Evangelical Centre in Galilee to Move Ahead

Pat Robertson a “Key Figure”

Back in May the Colorado Springs Gazette broke a story which was picked up by the AP, who told us that:

The [Israeli] government has offered to donate 35 acres beside the Sea of Galilee for an evangelical Christian center to boost Christian tourism…

Now Haaretz reports that that plan is going ahead – and it appears to have grown more ambitious over the summer:

As part of the project, Israel will initially lease 125 acres (500 dunams) in the area between Capernaum, Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes. The idea: to build a center that will provide Christian believers with a sense that “Jesus lived here.” Some see the project as having great potential to attract pilgrims.

Actually, I was there a few years back and I saw plenty of Catholic churches and other signs of Christian presence. This plan, though, will be aimed at Christians more generally, although evangelicals will run the site:

And who is the group with whom the negotiations are underway? “We are talking about a broad group, and at its heart one of the key figures will be Pat Robertson,” says [Tourism Minister Abraham] Hirchson.

But back in May, it was Ted Haggard rather than Robertson who was in the limelight. To go back to the AP report:

The government told a group of evangelical leaders, including the Rev. Ted Haggard of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, it would be willing to improve a nearby airport and provide power, water and phone lines for the center…

Haggard called the land “priceless.”

“None of that land is for sale,” said Haggard, also president of the National Association of Evangelicals. “You could never buy it.”

Haggard provided a few extra details about his trip in an email, which has since been reposted around the internet (e.g. here):

…Yesterday a small team of Evangelical leaders (Sunday Adelaja from Kiev, Michael Little, President of CBN, Jay Sekulow from the Center for Law and Justice in Washington, Brian and Bobbie Houston from Hillsong in Sidney, Australia, and Dr. Brent Parsley from the great New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO, USA) and myself spent just about three hours with Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Finance for Israel near/on the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Then we were in Jerusalem and in two hours we’re leaving to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. These discussions are very important regarding Israel’s understanding and relationship with Evangelicals worldwide, and our relationship with Jewish people and Israel.

Sunday Adelaja has been featured on this blog before; his website features some photos from the event.

Haggard gave some further thoughts on the subject in July, in an interview with William Wallis:

Pastor Ted Haggard, president of the US National Evangelical Association which groups 22.5m Americans, said by phone from his New Life Church in Colorado Springs that with the right conditions 1m US Christians could be encouraged to visit Israel annually.

Mr Haggard, who met the Israeli prime minister and members of his cabinet on a recent trip to Jerusalem and is galvanising support for the Galilee project, said the government needed to cut red tape to allow more and cheaper flights into Israel. “When you have a package with a tour company, airline and hotel then you start to get prices in the range that the average tourist from Kansas can afford. Those are wonderful people. They want to go,” he said.

Asked about the Palestinians, Haggard added:

“The evangelical community is large and diverse, and the Palestinian community needs to know that evangelicals want life to be better for everybody,” he said. “I am a supporter of Ariel Sharon and I know what he is doing in the Gaza Strip is painful. But I am supportive of Palestinians getting a reasonable government concerned with building roads and schools rather than blowing up children. I have met with President Bush and told him how supportive I am.”

One wonders what Pat Robertson would make of that: back in October 2002 Robertson shared a platform with the then-tourist minister Benny Elon, whose calls for the expulsion of the Palestinians were met with cheers from a Christian Zionist audience in Washington D.C. (see here). Haggard, in contrast, is on record as supporting a two-state solution, although it is impossible to square that with his church’s “adoption” of the illegal settlement of Beit Haggai; I speculated back in July that Haggard was probably just following Sharon’s vague platitudes about a “final settlement”.

The proposed new centre is not without controversy. Back to Haaretz:

Opponents to the project, among them the chairman of the Yad L’achim organization, Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, who met with Tourism Minister Hirchson, argued that bitter experience with evangelicals leaves no doubt regarding their missionary activity.

Lifschitz is an thuggish character who appeared in this blog just last month, where he was boasting of his efforts at getting Israeli Christian alleged missionaries fired from their jobs. Haggard, though, sought to ally fears over missionary activities in July:

There is no single group that respects Orthodox Judaism more highly.” He added: “Wouldn’t those Orthodox believers love it if we could persuade more Muslims to become evangelicals?”

Well, Haggard knows they would, since in February 2004 Benny Elon urged evangelicals to do just that:

Israel Tourism Minister Benny Elon said Christian missionary groups should try to convert Muslims to Christianity “to show them the light,” but said Israel would not tolerate any attempts to convert Jews.

