Jan 15, 2021

Maharishi Inc. The bearded popularizer of transcendental meditation has earthly holdings that will blow your mind. His corporate empire includes land holdings, hotels, publishing houses and plans fro spiritual theme parks

Scott Shane
February 5, 1993

Here's the deal:

Some 2,400 masters of transcendental meditation fly into Baltimore, check into a hotel at the harbor and start to meditate, each morning and evening.

Within weeks, muggers begin to lose the urge to mug. Months pass, and robbers forswear robbery. A year or two, and drug dealers are staying off the corners. Within five years, crime has been -- not reduced. Eliminated.

"With its cities free from crime," say newspaper advertisements for the American City Project, placed over the last four months in 60 urban centers, "the United States will radiate a powerful positive, harmonious, and nourishing influence for the whole world."

This is the laudable result of the Maharishi Effect, named for its inventor: His Holiness, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, popularizer of TM, once-upon-a-time guru to the great, brilliant seer or shameless charlatan, depending on whom you ask.

Here he is now, his lilting, authentic-guru falsetto coming via speakerphone from Vlodrop, Netherlands. He is giving interviews promote his crime scheme.

How's it work, Maharishi?

"When people are involved in crime," he explains, "they are reacting to a stressed atmosphere. When the mind loses its stress, that affects the atmosphere. . . . In one, two, three weeks, no more, the criminals will think of not using their guns. Their thinking will be more positive. They will not know why."

If you've ever heard of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, you may vaguely remember him as the Indian holy man who turned the Beatles from LSD to a more spiritual variety of tripping in 1968. You may know he brought transcendental meditation from his native India to a spellbound West and watched it flourish alongside the baby boom. You may even have glimpsed Maharishi's other grand plans over the years, his white-bearded visage gazing from a college-campus poster or a fine-print ad in Time.

And you may have thought of him as a harmless eccentric, a slightly dotty old man, a little too ethereal for this mercenary world.

If so, you might be surprised to learn that Maharishi today presides over a corporate empire Indian sources have estimated to be worth more than $2 billion, a sort of Wal-Mart of the spirit, encompassing extensive land holdings in India, hotels in Europe, and publishing houses in the United States.

There's the Maharishi Heaven on Earth Development Company, selling schemes for suburbs built in harmony with natural law. There are Maharishi Ayur-Veda medical clinics, curing with herbs and diagnosing disease by taking the patient's pulse. There are plans for Maharishi Veda Land spiritual theme parks in Orlando, Fla., Niagara Falls, India and Japan.

There are Maharishi universities on three continents. There is Maharishi's Natural Law Party, which fielded candidates in the British and U.S. elections last year. There is Maharishi everything, it seems, right down to the Maharishi Jyotish astrology service and the Maharishi Yagya Hindu-good-luck-ceremonies-for-rent.

True, while the movement is prosperous, in some of its ventures there may be less than meets the eye. Some "universities" are rumored to consist of a hotel suite. A Heaven on Earth executive says development has been stalled by the recession. The theme parks consist, so far, of land purchases and press conferences. Natural Law Party candidates drew far less than 1 percent of the vote.

But whatever the substance, the image is getting meticulous attention. Maharishi's empire is served by an eager public relations operation, the Age of Enlightenment News Service, ready to beam Maharishi's pronouncements by satellite from his palatial headquarters in the Netherlands or Fed-Ex videocassettes of His Holiness explaining Maharishi's Science of Creative Intelligence.

"Maharishi's got so many major projects, it's unbelievable," says Craig Berg, an affable PR man in Fairfield, Iowa, the unlikely home of Maharishi International University and U.S. Capital of the Age of Enlightenment. "I don't know how he remembers them all."

'Like a mental shower'

Mr. Berg, 43, who grew up in Baltimore, is one of thousands of devotees who serve Maharishi's projects around the globe for room, board and a small monthly stipend. Many dress in the coat-and-tie style he advises to change TM's counterculture reputation: "Throw your blue jeans into the ocean," he once told them.

To many of the tens of thousands of Americans who still actively practice TM, it remains a useful tool for stress-reduction. "It's extremely clarifying to my awareness," says Kevin P. Condon, 48, an Ellicott City investment manager who has meditated for 25 years. "It's like a mental shower. I like it."

But for some former devotees who have left the TM movement, Maharishi is the leader of a cult that literally entrances its subjects, bombards them with propaganda and cripples their ability to think critically. Caught up in TM as teen-agers in the '70s, they now view their involvement as a prolonged bout of self-hypnosis.

"For me, the age of enlightenment turned into the age of embarrassment," says Roger Foster, 35, a Silver Spring computer programmer who spent more than a decade serving Maharishi before an anti-cult book changed his mind in 1988. "I can't believe what I used to believe."

In retrospect, he sees a sinister side, recalling times when devotees had their mail screened and were monitored by a "Vigilance Committee." Before qualifying as an advanced meditator, a "Governor of the Age of Enlightenment," he was asked: "Have you ever strayed from the movement, even in your thinking?"

Diane Hendel, a 36-year-old nursing student, spent 18 years in the movement before getting out in 1989. She is a leader of TM-EX, a group of former meditators, and has sued the movement for fraud.

She tells of paying a small fortune for secret mantras and miracle cures; of overhearing a down-to-earth Maharishi in India talking profit margins with the Philippines head of TM; of selling commodities by phone for the TM-dominated Fairfield franchise of International Trading Group, Ltd., later closed in a major fraud case.

