Are We There Yet?
Are We There Yet? is a feature in which I break down the current issue of Endtime Magazine, the bimonthly print publication of Endtime Ministries. As you might have guessed, Endtime’s purpose is to advance the notion that the end of the world is nigh and that current news events were prophesized in the Bible’s more apocalyptic passages. The magazine has been published for 22 years without ever questioning whether the end times are actually upon us, which is impressive in a way. I’ll be writing this column every other month or so until the sounding of the first trumpet, or until I get bored with it, whichever comes first.
You’d think it would be pretty fun to write for a magazine where you constantly get to talk about the end of the world—the gigantic battle between good and evil, the seven seals, the Antichrist announcing himself, all that cool stuff. It’d be especially thrilling for you every time a new pope gets announced because, obviously, you get to ask, IS THIS POPE THE FINAL, EVIL POPE WHO WILL USHER IN THE AGE OF THE ANTICHRIST? Plus you get to run a cover of that new pope surrounded by flames and resembling a villain from one of the Star Wars prequels.
(The secret to making the Catholic church look evil is that any old man in fancy robes like that looks evil. And that collection of cardinals behind the pope on Endtime’s cover provide another ominous-looking visual. If the church wants to improve its image, maybe it should stop dressing its leaders in blood-red robes and having them assemble in high-ceilinged places full of ancient, grotesque statues? Gatherings like this look fucking terrifying. But I digress.)
The Queen James Bible could help Christians hate gay people less.
How Much Does the Church of Scientology Spend on Advertising?
The Church of Scientology has, for a long time, been putting a lot of money into advertising, most recently with the super expensive-looking Super Bowl ad embedded above and their disastrous attempt at running sponsored content in The Atlantic.
But if you’re one of the five people in the world who doesn’t use Adblock, you might have noticed that they sometimes pop up as the sponsored result when you google things.
So how much are they paying to do this?
I’ll do my best to explain this as quickly as possible, because it’s pretty boring. Here’s how cost-per-click advertising works on Google: a company sets a maximum bid that they’re willing to pay for an internet user to click on one of their ads. These bids are associated with keywords that internet users type when searching. Based on the ad’s relevance to searched keywords and the maximum amount that the advertiser is willing to pay per click, Google determines where to place those ads.
For example, if a dessert company wanted their ads displayed any time a user searches for “ice cream cakes,” it would cost, at the time of writing this article, about $0.60 per click in English-speaking countries.
To figure out how much Scientology pays, I tried to advertise for Scientology myself. I set my maximum bid at one dollar per click and selected multiple keywords involving Scientology. All of my bids were rejected, meaning that the person who is currently paying to advertise on those terms is paying more than a dollar per click.
In order to advertise on the first page of Google’s search results for Scientology-related searches, I would have to shell out a minimum of three dollars per click for “creed of the Church of Scientology.”
Scientology Hates Psychology
Illustration by Grant Gronewold.
Scientology’s hatred of psychiatry and psychology has been well documented, but what happens when one of their members has a breakdown? Alice Wu, a young Taiwanese Scientologist living in Sydney, found out when she showed signs of mental illness and was allegedly thrown in an isolation room. According to what her family has told the media, Alice was held against her will, but when an Australian TV station reported the story in late February, the church denied all allegations and Alice herself, who now is back in Taiwan, sent the station an email saying she hadn’t been detained or mistreated.
I spoke to “John,” an ex-Scientologist involved in Alice’s saga, to find out more. (Like many former members of the church, John is worried about being harassed by Scientologists and only agreed to an interview if we withheld his real name.)
VICE: How did you first learn about Alice?
John: There’s an online message board where a lot of former Scientologists communicate. A Taiwanese national described Alice’s story, and I organized a few former Scientologists to visit her. We got someone else to contact the family in Taiwan.
Have you had any personal experience with detainment like Alice allegedly went through?
I’ve known of several attempts to treat mentally ill people in that way. I was told of one guy who spent six weeks on a farm just resting. The problem was that no one was allowed to talk to him.
[Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard said when people are in this state, you take them somewhere quiet and try to keep them calm until they straighten out. But if you want to make someone feel like they’re nothing, just ignore them. And that’s what would have happened to Alice.
John’s statements are his opinions and do not reflect the views of VICE Media Inc. or its affiliates.
Read more from our Grievous Sins issue:
New Roma Ghettos
Meet the Last Lykovs
Let’s Get Physical
My State Wants to Establish an Official Religion
The United States Constitution is a subjective document written by a bunch of men with wigs and wooden teeth and fancy pants in the 18th century who couldn’t possibly have foreseen the shape our modern world would take. So, when they wrote, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” right there in the First Amendment, they didn’t mean to make it totally impossible to establish a state religion.
