#CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA TodayMost of my readers will, no doubt, already have heard of something called “the Charlie challenge” (or perhaps more correctly, “the Charlie Charlie challenge”). Apparently this is something teens must do to entertain themselves, because … I guess … the poor little things just don’t seem to have any other entertainment options left (I mean, it’s not like they have TV, radio, video games, Netflix, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, or any of thousands of other outlets to occupy their time).

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the idea is to line up two pencils in a cross formation, one balanced on the other, with “yes” and “no” marked in the quadrants they border, then talk to them (and to some putative Mexican demon), flip out when they move on their own, then post videos of all this on the Internet to impress one another. Or something.

I don’t quite get it, but then I’m a curmudgeonly old guy who’s just not “hip” enough to understand the importance of it. Or something.

At any rate, this supposed paranormal game is getting a lot of play in the mass media. I guess reporters are bored, too, and have run out of stories to investigate. Or something. Here, for example, is a piece by USA Today on this topic (WebCite cached article); here’s Time magazine’s story on it (cached); and here’s CNN’s piece on the subject (cached). All of this constitutes yet another example of the “paranormal as news” trope that’s infected journalism for a number of years. Yawn.

The usual suspects have lined up to declare that the Charlie challenge is, in fact, the supernatural (or maybe more precisely the preternatural) at work, and have taken to whining and bellyaching about it, warning teens not to partake. For example, a Catholic priest has ordered people to avoid it, calling it “a dangerous game” in which demons truly are summoned (cached).

There are so many things wrong with all of this, I hardly know where to begin. First of all, contrary to the legend that accompanies “the Charlie challenge,” there’s no “Charlie” demon in Mexico (cached). People in Mexico, who speak Spanish for the most part, would give their legendary demons Spanish names, like “Carlos,” instead. Second, there’s no such thing as a demon … nor is there any Satan, or devils, or anything else of the sort. They do not exist — period.

Third, the supposed “paranormal” effect is rather easily explained, in a mundane fashion, using conventional science. The (UK) Independent, among other outlets, goes into it (cached) … although I suspect those who truly believe in the paranormal aren’t going to buy that it’s merely “gravity” doing it. They’ll just insist it couldn’t possibly be anything that simple … because, you see, they were there, and simply “know” it couldn’t be!

I suppose a skeptic like myself could perform a test, by setting up the pencils — without markings and without the required incantation/question — and then see what the pencils do on their own. But I doubt any “true believers” would really care about the results of that test. Yeah, they like to whine and gripe that skeptics are “closed-minded” and won’t just take their word for the bullshit they fabricate; but ironically they, themselves are “closed-minded” to any possibility that their paranormal B.S. might be invalid. Hmm.

Photo credit: #CharlieCharlieChallenge Vine screenshot / via USA Today.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

Hartford, CT: First Church of the Nazarene / Hartford Courant photoThere’s been a rash of shootings in my home state’s capital over the last week or so. One of the more disturbing of those happened Sunday morning, the victim being a church pastor. As the Hartford Courant reports, police now think it might have been a hate crime (WebCite cached article):

City police said Tuesday they are investigating the possibility that the shooting of a pastor outside his church on Sunday was a hate crime.

“The church is very accepting of and open to the LGBT community,” Deputy Chief Brian Foley said. He said the attack on the minister is “obviously troubling to the police department and the city.”

The Rev. Augustus Sealy was shot in the leg and shoulder while planting small U.S. flags on the lawn of The First Church of the Nazarene at 932 Capitol Ave. at about 6:30 a.m. Sunday, police said. His wife, Dr. Sharon Sealy, said his femur was shattered, and doctors had to put a metal rod in his leg. The shots came from a moving vehicle.

Since this was first reported there was murmuring here in the Nutmeg State that the Rev Sealey had been shot because he’s a Christian or because he’d been putting up Memorial Day flags, by anti-Christians (more specifically, of the Muslim sort) or by flag- or military-haters respectively. Conspiracy theories based on these assumptions have been brewing, mostly centered on Leftist antagonists (e.g. Muslims acting on Barack HUSSEIN Obama’s orders).

