Deprogramming Revisited Part 1

Revisiting a deprogramming complaint and asking how much has really changed. Are religious differences not better solved through acceptance, tolerance, and love? Plus extended historical analysis.

UPDATE 1. Jennifer Jacobs was a member of an American Buddhist group in the 1980s. According to a sworn declaration which she filed in California in 1991, she was subjected to a kidnapping type deprogramming. She names Joe Szimhart as one of the deprogrammers who held her captive and subjected her to psychological abuse. The complaint speaks for itself, and you can read it in full on the CESNUR site here. I want to present some highlights from her declaration which I find relevant to the current deprogramming/exit counseling scene in 2020: Continue reading

Terrorism Has No Religion

I’ve been sadly and silently following developments in Manchester after the tragic suicide bombing. Today I saw an interview with Saima Alvi, Vice-Chair of the British Muslim Heritage Centre. She made the point — calmly and eloquently — that terrorism has no religion.

This reminded me of Barack Obama, who knew the power of words and steadfastly refused to connect the words “terrorism” and “Islam.” Terrorists have nothing to do with Islam; they merely appropriate words and symbols from that religion of peace in order to justify their heinous acts. Continue reading

Father Tom, The God Squad, and Sri Chinmoy

Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman was known affectionately as “Father Tom.” He was a super nice guy who gave up his childhood dream of playing baseball to gain a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Later in life, when he developed Parkinson’s disease, he raised enough money to found the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research, which opened in 2013. I can’t believe he passed away just a few days ago. (See this New York Times obituary.)

He was a champion of ecumenism and interfaith harmony who shared a spotlight with his good friend Rabbi Marc Gellman. Together, they formed “The God Squad” — a dynamic duo that team-preached religious tolerance and high ethics.

Father Tom and Sri Chinmoy met on a number of occasions. They became friends and even played tennis together, back in the day. In 2001, Sri Chinmoy honoured The God Squad in one of his lifting ceremonies. Rabbi Gellman recalls: Continue reading

Better Reporting on Religious and Ethnic Minorities

Tips for journalists on overcoming false balance, rejecting hate material, and making sense of moral panics

Introduction

As someone who’s been familiar with Sri Chinmoy and the Peace Run for three decades, I’ve noticed that press coverage varies widely in reliability and accuracy. Here are some tips for journalists covering religious and ethnic minorities. These tips also apply to Sri Chinmoy, the Peace Run, and related entities (some of which are secular, but are inspired by spiritual beliefs).

Note: Many people would to be quick to point out differences between “religious” and “spiritual” — with “religious” perhaps connoting dogma and ritual, and “spiritual” suggesting a personal quest for meaning. Yet, there is a continuum between the two, and in this article the terms are used somewhat interchangeably.

Near the end, I include a list of resources which I find helpful in understanding Sri Chinmoy and the Peace Run.

The problem of false balance

I greatly respect journalists and journalism, and know there are practical reasons why some journalists don’t get a story quite right. There are time pressures, and difficulties making sense of an unfamiliar subject. Particularly if the story is considered low priority, there’s always the temptation to simply cut-and-paste material from the Internet, or to invoke a familiar meme rather than doing careful research. There’s also the problem of “false balance.” Rem Rieder writes:

No matter what the news media’s many critics believe, most journalists endeavor to be fair, to give both sides rather than choose sides. In that effort, there’s a tendency to print what someone says, print what the other side says and call it a day.

The trouble is, there isn’t always equal merit on both sides. So, in instances where one side is largely fact-based, and the other is spouting obvious nonsense, treating both sides equally isn’t balanced. It’s misleading.

Often journalists are reluctant to state the conclusions that stem from their reporting, out of the concern that they will appear partisan or biased. But just laying out both positions without going further in an effort to establish the truth can create [false balance]. And that doesn’t do much good for the readers and the viewers.

Journalism isn’t stenography. It’s not treating everything the same when it’s not the same. It’s about giving citizens information about public affairs that is as accurate as possible.

— Rem Rieder, “The danger of false balance in journalism,” USA Today

Continue reading

Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

An interfaith sermon by Revd Canon Barbara Moss

we-can-learnIntroduction

At a time when political candidates may seek to divide the faithful, I’m reminded of this wonderful sermon preached by Revd Canon Barbara Moss at St. Mary’s Church, Cambridge in December 2001. After many years, it eventually disappeared from the Internet; so in reposting it on Christmas Eve 2015, I feel I’m reviving a lost treasure. I sincerely hope that Canon Moss would agree.


Jesus is Born–in a world of many faiths

When I started thinking about this sermon, it seemed to me that what the title called for was not just one, but a whole course of sermons, and that I was not qualified to preach any of them. However, I was fortunate enough to attend a special celebration, almost exactly two years ago. It was organized by Westminster Interfaith, to mark the new millennium with readings about Jesus, not from Christian sources, but from writers of other faiths: from the Qur’an to religious leaders of our own day such as the Dalai Lama. It is not only Christians who have drawn inspiration from the life of Jesus. Continue reading

In solidarity with the French people and all people

Looking for solutions to hatred

There’s little that can be said about the tragic terrorist attacks on November 13, 2015 which killed over 130 people — little which is not obvious or hasn’t already been said.

Over the long course of human history, these problems of strife will be solved through insight, tolerance, and love, but in the meantime we need to keep from killing each other.

In my own study of hate groups, I’ve been influenced by Matthew Johnson, who identifies some elements which hate groups have in common: They “otherize” and “dehumanize” those with whom they disagree, to the point where all human empathy has been suppressed and replaced with blind hatred. They create (and constantly reinforce) a narrative in which the Other is responsible for the loss of the group’s proper place in the world at some time in the past, persisting into the present.

On a core level, the solution to these problems is empathy and love, and how to unblock them. This is true irrespective of the different political or religious ideologies which may divide people. Continue reading

Maggie Simpson Says “I Want My Hijab!”

In the spirit of religious tolerance and total non-violence, I offer this Photoshopped image intended to make you think:

Simpsons-Hebdo-I-Want-My-Hijab-v14b-newI had buried this image in a long post where few would see it, but wanted to give it some signal boost since it could spark debate about the ethics of using cartoon characters to sell an idea or product, and broader issues. Some key points are: Continue reading