Aug 31, 2023

Applying Science to SCAM: A Brief Summary of the Past Thirty Years


Applying Science to SCAM: A Brief Summary of the Past Thirty Years

Edzard Ernst

Skeptical Inquirier

From: Volume 47, No. 1
January/February 2023

It has been almost thirty years since I started my job at the University of Exeter as a full-time researcher of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on what has happened during this time in the realm of SCAM research.

One of the first things I did after being appointed in 1993 was to define the aim of my unit, which was to apply science to SCAM. At the time, this intention upset quite a few people. The most prevalent arguments of SCAM proponents against my plan (apart from attacks on me personally) was that the study of SCAM using scientific methods was quite simply impossible. They claimed that SCAM included holistic and complex interventions that cannot possibly be put into the “straight jacket” of conventional research, e.g., a controlled clinical trial.

I then spent the next few years showing that this notion was erroneous. Gradually and hesitantly, SCAM researchers seemed to agree with my view—not all of them, of course, but at first a few and then slowly, often reluctantly, the majority of them. More often than not, their motivation seemed to be that if nothing else, research would be good for promotion.

What followed was a period during which we and several other research groups started conducting more or less rigorous tests of the hypotheses underlying SCAM. All too often, the results of these tests turned out to be disappointing, to say the least: not only did most of the therapies in question fail to show efficacy, but they were also by no means free of risks. Perhaps worst of all, much of SCAM was shown to be biologically implausible.

The realization that rigorous scientific scrutiny often generated findings that were not what SCAM proponents had hoped for led to a sharp decline in the willingness of SCAM enthusiasts to conduct or cooperate in research. Many of them began to doubt whether science was such a good idea after all.

But how could they change their minds without losing face? The solution was simple: they had to appear to be dedicated to science but argue that a different type of scientific approach was required. An article from 2014 may serve as a good example of this revised stance of SCAM-proponents on science. Here proponents of alternative medicine argued that:

The reductionist placebo-controlled randomized control trial (RCT) model that works effectively for determining efficacy for most pharmaceutical or placebo trial RCTs may not be the most appropriate for determining effectiveness in clinical practice for either CAM/IHC or many of the interventions used in primary care, including health promotion practices. Therefore, the reductionist methodology inherent in efficacy studies, and in particular in RCTs, may not be appropriate to study the outcomes for much of CAM/IHC, such as Traditional Korean Medicine (TKM) or other complex non-CAM/IHC interventions—especially those addressing comorbidities. In fact it can be argued that reductionist methodology may disrupt the very phenomenon, the whole system, that the research is attempting to capture and evaluate (i.e., the whole system in its naturalistic environment). Key issues that surround selection of the most appropriate methodology to evaluate complex interventions are well described in the Kings Fund report on IHC and also in the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) guidelines for evaluating complex interventions—guidelines which have been largely applied to the complexity of conventional primary care and care for patients with substantial comorbidity. These reports offer several potential solutions to the challenges inherent in studying CAM/IHC. (Coulter et al. 2014)

One of several options for evaluating complex interventions that suited SCAM proponents particularly well is the “A+B versus B” trial. It is a type of study that looks rigorous and guarantees generating nothing but positive results. There are now hundreds of these “pragmatic” trials, and their principle might be best explained using an example. Let’s take one titled “Acupuncture for Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients with Breast Cancer: A Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial” (Molassiotis et al. 2012). The study tested acupuncture as a treatment of cancer-related fatigue. Cancer patients who were suffering from fatigue were randomized to receive usual care or usual care plus regular acupuncture. The researchers then monitored the patients’ experience of fatigue and found that the acupuncture group did significantly better than the control group. This looked like an encouraging result; an editorial in the journal confirmed this impression by calling the evidence “compelling” (Bower 2012). Due to a cleverly over-stated press release, news spread fast, and the study was celebrated worldwide as a major breakthrough in cancer care. Finally, most commentators felt, research had identified an effective therapy for a debilitating symptom that affects so many of the most desperate patients. Few people seemed to realize that this trial tells us next to nothing about what effects acupuncture really has on cancer-related fatigue.

To understand this better, we might take a closer look at the trial design and employ an analogy. Imagine you have an amount of money A, and your friend owns the same sum plus another amount, B. Who has more money? It’s simple: of course your friend. A+B will always be more than A (unless B is a negative amount). For the same reason, “pragmatic” trials following the “A+B versus B” design will always generate positive results (unless the treatment in question does significant harm). Treatment as usual plus acupuncture is more than treatment as usual, and the former is therefore more than likely to produce a better result. This is true even if acupuncture is a mere placebo. After all, a placebo is more than nothing, so the placebo effect will have an impact on the outcome, particularly if we are dealing with a highly subjective symptom such as fatigue.

I can be fairly confident that this is more than a theoretical consideration, because we once analyzed all acupuncture studies with such a design (Ernst and Lee 2008). Our hypothesis was that none of these trials would generate a negative result. I probably do not need to tell you that our hypothesis was confirmed by the findings of our analysis. Theory and fact are thus in perfect harmony.

Studies following the “A+B versus B” design can be randomized and thus appear to be rigorous. This means they can fool a lot of people. Yet they do not allow conclusions about cause and effect. In other words, they fail to show that the therapy in question has led to the observed result. Acupuncture might be utterly ineffective as a treatment of cancer-related fatigue, and the observed outcome might be due to the extra care, a placebo-response, or other non-specific effects.

The current frequent use of the “A+B versus B” design by SCAM researchers is much more than a theoretical concern. Armed with such (false) positive results, SCAM proponents evidently want us to integrate SCAM into real medicine. But rolling out acupuncture (or any other SCAM supported by such pseudo-research) across routine care at high cost would be entirely the wrong solution. Providing good care with empathy and compassion could be much more effective and less expensive than acupuncture. Moreover, adopting acupuncture on a grand scale would keep us from looking for a treatment that is truly effective beyond a placebo—and that surely would not be in the best interest of the patient.

So, in the past thirty years of SCAM research, we have gone from the rejection of science to accepting that it would be good for promotion, to insisting on an “alternative” version of science, to misleading the public with false-positive findings. It has been a long and tedious journey without actually advancing all that far.


Bower, J.E. 2012. Treating cancer-related fatigue: The search for interventions that target those most in need. Journal of Clinical Oncology 30(36): 4449–4450.

