Archive for September, 2010

President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with neighborhood families in the backyard of a home in Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)The question of whether or not President Barack Obama is a Christian is one that has plagued him for a long time. Let me begin by getting this out of the way, right now: If he were white and/or a Republican, no one — and I do mean no one — would even be entertaining the possibility he’s anything else, much less a Muslim (as many in the country erroneously believe). Since he is a Democrat and black, though — and worse, has a foreign name — lots of people think otherwise.

One of the Religious Right’s whiney mantras, since he was elected, has been to ask why the mass media aren’t working harder at pressing the president on the matter of his religion. Well, he made an appearance at which someone directly questioned him on this issue, and he answered, as CNN reports (WebCite cached article):

An event billed as a discussion on the economy turned personal Tuesday when a woman asked President Barack Obama about his Christian faith and views on abortion.

The question came at a town hall-style meeting in the yard of an Albuquerque home as part of Obama’s public outreach to explain his policies and campaign for Democrats in the November congressional elections.

Here is what he had to say about it:

“I am a Christian by choice,” Obama began, standing beneath a blazing sun, when asked why he is a Christian.

“I came to my Christian faith later in life, and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead,” Obama said. “Being my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Treating others as they would treat me. And I think also understanding that, you know, that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility that we all have to have as human beings.”

Humans are “sinful” and “flawed” beings that make mistakes and “achieve salvation through the grace of God,” the president continued, adding that we also can “see God in other people and do our best to help them find their, you know, their own grace.”

“So that’s what I strive to do,” Obama said. “That’s what I pray to do everyday. I think my public service is part of that effort to express my Christian faith.”

Here is CNN’s video of the questions asked of Obama and his answers:

Now … similar words have been said by many a believer over the centuries. In most cases this has been taken at face value. I expect, however, that Rightists will not accept this; they’ll say Obama was merely paying “lip service” to Christianity and isn’t a sincere believer.

It’s true that he might not be sincere … but short of being able to probe his mind telepathically and determine whether or not he’s lying, there is no way to know how sincere he is. One can only take his word for it; nothing else is possible or reasonable. The definition of “Christian” is “someone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ.” As almost everyone knows, there are many ways to go about this; if this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be as many different Christian sects and denominations as there are. A lot of the Christian Right is convinced that Obama can’t possibly be a “‘Real’ Christian,” because he’s pro-choice (GASP!) and (supposedly) a socialist and/or communist. Both of these are bullshit, however; it’s more than possible to be a pro-choice Christian, and there is nothing inherently un-Christian about liberal policies (even if the furiously-sanctimonious Glenn Beck says otherwise).

At any rate, the Right has been demanding for a couple of years that Obama be confronted about his Christianity; now that it’s happened, I’m not betting they’ll be happy with it. They will simply continue raging and screaming that the President dares behave in ways they personally disapprove of. Wah wah wah. It’s all so very childish … but being hyperreligious, they’re not capable of any maturity, so what else can one expect?

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Baba Yaga (Zvorykin)In a move I find both refreshing and troubling, the Russian Parliament is considering a law to ban advertising by that country’s occult practitioners. The (UK) Telegraph reports on the proposed legislation and the problems which led up to it (WebCite cached article):

Russian MPs have backed a bill that bans anyone who calls themselves a witch or a wizard from advertising their services in the media in an effort to combat a controversial national obsession with the occult.

According to the Orthodox Church, Russia has 800,000 practitioners of the occult, many of whom advertise in newspaper small advertisements offering cures for alcoholism and spells to lift curses and return errant husbands for a fee. One report claims almost one in five Russians have consulted occult ‘healers’ but MPs have warned they are risking their health and possibly their lives by trusting in such quackery. They say it is time the country grew up.

In a tragic incident this summer, a four-year-old boy in Russia’s Far East suffocated to death during an exorcism ritual carried out by a local healer who was convinced the boy was possessed by a demon.

This particular event was widely reported this summer, by Pravda, among other places (cached).

