Dec 31, 2014

How a South Korean Cult Tried and Failed to Sue This Australian Professor

We talked to Peter Daley about what it's like to face jail for running a hobby website on cults.

John Power
December 31, 2014

South Korea has more than its fair share of shadowy religious cults, but Jesus Morning Star (JMS), ranks among its more notorious. The sect claims to be a benign religious group that follows the Bible. But former members have described the leader, Jeong Myeong-seok, as a self-proclaimed messiah who used claims of divine authority to groom young women. Tellingly, Jeong is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for the rape and sexual assault of five women across several Asian countries.

Canberra native Peter Daley is a lecturer in South Korea and he's spent the past 13 years tracking the movements of JMS and several other sects at his website In 2014, Peter was interviewed by SBS' The Feed in a report on how JMS targets university women in Australia to become Jeong's "spiritual brides."

Unsurprisingly, Peter's unconventional hobby hasn't endeared him to cult members. Recently, several female members tried to have him prosecuted for defamation, which is a criminal offence in South Korea. Peter had posted video footage of them nakedly praising Jeong on his website, even though the footage was heavily pixelated and already available in the public domain. After a seven-month investigation by police and prosecutors, Peter was cleared of all charges last month.

We asked Peter about his legal travails, how he became the foremost Western expert on Korean cults, and what JMS is up to in Australia.

These stills from a JMS video were were released by a former member at a press conference.

VICE: Hi Peter, how did you first get into tracking South Korean cults?
Peter Daley: I moved to Korea in 2003 and took a job teaching English in a rural town in the mountains. A few months later I discovered it was the closest town to the base of this cult known as JMS. My roommate was a member but when she decided to leave, the group threatened her. They told her God would kill someone in her family and members started following her around town. They were waiting for her at the swimming pool she would swim at twice a week.

There wasn't much information in English at the time and I became quite fascinated by the organisation—how it operated, how it indoctrinated people. As there wasn't much information in English I started a site. As that was in 2003 it's been growing since then.

Tell us more about this cult.

The videos, I think, provide a really clear window into how they indoctrinate young women, if they're beautiful enough. The videos show naked university students together—there are about four or five of them in one video—naked and dancing around saying "Seonsaengnim, we love you!" Seonsaengnim is the word for teacher. There's another video showing a woman licking a photo of the leader and then she holds it up to her vagina. So this is a clear indication that sex has a pretty key role in the deeper levels of the cult.

A children's performance at the Sydney branch of the sect.

What can you tell us about JMS in Australia?
It's pretty small, but they do have presences in the major cities. The SBS report interviewed two girls who were recruited around the Australian National University campus. At the moment, their main branch is in Melbourne and there has been recruitment at the University of Melbourne. Their goal is to pretty much target tall attractive women, and they rationalise this by telling their members that outward appearance is a sign of inward beauty and a sign that God has chosen them to become part of this.

Yes, that's creepy. So how did you come to be sued by the cult?
I think the cult saw me as more of a threat following the SBS report. Between 2014 and last August, I'd get these intermediate threats. Then in August 2015, I got a call from police telling me I was being sued by several members. I was given a document to sign from JMS saying they'd drop the charges if I apologised, closed my website, and never spoke about them again. I just refused immediately. I didn't even have to think about it really, it was just an automatic no.

An example of the messages Peter received before being summoned.

Were you scared to turn them down?
I wouldn't say I was scared, but it weighed heavily on me. Members have committed violence against reporters and critics in the past, so that is always a possibility. I was certainly nervous going to the first police interview, but once it began I relished the opportunity to share my experiences with Korean authorities.

So what happened?

The police recommended to prosecutors that the case be dropped. I just received a brief summary of the prosecutor's decision, but I am getting an English translation of the seven-page document soon. Essentially it was ruled that the public interest factor outweighed concerns about sexual content.
So what did you learn from this experience?

I learned that my site is having a far greater effect that I could have dreamed of. The fact they went to so much effort to silence me, I think, speaks volumes.
Do you plan to continue this work?

Yes, absolutely. First, I find the topic endlessly fascinating and second, I know my efforts have helped people and, to some extent, hindered the activities of what are essentially criminal organisations. That's a good feeling.

Dec 29, 2014

Philadelphia, City of Father Divine

New York Times
By Jonathan Blaustein
December 29, 2014

The photographer Kristin Bedford trekked through the sweltering summer streets of Philadelphia in 2013, looking for remnants of forgotten religions. In college, as a religious studies major, she’d been influenced by Arthur Fauset’s 1944 book “Black Gods of the Metropolis: Negro Cults of the Urban North,” in which he’d chronicled five spinoff religions in African-American communities.

She tried finding the churches, going door to door with nothing but the decades-old addresses listed in the book. Combing the neighborhoods, she queried neighbors, whose advice enabled her to piece things together. Eventually, she encountered the vestiges of Father Divine’s International Peace Mission Movement.

Father Divine, who died in 1965, was an African-American religious leader who rose to prominence — and controversy — in Depression-era Harlem. His philosophy was radical, preaching racial integration when such ideas could likely get a person killed. He insisted upon celibacy among his disciples, but also built his movement on a foundation of generosity: feeding the poor at intricate banquets during the tough times of the 1930s, when solid meals were hard to come by. But he also claimed to be God himself, which led some to just dismiss the movement as a cult.

Luckily for Ms. Bedford, she was invited to a contemporary version of what was called a Holy Communion banquet, and was entranced by what she saw.

“When I went to my first banquet in July, I was overwhelmed by the musical traditions and their liturgy,” she said. “The outfits that they had sewn by hand. It was so rich.”

