April 15, 2007

Hellbound

Stan and Stella open a sacred sex store:

Stan Hegarty was outside—painting the decking, no less—when God spoke to him. He ran indoors to tell Stella, his wife of ten years, what God had said.
… “He came in and said God had told him that we should open a sex shop,” she recalls.
“He said it wouldn’t be
a sordid thing but a Christian sex shop, aimed at married couples. It would stock sex toys and, you know, ‘things’. But nothing too offensive.”
Still, Stella was unim-
pressed.
“Well, frankly, I thought he was bonkers. Barking mad. I told him so. I said: ‘Stan, don’t be so ridiculous’.”
By next morning, however, Stan—and God, she believes—had caused her to change her mind.
… “Sex is a huge part of marriage, and to simply ignore that is asking for trouble. By the next day, we were talking seriously about it. Now here we are.”
Here we are indeed, three years on, and well down the path that God supposedly suggested. The stockroom of Wholly Love—the Hegartys’ rather unholy business venture—is filled with boxes of things called Please Teasers and Wiggle Wands. The place is awash, so to speak, with Lust Dust and Candy Panties and kits that promise ‘screaming orgasms’.
… While none of the merchandise is exactly hard-core, neither is it the sort of stuff you’d be happy to brandish in front of the vicar. Clearly, though, the Hegartys’ vicar is made of strong stuff.
“Oh, he’s incredibly supportive,” says Stella.
… Wholly Love, which is purely an internet venture, is billed as Europe’s first Christian sex shop, but its products are routinely sent all over the world.
… Stan and Stella insist that there are strict moral guidelines which govern exactly what they will and won’t sell. They claim they have gone to great lengths to make sure their website does not cause offence.
Long nights have clearly been spent poring over the Bible, noting exactly who said what about tricky little subjects like onanism.
… Still, their stock is less seedy than it could be, they stress. A team of advisers, including members of the clergy, comments on each product before it is included for sale, which must make for interesting forwardplanning meetings.
“We have very strict rules about what we will and won’t stock,” Stella points out. “We don’t do pornographic products, or sadomasochistic ones.”
“We’re actually very strict with the rules. We don’t even allow nudity on the site—we will simply not use some of the images on the packaging—because we feel that nudity should be something between a man and his wife.”
“Naturally, sometimes our customers get confused. People come to us and say they’d like to buy some nice pink fluffy handcuffs and can’t understand why we say no. But our thinking is that you have to have very strict limits about these things.”
… Why, you can legitimately ask, does God have a problem with fluffy handcuffs in the marital bedroom, yet is apparently fine with see-through negligees and edible undies?
The answer is that it is all down to personal moral judgments. Perhaps for the first time, the Hegartys explain, they themselves had to work out where they stood morally on a whole range of sex products.
“Before, I would have said that I thought things like vibrators were wrong, pure and simple,” admits Stan. “But the more I thought about it, the more I found myself asking: ‘Why are they wrong?’”
… His wife adds, somewhat curiously: “People say to me that it isn’t natural. Well, we use batteries for a lot of things that aren’t natural either, like electric shavers, for example. What’s the big deal?”

I am not making this up.

[Recycled post: I’m traveling. Originally published on February 3rd 2007.]

Posted by Stephen at 12:30 AM in Business | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

April 13, 2007

Praise the fraud, revisited

The (subscription-only) Wall Street Journal on Christian quacks:

As her lung cancer spread, shortening her breath, pressing into her back, Minna Shakespeare had faith that a thick, brown liquid she bought by mail from a California physician for $13,536 would cure her.
Her husband says Mrs. Shakespeare, a registered nurse and devout Christian in Cambridge, Mass., stopped chemotherapy on the doctor’s advice. Easton Shakespeare recalls his wife assuring him that the doctor, who prayed with her over the phone, was trustworthy.
Mrs. Shakespeare died in April 2003, four months after her first dose of the viscous liquid. Her husband’s com-
plaints triggered a federal investigation of Christine Daniel, a licensed physician and Pentecostal minister practicing in Mission Hills, Calif. Investigators say she used religion to sell expensive nostrums that she claimed could cure cancer.
Dr. Daniel’s small business is part of a boom in “Christian wellness”—dietary supplements and herbal formulas, sometimes along with diets inspired by Biblical descriptions, that sell briskly in a lightly regulated industry. Sales by religiously affiliated companies have surged since the mid-1990s to account for 5% to 10% of the dietary-supplements business, which had about $21 billion in 2005 sales, says Grant Ferrier, editor of Nutrition Business Journal in San Diego.
… Federal authorities have identified at least three dozen people who drank Dr. Daniel’s mixtures, says a person familiar with the matter. Among those, at least eight people died of cancer, according to a Food and Drug Administration investigator’s affidavit. Some patients bypassed conventional therapies for Dr. Daniel’s regimen, according to the affidavit, patients and family members.
… [Daniel’s] Tarzana, Calif., attorney, Manuel Miller, added, “Obviously it goes without saying, we deny anything improper or illegal that’s been done by her. She’s totally innocent.” He said Dr. Daniel “would never under any condition” tell a patient to stop chemotherapy. He said he wasn’t familiar with products patients say they bought from his client. “When you’ve got the last stages of cancer, you’re looking for anything possible. The issue is: Did she ever say this will cure cancer?”

Er, yes, she did:

According to the FDA investigator’s affidavit, on a 2002 religious broadcast Dr. Daniel touted cancer cure rates of 60% or better.
… The FDA is looking into allegations that Dr. Daniel violated federal law by introducing an unapproved drug into the market, misbranding a drug, and committing mail and wire fraud, the affidavit says. Prosecutors filed the affidavit under seal in U.S. District Court Los Angeles in January 2006 to obtain a search warrant of Dr. Daniel’s home and office. “There is nothing wrong with a medical doctor claiming that they can cure someone,” said lead prosecutor Joseph O. Johns, an assistant U.S. attorney. “What is illegal is selling an unapproved new drug and claiming that it can cure cancer.”
… Mr. Shakespeare thinks the doctor hastened his wife’s death. “She was charging us for one thing, but selling us another,” he says. “I think the operation she had was all a scam. And it was a well-organized scam.”

One of many:

The FDA sent 75 letters last year warning supplement makers of possible violations, while the Federal Trade Commission has brought 126 prosecutions in the past five years against such companies for fraud and deceptive advertising.
… Jordan Rubin, author of “The Maker’s Diet,” which its publisher says has sold 1.8 million copies, has run afoul of both the FDA and FTC. Mr. Rubin is the founder of Garden of Life Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla., which sells supplements. Mr. Rubin has told church and television audiences that “God healed me” from Crohn’s disease, he said in an interview. In 2004, the FDA warned the company to stop claiming the products could treat illnesses including colon cancer and arthritis.
In March 2006, Mr. Rubin and his company settled FTC charges by paying a $225,000 fine and agreeing to change advertising for four products including “Primal Defense,” which the commission said was marketed as a treatment for asthma, lupus, and Crohn’s disease.

But Daniel—who shares office space with a termite-extermination business—is in a league of her own:

Dr. Daniel says she has witnessed medical miracles. In a self-published 2006 book, she recounts how, after she prayed, a stroke victim walked without a cane and a drowned child with no vital signs returned to life. “I do not use prayer as a medicinal tool, but a combination of prayer with my medical care has never hurt any patient; if anything, it has saved lives,” Dr. Daniel wrote.
… Dr. Daniel [first] publicized her wellness practice on Dec. 5, 2002, on the “Praise the Lord” program on Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN is television’s largest Christian broadcaster, with 10 million viewers weekly, a network spokesman says.
… According to the FDA affidavit, Dr. Daniel said on the show that her cancer treatment combined prayer with herbs from around the world. She had not found radiation to be effective, she said, but patients with advanced cancer were “living today because of our treatment,” and even her “lowest level” formula had a 60% cure rate. Dr. Daniel told viewers that a Michigan woman whose breast cancer had spread to her brain had normal blood tests within two weeks of taking her first dose, the affidavit said. The network aired the clinic’s phone number.
… Dr. Daniel also gained patients through her Pentecostal church, New Christ Memorial in San Fernando, where members often testify to medical miracles they say they have experienced. Church member Olivia McClurkin put her faith in Dr. Daniel. A professional gospel singer, she learned she had cancer in both breasts in 1999. While another doctor recommended a mastectomy and chemotherapy, Dr. Daniel told Ms. McClurkin that her treatment would get rid of the tumors, the patient recalls.
… The tumor initially shrank and Dr. Daniel said she was improving, Ms. McClurkin recounts, but then it began growing through the skin and ulcerating. She says Dr. Daniel then treated it with ointment, with no improvement. After 90 days, Ms. McClurkin told Dr. Daniel she was leaving. “She told me if I left her, I would die,” the patient says.
Ms. McClurkin returned to her family’s home in Long Island, N.Y., but didn’t treat the tumor right away. Beginning in 2003, she has had a total mastectomy on her right side, a lumpectomy on her left breast, 19 lymph nodes removed and a hysterectomy, says her doctor, breast cancer surgeon David I. Kaufman. The cancer moved to her lungs, liver, chest wall and several bones. She is bald. Given how long she put off medical treatment, “It’s amazing she survived,” Dr. Kaufman says, adding that her condition is stable.

The WSJ article chronicles several patients who died after taking Daniel’s potions—but not before emptying their bank accounts. As for Daniel, she remains a licensed medical practitioner in California.

[Recycled post: I’m traveling. Originally published on January 24th 2007.]

Posted by Stephen at 12:30 AM in Business | Health | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

April 8, 2007

Swept away by Jesus

A design firm’s brush with Christianity:

Cleanliness, as the saying goes, is next to godliness. But combine these two virtues into a single product and some consumers may take offense.
That is the lesson Ian Stallard, a partner in the London design firm FredriksonStallard, has learned from creating the Cross brushes, a set of cleaning tools shaped like Christianity’s most sacred symbol. “Some people have become very upset about it,” said Mr. Stallard, recalling a number of vitriolic e-mail messages his company has received. The negative feedback doesn’t really bother Mr. Stallard and his collaborator, Patrik Fredrikson. The Cross brushes were meant to provoke controversy, although the designers say that blasphemy was never their goal.
… The brushes were inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “There was all this religious hysteria at the time,” Mr. Stallard said. In response, he and Mr. Fredrikson planned a series of seven to nine brushes, shaped like the world’s best-known symbols of faith, including the Islamic crescent and Judaism’s Star of David. But the designers ultimately decided to make only the cross, in part because of its simplicity, but also because it seemed like the symbol least likely to cause an uproar.
“I find that Christianity is the most accepting and forgiving religion, generally,” said Mr. Stallard. “I think Christianity may be a little bit more open to criticism.”
FredriksonStallard commissioned a brush maker in rural England to make two one-of-a-kind versions of their designs: an oak brush with pig bristles and a cast-iron brush with steel bristles.
In 2003, the firm exhibited these products at 100 Percent Design, a trade show in London. A representative from Citizen:Citizen, a San Francisco distributor of imaginative products, loved the brushes and worked out a deal with Mr. Fredrikson and Mr. Stallard to produce them in the United States.
… Citizen:Citizen wound up producing and selling two versions of the Cross brushes. One is intended for scouring tiles and tubs; it went on sale in May 2005. The other is meant for removing lint and hair from clothes; it was introduced a year later. (The cast-iron version, initially envisioned as a boot cleaner, never went into production.) Both brushes are available through Citizen-Citizen.com — the scouring brush for $128 and the lint remover for $95.
Mr. Stallard said that he didn’t know how many brushes had been sold, but that he was surprised by the products’ popularity among religious consumers.
“People have told us that they’ve bought it because they like having a Christian artifact,” he said.

Posted by Stephen at 3:23 PM in Business | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 19, 2007

The Church of England’s steamy steeples

Apparently Christians in the UK feel they are being discriminated against. I can’t begin to imagine why. The Church of England, however, seems much more concerned about certain kinds of erections:

The Church of England is facing an embarrassing test case over whether mobile phone masts on steeples are illegal because they can relay pornography.
The church’s highest court is to hear an appeal after a diocesan judge ruled that churches were “wrong in law” to “facilitate the transmission of pornography, even in a slight or modest way”.
Many parishes have cashed in on the mobile phone boom by charging telecom companies thousands of pounds a year to put antennae on their towers or steeples. Even Guildford cathedral has a mast under its golden angel weather vane.
They were encouraged by official Church guidance, which acknowledged that immoral material can be transmitted by the new technology but argued that any “ill” was outweighed by the benefits.
However, critics said mobile phones can now transmit dangerously obscene internet images and the church should dissociate itself from such technology, especially after the General Synod condemned media exploitation last month.
The contentious issue has now reached the Archbishop of Canterbury’s 800-year-old Court of Arches, which is due to hear an appeal against the ruling by the diocese of Chelmsford’s consistory court within weeks.
The row began in October when Chancellor George Pulman, Chelmsford’s ecclesiastical judge, rejected an application from St Peter and St Paul church in Chingford, north east London, to erect a T-mobile base station in its spire.
In his judgment, Mr Pulman, a QC who also sits as a deputy High Court judge in the Family Division, became the first Chancellor to refuse a faculty on the grounds that “revolting and damaging” pornography could be transmitted by the network. He said that it was “no part of the work or the mission of the Church” to facilitate or gain financial advantage from the transmission of pornography.
He said: “No Church bookstall would consider it appropriate to offer for sale ‘top shelf’ magazines with their images of sexual titillation or impropriety.”
Mr Pulman also attacked local authorities for granting planning permission for such antennae, saying that their social services department were well aware of the dangers to children.

Above I’ve shown exactly the type of image—the worst possible kind of child porno-
graphy—that the church should be worried about. And God only knows what kind of depravity is concealed in those perverted pixels.

Posted by Stephen at 12:40 PM in Business | Legal issues | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

January 24, 2007

Three fire alarm

Was Firey fired for not being on fire? (Hey, don’t blame me, I just report this stuff.)

A former executive of an Irvine car wax manufacturer alleges in a lawsuit that the company fired him because he had not pursued “a Christian lifestyle” and wasn’t “on fire for Jesus.”
Atticus O. Firey, 34, of Newport Beach contends Meguiar’s Inc. committed religious discri-
mination when it fired him in July after nearly 10 years with the company.
Company president Barry Meguiar repeatedly urged Firey, then the chief operating officer, to attend church, the suit alleges, and told him he was “robbing this company of the blessing of God by not being on your knees and on fire for Jesus.”
Meguiar, who is host of a cable TV and radio program called “Car Crazy,” did not return a call seeking comment. His lawyer, Richard Ruben, said religion had nothing to do with Firey’s firing. He said the company’s senior management decided to terminate Firey because his job performance was sub-par, with a management style that was “demeaning” and “negative.”
… The suit, filed Friday in Orange County Superior Court, says Meguiar sat in Firey’s office and read to him from the Bible, thrust Christian books on him and demanded he read them and forced managers to attend prayer meetings. When Firey asked about a promised bonus, the suit says, Meguiar said he would not give it to him until Firey joined a Christian church.
Confronted with his behavior, the suit says, Meguiar said he had the right to manage the business, which has some 300 employees, by the tenets of Pentecostal Christianity.
The company hired and fired employees based on religion, the suit says, with Meguiar tutoring executives on how to interview prospective employees in a way that elicited information on their religious beliefs. In one case, Meguiar asked a candidate whether he thought he would go to heaven or hell if he died today, the suit says. When the candidate said he was a Catholic trying to lead a virtuous life, the suit alleges, Meguiar replied that merely “being a good person and following a works-oriented religion” would not save him from hell.

I wonder if this had anything to do with Firey’s problems:

Firey, who is Meguiar’s former son-in-law, alleges in his suit that in another instance, his boss tried to block the hiring of an employee because she was living “in sin as a fornicator” with her boyfriend.
“If there were two candidates and one was a Christian but had lesser skills than a non-Christian, Mr. Meguiar would pick the Christian,” the suit alleges.

The truly scary thing is that I’ve used this company’s products.

Posted by Stephen at 12:08 AM in Business | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)