Archive for November, 2013

Lebeau Plantation - fire guts historic building in Old Arabi Friday morning, Nov. 22, 2013. (Ray Solis Photo, via The Times-Picayune)As I’ve mentioned several times before, once upon a time, the vocation of “ghost hunter” and/or “paranormal investigator” was rare. It was so rare, in fact, that in Connecticut, where I grew up, these phrases were used to speak only of Lorraine Warren and her late husband Ed. Over the past 10 years or so, though — probably owing to the numerous television series on “ghost hunting” that have cropped up on almost every cable channel — it seems virtually everyone has become a “ghost hunter.” And why shouldn’t they? There’s no training involved, no credentialing, and no standards to abide by. Pretty much anyone can grab a camera, a recording device, maybe a light meter, and traipse through old places claiming to find “entities” and assorted other nutty stuff.

Most of the time, aside from the occasional trespassing incident (cached), and the even-more-occasional freak-accident death, there’s little harm this pastime. Still, “ghost hunters” do manage to get themselves into trouble, and even destroy property. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a cadre of ghost hunters who, upset that they couldn’t manage to scare up a ghost in a supposedly-haunted plantation, set fire to it (WebCite cached article):

The seven men in custody in connection with the suspected arson of LeBeau Plantation [cached] in Old Arabi apparently were looking for ghosts, according to St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jimmy Pohlmann. The sheriff said the men had been smoking marijuana and drinking in the vacant house.

One of the men is from Arabi, one is from Gretna, and the others are from Texas, the sheriff said.

The men, between the ages of 17 and 31, arrived at the home late Thursday night, likely entering through a gap in the fence around the property that had been cut out by other curious trespassers over the years, according to Col. John Doran, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s criminal enforcement.…

Doran said the men appear to have become frustrated when no ghosts materialized. Police believe that in a haze of alcohol and marijuana, one of them decided to burn the place to the ground.

Doran said the ringleader seemed to be Dusten Davenport, 31, of Fort Worth, Texas, who is suspected of having the idea to start the fire, and who began stacking up pieces of wood.

Despite being supposedly fogged by booze and/or pot, these creeps managed to do a pretty thorough job of razing the place. I have to wonder how intoxicated they truly were. They’re lucky none of them was hurt or killed during the course of this little adventure.

Photo credit: Ray Solis Photo, via The Times-Picayune.

Hat tip: Raw Story, via RationalWiki.

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Amish Family Goes FishingIn most cases I respect the Amish and many of the other Mennonite communities. Unlike the vast majority of Christians, they’re willing to put into actual practice many of the things Jesus taught, such as simple living, pacifism, etc.

But note, I said “in most cases.” Sometimes the counter-productive (and potentially dangerous) nature of their metaphysics rears its head, and that’s something I can’t respect. An example of this comes in this report from ABC News, about an Amish family that fled the country in order to prevent their leukemic daughter from getting chemotherapy (WebCite cached article):

A 10-year-old Amish girl with leukemia and her parents have left the country to seek alternatives to chemotherapy, according to the family’s attorney.

Sarah Hershberger and her parents oppose chemotherapy, and have been fighting the Akron Children’s Hospital in court after the family stopped Sarah’s treatment. Her parents said the treatments have caused their daughter a great deal of pain, and they’d rather focus on herbal and natural remedies.

Their initial stated objection to chemotherapy is the discomfort it causes:

Sarah had tumors on her neck, chest and kidneys when her parents initially agreed to chemotherapy at Akron Children’s Hospital earlier this year. Her parents said the side effects were terrible, and they wanted to treat Sarah’s leukemia with alternative treatments.

I concede that chemotherapy can have terrible effects … but it also can be a very effective treatment for an illness that, left untreated, is inevitably fatal. Lots of medical treatments, unfortunately, can cause pain and misery, such as setting a broken bone. But I don’t know anyone with a broken bone who wouldn’t want it set. But even after objecting on those grounds, the family’s metaphysical objections emerge:

“We’ve seen how sick it makes her,” Andy Hershberger, Sarah’s father, told ABC News in August. “Our belief is the natural stuff will do just as much as that stuff if it’s God’s will.”

The family’s religion tells them that the form of Sarah’s treatment doesn’t matter: If their God wants her to get better, she will, and that’s the end of it, for them. They may as well not even give her any of their herbal concoctions, since the whole matter is entirely up to God, who will be doing all the work.

Note, therefore, their disingenuousness: All that crap about the pain caused by chemotherapy is just a smokescreen they’ve thrown up in order to divert people’s attention from this detrimental metaphysics.

I’ll point out that whatever herbal concoctions the Hershbergers give Sarah, may not even be what’s on their labels. And they aren’t without potential side effects. Moreover, reliance on homeopathy vs. conventional medicine can, indeed, be deadly, as another family recently discovered.

