In the news: Scientology!

Back from furlough.

Watched some Olympics. Read many magazines. Taking my time through Democracy in America.

I’ve been playing catch-up today. One thing that caught my eye:

A real interesting story in the Wash Post today about the Church of Scientology hiring three prominent journalists to “study” how the St. Petersburg Times covers Scientology, which is based in Florida.

The St. Pete Times has written extensively about Scientology — much of it less than flattering — and the church has been quite critical of the paper.

Apparently, Scientology may not make the report public. Depends what it says, I guess.

Two of the reporters said in a statement: “We were hesitant. That’s why we insisted on being paid in full before we started our work, total editorial independence and having someone with the reputation of (investigative reporter) Steve Weinberg involved. Every entity has the right to receive fair treatment in the press.”

The Church of Scientology has received some international attention of late for sending a bunch of volunteers, including John Travolta and wife Kelly Preston, to Haiti, where they are providing a “form” of therapy to survivors.

A few months after 9/11, when Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” were quite visible at and around Ground Zero, I wrote about widespread criticism of their treatment methods. The mental health establishment has long been at odds with Scientology over a bunch of things (including Scientology’s dismissal of much of what makes up modern psychology and psychiatry).

At the time, I wrote:

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Volunteer ministers must only read a Scientology textbook and pass a short exam to be certified by the church. They are not ordained ministers.

But they have worked with Oklahoma City survivors, Kosovo refugees, earthquake victims in Kobe, Japan, and many other disaster victims around the world since Hubbard created the volunteer program in 1976.

Scientology uses technical terms to describe counseling techniques that, on the face of it, sound impossibly simple. At Ground Zero, for instance, volunteer ministers often offered “touch assists,” which involve touching injured body parts as a way to open communication between the brain and the injured area.

For someone still focused on Sept. 11, volunteer ministers may perform a “locational.” This involves having someone focus on something in the present.

“If someone keeps seeing the image of the World Trade Center falling again and again, you ask the person to look into the environment – at a clock or whatever,” said Beth Salem, 22, of Ossining, a volunteer minister. “Instead of looking into the past, they look into the now. That’s not to say they won’t think about the past again, but they’re not as stuck on it.”

For those who stay beyond initial counseling, there is the world of “dianetics,” the heart of Scientology. The goal of dianetics is to help people overcome negative experiences stored in the mind so they can reach a level of enlightenment that Scientology calls “clear.”

Scientology rejects traditional forms of mental health treatment and particularly disdains the use of medication to treat mental illness.

‘Compassion fatigue’ — or simply despair?

I think that Father Tom Reese’s new piece for the Wash Post’s OnFaith blog probably captures well what a lot of people are feeling about Haiti.

Here’s the beginning:

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imagesAs I was thinking about this column, there was a part of me that knew I had to write about Haiti and there was another part that simply wanted to ignore it.

On the one hand, we are faced with a humanitarian disaster in Porte-au-Prince that cannot be ignored. An estimated 200,000 people have died. Thousands have been traumatically injured, and many of them will die of their injuries or disease. These people are not just statistics, they are men and women and children with faces and names and feelings. Those who survive will be living in a ruined country without hospitals, utilities or housing. Finding water and food is a daily struggle. Haiti was a basket case before the earthquake and now there is not even a basket.

On the other hand, I want to ignore Haiti. I am suffering from what has been called compassion fatigue. Or maybe it is simply despair. The economy of the world is in the toilet. Unemployment in the U.S. will stay around 10 percent for the rest of the year. Wars are going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over Africa. There are millions of refugees around the world. Because of global warming, humanity is heading pell-mell toward an ecological cataclysm that will make the Haitian disaster pale to insignificance. And partisan politics has created gridlock in Washington making it impossible to deal with any of these crises.

As a political scientist, journalist and priest, I have followed and commented on the tragedies of the world for the past 30 years, and I am tired and ready to despair. Living in a global village sucks. The problems are too big and we appear powerless to do anything about them. St. John of the Cross would call this the “Dark Night of the Soul.” I think it is what Jesus experienced in the agony of the Garden.

How do we get out of this dark night, how do we get out of this despair?

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To read the rest, go here.

Muslims in the military

In light of this being Veteran’s Day and the continuing grief over Fort Hood, I wanted to cite a Washington Post article about Muslims in the military.

The Post’s Michelle Boorstein reports that “3,557 members of the 1.4 million-member U.S. armed forces describe themselves as Muslim.”

She summarizes:

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Active and retired Muslim service members recalled difficulties concerning their religion but said they cannot relate to the extreme isolation and harassment described by Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the suspect in last week’s Fort Hood slayings. They also said they hope the killings do not roll back the progress they have seen.

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And:

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Interviews with Muslims revealed a range of experiences. Some choose to keep their faith private; others seek out superiors and chaplains who can help them worship even on duty. Some blamed other Muslims for not working to fit into military culture.

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Sgt. Fahad Kamal, 26, who served as a combat medic in Afghanistan, described what happened when another solider called him a “terrorist” during basic training: “I knew he was just kidding, but the drill sergeant overheard him. He made him apologize in front of the entire company…I felt guilty, because I knew he was just joking. But I was also happy to see how seriously they took it.”

And back where the Reformation began…

There are few Lutherans these days in the land of Martin Luther.

It’s no surprise, really.

As the Washington Post reports, decades of communism in East Germany, followed by the secularism that has swept through Europe, has greatly diminished the role and profile of Christianity in Wittenberg, Germany. Yeah, that’s the place where Lutheran nailed his list of grievances on the door of the church.

The Post reports that the two main Lutheran denominations in the U.S. — the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — are trying to revive Lutheranism in Wittenberg. But it’s not easy.

In September, Wittenberg began celebrating the 500th anniversary of Luther’s arrival in the city.

And “Luther tourism” is good for the place, with some 200,000 people visiting the Castle Church each year.

But, as Wilhelm Torgerson, the Missouri Synod’s representative in Wittenberg, told the Post: “In east Germany, you actually have to go up to people and tell them who Jesus was. They say, ‘Oh yes, Christ. Didn’t he have something to do with Luther?’ “