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Archive for May, 2007

Double Standards

It’s no secret to non-Christians that Christians in the US (and religious people everywhere, for that matter) often have double-standards about what’s fair when it comes to religion. When they don’t get their way, they like to imagine that they are being discriminated against. Recently, Laura Mallory went to court to keep Harry Potter books out of schools. Her reasoning? Witchcraft is an actual religion, and therefore, having Harry Potter books in schools violates the separation of church and state.

But the newspaper also quotes her: “I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again,” Mallory said. “I think we need him.”

Upholding the “separation of church and state” except in cases where it involves Christianity.

Sources:
The West Australian: US judge overrules Potter book complaint
Red State Rabble: Disapparate!
Stupid Evil Bastard: Asshat Laura Mallory loses case to ban Harry Potter…

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Thought this was a good podcast episode.

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There’s an interesting video over at ExChristian.net titled, “Miracles Prove God is Real”. It talks about the Hindu “milk miracle” that happened a number of years back. The “milk miracle” is that Hindu statues appeared to drink milk when a small spoon-full of milk was put up to their mouths. There’s really nothing to this “miracle”; the milk would simply adhere to the statue causing the milk to be pulled-up out of the spoon, making it appear that it was being consumed by the statues.

The video briefly mentions the existence of similar “miracles” in Christianity. For example, there are sometimes reports that tears are seen forming in the eyes of statues of Mary:
Tears Of Blood Called Miracle By Catholic Faithful
Weeping Statues and Icons – Blood, Water, Oil

It’s amazing how often the “faithful” accept these miracles without much question. I feel bad for the “agnostic” in the video who was duped, and declared that he now believes in Hindu gods. While the case of the Hindu statues is fairly easy to explain as a misunderstanding, the weeping statues of Mary are due to some person intentionally doing a hoax. Occasionally, scientists will test these “tears” (often they are barred from doing so, because it’s considered bad to put these things to scientific tests). I remember one case where the “tears” were determined to be male human blood mixed with chicken fat (meaning the “tears” would begin to run only in warm temperatures). In one case they were even able to genetically match the “blood tears” to a man who had owned the statue.
See Also: James Randi – Will This persistent Delusion Never Go Away?

I think all religious miracles can be explained away as hoaxes, misunderstandings, and a huge lack of skepticality (who often have a huge desire to believe in the validity of miracles to buttress their faith and provide a sense of wonder). Typically, people of all religions are unaware that “miracles” happen in other religions, too – falsely believing that theirs is somehow unique in producing “miracles” that validate their particular religion or cult.

This also brings up an interesting point about heaven-and-hell religions (i.e. Christianity, Islam, and their variations). They say you must convert or be horribly punished for eternity in the afterlife. If a Hindu is deceived by these false Hindu-based “miracles”, then a person comes to them and preaches Christianity or Islam, and they do not convert because they falsely believe their Hindu religion has produced genuine miracles that validate Hinduism, will they be end up in hell? Couldn’t God provide real miracles to clarify which religion is the true one? How is that fair to punish someone for being genuinely deceived – particularly when God had the capability to perform real miracles, and people would be happy to convert in the face of real evidence? Would you punish someone for falling for a con man or an online scam? How is that justice? In contrast, if you want to convert someone to your false religion, you can provide scary stories about hell, and tell them this is “their choice” – which effectively puts the onus on them and their choice, rather than where it belongs: with the believer and religion’s obligation to provide evidence of that religion’s validity.

