Sep 30, 2015

Atheist Church Mocks Christianity by Worshipping Bacon; Attracts Members With Free Weddings

Christian Post

September 18, 2015

Artwork from the United Church of Bacon, an atheist organization that uses meat to mock religion.

A group of atheists who meet regularly under the guise of a church that worships bacon has attracted over 10,000 new members after offering free weddings and baptisms with the promise of marrying couples before something that is "real."

The organization, named the United Church of Bacon, was started in 2010 in Las Vegas by atheist John Whiteside who says he created the group to fight discrimination against atheists.

In just three months' time, the church's membership has shot up by 12,000, thanks to a free wedding offer on its website.

"Bacon lovers — we are truly blessed. The latest billboards for the United Church of Bacon in Las Vegas are advertising the organization's commitment to offering free, legal wedding ceremonies to all couples. Now the church has reported that membership has tripled in the last three months to more than 12,000 new converts," read the organization's website.

"To our LGBT family and friends supporting freedom of expression since inception," read the billboard.

Other artwork released by the United Church of Bacon takes aim at religion, with one more specifically addressing Christianity and Holy Communion. It reads "Saving kids from stale crackers & communion wine since 2010."

The group even issues titles to members including "bacon prophet" and "funkmaster general" and boasts that it "worships bacon because bacon is real."

Members are also adamant about maintaining the separation of church and state in the U.S.

"The skeptics' church has a serious intent, to fight religious discrimination against non-believers, to promote church-state separation, and to demand equal rights for everyone, regardless of faith," read a statement from the United Church of Bacon.

The group has its own rule list on its website, which is laid out on stone tablets in order to mimic the Ten Commandments.

The United Church of Bacon is one of a few quasi-religious organizations that has named itself after a food or drug.

Earlier this year, former music producer Bill Levin helped create the First Church of Cannabis in Indiana, which is a group that practices the consumption of marijuana.

Like the United Church of Bacon, the group has also created its very own variant of the Ten Commandments, named the New Deity Dozen.

The First Church of Cannabis also gained its tax-exempt status in May of this year.

Polygamist sect limits sex to 'seed bearers,' court document says


Warren Jeffs, referred to as the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was sentenced Tuesday, August 9, 2011 to life in prison plus 20 years on two counts of sexual abuse of a child.

(CNN) -- It's hard to imagine that a convicted child rapist would be allowed to lead a church from prison, but that's exactly what's going on with Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs leads a polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It gained worldwide attention in 2006 when authorities accused Jeffs of sexual offenses against girls he took as wives. At one point Jeffs disappeared, prompting the FBI to put him on its 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list until he was captured.

In 2008, authorities raided the church's sprawling Texas ranch. Police removed more than 460 children from the property, including mothers under 18 years old. Authorities seized and shut down the ranch last year.

Eventually, Jeffs was convicted in 2011 of "sexual assault" and "aggravated sexual assault" of two girls ages 12 and 15. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

The FLDS broke away from the mainstream Mormon church more than a century ago because its members refused to renounce polygamy.

The church allegedly exercises control over the adjacent towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah -- an area informally known as Short Creek. Other enclaves exist in Mancos, Colorado; Boise City, Oklahoma; Custer County, South Dakota; and a Canadian community known as Bountiful, British Columbia.

FLDS leaders seldom speak with the news media and did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment on this story.

photo KUTV_map_09302015_zpsdobudswr.jpg

So, what's the status of FLDS today? Several key issues continue to play a role in the church's future:

'Seed bearers' and ritualistic sex

Although day-to-day leadership of the church is run mostly by Jeff's brother, Lyle Jeffs, Warren Jeffs actively directs church matters from prison, said Sam Brower, a private investigator who's been closely following FLDS activities for 10 years.

Brower's New York Times best-selling book "Prophet's Prey" inspired a documentary of the same name, which debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival. He played a key role in the FBI's investigation of Jeffs' and his eventual conviction.

First obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune, a child custody petition filed in a St. George, Utah, juvenile court by Lyle Jeffs' estranged wife Charlene Jeffs describes a group of followers called "seed bearers." "A seed bearer is an elect man of a worthy bloodline chosen by the Priesthood to impregnate the FLDS woman," according to Charlene Jeffs' petition. Under a new doctrine, "FLDS men are no longer permitted to have children with their multiple wives. That privilege belongs to the seed bearer alone," the petition said. "It is the husband's responsibility to hold the hands of their wives while the seed bearer 'spreads his seed.' In layman terms, the husband is required to sit in the room while the chosen seed bearer, or a couple of them, rape his wife or wives," according to the document.

Utah juvenile court records are not usually available to the public, so it's unknown if anyone filed documents disputing any details in Charlene Jeffs' petition, or the veracity of the petition's allegations. Lyle Jeffs eventually agreed to share custody of their two teen children with Charlene Jeffs -- the Salt Lake Tribune reported -- with the children living with their mother.

Brower said he was able to confirm similar reports of "seed bearers" through his own sources. "It's ritualistic procreation," Brower said, "performed on a ritualistic bed-slash-altar." As part of this new system, Warren Jeffs has withheld any relationships between husbands and wives, Brower said. Any touching between spouses outside rituals like these, even a simple handshake, can now be considered adultery in the church.

When asked about his sources for this information, Brower would only say he didn't want to violate confidences. "I'm 100% satisfied as a private investigator that it exists," he said.

There has been no response to CNN's multiple attempts to connect with an FLDS representative to get their side of the story.

A convicted child rapist still leads the church

In the midst of his legal troubles, Jeffs resigned as church president in 2007. He retook control of the church four years later, after followers said he appeared to get more access to phone calls outside prison.

Chris Wyler --- a lifelong church member until his expulsion in 2012 -- told CNN that he witnessed instances when Jeffs was "patched in" by phone so he could speak with church leaders.

Also, members were instructed to pray for God to free Jeffs, whom they call "the Prophet."

"We were told to pray for our Prophet's deliverance," said Wyler, age 38. "It meant the Lord would deliver him however he'd be delivered. Even if somebody was commanded to go get him out."

Federal crackdown in full swing

All these years after Jeffs' arrest, the FLDS continues to be targeted by federal law enforcement officials.

A 2012 Justice Department civil rights lawsuit accuses Hildale and Colorado City of operating "as an arm of the FLDS, in violation of the ... United States Constitution." Town marshals are practicing "illegal discrimination against individuals who are not members" of FLDS, according to Justice documents.

Brower stopped short of saying the federal government is trying to take the church down. "But, when you start chipping away at them like that, that starts causing problems," he said.

Brower, who likens the FLDS network to a crime syndicate, isn't the first to make that comparison. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has described polygamous sects generally as "a form of organized crime" that goes largely unchecked by law enforcement. Brower said this wave of federal action simply reinforces that idea.

The governments and marshals of Hildale and Colorado City have been "deployed to carry out the will and dictates of FLDS leaders, particularly Warren Jeffs and the officials to whom he delegates authority," the Justice complaint said.

Town marshals committed various offenses, including "returning at least one underage bride to a home from which she had fled," according to the complaint. They failed to investigate crimes against non-FLDS members and refused to arrest FLDS individuals who committed crimes against nonmembers, the complaint said.

The towns now face a federal trial, which is set for January.

Allegations of illegal child labor

In an exclusive report in 2012, CNN recorded video of the FLDS using women and children to harvest pecans at a ranch not far from Hildale. That story spurred a federal lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Labor against church leaders, alleging child labor law violations. The suit seeks payment of $1.9 million in penalties and back wages for the women and children workers.