She connected with the believers, almost all of whom are now elderly, and they told her of the extensive photo archive that existed at Woodmont, the mansion outside the city that is home to Mother Divine, Father Divine’s widow, and 18 of his most ardent followers.

Ms. Bedford was invited to stay at Woodmont, a rare privilege, in order to organize that archive, which was not properly cataloged. She agreed and spent five weeks setting about the task. She described herself as an eyewitness to history, and was excited to be actually holding photos made by James Van Der Zee, the legendary chronicler of Harlem and African-American luminaries.

After a week, she asked if she could make pictures, and was given the green light, though expressly forbidden from photographing Mother Divine. Ms. Bedford observed the followers as they practiced their faith, and she looked closely at how Father Divine was treated as an existing being, still in their physical presence. His followers keep photographs of him in each room, and set a place for him at the dinner table, where he is always served first. Furthermore, people speak to him as if he is right there with them.

She also learned that the banquet meal carries with it a sacred significance, and that its preparation is itself a spiritual act.

“They spend their days preparing for the Holy Communion banquet,” she said. “They grow their own food. They bake their own bread. They polish the silver. Each day is filled with actions to prepare for the sacred meal. So, photographing what would just seem like chores, to the outside world, was actually photographing acts of faith.”

That process, with its constant repetition as an expression of belief, resonated strongly with Ms. Bedford, as it represented a striking parallel to why she dedicated herself to photography. Ever since she received her first camera, at the age of 5, her fervor for the medium has dictated the course of her life.

“For me, photography is about showing up again and again to see what happens,” she said. “It’s about following those invisible lines of intuition that take you into places you can’t rationally explain. I’m open to walking into things I don’t understand, and maybe I’ll never understand.

“Through photography, I might get a glimpse of this unknown.”

That was not the only intersection between Ms. Bedford’s process and the philosophy of Father Divine. As it happens, one of his metaphors for a well-lived life was embedded in the language of photography. He often referred to an idealized state as “the Perfect Picture,” which subsequently became the name of her photographic project.

“He preached that followers should ‘focus their lens’ on his vision of peaceful living and racial equality,” she said.

“If a follower is able to fully embody his truth, they would be in turn creating ‘the Perfect Picture,'” she said. “In the photographs, I capture that in the small details of everyday life. They’re not making grand gestures to realize Father Divine’s vision. They’re doing it in everyday ways.”

But in time Ms. Bedford found herself embroiled in a dispute with the movement when she referred to Father Divine by his given name during an interview, which is considered blasphemous. It saddens her that the controversy developed; she had been determined to show others that this religion and other such “fringe” movements are as valid as more mainstream ones with centuries of traditions. No one group has a monopoly on enlightenment, she feels, and her photographs enable Father Divine’s disciples to be depicted with integrity, warmth and grace.

She remains deeply interested in deconstructing stereotypes and hopes that will be the enduring message of her time at Woodmont.

“I’m saying faith is faith,” she said. “They have stories that may be different than the ones you grew up with, or the stories mainstream religion has established are the right stories. But we are all telling stories, and trying to figure this out.”

Jonathan Blaustein is an artist and writer based in New Mexico. He contributes regularly to the blog A Photo Editor, and you can follow him @jblauphoto and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. Lens is also on Facebook.

Dec 22, 2014

Controversial podcaster listened in on therapist wife and clients: lawsuit

Tu Thanh Ha
The Globe and Mail
December 19, 2014

Already controversial for counselling his followers to shun their parents, a Toronto-area podcaster is facing allegations he listened in on his therapist wife as she met with distraught patients.

Stefan Molyneux is a self-described libertarian philosopher. His wife, Christina Papadopoulos, is a psychological associate in Mississauga.

Photo of Stefan Molyneux, the founder of Freedomain Radio
The College of Psychologists of Ontario found Ms. Papadopoulos guilty of professional misconduct in November, 2012, faulting her for adopting Mr. Molyneux’s views and using the Internet to counsel people to sever ties with their families.

A civil court complaint filed on Oct. 24 in California says Mr. Molyneux boasted in a 2006 podcast that he would listen while his wife talked with her patients, even interjecting and suggesting they sign up with his website.

The allegations are part of a lawsuit filed by a Texas woman who has accused Mr. Molyneux of abusively invoking U.S. copyright law to silence her criticism of his podcasts.

Mr. Molyneux has not filed a statement of defence and could not be reached for comment. Ms. Papadopoulos and her lawyer declined to comment.

Catherine Yarrow, executive director of the College of Psychologists, said she could not specifically comment on the latest allegations against Ms. Papadopoulos. However, she said both the college’s regulations and Ontario laws make it illegal to disclose personal information without a client’s consent.

While not a household name, Mr. Molyneux is a controversial figure whose views have earned him both supporters and detractors. Several parents have told The Globe and Mail that their children became estranged from their families after listening to him.

In the recent lawsuit, the Texas woman, identified as J. Raven, says in her complaint that she started a YouTube channel criticizing Mr. Molyneux after discovering his podcasts and his boast that his website, Freedomain Radio, is the “most popular philosophical conversation in the world.”

Her lawsuit said one of her video criticisms quoted from a Molyneux podcast in which he said “that he listens in on his wife’s confidential sessions with her patients in her home office and interferes with the therapy sessions to suggest the patients join and donate to Freedomain Radio.”

The comments are not in the version of podcast 291 now on Mr. Molyneux’s YouTube channel, but are in a longer version Ms. Raven provided after a request from The Globe and Mail.

