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News related to cults, cult groups, cult interventions, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.
News related to cults, cult groups, cult interventions, abusive relationships, movements, religions, political organizations and related topics.


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ICSA Conversations - Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult
September 29th at 7pm (Eastern Standard Time) For the first time, ICSA will live stream the upcoming event, ICSA Conversations - Sexual/Romantic Intimacy: Challenges for People Raised in a Cult. We will live stream the event via Facebook Live. To take part ...

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Short answer — no.

But David Meade, a Christian and self-published author of end-of-the-world survival guides, predicts doomsday is near — very near, as in this Saturday.

Meade’s ideology, laid out in his book “Planet X — The 2017 Arrival,” is described by the author as “a compendium of information from every sphere—astronomical, scientific, the Book of Revelation and geopolitics.” There’s some astrology in there, too.

Meade is the latest in a very long line of American self-proclaimed prophets who claim they know when — sometimes to the hour — the biblically predicted “end times” will arrive. And while it’s fun to laugh at his belief that the “Planet Nibiru” will collide with the Earth this week, the failed prophesies of some of his predecessors have, at times, led to important religious movements or illuminating ways of thinking about faith. Let us explain:

How common are predictions the end is at hand?

Very common. Wikipedia lists over 170 different religiously motivated predictions of the end of the world. The first recorded one dates back to the year 66 and ancient Judea. Since then, doomsday predictions have jumped continents, cultures and religions, but they do seem to be a mostly Protestant pastime. The first American-born doomsday dude was Cotton Mather. This son of Puritans, teenage Harvard graduate and popular New England preacher publicly proclaimed the world would end three different times, in 1697, 1716 and 1736.

If their predictions were wrong, why remember them?

Because some of the people or groups who made these failed predictions led to other important things in American religious history. Consider the Millerites, a band of 19th-century Americans who left their fields unplanted and sold their worldly goods in anticipation of their expiration date — Oct. 22, 1844. After their “Great Disappointment,” they eventually became the Seventh-day Adventists. (Fun fact: The Millerites inspired HBO’s “The Leftovers” and even made an appearance in a couple of episodes.)

Then there were the followers of Charles Taze Russell, a 19th-century preacher who looked for Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead (Christians only, please) in 1878 (and again in 1914). They became Jehovah’s Witnesses, who now ring doorbells around the world (and are persecuted for it in some places — looking at you, Russia). Even John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism, dabbled in predictions, once writing that Jesus would return between 1058 and 1836 (rather a large spread as predictions go).

Some failed predictions bring unexpected insights into religion. In 1955, most people laughed when Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife, said aliens from Planet Clarion informed her the world would end for all but her and her small band of followers, who would be “lifted up.” No end, no lift. But social psychologist Leon Festinger developed his “theory of cognitive dissonance” from his firsthand study of Martin, and he went on to write a 1957 book that explained how rational people come to believe irrational things that is still used to explain everything from religious beliefs to real estate bubbles.

And to flat-out ignore some predictions can be perilous. Florence Houteff, considered a prophetess by the Branch Davidians, predicted April 22, 1959, as the rollout date of the Book of Revelation’s fire and brimstone. Wrong, and her group splintered in the aftermath.

One of the splinters wound up in a compound in Waco, Texas, surrounded by federal agents demanding their surrender on firearms charges. Their leader, David Koresh, was another self-proclaimed prophet who made doomsday predictions involving the deaths of his followers. Some critics felt the federal agents failed to fully understand Koresh as a religious leader, seeing him only as a con man and criminal. By the end of a 51-day siege, after a battery of gunshots and a fast-moving fire, 86 people were killed, including Koresh and several children.

Why this prediction now? Wasn’t there another big “apocalypse now” prediction a few years ago?

Scholars say doomsday predictions cluster around certain events — the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, or the “harmonic convergence” of the planets, or the year 2000. Meade has pointed to last month’s solar eclipse as a “sign” of what he says is to come.

And yes, there has been a long string of predictions in the last two decades. Who can forget Harold Camping, the Christian radio media mogul who picked two dates in 2011, hit the airwaves, put up billboards, solicited money — and nada. He joined some rather famous names — Edgar Cayce, Sun Myung Moon, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (at least twice, but before he had access to the White House) and John Hagee among them — of failed futurists. Heck, Sir Isaac Newton himself, great astronomer and mathematician, bet that Jesus would return in the year 2000.

