>> = Important Articles; ** = Major Articles
In the end, the church must bear considerable responsibility for the theological confusion of our age—and for the proliferation of cults and new religious movements. We are now reaping the results of theological irresponsibility.
Writing early in the last century, J. K. Van Baalen argued that “the cults are the unpaid bills of the church.” Van Baalen’s influential work, The Chaos of the Cults, represented one of the very first comprehensive efforts to evaluate the various cults of the day from the vantage point of orthodox Christianity. Van Baalen’s survey considered movements and groups such as Spiritism, Theosophy, Christian Science, Rosicrucianism, Swedenborgianism, Mormonism, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others.
In Van Baalen’s analysis, orthodox Christianity had opened the door for the cults to emerge and to proliferate throughout the culture. Sidelined by pragmatism, distracted by divisions, and committed to a “smallest common-denominator faith,” the orthodox churches had left the larger culture, and even some of their own members, unprepared to meet the challenge of the cults.
If anything, the problem is more acute in our own day. The seductions of postmodernism and the complexities of a pluralistic culture compound the difficulty involved in engaging, understanding, and confronting the cults.
In one sense, the rise of religious cults is nothing new. The religious pluralism confronted by the apostle Paul at Mars Hill must have represented something like a foreshadowing of postmodern America. This nation’s experiment in religious liberty provided cults with a safe environment for growth even as the spent emotionalism of American revivalism left a vacuum the cults were only too willing to fill. New York’s legendary “burned-over district” is but the most well-known of those regions that soon gave birth to various cults and emergent religious groups. Writing in the 1920s, Charles W. Ferguson described the United States as “overrun with messiahs.” As he argued: “I refer not to those political quacks, who promise in one election to rid the land of evil, but rather to those inspired fakirs who promise to reduce the diaphragm, or orient the soul through the machinery of a cult religion. Each of these has made himself the center of a new theophany, has surrounded himself with a band of zealous apostles, has hired a hall for a shrine and then set about busily to rescue truth from the scaffold and put it on the throne.”
These new religious movements attracted both sociological and political attention. Walter R. Martin, whose book, The Kingdom of the Cults, became an evangelical classic, resisted the temptation to reduce the challenge of the cults to sociology. His particular concern was with those cults that, while deviating from historic Christianity, nonetheless insisted “that they are entitled to be classified as Christians.” Martin would cite Professor Lee Belford of New York University as stating, “The problem is essentially theological where the cults are concerned. The answer of the Church must be theological and doctrinal. No sociological or cultural evaluation will do. Such works may be helpful, but they will not answer the Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon, who is seeking Biblical authority for either the acceptance or rejection of his beliefs.”
More recently, some Christian scholars have been giving careful attention to the apologetic root of the cults that have claimed some Christian connection. The best work to emerge from this approach has focused on Mormonism as a distinct challenge to Christian orthodoxy. In an important new work, The New Mormon Challenge, a group of skilled evangelical scholars consider not only the scope of Mormon teachings, but the root impulse behind Mormonism as a movement.
In a fascinating chapter, Craig J. Hazen, Professor of Comparative Religion and Apologetics at Biola University, argues that Mormonism sought to “solve” many of the intellectual problems orthodox Christianity faced in 19th-century America. Confronted by the challenges of the Enlightenment and its aftermath, many Christian denominations appeared confused and defensive about Christianity’s most crucial truth claims. In particular, Hazen points to issues of theodicy as important catalysts for the emergence of Mormonism and its distinctive theology.
Troubled by questions such as the faith of the unevangelized, the doctrine of predestination, and the anticipation of hell, many Christian churches appeared to lack confidence in biblical doctrines or the ability to provide coherent answers to the questions of the day. Beyond this, the existence of rival Christian denominations, focused on debates over what some consider to be secondary issues, left the ground open for movements such as Mormonism to step in and to claim to resolve those vexing difficulties.
Inevitably, any Christian defense of poor doctrines had to be rooted in the apostolic witness and authorized by biblical authority. The distinctive Christian revelation claim required orthodox believers to look backward into a distant past in order to define and defend Christianity. As a Restoration movement, Joseph Smith and the Mormons claimed to speak with the authority of living apostolic witnesses whose experience was presumably far closer to that of contemporary Americans.
Against the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ alone, Mormonism promoted a form of universalism. According to Joseph Smith and later Mormon teachers, hell would be inhabited only by a few “sons of perdition” who had obstinately rejected the light of Mormon doctrine. While orthodox Christians face the difficult question of unevangelized persons, Mormonism assured the public that almost all persons, without regard to conscious adherence to Mormonism, would find some place in paradise. Similarly, the Mormon reconfiguration of the sacraments offered the opportunity for previous generations to be evangelized through the baptism of the dead.
In other words, the Mormons capitalized on perceived doctrinal difficulties even as many Christian churches appeared to be befuddled, confused, or unwilling to confront the challenges. Confused by the emotional excesses of revivalism, many Americans saw Mormonism as an intellectually satisfying alternative to orthodox Christianity. Through what Hazen identifies as a literalistic and highly selective approach to Scripture, the Mormons were able to promote their system as an updating of Christianity for a new age—complete with a new book and new ecclesiastical authorities.
As Professor Hazen acknowledges, “One cannot make full sense of the initial rise of Mormonism without recognizing that there were strong elements in it that resonated with thoughtful people on the frontier.” Like the late Walter R. Martin, Hazen recognizes that Mormons, along with other cults, were often driven by explicitly theological motivations. All this serves to remind contemporary Christians that J. K. Van Baalen was right—the cults are “the unpaid bills of the church.”
Churches that surrender in the face of philosophical challenges, that reduce their doctrinal substance to minimal doctrines, and that fail to offer substantial theological arguments grounded in Scripture, leave their own members in a state of vulnerability to the cults and their arguments. Theological immaturity and doctrinal ambiguity represent an open invitation for cults old and new to proliferate. Beyond this, when Christians appear to be befuddled, embarrassed, or inept in the defense of the faith, the Church’s witness is inevitably weakened.
A lack of theological maturity and doctrinal confidence leaves a legacy of missed opportunities. These “unpaid bills” demand to be paid.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
Experts say the decline of organized religion is a boon to bizarre sects
Cults such as the Order of the Solar Temple are on the rise because of our culture’s neglect of spirituality, experts on new religions say.
“These groups are connected most clearly to the decline of organized religion,” said Irving Hexham, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary. “Churches serve as lightning rods for fanatics. Over the centuries, they’ve learned to detect people who are dangerous, and divert them into benign things,” he said.
“A lot of the stuffiness in churches is deliberate. It comes from the fact that religion is a very dangerous thing, and people can easily go astray with it.”
Mr. Hexham says most new religions are totally harmless, but a few, like the Solar Temple, are dangerous because they mix and match concepts from all over the world, and build in none of the disciplines and restraints that are found in traditional religions.
He said Germany’s Nazis had their roots in the same neopaganism that spawned the Solar Temple. Such groups legitimate their activities by an appeal to roots in a mythical past, and arise in cultures where there has been a massive loss of faith, said Mr. Hexham, co-author of a the book New Religions as Global Cultures.
Mr. Hexham said most Canadians associate cults with young people. But the Solar Temple members — like those who died at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978, and member of Japan’s Supreme Truth sect, which launched a gas attack on Tokyo’s subways —were primarily middle-aged.
He said people turn to such doomsday cults because “there’s a lack of a reliable alternative.”
“For a generation, we have neglected spiritual questions,” said Bertrand Ouellet, of Montreal’s Information Centre on New Religions.
He said the five Solar Temple members who committed suicide on the weekend killed themselves for the same reason as young aboriginals and elderly couples: despair, loss of meaning, and loss of hope.
Mr. Ouellet said people traditionally have turned to religion to find meaning in life, but many Canadians no longer have any real religious roots.
“I’m not advocating a return to traditional religion, but if we neglect the great spiritual teachings of all mankind, we may be going into an impasse.
“Most spiritual masters have always been teachers of life, hope and of involvement in society.”
Mr. Ouellet said that only about 100 of the thousands of new religions in the world have been implicated in criminal activities. He said the Solar Temple is unique, because its members kill themselves with no outside pressures and no provocation, unlike the followers of Jim Jones in Guyana in 1978 and David Koresh at Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Mike Kropveld, executive director of Montreal’s Info-cult agency, said Quebec’s Youth Protection Agency recommended almost 20 years ago that an intergovernmental committee be formed to deal with the problem of cults.
