Pope Francis marries flight attendants Carlos Ciuffardi, left, and Paola Podest, center, during a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Iquique, Chile, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Pope Francis celebrated the first-ever airborne papal wedding, marrying these two flight attendants from Chile’s flagship airline during the flight. The couple had been married civilly in 2010, however, they said they couldn’t follow-up with a church ceremony because of the 2010 earthquake that hit Chile. (Credit: L'Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP.)For the second time in two days, I’m blogging about Pope Francis … the guy I’d once had hope for, but who clearly now supports abusive clergy and abuse-covering hierarchs. But while this story involves the Pope, it’s not really about him as it is about conservative Catholicism.

It seems that, while he was flying between cities in Chile, the Pope married two flight attendants aboard his plane. As Crux explains, many conservative Catholics are upset by that (Archive.Is cached article):

A day after Pope Francis grabbed headlines by pronouncing two flight attendants man and wife while flying 36,000 feet over Chile, the conservative Catholic commentariat on Friday questioned the legitimacy of the impromptu sacrament and warned it could cheapen the church’s marriage preparation down the line.

Their objections are all over the map — including questioning whether or not this was the impromptu affair it had first been reported to be, wherein the flight attendants had simply asked the Pope’s blessing for their coming marriage, only to have him marry them — but mainly involve the many preparation steps required of Catholic couples before they can marry. That includes verifying their baptisms or participation in what’s called “Pre-Cana” or pre-marital counseling required by the Church, which the Pope couldn’t have done in-flight.

I’m not sure this degree of alarm is reasonable. The Pope runs the Church and he can do what he wants … including marry people on-the-fly (both literally and figuratively). As Crux points out, the problem may be that these folk have been sensitized to this by some of the things Francis has done in the past:

Francis has caused controversy over his cautious opening to allowing divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, so any issue related to marriage is particularly sensitive.

Really, though, these conservative Catholics need to fucking grow the hell up and stop whining already. Their fierce, unrelenting legalism is as bad as that of fundagelical Protestants.

Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano Vatican Media/Pool Photo via AP & Crux.

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Witchcraft at Salem VillageAnother day, another plaintive, hyperbolic whine from one of the Groper-in-Chief’s minions. That’s really routine, and not “news,” to be sure. Everything is “the worst ever,” the most horrible, and on and on and on. We’re confronted with new superlatives on a daily basis. But, tonight on Fox News, the GiC’s son bellyached about the Russian interference investigation (Archive.Is cached article):

President Trump’s eldest son on Friday night declared that the ongoing probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election is a “witch hunt.”

“Obviously, this has been a witch hunt, probably the greatest since the Salem witch trials,” Donald Trump Jr. told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.

Aside from the politics involved, as a student of history, I understand that comparisons like these are juvenile and ridiculous.

Let me explain in clear terms: Nothing about the Russia investigation is even remotely like the actual Salem Witch Trials. Yes, people use the term “witch hunt” in politics, but nothing political in the US comes close to what happened in Salem, MA in the 1690s. There’s no comparison — at all. If you want to understand what actually happened in Salem, I invite you to educate yourself. Some brief explanations of the period can be found here:

The historical Salem trials were, in sum, a horrific affair. There was no justice to be had, and virtually no due process. And most importantly, they cost a lot of peoples’ lives.

No political “witch hunt” now underway in the US has any resemblance to that. Lives are not at stake: No one currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller is going to be executed, no matter what s/he may be guilty of.

People love making historical comparison, but in my experience — as someone who actually has a degree in history — they usually aren’t apt, and those who make them have no knowledge of the history they’re discussing.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Conquest of Jeusalem (1099)I’ve blogged a lot about the movement I call “the Great Neocrusade” … an effort to remove Islam and Muslims from the US (and for many of its followers, to eradicate it from the planet after that). I’ve noted that, as of a couple years ago, it became an openly violent movement, with people being attacked over it (sometimes by mistake). Attacking people because they’re Muslims is, of course, not really new, but it did pick up a bit after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

Well, the anti-Muslim violence is still going on. As KOLD-TV reports, it manifested recently in Tuscon, AZ (Archive.Is cached article):

A man is in custody after allegedly attacking a group of Muslim women in Tucson, city police said.

