attention to the ways Unarians adapt when their prophecies - and particularly their prediction that the Space Brothers would land in 2001 - don't materialize. This is the first in-depth study of any UFO religion.

Jun 30, 2005

A dangerous war on psychiatry

Raj Persaud
The Independent (UK)
June 30, 2005

Commentary


The public's fear of psychiatric drugs has itself become a serious public health problem

Tom Cruise denounced psychiatry as a "pseudo science" this week when questioned by the American NBC-TV host Matt Lauer about his stance against anti-depressant drugs. The actor had criticised Brooke Shields for taking drugs for post-natal depression, which in turn has drawn a rebuke from the American Psychiatric Association. In response to Cruise's comments, it stated that: "It was irresponsible for Mr Cruise to use his movie publicity tour to promote his own ideological views."

The Association, which represents more than 36,000 physicians specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, challenged Cruise's assertion that psychiatry lacks scientific merit. "Rigorous, published, peer-reviewed research clearly demonstrates that treatment [of mental illness] works," they asserted.

Cruise's comments come as no surprise to many psychiatrists, not because much of his recent behaviour has been found so strange by the press, but more because it is widely reported he is a follower of the Church of Scientology, which is virulently against psychiatry. Stephen Kent, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Alberta in Canada, points out in a recent paper in the academic journal 'Religion' that the "war" against psychiatry was integral to the mission of the founder of Scientology, Ron Hubbard, since his first book, Dianetics, in 1950, and continues to this day. Hubbard indicated as far back as the 1960s that one of the key enemies of Scientology was the profession of psychiatry. This small but internationally connected group, Hubbard claimed, according to Professor Kent, was behind the "lies and slander" that both the press and government agencies received about Scientology.

But Hubbard went further, Kent points out, and argued that psychiatry was not just a threat to Scientology but was a vehicle to undermine and destroy the West through purveying techniques like electric shocks and brain operations. Hubbard believed that psychiatrists had sought to obtain power by becoming the contemporary "confessors" and counsellors of not just the ordinary person but also the politically powerful.

Kent's paper, entitled 'The globalization of Scientology: Influence, Control and Opposition in Transnational Markets' shows that psychiatrists took on the classic characteristics of evil in a cartoon printed in the first International Edition of Scientology's publication, Freedom, where a front-page drawing depicted eight psychiatrists as horned, goateed, tailed, and cloven-hoofed devils injecting "patients" with drugs, and performing electric shock and lobotomies. Since psychiatry is Scientology's alleged cosmic enemy, his followers want to see the profession destroyed, and its functions in society replaced by Scientology.

Kent demonstrates the specific social action group designed to eliminate psychiatry through political and press lobbying is the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, whose efforts are coordinated worldwide under Scientology's Office of Special Affairs International. Its efforts to portray psychiatry in a negative light has led CCHR to support the rights of patients, occasionally uncovering instances of questionable, if not calamitous, psychiatric care. In 1981, for example, Scientologists received national attention in Canada for exposure of the demonstrably detrimental effects of institutionalisation upon a psychiatric patient, Henry Kowalski, who was confined with the criminally insane while receiving unpleasant drug treatments and electric shocks.

While patients have occasionally benefited from the Church of Scientology publicising examples of poor psychiatric care, this doesn't mean that the general thrust of Scientology's case against psychiatry stands up. They appear to be reflexively against medication and other scientifically supported treatments which often are needed and are indeed life-saving.

Some psychiatric patients in the US and Canada recently became so convinced about the alleged dangers of psychiatric treatments, as a result of Scientology's campaigns, that they stopped taking their medication. US psychiatrists have concluded that the public's fear of psychiatric drugs has itself become a potentially serious public health problem, as people begin to avoid and fear treatment.

The most irresponsible aspect of Cruise's comments, as well as the approach of Scientology, is not so much their criticism of psychiatry as their failure to provide a valid alternative response to major mental illnesses. What are the treatments they advocate? Do they run centres for the clinically depressed where they take legal responsibility for their care? And do they publish data proving the effectiveness of their methods?

