Oct 30, 2011

Herman Cain: Napoleon Hill Fan?

I knew something sounded familiar about this staggering quote from Herman Cain regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself! ... It is not a person's fault if they succeeded, it is a person's fault if they failed.

I've placed it. Cain's statement sounds a lot like this little gem from Napleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich.


As discussed here, that's an exact quote -- all caps, bad grammar, and all. And I think it's a fairly heartless philosophy. Worse, as I've observed many times, much of "new thought" is basically apologia for the worst excesses of capitalism. It's little wonder that books like The Secret get the full sanction of the corporate media. (It's also, arguably, why James Arthur Ray got the kid gloves treatment throughout the sweat lodge trial.) Poor people have no one to blame but themselves. And having money and success equals legitimacy. Nothing to threaten the power structure there.

I can remember leafing through Hill's perennial favorite -- a book that's been in print since 1937 -- when I was working in a new age bookstore. It never really clicked for me, even when I was enjoying the works of other new thought leaders like Louise Hay and wanted desperately to believe that I could control everything with my thoughts and make all the bad things go away. Paging through a little of it now reminds me as to why Hill never really resonated. He says far too much that makes no sense at all. One needn't look much further than the passage from which I take the above quote to see how badly the book fails the basic logic test.

In planning to acquire your share of the riches, let no one influence you to scorn the dreamer. To win the big stakes in this changed world, you must catch the spirit of the great pioneers of the past, whose dreams have given to civilization all that it has of value, the spirit which serves as the life-blood of our own country, your opportunity and mine, to develop and market our talents.

Let us not forget, Columbus dreamed of an Unknown world, staked his life on the existence of such a world, and discovered it!

Copernicus, the great astronomer, dreamed of a multiplicity of worlds, and revealed them! No one denounced him as "impractical" after he had triumphed. Instead, the world worshipped at his shrine, thus proving once more that "SUCCESS REQUIRES NO APOLOGIES, FAILURE PERMITS NO ALIBIS."

So Hill had kind of a myopic view of history. While it's true that Copernicus's work is legendary and foundational to our current understanding of astronomy, his escape from negative consequences may have owed something to fact that he died of natural causes rather promptly after publishing on his heliocentric model. During his life, he kept a lot of his ideas close to the vest to protect himself from consequences.

About 1532 Copernicus had basically completed his work on the manuscript of De revolutionibus orbium coelestium; but despite urging by his closest friends, he resisted openly publishing his views, not wishing—as he confessed—to risk the scorn "to which he would expose himself on account of the novelty and incomprehensibility of his theses."[63]

His theories were denounced by some Church officials and debated for some time. His grave was not so much venerated back then as it was lost and his epitaph destroyed during wars in the late 17th or early 18th century. Some of his remains were very recently found and reburied.

Copernicus was reportedly buried in Frombork Cathedral, where archaeologists for over two centuries searched in vain for his remains. Efforts to locate the remains in 1802, 1909, 1939 and 2004 had come to nought. In August 2005, however, a team led by Jerzy Gąssowski, head of an archaeology and anthropology institute in Pułtusk, after scanning beneath the cathedral floor, discovered what they believed to be Copernicus' remains.[73]

. . .

The grave was in poor condition, and not all the remains of the skeleton were found; missing, among other things, was the lower jaw.[74] The DNA from the bones found in the grave matched hair samples taken from a book owned by Copernicus which was kept at the library of the University of Uppsala in Sweden.[75][76]

On 22 May 2010 Copernicus was given a second funeral in a Mass led by Józef Kowalczyk, the former papal nuncio to Poland and newly named Primate of Poland. Copernicus' remains were reburied in the same spot in Frombork Cathedral where part of his skull and other bones had been found. A black granite tombstone now identifies him as the founder of the heliocentric theory and also a church canon. The tombstone bears a representation of Copernicus' model of the solar system—a golden sun encircled by six of the planets.[77]

So, I don't know. Maybe Hill was talking about some other "shrine" somewhere.

Copernicus's ideas were far from uncontroversial and continued to be so long after his death. Galileo, who famously embraced the Copernican model, was found guilty of heresy, was forced to recant, and lived out his days under house arrest. Such was his reward for being as bold as Hill recommends.

More to the point, Columbus... Wow... So, as per Hill, Columbus seized the day and the world is all the better for it. In fact, we owe our way of life to Columbus. Some might call that revisionist. Some might call it a grievous insult to the millions of native peoples on two continents whose cultures were destroyed in one bloodbath after another over hundreds of years.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love my country. As you can see, I'm spending the duration of the DC40 celebrating the Goddess Columbia, whose name is ostensibly derived from that of Columbus. But our history is far from clean and is the product of a kind of violent imperialism that we like to think of as consigned to the annals of history. Yes, conquest was the way of the world back then and history is littered with the corpses of people who've been on the wrong side of its relentless march toward "progress." But that Hill blindly accepted the version of history that was written by the winners is about the kindest thing you could say about that sentiment. The idea that the European conquest of the Americas was an unalloyed good is the worst kind of white, imperialistic arrogance.

There are some successes that require far more than simple apologies. Our treatment of Native Americans in this country is our national shame for which we can never make adequate restitution.

It might just be time to reassess a hierarchical, patriarchal model that makes the successes of some dependent on the failures of others. Anyone who divides the world into winners and losers and posits that the winners never have anything to apologize for loses morality points as far as I'm concerned.

As discussed here, new thought tomes like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich effectively blame the victims of the excesses of others. It is the opposite of a balanced, inclusive world view in which we take responsibility, not only for our actions, but for our entire co-creation.

As Christina Pratt explained in an episode of Why Shamanism Now? devoted to The Secret, this completely misses the point. We're not all just creating our own, individual, discrete reality. We are part of a collective reality that we are constantly co-creating. She calls this "the big dream." Says Pratt:

Do not think that you can use this idea that we are dreaming our reality to bludgeon other people who are suffering. In other words, if there is a drought-ridden country somewhere, you can't just go, "Oh well those people dreamt up that drought." Not only is that, um, ignorant, and not remotely compassionate, but you're missing the point, entirely, which is that we are dreaming. We, the entire family of humanity is dreaming life as we know it. And so the drought over there is most likely the manifestation of a dream that is dreaming excess somewhere else. That the dream -- because, we are never not dreaming -- but we have not been trained the responsibility of being a dreamer. We've not been trained to dream well; to dream with maturity for easily, oh, two thousand years or more. And so, consequently, we are dreaming constantly pollution, toxicity, excess, deficiency, and what results then in disease in our human lives into the dream. Because we are not disciplined, we are not even aware, that we, every moment, we are contributing to the dream. And so The Secret says, you know, every moment you're manifesting your life. Well, yes, you are. Every moment you're also manifesting mine and I'm manifesting yours.

So, it comes down to whether we want to continue to extol the individual "dreamers" of Napoleon Hill's unapologetic, imperialist world view or embrace our role in co-creating a "big dream" in which all people can thrive.

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Oct 25, 2011

Gloria Steinem: Feminist, Writer, Pagan

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Hat-tip to The Wild Hunt on this intriguing little tid-bit. In an article about Gloria Steinem's collaboration with Egyptian-born feminist Mona Eltahawy, Steinem reveals that she considers herself a pagan.

Steinem’s father was Jewish, her mother was not, and she was raised without religion. She now calls herself a “pagan,” inspired by a trip down the Nile, where she witnessed how the ancient Egyptians incorporated nature into their worship.