Children who were put to work included at least 125 who were younger than 12, at least 50 between ages 12 and 13, and at least 25 between 14 and 15, according to the suit. All performed tasks during school hours such as mowing, pruning and bagging pecans, the suit said.

Wyler, the former FLDS member, said his two oldest children --- both under age 16 --- took part in a pecan harvest a few years ago -- working 12 or 13 hours a day for about four days. His feelings about the practice are "mixed," he said.

"I think it's cool that people could go and help," Wyler said. "But if they're turning a profit, then the kids should be paid. Also, they shouldn't be taken out of school for that."

$100 million church fund

Since the 1940s, the church has been depositing real estate assets into a religious charitable trust called the United Effort Plan, which is now estimated to be worth around $100 million. Utah took control of the trust in 2005 after authorities began investigating the church. Many of these homes are owned by the trust -- but are occupied by FLDS members.

FLDS funds itself through ownership of various businesses. The church's major sources of revenue come from huge farming operations and widespread manufacturing and construction companies, said Brower.

The FLDS also raises money through tithes --- a practice where followers make mandatory donations of 10% of their income. Church members have been asked to give "consecrations" --- special monthly donations, sometimes around $1,000, Wyler said.

It was a financial disagreement that led to Wyler's departure from the church three years ago. He said he was told to give all his "earthly possessions" to the church -- or face expulsion. "I had a concern with that."

Dwindling membership

The number of followers in the secretive church is impossible to know for sure. At its peak many years ago, total FLDS membership may have been as high as 15,000, Brower said, but by his educated guess the number now -- in the wake of Jeffs' imprisonment and the civil lawsuit -- is somewhere near 10,000.

Brower said several thousand have left the church or been expelled within the past few years.

FLDS members did not send their children to public schools, which may explain reports of skyrocketing enrollment in public schools. Enrollments have been rising, as more members are expelled or leave the church.

Some members have been leaving FLDS with the help of advocacy groups in the region, such as Holding Out Help. "I've served hundreds of people here," Holding Out Help's director Ruth Olson told CNN's Lisa Ling. "We try to establish ourselves here so they can feel safe."

Jeffs' fourth child, 31-year-old Becky Jeffs, recently left the church. She said she had suffered abuse at the hands of her father. "So many people in the FLDS said, 'Oh you have the neatest father in the world,'" Becky Jeffs told Ling. "Now I just think, 'If you only knew...'"

It's hard to offer the FLDS perspective on all the allegations. The church didn't respond to multiple requests by CNN to defend itself.

For the leaders, Brower said, "it's about sex, money and power. And that's what drives them. But they also convince themselves ... that there's some meaning to their madness."

He said many rank-and-file members desperately want to stay with the church and follow the religious traditions of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. "They want to believe that the horrible things that are happening to their church are just a test that's being placed on them."

As for Wyler, he expects the church to survive.

"There's always going to be people that believe in it," he said. "No matter what evidence is presented to them."

Sep 29, 2015

John Sweeney: Scientologist stalker drove me to public meltdown but now we're best friends
 27, 2015 

Footage of John Sweeney “losing it” with church spokesmen Tommy Davis and Mike Rinder during a now infamous episode of Panorama has attracted more than seven million hits on YouTube.

Mr Sweeney’s meltdown in Los Angeles came after he was put under surveillance while carrying out interviews amid repeated attempts to stop the documentary from being broadcast.

Shortly after it was shown in 2007, Mr Rinder left the church, having been a member since the age of six, rising through the ranks to become its public relations chief.

Last week he featured in a controversial Sky Atlantic documentary called Going Clear, in which he apologised for lying about spying on Mr Sweeney.

Mr Sweeney said: “It was a wonderful moment when Mike was asked, ‘Did you spy on John Sweeney?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I did’.

“I had the screaming match because they kept on saying I was being paranoid but I knew I was being followed. For him to admit that was such a powerful vindication. What’s even stranger is that Mike invited me to his wedding last year, a bit like a vicar inviting Satan to his nuptials. Mike and I are now good friends.”

Based a book by Pulitzer prizewinning journalist Lawrence Wright and directed by Oscar-nominated documentary maker Alex Gibney, Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief stars a string of high-profile defectors.

They include Hollywood director Paul Haggis, the church’s former lead inspector Mark Rathbun and the actor Jason Beghe.

Tom Cruise and John Travolta remain Scientology’s most famous supporters.

The film received widespread praise for its deconstruction of the religion, from exploring founder L Ron Hubbard’s past as a science fiction writer to its first-hand testimony from former members alleging abuse and exploitation. David Miscavage, head of the church and Cruise’s best friend, denounced the documentary and unsuccessfully tried to block its release in US cinemas.

It went on to win three Emmy awards. Mr Sweeney said: “It is a great film. We had a lot more difficulty in 2007, when taking them on felt like a very lonely job. Now the church seems a lot more cowed.”

Mr Sweeney, who wrote a book about Scientology called The Church Of Fear, said his meltdown had made him famous and even helped when arrested in Pakistan.

He said: “The secret police wouldn’t believe I was a BBC journalist so I just said, ‘Go on YouTube’. They watched it and released me. People stop me in the street and buy me pints.

“Practically every time I get in a taxi, the driver will joke, ‘Where to, the Scientology centre?’”

The church has attacked the film as “bigoted propaganda”.

Moscow Officials Help Citizens Avoid the 'Moonies,' Other Cults

The Moscow Times
Sep. 28 2015

The Moscow city legislature plans to release a booklet warning Muscovites against unorthodox religious "cults" operating in Russia, and providing instructions on how to report such organizations to the authorities, the capital's M24 news website reported Monday.

Russia has classified about 80 organizations as "cults," the report said. Those range from domestic movements to transplants from international groups, including the Unification Church, or Moonies, Russia's "God of Kuzya" movement, whose leader has been detained on swindling charges, and the Grigory Grabovsky group — whose founder proclaimed himself the second coming of Christ and offered to resuscitate the dead, but was sentenced to prison for swindling.

"Today many people are searching for spiritual calmness, while charlatans, such as the 'God of Kuzya' and his likes, are exploiting that," a member of the Moscow City Council committee for public and religious organizations, Renat Laishev, was quoted by M24 as saying.

The booklets will instruct readers on how to recognize a cult, stressing that "cults do not necessarily take a traditional form, many of them are posing as lectures, personal development courses, or even yoga classes," and will provide instructions on "where to turn to, if a citizen discovers a cult," Laishev was quoted as saying.

The Moscow City Duma may discuss a draft booklet during a session this week, the report said.

Sep 25, 2015

Wanted “Sex Fiend” Breslov Hasidic Leader Allegedly Resurfaces – In South Africa

September 25, 2015
Shmarya Rosenberg

 Rabbi Eliezer Berland
Where in the world is accused sex abuser Rabbi Eliezer Berland?

Berland, the 77-year-old head of the Breslov hasidic Shuvu Banim sect, fled Israel more than two years ago after female followers – including one minor – claimed Berland sexually abused them.

Since fleeing Israel, Berland has hopped from country to country. He was forced out of Morocco, arrested and expelled from Zimbabwe, and escaped arrest in South Africa twice before fleeing to Holland just before Rosh Hashana in September 2014. Berland intended to change planes in Holland and continue on to the Ukraine, where he hoped to spend Rosh Hashana at the grave of Breslov’s founder, Rabbi Nachman, in Uman.

But Berland didn’t make it to Uman. Instead, he was arrested in the international airport near Amsterdam on an international arrest warrant.