But while the Israeli government doles out chunks of the Galilee to American Christians, it should also be recalled that the region is the location of two largely Arab Christian villages, Barim and Ikrit. The residents of both towns were evacuated by the IDF back in 1948 as a temporary measure; nearly sixty years later, they’re still waiting to go home.

(Tipped from Christianity Today Weblog)

Haj-et Job: A Review of Two Reviews

Campus Watch uses Frontpage to launch another volley in its war against Columbia University, with a book review of Nadia El-Haj’s Facts on the Ground: Archeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (2002). Over to Hugh Fitzgerald:

…this book is not really about archeology at all. Rather it is a relentless attack on how and why Israelis, Jews really, have done archaeology in the land they have the audacity to call Israel.

So could we have some sort of quote or extensive analysis to show that El-Haj’s complaints about Israeli archaeology are really attacks on Jews in general? Erm…nope. But moving on:

…There is not the slightest evidence that she has ever seen the work of Israeli archeologists, ever visited a dig, ever studied the history of the development of Israeli archeology, ever inquired as to how Israeli archeologists choose the sites they do choose for digs.

So maybe Fitzgerald can lay out exactly what El-Haj has to say, and then use his own knowledge of the above to put us straight. Erm…nope again.

…But to demonstrate a connection between Jews past and Jews present is unacceptable, an abuse of archaeology, serving the cause of a “construct,” a Western imperial falsehood. That is, a Jewish state.

If El-Haj really does deny the reality of ancient Jewish remains in Israel/Palestine, that would indeed be wacko – but again Fitzgerald offers up no substantiating quote. And if the modern State of Israel is not a “construct”, then what is it? Would “divinely-ordained organic unity of ethnicity and soil” be more to Fitzgerald’s liking?

…El-Haj seems to think that the study of the Jewish past by Israeli archeologists, observing the highest professional standards, known for the meticulousness, is an outrageous political act, an act of “Jewish settler-colonial nation state-building” (that phrase itself deserves analysis, for the hysterical confusion of its English).

“Seems to think” being code for “how I’ll reinterpret what she says to induce maximum apoplexy among wingnuts.”

…El-Haj’s political fulminations may attempt to hide behind the rhetoric of “scholarship.”

Whereas Fitzgerald’s fulminations don’t hide behind anything.

…Is there a single example of attempts by Israeli archeologists to either hide the past, or destroy the past, or to create a false past? If so, she has failed to mention it in her book.

So the fact she doesn’t make stuff up only shows how shabby she is! How low can you go? Well, Fitzgerald is about to answer that one:

As is well known, in Islam there has been an almost total indifference to the non-Islamic or pre-Islamic world. Many of the artifacts of that world have been destroyed over 1350 years of Muslim conquest and subjugation of Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists…In Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood even muttered about destroying the Pyramids, but cooler heads prevailed.

In other words, the only appropriate way to study Israeli archaeology is to compare its achievements against the less enlightened acts of medieval and fundamentalist Islam. And how can she ignore the fact that in the 1950s some people wanted to blow up the Pyramids after more than a thousand years of Islamic rule, just because it never actually happened?

But while Frontpage is so idiotic it can be dismissed (except as a threat to American academic life), a more serious (albeit flawed) review is provided by Aren M. Maeir of Bar Ilan University. This review has been reposted here, at Solomonia. Choice passages:

Alas, a detailed reading reveals that this book is a highly ideologically driven political manifesto, with a glaring lack of attention both to details and to the broader context.

…To start with, the topic of the book is not new. In the last decade or so, there have been quite a few attempts to study the role of archaeology in Israeli society. Much of what Nadia Abu el-Haj writes is a repetition of these themes. She is aware of some of these previous studies, but she has missed quite a few as well.

That’s more interesting, although a chance to discuss how these studies relate to al-Haj’s is passed over.

Although archaeology in Israel has been misused for nationalist purposes during the twentieth century, this is now a thing of the past. In contemporary Israel, mainstream archaeology-and most of the rest of society-attaches little or no importance to the political and historical underpinnings of archaeological interpretation. If one looks at archaeological thought and interpretation in contemporary Israel, only marginal elements act in accordance or identify with the nonscientific agendas that she attempts to delineate.

OK, to an extent – and Maeir at least acknowledges an area of which Fitzgerald appears to be ignorant. It’s certainly true that an archaeological establishment which puts nationalism rather than science at its centre would not have allowed the development of “minimalist” archaeologists such as Israel Finklestein, who seriously undermine large parts of the Biblical narrative. The fact that the Israel Antiquities Authority has denied digging permits to the likes of Vendyl Jones, even though he has received backing from the Israeli religious right, is also encouraging.