"We were told it was people's karma if they lost their money with us," says Ms. Hendel, of Arlington, Va.

Mr. Berg dismisses TM-EX as a "microscopic" group of "troubled people. It seems their mission in life is to be unhappy." Maharishi's mission is just the opposite, he says.

Indeed, vanquishing crime from U.S. cities is only a piece of "Maharishi's Master Plan to Create Heaven on Earth." It should be well within the reach of a man who, at various times, has claimed he can teach others to fly, to walk through walls, to become invisible; who can reverse the aging process, eliminate hunger, foretell the future, end all war.

Tell Maharishi that some people in Baltimore scoff at his crime-fighting plan, and over the transatlantic phone line comes a confident laugh.

"I can expect such attitudes from the crime-ridden atmosphere," he says. "This is a simple and good thing."

Simple and good, but not inexpensive. Maharishi wants $88 million a year from the city or private benefactors -- $36,000 in salary and expenses for each of the 2,400 meditators whose vibes would clear crime from metro Baltimore, quite possibly from Washington and Philadelphia as well. (This is not an exact science.)

He would need this money on a continuing basis. "When the lamp is turned off," he explains, "the darkness returns."

Sure, Maharishi, but it still sounds like a lot of cash.

Another chuckle.

5) "I never think about money," he says.

Can't talk about his dad

Various sources report Maharishi's father as a teacher, a tax inspector and a forest ranger; his birth date as 1917 and 1918; his real name as J. N. Srivastava and Mashed Prasad Varma.

He doesn't mind the mystery. "Being a monk, I'm not allowed to speak about myself," he says.

What seems certain is that he completed a physics degree at Allahabad University in India and then spent some years studying the Vedas, ancient Hindu scriptures, with a renowned holy man known as Guru Dev. In the 1950s, he rechristened himself Maharishi (great seer) Mahesh (a family name) Yogi (master of yoga) and began eyeing the untapped Western spiritual market.

Maharishi's stroke of genius was to take the basic meditative technique common to many traditions, give it the catchy, copyrighted title "Transcendental Meditation," add a -- of secrecy and razzle-dazzle -- and put a price tag on it. The introductory TM course originally cost about $100; now it's $400. Enthusiasts pay hundreds more for "advanced" courses, some of which amount to a ceremony to pass on a new mantra, a sound the meditator concentrates on.

Though the Beatles quickly lost interest, the publicity that attended celebrity gave TM the push it needed. Meditation courses swept U.S. college campuses. Millions in course fees poured in to TM's national headquarters.

In 1975, Harvard psychologist Herbert Benson documented the physiological effects of meditation in a best-selling book, "The Relaxation Response." He found evidence to support many meditators' reports that they felt better, slept more soundly and thought more clearly as a result of a 20-minute, twice-a-day meditation routine.

But Dr. Benson also confirmed that there was no magic to TM. Meditation worked fine without TM's lectures on Maharishi's Vedic science, secret Sanskrit mantras or fruit-and-flower initiation ceremonies.

The aging of the '60s generation gradually cut the number of new TM recruits. Maharishi responded, like any good marketing man, with new concepts: courses in advanced "TM-Sidhi" meditation and "yogic flying," which looks to outsiders like vigorous hopping. (The PR photographs use a fast shutter speed to freeze yogic flyers in mid-hop, leaving the impression they are floating cross-legged a few inches above the ground.)

He promised world peace and took credit for the end of the Cold War. Now, as Americans turn their attention inward, he is offering to make their cities safe. Meanwhile, his products have proliferated.

In October 1991, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, having unwittingly printed an uncritical account of Ayur-Veda healing, came back with a long article attacking the TM movement for "a widespread pattern of misinformation, deception, and manipulation of lay and scientific news media." The movement fired back with a libel lawsuit, which is still in court.

Maharishi's boosters say he has no personal wealth and dedicates his waking hours to the betterment of mankind. His critics say he lives like a potentate, traveling in a Mercedes, helicopter or jet and residing in a mammoth former monastery in the Dutch countryside.

A Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary shows a brick complex that might adequately house a royal family. Curiously, though the many advanced meditators on the site presumably put out plenty of crime-fighting vibes, the perimeter is patrolled by security men with dogs.

It's lonely at the top

It can be a lonely business arguing the power of meditation against war and crime. But believers wield a hefty weapon -- five fat research volumes published by Maharishi International University Press.

Of more than 400 studies, some 40 purport to confirm the Maharishi Effect. As it happens, nearly all were carried out by meditators.

One is John L. Davies, a University of Maryland psychologist, who emphasizes his TM research is not university-sponsored. But he says his findings fully justify paying meditators to attack Baltimore crime.

What about Fairfield, Iowa? It's a rural center of fewer than 10,000 residents with hundreds of meditators gathering morning and evening in huge golden domes. If meditation can eliminate ** crime from Baltimore, surely crime must be long gone from Fairfield?

Dr. Davies demurs.

"The introduction of the meditators [since 1974] has caused some upheaval in the fabric of the town's life," Dr. Davies says. "In the process, you get some mixed feelings, and that can result in some crime."

Wouldn't you just know it? Mixed feelings are blocking the power of meditation. Fairfield police chief Randy Cooksey sounds like he's answered this question before.