In the version provided by Ms. Raven, Mr. Molyneux states that it is June 21, 2006. He then speaks about listening in as his wife meets with “messed up and sobbing” clients at her home office.

“I’m in the vent system, listening, and I’m – she calls it heckling, but I don’t really call it heckling, I just call it providing suggestions about how things should go and that the people should donate to Freedomain Radio,” he says in the podcast.

“I mean, it takes them a while to figure what on Earth that is, but I do, sort of, try to put my two cents in and Christina says that sometimes can be distracting and so on. But even with the combined weight of her, directly in front of them, and me, my ghostly voice floating in through the vents, they still have trouble making the kind of personal changes that really have a positive effect on their lives.”

Ms. Raven says in her lawsuit that her YouTube channel was shut down after complaints from an associate of Mr. Molyneux, Michael DeMarco, who invoked the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a U.S. law regulating intellectual property.

Under the DMCA, an Internet provider facing allegations that its clients violated copyright can avoid liability by removing the contentious content, even without investigating the validity of the complaint. As a result, so-called DMCA takedowns have been criticized as an abusive form of censorship.

“Molyneux apparently believes that it is acceptable to use the copyright laws to silence his critics – without any claimed copyright basis – by publishing false accusations,” the lawsuit said, noting that Mr. Molyneux previously opposed intellectual property.

Ms. Papadopoulos appeared before a disciplinary panel of the college in 2012 after two formal complaints that she offered improper advice on podcasts she made with Mr. Molyneux.

The college said she advocated a practice called deFOOing, or dissociating from one’s family of origin. “Your statements in support of deFOOing are not supported by current professional literature or consistent with the standards,” the panel ruled.

It added: “Your objectivity, competence and effectiveness were compromised by financial interests since you and the Freedomain Radio website … actively solicited donations.”

She was found guilty and reprimanded.

Dec 20, 2014

PSA: The Shrinking Scientology

PSA: The Shrinking Cult of Scientology:

Judge stops children of Jehovah's Witness from going to church

December 16, 2014New Zealand Herald A judge has stopped the children of a Jehovah's Witness from going to church and attending witness meetings and allowed them to attend birthday parties and Christmas celebrations.

The High Court ruling, released publicly today, comes after the children's separated parents appealed against Family Court orders regarding custody details.

Justice Brendan Brown said his ruling would "dilute" the two young children's exposure to their mother's faith. However, he recognised the order was "at odds" with the children's wishes.

After the parents separated in 2010, the mother became an "adherent of the Jehovah Witness faith", the ruling said.

Without the father's knowledge, she introduced the children, then aged 4 and 6, to the religion.

A Family Court ruling by Judge Paul Geoghegan ordered the children's main carer should be their father, and the judge placed constraints on the children's participation in the Jehovah's Witness faith.

Both parents appealed against the ruling and sought clear directions regarding the children's participation in the faith.

The mother told the court she would not attend a concert one of her children was involved in, because it was being held at a Baptist Church.  She also did not attend her other child's soccer prizegiving, because it was also held at the church.

The children told Justice Brown that if they were not allowed to worship Jehovah by attending services, they would be "angry" and "sad".  He said the children had a right to be exposed to each of their parents' religious beliefs and it would be "impractical" to prevent their involvement in their mother's faith. "Indeed it would be my view it would be counter-productive and possibly destructive to order otherwise."

However, he felt that involvement should be curtailed.

"...the children should not attend Jehovah's Witness meetings or church activities including seminars or witnessing.

"I recognise that such a direction is at odds with the children's express wishes.

"Nevertheless the evidence persuades me that their welfare and best interests require that there should be a dilution in the intensity of their exposure to their mother's faith."

They could engage in Bible study, watch videos and read passages from the Watchtower while they were with their mother in her home, Justice Brown said.They could also attend birthday parties, and Easter and Christmas celebrations -- all of which are prohibited in the Jehovah's Witness faith.

Families urge Pope to intervene in cult case

December 18, 2014
The Locales

The parents of 'nuns' with a Spanish sect hit whose leader has been hit with sexual abuse charges have called on the Pope to help convince the young women to leave the order.

The women are followers of The Voice of the Serviam, whose leader, Feliciano Miguel Rosendo da Silva and his right-hand woman, self-proclaimed 'nun' Marta Paz Alonso, were detained on December 11th on charges that included sexual abuse, money laundering and crimes against moral integrity.

The sect was previously called the Mandate and Order of Saint Michael Archangel, with Roseado da Silva changing its name when he was expelled from the Roman Catholic diocese of Tui in Galicia for "inappropriate behaviour".
The sect had around 400 members at its peak, its choir singing for Pope Beneict XVI when he visited Madrid in 2011, but most of them left the group when Roseado Da Silva was expelled from Tui and moved to Madrid.

Roseado Da Silva’s arrest came a day after former members of the sect spoke out about the alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse by the two leaders.

A woman who belonged to the sect said that Roseado da Silva claimed that "his semen contained the body of Christ, and this way he would purify her", according to Spanish media reports.

But a group of women have remained faithful to the sect even after its leaders’ arrests, prompting their concerned parents to ask the Catholic Church for help. The families were due to meet with Bishop of Tui, Luis Quinteiro, on Wednesday to discuss the case and how they could possibly influence the 40 or so people still under the sect’s influence, to leave.

The 'nuns', who are self-ordained without the blessing of the Catholic Church, have been living in a group of around 20 followers in a house in San Lorenzo de El Escorial to the north of Madrid.

The parents maintain that the sect continues to receive economic help and said there were three priests from Madrid who had continued to support The Voice of the Serviam.

“The Pope knows,” said García, who trusts that Francisco I will weigh in to convince the followers to return home.