But serious concerns clearly remain. For example, Maeir might want to have a word with his Bar-Ilan colleague Gabriel Barkay, who was recently reported in the Jerusalem Post as having found a First Temple period seal impression. The report noted that

The seal, which predates the destruction of the First Jewish temple in 586 BCE, was presented Tuesday night to the press at an archaeological conference at the City of David sponsored by the right-wing Elad organization.

Here’s a bit more on Elad, from The Guardian in 2004:

…Elad, the City of David Foundation, which is excavating King David’s palace and some of the homes of the thousands of Israelites who once lived around it.

“The goal of our organisation is to increase the presence of Jews in the neighbourhood as much as possible,” said Elad’s director, Doron Spielman. “We’ve been dreaming of coming back to biblical Jerusalem for 3,000 years. This is the fulfilment of our dreams. We cannot trust that if this is an Arab neighbourhood, Jews will be safe to walk around here.”

Elad says it has bought up 42 homes so far in legal transactions which have been upheld by the courts when they are disputed. The Palestinians say that Elad is responsible for ethnic cleansing by stealth through the seizure and occupation of property or duping the vulnerable into signing papers they do not understand.

These events developed into the Silwan homes demolition controversy, which I blogged on in June. Is that sort of sponsorship really appropriate for scientists? Is a conference organised by such a group really the right place to announce significant archaeological finds? Or is Maeir’s colleague one of those “marginal elements”?

There’s also the question of how archaeologists relate to the military occupation in the West Bank. Just recently, Kevin Chamberlain (UCL lecturer in Cultural Property Law) made observations about archaeological sites in the Occupied Territories (emphasis added):

When a site is uncovered the Israelis institute a ‘salvage excavation,’ i.e. the rapid removal and recording of artefacts before the site is covered up. In most cases this results in the destruction of the site, although occasionally the site is covered up but not destroyed for future investigation, e.g. in the case of an important mosaic floor. Nevertheless the effect of these ‘salvage excavations’ is that the all-important context of the site is destroyed and the knowledge that it yields is lost forever. Such excavations fall under the authority of the archaeological staff officer, who is an officer of the Civil Administration (i.e. the Israeli military).

Should archaeologists really lend their professional reputations to this sort of thing? [UPDATE: Paleojudaica offers a critique of Chamberlain’s article here.]

But let’s return to Maeir’s review. Maeir also takes issue with El-Haj’s understanding of archaeological methods (such as carbon dating), and he derides some of her (admittedly peculiar) interpretations of certain archaeological evidence. However, Maeir then launches into a rather more problematic rant:

Not only is her lack of attention to the ongoing misuse of archaeological interpretation elsewhere in the Middle East quite surprising; the lack of reference to similar patterns in various Western and non-Western countries is inexplicable.

Well, inexplicable if you haven’t read the title. This is the old line of “criticism of Israel is only allowed if preceded with long enumerations of the sins of Arabs”, which we’ve already seen from Fitzgerald. Further:

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the book is a discussion on the last page of the text (p. 281). Abu el-Haj describes and condones the attack, and subsequent ransacking, by a Palestinian mob on what is known as “Jacob’s Tomb” in Nablus in 2001. Several people were killed as a result of this attack; the gleeful tone in which she describes this act of vandalism exemplifies how her political agenda completely overcame her duties as a social scientist.

Even Fitzgerald seems to have missed this alleged “glee”. He writes only that:

…Even El-Haj had to mention the matter in her book (knowing that if she omitted it altogether, reviewers might notice), but she justified it as the uncharacteristic, but understandable reaction of desperate people, brought to the end of their collective tether by the diabolical behavior of the Israelis.

If El-Haj has really skewed her scholarship for the benefit of a political ideology, then her work deserves to be pulled apart. But the above reviews, with biases and agendas of their own, fail to convince. In Fitzgerald’s case, I assume that he and his fellow Campus Watch clowns are now so drunk on the power of intimidation that they don’t even feel the need to write something even half-reasonably thought through.

Meanwhile, a more balanced review is available here from Jacob Lassner.

(Tipped from Biblical Theology. Some links via Paleojudacia, Bible and Interpretation)

UPDATE: Commentator Diana notes more detailed complaints against El-Haj from Solomonia, and directs readers to here. Further thoughts from me can be found after her comment.

Evangelist “Charmed” by Fetish Priestess

An interesting religious battle in Ghana, from Graphic Ghana:

There was drama at Okornya, a suburb of Somanya, last Thursday when a well-known evangelist of the Assemblies of God Church, was charmed by a fetish priestess popularly called Okornya Maku.

