Skeptic News: Cults, Colours, Conspiracies

NZ Skeptics Newsletter


Cults, Colours, Conspiracies

Tonight I’m off to a meeting of AMORC - the Ancient Mystical Order of Rosae Crucis. It occurred to me the other day that there’s an old idea which might be appropriate here. I’m sure many of you have heard of the guideline that the more a country’s name stresses that it is democratic, the less likely it is to actually resemble a democracy. Take the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) or the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos) as examples. I wonder whether the same rule might hold for cult groups. For example, the Order of Oriental Templars (OTO) is not related to either the Orient or Templars (it was invented in the 20th century by German occultists), The Church of Scientology is not really a church (it’s just a tax dodge) and the Unification Church (Moonies) didn’t unify the Christian church. So I have a sneaking suspicion that the Ancient Mystical Order of Rosae Crucis is probably going to turn out to be neither Ancient nor Mystical.


Anyway, I’d like to ask everyone to do me a favour. If you don’t receive a newsletter from me in three weeks, please email Craig ([email protected]) and let him know that I’ve either been sucked in by the cult or been kidnapped by them, and that he needs to send a rescue mission to extricate me. Thanks!


Mark Honeychurch

Randi Video: No Longer Missing

Thank you Mark Fletcher for letting us know that you had a copy of the video of James Randi’s 1993 Christchurch talk. He’d even transcoded the video from VHS to DVD several years ago, which made it a lot easier for me to get it onto YouTube. Thanks Mark, I owe you a beer!

Back in the day the NZ Skeptics charged $25 to send a VHS copy of the video out to you, but now - for the new low price of free - you can watch it at the click of a button. Isn’t technology marvellous!
The Amazing Randi - a public lecture given by James Randi in Christchurch, New Zealand on the 6th of July 1993.

2020: A Desert Odyssey

I’m sure most people saw the intriguing news that a tall prism shaped metal structure, now known as the Utah Monolith, had been found by conservationists in the desert in the US, sticking out from the rock floor of a canyon. It’s been great to see sleuths figure out where the monolith is located, using flight plans and google maps satellite view (in a slot canyon in Lockhart Basin in San Juan County, Utah), approximately when it was placed, using historical satellite photos (between August 2015 and October 2016) and how it was made, with several people visiting the site (it’s hollow and made from riveted stainless steel sheets). However, the mystery of who put it there has still not been solved.


In a further twist to the story, the monolith has now disappeared - presumably taken by either the original creators or someone else who wanted to add to the intrigue of this case.


I’m a big fan of these kinds of mysteries, which seem to fall into two camps. Some are real, genuine mysteries, such as the Antikythera device, the Somerton Man mystery and the Phaestos Disc. Others are obviously contrived, like the Voynich Manuscript, the Kryptos monument and the Georgia Guidestones. This monolith is also not the only mystery that appears to be related to the book/movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” - the Toynbee Tiles are another 2001 related enigma, and I’d recommend watching the documentary Resurrect Dead to see more about the tiles, along with a possible answer to who’s behind them. It’s always fascinating to see people trying to piece together these types of puzzles, and I’ve recently been doing a little of it myself with the Cicada 3301 puzzles from a few years ago.


However, it’s unfortunate when these mysteries go too far. QAnon, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, is a prime example of someone inventing a mystery that is causing real harm. In that case the motivation appears to be political, with the result of fomenting unrest in the US - something they definitely don’t need any more of at the moment. The Oak Island story is one that started off as an interesting case study in people’s wishful thinking, but it’s sad to see how much time and cash has since been poured into this literal money pit. And, closer to home, pre-Māori settler conspiracy theorists (such as Noel Hilliam, Martin Doutre, Ian Wishart and Cedric Livingstone) seem to often be driven by racism and a desire to de-legitimise Māori land claims, rather than being engaged in an honest search for the truth.


Let’s hope that nobody tries to hijack the Utah Monolith and make it into something it’s not. For now it’s a harmless prank which we may never know the backstory to - fingers crossed it stays that way.

Billy TK’s Religious Influences

There’s an interesting article published by Dr Deane Galbraithe this week about Billy Te Kakiha’s evangelical influence, and how this may explain his adoption of so many conspiracy theories in his talks. For those who don’t remember, Billy TK started a political party earlier this year, the Public Party, with a platform based on conspiracies and other unscientific nonsense. Deane has been talking in our Facebook group about his article, and, although it’s not mentioned in the article itself, on Facebook he’s talked about someone who has messaged him to let him know that Billy TK has a history with the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement.