I’m not sure stifling advertising will really curb the “healers'” activities, though … I’m fairly certain they’ll find ways to announce themselves and make sales, in spite of it. What might be a better idea — instead — is to prosecute those who defraud or harm people, thus encouraging them not to want to bother selling their putative “services” in the first place. This should obviate the need to prevent them from advertising.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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1944 Pulitzer Prize: College Freshmen Ignorant Of HistoryA common complaint that theists make about atheists, agnostics, and anyone who criticizes religion, is that they’re working from a position of ignorance. That is, they don’t know anything about religion. In my experience, this is the opposite of the truth … most non-believers I know are much more conversant in religion than believers are. Until now that was just my own assumption, with nothing to back it up. The folks at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, however, released poll results suggesting that I’m correct. The Los Angeles Times reports on the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey (WebCite cached article):

If you want to know about God, you might want to talk to an atheist.

Heresy? Perhaps. But a survey that measured Americans’ knowledge of religion found that atheists and agnostics knew more, on average, than followers of most major faiths. In fact, the gaps in knowledge among some of the faithful may give new meaning to the term “blind faith.”

The article immediately lists several specific questions that many believers failed to answer correctly:

A majority of Protestants, for instance, couldn’t identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, according to the survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Four in 10 Catholics misunderstood the meaning of their church’s central ritual, incorrectly saying that the bread and wine used in Holy Communion are intended to merely symbolize the body and blood of Christ, not actually become them.

Atheists and agnostics — those who believe there is no God or who aren’t sure — were more likely to answer the survey’s questions correctly. Jews and Mormons ranked just below them in the survey’s measurement of religious knowledge — so close as to be statistically tied.

The L.A. Times interviewed an expert who basically agrees with my own assumption as to why this is the case:

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

“These are people who thought a lot about religion,” he said. “They’re not indifferent. They care about it.”

Atheists and agnostics also tend to be relatively well educated, and the survey found, not surprisingly, that the most knowledgeable people were also the best educated. However, it said that atheists and agnostics also outperformed believers who had a similar level of education.

The Pew Forum’s own report on this survey is available online, if you care to look (cached).

I’ve found that a similar trend applies to all skeptics of every type: they usually know more about what they’re debunking — no matter what it might be, whether it’s the paranormal, or “alternative medicine,” or “free energy,” whatever — than do those who accept it or believe in it. The widespread assumption that skepticism proceeds from ignorance is quite false.

Hat tip: Teller (of Penn & Teller fame).

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Bishop Eddie Long from New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, GA declared the word of the Lord into our hearts and lives.Over the past few months I’ve blogged many times on the Roman Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal and that Church’s dismal failure to handle it in anything approaching a mature and morally-upright fashion. But no one should be fooled into thinking scandals of this sort are limited only to Catholicism. Evangelical Protestants such as Ted Haggard and George Alan Rekers have been caught up in sex scandals over the last few years (albeit with adults). And before them, of course, there were Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

More recently, yet another evangelical has found himself facing a sex scandal of his own, and this time the accusations involve somewhat younger victims. The CBS News Crimesider reports on the expanding case of Atlanta megachurch pastor Bishop Eddie Long (WebCite cached article):

New pictures [cached] have surfaced of Bishop Eddie Long, prominent pastor of a 25,000-member megachurch outside Atlanta, as a third man has come forward accusing the anti-gay advocate of coercing him into sex.

CBS News’ Erica Hill reports the pastor allegedly sent his accusers numerous photos [cached] of himself including at least several of him wearing spandex and workout clothes.

It’s not known precisely how the photos surfaced.

This scandal has been brewing for a week or so, and has reached the point where Long can no longer ignore it, even if — perhaps — he’d first thought he could deflect it:

Long canceled an interview with the Tom Joyner Morning Show Thursday, opting instead to make his first public response to the sex allegations during a service at his Atlanta-area church on Sunday, according to his lawyer, who appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show in Long’s absence.