…On that fateful day, the priestess welcomed the evangelist to her home once again and they engaged in Bible discussions.

An argument ensued between the two over the interpretation of some parts of the Bible and Okornya Maku who used to be a Presbyterian also quoted several scriptures to buttress what she was saying.

She entered her shrine and came out reciting the Apostles’ Creed and speaking in a strange language.

She then ordered Evangelist Bless to go down on his knees and he meekly complied behaving like a child and shivering.

Okornya Maku has been in the news before (From the Ghanaian Chronicle in 2003; ref via The Pagan Prattle). The story concerned a 72-year old woman, Yobiyo Larko, who admitted to being a witch and dipping a two-year old child in a stream to “cure” him:

…her confession was made to another woman, a popular soothsayer and fetish priestess, in a nearby village. Okornya Maku, the fetish priestess, after speaking with Larko, declared that Larko had killed several people, including a young set of triplets who had died that same week.

The role of fetish priests, also known as soothsayers, in the identification and punishment of self-proclaimed witches is largely ignored in Ghana.

That may be so, but in 2004 the government’s National Reconciliation Commission produced a report which featured a chapter on religious bodies and human rights; the issue of fetish priests and witches is discussed there (pdf). The Ghanaian Chronicle also gives a description of Okornya Maku:

It’s an ordinary day at Okornya Maku’s shrine, house number C 303/3 at Somanya, in the Eastern Region, and the compound is filled to capacity with people, as well as strange portraits, sculptures, carvings and paintings. Stains of fresh blood lead the way from the entrance to the inner perimeter of the compound.

Maku stands confidently and elegantly. She is tall and dark, with a piercing pair of eyes and a powerful voice. She covers her body with hundreds of beads, chains, trinkets, bracelets, rings and other heavy ornaments…

(Beads are apparently Somanya’s main industry, and are connected with status)

…She wears her hair in natural dreadlocks, either dangling around her waist or wrapped in headgear. Instead of drinking water from pipes, she drinks rain or stream water, which she calls “holy water.”

“My powers were given to me from God. I don’t spill human blood. I only cleanse society of evil,” she stresses.

A licensed practitioner and government-accredited soothsayer, Maku says she has been practising for over 40 years. She also insists that she is a Christian. To prove it, she recites the Apostles’ Creed.

The religious life of Somanya was featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette back in 2002. Ervin Dyer reported that town had a population of 8,000, and 60 churches. Among these, African Independent Churches (AICs) are burgeoning:

In African Independent Churches, it is not uncommon to see carved wooden stools, traditional seats of sovereignty for African royalty, and animal-skin rugs, local symbols of power and authority, as part of the pulpit. Libation, a centuries-old practice of honoring ancestors, is as much a part of some independent worship as electric guitars, keyboards and hymns. Polygamy, animal sacrifices and African occult are practiced by some congregations.

…The major dividing line between mainline and independent churches seems to be faith healing, the practice of curing physical illnesses by exorcising demons. Popular and accepted by the independents — where congregations believe that malevolent spirits can cause sickness — most mainline churches shun healings as fetish, a practice too closely tied to witchcraft.

Dyer profiles Joyce Dauty, an independent and illiterate prophetess who regularly receives messages from God.

So what of the hapless “Evangelist Bless”? Graphic Ghana gives further details:

In an interview with the Rite FM station he said, he had been a seasoned evangelist but what happened to him was a mystery.

He said even though that was the fourth time he went to Okornya Maku’s house with the intention of converting her to Christianity, he had never had such an opposing force which made him to succumb.

A bit different from the usual narrative, in which intrepid evangelists confound the adherents of traditional religion (e.g. here). But one wonders how well Okornya Maku might fare against an opponent who doesn’t share her supernaturalist assumptions. Over the border, in Nigeria, there’s a man named Leo Igwe, who heads both the Nigerian Humanist Movement and the Nigerian Skeptics Society. Commenting on shrines in Nigeria in 2004, Igwe

…stressed the need for the federal Government to support science-based education instead of superstition-based instruction and religious indoctrination.

“We enjoin all Nigerians to abandon Pseudo-science and embrace science, to leave occultic non-sense and cultivate rational inquiry, critical thinking and technological intelligence so that Nigeria can grow”, Mr. Igwe said.