Even the man who explained gravity was wrong. So relax. Make some weekend plans. See you Monday.

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World-leading neuroscientists have launched an ambitious project to answer one of the greatest mysteries of all time: how the brain decides what to do.

The international effort will draw on expertise from 21 labs in the US and Europe to uncover for the first time where, when, and how neurons in the brain take information from the outside world, make sense of it, and work out how to respond.

If the researchers can unravel what happens in detail, it would mark a dramatic leap forward in scientists’ understanding of a process that lies at the heart of life, and which ultimately has implications for intelligence and free will.

“Life is about making decisions,” said Alexandre Pouget, a neuroscientist involved in the project at the University of Geneva. “It’s one decision after another, on every time scale, from the most mundane thing to the most fundamental in your life. It is the essence of what the brain is about.”

Backed with an initial £10m ($14m) from the US-based Simons Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the endeavour will bring neuroscientists together into a virtual research group called the International Brain Laboratory (IBL). Half of the IBL researchers will perform experiments and the other half will focus on theoretical models of how the brain makes up its mind.

The IBL was born largely out the realisation that many problems in modern neuroscience are too hard for a single lab to crack. But the founding scientists are also frustrated at how research is done today. While many neuroscientists work on the same problems, labs differ in the experiments and data analyses they run, often making it impossible to compare results across labs and build up a confident picture of what is really happening in the brain.

“It happens all the time that we read a paper that gets different results from us, and we won’t know if it’s for deep scientific reasons, or because there are small differences in the way the science is carried out,” said Anne Churchland, a neuroscientist involved in the project at Cold Spring Harbor Lab in New York. “At the moment, each lab has its own way of doing things.”

The IBL hopes to overcome these flaws. Scientists on the project will work on exactly the same problems in precisely the same way. Animal experiments, for example, will use one strain of mouse, and all will be trained, tested and scored in the same way. It is an obvious strategy, but not a common one in science: in any lab, there is a constant urge to tweak experiments to make them better. “Ultimately, the reason it’s worth addressing is in the proverb: ‘alone we go fast, together we go far’,” said Churchland.

The IBL’s results will be analysed with the same software and shared with other members immediately. The openness mirrors the way physicists work at Cern, the particle physics laboratory near Geneva that is home to the Large Hadron Collider. For now, the IBL team includes researchers from UCL, Princeton, Stanford, Columbia, Ecole Normale Paris, and the Champalimaud Centre in Lisbon, but over the 10 to 15-year project, more scientists are expected to join.

A ‘brainbow’: a simulation of pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex. Photograph: Hermann Cuntz and Michael Hausser, University College London

Decision-making is a field in itself, so IBL researchers will focus on simple, so-called perceptual decisions: those that involve responding to sights or sounds, for example. In one standard test, scientists will record how neurons fire in mice as they watch faint dots appear on a screen and spin a Lego wheel to indicate if the dots are on the left or the right. The mice make mistakes when the dots are faint, and it is these marginal calls that are most interesting to scientists.

Matteo Carandini, a neuroscientist involved in the IBL at University College London, compares the task to a cyclist approaching traffic lights in the rain. “If the light is green, you go, and if it’s red, you stop, but there’s often uncertainty. Very often you see only a bit of red, you’re not sure it’s even a traffic light, but you need to make a decision.”

Modern neuroscience textbooks have only a coarse description of how perceptual decisions are made. When light from a traffic light hits the eye, the retina converts it into electrical impulses that are sent to the visual cortex. The image is interpreted, and at some point a decision is made whether or not to fire neurons in the motor cortex and move in response. By recording from thousands of neurons throughout the mouse brain, IBL scientists hope to learn how and when neurons are pulled into the process.

The IBL has not set its sights on explaining complex decisions: which flat to rent, who to partner up with, who to vote for. But it is a start. When it comes to human responses to the outside world, neuroscience cannot explain much beyond the knee-jerk response and ejaculation.

“What people often don’t realise is that we have no clue how the brain works,” said Carandini.

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Ambitious neuroscience project to probe how the brain makes decisions
A network of pyramidal cells in the cerebral cortex.  These interconnected brain cells form neural circuits which carry out the complex computations that will  be explored by IBL researchers. Combining expertise from 21 labs in Europe and the US, the Intern...

