Archive for January, 2010

Things are looking worse for the Baptist group based in Idaho which tried to abscond with some Haitian refugee children. The BBC now reports that not all the children’s parents are “missing” (WebCite cached article):

Haiti ‘orphans’ found with Americans may have parents

The Americans said the youngsters had all lost their parents in the quake.

But George Willeit, a spokesman in Port-au-Prince for SOS Children’s Villages, which is now looking after the children, says at least one of them, a little girl, said her parents were alive.

The children also apparently hadn’t been cared for very well, while the Baptists were trying to shuffle them out of Haiti:

Mr Willeit said many of the children had been found to be in poor health, hungry and dehydrated.

One of the smallest — just two or three months old — was so dehydrated she had to be taken to hospital, he added.

Haitian officials appear not to be taking this situation lightly:

“This is an abduction, not an adoption,” Haitian Social Affairs Minister Yves Christallin told AFP news agency.

The Baptist group is still in denial over this, claiming to have done nothing wrong:

The leader of the Idaho-based group, Laura Silsby, said the arrests were the result of a mistake.

“Our understanding was that we were told by a number of people, including Dominican authorities, that we would be able to bring the children across,” she said.

“The mistake we made is that we didn’t understand there was additional paperwork required.”

But as the BBC explains, it wasn’t even as simple as having missed a little bit of “additional paperwork”:

But the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, in Port-au-Prince, says the regulations are very clear — each case of child adoption must be approved by the government.

Even before the earthquake, he adds, child-smuggling was a massive problem in Haiti, with thousands of children disappearing each year.

Rules to prevent child-smuggling predated the earthquake, then, so anyone attempting to remove children from Haiti has no excuse for not knowing that government permission was required. As for their claim that the Dominican Republic approved their operation … I wasn’t aware that the D.R.’s government had any authority to decide whether Haitian children could leave their country. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see where that authority exists. Maybe the Baptists are aware of some rule to this effect, that I never heard of.

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At the northern end of Los Angeles county (in California), well away from the urban center of that sprawling metropolis, lies the city of Lancaster. As one would expect, it’s not as cosmopolitan as the enormous city to its south. It is, however, a growing region, despite its somewhat remote location. So it’s odd that its elected officials would start carrying the standard of Christianity and try to force it on everyone — and vilify Islam at the same time. The (Los Angeles) Daily News reports on this controversy (WebCite cached article):

Lancaster officials became embroiled in religious controversy this week after the mayor spoke of trying to make the Antelope Valley city a “Christian community” and a councilwoman wrote on Facebook that beheadings are what Muslims “are all about.”

Mayor R. Rex Parris made his comments Tuesday in his State of the City speech as he urged Lancaster voters to approve a municipal ballot measure that would allow prayers – even those invoking a specific deity, such as Jesus – at city meetings.

“We’re growing a Christian community, and don’t let anybody shy away from that,” Parris said to an audience of about 160 people, mostly pastors and their spouses, the Antelope Valley Press reported.

Parris is — as one would expect from the “no-compromise” position laid out in these remarks — not backing down from this statement:

Parris said Friday he was surprised by the objections of non-Christians and secular-government advocates, and said his remarks had been taken out of context.

Note, the “out of context” whine is the religionists’ reflexive objection whenever they’re caught making an incendiary statement. In this case, context is irrelevant; his remarks were absolute, as embodied in “don’t let anybody shy away from that.” Isn’t it interesting how he expressed a “no-holds-barred” view to a group of pastors and their wives, but later is sniveling and trying to back away from them? Hmm.

Anyway, those remarks came in the wake of another comment that was just as incendiary:

Days before Parris’ remarks, Lancaster City Councilwoman Sherry Marquez used her Facebook page to comment on the trial of a Muslim man accused of beheading his wife in Orchard Park, N.Y.

“This is what the Muslim religion is all about – the beheadings, honor killings are just the beginning of what is to come in the USA,” Marquez wrote Jan. 23. “We are told this is a small majority of Muslim’s (sic) in America, but it is truly what they are all about. You disrespect/dishonor them or their religion and you should die (they don’t even blink at killing their own wives/daughters, because they are justified by their religion).”

How nice. I guess Ms Marquez forgot about the latest example of Christians killing people in the name of their religion; i.e. Scott Roeder, who was just convicted of assassinating Dr George Tiller in Wichita KS? Yes, Ms Marquez … and all other Christian religionists out there who would have us believe that Christians never engage in violence in the name of their religion … Christians can be terrorists, too. OK?

Clearly the folks in charge of Lancaster, CA are veering in the direction of theocracy. While their religionism might make them feel entitled to do this, the truth is that the US … and all of its states, counties, and municipalities like Lancaster … are secular governments. And this is the case for good reason. If you wish to understand why , read all about it from the pen of the man who wrote the First Amendment and thus helped ensure it was so (cached article).

