Southern Religion

Fired for acknowledging evolutionary science: Bruce Waltke

Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Professor Bruce Waltke was forced to resign because he observed that faith and evolutionary science are compatible in a video in which he said, according to a reconstruction of his remarks by USA Today:

If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.

His remarks had to be reconstructed because Waltke was apparently driven by the “culture of fear” which pervades the evangelical community to ask the BioLogos Foundation, which had posted the video as part of their advocacy of science’s compatibility with faith, to take it down. And they did, yet Waltke was still compelled to resign.

Neither the video nor its contents should have come as a surprise. It wasn’t Waltke’s first run at the subject [1, 2]

The reaction is a surprise in part because Waltke isn’t otherwise a liberal, as Tony Cartledge explains:

Waltke is by most measures a very conservative scholar. Though he accepts a theistic version of evolution (acknowledging the reality of evolution while trusting that God guided the process), he also believes in an inerrant Bible and a literal Adam and Eve. But even that is too big a stretch for the most ardent inerrantists, leading to RTS’s over-the-top response.

Perhaps Waltke’s use of the word “cult” was the step too far.

If so, the reaction to his comments gives it legs.

[H/T: Tony Cartledge]

April 12, 2010 Posted by | Religion, Science | , , , | 1 Comment

Scientology fights back toward decline

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Hiring veteran journalists to counter-investigate the St. Petersburg Times was a strategy with something of a reverse twist. Scientology is under scrutiny in Australia [1,2,3], headed for the silver screen in Germany and still on the pages of U.S. news publications [1,2,3].

Just for example, you understand.

All of the well-known Scientology strategies keep applying, as makers of the film “Bis Nichts Mehr Bleibt” (Until Nothing Remains) illustrated when they reported via the Guardian:

The film team said it had been “bombarded” with phone calls and emails from the organisation during production. The head of the Southwest German broadcasting organisation, Carl Bergengruen who was involved in the project, said Scientology had “tried via various means to discover details about the film” and that the film crew was even tailed by a Scientology representative.

“We are fearful that the organisation will try to use all legal means to try to stop the film being shown,” he said.

The film itself sounds like a classical Scientology exit story with an especially tragic conclusion:

According to the makers of Until Nothing Remains, the €2.5m (£2.3 m) drama, which is due to air in a prime-time slot at the end of March, is based on the true story of Heiner von Rönns, who left Scientology and suffered the subsequent break-up of his family.

Scientology calls the film false and intolerant, and distributed flyers at a Hamburg preview, accusing the filmmakers of aiming to “create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community.”

All of that effort to defeat critics while building attractive homes for the church. Yet as PZ Meyers pointed out from his reading of the NY Times investigation, they’re apparently shrinking:

The church is vague about its membership numbers. In 11 hours with a reporter over two days, Mr. Davis, the church’s spokesman, gave the numbers of Sea Org members (8,000), of Scientologists in the Tampa-Clearwater area (12,000) and of L. Ron Hubbard’s books printed in the last two and a half years (67 million). But asked about the church’s membership, Mr. Davis said, “I couldn’t tell you an exact figure, but it’s certainly, it’s most definitely in the millions in the U.S. and millions abroad.”

He said he did not know how to account for the findings in the American Religious Identification Survey that the number of Scientologists in the United States fell from 55,000 in 2001 to 25,000 in 2008.

If you make projections from those numbers, as Meyers did, Scientology appears to have done some magnificent architectural restoration without building a future.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | Comments Off on Scientology fights back toward decline

Scientology sues Sandy Springs; Member is sued in N.J.

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Sandy Springs, Ga., slowed the Church of Scientology’s dramatic 2009 growth by denying a rezoning required to expand a former office building into their Georgia headquarters.

Ever aggressive, Scientology filed two lawsuits on Wednesday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:

The church filed religious discrimination complaints in U.S. District Court on Wednesday and Fulton County Superior Court on Thursday.

Both suits contend that the city infringed on the church’s religious rights in the City Council’s vote Dec. 15 that approved the rezoning of the building at Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive but denied the church’s request to add a fourth floor by enclosing a basement parking garage, saying there wasn’t enough parking.

The pre-lawsuit Scientology vs. Sandy Springs story was blogged in detail by xenubarb at Daily Kos.

