Archive for March, 2011

Siege of Damascus, second crusadeThe militant Christofascists at the American Family Association continue their crusade to force the entire planet to worship their Christianist religion, their way. One of this group’s leading lights, Bryan Fischer, has declared that First Amendment protections do not apply to Muslims in the US (WebCite cached article):

The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity.

That’s a curious claim, because the words of that Amendment say nothing of the sort. In fact, its words apply to any and all religions. It’s true that the various Christian denominations were pretty much the only religions in the infant United States, but if the Founders’ had intended to protect only Christianity and no other religion, they certainly could have written it that way. Instead, they referred simply to “establishment[s] of religion,” which they must have been aware could include religions other than Christianity. Note also that the relevant portion of the First Amendment is known as “the Establishment Clause,” not “the Christian Clause.”

Not content with this asinine claim, though, the Neocrusading Fischer thunders on:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy.

Fischer goes on to complain about what he snidely calls “the Religion of Peace,” but proves himself a poor ambassador of “the Religion of Love.” Way to go, guy. Keep it up. Continue to live down to all my expectations of militant Christian fundamentalists.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Flagellants. From a fifteenth century woodcut.In what is sure to become fodder for anti-shari’a Neocrusaders here in the US, a 14-year-old Bangladeshi rape victim was killed because she’d been raped. CNN reports on this stunning victory for primitive barbarism (WebCite cached article):

Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl.

Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public.

Hena dropped after 70.

Bloodied and bruised, she was taken to hospital, where she died a week later.

I can only assume there’s something wrong with me; something that makes my brain deficient; because I haven’t yet figured out the rational reason why anyone would want to kill a crime victim for having been the victim of a crime. I guess that’s because I’m a skeptical, cynical, godless agnostic heathen who actually thinks about things, now and again.

At any rate, as I said, the Christofascists who want Muslims removed from the US likely view this as wonderful news that supports their poor opinion of shari’a. What’s ironic is that most of them would love to see an Old Testament Judges-era style government implemented in the US … because the roots of Islamic shari’a law lie, at least partly, in the Old Testament. Precisely all of the things they complain about in shari’a law, would also apply under the Christian Reconstruction system they would like to set up. In a dominionist US, people would be slaughtered for crimes as meager as working on Sundays … and yes, even women who are raped but who don’t scream loudly enough while the attack is underway.

In other words, this case points out the barbarity not only of shari’a law, but of the Old Testament world which helped inspire it. In turn, it points out the fatal flaw in the Christian Reconstructionists’ scheme.

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The Stupid It Burns / plognarkIn an effort to appeal to his militant Christianist “peeps,” the former speaker of the US house — and raging hypocrite — Newt Gingrich recently spewed an idiotic, and demonstrably false, claim about the future of the US. Politico reports on something he said at Pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX (WebCite cached article):

“I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9,” Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they’re my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”

In his furious effort to conflate the two great enemies of his militant Christofascism, the Newtster equated “secular atheists” with “radical Islamists.” The problem here is that the two cannot be the same, and that’s by definition: “Secular atheists” are all areligious (or irreligious), while “radical Islamists” are all decidedly religious. Radical Islamists, in fact, hate “secular atheists” as much as militant Christians do.

What a fucking moron.

The article also mentions that Gingrich is now Roman Catholic, which makes his appearance at Pastor Hagee’s church strange indeed, since Hagee hasn’t had much good to say about Catholics or Catholicism — at least, that’s what Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, has said (cached).

Photo credit: plognark.

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Goddess / PentacleGoodness knows, I’m no fan of the TSA. But really, this is story is just ridiculous. A TSA agent working in Albany, NY was fired recently, and the fact that she’s a Wiccan was central in her firing. MSNBC reports on this would-be-laughable-if-it-weren’t-true debacle of fear and loathing (WebCite cached article):

Each person’s story is unique, but what happened to Carole A. Smith gives us a glimpse of the work life of the 400,000-plus Wiccans in the United States. And it sheds light on work life at the TSA, where the 40,000-plus public employees who keep bad people and bad things off of airplanes have started voting this month on whether to join a union.

It all started when one of Smith’s coworkers reported that she’d “threatened” her by “casting a spell” and following her home from work. TSA officials dutifully investigated:

The assistant director, Matthew W. Lloyd, testified later that he realized immediately there was no genuine threat of workplace violence. Smith hadn’t followed anyone home — that’s the only highway going toward her home from the airport. It was just a personality conflict made worse by fear of an unfamiliar religion.

