April 26, 2007

Moonstruck

Why is this not even remotely surprising?

When former President George H.W. Bush takes the stage to deliver the keynote address in honour of the 25th anniversary of the ultra-conservative Washington Times news-
paper in mid-May, it will not be the first time he has spoken in support of one of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s enterprises.
And whatever fee Bush will realise from his appear-
ance is only one aspect of what author Kevin Philips has termed Moon’s “close” relationship with the Bush family.
While the elder Bush — and other family members — have benefited both financially and politically from this relationship with Moon, the head of the Unification Church has a more varied agenda in mind, one that includes a pardon from current President George W. Bush.
(In the 1980s, Moon served a 13-month sentence in jail for tax evasion. He doesn’t want to be a considered a convicted felon and is hoping for a pardon before Bush leaves office.)
The Bush family/Moon relationship dates back “to the overlap between Bush’s one-year tenure as CIA director (1976) and the arrival of in Washington of Moon, whose Unification Church was widely reported to be a front group for the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency [KCIA],” Phillips wrote in his bestselling book “American Dynasty — Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush.”
… In 1996, the relationship became decidedly financial when the former president traveled to Latin America to help Moon launch “Tiempos del Mundo” (Times of the World). At the time Bush called Moon’s flagship U.S. publication, the Washington Times, “an independent voice” and assured the crowd that “Tiempos del Mundo... [will be] the same thing.” According to published reports Bush received at least 100,000 dollars for his participation in that event.
More recently, Moon’s Washington Times Foundation funneled a million dollars to Bush’s presidential library through the Houston, Texas-based Greater Houston Community Foundation.
Moon has also contributed to the financial wellbeing of other Bush family members. In 2005, Neil Bush, the former president’s son and current president’s brother, accompanied Moon on a few legs of the reverend’s “World Peace King Bridge-Tunnel” tour, showing up at his side in the Philippines and Taiwan.
Late last year, Business Week reported Neil Bush’s Ignite! Inc. — an educational software company featuring what it calls “curriculum on wheels,” or COWs — received a million dollars from “a foundation linked to the controversial Reverend Sun Myung Moon... for a COWs research project in Washington-area schools.”
But perhaps the most tangible aspect of the close relationship between the Bush family and Rev. Moon is the unbending support the Washington Times has given to George W. Bush since he announced he was running for the presidency. In recent years, the newspaper’s editorial and opinion pages have consistently supported the president’s “war on terror” and war in Iraq.
“The Rev. Moon is a monster in the laboratory of conservative politics; no one wants to think about him, yet in order to ensure his continued support they must periodically feed his appetite for tribute,” John Gorenfeld, an investigative reporter and a longtime chronicler of Moon’s activities, told IPS. “One of Moon’s paybacks at Times-sponsored events is to have his picture taken and rub shoulders with the politically powerful and well-connected.”
“Besides the gift of the support of the Washington Times, Bush and his son have accepted large amounts of money from Moon’s church,” said Gorenfeld, the author of a forthcoming book about the Rev. Moon and U.S. politics.
“In the Clinton years, George and Barbara Bush toured Japan with Moon, as well as Argentina. He is believed to have taken over a million dollars. More recently, a Moon company funneled 250,000 dollars to the fund for George W. Bush’s inauguration.”
… When the elder Bush takes to the podium next month, it would be surprising if the close relationship between the Bush family and Moon is scrutinised by the mainstream media, since it has been basically ignored or glossed over for decades, Hassan insists.
“It infuriates me, as one who has been in the group and often heard Moon say that he wanted to destroy democracy and take over the world, that the mainstream media has not gotten this story right,” he said. “While they have talked about corporate lobbying, they’ve neglected to discuss the lobbying and political influence of cults. Moon has been basically mainstreamed.”

One small step for Moon, one giant leap backwards for mankind.

Posted by Stephen at 12:02 AM in Media | Politics | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

March 14, 2007

There’s something about Mary

A few weeks ago I wrote about James Cameron’s madcap movie “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” Since then, the film has been universally panned—but this may well be the final nail in its ossuary:

A scholar looking into the factual basis of a popular but widely criticized documentary that claims to have located the tomb of Jesus said Tuesday that a crucial piece of evidence filmmakers used to support their claim is a mistake.
Stephen Pfann, a textual scholar and paleographer at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he has released a paper claiming the makers of “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” were mistaken when they identified an ancient ossuary from the cave as belonging to the New Testament’s Mary Magdalene.
… The film and book suggest that a first-century ossuary found in a south Jerusalem cave in 1980 contained the remains of Jesus, contradicting the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven. Ossuaries are stone boxes used at the time to store the bones of the dead.
The filmmakers also suggest that Mary Magdalene was buried in the tomb, that she and Jesus were married, and that an ossuary labeled “Judah son of Jesus” belonged to their son.
The scholars who analyzed the Greek inscription on one of the ossuaries after its discovery read it as “Mariamene e Mara,” meaning “Mary the teacher” or “Mary the master.”
Before the movie was screened, Jacobovici said that particular inscription provided crucial support for his claim. The name Mariamene is rare, and in some early Christian texts it is believed to refer to Mary Magdalene.
But having analyzed the inscription, Pfann published a detailed article on his university’s Web site asserting that it doesn’t read “Mariamene” at all.
The inscription, Pfann said, is made up of two names inscribed by two different hands: the first, “Mariame,” was inscribed in a formal Greek script, and later, when the bones of another woman were added to the box, another scribe using a different cursive script added the words “kai Mara,” meaning “and Mara.” Mara is a different form of the name Martha.
According to Pfann’s reading, the ossuary did not house the bones of “Mary the teacher,” but rather of two women, “Mary and Martha.”
“In view of the above, there is no longer any reason to be tempted to link this ossuary ... to Mary Magdalene or any other person in biblical, non-biblical or church tradition,” Pfann wrote.
… “James Cameron is a great guru of science fiction, and he’s taking it to a new level with Simcha Jacobovici. You take a little bit of science, spin a good yarn out of it and you get another ‘Terminator’ or ‘Life of Brian,’” said Pfann, who briefly appeared as an ossuary expert in the documentary.

Wingnuts, of course, don’t let the facts get in the way of a good tale. Which is probably why The Lost Tomb drew more than four million viewers when it aired on the Discovery Channel on March 4th. And why its companion book, “The Jesus Family Tomb,” is in sixth place on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.

Perhaps the Times should now reclassify it as fiction.

Posted by Stephen at 12:25 PM in Media | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

February 25, 2007

Divine DNA

Movie director James Cameron climbs aboard his very own archaeological Titanic:

Has the DNA of Jesus Christ been found?
That tantalizing question underpins The Lost Tomb of Jesus — a new book and feature documentary film with potentially profound implications for Christianity.
The two provocative works suggest that ossuaries once containing the bones of Jesus of Nazareth and his family are now stored in a warehouse belonging to the Israel Antiquity Authority in Bet Shemesh, outside Jerusalem.
Although the evidence con-
tained in the film and book is hardly definitive, it is com-
pelling. Inscribed in Hebrew, Latin or Greek, six boxes — taken from a 2,000-year-old cave discovered in March, 1980, during excavation for a housing project in Talpiyot, south of Jerusalem — bear the names: Yeshua (Jesus) bar Yosef (son of Joseph); Maria (the Latin version of Miriam, which is the English Mary); Matia (the Hebrew equivalent of Matthew, a name common in the lineage of both Mary and Joseph); Yose; (the Gospel of Mark refers to Yose as a brother of Jesus); Yehuda bar Yeshua, or Judah, son of Jesus; and in Greek, Mariamne e mara — meaning ‘Mariamne, known as the master.’ According to Harvard professor Francois Bovon, interviewed in the film, Mariamne was Mary Magdalene’s real name.
The bones once contained in the boxes have long since been reburied, according to Jewish custom — in unmarked graves in Israel.
If the evidence adduced is correct, the bone boxes — and microscopic remains of DNA still contained inside — would constitute the first archaeological evidence of the existence of the Christian saviour and his family.

Er, only if someone has also obtained a DNA sample from God.

The $4-million documentary is the work two Canadians — Emmy-award winner director Simcha Jacobovici and his executive producer, Oscar-award winning filmmaker James Cameron. It will air on Canada’s Vision TV on March 6th and later next month on Discovery US and Britain’s Channel 4. A companion book, The Jesus Family Tomb, by Mr. Jacobovici and Dr. Charles Pellegrino, has just been released (Harper Collins).
Mr. Jacobovici and Mr. Cameron are scheduled to hold a press conference Monday morning at the New York Public Library, with the Jesus and Mary Magdelene ossuaries, flown in from Israel, on display.
Meanwhile, security agents have been hired to stand guard outside the Talpiyot apartments beneath which the tomb lies, covered by a large cement plate.
“I don’t think this changes the fundamentals of faith,” Mr. Cameron said in an interview this week. “But the evidence is pretty darn compelling and it definitely bears further study.”

“Pretty darn compelling,” huh?

“It’s a beautiful story, but without any proof whatsoever,” archaeologist Dr. Amos Kloner, who wrote the original report on the Talpiyot cave findings, told an Israeli reporter last week. “The names ... found on the tombs are names that are similar to the names of the family of Jesus. But those were the most common names found among Jews in the first centuries BCE and CE.”

But hey, why let the facts get in the way of a beautiful story?

Posted by Stephen at 2:47 PM in Media | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

February 15, 2007

Robbing God

The Miracle Channel’s hucksters discover that their pitch is less than perfect:

The Miracle Channel, a religious television station that has come under fire for its on-air fundraising campaigns, could lose its broadcast licence in the future if it doesn’t follow new rules on how donations are solicited.
Federal regulators told the station yesterday they are considering a rare step that would see the Miracle Channel’s right to broadcast linked to how well it abides by its own internal standards.
The cable channel, which raises more than $5-million a year, was ordered to revise its internal fundraising policy last year after controversial on-air statements led to complaints. Hosts during a 2004 fund-
raising campaign urged viewers to cash in their retirement savings and charge up credit cards to make donations. In some cases, viewers were told they would be rewarded by God with cash or higher real estate values.
At hearings in front of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the channel was told its new internal fundraising policy could be made a condition of its licence.
That would mean the station could lose its ability to broadcast if it steps outside the rules it set for itself, CRTC vice-chair Michel Arpin told executives with the Lethbridge, Alta.-based Miracle Channel.
… The channel’s revised fundraising policy sets out examples of appropriate statements that can be made on air. Hosts are allowed to make comments such as: “We ask you to consider the best gift that you are able to pledge at this time.” They are not allowed to say: “If you don’t give today, you are robbing God and could go bankrupt.”
The document also states “fundraising appeals must not create unrealistic donor expectations of what a donor’s gift will actually accomplish.” Allowable phrases include: “We believe that as you give, God will bless you in your area of need.” The new policy does not allow statements such as: “Because you gave a gift of this amount, God says you will see your income double this month.”

Still, it obviously works: Miracle’s testimonials page credits the channel with curing everything from asthma to brain injuries. Not to mention the miracle experienced by “CA” from Regina, Saskatchewan:

I sowed a seed during the Fresh Oil broadcast. About three months later, I got over a month of unexpected work, which multiplied my seed many times. Isn't that neat?

It sure is. If somewhat incomprehensible.

Posted by Stephen at 12:20 AM in Media | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

February 13, 2007

Daze of the Conder

Televangelism, British-style:

It is very nearly 10.30am. Howard Conder, the founder and face of Revelation TV, should be about to present the Christian satellite channel’s newspaper review, but he can’t find his glasses.
More worryingly, he can’t find his camera operator (delayed by snow); he can’t find his director (snow again). He can’t find his newspapers. “No one’s bought the newspapers,” he concludes. “Would someone go to the newsagent’s and buy some? Just get anything with nice headlines.”
… In a tiny studio in central London, Mr Conder and his wife Lesley— the Richard and Judy of the Christian air-
waves—say they are looking forward to meeting their guests: Dr Laura, for “Health in Focus”, and a former Ugandan child soldier.
Then Mr Conder imparts the good news: “Ofcom has been very kind to us and allowed us to ask for assistance with fundraising.”
The broadcasting regulator has just decreed that, for the first time, UK-based religious television channels may appeal directly to viewers for funds, a privilege previously only open to those beaming in their programmes from abroad. It could prove a landmark ruling. For Mr Conder, 60, a one-time pop star and a full-time Christian, it is a sign that “God has allowed us to be on a level playing field”. The Lord no longer wants him to keep remortgaging his £500,000 [about $1 million] house to help meet the £150,000-a-month costs of a station attracting “a few hundred thousand” viewers.

He doesn’t exactly have the support of Britain’s religious establishment:

Doubters—including the Church of England, which has warned of a “clear potential for exploiting viewers”—fear the ruling risks creating British “televangelists” to match those who achieved notoriety in America: black sheep like Jimmy Swaggart (donations of about $150 million a year, sex scandal in 1988), and Jim Bakker (Palm Springs mansion, gold-plated taps, air-conditioned dog kennel, sex scandal in 1987).
… Revelation TV has entertained its viewers since it started broadcasting on St Valentine’s Day in 2003. (Soon afterwards, the studio clock fell from the wall in mid-programme.) Highlights include 2¼-hour programmes with titles such as Goodbye Cash, and Goodbye Sovereignty, as well as the teachings of a now-deceased American evangelist known as Brother Barry, who, in a book of Nostradamus-like predictions published in 1999, wrote: “By January 1, 2000, the economy as we know it would cease to exist!” In April 2000 he explained: “In the rush to get the book out, I used the word ‘would’, instead of ‘could’. I can there-
fore assume I have lost credibility. Yet I continue to look forward to speaking to anyone who will listen.”
“We have a lot of Barry on,” confirms Howard.

Yeah, he sounds like a great catch.

In the beginning, there were the 1960s, when Mr Conder spent a few months as “Howie”, the youthful drummer in that legendary pop combo the Barron Knights. But, disillusioned by the excesses of the music business, Mr Conder began seeking God and talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then God himself popped in for a chat during Songs of Praise. “I was watching that programme, saying: ‘Who is going to be saved by this rubbish’? And then this voice said: ‘What are you going to do about it, Howard?’ I nearly fell off my sofa.”
And so it came to pass that Revelation TV was born. Mr and Mrs Conder’s family are very much behind them, and in fact all around them. His 11-year-old daughter Bethany is a children’s presenter and his other daughter and two sons work behind the scenes, as part of a staff of about 20. The viewers seem like family too. Howard and Lesley smile as “David” tells them: “I was just reflecting how much the Devil hates children......” They seem fascinated as John from Cumbria talks about excellent food for the brain: “If you look at a walnut, it’s like a brain..... a miniature brain, that is.”
Off-air, Howard insists he would never exploit the likes of John and David. Of course he believes in miracles, but insists: “I would never promise miracles or salvation in return for money. I would never be like the Americans and scream ‘Get to the phones now!’ We have agreed with Ofcom that when we ask for money, it will be for a specific project, and we will be accountable for that.”

An accountable televangelist? Must be a British thing. (Although the channel does have a few, uh, issues.)

Posted by Stephen at 12:01 AM in Media | Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)