Archive for May, 2009

Dr George Tiller of Wichita KS, a famous “abortion doctor” who’s long been the target of the pro-life movement — I mean that literally, they’ve shot and bombed him as well has having taken other measures to destroy him — was gunned down this morning (as reported by the AP via the Hartford Courant):

Late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, a prominent advocate for abortion rights wounded by a protester more than a decade ago, was shot and killed today at a church in Wichita where he was serving as an usher and his wife was in the choir, his attorney said.

Tiller was shot during morning services at Reformation Lutheran Church, attorney Dan Monnat said. Police said a manhunt was under way for the shooter, who fled in a car registered to a Kansas City suburb nearly 200 miles away. …

Hmm. Given it’s Kansas we’re talking about — the state which the Religious Right turned into a crucible of religionazism in the US over the last decade and a half — one has to wonder how much is being done to apprehend his shooter. We’ll just have to see who how this manhunt works out. Of course, pro-lifers have already tried to distance themselves from the shooting:

Anti-abortion group Operation Rescue issued a statement denouncing the shooting.

Uh huh. Riiiiiight! As if I’m supposed to believe that Operation Rescue (led by one of the most bellicose, determined and vehement religionazis in the country, Randall Terry*) is actually upset at Tiller’s killing. No way is that possible! And I’m not sure what basis they can claim for denouncing his execution, given that they’ve gone after the guy full-bore, and have called the man every name in the book and even some that aren’t, for over two decades. Seriously … what did they think the product of their vicious campaign against Tiller would be? Did they think their campaign against him can’t possibly have inspired murderous hatred? And now that he’s been executed, how can they claim not to have any culpability in the matter? Just how stupid do they think I am?

The article lists just some of the often-violent features of their long campaign:

National anti-abortion groups had long focused on Tiller, whose Women’s Health Care Services clinic is one of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy.

In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to this city for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.

Some abortion opponents had resorted to attacks against Tiller long before today’s shooting. A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985.

As I blogged a couple months ago, the pro-lifers had suffered a setback when Tiller was acquitted in a criminal case trumped up against him by the Religious Right. Perhaps this frustrated them enough to take the law into their own hands … yet again?

Let’s hear it for killing in the name of the “pro-life” movement! Folks … in case it’s not already crystal-clear to you … there’s nothing “pro-life” about the so-called “pro-life” movement. Rather it’s all about control … managing people’s lives for them, and using the state to force all of its citizens to live by one particular set of religious principles.)

* Correction: After publishing this post I realized Randall Terry is no longer head of Operation Rescue. See my follow-up post for more.

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I blogged twice before (here and here) about the case of Madeline Kara Neumann, an 11-year-old girl who died of complications from diabetes, whose life easily could have been saved, but who hand’t been treated because her parents — knowing something was wrong — chose to pray about it instead. It was a young life snuffed out because of idiotic religiosity.

After a great deal of hand-wringing over “religious freedom” concerns, and seriously entertaining not doing anything about it, officials finally charged the parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann; Ms Neumann’s trial has just finished, and she was convicted.

Nevertheless, she remains in denial as to what she did wrong, as the Wausau Daily Herald reports:

Neumann: ‘I did what I thought was lawful’

Leilani Neumann, the town of Weston mother convicted of allowing her daughter to die while praying for healing, says in a written statement that her emotions do not hinge on whether the rest of the world approves of her actions. …

“I did what I thought was lawful,” Neumann wrote in a statement released over the weekend. “I didn’t realize it would be a crime to pray for my daughter.”

I’m not sure why Ms Neumann thought she faced a mutually-exclusive “either/or” choice, to only pray for Kara, or only get treatment for her. Lots of religious folks manage to do both. (That’s what hospital chapels and chaplains are for!) The Neumanns’ pathological denial goes further than that, however:

Neumann also was critical of the judicial system in her letter, writing that “this trial did not afford the opportunity to tell our side of the story.” Neumann’s attorney, Gene Linehan, chose not to call any witnesses during the trial. Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Vincent Howard did not allow a faith healer from Texas to testify at the trial, however.