Paganism is, compared to the "great religions," much more affirming of women and feminine power. Speaking for myself, it was the goddess imagery that drew me towards earth-based religions once upon a time. It was the only religious construct I'd encountered that didn't view women as lesser creatures. Not necessarily in modern applications of those religions, many of which are progressing on that score, but in the ancient scriptures, and peppered throughout in the language.

What I find most interesting, though, is that Steinem's conversion was inspired by ancient Egyptian religion. What is it about the power of those symbols? There is just something about Egypt that awakens us, in some cases painfully, to some greater awareness.

As discussed here, the great pyramids at Giza forced themselves into my consciousness many years ago triggering a sense of rekindled memory. Graham Hancock describes them as a kind of "alarm clock" possibly designed to wake us up to the mystery of our human origins and past life history. So I found this new add campaign from Toyota kind of interesting.

I'm currently reading Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval's The Master Game which posits a through-line from ancient Egypt, through the Gnostics, the Cathars, the Rosicrucians, the Masons, and more, that found expression in the French and American revolutions. As discussed here, Egyptian icons like Isis, Horus, and the pyramids were an important symbols to French revolutionaries.

Egypt represents the way out of our current morass. So it doesn't really surprise me that one of the greatest way-showers of the modern era would find faith and meaning there.

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Oct 23, 2011

James Ray on Dateline's Deadly Retread

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Okay... so um... yeah... So they aired "Deadly Retreat" as promised on Friday night. I DVR'd it and watched it over coffee with my husband on Saturday morning. So... um... it was... yeah...

As Salty so humorously pointed out, much of the back story was just a retread of the special of the same name that they aired last summer.  So that was about as illuminating as it was then, which is to say not very. And then there was the trial footage and discussion. I have to say that I enjoyed being back in the virtual courtroom, where I spent months of my life... except when Truc Do was talking. Like nails on a chalkboard, that voice.

I know Dateline has to show both sides but I think they did so a little haphazardly and it was confusing. If I hadn't known so much about the trial and the evidence I think I would have been a bit confused as to how they brought in a conviction. I always feel that way when I watch these news magazine treatments of criminal cases. I hate watching them because I'm always left wondering how the verdict was reached based on the evidence I've just seen. But in this case, having watched virtually every moment of the trial that was streamed by CNNLive, I'm in the even more uncomfortable position of knowing where Dateline really failed to make it clear.

The biggest question I would have, after those two hours, is what about the poisoning theory? Could it have been organophosphates? They really plead the defense's case and Beth Karas quite predictably made it sound like organophosphate poisoning was a very valid theory. They never really explained how thoroughly debunked it was, especially by Dr. Dickson, whom they correctly show as having really brought the prosecution's case together.

Judging by my stats over the past couple of days, I'd say a lot of viewers were left with that question. I looked hard at the organophosphate issue throughout the trial and, yes, it was thoroughly debunked, most especially by Dickson, but also as a matter of plain logic. Dateline also did not make clear that the recording of the emergency responder who cited organophosphates, which was the only specific reference to that poison, was background noise in a recording of a police interview which took place in a crowded dining hall. I summarized the case against organophosphates here:

Never mind that the entire organphosphate theory has been demonstrated to be ludicrous by evidence already presented by prosecutors and, in a rather ironic twist, the defense:

  • If there was organophosphate poisoning, the paramedics did everything wrong. They would have killed a bunch of people by causing them drown in their own saliva... which did not happen. (See Dickson)
  • Organophosphates were, in fact, ruled out at the hospital. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that cholinergics were not part of the differential diagnosis by the toxicologist, who found the symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning. (CO was subsequently ruled out by blood work.) I say this despite Truc Do's complete incapacity to grasp this simple fact. (See Dickson)
  • None of the handful of pesticides so sparingly used at Angel Valley contain organophosphates. (As per Injun Samurai)
  • As per Truc Do's own evidence, death from organophosphate poisoning is an extremely rare event and requires massive exposure. (See Dickson)

Also not clear from Dateline's reporting is that the jury was ultimately unimpressed by the poisoning theory. In an AP interview, juror Phillip Lepacek explained. (Note: The article is no longer at the link provided provided in my post but it can be found here.)

"There were millions of things afterward that just didn't add up to these poisons being there," he said. "Even though the defense didn't have anything to prove or demonstrate, if they could just get those samples and test them and say 'Here it is.' So obviously I'm thinking there was none."

Dr. Matthew Dickson, who reviewed autopsy records and medical reports of the participants for the prosecution, gained major points with the jury because of his experience with heat-related illness and exposure to pesticides, Lepacek said.

Dickson testified he was 99-percent sure that heat caused the deaths, and that the signs and symptoms of the victims were inconsistent with exposure to organophosphates, a pesticide compound.

"It was a no-brainer there was heat," Lepacek said. "These people were baked."

Jury foreman Val Ripley echoed that in his interview with Mark Duncan, explaining that the jury found the poisoning theory "unacceptable."

"I know they didn't have to prove it," he said, "but I think if it could have been proven, the defense would have done a little bit more. I don't know of anybody on the jury who thought that was a valid defense."

I have to say that considering the fact that the two jurors were interviewed by Chris Hansen on the show, their views were surprisingly not well represented. Again, not clear from their statements in the show why they came to the decision they did. It was much clearer from the press reports. It's obvious it was the same two even though they weren't named in the broadcast.

I know that shows like this love dramatic tension but Hansen's claim that the jury was "sharply divided" was laughable. Sharply divided juries don't bring in verdicts in 10 hours.

It's also somewhat interesting that they show Lepacek complaining about the "overkill" of the prosecution's case. Hansen says the "jurors" told them they were frustrated. But only one of them did. Notably, they didn't get a statement on that subject from Ripley, who had this to say to Mark Duncan:

Ripley said he was impressed with the case that Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk presented.

"I thought she did an outstanding job from the first day when she laid out her case," he said, noting that he subscribed to Polk's theory that Ray became increasingly more reckless in the way he conducted the ceremonies. "She was very logical, very organized."

Yet, Dateline does make it clear that they were impressed with the defense attorneys. I'm just saying, it's kind of interesting.

I, personally, would like a little more clarity about what the breakdown was in the jury. The two print interviews are in contradiction. The AP article says four jurors wanted manslaughter. The Mark Duncan interview says eight wanted manslaughter. I'm inclined to view the Duncan article as more accurate because Ripley was the foreman and because he was directly quoted as follows:

"We were very close to the manslaughter conviction," Ripley said. "Eight of us wanted manslaughter, and the other four felt that he wasn't aware of all that those people were going through."

If that's the case, the jury's opinions really didn't come across on the show.

A couple of things did come across very clearly as a motivation to convict Ray. The first is Ray's insensitivity and inaction when people were obviously in trouble. Said Ripley:

He basically just walked out of the sweat lodge, they watered him down, hosed him down. He sat down, got a drink. He didn't do nothin.' He didn't, like, seem like he cared.

They also indicated that the audio tapes of Ray during Spiritual Warrior really affected the jury. Lepacek said that they showed that he could come across much more powerfully and convincingly than the timid appearance he gave in court, adding credence to the idea that he had a strong influence over the behavior of participants. The really damning statements offered up by Dateline were the everpopular, "I... Am... God!" (as discussed here) and the absolutely shocking,"At some point in time, you just have to let go and say, 'If I'm gonna die, it's OK, because I don't ever die.'"

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They also emphasized, to some degree, the power of Dr. Dickson's testimony but they really didn't show enough of it. I could have done with a lot more from Dickson. He was awesome. And, of course, he handed Truc Do her ass which scored major points with me, personally... but I wasn't on the jury. So never mind.

I also have to say that Hansen's language shows some bias.

One part of the prosecution's case did get their attention.

Really. Only one part. And yet they got a conviction. Explain that, lab partner.