"Crime here is about the same as any small town in rural America," says Chief Cooksey. Last year, he says, produced 9,501 calls to the police, including four rapes, one robbery, 31 aggravated assaults, 84 burglaries, 461 thefts. . . .

But are the meditators at least driving crime down?

"I'd say there's been a steady increase," Chief Cooksey said. "I think, based on my statistics in Fairfield, I can show they have no impact on crime here."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
Medical Research Theft


Jan 14, 2021

Cult or High Demand Group & Relationship Education & Recovery

Workshop/Support Session January 23rd!

To New and Returning Participants,

If you would like to attend Saturday,  1/23, 12:00 Noon – 2:00 Pacific Time, please send in your payment of $50 for one session or $150 for three sessions to reserve your place.  

I keep the total participants to about 10 each time to allow for your exploration of relevant issues in your lives. Some of you have already paid but if you could please confirm your attendance, I’d appreciate it.  Janja and I look forward to seeing you on the 23rd!

Colleen Russell, LMFT, CGP
Psychotherapy, Consultations, Education

Individuals, Couples, Families, Groups & Workshops

PO Box 377, Lagunitas, CA 94938
Marin County, CA, San Francisco Bay Area


Jan 12, 2021

Obituary: Elbert Eugene Spriggs

Founder, Twelve Tribes group, Elbert Eugene Spriggs died

"According to multiple ex-members of the Twelve Tribes who still have friends and family within the community, Elbert Eugene Spriggs, known as Yonéq by members of the community, died on January 11, 2021 at 8:35 pm. They suspect his death was COVID 19 related. Yonéq was the founder and leader of the Twelve Tribes communities, which many people consider to be a cult."



Jan 11, 2021

India's ashrams: Havens for spirituality or scandalous snake pits?

Deutsche Welle

January 11, 2021


The Indian web-series "Aashram" has created a stir after showing sexual abuse by Hindu holy men. Religious activists say depictions of sex and drug abuse by holy men discredit Hinduism, but is that true? 

"Let go of everything, your attachments, your wealth, your desires. Then you will experience eternal bliss."

These words are spoken by the guru Baba Nirala, the main protagonist in Aashram, a Hindi web series currently being streamed in India. Despite his spirituality, the guru's ways are often immoral. He treads the gray zone between crime and justice, sin and morality when his love for a female devotee turns into sexual abuse — and while using his power over his followers to break the law.

Directed by veteran Indian filmmaker Prakash Jha, Aashram is fictitious yet has been criticized by many who say it wrongly depicts Hindu spiritual leaders as drug peddlers and sexual predators. Meanwhile, a lawyer in the northwestern city of Jodhpur has filed a petition against the series claiming it "hurts the religious sentiments of Hindus” and summons have been sent to Jha and his lead actor, Bobby Deol. The case will be heard on January 11.

Ashrams, gurus and scandals

Scandals in religious organizations, Hindu or otherwise, are not uncommon. But of late, Hindu spiritual retreats and yoga institutions have been riddled with accusations of sexual misconduct. Asaram Bapu (pictured above), a guru who was based in Jodhpur, was convicted of rape and sent to prison in 2018. Another guru, called Swami Bhakti Bhushan Maharaj, was arrested last year in July for raping several minor girls in his ashram in a city close to New Delhi.

In the West, arguably the most publicized reports of sexual promiscuity and exploitation circled around Bhagwan, or Osho Rajneesh, notorious for sexual orgies on his ashram premises in the 1960s. In a recent Netflix documentary called Wild Wild Country, witnesses speak about possible psychological damages they suffered while living with their parents at his retreat in Oregon in the United States and in the Indian city of Pune.

Reports of abuse also came up in Australia in the last decade, when many victims testified against Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, who sexually abused minors and women in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yoga gurus also assaulting students

Recent scandals related to Hindu spiritual practices in the West have related to yoga teachers and their schools. Although these are not ashrams by definition, many have cult-like followings and hierarchies that often enable sexual abuse.

Indian-American Bikram Choudhury, a celebrity yoga teacher who created "hot yoga" (a form of yoga performed in hot and humid conditions) and opened his first studio in Los Angeles, has been accused of rape and sexual abuse multiple times since 2010. Lawsuits against him describe a cult-like atmosphere whereby followers helped Choudhury find young women to assault.

Similar complaints have emerged against Pattabhi Jois, an iconic teacher of the Ashtanga yoga method who has legions of international followers, especially from Europe and the US.

Speaking to DW, Karen Rain, an American writer who learned yoga under Jois for several years, said the guru used the pretext of adjusting yoga postures to sexually assault his students.

"Pattabhi Jois sexually assaulted students under the guise of asana adjustments or affection, such as kissing women on the lips and squeezing their buttocks when saying good-bye," she said. "On one level, it's a tautology, Pattabhi Jois was able to sexually assault so many students because he was able to blatantly  assault them in class, in public. Bystanders did not hold him responsible and enabled him to continue without experiencing consequences for his abuse of power."

Marion Goldman, professor emeritus of Sociology and Religious Studies at the University of Oregon, who spent some time as a researcher in Rajneeshpuram, a religious community in Oregon led by Osho Rajneesh, explains why such religious set-ups enable sexual abuse and why victims take so long to report the abuse they have endured.

