Archive for December, 2011

PikiWiki Israel 11209 Landscape viewI’ve blogged numerous times about religious extremism. Most of the examples I cite deal with Christian extremism, and less often, Islamic extremism. But that’s not to say that other religions don’t have extremists, or that I don’t mention them. The latest example I’ve come across, is one of Jewish extremism. The AP reports via USA Today that some ultra-orthodox Jewish men have been harassing a little girl as she walks to school in Israel (WebCite cached article):

A shy 8-year-old schoolgirl has unwittingly found herself on the front line of Israel’s latest religious war.

Naama Margolese is a ponytailed, bespectacled second-grader who is afraid of walking to her religious Jewish girls school for fear of ultra-Orthodox extremists who have spat on her and called her a whore for dressing “immodestly.” …

The girls school that Naama attends in the city of Beit Shemesh, to the west of Jerusalem, is on the border between an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and a community of modern Orthodox Jewish residents, many of them American immigrants.

The ultra-Orthodox consider the school, which moved to its present site at the beginning of the school year, an encroachment on their territory. Dozens of black-hatted men jeer and physically accost the girls almost daily, claiming their very presence is a provocation.

The problem with harassing people over “immodesty,” of course, is that “immodesty” is both subjective and relative. Almost any kind of outfit can be labeled “immodest” if one wishes to do so. And the context in which an outfit is worn can make it seem more or less “immodest.”

The tension between the hard-line Haredi Jews of Beit Shemesh and their more moderate neighbors is not new, though:

Beit Shemesh’s growing ultra-Orthodox population has erected street signs calling for the separation of sexes on the sidewalks, dispatched “modesty patrols” to enforce a chaste female appearance and hurled stones at offenders and outsiders. Walls of the neighborhood are plastered with signs exhorting women to dress modestly in closed-necked, long-sleeved blouses and long skirts.

In other words, they’ve carried on a campaign intended to force others — not of their sect — to act as though they believe as they do.

(Gee, sounds a bit like the Religious Right here in the US, no?)

Christian readers of my blog have complained previously that they feel I don’t criticize other religions. This blog entry — like a number of others — proves them wrong on what score. Moreover, even if I only pointed out examples of Christian extremism, that in itself does not make me wrong. Extremism is not relative; it doesn’t become acceptable in one religion just because it happens in another; and I don’t have to talk about the extremism of other religions in order to remark on Christian extremism.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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A member from the Greek Orthodox clergy (L) and a Palestinian use diesel to scrub the floor and columns of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ammar AwadIt seems Christians have a hard time dealing with the fact that — for the most part — the legendary founder of their religion was an avowed pacifist. This is indisputable, and can easily be found in the pages of any Christian Bible (e.g. Mt 5:38-39 and Lk 6:29, just to name two citations quoting him directly on the matter). He’s even known to many Christians as “the Prince of Peace.” Unfortunately, many Christians purposely ignore Jesus’ overt pacifism, paying closer attention to another of his quotations (i.e. Mt 10:34), and they freely exhibit as much violence as they wish.

It’s particularly ironic that a bunch of Christian clergy — men who ought to know better than other Christians that Jesus had been a pacifist — decided to duke it out with one another, in the place where it’s long been presumed he was born. The AP reports via USA Today‘s On Deadline blog on this idiotic debacle (WebCite cached article):

Up to 100 Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks swinging brooms clashed inside the Church of Nativity today in Bethlehem in a frenzied turf battle, the Associated Press reports. …

The fighting broke out during cleaning of the West Bank church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, as each side jealously guards its territory.

Sounds like these guys have a little growing up to do. It also sounds like this is the sort of jurisdictional conflict that ought to have been resolved long ago.

I was amused by the fact that Palestinian authorities — who have secular jurisdiction over the premises — have opted not to take any criminal action:

“It was a trivial problem that … occurs every year,” police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi tells Reuters. “Everything is all right and things have returned to normal.

He tells the news agency that there were no arrests “because all those involved were men of God.”

That’s right, folks. No crime apparently occurred here, because the people involved in the incident were “men of God.” This sort of reasoning sounds suspiciously like the same line of thinking that made it possible for so many priests and nuns to abuse so many children around the world for decades or centuries. Hmm. Maybe it’s time for a new mindset … one that admits the possibility that “men of God” may not actually be as perfect as others might wish they were?

Photo credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad (cached).

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Some 25,000 alleged "witches" were executed between 1500 and 1782 in Germany. Germany was responsible for the deaths of some 40 percent of the 60,000 witches who were tortured and killed in Europe during the infamous era, says witch-trial expert Hartmut Hegeler. This woodcut shows a witch being burned at the stake in Dernburg in 1555.At several points during the European Middle Ages, witch-hunts were a fact of life, and in some locales and times were even commonplace. This activity was not limited to the Church institution of the Inquisition; many regions had secular laws against “witchcraft,” which meant that many witches could be, and were, prosecuted by local authorities. “Handbooks” for dealing with witches … the most famous of which was Malleus Maleficarum … were widely trafficked, in spite of the fact that most of them (including M.M.) didn’t have official Church sanction. Witch-hunts could, therefore, be spontaneous, ad hoc “peasants with pitchforks” affairs, sometimes not even having the approval of local authorities.