Ghana, meanwhile, apparently has “government-accredited” soothsayers…

(Tipped from Bulldada Newsblog)

Evangelist Targets Asian Buddhists post-Katrina

As Franklin Graham plans “spiritual rebirth” in New Orleans, Charisma reports on the progress of one evangelist in the afflicted Gulf of Mexico (link added):

Evangelist Johnny Jernigan has been neck-deep in storm recovery since Hurricane Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast more than a month ago. But besides delivering food to needy families and helping evacuees reclaim their damaged homes, he has been leading hundreds of people to Christ—people who weren’t open to the gospel before the disaster.

…Shortly after the storm hit, Jernigan took his portable ministry tent to Bayou La Batre, Alabama, a shrimping community with a heavily Cambodian and Vietnamese population. One night, 37 people—including many Buddhists—made professions of faith in Christ during the makeshift worship service.

“I see an open door to reach these communities right now like never before,” Jernigan says. “By serving them, we earn the right to preach to them a message of hope in the pain they face.”

The response of local Asians (who make up 33% of Bayou La Batre) to the hurricane has been reported in the Mobile Register; according to the San Francisco Chronicle, no-one from the town was killed or injured, thanks to forward planning. However:

The most disquieting question for residents is whether the maritime economy can recover. Dozens of shrimp boats were scooped out of their moorings and hurled onto shore, and the entire support infrastructure — dry docks, workshops, marinas, offices — suffered severe damage. No one even wants to estimate the cost of repair.

Johnny Jernigan Ministries is a partner of PRC Compassion, which is co-ordinating the relief efforts of conservative churches in Louisiana (although Jernigan and Bayou La Batre are in Alabama). As I blogged just recently, PRC is a division of the Pastors Resource Council, which was set up by the Louisiana Family Forum to engage in “culture war” on behalf of “family values”; the group has close ties to the Family Research Council‘s Tony Perkins.

Jernigan, who is a minister with the Assemblies of God, specialises in youth evangelism and door-to-door evangelism, a technique he calls the “100-Man Challenge“:

John Wesley said, “Give me 100 men who want nothing but God and hate nothing but sin and I will bring God back in my generation.”  Week after week, I have witnessed Christians accepting the challenge to do something rarely done at the local level, to move out of the sheep field and onto the battlefield.  With as few as 125-200 people, we have knocked on the doors of as many as 10,000 homes in one day, cleaned parking lots, washed cars, hosted children’s carnival, done park outreaches and parking lot ministry, all in a SERVANT evangelism approach.

The communities stand in awe as they witness churches willing to serve while asking nothing in return. The results of this effort are staggering. Visitors are pouring into the churches after these intensive weekends.

(Jernigan evidently works his troops harder than he used to. An older cached version of the same spiel is slightly different: “With 125-200 teens, we have knocked on the doors of as many as 4,000 homes in one week”). According to his bio, Jernigan has also undertaken crusades in “Central America, Africa and Russia”.

Musical Interlude No.2

Once again, classical CD producer Naxos amazes with its infinitely-expanding catalogue. Naxos brings cheap but high-quality CDs to the public, using mainly East European orchestras, and doing for classical music what the paperback revolution did for books years ago. But not only are the standard “classics” well-represented: every month a batch of new releases introduces whole new vistas of composers and compositions that deserve to be better-known, both ancient and modern. In August I particularly enthused over Sergio Rendine’s folk passion-piece, Passio et Resurrectio; this month, I have been glad to discover Akira Ifukube.

Ifukube was born 1914 and was largely self-taught in the hills of Hokkaido. His influences include Stravinsky and traditional Ainu dance music, and he came to prominence in his early twenties with his Japanese Rhapsody, which won a competition and was appreciated by Sibelius. His ouput since then has been diverse and prolific, and includes over 300 film scores. His Symphonic Fantasia No.1 draws on some of his most famous: in particular, Godzilla.

Click here for more.

At Church with Miers

New Donkey has an interesting profile of Valley View Christian Church, where Harriet Miers was brought to faith:

…VVCC is an independent “Christian” church aligned with the conservative wing of the Campbell-Stone “Restorationist” tradition [Nothing to do with Reconstructionism]…”Restorationism” is a distinctly American religious tradition, a product of the Second Great Awakening on the midwestern and southern frontier, largely under the leadership of Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone, both former Presbyterians who were troubled by denominational and intradenominational rivalries. The basic idea of “restorationism” was a systematic effort to return to what its adherents understood as the practices of the Primitive Church, rejecting “human” creeds, theological traditions (Protestant and well as Catholic), and sectarian denominations, with Scripture, and especially the New Testament, serving as the only source of authority in all matters.

This, inevitably, resulted in a new denomination, the Disciples of Christ. However:

…a significant minority of conservative Disciples, especially in the South and Southwest, drifted out of the Disciples, most affiliating with the new Churches of Christ but others simply becoming “independent Christian” congregations like VVCC.