This article goes into some of the allegations, and also explains Long’s pedigree as a prominent evangelical:

In lawsuits filed this week, three men who were members of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church claimed Long coerced them into sexual relations with gifts including cars, cash and travel when they were 17 or 18 years old. The sprawling church in Lithonia, Ga., about 18 miles outside of Atlanta, counts politicians, celebrities and the county sheriff among its members and hosted four U.S. presidents during the 2006 funeral of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King.

One of the claims in the lawsuits is that Long had sexual contact with the young men, who were enrolled in New Birth’s ministry for teen boys, during trips he took them on in the U.S. and abroad. Gillen said the travel was part of a mentoring program that other young men also participated in.

The problem for Long is not merely that he’s a pastor who knows better than to engage in such behavior, but that he’s an outright hypocrite, since he’s been something of an anti-gay crusader:

Long has called for a national ban on same-sex marriage and his church counsels gay members to become straight. In 2004, he led a march with Bernice King to her father’s Atlanta grave to support a national constitutional amendment to protect marriage “between one man and one woman.”

Bishop Long appears to have forgotten that his own Jesus explicitly, clearly, and unambiguously ordered his followers never, ever to be hypocritical.

It remains to be seen what he will say when he addresses his congregation on Sunday. Some news reports suggest he may be resigning pending the outcome of these cases, however, another CBS News Crimesider report shows some defiance on his part (cached):

Bishop Eddie Long spoke out for the first time Friday about allegations that he had sexual relationships with at least three teenage boys in his Atlanta-area church. …

Long said he was in the middle of a battle.

“We will arise through this situation, and go forward, and we are moving forward,” Long said.

That sounds like a guy who’s hired a batallion of attorneys to fight these lawsuits, not someone who’s preparing to give in and go away silently.

It should be no surprise to anyone that, in looking for reactions to this scandal, the mass media ran immediately, microphones extended, to the aforementioned shamed Ted Haggard, who is (likewise no surprise!) supporting his fellow scandal-plagued evangelical pastor, as AOL News reports (cached):

Disgraced pastor Ted Haggard cautions that no one should rush to judge Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long, who is accused of coercing three young men into sex.

“Nobody’s guilty until the court says he’s guilty,” Haggard, the former head of a 14,000-member congregation in Colorado, told AOL News in a phone interview Wednesday.

I don’t know what’s more pathetic … that the mass media thought that the shamed pastor had anything to say worth hearing, or that Haggard had the audacity to say that no one is permitted to think ill of Long until a court renders a verdict?

Photo credit: TBN Newsletter.

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Deutsche Studenten verbrennen eingesammelte, 'undeutsche' Schriften und Bücher öffentlich auf der zentralen Prachtstraße 'Unter den Linden' in Berlin.For the second year in a row, this coming Halloween, a church full of crazies in Canton, North Carolina (that I blogged about last year) plans to burn Bibles. You read that right. A Christian church plans to burn Christian Bibles. It’s quite true; they’re damned serious about it; and they’re proud to announce it to the universe (WebCite cached article):

The annual Book Burning for 2010 will be upon us very soon. This year is going to be much bigger and better. We already have collected more perversions of God’s Holy Word than we had last year, as well as many books by heretics and movies.

Many churches and individual Christians last year contacted us in support of what we were doing. Many comments were made about how they could help or participate in 2010. So we believe that God is using us to help encourage other believers to do what God’s Word says in Acts 19 about burning satanic books. We are not starting a movement, association, denomination, brotherhood, or anything else for that matter. We are not in charge of anything or over anything except our local church. We are just a “voice crying in the wilderness” trying to encourage others to “earnestly contend for the faith.”

Their beef is with any Bible which is not based on the same manuscript foundation as the King James Bible:

We are burning Satan’s bibles like the NIV, RSV, NLT, HCSB, CEV, NCV, NIRV, TNIV, NKJV, TLB, NASB, ESV, NEV, NRSV, ASV, NWT (Jehovah Witness Bible), Amplified Bible, God’s Word Translation, 21st Century King James, Young’s Literal Translation, Reina-Valera 1960, Darby, Good News for Modern Man, The Evidence Bible, Book of Mormons, The Message Bible, The Green Bible, Quran (Koran), Bible in Rhyme, Boomer Bible, and ect. As well as Greek New Testaments by Westcott & Hort, Metzger, Scrivener, Berry, Ginsburg, and Green. Also Herbrew-English Dictionaries by Brown, Driver, and Briggs. Also Greek-English Lexicons by Moulton, Thayer, Danker, and Liddell.

