Religion or Cult?

There are advantages for a group to have their beliefs considered to be a religion, ranging from favored tax status to potentially having a greater degree of respectability. There has been controversy in many countries as to whether to accept the claims that groups such as Scientologists qualify as a religion. Slate has a piece on how France handles such questions.

French law doesn’t define the term “cult.” Rather, it uses the expression “cultlike movements” to describe groups that demand unreasonable financial contributions, encourage nonparticipation in elections, promote anti-social behavior, or cut members off from their families. It’s easier to target bad behavior, the thinking goes, than to get into a semantic debate over what is and isn’t a cult. The French government has, however, tried to define the term in the past. In 1995, a special parliamentary commission compiled a list of 10 cultish characteristics, including the indoctrination of children, a mentally unstable membership, and the attempt to infiltrate public institutions. The commission also released a list of 173 groups that qualify as cults—that is, they meet at least one of the 10 criteria—including the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Scientology. (At least one group—the followers of Anthroposophy—sued the report’s main author for defamation and won.)*

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SciFi Weekend: Flashforward; V; Returning Shows and Shows in Trouble; Sookie’s Future; The Plan


FlashForward didn’t continued to advance the mythology of the series with Dominic Monaghan becoming a series regular. While there are many gaps to fill in, we find that he knows Lloyd Simcoe and the nature of their relationship is hinted at when Lloyd says to Simon (Monaghan): “Our experiment killed 20 million people, Simon.”

Lloyd’s involvement with Olivia and her family took a major move forward as his autistic son, unable to separate future memories from the flash forward with past memories, remembers that Olivia’s home is his home too, and shows up there. It now is pretty clear that Charlie’s flash forward took place in the house where she saw both Simcoe and his son. She also saw something that makes her believe that “D. Gibbons is a bad man.” If she picked this up from Lloyd Simcoe during her flash forward it is not even certain if this is an accurate fact.

The meeting in their house, along with Oliva’s knowlege that Mark is drinking in his flash forward, exacerbated the conflict between the two and might be moving them towards the situation in their visions of the future.

In other developments, Janis survives so we don’t yet have a definite case of a vision not coming true. The blue hands of Mark’s board make an appearance. There was even another sighting of the kangaroo.


The remake of V starts this week and reviews are coming out. Variety writes:

At least initially, the real breakout here is Baccarin, who might be TV’s coolest alien since the invention of the Vulcan nerve pinch. The idea, moreover, that extraterrestrials would come wrapped in an attractive package and shrewdly manipulate the media feels especially eerie given the state of our media today (though there is one unfortunately clunky line of dialogue about “universal health care”).

For the most part, though, writer Scott Peters and company — updating Kenneth Johnson’s original — have assembled an appealing and diverse cast that highlights the “We’re all in this together” aspect of dealing with such a fantastic threat. And the idea of being unsure who to trust deftly taps into the same vein of malevolent foes and “sleeper cells” hiding in plain sight that “Battlestar Galactica” mined.

The best science fiction always has something to say about the present, and the show does that without skimping on the soapy or dramatic elements. Whether the serialized storytelling can be sustained is potentially another matter (witness the growing pains experienced by ABC’s “FlashForward”), but at least in terms of the acrobatics that go into a polished launch, “V” sticks the landing.

The Hollywood Reporter writes:

This latest update, with a teleplay by Scott Peters, preserves the original framework but shifts the atmosphere to accommodate contemporary concerns. Based on the pilot, the militaristic notes will be more subdued. Instead, there will be more of a post-Sept. 11 emphasis on questions of trust and terror.

“V” is short for Visitors, which is what the aliens call themselves. They announce their presence while simultaneously hovering in huge unassailable spaceships above 29 of Earth’s major cities, including New York, where the series is set.

Alien leader Anna (Morena Baccarin), the very picture of sweetness and innocence, promises to share advanced technology and live in peace. Many Earthlings are eager to believe her, including young adults who sign up for the Peace Ambassador program (analogous to Hitler Youth).

But there are skeptics. These include FBI agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell), whose son joins the Ambassador program, and Father Jack (Joel Gretsch). Complicating things is the wave of Visitors who came to Earth years earlier and are working incognito. At the same time, though, other secret Visitors have become disillusioned and join the resistance.

Somewhere in between is news anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf). In exchange for exclusive interviews with Anna, he makes an uncomfortable bargain to ask only softball questions.