"Full membership in an alternative religion involves deep emotional attachment to both the leader, and also other followers," she says, adding, "In some ways the group represents a second chance family and women endure emotional and physical abuse and deprivation because they don't want to leave their family."

The end of spirituality?

Meanwhile, Karen Rain's experience of abuse in an unethical yoga circle has left her devoid of any desire to pursue spirituality. She has given up yoga altogether and prefers to stay away from holy groups because of "pervasive abuse and corruption."

But does this mean that victim testimonies, news reports on sexual abuse and critical television series on ashrams — even fictitious ones — discredit Hindu spirituality altogether?

Far from it, says Om Prakash, an actor who plays the role of a police officer in the Aashram series. Contrary to hurting religious beliefs, the show is meant to warn people against gurus who claim to represent God and solve their problems.

"There are some hypocrites in the Hindu religion whose activities give religion a bad name. This series has been created to caution people against such characters," he said.

"We need such series to expose people who use religion — be it Hinduism or any other religion — for their selfish ends."




TM and Cult Mania

TM and Cult Mania is a non-fiction book that examines assertions made by the Transcendental Meditation movement. The book is authored by Michael Persinger, Normand Carrey and Lynn Suess and published in 1980 by Christopher Publishing House. Persinger is a neurophysiologist and has worked out of Laurentian University.

Jan 7, 2021

Inside the 'Twin Flames Universe' run by a couple who claim to 'channel' messages from God and 'persuade people to CHANGE gender' to help them find their soulmate - as ex-followers say it's 'cult-like'

Stephanie Linning 
January 7, 2021

Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, of Michigan, founded the Twin Flames Universe

Claims to help guide members towards their soul mate, or 'twin flame'

But former members claim they felt exploited by the Twin Flames Universe

Others said members were encouraged to transition in order to find love

Jeff and Shaleia deny running a cult and have taken legal action against former members, accusing them of spreading false information 

A couple who run an online spiritual community that claims to help members find their soul mate have faced accusations that they promote cult-like practices and have even encouraged members to change their gender in a bid to find love.  

Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, who live in Michigan, are the founders of the Twin Flames Universe, an online community which offers virtual tutorials, workshops and therapy sessions designed to lead people to their so-called 'twin flame'. 

'A twin flame is your best friend in the entire universe,' Jeff explained in a 2017 YouTube video. 'This person was designed for you by God, and you were designed for this person by God, to be your eternal companion… for all of eternity.' 

Members of the Twin Flames Universe are given access to a special Facebook group, which has more than 15,000 members, as well as dozens of YouTube videos with titles like 'does my twin flame know they're my twin flame?' and 'manifest twin flame miracles'. 

Other offerings, including one-on-one therapies, and access to Google Hangout 'classes' during which members were offered advice on their relationship problems, require a subscription. 

According to Vanity Fair, the cost of accessing the 'full run of this therapeutic reality show, and its offshoots, costs $4,400.'

While dozens of followers claim the organisation has had a positive impact on their lives, several former members have spoken to Vanity Fair and Vice about what they consider to be Jeff and Shaleia's exploitative and cult-like practices.

Jeff, who is in his early 30s, and Shaleia, who is in her mid-30s, vehemently deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim the attacks are part of a conspiracy theory to 'destroy' the Twin Flames Universe. 

The duo, who claim to have a direct connection to God, work with a team of coaches to help guide their members towards their twin flame, who might live in another city, or even country. 

Sometimes these matches are people they already know; sometimes they are other members of the community. 

These matches are always between one 'masculine' partner and one 'feminine' partner, however the group uses these terms to refer to energy, rather than a person's sex or gender, meaning you could be a woman but have a 'divine gender' that is masculine. 

Jeff and Shaleia claim their close connection with God means they can confirm a person's true 'divine gender', even if it is not one they identify with.

The couple told Vanity Fair that members who 'discover a new divine gender' are never pressured to change their outward appearance. But the publication notes that 'many of them do; starting with their names, pronouns, dress, and hair.'
One transgender man spoke positively of discovering that his 'divine gender' was masculine after being guided by members of the community and his coaches. 

Jeff and Shaleia vehemently deny any allegations of wrongdoing and claim the attacks are part of a conspiracy theory to 'destroy' the Twin Flames Universe. Above, a grab from a recent video denouncing the attacks
'I was guided perfectly through pointed, logical questions and meditation to the truth,' he wrote in a blog post. He added to Vanity Fair: 'It wasn't forced on me in any way.'

However others insist that members are actively encouraged to outwardly adopt their 'divine gender'. Ten ex-members told the publication the 'Twin Flames Universe is coercing vulnerable people who have never experienced gender dysphoria to transition'.

One former member added: 'If those people in there are happy, I hope so. But I just think it’s all too likely that indoctrination made them believe that they were trans when they were f*****g fine before.' 

All current members disagreed, saying that no one has pressured them to transform anything about their bodies or lives. Jeff and Shaleia rejected the idea that they coerce people to change their gender. 

Jeff also referred to himself as 'Father Christ' and said Shaleia is 'Mother Christ', positioning them as the undisputed leaders of the group with an intimate connection to God.  

He later justifying the statement by saying it was a reflection of the belief that everyone is a divine being but added he is also the 'Second Coming' of Jesus. 

Former members speaking to Vice leveled a range of accusations against the Twin Flames Universe and accused Jeff and Shaleia of building a 'cult empire' that exploited its members. 