These are perversions of God’s Word [cached] the King James Bible [cached].

This church, it seems, is one of the few remaining “King James Only” churches left in the country. This evangelical-fundamentalist movement peaked probably in the 1970s, and it makes a very odd claim: That the Holy Bible is not really “God’s literal Word” in any form other than the King James Bible.

This seems exceedingly odd to those of us who are aware that the original Bible texts had not been written in English; that language didn’t even exist in the time when the Bible texts were conceived. It had been written, rather, in Hebrew and in Greek (with a few passages in the Old Testament, and a few words in the New, in Aramaic).

Yes, it seems that — according to the KJO folks — the Bible was not really God’s intended “Word” until the start of the 17th century when the King James translators started working. Before then, these ancient texts in ancient languages were merely a corrupted and flawed version of “God’s Word.” When the King James translators started working, God intervened miraculously and guided their quills so that they generated the text he’d intended all along.

Of course, prior to that, the Bible had been translated many times … e.g. into the Syriac Peshitta, the Latin Vulgate of St Jerome, the Gothic Bible of Wulfila, and many more … but apparently God chose not to intervene in any of those projects. No one quite seems to know why he waited c. 16 centuries to correct his many flawed manuscripts, but according to the KJO folks, that’s what he did.

Among their rationales for this is that the textual basis of the King James New Testament, the Greek Textus Receptus of Erasmus, is the only truly sacred edition of the ancient manuscripts that make up the Bible. There are some problems with this position:

  1. The T.R. is not a complete Greek edition of the New Testament. Erasmus could not locate Greek texts for every portion of the New Testament, especially most of Revelation, so what he did was to translate the Latin Vulgate versions of these passages back into Greek, himself. In other words … he filled in the gaps on his own.

  2. The issue of the textual basis of the King James Bible is limited to the New Testament; it basically leaves out the Old. Which is strange, because something like 2/3 or 3/4 of the Christian Bible is the Old Testament.

  3. The King James translators included the Deuterocanonical or “apocryphal” books in their project, and they were included in its first printings. Afterward, the Anglican Church (for which the KJV had originally been commissioned) followed the Protestant dogma established by Martin Luther, and jettisoned those. Since the 18th century or so, all King James Bibles have left those books out. The KJO churches are all Protestant, too, and likewise reject the Deuterocanonicals. But it’s inconsistent of them to claim that the KJV is “God’s literal Word” as he originally had intended, yet leave out a healthy chunk of that project, as it had originally been handled.

At any rate, I find it amusing that Christians are burning their own sacred texts in an effort to promote textual purity. If not for the fact that book-burning is an affront to humanity and the intellect, it would be hilarious to watch. In the end, it’s sad, pathetic, and fascistic.

Hat tip: Religion Dispatches.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Gustave Doré (1832-1883), The Crusaders war machineryThe belt-buckle of the Bible Belt, Texas, is acting up again. And it’s the same people — the state’s Board of Education — as I’ve blogged about previously (e.g. here, and here, and here). This time they’ve fallen in behind the vast hosts of the nation’s Neocrusaders, and are laying siege to textbooks. The New York Times reports on the Texas BoE’s continuing effort to proselytize to public school children (WebCite cached article):

Some conservative members of the Texas Board of Education assert that the history books used in this state have a pro-Islamic bias, and they are upset about it.

Never shy about wading into the culture wars, they are planning to vote Friday for a resolution that would send a blunt message to textbook publishers: Do not present a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian version of history if you want to sell books in one of the nation’s largest markets.

“The purpose of this resolution is to ensure there is balanced treatment of divergent groups,” Gail Lowe, the chairwoman of the board, said. “In the past, the textbooks have had some bias against Christianity.”