Cruise should outline what treatments he would recommend and show us the evidence that they work. Otherwise, he is just launching a War of the Worlds in his provocative comments. This may make good film publicity, but it does no service to the mentally ill.

The writer is Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/raj-persaud-a-dangerous-war-on-psychiatry-497016.html

Mar 4, 2005

A San Francisco Examiner Religion Reporter More Than 30 Years Ago

John McCaslin 

Washington Times
March 4, 2005 

Inside the Beltway

As a San Francisco Examiner religion reporter more than 30 years ago, veteran White House correspondent Lester Kinsolving sensed something sinister about Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple — long before the sect leader, 912 of his followers and a U.S. congressman perished in the jungle of Guyana.

"I went to the religion editors of 40 newspapers — including The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — begging them to send reporters" to the temple's California headquarters during the early 1970s, he says.

On numerous occasions, the reporter was told and even witnessed for himself bizarre behavior by Jones, his armed guards and the temple's congregation.

"Not one of them sent anybody," Mr. Kinsolving tells Inside the Beltway. "They refused."

Besides newspaper editors, the sect leader was fooling most everybody in those days, from San Francisco's mayor to the future vice president and even the first lady of the United States.

"We had exposed this [sect activity] in 1973," Mr. Kinsolving recalls. "Then, wouldn't you know? Rosalynn Carter invited Jones to have dinner with her [at a California hotel]. She had a whole bunch of Secret Service agents with her, and when Jones showed up with his 'gunslingers' they still managed to work it out.

"And can you believe Walter 'Fritz' Mondale entertained Jones on his campaign plane?"

Not everybody was so enchanted.

Armed with Examiner newspaper articles questioning the activities of the temple and its subsequent exodus to South America, Rep. Leo J. Ryan, California Democrat, traveled to Jonestown, Guyana, to investigate. Before he could report back to Capitol Hill, the congressman was slain by Jones' followers on Nov. 18, 1978 — hours before the mass suicide.

"I remember when the news hit Washington that more than 900 people died ... and all the major media began acting as if it was something new," Mr. Kinsolving says. "Any way you look at this, it was such a terrible refusal of the major media not to tell the whole truth.

"There was only one person that I had gone to [in the early 1970s] who later apologized for not looking into it further — Brit Hume [now with Fox News]. He worked for [syndicated columnist] Jack Anderson then."

Now, about three decades later, somebody else has apologized to Mr. Kinsolving, who suffered a heart attack recently and is recovering in his suburban Washington home.

Tim Stoen, the former outspoken chief legal adviser to Jones who is a California deputy district attorney, wrote a lengthy letter to Mr. Kinsolving in recent weeks asking for forgiveness.

"You were right... I was totally wrong," wrote Mr. Stoen, having once filed a libel lawsuit (later dropped) against Mr. Kinsolving to squelch his reporting. "From my heart, I apologize for my mistreatment of you ... and castigating your motives."

"I was very surprised to receive the letter," Mr. Kinsolving tells this column. "I am very grateful."

John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or jmccaslin@washingtontimes.com.

http://216.239.59.104/search?q=cache:Kp4lfS5H_TkJ:www.washtimes.com/national/inbeltway.htm+As+a+San+Francisco+Examiner+religion+reporter+more+than+30+years+ago&hl=en 

Jan 1, 2005

On Avatar

Elliot Benjamin, Ph.D.
2005

I was first introduced to Avatar at an evening workshop at a metaphysical bookstore in Bangor, Maine in the summer of 1997. Avatar, founded in 1986, is Harry Palmer's New Age spiritual, philosophical, and psychological organization. There were only three people (including myself) attending this event, and one of the people described what he heard as the "new est," Werner Erhard's popular New Age, large-group experiential organization prominent in the 1970s that merged Western psychology with Eastern spirituality. [1]

Harry Palmer' known to all Avatar students as simply Harry is a psychologist, ex-hippie, and ex-Scientologist. He professes to not be a guru, but I'm afraid that I do not entirely agree with him on this point, for Palmer's impact upon his followers is quite similar to that which Erhard had upon his followers in est.