Ex-members and parents of current members claimed followers were encouraged to cut off communication with their families, an isolation tactic that is common in cults.  

When asked for comment by Vice, Jeff and Shaleia denied they are running a cult. 'A cult is a (sic) organization of abuse that systematically takes from and harms its members to enrich its founder,' Jeff said. 'We created an organization of love and harmony which heals and enriches everyone in it and everyone who is connected to anyone in it.' 

According to Vanity Fair, Jeff and Shaleia also 'filed two lawsuits that named seven former Twin Flames Universe members and one family member as defendants, variously accusing them of defamation, false promotion, unfair competition, and additional charges. Among other things, the complaints allege that their negative accounts of Twin Flames Universe online or in the Vice story are false, cooked up to make the spiritual community look bad and to steal their clients, drive people away, and promote the ex-members’ businesses.'


Jan 5, 2021

Inform January webinar: "Becoming Religious"

The webinar will take place from 5.30-7.30pm on Thursday 14th January, on the topic “Becoming religious: How and why beliefs and practices are transmitted.” It will explore the motivations of minority religions and spiritual seekers to transmit and learn, and the processes they employ.

You can register to attend by making a donation through our website, at https://inform.ac/seminars . If you would prefer not to make a donation, please email us at inform@kcl.ac.uk to book your place.

Speakers will give short presentations, followed by an extended conversation and Q&A. More details about the seminar are below.  

The final speakers list is as follows: 

"The Stickiness of Non-Religion? Intergenerational Transmission and the Formation of Non-Religious Identities in Childhood" - Dr Anna Strhan, Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of York and Dr Rachael Shillitoe, Research Associate, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Birmingham 

"Religious transmission among British Sikhs" - Dr Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor, School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science, University of Leeds  

"Making Witches: Transmission of Wicca Before, During and After the Era of the Self-help Paperback" - Dr Christina Oakley Harrington, Pagan Federation 

"Inventing Memory: the challenges of mass conversion in a liberal setting" - Professor Ben Pink Dandelion, University of Birmingham 

"The role of education in the development of British Hindu diasporas" - Rasamandala das, founder and national coordinator for ISKCON educational services and PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge

“Immigration, Socialisation and ‘Intra-Religious Conversion’ Among British Muslims” - Dr Riyaz Timol, Research Associate in British Muslim Studies, Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, Cardiff University

Professor Emerita Kim Knott, Lancaster University, will respond.  

Seminar abstract 
All people, young and old, are involved in the process of learning and passing on ideas, beliefs and practices that are important to them. This is how they express their identities and commitments, and how they sustain their worldviews, ideologies and ritual systems. Without effective processes for intergenerational and adult transmission, religious institutions, new or well-established, cannot survive and thrive. That ‘chain of memory’, as Danièle Hervieu-Léger noted, is the major feature distinguishing religion from other systems of meaning. And, although many in Western societies find themselves unschooled and adrift when it comes to religious affiliation and participation, they have increasing access, especially online, to an immense array of spiritual opportunities and resources. What paths they choose to follow, formal or informal, and how they go about acquiring the necessary beliefs, practices and training, are varied. 


Jan 4, 2021

A Loving Provision'? How Former Jehovah's Witnesses Experience Shunning Practices

Julia Gutgsell
December 21, 2020


This presentation offers a general introduction into the field of ostracism and presents a high-level overview of the research findings presented in Julia's MSc dissertation. The presentation concludes by offering some fresh thinking on future directions to grow our understanding of ostracism and its impact.

Julia Gutgsell (BSc, MSc) is a criminologist based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her dissertation on ostracism in high control groups and relationships was awarded the Jeanine Seghers prize. She recently co-authored 'A semantic and discursive analysis of Watchtower May 2019' which was given as evidence to IICSA's (Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse) investigation, 'Child protection in religious organisations and settings'.

She aims to contribute to criminological perspectives by examining, challenging and discovering new areas for research on crime, social harm and the boundaries between victim-perpetrators.

Contact details:

Email: Julia.gutgsell@gmail.com
To access the dissertation and paper: https://vub.academia.edu/JuliaGutgsell

Jan 3, 2021

Mormon Church Sued For Allegedly Covering Up Boy Scouts Sex Abuse

In the seven lawsuits each representing seven different male victims, attorneys say church officials never notified authorities about abuse allegations.

Huffington Post
December 28, 2020

PHOENIX (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was hit with several lawsuits Monday for allegedly covering up decades of sexual abuse among Boy Scout troops in Arizona, marking the latest litigation before the state's end-of-year deadline for adult victims to sue.

The church "must be held accountable in order to bring healing and closure to Mormon victims of childhood sexual abuse," Hurley McKenna & Mertz, a law firm that focuses on church sex abuse, said in a statement.

In the seven lawsuits each representing seven different male victims, attorneys say church officials never notified authorities about abuse allegations. Public records show members of church-sponsored Boy Scout troops who were abused would tell church bishops about what they had experienced. The lawsuits allege bishops would then tell the victims to keep quiet so the church could conduct its own investigation. In the meantime, troop leaders and volunteers accused of sex abuse would be allowed to continue in their roles or be assigned to another troop, the suits said.

Church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a statement that the faith has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind and that the serious allegations require thorough investigation. He called it inaccurate to say the faith had access to files that had names of banned Scout leaders and said the church hasn't seen the records that allegedly back the accusations.