Update, March 1, 2008: Regarding the “Milk Miracle”, here’s two pictures for Steve. They come from a video claiming that the Milk Miracle is true. Notice the stream of milk running down the statue’s chin? This isn’t a miracle. It’s gravity and failure to observe.
hindumilkmiracle.jpg

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In the past, I’ve posted comments on William Dembski’s pro-Intelligent Design site: UncommonDescent. Part of the reason I started visiting the site is to correct misunderstandings about evolution, and also because I wanted to see what kind of information IDists were presenting in their own words. There were a lot of times the blog would leave me rolling my eyes and shaking my head at their misunderstandings or misinformation. The blog (which has multiple contributors) is largely composed of complaints about nasty evolutionists suppressing ID-advocates, posts quoting evolutionists where they use the word “design” or “device” to describe some biological feature and then pretending they won some sort of argument – as in ‘design requires a designer’, some posts where they take some biological feature and say, ‘see, it’s too complex *not* to be designed by an intelligent being’ (sometimes, you have to squint and look sideways at your screen to even figure out why they think ID is the only possible explanation).

Oh, and all the comments are moderated – they don’t show up until a moderator approves them (if you’re really pro-ID, they’ll put you on the pre-approved list so your comments appear instantly). When I would post comments, about 80% of them showed up. And, even when they do show up, they usually take a day or two to appear – which means they tend not to be seen by the person you’re arguing against since they appear in the middle of the old comments (how frustrating). I learned that disagreeing with the contributor tended to result in your comment never showing up, but disagreeing with other commenters tended to be okay. And, if you ever get frustrated with their article or comments, and show any kind of frustration with their ignorance, your comments tended not to be approved. (Of course, if you want to hurl insults at evolutionists, that’s okay.) I found the whole thing rather frustrating – waiting a day or two to see if your comment shows up or not, and if it doesn’t show up after a day or two, you just guess that it was not approved. And if you ask why it wasn’t approved, they get angry (seriously, they explicitly tell you not to ask them why your comment was not approved or they’ll just get irritated with you). You really feel subservient posting on that site – “please, sir, approve my comment; I promise not to say anything the least bit insulting about ID”. I found it highly irritating to write a long comment where I tried to explain some complicated feature of evolution and have it never appear at all.

There’s a certain level of immaturity on the site. For example, they can’t stop from hurling insults at Judge Jones because he gave an unfavorable ruling to Intelligent Design (essentially calling it religion dressed up as science). Which resulted UncommonDescent producing articles like: Judge Jones: Towering Intellectual or Narcissistic Putz? (Like I said earlier, they’ll stop you from saying anything insulting about Intelligent Design – because they want to “keep things civil”, but calling Judge Jones a “Narcissistic Putz” is perfectly fine in their book.)

It’s kind of ironic that the Intelligent Design crowd complains about how their ID theory is “suppressed” by evolutionists, but then carefully filtering-out any comments that are too pro-evolution or anti-ID. If Intelligent Design ever became the dominant theory (and scientists don’t look very favorably on ID, so that’s unlikely), but if it did become the dominant theory, we can look forward to all kinds of suppression of any non-theistic explanation. It would be as ugly as Lysenkoism was in the USSR. Heck, Dembski has stated that he’d rip biology departments apart if he were put in charge (read: he’s a mathematician/philosopher/theologian with no training in biology, and so he practices academic snobbery against biology + he hates the fact that evolution explains life without reference to God). His quote:

If I ever became the president of a university (per impossibile), I would dissolve the biology department and divide the faculty with tenure that I couldn’t get rid of into two new departments: those who know engineering and how it applies to biological systems would be assigned to the new “Department of Biological Engineering”; the rest, and that includes the evolutionists, would be consigned to the new “Department of Nature Appreciation” (didn’t Darwin think of himself as a naturalist?).

Anyway, I happened to visit UncommonDescent today, and I saw this article: Introducing “Sewell’s Law” written by “Granville Sewell”. I couldn’t help but laugh that he was making up a “law” and naming it after himself to disprove evolution. My immediate thought was “Isn’t making up a law named after yourself to win an argument on the ‘Crackpot Index’?” Ah, yes, there it is: “20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the “The Evans Field Equation” when your name happens to be Evans.)”

I swear, sometimes these Intelligent Design guys (leaders in the movement, no less) come off like keystone cops.

