Aliens and departed spirits,head this way

BY CAROLINE McCLATCHEY

Believers: Cruise and Holmes
Strange but true for some

The Church of Scientology believes humans were first introduced to the Earth 75 million years ago. Teachings assert an evil warlord called Xenu rounded up l35trillion beings from a corner of the galaxy, dumped them on volcanoes on the Earth, then vapourised them with nuclear bombs. Their radioactive souls, or thetans, later attached themselves to human beings and are apparently at the root of our personal and global problems. To rid themselves of 'evil' thetans Scientologists need to complete a number of 'Operating Thetan' levels. However, before being allowed into the OT classroom they must first complete the 'purification rundown' - a vigorous detox programme. Scientologists are totally opposed to and psychiatry and they believe childbirth should be silent to avoid traumatising the baby.

Fan:John Travolta

Alien signposts? The symbols, seen from the air, are said to lead the way for departed Scientologists to the church's compound

IT SEEMS dead Scientologists have no sense of direction. These weird designs etched into the New Mexico desert are not wacky art or part of the crop circle phenomenon. Without them, reincarnated Scientologists could end up in Sweden or Sydney or Slough. These are the latest shots of the two interlocking circles, which were first noticed in 1995.
According to one former member, they mark a landing spot for Scientologists returning from outer space. Michael Pattinson told US news network CNN they served as a signpost to a compound, where the Church of Spiritual Technology - an off-shoot of the Church of Scientology has built a nuclear bomb-proof vault to house the works of founder L Ron Hubbard.
The Church has hit back saying the symbols are just a logo. But all this begs the question - if, as the religion claims, Scientologists are aliens, would they not he more at home in outer space than New Mexico? This is not the fust bizarre story to he linked to the Church of Scientology, which counts actors John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Juliette Lewis among its followers.
The religion centres on such concepts as reincarnation, the immortality of the soul (called a thetan) and the idea that personal difficulties and ailments can he overcome with spiritual and mental cleansings. It has been criticised for its cult-like activities, abuse of members and harsh punishments for dissenters. It hit the headlines this week when the BBC's Panorama reporter John Sweeney raged at a Scientologist while making a documentary. The church launched a £30,000 publicity campaign ahead of the programme, which claimed Scientology was a brainwashing cult, and posted Sweeney's 'exploding tomato' outburst on YouTube.
[Metro May17,2007]

CHURCH OR CULT?
Founder: L Ron Hubbard
  • Established in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1952 by science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard
  • The church of Scientology refers to Scientology as 'the study of the truth'
  • Its beliefs and practices are centered on the concept that all people are immortal, spiritual beings 
  • There are more than 7,500 churches,missions and Scientology groups and 10million members in 163 countries 
  • Scientology claims to have 120,000 members in Britain
  • It was launched as 'Dianetics' - Hubbard's theory of the mind and mental health
  • Many critics don't consider it a religion but see its development from a from a self help philosophy into a religion as a tax-avoidance tactic
  • The film Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 2000,was adapted from the novel written by Hubbard and starred John Travolta

Cult Vs Religion
Your article about Scientology refers to it as a cult because of 'abuse of members and harsh punishment for dissenters' and also brainwashing. How is this different from any other mainstream religion?
They all encourage beliefs in unproven doctrines and discourage members from challenging these,often with serious repercussions for dissenters. Either all religions are cults or all cults are religions,there really is not difference.
Vincenzo Benghiat,London SW17

Hollywood interviews, ungodly arguments, even cookery shows- Mark Lawson reports on a religious broadcasting revolution


