Cargo cult lives on in South Pacific

I’m just going to start off by quoting the funniest line in this article:

A Christian youth worker told me how he thought the cult was childish. “It’s like a baby playing games,” he insisted. “Those people are holding on to a dream that will never come true,” he said.

Cargo cult lives on in South Pacific

At the base of a sacred volcano in an isolated corner of the South Pacific young men play the “Star Spangled Banner” on bamboo flutes.

Every February they parade in old US army uniforms with wooden weapons.

Others go bare-chested with the letters “USA” painted in bright red letters on their bodies.

Nearby, a giant Stars and Stripes flutters in the breeze from the main flagpole.

This is the heart of John Frum country on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu.

Villagers at Sulphur Bay worship a mystical figure who they believe will one day bring them wealth and happiness.

Time of upheaval

“John is our god,” declares village chief Isaac Wan, who beats his fists into the ground to emphasise his words.

“One day he will come back,” he says.

Believers are convinced that John Frum was an American.

The name could well have come from war-time GIs who introduced themselves as “Jon from America.”

Devotees say that the ghost of a mystical white man first appeared before tribal elders in the 1930s.

It urged them to rebel against the aggressive teachings of Christian missionaries and the influence of Vanuatu’s British and French colonial masters.

The apparition told villagers to do all they could to retain their own traditions.

Anthropologist Ralph Reganvalu told the BBC that the sect was a “cultural preservation movement” that was born during a time of upheaval.

“There was a whole period in history known as Tanna Law where the missionaries put in this series of rules about what people weren’t supposed to do and the movement emerged because of this oppression,” he said.

Homage to the US

World War II and the arrival of US troops on Vanuatu was a defining time for the movement. They had a name for their spiritual deity. He was John Frum.

Villagers believe that their messiah was responsible for delivering to them the munificence of the US military.

They were awestruck by the army’s cargo of tanks, weapons, refrigerators, food and medicine.

John Frum day is held annually on 15 February. This year’s celebration marks the 50th anniversary of the sect’s formal establishment.

It also recognises the day when villagers raised the US flag for the first time.

Through this homage to the US, disciples hope their ethereal saviour can be encouraged to return.

“It’s a little bit weird but it makes me feel really patriotic,” said Marty Meth, a retired businessman from New York, who had travelled to Tanna to see the festivities.

“It’s really nice to see Americans welcome here since in so many places in the world we’re not so welcome these days,” he added.

Waiting and hoping

Sulphur Bay lies in the shadow of Mount Yasur, an active volcano whose roar can be heard far away.

Many followers of John Frum believe his spirit lives deep within the volcano.

Every few minutes Yasur bellows.

Watching and listening from the crater’s edge is both exhilarating and frightening. A deafening growl is followed by the blasting of molten rock high into the sky.

These rumblings are a constant reminder for villagers that the spirit of John Frum remains as potent as ever.

About 20% of Tanna’s population of 30,000 follow the teachings of one of the world’s last remaining cargo cults.

Other islanders can barely disguise their contempt for it.

A Christian youth worker told me how he thought the cult was childish. “It’s like a baby playing games,” he insisted. “Those people are holding on to a dream that will never come true,” he said.

I put this view to Rutha, who’s married to Chief Isaac’s son. She was unfazed.

“I don’t care what they think,” she says gently without a hint of displeasure. “John is our Jesus and he will come back.”

The John Frum Movement is still trying to entice another delivery of cargo from its supernatural American god.

In the meantime his disciples continue to wait and hope.

Atheist may sue if law on Las Vegas officiants won’t change

Atheist may sue if law on Las Vegas officiants won’t change

In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, and which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: You can’t be married by an atheist.

Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.

So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Assn. and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can’t persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.

Jacobson, who spends most afternoons reading online or dining at a nearby buffet, is an admittedly reluctant plaintiff. But he’s willing to fight on principle, recalling one time he couldn’t: In the 1960s, the Army demanded that his dog tags note his religion. He reluctantly chose Judaism, which reflected his ancestry if not his beliefs.

“One of the things I like to do is stand up and say I’m a nonbeliever, so you know you’re not alone,” he said recently.

For years Mel Lipman, a friend of Jacobson’s and president of the American Humanist Assn., had presided over nonreligious weddings in Las Vegas. But he belonged to the Humanist Society, a secular branch of the Humanist Assn., whose tax status as a religious group satisfied the clerk’s requirements.

When Lipman and his wife moved to Florida this spring, Jacobson — a balding man with a thin, white mustache and a trace of his native Philadelphia in his voice — decided to become the local atheist celebrant.

“But I’m not going to do it by saying I belong to a religious organization,” he said. “That’s a sham, because atheists are not religious.”

Jacobson filled out an application to perform marriages, but sidestepped the questions on religion. County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said she had little choice but to reject it.

As Nevada law requires, all of the county’s 2,500 or so licensed officiants are connected to a congregation — though some are as small as two people, Parraguirre said. (Judges and commissioners of civil marriages can also lead ceremonies.)

Some of the state’s regulations hark back to the 1960s, when ministers were dumping their flocks to become wealthy “Marrying Sams,” according to the book “Las Vegas: An Unconventional History.” One would-be officiant apparently hoped to marry enough people to finance his divorce.

Lawmakers, trying to ferret out the profit-hungry, said weddings must be among a minister’s “incidental” duties. Drive past the string of neon-lighted downtown chapels, and you’ll see that didn’t quite pan out.