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I received a letter in the mail today from “Saint Matthew’s Churches” in Tulsa Oklahoma. I’ve gotten a few mailings from them in the past, and have no idea how I got on their mailing list. Inside the envelope is several things:

A “prayer handkerchief” that is a piece of paper printed with a handkerchief-like pattern.
A self-addressed envelope (addressed to “Saint Matthew’s Churches”)
A sealed envelope that contains “prophecies” that I’m not supposed to open yet.
And a few pages explaining what I’m supposed to do.

Before reading their letter, my immediate reaction is, “let me guess — they want me to send them money”. Their letter begins:

As a minister for more than half-a-century, I’ve read and reread, in the Holy Bible, how God instructs ministers to send Bible faith handkerchiefs to people’s homes, and, as a result, miracles of blessings occur.

Here, I loan you, in Jesus holy name, this paper, Bible faith handkerchief for something good to happen for you (Acts 19:11,12)…

Dear… Someone Connected with This Home, Who Needs Prayer and God’s Divine Help and Blessings… in The Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit,

We’ve been on our knees, praying over this address and someone connected with it, because we feel someone connected to this home needs God’s help and blessings.

(Yes, all the ellipses are theirs, not mine.)

The letter goes on like this, talking about: God’s blessings, “actual” testimonies about miracles happening because of these handkerchiefs, how in the New Testament, people were healed by handkerchiefs that had previously touched Paul (Acts 19:11,12), the importance of *faith*, how I’m supposed to write my prayer on this “prayer handkerchief”, leave the handkerchief on top of an open Bible overnight (opened to Acts 19:11,12, of course), read the sealed prophecy tomorrow morning, and then mail my “handkerchief” back to them so that they can pray over it, and (hopefully) God will answer my prayer. What? No pleas for money? Oh yeah, that too. In *several* places they mention “sowing a seed”. Specifically:

I am asking you right now to pray about sowing a biblical seed offering unto the Lord. As your faith leads you to sow a seed gift to the Lord’s work, give God your best seed and believe Him for His best blessing (St. Luke 6:38). Get out a seed offering and give it to God as your seed toward your harvest, and toward the work of Jesus Christ, for this is the work of God that this church is doing (Galatians 6:7)

(All the bold and underlining is theirs.)

There were several other statements about “sowing a seed offering” – in one case, they said seed offerings would be used to send out more handkerchiefs to bless more people. (Ain’t that sweet?) Here’s an example of one of their mailings.

Something about the letter makes me imagine lonely old grandmothers who are improverished and in poor health being taken in my this scam. There’s degree to which it reminds me of voodoo, too, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the whole “miracle handkerchiefs” thing. When Marjoe was pulling his scam, he specifically mentions giving out handkerchiefs in church that supposedly had miracle-working power. Behind the scenes, I believe he referred to them along the lines of: “cheap little trinkets that he could give out at church services”.

A quick google search on “Saint Matthew’s Churches” turns up 25,000+ hits.
Religion in America: ‘St. Matthew’s Churches’ Mail Ministry is Highly Lucrative:

“Once a traveling tent-revival preacher, the Rev. James Eugene Ewing built a direct-mail empire from his mansion in Los Angeles that brings millions of dollars flowing into a Tulsa post office box.

Ewing’s computerized mailing operation, Saint Matthew’s Churches, mails more than 1 million letters per month, many to poor, uneducated people, while Ewing lives in a mansion and drives luxury cars.

The letters contain an alluring promise of ‘seed faith:’ send Saint Matthew’s your money and God will reward you with cash, a cure to your illness, a new home and other blessings. They often contain items such as prayer cloths, a ‘Jesus eyes handkerchief,’ golden coins, communion wafers and ‘sackcloth billfolds.’ Recipients are often warned to open the letters in private and not discuss them with others.

Tulsa World: Prayers, cash flow into Tulsa:

Each month, thousands of Americans receive envelopes postmarked from Tulsa filled with biblical trinkets such as a Bank of Heaven check listing God as president and Jesus as vice president.