The families have received a letter from the papel nuncio, the Vatican’s ambassador in Spain, Renzo Fratini, who offered his support and put himself at their disposal.

The papal support, together with the veto by the Archbishop of Madrid against all activities by The Voice of Serviam has given the families hope of rescuing their daughters.

The Zen Predator of the Upper East Side

Mark Oppenheimer
December 18, 2014
The Atlantic

Nearly 50 years ago, a penniless monk arrived in Manhattan, where he began to build an unrivaled community of followers—and a reputation for sexual abuse. The ongoing accusations against him expose a dark corner of the Buddhist tradition.

  1. I. “That was the beginning of the sangha”
  1. II. “Secretly in a relationship”
  1. III. “The Buddha probably had many lovers”
  1. IV. “I felt he would deny everything”
  1. V. “They came in search of Zen and found sex”
  1. VI. “Don’t speak in parables’
  1. VII. “I can’t say that it was consensual”
  1. VIII. “You start being a little curious”
  1. IX. “I took a vow of celibacy”
  1. X. “Unfortunately, we don’t have God”
  1. XI. “You may not see your own shadows”

Dec 15, 2014

Indian court allows dead guru to 'meditate'

December 15, 2014
Al Jazeera

Photo of Ashutosh Maharaj
Devotees of a dead guru who has been in a freezer in northern India since January won a court battle delaying his cremation for at least another seven weeks.

Supporters had approached the court in Punjab state seeking a delay on an earlier order for the cremation of Hindu "godman" Ashutosh Maharaj, whom authorities declared dead on January 29.

"The division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed the cremation till February 9," Swami Vishalanand, a spokesman for the guru's ashram told AFP on Monday.

Followers have insisted their spiritual leader is not dead but in a state of deep meditation, and will eventually return to lead them.

Maharaj, reportedly in his 70s, was one of India's many gurus and headed the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan (Divine Light Awakening Mission) that claims to have millions of followers around the world.

Devotees have invoked the right of freedom of religion under India's constitution as reasons against his cremation, which was originally sought in the courts by a man claiming to be the guru's son. 

A two-judge bench on Monday delayed the cremation order made by a single judge of the same court on December 1. 

Ahead of its decision, thousands of followers massed at the guru's ashram in Nurmahal at the weekend in a show of support for the guru whom they said should be allowed to continue his "samadhi", the highest level of meditation.

The case is reminiscent of something similar that happened in eastern West Bengal state in the 1990s, when followers of another spiritual leader, Balak Brahmachari, refused to cremate him after he died, saying he would come back to life.The police then moved in and forcibly cremated his body.

Dec 7, 2014

Siberian 'Messiah' (RT Documentary):
I Am the Son of God 2:

Dec 5, 2014

Former Street Church associates claim 'cult-like' practices tearing families apart

Nina Briguglio
ABC News
DEC 05, 2014

PHOTO Nina Briguglio has chosen to leave Street Church and says she has lost contact with her family for doing so.

Former Street Church members and associates have come forward alleging cult-like practices are tearing Adelaide families apart.

Street Church first came to South Australia's attention when its preaching caused angry confrontations in Rundle Mall.

When the Adelaide City Council prosecuted brothers Caleb and Sam Corneloup, they took the fight all the way to the High Court.

Former Street Church associate Peter Egel still preaches in Rundle Mall, but said he was no longer associated with the church because of concerns of what was happening "behind the scenes".

"We had a lot of flack in those days, being carted off and thrown into prison for the night and I thought 'oh well, this is different'," he said.

"It's better than some of the Christianity I'd seen so I thought this is a good group to get involved with.

"It changed on December last year, when we became aware of practices, particularly by the leader Sam Corneloup and that surprised us."
Nina Briguglio could also once be found fiercely supporting Street Church in Rundle Mall after she joined the church in 2012.

But like Mr Egel, she is no longer a part of the church and has lost all contact with her daughter over her decision to cut ties with Mr Corneloup.

A single mother of two daughters, she felt she had found an extended family, especially when Mr Corneloup and his wife Debbie moved in with her and her daughters in 2013.

"I was divorced at a very young age. I was only married for five months and my mother died when I was very young and I just, I really missed family," she said.

"I thought, 'Oh wow, this is where I'm supposed to be.' This must be my family. It sort of seemed like a natural progression I guess but in hindsight, I made a wrong decision."

At first Ms Briguglio said she got special attention from Mr Corneloup when he began counselling her over issues from her past.

Eventually, Ms Briguglio said their relationship changed and her existence in the home became one of fear.

Forced to 'write lines in the dark' as punishment
She said if she was deemed to have a bad attitude or was talking back, she would be punished.

One form of punishment involved being sent out to the car to write lines.

"I would sit in the car in the dark with a torch in my pyjamas or a tracksuit or whatever and would write lines," Ms Briguglio said.

"The average time I spend writing lines was two or three hours and if I went to the toilet for a break or went to look for a torch, he extended the time I had to write lines for wasting time."

On occasions, she was kicked out of home and sent to stay in a boarding house in Oakden called Unity House.

In one late night Facebook conversation, Mr Corneloup threatened her with more and more time there.

"You just earned yourself another week at Unity House. That's two weeks extra which means that the past two weeks count for nothing really. It starts again from today. Seven weeks," the Facebook message said.

However Mr Corneloup and Ms Briguglio's daughter, Alecia Alinejad, said Ms Briguglio was forced to write lines and spend time in Unity House because she was abusive and disruptive.

"You have to understand, she's like causing a ruckus in the home," Ms Alinejad said.

