Archive for March, 2013

crying babyNo sooner do I get done blogging about how Christians routinely and pathologically lie about the extent to which their religion has been persecuted — both historically and in the present day — I hear about a new outrage among them that’s got their knickers in a knot over precisely the same thing. It seems Google has decided to celebrate Easter 2013 with one of its “Google doodles” … featuring Cesar Chavez, whose birthday happens to be March 31 (this year, the same day as Easter). The Canadian Press via CTV News reports on their sanctimonious rage over this horrific, intolerable insult (WebCite cached article):

Google’s decision to honour the birthday of U.S. labour organizer Cesar Chavez angered some American Christians on Sunday, who fumed that it was disrespectful to celebrate Chavez with a so-called Google Doodle on Easter Sunday.

The face of Chavez, a Mexican immigrant who organized Latino farm workers in the 1960s, was situated in the middle “o” of the Google logo on Sunday as the search engine giant opted against recognizing a secular holiday to commemorate what would have been the civil rights activist’s 86th birthday.

Conservative websites assailed Google’s decision.

In case you haven’t see it yet, here’s a screen shot of the Google doodle in question:

Google Web site, showing Google doodle honoring the 86th birthday of the late activist Cesar Chavez (3/31/2013)

Google Web site, showing Google doodle honoring the 86th birthday of the late activist Cesar Chavez (3/31/2013)

Already, conservatives have identified what they believe as the source of this outrageous attack on their religion; why, it could only be the hated President Barack Obama:

The Daily Caller expressed confusion about why Google “chose specifically to honour Chavez’s birthday, instead of Easter Sunday.”

The conservative news organization also suggested Obama might have influenced Google’s thinking. Google CEO Eric Schmidt was an “informal adviser” in both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, the Daily Caller reported, was a member of his transition team in 2009 and is apparently rumoured for a cabinet position during the president’s second term.

I’d like to break a little news to these angry conservatives: Google is a company that can do whatever it fucking wants with its Web site. If that means they honor Cesar Chavez’s birthday on Easter Sunday, then that’s what it means. And you know what? There’s not a fucking thing you sniveling crybabies can do to prevent it! Time to stand by your own stated pro-business rhetoric and let a corporation do what it wants to do. Anything else is clearly hypocritical … and if I may point it out, your own Jesus explicitly and unambiguously ordered you never, ever to be hypocritical … not at any time, and not for any reason.

Amusingly, the article notes that conservatives’ anger is so consuming that some of them conflated two different Chavezes (Cesar, and Hugo):

Others on social media praised Google for honouring Chavez and mocked those who confused him with Hugo Chavez, the recently deceased Venezuelan president.

The Twitter account for The Twitchy, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin’s right-wing news outlet, initially claimed Google was honouring the late revolutionary.

That they’d confuse two different men, both of whom they despise passionately, is just hilarious! I can hardly keep from laughing at their stupidity and ignorance.

At any rate, none of this is unexpected. Religious Rightists simply can’t tolerate anything that they view as “dissing” their religion. They view any slight to their faith as a very real “attack” on their persons, little different from being punched in the face or held up at gunpoint. That companies like Google are free to decorate their Web sites however they wish, is irrelevant in the face of this perceived insult. They quite simply refuse to tolerate any apparent disrespect for their religion.

Photo credit: Ernesto JT, via Flickr.

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The Christian Martyrs Last PrayerFor a very long time I’ve been saying that Christians’ claims of historical persecution are overblown. Many of them think the Romans routinely and pervasively persecuted their religion throughout the first three centuries of its existence. And today, they view the loss of their religion’s once-mighty influence over occidental culture as a kind of persecution. They don’t realize that their beliefs about Roman Imperial persecution are vastly overstated, even though most scholars — beginning with Edward Gibbon, author of the seminal The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — acknowledge it was exaggerated. Their belief that, during Roman times, their religion hovered at the very edge of extinction at any moment and that being associated with Christianity in any way was an automatic instant death sentence, continues to be prevalent, in spite of the fact that it’s not true at all.

This Easter morning, the CNN Belief Blog posted an article about authors who’ve examined the record of Rome’s persecution of Christianity and found it wanting (WebCite cached article):

Millions of Christians worldwide will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus on this Easter Sunday. But the story of how the church rose to prominence after Jesus’ death is being turned upside down.