He had a suggestion for Smith. She should enter into a formal mediation session with [Mary] Bagnoli, her accuser, through the TSA’s Integrated Conflict Management System, or ICMS. The mediation “would be a good venue to dispel any misconceptions” that her co-worker had about her religious beliefs, he told her.

“He wanted me to go to ICMS and sit down with Mary and explain my religion to her,” Smith said. “I’m like, ‘No.’ I refused to do that. It’s not up to me to teach her my religion. I mean, would I have to go down and sit with her if I was Jewish?”

That’s a very good question … and one that would crop up again later. Things degraded rapidly for Smith:

“Where did you park your broom?” she said one co-worker asked her. “Why don’t you come to work in your pointy hat?” She said one shift supervisor told another, “She’s going to put a hex on me.” …

She said another employee yelled at her in a baggage room, in front of other employees and a supervisor, “Get her the hell out of here! I can’t stand to look at her!” A co-worker advised her to transfer to another airport.

Eventually Smith’s seniors at TSA fired her; she filed an EEOC claim over it, though, and at a hearing, the administrative judge asked the same question Smith had originally asked, about why “mediation” would have been a good idea in the wake of Bagnoli’s (false) accusation:

Judge Macauley: Why? Why? Why? Why should that be a good venue? It should be an irrelevant venue. If Ms. Bagnoli has a problem with her religion, then she needs to be corrected that it’s not relevant on the job and to ignore it. Am I correct?

Lloyd: Yes. You’re absolutely correct.

Judge: Let’s take the witchcraft out of it. If someone complains to you, he’s Jewish, and refers to a stereotype about his Judaism, go to mediation and work it out? Is that management’s response to that?

Lloyd: No. That would not be management’s response to that.

Judge: OK. But witchcraft takes it into a different thing? I guess. I guess witchcraft and Judaism are different in the sense that — what?

Lloyd: To be perfectly honest, sir, at the time, I wasn’t even — I didn’t know anything about witchcraft or Wiccanism. … I wasn’t even aware that Wiccanism was a recognized religion at the time. I had to research it afterwards.

Smith lost the hearing nonetheless, and is appealing. But let’s be honest, Wiccans are intensely disliked, distrusted, and often shunned. OK, so Wicca isn’t my cup of tea either … but this is a free country, fercryinoutloud. Grow up and get over it already!

Hat tip: RozMarija at Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delpho Forums.

Photo credit: Wiccan & Proud.

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Donate Life / donatelife.netThis is one of those times when the counterproductive nature of religion really becomes obvious. It seems that, among Hispanics (for some reason) there’s a common belief that Christianity forbids organ donation … they consider it sacrilegious. The (NY) Daily News reports on this, and how it affects Hispanics who opt to donate their late loved ones’ organs, in spite of this belief (WebCite cached article):

When Norma Garcia’s 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car wreck, she had no idea that in the midst of her grief she was about to plunge into a controversy that would test her cultural identity and Christian faith.

After Jasmine Garcia was declared brain dead following the 2001 accident, doctors at San Antonio’s University Hospital asked her mother if she would be willing to donate her daughter’s organs. …

Garcia ultimately made an organ donation of Jasmine’s heart and liver, a decision that left her estranged from several relatives for some time, she recalled.

Her experience highlights a cultural divide that organ donation advocates say is threatening the ability of surgeons to save lives through organ transplants, especially as new census figures show the nation’s Hispanic population surging.

For the record, organ donation is most assuredly accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, which is the dominant religion among Hispanics:

Latinos’ reticence about organ donation centers on religion, said Nuvia Enriquez, Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Donor Network of Arizona.

“A lot of work that we do is to go out and try to dissolve some of these myths,” she said. “We talk to them about the Catholic Church’s position on donation, which is very positive. Pope John Paul II was actually the first pope to declare donation to be an act of love, and Pope Benedict, when he was Cardinal, was a card-carrying organ donor.”

So this is not a case where preachers or other religious authorities are actively telling people not to donate organs. Quite the opposite, they’re on the record as supporting it. No, this is an example of people deciding en masse that something is sacrilegious, all on their own, and enforcing this “rule” by ostracizing family members who violate it.

Really nice, huh?