Coulter, I.D., G. Lewith, R. Khorsan, et al. 2014. Research methodology: Choices, logistics, and challenges. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014(10): 780520. DOI: 10.1155/2014/780520.

Ernst, E., and M.S. Lee. 2008. A trial design that generates only “positive” results. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine 54(3): 214–216.

Molassiotis, A., J. Bardy, J. Finnegan-John, et al. 2012. Acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue in patients with breast cancer: A pragmatic randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology 30(36): 4470–4476.

Edzard Ernst

Edzard Ernst is emeritus professor, University of Exeter, United Kingdom, and author, most recently, of Don’t Believe What You Think: Arguments for and against SCAM.


My Childhood in a Cult: Growing Up in a Controversial Baltimore Religious Community

Now in her late 30s, the author reflects on living within Lamb of God—one of the dozens of covenant communities to take root in the 1970s.

Baltimore Magazine

By Audrey Clare Farley | September 2023

Barefoot girls hold a ribbon and loop around a maypole. Some, styled as the “Little Lambs,” dance for the hundreds gathered at the 15-acre Timonium estate known as The Farm. There are pony rides, potato-sack races, even a live band as people celebrate the end of history.

In faded photographs of the community, I see people who are trying to live their lives halfway to heaven. But that isn’t quite right. We were actually trying to bring heaven into this world. Along with others in the broader Catholic charismatic renewal, we believed that the Holy Spirit was pouring out right before our eyes. Because of our faithfulness, we were witnessing the breakthrough of the kingdom.

I was born into the Lamb of God, one of the dozens of covenant communities to take root in the 1970s when the charismatic renewal first swept the nation. Perceiving the American Catholic Church to be in a state of spiritual decline, Marylander Dave Nodar, his wife, Cheryl, Father Joe O’Meara, and a few others envisioned a kind of New Jerusalem in Charm City. They settled on the Westgate and Rock Glen neighborhoods off Edmondson Avenue on the City/Catonsville line. By the late 1980s, approximately 250 families occupied the two-story homes in those neighborhoods or on their periphery.

From the start, leaders encouraged Lamb of God’s members to eschew the modern world. Families were to limit television, secular news reading, even charity work. In Nodar’s view, offered to The Baltimore Sun in 1984, do-gooders meant well, but they “tended to fall into Marxism.” It was better to focus on one’s soul and the group than to become involved in “humanist” causes.

A policy notebook adopted from a parent community in Michigan stipulated that women (even higher-ranking “handmaids”) were to submit to their husbands, bear as many children as God willed, and refrain from masculine duties, such as spiritually directing children beyond the age of six. Men, in turn, were not to become too involved in domestic work or the more mundane routines of child-rearing. I don’t remember these specific rules, only knowing that feminists were miserable and that my mother loved me more than working moms loved their children.

On Sunday evenings, we convened at Woodlawn High School, UMBC’s event center, or some other place for prayer meetings. A music team worked the crowd into a zeal, then slowed the beat for adults to speak in tongues—ancient Hebrew, I was once told. “Slain in the spirit,” some fell to the ground and convulsed. Some went forward to deliver prophecies. There really was a sense of spontaneity, though it seems many of the divinations had been pre-screened by Nodar.  An unidentified community member later told Baltimore magazine in 1994, “He’d decide if it was from God.”

Not long after the story ran, the community dissolved amid an archdiocese investigation around their finances (no legal charges were ever filed) and cult-like tendencies, then faded from public memory.

When I close my eyes, I can see and hear those prayer meetings. If I close them really tight, I can even slip back into their imaginal realm, outside of ordinary time and into a kind of deep time. Charismania is wonderful before it is terrible—a swooning into the sacred.


As children at the community-run school in Halethorpe, we celebrated our religion’s Jewish roots. On Christian Heroes Day, we dressed as Mary and the apostles. Some of us, wanting to show off, called Jesus “Yeshua.”

We heard relentless stories about Christians’ persecution. A Holocaust lesson centered on Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch woman imprisoned for hiding Jews. It will be years before I understand exponentially more Christians were part of the Third Reich than victims of it.

My mother helped to vet the books in the school’s library, which included books like Little House on the Prairie and The Courage of Sarah Noble. These stories of early settlers made me feel even more chosen—a super-Christian. But I swiftly moved on to approved adult titles at home.

One day, I was absorbed in a volume of Chicken Soup for the Soul when I came across my mother’s marginalia. “NO,” she had written for my benefit in the white space, along with a note explaining why the author’s conclusion was all wrong. Part of me will always be nine years old, reeling from this blow. Her later perusing of my diary and listening to my teenage phone calls—these did not sting as much as this first, thunderous notice that even while reading alone I was under surveillance.


My best friend, “Lydia,” whispered with me about which of our peers’ parents left marks when they spanked them. The threat of violence pervaded the children’s sphere. A wooden paddle hung in the school headmaster’s office and in many of the homes in “the cluster.” Mostly, kids’ own dads did the job. They could deliver more force than our mothers, while serving as stand-ins for our heavenly father. When they explained that they only hurt us out of love, any confusion was subsumed by allegory.

I didn’t know it, but a Catholic woman in the Westgate neighborhood had been complaining about us to the archdiocese. Almost from the moment it took over her block, the Lamb of God seemed to Patricia Whitman like the proverbial whitewashed tomb: beautiful on the outside, but inside, full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.

“It wasn’t Jim Jones, it was one step below,” she’ll tell me three decades later, going on to explain how leaders manipulated some members to remain committed while “pruning the vine” of others. “They’d threaten that if people left, they wouldn’t have spiritual covering, meaning the devil might pop out and get them at the grocery store. They were in danger of losing God’s grace.”

As little girl, I was fond of Fr. Joe, who came over for dinner and squeezed my hand under the table, but Whitman distrusted the man whose collar gave the community a veil of legitimacy. She’d heard he made girls and women uncomfortable. On a beach trip, she was told, he’d walked in as some girls were undressing. She was privy to things because she was a confidante for those who’d been shunned by Nodar and his associates, or who were contemplating leaving. Her front porch was many neighbors’ only safe place to be.