According to a belief passed down through the centuries, the church grew because of Roman persecution. The blood of Christian martyrs such as Perpetua became “the seed of the church,” said third-century church leader Tertullian. It’s the Hollywood version of Christianity reflected in epic biblical films such as “Ben-Hur” and “The Robe.” Vicious Romans relentlessly targeted early Christians, so the story goes, but the faith of people like Perpetua proved so inspiring that Christianity became the official religion of Rome, and eventually the largest religion in the world.

But that script is getting a rewrite. The first Christians were never systematically persecuted by the Romans, and most martyrdom stories — with the exception of a handful such as Perpetua’s — were exaggerated and invented, several scholars and historians say. It wasn’t just how the early Christians died that inspired so many people in the ancient world; it was how they lived.

“You had much better odds of winning the lottery than you would have becoming a martyr,” says Joyce E. Salisbury, author of “The Blood of Martyrs: Unintended Consequences of Ancient Violence.”

“The odds were pretty slim. More people read about martyrs than ever saw one.”

It’s absolutely true that some Christians were persecuted in Roman times. It’s also true that there were some periods of extensive, systematic persecution. No rational person who’s seen the historical evidence can deny either of these facts. That said, the persecution that did take place was sporadic, and far less common than is now widely believed. Systematic persecutions took place only under two emperors, Decius and Diocletian. Each of these persecutions lasted at most for two years. The Christian legend that Emperor Septimus Severus also ordered a systematic persecution of Christians is not supported by any evidence.

Christians’ obsession with martyrs has historically created a lot of problems. For example, in classical times, immediately after tolerance for their religion was declared by Emperor Constantine in 313, a hyperpious reverence for martyrs led to the catastrophic fracture of the Church in northern Africa, the Donatist schism.

Even worse, modern Christians have carried this false legend into their own lives, and believe themselves to be persecuted, even now:

The debate over exactly how many Christians were persecuted and martyred may seem irrelevant centuries later. A scholarly consensus has indeed emerged that Roman persecution of Christians was sporadic, and that at least some Christian martyrdom stories are theological tall tales.

But a new book by Candida Moss, a New Testament professor at the University of Notre Dame, is bringing that message to the masses.

Moss says ancient stories of church persecution have created a contemporary cult of bogus Christian martyrs. She says too many American Christians are acting like they’re members of a persecuted minority, being thrown to the lions by people who simply disagree with them.

She cited former Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney claimed last year that President Barack Obama was waging a “war against religion,” and Santorum said the gay community “had gone out on a jihad” against him. Other Christians invoke images of persecution when someone disagrees with them on controversial issues such as abortion or birth control, says Moss, whose “The Myth of Persecution” was recently released.

Too many Christians conflate mere disagreement with persecution … despite the fact that they’re not the same thing. Not even close!

Again, I do not deny that some Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire, nor do I deny that some Christians are being persecuted in other parts of the world. What I am saying is that Christians in the U.S. and the rest of the occidental world, are not being persecuted, and that for them to continue believing they are, is delusional thinking. It’s time for them to grow the fuck up, dial back the sniveling and the sanctimonious bellyaching, accept that their religion no longer rules the world with an iron fist, and stop accusing non-Christians of things they haven’t done.

P.S. I can see it now: Cue the Christians’ fury and outrage that CNN insolently published this article “dissing” their religion, on Easter morning, of all days. Why, it’s intolerable that the evil secularists at CNN and in the mass media are trying to wipe out their poor, put-upon faith, this way, on their holiest day! If only these Christians could see how such reasoning merely provides more evidence of this religiously-propagated psychopathology … !

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. / AP photo, via (NY) Daily NewsAmong the various elements of Holy Week pageantry in the Roman Catholic Church, is the Pope washing people’s feet on Maundy Thursday. This rite, which began in the Middle Ages, emulates the tale of Jesus washing his apostles’ feet as related in John 13:1-17. Naturally, owing to Catholicism’s hangups about women, the Popes have washed only men’s feet. Newly-installed Pope Francis performed this medieval rite, but in the process, broke the “men-only” tradition; as the AP reports via the Washington Post, this has a lot of conservative Catholics up in arms over it (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church.

One of the most-read traditionalist blogs, “Rorate Caeli,” reacted to the foot-washing ceremony by declaring the death of Benedict’s eight-year project to correct what he considered the botched interpretations of the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing reforms.