At least, that’s the logic of Edgar Starnes, the Majority Leader in the North Carolina General Assembly, who isbacking a resolution that would allow North Carolina to declare an official state religion. A religion like, for example, Christianity. The bill argues that although the First Amendment is a thing that exists, the Constitution “does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional.” Which means that North Carolina citizens like Petey Pablo and Michael Jordan and their representatives can interpret the constitution however they see fit. If they want to make Christianity the law of the land, or institute the death penalty for adulterers, they totally can, according to them.
Like Michael Jordan, I am from North Carolina, and from experience, I know that Christianity is already pretty much an unofficial state religion. The place is crawling with Bibles. As of 2001, 79 percent of North Carolinians were Christians, and new churches are popping up all over the place. My mother even helped found one of them two years ago. The call for giving North Carolina an official religion is similar to the argument made by a bunch of other people with too much time on their hands who want the United States torecognize English as its official language. Eighty percent of US citizens are native English speakers, so why bother dealing with a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense to make it official?
Is Burma’s Anti-Muslim Violence Led By “Buddhist Neo-Nazis”?
When most Westerners think of Buddhism, they think of smiling men with potbellies and inspirational quotes from Phil Jackson. “Buddhist neo-Nazi” sounds like a contradiction in terms.
But in Burma, vicious anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise, and Buddhist extremists are responsible for attacking Muslims and burning down their houses and mosques, a state of affairs that was largely ignored until Anonymous launched a Twitter campaign to teach the world about the genocide against the Rohingya people, the officially stateless Muslims who many believe will be massacred if the world does not respond.
According to Dr. Muang Zarni, a Burmese human rights activist and research fellow at the London School of Economics, much of the blame for the current situation in Burma can be laid at the feet of the 969 group, which he describes as an neo-Nazi organization of hatemongers who are using Hitlerian tactics to “purify” the country by getting rid of the Muslims—it’s also, he says, one of the fastest-growing movements in the country.
I spoke to Dr. Zarni to find out more about what’s going on in Burma and how a Buddhist can be a “Nazi.”
VICE: Who are the 969, and what does the number mean?
Dr. Muang Zarni: The 969 leaders are Burmese men in monks’ robes. It’s a bit difficult to describe them as genuine monks because they are preaching a message of anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia that is completely incompatible with the Buddhist message of universal kindness. The 969 number stands for three things: the 9 stands for the special attributes of Buddha, the founder of the religion; the 6 stands for attributes of his teachings of dharma; and finally, the last 9 stands for special characteristics or attributes of the clergy.
You’ve described the 969 group as “Burma’s fastest-growing neo-Nazi ‘Buddhist’ nationalist movement.” What makes them neo-Nazis and why are they targeting Muslims?
I use the word neo-Nazi because their intent is genocidal in the sense that the Muslims of Burma—all of them, including the ethnically Burmese—are considered leeches in our society the way the Jews were considered leeches and bloodsuckers during the Third Reich when Nazism was taking root.
There is a parallel between what we saw in Nazi Germany and what we are seeing today in Burma. The 969 movement and its leading spokespersons call for attacking the Muslims of Burma—not just the Rohingyas in western Burma who were incorrectly framed as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, but all Muslims from Burma. Buddhist people who try to help Muslims or buy groceries from Muslim businesses are either beaten up or intimidated or ostracized by other Buddhists.
Also, the military is involved with this movement. At best, the military authorities are tolerating the message of hatred coming from the Buddhist preachers. At worst, and I believe this to be true, elements within the military leadership are passively backing this movement. Over the past 50 years since the military came to power, there has been a consistent pattern of the military leadership using proxy organizations within Burmese communities across the country to incite violence against targeted groups, be they dissidents, Chinese, or now, Muslims.
Seven Dark Horse Candidates for Pope
Tomorrow, a bunch of men in robes will lock themselves in the Vatican, cease all forms of communication with the outside world, and cast ballots until two-thirds of them agree on who should take over as spiritual leader to a billion people. Catholics, church watchers, and fans of big hats have been discussing, via slideshows, who the most-likely candidates for the popehood are ever since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation a month ago. Everyone agrees that the next pope, like pretty much every pope in history, will be an old guy who is already a high-ranking member of the Church, but it doesn’t have to be. The new head of the Catholic Church technically doesn’t have to be a cardinal or a bishop or even an ordained member of the clergy. So, there’s a chance, however small, that those old men in robes will decide that in order to restore the reputation of a centuries-old institution that has weathered some pretty dire crises in recent years, they’ll need to think outside of the box. Here are some of the unlikely, but still possible, candidates for pope:
Photo illustrations by Christian Storm
Pros: The Boss was born and raised Catholic and continues to identify himself as affiliated with the Church. No one can deny the powerful Catholic themes of sin and redemption present in many of his songs, and he is already used to traveling the world offering benedictions to hundreds of millions of followers.
Cons: Already has a better job than being pope.