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We all know that Christians are commanded to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), and as a rule, they generally feel compelled to convert as many people as possible to their own form of their religion. Abandoned and orphaned children in post-earthquake Haiti must have seemed like “easy pickings” to an Idaho Baptist church, so it looks like they went there and scooped some of them up. They’re now, understandably, in a heap of trouble because they tried it. The (UK) Guardian reports on this missionary venture (WebCite cached article):

American church group held after trying to take children out of Haiti

A group of 10 American Baptists were being held in Port-au-Prince today after trying to take 33 children out of Haiti.

The church group, most of them from Idaho, allegedly lacked the proper documents when they were arrested on Friday night in a bus along with children aged from two months to 12 years who had survived the earthquake.

The group said they were setting up an orphanage across the border in the Dominican Republic.

Their motives, they insist, were nothing but pure:

“In this chaos the government is in right now we were just trying to do the right thing,” the group’s spokeswoman, Laura Silsby, said at the judicial police headquarters in Port-au-Prince, where the Americans were being held pending a hearing tomorrow before a judge.

The Baptists’ Haitian Orphan Rescue Mission was described as an effort to save abandoned, traumatised children. They wanted to take 100 children by bus to a 45-room hotel at Cabarete, a beach resort in the Dominican Republic, that they were converting into an orphanage, Silsby told the AP.

The problem is that this sort of thing is kinda illegal at the moment, in Haiti, and for very good reason:

However, the Americans – the first known to be taken into custody since the 12 January quake – are now in the middle of a political firestorm in Haiti, where government leaders have suspended adoptions amid fears that parentless or lost children are more vulnerable than ever to child trafficking. …

Haiti has imposed new controls on adoptions since the earthquake, which left thousands of children parentless or separated from their families. The government now requires the prime minister Max Bellerive to personally authorise the departure of any child as a way to prevent child trafficking.

The Baptist church group insists they aren’t up to no good, though, and points out that they had “inside help”:

Silsby said the group, including members from Texas and Kansas, only had the best of intentions and paid no money for the children, whom she said they obtained from the Haitian pastor Jean Sanbil, of the Sharing Jesus Ministries.

As the Guardian goes on to say, these Baptists were ignorant of this rule, and in fact, had never bothered even trying to get any kind of clearance from the Haitian government:

Silsby said they had documents from the Dominican government, but did not seek any paperwork from the Haitian authorities before taking the children to the border.

Here, we call that “breaking the law for Jesus.” Not that it would be a new phenomenon, there are always religious folk who think their metaphysical beliefs entitle them to break laws. It’s one thing to believe one is supposed to “make disciples of all nations”; it’s quite another to just round up children whose parents are missing and just haul them away to raise them into the Baptist faith.

Hat tip: Skeptics & Heretics forum and Anti-Bible forum (both on Delphi Forums).

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I’ve already blogged about problems at the Schuller family’s Garden Grove, CA megachurch. The once-shining Crystal Cathedral continues to grow a bit dimmer … financially and, to a lesser degree, spiritually. The Orange County Register reports on its continued decline (WebCite cached article):

Crystal Cathedral, the megachurch founded by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, is laying off employees, will sell property in south Orange County, cut its “Hour of Power” broadcasts and cancel its “Glory of Easter” pageant this year to make up for an unprecedented 27 percent decline in revenue last year, officials said today.

Sheila Schuller Coleman, who was appointed the megachurch’s leader by her father, the older Schuller, issued a podcast through the Cathedral’s Web site saying they have had to make several tough decisions as a result of the economic crisis.

The series of “tough decisions,” she said, were made by the cathedral’s International Board of Trustees.

Especially troubling to Coleman is not the layoff of employees, who — living as they do in southern California — will have a hard time finding new jobs … but rather the loss of the precious “Glory of Easter” show:

Coleman said she had tears in her eyes when she heard the board’s decision to temporarily suspend “The Glory of Easter,” the pageant that depicts the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ with flying angels, special effects and a live animal parade.

Yes, the loss of a pageant this year is definitely far worse than the possible financial ruin of a few dozen families. (Of course, I mean that sarcastically.)

The degree to which the recession has caused the Crystal Cathedral’s revenues to collapse, is not all that certain. For a few years there’s been some family infighting in the congregation’s leadership, as the OC Register goes on to mention (and they’re reported on it in the past):

The cathedral has seen turbulent times since the departure of Robert A. Schuller, the son of the elder Schuller, who left the megachurch and the “Hour of Power” broadcasts in the midst of a highly publicized family feud [cached article] between his four sisters and their respective spouses. The younger Schuller joined hands with his son-in-law Chris Wyatt and is now part of Dallas-based American Life Network, a television channel that aims to produce family-oriented programming.