There are some other nuggets to be mined from Dateline's coverage. As noted in my write-up on the original broadcast, Ray reveals a lot about himself with his language.

But such is the muddled, mixed message that typifies Ray's work. Dateline includes this segment from  his appearance on Oprah. Says Ray:

Not what can I get but what can I give and how can I serve. And when you're in that moment the universe lines up behind you and it's at your command.

So are you supposed to be serving the universe or ordering it around? The moment you go from that surrendered place that allows you to consciously merge with the universe to one in which you are so in your ego that you start "commanding" things, that sense of limitless unity is gone. We can either become conscious of our oneness with all that is or delude ourselves into thinking we're the king of the world. We can't do both. One is the experience of mystical awareness. The other is just grandiosity.

Another major tell emerges in the interview with Ginny Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown. She recounts for Hansen what Ray said to her when he finally got around to calling her five days later.

He didn't apologize. He said, I'm so upset and I have to find out what happened. He said, "This is the most awful thing that has ever happened to me in my life."

I really can't imagine what goes on in the mind of someone who would tell a mother who's just lost her daughter that it was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. It's beyond narcissistic and just stunningly insensitive.

Another statement that jumped out at me this time 'round was interview footage of Ray describing how the law of attraction brings wealth and success into your life.

You gotta to be in the right place at the right time, do the right things, get the right opportunities, make the right decisions meet the right people, and get the right results.

He says it with that same angry intensity that I've noted before. And he punches the word "right" every time he says it in this rapid-fire litany of wickets that you just have to hit. The whole thing just gives me agita. It's another example of building urgency language, like his "time is short" lecture at the beginning of Spiritual Warrior. Implied: Whatever you do, for the love of God, don't make any mistakes. A single wrong choice -- or wrong thought -- and it'll all just go to hell. Also implied: You need me to help you be perfect enough to magnetize the right things.

I know a two hour show can't do justice to a four month trial but this was mostly style without substance. It was very shiny and had lots of lovely shots of Sedona, but it could not help but leave viewers with a lot of questions. Worse, it could leave a distorted perception about the strength of the prosecution's case. They also didn't really put across what a reprobate Ray is. For instance, they didn't discuss at all that Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman, weren't his first casualties -- that less than three months before that Colleen Conaway fell to her death during another Ray event. James Ray has far more to answer for than is evident Dateline's treatment of this horrific tragedy.

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Oct 22, 2011

DC40 Counter Event Gets Beliefnet Treatment

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Well, I still have my Beliefnet News feed, despite my disgust, and today I noticed an interesting item on a DC40 counter event coming up. Rob Kerby's post pretty much sticks to the press release and doesn't editorialize much. But if you're thinking the story was treated fairly, 'fraid not.

Here's the relevant info from Capital Witch:

Priestesses and priests from the Washington, DC Pagan community will hold a Celebration of the Divine Feminine and Religious Freedom in Lafayette Square Park across from the White House on Sunday, October 30th, 2011, as a protest to the New Apostolic Reformation’s 51-day prayer campaign targeting Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Heathens, and other Goddess-worshipers nationwide.

The New Apostolic Reformation is a Dominionist group of Christians preaching that all feminine forms of deity are demonic.  The NAR is engaged in a 51-day campaign of imprecatory prayer to create a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the USA.  Republican presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are influenced by the NAR agenda.

. . .

The event in Lafayette Square Park begins at noon and ends at 5pm on Sunday, October 30th, Samhain eve to many Pagans, leading into one of the most holy days of the Pagan year. “Samhain, or Halloween, is the Feast of the Ancestors in some of our Pagan religions.  We will invoke the Founding Fathers and Mothers of our nation during our ceremony, along with a multitude of Goddesses from pantheons both ancient and modern.  Among our Goddesses will be Lady Liberty and Columbia, the Goddess who stands guard atop the Capitol Building,” said Ms. Kenner.  “The New Apostolic Reformation people would topple Columbia from Her pinnacle, and rename DC the District of Christ.”

So, that much is completely awesome and I'm glad to know about it. Whether you're going or not, I'd say that'd be a good time to join in in spirit and Om the Dome.

While much of the Kerby's post is "just the facts" there is a bit of subtle snark, like the lede which could be read as Pagans being irritated that Christians are praying for the country.

A group that says it represents the District of Columbia’s pagan community is upset that a group of Christians is praying for America.

He also put Samhain eve in quotes which makes it look like it's something novel that the organizers made up, as opposed to an established holiday. That's particularly alarming when you consider that Beliefnet has a Pagan community section... for now.

All of that I could let go but where the bias really becomes apparent is in the disappearing comments. When I first read this story earlier today there was a very smart comment from, if memory serves, someone named Erica. It's gone now. I wish I'd taken a screen capture. It didn't occur to me that it would be deleted. When will I learn?! The comment said something about how Erica (???) was reading the founding father's writings every day of the DC40 as a reminder of how committed they were to the separation of church and state. I'm not doing it justice.

It's funny. One of the other things I've been noticing about Beliefnet over the past several months is the paucity of comments. There used to be a lot more. I assumed their readership was down or that the news stories just weren't interesting enough to invite comment. I'm rethinking that. It would seem that only comments that echo Kerby's views are welcome. The rest go down the memory hole. And it would seem that separation of church and state is not big with Mr. Kerby. Good to know.

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Oct 21, 2011

Beliefnet Goes Bigot

Remember when Beliefnet.com was all about tolerance and religious diversity? Well, I do. I'm not saying there wasn't the occasional dustup. And, in fairness, I've never been a really active member or reader. But it was always a good place to find interesting content on many different religions and events around the globe pertaining to religion.

Years ago I put a Beliefnet news feed on my iGoogle page and often saw interesting items scroll through. More recently, however, I've noticed a dramatic shift in tone. It's taken a sharp Christian Right turn. I often see articles that seem to pit the Christian West against other cultures -- Muslims in particular. I toyed with the idea of removing the feed but I haven't as yet. It's taken on a kind of compelling, train-wreck quality. Periodically I just have to see what bold, new wingnuttery is gracing its pages.

Now, bear in mind, this is the feed for Beliefnet News. It's the not the Christian section, let alone the Christian Right section, which doesn't exist as near as I can tell. Well, it wouldn't need to because now the news section is fitting that particular bill.

The news feed used to bring reprints or excerpts from world religion related news stories without commentary. Now it appears to be the blog of one Rob Kerby who I'm afraid holds the title of Senior Editor. So is he a Christianist (to borrow a Sullyism) and bigot? Here's a recent post.

Members of the football team stomped out of a Hartford, Connecticut, high school assembly when a pro-homosexual advocacy play featured two boys kissing on stage.

. . .

It apparently did not occur to [Principal David Chambers] that some of the kids had moral issues with the scene — believing that glorifying same-gender romance is wrong. Chambers’ intent was to wear down the students sense of disgust and discomfort with viewing homosexuality on stage.

He goes on to quote a bevy of outraged Christians and closes with this:

“I applaud the young men that got up and left the show,” wrote Jacqueline. ”It shows courage to stand up for what is right. Instead of sitting by silently and being forced to accept views they do not agree with, they stood up for their on beliefs and convictions. Real men stand with courage for what is right.”

I posted a comment questioning the pro-bigotry tone of the piece. I asked why these supposedly Bible believing Christians aren't demanding the execution of gay people, along the lines of points I addressed here. And I asked when these Christians were going to stop slacking and go after all the pork and shellfish eaters. As you can plainly see, that comment is no longer there. So I attempted to post another comment questioning the censorious nature of the site. It wouldn't post so they've clearly blocked my IP or something.