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These events in August 1967, fifty years ago, made a mark on western culture

In August 1967, a wildly popular rock band called the Beatles attended a lecture by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the London Hilton on Park Lane. They were given front row seats and invited to meet the Maharishi in his hotel suite after the lecture.

During their private meeting, the Maharishi invited the Beatles to be his guests at a training retreat in Wales. It was there that the band members, who were already exploring ways to expand their consciousness (including through the use of drugs), were initiated into the basics of Transcendental Meditation.

Some months later, in February 1968, the Beatles travelled to the Maharishi’s training centre in India. Their spiritual training there led to their single most creative period — with them reportedly penning 48 songs in less than seven weeks. The Maharishi, who had intended that fateful lecture at the London Hilton to be his last public lecture in the West, was by this time being publicised as “the Beatles’ Guru”.

Transformational touch

That eclectic mixture of Hindu mysticism and iconic music exposed the Western public to Hindu philosophy in an exciting new way. The world’s ears were tuned to the Beatles, and with the band embracing all things Indian, Western hearts were being transformed by that mystical land’s ancient wisdom.

The Maharishi was of course not the first guru to bring Hindu wisdom to the West. Swami Vivekananda, the first Hindu monk to travel to the West, spoke at the first Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 in Chicago where he introduced yoga to an attentive crowd. However, the interest he piqued was chiefly academic, and it would be some time yet before yoga became more generally popular. Swami Vivekananda established the first Vedanta Society in New York in 1894.

Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in the U.S. in 1920, and was the first master of yoga to live and teach in the West, for over 30 years. He is known as the Father of Yoga in the West.

To the mainstream

But it was the Beatles’ association with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the time of flower power and the hippie movement in the 1960s, with their lyrics of love and world peace, which brought the Hindu philosophies of meditation and yoga mainstream. This occurred even as another Hindu monk, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was teaching U.S. audiences the principles of Bhakti Yoga through his ISKCON movement.

The Beatles were first introduced to Eastern philosophy in 1965 when they met Swami Vishnu-Devananda in the Bahamas, during the filming of “Help!” The Swami presented them with copies of his work, The Illustrated Book of Yoga. George Harrison appeared to take the most interest and began studying yoga and Eastern religion. In 1966, Harrison travelled to India to study the sitar under Ravi Shankar, during which time he also studied the works of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda. With his growing interest in Eastern philosophy, he was instrumental in getting the Beatles to the Maharishi’s lecture in London in August 1967. It is said that Harrison was a spiritual mentor to millions. His interest in Hinduism’s wisdom teachings was life-long, and when he died his ashes were, fittingly, scattered in the Ganga.

When the Beatles travelled to the Maharishi’s ashram in India, it was big news. The world was gripped by ‘Beatlemania’, and what the Beatles did the world did. Just as fans copied their hairstyles and dalliance with psychedelic substances and pot, when the Beatles showed an interest in yoga the world paid attention.

The Beatles helped make words such as mantra and guru familiar to westerners, and their interest fuelled a desire to learn about Eastern philosophy. That interest continues to grow. In 2016, Forbes reported on the growing popularity of yoga in the U.S. and an increasing number of celebrities attest to practising Transcendental Meditation.

But it is for their song lyrics that the Beatles are most admired and the influence of Hindu wisdom on those lyrics cannot be ignored. Their ‘White Album’ contained several classics written during their time with the Maharishi, heavily influenced by the Maharishi’s teachings and the Beatles’ experience with Transcendental Meditation. These include ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Dear Prudence’, and ‘Blackbird’. George Harrison is quoted as saying, “All the experiences that happened in India was... embodied in that album…”.

Enduring message

The Beatles were together for ten years from 1960. Although Beatlemania may explain why even many years later they remain a household name, perhaps to a large extent their music endures for its messages of love and understanding.

Yoga has been handed down to humanity through the mists of time and while it is an accepted path to spirituality in the East, its growing popularity in the West across various faiths is somewhat a conundrum.

Perhaps the Beatles’ interlude with Hindu philosophy was no accident but rather a beautiful kismet that combined western popular music with spirituality.

It is perhaps the unique manner that combination speaks to us which explains why Beatlemania and Hinduism’s wisdom teachings continue to garner Western interest for a long time.

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CBS News
September 17, 2017

With brief sound bite from Daniel Shaw LCSW, New York psychotherapist and cult expert.