Conflict and Scientology go hand-in-hand. Remember last year’s dramatic exits, legal reversals, impending movie, investigations and media takedowns?

Ed Brayton at ScienceBlogs writes about another Scientology lawsuit.

In this one, a politically active New Jersey a businessman is being sued for allegedly attempting to force Scientology upon his employees.

Michael Deak of My writes:

Calling a lawsuit brought against his business as “replete with misrepresentations and outright lies,” a new member of the Borough Council is denying the charges, including one that an employee was fired for not becoming a member of the Church of Scientology.

John Buckley, who on New Year’s Day was sworn into a three-year term as a councilman after winning a seat in the November election, said he and his company, Open House Direct “will vigorously defend against these unfounded claims and to also demonstrate that this is nothing but an attempt to harass us and to hurt our ability to do business.”

Three former employees — Maurice Grays, John Knapp and Larry Kolakowski — last month filed suit in Superior Court seeking legal relief, claiming they were victims of a hostile work environment and retaliation at the company on Hamilton Street.

Add to these the threatened Scientology suit in France against the Daughters of Saint Paul [which we blogged about earlier this month] and you have the makings of another fascinating year of watching Scientology-in-action.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | Comments Off on Scientology sues Sandy Springs; Member is sued in N.J.

Daughters of St. Paul stand against Scientology’s legal assault


Daughters of St. Paul’s publishing house recently issued the second of two books by Maria Pia Gardini about abuses within the Church of Scientology.

The Church of Scientology in Italy has announced it is initiating legal proceedings for libel against the Daughters of St. Paul and Gardini, a Catholic author who returned to the Catholic Church after years with Scientology as a member of its Sea Org elite.

Regarding the two books, Catholic Online says:

In 2007 the Daughters of St. Paul’s publishing house, Edizioni Paoline (Paoline Publications), published Gardini’s first book, ” I miei anni in Scientology” (“My years in Scientology”). The first week of December, 2009 they released her second book, “Il coraggio di parlare – storie di fuoriusciti da Scientology” (“The Courage To Speak Out – Stories of Ex-Scientologists”).

As reported on the Clerical Whispers Blog (, the books, co-authored by Italian Catholic journalist Alberto Laggia and Italian Catholic Maria Pia Gardini, have been widely reviewed in Italy.

Scientology sent Edizioni Paoline a formal notice in September, effectively demanding that they not publish. In an interview with Mondo Raro, a Pauline spokesman rejected the demand as a violation of their constitutionally protected “right to freely express their thoughts in speech, writing, and all other means of dissemination.”

The order specializes in spreading the gospel through advanced communication and publication. As they explain in their statement of purpose:

The Daughter of St. Paul lives in the world of communication. She allows herself to be surrounded by it, that she might better understand how to serve and evangelize within it. She deeply reflects on Pope John Paul II’s invitation to participate in the “new evangelization.” And she leaps at his challenge: “Involvement in the mass media is not meant merely to strengthen the preaching of the Gospel. There is a deeper reality involved here. Since the very evangelization of modern culture depends to a great extent on the influence of the media, it is not enough to use the media simply to spread the Christian message and the Church’s authentic teaching. It is also necessary to integrate that message into the ‘new culture’ created by modern communications.”

Like Catholic Online, they clearly understand that as giving no ground to Scientology intimidation.

January 6, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Religion, WWW | , , | 1 Comment

Scientology schism (over management)

Scientology blundered toward the new year with a pugilistic response to questions about why three of its top spiritual achievers publicly left the cult, er, church.

Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin of the St. Petersburg Times wrote that “Geir Isene of Norway and Americans Mary Jo Leavitt and Sherry Katz” announced their split with Scientology:

Isene left first, a decision that emboldened Leavitt, who inspired Katz. Such departures are rare among the church’s elite group of OT VIIIs, who are held up as role models in Scientology. The three each told the St. Petersburg Times that they had spent decades and hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach the church’s spiritual pinnacle.

All three stressed their ongoing belief in Scientology and say they remain grateful for how it helped them. Yet they took to the Internet — an act strongly discouraged by church leaders, who decry public airing of problems — to share their reasons for leaving. They said they hoped it would resonate within the Scientology community.

