Archive for January, 2012

Mea She'arim, JerusalemUltra-orthodox Jewish men in Israel apparently decided they’ve had enough of those insolent, “uppity” females who don’t believe as they do and whom they think can never be seen in public. They’re no longer resorting to bullying schoolgirls; instead, a bunch of them ganged up on and viciously attacked a lone woman in Beit Shemesh, as the Jerusalem Post reports (WebCite cached article):

Beit Shemesh resident Natalie Mashiach, 27, was hanging up flyers for the national lottery in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet on Tuesday afternoon, when she was approached by haredi man who she said cursed her and spat in her face.

According to Mashiach, she retreated to her car, when dozens of men started pelting her vehicle with stones, punctured her tires, poured bleach on her inside the car and stole her car keys. She then fled to a nearby building chased by the mob, before the police arrived and dispersed them.

Mashiach sustained a light injury from a rock which was thrown at her head during the incident.

How manly of these guys to attack one woman. What an accomplishment! Why, they must be so proud of themselves for having taken on such a mighty foe!

Fucking cowards … !

Photo credit: Alexbip.

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Benedict XVI in FatimaThe latest example of what I like to refer to as “the Christian martyr complex” comes in this pronouncement by Pope Benedict XVI. The Catholic News Service reports that the Holy Father has declared Christianity — and even religion itself — to be in danger of extinction (WebCite cached article):

Christianity and even religious belief are in grave danger across the globe, risking oblivion, Pope Benedict XVI said.

“Across vast areas of the earth, faith runs the danger of extinguishing like a flame that runs out of fuel,” he said.

Last I knew, religious faith was still going strong. The vast majority of people in the world are religious, and while religious fervor is fading in a few places such as Europe, in most regions religion is going strong and is nowhere near dying out.

It almost goes without saying that, in those few places where religion is becoming less common, the Roman Catholic Church’s own conduct has very likely contributed to this trend. “Charity begins at home,” or so the saying goes, so maybe the Pope should look in his own mirror and figure out how he might try to reverse this trend that so alarms him? My guess is he’ll refuse to do so and continue to wail about the evils of “secular humanism,” rather than examine and ferret out the evils within his own Church.

The article includes an additional quote, though, which I find remarkable:

“Without faith, the whole ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of ‘social contract’ that’s adhered to out of common interest,” the pope said.

I’m not quite sure what Benedict’s problem is with a “social contract” that people embrace “out of common interest.” Wouldn’t that be the best thing … for people to get along with each other, because it’s in their own best interest to get along? And isn’t this precisely how the Ethic of Reciprocity works — a principle which, ironically, none other than the founder of the Pope’s own religion promoted? If this is something Jesus taught, why would the Pope find it objectionable?

None of this should be news to any Vatican-watcher. As the clerical child-abuse scandal has hammered the Catholic Church around the world, the current Pope and his predecessor both staunchly refused to acknowledge any part in it; they both tried to prevent bishops from allowing abusive clergy to be investigated by local authorities; and Benedict remains committed to a policy of evading responsibility for it, becoming offended when he’s forced to face it. He could, in one moment, restore the credibility of his own Church — and by extension, that of Christianity and of religion generally — by dealing with the scandal in a contrite and moral manner. But he never will. Count on it.

Hat tip: CNN Belief Blog.

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England & Wales).

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Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Hartford 3, 2009-09-02Note: See below for a “good-news update” about this case, as well as another update.

Most of us realize that, when we’ve dug ourselves into a hole, the best thing to do is drop the shovel and climb out. Apparently, the archdiocese of Hartford never got the memo on this. With the Roman Catholic Church already having dug itself into the abyss of an international child-abuse scandal, the archdiocese and its attorneys have decided the solution is to keep right on digging. Toward that end they pulled a truly reprehensible stunt, as the Hartford Courant reports in a little nugget near the end of the story (WebCite cached article):

In his cross-examinations, [church lawyer Jack] Sitarz has implied that, since [plaintiff] Doe and his friend never forcefully resisted [Fr] Ferguson’s advances, they may have enjoyed them.

That’s right, folks. In a court of law, no less, an archdiocesan lawyer dared imply that the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest enjoyed being abused!

I’m almost at a loss for words to use to describe this maneuver. This is truly sick behavior.

Sitarz must, I’m sure — being an attorney — know full well that minors cannot legally consent to any kind of sexual activity, and that “liking” the abuse cannot and never will make it legal, much less moral or acceptable.

Yet he trotted out that old saw anyway — knowing it’s legally pointless.

Once again, I’m left asking: Why oh why, lay Catholics, are you tolerating the self-serving, greedy, manipulative, crafty, hateful, and horrific antics of the robed old men who rule your Church? When you are going to say to them, “Enough! No more!” When are you going to take back your own Church, turn them out, and change it into the organ of humility and compassion your own Jesus Christ himself supposedly taught about? What part of any of this behavior do you find acceptable … and why? If (as I hope) you don’t find it acceptable, why are you tolerating it?