But the possibility this may have been an LGBT-related hate crime, if true — and right now I emphasize that “if” — that would seem to point, instead, toward some agent of the political Right. Yet it might turn out to be something else entirely, since that seems, to me anyway, a little far-fetched. As the Courant article explains, and I mentioned initially, there’s been a spike in violence in Hartford, so really, not much can be ruled out, not even a case of mistaken identity.

Photo credit: Hartford Courant.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

Wedding RingsIreland held a referendum yesterday on gay marriage. To no one’s real surprise, as Reuters reports this morning, voters there approved the measure (WebCite cached article):

Irish voters backed same-sex marriage by a landslide in a referendum marking a dramatic social shift in the traditionally Catholic country, government ministers and opponents of the bill said on Saturday.

Final results were not expected until later in the day, but ministers predicted Ireland had become the first country to adopt same-sex marriage via a popular vote by a margin of around two-to-one, just two decades after it decriminalized homosexuality.…

The proposal was backed by all political parties, championed by big employers and endorsed by celebrities, all hoping it would mark a transformation in a country that was long regarded as one of the most socially conservative in Western Europe.

As one would expect, the Roman Catholic Church — which has a large presence in the Emerald Isle — opposed this measure. But their influence has waned in Ireland as a result of the Catholic clerical abuse scandal, which was a particularly thorny issue there. This rendered the Church nearly impotent as the vote approached:

The Catholic Church, whose dominance of Irish politics collapsed in the wake of a series of sex scandals in the early 1990s, still teaches that homosexual activity is a sin. But it limited its ‘No’ campaigning to sermons to its remaining flock, a marked contrast with active public opposition to similar moves in France and elsewhere.

I can’t think of a better example of an organization “reaping what it sowed” as a result of its own actions. I hope the bishops are happy. Had they not torpedoed their own reputation in Ireland — by virtue of their actions and inactions where child-abuse by clergy were concerned — they might have actually had a chance to fend off this referendum. In this case, they marginalized themselves.

Photo credit: firemedic58, via Flickr.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

Hypocrisy: No one does it better than Christians / MotifakeNote: There’ve been some updates to this story since I first published it; please see below.

I haven’t blogged about the reality-TV show originally named 17 Kids and Counting, the Duggar family who stars in it, or the Quiverfull movement to which they belong (WebCite cached article). Honestly, there hasn’t seemed to be much point in it. To begin with I don’t even give a flying fuck about any so-called “reality” shows (they aren’t “real,” they’re scripted). And the Quiverfulls are just a freakish evangelical Protestant collective of insane wing-nuts to which I’d have preferred never to call anyone’s attention. But given this latest bit of news, I don’t think it can be avoided any more. As In Touch Weekly reports, one of the Duggars’ sons, Josh, had molested a number of girls as a teenager (cached):

Josh Duggar of the TLC hit reality show 19 Kids and Counting was named in a police report as the “alleged offender” in an underage sexual abuse probe, In Touch magazine is reporting exclusively.

The charge being pursued while Josh was a minor was sexual assault in the fourth degree, multiple sources who have seen the police report and are familiar with the case told In Touch. According to the report, Josh was brought into the Arkansas State Police by his father, Jim Bob, who said he caught him leaving a young girl’s bedroom and “learned something inappropriate happened,” one source said.

These charges were never dealt with at the time:

A bizarre turn of events prevented police and prosecutors from finishing their investigation and possibly prosecuting. The state trooper who originally took the report about Josh shortly before 2005 never followed up. That state trooper was later convicted on child pornography charges and is serving a 56-year prison sentence.

When the state trooper ran into trouble, someone from the Arkansas State Police alerted the Child Abuse Hotline about the Duggar situation that had been sitting inactive. That’s when the Crimes Against Children Division and Springdale Police Department got involved. By then the three-year statute of limitations had passed and it would not have been possible to pursue prosecution of Josh if the allegations warranted, so the investigation was discontinued. “A technicality prevented any further action,” a source familiar with the case told In Touch. “That’s been the biggest regret in all of this.” (The statute of limitations has since been lengthened.)