"The claim that the church has had access to the BSA ineligible volunteer files for many decades is simply false," Penrod said. "The church learned about the details of those files at the same time as the general public. These claims will be carefully evaluated and appropriately addressed."

All seven victims are asking for a jury to award an unspecified sum for medical expenses, pain and suffering. They are also seeking punitive damages for the "outrageous conduct" of church officials.

The church sponsored at least seven troops in Arizona in metro Phoenix and Tucson, according to attorneys. The suits were all filed earlier this month — six in Maricopa County Superior Court and one in Pima County Superior Court. The allegations of sexual abuse touch all troops between 1972 and 2009.

The church was the largest sponsor of Boy Scouts of America troops and its greatest ally until the Utah-based faith ended the partnership on Jan. 1, 2020, and pulled out more than 400,000 young people. The faith moved them into its own global youth program that focuses on religion and spiritual development, while weaving in camping and other outdoor activities in parts of the world where that's feasible.

The split between the Boy Scouts and the faith known widely as the Mormon church ended a nearly century-old relationship between two organizations that were brought together by shared values that diverged in recent years. Amid declining membership, the Boy Scouts of America opened its arms to openly gay youth members and adult volunteers as well as girls and transgender boys, while the church believes that same-sex intimacy is a sin.

In its first step toward creating a compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters years ago by scoutmasters or other leaders, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection in February. Around 90,000 sexual abuse claims have been filed against the Boy Scouts. It's the latest major American institution to seek bankruptcy protection amid mounting legal pressures over allegations of sexual abuse. Roman Catholic dioceses across the country and some universities have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

These suits come as a window to pursue litigation for some victims of childhood sexual abuse in Arizona is about to close. The state joined several others last year in extending the rights of now-adult victims to sue their alleged assailants and any churches, youth groups or other institutions that turned a blind eye at the time of the abuse.

Lawmakers gave victims until their 30th birthday to sue — a decade longer than before. Victims who missed the cutoff have a one-time opportunity to file suit before the end of the year. Arizona has no deadline for criminal charges in child sexual abuse cases.

Andrew Van Arsdale, a lawyer with Abused in Scouting, says the legal network is filing 261 sex abuse lawsuits in Arizona on Monday against various local Scout councils.


Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.


Danny Masterson Harassment Suit Must Go Through Scientology Mediation, Judge Rules

Pat Saperstein
December 31, 2020 

The stalking and intimidation cases brought by four women who have accused TV actor Danny Masterson of rape must now go through mediation within the Church of Scientology, a Los Angeles judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling comes just days before Masterson’s scheduled arraignment on three charges of rape between 2001 and 2003. In early November, that hearing was set for Jan 6.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Steven Kleifield ruled that the harassment complaint from Chrissie Carnell Bixler, her husband, musician Cedric Bixler-Zavala, Marie Bobette Riales and two Jane Does must be settled by the Church in “religious arbitration,” since an arbitration agreement already exists among the parties that compels disputes to be handled by the Church of Scientology.

The August 2019 suit alleged the plaintiffs had been stalked and intimidated by the church’s agents after going to the police to report the allegations. Carnell Bixler has alleged that Masterson repeatedly sexually assaulted her while they were dating in 2001 and 2002. Bixler-Zavala alleged that “agents of the defendants” assaulted them by means including poisoning their dogs, assaults using automobiles and harassing phone calls.

Jane Doe #1 also alleged harassment by property damage, threats of violence, assaults and sexual harassment as retribution for reporting her alleged rape to police. Jane Doe #2 was also part of the lawsuit that alleged infliction of emotional distress, stalking and invasion of privacy by the defendants.

Masterson’s attorney Andrew Brettler said, “This was absolutely the correct result. We look forward to arbitrating the claims, as the Court directed.”

A decision was not made on the claims by Bobette Riales, who was not a member of the church and thus not subject to the arbitration agreement.

A status conference on the arbitration was set by the court for June 30.


CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/2/2020

Recovery Workshop, Gregg Schoof, Rwanda, Uganda, Legal, Mount Gerizim Baptist Ministries, Hillsong, Sexual Abuse, Televangelists, Child Marriage, Israel, Legal

To New and Returning Participants,

If you would like to attend Saturday,  1/9, 12:00 Noon – 2:00 Pacific Time, please send in your payment of $50 for one session or $150 for three sessions to reserve your place.  I keep the total participants to about 10 each time to allow for your exploration of relevant issues in your lives. Some of you have already paid but if you could please confirm your attendance, I'd appreciate it.   Janja and I look forward to seeing you on the 9th !

Colleen Russell, LMFT, CGP
"Gregg Schoof claimed the Rwandan government had "taken a stand against God with its heathen practices" before being arrested last year.

Gregg Schoof, the controversial evangelical pastor deported from Rwanda last year, is now living and working in Uganda. 

In a "prayer letter" published today on Fundamental Baptist Missions International, Schoof wrote that his family plans to start new radio stations and local churches in Uganda, and has recently found funding for their work. "In Rwanda, we were entirely by ourselves, but in Uganda, there are several good churches that we can work with," wrote Schoof, who launched the NGO Mount Gerizim Baptist Ministries in Uganda this summer. "From the radio station we had in Rwanda, I still have a love for the radio ministry … I am looking at seven different cities where we could start radio stations with local pastors. We also have an open door to start three stations in Burundi." He then requested funding for radio equipment for four different stations, where each setup, he said, "costs about $15,000."