The Tucson Police Department said Manuel Lewis, 44, was arrested Sunday, Jan. 14 at an incident outside of the Starbucks on University Boulevard.

This attack appears not to have been Lewis’s first ride on this rodeo:

We’ve been told this has happened before – that Lewis specifically shouted derogatory comments nearby at Sinbad’s Restaurant, a middle-eastern food establishment in the area.

As I’ve said pretty much every time one of these stories pops up: Look, I get it. There is such a thing as Islamist terror. Muslim extremists have done a lot of terrible things. Oh yeah. I know all about it. I definitely don’t dismiss it. But, with that said … violent rages against those who’re part of a religion whose extreme members have also been violent, just doesn’t make any fucking sense. It’s time for Americans to grow the fuck up already and stop lashing out at every Muslim they come across. Sure, Islamist terrorists are dangerous … but on average, Americans are in far greater danger from ordinary sociopaths, than they are from Islamist terrorists. As horrific as their attacks are, there are lots of other dangers that deserve much more attention.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Pope Francis in Prato (87)Over the last few years, Chile’s Catholic Church has been rocked by priestly pedophilia allegations. Many of them involve Fr Fernando Karadima, who was convicted in 2011 by the Church itself of having abused children (Archive.Is cached article). Karadima had been powerful and influential within Chile’s Church, having groomed many of its clergy. Among them is Juan Barros, whose elevation to bishop a few years ago was protested due to allegations he’d known about Karadima’s abuse but hadn’t tried to stop it (cached). There’s been acrimony in the Chilean Catholic Church ever since.

When it was announced that Pope Francis would visit Chile, it was widely assumed there’d be some drama. And sure enough … there was! His visit started out well enough, when he asked for forgiveness for “priestly pedophilia” (cached). I mean, it was an empty plea, but it was at least moderately conciliatory. But things went downhill from there, and as the Associated Press reports via RNS, the Pope left Chile on an unexpectedly harsh note (cached):

Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.

Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadimas [sic], such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”

The pope’s remarks on Thursday (Jan. 18) drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011.…

“As if I could have taken a selfie or a photo while Karadima abused me and others and Juan Barros stood by watching it all,” tweeted Barros’ most vocal accuser, Juan Carlos Cruz. “These people are truly crazy, and the pontiff talks about atonement to the victims. Nothing has changed, and his plea for forgiveness is empty.”

What childishness! While I’ve been disappointed with how Francis has dealt with this scandal, this kind of response is beyond the pale.

I’m not sure why Francis asked Chile’s priestly-pedophilia victims for their forgiveness, only to accuse them of slander a couple days later. It sure seems as though the Catholic Church’s handling of this scandal has been set back to the days when Pope John Paul II and his enforcer, who’d later become Pope Benedict XVI, were in charge, pathologically denying it all and desperately trying to keep it all quiet. That didn’t work out too well for them — but apparently Pope Francis never got the memo. Or he did, but decided to rip it up in the middle of his sojourn in Chile. What a fucking prick.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Photo from Highpoint Church event page, via their Web siteIt’s clear that things are, well, quite simply different among the good Christianist folk of the South. I mean, most of the time they disapprove of things like sexual assault. Such as when a former Democratic president has been accused of it, and his wife is running for president herself, and somehow they view that as disqualifying her from office. Yeah, they hate sexual assault so fucking much that they’d punish someone for it, who (herself) hadn’t even been accused of it.

But … it’s quite another story, when one of their own stands accused of it.