Scientology’s response was similar in assaultive tone to the reaction to Catholic Online [here]. Tommy Davis of Scientology wrote in a letter to the Times:

Your biased approach to stories regarding my religion is by now well documented. You, Joe Childs in particular, actively seek out only those individuals who have something negative to say about the Church; if they do not fit your agenda then you attempt to coach them and coax them into doing so by “educating” them about Scientology until you have “adjusted” their viewpoint accordingly and when that does not work you simply put words in their mouth. This is your pattern, which was unknown to the Church until recently, and has been your modus operandi for the better part of two decades.

All this habitually fists-up rhetoric from an organization whose evangelism is so slickly finished it puts most of the competition to shame. Consider this leaked, internal push for their Ideal Org program. Maybe it is a little too long. And doesn’t mention the V-like Ideal Org uniforms. But consider pitch:

Okey-dokey. You too can help convert your friends to a money-sucking program that promises mastery of immortality. A program where outcomes can be a lot worse than denial of communion.

December 31, 2009 Posted by | Cults, WWW | , , , , | 2 Comments

Gawkering at Scientology in pursuit

Ravi Somaiya writes:

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)A tipster in Texas flirted briefly with Scientology when college-age. Then, sensibly, she ran the hell away. Now people she’s never met are sending her creepy hand-written notes trying to get her back into the cult.

Read the entire saga of a cult in hor pursuit, complete with images of hand-written notes and the like, here.

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Cults | , , | Comments Off on Gawkering at Scientology in pursuit

Scientology ‘announces’ dramatic growth(?)

Guy Fawkes mask (anonymous)

Never mind the dramatic exits, legal reversals, impending movie, investigations and media takedowns: Scientology announces the “biggest expansion” in its history.

Via PR Newswire it proclaims:

The Church of Scientology completed a $40 million restoration of one of its oldest landmark buildings in 2009 and inaugurated five major new Scientology buildings in Malmo, Dallas, Nashville, Rome and Washington, DC. Today, the Church of Scientology has expanded to more than 8,000 Churches, Missions and affiliated groups in 165 nations, doubling the number in the last five years. Current demand for L. Ron Hubbard’s books and lectures on Dianetics and Scientology has outstripped the last five decades combined, approaching 70 million distributed in the last two years. All the while, the Church’s ever growing humanitarian programs in the fields of anti-drug, human rights, morals education and disaster relief have positively impacted hundreds of millions of lives.

PR” = “Public Relations.” As in “self-promotion/Not news.”

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, WWW | , , , | 4 Comments

Scientology/Anonymous wars come to Catholic Online

Anonymous protester in Guy Fawkes’ mask demonstrating during the January 2009 raid outside the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington, D.C. The group
was originally a response to Scientology’s aggressive efforts to remove a Tom Cruse video from the Internet.

The intensity of Klagenberg’s response to Catholic Online lends credence to the Anonymous explanation of the mask wearing.

It may be an error to say Anonymous is “a very few” in number and wrong to imply that “former members” of Scientology compose or founded Anonymous. We covered the origins of Anonymous in more detail here.
[Photo by Ben Schumin: Some rights reserved]

Scientology Public Affairs Officer Mike Klagenberg in a letter to the editor of Catholic Online wrote:

The article on forced abortions in Scientology is tantamount to bearing false witness. It is absolutely a gross lie fabricated by a very few disgruntled former members that are using the Catholic On Line site to forward their scurrilous lies and bitterness in an attempt to tarnish the Church and it’s members.

Catholic Online Associate Editor Randy Sly responds:

I have filed eight stories on Scientology since June, 2009. As we researched for these articles, the witnesses we found included former members, investigators, affidavits from litigation, etc. The amount of information available regarding false declarations, questionable practices, and suspicious relationships is enormous; its impact is global.

. . .
One major force of opposition facing Scientology – and probably the one that Mr. Klagenberg was referencing – does not come from without but from within. Former Scientologists have formed a leaderless Internet-based cadre called Anonymous. Group members, for the most part, do not know each other’s names; there is no central office, no hierarchy and no official spokesperson.

. . .
Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Québec defended the right of the group to oppose Scientology last February. He received a letter from “Anonymous Quebec” documenting a number of issues after publicly declaring that Scientology wasn’t a church [“La scientologie, c’est autre chose. Pour moi, cette communauté n’est pas une Église”] during an interview.