Bent vows touching girls not sexual

Bent vows touching girls not sexual

TAOS, N. M. (KRQE) – Cult leader Wayne Bent testified Thursday he could not go against God even though he knew spiritual touching of two young, naked followers would get him in trouble.

Neither could two of his young followers go against their beliefs testifying earlier the contact was purely religious, not sexual. The two girls in the case were 14 and 16 at the time two years ago.

They say they had lain naked with Bent so they could be closer to God.

Two men who are members of the cult testified on Thursday that they had physical relationships with Bent that included kissing and embracing on multiple occasions.

On Wednesday a prosecution psychologist compared Bent to a sexual predator who grooms his victims.

Today Bent, 67, explained how he held the girls in his bed.

Wayne bent/cult leader

“She was on the left side because she got in the bed last,” Bent said. “I turned on my side, and I put my hand on her sternum.

“We visited that way, and that was pretty much common for me to do.”

Bent said he could not deny the girls’ wishes because God told them to do it.

The younger of the two sisters said she loves Bent and felt nothing improper happen. The other girl and her mother have both testified against Bent.

The defense rested its case, and closing arguments are set for Friday morning.

My Magic Didn’t Save My Baby – I Forgot To Use The Moon Crystals

Faith Healing Parents Assert Religious Rights

A Clackamas County, Ore., couple accused of letting their infant daughter die by relying on prayer, rather than medicine, today asked that the charges be dropped, arguing that they infringe on their freedom of religion and their right to raise their children in their own way.

Carl Worthington, 28, and his wife, Raylene, 25, belong to a church that believes in faith healing, and police said that, instead of going to a doctor when their 15-month-old daughter Ava got sick, they turned to prayer.

The infant girl died March 2 from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and an infection, both of which could have been cured with common antibiotics, the medical examiner said.

The Worthingtons face charges of second degree manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges. They surrendered to police in March, but were subsequently released after each posted $25,000 bail.

The motion filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court by the Worthingtons’ lawyer today claims that their prosecution is a violation of the rights guaranteed them under both the state and federal constitutions.

“Mr. and Mrs. Worthington maintain that their prosecution contravenes their right ‘to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences,’ as guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of Oregon and the Constitution of the United States,” the motion said. “Further, Mr. and Mrs. Worthington urge that this prosecution contravenes their fundamental right to raise their children without interference by the State.” A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Jan. 7, 2009.

The Worthingtons are members of the Followers of Christ Church in Oregon City, that has a history of shunning medical care in favor of faith healing.

Another Oregon City couple who belong to the same church face similar charges, after their son — who was Ava Worthington’s uncle — died in June.

Jeffrey Dean Beagley, 50, and Marci Rae Beagley, 46, pleaded not guilty Oct. 3 to criminally negligent homicide charges in the death of their son, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley.

Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon

Answers to Apologetic Claims about DNA and the Book of Mormon

The following are some of the most frequently advanced arguments from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) related to DNA and the Book of Mormon—most notably (or at least most succinctly) in the latter’s brochure, Is an Historical Book of Mormon Compatible with DNA Science? Since these claims have gained some currency within LDS circles and I am frequently asked about them by individuals who have either read my book or otherwise tried to follow developments in this area, I have concluded that it would be best to summarize my responses in an equally succinct manner.

“However, such a scenario [as suggested by Mormon apologists] does not square with what the Book of Mormon plainly states and with what the prophets have taught for 175 years.”

1. The Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis.

Some LDS scientists argue that the Book of Mormon does not present a testable hypothesis and that, since other scientists are not testing the Book of Mormon directly, the data collected by non-Mormon scientists is irrelevant to the origin of Book of Mormon people. The question scientists are asking is: “Who are the ancestors of the American Indians?” In fact, about 7,300 American Indians have been DNA tested in scientific experiments aimed at discovering where their founding ancestors came from. The Book of Mormon claims in its introduction that the Book of Mormon people (the Lamanites) “are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.” Most LDS adherents believe, and all the LDS prophets have taught, that Israelites are the principal ancestors of the American Indians. It is therefore absurd to claim that what the scientists are discovering about Indian heritage is irrelevant. Scientists are inadvertently asking the same question posed by the Book of Mormon, and LDS beliefs about Indian ancestry fall squarely into the scientific field of anthropology. Molecular anthropologists are uncovering evidence that is directly relevant to LDS beliefs in this area.

2. Mitochondrial DNA only tells us about one ancestral line out of many. If we go back ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in 1,024 of our ancestors. If we go back another ten generations, it only tells us about 1 in over a million of our ancestors.

On the surface this argument appears impressive; but it is an argument with little substance. The vast majority of mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world can be grouped into less than twenty-five major family groups represented by letters A, H, X, and so on. If we look at American Indians, essentially all of their mitochondrial lineages fall into one of five major families: A, B, C, D or X, none of which were derived from Israel. If we go back twenty generations, we are not talking about millions of unknowable mitochondrial lineages in an American Indian’s pedigree chart. We are talking about five lineages. All of those million-odd ancestral slots would be occupied by the same five regional mitochondrial lines. Even those that end up in males and are not passed on to the next generation came from the same five sources. It is possible that some lineages may not have been detected yet or have been lost in time through chance, but these would have been very rare mitochondrial family lines.