And Palmer is an exceptional businessman who has made a fortune with Avatar. The costs of doing Avatar are quite high: My tuition for the 1997 course was $2,300, not including costs for traveling approximately 1,000 miles in my car over the nine days. The workshop leaders are called Avatar Masters, who all spend an additional $3,000 (not including the extra travel, motel costs, etc.) for an advanced Masters' workshop. The Avatar Professional course is $2,500 plus extras. And for the supreme experience to be with the most enlightened beings on the planet, 'the Avatar Wizards' course costs $7,500 plus extras. Approximately 100,000 people have taken the Avatar training, and it is being offered in more than 60 countries all over the world. So, as you can see, Harry Palmer is quite the businessman.

Palmer has not written very much, and his writing style is quite terse but it is also quite high impact. His books have been translated into a number of different languages. His primary book is Living Deliberately, and his follow-up book is Resurfacing, which describes the first section of the three-section Avatar nine-day training course. [2] A few years ago Palmer wrote The Masters' Handbook, [3] which is presently available only to Avatar graduates (I am considered to be one of these enlightened beings). The Masters' Handbook is chock full of excellent business advice on successfully selling and becoming a professional Avatar Master.

Palmer's marketing and salesmanship abilities remind me of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology (in my opinion a cultish organization, which I experienced for two years in the 1970s [4]). Hubbard and Palmer share many philosophical, spiritual, and psychological similarities, as well.

In July 1999, two years after I had done the nine-day Avatar training (without quite completing it) in the summer of 1997, I did a review and completion of the Avatar course. Avatar graduates commonly do a review of the training, and the review costs are reasonable in the neighborhood of $200.

Both my original Avatar course and my review course were quite meaningful to me. In particular, I like the way the Avatar masters encourage, support, and train you to not give up on your dreams. They call these dreams your primaries, and if the course goes well, you end up feeling as if you are capable of attaining your life s deepest goals, dreams, and desires. [5] The emphasis in these courses is very much upon going into your deepest spiritual self, referred to in Avatar as going into 'source.; This concept is not very different from the notion of empty mind, or Buddha consciousness, achieved thru meditation. The Avatar techniques to achieve this state of mind are actually quite simple and pleasant, having to do with feeling and noticing what is in your environment through a series of exercises called feel its. Once you achieve this state of calm and relaxation, it is time to learn how to put total intention into overcoming the barriers to attaining your cherished goals. These barriers are called 'secondaries.' So the Avatar process can be described as going into source to eliminate your secondaries, in order to attain your primaries.

The bottom line of Avatar is that you decide how you feel and what you experience. In other words, you have the capability to control what you experience in life by coming from a place of source and visualizing what you want. This basic Avatar technique has remarkable philosophical similarities to the essential beliefs in both Neale Donald Walsch s Conversations with God philosophy (see my essay On Conversations with God in ICSA s E-Newsletter) and Helen Schuman s Course in Miracles. [6] But the nine-day training ground of Avatar is tremendously powerful and high impact, and extremely intensive.

I must also give credit to Avatar for not interfering in what a person decides his or her primary to be. As for me, at the time of my training, I was in the midst of wanting to believe that the new relationship I was involved in was going to be the beautiful life-long relationship I so much wanted to experience. The Avatar masters at first tried gently to convey to me that the lack of communication in this relationship was a very poor sign for attaining my primary in this particular relationship. But I was so stubborn and persistent that I refused to be open to what they were seeing, obviously more clearly than I was. However, true to Avatar form, they let me continue to work on making this goal my dominant primary and finding ways to attain it, though they did convince me to leave a little room for openness, in case this relationship turned out not to be the one for which I had been praying for such a long time. When the relationship did finally end about six months later for many of the reasons my Avatar masters saw in advance, I felt a strong appreciation for Avatar for allowing me to experience the relationship i.e., choose to experience it, in Avatar language in the way I apparently wanted to.