Update 1: The Hartford Courant reports the jury has found the archdiocese of Hartford reckless and negligent in its dealings with Fr Ivan Ferguson, and awarded “Jacob Doe” a million dollars (cached). I’m sure the archdiocese will appeal and continue litigating this case, stalling as long as they can. But at the very least, it’s clear the jury did not buy into the archdiocese’s horrific defense.

Update 2: The archdiocese brought its appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court, asking that the statute of limitations be rolled back so it can’t be held accountable for its actions.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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StateCapitolIndianaI guess I can add Indiana to the list of states that are falling under the sway of Christofascism. The AP reports via the Ball State Daily News that Indiana’s senate is set to take up a bill permitting Creationism to be taught in that state’s public schools (WebCite cached article):

Indiana’s public schools would be allowed to teach creationism in science classes under a bill endorsed Wednesday by a state Senate committee.

The Senate Education Committee voted 8-2 in favor of the bill despite experts and some senators saying teaching creationism likely would be ruled unconstitutional if challenged in court.

Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he sponsored the bill because he believes creationism should be taught among the theories on the development of life and that the proposal wouldn’t force any changes in schools teaching evolution.

Sen. Kruse claims there is more than one “theory on the development of life.” What he does not understand — or perhaps he does, and is simply lying — is that science has only one such theory: Evolution. All of the other “theories” that have been posited, including Creationism, are not scientific and thus do not belong in a science classroom. Kruse is appealing to the “teach the controversy” notion, which is invalid, because in science, there is no controversy about evolution; no more of a “controversy” about it, than there is about whether the sky is blue, water is wet, or 2+2=4. To claim there is one, and then use that supposed “controversy” as an excuse to present non-scientific alternatives, is disingenuous. Really, evolution is both a theory and a fact, and it is currently the only scientific explanation for the development of life. Militant Christians like the senator may not like that, but it’s true, and no amount of stamping their feet, thumping Bibles, or screeching and wailing about the evils of “Darwinism” (whatever that is) can ever change it.

That the bill is written so it “permits” school districts to “opt in” to teaching Creationism, is already being used an evasion of responsibility by its supporters:

“This is a local option and the local school board decides,” Kruse said.

There, you see? Kruse is not, himself, explicitly “making” anyone teach Creationism. If it’s taught anywhere, it will solely be on the heads of local school boards … he’s staying out of it. I’m sure he sees this as politically convenient, but this is a transparant dodge; there will no doubt be plenty of school boards in a red state like Indiana where the local communities are Christianist enough that they’ll apply pressure to teach evolution. And Kruse is counting on that, I’m sure.

What these Christofascists don’t care about that Creationism has already been forbidden to be taught in public schools by the U.S. Supreme Court, for example in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), among other cases. It’s possible they’re hoping to revisit one or more of these decisions and have the current religionist-majority Supreme Court overturn them, but my guess is that’s not going to happen — even if they think it will. (This is another example of the Christianists’ delusional reasoning.)

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

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The time is nowBy now, I’m sure a lot of you have heard about the “Hate Religion, Love Jesus” video that’s gotten so many hits on Youtube over the last couple weeks. A lot of ink has been spilled — or rather, bits transmitted — about this video by Jefferson Bethke. Unfortunately, the video is based on an invalid and semantically nonsensical premise, and most of the commentary on it has missed this invalidity.

What makes this video illogical is something I’ve blogged about a couple times already: namely, that it’s possible for religious believers to separate themselves from what they call “religion.” Lots of people love to say they’re “spiritual but not religious”; however, this is a non sequitur.

In the case of this video, Bethke states that “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That statement is plain and simple bullshit. A heaping, steaming load heaved straight out of the barn. There is no way one can logically claim that Jesus came to “abolish” religion. “Change it,” maybe. Preach against its excesses, I guess. But “abolish” it? No fucking goddamn way! Jesus preached what he called “the Kingdom of God” or “the Kingdom of Heaven.” Both were — and are, still — religious notions. They were religious in his own putative lifetime, his followers accepted them as religious, and they remain religious notions even now.

Really, Jesus as he’s widely known is a decidedly religious figure. It is impossible to talk about Jesus and not talk about religion. They are joined at the hip, utterly inseparable, and always will be. Thus, it’s irrational — and semantically incorrect — to say that one can “love Jesus” but “hate religion.”

Now, I get where this guy, and a lot of other people, are coming from. They dislike what they view as the excesses of what they see as “religion.” Without a doubt, a lot of religious institutions and religious people have done a lot of very bad things. A lot of Christians have actually failed to live up to the teachings Jesus left for them. A lot of religious folks have fallen short of the goals they claim to pursue. And a lot of them have cloaked themselves in religion in order to acquire power, money, or both.

I get that people like Bethke and others want to distance themselves from these evildoers and disassociate themselves from the disingenuity of others. I get it. Honestly, I do. Really. I truly do get it. The problem is … this attempt at distancing flies in the face of reality, semantics, and logic. If one is religious, then one is religious. Period. What other religious people think, say, or do has no bearing on the matter. Having religious beliefs is all there is to being religious … other people, whether genuinely religious or just posturing, cannot and will never change that.