“I believe the law should be more clearly written before any charges can be made against parents who pray,” Neumann wrote. “Where is the law written that we apparently broke? And someone make sure to tell everyone that this is no more the America we thought it was. Also, please tell them not to try to hide it behind ‘reckless homicide charges or neglect charges,’ because the real issue is our local and national government is turning more and more anti-God.”

For a second time the Neumanns reiterate the “either/or” choice to pray or get medical treatment, which as I said, does not exist. Moreover, they perceive the conviction as an “anti-God” thing, rather than as anti-manslaughter, which it is.

It’s a good thing this happened in Wisconsin instead of Texas, which offers explicit legal permission to harm, and even kill, people as a form of religious expression. (Seriously … I intend never to set foot in Texas unless it’s absolutely necessary … because in that state, anyone could do anything to me, and so long as they can pass it off as a religious rite, it’s permissible and I can do nothing about it.)

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The moral bankruptcy of the Roman Catholic Church continues to be revealed incrementally. The latest revelation comes from the memoirs of the former Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (WebCite cached article):

Weakland says he didn’t know priests’ abuse was crime

In the early years of the sex abuse scandal in Milwaukee, retired Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland says in his soon-to-be released memoir, he did not comprehend the potential harm to victims or understand that what the priests had done constituted a crime.

“We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature,” Weakland says in the book, “A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church,” due out in June.

Weakland said he initially “accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it.'”

Let me get this straight: A Roman Catholic archbishop didn’t know that child abuse is criminal? Really??? Does this guy honestly expect me to believe that?

This is unreal! And it’s absolutely inexcusable.

Weakland has more than a few skeletons in his own closet, independent of the priest-pedophilia scandal itself:

Weakland retired in 2002 after it became known that he paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who had accused him of date rape years earlier.

How wonderful. He managed to remain in his office as archbishop for four years after paying off one of his own victims. How did the Vatican not know about this when the payment was made in 1998? Of course the Vatican knew … and it nevertheless left him there until he resigned of his own volition. This makes the Vatican nearly as culpable in his (mis)conduct, as Weakland was himself

Here’s a challenge to any and all Roman Catholics out there who may be reading this: What in hell are you thinking? How can you remain connected to this organization as it stands? If you want to stay in it, but reform it, what exactly are you doing to accomplish that goal (other than merely saying you’d like it to change)?

Or do you think that the Roman Catholic hierarchs are always right, no matter what they do, and that all their actions are automatically moral, merely by virtue of the office they hold?

If you accept that what the RC Church is doing is wrong, but do not remove yourself from it or work to change it, then you are in collusion with its immorality. If you accept that the hierarchy is always right, by definition and by office, then you are as morally bankrupt as they are. Either way it’s not a good reflection on you — and that makes me even prouder to be a lapsed Catholic (and therefore an apostate) myself.

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The folks in Scientology have waged a cyberspace war against their perceived enemies almost as long as cyberspace has existed. The Internet has been their battlefield since the early 1990s. Over the last 10 years or so, the Internet has become too large, ubiquitous and unmanageable for the Church of Scientology to control; but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t focused on particular Internet venues to spread its gospel and lies.

CNN reports that Wikipedia has finally had enough of Scientologists defacing their pages (WebCite cached article):

The collaborative online encyclopedia Wikipedia has banned the Church of Scientology from editing the site. The [UK] Register [cached] reports Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee, or ArbCom, voted 10 to 0 in favor of the ban, which takes effect immediately.

Wikipedia’s innovative free-encyclopedia draws upon the knowledge of millions of users to create and edit articles on every conceivable topic. Edits appear immediately and do not undergo any formal peer-review process.

Wikipedia officially prohibits use of the encyclopedia to advance personal agendas — such as advocacy or propaganda and philosophical, ideological or religious dispute — but the open format makes enforcing such policies difficult.

While Wikipedia’s format is indeed open — sometimes too open (see e.g. this and this, and this parody too) — the site generally has tools that can be used to backtrack edits and find patterns among them. That many of these edits have been coordinated, appears to be the deciding factor; Wikipedia tolerates a lot of things, maybe too many, but organized and sophisticated “gaming” of their site by a tight-knit group is not one of them.