In Rwanda, Schoof's radio station, The Amazing Grace Christian Radio, was shut down in 2018 after one of the station's presenters, Nicolas Niyibikora, referred to women as "evil" during multiple broadcasts. This prompted the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority to revoke the radio station's license. 

Schoof, a missionary, also had his Baptist church shut down for not complying with city regulations regarding noise pollution and building safety standards. (This closure was not specific to Schoof, and was one of many in Rwanda at the time.) During his 16 years in Rwanda, Schoof frequently critiqued the government for teaching evolution and allowing access to family planning services like condoms and abortion. (Schoof has also continued to struggle with science: At a livestreamed September event in the Lighthouse Baptist Church in Ohio, Schoof told attendees and viewers that believed he had the coronavirus in 2019, and said he "took God's medicines … good old fashioned exciting raw garlic." There is no scientific evidence that eating raw garlic will cure COVID-19.)

After his radio station was closed in Rwanda, Schoof tried to host a news conference in 2019 to discuss his situation. The conference did not occur, as he didn't have government approval. "I did not come here to fight the government," he said in a written statement. "But this government has taken a stand against God with its heathen practices." Schoof was then arrested for, according to Reuters, "disturbing public order," before he was deported. 

Uganda, where Schoof and his family have lived since November 2019, has its own contentious history with evangelical missionaries from the United States, many of whom have been linked to promoting anti-LGBTQ legislation and exporting homophobia. In his letter today, Schoof said, "Truly, God has given us a wide open door in Uganda. Thank you again for your interest in our ministry and for your prayers and support."

"Last month, news broke that Carl Lentz, one-time "spiritual confidant" to celebrities including Justin Bieber and head pastor at Hillsong megachurch, was "released" from his job due to unspecified "moral failures." Soon afterward, it was revealed that Lentz cheated on his wife, having had an affair with Brooklyn-based fashion designer Ranin Karim (and potentially, many others). As of last week, it appeared like his redemption arc was beginning to unfold, having reportedly entered treatment for anxiety, depression, and "pastoral burnout." Except, of course, new information about a seedy, "sexual inappropriate" culture at Hillsong has begun to emerge, and I just don't get how a "religious man" gets out of this one!

According to Page Six, back in 2018, whistleblowers within the Hillsong organization sent a letter to church leaders citing "verified, widely circulated stories of inappropriate sexual behavior amongst staff/interns," allegedly labeling Hillsong "...dangerous and a breeding ground for unchecked abuse."

Apparently, one high-ranking church leader was instructed to leave after the letter exposed he had "multiple inappropriate sexual relationships with several female leaders and volunteers and was verbally, emotionally, and according to one woman, physically abusive in his relationships with these women." Another high-ranking male church leader was accused of "not respecting physical and sexual boundaries within dating relationships with female church volunteers."

The letter also stated that church volunteers face "harsh words, belittlement, name-calling from certain pastors and staff," and one pastor in particular was guilty of "losing his temper, bullying, yelling and outright screaming at other volunteers and leaders... that's just how they are—it's their personality/culture."

How very Christian of them! The time for a reckoning is nigh."

"With every verse and refrain, Bryan Dougan's voice becomes more urgent. "We are so weary of this coronavirus and so hungry for the physical community of the Holy Family. Feed our desperate hungers with your divine mercy and grace. Bread of the world, hear our prayer." Despite the intention in his timbre, his prayers echo hollowly in the cavernous nave; its pews sit empty. A member of Church of the Holy Family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Dougan is one of the congregants who helps create Sunday's weekly video service, a necessity of the pandemic given the dangers of mass gatherings.

"We're basically producing a TV show," observes Reverend Clarke French, who says the process has been the steepest learning curve of his twenty years in the clergy. "I had to learn five new software platforms since the pandemic started."

In March, two days after the state reported its first COVID-19 death, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive stay-at-home order that banned gatherings of more than ten people — essentially outlawing in-person religious services. A May order that moved the state to 'Phase One' of the reopening process relaxed general restrictions by allowing retail stores to resume business at 50% capacity, but permitted religious institutions to exceed the ten-person gathering limit only if their services were held outdoors. That decision provoked a lawsuit from a coalition of religious conservatives who argued that churches were being unfairly targeted, an infringement on the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion."
"Parents of girl who was set to marry 24-year-old man arrested, daughter transferred to custody of welfare authorities; mother insists child was mature enough

Police prevented a Haredi wedding of a 14-year-old girl to a 24-year-old man in Jerusalem, at the last minute.

The ceremony had been slated to take place last week, Channel 12 said Thursday, reporting that police were tipped off shortly beforehand and arrested the girl's parents.

They have since been released to house arrest, but the child has been placed in the custody of welfare services.

In a recorded phone conversation with Channel 12, the girl's mother insisted that she was not aware Israeli law bars marriages of children under the age of 18, and insisted there was nothing wrong with the arrangement.

"I didn't know this was like a person stealing or murdering or that it is something that harms anyone," the woman claimed. "I know a lot of girls who get married at the age of 15. It happens a lot [in our community]. There are a lot of girls who are ready for it."