So, the "news" section of Beliefnet is now little more than a megaphone for far right, Christianist bigotry and they're not tolerating any questions about that policy. Pity. It used to be a very worthwhile site.

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Oct 20, 2011

Dateline to Air New James Ray Special

Dateline will revisit the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge fiasco this Friday night. So set your DVRs. I have.

In October 2009, James Arthur Ray, a renowned self-help author and speaker, held a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat in Sedona, AZ. Three people died during the retreat, and Ray was charged with manslaughter but convicted of a lesser charge. Chris Hansen reports Deadly Retreat this Friday, October 21st, at 9pm/8c.

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Oct 19, 2011

Is Mormonism a Cult?

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I got an email the other day asking me that question? Why I got it and how on earth I came to be on that particular mailing I have no idea. But I was intrigued so I followed the link to find out just why this particular Christian group would characterize the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as a cult. I have a little trouble with their definition.

But what is a cult? Dr. Charles Braden, coauthor with John C. Schaffer of the book These Also Believe, said this:
By the term cult, I mean nothing derogatory to any group so classified. A cult, as I define it, is any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture.

The question arises, obviously, because of Mormon Mitt Romney's candidacy. And because Rick Perry supporter Robert Jeffress put the issue front and center.

Texas pastor Robert Jeffress generated headlines last week when he told reporters that Mormonism is a cult—a belief system at odds with historic Christianity.

Since then he has been accused of bigotry, called a “poster boy for hatred,” and a “moron.”

Despite those harsh charges, Jeffress, who backs Texas governor Rick Perry for the GOP presidential nomination, has made it clear that his view of Mormonism is theologically grounded and not an expression of bigotry. He made it clear that he would be willing to vote for Romney in the general election if he wins the Republican nomination and said he thinks that Romney is a “fine family person."

Romney's a good person and worth voting for. It's just so unfortunate that he has no first name. Seriously. Nowhere in the article is his entire name used. Telling, I think.

But, to my point, I have a little difficulty with their use of the term cult to define a religion just because its beliefs and doctrines differ from their own.

I'm somewhat sensitized to the issue after months of following the James Ray trial. The term cult was discussed more than a little and Ray has been observed by many cult watchers -- fairly I think. But I was alarmed at how much I read that characterized Ray's followers as a cult because their beliefs are nontraditional and "new agey." The beliefs of any group, in my opinion, are not what defines that group as a cult. It's not about what people believe but how they believe it. Any group can be a cult or have cult-like elements, including non-religious groups. Political groups, for instance, can be cults.

Admittedly, I'm defining cult somewhat narrowly in the sense of "mind control" or "negative" cults. The term cult has the same word root as cultivate and culture. It implies the shared beliefs of a community. But over time it came to be used in reference to marginalized groups.

When someone like Jeffress uses the term it's just thinly veiled sectarianism; something which has absolutely no place in the political process of a country where freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right.

It merits mentioning that Jeffress has also characterized Catholicism as a cult -- specifically, "a Babylonian mystery religion that spread like a cult," which demonstrates "the genius of Satan." This revelation seems to have a gotten a more proactive response from Rick Perry than did the anti-Mormon statement.

Where it all gets really murky is in the conflation of these two meanings of the word cult. Again, something I saw a lot of in discussions of James Ray. The assumption seems to be: Your beliefs are weird so you must have been brainwashed to believe them.

I'm going to go on record and say that I don't define Mormonism as a cult because their beliefs are weird -- certainly not because they're not in alignment with other Christian sects. That's not to say that LDS is not a mind-control cult, however. There's actually a very strong case to be made that the Mormon Church employs enough manipulative tactics to be defined that way. That case is most often made by ex-Mormons.

Psychologist, cult expert, and cult survivor Steven Hassan has, at the behest of ex-Mormons, started to look at the cultish elements of LDS. Hassan uses what he calls the BITE model to define a cult.
  • Behavioral control
  • Information control
  • Thought control
  • Emotional control
In this article he's applied the BITE model the Mormon Church relying on reporting from a former member. It's a detailed breakdown and indicates a fairly strong system of control.

In 2009 Hassan was invited to speak by a group of ex-Mormons in Salt Lake City. The lecture is well worth a listen. He doesn't talk a lot about LDS. He leaves that to the ex-Mormons themselves. But he shares from his own experience as a Moonie and underscores the commonality with his audience. Most interesting are the responses from audience members and how strongly they identify with Hassan's experience as a follower of Sun Myung Moon.

What struck me, though, was how much this lecture put me in mind of my fairly short-lived immersion into born-again Christianity. The thought-stopping, the use of singing and repetitive phrasing to silence challenging thoughts, the characterization of any questions with temptation by the devil, the enforced group-think, and, of course, the belief in an absolute truth. It causes me to ponder, and not for the first time, how my born-again experience was a study cult techniques, albeit not to the extreme end occupied by the Moonies. No one ever tried to come between me and my family, for instance. There was just a lot of hope that I'd convert my family so that we wouldn't be separated by death. You know, because they were all going to hell.

There's a certain sense of irony when a fundamentalist Christian group defines another group as a cult because it has the "wrong" beliefs. Believing yours is the only valid path is one of the more common features of a mind-control cult.

Rick Perry seems to have attached himself to more than a handful of Christian leaders who define themselves by this sort of elitism. Both he and Michele Bachmann have ties to dominionist groups.

Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid. In a contemptuous 2006 First Things review of several books, including Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and my own Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era.”

Rick Perry created waves recently when was involved in a prayer rally organized by leaders of the dominionist New Apostolic Reformation. It's the NAR that is responsible for the current DC40 campaign to turn the District of Columbia into the District of Christ.

One of the things Hassan mentions in the lecture embedded above is that the various cults he's dealt with -- most especially the Unification Church of which he was a part -- are in competition with each other for control of the world. Just something to think about.

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Oct 15, 2011

Setting the Record Straight on Bishop Finn

Bishop Robert Finn was indicted this week for failure to report a pedophile priest.

Bishop Robert Finn on Friday became the highest-ranking Catholic official in the nation to face criminal prosecution in the decades-old child sexual abuse scandal — an action that stunned many inside and outside the church.

A Jackson County grand jury on Oct. 6 secretly indicted both Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on misdemeanor charges of failure to report child abuse in a case involving a priest facing child pornography charges.

As Finn and the diocese denied wrongdoing Friday after appearing in court, news of the charges roiled the nation and the Catholic world.

I have been reading about this case as its developed for months but everything I've read has left me a little ambivalent. There's a problem with this story and it's been covered unevenly from the outset. On the surface it comports well with a familiar narrative about Catholic bishops protecting the Church's reputation and abusive priests at the expense of children. But it's not that straightforward.

I'm not saying that Bishop Finn handled this situation well or that he was anywhere near as proactive as he needed to be. But at the end of the day, I have to say the same about the police and that element has been ignored in most of the reporting.

I first became aware of the problems in the Kansas City Diocese in May of this year when the story of of priest in possession of child pornography broke wide. Early reports claimed that the diocese had sat on the evidence for months and failed to act on concerns about Father Shawn Ratigan. After reading more in depth stories, I learned that this was not quite accurate. Bishop Finn, who quickly donned a hair shirt and prostrated himself before God and the media, actually did have someone from the diocese talk to police early on. Could he have been more proactive? Definitely. But that doesn't excuse the lazy reporting that has blatantly misstated the facts.

The current media narrative says that the Bishop knew of troubling images on Father Ratigan's computer for months before reporting them to police. But some of the more thorough reporting from this past May says the opposite. A nude image that particularly concerned them was described to police immediately and shown to church counsel. Both said that the image did not constitute child pornography

This story in the paper of record is a case on point:

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

. . .