“They recognized they were not capable of dealing with the problem,” Mr. Kropveld said. But governments and other social groups are still ignoring the dangers of some religious groups, he said.
He said it’s almost impossible to prevent suicides or violence by religious groups, just as it’s impossible to prevent all spousal abuse.
Further information on doomsday cults and other dangerous groups can be found at a website operated on the Internet by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. The site’s address is www.religioustolerance. org/destruct.htm.
RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. (AP) — The mysterious computer cult whose members died in a mass suicide left videotapes announcing their plans and may have timed their deaths to the approach of the Hale-Bopp comet, an associate of a former member said today.
The 39 men and women dressed in black, wore their hair in buzz cuts and lived —dozens of them — in an antiseptic, million-dollar mansion stocked with bulk food and computer hardware used to create Internet sites.
They sent a farewell videotape to a former member and died in the same mansion, lying in apparent peace on their backs, arms at their sides, each covered across the face and chest with a triangular shroud of purple cloth.
Sheriff’s deputies who went to the Spanish-style mansion on a tip Wednesday found the victims of one of the biggest mass suicides in U.S. history. Other than the bodies, they found little but mystery.
“There’s no gunshot wounds, there’s no knife holes in anybody,” said San Diego County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Alan Fulmer. “Nothing to my knowledge has been found in the way of poison.”
The home apparently was the center of a thriving business designing Web pages for businesses that want a presence on the Internet. Customers of the company called Higher Source described the home’s occupants as cult-like and clannish, but businesslike and proficient.
Nick Matzorkis, a Beverly Hills businessman who employs a former member of the Higher Source group, said today that members sent the employee —whom he identified only as Rio — two videotapes this week that described their intentions. He told NBC it was his understanding that they died Monday and used sleeping pills to kill themselves.
Members believed it was time to “shed their containers,” perhaps to rendezvous with a UFO they believed was traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet, Matzorkis said. The comet is currently visible from Earth.
Rio received the videotapes by mail Tuesday evening, Matzorkis said, and Rio discussed them with Matzorkis on Wednesday. One video was of the group’s elderly male leader, he said. The other contained each member’s taped farewells.
Matzorkis told ABC that they went to the house and Rio went in and found the bodies.
“When he came out he was as white as a sheet. ... At that point, no one else in the world essentially knew this had taken place,” Matzorkis told ABC. He said they then notified police.
A Web site that NBC said was apparently designed by Higher Source described the group’s desire to leave Earth and rendezvous with a spaceship behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
“The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level above human (the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’) has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp’s approach is the ‘marker’ we’ve been waiting for. ... Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion — ‘graduation’ from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave ‘this world’ and go with Ti’s crew,” the Heaven’s Gate Web site reads.
However, there is no information on the Heaven’s Gate Web site that connects it to the Higher Source group. There is a separate Web site under the Higher Source name. The Heaven’s Gate Web site also contains a entry specifically against suicide.
Overnight, investigators searched the house and refrigerated vans from the coroner’s office stood by. One of the vans, capable of carrying 20 bodies, pulled away from the home about 5:15 a.m. Authorities would not immediately confirm whether any bodies were in the van.
Members of the cult told the landlord, Sam Koutchesfahani, that they were sent to Earth as angels and met in “middle America,” Milt Silverman, Koutchesfahani’s attorney, told San Diego radio station KFMB.
Members also said the group has branches in Arizona and New Mexico, Silverman said. He didn’t elaborate. In Santa Fe, N.M., police Sgt. Jerry Archuleta said one car parked outside the house was registered to a mailbox there, and authorities knew of no cult branch there.
Silverman told CBS that the group had previously rented from a couple who were doctors and came with good references. “They seemed to be perfectly reasonable people, always paid their rent on time,” he said.
Tom Goodspeed, director of the San Diego Polo Club, said Higher Source designed a Web page for the club. He visited the house and described quiet men with buzz-cut hair and stylish, collarless black shirts.
“They had that look about them that maybe they were a little bit strange of appearance, but that they could probably sit down in front of a computer and really get it done,” Goodspeed told ABC. “They did a fantastic job for us.”
Goodspeed was one of several visitors who thought of Higher Source as a cult. He and others said the group appeared to answer to an older man known as “Father John,” and that a “Brother Logan” appeared to be a second in command.
Bill Grivas of nearby Solana Beach said he looked at the home as a potential buyer and heard them referring to themselves as monks.
The Higher Source Web site is adorned with pictures of stars and nebulae, but appears largely a straightforward business site, touting the company’s abilities and listing satisfied customers.
“The individuals at the core of our group have worked closely together for over 20 years,” boasts one entry on the site. “We try to stay positive in every circumstance and put the good of a project above any personal concerns or artistic egos.”
The age of the victims and the neighborhood in which it took place fit the profile of modern cult activity, said Ronald E. Enroth, a professor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a leading expert on new religious movements.
The case began Wednesday with a pair of anonymous calls — one to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and one somewhat later to Beverly Hills police. Both suggested checking the house in this wealthy enclave of walled estates and polo fields in the rolling hills 20 miles north of San Diego.
A deputy made his way up the steep, gated drive, went in an open door and found 10 bodies in a room. More deputies arrived, wearing surgical masks against the putrid odor of decaying bodies.
Fulmer said at first that all 39 victims were male between 18 and 24. He later said some were women and some were older, but was unable to provide further detail.
The smell was so bad that officers at first thought it might be poison gas. Later, Fulmer said it was the smell of death, bad enough to indicate the victims had been dead for some time.
There were no marks on the bodies and no suicide notes, Fulmer said. The bodies were lying on cots and bunks throughout the house, each with a 3-foot triangular purple cloth lying over the face and chest.
Investigators discovered that the home had been rented in October. The nine-bedroom, seven-bathroom house sits on 3.11 acres with a swimming pool and tennis court. It was valued at $1.325 million in 1995.
Koutchesfahani, the landlord, pleaded guilty last year to tax evasion and fraud after admitting he took up to $350,000 from Middle Eastern students between 1989 and 1995.
Prosecutors said Koutchesfahani used the money to bribe college instructors at three San Diego-area colleges into illegally enrolling students into the schools and certifying them as California residents.
On April 19, 1993, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 80 followers —including 18 children — died by fire or gunfire, six hours after the FBI started filling their cult compound near Waco, Texas, with tear gas. The government called the deaths a mass suicide after a 51-day armed standoff.
RANCHO SANTA FE, California (CNN) — The quasi-religious group whose members died in an apparent mass suicide in California left videotapes announcing their intentions to join a UFO, an associate of a former member said Thursday.
In an interview with CNN’s “Morning News,” Nick Matzorkis of Interact Entertainment of Beverly Hills said he and one of his employees, known as Rio, went to the group’s mansion, found the 39 bodies and notified authorities in San Diego and Beverly Hills.
“When he first came out of the house, he was as white as a sheep,” Matzorkis said of Rio. “He said, ‘They did it. ... They left their containers. They committed suicide.’”
Matzorkis said Rio, who left the group recently, received a package Tuesday containing two videotapes and a letter that described the group’s intentions.
In the videotapes, members said their farewells and were “quite joyous” about “leaving this planet,” Matzorkis said. The letter said that by the time it was read members would have “already shed their containers,” he added.
According to Matzorkis, the group believed their souls transcend this life.
“They believed they were going to be taken away, as odd as this sounds, ... by a UFO —that a UFO would come by and pick them up,” Matzorkis said.
He added that seven months ago the leader of group, whom Matzorkis said was among the dead, told him the UFO was hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp.
Investigators interviewed Matzorkis overnight, and the videotapes have been turned over to authorities. Matzorkis said investigators interviewed and released Rio.
RANCHO SANTA FE, California (CNN) — The bodies of 39 men and women were found Wednesday in a Southern California mansion occupied by a quasi-religious group of computer programmers, and deputies described their deaths as a mass suicide.
The group sent two farewell videotapes that described their intentions to commit suicide to a former member, said Nick Matzorkis, a Beverly Hills businessman who employs the former member.
Matzorkis told CNN that members believed it was time to “shed their containers,” perhaps to rendezvous with a UFO they believed was traveling behind the Hale-Bopp comet.
The victims were all reported to be between 18 and 24 years old and were found in various rooms of the home in Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive community about 20 miles (32 km) north of San Diego.
