Archive for February, 2010

I blogged a couple times previously on the death of Javon Thompson, a 1-year-old boy who was starved to death by a hyperreligious mother and group in Baltimore, because he would not say “Amen” after meals. The trial of the groups leader, someone named “Queen Antoinette,” is underway. The AP reports via the New York Times (WebCite cached article):

For more than a week, Ria Ramkissoon watched passively as her 1-year-old son wasted away, denied food and water because the older woman she lived with said it was God’s will.

Javon Thompson was possessed by an evil spirit, Ramkissoon was told, because he didn’t say ”Amen” during a mealtime prayer. Javon didn’t talk much, given his age, but he had said ”Amen” before, Ramkissoon testified.

So I guess that, in their religious minds, this was sufficient reason to starve him to death. The group thought nothing of the boy’s death:

Ramkissoon and several other people knelt down and prayed that he would rise from the dead. For weeks afterward, Ramkissoon spent much of her time in a room with her son’s emaciated body — talking to him, dancing, even giving him water. She thought she could bring him back.

Ramkissoon told the tale of her son’s excruciating death from the witness stand Wednesday, at the trial of the woman she says told her not to feed the boy. Queen Antoinette was the leader of a small religious cult, according to police and prosecutors, and she faces murder charges alongside her daughter, Trevia Williams, and another follower, Marcus A. Cobbs.

The three are acting as their own attorneys.

The courts to date have indulged these people — including agreeing to a plea deal with Ramkissoon which will have her released if Javon is somehow resurrected. So I suppose allowing these wingnuts to represent themselves is yet another judicial indulgence, which is to be expected. Ramkissoon is still defiant about her beliefs, especially that her son will magically rise from the dead:

”I still believe that my son is coming back,” Ramkissoon said. ”I have no problem saying what really happened because I believe he’s coming back.

”Queen said God told her he would come back. I believe it. I choose to believe it,” she said. ”Even now, despite everything, I choose to believe it for my reasons.” …

Ramkissoon detailed how the group relocated to Philadelphia and brought Javon’s body in a suitcase. She described how Javon was packed with sheets and blankets and how she sprayed his body with disinfectant and stuffed the suitcase with fabric softener sheets to mask the odor.

The suitcase was hidden in a shed in Philadelphia for more than a year before it was discovered by police, according to testimony.

I guess the powerful odor of a dead body wasn’t quite enough to clue these wingnuts in to the idea that he wasn’t going to rise from the dead, after all.

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Late last year, the St Petersburg Times published a series of stories which, together, were an exposé of the Church of Scientology. This project, known as “The Truth Rundown,” is extensive, and must have been a massive undertaking. The paper has a long history of exposing Scientology, dating back decades, so this is, perhaps, not unusual. The CoS’s response — aside from simply dismissing the comprehensive reports as “total lies” — was to commission its own investigation of the St Petersburg Times and of “The Truth Rundown” itself … i.e. to “fight fire with fire” as the saying goes. That investigation, however, has ended, at Scientology’s direction, and will not be disclosed. TV station WUSF in Tampa reports on this development (WebCite cached article):

The Church of Scientology is deploying a new weapon in its three-decade battle with the St. Petersburg Times: award-winning investigative journalists.

Those reporters completed their own review of the newspaper’s coverage of Scientology, but church officials won’t release it.

In 1980, The St. Petersburg Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the secretive religion, headquartered in Clearwater. Since then, church officials have said the newspaper’s coverage is unfair.

So church officials decided to do something about it, according to spokesman Tommy Davis.

“To be honest, I think we just took a playbook from the media,” Davis said. “Media pay reporters all the time to investigate things.

“So we thought it warranted some investigation, and so we hired some reporters to investigate. It’s pretty straightforward, in that regard,” he said.

To the CoS’s credit, they’re correct about this. It is fair to investigate the investigators, so to speak. But since they’re not disclosing the results of that investigation, it’s likely that it never turned up whatever dirt that Scientology had expected to turn up.

Those reporters are Christopher Szechenyi, an Emmy-winning television producer from Boston, and Russell Carollo, a Colorado-based reporter who won a Pulitzer for uncovering medical malpractice in the military. …

Carollo and Szechenyi declined to be interviewed for this story. In a statement, they said they never misrepresented themselves or who they were working for. They also said they were paid in advance and had complete editorial control of their work.

In any case, the newspaper declined to cooperate with the investigation, saying it would fuel the religion’s ongoing campaign to discredit The Times.

“They have, at various points, threatened litigation against us for performing this kind of journalism,” Brown said. “When you’ve been threatened with lawsuits, it doesn’t make sense to have a conversation with subjects who are threatening you about the work.