The article Klagenberg protested doen’t rely on anonymous sources:

Sea Organization or Sea Org is a sort of “religious order” within Scientology where only the most committed members of the late L. Ron Hubbard’s cult live out their lives. For the unborn child of a mother in Sea Org, that isn’t very long. They are aborted.
. . .
It would seem, however, that principle gave way to pragmatics as Scientology grew. Affidavits and other reports of forced abortions go back as early as 1994 while the abortions themselves began taking place in the mid 80’s.
[for example]
Mary Tabayoyon spent 25 years in Scientology, 21 of which were as a member of Sea Org. In an affidavit dated 26 August 1994 for the case CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY INTERNATIONAL VS. STEVEN-FISHMAN AND UWE GEERTZ,
Defendants, she described a September 26, 1986 Sea Org Flag Order (an order binding upon all members) that forbade members from having any more children. Disobedience would result in exile to a lower expression of service. When the child reached age 6, the parents could return.
. . .

Underlying this is another fight, joined the St. Petersburg Times in a Nov. 8 editorial:

As former staffers lift the veil of secrecy that for years has obscured the inner workings of the Church of Scientology, a new mystery emerges: Why are government authorities looking the other way? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ample reason to reconsider its decision to grant Scientology tax-exempt status as a religion. Labor officials should determine whether wage and working condition violations have occurred, and law enforcement ought to investigate whether the church’s restraint on members’ free movement crossed a legal line.

Charges were detailed in a three-part series the newspaper ran this summer and which is referred to by Catholic Online:

The relentless parade of revelations about the Scientology’s essentially ludicrous core beliefs and sociopathic practices still do it more harm than the group’s heavy-handed public relations response. It is the revelations which make the case for law enforcement attention and IRS review of the church’s tax-exempt status. Official church response simply underlines that case.

Update: The PR War

Scientology announces “biggest expansion” in its history.

November 30, 2009 Posted by | Catholic, Religion, WWW | , | 19 Comments

Pressure on Australian Scientology mounts

The Church of Scientology this week denied one of the charges lodged by Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, using parliamentary privilege.

Affirming another of Xenophon’s charges, Australian Scientology suicide soldier Edward McBride’s family called for a probe of the circumstances of McBride’s 2007 death.

Australia World News reported:

Police investigating [McBride’s] death in 2007 had been repeatedly stymied by the church, which failed to provide personal audit files as requested, [his brother] Stephen McBride said.

“Every time I think of scientology I still get a real bad aftertaste in my mouth,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“There’s something just not right about it.”

Mr McBride is adamant the church contributed to his brother’s suicide, with the coroner reporting [a barrage of] telephone messages contained intimidating statements, such as “this behaviour is unacceptable” and “you have missed your interview”.

Senator Xenophon said said he still did not have the governmental support required to launch a probe. Nonetheless, “This is a hell of a week and I think we are distracted with other issues, but I think it’s inevitable there will be an inquiry, one way or the other.”

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, WWW | , | Comments Off on Pressure on Australian Scientology mounts

Pope downplays interfaith dialogue (maybe)

Batholics in Bohemia

“Batholics in Bohemia, or when your pastor enquires of you” is a Czeck cartoon which was inspired by Tony Cartledge’s May 20, 2005, blog “Baptists or Batholics?”

I am informed that the caption translates, “Did you vote for Christian democratic party, Civic democratic party or social democrats? According to the new SBC instruction no. 214/09 we cannot accept liberal voters.”

A few days after a Baptist minister called the Roman Catholic Church a cult comes word that the pope himself is sending mixed signals about the worth of interfaith dialogue.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in a letter to an author that “an interreligious dialogue in the strict sense of the word is not possible” according to a report in the New York Times. In theological terms, the pope said, “a true dialogue is not possible without putting one’s faith in parentheses.”

The news comes after Jim Smyrl, the executive pastor of education at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, called the Catholic Church a “cult” in one of his church’s official blogs.

But it’s important to note that the pope also said “intercultural dialogue which deepens the cultural consequences of basic religious ideas” is important and called for confronting “in a public forum the cultural consequences of basic religious decisions.”

A Vatican spokesman seemed to walk back the pope’s comments even further, saying the comments were not meant to cast doubt on the Vatican’s many continuing interreligious dialogues.

Perhaps some good would result now if Jim Smyrl had an audience with the pope. He is, after all, a Batholic.

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pope downplays interfaith dialogue (maybe)