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement authorities.

Michael Hunter, an abuse victim who was part of that settlement and is now the president of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “There were 19 nonmonetary agreements that the diocese signed on to, and they were things like reporting immediately to the police. And they didn’t do it. That’s really what sickens us as much as the abuse.”

Their reporting is incomplete but it does provide a link to a pdf Bishop Finn's May statement:

When the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph reported its concerns about Father Shawn Ratigan to the Kansas City Police Department on May 12, we set into motion a series of events that have provoked feelings of concern, anger and shame.

During the last two weeks, I have learned facts that I had not previously known. As Bishop, I owe it to people to say, “Things must change.”

I must also acknowledge my own failings.

Yesterday evening, I read, for the first time, the memorandum prepared in May 2010 by our principal at St. Patrick School. There, she reported her concerns about Shawn Ratigan’s inappropriate behavior with children at her school.

In the following days, Diocesan Vicar General Msgr. Murphy gave me a brief verbal summary of the report and his meeting with Shawn Ratigan, which had occurred immediately after the report was received. Msgr. Murphy told me that he had thoroughly discussed these concerns with Shawn Ratigan, and how he was to change his behaviors.

Shawn Ratigan expressed both the willingness and the desire to make these changes.
To the best of my knowledge, no one on my staff, other than Msgr. Murphy, read the report. Hindsight makes it clear that I should have requested from Msgr. Murphy an actual copy of the report. And, so, I also have to change. Please understand that at the time of the May 2010 report, we had no knowledge of any inappropriate photographs or images in Shawn Ratigan’s possession. Those were not discovered until December 2010.

How will we change?

I already have met with the people of the St. Patrick Parish community, priests of the diocese, diocesan staff, and the chair of the Independent Review Board. As a result of these meetings, I have asked the Independent Review Board to expand its role in receiving and evaluating reports of misconduct with children. I will be meeting with others, to determine how best to change our internal structure, reporting and procedures. The changes could be unsettling but, more than ever, I realize that they are necessary.

Please pray for me in these resolutions. And, let us pray for each other in these difficult days.

Where the New York Times fails is in leaving out the very important point that the diocese did contact the police immediately after learning of questionable images from a computer technician.

More accurate accounting of the sequence of events can be found in reporting from the time. In point of fact, the diocese contacted the police the day after they learned from a computer tech that there were troubling images on Father Ratigan's computer. Neither the police nor church counsel thought the images were actionable.

Captain Steve Young explained, “A member of the Diocese contacted a member of this department and told that member of the department that they'd found a computer and on that computer was a single image of a naked young girl."

The Diocese asked if the photos were pornographic.

He continued, “The answer to that is no, it is not child porn. It is not a prosecutable offense."

Bishop Robert Finn said in a statement Friday, the Diocese did seek advice from its legal council. Finn said, “The photographs did not constitute pornography as they did not depict sexual conduct or contact."

Now, Finn regrets not pushing for a full investigation.

The situation was further complicated when Father Ratigan unsuccessfully attempted suicide upon discovery of his digital of images. After that he was sent for psychiatric evaluation. The diocese also ordered him to stay away from children -- another item that seems to get dropped from much of the reporting. The above cited New York Times article claims Father Ratigan was able to attend multiple events with children present. What it ignores is that it was Ratigan's violation of his order to stay away from such events that precipitated further investigation from the diocese.

A number of the articles that I'd saved on this case were lost when my link service went tats up without warning, but this story from the National Catholic Register provides a chronology that pretty well comports with my recollection.

In December 2010, a computer technician working on Father Ratigan’s laptop found what he described as “disturbing images” of children, including pictures focusing on the children’s crotch areas, and a young girl with her genitals exposed.

According to a diocese-commissioned investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves, Msgr. Murphy described one image — but did not produce it — to a police captain who is a member of the diocese’s independent review board. Msgr. Murphy described a single photo of a nude child that was not sexual in nature.

According to Graves’ report, issued Sept. 1, Police Capt. Rick Smith said Msgr. Murphy informed him that Father Ratigan’s computer contained a single picture of a nude girl; that it was a family member or a niece; and that it was not a sexual pose.

However, Msgr. Murphy said he did not remember telling the police captain that the picture depicted a young relative or that it was not a sexual pose.

Either way, the report says Capt. Smith, after seeking advice from a police colleague, told Msgr. Murphy that a single photo in a non‐sexual pose might meet the definition of child pornography, but it would not likely be investigated or prosecuted.
[emphasis added]

The day after the images were found, Father Ratigan was ordered to meet with diocesan officials, but the next morning, he was found unconscious in his garage, with his motorcycle running, according to The Catholic Key, the diocesan newspaper.

Father Ratigan was placed on administrative leave and underwent a psychiatric evaluation. He was not permitted to return to this parish and prohibited from having any contact with children or using a camera and computer.

On May 12, after Father Ratigan allegedly violated those restrictions, Msgr. Murphy again contacted the police officer, who in turn submitted a report to the Cyber Crimes Against Children Unit. Six days later, police arrested the priest after finding a flash drive with several pictures of child pornography.

What I find interesting in that article is that it describes a differing recollection between police and the monsignor who conferred with them, so it's a case of he said, he said. I also find it interesting that in the direct statement from Captain Young quoted above, he doesn't acknowledge that the image could have been pornographic. The Graves Commission report shows Captain Smith saying that it could have been pornography but would not likely have been investigated or prosecuted. That's a pretty big difference.

None of this is to excuse Bishop Finn's ostrich behavior on this case and their definitely was some. But my sense is that the police also dropped the ball. Why they didn't push for an investigation if there was any chance that the image described could have been pornographic is beyond me.

I find this particularly troubling in the wake of so much effort to get the Catholic Church on board with reporting requirements. Those efforts assume that the police are the people to turn to.

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Oct 13, 2011

When Amish Attack

Five Amish men were arraigned today for the hair-cutting attacks discussed here. Three are sons of Bishop Sam Mullet and all five are part of the Bergholz community he leads.

The latest Amish men to turn themselves in are Daniel Mullet, 37, along with Eli Miller, 32. Also accused are Levi Miller, 53; Johnny Mullet, 38; and Lester Mullet, 26, who were arrested on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, on charges of kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Those three originally told the Jefferson Count judge Tuesday, that they wanted Bishop Sam Mullet to decide if they should waive extradition, but later agreed on their own. The three accused were being held at the Jefferson County Justice Facility, in a segregated area, on $250,000 cash bond each, according to reports. The trio told the judge that Bishop Mullet was expected to arrive with the $750,000 cash bond needed to be freed. Bishop Mullet did show up, but did not have the money; therefore, Holmes County came and transported back to their jail, sources said.

These incidents have dragged the normally very private Amish into the media and some of them are speaking openly. Bishop Mullet, the man at the center of this dustup, has proved to be quite loquacious. His former son-in-law -- whose custody claim resulted in the SWAT at the schoolhouse incident -- has also given a lengthy statement to the press. He compared the splinter group to Jim Jones's Peoples Temple which ended in a notorious mass suicide in 1978.

"I'm not surprised if I have to call the sheriff some day and say there are a lot of dead people lying around here. That would not be a surprise to me nor would it be a surprise to the sheriff of that county," Ayden said.

. . .

"I have enough inside information that I have no question if something is not done, there will be people that get hurt," Ayden said.

The former member says there were forced beatings, pitting one member against another.

Ayden says there is a heavy price to pay for disagreeing with Sam Mullet.

"He would take the wife from the man. The wife would have to go and live with Sam. The husband of that wife would have to go to the chicken coop or out in the barn in the middle of the winter, sometimes day and night," Ayden said.