Between 1983 and 1987, Whitman wrote a series of letters to Archbishop William Borders conveying her concerns about the Lamb of God’s cult-like tendencies, including its “view of women as submissive and subordinate creatures,” and citing scandals in covenant communities in other states. He urged charity toward her fellow Catholics and claimed to have no authority over the group.

Then, in the early ’90s, rumors began to spread that some community money was missing, and Borders’ successor, Archbishop William Keeler, summoned Whitman downtown to talk. Only after their meeting did she realize he had picked her brain to see how much she knew, not because he wanted to help the people in the community. He seemed worried she would go to the media.

Neither Borders nor Keeler honored her requests for confidentiality. It was never long after mailing her concerned letters about the Lamb of God community that members would linger outside her gate to pray, one even sprinkling holy water in her yard. One local priest threatened to have her excommunicated if she didn’t quit her crusade.

The financial controversy pertained to the $1.9-million sale of The Farm to developers. Some members, who tithed up to 10 percent of their income to the community, wanted to know: Where did all the money go? In 1992, former members John and Marie Cignatta were so perturbed by this question and other matters that they penned their own letters to Keeler, pleading with him to intervene. He agreed to formally investigate the community, then invited Nodar to apply for official status as an archdiocesan organization, subordinating the group to church authorities.

If Keeler hoped to avoid negative press, he was surely disappointed to see the exposé this magazine published in February 1994. In “The Cult Next Door,” Patrick J. Kiger luridly details how community tensions exploded into a “suburban holy war.” He quotes an ex-member on the “Stalinist” system of surveillance that had people reporting heterodoxy up the chain, also spilling ink over Nodar’s reputed perks, which, even before The Farm’s sale, included a free home and community-paid services ranging from plumbing to the babysitting of his children.

That was the year my family left Baltimore for the hour-north town of Hanover, Pennsylvania. If my parents were relieved to leave the community behind, they didn’t let on. When they claimed to be “getting away from crime,” they didn’t seem to mean their co-religionists’ crimes. My brother and sister were unfazed, but I cried, as I didn’t want to leave Lydia.

In those days before social media, it may have been inevitable that our childhood friendship wouldn’t survive the distance. As the years passed, I thought less and less about Lamb of God. I had no idea that, while the school remained, the community had largely dissolved, nor that Nodar had formed a new evangelization ministry. Even though I struggled for words to describe Lamb of God to my new school peers, I didn’t think of it as anything more than a group of like-minded families that my parents found. There was too much continuity before and after the community for me to view it with suspicion.

The parish we attended in Hanover was animated by the very same fantasies, especially pertaining to women. In fact, it was in a religious education class there that I learned that feminists were not only miserable, they were eminently rape-able. Unmarried women had no virtuous men to protect them, and contracepting women—well, they “asked for it” by disavowing their fertility and thereby objectifying themselves. Anyone who doubted this could read Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which foretold of a hellish world for women following the advent of the pill.

It got to me, this exhortation to marry and have a house full of babies “or else.” This was so, even though, by the early 2000s, the newspapers were reporting on rampant clerical sex abuse, and the tone of some laymen’s voices when they spoke to their wives was enough to raise the hair on my arms. There was also unremitting talk about sex: who was having it, who wanted to have it, who dressed like they wanted to have it. I was then a virgin, but I felt so ashamed. I needed Lydia more than ever, but I settled for eating as little as possible. I couldn’t be a Delilah if I disappeared.

Reflecting on the interregnum between the established order and revolution, the Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote in 1939, “The old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters.” My dad drew upon a similar idiom to account for the way I was becoming more sullen and defiant. He took to remarking he once had a happy little girl, but aliens came and abducted her.

Spiritual abuse is such a quiet violence—a violence of the shadows—it was decades before I found the words to contradict him. By then, I’d left the Church, married one of the heathens, and born two children. Still, my father listened. He said he was sorry for not protecting me from the toxic elements of Catholic culture.


For all our conflicts, my father and I have never been estranged, and so I’m at ease telephoning him in 2020, after I’ve read about Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett’s People of Praise, to insist, “We were in a fucking cult!” No, he says, it wasn’t that. I do more research and circle back: “Mom was a handmaid.” He replied that she wasn’t and anyway, Lamb of God didn’t really use labels.

Still wanting answers, I joined a Facebook group for current and former members of covenant communities. It’s here that I see that Fr. Joe has been removed from ministry after three women accused him of “inappropriate touching.” I dial Dad again. He’s heard about it, but the language is so vague—it could mean anything, he says. My mother chimes in that Fr. Joe was always affectionate. These days, that can be misconstrued.

The archdiocese won’t release to me records pertaining to Keeler’s investigation of the community, but I find a slew of digitized documents about Lamb of God, including Whitman’s outgoing and incoming letters, at the University of Michigan. I call this woman, now 79, and listen as she talks about the community and the authorities’ tacit endorsement of it.

“It really made me question my faith,” she says of the latter. “I had to remind myself that my strength in God is what counts.”

Not long after our conversation I read more explosive news in The Baltimore Banner: Fr. Joe has been identified as #155 in the state attorney general’s report on child sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He reportedly kissed children on the mouth and would try to move his hands up girls’ legs toward their genitals when a dinner guest at their homes. A housekeeper told of him talking about the size of her breasts. One woman described him tracing the outline of her bra, and another reported “a fondling regimen, inappropriate touching, and digital penetration.”

I text the story to my parents, but they don’t reply. When I stop by their house later that day, I notice The Sun’s pages on the table. I ask my dad if he’s read the Banner piece, and he says yes. He’s disturbed, though he needs to investigate the publication’s credibility.

A few days later, he and my mother come over for dinner, and we talk about Fr. Joe. There’s no question on anyone’s mind that he’s done grave wrong. At one point, my dad goes outside to join his grandchildren at play, and my mom offers that she did not like the way Fr. Joe would kiss her head, though it never occurred to her to object.

I wonder if Lydia has seen the news and if so, what she thinks of it. After years of meaning to do so, I reach out and ask if she wants to have lunch. After I send the message, I wonder if she’ll find it strange. It’s been so long; at this point, we’re really just the kind of friends who like each others’ social media posts. She quickly replies, saying how often she thinks of me. She’d not heard about Fr. Joe, so I send her some articles.

When we meet, I am startled by her voice. It’s not as I remember it. I let the sting wear off before making the observation. “I was thinking the same thing,” she says. “We don’t have our little girl voices anymore.”