Hypocritically, this erstwhile pervert worked for the Family Research Council, a Christofascist outfit which sanctimoniously rages about what it perceives as “immorality,” especially of the sexual sort. He’s resigned already (cached), and the FRC insists it never knew about this. I admit that’s possible, but even if it’s true, it doesn’t excuse Josh having taken a job with them, knowing his own past.

In the meantime the usual suspects are lining up to support the teen child molester. Among them is presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who had this to say (cached):

“Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” Huckabee said in a statement posted on Facebook Friday [cached]. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

Shucksabee is, of course, wrong to claim that the problem here is that this is “sensationalism.” Not at all. Nor is Josh Duggar’s status as “forgiven” relevant to anything. No, the actual problem is that this guy was a pervert as a teen, but was never prosecuted for it because the trooper who would have done that was, himself, a pervert! A secondary problem is that Josh Duggar was a fucking hypocrite to have taken a job with a Christianist morality-force in spite of his own far-less-than-moral background.

Oh, and … I note that Shucksabee has all sorts of sympathy for the Duggar family, and is sanctimoniously outraged on their behalf that this story was even reported, but he has no fucking sympathy for any of Josh Duggar’s molestation victims (at least one of which, stories suggest, was one of his sisters). I get why Shuckasabee is defending them: They’re militant Christianists like himself, and they’re extremely well-known, by virtue of their TV show. He cannot — and will not — concede any possibility of anything being wrong with this.

But it’s not just Shucksabee railing at the insolence of the media reporting this. Raw Story has cataloged many other examples of other Christians supporting Josh and the other Duggars (cached), many of them excusing what he did as no big deal, or with the old adage that “boys are curious.” Fuck that shit — and I mean that. Those people all need to go fuck themselves.

For the last time, let me be clear: Militant Christianists like the Duggars and their defenders, including Mike Huckabee, are damned fucking hypocrites — every single last fucking one of them. They scream and rail and bluster and fume over the “immorality” of things like gay marriage, and demand that it be outlawed, but when one of their own was caught behaving immorally, it’s nothing to be concerned about, shut up about it, everyone go home, there’s nothing to see here, etc. Christianists bellyache about something they call “moral relativism” and they almost always condemn it — loudly! But here’s a rather brazen example of them actually engaging in moral relativism.

Update 1: TMZ reports that the Duggars’ cable network, TLC — after running silent for a while — finally pulled their show from its schedule (cached).

Update 2: The center young Josh was sent to after his molestation was discovered, was founded by a guy who, it turns out, has a checkered history of his own with women (cached). What a wonderful crew! Their pretensions, lies, disingenuity, dissembling, and hypocrisy are now more apparent than ever. (Hat tip for this: Friendly Atheist).

Update 3: Officials in Arkansas are falling all over themselves to defend Josh Duggar and sing his praises, and the state’s courts are wiping his record clean (cached). Well done, Christians! You must be so proud!

Photo credit: Motifake.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

SiegeOfAcre1291For years now I’ve blogged about a Right-wing movement in the US I’ve called “the Great Neocrusade.” It’s a modern incarnation of the medieval Crusade, during which western European Christians ventured to the Levant in an effort to drive Muslims out, under the principle that their presence there was an affront to their Jesus which couldn’t be tolerated. (At least, that’s what the Crusade became. Its origin was in Pope Urban’s approval for Latin Christians venturing east to assist the Byzantines, but that scenario didn’t last long and the Crusaders embarked on their own mission, distinct from Byzantium’s, soon after their arrival. And about a century after the Crusades’ launch it would become a campaign against Byzantium itself).