“They’re dressed similarly, all lying in a prone position, hands at their side as if asleep,” said Cmdr. Alan Fulmer of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. He said the victims were wearing dark pants and tennis shoes, and there were no signs of trauma or blood.
The numerical breakdown of women and men was not available early Thursday, Fulmer said.
He would not disclose how the victims may have died or how long the bodies had been at the house. Authorities were not releasing victims’ names, pending the notification of relatives.
The Sheriff’s Department received an anonymous phone call at midafternoon from someone who said there had been a mass suicide and provided the address of the mansion.
An attorney for the homeowner, Sam Koutchessahani, said his client rented the mansion in October 1996 to what he described as a religious group.
Fulmer said there were no religious artifacts found near the bodies, and the corpses did not appear to be arranged in any ritual manner.
Little contact with neighbors
The cream-colored, tile-roofed Spanish-style mansion sits on an estate in Rancho Santa Fe, a community that has been described as the Beverly Hills of San Diego.
The estate, which has a swimming pool and tennis court, was for sale and was listed on the market at $1.6 million, according to a report from CNN affiliate KUSI-TV. It likely would have rented for $10,000 to $20,000 a month, the station reported.
A neighbor, Bill Strong, said five to 10 people, including men and women but no children, had been living at the mansion. He said he noticed vans and trucks coming and going from the residence, and one had New Mexico license plates.
Other people who lived nearby reported that the group had little contact with neighbors. Dyson and Dyson Realty agent Scott Warren, who said he showed the house recently, told KNBC-TV that the sale was hindered by the activity of what appeared to be a religious “cult” meeting there.
“We just thought they were pretty bizarre,” Warren said.
Koutchessahani also acknowledged having trouble selling the house, said neighbor Arnie Kaplan, who said he joked in October: “I can’t sell it. I’m renting to a bunch of monks.”
Several rooms in the house contained computers; members told Warren they were developing World Wide Web pages.
“They kept referring to the temple as very self-sufficient and how proud they were,” said Bob Dyson, owner of the real estate agency. “It was very clean and neat. A lot of bunk beds, and they referred to each other as brother and sister.”
There was no indication the deaths were related to Saturday’s mass suicide in Quebec of five members of the Order of the Solar Temple. More than 70 members of that group have committed suicide in the last three years.
RANCHO SANTA FE, California (CNN) — The group linked to Wednesday’s apparent mass suicide in California operated a business-oriented Web site that made no mention of religious issues.
By Internet standards, the Higher Source’s Web site was a well-maintained site that featured backgrounds of stars and links to other Web sites. It also offered programming, systems analysis and computer security services.
San Diego Polo Club General Manager Tom Goodspeed told CNN members of the group provided his club with a Web site that has been posted since last spring.
“They really knew their business as far as computers,” Goodspeed said.
He said he met 10 Higher Source members over the course of eight months.
“There were men and women, ages late 20s to mid 40s — very genuine, nice people, but what was odd is they all had buzz cuts and dressed similar,” Goodspeed said. “No-collar shirts, darker clothing and basically gave the appearance they were all cut out of the same mold.”
He said they told him they were members of a monastery, and that he once suggested the group hire other salespeople to help boost their business.
“Their presentation wasn’t really that strong, but their talent was,” Goodspeed said. “They told me they all belonged to a monastery and that’s why they had that look, but they never ever pushed their religious beliefs on myself or anyone I’m aware of.”
The group’s Web site describes “The Difference” of its members:
“The individuals at the core of our group have worked closely together for over 20 years. During those years, each of us has developed a high degree of skill and know-how through personal discipline and concerted effort. We try to stay positive in every circumstance and put the good of a project above any personal concerns or artistic egos. By sustaining this attitude and conduct, we have achieved a high level of efficiency and quality in our work. This crew-minded effort, combined with ingenuity and creativity, have helped us provide advanced solutions at highly competitive rates.”
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Nestled in hills 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, Rancho Santa Fe is a swank enclave sprinkled with polo fields, country clubs and multimillion-dollar estates.
It’s a community where new and old money mix, where celebrities can get their privacy inside gated estates, and where residents say they can go for long stretches without seeing their neighbors.
On Wednesday, it became the site of one of the biggest mass suicides in modern history, with 39 young men found dead in a mansion on an estate lined with palm trees.
“It’s an extraordinary place,” said San Diego Padres owner John Moores, a Rancho Santa Fe resident, who heard about the suicides on his car radio. “There’s very, very low crime, I mean, it’s like a small town.
“The last big story in Rancho Santa Fe was that some kids stole a garbage can. Really, you read the crime reports out there and it’s stuff like that. A barking dog at night. Silly stuff.”
The seaside Del Mar race track, popularized by Bing Crosby in the late 1930s, is nearby. Crosby also once held his celebrity golf tournament there.
At the end of the main street is the exclusive Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, with a neatly manicured croquet green in front and surrounded by large, fragrant eucalyptus groves.
Big shots, big lots
Pete Rozelle, who craved privacy after he retired as commissioner of the National Football League in 1989, found it in Rancho Santa Fe. He lived quietly there with his wife until he died of brain cancer in December.
Other residents have included Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and John Neal Reagan, former President Ronald Reagan’s only brother, who died last December.
There’s no home mail delivery, because most of the lots are so big. There are no street lights, and a covenant allows only two styles of houses — Spanish Mediterranean and ranch. Most are Spanish Mediterranean.
Moores described residents of Rancho Santa Fe as a “fairly eclectic group. I think there are a lot of retired people, people with second homes.”
Moores said he bought his residence as a retirement home before he bought the Padres in 1994.
The last time Rancho Santa Fe saw anything resembling a major news story was in 1992, when the wife and three children of purported British spy Ian Spiro were found shot to death in their posh home.
Spiro was found dead in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park three days later. No suspects were ever apprehended.
(CNN) — Notable mass suicides or cult-related deaths within the past 20 years:
March 23, 1997 — The charred bodies of three women and two men were found inside a house in Saint Casimir, Quebec. All were members of the Solar Temple, an international sect that believes ritualized suicide leads to rebirth on a planet called Sirius.
December 1995 — Sixteen Solar Temple members were found dead in a burned house outside Grenoble, in the French Alps.
October 1994 — The burned bodies of 48 Solar Temple members were discovered in a farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland. At the same time, five bodies, including that of an infant, were found in a chalet north of Montreal.
April 19, 1993 — At least 70 Branch Davidian cult members died after fire and a shootout with police and federal agents ended a 51-day siege of the compound near Waco, Texas. The sect’s leader, David Koresh, who had preached a messianic gospel of sex, freedom and revolution and told followers he was Jesus Christ, died of a gunshot wound to the head sometime during the blaze.
October 1993 — Fifty-three hill Vietnamese tribe villagers committed mass suicide with flintlock guns and other primitive weapons in the belief they would go straight to heaven. Officials said they were the victims of a scam by a man who received cash donations for promising a speedy road to paradise.
December 1991 — Mexican minister Ramon Morales Almazan and 29 followers suffocated after he told them to keep praying and ignore toxic fumes filling their church.
December 13, 1990 — Twelve people died in a religious ritual in Tijuana, Mexico, apparently after drinking fruit punch tainted by industrial alcohol.
November 18, 1978 — The Rev. Jim Jones led more than 900 followers to their deaths at Jonestown, Guyana, by drinking a cyanide-laced grape punch. Cult members who refused to swallow the liquid were shot.
BERLIN (AP) — Federal judges refused today to rule on whether the Church of Scientology is a religion, ordering a lower court to focus instead on whether the group is a non-profit venture or a money-making business.
The case, concerning a Scientology branch in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, already has been bounced several times from court to court — reflecting the sensitive and explosive nature of Scientology’s position here.
German politicians claim the Los Angeles-based group is a money-making business with totalitarian aims to overthrow democracy; the Scientologists say they are a non-profit religious group discriminated against in German society.
Judges today said that Scientology’s religious status is irrelevant to this case, which focuses on whether a branch of the group in Baden-Wuerttemberg should be afforded non-profit status. They provided a guideline for the state court to make its decision, saying that Scientology would be considered a business only if it made a financial profit from selling educational materials to non-members.
No date was set for a new trial in the lower court.
Scientology has fought legal systems before — it took the church 25 years to convince the United States to grant it tax-free status as a religion in 1993 — but members say their struggle in Germany is their worst yet.