Having found this common ground, or perhaps having named what is gone, we quickly fold back into each other. We share our scars, our dangerous memories. We acknowledge how impossible it was to move on. I tell her I’m thinking of writing about the community. She takes a deep breath, and I can see how heavy it all is.

Driving home, I think of the Valentine’s Day card I recently found wedged in a stack of old photographs. “To Audrey: We thank God for you and the happy way we feel loving you. Dad.”

Then my mind drifts toward the women who came forward about Fr. Joe. I wonder exactly how many of them were in the Lamb of God and how close they remain to its people, images, rituals. Do their children attend the school that is still around? Or is the community more of a spectre, something that only finds them in the dark?

It occurs to me, at the very least, each one of these women must have retained hope, as I have, that a new world really is at hand. Justice, democracy, the Kingdom of God, whatever she calls it—it’s coming.


Audrey Clare Farley is a writer, editor, scholar of 20th-century American culture, and author of two books. She is a first-time Baltimore contributor.


Church Leaders Roll Out Code of Conduct to Put Rogue Preachers in Check


By Seth Olale 

August 30, 2023


Churches have moved to self-regulate as the government undertakes a crackdown against rogue preachers and institutions in the country following the Shakahola massacre that has so far claimed 429 lives.

Religious leaders, lawyers and human rights groups led by Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) Chairman Bishop Emeritus David Oginde on Wednesday launched the Code of Conduct and Governance Guidelines for the Church in Kenya, in a bid to counter impending State imposed regulations on religious institutions.

A 12-member steering committee chaired by Bishop Oginde drafted the rules in a move by the churches to self-regulate, as the government tightens the noose on rogue preachers in the country.

"The danger of where we are now is that if we get now, not rogue pastors, but rogue leaders, they could just say no more preaching; and it can happen," said Bishop Oginde.

Anglican Church Archbishop Rev. Jackson Ole Sapit, on his part, stated: "Let the congregants hold their leaders accountable. When they see me doing the contrary, let them stand up and say 'that is not right, we will not agree, and we will not allow you to do that.'"

The guiding principles and values contained in the Code of Conduct indicate the following;

1. Integrity and ethical conduct are central to Biblical teaching and practice.

2. The church shall promote and enhance the wellbeing of the brethren and of society as a whole in accordance with Christian beliefs and convictions, and refrain from any conduct that undermines the constructive role that churches play in the society.

3. The church shall respect, protect and preserve life and shall refrain from any conduct that devalues, dehumanizes or destroys life.

4. The church shall endeavour to uphold the sanctity of life.

5. The church individually and collectively, shall respect and uphold the dignity of every person and shall not abuse or exploit any person, or do anything to violate or degrade that person.

6. The church values children, born and unborn, and shall act in their best interest when under their care by protecting them.

7. The church shall respect the right of every person to join any faith or religion of other choice without bullying, harassment, intimidation or victimization.

Senior Counsel Charles Kanjama, who is also the chair of the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, said: "In the internal forum, you cannot make somebody believe something that they don't want to believe – you can't compel them. But at the external forum, when your belief leads you to actions that endanger or harm others, at that point the State can get involved."

Bishop Oginde added: "This code of conduct is not a weapon but an agreement on what we can do because the danger we have now is that churches can close by being shut down by government. It has happened before."

The launch of the Code of Conduct and Governance Guidelines for the Church in Kenya comes weeks after the government deregistered 5 churches including cult leader Paul Mackenzie's Good News International Ministries and Pastor Ezekiel Odero's New Life Prayer Center and Church.

Pastor Odero has since launched a legal challenge against the government's decision.

Once signed and adopted, the Code of Conduct for the Church in Kenya will undergo [an] implementation process, with review and amendment in future likely.


Aug 30, 2023

China's crackdowns haven't stamped out religion & ritual. Pew report highlights their survival


According to a Pew Research Center report, which analyses various surveys conducted in China, the number of places of worship rose for traditional Chinese religions between 2009 and 2018.

The Print


30 August, 2023

New Delhi: One in every 10 adults in China identifies with ‘organised’ religion, while many adults practice ‘traditional’ religion or hold religious beliefs, a survey by American think-tank the Pew Research Center has found.

Since Pew and other non-Chinese organisations are not allowed to conduct surveys in China, the latest report analyses surveys conducted by academic groups in China. These include the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS), the China Family Panel Studies (CFPS), the China Labour-force Dynamics Survey (CLDS) and the World Values Survey (WVS).

Pew also analyses reports released by China’s State Council, the National Religious Affairs Administration and data from state-run religious associations including the China Christian Council (CCC), the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and the Islamic Association of China. 

The Pew report attempts to explain how religion in China and East Asia is distinct from religion elsewhere. According to it, in China, there is no single, literal translation of the English word ‘religion’.

The most common translation of religion in Chinese is the word zongjiao, which refers to ‘organised’ religion. The report states that China officially recognises five zongjiao, namely Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Taoism.

Also, it is important to note the term xisu, which is used to denote traditional customs and practices such as the Confucius veneration and temple festivals where folk deities are worshipped. Other key terms mentioned in the report include mixin (superstition) and xiejiao (evil cults) — both banned in China. 

Xiejiao were banned in China in 1999 and have since faced intensified crackdowns by the Chinese government. Groups the government labels as xiejiao include the Falun Gong, the Children of God, the Unification Church and the World Elijah Gospel Mission Society. 

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is officially atheist, and no member of the party can be a member of an ‘organised’ religion. In the 1950s, as part of a “nationalisation campaign”, the government “confiscated” many temples, churches and mosques for secular use, the Pew report points out. Furthermore, religious groups were persecuted across the board — Buddhist monks for participating in a feudal regime that supported them with donations, and Christians for links to foreign missionaries and the Vatican.

Under Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976, all religious activities were banned and the Red Guards attacked and destroyed many religious sites.

The Pew report adds that after 1982, when the Chinese constitution adopted freedom of religious beliefs for ordinary Chinese citizens, religious practices started to flourish across the country, including those outside of the formally recognised religions. This freedom was enjoyed till the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, after which the government once again started suppressing religious groups outside of the official system.