“The official end of the reform of the reform — by example,” “Rorate Caeli” lamented in its report on Francis’ Holy Thursday ritual.…

Virtually everything he has done since being elected pope, every gesture, every decision, has rankled traditionalists in one way or another.

The article goes on to relate several outrages that have erupted as a result of various minor departures from papal tradition that Francis has done since taking office. That all of these alterations are cosmetic in nature, and quite trivial, doesn’t seem to make any difference to these sanctimoniously-outraged traditionalist Catholics. They truly are alarmed and angry that Pope Francis may well abort the efforts of his predecessors to roll back the Second Vatican Council reforms — even though those reforms weren’t nearly as drastic as is often thought. When you’re a fervent, perpetually-outraged religionist, little things like “facts” don’t really seem to matter very much.

Photo credit: AP via (NY) Daily News.

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Photo of Pat Robertson / CBN, via the Raw Story (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/03/21/pat-robertson-warns-of-scamsters-in-religious-garb-quoting-the-bible/)It figures. A month ago I blogged about something Marion “Pat” Robertson said, after not having mentioned him in a long time. And now here he comes, with some more notable commentary. This time, he actually indicted himself. Right Wing Watch reports on his latest blunder (WebCite cached article):

Following a news story on the 700 Club about the Profitable Sunrise investment scam [cached], televangelist Pat Robertson told viewers to beware “scamsters in religious garb quoting the Bible, I mean run from them.”

In case you don’t believe he actually said this, here it is, via Youtube:

Hmm, I wonder who could possibly fit that description … someone who’s “dressed in religious garb” and always “quoting the Bible” … that every Christian should “run from.” Hmm. Who could that be? I wonder … !

To be clear, this is one of those (exceedingly rare) occasions when I agree with Robertson about something. He is absolutely correct when he says people need to “run from” “these scamsters in religious garb quoting the Bible.” They truly are “all over the place.” Including CBN!

Photo credit: CBN, via the Raw Story.

Hat tip: Apathetic Agnostic Church.

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Screenshot from Twitter, via the Torrington Register Citizen (http://www.registercitizen.com/articles/2013/03/20/news/doc51493e14b1a0a944806262.txt)I’m marking this post as “off-topic,” even though I’ve blogged a number of times about misogyny — mostly because it lies at the heart of many religions. That said, it’s often found elsewhere, and is certainly not solely a religious problem.

Most of you know by now about the Steubenville, OH rape case which made headlines over the last few months and for which a trial was just concluded (WebCite cached article). This case was a long and disgusting parade of bad behavior by many people in and around Steubenville: Kids who sent pictures of the incident, and even video commentaries on it, to each other; bullying of the victim; conspiracies to cover up what happened; football coach Reno Saccoccia threatening a reporter (cached); many more examples of hideously bad behavior; and intervention — on the victim’s behalf — of the Internet group Anonymous.

Among the problems has been that the perpetrators have been defended by a chorus of folks, locals and others alike, who presume that the victim was responsible for the rape, since she partied with football players and got drunk. In other words, she had “asked for it.” At times, even media outlets seemed to have more sympathy for the rapists than for the victim (cached).

Another point that’s been frequently made, is that high school football is “king” in Steubenville, a place where football players are revered and granted hallowed status, given carte blanche to do as they wish. The implication is that Steubenville is one of those rare places where this sort of thing could happen.

I’m sorry to report, however, the idea that this is a localized, unique phenomenon, turns out not to be true at all. A very similar situation is playing out unnervingly close to me, in Torrington, CT, as the Torrington Register Citizen has diligently reported over the last several days (cached):

As international media scrutiny fell on Torrington, police confirmed Wednesday that charges against two 18-year-old Torrington High School football players, as well as an unidentified 17-year-old city male, stemmed from the alleged sexual assaults of two 13-year-old girls.

Both Joan Toribio, 330 Highland Ave., and Edgar Gonzalez, 18, of the same address, but different apartments, have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of sexual assault and two charges of risk of injury to a minor. Toribio is charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault, while Gonzalez is charged with one.

Before the story gained media attention, it had already created a storm of controversy within the school community. Students flocked to social media in the days surrounding the arrests of Gonzalez and Toribio, with several students offering support for the two football players and others blaming the victims for causing the incident. References included calling a 13-year-old who hangs around with 18-year-olds a “whore,” and claiming the victims “destroyed” the lives of the players.