As it stands within the American Right, the Neocrusade is an effort to drive Islam from the new Christian “holy land.” Neocrusaders are predominantly Christians — most of them being of the evangelical Protestant sort — but there are some Jews who’re part of the movement too. Their effort is predicated ostensibly on the threat posed by Islamist terror, which to be sure is horrific and should be fought using every means at our disposal to do so. That said, the Neocrusaders’ main contention — i.e. that Islam is inherently violent and all Muslims therefore are potential terrorists — is quite simply not true. What’s really going on is that these folk view Islam as the chief rival of their own religion, are incensed that it exists at all, and want to get rid of it in order to show the power of their own faith. All the crap about terrorism is mere pretense. That’s not to say Islamist terror isn’t real — just that they know better than to stomp around claiming every Muslim is a terrorist; they just say that in order to rationalize what they’re doing.

For the most part this Neocrusade manifests itself in the form of rhetoric and occasionally votes (such as outlawing “shari’a law” even though it’s not now, nor will it ever become, the law of the land in the US).

So it’s rare that Neocrusaders actually take up arms against Muslims in the US, but it nearly happened just in the last few months. The Web site Heavy.Com reports a Right-winger and failed Congressional candidate from Tennessee named Robert Doggart admitted he’d planned to stage an attack on a mosque and schools in Hancock, NY (WebCite cached article):

A Tennessee man, who made a failed bid for Congress last year as an independent with extreme right wing beliefs, has admitted in federal court to planning an attack on a Muslim community in New York.

Robert Doggart, 63, was recorded on a wiretapped phone talking about his plan to travel along with members of a private militia to an area near Hancock, New York, known as Islamberg, to burn down a mosque, school and cafeteria, while gunning down anyone from the community who tried to stop them.

“Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God,” Doggart said in a Facebook post, according to court documents. “We shall be Warriors who will inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”

Doggart was arrested April 10 by the FBI on charges that he solicited others to violate civil rights, attempted to damage religious property because of the religious character of the property and made threats through interstate communication.

Two weeks later, Doggart pleaded guilty to interstate communication of threats. A judge has not yet signed off on the plea agreement. He was released on $30,000 bond to home confinement after the agreement was made and faces between 0 and 5 years in federal prison, along with a possible fine of up to $250,000.

The Heavy article describes Doggart’s plot in detail and includes court documentation of the case as well as of Doggart’s background. There’s a lot of detail there and I can’t hope to do any of it justice; I’ll just suggest you check out the article and find out what happened.

There are two things about this case I find disappointing: First, the judge has let Doggart out on bond, in spite of the fact that he’d admitted, in court, to having planned a terror attack. That decision is mind-blowing. Had Doggart been, instead, a Muslim who’d admitted involvement in a terror attack, there’s no fucking way he’d be free right now. Second, the mass media haven’t picked up this story, not even (to my knowledge) news outlets local to Hancock NY or southeastern Tennessee. I hadn’t heard of Heavy.Com before finding this story, and ordinarily wouldn’t have used them as a source for a blog post, but primary-source material is included, so the report is substantive. The other outlets mentioning this are all Left-wing in nature.

Maybe all the good ol’ boys back in Tennessee would prefer not to mention this, so that might explain why Doggart’s local media are running silent, but I can’t imagine how or why the New York state or eastern Pennsylvania media don’t consider this news (Hancock is in Delaware county, abutting the Pennsylvania state line). Unless this story turns out to be untrue — which I admit is possible, but given the evidence contained in the story it seems extremely unlikely — the media are doing a disservice to ignore it as they are. Perhaps they’ll finally pick up the story … I certainly hope so. The reality of Christianism in the US is that it definitely is capable of terrorism, and this is one example of it (albeit one that was nipped in the bud). There have been other Christian terror attacks, such as the rampage in Austin TX last December by a member of the Phineas Priesthood (cached).

Hat tip: Raw Story.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

Self-Delusion: On good days I can hear the snap of the sails and the rope stretching; I can feel the wind and smell the sea. On bad days, it’s just the rope. / DemotivationalPosters.NetNote: I have some additional news on this item; please see below for more information.

