Archive for June, 2009

To use a tired formulation, Oklahoma is the new Kansas. It’s being turned into a crucible for the Religious Right, a place which they can seize and remake into a theocratic state of their own, in which everyone — regardless of his or her own religion or lack thereof — must obey the strictures of evangelical Protestant fundamentalist Christianity. I’ve blogged twice before about these religionazis. As the Tulsa World reports, they’re at it again:

A state lawmaker is urging Oklahomans to sign a morality proclamation “to acknowledge the need for a national awakening of righteousness.”

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, has called a press conference for noon Thursday on the first floor of the state Capitol to discuss the “Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality,” which may be sent to Gov. Brad Henry, President Barack Obama and the state’s congressional delegation.

“We believe our economic woes are consequences of our greater national moral crisis,” a draft of the proclamation states. “This nation has become a world leader in promoting abortion, pornography, same sex marriage, sex trafficking, divorce, illegitimate births, child abuse, and many other forms of debauchery.”

The resolution goes on to claim that the US is a Christian state, an old whine that the Religious Right has long made, but which remains as untrue as it was, the first time it was spewed.

These people seriously want a new order in the United States … a government based on Old Testament, Judges-era principles, in which everyone is an evangelical Protestant fundamentalist Christian like themselves, and where crimes such as “breaking the sabbath” are capital offenses.

Watch out, folks … despite having lost the 2006 mid-terms and the 2008 election, these people have not given up. They want power, and they’re not going to stop trying to get it.

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Concerning the “gay exorcism” I blogged about earlier, the pastor of Manifested Glory Ministries in Bridgeport, CT has finally stopped being coy about the video they’d posted online but then yanked when people actually paid attention to it. Pastor Patricia McKinney appeared on CNN to “explain” what happened. (Not that she actually “explained” anything.) Video of this train-wreck interview can be viewed at the Friendly Atheist blog.

Near the start, Ms McKinney makes this statement:

I just wanted to tell the world out there that Manifested Glory Ministries Church is not against homosexuality. We do not hate them. We do not come up against them.

This claim, however, is contradicted just a few more moments into the interview, when she said:

You can come in our church, but you cannot live that lifestyle in our church.

Put these statements together, and you have, “We’re not opposed to homosexuality, we’re just opposed to homosexuality.”

That’s about as nonsensical and asinine as anything I’ve ever heard.

An interesting point — which further reveals how medieval this church’s thinking is — that Ms McKinney makes several times in the interview, is “Everything has a spirit.” This is an archaic point of view; not merely medieval, but ancient and primeval. It is also at the foundation of all fundamentalist thinking. To a religious fundamentalist, the world itself — and everything in it — is fully alive, and is part of the vast cosmic contest between Good (i.e. God) and Evil (i.e. not just Satan, but “the World,” sin, secularism, etc.). Everything that happens, emerges directly from this enormous, ongoing universal struggle. People’s behaviors and even thoughts are a manifestation of this struggle … and in a very real, and both personal and personalized, way. In many ways, fundamentalists — of any sort, not just Christian — end up seeing the world as a terrifying place. Everything around them can potentially be arrayed against them and against their cause (God). This is one of the reasons why fundamentalists tend to be so paranoid in their thinking (the gun-toting Louisville pastor I blogged about is a prime example of this phenomenon).

While Christians have traditionally viewed themselves as being “different” from the pagans who preceded them, ironically their view that all things … people, objects, even behaviors … are living, breathing, metaphysical entities (or “spirits”) with their own existence, motives and purposes, is not appreciably different from the animism that was part of most pagan belief systems.

Put bluntly, Christianity has encountered its enemy — and has become it!

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It’s often said that you can use the Bible to justify almost anything you want. It’s got enough words in it that if you take any issue or situation and sift through its pages long enough, you can usually extract a quotation somewhere in it, that supports it. Shakespeare even famously observed, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose” (Antonio to Bassanio, The Merchant of Venice I.iii). This point has been hammered home by none other than the famously straying South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who — almost unbelievably — used the Bible to justify himself (as reported by the New York Daily News):

Earlier, the latest Luv Guv apologized to his staff Friday during a bizarre cabinet meeting during which he compared himself to the Bible’s King David – who continued to lead after sleeping with another man’s wife, Bathsheba.

“What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily … but then picked up the pieces and built from there,” said the governor, who did not address growing calls from Republicans and Democrats that he resign.

That’s right, folks … if it’s good enough for King David, it’s good enough for Mark Sanford! (The full story of David’s brazen infidelity can be found in 2 Samuel, chapter 11.)

I’ve blogged twice already (first here, and then here) on this pathetic character. The rest of the Religious Right continues to show us its moral fibre (or more to the point, its lack thereof!) by steafastly refusing to disavow the creep.