Naturally, the Church of Scientology is pleading ignorance, and insists there was no coordination:

However, Karin Pouw, with the Church of Scientology’s public affairs office, told me she is unaware of any coordinated effort to alter Wikipedia. Instead, she described the edits as individual attempts to correct inaccurate information by impassioned Scientologists and interpreted the ban as a typical Wikipedia response to arguments over content.

Ms Pouw is wrong about Wikipedia on this score. They rarely take such stern actions against groups of users. That they did so one other time — as they did with the US DoJ (cached) — in no way makes this a “typical” action for them.

That Scientology would lie about Wikipedia is no big surprise.

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Something very odd happened the other day in California during a visit by President Obama. The Orange County Register reports on a Catholic priestess who also claims to be a reporter, who turns out merely to have been a troublemaker:

A self-proclaimed Catholic priestess from Anaheim was removed from a press holding area at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday morning minutes before President Barack Obama was scheduled to arrive.

Brenda Lee, 58, of Anaheim, was carried off by airport security after she refused to leave the area, saying that she wanted to hand the president a letter denouncing the California Supreme Court for deciding Tuesday not to annul gay marriages in the state.

There are probably lots of people who’d like to hand letters to the US president, but none are allowed to, unless it’s been arranged by White House personnel. It’s not something a president has time to do.

Nevertheless, this woman, Brenda Lee, presumed herself to be the exception to the rule. She claimed to have had press credentials:

She called the White House to request credentials for Obama’s arrival, citing her involvement with the Georgia Informer, an independent black newspaper in Macon, Georgia.

I have no idea how genuine this Georgia Informer newspaper is. It has a Web site, which at the moment features Ms Lee rather prominently (no surprise). But I have no idea if it’s recognized by the White House press office … and assume it doesn’t, since Ms Lee didn’t appear to know what she was doing:

At LAX this morning, Lee asked a Secret Service agent to take her letter to President Obama after learning that the president wasn’t scheduled to take any questions at the appearance.

The staffer came and asked to see the letter. “He said his name was Worly but I doubt that was his real name,” Lee said.

After “Worly” gave Lee the letter back, another staffer asked to see it, Lee said. Lee said that she’d rather give it to Obama herself when he walked by.

“‘I assure you, he’s not going to come by here,'” Lee recounted the man saying. “‘I don’t want you to yell his name. I don’t want you to do anything disruptive.'”

When Lee refused to surrender the letter, the man had security remove her, Lee said.

She had a chance to give her letter to someone who could have handed it to Obama, but refused — preferring instead to wait for him to go by, in a place where she’d been told he wouldn’t be going.

If that makes any sense to you, you’re doing better than I am.

She was, of course, dutifully outraged and accused the White House staff of discrimination:

Lee said she thinks she was being discriminated against for being a priestess, and that a priest wouldn’t have received the same treatment.

I hate to say it, Ms Lee, but you were run out of there not because you were a “priestess,” but because you were hanging around where you were told not to. A priest — or anyone else of any other profession — would also have been run off, under the same circumstances. While the reporters at the scene refused to help her out, the media since then have been rather obliging toward her. CNN, for example, interviewed her. Her performance was pathetic.

What I have not learned about Ms Lee are answers to these questions:

  1. If she is a “Catholic priestess,” who ordained her, and when?

  2. How is it possible that she’s a “Catholic priestess,” given the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women?

  3. If she’s a reporter by profession entitled to a press pass, how is she also clergy, which is another profession entirely?

  4. How did a woman from Anaheim, CA get a job as a reporter working for a Macon, GA newspaper?

An even more pertinent question is … why are the mass media such as CNN now indulging her and taking her seriously? Why has she not, instead, been referred for the psychiatric help she needs?

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This blog post is more light-hearted than usual but it’s something I found interesting, given my interest in early Church history and in linguistics.

Normally a spelling bee wouldn’t be something I report on. It just happens that the one that recently concluded included a reference to the early history of Christianity, something I’m an aficionado of (this report is by CNN):

Thirteen-year-old Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, spelled “laodicean,” Thursday night to take top honors in the 82nd annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The eighth-grader won $40,000 in cash and prizes for nailing the final word. Pronounced lay-odd-uh-see-an, the word means lukewarm or indifferent, particularly in matters of politics or religion.