Berland unsuccessfully fought extradition to Israel using a mixture of inartful lies (including falsely claiming to be a Holocaust survivor) and allegedly faked illnesses. But when the time for Berland’s extradition was likely only days away late this summer, Berland disappeared from the public eye and apparently fled the Netherlands.

Rumors placing Berland in Guatemala began to be spread, but there was still no public siting of the wanted hasidic leader.

But now Yeshiva World has reported based on a report in MyNet that Berland sent a message to his followers (apparently via Facebook) hours before Rosh Hashana asking them to join him in South Africa. The message did not give an exact address for Berland but did promise a telephone number and address for Berland would soon be made available to them.

Despite these reports, it is unclear whether Berland is actually in South Africa or if he even left Europe.

Berland was born in Haifa and reportedly studied at the Knesset Chizkiyahu Yeshiva in Kfar Hasidim under Rabbi Elyah Lopian and Rabbi Dov Yaffe. Berland went on to join the Ponevezh Yeshiva Kollel (yeshiva for married students) and later moved to the Volozhin Kollel in Bnei Brak and was allegedly a study partner of the late haredi leader Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, better known as the Steipler Gaon. Berland later left the non-hasidic haredi community and joined Breslov, where he eventually started his own sect.

During his nearly 2-1/2-year flight from the law, Berland has been dubbed the “Sex Pest” and “Sex Fiend” rabbi by various African newspapers. His followers, who flocked to be with him at his various locations, trashed public parks and resorts, and allegedly left a string of unpaid bills and damage.

Lawyers want to keep 'polygamy,' 'underage marriages' and Warren Jeffs' sermons out of court

FOX 13
September 24, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- In a flurry of legal filings, lawyers for the border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are asking a federal judge to block references to polygamy, child-bride marriages and Warren Jeffs' sermons from the U.S. Justice Department's massive discrimination case against the town governments.

"Warren Jeffs is a polarizing figure. To some, he is or was the prophet of the FLDS Church," Colorado City attorney Jeffrey Matura wrote in a filing obtained by FOX 13. "To others, he is the symbol of a Church gone awry."

Matura asked the federal judge overseeing the Justice Department's lawsuit to bar them from using FLDS leader Warren Jeffs' dictations, sermons and correspondence with Hildale and Colorado City town officials arguing that it was hearsay and would prejudice a jury against them. He also asked for any evidence regarding "polygamy," "multiple wives," "spiritual wives" and "underage marriage" to be barred for similar reasons.

Read the motion in limine on Warren Jeffs' writings and sermons here:

"There were over 100,000 pages of dictations of Warren Jeffs that were disclosed by the Department of Justice," Hildale attorney Blake Hamilton said in an interview Thursday with FOX 13. "You can see where they want this case to go and we want it to be focused on these municipalities and whether there was discrimination based on religion in utilities and policing."

The U.S. Justice Department is suing Hildale and Colorado City, accusing the town governments of acting as an arm of the Fundamentalist LDS Church. The towns are accused of discriminating against non-FLDS members in getting utilities and police services.

In its own filing, the U.S. Justice Department asks to use FLDS leaders' words against them by claiming they are "co-conspirators." They cite writings and statements by Warren Jeffs, FLDS bishop Lyle Jeffs, FLDS messengers Isaac and Nephi Jeffs, and others and argue the towns "are engaging in a longstanding concert of action with FLDS Church leaders with the common purpose to use the Cities' governments to further the directives and goals of the FLDS Church."

They included some of Jeffs' writings to his followers discussing political business in Hildale.

Read the Justice Department filing here:

The Justice Department also asks the judge to allow it to suggest to a jury that any witness who exercises their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination may have something to hide. Adverse inferences about "pleading the Fifth" are sometimes used in civil cases, said University of Utah law professor Shima Baughman. She said a judge may not be inclined to allow it.

"In criminal proceedings, it's absolutely barred," she told FOX 13. "I think the fact they're saying in civil proceedings it's allowed -- technically it is -- but it makes a lot of people uncomfortable."

Baughman said with such a massive case, it may be impossible to bar all references to Warren Jeffs, underage marriages and polygamy. She said the motions by both sides will determine the success of the Justice Department's case against the towns.

"I think these motions will make or break their entire case," Baughman said.

Hildale and Colorado City have requested arguments before the judge. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Phoenix in January.

Sep 24, 2015

Why Do So Many Religions Fast?

September 22, 2015
Miriam Krule

Earlier this month, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story on Jains in India who practice sallekhana—fasting to death. Although the practice is fairly rare—NPR reports that it’s only performed when people are sick or close to death and that only about 200 people attempt it each year—it’s controversial. India’s Supreme Court is currently considering whether sallekhana should be banned in a country where suicide is illegal. The Jains who practice it, however, believe that the fast is a way to purify the soul for the next life.

Sallekhana is an extreme Eastern example of a practice widespread in Western religions: fasting, which plays a prominent role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. On Tuesday night, Jews around the world will begin the holiest day of their year, Yom Kippur, when they will abstain from food and drink and ask for forgiveness. (Jewish days are counted from sundown to sundown.) The 25-hour period is the culmination of 10 days of repentance that begins with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. While many will spend that time immersed in prayers, the fast is considered the most important aspect of observance: If you had to choose between either fasting or praying while breaking the fast by drinking water, fasting would be the better choice in the eyes of Jewish tradition. Jews believe “affliction of the soul,” as fasting is referred to in the Bible, will help them focus and bring them closer to forgiveness.

The only other 25-hour fast in the Jewish calendar is on the ninth day of the month of Av, known as Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. On these fast days, Jews abstain from food and drink and spend the day immersed in prayer. Whereas on Yom Kippur the focus is on forgiveness and the day is treated as a Sabbath where people refrain from work, Tisha B’Av is considered a day of sadness, and observers act as if they’re in mourning: sitting on the floor, not greeting one another, and not looking in the mirror. There are various “lesser” fast days on the Jewish calendar that, unlike Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, only take place from sunup to sundown. These tend to commemorate hard times for the Jewish people, often periods of exile. In addition, the community can occasionally call a fast day in times of trouble, like war or drought. On June 1, 1967, as the nation prepared for war, the chief rabbinate called for a day of fasting and prayer. In November 2010, in the midst of a drought, Israel’s chief rabbis issued a fast day to pray for rain.

Christians are less likely to fast than Jews are. The act of abstaining isn’t foreign to them—Catholics observe Lent, a month where people decide on their own what they want to give up (this can be anything from smoking to sugar)—but many Christian faiths have moved away from the practice.

R. Marie Griffith, author of Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity and the director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, told me that Christian traditions of self-abnegation and repentance through fasting have changed considerably over time. “Fasting is part of ancient Jewish tradition, and Christianity of course comes from that,” Griffith said. “Jesus spoke extensively about fasting: Sometimes it has to do with repentance, self-discipline, remembering that we’re humble beings before God’s power. The Roman Catholic tradition that emerged from that took it very seriously, and church fathers and mothers were very serious fasters.” This dedication to fasting lasted for about 1,500 years, but with the Protestant Reformation, a lot of the practices that weren’t considered clearly mandated by the Bible—Jesus talks about his own fasting, but doesn’t set out guidelines for others—began to change. People would still fast, but it just wasn’t as prominent or as strictly dictated. Today, conservative evangelicals are the most active Christian fasters, though even for them it’s not as prominent a part of the tradition as it once was. Mormons are another exception, but their practice, while inspired by biblical sources, is also drawn from the Book of Mormon. Mormons traditionally skip two meals on the first Sabbath of each month, donating the money they would have spent on the meals to the poor.