In recent years, under President Xi Jinping, the government has tightened controls on Islam and Christianity, including cracking down heavily on the Muslims in the Xinjiang province of China. Even other state religions and traditions — Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism — have faced tighter scrutiny under President Xi.

Religious organisations are now expected to align their teachings and customs with Chinese traditions and pledge loyalty to the State, says the Pew report.

However, despite these efforts of the state to stamp out religion and religious beliefs, they continues to remain tenacious in China.

No clear evidence of rising religious affiliation

The Pew report finds no empirical survey evidence of a surge in religion in China between 2010 and now. The report also adds that it cannot firmly rule out a surge in religion, given the various sources of uncertainty.

Further, the report finds that overall in terms of zongjiao identity and practice — a narrow and relatively formal engagement with religion — the measures by various surveys have generally been stable since 2010, and seem to have decreased in some cases.

According to the 2012 CGSS, 12 per cent of Chinese adults admitted to having a religious affiliation (zongjiao). This number was 10 percent in the 2018 CGSS. Pew mentions here that the difference is within the margin of sampling error and is not statistically significant.

The CGSS 2021, on the other hand, showed a decrease in adults claiming a religious affiliation to 7 per cent. However, the 2021 survey may not be directly comparable to the earlier CGSS since it was conducted across lesser provinces and in the midst of the pandemic.

There has been a marked decline in the number of Chinese adults reporting that they are attending zongjiao activities — from 11 per cent in 2012 to 6 per cent in 2018 — the Pew survey found. It also found that among one in 10 Chinese adults who identify with a religion (zongjiao), the number of those admitting that they attended religious activities at least a few times a year fell from 53 per cent in 2012 to 45 per cent in 2018. 

According to data from the 2018 WVS, only 13 per cent of Chinese adults said religion (zongjiao) was a “very important” or “rather important” part of their lives. The share of adults who say religion is very important was lowest in China at three per cent as against the 32-country median of 48 per cent, the Pew report said, citing findings of the WVS (2017-22).

Chinese spiritual beliefs more common than others

According to the 2018 CGSS, 75 per cent of Chinese adults visited the gravesites of family members at least once during the previous year. Gravesite visits in line with Chinese customs frequently involve the burning of incense and paper money and offering a drink to one’s deceased ancestor.

The 2018 CFPS also found that 47 per cent of Chinese adults believed in feng shui — a traditional Chinese practice of arranging objects and physical space to achieve harmony and ensure good luck in life. Further, the survey found that 33 per cent of Chinese adults believe in Buddha and/or bodhisattvas (Buddhist deities on the path to enlightenment).

The 2018 CGSS, however, also found that only four per cent of Chinese adults identified Buddhism as their religious belief.

As many as 26 per cent of Chinese adults burn incense for deities a few times a year or more, shows the 2016 CFPS; while, according to the 2018 CGSS, 24 per cent believe in choosing ‘auspicious days’ for special events. In addition, the 2018 CFPS found that at least 18 per cent of Chinese adults believe in a Taoist deity and 10 per cent believe in ghosts.

This discrepancy between the number of followers of organised religion and traditional customs could be attributed to the conceptual problem of applying the Western definitions of religion and measures of religious participation — such as attendance and congregational worship services — familiar to monotheistic religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. 

But these measures are less suitable for traditional beliefs and practices of East Asia, the Pew report highlights. 

Official government statistics on places of worship, along with data on tourism at religious heritage sites show an increase for traditional Chinese religions between 2009 and 2018. In comparison, the number of officially registered Protestant and Catholic churches and Islamic mosques remained unchanged, said the Pew report.

According to the State Council Information Office (SCIO), the total number of religious sites registered with the five official religious organisations increased by 11 per cent to 1,44,000 in 2018 from around 1,30,000 in 2009 — largely due to a surge in Buddhist and Taoist temples.

Data shows that the number of official Taoist temples in China tripled from about 3,000 in 2009 to about 9,000 in 2018, while the number of Buddhist temples increased from about 20,000 to about 33,500 during the same period.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)


Moscow kills watchdog for religious freedom

Eastern Europe

August 30, 2023

The Russian SOVA Centre is liquidated. The leading monitoring group of freedom of religion and belief will cease to exist by government order.

SOVA Centre had tried to reverse the decision and went to the Moscow Appeal Court. However, the judges there rejected its appeal earlier this month without any further explanation. Before that, a lower court came to the same verdict, Forum 18 writes. The ruling came into effect immediately after the appeal court issued its verdict on August 17.

SOVA is Russia's leading organisation for monitoring freedom of religion and belief, as well as nationalism and xenophobia.

The reason for its liquidation, according to Moscow's Justice Department, is that the organisation itself "committed gross violations of the law by holding events outside Moscow", which is forbidden, as Russian law specifies that the activities of certain organisations may only take place in a certain region.

SOVA Centre's director, Aleksandr Verkhovsky, is upset about the decision. He tells Forum 18 that no one had told him that his organisation was violating the law. Even though the organisation participated from a distance in the Human Dimension Conference in November, most of the work of the organisation took place in Moscow regardless, Verkhovsky says.


In addition, the Justice Department did not give the organisation a chance to correct possible mistakes. "It claimed that they were uncorrectable because they had already happened", Verkhovsky says. According to him, the Justice Department picks especially human rights organisations. Other targets of the same measure are the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Sakharov Centre and the group Individual and the Law.

Even though SOVA Centre does not agree with the decision, it will have to abide by the verdict. Therefore, the organisation writes on its Telegram channel that the Centre "will halt its activities and be liquidated." At the same time, the staff is not planning on quitting altogether. "We have decided to work as a community of independent researchers called the "Research Centre' SOVA", the Telegram message continues. "The results of this work can be seen on our website, as well as our social media accounts."


Especially since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Russian authorities have been bothering human rights groups, Forum18 reports.

SOVA's work consisted of monitoring human rights violations caused by Russia's anti-extremism law, by which, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses are persecuted. In addition, it has drawn attention to religious communities that were punished for violating the anti-missionary law that exists in Russia. SOVA has also paid close attention to people who were prosecuted for anti-war protests, some of whom were religiously motivated.

The organisation wants to take the case to the Court of Cassation, but that will not help them in the short-term to prevent liquidation, Forum18 writes.


Aug 29, 2023

‘Disproportionate number of Jews’ in America get involved in cults, expert says

Therapist Rachel Bernstein says she has spoken to more than 1,000 former cult members in the course of three decades.