There are times when one can only be dumbfounded by the kind of idiocy and lunacy that people spew when they’re defending and/or promoting their religionism. It’s natural this can happen, because religions — all of which are forms of metaphysics — are inherently unsupportable using objective and rational standards. By definition, then, only standards that are subjective and irrational can fit the bill. It’s the irrationality that often gets out of hand.

A great example of one Christian running his mouth off like a total moron, as the Christian Post reports, is the case of one Dr Tony Evans, who actually thinks African-Americans were better off under slavery than they are now (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Tony Evans, the first African American to earn a doctorate in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, chided black Americans recently for not taking responsibility for the breakdown of their families, declaring that “the white man is not making you do that.” He also charged that black families were a lot stronger and made more progress during slavery.

Evans made the comments during a discussion with DTS scholar Dr. Darrell Bock on the issue of biblical racial reconciliation last month [cached].…

“The biggest problem in black America today is the breakdown of the family…the breakdown of the family is unraveling us as a community. When 70 percent plus of your children are being born out of wedlock and the fathers are not there to tend to them, you’ve got chaos in the community. That’s crime, that’s unemployment and most of these kids are going to be raised in poverty. And that’s something we control,” explained Evans.

He then made the reference to slavery to highlight the dire condition of the black family.

“The White man is not making you do that. He’s not forcing you into that position. That’s a convenient out. In slavery when we did not have laws on our side, the community on our side, the government on our side, the broader community on our side, our families were a lot stronger. We were a lot more unified and we made a lot more progress. We’re going through regression right now and a lot of that is because of decision-making we are responsible for,” said Evans.

As the article notes, is African-American himself, making this all the more astoundingly asinine. I have no idea where this clown learned his history, but slaves’ families weren’t really very stable or “unified”; their owners could buy and sell them freely. Parents and children were often separated, and for the most part, slaves weren’t allowed to marry, at least not in a full legal sense, so “spouses” could easily end up separated, too. “Unified”? That’s just a flat-out lie.

Now, as insane as Evans’s laughable spew sounds, it’s not really his own invention. The Religious Right has been kicking around the idea that America’s southern slaves lived paradisiacal lives with strong nuclear families for years. In fact, I found an article in the New York Times back in 2011 which addressed this very notion (cached). In spite of how counterfactual it is, though, this idea persists. It’s all part of the Right’s obsession with rolling the clock back, even to times in which customs now considered heinous were the norm. They just can’t handle modernity and want to destroy it, so they whip up their own false versions of history to justify how great things were back then. This is a recipe for delusion, of course, but none of them realize it, nor do they care to hear they’re wrong (because telling them they’re wrong, means you want to kill them or something).

If you needed any more help understanding how and why the Religious Right is downright fucking insane, the idea that African-Americans were better off as slaves ought to help make that crystal clear.

Update: This morning in my email I received this from Steve Yount of A. Larry Ross Communications:

A Statement by Dr. Tony Evans
Senior Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship
Founder and President of The Urban Alternative
May 9, 2015

“Slavery was ungodly, unrighteous and unbiblical. During slavery, the family was broken up by force by unspeakable atrocities even though African-Americans struggled to preserve it.

“To offer clarity on both my intention and meaning, the black population was largely unified in fighting against the breakup of the family being forced on them due to the evil system of slavery. Black unity was a powerful force, to the greatest degree possible within the limitations of slavery, in seeking to keep the family intact.

“My comparison to today is that we have lost some of our unity and the shared goal of keeping our family units together, and we are often making choices that are dismantling our own families and also hurting our own communities. We do not want to do to ourselves voluntarily what slavery did by force (i.e., destroy our families).

“I have always and will always stand on behalf of justice, and do not condone oppression in any form. I condemn racism on all levels, whether personal or systemic. I am saddened that my remarks were removed from the context of my entire discussion.”

This response sounds all well and good, but it doesn’t address Evans’s chief original contention that African Americans had been better off as slaves than they are now. I still submit that trope — which, as I pointed out, is not Evans’s own invention, being a rather common notion among the Right — remains absolutely not true. Even if Evans disapproves of African Americans “destroy[ing] their families” “voluntarily” rather than “by force,” and even if one assumes this is precisely what’s happening to them, there’s still a fundamental difference between then and now: Neither the slaves’ owners nor government can do so “by force,” at the moment.