For several years, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government has considered Scientology to be a cult or a totalitarian business operation. The group has been under surveillance as a threat to democracy in Germany since June, a step toward a possible ban of the organization. German journalists refer to the group as a “sect.”
For their part, Scientologists claim discrimination at every level of German society, from being denied membership in political parties to having their children barred from schools. It has often has compared its treatment in Germany to Nazi isolation of the Jews in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
Right now, Scientology has legal non-profit status in all of Germany’s 16 states. A ruling against them would likely encourage similar action against the group in other states.
The case before the judges today started in 1986, when Baden-Wuerttemberg revoked the non-profit status of a local Scientology branch. The state said the group was primarily concerned with making money by selling books and self-improvement courses, not the “idealistic goals” generally associated with a non-profit organization.
A regional court overturned the ruling in July, saying that before the group’s non-profit status could be revoked, it first must be determined whether Scientology is a religion and thus entitled to special privileges, such as tax-exempt status and the right to recruit members.
The federal court said the religion issue — at least in this case — irrelevant.
The dispute between Germany and the church is muddy; the Germans give little specific evidence for their claims against the church. But the crux of the problem seems to be Scientology’s secretive and hierarchical structure, which German critics say follows a totalitarian model and is therefore anti-democratic.
WASHINGTON — With all the fanfare and shocking drama of a Jerry Springer show, a man stood on the steps of the Capitol on Monday and pressed a foot-long silver cross to the sky.
His ankle-length black robe flapping in the stiff breeze and a shiny black briefcase at his feet, the man consulted the oversize leather-bound Bible propped open in his left hand and began what he said were the rituals of an exorcism.
“Kee-la-la-la-see-ki,” he intoned, or so it sounded to an untrained ear. “Kee-kee-sa-la.”
The Capitol police officers who stood nearby smirked. They had seen it all before. But the Indiana schoolchildren who had gathered to watch were not indifferent. They stood riveted as the man made the sign of the cross, incanted unintelligible phrases and held up his silver cross to the north and south, east and west.
“I’m definitely telling my friends back home it was the weirdest thing I saw while I was in Washington,” shrieked 14-year-old Adrienne Hermance of Logansport, Ind.
The object of her howls was Baron Deacon, a student of Greek Orthodox theology who said he had been ordained as an exorcist 20 years ago. Born in Spain and now a resident of Boston and Puerto Rico, the man with the black pompadour and pencil mustache said he had come to Washington only at the behest of a Boston attorney, David Grossack, who believes the federal government and courts are beyond broken and in radical need of an overhaul.
“I’ve always tried to avoid coming here,” said Deacon, who performed the exercise with all the solemnity of a funeral. “Even yesterday on the trip when we came here the car almost went over a road. And the thunder and the experience we had last night was only an indication of what is here.”
Deacon, who claims to have performed hundreds of exorcism rituals around the world, said Monday’s exercise by itself would not rid Washington and the nation’s courts of evil. “What I did here today is only one step for what is to come,” he said. “Satan has a nest where he, so to speak, lays eggs. This is his nest.”
Grossack, 42, a resident of Hull, Mass., said he conjured up the stunt to drum up publicity for his mission to utterly overhaul a federal government and legal system which he says are not working for the American people.
“For all practical purposes, the politicians and legal establishment have sold their souls to the devil,” Grossack said as he watched Deacon in action. “The government doesn’t work for the people.”
Grossack, a Republican committeeman, describes himself as a right-wing radical. The host of a public-access television program about judicial issues and the author of Constitutional Warfare, a manual for people who want to take their complaints to court without a lawyer, he heads a company called Citizens Justice Programs, which conducts training seminars for people who want to bring civil rights lawsuits against public officials.
Grossack said he had concluded that confrontation is the only way to draw attention to his beliefs that the American people have lost faith in their government and that individuals are unfairly deprived every day of their freedom, their rights and their property.
“There are mini-Wacos taking place every day but there is a lot of apathy,” he said. “In the 1960s, when people did things that were confrontational, the government took people more seriously.”
Grossack is no stranger to confrontation. In 1996 he turned up at a rally in Boston for perennial presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Carrying a sign that read “Don’t be fooled by Buchanan,” he strode through the crowd shouting, “Buchanan is a Nazi! Buchanan is a Nazi!”
He once launched a crusade to persuade local government officials in Hull to remove the mosaic swastika patterns that had decorated the floors of Town Hall since 1927. One day he woke to find the word “Jew” scratched into his car.
But that was years ago. On Monday, Grossack blended in with a crowd of tourists and government workers as Deacon performed his ritual. Clad in a gray suit and clutching a black canvas briefcase, he did not draw the notice of Suanne Schwering, a newly retired eighth-grade history teacher from Logansport who stood bewitched by the ceremony.
“It wasn’t like in the movie The Exorcist,” she said. “This guy was waving his cape around a lot more.”
As the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses increases, Christians urgently need to understand what this movement believes
Thanks to 9/11, Jehovah’s Witnesses are growing. The infamous movement always does well in times of crisis. Last year the Watchtower Society baptized 265,469 converts. The Witnesses have also been in the news because of serious allegations that the society has engaged in a cover up of child abuse in its midst. The society is also facing internal dissent from members who are outraged by the movement’s infamous ban on blood transfusion.
In witnessing to Witnesses at your door, it is very important to understand the Witness system of doctrine and practice. (Click here to skip down to sidebar on Twenty Major Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
In my first book Crisis of Allegiance that I wrote 20 years ago, I suggested five major errors to keep in mind as Witnesses knock at your door. First, the Witness follows false doctrine. It should be obvious to any Christian that many of their key teachings have no basis in Scripture. In the New Testament Jesus is worshipped as “Lord” and “God” (see John 20:28), for example. It is clear from John 14-16 that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The idea that there will be only 144,000 in heaven is contradicted by the teaching of Scripture that in heaven there will be a multitude which no one can number.
Second, the Watchtower Society is guilty of false prophecy. Witnesses believe that their leadership represent a “prophet class.” Every Witness leader since Charles Russell has engaged in reckless prophecy about the return of Christ and end of the world. They predicted the end would come in 1914 and then in 1925. After these failures, the movement said that the apocalypse was near in the 1940s. In 1968 the leadership announced that 1975 would bring the final drama to world history. There was even a saying among Witnesses: “Make do till ‘72, Stay alive till ‘75.”
Third, the Society engages in false scholarship to support its beliefs. Witness leaders misrepresent and distort the work of scholars in order to defend their New World Translation of the Bible. They misquote great Christian scholars to defend their distortions about the Trinity doctrine or their denial of the deity of Christ. Their view that 1914 marks the return of Christ is based on sloppy history and Bible leap-frog. When Witness Carl Olaf Jonsson wrote a whole book against the society’s evidence, he was promptly kicked out.
Fourth, the society offers false stability to its members. What is true today may be false tomorrow. In Russell’s day Witnesses could celebrate birthdays. Not now. In 1917 The Finished Mystery was the best guide to Bible prophecy. Not now. The society was founded in order to worship Christ. Not now. In early Watchtower history aluminum was announced as an evil product. Not now. In early days Russell taught that members of other churches knew the Lord. Not now.
Finally, Witnesses give false loyalty to an organization. This is the controlling dogma of the society. Witnesses are locked into a rigid ideology where headquarters cannot be questioned. The Watchtower movement represents one of the only groups that has ever taught that you must obey the leadership even if you know what they are teaching is not true. This is quite remarkable given that Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Important Dates for Jehovah’s Witnesses
1852 Birth of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Watchtower movement
1879 Publication of Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence
1906 Russell and his wife are divorced
1916 Russell dies on Oct. 31
1917 Judge Rutherford, second president of Watchtower, begins harsh rule
1920 Millions Now Living Will Never Die published
1945 Blood transfusion forbidden
1960 Completion of the Watchtower Bible The New World Translation
1971 Formation of governing body
1980 Major dissent in Brooklyn and Lethbridge against authoritarian leadership
1992 Frederick Franz dies. Milton Henschel becomes leader.
2000 Structural reorganization at Watchtower headquarters
2002 Media attention over child abuse cover-up
2003 Witnesses persecuted in former Soviet countries
20 Major Teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses
1. Jehovah’s Witnesses alone are true Christians. If you are not a Jehovah’s Witness you are not a Christian.
2. God is not a triune being. The doctrine of the Trinity is satanic.
3. Jesus is to be called “a god” and not God. Thus, Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 in this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.”