Alan Zeitlin
August 28, 2023

(JNS) — A licensed marriage and family therapist based in Los Angeles, Rachel Bernstein specializes in family and relationship counseling; children and parents in need of emotional support and coping skills; and cult intervention and re-acclimation.

On the latter front, Bernstein, who is Jewish and who appears in the 2023 Netflix show “How to Become a Cult Leader,” says she has spoken to more than 1,000 former cult members in the course of more than three decades. She also hosts a weekly podcast on cults called “IndoctriNation.”

Bernstein spoke with JNS about cults. Responses have been lightly edited for style.

Q: American cult leader and convicted criminal Charles Manson was not very attractive, but he managed to get beautiful women to not only follow him but to murder on his behalf. How was he able to convince people, whom he hadn’t met, to commit such horrific acts?

A: Manson’s appeal at first was that he spoke for the disenfranchised. When you have a person who tells people, “I don’t judge you,” even though Manson was highly judgmental, people felt too guilty to judge him. They were willing to overlook a lot.

Even if he didn’t come across as attractive or talented, they felt wrong judging him. He was also able to divide and conquer, which a lot of cult leaders do. Society didn’t accept them, so they didn’t have a place there. They only had a place with him.

Calling it the Manson family was a clever use of the word “family” because we’re willing to do things for our family that we wouldn’t for a friend. He made people feel that he was giving them something they couldn’t get anywhere else, so they felt indebted to him.

That triggers the feeling of reciprocity, and you feel that you must give back. He would objectify those whom he wanted his members to target and call them pigs. He would paint wealthy targets as people who didn’t have a heart.

Q: Adolf Hitler convinced Germany that Jews were the problem, despite the Jewish population comprising less than 1% of the country’s population in the 1930s. People cite Germany’s bad economy, as well as Hitler’s oratorical skills, as major factors in his devastating success. Is focusing on his speeches an oversimplification?

A: I don’t know if it’s an oversimplification. It’s one piece of it.

He and his henchmen were gifted orators but also gifted fear-mongers. There’s an Orwellian idea about a lie being repeated enough then it becomes the truth. The more people hear the message, the more they could see it as a truism. If you can show that a people is a threat to you, your children and the future of your nation by gaslighting the populus and rewriting history, you may be able to get people to commit atrocities, if they think their way of life and that of their future generations is at risk.

The Nazis’ language played a huge part in the dehumanization of Jews and of others whom they killed. They called Jews “vermin.” When killing something that you call less than human, the term extermination fits, because you feel you are killing vermin. You no longer see them as human beings. They viewed Jews as cockroaches. When you think you are squashing a bug, you don’t feel like you are committing an atrocity.

Q: Some think that a cult could never seduce them and that only those who are mentally ill join cults. Are they wrong?

A: People walk around with hubris saying that they will never fall into something like that. There is a disproportionate number of Jews who get involved in cults.

When a cult finds out someone has a mental illness [for example], that person will often be kicked out and seen as a liability. Cults want people who make them look good. Medication for mental illness can interfere with mind control.

They might have obsessive-compulsive disorder, which fits in well with a cult, because they desire perfection. Usually, people have a psychiatric issue after they’ve been in a cult, not before, because of how they were treated.

Q: To what do you attribute the recent rise in antisemitism?

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A: When there is unrest, it’s all too easy for people to default to the usual suspects. Conspiracy theories often devolve into antisemitic rhetoric. People are looking for a way to feel strong. Just like the bullies on the playground, they will go after someone they perceive as weaker.

Jews have been singled out over and over because people consider Jews to be easy targets. For millennia, there has been an undercurrent of antisemitism right under the surface, and it’s all too easy to trigger it. These people can dig down just a couple of inches, and it springs forward. They unleash something very powerful and then they feel powerful. They can instigate a shooting in a synagogue and feel that others, even from a country very far away, are responsible.

Q: Your podcast includes several interviews with Los Angeles Jewish writer Daniel Barban Levin, whom cult leader Larry Ray abused, as detailed in the Peacock documentary “Sex, Lies and the College Cult.” Levin believed he owed Ray thousands of dollars for items the latter claimed he had broken. Why didn’t a red light go off when Ray demanded money for things that weren’t broken?

A: There are some who believed it and others who didn’t, but they didn’t want to be on the hot seat and be targeted.

Ray was able to convince them that if they didn’t see things the way he saw them, it was a sign of intellectual weakness. He separated them from their loved ones, who could point out problems. They also had to keep things private.

They had learned the way to grow was to abandon their own way of thinking. There was a disorientation that Daniel was experiencing. Just like with Stockholm Syndrome, you become dependent on the person who is kidnapping you, but you want to feel grateful to him for letting you survive another day. People go into survival mode rather than following their instincts.

Q: Keith Raniere, the cult leader of NXIVM, was sentenced to a 120-year prison term. Do you think such a sentence can scare off other would-be cult leaders, or will they think they’re smarter than he and won’t get caught?

A: A small number will think twice. But most leaders of cults are malignant narcissists who will almost always believe they are not going to get caught.

The rules or laws don’t apply to them. They will find a way to survive and get away with things. Because they are not internally motivated by a conscience, they are motivated to skirt the law. That’s most interesting to them as a challenge.

They’re learning from Keith Raniere, and they’re looking to see where he misstepped, so they don’t do the same when they start their own groups. It’s not going to dissuade a narcissist. They’re usually shocked when they’re caught doing something they knew they shouldn’t have done.

Q: How did David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, convince men to allow their wives to sleep with him?

A: He was seen as God. If God wants your wife, you are not going to stop it.

Koresh didn’t talk about sex. He said people were specially chosen, even kids. Yes, it’s very sick. This kept people in this dissociative state. People were afraid of him. Some felt they didn’t have a choice. He stockpiled weapons. He was an angry person. I worked with two fathers who left with their children before the fire; they couldn’t get their wives out.

Q: You’ve worked with so many people who have left cults. Are there common catalysts that caused them to realize they had to leave?

A: It’s different for different people. When I help to plan an intervention, I’m not sure what will push them over the edge but hope to make them feel there is no turning back.