This obscure English word comes from the name of a city in Anatolia, Laodicea. The association between this city and indecision or indifference is a result of the book of Revelation, specifically the letter Jesus dictated to the church in Laodicea, which is contained therein (Revelation 3:14-22). In it, Jesus accuses that church of being apathetic:

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Rev 3:15-16).

Hence, anyone who’s apathetic … particular in religion … is “Laodicean” or “like the Christians of the church of Laodicea.”

Interestingly there is some Christian legend about an epistle written by Paul to the Laodicean church, first known by way of a reference in the epistle to the Colossians (in Colossians 4:16 to be precise). Exactly what this letter was, is unknown, especially since the epistle to the Colossians that first mentioned it, was itself not written by Paul but was an early- to mid-2nd century document. A forgery mentioning a document is not exactly the best testimony to its existence!

The Marcionites — an early quasi-Gnostic and therefore non-orthodox sect which, for a time, had a large following in Anatolia and in the central Empire — had an epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, but its contents have since been lost. There is also a very-brief epistle of Paul to the Laodiceans, which exists only in Latin and not in Greek, Coptic, Aramaic, or any other language used by early Christians. As a document it was considered inconsequential and for the most part never accepted as canonical. In modern times there have been “Epistles to the Laodiceans” written as religious literature.

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A fraud trial is underway in France, against Scientology — specifically, its center in France and its Paris bookstore — which, depending on the outcome, and only after a long appeal process, could shut down this bogus religion in that country altogether. The Guardian (UK) reports on this case:

France’s Church of Scientology today went on trial on charges of organised fraud in a case that could lead to the nationwide dissolution of the controversial organisation. …

Six leading members, including the celebrity centre’s director, Alain Rosenberg, also face charges of illegally distributing pharmaceuticals.

The case is the second in six years to accuse the French church of fraud. It stems from the testimony of a French woman who filed an official complaint against the organisation in 1998. …

The investigating magistrate in charge of bringing the case against the church, Jean-Christophe Hullin, argues she was the victim of a deliberately manipulative system that exploits vulnerable people in order to make money.

In his indictment, Hullin said the church, which has been glamourised by Hollywood members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, made a profit by placing individuals in a “state of subjection”. The organisation, he argued, is “first and foremost a commercial business” whose actions reveal “a real obsession for financial remuneration”.

Scientology has reacted with the same kind of sanctimonious outrage one might expect of a true religion:

The church denies any evidence of psychological manipulation, and decries what it has called a “carefully orchestrated campaign” by French anti-cult organisations to shut it down. “This is a sacrilegious trial,” said spokesman Danièle Gounord yesterday. Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the church, said he would fight every charge. …

This, of course, flies in the face of Scientology’s history in France:

While some countries, such as the US, consider Scientology a religion, France categorises it as a sect, and the country’s courts have convicted several individuals of fraud over the past decades — most notably its science fiction-writing creator, L Ron Hubbard, in 1978.

While the chance exists that Scientology could be banned from France if there’s a conviction, that would take some time:

However, commentators said yesterday such an outcome would be a long time coming as the church would undoubtedly appeal against a guilty verdict.

Scientology has historically had a lot of trouble getting itself accepted as a religion rather than as what it is — a complex, yet no less obvious, money-making scheme.

It was a collection of high-sounding and neologism-laced — yet trite and kooky — ideas when first written about by its founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in a book titled Dianetics. Shortly after it came out, Martin Gardner revealed it to be fraudulent in his seminal Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, and all of Gardner’s critiques remain valid, more than 5 decades after that book’s last edition.

Since then, the late Lafayette Ronald and his followers have only continued to prove Gardner’s assessment correct. They’ve gone after critics using both legal and illegal tactics; have used lawsuits to silence or simply get revenge on detractors; their “treatment facilities” (I hesitate to call them “hospitals” or even “clinics”) have been host to mysterious deaths; they’ve trolled the Internet looking for criticism and gone after people and Web sites; and Lafayette Ronald himself had only marginal mental health.

In the decades since Gardner’s book was last updated, additional weirdness has been revealed about Scientology, including the business about some primeval cosmic warlord named Xenu. (This particular story would be hilarious, if not for the fact that there are people who actually believe it.)

One can only hope that as a result of this case, the French courts finally declare Scientology — with some legality and finality — the fraudulent organization we know it to be.

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