4. While Jesus is worthy of honor, He is not to be worshiped.
5. Jesus is a created being. He is not eternal in his pre-existence but rather was created by Jehovah as Michael the Archangel.
6. Jesus died on a stake and not a cross. The cross is a pagan symbol.
7. Jesus did not rise physically from the dead. Rather, Jehovah raised His spirit from death and then provided another body for His appearances to His disciples.
8. The second coming of Jesus took place in 1914 when Jesus returned invisibly to earth.
9. The Holy Spirit is not the third person of the Trinity but rather an impersonal force.
10. The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses constitute “the wise and faithful servant” mentioned in Matthew 25:45-47 and serve as the only body on earth who can properly interpret the Bible.
11. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that only 144,000 saints will be in heaven.
12. Witnesses who are not part of the 144,000 will be raised from death to live forever on paradise earth.
13. Blood transfusion is forbidden and is a sin deserving destruction.
14. It is immoral to celebrate Christmas, Easter and birthdays.
15. True Christians must not be involved in politics or in saluting the flag of any nation.
16. Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot take part in military service.
17. All Jehovah’s Witnesses must go door to door in announcing the message of Jehovah’s Kingdom.
18. Witnesses must obey the teachings of the Watchtower Society and be in total unity with God’s organization.
19. The Witness must not read any material critical of the society. This literature is viewed as “spiritual pornography.”
20. Witnesses must shun anyone who has left (“disassociation”) or been excommunicated from the society.
James A. Beverley is professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. His web site is www.religionwatch.ca
Ravi Zacharias, one of two evangelical leaders who addressed a Mormon crowd at the flagship Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, defended his decision to speak at the joint Mormon-Evangelical gathering last month, in a statement to “the critics who objected to my being there.”
“All my life as an apologist I have spoken across wide chasms of thought and virtually to every major religious group, sometimes at the risk of threats and violence. Differences ought not to keep us from carrying the truth to everyone. Must we not graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction?” he explained.
In the 6 weeks since Zacharias and Fuller Seminary President Richard Mouw addressed the Mormon crowd, numerous evangelical Christians raised questions about the reasoning and motive for the gathering. Specifically, they questioned Mouw’s brief statements concerning evangelicals’ treatment of the Mormon community.
“We’ve often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith,” Mouw was quoted as saying. “It’s a terrible thing to bear false witness ... We’ve told you what you believe without first asking you.”
“I remain convinced there are serious issues of difference that are of eternal consequence, but now we can discuss them as friends,” Mouw said, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Mouw released a statement of clarification within days of the Nov. 14 gathering, during which he apologized for the “unnecessary confusion” caused by his address. He assured critics that he sees the differences between the Christian and Latter-Day-Saints faith traditions.
Nonetheless, he stood by his initial comments, saying to the evangelical community that “at the very least admit that we have not always been fair in our wholesale condemnation of Mormonism as simply a false religion.”
Zacharias’ comments echoed that of Mouw’s.
“Is it really necessary at the early stages of such openness to “dump the whole truckload of goods,” rather than first gaining a hearing and respect?” he wrote. “I have no doubts about the differences between the LDS faith and the historic Christian faith, differences that are deep and foundational in terms of authority.”
Zacharias added that the message he preached is available online, and thus encouraged critics to hear it.
“As you hear the message presented, I pray you will hear the sound of the seed being sown. Only Heaven will reveal the fruit that has resulted,” he wrote.
The following is the full text of the statement released by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministry:
Many have asked how the invitation to the Mormon Tabernacle came about. Ten years ago, I was invited by the philosophy department at Brigham Young University to deliver a series of lectures on atheism and theism, a comparative study. At that time I also presented a defense of the Christian faith. Much has transpired in the intervening years as evangelical Christian scholars and Mormon scholars have held discussions on their differing faiths. Sometime ago, a group of about 150 churches and academic institutions under the leadership of Greg Johnson of Standing Together invited me to speak in defense of the Christian faith at a series of open forums on university campuses in Utah. Greg then suggested that perhaps the LDS church would open the Tabernacle for a major presentation by an evangelical Christian.
With that in mind, Greg and Bob Millet (from the faculty of Brigham Young University) approached the First Presidency with the idea and to everyone’s surprise, they graciously agreed to extend an invitation to me. Greg and Bob came to my office in Atlanta to discuss with me what this meant and how we should go about this. Needless to say, I had a lot of questions on the “why” of such an invitation. What it boiled down to was that they were interested in hearing from an evangelical Christian about what lay at the heart of our faith. I asked for two personal conditions. One, that I be given the privilege of selecting the subject and two, that I bring someone to provide the music. They gladly granted both. But even after that I hesitated till several key evangelical leaders and professors from across the country wrote and urged me to accept the invitation to speak at the Tabernacle. After much prayer and reflection, I did. I selected the subject: The Exclusivity and Sufficiency of Jesus Christ. I asked Michael Card if he would come and provide the music.
November 14th was the historic moment. The last time an evangelical Christian had spoken there was in 1899 when D.L. Moody spoke. I have to say the entire weekend was one remarkable event after another. I had a personal meeting with the First Presidency. I did open forums at Weber State University and at the University of Utah. The climactic meeting at the Mormon Tabernacle was packed with an overflowing crowd. What a night it was!
From all over the world I have received numerous messages of encouragement and appreciation. Anyone who hears the tape will know the clarity of the message presented. Only the Lord gave such enablement.
To the critics who objected to my being there, I say that all my life as an apologist I have spoken across wide chasms of thought and virtually to every major religious group, sometimes at the risk of threats and violence. Differences ought not to keep us from carrying the truth to everyone. Must we not graciously build one step at a time in communicating our faith with clarity and conviction? Is it really necessary at the early stages of such openness to “dump the whole truckload of goods,” rather than first gaining a hearing and respect? I have no doubts about the differences between the LDS faith and the historic Christian faith, differences that are deep and foundational in terms of authority. But the proclamation of the living Christ can break down hearts all over the world that we might see ourselves as He sees us and call upon Him and no one else for our salvation. Must not our methods be in keeping with our message? There are numerous instances in Scripture where Jesus went to those of a contrary view and with grace, sowed one small seed at a time. I must also add that the courtesy and graciousness extended to me by every Mormon leader or professor that I came into contact with cannot be gainsaid. My earnest prayer is that the Lord was honored in what happened and that the opportunities that come from this event will multiply. There is no other name given under heaven whereby we may be saved. How we communicate that name is equally important as the message itself if we are to be persuaders of men and women under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
As you hear the message presented, I pray you will hear the sound of the seed being sown. Only Heaven will reveal the fruit that has resulted.
Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, has been caught in a trench for the apologetic comments he made to the Mormon community during an evangelical “Evening of Friendship” event, Sunday, Nov. 14.
Mouw, renowned seminarian and president of Fuller, spoke briefly at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS) “signature pulpit” in Salt Lake City as part of a two-night event, sponsored by Standing Together Ministries — an evangelical Christian group headquartered in Lehi, Utah.
His comments, which included statements such as “Let me state it clearly, We evangelicals have sinned against you,” stirred consternation among top “evangelical Christian leaders and experts on Mormonism,” according to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Press (BP).
“We’ve often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of members of the LDS faith,” Mouw was quoted as saying. “It’s a terrible thing to bear false witness ... We’ve told you what you believe without first asking you.”
“I remain convinced there are serious issues of difference that are of eternal consequence, but now we can discuss them as friends,” Mouw said, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune.
While the sponsors and attendees to the event called it a success - it was the first time in 105 years that a preacher of another faith spoke at the pulpit of the Tabernacle on Temple Square, some evangelicals were taken aback by Mouw’s comments.
Mike Gray, pastor of Southeast [Southern] Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, said to BP that “Mouw was wrong” in his assessment of the evangelical voice.
“[Mouw] was wrong. He had no business. And it will hurt,” said Gray, who added other terms such as “insensitive,” “inaccurate,” and “ignorant” about Mouw’s comments.
“Some of my people were there and they were turned off by the whole event because of him,” Gray continued.
Gray, whose church was one of the sponsoring evangelical churches for the event, said the most disrespectful part of Mouw’s comments was his “ignorance” of what the evangelical community is doing in the Salt Lake City area.
“He doesn’t live here and he doesn’t know what we do,” Gray said to BP. “We haven’t been ugly to our Mormon neighbors. We love them and care about them.”
