Become Cult-Aware in Dallas

The storied Dallas Morning News religion desk has fallen on hard times. A couple months ago, news came that the last religion reporters were reassigned to cover suburban schools or somesuch. That’s the advantage to the Killing the Buddha religion desk—in this organization, there’s nowhere else to go.

It seems that, in lieu of actual reporting, the DMN religion bloggers have devoted themselves to promoting uncritical use of “cult” terminology. Today, they reprint a press release “on a Saturday event in Garland”:

I Can't Hear God AnymoreCult Awareness, Spiritual Abuse, and Recovery Presentation Saturday, June 20th

2:00-4:00 pm

Mary Stuart Hall

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church

1200 North Shiloh, Garland, 75042

On Saturday, June 20, 2009 from 2:00-4:00, Doug and Wendy Duncan will give a presentation on cult awareness, spiritual abuse, and recovery at St.
Barnabas Episcopal Church in Garland. The Duncans are former members of a Bible-based cult.

Wendy is a licensed social worker and holds a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is also the author of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult, the true story of the couple’s involvement in and eventual separation from a Bible-based cult. After leaving the cult where he was a member for over twenty years, Doug earned his master’s degree in counseling and is now a licensed professional counselor.

All well and good, right? A heroic escape from an evil “Bible-based cult.” The cult in question, it turns out, is the Trinity Foundation. Love ’em or hate ’em, it wasn’t so long ago (2005, to be precise), that the same Dallas Morning News so celebrated Trinity for their “dedicated digging” in unearthing tax fraud on the part of televangelist Benny Hinn. “Trinity has a track record of digging through trash bins as a strategy against televangelists,” gushes the News. Yuck. No wonder the Duncans couldn’t stand it.

Be careful who you call a cult; they may land you a slam-dunk expose. Trinity also happens to be the publisher of the on-hiatus Wittenburg Door. And we have a soft spot for them, so watch out.

The Morning News blog cult-saga continues. On June 12, it promoted this event, also 100% uncritically:

David O’Neil spent years and years working on his book “Laughing at the Devil: a Cult Survivor’s Religious Discoveries.” You can hear him discuss the book at Unity Church of Dallas, 6525 Forest Lane, on June 21 and June 28. Details below from the church’s Web site:

Connections Speaker Series
Myths the Priests Created
Sundays, June 21 & 28, 10-10:45 am
Instructor: David O’Neil

Mr. O’Neil is a mechanical engineer/computer programmer who, after a cult immersion in his childhood, has spent over thirty years integrating his religious experiences. Since 1994, O’Neil has been investigating the astronomy that portions of Western religion is based upon, and has recently published a book, titled Laughing at the Devil: A Cult Survivor’s Religious Discoveries, that presents the results of his inquiries of the Myths the Priest created.

In his presentations, O’Neil will show what he has learned about the astronomical aspects of two biblical stories: Samson, the Hebrew strongman, and Jesus, the Savior of Humanity. The Jesus lecture will overview mythical changes throughout history, and the scientific understandings behind those myths.

Let’s hear more about that Samson stuff, from the Amazon page:

His search also revealed that Western religion is based upon the ancient science of astronomy, and, amazingly, that the biblical story of Samson is created from astronomical observations made over four thousand years ago.

These discoveries have the potential to help all of us integrate religion and science in a profound new way, and heal the wounds caused by their previous alienation.

So: from cult to hogwash. Or, for the Duncan duo, from Trinity to the Baptists. It can be hard to know the difference. I don’t mean to deny that these folks might have had bad experiences in these communities, but plenty of people say the same thing about, for instance, having been Baptist. Come on, Dallas Morning News, pony up some dough for reporting so your religion writers can lay off the silly press releases.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.