Disturbing accusations, if true. But having read Sam Mullet's statements to the press, I'm inclined to believe it.

Mullet, 66, said the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to Amish in Holmes County that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating Mullet and his community.

"They changed the rulings of our church here, and they're trying to force their way down our throat, make us do like they want us to do, and we're not going to do that," Mullet told The Associated Press outside his house on the outskirts of Bergholz, a village of about 700 residents.

"We know what we did and why we did it," he continued. "We excommunicated some members here because they didn't want to obey the rules of the church."

. . .

"You have your laws on the road and the town -- if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish them. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?" Mullet said. "I just let them run over me? If every family would just do as they pleased, what kind of church would we have?"

His statements are very revealing. By his own admission, he sees degrading people as an appropriate corrective and goes so far as to compare that degradation to our judicial system. Actually, we English have laws against that. Also, like any classic abusers, he paints himself repeatedly as the victim.

He also seems to see kidnapping and assault as an exercise of religion rather than felonies.

Mullet said whoever is responsible for the attacks, in which a truckful of Amish men are said to approach a house and eventually attack its occupant, has religious, not criminal motivation.

"It's all religion," he maintained, "that's why we can't understand why the sheriff has his nose in our business. It started with us excommunicating members that weren't listening or obeying our laws. That's where it all started. I didn't know the courts could stick their nose in religion, but that seems what they did here."

For all his openness, Mullet has neither confirmed nor denied his own involvement in the hair-cutting attacks. But typical Amish fashion, the assailants were apparently quite honest and straightforward about their intentions.

After a few minutes of small talk about the weather, the men suddenly announced, "We're here for Sam Mullet to get revenge," [Sheriff Timothy] Zimmerly said.

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Escaping Warren Jeffs

A twenty-five year old woman purported to be one of Warren Jeffs's many, many wives, is currently in a women's shelter after fleeing the FLDS compound in Colorado City, Arizona. For reasons that remain unclear, she was apparently shoeless.

She sought help from disenfranchised FLDS member Willie Jessop after fleeing her parents' home. Police responded to a "keep the peace call."

The sheriff’s deputies helped diffuse what had become a standoff with FLDS men outside Jessop’s office, Wyler said, adding that the woman was taken to a shelter.

Jessop declined to provide details about the situation.

"It’s all about the welfare of a girl who sought help," Jessop said. "We’re keeping this focused on what’s in the best interest of the young lady."

According to some reports, this was not her first attempt to flee Jeffs's compound.

This is allegedly not the first time the woman tried to escape and the Washington County Attorney’s Office is investigating.

They are looking into allegations he was held against her own will and even drugged.

Kidnapping and drugs! Jeffs and his clan really know how to charm the ladies.

Jeffs is, of course, in a Texas prison. having been convicted for child molestation because some of many, many wives are a tad young. But even from prison, he seems to have quite a grip on his church and wives, with compounds in Utah, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, South Dakota, and Canada. Few have fled.

Colorado City and its sister community of Hildale are the home base of Jeffs' Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The sect, which has about 10,000 members, practices polygamy in arranged marriages that have sometimes involved underage girls.

Leaving the devout, insular community has historically been difficult for FLDS members in part because it essentially severs all ties with family and friends.

No one seems to know how many wives Jeffs has. One story says 70, another says 85, but most just say "at least 78."

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Oct 12, 2011

Serial Murder of Peruvian Shamans

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Well, this is horrible. As per The Wild Hunt, Peruvian shamans are the targets of a serial murder spree. To date fourteen shamans are believed to have been murdered over twenty months. Seven have been found dead and another seven have been reported missing. In a recent press conference, deputy minister of foreign affairs Vincente Otta and an Amazon rainforest expert Roger Rumrrill described the brutal slayings and said suspicion has fallen on a local mayor.

Mr. Rumrrill, said: "The healers were murdered in a brutal way, hacked by machetes and axes, stoned, and even shot with rifles, and their bodies then hurled into rivers where they were devoured by piranhas."

Mr Otta said that prosecutors are investigating Balsapuerto Mayor Alfredo Torres and his brother Augusto in connection with the murders.

According to Mr Rumrrill, Mayor Torres "is a religious fanatic and Protestant fundamentalist who considers the shamans his enemies'' and "people possessed by demons''.

Bautista Inuma, who was mistaken for a shaman, survived a machete attack, but lost an arm. He directly accused Augusto Torres, brother of the mayor. And one of the alleged gunmen, Solomon Napo, confessed to one of the killings and claimed to have been hired by the mayor's brother.

Mayer Torres denies involvement and has pointed the finger at villagers displeased with the shaman's failed cures.

District Mayor Alfredo Torres Balsapuerto, has consistently upheld the charges. Until recently went underground, but recently appeared in the media and said "political reasons" trying to discredit him. Vehemently rejected the accusation of the alleged assassin Solomon Napo and downplayed the alleged involvement of his brother Augustus in the crimes. He said the killings were due to possible "revenge" for shamanism wrongdoing, but he denies having been involved in them. It reiterates, firmly, that he believes in "witchcraft".

Otta, I think fairly, characterized Torres's statements as an attempt to "'legitimise the killings' by blaming the victims for the high level of infant mortality in the area."

[Rumrrill] alleged that the mayor, who is an evangelical Christian, ordered the killings on hearing that the shamans planned to form an association. He said the mayor's brother was known in the area as a matabrujos or witch killer.

"For Protestant sects, the shamans are possessed by the devil; a totally sectarian, primitive and racist concept," he said.

Shamans in the Peruvian Amazon use psychoactive plants such as the jungle vine ayahuascafor spiritual ceremonies. As early as the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese missionaries described its use by native people in the Amazon as the work of the devil.

"Until now the death of 14 curanderos [healers] who are the depositaries of Amazon knowledge wasn't worth the attention of the press," Rumrrill said. "That's an expression of how fragmented and racist this country is. A centralised country which continues to look at its interior with total indifference."

The incursion of  fundamentalist Christianity into third world cultures causing problems for "witches" is certainly not unheard of. When Sarah Palin made headlines for pallin' around with Kenyan witch-hunter Thomas Muthee, she unwittingly brought attention to the problem. As I wrote here, it's a phenomenon riddled with irony.

The Peruvian government is taking the problem seriously, however, and has launched an official investigation; ostensibly at the behest of the accused mayor. And the Foundation for Shamanic Studies is currently seeking help and support for the endangered Peruvian shamans.

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Oct 10, 2011

The Dark Side of Amish Forgiveness

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When I first noticed a headline about Amish being attacked by a roving band of hair-cutters I thought it must be some horrible hate crime. So I was a little surprised to learn that, in fact, it was a case of Amish on Amish violence. The story behind the headline seems like something hatched from the mind of a comedy writer. A splinter faction called the Bergholz Clan, under the leadership of a Bishop Mullet, has allegedly taken up scissors against other Amish, escaping on a truck with a horse trailer in tow. Two Mullets and a third man have been arrested for the crime. But they weren't giving their former brethren achy breaky haircuts. They've been lopping the beards off of male victims and the hair off of female victims as young as thirteen. And to the Amish that's anything but funny.

Donald Kraybill, an expert on Amish culture, explains:

Cutting the victims' beards is degrading and insulting in the Amish culture.

"Wearing a beard is a common and required practice for all married Amish men," Kraybill said. "Likewise, women do not cut their hair based on biblical teaching. These appear to be malicious assaults on symbols of Amish identity by a renegade little group of Amish origin who, for whatever reason, have been estranged from other Amish groups."