"It's not just, oh, she's rolling her eyes. She's throwing things around the home. [Sam Corneloup's wife] Deb's seen many times when she's hit me and I mean we have had a history of abuse with Nina."

However, Ms Briguglio denied any allegations she abused her daughters.

Corneloups accepted a large sum of cash from Nina Briguglio
Sam Corneloup and Alecia Alinejad

At first the Corneloups lived with Ms Briguglio and her family in a unit she owned, before they moved together to a rental property.

While they were living there, Ms Briguglio sold her unit and from the profit she made gave $47,000 to Mr Corneloup.

She said it was at a time that she was being threatened with time at Unity House.

"I was desperate to be repentant and I thought how can I prove it? Because they can't look into my heart," she said.

"How can I do something outwardly to show that I'm repentant and I was thinking maybe if I give him a chunk of money and show that I'm not attached to it, perhaps he might believe me."

Sam Corneloup said he repeatedly refused the money at first, but eventually accepted it, although he put the figure between $35,000 and $40,000.

"In the end, of course, if someone wants to desperately give you $40,000, or $35,000 or something and especially when they've done a lot of things to ruin your life in a sense and you know stop all business activities because ..." he said

Sam Corneloup said he spent much of the money paying off church debt, but later understood the money should have gone to Ms Briguglio daughters, so he paid $35,000 to Ms Alinejad.

While Ms Briguglio and Ms Alinejad were sharing a house with Sam Corneloup and his family, Ms Alinejad drew up a "headship" contract that stated Ms Alinejad must submit to Sam Corneloup as the male head of the household.

It was signed by Ms Alinejad, Sam Corneloup and Ms Briguglio.

"[The contract was] not to say that women cannot work, cannot leave the home," Sam Corneloup said.

"It's more an issue of there has to be a leader in a household and the Bible places that leadership firmly upon the male, not upon the women, ever."

Daughters have been 'manipulated and controlled'
Ms Briguglio said she has lost all contact with her daughter because of Sam Corneloup.

"Unfortunately I haven't been able to communicate with Alecia because Sam told her that if I saw her face to face that I would manipulate her," she said.

Ms Briguglio said she had a close relationship with her two daughters before joining Street Church, but by the time she left Sam Corneloup's home, she felt she could not confide in them, even when she finally decided to break away and leave the house.

"I couldn't tell her. I couldn't tell her that I was going to run away because she wouldn't come with me and then she would have told him and then he would have stopped me from leaving," she said.

"And I just drove to a friend's house, not knowing if she was going to be home and I thought I don't care if I have to sleep in my car, I'm not going back. It's a cult."

Ms Briguglio's other daughter Aysan is married to Sam Corneloup's best friend Jesse Chetcuti, and they have a 18-month-old son.

Since leaving she has had little contact with any of her family members, and believed that was because they were 'being manipulated and controlled'.

"I found out my mobile number's been blocked from their mobiles so ... text messages I've sent, they've not received. My emails are blocked. I'm not allowed to speak to them," she said.

However Ms Alinejad said Ms Briguglio's lack of contact with the family was her own decision.

"I love her so much but I have to tell you like it's very frustrating when someone is dishonest about the way they treated you and when they won't let you live your life," she said.

"I just want to do my PhD. I just want to do my work. I don't want to get emails at my Flinders address, I don't want to be getting letters, I don't want to be getting phone calls from her and her church group, apparently church group.

"I don't want any of that. I just want to live my life and be free."

Different views on issues see Street Church brothers spilt
Sam Corneloup and his wife Debbie are considering going one step further by adopting Ms Alinejad.

"Nina - who's my biological mother, who's raised me from birth as best she could - is not my mother. She's not maternal," Ms Alinejad said.

Sam Corneloup said he and his wife might decide to adopt Ms Alinejad but it was "not really what we're after".

"What we're really after is just basically living at peace in a family and just being loving towards each other," he said.

But 7:30 South Australia understands the issue of adoption, along with some of the disciplinary methods Sam Corneloup was using in his household, has created a split between Sam and his brother Caleb.

Caleb Corneloup declined to be interviewed by 7:30 South Australia, but provided the following statement.

"We defend Samuel's position regarding the money from Nina, however we do reject any adoption of Alecia and state that it is unbiblical, unorthodox and not recognised under Australia law," the statement said.

"Because Sam ... and Alecia have left the church we are no longer in a position to correct him."

'This is turning into a cult'

Mr Egel said he was shocked to hear Mr Corneloup was considering adopting Ms Alinejad.

"When I heard about this new level that they'd gone to about adopting 24-year-olds and adopting adults I thought no, this is turning into a cult," he said.

However Mr Corneloup denied that allegation, saying he was a Christian man who was just trying to help others.

"A cult is someone who literally just uses people, they live in a mansion on some island somewhere, taking everybody's money," he said.

"A cult is not someone who rents a place, drives a Camry and is just trying to help people and all of his money since he became a Christian has been given to people for his, for the past 10 years."

Within an hour of 7:30 South Australia contacting Sam Corneloup about this story, a call was made to Ms Briguglio's workplace alleging she had abused her children.

The person identified himself as a psychologist called Tim Gracie, but there is no registered psychologist by that name in South Australia.

Mr Corneloup and Ms Alinejad denied the call was made as a result of 7:30 South Australia's enquires.

Dec 1, 2014

Remembrance of Apocalypse Past: The Psychology of True Believers When Nothing Happens

Skeptical Inquirer
Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera
Volume 38.6, November/December 2014

Research on belief in the 2012 "apocalypse" demonstrates that specific psychological processes contributed directly to the maintenance of paranormal apocalyptic beliefs, even after the apocalypse did not occur.