And each month, thousands of recipients send back cash, checks and their handwritten prayers to the organization, Saint Matthew’s Churches.

One religious watchdog group, the Trinity Foundation, estimates the pitches bring up to $6 million every month.

Though Saint Matthew’s letters list only a Tulsa post office box, the letters and money flow back to a downtown Tulsa office building owned by the group’s attorney, J.C. Joyce.

There, in the basement of a building housing Joyce’s law firm, a staff of 17 employees work up to 12 hours each day opening the letters, taking out cash and checks and depositing the rest in trash cans called “holy bins.”

The facility features heavy security, with cameras, thick steel doors and is accessible only with special elevator keys. One worker’s job is simply to bundle the large stacks of cash using a money-counting machine.

“It’s almost laughable if it weren’t so sacrilegious,” said Dick McClure, who worked for a company called Bixby Mail Inc. in Joyce’s building. Records list Joyce as a corporate officer of Bixby Mail Inc., which was incorporated in 2001.

Day’s total: $86,000
McClure, 67, of Sand Springs, said he took the job to make some extra income in March but quit several weeks ago because he had concerns about where the money was going. He said his job was to open thousands of letters to Saint Matthew’s each day and note on the envelopes how much had been sent. He said one deposit slip he saw listed that day’s total as $86,000.

“You pull out all of the marketing material and you put it in what they call a holy bin. It’s like a trash bin. People may have prayer requests on there; it doesn’t matter . . . What they want to know is who gave it and how much.”

Joyce declined to release records showing what Saint Matthew’s does with the funds, saying: “It’s not anybody’s business.”

Unlike other nonprofits, organizations classified as churches by the IRS are not required to file a 990 form stating how much they receive or how they spend their funds.

In 1999, the last year Saint Matthew’s filed a public 990 tax form, the organization reported $26.8 million in revenue. It reported spending $4 million on salaries, $989,000 on legal fees, $817,000 for housing and $649,000 for travel.

The man behind Saint Matthew’s is the Rev. James Eugene Ewing, a former traveling tent revival preacher. Evans, the Trinity Foundation investigator, said Ewing lives in a Beverly Hills townhouse and “lives a reclusive but extravagant lifestyle.”

It’s all a bunch of “prosperity theology” stuff which is also promoted by Falwell, Popoff, and other preachers. It makes leaders wealthy, and cons people out of their money with empty promises that God will reward them for their “faith based offering”. The nastiest part about all of this is the way it disproportionately draws in the poor and desperate. I’ve heard that prosperity theology has been doing especially well in Brazil and other third-world countries – where large segments of the population are living in poverty and grasping for hope. This sick scam of “prosperity theology” impoverishes the poor, and makes the churches and church leaders rich (and therefore, powerful). If Gene Ewing’s “Saint Matthew’s Churches” sounds like an obvious scam by some small-time con artist, I should point out that Ewing has ties to some of the most powerful preachers in the US:

During a second meeting with Roberts, Ewing laid out his seed-faith philosophy.

‘Gene [Ewing] laid out one of the most sophisticated fund-raising campaigns I had ever seen. He said, ‘Oral, I want you to write your supporters and tell them you are going in the prayer tower, and you are going to read their prayer requests and pray over them.’ He stayed there three days. I forget how many hundred thousands of letters we had, but it was huge.’

Robinson said that on Ewing’s advice, Roberts responded to the letters with a letter outlining seed faith.

‘You give and you get from God. It was a kind of prosperity gospel,’ Robinson said.

Roberts was so happy with Ewing’s advice that he gave Ewing the plane, Robinson said.

The next year, income to Roberts’ ministry doubled, to $12 million from about $6 million, Robinson said.

Despite the prosperous times, Robinson said, he was unhappy in the job and soon quit. Today, he is a pastor of the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church in Fort Myers, Fla.

Once Ewing rescued Roberts’ finances, other well-known evangelists came calling, Robinson said.

‘Once he did it with the biggest man of all, then all the others were just tickled to get on board.’