He also said the comments were controversial because it blurred the lines between Mormons and Evangelical Christians.
“We want to become all things to all men to reach them to share the Gospel,” Gray said. “And the tension and balance is how do you share the Gospel but not become part of standing with the Mormons.
“That’s always the balance that we try to find here,” he added in his comments.
Time Clark, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Baptist Convention agreed, saying that Mouw’s comment can send a confused message to both Christians and Mormons.
“[Mouw is] sending a message to Mormons that they are a part of mainstream Christianity,” Clark said to the BP.
“The Mormons will take that and use that kind of language. It’s a half truth, but that’s how they report it,” he added.
“It sets back our work as Christian witnesses in Utah and Idaho,” Clark said. “I can’t speak to what it does outside of Utah and Idaho, but I can tell you it does not communicate a clear Gospel presentation.”
According to Clark, Mormons have been trying to target Baptists and Methodists who “don’t know what they believe” in evangelizing them.
“The evidence is tangible. Why are the Mormons building temples in New York City, Dallas and Atlanta? It’s because they’re targeting Baptists who don’t know what they believe,” Clark said.
Clark added that Mouw’s approach was not the best at such a historic occasion.
“If I had been Dr. Mouw, I would have talked about the life, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, the BP said Mouw “acknowledged not all evangelical Christians have sinned against Mormons by ‘bearing false witness.’”
“I certainly did not mean to imply that every evangelical has sinned in this regard,” Mouw wrote in defense to questions asked by BP. “Suppose I were to address an African-American gathering and say that we whites have sinned against you blacks. Who would deny that this is a correct assessment? But who would think that I was speaking about and on behalf of all white people?”
“In none of this am I saying that Mormons are ‘orthodox Christians.’ But I do believe that there are elements in Mormon thought that if emphasized, while de-emphasizing other element[s], could constitute a message within Mormonism of salvation by grace alone through the blood of Jesus Christ,” Mouw wrote. “I will work to promote that cause.”
Nonetheless, Mouw said he still stands by the validity of his comments.
“I am deeply sorry for causing distress in the evangelical community,” Mouw wrote. “[But] I make no apology for wanting to foster gentle and reverent dialogue with Mormon friends.”
“At the very least admit that we have not always been fair in our wholesale condemnation of Mormonism as simply a false religion,” said Mouw.
There is a “discernible pattern of sinning against LDS” members by evangelicals, Mouw said in his response. Authors such as Walter Martin, who “oversimplified Mormon teaching,” and Dave Hunt, who represented Mormonism as “Satanic in its inspiration and practice,” are “bearing false witness,” said Mouw.
Mouw also clarified the comments he met about celebrating the 200th anniversary birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS.
“I can see how people heard me say that we evangelicals should join in ‘celebrating’ Joseph Smith’s birthday, but that is not what I intended to say,” Mouw wrote. “Instead I said that I hoped many evangelicals would participate in those events that would allow us all to ‘pay special attention to Joseph’s life and teachings’ during this year.”
Mouw said that his statement caused “unnecessary confusion,” but that events like Smith’s birthday allow “critical give and take” when “we evangelicals can try to sort out the good from the bad in Joseph’s thought.”
“For the record: I do not believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God; I do not accept the Book of Mormon as a legitimate revelation; I do not believe that temple baptism saves; I do not believe that all people will be saved.
“And it [is] precisely because of this that when my good friend [and Brigham Young University professor] Bob Millet says that his only plea when he gets to heaven is ‘the mercy and merit of Jesus Christ,’ I want to respond by saying with enthusiasm, ‘Let’s keep talking!”
The main preacher during the two-night event was Zacharias, a philosopher, author, and well-known apologist among the evangelical community. The last time a non-Mormon was invited to speak at the Tabernacle on Temple Square was in 1899, when Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute, address the crowd.
When Bill Moyers asked his youngest son why he had seen Star Wars at least a dozen times, he responded: “For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all your life.” As Moyers explained, “He was in a new world of myth.”
That new world of myth has been a topic of debate and interest ever since 1977, when Star Wars first warped itself into our national consciousness. With the release of “The Revenge of the Sith” the mythological impact is again a matter of spirited discussion.
Producer George Lucas has offered different and contradictory messages about his own agenda in the making of the Star Wars series. Explaining the blockbusting success of the first episode, “The Phantom Menace,” Lucas insisted that his only purpose was to make a “fun” escapist movie, “whose only purpose was to give pleasure.”
Nevertheless, the mythological elements in these movies are hard to deny, and Lucas has more recently claimed a higher purpose than entertainment in his movie making. “I see Star Wars as taking all the issues that religion represents and trying to distill them down into a more modern and easily accessible construct—that there is a greater mystery out there,” he told a fascinated Bill Moyers, who interviewed Lucas for TIME.
The Moyers interview reveals a great deal about himself as well as his subject, for both Moyers and Lucas seem absolutely agog over the power of myth and convinced that modern secular Americans need new myths to replace the tired old “myths” of religion, including Christianity. “Religion is basically a container for faith. And faith in our culture . . . what one might describe as a supernatural, or the things we can’t explain—is a very important part of what allows us to remain stable, remain balanced.”
Lucas reveals that he believes that “all religions are true,” though we cannot know who or what God is. In writing Star Wars, Lucas “had to come up with a whole cosmology,” and chose to imitate an existing belief system rather than to invent a new religion. In the process he borrowed freely from ancient Gnosticism, Buddhism, and certain elements of Christianity. “I wanted to express it all,” he explained.
The mythological structure of Star Wars is primarily indebted to the Eastern religions, though Americans are more likely to recognize that now than they were in 1977. Zen Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies are now staples of America’s polytheistic popular culture. Bookstore sections on “Spirituality” feature hundreds of books in the “Buddhism for the Masses” genre, and the even less serious “New Age” materials.
In the years since 1977 Americans have become primary consumers of Eastern philosophies and ancient mythologies-dumbed down for popular consumption and dressed up for a media age. Interest in pagan mythologies may have peaked in the 1980s with the late Joseph Campbell’s television series (hosted by—guess who—Bill Moyers). Through books and television series, Campbell introduced a generation of secularized and confused Americans to the world of ancient and modern myths.
Campbell and Lucas had a mutual admiration society for several years. At a tribute for Campbell, Lucas described him as “my Yoda,” recalling a spiritual guide from Star Wars. Campbell offered that he was “proud that something I did helped him define his own truth.”
The mythological elements in the Star Wars series became, in fact, the justifying purpose behind a mammoth exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth” ran from October 1997 until January 31 of 1999. The museum also sponsored a major book project with the same title, written by the project’s curator, Mary Henderson.
Identifying Star Wars as “one of the great myths of our time,” Henderson explained the power of the movies: “When the first film in the Star Wars trilogy appeared in 1977, the ancient myths no longer seemed relevant for many people in this culture; pressing problems absorbed our attention, and hope itself was in short supply.” Evidently, the movie came just in time. The title of the first film—”A New Hope.” It sounds like more than a little escapism.
The book and the exhibit detailed the mythological elements in the Star Wars movies, from the influence of Zoroastrian dualism of good and evil to the Zen elements of “The Force.” Lucas borrowed from several different mythological traditions to create his “whole cosmology” and pseudo-religion.
Conspicuously absent from Lucas’s cosmology is anything connected to biblical Christianity. Though oblique references to faith abound in the film, the central religious motif is “the Force,” explained by the Smithsonian guide as a combination of “the basic principles of several different major religions.” Further, “it most embodies what all of them have in common: an unerring faith in a spiritual power.” Lucas explained “the Force” as “a nothingness that can accomplish miracles.” This is, the Smithsonian’s Henderson asserts, “reminiscent of Zen Buddhism.”
“The Force” is not analogous to Christian faith, but is a form of personal enlightenment and empowerment. Faith in “the Force” is simply faith in mystery and some higher power-mostly within. As Lucas instructs: “Ultimately the Force is the larger mystery of the universe. And to trust your feelings is your way into that.” The last thing Americans need to be told is to trust their own feelings.
The mythology of Star Wars is perfectly adapted to the spiritual confusion of postmodern America. “Go with the Force” is about all many citizens can muster as spirituality. When Christianity ceases to be the dominant worldview of a culture, paganism is quick to fill the void.