FUNKY CHRISTIAN:Songs of Praise underwent a painful transformation in the nineties, ditching its cosy image and importing younger, hipper presenters like Blue Peter's Diane-Louise Jordan. The BBC faced the wrath of traditional SoP viewers
ECUMENICAL EGGHEAD:  Melvyn Bragg brings his friendly highbrow approach next week to Faith in Our Time, ITV's new six-part comparative religion series. Leaders of the English and Roman Churches feature, along with high-powered Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and evangelicals 
RUDE ATHEIST: Radio 4's The Moral Maze is produced by the BBC's religious unit - but Dr David Starkey has established himself as the scourge of church-going softies everywhere. Rigorous debate has equal weight with worship 
STAR SCIENTOLOGIST: John Travolta talks to Mark Lawson on  Sunday about his religious beliefs. The Pulp Fiction star is just one of Hollywood's celebrity scientologists,a cult founded in the fifties by writer L Ron Hubbard ('If you really want to make a million....star a religion'). 
Rejecting the notion of a super being, scientology stresses self-awareness as the key - hence its appeal to actors
HOLY CURRIE: Edwina Currie spices up religious TV by combining it with a bit of cookery - et voila! Menu from Heaven, a forthcoming ITV show looking at the religious significance of food 
SATELLITE EVANGELISTS: With a provocative ad campaign ('God on our side','Watch it religiously') aimed at younger viewers, the Christian Channel brings a taste of American religious broadcasting to the UK.
 Whether it will attain similar popularity among British audiences remains to be seen
DISHY VICAR: The desirable face of the C of E, Steve Chalke is even more fancied than Alex, the EastEnders vicar. The faithful flock to his appearances on First Light (Sundays BBC1) and GMTV 
HOVERING BUDDHIST: Novelist Jackie Colins flirts with Buddhism, a religion that strives to escape the cycle of greed,lust and delusion. Hard work in Hollywood
POP PREACHER: Simon Mayo has made regular attempts to bring religion to the nation's youth. But after Radio 1's  The Big Holy One and the BBC1 game show Confessions, does he deserve defrocking?In late Decemher last year, I was sitting in a suite at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston, waiting for the arrival of John Travolta, who was shooting his latest film in the city. There were the usual accoutrements of the movie star interview: the fussing publicist, the brooding security guards, the hair and cosmetic specialists.
What was different on this occasion was that the meeting had not been fixed up through a film company and Travolta would have been content if movies had not been mentioned at all. The actor was here to talk about religion, and his presence had been arranged hy the Celebrity Center of the Church of Scientology in Los Angeles. This is the controversial religion, based on psychological investigation, that was founded in 1954 by the science-fiction writer L Ron Hubbard and that numbers Travolta and his fellow superstars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman among its followers. Travolta's explanation of his beliefs and his response to those who have described scientology as a dangerous cult - can be seen in The Big Question on Sunday. The actor's appearance in the series is part of a trend for churches, especially in America, to market themselves aggressively, with celebrities as spokesmen. (To a lesser extent, stars such as Cliff Richard and the England football coach Glen Hoddle have played a similar role for Christianity in Britain, using media appearances to promote their beliefs.)
But the show itself is also part of a pattern. The Big Question is one of a number of series on radio and television currently attempting to take religious broadcasting away from the stereotype of stained glass and Thora Hird. In its early days, the aim of religious broadcasting was to bring church to the people. Radio 4's Daily Service on weekdays, 15 minutes of hymns and scripture, is as old as radio itself. On television, BBC1's Sunday-evening service Songs of Praise first reached the nation in 1951 and was countered by ITV with Stars on Sunday (1969-79), initially hosted by "Bishop" Jess Yates, and then Highway, with Harry Secombe.
These series dominated what became known as "the God slot" protected areas in the schedules beyond the reach of the controllers. Television had taken the decision that God was good for you.
But, as society in general became more secular and church attendances declined, religion's apparently privileged position in the schedules particularly in those of the BBC, began to be questioned. Some people (including in their number RT columnist Polly Toynbee) also objected to the continuation of the BBC tradition by which a Thought for the Day from a believer is still featured each morning during the otherwise aggressively questioning Radio 4 Today programme.
Apart from the space allocated, there was the question of tone. Under the usual rules and techniques of television and radio, political parties putting forward their beliefs on air were interrogated and the opposing view included in the same programme. Yet those promoting religious viewpoints were generally allowed to speak unopposed. Although Thought for the Day remains a daily feature of Today, a new strain of questioning, sceptical religious broadcasting has emerged, interested more in ethics and morality than doctrine, and tending to take current affairs programmes rather than sermons as their model. The most famous of these is The Moral Maze, Radio 4's topical forum, which, although produced by BBC Religion, boasts a star performer in Dr David Starkey, who is an avowed atheist.
Other such programmes firmly asking believers why and allowing non-believers to explain why not - include Heart of the Matter,The Big Question, the current Radio 4 series God on the Couch (the last of which is presented on Sunday by the psychologist Dr Aric Sigman) and, starting next week on Radio 4, The People's God, a six-part survey of the state of faith in Britain, ranging from the Church of England to belief in extra-terrestrials.
Also starting next week, on ITV, is Faith in Our Time, a kind of clerical On the Record, in which Melvyn Bragg will interview six British religious leaders at length - including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi. Series such as these have widened the range of voices in religious programmes - initially promoting only Christianity - to include those of all faiths and none.
As well as the scientologist Travolta, for example, the present series of The Big Question features the writers Terry Pratchett, a humanist, and Jackie Collins, who identifies herself as a "hovering Buddhist". This new, less reverential approach offends some religious people. They mutter that Match of the Day doesn't feel the need to include contributions from people who don't like football, or even to ask people why they are supporters. But the current BBC head of religion, the Rev Ernest Rea - although an ordained cleric as well as a media executive - has no doubts about the new style of cross-examination. "I believe passionately that religious broadcasting is not just for religious people," he says. "So, while part of our job is to celebrate faith in programmes like Songs of Praise and Daily Service, loved by millions, other parts of the output will analyse faith and morals and must adopt the same standards of objectivity and impartiality as other BBC programmes. In a pluralist society such as ours, religious programmes will inevitably reflect people of all faiths and none."Metro 9/9/08