Robinson said that after he left Roberts’ ministry, he had a chance meeting on an airplane with Tulsa-based evangelist T.L. Osborn, who had also sought Ewing’s services.

‘He said, ‘We were down to counting pencils and paper clips until Gene came along.’ ‘

Ewing’s flair for effective, dramatic direct-mail appeals won him jobs writing for evangelists including Tilton, Rex Humbard and Rev. Ike. In many cases, the letters are identical but contain different signatures.

The Trinity Foundation, which obtained copies of the identical letters, has dubbed Ewing ‘God’s Ghostwriter.’

‘We had nine different televangelists essentially sending out the same letter,’ Anthony said. ‘He (Ewing) makes most of his money by selling these packages to televangelists.”

( Source: Religion in America: ‘St. Matthew’s Churches’ Mail Ministry is Highly Lucrative )

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So, Jerry Falwell is dead. As it’s customary to look back on a person’s life when they die, why don’t we take a look at Falwell?

– In the 1960s, Falwell referred to the civil rights movement as the “Civil Wrongs Movement”, advocated segregation, and featured segregationist politicians on his television program. As recently as 1990, he is quoted as saying, “I do question the sincerity and non-violent intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left wing associations.”
– Says that while he opposed Apartheid, he also opposed sanctions against the South African Apartheid regime. Falwell says of Desmond Tutu: “I think he’s a phony, period, as far as representing the black people of South Africa.”, a remark which he later apologized for.
– Opponent of secular public education, advocate of Christian domination of the educational system: “I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.”
– Says of 9/11: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.”
Like Peter Popoff, he preached “prosperity theology” which says if you give money “to God” (i.e. preachers, televagelists, and your church), then God will reward you. Falwell: “Let me say a word to you who are struggling with debt right now. A bad attitude about money got you in debt. Whenever I’m counseling a couple who’s having financial difficulties, I say, ‘give me your budget now. What’s your income, how much are you spending, where are you putting it?’ And if I don’t see tithes and offerings at the top, I’ll say ‘there’s your problem right there.’ You’re robbing from God. ‘Oh, we can’t afford it right now pastor.’ No, no, you can’t afford not to. If you need a miracle, you’d better put the miracle working God in your budget. I’ve never led people into that that they didn’t come back a few months later and say, ‘I don’t know how that works, but it does.’ … That’s spiritual mathematics.” (Or that’s a scam by televangelists to con poor people out of their money.)
– Says of AIDS and homosexuality: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals; it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals” (Although, for some reason, the US’ Black community has the highest rates of AIDS infections, even though the US’ Black community is among the least tolerant of gays compared to other racial groups in the US. The situation is similar in Africa: high rate of AIDS, low tolerance of homosexuality.)
– Defender against the evil homosexual agenda of Tinky Winky.

A quick compare and contrast:
“My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter.” – Adolph Hitler
“This ‘turn the other cheek’ business is all well and good but it’s not what Jesus fought and died for.” – Jerry Falwell

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith … We need believing people.” – Adolph Hitler
“Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.” – Adolph Hitler
“I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them.” – Jerry Falwell

“We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit … We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theater, and in the press … we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess.” – Adolph Hitler
“We’re fighting against humanism, we’re fighting against liberalism … we are fighting against all the systems of Satan that are destroying our nation today .” – Jerry Falwell

I once read a quote stating that if fascism ever arrives in the US, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Indeed.

“Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions” – Jerry Falwell

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Scientology

There’s been some news about Scientology on the internet lately. First, there was the BBC’s program on Scientology: “Scientology and Me”. The BBC reporter loses it and starts yelling at a Scientologist. When I first saw the clip (released by a scientology supporter), it just shows the reporter yelling, but there was no context to the clip. Here’s the same clip with more context.

Second, there was a report that Scientologists sent “grief counselors” to Virginia Tech after the recent shootings. They sent the same kind of people to New York after 9/11 (Link, Link, Link).