Some theologians have welcomed the mythological message of Star Wars as a relief from arid secularism. Theologian Robert Jewett of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary went so far as to claim “a compelling gospel in this film, one that deserves to be compared with Paul’s words in Romans.” Lutheran Robert E. A. Lee claimed that “the Force” combines “the mysticism of ESP and the New Testament doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” These folks have been sitting in the cinema too long.
Luke Skywalker and company are a form of simple escapism for many moviegoers, and a source of spiritual “insight” for others. Christians will be amazed at the special effects, but should be wary of any spiritual effect. As Carl F. H. Henry reminds, “Judeo-Christian revelation has nothing in common with the category of myth.” We must not confuse Christian faith with “the Force.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 1999 as a part of Dr. Mohler’s Fidelitas series.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
by Douglas Groothuis
Eastern spirituality is a popular trend in American culture today. Dr. Groothuis addresses these beliefs and delves into whether or not they sync with Christianity.
The God Within Us
“You are not good. You are not evil. You are God.” So intones a woman in her late 50s, speaking in a strange accent, because she is in a trance. Her name is J.Z. Knight, one of many talking heads that punctuate a surprisingly popular film, What the Bleep Do We Know?
While the term “New Age” is not as commonly used today, the concepts of this worldview are popping up nearly everywhere in American culture. The preferred term is now simply “spirituality” or “the new spirituality.”
This movie is a surreal account of one distressed woman who finds inner peace through taking control of her difficult life. Although the audience is not told until the end of the film, J. Z. Knight is channeling a spirit entity named Ramtha. Along with several scientists, philosophers and others who provide cameos in the film, Knight expounds an ancient message: We are divine (part of a universal energy), all is one, we create our own reality through our consciousness, and there is no difference between good and evil.
To put it in philosophical terms, the worldview of this film is pantheistic (all is divine), monistic (all is one), and relativistic (we create our own reality). Millions of American are buying into these beliefs. But should anyone believe such things? Are these claims true?
It’s All About Me
This enticing message of liberation through the realization of one’s inner potential has taken hold of American culture at many levels. In the 1980s this general philosophy was called “New Age” and referred to a raft of therapies, seminars and individuals hawking our “unlimited potential” and warning of religions or ideologies that placed any limits on our unlimited possibilities. At the time, many writers (myself included) spoke of this phenomenon as “the New Age movement,” although I never claimed that it ever rose to the level of a unified movement, let alone a conspiracy. New Age thinkers drew from Eastern religions (particularly Hinduism), ancient occultism, avant-garde trends in psychology, and speculations in physics to cobble together a worldview that placed the self at the center of the universe.
Deepak Chopra promises in his many best-selling books and high-priced seminars that by tapping into the divine within ourselves we can find enlightenment and perfect health. He promises an “ageless body and timeless mind.”
Americans by the millions are taking up yoga (which means to be “yoked with the divine”), a practice rooted in Hindu mysticism. Even many Christians fail to discern the potential dangers of yoga’s philosophy and thus submit to its alien disciplines. (See my article “Dangerous Meditations,” listed in the “About the author” section below, for a further critique of eastern meditation.) The ever-present Oprah Winfrey has probably done more than anyone to promote this form of spirituality. Her television program often features and endorses authors such as Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, and many others. Many television viewers are disarmed by Winfrey’s upbeat manner and Christian background. Nevertheless, the worldview she and so many others promote is both remote from biblical faith and illogical as well. Let’s see how.
What’s The Difference?
Christianity, rooted in the Jesus Christ of history (Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8), cannot be stuffed into the mold of this “new spirituality.” While many invoke Jesus as a mystical master, guru, yogi, or swami who espoused a universal spirituality at one with the supposedly deeper levels of all religions, Jesus in fact stands out from the crowd in what He taught and how He lived.
Jesus affirmed the reality of one Creator God who is a personal and moral being to whom we are accountable (Matthew 19:4; 25:31-46). Jesus knew God as “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9, NIV) and not as a universal and impersonal energy, force or principle. He believed that God can be known through divine revelation in history, through Scripture, and supremely in the person and work of Himself. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and the only mediator between God the Father and the human race (Matthew 11:27; John 3:16-18; 14:6; see also Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5).
Far from teaching that everything was divine, Jesus claimed uniquely divine prerogatives for Himself, which were applicable to no one else. For example, He forgave people’s sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 7:36-50), something only God has the authority to do. Jesus also claimed to be “Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28). Since God instituted the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3), and Jesus claimed divine authority over the Sabbath, Jesus claimed to have God’s own authority.
In a dispute with some religious leaders, Jesus scandalized them when He said that “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). “I AM WHO I AM” is the divine name that God revealed to Moses when He spoke to him in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Jesus claimed not only to have existed much longer than His age as a human being, but as the God revealed to Moses. Not believing His statement, the religious leaders tried to stone Him for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16).
The Jesus of history never called people to find the divine within themselves or to create their own reality. Instead, He called people to repent, to turn from their vain attempt to be lords of their own reality, and to turn toward Him as the only Lord of life. He came to save us from ourselves and from losing our souls: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). He backed up these claims by His matchless teachings, His compassionate and just character, His miracles and exorcisms, and supremely through His death and resurrection whereby He secured the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting for those who would put their trust in Him. This is true spirituality. This new life received by faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us is not available through our own resources (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:1-10; Titus 3:5-6).1
So, we find that the spirituality of What the Bleep Do We Know? and its philosophical soul mates is unbiblical. It is illogical, as well. Let’s return to the film to make three essential points against its worldview.
A New Form of the Same Old Deception
First, in this film, a theologian (of all people), decries the terrible idea that there is such a thing as evil in the world. However, if the idea is so terrible, then the idea itself would be an evil. So, evil would exist after all. Thus the expert contradicts himself inexcusably, and the premise of his argument cannot be trusted.
Moreover, no one — outside of a sociopath — can consistently live out this amoral worldview beyond good and evil. If you do not reckon the September 11, 2001 attacks on America as evil, there is simply something radically wrong with your perception of reality. If you do not take rape, child molestation and racism to be objectively evil, then you are radically out of step with reality. The Christian worldview, however, can account for evil as rebellion against God. In fact, God took evil so seriously that Christ was sent to bear its brunt that the world might be restored (Isaiah 53).
Second, if we create our own reality, why are we so horrendously bad at it? Why does one of the experts (a chiropractor) struggle with his postnasal drip every time he speaks? Why has J.Z. Knight (the medium for Ramtha) aged so terribly in the past 15 years? How can gods fail to live up to their deity? Why are we gods such underachievers? This simply makes no sense. What does ring true, however, is that we are finite and fallible creatures. We are in severe need of redemption from someone outside of ourselves.
Third, the “create your own reality” approach promoted by the film is also dangerous because it uproots us from any stable sense of objective reality — morally, philosophically or spiritually. This is the way to madness — the lunacy that takes one’s thoughts to be all that there is.
We should not forget that cult leader Charles Manson thought he had transcended the duality of good and evil. On that basis, he commanded his deluded followers to murder at his whim. One of their victims was a young actress, Sharon Tate, and her unborn child. While all who believe that they create reality may not go to these lengths of evil, there is nothing in their worldview to stop them.
The new spirituality cannot deliver on its promises. It cannot be harmonized with the reality of Jesus Christ, and it is flatly illogical to boot. Besides, this spirituality is not new at all, but ancient. It is all traced back to the original lie of the serpent in the garden, who promised a better life by disobeying God and making oneself the center of reality (Genesis 3:6-7). But the way out of that perennial snare is to follow Christ on the narrow path that leads to life eternal (Matthew 7:13-14; John 10:10).
PHOENIX (AP) - A Christian group distributed in Arizona 18,000 copies of a film designed to sway members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to quit.
About 15,000 DVDs of the film “Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith” were dropped off at homes in Mesa, Gilbert and Tempe over the weekend, said Jim Robertson, executive director of Concerned Christians, an organization largely made up of former Mormons. Another 2,000 copies were handed out in Snowflake and Taylor and 1,000 in Tucson.
The film, which contrasts the teachings of Jesus Christ and LDS founder Joseph Smith, was given away as part of effort to persuade members to leave the “church.”
“We’ve found this works very well. We need to step out in faith to do it,” said Robertson, a former Mormon who founded the organization 35 years ago. “We’re not against the Mormon people. If we hated the Mormons, we’d let them stew in their own juices.”
Don Evans, an LDS spokesman in Arizona, said Robertson is on a lifetime crusade to attack the church.
“It won’t faze members of our church one iota,” Evans said. “They’re strong enough in their own beliefs. It’s water off their backs.”