…Most conservative restorationists dislike the label “fundamentalist,” mainly because the fundamentalist movement in the larger denominations involved theological arguments alien to their own tradition. But they certainly share the fundamentalist position on biblical inerrancy, with an important twist: the tenet that “where [Scripture] is silent, we are silent” has made conservative restorationists much less likely to get involved, at least as a group, in battles over matters like abortion where there are virtually no direct Scriptural references, especially in the New Testament. Indeed, a 1998 article in Restoration Quarterly excoriated Churches of Christ for lagging behind other conservative evangelicals in full-throated commitment to the anti-abortion cause…

Read the whole thing.

One extra item perhaps worth noting: the VVCC website has a short list of links, described as “useful” but “not a [sic] endorsement”. This includes one link, illustrated with a dinosaur, to Carl Baugh‘s Creation Evidence Museum.

UPDATE: It turns out that VVCC underwent a schism last month; Miers and Key joined the breakaway group. See here. Using Wayback, it seems the website has changed recently: a year ago, the Statement of Belief stressed Biblical “inerrancy”; currently, it prefers the word “infallible”, but makes more of the church’s non-dogmatic approach. The Creationism link was there last year.

UPDATE 2: The Panda’s Thumb discusses the Baugh link.

UPDATE 3: Jeff Sharlet at The Revealer notes that Valley View Church also used to have another dodgy link, to an anti-Semitic and white supremacist “ministry” called the Gospel Broadcasting Association. However, it was apparently an honest mistake:

When I spoke to the church’s pastor, Dr. Barry McCarty, last week, I asked him about his site’s link to this racist fantasy. He was genuinely horrified. The link was supposed to be to the Gospel Broadcasting Mission, not the Gospel Broadcasting Association. He said he had no knowledge of the association; I verified this with the association’s sole member, one Russell L. Harris, of Houston, Texas. McCarty saw to it that the link was promptly fixed.

Sharlet goes on to note that McCarty has been contacted by over 100 reporters since the nomination was announced, and goes on to ask:

Why hadn’t they noticed the raging lunacy of the Gospel Broadcasting Association? Why was I the only one to catch it?

Indeed. But I have another question: why didn’t I catch it? Agh!!!

Grabovoi accused of Kremlin Link


The Moscow News has the latest on Grigori Grabovoi (tipped from Cult News Network), the Russian psychic whom a number of bereaved Beslan mothers believe will raise their murdered children from the dead on 17 October:

…The media is already speculating on Grabovoi’s strong ties to the Kremlin which wants to discredit the Beslan Mothers group as being deranged. The group has become more politicized of late, as it angrily demanded that the government step up efforts to bring those guilty of their children’s deaths to account. Vladimir Putin was forced to receive the group’s activists in the Kremlin and assure them he would take measures to speed up the investigation.

Now, the Beslan Mothers are convinced the Kremlin authorities are set to destroy the group, and Grabovoi is their agent. The other day the group demanded a probe into the cult, saying he is trying to discredit their campaign for justice.

…Grabovoi is said to have long enjoyed the protection of high-placed officials in the presidential administration, and has strong links to senior officials in Central Asia. In particular, it has been reported that Grabovoi used his unique extrasensory skills to ensure flight safety on board the presidential jets in Uzbekistan.

His popularity in Russia prompted Grabovoi to establish a political party DRUGG, which sounds like the Russian word for “friend,” a Russian acronym for the Voluntary Advocates of the Grigory Grabovoi Doctrine. Its leader believes he will become Russia’s new president in 2008. Grabovoi said as much in a live interview on Ekho Moskvy radio only a few days ago.

Background on Grabovoi is available on his English-language website, which offers some dodgily-translated information:

Grigori Petrovich Grabovoi was born in November 14, 1963 in BogaRa village, Kirov District, Chimkent Region, Kazakhstan.

He graduated the Tashkent State University, faculty of applied mathematics and mechanics, specialty – mechanics, in 1986.

He is an academician of International Academy of Informatization . Corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Advisor of Russian Federal Aviation Service.

A list of clairvoyant and psychical powers follow, including:

Cured tens of diseased persons from the 4th stage and it is certified by UN as well as from the 4th stage of AIDS. Using his clairvoyance he examined hundreds of aircraft, “MIR RF” orbital station, “Atlantis” spaceship with absolute compliance with real examination concerning total volume of tasks as well as separate task. There are confirming minute signed by managing and authorized officers of air industry enterprises and Russian Space Flights Control Center. In conditions of experiment he did works for materialization, de-materialization, teleportation and these works were stated in the minute. He regenerated destroyed matter. Does all works aimed to prevent catastrophes, through creation without destruction. Teaches the way to control matter for saving.