Says Kraybill of the unusual and surprising attacks:

"This story is very odd and clearly outlier behavior, an aberration in Amish society," he said. "Amish-on-Amish violence is extremely rare. In some cases, it happens when someone has a psychological disorder and/or during Rumspringa, when some youth engage in mischief or pranks that can go awry."

But this statement ignores one very salient point. There is a form of violence that is by some accounts rampant in Amish communities and its practice appears to have been an underlying factor in this spate of hair-cutting attacks. That crime is sexual abuse.

The conflict surrounding the Bernholz Clan traces back to an incident four years ago. The same Sheriff Abdalla investigating this case made headlines then for calling a SWAT team to a tiny Amish schoolhouse to remove two small children from Bishop Mullet's daughter Wilma Troyer. He defended these unusual actions by explaining that the Mullets had made death threats over a heated custody dispute.

"I don't care if it's a school or church. I'm going to take whatever action is necessary," he said. "Based on threats to my life and on my deputies' lives, based on the threats (Mullet) has made on his own family, surely Mr. Bryan Felmet doesn't think I should approach that situation with sticks in my hand."

. . .

Abdalla also said there are "some very serious allegations" of molestation and attempted rape in that Amish community. The sheriff's department is also investigating the death of a 2-year-old Amish boy who lived in the community. An autopsy on that toddler was never performed though required by law, Abdalla said.

He showed a stack of letters from people he claims left the Bergholz community and are begging him to step in. Further, he said the Amish in that community are being threatened psychologically.

A recent court document explains the court's later decision to prohibit contact with four Mullets in the custody arrangement between the divorced Troyers. In addition to a number of violent and psychotic episodes involving the Mullet family, one Christopher Mullet is now a convicted sex offender.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion in prohibiting Christopher Mullet from having contact with the minor children. There was uncontroverted testimony from witnesses for both sides that Christopher Mullet sexually molested several young children in the Bergholz community. Plaintiff's Exhibit A includes written statements made by I.T., A.T., D.T., and R.T., in which they state Christopher sexually molested them when they were children.

Further, there was testimony that Christopher Mullet confessed his abuse to the Bergholz Amish church and was forgiven and permitted to continue to reside in the community. As of the time of the hearings, Christopher had not been prosecuted. The Guardian ad Litem expressed serious concerns about Christopher Mullet having contact with the minor children. Thus, there is certainly competent credible evidence supporting the trial court's decision that it was not in the best interests of the minor children to have contact with Christopher Mullet.

Wilma also challenges the trial court's refusal to hear additional evidence regarding Christopher Mullet. In her December 5, 2008 Request for Oral Hearing and Request for Consideration of Additional Evidence, Wilma sought to introduce evidence that Christopher Mullet had subsequently been prosecuted for his crimes, convicted, found guilty, sentenced, and classified as a Tier II sex offender. Wilma wanted the trial court to consider this evidence when ruling on her objections to the magistrate's decision. [typographical errors corrected for clarity]

Rejected by the court was a confession by Aden Troyer that he had had an incestuous relationship with his mother. This statement, he said, was coerced by Bishop Mullet who made reconciliation with his wife and family contingent on this confession.

Allegations and counter-allegations of incest and abuse amongst the "Gentle People" seems incongruous but it's alarmingly common. When news-making violence erupts among the Amish, sex abuse is a common theme.

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In 2006 an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania was the site of an horrific mass murder. Charles Carl Roberts IV, who was not Amish, entered the unprotected schoolhouse and took ten young girls hostage. A showdown with local police ensued but it ended badly. He shot the girls execution style, killing five, and then killed himself. His primary motivation appears to have been a preoccupation with fantasies of sexually abusing young girls.

Roberts reportedly contacted his wife while still in the schoolhouse and stated that he had molested two young female relatives (between the ages of three and five) 20 years ago (when he would have been 12), and had been daydreaming about molesting again.[7] Both of the relatives in question have denied these claims. Among the items he brought to the school was a tube of KY Jelly, which investigators surmised he might have intended to use as a sexual lubricant.[7] His suicide notes stated that he was still angry at God for the death of a premature infant daughter nine years prior.[8]

The incident brought an incredible amount of media attention to the typically private Amish community but what captured the public imagination more than anything was their readiness to forgive the assailant who had taken five young lives and left other girls with permanent injury. A Booklist review of Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy is emblematic of the reaction.

The crime—shooting innocent schoolchildren in a one-room schoolhouse—was shockingly vicious. More shocking, virtually incredible, was where it happened, in the heart of Pennsylvania's Amish country, commonly associated with bucolic tranquility, not gun violence. This remarkable book explains, exceedingly well, Amish reaction to the horrific Nickel Mines shootings. The outside world was gravely taken aback by the Amish response of forgiveness. Some in the media criticized the Amish as naive and hypocritical (didn't they shun members of their own community?), but most simply couldn't understand the Amish concept of forgiveness as unmerited gift. How could they forgive humanly embodied evil? The authors, all authorities on Amish culture, emphasize that the Amish response reflected the sect's heritage and deeply embedded faith. They distinguish forgiveness from pardon and reconciliation. Forgiveness relinquishes the right to vengeance, while pardon forfeits punishment altogether, and reconciliation restores the relationship of victim and offender or creates a new one. They discuss the shooting mercifully straightforwardly before exploring the broader perspectives of forgiveness and concluding with reflections on the meaning of forgiveness. At times difficult to read, this anguished and devastating account of a national tragedy and a hopeful, life-affirming lesson in how to live is itself a marvel of grace.

People everywhere marveled at the Christian kindness of the Amish in their ability to live the Biblical admonition to turn the other cheek. Their compassion is certainly admirable. But there is another side to Amish forgiveness and it has caused inestimable harm in their communities. There is nothing new about Amish forgiving, pardoning, and reconciling sex abusers, most of whom don't shoot their victims or get mountains of press attention. Sadly, in the urgency to forgive any publicly repentant sinner, the victims of abuse do not get the help they need and are not sufficiently protected from repeat offenders within their communities.

The case of Mary Byler who had been repeatedly molested by her father, who died when she was a small child, and later by her brothers and cousins, also achieved some public notoriety. Frustrated by her community's unwillingness to protect her, she did the unthinkable. She went to the police. Her brothers confessed and were convicted of sexual abuse of a minor. Yet the sympathy from her community was not for Mary but for her brothers.

The community viewed Mary, not Johnny, as the villain, because they had already punished Johnny within the church, according to Garrett. "He went through that process. He was sorry for what he had done, so to the Amish he was forgiven and it should be forgotten," she said.

That had long been the response not only from her community but from her own mother.

In an Amish culture unaccustomed to women speaking up, Mary felt she got more scolding than sympathy when she told her mother what was going on.

She said her mother told her, "You don't fight hard enough and you don't pray hard enough." Mary said her mother made her feel as if the assaults were her fault. "Every time I would talk about this she would say that they have already confessed in church and you're just being unforgiving," she said.

Mary had been molested by just one of these brothers over a hundred times by her count. (He puts the total closer to 75.) The total count of assaults by Mary's male relatives, who were repeatedly forgiven by the church and community, is inestimable.

There is a growing tension between civil authorities and Amish communities as what may be epidemic levels of sex abuse are coming to greater awareness. The largely autonomous Amish insist on handling the problem internally and reintegrating repentant abusers, but numerous repeat victims and recidivist offenders are forcing the problem into the open.

In some church districts, which encompass only two or three dozen families scattered along back roads, there appear to be many crimes like Johnny and Eli's to forgive. No statistics are available, but according to one Amish counselor who works with troubled church members across the Midwest, sexual abuse of children is "almost a plague in some communities." Some police forces and district attorneys do their best to step in, though they are rarely welcomed. Others are slow to investigate or quick to let off Amish offenders with light punishments. When that happens, girls like Mary are failed three times: by their families, their church, and their state. 