The Muslim tradition, which draws inspiration from sources in both the Old and New Testaments, has one of the most well-known and visible relationships with fasting—for the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink during the day and break the fast with a meal, called iftar, after sundown. The fast is prescribed in the Quran in Chapter 2 Verse 183, but the directions are open to a bit of interpretation, leading to some variation in practice—for example, while it’s not a common interpretation, some people see in Verse 184 the option to feed the poor as a substitute for fasting. Most observers agree, though, that the fast should take place over the course of a month, a nod to the belief that the Quran was revealed to Mohammed over the course of a month. (This is also why many Muslims listen to the entirety of the Quran, one-thirtieth a day, over the course of Ramadan.)

Ayesha S. Chaudhry, an associate professor of Islamic studies and gender studies at the University of British Columbia, told me that fasting often serves as a community-building activity where everyone is abstaining together and then eating together.* “Sunup to sundown every day for a month, everyone comes together and engages in a practice that separates them from everyone around them, but also brings the community together.” And although the practice is fairly universal, Chaudhry pointed out that because Muslims use a lunar calendar, the timing of Ramadan varies year-to-year and in places farther from the equator, the fast can require very long periods of deprivation. Because fasting in Islam originated in Mecca, where the proximity to the equator kept the fast pretty consistently at 12 hours, many people in Scandinavian countries, for example, adopt an arbitrary 12-hour fast.

Miriam Krule is a Slate assistant editor. She writes about religion and culture and edits the photography blog Behold.

Jonang member attempts self-immolation protest

Tibet Sun
Lobsang Wangyal
September 24, 2015

Two of the nine hunger strikers lay in bed on the seventh day of their strike outside the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala, India, on 24 September 2015.
Two of the nine hunger strikers lay in bed on the
 seventh day of their strike outside the Tibetan
 Parliament-in-exile in Dharamshala, India,
 on 24 September 2015.
A member of the Jonang tradition attempted a self-immolation protest against the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile’s failure to address their demand for recognition of Jonang as a separate sect.

Sources said that on Tuesday a 38-year-old monk had brought petrol to light himself on fire outside the exile Parliament in protest against their failure to address the demands of the followers of the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

The monk’s self-immolation attempt was thwarted by other members after they had been alerted by the staff members of the Department of Security of the Central Tibetan Administration.

The monk had submitted a letter to the Security Department writing about the reasons for his self-immolation.

Tsewang Gyaltso, the President of the Jonang Well-Being Association in India, confirmed the monk’s attempt and the letter he had submitted.

“The monk was trying to set himself on fire at around 5pm on Tuesday. We were informed by the staff members of the Security Department.”

“We then found the monk and stopped him from setting himself on fire.”

The followers of Jonang tradition are demanding recognition of Jonang as a separate sect like the other four sects of Tibetan Buddhism — Nyingma, Kyagu, Sakya and Gelug.

The four sects and the native Tibetan Bon tradition are officially recognised, and they enjoy various rights including two seats each in the exile Parliament.

Other demands of the followers of Jonang include allotment of equal seats like the other sects in various religious and political meetings, that schools be taught about the background of Jonang as is done with the other sects, and that the Parliament amend the Charter of the Tibetans-in-exile to provide representations for Jonang also.

On Thursday, as the hunger strike protest by nine members entered its seventh day outside the on-going last session of the 15th Parliament, the Speaker of the Parliament convened a discussion session to address the demands of the protesters.

Sources told Tibet Sun that the members of the parliament have agreed to support four of the seven demands — allot same number of seats during Special political meetings, allot same number of seats during religious meetings, teach about Jonang in Schools, and equal seats in the Tibetan Buddhist scholars committee.

The official announcement of the acceptance by the parliament will be made tomorrow (Friday) morning. Thereafter, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and Speaker Penpa Tsering are likely request the hunger strikers to stop their protest.

Tsewang Gyaltso said that they may stop the hunger strike for the time being as they have been advised by the secretaries of office of the Dalai Lama that the Parliament may discuss their issue and find a solution for them.

“We also got a message from our spiritual leader Tulku Jigme Dorje in Dzamthang [in eastern Tibet] to stop the hunger strike,” Gyaltso says.

“But until our demands are fulfilled, we will not remain quiet.”

China probes deputy religion chief for suspected graft

Ben Blanchard
September 23, 2015

Xujiahui cathedral in Shanghai, 5 Nov 2005/Heurik)
Xujiahui cathedral in Shanghai, 5 Nov 2005/Heurik
A deputy head of the Chinese government department which oversees religious groups is being investigated for suspected graft, the ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Tuesday.

Zhang Lebin, a deputy director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, is suspected of “serious discipline violations”, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said, using the usual euphemism for corruption.

It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach Zhang for comment.

Zhang, 61, joined the religious administration in 2003, where he was initially in charge of rooting out corruption, according to his official biography.

He had risen up through the party ranks mostly in the Communist Youth League, a powerbase for former president Hu Jintao.

Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, has warned that corruption threatens the party’s survival and his three-year anti-graft campaign has brought down scores of senior officials in the party, the government, the military and state-owned enterprises.

About half of China’s estimated 100 million religious followers are Christians or Muslims, with the rest Buddhists or Daoists, the government says, though it thinks the real number of believers is probably much higher.

Rights groups say despite promises of freedom of belief, the official atheist Communist Party enforces tough controls, especially on Christians, Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. Beijing has also banned several spiritual groups as “evil cults”.

Jehovah’s Witnesses can hide the truth in court to protect religion

Trey Bundy
September 23, 2015

On a Friday morning in August, one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses top leaders sat before an Australian government commission investigating whether the organization hid child sexual abuse from secular authorities.

That Geoffrey Jackson, one of the seven members of the religion’s Governing Body, was being grilled in public captivated a global community of former Witnesses that watched the live stream on their home computers.

During two weeks of hearings, Jackson and members of the organization’s top brass in Australia gave hours of sworn testimony, but at least one big question remained: Were any of them telling the truth?

Since the 1950s, the Witnesses have preached a doctrine allowing Jehovah’s followers to deceive anyone outside of the religion if doing so protects the organization. They call it “theocratic warfare.”

The policy has taken on a new significance today as Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming under scrutiny across continents for enabling and concealing child sexual abusers. Top leaders are being questioned under oath as judges and investigators try to get to the bottom of a global scandal.

A 1957 article in The Watchtower magazine – named for the Witnesses’ parent corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – grants permission to Jehovah’s followers to hide the truth from “enemies” of the religion. The religion teaches that the world outside the organization is controlled by Satan.

“So in a time of spiritual warfare it is proper to misdirect the enemy by hiding the truth,” the article reads. “Today God’s servants are engaged in a warfare, a spiritual, theocratic warfare, a warfare ordered by God against wicked spirit forces and against false teachings.”

The theocratic warfare doctrine teaches that refusing to cooperate with criminal investigations involving Jehovah’s Witnesses is sanctioned by God because outsiders are not entitled to the truth.

Although the term theocratic warfare appears in Watchtower literature less and less over time, the organization’s leadership still teaches that secrecy is a crucial method of avoiding the scrutiny of the justice system. And there’s reason to believe it’s still in practice.

For 25 years, Watchtower policies have directed elders in all U.S. congregations to hide cases of child sexual abuse from law enforcement agencies as well as their own congregations, according to confidential documents from inside the organization.

Reveal looked at more than a dozen lawsuits and discovered evidence suggesting that Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders have either lied under oath or refused to cooperate with secular authorities on the hunt for abusers. In some cases, those elders remain in positions of power in their local congregations.