Those clerics and believers who regret this secularising effect would probably blame it on increased commercial competition in television. Yet, paradoxically, one effect of the explosion in programming brought about by cable and satellite has been the availability in Britain for the first time of channels devoted wholly to religion.
The Christian Channel using the advertising slogan: "Watch it religiously" recently increased its presence on the Astra satellite service and launched a large-scale campaign. Funded largely from America, the Christian Channel brings to this country's screens the kind of religious broadcasting that the BBC and ITV have deliberately excluded. States-based "tele-evangelists" - slick preachers all begging and dentistry - broadcast from their studios-cum- chureches, although, under British broadcasting law, their direct appeals for cash can still not be shown here. Documentaries feature supposedly miraculous medical cures through faith-healing and accounts of near-death experiences, including visits to heaven and hell. This style of religious programming is spreading. The Christian Channel plans to offer six channels when the new digital broadcasting eventually becomes available this Easter. There are also now evangelical radio stations in Great Britain, including in their number United Christian Broadcasters and Premier Radio. Many would find this quantity of God slots surprising.

PATTERNS OF BELIEF

Just two-thirds of the UK population practises any form of religion. Surveys show a slight decline in Christian belief in the last 25 years while other groups - particularly Muslim - have grown enormously

Millions

1975 2000
Christian (Trinitarian) 40.2 37.8
Non Trinitarian 0.7 1.4
Hindu 0.3 0.5
Jew 0.4 0.3
Muslim 0.4 1.4
Sikh 0.2 0.6
Other religions 0.1 0.3

Total

42.3 42.2

With most of the established religions facing falling congregations, it seems edd to assume that people would want from their televisions and radios what they have rejected from their local churches. The answer to this perhaps is that, although they maybe turning away from organised faith, Britons remain spiritually open and confused. The rise in popularity of new-age practices and the current fascination with the paranormal - added to the pseudo-religious cult that built up around the death last year of Diana, Princess of Wales - testify to a questing, experimental age. This mood is increasingly being reflected in religious programming. Broadcasting that has the effect of inflating the congregations - such as Songs of Praise and Morning Service - still prospers. However, media religion is increasingly being divided into three categories, with these traditional pew-views complemented or challenged at different ends of the spectrum by a wide range of more questioning, sceptical programmes from terrestrial broadcasters and the aggressive selling of God from the American-style cable and satellite operations.
Twenty years ago it was generally assumed, given the tendency of British culture to copy American, that evangelical networks were the future.The limited attempts so far suggest some ratings resistance. What is clear is that - rather as the traditional image of God as an old man with a white beard has increasingly been revised by theology - the ancient idea of televised religion as a Welsh crooner or a Lancashire actress in a cardigan is no longer widely believed.