The RC, to its credit, actually published the full contents — including names! — of kids who’d posted comments on the Internet deriding the victim and supporting the accused rapists (cached).

Similarities between these cases are rather obvious, especially since Anonymous has gotten involved with the Torrington incident (cached):

Twitter users from around the country — including some affiliated with the hacktivist group Anonymous — reacted Wednesday morning to allegations of sexual assault and victim-bullying at Torrington High School.…

Anonymous, the online group of hackers and activists, have begun to take up the Torrington case as their latest cause. In the Steubenville, Ohio rape case, also involving football players, Anonymous members dug up Youtube videos, tweets, public records and hacked private files to post a Wikileaks-style dossier of information, pushing the rape into the public eye. They called that “operation,” #OpRollRedRoll.

“#OpRaider is the new #OpRollRedRoll,” tweeted @YourAnonNews late Wednesday night, refering to the high school’s mascot, the Red raiders. “Torrington better take note of #Steubenville because they’re about to go on blast. #endrapeculture”

YourAnonNews is one of the larger news distribution accounts for Anonymous members.

(For benefit of those not native to northwest Connecticut, Torrington High School’s athletic teams are “the Raiders.”)

One of the worst parts about this case is how Torrington school officials have reacted to it:

“If you look at crime statistics these things happen everywhere and we’re not any different than any other community,” said [Athletic Director Mike] McKenna.

Even though the 13-year-olds went along with what happened, that doesn’t make it right. This is statutory rape, plain and simple. 18 year old men know they aren’t supposed to do what they’ve been accused of.

What’s worse, the school, and football coach Dan Dunaj (who’s since resigned) allowed Gonzalez to play last year, in spite of felony and misdemeanor charges against him based on a March 2012 incident. (He claims not to have been aware of them. Yeah right.) Superintendent Cheryl Kloczko referred everyone to the aforementioned McKenna.

Yeah, these people are a wonderful crew who really care about the victims … Not!

That Kloczko, the Torrington school system’s chief, sloughed off this affair to her athletic director … after having ordered him and the rest of the school system to silence on the matter (cached) … is the pinnacle of cowardice. If she refuses to discuss the case, she should at least have the fortitude to take reporters’ calls and tell them, “No comment,” instead of avoiding them entirely and using her employees to wall herself off from the world.

On the whole, I’m not surprised at any of this. I’m not surprised a couple of 18-year-old high school football players decided to have sex with 13-year-olds despite knowing it’s illegal to do so. I’m not surprised a bunch of kids in their school are defending them and targeting the victim for having reported the incident. I’m not surprised there are Torringtonians — kids and adults — who figure that “boys will be boys” and that statutory rape is all just a normal part of growing up, or worse, that the victims “wanted it,” so it shouldn’t be illegal. I’m not surprised the folks who run the school system are acting like sniveling little cowards and avoiding having to give any answers.

Really, I’m not surprised at any of this. Nor should you be. Why? Because we’re seeing simple human nature at play.

It’s inevitable that teens will misbehave. It goes without saying it will happen. The point is, how do people deal with it, when it does? An honorable school system and community would admit the wrongdoing occurred, would comfort and help the victims, discipline the perpetrators, and stop the perpetrators’ defenders. Unfortunately, all of these things require something very few human beings have: Courage. When faced with unpleasantness, it’s much easier to deny it than to accept that it occurred. It’s much easier to bully victims than to provide them help and support. It’s much easier to let juvenile delinquents stay delinquent, than to do the work of disciplining them. It’s just so much easier to act as if nothing went wrong, and that by having brought the incident to people’s attention, the victims are actually the perpetrators, rather than the other way around.

In general, human beings are cowardly and lazy, always preferring “the easy way out” to getting off their asses and doing what needs to be done. Bullies — including teen bullies — are by nature intimidating people, and most folks, even school personnel, prefer to avoid confrontation; so they cast a blind eye toward bullying and act as though there’s nothing wrong with it.

As for the idea that the intense coverage of this case somehow is doing a disservice to Torrington, and that it’s all just so unfair … well, that’s just whiny crybaby talk. The cold fact is that all of this happened. That the RC posted full images of nasty, hateful Internet comments — not shielding the posters’ identities — is entirely appropriate. They originally posted their viciousness in public on the Internet without any consideration of who might see it. They are not entitled, later, to any privacy or protection. They said it, they did so very publicly, and now they need to fucking own it. If it makes them look bad, well, they’ve earned it and they have no one but themselves to blame.