‘These three brothers lied in court about this and much more’
Three Jehovah’s Witnesses elders lied under oath about their role in enabling a known child molester to continue abusing children, according to another elder who claims to have knowledge of the events.

In a 2011 lawsuit, Michael Clarke, Gary Abrahamson and Larry Lamerdin, elders in the North Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, took the stand to face questions about why they didn’t report to police that one of their members, Jonathan Kendrick, had confessed to sexually abusing his stepdaughter.

Clarke and Abrahamson testified that they had brought together all of the congregation’s elders and instructed them to watch Kendrick closely to make sure he did not abuse more children.

But in a series of 2013 letters to Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders, Rod Francis, who was an elder in the North Fremont congregation in the 1990s when the abuse occurred, accused the three elders of lying under oath.

“None of the other elders, including myself were aware that a child sexual predator was in our midst even though the offender was in my book study,” he wrote. “Because of this the congregation and our own families were unable to be adequately protected resulting in catastrophic outcomes for other young girls and damage to my own family. These three brothers lied in court about this and much more.”

Francis declined to comment for this story. Reveal obtained his letters from a third party.

Clarke, Abrahamson and Lamerdin did not return calls seeking comment.

Former Jehovah’s Witness Candace Conti, who claimed that she was sexually abused by an elder in the 1990s, sued the organization in 2011. The court awarded her $28 million in damages, a number later reduced to an undisclosed amount.
Former Jehovah’s Witness Candace Conti, who claimed that she was sexually abused by a congregation member in the 1990s, sued the organization in 2011. The court awarded her $28 million in damages, a number later reduced to an undisclosed amount.

The 2011 case was brought against the Watchtower by Candace Conti, who claimed the Witnesses could have prevented her abuse by Kendrick in the 1990s by warning the congregation that he had previously abused a child. The court awarded Conti $28 million in damages, a number later reduced to an undisclosed amount.

Kendrick has confessed to molesting two girls but denies abusing Conti. He was never criminally prosecuted for his alleged crimes against her and remains a Jehovah’s Witness in good standing.

Why a judge called the Watchtower’s omissions ‘reprehensible’
In another California lawsuit against the Witnesses last year, one of the organization’s top leaders, Governing Body member Gerrit Lösch, refused to testify.

In that case, a San Diego court looked at allegations that an elder named Gonzalo Campos had sexually abused a Jehovah’s Witness boy named Jose Lopez in the 1980s.

Lopez’s attorney, Irwin Zalkin, subpoenaed 17 years’ worth of records collected by the Watchtower containing the names of known and suspected child sexual abusers in its U.S. congregations. The Watchtower acknowledged that the records existed but refused to hand them over.

Zalkin also subpoenaed Lösch to testify to the Governing Body’s role in forming the organization’s child abuse policies. On Feb. 5, 2014, Lösch submitted a sworn declaration explaining why he should not have to testify.

“I am not, and have never been, a corporate officer, director, managing agent, member, or employee of Watchtower,” Lösch wrote. “I do not direct, and have never directed, the day-to-day operations of Watchtower. I do not answer to Watchtower. I do not have, and have never had, any authority as an individual to make or determine corporate policy for Watchtower or any department of Watchtower.”

Although Lösch claims he has no power over any department of the Watchtower, internal Watchtower documents show that, as a Governing Body member, he oversaw one of two Watchtower departments that deal with allegations of child abuse, at least until 2014.

Lösch’s declaration also directly contradicted the testimony of Watchtower officials in which they said that the Governing Body reviews and approves all Watchtower policies, including those pertaining to child abuse.

Allen Shuster, a senior Watchtower official, said as much during his testimony in the Candace Conti case. When Conti’s attorney asked whether the child abuse policies came from the Governing Body, he answered, “That is an accurate statement, yes.”

Shuster continued: “On a high level, review, the Governing Body does establish policies.”

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis, who heard the Jose Lopez case, threw the Watchtower’s defense out of court for refusing to comply with court orders.

“Watchtower’s actions or omissions were ‘reprehensible,’ ” she wrote in her decision.

She also dismissed Lösch’s declaration that he, as a Governing Body member, had no power over the Watchtower.

“The award of punitive damages against them will hopefully send a message to Watchtower and its managing agents, the governing body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that their handling of sex abuse cases within their congregation was absolutely reckless,” she wrote.

Lewis awarded Lopez $13.5 million.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are also facing pressure outside the U.S.
The investigation in Australia has been the most sweeping government inquiry into the Watchtower’s child abuse policies to date. Prior to the hearings, investigators uncovered 1,006 allegations of child sexual abuse against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Australia since 1950. None were reported to the police.

Requests to interview Geoffrey Jackson and other Watchtower officials were denied.

The commission lacks the power to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but has referred some cases to criminal authorities and plans to issue recommendations to the government.

During the hearings, Vincent Toole, the head of the Watchtower’s legal department in Australia, was asked whether he was aware of the theocratic warfare doctrine.

“Well, I’ve heard the expression,” he said, “but I’m not really sure what it means.”

He was then asked whether Witnesses were allowed to lie to protect Jehovah’s name.

“We are truthful,” he said. “To be a Christian, you have to be truthful.”

Correction: A previous version of a photo caption incorrectly identified the man Candace Conti accused of sexually abusing her. He was a member of the North Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Toronto Getting Clear Conference on Scientology Hosted by Jon Atack and Jim Beverley

The Toronto Getting Clear Conference on Scientology Hosted by Jon Atack and Jim Beverley from Jim Beverley on Vimeo.

The Getting Clear conference brought together the largest group of critics, ex-members and experts on Scientology in history. The conference ran June 22-26, 2015 in Toronto and was organized by Jon Atack and Professor James Beverley. It featured:
  • Tony Ortega, 
  • Paulette Cooper, 
  • Gerry Armstrong, 
  • Tory Christman, 
  • Nancy Many, 
  • Jesse Prince, 
  • Jamie DeWolf, 
  • Hana Whitfield, 
  • Steve Hassan, 
  • Nora Crest, 
  • Chris Shelton, 
  • Nan McLean, 
  • Jonny Jacobsen, 
  • Steve Cannane 
  • and others.
Rent all $120

From Jim Beverley Genres
Instructional Documentary


1 Welcome from Jim Beverley + Jon Atack on History of Hubbard
2 History of Hubbard (cont.) with Jon Atack and Gerry Armstrong
3 History of Hubbard (cont.) with Jon Atack, Gerry Armstrong, Hana Whitfield and John McLean
4 History of Hubbard (cont.) with Jon Atack, Nancy Many and Jesse Prince
5 Nancy Many brief comments on her movie
6 Q& A with Hana Whitfield, Gerry Armstrong, Nancy Many and Jesse Prince
7 Paulette Cooper and Tony Ortega
8 Q&A with Paulette Cooper and Tony Ortega
9 Scientology and Celebrities (Spanky Taylor, Nancy Many and Nora Crest)
10 Scientology as religion + Chris Shelton
11 Tory Christman + Jesse Prince
12 Q&A with Jesse Prince
13 Steve Hassan + Steve and Jon Atack on Undue Influence in Scientology
14 Steve Hassan and Jon Atack on Training Routines and Auditing
15 Nora Crest and Chris Shelton on Second Generation Scientology

Maharishi LLP Companies

Maharishi LLP companies in India.