It could be complicated, but Peters’ tightly written teleplay makes it easy to follow. In addition, the pilot raises provocative issues without getting didactic. That, combined with mythology less dense than, say, ABC’s “Lost,” should make this an attractive viewing option.

Kenneth Johnson, creator of the original series, sees the remake as a way to profit from his own movie version of the show.


A couple of shows are coming back in December. Scrubs returns December 1 with hopes of  phasing into a new cast, which is generally risky for an established show. Better off Ted returns on December 8. In a move guaranteed to promote file sharing sites, The Waters of Mars, the next Doctor Who special, will air on the BBC on November 15. It will not air on BBC America until December 19. The two part final episode with David Tennant will probably air on the BBC on Christmas Day and sometime around New Year’s Day. Those wanting to see more of David Tennant can also see him on The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith.

A couple more genre shows appear to be in trouble. I’ve already expressed skepticism whether Dollhouse will be picked up beyond thirteen episodes. Now NBC is telling the producers of Heroes to think about wrapping up the series. It might actually be better for the show to have an end point to work towards. Heroes would have been remembered far more fondly if the first season was produced as the complete series. The current season has been mixed. I am looking forwards to tomorrow night’s episode to see if Hiro can save Charlie, but it is not a good sign when they have to rely upon revisiting past events to keep the show interesting.

Fringe is also on the bubble according to TV Guide.


Alan Ball was interviewed about upcoming plans for True Blood:

Bon Temps is going to be very crowded for True Blood’s third season, what with all the new vampires walking around. Executive producer Alan Ball, and several of True Blood’s writers and producers, sat down with fans of the show Wednesday at the Paley Center for Media to discuss the new residents of Bon Temps, Bill and Sookie’s future and a naked Alexander Skårsgard.

So where does the action pick up at the beginning of Season 3? “I believe [Eric] appears without most of his clothes in the very first episode,” jokes Ball. (But seriously, he says, fans of Eric’s amnesia story line from the books will have to wait until Season 4.)

“Sookie [Anna Paquin] is going to go off in search of Bill [Stephen Moyer], and she will find him,” Ball tells But Sookie is in search of much more than just Bill. “There will be more conjecture about what she is and she will be more driven to discover what she is,” said Ball. “She will get closer to the answer.”

Will her brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten) help her? Not likely, as Ball explains that he doesn’t share his sister’s magical gifts. “It’s a DNA thing, it’s a genetic thing and skips some people and gets in some others,” he says. “Jason has vestiges of it, in that he’s such a fantastic athlete and he’s a perfect shot, but he’s still human, whereas Sookie is definitely a half-human, half-something else that we’re waiting to reveal.”

Good news for Bill fans: He won’t be going away for an extended period of time, as he does in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. Ball reports that the TV series won’t be telling the same story. “Stephen Moyer will not be marginalized. Bill and Sookie may go through some rough patches that last maybe a little longer than Team Bill fans might like, but Bill and Sookie have a connection that will never die.”

So what about Bill’s big secret, that he only went to Bon Temps and became close to Sookie on the orders of Queen Sophie-Anne? Will that ever be revealed? Ball says yes. “I can’t say when it will be discovered, but it definitely will be,” he says. “We are definitely aware of that as we’re breaking the stories, and have been from the beginning of the show.”

Ball says that marital bliss is not in the cards for Sookie and Bill. “There is somebody who wants a wedding, but it’s not who you think it is,” teases Ball. “I don’t think you’ll see that wedding actually happen.”

What you will see is another human-vampire romance, when Tara meets the still-to-be-cast Franklin Mott. Their relationship will be unlike any other on the show. “I don’t even think they’re in the same ballpark,” producer Raelle Tucker tells us. “He’s more dangerous than any of those other [vampires]. She’s definitely playing with something that’s a lot more deadly.”

And Mott won’t be alone. “You’ll find a range of vampires,” supervising producer Alexander Woo says. “The vampire world really opens up. You’ll see that there’s as much of a variety and diversity among vampires as there is among human beings. There’s going to be extremely cruel and extremely kind. I think you’ll see there isn’t one archetype; there is a panorama.”

We don’t know how long Sookie’s adventures will continue on HBO but they might come to an end in the novels. while promoting a current book of short stories, Charlaine Harris has said that her Sookie Stackhouse series might come to and end after three additional novels. This would make for a total of a dozen books.

