Scientology’s ‘volunteer ministers’ at work in Japan

I got a press release today from the Church of Scientology, promoting the work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” in Japan since the disaster.

The release includes this: “Since the disaster struck, the Scientology Volunteer Ministers Japan Disaster Response Team has helped more than 48,000 displaced persons in dozens of shelters distributing food, water and supplies and providing Scientology assists. Assists, often described as “spiritual first aid,” help the individual overcome the effects of loss, shock and trauma and speed recovery by addressing the spiritual and emotional factors in illness and injury.”

The work of Scientology’s “volunteer ministers” at disaster sites has long been controversial. Back in early ’02, I wrote about their work at Ground Zero.

At the time, the chief of the National Mental Health Association told me: “”What Scientology is doing can be very dangerous if people think they are going to see legitimate mental health counselors. Their volunteer ministers are not trained in mental health services and actually reject science. We really believe that harm can be done here.”

No one questions (I think) the general support offered by Scientology volunteers: passing out food; helping people find shelter; listening to people in crisis; etc.

The issue is the “spiritual first aid” provide by their “ministers,” who only read some Scientology materials and take an exam.

This is what I wrote in ’02:

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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.”

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A volunteer told me at the time: “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. 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.”

The press release about Japan includes this: “A man whose business was swept away in the tsunami began his assist in sorrow and walked away humming, telling the Volunteer Minister he plans to rebuild his inn as soon as he can.”

Scientology, by the way, is opposed to the practice of psychiatry and psychology.

Poll asks: Was Japanese disaster a sign from God?

According to a new poll, 56 percent of Americans completely or mostly agree with the idea that God is in control of everything that happens in the world.

But only 38 percent completely or mostly agree that natural disasters are a sign from God.

I guess the 18 percent in between might say that God is in control of natural disasters — but doesn’t intend them as a sign.

Maybe? I don’t know.

The new poll, from the Public Religion Research Institute and Religion News Service, of course addresses the meaning, or lack thereof, of the tragic earthquake/tsunami in Japan and our other recent disasters.

Overall, 70 percent said they believe God is “a person with whom people can have a relationship,” a very Christian way of looking at the world.

Only 8 percent said they did not believe in God.

A few interesting findings (to me):

Only 18 percent said the suffering of innocent people sometimes causes them to have doubts about God. 48% completely disagreed with the idea.

40 percent agreed with the idea that natural disasters are “God’s way of testing our faith.”

On the question of whether recent natural disasters are evidence that we are in “end times,” 21% completely agreed and 23% mostly agreed. 20% mostly disagreed and 32% completely disagreed.

83% agreed that the U.S. should provide “significant financial assistance” to Japan and other countries that suffer.

My friend and former colleague Nicole Neroulias wrote up the results for Religion News Service and was kind enough to interview me because of my book on the subject.

I hope I didn’t summarize things too…tightly. It’s hard to talk in sound-bites. How many times have I heard that from people I have interviewed?

(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

Are there spiritual questions as Japan’s nightmare unfolds?

I haven’t heard or seen much coverage of the devastation in Japan that has raised religious or spiritual questions.

Maybe because so many of those questions were asked after relatively recent disasters — the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the quake in Haiti. Maybe there isn’t much left to say or ask.

Maybe.

My friend Cathy Lynn Grossman at USATODAY wrote about how the Japanese will turn to their Buddhist and Shinto traditions for solace. She writes, in part:

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Seven days after the quake and tsunami, waves of memorials will begin in whatever temples remain near the disaster zone. In Buddhist traditions, the seventh day ritual begins 33 years of formal mourning ceremonies ahead, Williams said.

Just as Christians and Jews in the West may offer prayers for those who have died and those who mourn, so these rituals and prayers will come from throughout Japan, as well as from Thailand and Taiwan, where many share the Japanese form of Buddhism, said Williams, a native of Japan.

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Williams is Duncan Williams, a survivor of the Friday quake and a scholar of Japanese Buddhism at the University of California-Berkeley.

I also came across a note about Glenn Beck saying — sort of — that the disaster was a message from God:

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I’m not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes — well I’m not not saying that either! What God does is God’s business, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you this — whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus, there’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.’

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Huh?

I also found that someone asked Yahoo! Answers this question: “Did japan tsunami start the end of the world?”

But Yahoo! deleted the question based on their community guidelines.

ADD: Apparently, the governor of Tokyo said Monday that the earthquake and tsunami were “divine retribution” for Japanese egoism. He apologized today.

Gov. Shintaro Ishihara had used the Japanese term “tembatsu,” which means something along the lines of “heavenly punishment.”

“The way [Ishihara] used it was a prewar understanding of the will of heaven or the gods to discipline the Japanese people,” John Nelson, the chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Francisco, told CNN.

(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)