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American fundamentalist Christianity is growing increasingly irrational. Of course, fundamentalism of any sort is basically the product of immaturity and irrationality … but what I mean is that it’s getting worse than it had been. The New York Times reports on a pastor in Louisville KY who celebrates guns as being central to Christian theology:

Pastor Urges His Flock to Bring Guns to Church

Ken Pagano, the pastor of the New Bethel Church here, is passionate about gun rights. He shoots regularly at the local firing range, and his sermon two weeks ago was on “God, Guns, Gospel and Geometry.” And on Saturday night, he is inviting his congregation of 150 and others to wear or carry their firearms into the sanctuary to “celebrate our rights as Americans!” as a promotional flier for the “open carry celebration” puts it.

I could be wrong, but the Jesus Christ I recall reading about in the gospels was a pacifist. Here’s a sample from scripture … this is when Jesus was being arrested:

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:51-52)

Pagano’s theology is, by comparison, overtly militant:

“God and guns were part of the foundation of this country,” Mr. Pagano, 49, said Wednesday in the small brick Assembly of God church, where a large wooden cross hung over the altar and two American flags jutted from side walls. “I don’t see any contradiction in this. Not every Christian denomination is pacifist.”

Pagano is correct in saying that “not every Christian denomination is pacifist,” however, that does not mean they’re actually obeying the words of the same Jesus who said “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Pagano, far from acknowledging this, is adamant about his warlike theology:

“When someone from within the church tells me that being a Christian and having firearms are contradictions, that they’re incompatible with the Gospel — baloney,” he said. “As soon as you start saying that it’s not something that Christians do, well, guns are just the foil. The issue now is the Gospel. So in a sense, it does become a crusade. Now the Gospel is at stake.”

Pagano is saying that any limitation on Christians is utterly impermissible. To say that “guns are not Christian” is — in his mind — an abridgment of what Christians can do … and to abridge Christians is a direct frontal assault on “the Gospel” (i.e. Christianity itself).

Therefore, to say guns are not Christian is to attack Christianity.

Words cannot express how utterly irrational and asinine this line of thinking is. It’s religiously-inspired paranoia.

Note: The NY Times Lede blog is live-blogging this event. Check there for any recent news about it.

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I blogged earlier on South Carolina’s Republican governor Mark Sanford, who’d been carrying on an affair with a woman in Argentina for at least a year, and pointed out the brazen hypocrisy inherent in a man who strays in his own marriage but who, while in Congress, had condemned then-President Clinton for having strayed. I further pointed out that, while such hypocrisy is common in the Religious Right no one else in the Religious Right ever seems to have a problem with it. One wonders how hypocrisy in Christians can be acceptable to other Christians, since Jesus himself explicitly and clearly forbid his followers ever to be hypocritical. It’s almost as though they’re unaware of Jesus’ orders on the matter, even though they’re right there in scripture for all to see.

But it turns out that the Religious Right does not view the hypocrisy of others in the Religious Right as true “hypocrisy.” Rather, they view it as an external imposition by infernal outside forces. “The Devil made me do it” is an expression that encapsulates this notion. Recently something akin to this was proposed in defense of Gov. Sanford, by none other than Rush Limbaugh, Lord High Champion of all things Conservative and Religious. According to Limbaugh, Obama’s stimulus package caused the affair! Blogs around the world have flared up on the matter, such as the following:

The manner in which the Religious Right rationalizes and/or explains away their own transgressions, is astounding. Limbaugh’s rationale in particular is factually impossible, since Sanford had begun his affair long before Obama was even elected. Therefore it cannot possibly have been the product of Obama’s stimulus package (and Sanford’s own irrational rejection of it).

What would be better, of course — and grant the Religious Right some genuine credibility on the matter — would be for others in the R.R. to reject Sanford and his sniveling excuses, to say there is no good explanation for his adultery, to say that adultery is anti-Christian, and for them to blame Sanford and his mistress only for the adultery.

But they won’t … and we all know they won’t … because ultimately they are not actually interested in morality; they’re interested, instead, in running the country according to their own metaphysical beliefs, and that means they cannot jettison Sanford — a heretofore successful politician — because that might impede their goal of ruling the country.

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People often ask me what good my degree in medieval history is. An answer I sometimes give is, “In many ways our civilization is still medieval; modern history is medieval history, and vice versa.” A sterling example of this is in the following case; it exemplifies the medieval mindset which still lives on, even in 21st century Connecticut (USA).