His site also posts two media profiles from the mid-1990s. Here’s one, by Vladimir Sudakov:

From time to time foreign mass media sources publish information on mysterious people protecting Russian leaders from any unexpected events, dangers and illnesses. It is likely that the time has come for us to tell the world about the man who “sees through” the government planes, and in case some defects are discovered, he is vested with the power to prohibit the flight; about the extrasensor granted with the talent to diagnose illnesses and cure people a long way off, find the disappeared people, foresee the fall and growth of the exchange rates and many other things. The magician’s name is Grigory Petrovich Grabovoi.

Special diagnostic x-ray abilities seem to be a common claim among Russians who supposedly have psychic abilities; witness Natasha Demkina, just recently dispatched by CSICOP. Eventually:

Grabovoi was demonstrating miracles in his secret Designing Bureau by defining defects in the planes, prompting what could happen if this and that had not been done. Once he was invited by Gani Mazitovich Rafikov, the Head of the Uzbek Division of Civil Aviation, to take the position of the inspector on the flights’ safety and, simultaneously, of the expert on the extrasensory monitoring of avionics.

Grabovoi claims that he can forestall disasters by changing the future:

“Any event can be changed. My forecasts are not fatal, I am always looking for the constructive method of forestalling. I do not change the object I am changing the situation around it.”

One wonders why he did not therefore “forecast” and “forestall” the Beslan massacre…There follows accounts of various miracles: problems with planes diagnosed, some sick individuals cured, and supernatural business advice. Grabovoi backs up his claims with testaments from those who have been impressed by his abilities; these are also translated into English (here and here). Then comes a trip to India:

…Grigori Grabovoi went to Quitab-Minar, the Indian sacred place – shrine Chattrapur -where the highest governmental officials and people of the highest caste pray. That time the Higher priest Baba Nagh Pal was in the shrine, but the guardians did not want the unknown Russian stranger to meet him. Yet Radjiv Gandhi himself was honoured to get only a two-minite audience of the Great Baba Nagh Pal.

Then the Russian stranger said, “Tell Baba Nagh Pal that there came Grigory Grabovoi”. When this was executed, the saint despite the lunch time ordered to invite the respected guest in immediately.

Their conversation lasted for 23 minutes. And said Baba Nagh Pal that he would bless Grabovoi and pray for him. And he also added that Grigory must apply his high extrasensory potentialities and the energetic level to re-unite his country.

(“Nagh Pal” is actually the late Baba Sant Nagpal; a couple of Indira Gandhi’s government members were followers of his.)

Vladimor Vulov adds further details, in an interview with Alexander Pukemov, who had previously met with Grabovoi (link added):

Alexander told me about his meetings with some American business specialists who got attracted by the phenomenon of Grabovoi. He showed to us a thick volume of the book “Management” that was presented to Grigory Grabovoi by the author, Mark Green. Professor from the Simpson College, the city of Indianola, state Iova [sic].

I wasn’t able to access the site’s bookshop directly, but Wayback Internet Archive was able to help out. Titles include ” Practice of management. A way of rescue ” in 3 volumes, and:


Grigory Grabovoy troubleshoots aircraft and nuclear reactors, teleports subjects and people, sees through time, distance and barriers, and constructs the present and the future. And the most essential – cures the people from the last stage cancer and AIDS, doing this without drugs and scalpel, mostly in a contactless way. Bulgarian prophet elder woman Vanga[*] has put him on one line with Jesus Christ, who had been risen from dead, and has predicted him brilliant future.

Modest bloke. So what’s going to happen when the dead kids fail to materialise, aside from further heartbreak for the mothers? Grabovoi has two possible answers. Moscow News notes one:

For fairness’ sake it has to be said that Grabovoi has never directly promised to bring the dead back. At his seminars he advocates his doctrine that he claims to help achieve the resurrection of souls.

He’s also got another explanation, which is reported in a translated article at Cultological Culture.

Although there are other sects that have promised resurrection from the dead in the history of sectology, those came to an end, because proof that their promises had been fulfilled was required. Grabovoi really did this in such a cunning way. He said that those living illegally in Moscow are the same ones he resurrected, and he says it is not acknowledged that they have been revivified, so they are sent to psychiatric hospitals. And so the more some poor illegal is convinced that he has not been resurrected, the stronger the Grabovoists believe their sect leader’s assertions.