People think about leaving long before they leave. It takes bravery because you know you will be pushed out of the community and may need to leave family members there. What pushes people over the edge is if they are required to harm others. It’s often that people will tolerate being mistreated more than they can tolerate mistreating others. That’s often the catalyst—if they’re told to neglect children or treat people badly.

Q: Is there someone like you in the government, working undercover to smoke out cults?
A: I hope they do hire someone, but if it’s undercover, I wouldn’t know.



Purpose of Study: The study aims to answer the following questions: What kinds of lasting challenges and adverse effects can occur as a result of classic psychedelic use?  Are there specific psychedelics, approaches or contexts that tend to cause more problems than others? What predicts whether a challenging psychedelic experience is therapeutic or destabilizing? If someone experiences lasting difficulties from psychedelics, what should they do? What types of support, remedies or therapies are most or least helpful?

What does participation involve? Study participation involves completing an online survey about your psychedelic-related difficulties, how you and others responded to them, and other factors that may have played a role. You can also submit a written narrative of your experience, if you choose.

Who is eligible? Anyone who has had a psychedelic-related experience that: 

-Was difficult or distressing and persisted beyond the acute effects of the substance into daily life 

-Negatively impacted your life or daily functioning or

-Required additional professional support or treatment 

-You must be at least 18 years old, and be able to read and write in English.

Will I receive compensation? No, participation is volunteer and uncompensated. You will be given instructions about how to anonymously request that your research participation translated into support for psychedelic users in distress

How do I participate? Click here for more information.

Let me know if you have any questions and if I can provide any more information!


Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Lab

Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior 

Warren Alpert Medical School

Brown University

Lab Website

To his followers, this man is a messiah!’ Matt Shea on his long fight to expose Andrew Tate

Despite constant death threats, documentary-maker Shea has been investigating the world's most notorious misogynist since 2019. But even he was shocked by what he uncovered working on his latest film

Zoe Williams
The Guardian
August 28, 2023

'You'd be forgiven for looking at Andrew Tate, especially at our age, and thinking: 'This guy must be some niche figure,'" Matt Shea tells me, in a meeting room at the BBC headquarters in central London. What a courteous young film-maker, I think, because he is 31 and I am old enough to be his mum. "But there was a recent survey by Hope Not Hate which found that 52% of 16- and 17-year-old boys in the UK have a positive view of Andrew Tate, and were more likely to have heard of him than they were Rishi Sunak."

I struggle to believe this: Tate is an ultra-misogynist provocateur, currently charged in Romania with human trafficking and forming an organised crime ring, with investigations ongoing into the trafficking of minors. He is also an obvious blowhard and attention-seeker, and I know enough teenagers to think that surely more than half of them would despise him on that basis alone. I'm wrong, though. Shea continues: "And that number goes a bit higher when [the respondents are] younger, similar surveys all across the world. US, Australia, India: he's huge all across the world. You may not have heard of Andrew Tate, or you may have heard of him but think it's universally accepted that he's a bad person. But your children, your nephews, they are watching him right now and they may not have the same view."

Shea has been researching, following, interviewing and embedding with Tate since 2019, long enough that Tate supporters send constant death threats, on- and offline, and have a moniker for him: DNG (DorkNerdGeek). He meets them often, by chance – an Uber driver, the other day, three security guards at Glastonbury this year who surrounded him, saying he'd stitched up Tate.

Shea grew up in Boston with an Irish mother who was an English teacher and an English father who worked as a biologist, then moved to London to study history at King's College when he was 17. "The first question I always get is: 'Where the hell is your accent from?'" and it is, indeed, all over the place. But there's something else that makes him hard to place, a kind of dual nationality of sensibility. "The sensation of being American in England can feel a little bit disconcerting," he says. "All the values that are considered positive in America – enthusiasm for life, a can-do attitude – are almost considered bad things here." That is true: I can feel myself recoiling as he says them. "Being American in England feels like wearing a Hawaiian shirt at a funeral."

He started as an intern at Vice magazine, and was soon fronting films about drugs and counterculture, with a distinctive, young-millennial style, a break with what we might call the long arc of Theroux-vibe naif. "Gone are the days where, as a presenter, you can come in and play dumb and just ask questions and be curious. These days, audiences expect you to go in critically," he says. He has a mild delivery but a steely, non-pushover core, and is handsome but doesn't play up to it, "like the hot best friend of the lead in a romcom", a colleague from the Vice years observes. That person remembers Shea as extraordinarily hard-working and hands-on, doing research, outreach, contributor calls, shoot prep, shooting, hosting and editing himself, and his early reporting was marked, from a layperson's perspective, by its bravery. The first person to interview the Albanian mafia on camera, he also spent time with cartels in Colombia.

In his Pink Cocaine Wave documentary, a cartel member forced him at gunpoint to try the compound 2CB, the effects of which were "basically a mix of every other drug – MDMA, ketamine, LSD, speed, benzos, everything – all in one, like a mashup, and sometimes fentanyl as well". In the film about Tate, it looked at one point as if he would end up in a cage with a professional cage fighter: he was embedded with Tate's War Rooms, his Transylvanian retreat for men who wish to be manlier, and they were being enjoined to get into a cage or risk humiliation. He never thought he was in danger around Tate, he says. "I did crack my rib but that was it [not in the cage, in a separate "sparring" incident]. It allowed me to gain deeper access to his organisation, to play their game for a little bit."

The morning after Shea and I met, BBC News published the Romanian prosecutors' pre-trial transcripts, in which Tate's brother, Tristan, appears to say he'll "slave these bitches", with testimony from women living in the Tates' house near Bucharest who allege they were forced into webcam sex work for which the brothers kept the money.

If you have seen Shea's documentary from February this year, The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate (BBC Three), this will be eerily familiar – one of Tate's lieutenants describes the ideal day of a woman: she sleeps, she cooks and cleans, she makes online content people pay for and gives him the money, she has sex with him, she smiles at the end of the day and says "thank you". It sounded, though, like a fever dream he was unaccountably sharing with a film-maker – not like something Tate and his followers actually did.

Another charge the Romanian authorities are pressing against Tate also surfaced in Shea's first film: two women give detailed accounts alleging rape, which they reported to the police in the UK. The Crown Prosecution Service didn't pursue the allegations despite the fact that, as Shea recaps, "part of the evidence submitted to the police were text messages and voice notes where Andrew Tateappeared to be discussing the rape".