As is fairly obvious by now, the much-heralded end of the world in 2012 didn't happen. Quetzalcoatl didn't return on his raft of snakes. The earth was not torn asunder. Alien overlords did not materialize. It didn't even rain very much that week.

We were privileged to publish an article in the Skeptical Inquirer last year (Sharps et al. 2013) concerning the psychological factors that made it possible for modern human beings, even with modern access to scientific information, to believe in this type of baseless nonsense. We found that disturbingly high numbers of university students either believed in or entertained the likelihood of the "Mayan end of the world." We found curious incoherencies in their patterns of belief: for example, many believers in the Maya "prophecies" did not believe in what those prophecies predicted. The idea expressed is completely illogical, but this illogical incoherency was in the minds of a great many people who were attempting to think about the 2012 apocalypse before it didn't happen. Whether the believers expected world peace and a new age, or world destruction and apocalyptic doom, logical inconsistency was very commonly observed.

This type of incoherency didn't die with the nonexistent apocalypse; it's still there, ready and waiting, in the minds of enormous numbers of True Believers.

Dissociation, Imagination, and the Supernatural

Dissociation, at a subclinical level, played a big part in our 2013 results. Those who exhibited dissociative tendencies exhibited a higher level of supernatural credulity in the belief that the Mayan apocalypse would actually occur.

It is important to note what is meant by the term dissociation in this context. We emphatically do not refer to psychiatric concepts of dissociative identity disorder, or to a pathological level of dissociation in which psychotic ideation might occur. We refer tosubclinical dissociative tendencies, of the sort probably experienced from time to time by most people. This type of dissociation may lead to a diminished critical assessment of reality. As discussed in earlier Skeptical Inquirer articles (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al. 2013), there may be anomalous perceptions of individual experience. The world may appear to be "not quite real or… diffuse" (Cardena 1997, 400). This is emphatically not"mental illness." However, the disconnection with immediate physical reality that occurs with subclinical dissociation might incline many normal people to view highly improbable things with enhanced credulity (see DePrince and Freyd 1999).

In previous work (Sharps et al. 2006; Sharps et al. 2010), including previous articles in the Skeptical Inquirer (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al. 2013), we addressed the role of dissociation in paranormal beliefs. We found that dissociation is associated with beliefs in ghosts, aliens, and "cryptids" such as Bigfoot, and that the subclinically dissociated are actually more likely to see these things, to interpret ambiguous stimuli as paranormal in nature. Where others see a hoax, those with dissociative tendencies see a flying saucer or the Loch Ness monster. Such subclinical dissociation is very important in producing and maintaining the credulous viewpoints involved in paranormal thinking.

Seeing the Supernatural

Credulous viewpoints, dissociated or not, are neither new nor rare. Humans have a long history of predicting our own doom, especially when that doom can be linked, however loosely, to the heavens. People see all sorts of things in the night sky, following which they tend to imbue them with supernatural significance. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 793 (Ackroyd 2011, 63) records that the beginning of the Viking Age was heralded by immense lightning flashes (maybe so), and by fiery dragons flying in the sky (probably not). Lightning is of course dangerous, but it has a lot more to do with atmospheric electricity than with angry Norwegians storming ashore in Lindisfarne. As to the Chronicle's dragons, well, people tend to create meaning in the things they seen in the sky, turning atmospheric abstractions into meaningful (and scary) images. For example, in 1528, the surgeon Ambrose Pare saw an aerial blood-colored human arm holding a sword, surrounded by axes, knives, and evil faces (Connell 2001). Obviously a portent, but equally obviously, such a thing could not actually exist in the sky.

What did Pare actually see? With the passage of time, it's impossible to be sure, but previous research (Sharps et al. 2009) showed that eyewitness errors of the imagination, in which reported features of a given scene have no existence outside the mind of the given witness, are in fact the norm rather than rare anomalies. We suspect that the good surgeon's imagination got hold of a cloud, or a distant storm, and then went a bit too far.

Or perhaps he saw a comet or a meteor shower; those things really turn on the imagination. In 1095, Bishop Gislebert of Lisieux interpreted a meteor shower as a go-code from God for what would become the First Crusade. In 1664, on beholding a comet, Alphonsus VI of Portugal ran through the night threatening the thing with a pistol; and in 1773, when Halley's Comet turned up, clergymen sold tickets for seats in Paradise for the date on which the world was supposed to end. Who was supposed totake the tickets was never made clear, but this apocalyptic nonsense goes on and on, from age to age (Connell 2001).

Our current age is no exception. The mass suicide of the Heaven's Gate movement (e.g., Vick 1997), in which believers planned to depart Earth in a UFO apparently hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp, and the Y2K phenomenon (e.g., Nolte 2009), in which many people believed that Ragnarok was going to hit because all the computers were going to stop working for no adequately explored reason, provide additional examples. In our modern world, apocalyptic and supernatural thinking are alive and well. One might think that compulsory education would cure this sort of thing, but that is not the case. Research has shown that college students frequently engage in supernatural behaviors in their examinations, especially when the consequences are perceived as particularly important (Rudski and Edwards 2007). In our work on the Mayan apocalypse, mentioned earlier (Sharps et al. 2013) 45.6 percent of these relatively educated people thought that world-changing events might very well occur at that time, and 9.8 percent were fairly sure that cosmic doom was imminent.

So, our research told us that before the Mayan non-event of 2012, a frighteningly large proportion of the population entertained the magical thinking involved in apocalyptic prophecies. We also knew that definable cognitive incoherencies were involved, and we knew that individuals with subclinical dissociative tendencies (SDTs) were more likely to believe the pseudoscientific hype.