The Scientologists can be very creepy. This video doesn’t really get interesting until around two minutes into it. Much of this video revolves around the Scientologists asking the cameraman, “What are your crimes?” and then accusing him of crimes. In another video (beginning around 9:00), is Hubbard’s claim that all critics of Scientology have committed serious crimes (“Every time we have investigated the background of a critic of Scientology, we have found crimes for which that person or group could be imprisoned under existing law. We do not find critics of Scientology who do not have criminal pasts. Over and over we prove this. Politician A stands up on his hind legs in a Parliament and brays for a condemnation of Scientology. When we look him over we find crimes – embezzled funds, moral lapses, a thirst for young boys – sordid stuff.”) That should give some context to what these Scientologists are saying:

Another video describing stories of Scientology cult members who ended up broke (because they gave all their money to Scientology), and dead (often because Scientologists take people off their psychiatric medicine, which they consider to be a sham). Warning: there are a couple short images of dead people in the video, which is unfortunate, because the video is interesting.

“Scientology: Inside the Church of Scientology” – news report on Scientology including some hidden camera footage

The Cult Awareness Network was an organization to identify cults and help parents who have lost their children to a cult. The Church of Scientology forced the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy using lawsuits, and then bought the name – so that they could use the Cult Awareness Network to trap more members, and, presumably, bury anyone who naively calls the center to get their child out of the cult of Scientology. According to the video, CAN now puts out fliers extolling the virtues of Scientology.

Here’s an interesting link to information on Scientology, and why a number of european governments consider it a cult. Some of this information sounds like it comes right out of a book involving a stereotypical ‘evil cult’.

In the early 1980s, American courts convicted 11 top Scientologists for plotting to plant spies in federal agencies, break into government offices and bug at least one IRS meeting. In 1994, in a case involving Lawrence Wollersheim, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California court’s finding of substantial evidence that Scientology practices took place in a coercive environment and rejected Scientology’s claims that the practices were protected under religious freedom guaranties. In September 1997, the Illinois Supreme Court found there was evidence enough to allege that Scientology had driven the Cult Awareness Network into bankruptcy by filing 21 lawsuits in a 17-month period. The court stated that “such a sustained onslaught of litigation can hardly be deemed ‘ordinary’, if [the Network] can prove that the actions were brought without probable cause and with malice.”

In addition, a New York Times article on March 9, 1997, outlined “an extraordinary campaign orchestrated by Scientology against the [IRS] and people who work there. Among the findings were these: Scientology’s lawyers hired private investigators to dig into the private lives of IRS officials and to conduct surveillance operations to uncover potential vulnerabilities.” …

On December 1, 1997, a New York Times article described Scientology records seized in an FBI raid on church offices that prove “that Scientology had come to Clearwater with a written plan to take control of the city. Government and community organizations were infiltrated by Scientology members. Plans were undertaken to discredit and silence critics. A fake hit-and-run accident was staged in 1976 to try to ruin the political career of the mayor. A Scientologist infiltrated the local newspaper and reported on the paper’s plans to her handlers.”

When the earlier quote says, “American courts convicted 11 top Scientologists for plotting to plant spies in federal agencies”, it actually goes deeper than that. They were trying to dig up dirt on Scientology critics, “fix” the “incorrect” information about Scientology in FBI files, etc. L Ron Hubbard and his wife were ultimately convicted of this conspiracy, and he lived the last few years of his life as a fugitive.

Also, it’s not widely known, but Tom Cruise is considered to be the equivalent of the Pope of Scientology. He’s the highest ranking member in the church. Maybe it’s time to stop seeing his movies – apparently, his box-office numbers have been declining in response to his increased outspokenness of Scientology. It would be nice if someone in the media stood up and took Tom Cruise to task for Scientology’s crimes.

“make money, make more money — make other people produce so as to make money” – L. Ron Hubbard

“Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” – L Ron Hubbard

When he died, L Ron Hubbard had a net worth of $650 million dollars – all due to Scientology.

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