I’m reminded of something on an episode of All in the Family, where Archie Bunker pontificates as follows:

… When [God] calls, you gotta go. He don’t want no quack doctors down here trying to save you. It throws His schedule all off. If you throw off His schedule, when you get up there you gotta answer to Him. He’s gonna want to know from you, why you didn’t come when you was called. Why you was late. And you also gotta answer to the guy whose heart you got. He’s gonna want it back so you’ll be walking around Heaven with a hole in your chest.

Hopefully this humor puts the stupidity of this sort of thinking, into rational perspective. I’m not sure why anyone would have any religious objection to organ donation … even Christians who believe they will be resurrected in the body at the Rapture and/or on Judgement Day. If God’s awesome magical power is sufficient to bring a decomposed corpse to life, then surely it’s also sufficient to restore any organs that went missing prior to decomposition.

No?

Hmm. Maybe not. Maybe this vicious, cynical, skeptical, godless agnostic heathen just doesn’t “get it” when it comes to important matters like keeping organs away from those who need them.

I close with a link to my own sermon on this topic, on the Apathetic Agnostic Church Web site. The bottom line is that there’s no greater gift one can make to another human being, than to give life. Do whatever you need to do, in order to make sure your organs are donated after your death. To find out how to do this, in the US, go to Organdonor.gov or Donate Life America.

Photo credit: Donate Life America.

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Muslim Brotherhood EmblemAccording to Franklin Graham, son of the world-famous preacher Billy Graham, the Obama administration is in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood and has saturated the US government with its vile Islam-loving and Christian-hating agents. We know this is true, because … well, he says so, and because his media outlet of choice, Newsmax, is reporting it (WebCite cached article):

The Muslim Brotherhood, with the complicity of the Obama administration, has infiltrated the U.S. government at the highest levels and is influencing American policy that leaves the world’s Christians in grave danger, warns internationally known evangelist Franklin Graham.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active here in our country,” Graham tells Newsmax. “We have these people advising our military and State Department. We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries.

Note that this isn’t really a new allegation; the American Family Association made a similar claim about a year ago — about the US military — after the Pentagon disinvited the younger Graham from its National Day of Prayer event.

Graham’s “evidence” for this, is the following:

A new report from the Roman Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need supports Graham’s contention that the persecution of Christians world­wide has worsened exponentially in the past few years.

According to the report, Christians face increased suffering in 22 countries around the world, with Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Nigeria being among the worst countries to be a Christian in today.

Even if this report were true, it still does not prove that Barack Obama has allowed a cabal of Muslim Brotherhood adherents to infiltrate the US government and ceded control to them. What I can say is that Christians are guilty of no small amount of persecution, themselves, so Graham hardly has the “moral high ground” to stand on.

Generally speaking, I find paranoid conspiracy theories like this one amusing … if only because so many people buy into them, in spite of such little evidence that they’re true. In some cases the lack of evidence is, perversely, viewed as being evidence itself; i.e. “If this conspiracy existed, of course, they’d make sure no evidence of it was available, so a lack of evidence is precisely what we’d expect!” The illogic of this just shows how abysmally ignorant people are. It’s as though they walked around with neon signs that say “Idiot”!

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

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Gutenberg Bible, rubricationIt’s a central axiom of Biblical literalism — which is itself a pillar of fundamentalist Protestant Christianity — that the many books of the Bible were written by God, and all of the words contained therein are his own. Humans had nothing to do with the Bible’s content, except to act as automatons, unthinkingly inscribing the letters and words that God himself channeled into their scribes’ brains, and through their nervous systems to their hands and the quills they held. And while most Christians are not Biblical literalists, the rest generally accept that the Bible was inspired by God, or guided by him, or something of that kind … so again, they agree with the same basic premise that the Bible’s content originated with God.

The problem with views like this, is that they haven’t borne up to scrutiny. That there are problems with the Bible texts has long been suspected, even in the Middle Ages, however, this didn’t get much attention, partly because questioning scripture — and by extension, the Church — was not really a good idea, and partly because the manuscript collections and catalogs of scriptural quotations that would have allowed close comparisons and analysis, hadn’t existed then. By the start of the Enlightenment, though, this topic did get some serious study, if only sporadically and quietly. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton wrote the tract An Historical Account of Two Notable Corruptions of Scripture, published posthumously, which addresses what Newton viewed as changes in the text of 1 John 5:7 and 1 Timothy 3:16.