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Hundreds of people each weekend drive up the hill to a newly built $12 million church surrounded by soccer fields in a New Jersey community named Zarephath. They worship by singing along with rock-ballad style prayer songs, following lyrics projected on three overhead screens. They sway and lift their arms high overhead, or say the words quietly with their eyes closed.

Drums, several guitars, keyboards and backup singers accompany the prayers. Spotlights shift from purple to blue to red as the mood builds.

“O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide,” about 300 congregants sang during a recent Sunday service, in a sanctuary that resembles a warehouse-style concert hall, save for two small crosses near the stage. “Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.”

The worshipers at the central New Jersey church were of every description — young, old, white, black, Asian, Hispanic. The friendly, name-tag-clad greeters at the entrance of the 70,000-square-foot space were there to help people find Bible study groups or inspirational cards in the gift shop.

In short, Zarephath Christian Church has become a dynamic evangelical congregation. It attracts newcomers via both a 50,000-watt contemporary Christian radio station — Star 99.1 — that can be heard from Pennsylvania to New York City, and a conservative, Jesus-focused message that encourages its 2,500 congregants to hew as closely as possible to the lifestyle of his disciples.

The growth is quite a turn for a local church that until about 10 years ago consisted of fewer than 200 members in a timeworn chapel across Weston Canal Road, on a bathtub of land saddled by repeated floods. And even though its leaders don’t talk about it much, the church also represents the local revival of what was one of America’s most unusual Protestant denominations.

The church in Zarephath is the flagship congregation of the Pillar of Fire, a Methodist offshoot founded in 1901 by a formidable female preacher, Alma Bridwell White, whose positive legacy of feminism was complicated in the 1920s by her ardent embrace of the Ku Klux Klan. Scholars believe that the Pillar of Fire was the only denomination in America to publicly endorse the Klan, even though individual ministers from other faiths were active in it.

The contradictions of the sect’s fiery founder create a kind of puzzle for the church’s modern leadership. Pillar of Fire long ago moved away from the hate of the Klan, and its leaders have issued statements denouncing and regretting the church’s historic involvement with it. In a sign of how different the modern church is, the local presiding elder of the denomination, Robert Saydee, is an African refugee.

Yet Pillar of Fire owes its existence to Bishop White, the first female bishop of any Christian denomination in American history. Her traces remain everywhere in Zarephath, the agrarian faith community she founded here in 1905 and named for the town where Elijah found comfort from a widow in the Bible. And yet her complicated legacy is virtually ignored by church leaders, who can still disagree about the extent of her intolerance.

As a result, many people who worship each week in Zarephath don’t know about the church’s history, or even that their church is part of the Pillar of Fire. (Or that the 750-acre parcel that makes up what is essentially the town of Zarephath is owned by the denomination.) The new church is built on the opposite side of the Delaware and Raritan Canal from the denomination’s historic home, so it is easy to get there without seeing the old brick Pillar of Fire sign at the entrance to those grounds.

“We like that the church is nondenominational, because we are nondenominational as well,” said Sabrina Da Cruz, 34, who drove 40 minutes from Elizabeth, N.J., with her husband and infant to attend a service this summer. “They talk about Jesus, which is what a lot of people need. It’s Jesus from beginning to end.”

The woman at the center of Zarephath’s story was born in 1862 to a poor family in rural Kentucky. Mollie Alma Bridwell, as she was known then, grew up wanting to be a preacher, but was told to marry one instead. Chafing at the restrictions, she started preaching in Denver, where her Methodist preacher husband was posted, and ultimately formed her own church. When a New Jersey widow, inspired by her writings, deeded her 70 acres of farmland between the Millstone River and the Delaware and Raritan Canal, she left Colorado, ultimately separating from her husband, and moved the denomination’s headquarters here.

Pillar of Fire gained considerable fame in the first decades of the 20th century, in part because of the oddity of a woman running a religious sect years before women had the right to vote. Puritianical and strident, Bishop White described her church’s guiding principles as “emancipation for women and ultra-fundamentalist doctrine.” Yet her followers also tried to capture the joy of Christianity in their worship.

To the sound of drums and cymbals, they would march through the aisles and even jump while they prayed, earning them a nickname that stuck, the Holy Jumpers. The New York Times twice sent reporters to Zarephath, once in 1907, and once in 1910, to witness and write about her remarkable faith commune, where dozens of men, women and children in dour uniforms eschewed personal possessions and ran their own schools, printing press and farms.