Pros: What better way to reach out to a younger generation who’s lost touch with Catholicism than to elect one of the Millennnials’ most beloved icons? Lena Dunham has touched millions, if not billions of lives for the better and taught a generation how to laugh, how to love, and how to live through mistakes. Her image graces dorm rooms, billboards, and magazine covers all over America—in many places, she is already better known and more venerated than the Virgin Mary. Everyone under 30 idolizes her and follows her every utterance as if it were law. If the cardinals had the courage to make her pope, Catholicism would have swarms of new converts who would thrill at the chance to follow Lena on her next adventure of self-discovery.
Cons: May have had a bunch of abortions.
Mother Teresa Was a Jerk, and So Were a Bunch of Other Saints
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, was a colossal fucking piece of shit. That’s not me talking, it’s not even the notoriously anti-Catholic, anti-TeresaChristopher Hitchens talking—it’s a study conducted by Canadian researchers, who called her “anything but a saint.” They accuse her of running unhygienic, undersupplied clinics even though she had access to millions of dollars of donated funds, claim she thought it was beautiful to see the poor suffer, and say that the “miracles” the Vatican claimed she performed were fake. (You mean, she didn’t cure some lady’s cancer through magic?) According to them, the Catholic Church ignored all of her flaws and canonized her because it desperately wanted the PR boost it would get from turning a celebrity into an saint and that the image of Teresa as a model of selflessness and charity is just that—an image.
But it’s not as if sainthood has historically been reserved for perfect individuals. There are over 10,000 saints recognized by the church—no one seems to know exactly how many—and they got canonized for all kinds of reasons and for all kinds of achievements. Some became saints because they didn’t have sex and then died miserably; some converted entire continents of unbelievers; some saints are entirely fictional; and some saints were just gaping, distended assholes. Like these guys:
[Note: I’ve excluded those saints who were horrible people before they converted to Christianity and went on to do great, heroic things, because if I put them in, we’d be here all day.]
OLAF II OF NORWAY
Olaf II Haraldsson, aka “Olaf the Stout,” was a pretty goddamn effective king of Norway back in the 11th century. The problem is, being an effective king then meant being a brutal murderer and tyrant. During his rule, he banned the worship of pagan gods, seized property from non-Christians, burned down heathen villages, and tortured and killed those who disagreed with him. He lost his kingdom after starting a war with another ruler, got exiled to Russia, and was killed while trying to retake his lands. So he wasn’t a nice guy, but a year later, some people dug up Olaf’s corpse, found that it hadn’t decayed, and were like, “Boom! He’s a saint now!” That’s just how things worked in 11th-century Scandinavia. It was a simpler time.
Remembering Master Fard Muhammad
February 26 is Saviors’ Day, the birthday of the founder of the Nation of Islam. Master Fard Muhammad will probably never get his due for his contribution, for a few reasons: 1) after more than eight decades, white people still aren’t ready to be called devils; 2) Sunni Muslims might love the Sunni fruits of Fard’s tree (most famously Malcolm X, but hundreds of thousands more), but they don’t want to see the tree that produced them; 3) in all honesty, Fard might have spoken the truth, but he also dressed it up in stories that many will have a hard time taking seriously.
The biggest challenge to fully appreciating Master Fard Muhammad may be that he so effectively escaped history. For decades, no one had any idea where he had come from, and even if we can now trace his origin to a town called Shinka in Afghanistan, or possibly Pakistan, we still have no idea where he ended up after his disappearance in 1934. For the most part, our source on Master Fard Muhammad is his student, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, for whom Fard was literally, physically God—not a “manifestation” or “incarnation” of God, but God. While working with the bare skeleton of biographical details and much more hagiography, it’s hard to make authoritative statements on Fard. But this is also part of the master teacher’s usefulness. In escaping history, Fard can become almost whatever people need him to be.
His public mission began in 1930, when he walked the poorest black neighborhoods of Detroit with an armful of silks, going door-to-door and trying to sell them to people with no money to spend. Even when he couldn’t make a sale, he regaled his customers with tales of the silk’s origin in what he called their “homeland,” a utopia across the ocean where people lived longer because they lived better—they had not been brainwashed by living in the Devil’s kingdom into eating the wrong foods and praying to a blue-eyed Jesus. People often invited Fard into their homes to tell them more about Africa. When he stayed for dinner, Fard always ate what he was offered, but then told his hosts that they should not eat such food, because people in their homeland did not eat it.
I was raised in Salt Lake City in the church so I understand it inside and out. I was immersed in the nitty gritty of the culture as a kid, I have been baptized for dead people, the whole nine yards. Around 13 I veered away from the religion after being exposed to the world of skateboarding and different ideas. Now I see it as a giant organization with a lot of money, a member base that is becoming one of the fastest growing on the planet, and a group with underlying deep-rooted sexist, racist, and bigoted beliefs. It has a seedy past filled with scandals, conspiracies, female repression, and a history of racism toward African Americans and Native Americans, and open condemnation of homosexuality.