We saw this in the case of ex-Judge Roy “Decalogue” Moore who nearly won a Senate seat in Alabama despite allegations he’d had various rendezvous with teen girls while he was in his 30s. Many of the good Christianist folk of Alabamistan actually bought into the notion that these stories were “fake news,” or that it was no big deal for a very-adult Moore to troll habitually for teens in a mall, ’cause’n after all, y’all gots ta get to ’em while dey’re still young, ya see (Archive.Is cached article).

I’m not happy to report there’s been another example of this phenomenon — even though it confirms everything I’ve long known about American Christianism. Newsweek, among many other outlets, reports a congregation actually gave a standing ovation to a pastor who admitted sexual assault of a minor, years ago (WebCite cached article):

A Tennessee pastor who publicly confessed to having a “sexual incident” with a high school student in 1998 received a thunderous standing applause when he asked to be forgiven.

Before asking for forgiveness, Andy Savage, the megachurch pastor, sat on a wooden stool on the stage at Highpoint Church in Memphis on Sunday and admitted that he was guilty of sexual activity with a teen, according to video footage of the event.…

After his confession, the congregation congratulated the pastor for his honesty with loud cheers and a standing ovation.

I’m not sure what’s wrong with these people, but their raging hypocrisy is on display for all to see. Just check out video of it for yourself. This is, of course, a serious problem for Christians, because as everyone knows — or should know! — the founder of their religion explicitly and unambiguously forbid them ever to be hypocritical … at any time, or for any reason. Period. They very simply cannot be hypocrites. There are no caveats, no exceptions, and no wiggle-room.

P.S. This story should lift the hearts of all those Catholic apologists out there who keep pointing out that “it’s not just a Catholic problem!” I’ve never, ever said clerical sexual abuse was solely a Catholic problem — and this case further confirms it’s not — but I still keep getting a lot of kvetching about how supposedly I think it is.

Photo credit: Highpoint Church Web site.

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Women condemned for witchcraft burned at the stake / Rudolf Cronau [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the (many) surprising things I learned about the Middle Ages, while I studied that period in college, was that for much of the period — despite common folk belief that witches were real and a threat to society — witch-hunts generally did not occur. The Church actually taught that witches did not exist — despite widespread folk belief they did, in many areas — and that to suggest they did, was heresy.

That’s not to say the Church was a collection of pansies; they certainly did go after heretics of various kinds, e.g. the Cathars, against whom they marched to war in the early 13th century, and the repression of the Knights Templars was predicated on charges of heresy and blasphemy, not of witchcraft (as is sometimes said).

But through the 15th century this attitude changed, and witch-hunts began to occur. From the middle of the 16th century through the middle of the 17th, witch-hunts reached their peak. By the close of the 17th century, witch-hunting mania had all but died out, both in Europe and in the New World (the infamous Salem Witch Trials took place in the early 1690s).

I’d always suspected this had been brought on by religious reform fervor which had been underway for some time already (e.g. in the case of Waldenses, Cathars, Lollards, Hussites, etc.). Especially in the wake of the Great Western Schism ending in 1417, religion was being rethought in many quarters. In a world of religious speculation, fear of the preternatural rose, leading to witchcraft panics, but purging towns of witches didn’t offer any positive results, so these panics literally burned out. But that’s as far as my speculation went.

Recently two economists (of all people) have examined this mystery, and arrived at a possible explanation. The (UK) Guardian reports on their interesting findings (Archive.Is cached article):

But by 1550 Christian authorities had reversed their position [that witches didn’t exist], leading to a witch-hunt across Christendom. Many explanations have been advanced for what drove the phenomenon. Now new research suggests there is an economic explanation, one that has relevance to the modern day.

Economists Peter Leeson and Jacob Russ of George Mason University in Virginia argue that the trials reflected “non-price competition between the Catholic and Protestant churches for religious market share” [cached].