Photo credit: Twitter screenshot, via the Torrington Register Citizen.

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Picard Facepalm: Because expressing how dumb that was in words just doesnt workOne would think Roman Catholic hierarchs would, by now, have learned to shut their faces when it comes to pedophilia. After all, it’s not as though they aren’t aware of the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal that’s torn through the Church globally for over 10 years now, and which continues to make sporadic headlines.

Yet, it seems they just can’t resist commenting on it, especially in ways that minimize the severity of the abuse and thus rationalize their unwillingness to deal with it in any way other than shuffling reported abusive clergy around. In an interview on BBC Radio, a South African cardinal has done precisely that (WebCite cached article):

The Catholic Archbishop of Durban, Wilfrid Fox Napier, has described paedophilia as a psychological “illness, not a criminal condition”.

The South African cardinal told the BBC that people who were themselves abused as children and then abused others needed to be examined by doctors.

He further explained why he thinks pedophilia is not criminal:

In an interview with the Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio 5 live, Cardinal Napier referred to paedophilia as “a psychological condition, a disorder”.

“What do you do with disorders? You’ve got to try and put them right.…

He said he knew at least two priests, who became paedophiles after themselves being abused as children.

“Now don’t tell me that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.”

There are a few problems with this position:

  1. Even if pedophilia is truly an “illness,” that doesn’t mean pedophilia can’t simultaneously also be criminal too, meaning pedophiles may still be criminally liable for their actions. It’s possible for someone both to have an illness, and yet still be aware of the fact that they have it and that indulging it is a crime.
  2. Napier assumes pedophilia has only one cause, that being psychological damage as children. That’s an assumption that may well not be borne out by the facts. Sure, Napier might personally know two pedophiles who fit that bill, but he’s leaping to conclusions about all pedophiles, based only on these two.
  3. The point of Napier’s remarks is that he has more sympathy for pedophiliac priests than he has for their victims. This is misplaced. If, as he assumes, pedophilia is truly a cyclical illness, transmitted from pedophile to victim through successive generations, the best thing for him to do when it happens, is to nip it in the bud: To take all such allegations seriously; see that victims are helped as soon as possible; and wall off the pedophiles from doing it again and thus spreading their “illness” any further.

Once again, we have here a Catholic hierarch whose priorities are completely out of whack, and whose thinking has no basis in reason or fact. The cold truth is that pedophiliac acts are criminal, in virtually every jurisdiction on the planet. Trying to justify or rationalize it, can never change that. But it seems they quite simply will not stop doing so. They can’t, because they view the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal as a vicious attack that comes from outside their own Church. In the hierarchs’ minds, no one within the Church — not the abusers, nor the bishops who protected them — have done anything wrong. They’re all totally innocent. And they absolutely, totally refuse to accept responsibility for it — ever.

Photo credit: Science After Sunclipse.

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

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Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via the New York TimesBy now most of my readers will already have heard the news: the College of Cardinals has elected a new pope. The New York Times reports on the cardinals’ choice (WebCite cached article):

With a puff of white smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel and to the cheers of thousands of rain-soaked faithful, a gathering of Catholic cardinals picked a new pope from among their midst on Wednesday — choosing the cardinal from Argentina, the first South American to lead the church.

The new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio (pronounced Ber-GOAL-io), will be called Francis, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. He is also the first non-European pope in more than 1,200 years and the first member of the Jesuit order to lead the church.

A lot of folks will speculate as to what it means that a non-European was elected Pope, and that the new Pope named himself for St Francis of Assisi. It’s true that Francis is the first “New World” pope, and it’s also true that St Francis had — like Jesus himself — preached the virtue of poverty. But don’t be deceived. The Roman Catholic Church is a colossal juggernaut that works in its own way, moves at its own pace, and in many ways governs itself. It almost doesn’t matter who heads the Holy See. It’s the bishops who, collectively, run the Church, and they’ll continue to do so just as they always have. Even if he’d wanted to — and I’m positive he doesn’t — Pope Francis can’t “change” the Church in any meaningful way … because it can’t be changed.

Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via the New York Times.

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