Jan 24, 2024

CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/24/2024 (Social Media, New Age Conspiracy Theories, Holy Ghost and Us, Kingdom Christian Ministries)

Social Media, New Age Conspiracy Theories, Holy Ghost and Us, Kingdom Christian Ministries

" ... Dr. Janja Lalich, a professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico and founder of the Lalich Center on Cults and Coercion, was also in what she describes as a political cult. She said in a Wired video that cults have four common characteristics: a leader who is charismatic and a narcissist, a transcendent belief system "that gives you the answer to everything," a system of control that dictates things like how followers live or what they wear, and a system of influence that draws on emotions such as fear or grief to get followers to comply."
"In a landmark study, researchers have mapped the psychological landscape that shapes our susceptibility to conspiracy theories. Analyzing data from 170 studies, they've found that beliefs in conspiracy theories are not only influenced by personality traits but also by deeper motivational needs, such as the desire for certainty or feeling misunderstood by society. The findings have been published in the scientific journal Psychological Bulletin.

Conspiracy theories are a fascinating and complex facet of human culture, often defined as beliefs or explanations that attribute the cause of significant events or situations to secret, malevolent plots orchestrated by powerful and covert groups. Conspiracy theories usually thrive on the lack of definitive evidence, relying instead on suggestive, ambiguous, or circumstantial details.

They often emerge in response to significant, sometimes traumatic societal events, offering alternative explanations that challenge official accounts or mainstream understanding. While some conspiracy theories might occasionally turn out to have a basis in reality, most are widely considered implausible and unsupported by empirical evidence, yet they continue to capture the imagination and belief of certain segments of the population.

In the digital age, where information – and misinformation – spreads rapidly, understanding the psychology behind these beliefs has become more crucial than ever. Previous studies have explored various aspects of this phenomenon, looking at how personality traits, motivational factors, and social influences contribute to the belief in conspiracy theories."

"While well-known cults like Scientology, NXIVM and the Branch Davidians continue to be the subject of countless hours of TV shows and podcasts, there are many other lesser-known cults in other parts of the world — including right here in Maine.

This story goes back more than a century, to a charismatic evangelical preacher in a small Maine town, whose domineering ways and apocalyptic beliefs ended up killing seven of his followers and sending him to prison.

All that is left of the Holy Ghost and Us religious compound is the chapel, which still stands in the Androscoggin County town of Durham, not far from Brunswick. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, there were facilities there housing hundreds of followers of Frank Sandford, a Bowdoinham-born farm boy turned preacher, self-proclaimed prophet and, eventually, convicted criminal.

Sandford was born in 1862, and attended Bates College. At age 18, he experienced a religious conversion, and went on to attend Bates' Cobb Divinity School. He dropped out at age 24, with his informal style of preaching and religious fervor alienating him from the rest of his peers.

He served as a pastor at Baptist churches in Maine and New Hampshire before having what Bates scholar William Hiss described as a "nervous breakdown." Sandford left the church in 1888 and spent two years traveling, visiting Japan, India, China and the Holy Land. He returned to Maine in 1891 ostensibly to preach again, but instead began having religious visions. After marrying in 1893, he left the church again — this time for good, starting his own ministry and bible school.

That school became the Holy Ghost and Us, more commonly known under its unofficial name of Shiloh, which Sandford founded in 1896 in Durham. Over the next 24 years, Sandford would amass hundreds of followers who devoted their lives to God — and to Sandford.

Followers spent their days praying, studying the Bible or doing chores or manual labor, always at the directive of Sandford, who exercised complete authority over his flock and convinced many to hand over their money and property to him and the church. They built a massive, 500-room compound that could house up to 1,000 people, with the chapel and its seven-story tower as its centerpiece.

According to the book "Fair, Clear and Terrible: The Story of Shiloh" by Shirley Nelson, a descendant of Sandford followers, God wanted Sandford and his followers to establish a church in what was then known as Palestine. Sandford also claimed he could cure cancer and other diseases through prayer and the laying on of hands.

In 1900, Sandford announced that he was the chosen prophet Elijah, third in authority only to God himself and Jesus Christ. He instituted harsh policies including long, psychologically abusive trials meant to prove a member's devotion, corporal punishment of children and periods of fasting, even for members that were ill or very young or old. His controversial methods garnered much media coverage at the time, with newspapers including the Bangor Daily News calling Sandford a "lunatic" and a "shocking blasphemer."

One of those periods of fasting led to the 1903 death of a 14-year-old boy, which led to Sandford's January 1904 indictment on charges of manslaughter and child abuse, for whipping and withholding food from his 6-year-old son. He was convicted of both charges, though the charges were reversed in 1905 by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Toward the end of his legal battles, Sandford used church money  to purchase several yachts, including one called the Coronet. Starting in 1906, he and 30 followers — then dubbed "The Kingdom," instead of Shiloh — sailed around the world on a purported missionary journey. According to contemporary accounts, no one ever went ashore to preach. Sandford instead opted to use "intercessory prayer" in the form of sounding trumpets as they passed by various ports.

After learning that a member of his Jerusalem outpost was planning to leave the church, he picked up the woman, Florence Whittaker, and brought her back to Maine on the ship. There,  he kept her prisoner on board until she was freed by a court order. In 1909, Whittaker sued Sandford for unlawful detention. Sandford promptly set sail again with plans to do more missionary work — all while being pursued by authorities in ports across the world.

One of his ships ran aground in West Africa and was destroyed, and in May 1911, Sandford brought all 70 of his followers from both ships on board the Coronet, which was now dangerously overloaded and undersupplied with food and water. Sandford then received a "vision" that they were meant to sail to Greenland to establish a mission station there.

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