The infighting has alienated some congregants and helped drive down donations, at a time when they’re already running low.

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It only took 37 minutes for the jury to reach a verdict in the case of Scott Roeder, the Christian terrorist who assassinated Dr George Tiller while he was in church (of all places!) in Kansas earlier this year (as I blogged about on a number of occasions). CNN reports on it (WebCite cached article):

A Kansas jury deliberated just 37 minutes before convicting an anti-abortion activist of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of an abortion provider.

The jury found Scott Roeder, 51, guilty of gunning down Dr. George Tiller, who operated a clinic in Wichita where late-term abortions were performed. Roeder, 51, faces life in prison when he is sentenced on March 9.

Apparently Roeder himself sped this verdict along:

A day earlier, Roeder told jurors he had shot Tiller in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church as Sunday services began. Testifying as his only defense witness, he said he believed he had to kill Tiller to save lives. He said he had no regrets.

“There was nothing being done, and the legal process had been exhausted, and these babies were dying every day,” Roeder said. “I felt that if someone did not do something, he was going to continue.”

Of course, this trial was a magnet for exactly the kinds of marvelously tasteful, mature, rational and logical protests one expects of the pro-lifers and the Religious Right:

The trial drew activists from both sides of the abortion debate to the courtroom, and a van plastered with slogans and photographs of fetuses was parked in a prominent spot in front of the courthouse.

As I’ve blogged before, pictures of aborted fetuses are objective, logical proof of absolutely nothing whatsoever. They may be emotionally-compelling, but an appeal to emotion (or as I call it, an argumentum ad motum) is meaningless and even fallacious.

Roeder’s claim to want to protect “babies” from Dr Tiller, was refuted by trial testimony:

Jurors heard emotional testimony from church-goers who rushed to Tiller’s side and attempted to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as he lay in a pool of blood. Others, meanwhile, followed Roeder into the church parking lot, where he threatened to shoot them.

If all Roeder had wanted to do was to stop Tiller, what reason did he have to threaten anyone else in Tiller’s church, once he’d killed the doctor? Answer: None!

Given the interest in this case, and the fact that Roeder has had many supporters, one thing is sure: This is not over. A lengthy and intensive appeals process will likely begin soon. The Kansas state bench is stacked with many conservative judges, and it’s conceivable this case might be retried, or the verdict vacated, or something else. The Religious Right is not likely to let this case die. Not only that … it remains to be seen if any of Roeder’s accomplices — such as Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue (WebCite cached article) will be prosecuted for their roles in Tiller’s assassination. My own guess is that Roeder is the only one who will ever be charged.

Oh, and … memo to people who continue to insist that Christians are never terrorists … guess again. As of today, Scott Roeder is now a convicted Christian terrorist. See it right here (video courtesy of CBS News):

It’s time for Christians to stop acting as if the extremists in their own midst are somehow not quite as bad as other types of murderous extremists who belong to other religions. Are we finally clear on that?

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John Paul II the GreatAccording to a newly-published biography by one of the men investigating the possibility of his canonization, the late Pope John Paul II engaged in the practice of self-flagellation. This biography adds a few other revelations about him, including that he had investigated the possibility of resigning as Pope if it proved necessary, and had even set up a possible mechanism by which he might have done so. Time magazine reports (WebCite cached article):

Book: John Paul II Whipped Himself, Weighed Retiring

A new book by the priest in charge of the Vatican’s official case for Pope John Paul II’s sainthood is packed with fascinating — and, apparently, meticulously verified — revelations. The one that grabbed most of the headlines was the claim that John Paul whipped himself with a belt, an act of corporal penitence designed to draw the flagellator closer to Christ’s suffering, and one that is usually associated with a very distant century, or a Dan Brown novel.

“As some members of his close entourage in Poland and in the Vatican were able to hear, John Paul flagellated himself,” writes Monsignor Slawomir Oder, the Polish prelate who collected testimony in his role as “postulator” for the Pope’s canonization. “In his armoire, amid all the vestments and hanging on a hanger, was a belt which he used as a whip.”

The Roman Catholic Church has always had a kind of push-me-pull-you relationship with the practice of self-flagellation (or ritually flogging oneself). It has what has periodically been viewed as a scriptural support, e.g. these passages:

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

Self-flagellation, then, is a kind of ritual “killing of the body” or mortification, which is supposed to — at least spiritually — “kill” the physical impulses that interfere with salvation. While self-flagellation goes back to the early history of Christianity (and may have been practiced in pre-Christian times as well), the Roman Catholic Church has not always smiled on the practice. In the 14th century a disparate collection of Catholics, known as the Flagellants, became well-known, and the practice came into vogue. Pope Clement VI, after a brief period of indulging them, officially suppressed the Flagellants.