Naturally, this is an unpleasant history that most folks these days prefer to avoid, brushing it off as “a thing of the past” which no longer reflects modern life. But Der Spiegel reports that Germany — once a hotbed of medieval witch-hunting — is trying to accept and deal with this history (WebCite cached article):

Tortured and burned at the stake by the tens of thousands, Germany’s alleged witches have been largely forgotten. But thanks to efforts by a small group of activists, a number of German cities have begun absolving women, men and children who were wrongly accused of causing plagues, storms and bad harvests. …

It began with the trial and execution of an eight-year-old girl for witchcraft in the spring of 1630. Compelled to name others involved in an alleged nighttime dance with the devil in the German town of Oberkirchen, young Christine Teipel’s confession sparked a wave of fingerpointing and subsequent trials. Within just three months, 58 people, including 22 men and two children, were burned at the stake there. …

“We owe it to the victims to finally acknowledge that they died innocent back then,” [retired minister and witch-trial expert Hartmut] Hegeler told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “But this is not just about the past — it’s a signal against the violence and marginalization of people that goes on today.”

Indeed, witch-hunts do continue, even today. Not in Germany, perhaps, but they still do happen nonetheless.

Hegeler’s efforts to rehabilitate accused witches, unfortunately, haven’t met with universal acceptance:

But not every community welcomes such requests. In November, the western German city of Aachen rejected a request to vindicate a 13-year-old Sinti girl who was tried and killed in 1649. …

The city of Büdingen in the state of Hesse also told Hegeler they had more important issues at hand.

Even so, progress is being made on this score. Maybe if enough people hear about the rehabilitation of accused medieval witches, they’ll pay attention to the witch-hunts that keep occurring even now.

Photo credit: Der Spiegel.

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

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St. Catharine's Church in Utrecht (the Netherlands). Picture taken by Fruggo, September 2004.I blogged a long time ago about the Roman Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal hitting the Netherlands. The AP via CTV relates the release of a report into the abuse of children by Catholic clergy there, and the numbers are staggering (WebCite cached article):

Thousands of children suffered sexual abuse in Dutch Catholic institutions over the past 65 years, and church officials knew about the abuse but failed to adequately address it or help the victims, a long-awaited report said Friday. The release of the report was followed by an apology to victims by the archbishop of Utrecht, who said the revelation “fills us with shame and sorrow.” …

The Dutch report said Catholic officials failed to tackle the widespread abuse, which ranged from “unwanted sexual advances” to rape, in an attempt to prevent scandals. Abusers included priests, brothers, pastors and lay people who worked in religious orders and congregations, it said. The investigation followed allegations of repeated incidents of abuse at one cloister that quickly spread to claims from Catholic institutions across the country.

The suspected number of abuse victims who spent some of their youth in church institutions likely lies somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000, according to a summary of the report investigating allegations of abuse dating back to 1945.

It’s nice, I suppose, that Archbishop Wim Eijk apologized and expressed remorse over this, and compensation will be offered to victims, but once again I must ask why it took so long — the culmination of a thorough examination and investigation — for the apology to be forthcoming? Would it have been so fucking hard for the Dutch Catholic Church simply to have owned up, right at the start? Why is the Catholic Church, which claims to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality in the world, so fiercely unwilling to show some damned courage and moral fortitude, just once? They love telling everyone else what they ought to do, but refuse to be held accountable for their own actions, or inaction as the case may be, and must have all concessions of wrongdoing dragged out of them. Hypocrites!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha, by Walter CallensIt seems I leaped to conclusions about Saudi Arabia entering the 21st century. That country remains mired in medieval thinking, as exemplified in this ABC News report about a Saudi woman who was beheaded for having engaged in “witchcraft” and “sorcery” (WebCite cached article):

A Saudi woman was beheaded after being convicted of practicing “witchcraft and sorcery,” according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, at least the second such execution for sorcery this year.

The woman, Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar, was executed in the northern Saudi province of al-Jawf on Monday.

The “evidence” against her?

A source close to the Saudi religious police told Arab newspaper al Hayat that authorities who searched Nassar’s home found a book about witchcraft, 35 veils and glass bottles full of “an unknown liquid used for sorcery” among her possessions. According to reports, authorities said Nassar claimed to be a healer and would sell a veil and three bottles for 1500 riyals, or about $400.

This execution received a stamp of approval from the entire Saudi court system:

According to the ministry, Nassar’s death sentence was upheld by an appeals court and the Saudi Supreme Judicial Council.