Lastly, it doesn’t seem anyone is really doing much to protect Sarah from her family’s for-her-deadly religionism:

Law enforcement officials said at this point there was no formal search for the girl.

Granted, they may just be saying this in order to give the Hershbergers they idea that they’re home free, but until I see evidence of that, there’s no reason for me to assume this must be the case. If in fact authorities are not looking for this family, that’s one helluva way to serve and protect.

Photo credit: louisepalanker, via Flickr.

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1543 On the Jews and Their Lies by Martin LutherThere’s a sinister stream of anti-Semitism lurking within Christianity. Through their history, Christians have inflicted their rage and fury on the Jewish people quite readily. In classical times, during the Middle Ages, and right into modern times, Christians have condemned, harassed, persecuted, and even killed Jews, because they hold that nation responsible for their Jesus’ crucifixion.

Even now, in light of the horror of the Holocaust, there remains within Christendom a simmering undertone of animosity toward Jews. The reason for this is both simple and obvious: Jesus himself was a Jew, whose original ministry was among Jews, and whom Christians believe was the Jews’ foretold Messiah; but Jews have refused to accept this premise, and dare continue being insolent enough to reject their Jesus. Quite simply, Christians can’t handle the idea that Jesus’ own people don’t view him the same way they do.

This sentiment has been present within Christianity since its opening decades. For instance, the evangelist Matthew wrote (emphasis mine):

When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” And all the people said, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mt 27:24-26)

Now, most Christians these days may not wish to admit this undercurrent lies deep within their faith. It’s true that not every Christian is an anti-Semite; I don’t think that at all. Many of them recognize this horrific history, and now reject it. But there remains a kind of reasoning, based on scriptural precedents such as the above, that occasionally rears its head within Christianity.

The most recent example of this, as reported by the Boston Globe, came in an article posted on the Web site of a Harvard student journal (WebCite cached article):

A Christian journal run by Harvard College undergraduates published an essay on its blog by an anonymous Jewish convert to Christianity who said that Jews killed Jesus and therefore deserve God’s wrath.

Noting the suffering Jews have experienced throughout history, including the Holocaust, the author wrote, “We, the Jews, collectively rejected God and hung Him up on a cross to die, and thus we deserved the punishments that were heaped on our heads over the last 2000 years.”

The essay, titled “Why Us?”, was published online Wednesday by the Harvard Ichthus — a student group recognized by the university — and promoted on the journal’s Twitter account. It was removed Friday afternoon with a note indicating it was “under editorial review.”

After some half-hearted partial explanations for how such an article could have been posted on Ichthus’s site, its editor-in-chief finally offered a non-apology apology for it (cached):

“The piece is not online because we believe that the piece is not conducive to the goals of the Ichthus,” Gyde wrote in the apology. “This particular piece has led to increasing misunderstanding and disinformation about the author’s views, the Ichthus, and Christianity. We do acknowledge that many of the claims of Christianity are offensive to those who do not believe it, but we think that much of the offense that has resulted from this article is not the offense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And for that we apologize.”

This sounds convoluted … and it is. My best paraphrase: “We know non-Christians are offended by Christianity. We’re sorry our message is offensive in spite of the fact that we don’t intend it to be offensive even if we know it is offensive.”

So long as Christians continue revering scripture, and so long as that scripture contains passages like Mt 27:24-26 (not to mention others such as 1 Th 2:13-16 and Heb 10:28-3), this same kind of hateful thinking is going to keep coming up. What can Christians do about this? I’m not sure. Beyond rethinking their veneration of scripture, there wouldn’t seem to be much they can do to prevent it from ever being a problem again.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Italian archbishop Rino Fisichella holds the ashes of Saint Peter before a ceremony at the Vatican, on November 24, 2013 (AFP Photo / Vincenzo Pinto, via Yahoo News)Today the Roman Catholic Church marched out relics which, the Vatican claims, belong to St Peter, the man whom legend claims established Christianity in the Roman Empire’s capital. The AFP via Yahoo News reports on this momentous occasion (WebCite cached article):

Bones believed to belong to Saint Peter, one of the founding fathers of the Catholic Church, went on display for the first time Sunday, as Pope Francis held a ceremony to end the “Year of Faith”.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims gathered to catch a glimpse of the remains, eight fragments of bone between two and three centimetres (around one inch) long displayed on an ivory bed within a bronze chest on a pedestal in St. Peter’s Square.

The chest, given to pope Paul VI in 1971 and usually kept in the tiny chapel of the papal apartments, was decorated with a carving of Peter, who was a fisherman before becoming the Church’s first pope, casting his nets into the sea.