Since then, the Catholic Church has taken a middle-of-the-road approach to self-flagellation: As long as it’s not too obvious, too public, too brutal, too obsessive, or physically injurious, it’s acceptable for Catholics to engage in the practice. Nevertheless, I find it odd that a Monsignor might view the late Pope’s self-flagellation as evidence of his piety and as supporting his sainthood; the Church’s repression of the Flagellants suggests that Catholicism does not view self-flagellation as being as “holy” a practice as has been suggested.

Another revelation is that John Paul II laid the foundations of a mechanism by which he might have resigned, if needed. For the most part, over the last several centuries, Catholicism has presumed that the Pope is supposed to remain the Pope until death, that resignation is something that’s just not done. Of course, this assumption flies in the face of history, because some Popes have, in fact, resigned; e.g. Gregory XII, whose resignation effectively ended the Great Western Schism. At any rate, Pope John Paul II set up a mechanism that might have gotten around the supposition that Popes cannot resign, as Time explains:

According to the book, John Paul on Feb. 15, 1989 signed a document clearing the way for him to step down if necessary. Five years later, suffering from a growing number of ailments, including the lingering effects of a 1981 assassination attempt, the Pope updated details of the procedure “in the case of infirmity which is presumed incurable, long-lasting and which impedes me from sufficiently carrying out the functions of my apostolic ministry.” He also charged his then doctrinal chief, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — now known as Pope Benedict XVI — to investigate the implications for the church of having a living “Pope Emeritus” while his successor tried to establish his reign. The vexed question of papal resignation has become increasingly important as a result of modern medicine’s ability to potentially extend a Pontiff’s life long past his ability to effectively run a 1 billion-strong global church.

As it turned out, in spite of his many medical issues, John Paul II ended up never taking advantage of this resignation option.

Ultimately, the late Pope is on track to be beatified later this year, and sometime in the next few years, canonized. I’m not sure how this book makes any kind of compelling case for that, in spite of its title.

Photo credit: Todd Ehlers.

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In the wake of the manner in which Christians — such as Marion “Pat” Robertson — have used the Haiti earthquake to advance their own agendas, scientist and outspoken critic of religion Richard Dawkins is using the comments of Christians — both Robertson’s, and those who try to distance themselves from him — to expose the reality of the religion they worship. In the Washington Post On Faith blog, he wrote (WebCite cached article):

Needless to say, milder-mannered faith-heads are falling over themselves to disown Pat Robertson, just as they disowned those other pastors, evangelists, missionaries and mullahs at the time of the earlier disasters.

What hypocrisy.

Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable ‘mystery’, or who ‘see God’ in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti , or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God ‘suffering on the cross’ in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here.

Where was God in Noah’s flood? He was systematically drowning the entire world, animal as well as human, as punishment for ‘sin’. Where was God when Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed with fire and brimstone? He was deliberately barbecuing the citizenry, lock stock and barrel, as punishment for ‘sin’. Dear modern, enlightened, theologically sophisticated Christian, your entire religion is founded on an obsession with ‘sin’, with punishment and with atonement. Where do you find the effrontery to condemn Pat Robertson, you who have signed up to the obnoxious doctrine that the central purpose of Jesus’ incarnation was to have himself tortured as a scapegoat for the ‘sins’ of all mankind, past, present and future, beginning with the ‘sin’ of Adam, who (as any modern theologian well knows) never even existed?

The reality of Christianity is that sin, suffering, and retribution are central to everything about it, and Dawkins delivers this philosophical hammer-blow to Christians who would try to disavow Robertson:

Educated apologist, how dare you weep Christian tears, when your entire theology is one long celebration of suffering: suffering as payback for ‘sin’ – or suffering as ‘atonement’ for it? You may weep for Haiti where Pat Robertson does not, but at least, in his hick, sub-Palinesque ignorance, he holds up an honest mirror to the ugliness of Christian theology. You are nothing but a whited sepulchre.

Dawkins will, no doubt, be condemned for this confrontational piece, which is one of the harshest things I’ve read about Christianity, in the mass media, in a long time. (People seem to think that atheists like Dawkins are supposed to be meek, humble milquetoasts who cannot say anything even remotely mean about any religion … even though they, themselves, think nothing of deriding atheism, secularism, and other forms of non-belief.) But whatever the merits of Dawkins writing this confrontational piece may be, the fact remains that he is correct: Christian theology is predicated on viciousness and suffering, and revels in it. I have long argued that the God of all the Abrahamic faiths (i.e. Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition) can — logically — only be a malevolent being. It is not possible for him to be benevolent, as JCI worshippers assume him to be, nor is it possible even for him to be ambivalent or neutral. It’s heartening to see a public figure delivering a similar message.

Hat tip: Unreasonable Faith and the Friendly Atheist blogs.

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