Archive for July, 2010

No Signal - Message not received!Harold Camping’s organization is actively responding to the Internet buzz over his prediction of the Second Coming happening on May 21, 2011 and their recent nationwide advertising blitz to announce it to those of us who’d been blissfully unaware of it. For example, the Religion Dispatches post that was my own first notice about it, has a number of comments generated by his followers (scroll down the page to see them). And my own humble blog posting on the matter even got some attention from them. I noticed the following on Twitter (see below). The “j.mp” links are to a supposed news article about the “home church” movement in evangelical Christianity, and to Camping’s organization’s literature Web site. The other links are more obviously to Camping’s ministry online. Apparently my blog posting … and my twitter-blip announcing it … got their attention.

Twitter capture screen-shot

Unfortunately they didn’t actually bother to read what I said. They just pinged back with their usual apologetic / proselytizing / “repent-for-the-end-is-near” bullshit, as though their mindless blather has any meaning to me. They took the time to see my blog entry — and took the time to reply, stating so — but did not actually digest anything I said.

Moreover, they sent each tweet 3 times, for a total of 6 responses. As if multiple tweets are more likely to be noticed.

In response I’d like to say to these folks: Stop wasting your time spewing your inane drivel back at me. I’m not stupid, and I’m not even new to this evangelical “end-times” Bible-prophecy bilge. I was once a fundie, and — significantly — I know what your game is. I appreciate that you took the time to respond to me on Twitter, but if you don’t respect what I said enough to respond to it intelligently and respond to its content, then you can’t very well expect me to respect any of your “end-times” garbage, now, can you?

Photo credit: drinksmachine.

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Boris Vallejo - Four Horsemen of the ApocalypseThe answer to the question “Is Obama ushering in the apocalypse?, according to Tim Lahaye — the evangelical minister and co-author of the vastly lucrative Left Behind publishing empire — is an unequivocal “yes.” He actually said that to Mike Huckabee on his Fox News show. Huff has the story, along with supporting video (WebCite cached article):

Evangelical Christian minister Tim LaHaye says that the policy initiatives put forth by the Obama administration are bringing the country “closer to the apocalypse.” …

“Our present president doesn’t seem to get it,” LaHaye explained. “He doesn’t understand that some of the things he’s introducing that many of us call ‘raw socialism’ — it’s a different name, but it’s essentially government control and government domination of everything.”

The evangelical voice said of the political platform maintained by the Obama administration, “It’s going to work against our country and bringing us closer to the apocalypse.”

The video of this brilliant exchange of asinine, ignorant evangelical Christian thinking is available on Youtube:

Note that LaHaye’s claim is similar to — although not quite identical with — Georgia Congressional candidate Ed Martin’s claim that Obama’s politics prevents people from getting salvation through Christ. So, as insane and outrageous as this claim may be, it doesn’t really surprise me that someone like LaHaye said it. What’s surprising is that things like this aren’t being said more often than they are.

Also, does anyone seriously think that Tim “Left Behind” LaHaye and ex-Governor Shucksabee are somehow not going to agree we’re in the throes of “the End Times” right now?

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi Forums.

Photo credit: Boris Vallejo, via Flickr.

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The Madonna rocks in Granbury TXMary and Jesus have manifested, together, in Granbury TX. They showed up in the form of a pair of rocks discovered by one Stephanie Madden. A report on this amazing discovery is courtesy of KTVT-TV in Dallas (WebCite cached article):

To Stephanie Madden of Granbury, a pair of ordinary rocks are as precious as rubies. …

When Madden first spotted the stones on the ground in Granbury, she didn’t think much about it, but a closer look was all the confirmation she needed.

“It was like the closer I got to God the more I saw him in things,” she said, “That looks like Mary holding baby Jesus to me.”

There is an accompanying video provided by CBS News:

The video even includes a helpful graphic overlay to show the resemblance … just in case you (like me) can’t manage to see a “madonna” in these rocks:

Madonna Rocks in Texas - helpful overlay courtesy of CBS News

Ms Madden ostensibly concedes this is a “coincidence,” but just as quickly declares that it cannot be one — for reasons that remain unclear, even though she thinks she explained them:

The resemblance she admits could be a mere coincidence.

“Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous,” she explained, “In the bible it says that people who do believe, will see.”

I simply cannot make sense of her claim that “coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” It’s gibberish. Completely nonsensical.

She’s all the more convinced her rocks are divine, because someone else pointed out a Biblical connection to her:

“I was showing them to people at church Sunday morning and one of the members said ‘hey do you know in the bible it says, in Luke 19:40, ‘If my people become silent that even the rocks will cry out’.” She said, “That hit me as confirmation that I’m supposed to say something.”

Well, that does it, I guess. For her, anyway.

Folks, there’s nothing to see here. Literally! This is merely another case of pareidolia, a well-known phenomenon of psychology in which the brain tries to make sense of something vague or amorphous. It’s no different from the other examples of pareidolia I’ve already blogged about … such as the Virgin Mary in a door or between panes of a window or in a chunk of wood, or Jesus on a laundry iron, or a cross on a calf’s head. It’s also no different from the “grilled cheese Virgin Mary” that made headlines a few years ago (cached). So yes, Ms Madden, this is “coincidence” and nothing more, no matter how much you might wish it to be otherwise.

Photo credits: Screen shots from CBS News.

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TN Lt Gov. Ron RamseyThe lieutenant governor of Tennessee, Ron Ramsey, is trailing in his primary bid for the Republican nomination for governor of his state. So what did he do to get some electoral support in the primary? He appealed to the Tea Partiers and the Religious Right by throwing Muslims under the bus. I found about this this story from the New York Times Lede blog, based on a story originally reported by other outlets (WebCite cached article):

Mr. Ramsey, who hopes to win the Republican nomination for governor in a primary next month with support from Tea Party activists, was asked by a constituent this month to explain his position on the “threat that’s invading our country from the Muslims.” As Jeff Woods of The Nashville Scene reported [cached], a tape of the exchange posted online shows the lieutenant governor responding, “I’m all about freedom of religion,” before casting doubt on Islam’s credentials as a religion by saying:

You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion or is it a nationality, way of life or cult, whatever you want to call it.

Mr Ramsey tried to “clarify” his remarks, but only succeeded in making a merely-stupid comment into an outright-hypocritical one:

On Monday, Mr. Ramsey responded [cached] to a request for comment from Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo by writing in an e-mail message, “My concern is that far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion.”

The hypocrisy, of course, is that Christianity in the United States is every bit as “political” as any other politically-oriented religion anywhere in the world … and some of those politically-motivated Christians are quite violent about it. Mr Ramsey just indicted himself and his own religion, in his attempt to justify taking away the religious freedom of the practitioners of another.

Photo credit: Ramsey for Governor Web site.

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CNN Insipid Beyond Belief blog!CNN has a relatively new religion blog. Maybe you’ve heard of it … but more likely, you haven’t. If not, don’t worry — you aren’t missing much. The kind of pablum this blog conveys is hardly worth your notice, and I mean that regardless of what your own religious viewpoint (if any) is. It’s just not that great.

An example of how deficient this blog is, is in its coverage of the once-disgraced but now proud-to-have-had-a-scandalous-past-because-it-makes-me-great evangelical preacher, Ted Haggard (a used-car-salesman-type creepy character I most recently blogged about here). In the space of just four days, this month, the CNN Belief blog has posted two stories on Ted Haggard: Haggard back in the pulpit (cached) and Status report: Ted Haggard’s new church (cached). This is after having posted some blathering tripe about him a month ago (Ted Haggard, Resurrected; cached) courtesy of Stephen Prothero, a religion professor.

What’s really amazing, if you pay close attention to these “reports” about the “resurrected Ted’s” incredible success, is that it’s all self-reported. That’s right. We only have Pastor Ted’s word on how great he’s doing and how great he is. There is no “investigation” here, none of the cutting-edge, incisive, insightful and analytical journalism one (presumably) expects of CNN.

Clearly CNN’s new “Belief Blog” is little more than a P.R. engine for Pastor Ted “I’m-not-gay-even-if-I-hired-gay-prostitutes-to-service-me” Haggard. Then again, CNN hooked up with Stephen Prothero, who’s on the record as demanding mandatory Bible classes in public schools.

Yeah. These are the kinds of people CNN is now carrying water for. An unrepentant cretin, and a militant Christian.

I guess we can chalk this one up as yet another journalism fail. Sigh.

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Time is running out!Harold Camping, a presumed Bible scholar who runs a network of Christian radio stations, claims he knows when the Second Coming of Christ will take place: May 21, 2011. He and his ministry are so confident in that prediction that they’ve taken out bench advertisements around the country to warn people of it. Lauri Lebo at Religion Dispatches has the story (WebCite cached article):

A friend snapped this photo on the way to work in Colorado Springs:

Date of rapture announcement (2011-05-21)

Apparently, these pictures have been popping up around the country, with sightings from Erie to Waco to the Bay Area.

Lebo points out that Camping’s past predictions have not panned out too well:

This is not the first time Camping has predicted Judgment Day:

On Sept. 6, 1994, dozens of Camping’s believers gathered inside Alameda’s Veterans Memorial Building to await the return of Christ, an event Camping had promised for two years. Followers dressed children in their Sunday best and held Bibles open-faced toward heaven.

But the world did not end. Camping allowed that he may have made a mathematical error.

Camping’s ministry’s Web site also proudly announces the May 2011 date (cached), and he appears to want to beat the New Agers and their “Mayan prophecy 2012 doomsday” at their own game:

We are living at a time when mankind seems to sense that the end of all things is very near. Just about everyone has a theory as to how the world is threatened and when that end might come. The media and the Internet are full of doomsday speculations concerning the New Age “Mayan Calendar” and the year 2012.

The crap about the Mayans predicting the end of the universe in December of 2012 is complete bullshit, as I’ve already blogged. The Mayans themselves couldn’t even predict the coming collapse of their own civilization, which happened around 900 CE, so one can hardly expect them to have been any more accurate about the end of the universe.

Camping and his followers claim he’s some sort of Biblical scholar, however, he — and they — appear not to have read this important verse, concerning the coming of the Son of Man:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)

Thus, the Second Coming cannot be predicted. Anyone who says s/he knows “the day” or “the hour” it will happen, can only be lying, because only “the Father” knows when it is. Jesus admits even he does not know when it will be! It also means the name of Camping’s Web site — “We Can Know” — runs contrary to scripture.

Not only is this not the first failed prediction Camping has made, the history of Christianity is littered with past failed predictions of when “the End” was supposed to have come — but didn’t. James “the Amazing” Randi compiled a list of some of these, and they comprise Appendix 3 (cached) of his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (which is available online for free). “End of the world” predictions are common and apparently easy to rationalize away when they fail. My guess is that, on May 22, 2011, Harold Camping will be rationalizing away the failure of his Jesus to show up and vacuum the Christians off the surface of the planet.

Update 1: I’ve set up a special page on my blog, counting down to Camping’s predicted Rapture and Armageddon. Just so everyone is prepared … to laugh at Camping’s idiocy, when they fail to come to pass as he predicts.

Update 2: I’ve posted a static page on my blog explaining — in terms of scripture itself — why all “Bible prophecies” are baloney. Have a look, if you’re interested.

Update 3: Camping’s followers are now trolling the country, trying to stir up apocalypticism, as part of their “Project Caravan.”

Update 4: The Rapture is now less than a week away. I’ll bet you can’t wait!

Update 5: As one would expect, non-Campingite Christians are angling away from Family Radio and their Rapture prediction. Unfortunately for them, they can’t do that; such predictions have been part of Christianity since its inception, Jesus himself made some of them!

Top photo credit: Sister72. Middle photo credit: Religion Dispatches.

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St Cyril of AlexandriaWhen one considers the abuses of the Christian church, one invariably thinks of things like the Inquisitions or the Crusades. While these are still valid examples of what can go wrong with Christianity when people get carried away with it, they have unfortunately become too cliché to get people’s attention any more. When you say the words “Inquisition” or “Crusades,” Christians stop listening. They’re not interested in hearing anything about these, and will not accept that they’re an object lesson on their religion.

This means other examples of Christianity’s moral failures are needed. While Christians won’t necessarily like to hear these, either, they’re different enough from the clichés to at least get them to listen for a little while before they turn their ears off. I intend to bring up some of these in a series of posts I’ll facetiously call “Great Christians” or “Great Moments in Christianity.”

Early Christians — especially during the period of the great Christological controversies of the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries — were a truly contentious bunch. Among the most vicious of the contenders was Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria. He was responsible for many events in Christian history; he proved the most influential Christian prince of his time, in spite of his vicious and unethical tactics. He is, to this day, revered as a saint by all Christian churches — even though he was no “saint” at all.

His Machiavellian nature was, perhaps, no more evident than during the ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. It took place at the height of the Nestorian controversy. The disagreement involved the princes of the eastern Church: Nestorius, archbishop of Constantinople, whose teachings were the focus of concern, and Cyril, who led opposition to him. Nestorius had requested the council, and Emperor Theodosius II had selected Ephesus (along the western coast of modern-day Turkey) to host it, because of that city’s accessibility. Fortuitously for Cyril, two factors played in his favor: First, the host city’s bishop, Memnon, happened to support him; and Ephesus happened to be the city in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, was supposed to have died, making her dear to Christians there. They used this against Nestorius, who had taught that Mary should not be called by the traditional epithet θεοτοκος (theotokos) meaning “Mother of God,” but rather as χριστοκος (christokos) meaning “Mother of Christ.” Cyril and Memnon appealed to the Marian sentiments of the Council’s host city, claiming that Nestorius was somehow “dissing” Mary, and the population appears to have latched onto that.

Now, Cyril and his company of Egyptian bishops arrived by ship, since he had the money to pay to travel by ship, whereas the supporters of Nestorius — the most important of which was John, patriarch of Antioch — traveled over land. Naturally, then, this meant that Ephesus was full of Cyrilline partisans long before the Nestorian prelates could arrive. Cyril and Memnon convened the council before their opponents could arrive in any numbers, and the few Nestorians who were already there, were driven out of the Council chambers. This one-sided council, quite naturally, passed judgement on Nestorius and condemned him. Shortly after, John arrived, and immediately convoked his own council, denouncing Cyril and Memnon.

The result was several weeks of alternating and opposing councils being convened, with rival denunciations, and even some brawling among ecclesiasts, and pitched battles taking place in the streets. The Emperor, hearing about events in Ephesus remotely (he remained in Constantinople) and only days after the fact, was forced to send deputies there to keep order, but the deputies ended up becoming embroiled in the conflict rather than trying to ameliorate it. While he had initially supported Nestorius — the man he had chosen as archbishop of the Imperial seat — Theodosius was eventually overcome by local influences, especially the monks of the Constantinople region who tended toward Cyril’s position. Cyril also had bribed various courtiers, who murmured against Nestorius in the Emperor’s ear. Eventually Theodosius rethought his support for Nestorius.

Between the locals in Ephesus who hated him, and the waning support of the Emperor, after three months of conflicting councils and intractable arguing, Nestorius agreed to leave Ephesus and also retire as archbishop of Constantinople, so long as his own protege replaced him in that see. The emperor and prelates agreed to this arrangement, and he departed, residing in his home region near Antioch.

The Council met hastily, now with no contention. Cyril’s theology was approved and Nestorius’s condemned. But this hadn’t happened because the two theologies had been explored and debated, and Cyril’s had proven itself correct; it was only because Nestorius had, essentially, surrendered the Council.

Nestorius had walked away from the Council in good faith, but within a couple of years, the machinations of Cyril overcame him. His chief ally John of Antioch had given up on him, due to the threats and bullying of Cyril and his own allies; Nestorius’ chosen successor in Constantinople had given up his theology for the same reason; and his erstwhile patron Theodosius had banished him to an outlying monastery in Egypt. Christendom utterly abandoned Nestorius, in spite of all promises that had been made to him. Cyril acquired the absolute victory he’d worked so hard for (and presumably had spent a lot of money to achieve).

The destruction of Nestorius was not Cyril’s only victory, however. Using the monks of the Alexandria environs as his personal army of stormtroopers, during his career, Cyril ordered the destruction of synagogues and the expuslion of Jews from the city; he destroyed various heretics within his see; and he ordered a number of murders, the most famous of which was that of Hypatia, then the most prominent pagan academician of Alexandria — monks attacked her in a mob and literally rent her to pieces. The funds he had used to get himself quickly to Ephesus, and to bribe Imperial courtiers, likely had come to him via the routing of his foes and his monks’ plundering.

The escapades of Cyril of Alexandria are retold famously by Edward Gibbon in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volume 2, chapter 47). That Cyril of Alexandria is viewed as a saint is a shame, however, it’s not likely any church will condemn him, since his victory over Nestorius eventually contributed to the Trinity doctrine, which is so precious to most (but not all) Christians. To admit any flaw in Cyril could, conceivably, be construed as “anti-Trinitarian,” and most Christians simply will never permit that.

The lesson here is that right and wrong in Christianity are determined by one’s theology. Having the “right” theology, means everything one does is morally “right”; even if — in actual terms — one’s behavior was anything but “morally ‘right’.”

Of course, it’s quite illogical to refuse to admit wrongdoing on someone’s part merely because of which belief-package s/he espoused; but this illogic appears not to matter much to anyone.

Photo credit: AKMA.

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