But what happens after the nine-day Avatar training ends? Well, there are the regular mailings of the Avatar journal every two months or so; the journal is full of inspirational writings by Harry Palmer and various Avatar graduates, Masters, and Wizards. And there are new books and tapes put out by Harry Palmer. But the real emphasis is on the Avatar graduate taking the next step: to do the Avatar Masters course and become an Avatar Master himself/herself.

Aside from the extreme expense involved in the Masters course, my basic feeling after having completed the Avatar review course was that I already had what I wanted to get out of Avatar. There are some valuable tools in the Avatar training make no mistake about this. But the follow-up courses in Avatar are financially exorbitant, and I could see the dangers of becoming addicted to Avatar if I were to succumb to these temptations. However, it was also true that I had gotten a jolt from Avatar that I had not experienced from anywhere else in quite the same way. This high-impact jolt, coupled with a smooth sales pitch from one of the Stars Edge trainers (the elite of Avatar) at a vulnerable time in my life, persuaded me to go to California in May 2001 to do the Avatar Masters course.

The Avatar Masters course was held in a luxurious hotel in the plush surroundings of the island of Coronado, outside of San Diego. I spent approximately $5,000, including hotel and transportation, and maxed out my credit cards to take this training. Why did I do it? I suppose I was ready to take a plunge into something uplifting and self-supporting after having gone through an extremely upsetting personal experience in a romantic relationship that involved losing important aspects of my self. And it was most certainly a plunge: 200 people, many of these Avatar masters reviewing the course, from all over the world. Six Stars Edge trainers and three assistant Stars Edge trainers the elite of Avatar were running the course. And we even got a surprise visit from none other than Harry Palmer himself and his quite-intense wife, Avra.

I ended up completing the course with only an Assistant Avatar Masters license, however, which meant that I could not teach Avatar to others. I would have had to do a review of the Masters course to upgrade my status, which would have meant a few thousand more dollars for hotel and transportation, even though the review course itself would be free.

What actually happened on this course? Well, I got myself into a great deal of trouble with the Stars Edge trainer who appeared to have the most power and influence over who was given the privileged status of becoming an Avatar Master and allowed to teach Avatar. I was quite outspoken in my concern over the expense of Avatar and the emphasis on selling Avatar to find my own students, and I freely questioned the Stars Edge trainers about how much money they were making for delivering the Masters course. The particular Stars Edge trainer with whom I had my difficulties took offense at my brazenness and became suspicious that I was taking the course for fraudulent purposes. He even asked me if I was a reporter for The New York Times. He gave me various self-repair processes to work on, but I have no doubt that, in the end, he was not willing to trust me to deliver Avatar to others.

In fact, I was being open to becoming a truthful and bona fide Avatar Master, and I had even formulated a plan to codeliver Avatar with a woman who was a professional sales/marketing director from Cincinnati. She was going to do the sales/marketing part and I was going to lead the actual teaching. We had planned to do the Section 1/Resurfacing part of the course in Cincinnati on a weekend in August 2001.

But all of this fell by the wayside once the course trainers gave me my Assistant Master status. It is true, as they tried to explain to me, that my status could have been lower: Some students got no license at all. The only benefit of my status compared to having no license was that I was allowed to assist a Qualified Master (official status with many Avatar requirements) on an Avatar course, which I would need to pay for unless I brought my own students. I was one of the first ones to finish the actual course (which, in terms of content, was little more than the original Avatar training course). I received many compliments on how I was working with other Avatar students and masters, and many people who were not completing the training as quickly as I were given the higher licensing status of Intern Master, which enabled them to teach the Section 1/Resurfacing weekend.