Dexter Rita

I’ve already reported that Julie Benz, who play’s Dexter’s television wife, has warned about a shocking end for the season. Jennifer Carpenter, Michael C. Hall’s wife in real life (and sister on the show) has more:

Dexter fans should stop crying over the shocking October 18 death of Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) and brace themselves for something far worse. “Everything changes at the end of this season,” Jennifer Carpenter (Deb) said at the 2009 Scream Awards. “Dexter will never be the same.”

The actress told me the Showtime series was so protective of its top-secret December 13 season finale that she had to sneak on set to witness the gruesome climax of John Lithgow’s bloody reign of terror as the Trinity Killer. “I was so curious that I showed up at 1:30 in the morning to see what they were shooting, so I know!” says Jennifer (who probably could have wrangled the secret out of her real-life husband and Dexter star, Michael C. Hall). “Let’s just say maybe all of our trailers won’t be there next year.”

The obvious speculation is over whether Rita, who does get in Dexter’s way this season, will be John Lithgow’s final victim this season.


Edward James Olmos was interviewed by Io9 and about The Plan and discussed other questions which might be addressed in future Battlestar Galactica movies:

Simple questions, like what happened to the [final] five during this period of time? Where were they coming from 2,000 years ago? How could they be around for 2,000 years, and yet the understanding of Caprica is that the robotic trend on Caprica was started 57 years ago? How did that work? That question comes into play, and I would love to see how they answered it. That, to me, would be explosively unbelievable. I would love to have that question answered. I would also love to know what is going to happen to the people on the Earth. What is going to happen to Adama and all the different people? What happened to the Raptor that got them to the point of finding their dream space? That, to me, is just two simple ones I can think of off the top of my head…. To me, there’s still a lot of beautiful story that’s waiting to be unleashed in this world.

Olmos expressed displeasure about the degree to which The Plan was downloaded once it leaked out on line during the week before its release on DVD:

People don’t understand that if they want to see this universe again, they have to participate by voting, by casting their dollars. If they don’t cast their dollars, they won’t see any more of these.

That is understandable, but I also think that sales would be much better, regardless of whether copies were downloaded, if the product was better.  Many of those hard core fans who couldn’t wait to see the show would still purchase copies if this was a better product. Instead, many of us who viewed the episode early, both from downloads and early purchases, have been advising that there is really no need to get a copy now as opposed to waiting until it airs on television. I reviewed The Plan here. Unless they can do a better job, I would prefer to remember Battlestar Galactica for what has been done as opposed to having more second rate DVD and television movies.

Creationism in the Muslim World

During the Bush years our foreign policy often felt like a no win battle between Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. The Boston Globe shows one of the areas where the two are increasingly in agreement–belief in creationism:

But there is another creationist movement whose influence is growing, and which is fueling challenges to science in countries where Christianity has little sway: Islamic creationism. Campaigners in countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, and Indonesia have fought the teaching of evolution in schools there, sometimes with great success. Creationist conferences have been held in Pakistan, and moderate Islamic clerics are on record publicly condemning Darwin’s ideas. A recent study of Muslim university students in the Netherlands showed that most rejected evolution. And driven in part by a mysterious Turkish publishing organization, Islamic creationism books are hot sellers at bookstores throughout the Muslim world.

“[T]he next major battle over evolution is likely to take place in the Muslim world,” Salman Hameed, a Pakistani-born astronomer at Hampshire College who has dedicated himself to researching Islamic creationism, wrote in an article in Science last December.

The phenomenon has raised concerns among scientists and educators – especially those in Muslim countries and in countries with growing Muslim minorities – who see in it a threat to scientific literacy, a drag on the potential for Muslim countries to build up their languishing scientific research sectors, and as another flashpoint in the Muslim world’s long-running struggle between religion and secularism. Unlike in the West, creationist beliefs are not associated in the Muslim world with religious fundamentalism, but instead are often espoused by members of the mainstream intellectual elite – liberals, by their own lights, who see the expansive, scientific-sounding claims of creationism as tracing a middle way between the guidance of religion and the promise of modern science. Critics of the movement fear that this makes it more likely that creationism will find its way into policies there, especially when the theory of evolution is portrayed among Muslim thinkers, as it often is, as an instrument of Western intellectual hegemony.

There are significant differences in the debate in Muslim countries as opposed to the United States:

And as the Internet facilitates the spread of both evolutionary and anti-evolutionary ideas, the debate over evolution seems to be sharpening. Islamic creationism does have its own distinctive character: While Islamic creationists borrow from the literature of their Christian counterparts, their concerns are not always the same. Without a Book of Genesis to account for, for example, Muslim creationists have little interest in proving that the age of the Earth is measured in the thousands rather than the billions of years, nor do they show much interest in the problem of the dinosaurs. And the idea that animals might evolve into other animals also tends to be less controversial, in part because there are passages of the Koran that seem to support it.