Are we quite clear, now, on how barbaric it is to kill people over mere metaphysics?

Note: Any Christians out there who are thinking how superior their religion is to Islam, in this regard, had best be careful: I’ve already blogged about Christians in Africa who’ve gone after supposed “witches.” Christians would do well to keep in mind how much harm their own religion has inflicted on people in the name of eliminating witchcraft. Christianity certainly does not have clean hands in this matter — even now.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Map of Ottoman Empire in 1901Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and current GOP candidate for president, is surging in the polls. Part of the reason is that he’s been cultivating the Religious Right, which largely ignores the fact that he’s been married three times, having cheated on two of his wives, including while he was trying to get Bill Clinton run out of the White House for having had an affair.* As part of his effort to build his reputation as a dutifully and devoutly Christian Rightist, the Newtster decided to court the Christian Zionist movement. Unfortunately, the way in which he chose to go about it, demonstrates conclusively that he’s a brazen ignoramus. CBS News reports on his idiotic spew (WebCite cached article):

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said this week that Palestinians are an “invented” people, a position that could be seen as putting him at odds with the U.S. push for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire,” Gingrich told the Jewish Channel, which posted portions of the interview online on Friday [cached]. “And I think that we’ve have invented the Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs and are historically part of the Arab community, and they had the chance to go many places.”

Here’s video of this part of the interview, courtesy of the Jewish Channel and Youtube:

His criterion for what makes the Palestinian people “invented” and therefore ineligible to have their own state — i.e. that their land once had been part of the Ottoman Empire — is more than a bit strange. After all, many countries that exist now, and have existed for a very long time, were also once part of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the Balkan states, for example, had once been under the Ottoman regime. The same goes for countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Armenia and even Hungary … just to name a few. By the standards the Newtster has laid down, these nations are all “invented peoples,” and none are entitled to statehood.

In spite of his error, Gingrich is far too ideologically-driven (and too desperate to hold onto Christian Zionist primary voters) to admit his error. He maintains he’s factually correct, even though quite obviously he’s not (cached).

Yes folks, even though he’s a history professor, Newt Gingrich doesn’t actually know anything about history. I only have a B.A. in the field, yet I know how catastrophically wrong the man is. His lie about the Palestinian situation places him in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

One last thing: During the interview, Newt says:

And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel since the 1940s.

I have no idea who this “we” is that the Newtster claims has been waging a “war against Israel” all that time. Is he referring to the US? Somehow I doubt it, but I can’t imagine who else that “we” could possibly be.

Photo credit: Eliel.

* The R.R.’s fondness for hypocrisy is well-known, but is strange, considering the founder of their own religion clearly, explicitly, plainly and specifically forbid his followers to be hypocritical, ever.

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Help! Help! I'm being repressed! (Dennis the constitutional peasant, Monty Python & the Holy Grail)Militant Christianist, Texas governor and GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry has released a commercial for his failing campaign. In an effort to get the media talking about him again after he flamed out in recent debates, he’s decided to wade into Christian-persecution territory, and as CNN reports, is making the bullshit claim that current President Barack Obama is at war with religion (WebCite cached article):

Rick Perry says that if he’s elected president, he’ll end what he calls President Barack Obama’s “war on religion.”

Perry makes the comments in a new TV commercial that’s sure to create controversy. …

In an interview Wednesday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Perry said he stood by the ad.

“The administration is clearly sending messages to people of faith, and organizations of faith, that we’re not going to support you with federal dollars,” Perry said. “I’m very comfortable with that ad, for one thing. My faith is a part of me, and the values I learned in my Christian upbringing will affect my governing.”

You see, Christofascists like Perry have a strange definition of “persecution.” The president failing to obey the strictures of their metaphysics — you see — is an “attack” on them, and a “war” on their religion. To fail to obey them, is the virtual equivalent of a physical attack on their persons, and is also equivalent to an effort to abolish their faith.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth … but in his raging paranoia, Rickie-boy doesn’t understand that.

Here, Rickie. Let me help you out. A true “war on religion” would include any of the following:

  • Churches being shuttered
  • Bibles removed from homes
  • Religious art being confiscated
  • Clergy being jailed
  • Crucifixes and crosses being seized
  • Arresting people for praying
  • And so on; you get the idea.

President Obama is doing none of these things — not one of them! — and will never do so. For you to talk as though he is, Rickie-boy, is the worst sort of lie. It’s flatly untrue and it’s ridiculous for you to say it.

Neverthless, I expect the Rickster will get a lot of traction out of this. The Religious Right in the US more or less believes exactly as he does … i.e. that refusing to obey their beliefs is the same as trying to utterly destroy them. Rickie-boy’s lies about Obama place him force me to list Perry as a member of my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

Photo credit: Based on Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

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