I felt extremely hurt, embarrassed, and dejected when the leaders told me my status, and my efforts to persuade them to reconsider fell upon deaf ears. But deep down I knew that there was a good, higher reason for this. My limited status was a signal to me that I was not supposed to take the easy way out and become a bona fide Avatar Master, feeling the comforts and camaraderie of being part of a New Age spiritual organization, learning how to be a successful New Age businessman, selling Avatar to the world, and so on. I had chosen to be myself at the Avatar Masters course, and I got what I got. I had chosen to not sell the ideas of Harry Palmer to the world because I had so many problems with the financial ethics, and I also felt uncomfortable with some of the philosophical beliefs and practices.

I think back to my essays on Scientology, described in my book Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Expos�, in which I discuss the problems with the 100% mentality that is, in the case of Scientology, following 100% the ideas and techniques of the person in charge, L. Ron Hubbard. And I realize that Avatar is essentially no different from Scientology in this regard. Harry Palmer has come up with some significant and effective ideas and techniques to help people actualize their dreams. But the procedures are to be repeated verbatim according to Palmer s instructions, from Source List, to the Creative Handling Procedure, to the Initiation Session. This verbatim repetition most certainly reminds me of the Dianetic Auditing sessions of Scientology, and I have no doubt that it is far more than a mere coincidence that these similarities of procedure exist between Scientology and Avatar, given that Palmer himself is an ex-Scientologist.

So the viewpoint I choose to adopt (in Avatar language) is that my low status of Assistant Avatar Master enabled me to make a narrow escape from yet another New Age spiritual organization. I had spent roughly $8,000 on Avatar, and there was an intensive sales pitch at the Avatar Masters course to sign up for the next Avatar Wizard s course, the 13-day training in Florida that costs $7,500 plus all the extras.

But I have learned so much both about Avatar and about the dangers of New Age spirituality in the 2000s. To paraphrase the first statement on the Avatar Source List: I am happy to be who I am. And this I has been telling me that it is time to go back into action not do any more course work on Avatar, and not teach Avatar officially to others. Instead, it is time to offer to others what I have learned about Avatar and all my other New Age spirituality studies, and to facilitate heartfelt dialogue and discussion concerning the search for authentic spiritual truth.




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[1] See, for example, Adelaide Bry, Est: 60 Hours That Transform Your Life (New York: Avon Books, 1976); Steven Pressman, Outrageous Betrayal: The Real Story of Werner Erhard, from est to Exile (Emeryville, CA: St. Martins Press, 1993); and my est essays in Elliot Benjamin, Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Expos� (Swanville, Maine: Natural Dimension Publications, 2005).

[2] See Harry Palmer, Living Deliberately (Altamonte Springs, Florida: Stars Edge International, 1994) and Harry Palmer, Resurfacing (Altamonte Springs, Florida: Stars Edge International, 1994).

[3] See Harry Palmer, The Avatar Masters Handbook (Altamonte Springs, Florida: Stars Edge International, 1997).

[4] See, for example, L. Ron Hubbard, The Modern Science of Mental Health (Los Angeles: The American Saint Hill Organization, 1950, 1975); Joe Atack, A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics, and L. Ron Hubbard Exposed (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1990); and my Scientology essays in Modern Religions... (book information in endnote 1).

[5] For more personal information about my experiences with Avatar, see my Avatar essays in Modern Religions... (book information in endnote 1).

[6] See Foundation For Inner Peace, A Course in Miracles (New York: Penguin Books, 1975, 1996); Neale Donald Walsch, Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 1 (New York: G. P. Putnam & Sons, 1993), Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 2 (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 1997), and Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue: Book 3, (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 1998); Elliot Benjamin, On Conversations with God (ICSA E-Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2004 at http://csj.org/infoserv_articles/benjamin_elliot__conversationswithgod.htm); and my Course in Miracles and Conversations with God essays in Modern Religions... (book information in endnote 1).