There was an added layer of the investigation, too, that being an editorial one:

The reporters completed their review and turned it over for an edit to Steve Weinberg, a long-time University of Missouri journalism professor and former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

While the CoS hasn’t released the report, they’re using it indirectly against their foes at the Times:

But that didn’t stop Davis from speaking about the report to Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz, who broke this story Monday [cached article page 1 and page 2]. Davis called the report “highly critical” of the Times.

In their statement, the reporters said Davis “did not accurately portray the full scope of our work” and urged the Church to release the report.

But they say they can’t talk about their findings, because of their contract with the Church.

Unfortunately for Scientology, they don’t get to claim that this report condemns the St Petersburg Times if they refuse to disclose its contents; a report that says the Times is in the wrong, but they won’t allow anyone to see, is inseparable from a report that does not, in fact, state that the Times is in the wrong.

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Every once in a while I wonder if I’m the only person left on the planet who thinks that facts matter. Tonight I ran across a column by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald which shows that I’m not, in fact, alone. He writes of a correspondence with someone for whom facts are fungible, and who thinks something he doesn’t like is just someone else’s insidious “bias” (WebCite cached article):

Facts no longer mean what they once did

Igot [sic] an email the other day that depressed me.

It concerned a piece I recently did that mentioned Henry Johnson, who was awarded the French Croix de Guerre in World War I for singlehandedly fighting off a company of Germans (some accounts say there were 14, some say almost 30, the ones I find most authoritative say there were about two dozen) who threatened to overrun his post. …

My mention of Johnson’s heroics drew a rebuke from a fellow named Ken Thompson, which I quote verbatim and in its entirety:

“Hate to tell you that blacks were not allowed into combat intell 1947, that fact. World War II ended in 1945. So all that feel good, one black man killing two dozen Nazi, is just that, PC bull.”

In response, my assistant, Judi Smith, sent Mr. Thompson proof of Johnson’s heroics: a link to his page on the website of Arlington National Cemetery. She thought this settled the matter.

Thompson’s reply? “There is no race on headstones and they didn’t come up with the story in tell 2002.”

Judi: “I guess you can choose to believe Arlington National Cemetery or not.”

Thompson: “It is what it is, you don’t believe either…”

At this point, Judi forwarded me their correspondence, along with a despairing note. She is probably somewhere drinking right now.

You see, like me, she can remember a time when facts settled arguments. This is back before everything became a partisan shouting match, back before it was permissible to ignore or deride as “biased” anything that didn’t support your worldview.

What has happened is that, for most people, “truthiness” (or something that one intuitively accepts as “true” even when it’s not) is more important than “truth.” Pitts echoes this:

To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

No one is really interested in anything other than his or her preselected ideology. Everything else is out. Entirely out. Unacceptable and even sinister. One’s own side is saintly, the other is Hitler. (Reductio ad Hiterlum is a common propaganda trick.) What the average American wishes to be true, s/he claims is true; what s/he doesn’t want to be true, s/he claims is not; and Americans refuse to actually look into things to find out if they’re correct.

P.S. For a taste of how irrational and fact-deprived Americans can be, have a look at the comments to Pitts’s article. They prove his point every bit as much as the correspondent he quoted. What a bunch of children.

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Birth defects, handicaps and disabilities are — according to the apparently-religionist Virginia Delegate (legislator) Robert G. Marshall — caused by mothers having had prior abortions. The Washington Post reports on his primeval, Old Testament-style thinking (WebCite cached article):

Virginia Del. Robert G. Marshall apologized Monday to people with disabilities for remarks suggesting that women who have abortions risk having later children with birth defects as a punishment from God.

Marshall (R-Prince William) made the comment Thursday at a news conference calling for an end to state funding to Planned Parenthood. …

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion who have handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? Because when you abort the firstborn of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children,” Marshall said.

“In the Old Testament, the firstborn of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord,” he added. “There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest — and with the knowledge that they have in faith, it’s been verified by a study from Virginia Commonwealth University — first abortions, of a first pregnancy, are much more damaging than later abortions.”

While it may seem Marshall’s point was scientifically supported, in fact, it was not:

The VCU study he referred to was published in 2008 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health and suggested that there is a higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight in children born to women who have had an abortion.

The study did not say anything about “handicaps.” It mentioned only low birth weight and premature birth. Thus, this study’s content actually had nothing to do with Marshall’s claim.

Marshall has been veering away from these remarks since he said them, as the Post explains (cached):

Marshall, appearing shaken by criticism gone viral, said his remarks had been shortened in some news reports and twisted out of context. …

“No one who knows me or my record would imagine that I believe or intended to communicate such an offensive notion. I have devoted a generation of work to defending disabled and unwanted children, and have always maintained that they are special blessings to their parents. Nevertheless, I regret any misimpression my poorly chosen words may have created as to my deep commitment to fighting for these vulnerable children and their families.”