This new piece of information piqued my interest. Although I’ve not personally managed to attend a Seventh Day Adventist meeting yet, I’ve listened to the Oh No Ross and Carrie podcast episodes about the Adventists. Ross and Carrie attended a series of lectures from the Seventh Day Adventists that focused on the coming End Times and the evils of the Catholic Church. The Reform Movement is separate to the Seventh Day Adventist church, but a quick read of their Wikipedia page shows that the two groups share the majority of their beliefs, including the idea that the end of the world can, and should, be hastened. If this doomsday group is driving Billy TK’s thinking, that would be news to me, and could explain how it was so easy for him to end up believing in political conspiracies about the UN and the New World Order.


So… I figured I’d see if a quick google search would give me confirmation of this connection. I typed “Billy TK Seventh Day Adventists” into google, and sure enough the first result was a link to an article on the Seventh Day Adventist Reformed Movement’s website from back in 2015. The article said:


“Right after the fellowship lunch in Auckland Church, the whole band of members and friends met at Shelly Beach to witness the baptism of Brother Billy Te Kahika Jr.”


Billy is quoted as saying:


“When I was 16 and with the introduction to my dad, I fell into the world of new age and mysticism, which verged on spiritualism... After starting a Christian walk, I encountered the Adventist message, which I adopted.  I was baptized at the age of 21 and soon after became a famous musician which tore me from my walk with Jesus.  I then had about 6 years without the Lord, and I experienced the pain that comes when you walk away from Him... I was baptised this past December as a member of the church. To do that I had to give up my music career which had been my life – but compared with what God has done for me this is a small price to pay on my part to be in God’s family.


I pray that with my recent election to help church missionary work that God will use me to bring other people home to His church in preparation for His Son’s soon return to take His children home to heaven. Amen.”

Huh. It turns out that somehow this connection had flown right over my head. Looking down my google search results, there are a couple of forum posts that appear to mention this connection, but it looks that, like me, the media may well have missed Billy’s ties to this particular controversial church. This might also explain why Billy walked out of a Stuff interview with Paula Penfold as soon as she asked about his faith. I wonder if he figured that it was less damaging to walk out of the interview than either lie or admit that for many years he’s been a member of a fatalistic cult, and that he believes God’s Son will “soon return” to whisk his faithful followers away to heaven and dispose of the rest of us.

Guerrilla Skeptics strike again

The amazing members of the GSoW (Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia) group have struck again. In recent years the group have done some amazing work creating new Wikipedia articles and rewriting existing ones on topics of importance to skepticism, including quite a few that are related to New Zealand - including pages for skeptic Siouxsie Wiles, psychic Jeanette Wilson and even our organisation, the NZ Skeptics. We’ve also had Susan Gerbic, head of the project, come to New Zealand twice in the last few years to talk to us at our conferences about both the GSoW project and her work using sting operations to bust psychics.

This time the GSoW team have rewritten the page for Helen Petousis-Harris (who spoke at an NZ Skeptics conference a few years ago about the history of vaccine denial), and appear to have done an amazing job! If any of our members have time to spare and would like to help out with the ongoing project to improve Wikipedia from a skeptical viewpoint, please get in contact with Susan at [email protected].

Colour Therapy

For those who followed Craig’s link last week to a colour therapy site, you may have thought that some of the claims on the site were pretty egregious - including such gems as “incurable means curable from within” and “synthetic fibres have a frequency that is detrimental to our health and well being”.


However, for some of us who have attended the regular Skeptical Activism meetings in Wellington, Colour Therapy Manukau is a familiar sight. Several of us have cut our teeth on their website, making Advertising Standards Authority complaints about lists of diseases that colour can therapy can supposedly cure, and pseudo-scientific claims about how coloured wool in a metal bowl can help you. These days, when you browse their website, instead of seeing those kinds of claims you read the following:


“To know about the types of conditions we may be able to assist with, please contact us direct.”


“if you wish to obtain further details, please check out our contact page on how to get in touch with us.”


“Should you wish to see the numerous testimonials that we receive regularly here at the clinic, please feel free to contact us and at your request we will either mail or email them to you.”


It’s a small win, but it’s great to see that we’ve been able to make something of a difference in this case - and in the case of several hundred other companies who have had to remove dangerous medical claims that we’ve complained about over the last 8 years.

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