LLPIN/CIN/1A Ref NoCompany or LLP NameStateRegistration DateCompany Status
U50300RJ2006PTC023062MAHARISHI AUTO PRIVATE LIMITEDRajasthan07/09/2006Approved

LLPIN/CIN/1A Ref NoCompany or LLP NameStateRegistration DateCompany Status
U45200MH1995PTC089497MAHARISHI CONSTRUCTIONS PRIVATE LIMITED C NMaharashtra13/06/1995Approved
U45200MP2009PTC021985MAHARISHI DEVELOPERS PRIVATE LIMITEDMadhya Pradesh02/06/2009Approved
U74900HP2011PTC031770MAHARISHI ENTERPRISES PRIVATE LIMITEDHimachal Pradesh10/10/2011Approved
U65922CH1999PLC022486MAHARISHI FINANCIAL SERVICES LIMITEDChandigarh21/04/1999Approved
U31300MP1996PLC011385MAHARISHI GREEN FOREST LIMITEDMadhya Pradesh06/11/1996Approved

LLPIN/CIN/1A Ref NoCompany or LLP NameStateRegistration DateCompany Status

LLPIN/CIN/1A Ref NoCompany or LLP NameStateRegistration DateCompany Status
U27310UP1990PTC011677MAHARISHI STEELS PRIVATE LIMITEDUttar Pradesh26/02/1990Approved
U45200DL2008PTC178434MAHARISHI TOWERS PRIVATE LIMITEDDelhi22/05/2008Approved
U51909GJ1999PTC036186MAHARISHI TRADELINK PRIVATE LIMITEDGujarat24/06/1999Approved
U74899DL1990PTC038896MAHARISHI VEDALAND PRIVATE LIMITEDDelhi11/01/1990Approved
Uttar Pradesh23/10/2012Approved

What Is Falun Gong? Amid Xi Jinping Visit to US, Chinese Spiritual Movement Still Persecuted

International Business Times
Elizabeth Whitman @elizabethwhitty
September 23, 2015

Falun Gong demonstrators meditate during the U.N. General Assembly session in New York in 2013
As Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked this week on his first tour of the U.S. as China's head of state, protesters geared up to call attention to a spate of human and civil rights violations by Chinese authorities. One of the most persistent groups of those protesters, including several dozen outside Xi’s hotel in Seattle Tuesday, comes from Falun Gong, a spiritual movement whose persecution remains official policy in China.

Falun Gong, or the Practie of the Wheel of Dharma, was founded in 1992 as a religious or spiritual movement that includes ritual exercise and meditation to achieve mental and physical health. Also referred to as Falun Dafa, the practice has roots in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but because of Chinese de facto restrictions on religious practices — the constitution allows for “freedom of religious belief,” even as the government persecutes a number of religions and ethnic groups — members have posited Falun Gong as being secular.

Nevertheless, in 1999, at which point Falun Gong had at least 70 million adherents, the Chinese government denounced it as a cult out of fear of its growing influence. It arrested some 100 leaders and sentenced many to years in prison. The government has listed Falun Gong as one of the groups whose members deploy religion “as a camouflage, deifying their leading members, recruiting and controlling their members, and deceiving people by molding and spreading superstitious ideas, and endangering society,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Chinese Communist Party documents from 2015 show that current official policy still calls for “prevention and handling of ‘heterodox religions’ in 2015,” the Epoch Times reported Sunday. Official documents also described an initiative to close off communication between members of the movement inside and outside China.

In 2006, during a visit by former Chinese President Hu Jintao, a Falun Gong protester interrupted a White House reception, shouting, “Stop persecuting Falun Gong,” the New York Times reported. Meanwhile, Hu continued to speak calmly of U.S.-Chinese relations, as depicted in the video below:

More recently, in March, members of Falun Gong claimed a Queens-based organization with ties to the Chinese Communist Party was attacking and threatening them, the New York Post reported. And at an annual rally in July, adherents gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., displaying banners that condemned China’s crackdown on Falun Gong.

How the Church of Scientology fought the Internet—and why it lost

The Kernel
Jesse Hicks
September 20th, 2015
The Church of Scientology would like you to know that, as of this writing, its official Facebook page has 329,903 likes. We’ll return to that number later, but it might be a heartening one for the church, which has recently grappled with less-friendly numbers, such as the 5.5 million people who watched Alex Gibney’s scathing documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which premiered on HBO in March. (The film, which portrayed declining membership and abusive practices at the highest levels of the church, recently won three Emmy awards, including for best documentary, and Gibney’s spoken of a sequel.) Or the more than 1 million YouTube viewers who’ve seen the Saturday Night Live sketch below—less a parody than a cover version of a Scientology recruitment video, touting “Neurotology.”

In response to Going Clear, its most prominent public-relations challenge in years, Scientology went on the offensive. It took out full-page ads in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, comparing the documentary to the disgraced Rolling Stone report about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia. It launched a website featuring multimedia attacks on its critics, just as it had two years previously for the release of the book on which Gibney based his film. It emailed film reviewers, chiding them for not getting a comment from the church: “As a result, your article reflects the film which is filled with bald faced lies.”

It created the @freedomethics account to insistently tweet links to a Scientology-produced video denouncing Going Clear. A Facebook page for “Alex Gibney: Propagandist” appeared, and the owner apparently purchased sponsored posts for it. Other social media accounts—such as @MartyRathbunWho and @WhoIsMikeRinder, aimed at two former high-ranking church members—were even more confrontational, though it’s unclear how many are actually run by the church. Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw said via email, “Some of the accounts in this area are managed by the Church’s digital team; some are created and managed by parishioners who feel strongly about the malicious lies” allegedly spread by critics. She did not respond to a request for clarification.

It’s obviously hard to measure the effect this media blitz had on anyone potentially undecided about Scientology. The Twitter accounts, still active today, rarely if ever engage with actual users; they simply broadcast links to videos that evoke political attack ads, slickly produced packages of ominousness. The full-page newspaper ads maybe found an audience in Scientology-friendly Los Angeles, but also generously enhanced HBO’s marketing budget.

And there was that Facebook page, with its steadily climbing likes and its near-total lack of human comments.

It didn’t seem like the message management of a deep-pocketed institution—which the Church of Scientology very surely is, with more than $1.2 billion in assets, according to leaked tax returns—in the year 2015. It seemed tone-deaf and reactionary, a blunt example of the “never defend, always attack” strategy attributed to Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. At a time when even the most bumbling #brands can usually manage to cultivate a nonembarrassing social media presence, the church didn’t represent itself well. It came across as, well, a little intense.

Critics and former Scientologists suggest that’s because the church doesn’t really get the Internet. “Scientology is frozen in amber in the 1960s,” says Tony Ortega, a journalist and former Village Voice editor who’s reported on the church for two decades. When L. Ron Hubbard established the church, it was a strictly hierarchical, deeply secretive organization run by one man whose paranoia colored the entire proceedings. He imagined, consciously or not, its secrets could be kept, its hierarchy preserved, its paranoia channeled to productive ends. For decades, that worked; with stumbles and false starts along the way, Hubbard eventually became the wealthy prophet he wanted to be.

When Hubbard died in 1986, a man named David Miscavige stepped into the power vacuum; today, he’s the public face of Scientology, alongside celebrity members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The organization remains secretive and hierarchical, but soon after Hubbard’s death, an open and radically nonhierarchical platform for communication—the Internet—became a part of everyday life for millions around the world. It’s not surprising, then, that Scientology would, virtually from the beginning, see the Internet as an enemy.

Tory Christman says she was one of the key figures in Scientology’s opening moves against the Internet. In 1969, she was 22 and looking for an applied philosophy—a set of tools with which to order and improve her life. She found Scientology, and soon she’d signed the standard billion-year contract. She rose through the ranks as a loyal member until she says she was tapped to help fight the church’s first online threat, a newsgroup called alt.religion.scientology (ARS).