She lamented that relationships between teenagers in the "secular world" are deemed legitimate, while the marriage of children in Haredi communities are not. The mother went on to demand that authorities return her daughter home."

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Spirituality is all very well but don't let it turn you into a smug monster

The Guardian
Barbara Ellen
January 2, 2021

"It would appear that the mindfulness movement is overrun by preening narcissists. Who could have guessed? A Dutch study by Roos Vonk and Anouk Visser, entitled An Exploration of Spiritual Superiority: The Paradox of Self-Enhancement, is the first to measure how people feel they’re more advanced than others in terms of wisdom, self-knowledge and psychic intuition.

An investigation involving around 3,700 people found that practices that are supposed to minimise the ego tend to enlarge it and that those who put extra effort into enhancing spirituality – mindfulness retreats, aura-reading, past life-regression – are the smuggest, most self-aggrandising and unbearable of all (I may be paraphrasing a tad there). Such people cling to unmeasurable and irrefutable claims about their innate superiority, such as greater insights into the human condition, deeper compassion for others and more advanced psychic abilities (they sense things, dontcha know!). Most of us will have come across people like this. Roughly 99% will wish that we hadn’t.

These people are sashaying in yoga pants, banging on about “inner peace” and the “true self”, smiling with sad, wise eyes at your earthbound concerns and, the biggest “tell” of all, chiding you for making jokes. The self-styled spiritual hate jokes: they can’t do funny, so they desperately want to stop you using funny against them. Thus, humour, one of the most spiritually enriching qualities, one of the greatest human assets, is demoted to a mere “defence mechanism”. Humour threatens and undermines the professionally spiritual - they need to shut it (and you) down."


Helping People Escape Authoritarian Cults - with Joseph Kelly

Jon Atack, Family & Friends
January 2, 2021

Jon Atack: Helping someone to leave an authoritarian group or abandon destructive beliefs. Cult intervention specialist Joseph Kelly also talks with Jon about the difficulties of his profession.

Ex-NXIVM Cult Member Tells All!

Roberta Glass
True Crime Report
December 27, 2020

Ex-NXIVM member Susan Dones talks to Roberta about teaching the NXIVM curriculum, starting her own NXIVM center and how and why she ultimately left the cult. In retaliation to Dones closing her center and leaving, NXIVM filed a lawsuit against her. Susan took on NXIVM's well-moneyed legal team, representing herself in court, and won.

The Roberta Glass True Crime Report is produced by Ati Abdo MacDonald

The Sunk Costs Fallacy

Julia Galef
Big Think
September 25, 2013

The sunk cost fallacy means making a choice not based on what outcome you think is going to be the best going forward but instead based on a desire not to see your past investment go to waste.

Julia Galef is a New York-based writer and public speaker specializing in science, rationality, and design. She serves on the board of directors of the New York City Skeptics, co-hosts their official podcast, Rationally Speaking, and co-writes the blog Rationally Speaking along with philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci. She has moderated panel discussions at The Amazing Meeting and the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism, and gives frequent public lectures to organizations including the Center for Inquiry and the Secular Student Alliance. Julia received her B.A. in statistics from Columbia in 2005.

So I want to introduce you to a concept known as the sunk cost fallacy.  Imagine that you’re going to the store and you’re halfway there when you realize, “Oh wait, the store is actually closed today.”  But you figure, “Well, I’ve already come ten blocks.  I might as well just go all the way to the store, you know, so that my ten blocks of walking won’t have been wasted.  Well, this is a transparently silly way to reason and I doubt that any of us would actually go all the way to a store that we knew was closed just because we’d already gone ten blocks.

But this pattern of thinking is actually surprisingly common in scenarios that are a little bit less obvious than the store example.  So, say you’re in a career and it’s becoming more and more clear to you that this isn’t actually a fulfilling career for you.  You’d probably be happier somewhere else.  But you figure I’ll just stick with it because I don’t want my past ten years of effort and time and money to have been wasted.  So the time and money and effort and whatever else you’ve already spent is what we call the sunk cost.  It’s gone no matter what you do going forward.  And now you’re just trying to decide given that I’ve already spent that money or time or whatever, what choice is going to produce the best outcome for my future.

And the sunk cost fallacy then means making a choice not based on what outcome you think is going to be the best going forward but instead based on a desire not to see your past investment go to waste.

Once you start paying attention to the sunk cost fallacy you’ll probably notice at least a few things that you would like to be doing differently.  And maybe those will be small scale things like, in my case, I now am much more willing to just abandon a book if a hundred pages in I conclude that I’m not enjoying it and I’m, you know, not getting any value out of it rather than trudging through the remaining 200-300 pages of the book just because I don’t want, you know, my past investment of a hundred pages, the time that I spent reading those hundred pages to go to waste.

And you might notice some large things, too.  For example, I was in a Ph.D. program and started realizing, “Gee, this really isn’t the field for me.”  And you know, it’s a shame that I have spent the last several years preparing for and working in this Ph.D. program but I genuinely predict going forward that I’d be happier if I switched to another field.  And sometimes it really does take time to fully acknowledge to yourself that you don’t have any good reason to stick with the job or Ph.D. or project that you’ve been working on so long because sunk costs are painful.  But at least having the sunk cost fallacy on your radar means that you have the opportunity at least to push past that and make the choice that instead will lead to the better outcomes for your future.

Produced/Directed by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton