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Have you ever wondered how many Scientologists there REALLY are?
11:31 am



The Church of Scientology has often asserted that it has approximately ten million members worldwide. Ten million, you say? TEN MILLION???

For crying out loud. Think about it: Jews worldwide number north of 13.5 million, or just about .02% of the population. No way are there nearly as many Scientologists.

How many Scientologists do you personally know? Well, I live in Los Angeles and I am not acquainted with even one single solitary Scientologist (at least not that I am aware of). If I didn’t know better, I’d say that they were about as scarce as Republicans are here!

That we are meant to believe that there are ten million adherents to the sci-fi religion founded by sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard is, of course, ludicrous. In 2011, former editor (and longtime Scientology foe) Tony Ortega wrote at The Village Voice:

According to the latest [ARIS or American Religious Identification Survey] survey, the total number of people who identify as Scientologists is just 25,000 in this country of more than 300 million human beings.

That’s one Scientologist for about every 12,000 Americans.

In other words, the total number of active U.S. Scientologists is about the size of your run-of-the-mill local credit union.

But there’s more. As paltry as that number is, the news is even worse for Scientology, because previous surveys by the same researchers show a steep drop in membership in recent years, reflecting anecdotal evidence that there’s been a “mass exodus” (as Reitman calls it) under the leadership of David Miscavige.

In 1990, ARIS had found about 45,000 Scientologists. In 2001, it found 55,000, and in 2008, it found 25,000.

Yikes, that is some steep seven year drop-off in Scientologists, ain’t it? As Ortega goes on to point out, there are more people who self-identify as Rastafarians than as Scientologists.

Nevertheless, revenues from the Church’s large business network—corporations, non-profits and other legal entities—are estimated at half a billion dollars annually.

Jeff Hawkins, once Scientology’s head of public relations, now an anti-Scientology blogger, activist and author, estimates that there are no more than 40,000 Scientologists worldwide, at the high end. England and Canada both have fewer than two thousand adherents to the gospel of L. Ron Hubbard. Most Scientologists live right here in Los Angeles. The Church’s celebrity elite and its real estate holdings are highly visible, the rank and file membership considerably less so.

Nevertheless, revenues from the Church’s large business network—corporations, non-profits and other legal entities—are estimated at half a billion dollars annually! Additionally, author Lawrence Wright has revealed that the Church has over $1 billion in liquid assets.

As Hubbard once said:

“To keep a person on the Scientology path, feed him a mystery sandwich.”

A $25,000 mystery sandwich, that’s doled out a bite at a time promising the mark that when the sandwich is finished they will be able to “control or operate thought, life, matter, energy, space, and time” whether or not he or she even still has a body! That’s some sandwich and yes, pretty mysterious, I reckon.

Below, four former-Scientologists who reached the upper levels of Thetandom speak out about their experiences in Scientology. How could someone believe that they were a master of “energy, space and time” wearing a Hawaiian shirt and short pants?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Epic End of the World Christian Film Festival: The ‘Rapture series,’ the original ‘Left Behind’
02:06 pm



Although it was once a notion with widespread cultural currency among the more superstitious American evangelicals of the 1970s and early 80s, the “credit cards = ‘the Mark of the Beast’” belief has largely died off, no doubt a casualty of the fact that nearly everyone has one, and so far at least no devilish Antichrist has shown up to lay claim to our immortal souls.

In fact, searching for “credit cards” and “Mark of the Beast” on Google today brings up just 35,000 results, belying just how wildly popular that belief once was, mostly fuelled by best-selling books like Hal Lindsey’s paranoiac blockbuster The Late, Great Planet Earth (which sold nearly 30 million copies to a nation that then numbered just over 200 million) and its sequels, Satan is Alive and Well and Living on Planet Earth and The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. Dog-eared copies of all three books could be easily found in practically any Christian church of the era, and every garage sale.

Among Lindsey’s readers were future US president Ronald Reagan, and my parents, who used only cash and checks, and refused to get a credit card due to Lindsey’s assertion that they were the first step to “The Beast” taking over. (When they shockingly got one in the 1990s, I reminded my mother that she used to believe credit cards were the “Mark of the Beast” and she brushed me off as if there was no truth to the matter whatsoever. That’s not the way I remember it…). The Hal Lindsey books, Chick tracts and other assorted “end of the world” literature was basically all there was to read in church and I became quite an expert in the genre, although not intending to become one. What I want to impress upon readers who weren’t born yet, or who lived outside of the Bible belt, is that these kinds of premillennialist beliefs were a part of many, I’d say most, evangelical Christian churches in America at that time. These books could be found pretty much everywhere. (The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown has sold but a fraction of the books Hal Lindsey has sold, to put it into perspective.)

After a certain point probably when I would have been a high school sophomore, my beleaguered mother and father finally tired of arguing with me about going to church with them, but one of the final things I have any memory of that I experienced there was a pot luck dinner event held in the church basement where these people came and showed three movies, one that I immediately recognized when I saw it linked on the Christian Nightmares blog yesterday.

A Thief in the Night, A Distant Thunder and Image of the Beast were shown in one marathon Saturday late morning to late afternoon screening that featured a lot of scalloped potatoes, green bean casseroles, fried dumplings, rump roast, Swedish meatballs, cakes, brownies, cookies and stuff like that. Although, these films (and one more titled The Prodigal Planet) known together as either the “Rapture” (or sometimes the “Thief”) series, seem rife with goofy fashions, stiff acting, a lot of preaching and anachronistic beliefs, not to mention being the victim of low, low budgets, they are not entirely unwatchable. I remember being entertained by them with their elements of supernatural horror, paranoia, conspiracy theories and silly plotlines. Bear in mind that the series could be seen as a parallel version of Hollywood’s Omen films, which, after all feature a “Biblical” character, so there several levels on which to appreciate these movies (“Christian camp” being the biggest by quite some margin. They’re lame and fascinating at the same time. Try watching the films through the eyes of someone in the 70s, a decade where a clever horror film like The Exorcist was taken very, very seriously by religious persons.)

The “Rapture” films, directed by Donald W. Thompson and produced by Russell S. Doughten Jr. were hugely influential on the Left Behind book series, indeed they served as the primary influence, as acknowledged by authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. It’s claimed that the films have been seen by some 300 million people around the world, many who were deeply affected by the thought that they themselves might be “left behind” when the Rapture occurs. I’m sure they gave a lot of gullible people and children many a terrible nightmare.

Which was, of course, the entire point to begin with: Scare ‘em straight! Pascal’s wager on a $60,000 budget!


More after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Eating lunch with the dead
09:21 am



For two days each year, one week after Orthodox Easter, families gather in cemeteries across Moldova to eat lunch over the graves of departed loved ones.

Often wearing their best clothes, the families bring food, drink and favorite treats to share together as they celebrate the life of their dead relative. Prayers are said, candles are lit, a glass of wine poured for the deceased and placed on their tombstone, symbolically keeping the dead part of living family life.

Italian photographer Carlo Gianferro documented this “lively” and spiritual Moldovan tradition in 2010, where “The dead do not speak but watch from above, participate and thank.”
More lunch a la cemetery, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Beautiful photographs of the shamans of Lima, Peru
08:48 am



Photographer Andrea Frazzetta‘s “Urban Shaman” series captures a strange array of commerce, tradition and mysticism. The faces and rituals of the curanderos are documented with an eye for intense beauty, but the photos still manage to feel educational, and not voyeuristic—the series is very intimate. Frazzetta provides a context for the shamans of Peru on his website:





Writings such as there are ever present, hanging on the streetlights in Lima. Peru’s capital is full of shamans and ”curanderos” who compete with doctors and psychiatrists. The Peruvian parliament even discussed a controversial law proposal that equates curanderos to doctors.

A large percentage of the Peruvian population habitually visits curanderos and shamans to solve a very wide array of issues: health, work, business, travels, etc. Curanderos, on their part, offer a lot of different healing methods.

In Lima, where more than half of the population is the result of migrations, it’s possible to find any type of curanderos. The chaotic and overpopulated capital of Peru assures shamans a very large quantity of patients.

Many, unfortunately, exploit the people’s trust and it is estimated that about three quarters of those so called ”healing masters” are fakes.

But there are others who have inherited a tradition, and a popular knowledge, passed on from father to son for decades.

It’s strange to think of shamans being divided into frauds versus bona fides, but there’s a distinct sense of training and tradition involved that at the very least suggests some kind of “pedigreed” expertise. From Frazetta’s further exposition, we learn that animals are used to absorb illness (then they are killed and their remains are “read” for health indicators), a doll is the artifact of a love ritual, and that one of the most popular curanderos in Lima has his own daily TV show.











Via Feature Shoot

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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There’s an Iranian imitation of ‘Modern Family,’ but it’s minus Cam and Mitchell
10:47 am


Modern Family

When I first stumbled upon Haft Sang (translation: Seven Stones)—the Iranian version of ABC’s Modern Family—I was excited to see just how the gay characters Mitchell and Cam would be portrayed in this Iranian version of a “modern family.” Sadly, both important characters—who make the show, IMO—have been replaced with hetrosexual characters. 

In Haft Sang, an unauthorized remake of the show, their parts have either been written out or given a heterosexual makeover as Iranian TV tries to translate the appeal of the ABC hit show within the strict religious guidelines of an Iranian theocratic state.

Other characters have also had their genders changed to avoid depicting pre-marital mixing of men and women to Iranian audiences.

Not very modern now, is it?

Below, a side-by-side comparison of Haft Sang and Modern Family:

Via Gay Star News

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Autographed portrait of Jesus goes up for auction
11:17 am



This 1969 “autographed” portrait of Jesus signed “With love, J” is going up for auction on August 17, at 8:00am sharp! It’s estimated to bring in anywhere from $100-$200. Only $200 for the John Hancock of our Lord and savior? Really? What is this world coming to?!

If you’re interested in this goofy hippie-era artifact, you can check out the listing at Live Auctioneers. The seller also has this one up for auction:

No, but I checked under the fridge…

Last week Jesus turned up with a lamb in Arizona… on an apple. Only watch this segment if you aren’t worried about losing brain cells. You have been warned.

Via Christian Nightmares

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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The gory and grotesque art of Soviet antireligious propaganda
06:52 am



The images below are from the Soviet anti-religious magazine, Bezbozhnik, which translates to “Atheist” or “The Godless.” It ran from 1922 to 1941, and its daily edition, “The Godless at the Workplace,” ran from 1923 to 1931. The scathing publication was founded by the League of Militant Atheists, an organization of the Soviet Communist Party members, members of its youth league, workers and veterans, so while it was in many ways a party project, it was not state-sponsored satire.

The Soviet Union adopted a formal position of state-atheism after the revolution but it wasn’t a clean break. The expropriation of church property and the murder or persecution of clergy was certainly the most obvious supplantation of power, but the USSR was a giant mass of land, most of it rural and much of it pious, so the cultural crusade against religion was an ongoing campaign for the hearts and minds of citizens who might resist a sudden massive secularization. The monstrous, violent art you see below depicted religion as the enemy of the worker and footman to capitalism. You’ll notice a wide array of religions depicted, as the USSR was very religiously diverse.

Depicting the Muhammad, the Christian god, and a Jewish Kabbalist. Despite the ethnic cartoons, the founder and majority of staff were Jewish.

Mocking the “piety” of racist America with the title, “God’s country”

The Pope, with Jesus and the Bible astride a cannon, aimed at the 35 million European unemployed

Jesus, dumped like so much industrial waste

Deities getting smooshed by a Five Year Plan

Even Buddha gets his share of hate

God is responsible for plagues

Luring the people to church with music

A soldier literally skewering god. The books under his arm read “Lenin” and “Technology.”
Via The Charnel-House

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Nick Cave talks songwriting, Hell-fire and redemption but tells no jokes

Nick Cave lost his innocence watching Johnny Cash sing. He was about nine or ten years of age, living with his librarian mother and teacher father in rural Wangaratta, in Victoria, Australia. Cave didn’t know much about rock ‘n’ roll, but watching Johnny Cash sing on TV, he suddenly realized:

...that music could be an evil thing, a beautiful, evil thing.

For me it was very much the way he began the show. He’d have his back to you in silhouette, dressed all in black, and he’d swing around and say “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash”. There was something that struck me about him, and about the way my parents shifted around uncomfortably.

After joining the school choir, Cave harbored his own ambitions for a career in music. His first major success came with The Birthday Party, five chaotic individuals in search of a tune, where Cave unleashed his own “evil thing,” a vision of hell, fueled by drink, drugs, and his constant reading of the Hell-fire and damnation of the Old Testament.

The brutality of the Old Testament inspired me, the stories and grand gestures. I wrote that stuff up and it influenced the way I saw the world. What I’m trying to say is I didn’t walk around in a rage thinking God is a hateful god. I was influenced by looking at the Bible, and it suited me in my life vision at the time to see things in that way. .... After a while I started to feel a little kinder and warmer to the world, and at the same time started to read the New Testament.

Cave was smart enough to know this “solipsism of youth” couldn’t last, and after the band split he returned to home. After a few months, fellow Birthday Party musician, Mick Harvey, suggested they form a band, and so was born Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

While we wait for the full release of the biographical drama-documentary on Nick Cave, 20,000 Days on Earth, this edition of Melvyn Bragg’s The South Bank from 2003, presents a revealing portrait of the singer, poet, author, actor, and screenwriter. Cave discusses his influences (from Cash and John Lee Hooker to Nina Simone), inspirations for songs, the key moments in his life, and the importance of being a writer.

The Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds tour of the US and Canada starts this month, details here.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The Unarius Academy of Science, America’s zaniest UFO cult

At some point in the fall of 1992 Jello Biafra and I travelled to El Cajon, California with a small camera crew to shoot a short documentary about the Unarius Academy of Science for a Showtime pilot I was directing. The Unarius Academy of Science is a colorful (and quite harmless, no hint of a Heaven’s Gate vibe) UFO cult with their own cable access show, and was at that time housed across the street from both a center for recovering drug addicts/methadone clinic and a sleazy plasma center where you could sell your blood for cash. A Foster’s Freeze was a block or two away. There wasn’t much of anything else going on there. Just a bunch of empty parking lots and an occasional unoccupied building, some threadbare thrift stores and a funeral home. Not to say it was a ghost town, but minus the Unarians, and the junkies, in this part of town, there seemed to be almost no one else around.

To a certain extent, that might be the reason that people joined the cult in the first place: because there is next to nothing to do in El Cajon which isn’t related to gang activities, drug dealing, burglaries, car theft and crime in general. El Cajon’s crime rate is three times the national average. There are very few legitimate jobs for the people who live there, even at the best of times. Maybe some of the town’s residents looking for a little solace from a cruel universe that dealt them the shitty hand of ending up in El Cajon, might be an explanation for the goofy cult’s local appeal.

But then again, maybe nothing can adequately explain it.

The Unarius Academy of Science was formed by Ernest and Ruth Norman, a couple of dotty New Agers, in the mid-1950s. Unarius is an acronym which stands for UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science. The story I heard was that Norman was a traveling psychic medium who put grieving WWII widows in touch with their dead husbands and Ruth was one of his clients. One of his wealthier clients, whose dead husband had left her a restaurant chain or so the story went…

The two met and were married within weeks. Soon Ernest would start self-publishing channeled books and they began having public meetings in Glendale, CA, ultimately publishing over 100 books and garnering several hundred followers. After Ernest’s death in 1971, Ruth Norman moved Unarius to the San Diego suburb of El Cajon, where she also bought up several parcels of now valuable real estate so that a landing strip could be built for the “Space Brothers” of whom Archangel Uriel (as Ruth Norman now called herself) was their emissary on Earth.

The Unarian cosmology predicted that 33 planets would simultaneously send ambassadors in spacecraft that would lock together and form a futuristic city. Uriel taught that beings outside of our direct experience and comprehension exist—she was one of them!—and that one day the Space Brothers will help us silly humans evolve, turn deserts into vegetable fields, stop wars and improve our architecture. 

In the early 80s, “The Arrival,” an elaborate, seemingly high budget film about the Space Brothers showing up in the year 2001 was produced by the group, allegedly with the help of someone who worked for George Lucas doing special effects on the Star Wars films.

In the early 80s, certain members of the cult began to take an interest in making a cable access television program promoting the group’s beliefs: “Everything is energy.” “You, as a form of indestructible energy, possess a soul that has recorded data from past lives.” “All happenings to you currently have their origins in past lives and past actions.” “Negative acts must be compensated for by positive acts.” And best of all, Asians are Martians and vice versa (Unarians are not racists, this is seen as a good thing, i.e. proof that the aliens have been here for millennia!). The “star” of these programs, naturally was Uriel/Ruth Norman, who took to wearing clothing that would make Liberace blush, often made with Christmas tree lights that needed to be plugged in, thereby awkwardly limiting her mobility!

Some of the shows would just be Uriel talking to her followers and others would be like super low budget “psychodramas”—think Kuchar Brothers, early John Waters, Andy Milligan, etc.

These “psychodramas” were unfuckingbelievable, featuring full outer space costumes, zany make-up and and batshit crazy scenarios. For instance, Uriel might decide that a certain Unarian had been a murderous space captain or an evil sea serpent in a past life. So the group would do these semi-improvised and somewhat elaborate plays, that were designed to “drastically relive” these past lives, so that the Unarian follower would be freed from their karma (more or less). In the one with the sea serpent, they literally videotaped it next to a swimming pool and several people got into a crappy aquatic dragon suit fashioned from floating pool furniture and inner tubes and swam around as the rest of them held a trial and passed judgement on the “creature.” A lot of their psychodramas had a “trial by jury” aspect to them. Holy shit were they tweaked.

These programs made it as far as New York’s cable access weirdo home, Channel J. I used to have dozens of them on tape (which were tragically all stolen, along with the camera originals of the shoot with Biafra, from a car parked inside the old Playboy building in Beverly Hills. Who would steal goddamned hand-labeled tapes?)

Biafra and I never did get to meet Ruth Norman herself, her health didn’t permit it, but he did speak to her on camera via a speakerphone. The next morning, in their parking lot, we shot their Interplanetary Confederation Day, where far fewer than 33 Unarians marched around in a circle with fewer than 33 banners representing the (hilariously named) 33 planets who were supposed to supply all 33,000 of the Space Brothers who would arrive here in 2001. A tin spaceship contained 33 doves who were supposed to spill out into the sky at the ceremony’s climax, but they didn’t figure on it being as hot as it was on the day and most of the birds could barely dribble out of the thing. Some probably fried inside as the fully-costumed Unarians marched around their parking lot to the amusement of the folks, like myself, who were there to gawk at them in amazement. Spectacular it wasn’t, but you had to admire their commitment in the face of mainly disinterest, secondarily people driving by and shouting insulting things at them the whole time and that it was boiling hot that day and they were all in their layered interplanetary garb.

I believe they still do the Interplanetary Confederation Day every year. Frankly, I’m just amazed that 20 years after Ruth Norman’s death that the cult still exists. But they do. And even with their leader long gone, her prophecies that didn’t even remotely come close to passing and the sheer pointlessness of the whole thing, the Unarians persist, although the ones who we met 22 years ago are a bit longer in the tooth now (aren’t we all?) What’s weird is that they never grew out of their quirky belief systems even after the Space Brothers failed to arrive—the WHOLE THING that their belief system hinged on—in 2001. Uriel herself was supposed to return then, too. She didn’t even send a text!

If you think of the Unarians as characters straight out of a Daniel Clowes comic, it might make a little more sense.

This weekend at Cinefamily in Los Angeles, Jodi Wille, co-director of the acclaimed documentary on The Source Family hippie cult of the Sunset Strip has arranged a THREE DAY spectacular screening of rarely seen films and videos from Unarius. This “full-immersion” weekend includes core Unarius members onstage for live Q&As, the world theatrical premiere of Unarius’ 1979 film The Arrival, highlights from their massive archive of public access videos — plus a Unarius costume exhibit, Uriel’s space Cadillac, a pop-up reading room stocked with Unarian literature, workshops and tea house on Cinefamily’s back patio.

Here’s the trailer for the event:

After the jump. the trailer for Bill Perrine’s feature-length Unarius documentary, Children of the Stars…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Harry Dean Stanton shares his Zen wisdom
06:06 am


Harry Dean Stanton

Who knew Harry Dean Stanton was such a mystical Zen master? Apparently Marlon Brando did and the two actors spent many an hour sharing their wisdom about acting, life and the meaning of existence. One day, Brando asked Stanton what he thought of him? Stanton replied:

“I think you’re nothing.”

Brando laughed.

“He knew what I was talking about. The old eastern concept, one guy phrased it, ‘To realise you’re nothing is wisdom. To realise you’re everything is love. Or pure intelligence or pure awareness.

“Ultimately that can’t be defined in words, it’s beyond words, beyond consciousness. And that’s a hard sell, but it’s true.”

If that doesn’t twist your melon, then you may be surprised to hear that Mr. Stanton thinks everything is predestined. That might scare the shit out of some people, but dear old Harry still thinks life is predestined. When asked to explain what he means and how predestination affects the reasons he chose one role over another, Stanton responds:

“Again there’s no answer to that. Don’t you follow what I’m trying to say? Everyone wants an answer to why I did this, why all this happened, ultimately there is no answer to it.

“Everything happens the way it’s going to happen, no one’s in charge, it’s all going to go down, you know, Iraq, war, Napoleon, serial killers, wars, all of it. You never know what’s going to happen next. We think we’re in charge and ten seconds from now none of us in this room know what we’re going to be thinking or saying. So who the fuck’s in charge?”

You are Harry, and for the next twenty minutes you’re going to tell us all about it.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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