“As a result, your article reflects the film which is filled with bald faced lies.”
The early days of the Internet were much different from today; one of the main means of group communication was through Usenet newsgroups, collections of distributed message boards. ARS was one of these; created in 1991, it soon became a place for critics to share their views on the church. It wasn’t exactly a hotbed of intrigue, but on Christmas Eve 1994, someone anonymously posted Scientology documents, including the “Xenu story”—the creation myth later made famous by South Park.

Scientology lawyers reacted quickly, trying to remove what they argued was copyrighted material and asking for the newsgroup to be shut down. Raids and lawsuits followed; as Wired recounted at the time, the legal wrangling only drew more attention. (No one had yet coined the term “Streisand effect,” but here was a perfect example.)

While that overt war raged in courtrooms, Christman says she was asked to undertake a more covert role in neutralizing ARS. By then, she’d begun to work for the Office of Special Affairs (OSA), the church’s secretive security and intelligence team. She says another Scientologist began providing her with cashier’s checks, sending her to different states to open Internet accounts under fake names. The first time she succeeded, she says, her auditor gave her a big smile and said, “You’ve changed the course of the Internet—the history of the Internet—by opening that account.”

Soon after, torrents of spam began hitting the newsgroup, overwhelming genuine posts and forcing some dial-up users to download thousands of junk messages over painfully slow connections. Forgeries appeared, designed to look like posts from active members; other messages were simply gibberish, or, in a droll turn, baking recipes. ARS users suspected Scientology’s hand behind the floods, which seemed to arrive whenever some big event was about to affect the church. Christman says she later discovered that her auditor was behind the project, and that she once saw a line of computers dedicated to disrupting the newsgroup. (Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw responds: “Tory Christman has been making this false accusation for 15 years while providing no proof to support her claims.” Christman’s account appears on her Web page.)

Christman describes proto-trollish behavior by the church’s agents. In addition to the spamming, she says, Scientologists would conduct elaborate, staged conversations among the fake accounts as a distraction from other messages. He and others tried to turn critics against one another, a “divide-and-conquer” strategy. The final tactic, “slime,” as Christman calls it, was simply to fill the newsgroup with so much junk that no one would want to read it.

She began emailing Andreas Heldal-Lund, a Norwegian who’d founded Operation Clambake, an anti-Scientology website that became an information clearinghouse for critics. Disturbed by her role in the OSA scheme, she says, she soon resolved to quit the church for good. So, early in the morning of July 19, 2000, she posted to the newsgroup, saying she’d officially left. She credited Heldal-Lund and told others to “listen to Andreas. He is right, and he has helped me the most.” He responded, “There are many more Tory’s out there and they could all use some clever and caring SP’s [“suppressive persons,” Scientology’s term for its critics] to find a safe harbor.”

After 30 years, Tory Christman was out of the Church of Scientology, thanks in part to a man she’d never met, who lived on another continent and ran a website. Looking back on the tactics used to clog alt.religion.scientology, Christman says, “I think they really thought—and I think they think to this day—that they can somehow shut down the Internet.” Heldal-Lund echoes the sentiment via email, saying that the church has lost. “The Internet took most of the power away from [the church],” he says, “and I predict they will never get that back. And I am satisfied by the fact that Hubbard nowhere saw it coming.”

That Hubbard never saw it coming explains a lot, according to Tony Ortega, the journalist who’s long reported on the church. “Scientology is cutting-edge technology for 1950. All of the most important policies were laid down by the 1960s,” he says. With minimal changes, it’s carried on as Hubbard decreed. “If it isn’t written, it isn’t true” is another church dictum, handed down from Hubbard himself. For Scientologists, that gives all of his writing the force of revealed truth. But it also leaves little relevant guidance for navigating the 21st century. “That’s why it’s so difficult for them to react to something like the Internet,” Ortega says.

But a healthy bank account can go a long way toward mitigating technological ignorance. Like a stodgy Fortune 500 company hiring a teen to manage its Snapchat account, Scientology can and does hire smart, savvy people to push its brand, whether that’s with a big old-media push like the Super Bowl commercials it’s run over the past three years or an ill-fated venture into sponsored content with The Atlantic. The ads, Ortega notes, are not amateurish—they’re slickly produced even if, as he puts it, “they might be a little odd.”

“Scientology is cutting-edge technology for 1950. All of the most important policies were laid down by the 1960s.”
“I also want to emphasize how much Scientology is about information control,” Ortega says, “And the Internet is the exact opposite of that.” Information control means keeping the church’s secrets, but it also means controlling the stories told by critics. His recent book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely, tells how in the early 1970s the church intimidated and harassed Paulette Cooper, one of the first journalists to write critically about it. That, he says, was an entirely different time: With limited media outlets to target, Scientology could reasonably expect to control its reputation. Critics could be marginalized or drowned out.

He points to Operation Snow White, a large-scale infiltration of government agencies by Scientology. Eleven high-ranking church members pled guilty or were convicted, including Mary Sue Hubbard, wife and second-in-command to L. Ron Hubbard. In a pre-Internet era, Ortega says, that story could disappear: It was simply forgotten, letting the church “get past it.” That’s much harder today, when the Internet never forgets.

And those ads that seem so odd to outsiders, he says, are less about appealing to potential members and more about appeasing current Scientologists. “It’s important to keep in mind that everything is aimed at other Scientologists,” he says. So too with the Twitter accounts denouncing critics, the Facebook page calling Alex Gibney a propagandist, the anti-Going Clear website: They’re all part of the fight. As ham-handed as they appear, they’re primarily a form of theater—a way for Miscavige to show that he’s attacking, as Hubbard would’ve wanted.

Mark Ebner, another journalist who’s often written about the church, offers an even blunter assessment. “We (journos, apostates and critics alike) saw the Internet undoing of Scientology coming around ’96,” he emails. The Internet amplified the reach of critics and brought them together; it helped potential defectors find critical information otherwise suppressed by the church. (Tory Christman remembers the software sent to members in 1998: described as a Web page builder, it also covertly blocked users from viewing anti-Scientology websites.) “The Internet pulled back the curtain to find Hubbard bare, and caught the Office of Special Affairs with their pants down,” Ebner writes. “Years later, Anonymous came to Cyber Town and strafed Scientology while they weren’t looking.”

After the battle over ARS in the 1990s, Andreas Heldal-Lund’s Operation Clambake website became an essential resource and gathering ground for anti-Scientologists. Then came the Anonymous protests, which began in early 2008 in response to Scientology’s attempts to have a recruitment video starring Tom Cruise removed from the Internet. Those protests spilled out into the real world and helped garner more negative publicity. The war turned even Craigslist into a battleground, and anti-Scientology organizing continues today on Anonymous sites.

Meanwhile, an accumulation of negative news stories about Scientology is just a Google search away. Tony Ortega recently marked 20 years of reporting on the church, first for the Village Voice, and now on his blog. Prominent former members Marty Rathbun and Mike Rinder maintain blogs. Tory Christman has her website and YouTube channel. Marc Headley wrote a book about his time in the church, as did Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige. The Tampa Bay Times has reported extensively on the church and its Clearwater, Florida, spiritual headquarters; the Los Angeles Times ran a six-part story in 1990 and recently broke news that David Miscavige had hired private detectives to spy on his father.

Perhaps more crucially, popular culture has caught up with where ARS was in the early 1990s.