Investigating police encounter a simultaneous community protectiveness and a peculiar openness from the offenders themselves. In the case of yet another abusive Byler -- a prolific pedophile into old age named Norman -- an "English," meaning non-Amish, neighbor sought help from authorities. The reaction from the Amish community included death threats against the accuser, yet the old man was perfectly open with police when he was confronted.

Deborah Love, an English neighbor who lived next to the Yoders, saw Norman take his 3-year-old granddaughter into his woodshed on a fall day in 1999. She knew that one of Norman's daughters had recently moved her family to Iowa after saying that Norman had asked to sleep with one of her girls. "He was with me enough. He wasn't going to be with my daughter," Love said the woman told her.

A day after Norman took the 3-year-old into his shed, Love noticed some dried blood on the girl's leg. She called Guernsey County Children's Services. The Amish accused Love of lying, and she said she has felt their anger. When some of the men passed her house, they raised their hats and turned them sideways to avoid looking at her. Love's husband said that one young Amish man warned him during hunting season that, "Accidents do happen, so you'd better be careful." In the spring of 2000, the Loves moved out of the neighborhood.

. . .

When the police identify a perpetrator, however, their work in one sense becomes easy. The Amish ethic of confession extends to answering questions asked by outsiders. With little prompting from the detectives who questioned him, Norman Byler admitted to manually penetrating his 8-year-old granddaughter. He said that he hurt the child to get back at her father, who had refused to take Norman to the hospital to treat a torn muscle.

Get it? He was getting back at his son by molesting his granddaughter. And therein lies one clue as to the prevalence of the problem. Women and children are the property of men in Amish life. Why wouldn't they be when that is what the only book they take seriously, the Bible, says? Another clue is in the hair-cutting assaults that have put the insular community on a collision course with the law in Ohio. As stated, the attachment to the hair of women and girls is based on their reading of scripture.

"The Bible says women are not to cut their hair, that hair is a blessing and is part of a woman's beauty and it belongs to their husband. To have hair forcefully cut is to be shamed," [Beverly] Cushman said.

"For the men with a beard, you can only begin to grow a beard when you get married. It is a symbol of full status, a symbol of your adult manhood. Again, for it to be cut is to be shamed," she said.

That the Bible says women must not cut their hair is a subject of some debate even among fundamentalists. That women -- and their hair -- belong to their husbands, not so much. The tenet in question came up not long ago when presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's purported submissiveness to her husband did a turn through the news cycle. The primary passage that addresses hair cutting is in 1 Corinthians 11.

3 But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. 5 But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 6 For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. 7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

It's just a little unclear whether the covering for the woman's head is her hair or a veil and whether it could ever be cut or if it's being long is sufficient. Amongst the Amish however, the doctrine is clear as is their belief in the power of beard. So the actions attributed to the Mullet gang are a violation of the highest order.

The formerly Amish Seloma Furlong addressed the problem on her blog.

Even though I was born and raised in an Amish community and endured sexual abuse myself, it is hard for me to say just how prevalent sexual abuse is among the Amish in general. But what I do know is that Amish men are dominate in the culture and that girls are taught they should be submissive to the men (and boys) from the time they can understand the concept. Most Amish do not educate their children about sex, so girls can easily fall prey to sexual abuse. They often have no reference to know what is happening to them, even as the abuse takes place. And to make matters worse, the usual avenues for getting help are not available to Amish children. Very often abuses are first noticed and reported by schoolteachers in mainstream society, but even that avenue is blocked for most Amish children who attend their own parochial schools.

When sexual abuse is uncovered among the Amish, they focus mainly on the perpetrator’s repentance, rather than on the welfare of the children, which allows pedophiles to walk freely among innocents. They are simply not equipped to deal with these issues, and their isolation from mainstream society means that public services are largely out of reach, especially for children. Even if people in the community know of abuse, they will usually not intervene on behalf of the children, because they do not want to be seen as meddling in other families’ everyday lives. This leaves those Amish children who are being abused with few or no advocates, just when they need them the most.

It seems a toxic brew of masculine hierarchy, insularity, and a sincere belief in Christian forgiveness as a cure-all.

Much like the Amish, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church long treated sex abuse by its priests as a problem of sin, the answer for which was redemption through confession and prayer. And like the Amish they shunned the intrusion of civil authorities. They are being forced to come 'round to the demands of the greater society and the awareness that spiritual remediation is not sufficient to tackle the problem of sex offenders in their midst. And they have been repeatedly called on the carpet for putting the spiritual well-being of abusers above the needs of the children they abuse.

Lesson for today: There are some problems the Bible can't fix. In fact, Biblical teachings can cause or exacerbate some problems. That's not only because of some of its more regressive elements, like its rules for women, but because of the highest of Christian aspirations like forgiveness and redemption.

Like the Catholic Church, the Amish are being forced by internal events to embrace the knowledge of the secular world where its own system has failed. The case cited by Seloma Furlong in her blog post above is a prime example of the Amish having no choice but to turn a problem over to civil authorities.

Community members say that in an effort to cure Mr. Mast of his affliction, they excommunicated him on three occasions: in 2004 when he returned from Wisconsin amid accusations that he had raped his cousin; and again in 2009, when new revelations surfaced of his alleged sexual misconduct. The third excommunication came this year, when after a tortuous internal debate, the community appealed to law enforcement.

“We seen this coming for years,” said Noah Schwartz, another of Mr. Mast’s uncles. “The church worked desperately to get behind him, but it was a lost cause. I don’t think we realized the seriousness of the crimes.”

Mr. Schwartz added that unlike most Amish children — who are often raised with many siblings — Chester Mast was adopted at 5 days old and raised as an only child, mollycoddled by his parents. Mr. Mast’s father, Albert Mast, declined an interview request on behalf of the family.

“This was a boy who had no discipline,” Mr. Schwartz said. “He didn’t respect authority. That’s why he’s behind bars.”

They came into further conflict with the justice system when their policy of confession collided with Mast's defense attorney's sworn duty to protect her client, in this case by pleading not guilty. The two world views seem largely impossible to reconcile.

The rogue band of Amish hair-cutters is another situation that seems to beg for outside intervention. But many of the Amish are reluctant to press charges or support an investigation, preferring to pray for their assailants.

The reluctance of the Amish community to cooperate with law enforcement agencies has made the investigation more difficult, Abdalla said.

"They sent messages to me to go out and tell the children they're praying for them," he told WJW. "And my response was, 'Pray for them after we put them in jail.' You know, maybe that will be a better time to do that."

But their own internal system apparently failed to deal with the anomie of the Mullets.

The sheriff said the elder Mullet was upbraided four years ago during a meeting of about 300 Amish bishops from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York for his leadership of his group and for ordering the "shunning" of two families.

"They brought him on the carpet, and he told them to go to hell. He thumbed his nose at them," Abdalla said.

I grew up in Trumbull County where some of these bizarre hair-cutting attacks have occurred. The wagons and traditional dress were familiar fixtures in my young life. I found it both baffling and intriguing that people would choose to live without modern conveniences, so foreign in their own country. There is much about Amish life to recommend it: the simplicity, the frugality, the traditional farming, the craftsmanship, the sense of community. But community cohesion is always a double-edged sword. It protects and nurtures but it also stifles and suppresses. In a close-knit community the abnormal can become the norm. It seems that in much of the Amish world sexual abuse is part of a repeated social pattern. And it looks like it may cause the Amish to be dragged, at least to some degree, into modernity.

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