What I would suggest to Bethke and others who think this way, is: If other “religious” people are making you look bad, then get off your fucking asses and do something about it. Stop them from making you look bad. If they’ve stolen your religion out from under you, then take it back for yourself; eject them from your company, disown them, deprive them of their religious offices, quiet them, and in every possible way, make it clear to everyone outside of your religion that they do not represent you and that they are repugnant creatures.

In other words, if you belong to a religion, then it also belongs to you. Take ownership of it — in concrete, unmistakable, and unambiguous form — and stop sniveling that you aren’t religious, in order to avoid having to deal with the malcontents and evildoers in your midst. Let me put it as bluntly as I can: If your own religion means so little to you that you refuse to take control of it, then you have no right to expect any of the rest of us to respect it — or you. And using cowardly little dodges — like claiming not to be “religious” — aren’t going to fool the rest of us. So stop insulting our intelligence by trying.

The choice to act, is yours, and yours alone. What you choose to do, and how and when you choose to go about it, says everything about you and about your religion. Make it count. Don’t whine and quiver and defy semantics instead of taking action.

Photo credit: wmacphail.

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Stop-SignThis post has been updated; please see below.

If you need a lesson in the value of skepticism, here’s a great example. First, the media widely reported that the beloved former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was in the hospital at death’s door, with the added dramatic detail that his family had been summoned to his side (WebCite cached article). This news was rapidly propagated to all the mass media outlets.

Then, another more alarming report hit the wires and flashed across all outlets even quicker: “Joe Pa has died.” Unfortunately, that part of the story turns out not to have been true. Paterno’s family had to get the word out that the college football patriarch had not passed on. CNN reports on this debacle of idiotic hypereager journalism (cached):

The race to report started at 8:45 p.m. Saturday.

The Penn State student news website Onward State posted an item saying legendary former football coach Joe Paterno had died.

Within minutes, the misinformation pinged from one major news outlet to another, like a metal ball in a pinball machine.

CNN goes on to explain how this false story pinged around various venues — including the CBS Sports Web site and @breakingnews on Twitter — until Joe Pa’s family took measures to contradict it.

One of the cardinal rules of journalism — last I knew — is that you don’t report anything until you’ve confirmed it. Yet, it doesn’t appear that Onward State, CBS Sports, or @breakingnews made any effort to do so before writing or relaying this report.

CNN dutifully adds something of an apologia for this obvious breach of the rules of journalism:

The incident highlighted the crucial clash in today’s hyper-competitive news environment: getting it fast versus getting it right.

Even so, I’m not sure at what point, amid this “pressure to report as quickly as possible,” the journalistic duty to “confirm before reporting” was revoked. But who knows … maybe I missed the edict that disposed of it?

At any rate, this just goes to show, you can’t always believe what you read, hear, or see in the mass media. They can — and sometimes do — get things wrong. Monumentally wrong. And they do it more often now than they used to.

The cold hard fact is that the mass media are prone to run things they either do not check out at all, have only minimally reviewed, or don’t even understand in the first place (rendering them incapable of verifying it, even if they wished to). It’s not just “breaking news” items like this one that they get wrong; they’re frequently wrong where science, the metaphysical, or history is concerned.

I just can’t say it enough: Be skeptical, folks!

Update: It’s now being reported that Joe Paterno died this morning (Sunday, January 22, 2012), as it turns out (cached). So it might seem as though I’m accusing the media of having run an erroneous story, which actually was true. But that’s not the case: Paterno was not dead last night, when this story originally flashed around the media. That story was wrong. This one may or may not turn out to be wrong.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Three ghostsIt seems criminals are increasingly using appeals to the supernatural when caught doing things they shouldn’t have. Once upon a time, this sort of thing was unusual. In the ’80s a fellow here in Connecticut tried to plead not guilty to a murder “by reason of demonic possession.” Fortunately that plea didn’t fly, and he was convicted. But there seems to be a rash of this sort thing, lately. In 2010 another Connecticut fellow claimed ghosts had driven him to murder his girlfriend. That particular dodge worked, he was found not guilty by reason of mental defect (WebCite cached version).

Sadly, it looks as though this phenomenon is seeping out of the Nutmeg State. The Smoking Gun reports on a Wisconsin man who blamed ghosts for injuries to his wife (cached):

A Wisconsin man charged with domestic abuse told cops that a “ghost” was actually responsible for injuries suffered by his wife, according to police. …

During police questioning, [Michael] West claimed his wife sustained her injuries to her face and neck during several falls. When pressed by a cop–who pointed to marks on the woman’s neck–the intoxicated West shifted his story. “A ghost did it,” he said.

Cops arrested him — instead of the “ghosts” — for the beating, fortunately. I hope the Wisconsin courts won’t be duped by this maneuver.

Hat tip: Rogues Gallery.

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