Ebner points to the 2005 episode of South Park that ridiculed Scientology as a turning point (noting that he consulted on it), which reached probably the largest audience at that point in time. More recently, Going Clear not only reached a large audience, but also, thanks in part to the church’s attacks, got people talking about Scientology—just not in the way the church had hoped.

“She made a Xenu joke, and people laughed, but the key thing is that she didn’t bother explaining who Xenu was. There was no need.”
Dave Touretzky, a research professor in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and longtime Scientology critic, says the Internet still offers “a much-too-convenient source of truth that members turn to when they have doubts about their church. But most of the people who can think for themselves have already googled their way to freedom. And the general public has been thoroughly inoculated.” He recalls seeing Kathy Griffin do a standup bit. “She made a Xenu joke,” he says, “and people laughed, but the key thing is that she didn’t bother explaining who Xenu was. There was no need.”

The church is embattled, Touretzky says. The negative news is out there, and it’s easy to find.

“This is what’s currently destroying Scientology,” he says. “Happy members wouldn’t go looking on the Internet. But none of the members are really happy these days. Some are more miserable than others, and some are more scared. None of them have anything to celebrate, and there are no prospects of things improving.”

Still, there are those 329,903 Facebook likes—the number has probably gone up by the time you read this. On its timeline, the Church of Scientology Facebook celebrates regularly. On Sept. 18, it was for National Founding Day Zimbabwe: “On this day in 1967,” the post reads, “the Church of Scientology Bulawayo was established in Zimbabwe, which was known as Rhodesia at the time.” Right now, 152 people have liked it; 11 have shared it.

Another post celebrates the 2004 opening of a Scientology church in Madrid, marking “a new era for religious freedom in Spain, with dignitaries from law, religion and human rights proclaiming Scientology as the hope for their country.” There, too: 207 likes, 12 shares.

“Scientology Church Hosts Forum to Honor Sacramento Humanitarians” reads a link posted on Sept. 17. It has 271 likes, six shares.

The posts are regular and predictably anodyne. There’s little of the vitriol present in the attack ads aimed at Alex Gibney and others. It’s all “good news”—events at churches around the world and the opening of new facilities for Narconon (the controversial drug rehab organization which is based on L. Ron Hubbard’s theories of addiction currently faces several lawsuits). There are links to a video series called “Meet a Scientologist” that introduce Ted the Pentecostal minister, Jule the sculptor, Albert the network marketer, and more. Most of these posts have hundreds of likes—not surprising for a page with more than a quarter-million fans.

In early May, less than two months after the HBO premiere of Going Clear, former Scientologist and current critic Mike Rinder noted the page’s remarkable increase in fans. As the graph below shows, between September 2014 and May 2015, Scientology’s primary Facebook page went from well under 100,000 fans to nearly 300,000. In April alone, the page added more than 50,000 fans. As many Internet marketers would tell you, that’s an impressive showing.

Where were all these new fans coming from? A graph calculated by social analytics firm Quintly showed that nearly 60 percent of the page’s fans were from Indonesia; of the 50,000 fans added in April, 43,000 were from that country.
Scientology's Facebook fans sorted by country

Scientology had suddenly become very popular in Indonesia—much more so than nearly anywhere else. Mexico, in second place, had only a third as many fans. The United States, coming in third, provided less than 10 percent of Scientology’s fans.

Via email, Scientology spokeswoman Karin Pouw explained the increase.“There is no surprise in the increase of ‘Likes’ coming from Indonesia,” she wrote, “after all, our humanitarian aid in the region can be counted in the thousands. 600 Scientology Volunteer Ministers from 28 nations responded to the 2004 tsunami in the Indonesian region bringing help to 300,000 people.” She did not explain why the church’s laudable humanitarian work resulted in a sudden spike in Facebook fans nearly 11 years later.

She said the church ran no ads targeting Indonesia, and that, more generally, “the page’s engagement and likes are driven through a combination of both organic posting and augmented with Facebook advertising at international level.” She did not answer how many Scientologists live in Indonesia; according to, there is no church in the country, the closest being in Taiwan and Australia. (Though maybe the 150,000 fans will ask for one.)

“We do not discriminate against anyone in the world LIKE-ing and engaging with our Facebook page.”

What’s going on here? Julian Gottke, digital public-relations manager at Quintly, said in an email, “Based on the growth rates in our fans by country table, you could assume that Scientology supports their social media strategy with farming fans in countries such as Indonesia (130k more fans than in the US), India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.” He’s referring to “click farms”—for-hire companies that use cheap labor and fake profiles to make social media pages look more popular than they are. Googling “buy Facebook likes” reveals how easy it can be.

Pouw denied buying likes. “To reiterate as explicitly and clearly as I can,” she wrote, “no 3rd party ‘social media farms’ are utilized and no one has ever been paid for ‘likes.’ Again, all of the Facebook fans of the Church of Scientology clicked by their own choosing. Further, like many major non-secular and secular organizations and brands on Facebook, we utilize both organic and Facebook provided advertising product methodologies to drive engagement. We do not discriminate against anyone in the world LIKE-ing and engaging with our Facebook page.” She also wrote that the church’s social media team “strictly follows all digital marketing best practices,” though none of its members would be available for comment.

“Given the Church’s expansion in the last 10 years, in which we grew faster than in the previous 50 years, much of our growth has been global,” she continued. This claim is difficult to confirm without hard, verifiable membership numbers from the church; Mike Rinder notes that the church’s membership claims have varied over the years. Tony Ortega broke down the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey conducted by Trinity College, which suggested there were 25,000 self-identifying Scientologists in America. Based on interviews with former members, he estimated that number was actually declining.

But Pouw encouraged comparing the Scientology Facebook page to those of other religious organizations, including specifically the Mormon Church, the Hillsong Church, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, writing that “you will find that a majority of their social media engagement also is from foreign countries, including Indonesia.” None of those pages are nearly as heavy with Indonesian fans.

Sachin Kamdar, CEO of web analytics firm Parsely, examined the Scientology page, and the linear increase made him suspect. “People tend to engage with Facebook pages and content organically, which results in more spikes and dips,” he wrote. “A consistently steady increase indicates that paid promotion is a more likely explanation for the rise in fans. This is also backed up by the location of the fans—which others have found to indicate an increase in paid promotion.”

He doesn’t mean that Scientology’s necessarily paying people to like its page, but rather that it’s paid for a lot of sponsored posts. (Remember that “Alex Gibney: Propagandist” sponsored post?) And those sponsored posts are ending up in more newsfeeds—including those of fake profiles designed to simply “like” almost everything. In other words, Scientology’s page might be receiving collateral likes from the click farms without directly paying them.

“There’s nothing wrong with paid promotion, though I wonder if they’re getting any increase in actual engagement thanks to the campaigns,” Kamdar wrote. Reviewing a month of posts suggested not: While many had hundreds of likes and tens of shares, none had more than 10 comments. Most had none.

Facebook, for its part, doesn’t comment on the advertising practices of individual pages, though in the past year it’s cracked down on bogus likes. That’s in part due to complaints from businesses that’ve run ad campaigns only to find themselves overwhelmed with click-farmed likes, which actually decrease the value of their pages and advertising.

The church says it doesn’t pay for clicks, and the flood of Indonesian fans could be a fluke. Or maybe there really are 150,000 Scientology fans in Indonesia.

After its meteoric rise, the Scientology Facebook page seems to have settled down. There are regular posts, hundreds of single-click likes, and few comments. This week, it added over 1,000 new page likes. Though Indonesian users still account for almost half the total, the flood of new fans seems to have ebbed. Maybe the church has bigger things to worry about.