But what would happen, psychologically, to the True Believers when Quetzalcoatl et al. failed to turn up and life went on as usual?

After the Ball Is Over

Prior to the 2012 lack of apocalypse we had decided to conduct studies both before and after the relevant date. However, as we began to collect data on this second half of the project, we experienced a kind of collective intellectual doubt. After all, it wasn't going to be very interesting. We knew what we were going to find: those who originally believed in doomsday would obviously disclaim these beliefs afterward, dissociative tendencies or not. It seemed hardly worth our time to complete the study.

We were absolutely, and amazingly, wrong.

Background to Apocalypse When There Isn't One

In 1956, Festinger, Riecken, and Schacter published a fascinating study of a splinter group who believed in an earlier version of the ever-recurrent apocalypse. This particular bunch of True Believers, led by a lapsed Scientologist named Keech, gave up their jobs, spouses, and assorted other valuable aspects of life for the opportunity to fly with obliging aliens, in a literal flying saucer, to the entirely fictional planet of Clarion. Boarding was to commence at midnight on December 20, 1954, in time to avoid an enormous flood that was scheduled to destroy the rest of the world. The Believers gathered together.

Nothing happened.

Everybody sat there for about four hours. Keech started to cry.

Forty-five minutes later, Keech got a call (by "automatic writing") from God, who had decided not to kill everybody for divine reasons, mainly because Keech's followers had in fact been so amazingly wonderful in, well, sitting around waiting for nonexistent aliens at the boarding gate.

Now, you wouldn't expect that anybody over the age of six would be fooled by a cobbled-together last-minute desperate mess like this, but apparently Keech's devotees bought it. They began to proselytize even more than they had before their promised event had failed to materialize.

Festinger and his colleagues used this deplorable incident as the basis for their important research on cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance and the End of the World

Cognitive dissonance basically comes down to the following fact: the more you pay, the better you like. In other words, if I make a substantial investment in anything, whether financial or emotional, in a business, an attitude, or an idea, I am more likely to place a high value, and consequently a high resistance to rejection, on that investment. A full discussion of this concept is provided in an earlier Skeptical Inquirer article (Sharps 2014).

This phenomenon was strongly demonstrated in the realm of apocalyptic thinking by Festinger and colleagues (1956), as mentioned. Even though nothing happened on the fateless night of December 20, 1954, Festinger et al. found that many True Believers in Keech's end of the world not only retained their previous beliefs, but in fact were galvanized in those beliefs by the failure of the apocalypse. Their faith, they believed, had staved off disaster for the present, but the inevitability of the end of the world was actually, and paradoxically, reinforced for these people. Cognitive dissonance provided an enhancement of their deluded beliefs, even in the absence of any real-world evidence that these beliefs might be correct.

The Modern World

In 2012, we were repeatedly told by many media stories that the world would end on December 21 of that year. It was suggested that this was predicted by the Maya, given that this date coincides with the end of a calendrical cycle, a baktun, within their "long count." This date was also suggested to coincide with a "galactic alignment," a phenomenon that had less to do with astronomy than it did with vague nomenclature concerning what actually constitutes, in cosmic terms, a line (e.g., Krupp 2009). Even if such an alignment were a scientific reality, it would have no earthly significance; and anyway, there is at least one Maya document that mentions December 21, 2012, without any apocalyptic significance at all (Bower 2012). In 2014, we're coming up on the sixtieth anniversary of the aborted trip to Clarion in 1954, and on Festinger's classic study of 1956. Has there been no advance, in over half a century, in appropriate scientific skepticism that would defeat cognitive dissonance and result in a rational acceptance of the facts in the wake of yet another failed apocalypse?

The answer is not reassuring.

The Present Research

One hundred and four college students at a California university completed several surveys in which they were asked to rate the degree of their earlier belief, after the fact, that major world changes were going to happen on December 21, 2012. They were also asked about the sources of this belief, and about their specific beliefs concerning what, precisely, was supposed to happen on that date. Subclinical dissociative tendencies of the given respondents were measured by means of the standard Dissociative Experiences Survey (Carlson and Putnam 1986).

The respondents in this research, college students, continually engage in critical thinking and the scientific evaluation of information. Even so, this population gave evidence of unexpected levels of credulity in the case of the 2012 apocalypse.

In our research prior to the non-apocalypse, 44.6 percent stated that they anticipated no major changes on 12/21/12, or that such changes would be very unlikely. In our present research, 23 percent stated that they had believed in, or at least entertained, the end of the world on this date—in other words, about half of those who had believedbefore the date were willing to admit these beliefs. Eleven out of the 104 respondents, 10.6 percent, believed that this apocalyptic event was still going to happen. This is very close to the 9.8 percent who were certain, before the fact, of the apocalypse (Sharps et al. 2013).

Festinger et al.'s 1956 cognitive dissonance concept is the most parsimonious explanation of this result; about one in ten people were evidently unable to overcome their psychological investment in the 2012 phenomenon. But what were the cognitive mechanisms underlying this investment, so strongly held that it kept operating in the face of a non-apocalyptic reality?

Dissociative Tendencies

Dissociation continued to play an important role here. There was some good news: dissociation was not statistically important for the continuation of the overall belief in the 2012 end of the world. Nor was there a relationship between dissociation and belief that major physical changes, social changes, extraterrestrial aliens, global warming, or climate change would herald the end. The Christian apocalypse, in which Jesus Christ is expected to return at the end of the world, was also not endorsed by those with dissociative tendencies. These null results were entirely consistent with our previous work before the December 21 date (Sharps et al. 2013).