But the issue of whether human beings are the product of evolution is just as fraught among Muslims, and, as in the United States, the argument has played out around the question of what will be taught in schools. Turkey, with its longer and deeper engagement with the West, has had the most vehement debates.

There are many reasons which lead some Muslims to reject evoluton, including the fact that the science was worked out in the west, along with some seeing evolution as “the tool of atheists bent on destroying Islam.” As with religious fundamentalists in the west, some fear “the threat that evolutionary thought presents is its insistence on replacing a divine creator with the nakedly mechanistic forces of randomness and brutal competition for resources and mates.”

Some portions of the Islamic world are more open to a consideration of modern science:

There are attempts within the Muslim world to try to ease the tension between the two by enlisting the authority of the Koran. Salman Hameed points out that the biology textbook used in Pakistani high schools, while it does not mention human evolution, does have a chapter on the broader theory of evolution. That chapter opens with a quote from the Koran – “And He is Who had produced you from a single being.” – that could be read as giving support to the idea that many species descended from one single predecessor.

Edis is quick to point out that the Iranian clerical establishment’s vision of evolution, in which a divine hand guides the process, is closer to intelligent design than to the mainstream Western version of evolution. Still, according to Hameed, it is this relative friendliness to modern biology – and one of its central ideas – that has allowed Iran to pursue an aggressive, state-sponsored stem cell research program unmatched anywhere else in the Muslim world.

“What happened in Iran is that the ayatollahs decided that evolution is OK, and that there was going to be none of this nonsense about creationism, and therefore there isn’t a lot of it in Iran,” says Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University and author of “An Illusion of Harmony,” a book on the relationship between science and Islam.

A similar theological rapprochement explains why creationism has gained little purchase in Iran. Unlike in Sunni Islam, Shia Islam, Iran’s majority religion, has an established clerical hierarchy to interpret the Koran, making Shia’ism structurally similar to Catholicism. Iran’s clerics, like the Vatican, have decided that evolution needn’t conflict with Holy Scripture.

Fox Continues To Present Right Wing Propaganda

This morning, while flipping through the channels when one of the Sunday interview shows from one of the real network news divisions was running a commercial, I happened to go past Fox’s imitation interview show. At the moment they had Rush Limbaugh on, who was asked his view of Joe Biden:

Limbaugh: Pompous, a bit of a windbag, and wrong

Wallace: About?

Limbaugh: Pretty much everything

I found this somewhat amusing considering that “pompous, a windbag and wrong about pretty much everything” would be a perfect description of Limbaugh. Sure Biden can be a pompous windbag, and sometimes is even wrong, but compared to Rush Limbaugh Joe Biden is a quiet academic.

Limbaugh’s appearance on Fox News Sunday has received some coverage in the blogosphere, such as here.It looks like Rush Limbaugh and Chris Wallace spent a half hour with similar bashing of Obama and his administration. A major portion of Limbaugh’s attack was about Afghanistan:

The radio talk show accused the president of not caring about success in Afghanistan. “I know this is going to sound controversial but I don’t think he cares,” he said, before accusing Obama of “dithering” on whether or not to send more troops to the theater. “If he cared about it, Chris if he cared about it we’ve got soldiers and their families worrying about what we are going to do.”

To actually spend the time to evaluate the issue, as opposed to acting without thinking like George Bush did, shows far more concern for the soldiers than we see from the right wing. Perhaps if George Bush took the time to establish a rational strategy he wouldn’t have left Obama such a mess, and perhaps he wouldn’t have screwed up and let Osama bin Laden get away at Tora Bora when he had an excellent shot of capturing him.

Limbaugh repeated the usual right wing talking points to distort the health care debate, along with making claims which even most conservative attorneys have laughed at that the plan is unconstitutional.

This was certainly not a hard hitting interview as Chris Wallace allowed absurd statements from Limbaugh to go without challenge. Once again we see how the right wing noise machine promotes the same right wing talking points to promote the Republican Party, especially now that the followers of Rush Limbaugh and talk radio have taken control of the GOP.  Andrew Sullivan tied this interview into Fox’s lack of journalistic credibility, calling Chris Wallace a propagandist and writing, “It seems to me that any pretense that he remains a journalist must now be retired. He’s a Republican party operative, trading on a once-respected name in news.”