The resolution was written and submitted to the board this summer by, Randy Rives, who as a member of the school board in Odessa, Tex., pushed through a Bible study curriculum.

The Neocrusaders’ complaint is that textbooks are “biased” against Christianity and in favor of Islam. Unfortunately, they don’t bother to demonstrate this. They simply insinuate that it’s the case. The problem, of course, is that “bias” has a meaning … a statistical one, and it must be demonstrated using compelling, objective, statistical evidence. The Neocrusaders — to no one’s surprise — don’t offer any such thing. They simply assert “bias” and base it on a small selection of readings, as well as the fact that some Dubai royals had once attempted to invest in a textbook publishing company. (They no longer have any interest in it; showing once again that the Religious Right loves to ignore facts it finds inconvenient.)

In my experience, anytime someone whines about “bias” without offering evidence of it, what they really mean is, “This stuff isn’t exactly the way I, personally, want it to be.” Sadly, their own personal wishes — whatever they may be — are irrelevant. History is history … period! … and to bend it to suit one’s personal whim, makes it something other than history.

In any event, if anyone in Texas — or any other state — is concerned that his/her child may not get a “balanced” view of Christianity, the solution is rather obvious … teach it to your kids yourself, or in Sunday school. Forcing public school teachers to mouth the platitudes and dogmas you — personally — hold dear is not the solution. Unless, of course, your goal is to control other people’s kids rather than just your own. This is, in fact, precisely what Mr Rives and the rest of the furiously sanctimonious Neocrusaders want; he said so, himself:

“If you can control or influence our education system, you can start taking over the minds of the young people,” Mr. Rives said.

Thank you, Mr Rives, for confessing to your own game. It is to control people. I can’t possibly have asked for any more clear of an admission on your part.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Strangler Fig - A Parasitic TreeWere you aware that atheism is a parasitic infection in humanity? No? I guess you’re just not up on the latest developments in religionism. There’s even a blog devoted to exposing this malady, called A Field Guide to Atheist Parasites, whose first entry explains this staggering revelation, a diagnosis delivered by Rabbi Daniel Lapin on the Glenn Beck show (WebCite cached article):

Here is a transcript of Rabbi Lapin’s words of divine wisdom:

“I do believe that atheists are parasites in the sense that they are benefiting from everything that religious culture has built in America, but they’re doing nothing to add energy into the system.”

Here’s video (courtesy of Media Matters) of Lapin jabbering on like a crazed, hyperreligious, sanctimonious moron:

How the Rabbi can claim that there are “benefits” to “the religious culture” is beyond me. “Religious culture” has given us a legacy of intolerance and hatred. Among the more obvious examples of this that I could cite — and which ought to be well-known to Rabbi Lapin — is anti-Semitism, which Christianity fostered and promoted for many centuries, and which is still common within Islam. Are these “benefits” for which atheists must express their thanks, by converting en masse!? Seriously, Rabbi?

Moreover, he claims atheists don’t “add energy to the system” … is he suggesting that atheists never donate to charity? Or volunteer in their communities? Or serve in potentially-dangerous capacities … for instance as police officers, firefighters, soldiers or sailors? Really? He may subscribe to the notion that there are no atheists in foxholes, but in fact, there are plenty of them, and he’d know it if only he bothered to look for them.

I’m a little astounded that the Rabbi would dare talk about how horrible atheists are, given his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal. You see, in order to help ingratiate Abramoff among the Religious Right in Washington, Lapin and his group, Toward Tradition, gave Abramoff a phony award (cached). In return, Abramoff convinced some of his clients to swing a contract in excess of $1 million to a company Lapin ran (cached).

Wow. What a bastion of sound ethical behavior! Why, that only proves that religion makes people behave morally. Doesn’t it?

What, it doesn’t? … Woops!

Anyway, before Lapin goes around accusing atheists of being “parasites,” he’d best start owning up to his own parasitic ways (e.g. using his personal connection to the crooked Jack Abramoff to get business). What a fucking joke this guy is.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: aacool.

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