This titbit comes from Alexander Dvorkin, so needs to be used with caution – as we’ve noted before, Dvorkin is an Orthodox fundamentalist with a view to banning all “sects” in Russia, including Pentecostalism. If Grabovoi really does have powerful friends in the Kremlin, he’s going to need them…


* Baba Vanga’s obit, from 1996:

Bulgaria’s most revered psychic, Granny Vanga, whose prophetic powers won her admirers across the Balkans and beyond, died at the weekend aged 85. “Granny Vanga passed away . . . after a four-year battle against cancer,” Doctor Teodor Eksariev said from Sofia’s former government hospital where she had been treated since 3 August. For decades Vanga drew visitors from around the world to her villa in the mountains of southern Bulgaria. Blind from childhood, she was venerated as a saint for her healing and clairvoyant powers. Her pronouncements, always religiously recorded, made her a kind of unofficial state oracle. Prominent Bulgarians ranging from the ousted Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov to exiled King Simeon II paid secret visits to Vanga seeking advice, according to local media. Reuter – Sofia


With Billiken, the God of Things as They Ought to Be:


(Tsutenkaku Tower, Osaka. This was a few weeks ago; the deity is currently in Tokyo on a cultural exchange tour.)

Rites and Wrongs

The quest to have Intelligent Design imposed on school science classes continues unabated; a pseudo-scholarly Bible curriculum makes inroads into US classrooms; sex education is under siege from prononents of abstinence. But these mainly conservative Christian insinuations into American education are just a Scylla: there’s also the New Age Charybdis. Over to the Sacramento Bee:

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Called2Action, an activist Christian group, says stress-reduction classes at a Raleigh elementary school promote “New Age” beliefs, providing school-sponsored religious activity barred by the Constitution.

But Emily Diane Gunter of the Rites of Passage Youth Empowerment Foundation says she merely enhances students’ learning practices and “I don’t do anybody’s religion.”

No, not much. Gunter (bio here) gives further details on her website:

The Rites Programs used in America originated in Africa…The Rites Programs’ youth initiates transition into adulthood through the passing on of knowledge and tradition by trained and certified Elders from the community. The Elders facilitate the youth through numerous challenges, experiential exercises and workshops. In the African tradition, the youth must ask for the RITE (right) or permission OF PASSAGE (passing on) to a higher level of human social and educational development. After the youth have demonstrated competency in their academic and personal development during the rites program, the Elders in the community grant permission to their RITE OF PASSAGE.

Fortunately for the Raleigh schoolkids, the RITEs do not include such traditional African traditions as circumcision (as practised by the Nandi of Kenya on girls, and by the Akamba and the Massai on boys). Instead, the emphasis is apparently on, er…controlled breathing and chanting (no Afro-centrist, Gunter has also picked up ideas in Nepal and Tibet).

So, how do I get to be an Elder? Gunter’s outfit also offers the chance to train as one at a special retreat:

Be willing to change. Surrender to the flow. Watch how mundane activities are transformed into Divine support. God loves us and we need to feel this love directly in our bodies. The retreat is a safe and loving place to help us feel our innocence, in the sweet caring setting of nature. Open to receive miracles. Come join the Mutual Admiration Society with fellow elders.

Agenda includes: Sacred Geometry, Spiritual Code of Ethics, Conflict Resolution, Balance, Spherical Holy Breath, Balance, Fire Ceremony and so much more.

Nope, Gunter doesn’t “do anybody’s religion”. Instead, she appears to have made one up herself, to the point of self-parody. “Mutual Admiration Society”? “Spherical Holy Breath”? Just what do these terms have to do with African traditions? Or with anything remotely sensible? But for all that, Gunter can claim some successes. There are apparently 36 Rites of Passage Universal Learning Centers across the USA; one is the Rites of Passage for Girls Youth Empowerment Academy based in Florida, which is part of a larger organisation called Urgent. Their three-year progress report can be seen here.

Called2Action, meanwhile, is a somewhat unattractive local version of the Family Research Council. Its leader, Steve Noble, is a member of the Council for National Policy, and he once led a boycott of a local newspaper for daring to print a photograph of two gay men. Pam’s House Blend notes that C2A’s partners include Pastor Patrick Wooden (“We have to block the use of euphemisms when we talk about homosexuals. They are not gay. We’ve got to use terms like ‘deviant’ and ‘abomination.'”) and Kings Park International Church, which we’ve come across before. With an eye for dramatisation, Noble has employed Terri Schiavo’s attourney David Gibbs in his battle against Gunter and all her works. Gibbs’s letter can seen here.