Archive for March, 2010

Pseudohistory Channel' Logo (modified from 'History Channel' logo)As if the presence on the so-called “History” channel of programs on UFO hunters and Nostradamus haven’t already clued you in on this, a special program they ran tonight proves this channel ought to be renamed “Pseudohistory.” Because that’s exactly what they peddle (locally cached version):

The Real Face of Jesus?

As the Shroud of Turin is put on public display for the first time in 10 years, new data reveals more than just a flat image embedded in the ancient cloth, but an astonishing, three-dimensional, sculpture-like figure. Using the principles of physics, cutting-edge digital technology, and the revolutionary CGI process pioneered in Stealing Lincoln’s Body, HISTORY brings that image to life, unveiling the most accurate representation ever seen of what many believe to be Jesus Christ.

There’s just one tiny little problem with using the Shroud of Turin as an indicator of what Jesus Christ must have looked like, and that is that it doesn’t contain a picture of him! The Shroud has been tested scientifically, multiple times, and each time has been shown to date only to the Middle Ages — the middle of the 14th century, to be exact. There is overwhelming and abundant evidence that the Shroud is not a 1st century BCE burial cloth with a magical photo of Jesus on it, but rather, of medieval manufacture, very likely a pious fraud. It’s time for Christians who worship the Shroud, to put away their beliefs in this phony artifact and stop using it to prop up their nonsensical metaphysical beliefs.

That lots of people believe the Shroud is a relic of Jesus’ burial, does not make it so. And that it’s Holy Week does not justify a mass media outlet foisting this medieval fraud on the public. If you really want to see what Jesus might have looked like, I suggest having a look at the somewhat more reasonable effort put forward a few years ago by Popular Mechanics (WebCite cached article). You won’t be sorry.

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Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, 2010-03-29 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)A lawsuit filed in Kentucky in 2004 has forced the Roman Catholic Church to offer up legal theories that, it claims, show that it’s immune to a lawsuit over clerical abuse. The AP reports via Google News (locally cached version):

Dragged deeper than ever into the clerical sex abuse scandal, the Vatican is launching a legal defense that the church hopes will shield the pope from a lawsuit in Kentucky seeking to have him deposed.

Court documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press show that Vatican lawyers plan to argue that the pope has immunity as head of state, that American bishops who oversaw abusive priests weren’t employees of the Vatican, and that a 1962 document is not the “smoking gun” that provides proof of a cover-up. …

The Vatican is seeking to dismiss the suit before Benedict XVI can be questioned or secret documents subpoenaed.

This isn’t apparently the first U.S. court case to take up this matter:

The United States considers the Vatican a sovereign state — the two have had diplomatic relations since 1984. In 2007, U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn rejected an initial request by the plaintiffs to depose Benedict.

“They will not be able to depose the pope,” said Joseph Dellapenna, a professor at Villanova University Law School an [sic] author of “Suing Foreign Governments and their Corporations.”

“But lower level officials could very well be deposed and there could be subpoenas for documents as part of discovery,” he said.

Note: The verb “depose” in this story refers — I assume — not to an attempt to remove the Pope from office (i.e. definition #1 from Merriam-Webster’s), but to force him to give a deposition (i.e. definition #3 from the same).

At any rate, the plaintiffs think they have documentary evidence to back up the claim of a cover-up:

Crucial to the Kentucky lawsuit is the 1962 document “Crimen Sollicitationis” — Latin for “crimes of solicitation.” It describes how church authorities should deal procedurally with cases of abuse of children by priests, cases where sex is solicited in the confessional — a particularly heinous crime under canon law — and cases of homosexuality and bestiality.

[Plaintiffs’ attorney William] McMurry argues that the document imposed the highest level of secrecy on such matters and reflected a Vatican policy barring bishops from reporting abuse to police. …

The existence of Crimen did not become publicly known until 2003, when a lawyer noticed a reference to the document while reading a 2001 letter written by Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. McMurry is seeking to subpoena Ratzinger’s letter, which instructed all bishops to send cases of clerical sex abuse to him and to keep the proceedings secret.

Strictly speaking, Crimen sollicitationis deals only with priests’ misconduct in the confessional or during the sacrament of reconciliation (also known as confession and/or penance). Many of the abuse cases that have been reported through the years do not involve the confessional or this sacrament; nevertheless, many Church officials have interpreted this 1962 letter as covering all accusations of abuse by a priest.