As competing Catholic and Protestant churches vied to win over or retain their followers, they needed to make an impact — and witch trials were the battleground they chose. Or, as the two academics put it in their paper, to be published in the new edition of the Economic Journal: “Leveraging popular belief in witchcraft, witch-prosecutors advertised their confessional brands’ commitment and power to protect citizens from worldly manifestations of Satan’s evil.”

They reach their conclusion after drawing on analyses of new data covering more than 43,000 people tried for witchcraft in 21 European countries.

It was about both sides each trying to one-up each other and prove their piety and sacred prowess. It’s an interesting idea, and makes a good deal of sense in the context of the time. Although the Guardian compares this to Stalin’s “show trials” of the mid-1930s, I see parallels elsewhere, such as with Islamist groups going after third-party (mostly occidental) victims in their efforts to impress the rest of the Islam world with their sanctity and to prove they have al-Lah’s favor.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire.

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Dalit demonstrators shout slogans and protest in the Indian capital New Delhi, on January 3, 2018. / CNNTo a large extent, the occidental world views India through the lenses of Mahatma Gandhi, the man who used civil disobedience to lead his land to independence, and inspired many others to use that same tactic elsewhere. Also, India is home to a number of movements and sects which are famous for being pacifists; Buddhism, for example, originated there, as did Jainism, whose adherents sometimes go as far as to brush the ground as they walk so as to ensure they don’t step even on the tiniest insect.

The West has an often-idealistic view of India which, unfortunately, doesn’t coincide with reality — which is that India is more or less as violent as any other nation on earth. It’d be wonderful if it weren’t so; if India were in fact a grandly sacred land full of deeply spiritual people who’d never harm a fly; but that’s just not how it is. I don’t mean to say this as a specific condemnation of India: Human nature being what it is, it can’t really be any other way. India’s people have the same human nature as the folk of every other country.

As an example of this, as CNN reports, recently India has been rocked by protests and assorted violence, over its ancient caste system (Archive.Is cached version):

Security forces were out in full force in India’s financial capital Mumbai this week, as members of the country’s low-caste Dalit community demonstrated against alleged violence by right-wing Hindus.

The unrest was concentrated in suburban areas on the outskirts of India’s largest city, which also saw transport disruptions.

There were also sporadic protests across the state of Maharashtra, which Mumbai is located in.

These Right-wing Hindus were responding to protests by the Dalits, aka “the Untouchables”:

It all began when tens of thousands of Dalits, who rank at the bottom of India’s ancient Hindu caste hierarchy, gathered in the village of Bhima Koregaon, 170 kilometers (105 miles) outside of Mumbai, on New Year’s day to celebrate the 200th anniversary of a battle in which British colonial forces staffed with local Dalit fighters defeated a numerically superior army belonging to upper caste rulers of the region.

In the years since, many Dalits have come to regard the battle as an important historical moment when their community stood up against oppressive higher caste Hindus.

This year, Dalit activists claim that the annual commemoration was interrupted by right wing Hindu nationalists, who they say threw rocks at the gathering.

The situation deteriorated as riots broke out and two men died in the chaos, according to local media [cached].

CNN goes on to provide background for the Dalits’ protests and an oh-so-very-brief overview of the caste system itself. In the process, CNN mentions that the caste system is explicitly outlawed in India’s Constitution, but the article does not explain how deeply ingrained it is within India’s chief religion, Hinduism. In that religion, people reincarnate, via karma, into particular stations in life, i.e. their dharma, and hence into their castes. In Hindu tradition, and in the minds of some modern-day Hindus, the Dalits are “untouchables” — fit only for the lowliest jobs and the objects of societal oppression — because of this. To treat the Dalits any other way violates dharma. Thus, Right-wing Hindus view treating “the untouchables” as their equals in a democratic system as profane or even blasphemous.

It’s time for everyone to realize the very-real harm that religion inflicts on people … not just the Abrahamic faiths, which which most in the West are familiar, but the Dharmic faiths as well.

Photo credit: CNN.

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