Driven by curious press accounts, several radio stations, and her publishing operation — Bishop White edited six magazines and wrote some 35 books — membership grew. Dozens of Pillar of Fire churches were founded around the country. Pillar of Fire slowly bought up the surrounding farms around Zarephath, growing the community to some 1,200 acres, with its own ZIP code, power plant, bible college and fire station, church historians recounted.

But in the early 1920s, Pillar of Fire took a turn. Bishop White began preaching about how God had given the nation to white Protestants and needed to be protected against Catholics, Jews, blacks and others who threatened its purity. In that decade, Bishop White wrote three books extolling the K.K.K.’s contributions to America, particularly as a bulwark against what she feared was a Roman Catholic plot to take over the country. She permitted Klan meetings and cross burnings on her church campuses, setting off a riot in Bound Brook, N.J., in 1923 when some residents objected.

At the height of its popularity in the 1920s, scholars believe, as many as six million Americans belonged to the Klan. As its popularity waned in later years, so did Bishop White’s support. But it didn’t disappear completely. She republished edited versions of her pro-Klan books in 1943, three years before her death, with introductions by her son, the Rev. Arthur K. White, who would lead the denomination until the early 1980s.

The following decades were overall a period of decline for Pillar of Fire in America, though some of its overseas mission churches — in Liberia, for example — flourished. Repeated floods of the Millstone River devastated historic Zarephath several times.

The old dormitory of Alma White Bible College is now boarded up, and a family of beavers is in residence. The old chapel, whose cornerstone was set in 1926, has been closed since flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011. The radio station, flooded out, now broadcasts from a few miles away in the Somerset section of Franklin Township.

By 2010, the official population of Zarephath, as recorded by the national census, was 37. From a peak of more than 50 domestic congregations, the denomination had shrunk to only a few American churches and mission churches in several foreign countries. But in the 1990s, a new generation of leaders saw promise in this historic place.

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2017 Heros of the Global Campaign Against Extremism and Intolerance

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A team of Cambridge archaeologists who unearthed the site of Cambridgeshire's long-lost Victorian utopia project have released a video on their findings.

The excavations were undertaken in Manea by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, under the direction of Dr Marcus Brittain, in partnership with the Octavia Hill Birthplace House.

It was in 1838 that farmer, one-time sailor and lay Methodist minister William Hodson bought a plot of land in Manea, a village on the edge of Littleport.

Inspired by socialist visions, he aimed to establish a cooperative community where everyone would be 'equal'.

But despite abolishing all money and working the land together, this Utopian vision became marred by personality clashes and objections to the practice of 'free love'.

The Manea Fen project then came crashing down just two and a half years later when a key investor from Wisbech went bust in 1841.

Speaking in a podcast as part of the Ouse Washes Project, local historian Mike Petty described how the project, which was once home to 150 people, failed.

He said: "They abolished money but they they also abolished matrimony and the married couples who had to subscribed to a new vision there suddenly decided they had something they didn't want to share.

"They tended to leave and that left the colony with no ladies.

"To find ladies they had to advertise in Manchester newspapers and the people who left spread gossip about the goings on in the colony."

There was also moral opposition from the Christian advocate at Cambridge University lead by Rev Pearson, who saw the project as dangerous.

William Hodson stayed till 1846 before heading off to America, where he became a founding member of a colony in Wisconsin called Jane's Ville.
The site

Despite its eventual failure, the project was one of the more successful 19th century social experiments, with its achievements documented in The Working Bee , a weekly newspaper printed on-site.

Built around a central square, the village included terraces of cottages, a public dining hall, communal kitchen, a school and a grand tower from which much of the fen could be observed over tea.

All of this was built by the colonists themselves - most of them handpicked as skilled labourers - from locally-sourced materials.

Since the excavation work began last year the team has been successful in locating the wood and brick foundations of some of the original buildings, along with pits containing the refuse discarded by their inhabitants.

Site director for the Archaeology project, Dr Brittan said: “These indicate that the buildings were fairly sizeable, but relatively flimsy in construction and maybe not equipped for sustaining 1,000 years’ of community as was envisaged in their design.

“Their refuse also tells us that personal adornment with decorative dress items was commonplace, in spite of concerns that the promotion of individuality led to greed and disharmony in the industrial world.”

The 2016 evacuations were funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership.
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