Photo credit: DemotivationalPosters.Net.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »

From screen shot of 'Masonic Fraternal Police Department' Web site (original URL: http://masonicfraternalpolicedepartment.org)This story isn’t particularly religious or metaphysical in nature. I only bring it up because I’d studied medieval history and it piqued my interest. The Los Angeles Times reports that California officials have arrested several people who claimed to have run a “Masonic” police force (WebCite cached article):

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson thought it was odd when three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms he didn’t recognize — strolled into the Santa Clarita station in February.

One man introduced himself as chief of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and told Johnson this was a courtesy call to let him know the agency was setting up shop in the area.

They met for 45 minutes, Johnson said, but he was left confused and suspicious — so much so that he immediately ordered deputies to pull station surveillance video so they would have images of the visitors. He also assigned detectives to check them out.

“It was an odd meeting,” the captain recalled. “It just raised my suspicion level.”

This week, the three people were charged with impersonating police officers. They are David Henry, who told Johnson he was the police chief, Tonette Hayes and Brandon Kiel, an aide to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

It turns out Henry, Hayes and Kiel had allegedly introduced themselves to police agencies across the state, though it is unclear why. A website claiming to represent their force cites connections to the Knights Templars that they say go back 3,000 years. The site also said that the department had jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico.

“When asked what is the difference between the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other police departments, the answer is simple for us. We were here first!” the website said.

This story is incredible and bizarre. I’m not sure how these folks thought they were actually going to convince other police departments they were legitimate. As an aide to California’s Attorney General, Kiel certainly must have known they had zero legal basis for their claims. Perhaps this odd cadre figured they were well-connected enough to avoid any meaningful scrutiny? But if so, did they actually think other law enforcement jurisdictions would just allow them to move in and do whatever the hell they wanted? It seems unimaginably ludicrous.

In any event, this story brings up a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry. First — although there’s been some speculation to this effect — there is no documented historical link between the order of Knights Templars and Freemasonry. The former were disbanded in the early 14th century; the latter didn’t emerge in the historical record until the early 18th. That’s a span of about 400 years between them, with no demonstrable link to join them together. What historical evidence there is of their origin, points to the Freemasons as having emerged from medieval stonemason guilds, not from putative hidden survivors of the Templar purge.

Also, as the L.A. Times explains in an ancillary story (cached), the Templar order was not founded in 1,100 BCE; it was founded in 1,118 CE. Did someone misread the Templars’ actual founding date as BCE instead of CE … ? Woops!

Also, stories of the Templars being involved with the Holy Grail — i.e. the cup Jesus and his apostles supposedly drank from during the Last Supper — are likewise mere legends having no known historical basis (beginning with the fact that there’s no evidence the cup from the Last Supper was preserved by anyone). The Knights Templars have been the subject of legend since their heyday in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were both praised (for their military prowess, and their protection of pilgrims) and denigrated (for their secretive nature and tendency to go their own way). The order’s suppression, accompanied as it was by reams of vicious and fantastic propaganda by King Philip IV of France, only compounded the legends and tales that went around about the Templars. So it’s natural a lot of stories were told about them.

The appearance that they were a “secret society” certainly makes it possible to say pretty much anything one wants to about the Templars, and have it seem plausible (because their records are “secret,” you see, there’s no proof of anything about them). Unfortunately for this presumption, even “secret societies” tend to leave historical tracks, which can be followed.

I took a brief look at this outfit’s Web site; the mentions of “bloodlines” and the group’s claimed ancientness make it seem as though someone was reading too much Dan Brown. It’s just ridiculous, laughable bullshit. Every bit of it. I have no idea what angle these people were going after, but this is some truly weird shit. I plan to keep an eye on this case, as it develops.

Photo credit: Cropped from screen shot of Masonic Fraternal Police Department Web site.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments No Comments »