Delegate, your words were in no way “taken out of context.” What you stated was that “handicaps” in subsequent children were a consequence of having had an abortion previously. Those are your words. The “context” does not change the meaning of those words. What the “context” also does not change is that the study you cited as support for your view, did not actually support it.

Thus, Delegate, your complaint that you “were taken out of context,” and the fact that you claimed scientific support that you did not really have, makes you a double “lying liar for Jesus.” Welcome to that club.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches (which does a good job of explaining the errors in Marshall’s theology).

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In response to events at CPAC, the conference of conservatives that ended a few days ago, I’ve written, in response, “My Non-Believer’s Manifesto.” I invite one and all — religious, non-religious, and in-between — to read it.

I admit it is a challenging statement, and this is by design, for reasons I explain there. Some of you might even consider it incendiary or extreme.

But whatever you think of it, clearly American non-believers no longer have any choice to but to start asking hard questions of religionists, who believe they are entitled to run the country and even to dictate what everyone within in it says and thinks. There doesn’t seem to be any more room for debate or negotiation, because religionists in the U.S. will never engage in either … not genuinely, anyway.

In any event, my thanks to one and all for having a look at it.

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The phenomenon of killing one’s own kids for Jesus … or trying to … is, unfortunately, not new. It’s something I’ve blogged about on several occasions. It’s my sad duty to relate the latest case of it. Sacramento TV station KOVR (CBS13) reports (WebCite cached article):

DA: Parents Killed Daughter With ‘Religious Whips’

Prosecutors say that Butte County parents used quarter inch plastic tubing to beat their seven-year-old adopted daughter to death. Apparently, they got the idea from a fundamentalist based Christian group, which promotes using this as a way of training children to be obedient.

Three years ago, Kevin Schatz and his wife Elizabeth did something so noble, a Chico television station featured them; the pair decided to adopt three children from Liberia. Now, they’re accused of killing one of them because prosecutors say she mispronounced a word.

Butte County District Attorney, Mike Ramsey, says for several hours, the seven-year-old was held down by Elizabeth and beaten dozens of times by Kevin on the back of her body which caused massive tissue damage.

“It was torture,” says Ramsey.

Another 11-year-old adopted child was critically beaten for “being a liar and a bad influence on the seven-year-old.”

Note the similarity here to the recent case of Southern Baptist missionaries from Idaho who recently tried to steal some children from earthquake-ravaged Haiti in order to raise them to be good obedient Southern Baptist Christians. I love how these people can’t seem to find any kids from their own country to forcibly convert to their own version of Christianity.

At any rate, authorities have been able to show how the Schatzs’ brutal form of discipline was religiously derived:

The District Attorney points to a book written by a Tennessee Evangelist named Michael Pearl, who the Schatz’s have told police they were following.

Pearl’s website, www.nogreaterjoy.org, suggests “A swift whack with the plastic tubing would sting but not bruise. Give ten licks at a time, more if the child resists.”

The really tragic part about this is that there are probably tons of good Christian parents in the US who have no problem with this sort of thing. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is a common expression in the English language, and owes its origins — ultimately, if one goes far enough back in time — to a number of Bible passages, especially these:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Prv 13:24)

You shall strike him with the rod
And rescue his soul from Sheol. (Prv 23:14)

Isn’t religion grand?

Hat tip: The Friendly Atheist blog, as well as the Life Without Deities and Anti-Bible Project, both on Delphi Forums.

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We’ve heard for years, from the Religious Right, how “sacred” marriage is, and how it must be “defended.” This talk has led to — among other things — the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, and California’s Proposition 8. Listening to the rhetoric, one would think that “marriage” was literally under siege, soon to be killed on the field of battle in The Great Culture War by the hideous and evil forces of Secular Progressives.

The reality, however, is that — in spite of this extreme rhetoric in which one would think actual blood was being shed and the streets are littered with corpses — the defenders of marriage’s sanctity do not actually practice what they preach. Divorce is common among Christians; in fact, “born again Christians” are more likely to divorce than non-believers! Imagine that! (WebCite cached article.)

The most recent example of this particular phenomenon can be seen in the news that the wife of famous evangelical Christian preacher and faith-healer, Benny Hinn, has filed for divorce. The L.A. Now blog at the Los Angeles Times reports (WebCite cached article):

The wife of faith healer and televangelist Benny Hinn has filed for divorce in Orange County Superior Court.

Suzanne Hinn filed her divorce papers Feb. 1, according to the court website. Her attorney, Sorrell Trope, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

It’s nice to see, once again, how stunningly and obviously hypocritical these fundamentalist Christians are — in spite of the fact that they accept the Bible as the literally-true word of God, and in several places that same Bible explicitly and clearly condemns all forms of hypocrisy and forbids any and all Christians from ever engaging in it.

Hat tip: iReligion forum at Delphi Forums.

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