If it sounds like Tate was already hiding in plain sight, that first film "didn't even scratch the surface", Shea says. "I have this sensation of trying to explain to people how important this is. And I can never quite convince people. Hopefully this next documentary goes some way towards answering that."

Tate lacks the dimension and complexity of a compelling villain. "This is a guy who pretends to be a character in The Matrix. His right-hand man pretends to be a wizard," Shea says. "They are all wearing tight-fitting shirts. I've asked his fans, do you ever think this is all a bit cringe?" Yet the phenomenon of his success does throw up questions that are increasingly urgent: how did he acquire this global reach and popularity with his cartoon toxic misogyny and narcissistic Taliban-lite delusions of domination? Where is the money coming from and where is it going? What are the consequences for women who get close enough to him or his followers to experience his worldview first-hand? Where does this end?

It doesn't seem long since Tate was a Luton kickboxer who got thrown out of Big Brother after a video surfaced of him hitting his girlfriend; in fact, that was 2016, which is an age in the life of an influencer, but it was only after TikTok took off, in 2018, that Tate went global. "The speed and relentlessness with which TikTok shows you new things is unprecedented," Shea says. "It's not like other social media. You could be an adolescent boy and you'd be seeing Andrew Tate videos within hours, where he's saying things like, 'Women who choose not to have children are miserable bitches' or 'Virgins are the only women worth marrying'."

Tate was kicked off all the major platforms last year for infringement of their various hate-speech policies, although Elon Musk has since let him back on to X (Twitter). It doesn't make any difference because, Shea says: "It's not him who's posting his videos – it's his army of followers."

TikTok alone didn't make Tate, however: it was also "audience capture", Shea explains, "where the feedback from an audience makes the person creating the content increasingly extreme. It explains a lot of what's happening in this world. You could say that it explains Trump, to a degree, Andrew Tate as well. They reflect back a tantrum that we're all having inside."

Having amassed his army of followers, between 2018 and 2022, "Many of them get filtered to buy his app, The Real World, which used to be called Hustlers University, which promises to teach you to become wealthy: it turns out one of the strategies to becoming wealthy is to share content of Andrew Tate with a sign-up link for Hustlers University."

Tate weaves together everything, from Covid to feminism, to illustrate why young men are the victims of the Matrix – his theory that the world is controlled by a conspiracy of politicians and mainstream media. "A common refrain of the Tate supporters is that they don't teach you how to make money in school because they don't want you to know. They would rather teach you bullshit about biology and English literature. Tate's message is: 'I hold the key to teaching you how to do that, but you have to buy my courses.' So he has weaponised the hyper-capitalised American dream and reframed it as somehow rebellious. This is very similar to Trump as well."

The reason I never took Tate seriously is that toxic masculinity arguments are so riven with contradictions. The message is one of self-discipline, the gym, self-denial, physical endurance and almost monastic self-abnegation – yet the big prize at the end, the thing it's all in the service of, is tits and cars.

That is not even the half of it, Shea says, rattling through the logical failings of the creed: "Traditional masculine men are stoic and don't have emotions, but they also somehow whine constantly about how the world is stacked against them. Men are protectors of women, but then if the women who are making these allegations against Tate are correct, then who protects women from men like Andrew Tate? Family courts are unfair towards men because women often get custody of children, but that's exactly because of the traditional gender roles that they themselves are espousing. It makes no sense, but it doesn't need to make sense."

Examining Tate's nonsense gives you the creeping sense that he is enjoying how irrational and contradictory it is. He knows that winds the "libtards" up more than anything: people who brazenly don't make sense. He is trying to choke us on our own indignation. Besides, reason and ridicule do not deter Tate's followers; the rule of law makes no dent on them.

"This is the thing people need to understand: followers don't have a political interest in Andrew Tate – they see him as a spiritual leader, as a messiah. He saved them from the depths of their insecurity and brought them out of whatever it is that they were struggling with. I've asked, 'What threshold of evidence would you accept that Andrew Tate has potentially committed these crimes, if it was presented to you?' and they said nothing bar Andrew Tate himself saying, 'I did these things.' And that's an incredible amount of power for one person to have over your mind."

Shea tells me about female teachers who have lost control of their classrooms because boys are asking what they are doing teaching when they should be in the kitchen. He has been in touch with women who say their boyfriends have become abusive after following Tate. He tells me that counter-terrorism experts have warned of a huge increase in the number of referrals about Tate followers, but misogynist extremism doesn't reach the threshold for anti-extremist action unless it's connected to the "incel" [involuntarily celibate] movement. Can this possibly be right, I ask, that we don't fear misogynist, extremist violence, unless those misogynists aren't getting laid? "Yes," Shea says. "That is what I'm saying."

He reveals that they have uncovered in this forthcoming, second film that Tate's organisation has been training men to groom women, peddling an ideology that centres on enslaving them. "This isn't just, 'Oh, women should stay in the kitchen and the gender pay gap is a lie.' This is advocating the subjugation of an entire gender into slavery. If you imagined an extremist group with a similar ideology aimed towards an ethnic group, you would think this was one of the most dangerous extremist groups in the world." Tate's representatives describe these as "false accusations" that "insult the massive community that considers Andrew Tate a life-changing, positive force", adding that Tate "will not stand idly by while the media attempts to drag his name through the mud". In Tate's corner, seemingly promoting him as a free speech warrior, are two of the richest men on Earth: Elon Musk (on X) and Peter Thiel (on Rumble). It is incredibly dark.

I wonder about something else: Tate seems quite fixated on Shea, making videos about him, whipping up mobs. Does Shea think Tate needs him, as a kind of Clark Kent nemesis to his super-villain? "I can tell you the people around Andrew Tate are very aware of the history of mythology and comparative mythology. They are very aware of this idea of a hero and an antihero as part of crafting him into a mythological being. But funny you should say that, because he thinks I need him. In fact, he just messaged me recently." He reads out the message from Tate: "'The entire world is interested in me. You are not unique. I don't care what you publish. Neither does anybody else, unless I speak to you. I'm your only chance for relevancy.' And, of course, he's right. Because that's why you're here today."

Andrew Tate: The Man Who Groomed the World? is on BBC Three at 9pm on 31 August, then available on BBC iPlayer, with an Australia screening to be confirmed