The DVD distribution was timed for the weekend before the LDS church holds its general conference in Salt Lake City.
By Frank Pastore
Am I an anti-Mormon bigot for simply raising this question?
In this column two weeks ago (available here), I stated I would vote for Mitt Romney should he win the Republican nomination, and that “though I am willing to unite with and befriend Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am hoping to be a voice of clarity – unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mistaken for orthodox Christianity and unwilling again to disqualify a candidate simply because he is from a faith tradition so different from my own.”
I also stated, “many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a growing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Christian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely ‘a non-Christian religion.’ To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity.”
The Romney candidacy is both good news and bad news for Mormonism. It is the greatest opportunity in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to win converts because hundreds of millions of people from all over the world will be exposed to the teachings of Mormonism for the very first time.
However, that’s also the bad news.
I say this with no animus towards Mormons. I am neither “anti-Mormon” nor a bigot. But, words mean things. And we are in danger of losing a perfectly good word to the forces of political correctness.
“Cult” is in danger of becoming the new theological “n-word.”
If you winced when you read the title of this column, you’re already feeling the pressure.
Most Christians and many Mormons do not know Mormon theology, if the emails and responses from my last column are any indication.
“A cult of Christianity is a group of people, which claiming to be Christian, embraces a particular doctrinal system taught by an individual leader, group of leaders, or organization, which (system) denies (either explicitly or implicitly) one or more of the central doctrines of the Christian faith as taught in the sixty-six books of the Bible.” – Alan Gomes, Ed., Unmasking the Cults (Zondervan, 1995).
If Mormonism can no longer be called a cult of Christianity, then neither can the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the United Pentecostal Church, or the Unification Church (to name but a few). If this is to be the case, then books will have to be retitled, libraries and bookstores will have to relabel their shelves, and colleges will have to rename their courses. And, perhaps my seminary degree will be declared illegitimate since I had a course in “Cults” at Talbot School of Theology under Professor Gomes (homepage), whose Unmasking the Cults series linked above is simply the best thing on cults in print. The pertinent volume on Mormonism is written by Kurt Van Gorden and is available here, or from his website here.
So, though I am willing to unite with Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mistaken for Christianity.
Mormonism has almost nothing in common with Christianity. Mormonism is polytheistic, it denies original sin, it teaches that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have physical bodies, that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary, that Jesus was the spirit-brother of Lucifer, that Jesus was a polygamist, that Jesus traveled to the Americas during His three days in the tomb, and that every Mormon male will one day become a God ruling over his own planet, accompanied by multiple wives, just as the God of this Earth, named Elohim – who was once a man – has done here.
Each of these claims are rooted in primary source documents of the Mormon church (see my Cults Study Guide .pdf available free here.) Another good link to start an examination of Mormon theology is here.
However, you will not find this information located on the “Basic Beliefs” page of the official L.D.S. website (here). It is the “meat” you will learn once you’re able to digest the “milk” of basic Mormon theology. There is a lot of Christian terminology on the official website, but upon examination, you come to understand that though the terms are familiar, the meanings of those terms are foreign and heretical.
For now, in the spirit of clarity and to honor brevity, a simple overview of the birth of Mormonism must suffice.
In 1820, a 14 year old farm boy named Joseph Smith went to the woods to pray about the religious turmoil going on around his hometown of Palmyra, New York. Revivals had broken out, and young Joseph didn’t know which of the denominations to join. So, he prayed for guidance. God the Father and Jesus appeared to him in bodily form, and he was told, “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History, 1:19).
Joseph claims he was told all Christianity was heretical, and that he would be correcting eighteen centuries of error.
The Mormon message is clear: historic Christianity false, Joseph Smith’s visions true.
Three years later, on September 21, 1823, in another vision, the angel Moroni appeared and told him of an ancient book written on golden plates buried nearby in Hill Cumorah. He was shown the location, but was prohibited from taking the plates. Moroni told him the plates recorded the history of an ancient American civilization written in Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics – an utterly unique language for which there is no evidence – and that he was to translate them with the aid of two magical seer stones called the Urim and Thummim. Moroni had been given the plates by his father Mormon, and Moroni had buried them prior to his death in the final great battle between the Nephites and the Lamanites that took place near Cumorah in 385AD. After 1,400 years, Moroni – now an angel – had returned to direct Joseph Smith to the plates.
In 1827, Smith was finally allowed to take the plates just long enough to finish the translation before they were to be returned to Moroni. In May 1829, while Smith and Oliver Cowdery were praying in a forest near Bainbridge, Pennsylvania, John the Baptist appeared and conferred the Aaronic priesthood to them. Later, Peter, James, and John appeared and conferred upon them the Melchizedekian priesthood. The translation was completed in three years, and the Book of Mormon was published in March, 1830. On April 6, 1830, Smith and five others formed The Church of Christ in Fayette, New York. After two name changes over the next four years, they settled on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormonism is not Christian, from its birth it has been anti-Christian.
The first Christians believed they had met the promised Jewish Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. It is both correct and proper to say Christianity is the completion of Judaism.
However, Joseph Smith considered both Judaism and Christianity not incomplete but false, choosing instead to write his own versions of the Old and New Testaments while also adding additional holy texts. Had he not claimed to be the “corrected” version of Christianity, Mormonism would be a false religion. Yet, by claiming to be the “true” Christianity, he created the archetypical “cult of Christianity.”
For me, this is what makes the Romney candidacy so fascinating: a political conservative who belongs to a cult of Christianity.
It will be interesting to see whether Romney can persuade enough conservative Christians to vote for him, in spite of his Mormonism. Not since Kennedy have such questions been raised.
With regard to this writer’s vote, however, Romney’s got it – if he can win the Republican nomination.
MIAMI — Yahweh Ben Yahweh, a preacher’s kid from Oklahoma who grew up to lead a black supremacist group that terrorized South Florida in the 1980s — demanding that his followers kill “white devils” and return with a body part as proof of the kill — died quietly in his sleep Monday, his lawyers said. He was 71.
“Yahweh will be remembered and mourned by the millions of people that he touched through prayer and teachings,” his lawyers, Jayne Weintraub and Steven Potolsky, said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh, born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma, also will be remembered for creating the Temple of Love, a cult enterprise housed in Liberty City bunker that marketed everything from Yahweh beer, soda and wine to hair-care products.
He used Temple of Love profits to amass a real estate and marketing empire that at one point was valued at more than $8.5 million, making Yahweh one of the most successful black businessman in Florida.
Then-Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez even went as far as declaring October 7, 1990, “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day.”
“At the time he was an icon,” Weintraub said. “He was a recognized presence, known to be cleaning up the ghetto.”
A few months later, a federal grand jury charged Yahweh and 15 disciples — members of a secret group of deadly enforcers known as “The Brotherhood” — with 14 murders, extortion and racketeering.
Federal prosecutors branded him the most notorious criminal in South Florida, charging he used the Temple of Love as a front for a cult that enslaved its followers, controlling what they ate, who they married, even when and how they had sex.
If anyone defied his authority, prosecutors charged, Yahweh would order “The Brotherhood” to administer justice, often in the form of murder and dismemberment.
Two residents who resisted the group’s 1986 takeover of a drug-infested apartment complex were allegedly shot. Ex-members turned up dead, and a Delray Beach neighborhood was bombed after residents and Yahweh’s followers butted heads during a recruiting effort there.
Yahweh, a self-proclaimed “Black Messiah,” also faced allegations of sexual abuse involving girls in the cult as young as 10.
During his five-month trial in 1992, Yahweh dressed in white robes and a turban and often quoted the Bible. His sister and nephew testified that he ordered men, women and children to join in the beating death of sect member.
An ex-member testified he ordered another follower executed for gossiping, but spared his life after drawing blood with a machete. Police officers, however, were among those who testified in his defense, Weintraub said. Ultimately, Yahweh and six others were convicted in the case.
In 1992 he was also indicted and tried in state court on first-degree murder charges, of which he was acquitted.
Convicted of conspiracy, he served 11 years of an 18-year federal prison sentence stemming from his role in up to 23 killings, and was released from prison in September 2001. He was never convicted on murder charges.
This year he was released early from parole supervision. His attorneys said at the time that he had advanced cancer and wanted to die with dignity, and his doctor wrote that he was unable to walk as a result of the disease. Prosecutors had argued that even though he was ailing he was still a threat.