However, there was a relationship (R2 = .065, F [2,101] = 3.51, p = .034, β = .248) between SDTs and belief in the return of Kukulcan (Quetzalcoatl), the Mayan god anticipated in this particular apocalypse. Belief in the Mayan prophecies, with relation to SDTs, also remained significant, R2 = .101, F (3,101) = 5.68, p = .005, β  = .377. Finally, and oddly, SDTs were significantly associated with belief that "computer simulations" predicted the apocalypse (R2 = .052, F [1,102] = 5.60, p = .020, β = .228), despite the fact that there were no such computer simulations at all.

How can this pattern of results be explained?

Gestalt and Feature-Intensive Processes

Previously (Sharps 2003; Sharps 2010; Sharps et al. 2013; Sharps and Nunes 2002), we presented a continuum in human information processing, in what is called Gestalt/Feature-Intensive (G/FI) Processing theory. This continuum ranges fromfeature-intensive processing, in which the specific details of a concept are given specific consideration, to gestalt processing, in which a concept is considered without detailed analysis, with relatively uncritical acceptance of the given idea as a whole.

We suggest here a relationship between dissociative tendencies and gestalt, relatively uncritical, processing. In 2012, enormous attention was given to the Maya prophecies. This, according to the availability heuristic of Tversky and Kahneman (1973), made these prophecies relatively salient to the entire population.

However, for most people, there would have been some feature-intensive consideration of these prophecies; ancient societies lacked modern scientific understanding, and so their prophecies might not be right. However, those exhibiting subclinical levels of dissociation, with consequent gestalt processing tendencies, would not engage in such feature-intensive thinking, and thereby would credulously entertain the Mayan "prophecies."

Now, modern people in the West, in general, have more knowledge of Christian ideas than they do of ancient Mayan beliefs. Therefore, a relatively feature-intensive analysis of the Christian intellectual realm is culturally forced upon us, even upon those with dissociative tendencies. So, the dissociated did not endorse the return of Jesus Christ as associated with the 2012 apocalypse. However, most of us know little of Mayan arcana. Mayan concepts are therefore necessarily less feature-intensive, and consequently more gestalt, for the vast majority of us; but, for most of us, this absence of detail does not result in credulity. For those with SDTs, however, this gestalt processing of an ancient culture's supposed precognition was sufficient to generate belief.

This hypothesis was further supported by the association of SDTs with belief in "computer predictions" of the end. Most of us, although we use computers extensively, are unfamiliar with their inner workings. Computer operations are ubiquitous (hence cognitively available as gestalts; Tversky and Kahneman 1973), and they seem terribly scientific; thus, in the SDT-related absence of feature-intensive consideration in favor of less-specific gestalt thinking, they might be assumed to be prophetic, accurate in their predictions. The fact that there were no such computer simulations may not have mattered to the subclinically dissociated; after all, to understand this would require the very type of feature-intensive thinking that is reduced in the presence of SDTs.

More specific, feature-intensive concepts such as climate change were not endorsed. This was consistent with the tendency of subclinical dissociation to reduce feature-intensive analysis (e.g., Sharps et al. 2006; Sharps 2010).

In Summary

So, four psychological factors contributed to continued belief in the 2012 apocalypse: cognitive dissonance; dissociative tendencies; gestalt processing; and conceptual availability, as suggested by Tversky and Kahneman (1973).

In the case of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse, an appreciable fraction of the population, about 10 percent, believed that the failed apocalypse was still to occur. The most parsimonious explanation of this rather incredible result lies in cognitive dissonance, the influence of psychological investment.

Who held most strongly to that investment? Those with subclinical dissociative tendencies, which enhanced credulity through the reduction of feature-intensive analysis in favor of gestalt consideration. This, in turn, reduced consideration of the details that might attenuate beliefs in the supernatural. These beliefs were further guided by the availability heuristic of Tversky and Kahneman, by the relative availability of such concepts as Mayan prophecies and computer simulations in media.

This four-point model is our best explanation of the belief in such bizarre concepts as the Mayan end of the world, and probably in other paranormal conceptions (Sharps 2012; Sharps et al., 2006; Sharps et al. 2010). These results provide a scientifically coherent explanation of current beliefs, even after the fact, in the 2012 apocalypse.

How do we counter these influences? The answer is obvious. We need better education in science, in feature-intensive consideration of facts, and in the ability to analyze paranormal claims in terms of their specific details. For human beings, the world consists of a blend of objective reality and of our subjective interpretations of that reality; it is that subjective interpretation that is most subject to the salutary influence of education.

Of course, this is hardly a novel concept. Plato called for essentially the same precision well over two thousand years ago (e.g., Cornford 1957). Socrates was killed by fellow Athenians in large part for insisting on this level of feature-intensive analysis. It is to be hoped that our modern world will be less draconian in the defense of its irrational paranormal beliefs.


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Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera

Matthew J. Sharps is professor of psychology at California State University, Fresno, and serves on the adjunct faculty of Alliant International University in forensic clinical psychology. He specializes in eyewitness phenomena and related areas in forensic cognitive science. He is a Diplomate and Fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners and is the author of over 160 publications and professional papers, including the 2010 book Processing Under Pressure: Stress, Memory, and Decision-Making in Law Enforcement ( He has consulted on eyewitness issues in numerous criminal cases.

Schuyler W. Liao and Megan R. Herrera are doctoral candidates in forensic clinical psychology at Alliant International University, Fresno. Their research deals with information processing in relation to eyewitness cognition, especially in clinical and courtroom settings.