This case has already been bumped up to the federal appellate level, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed it to proceed in Kentucky courts again. I expect numerous appeals in this case, up and down through both the commonwealth and federal courts, for years to come. This isn’t over yet … not if the Vatican has anything to say about it.

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Good, Bad. I'm the Jesus with the Gun.Texas authorities may not care much about the Christian militia that’s running amok in Amarillo, TX as I blogged already. But federal authorities today went after a Christian militia group operating in multiple states, as ABC News reports:

The FBI said Sunday that agents conducted weekend raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and arrested at least three people, and a militia leader in Michigan said the target of at least one of the raids was a Christian militia group.

Federal warrants were sealed, but a federal law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity said some of those arrested face gun charges and officials are pursuing other suspects.

This other, unrelated militia leader in Michigan offered some additional information:

Michael Lackomar, a spokesman for the Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia, said one of his team leaders got a frantic phone call Saturday evening from members of Hutaree, a Christian militia group, who said their property in southwest Michigan was being raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“They said they were under attack by the ATF and wanted a place to hide,” Lackomar said. “My team leader said, ‘no thanks.'”

The team leader was cooperating with the FBI on Sunday, Lackomar said. He said SMVM wasn’t affiliated with Hutaree, which states on its Web site to be “prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren’t.”

It’s not clear to me who or what this “Hutaree Militia” is. According to their own Web site — which I will not link here — the name “hutaree” means “Christian warrior.” I’m not sure what language that is. As made famous by a John Wayne film by that title, “hatari” means “danger” in Swahili. But that particular movie doesn’t seem to have any connection with this Christian militia, so I suspect it’s a word they made up for themselves. In any event, they use scripture to justify their warlike posture, such as:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mt 10:34)

They also cite a different scripture as support for their movement:

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:13)

But that particular message is a pacifist one, intended to presage Jesus’ own sacrifice of himself (which happened later in that gospel), and is not warlike at all.

Another odd thing about them is that their avowed list of “information sources” includes mainstream and not-very-unusual outlets such as the Jerusalem Post and the Financial Times; yet it also includes avowedly and coercively religious sites such as World Net Daily, CNS News, and Jack Van Impe Ministries. It’s safe to say these guys are more likely to act on what they read from their co-religionists at WND than they are to act on anything they read in the FT.

Yet another aspect of this group that puzzles me is, how — exactly — do they think arming themselves and going on military exercises is a way to obey the Beatitudes, which can easily be found in the same Bibles they’re able to quote:

He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:2-10)

And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say,
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.
“Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.
“Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. (Lk 6:20-26)

I think it’s safe to say they never had any intention of ever obeying the Beatitudes. This makes them hypocritical Christians, who carve up their own Holy Bible to suit their wishes, waving around the snippets that appear to support them, and shredding the parts that condemn them … such as:

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. (Mt 26:52)

Hat tip: Skeptics & Heretics Forum.

Photo credit: negatendo.

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Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)To date I’ve blogged many times on the many Roman Catholic clerical-abuse scandals that have popped up around the world over the last decade or so, and especially the past few months. In January I blogged about an abuse victim’s personal observation that the priest who had viewed his actions as the result of a kind of spiritual contest between himself and the Devil, whom the priest had viewed as somehow being present in his child-victims, “tempting” him, and thus “forcing” the priest to abuse him. While this is a subjective account, it does neatly explain the Church’s reticence to deal with the matter of abusive priests, historically; according to this model, it’s the abusive priest — not the child he abuses — who’s the true “victim” in these crimes.

It’s rare that I see any suggestion of this “scandal-as-a-spiritual-contest” model mentioned in mass media reports, but it does come up here and there. It appeared, for example, in this (UK) Guardian article on the scandal and the Vatican’s reaction to it (WebCite cached article):

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said on his Facebook site that the pope was being subjected to “scandalous and disgraceful” attacks. One churchman, Antonio Riboldi, the emeritus bishop of Acerra, declared that it marked the start of a war “between the church and the world; between Satan and God”.

Note: Apparently the government of Italy is actively defending the Roman Catholic Church, even though there are new allegations of wrongdoing by priests at schools for the deaf in that country (cached article). I guess Italy doesn’t plan to investigate those, unlike other countries’ governments, which either have investigated abuse allegations (e.g. Ireland) or are working toward doing so (e.g. Germany).

The Vatican views itself as being “under attack” by the brutal and ruthless forces of “wicked secularism” and the Devil, which have long been bent on destroying the Catholic Church. This is reflected in this same article, in the words of Italian government officials:

Maurizio Ronconi, a leading Italian Christian Democrat, said: “For years, a masonic-secularist offensive against Catholics has been under way.”

A centre-left opposition MP, Pierluigi Castagnetti, said: “It is now quite clear that the campaign against the pope and the secretary of state of the holy see by certain great foreign newspapers is not fortuitous, nor does it stem from any journalistic right or duty, but is rather a precise design intended to strike the Catholic church at the top.”

Why, obviously! All these allegations are fabricated by “masonic secularists” and by “certain great foreign newspapers.” We all know the abuse never occurred. The masonic secularists and the newspapers paid folks all around the world to make up stories about how they were mistreated. They found hundreds, or thousands, of people to weave fantastic tales of abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy.

Yeah yeah that’s it! By the way, I have several thousand acres of Arizona swampland that’s going cheap; you’d better buy it quick before it’s all gone!

It’s become increasingly apparent that the Church and its defenders view this scandal, overall, in the same way that the abusive priests themselves may view their own behavior … as a diabolical attack within a larger cosmic spiritual war. This is why they are so quick to defend themselves and deny everything; to admit any wrongdoing or fault within their organization would be to grant the Devil, and the “masonic secularists,” a “win” in this larger spiritual conflict. And they don’t want that.

If I am correct — and this is the mindset the Catholic Church and its defenders adhere to — then there is no way this will ever be resolved. Any evidence of clerical wrongdoing or hierarchical cover-ups will be viewed as being diabolical in origin, and will be rejected and fought off. Investigations by secular governments, and any internal or external pressure to “change,” will also be viewed as diabolical assaults on the eternal and “godly” Church, and likewise be actively resisted.

Lastly … does anyone know what a “masonic secularist” is? As far as I know, this phrase is a contradiction in terms, because in order to become a Freemason, a man must also believe in some deity. Thus, a mason literally cannot be a “secularist” in the strictest sense.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Sistine Chapel ceiling, VaticanIf you search the Internet for the phrase “spiritual but not religious,” you’ll get thousands of hits. (Try it on Bing, Yahoo, and Google, if you want.) Here is but one example of many I might offer, from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

About a dozen people huddled at a Poplar Level Road coffeehouse on a recent evening, drawn by the discussion topic, “I’m Not Religious … I’m Spiritual.”

They spoke of their alienation from clergy, creeds, congregations and sermons of condemnation.

They spoke of connection to the divine through laughter and nature, of mystic connections with deceased love ones, of the awe of a newborn baby or the Milky Way on a clear winter night.

People widely assume this phrase has some meaning … but in reality, it’s a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as “spiritual but not religious.”

This may appear an extreme statement, but it’s not. I base it on standard dictionary definitions of the word “religious.” Have a look at the following such definitions:

Source Definition

Dictionary.Com

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Encarta Dictionary

people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life

American Heritage Dictionary

Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe

Merriam-Webster

a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (with religious meaning “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”)

Compact Oxford English Dictionary

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods

All of these definitions of “religion” — along with others that I might offer — also cover the meaning of the term “spiritual.” Ultimately, everything “spiritual” is also — again, according to the above definitions — “religious.”

I understand there are folks who object to the trappings of “organized religion.” The Courier-Journal article I cited makes that clear. The truth, however, is that “religion” need not be “organized” in order to be “religion.” Three of these definitions explicitly state that “religion” can be either “personal” or “institutional” — meaning that “organization” is specifically not a criterion for “religion.” It is, therefore, quite possible to have a “non-organized religion” in addition to an “organized religion.”

It’s time for believers in non-institutional or non-standard religious notions — including all the varieties of “New Agers,” neopagans, adherents of Wicca, witchcraft, even Buddhism and other metaphysical philosophies, etc. — to stop misrepresenting themselves and admit what they are: Religious. Honest, it won’t hurt you to ‘fess up to the truth. You might not want to connect yourself to the negative connotations that are usually associated with the word “religion”; but the metaphorical shoe fits, so wear it. If other “religious” folk are making you look bad, then do something about it, instead of trying to divest yourself from them.

Note: I now have a static page which goes over this in a little more detail.

Photo credit: Richard Carter, via Flickr.

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Pope Gregory XIILots of mass-media stories lately have brought up the possibility that the scandal-plagued and increasingly-discredited Pope Benedict XVI might resign. It is, after all, not unheard of for politicians or heads of corporations to resign when confronted by situations of this sort. However, most of these same stories — such as this one by ABC News — conclude that the Pope cannot resign:

Experts in canon law say only a heavenly bolt of lightning can take the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from power as the supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

“The only person who can fire him is God,” said the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who worked at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., and was one of the first whistle blowers when the sex scandals broke in 1984.

“A pope is never forced to resign, not under the current canon law,” said Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Tablet weekly. “A pope can voluntarily resign, but it’s interesting… Who would take his resignation?”

With all due respect to Fr Doyle and Mr Mickens, however, the idea that the Pope cannot resign, is bullshit. It is, in fact, possible. It’s explicitly stated in canon 332 §2 of the Code of Canon Law:

Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.

Thus, the answer to the question Mickens asks, i.e. to whom would the Pope tender his resignation? is: No one! He doesn’t have to give it to anyone. He merely has to disclose that he’s resigning. That’s all that’s needed, nothing more.

It is also not true that no Pope has ever resigned. In fact, it’s happened multiple times. The last such occasion was when Pope Gregory XII resigned in 1415, an act which effectively ended the Great Western Schism — a particularly uplifting period in ecclesiastial history, a time when two, and later three, popes contended for control of the Church and of Europe.*

Granted it’s been a little over 6 centuries since this last papal resignation, but the canon law permitting it to happen is still there, and can still be used by Benedict XVI, if he chooses to do so.

None of this is impossible to research; the information I provide here is available to anyone on the Internet if they simply take a few minutes to find it. So I suggest the reporters at ABC News — and all other outlets — actually look into it before writing stupid news stories that report untruths as fact.

* The part about the Western Schism being “uplifting” is, of course, sarcasm. The truth is that there was very little good about it … except that it exposed the political, structural, bureaucratic, and moral bankruptcy of the Church at that time. The grotesque debacle known as the Cadaver Synod served much the same purpose as well, as did the period soon after it, known to the Church as the Saeculum obscurum.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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EnergyStar - Huh?With the emphasis on everything being “green,” conserving energy, reducing “carbon footprints,” and concern over global warming, people have learned to look for the EnergyStar label on appliances and electronics. They assume this means they’re energy-saving devices … especially since “EnergyStar” is an EPA-run program. The problem is, it’s not what most people think it is … and that means that an “EnergyStar” designation may not actually mean anything. The New York Times reports on a GAO audit of EnergyStar certification, which shows how easy it is for companies to get certification without earning it:

Does a “gasoline-powered alarm clock” qualify for the EnergyStar label, the government stamp of approval for an energy-saving product?

Like more than a dozen other bogus products submitted for approval since last June by Congressional auditors posing as companies, it easily secured the label, according to a Congressional report to be issued Friday. So did an “air purifier” that was essentially an electric space heater with a feather duster pasted on top, the Government Accountability Office said.

The GAO was able to deceive certifiers repeatedly with the most ridiculous products:

In a nine-month study, four fictitious companies invented by the accountability office also sought EnergyStar status for some conventional devices like dehumidifiers and heat pump models that existed only on paper. The fake companies submitted data indicating that the models consumed 20 percent less energy than even the most efficient ones on the market. Yet those applications were mostly approved without a challenge or even questions, the report said.

Auditors concluded that the EnergyStar program was highly vulnerable to fraud.

The EPA is unfazed by this stunning — and damning — conclusion. Believe it or not, this is their response:

Maria Vargas, an official with the Environmental Protection Agency, which runs the program with the Energy Department, said the approvals did not pose a problem for consumers because the products never existed. There was “no fraud,” Ms. Vargas emphasized.

Ms Vargas is saying that, even though the EPA was deceived, it wasn’t really deceived.

Only a paid mouthpiece could spew with something that asinine and self-contradictory and not collapse in laughter while saying it.

There are many faults within the program, which the GAO points out, and the Times article explains.

Since I blogged a little while ago about the twice-annual, government-ordained fraud known as Daylight Saving Time, I thought it only appropriate I should also report on the potential for fraud in the US government’s EnergyStar program, too.

Hat tip: Consumerist.

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