Recently there appeared on YouTube a video of a teen being exorcized of “homosexual demons”; this report comes from WTIC-TV (Fox 61) in Hartford:

A Connecticut church posted a controversial video on YouTube that raised questions about the treatment of children by a leader of a gay and lesbian teen mentoring group among others

The video features church elders performing what looks like an exorcism, of what they refer to in the video as “homosexual demons”

The video shows leaders of the Manifested Glory Ministries in a frenetic scene, screaming, “Right now I command you to leave!”

At the same time a teen writhing on the ground as the adults around him implore so called “homosexual demons” to get out.

The leaders yell at the boy on the ground saying, “Right now in the name of Jesus, I call the homosexuality, right now in the name of Jesus.”

For 20 minutes it continues with the boy in a near seizure, even vomiting.

(Missing punctuation is per the original story.)

The Bridgeport, CT church that orchestrated this gay exorcism doesn’t appear interested in defending their practices, though, and even pulled not only this video but their entire account from YouTube:

Prophet Patricia McKinney and her husband, church overseer Kelvin McKinney have a weekly radio show. She wasn’t much interested in talking, telling Fox 61’s Laurie Perez, “Don’t be following, I’m telling you no.” …

The church has recently taken down its YouTube account, but the video is still posted on other sites.

So this church is happy to exorcize “homosexual demons,” and are even proud enough of it to post it to YouTube … but once it gets ridiculed and reporters ask about it, they suddenly become shy, won’t admit to it, and even try to conceal it. How wonderful.

Note: the video that’s embedded on the Fox 61 report page, is their own televised report, not the original exorcism video. That can be seen here, if you care to look:

Although this “exorcism” is not of the Hollywood sort and a little bit campy, having seen a number of exorcisms as performed by Protestant fundamentalists myself, I can attest to this one being quite usual.

At any rate, although this ceremony is not the famous Rituale Romanum as it had been practiced in the Middle Ages, the idea that a person’s problems are caused by diabolic or demonic possession, making exorcism a solution, is most certainly a very medieval idea. (That’s not to say that I consider being gay to be a “problem” … that’s what Manifested Glory Ministries thinks.) Our 21st century occidental civilization obviously has a great deal of development left ahead of it, before it actually becomes a truly 21st-century civilization.

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Folks in the Religious Right love to trumpet “morality” as a reason why everyone must be religious — i.e. adherents of their own religion of course. They consider non-belief to be unacceptable because — in their minds — non-belief is amoral. This is, of course, very wrong, as I explain in my Agnosticism FAQ. Nonetheless they love to claim to be the sole arbiters of morality in the world.

An interesting phenomenon, then, is when one of them stumbles along the the path of morality. The most recent example of this is the furiously conservative governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, who disappeared for a week, and returned today to hold a press conference (reported by the AP, via Yahoo News):

After going AWOL for seven days, Gov. Mark Sanford admitted Wednesday that he had secretly flown to Argentina to visit a woman with whom he was having an affair. …

“I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” he said in a bombshell news conference in which the 49-year-old governor ruminated aloud with remarkable frankness on God’s law, moral absolutes and following one’s heart. He said he spent the last five days “crying in Argentina.”

The governor’s disappearance had been a mystery even to many of his own friends in government, and had become a rather serious matter (see this timeline for more information, courtesy of the Columbia (SC) State). Sanford, you may recall — as this AP (Yahoo News) report explains — had once been a vocal proponent of marital fidelity:

As a congressman, Sanford voted in favor of three of four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, citing the need for “moral legitimacy.”

Hmm. “Moral legitimacy”? I guess when you’re a card-carrying member of the Religious Right, you can be as hypocritical as you want … even though Jesus Christ himself explicitly and unambiguously ordered his followers never, ever to be hypocritical.

The AP (Yahoo News) report also mentions that U.S. Senator John Ensign, R-NV, had also recently revealed an affair of his own:

Sanford’s announcement came a day after another prominent Republican, Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, apologized to his GOP Senate colleagues after revealing last week that he had an affair with a campaign staffer and was resigning from the GOP leadership.

The question is, are folks in the Religious Right going to rethink their support for Sanford or Ensign — or will they ignore these massive moralistic failures and let them get away with them?

More to the point, it’s examples such as this that fly in the face of the Religious Right’s basic position that Christianity makes people more moral. It turns out that this is not actually the case. Now … the R.R. can certainly argue that “people will still be people, Christianity or no,” and that “we’re all sinners anyway,” and all of that. But these are just excuses for why Christianity is not capable of actually making its own followers into upstanding, moral people. That it does not do so, is nonetheless significant. If Christianity is “right” because it makes people moral, how, exactly, do events such as these not contradict that?

Don’t worry, I don’t expect anyone will answer that question. No one has yet, so I’m not expecting they ever will.

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