The field didn’t really become serious, until it was taken up by German scholars during the 19th century. Among the issues these scholars soon discovered, was the synoptic problem, as well as the identification of distinct “streams” of text copying, e.g. what are now known as the Alexandrian, Western and Byzantine text-types. They also noted differences among the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, as well as matters of language that tended to contradict Christian tradition. For instance, the Church Father Papias is said to have reported that the gospel according to Matthew had originally been written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek; but scholars soon realized it bore none of the marks that would have been expected of such a translation.

Ironically, around the same time these German scholars began a serious and methodical analysis of Bible texts, the Great Awakening was getting underway in the US. One of the doctrinal points it acquired, went beyond mere reverence of scripture which, for most of its history, had been a hallmark of Christianity; it took the Five Solas of the Reformation — particularly sola fide and sola scriptura — and turned them into rigid Biblical literalism, described above.

Scholarship in the field of Biblical textual criticism has continued to the present day, but unfortunately, most people know nothing about it … even those who are regular church-goers and who are otherwise interested in religion. Biblical literalists have had a louder voice within the general population of believers (even though most believers are not themselves Biblical literalists), which has created a religious environment which is, overall, sympathetic to them. Even members of denominations which reject the doctrine of Biblical literalism, are still convinced that, at some level, the Bible’s content came from God, making him, not its books’ human authors, responsible for what it says.

Thus, few Christians in the occidental world have any kind of objective understanding about the nature of their own scripture. What they know are the axioms and aphorisms about the sanctity of the Bible which have long permeated their religion; contrary scholarship, no matter how solid it may be, is alien to them, and on its face appears dismissive, if not vicious. That the Bible may still yet contain valid spiritual “truths,” in spite of its demonstrably human authorship, is something they do not comprehend, especially in the US; again, this is because of the fervent and vocal 25% or so of Americans who are Biblical literalists and who will not permit anyone to say anything they disagree with, claiming it’s “persecution” of them. One of the side effects of this environment is that Biblical scholars tend not to be too open about how and why they question Biblical literalism — even if the truth is on their side, and even if nothing they say invalidates Christianity as a religion.

One scholar who hasn’t held back his views, and who wants to let the general public understand what Biblical scholarship actually says about the Christian Bible, is Bart Ehrman. Over the last 12 years or so he’s published a stream of books addressing these matters. He recently released a new book, Forged: Writing in the Name of God, and that in turn has led Huff to publish a short piece by him (WebCite cached article). Among his many valid points:

Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere — except for our friends among the fundamentalists — will tell you that there is no way on God’s green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you’ll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles.

There’s more, but you’ll have to read Ehrman yourself. For those who complain that Ehrman doesn’t substantiate any of his claims … well, of course he can’t do that, in the space of a Huff article! Understanding the evidence requires far too much space for him to include it there. He’s written several whole volumes on this matter; it’s unreasonable, if not childish, to demand that he boil it down to 200 words just because that’s all you have time to read.

It’s also easy to conclude that Ehrman is wrong because he appears to be the only scholar saying what he says, however, that also is not true. As I explained, and as Ehrman himself admits, what he says is by no means novel or unique; many scholars have said the same or offered similar ideas. Among them are Burton L. Mack, J.D. Crossan, Robert Funk, and more. And there are scholars with views a bit more extreme than Ehrman, such as Earl Doherty.

It’s time for fundamentalist Christians to grow the hell up and stop assuming their own subjective metaphysical beliefs are theirs to impose upon the world at large and on everyone else, and accusing anyone who dares disagree with them of persecution. It’s time for non-fundamentalist Christians to grow some cojones, quit caving in to the fundamentalists, stop acting as collaborators with and enablers of these militants, and work to prevent them from getting their way all the time, just because they’re as loud, juvenile, and uncompromising as they are. And it’s time for everyone — believers and non-believers alike — to stop affording to religious belief the kind of “untouchable” quality that permits fundamentalists to claim “persecution” every time someone dares point out that they’re wrong.

To any fundamentalists who may be reading this: Yes, I question your beliefs; but no, that isn’t “persecution.” It’s known as “freedom.” If you want to take that freedom away from me, I invite you to do so, by any means you choose. Go right ahead. I dare you!

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

Photo credit: vlasta2.

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