Mark Lawson presents The Big Question on Sundays BBC1, and The People's God on Radio 4 from 1 February

The way we worshipped
 Sunday nighL hair wash,homework and the God slot 
GOD-FEARING GOON: Harry Secombe roamed the land in the High way coach belting out the hymns and bringing cuddly good humour to congregations everywhere
THE GODMOTHER: Praise be! Thora Hird's down-to-earth warmth and wardrobe brought comfort and joy to millions of faithful fans
THE BISHOP: From 1969 to 1979, Jess Yates presented Stars on Sunday an easy-going mixture of hymns, famous guests (usually Harry Secombe) and religious readings on ITV
LITTLE ANGELS: It all started in 1961 when the Tabernacle Baptist Choir in Cardiff opened its doors to the first Songs of Praise. Since then, SoP has changed with the times - these budding choristers sang out in 1984

24-30 JANUARY 1998 Radio Times


Scientologists speak out
In the Radio Times article of 24-30 January "O come, all ye faiths" there a couple of points needing correction: first, the quote about starting a religion to make a million was in fact a George Orwell statement often misattributed.
Second the scientology religion does in fact recognise the existence of a supreme being, allowing the individual members to develop their own understanding of the exact nature of the supreme being. Increased self-awareness is very much a feature of one's progress in scientology, but there is also increased awareness of others and of the greater scheme of things.
Graeme Wilson
Public affairs director,
Church of Scientology

...Steve Chalke was no doubt delighted to discover himself being labelled a "dishy vicar". Desirable he may be, but C of E he is not! Steve is in fact a baptist minister on the accredited list of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. More a "beautiful baptist" than a dishy vicar.
Jackie Sheppard
Press officer,
the Baptist Union of Great Britain


CHURCH UNDER FIRE

John Travoita is a well-known Scientologist [Metro March 5,2008]
  • If Amy Winehouse or Pete Doherty were to turn to Scientology to solve their drug problems (Metro, Tue), they could risk their health and sanity. Its method of treating drug addiction - Purification Rundown - has been denounced by members of the medical profession, including Professor Michael Ryan of University College Dublin, who described it as 'neither medically safe nor scientifically verified'.
  • Scientology rehab does not work better than any other rehab based on faith in a higher power. It has a small success rate and the failures don't get a mention. Even if this wasn't true, is it OK to laud Scientologists on their ability to 'cure' drug addicts by alleged brain-washing and intimidation?
    Names and addresses supplied

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MoD to destroy future UFO reports

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Britain's official UFO investigation unit and hotline were closed down at the start of December.

Since then reports of strange sights in the skies sent to the MoD have been kept for 30 days before being thrown out, the newly released policy document shows.

This stance was adopted so defence officials would not have to publish the information in response to freedom of information (FoI) requests or pass it to the National Archives.

The memo, dated November 11, 2009, sets out the MoD's reasons for shutting its UFO unit and ceasing to invite the public to send in details of sightings.

It notes that the number of reports the department received soared last year, taking up extra resources and diverting staff from "more valuable" defence-related activities.

The MoD recorded 634 UFO sightings in 2009, the second highest annual total after 1978, when there were 750, according to UFO expert Dr David Clarke.

This compares with an average of about 150 reports a year over the past decade.

The memo states: "The dedicated UFO hotline answer phone service and e-mail address serve no defence purpose, and merely encourage the generation of correspondence of no defence value.

"Accordingly these facilities should be withdrawn as soon as possible."

See also: UFOs worth studying say scientists

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