Given that Christianity in the city of Rome does date back to the first century CE, and has had a more-or-less continuous presence there since, one would think these bones might have been collected and saved all that time. But that turns out not to be the case. These relics were a 20th century discovery, and it’s not at all clear these are truly the bones of St Peter. But the Vatican is undeterred by archaeological questions:

The bones have long been the object of controversy between historians and archaeologists: they were first discovered in a 1940 dig next to an ancient monument honouring Saint Peter, but ended up gathering dust in a storage box.

It was not until archaeologist Margherita Guarducci discovered graffiti near the excavated tomb reading “Petros eni”, which could mean “Peter is here”, that she requested tests on the fragments.

She found they belonged to a robust man who died aged between 60 and 70 and had been buried in a purple, gold-threaded cloth — enough to convince Paul VI to say in 1968 that Peter’s bones had been identified “in a convincing manner.”…

“Faith, the people of God, have always believed these to be the relics of the apostle Peter, and we continue to venerate them in this way,” Rino Fisichella, head of the pontifical council for evangelisation, said in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

The veneration of saints’ relics is a feature of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity which most other Christian sects have done away with. It seems a fairly unsavory practice to cling desperately to the physical remains of long-dead people. But the macabre nature of relic-worship doesn’t faze Catholics. They continue to believe such things carry metaphysical power that somehow connects them more closely to their God … a God whom they believe is omnipotent and therefore, presumably, doesn’t require such things to maintain his connection with his followers.

Let’s face it: People are irrational creatures, and it’s events like these that help demonstrate it.

Photo credit: AFP Photo / Vincenzo Pinto, via Yahoo News.

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NOVAMOXIN antibioticThere are lots of folks who think “conventional medicine” is evil, comprised of personnel who work to keep people sick rather than help them, and that pharmaceuticals are “poisons” which must be avoided at all cost. It’s easy to dismiss them as wingnuts and crackpots whose belief in herbal remedies, reiki, homeopathy, therapeutic touch, and other assorted forms of pseudomedicine isn’t all that bad … because, after all, most of these “treatments” don’t hurt them (except in their wallets).

The truth, however, is that a reliance on pseudomedicine can, in fact, lead to severe harm, up to and including needless death. A sterling example of this recently happened in Alberta. The Calgary Sun reports a mother in that city has been arrested for allowing her own son to die (WebCite cached article):

Police say a woman gave her bedridden seven-year-old son holistic treatment before he succumbed to what would have been a treatable illness.

Friday, 44-year-old Tamara Lovett was arrested, later charged with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life in connection with the death of Ryan Lovett.…

Police allege the Grade 2 student was at home, bedridden for 10 days prior to that with what was later identified as a strep infection.

Strep infections are often treatable with medication such as penicillin.

Although it was not only the single mother who saw him deteriorating, no one contacted authorities.

So, although only the mother was arrested, we had other adults, too, who stood by and watched a child die, all in the name of avoiding normal medical treatment … which would certainly have worked. I’m sure they’re just so proud of themselves for having taken this determined stand against the evils of “conventional medicine”!

The sad but unavoidable truth is that pseudomedicine definitely can be harmful. That doesn’t mean “conventional medicine” isn’t without its faults … but it’s much better than the alternative, which has potentially-deadly consequences.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox NewsTodd Starnes at Fox News is furious. That, of course, is normal for him, as it as for every other militant Religious Rightist. They live in a perpetual state of sanctimonious rage over … well, something. Based on a tip from an equally-outraged California pastor, he condemned the Costco warehouse chain for insolently labeling the Holy Bible as “fiction” (WebCite cached article):

What do the Bible, “The Hunger Games” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have in common? All three are works of fiction, according to the booksellers at Costco.

Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach made that shocking discovery last Friday as he was shopping for a present for his wife at a Costco in Simi Valley, Calif.

“All the Bibles were labeled as fiction,” the pastor told me. “It seemed bizarre to me.”

While this may seem “bizarre” to the pastor and to Starnes, it doesn’t seem at all “bizarre” to me. Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I’ve actually read the Bible. From cover to cover. In several translations, and in Greek (which is the original language of the New Testament, and the form of the Old Testament as most of the earliest Christians knew it). It is most definitely “fiction,” no matter how fervently any Christianist thinks otherwise.

Starnes then narrates the tale of poor Pastor Kaltenbach traipsing through a Costco store and its corporate bureaucracy, demanding an explanation and removal of all those insolent stickers from all of their Bibles in stock. Starnes also quotes Kaltenbach lampshading his own martyr complex:

“On the one hand Christians should not yell out ‘persecution’,” he said. “We aren’t living in Iraq or Iran. But on the other hand, I believe that we do need to stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.”

This is a clever trick of propaganda. Ostensibly, Kaltenbach (and Starnes) are admitting this isn’t “persecution” of them as Christians … yet, nevertheless, by stating this, the clear implication is that it is “persecution.” How nice!

These guys really need to grow up and get over themselves. First, this isn’t Christian persecution. Christians in the U.S. aren’t being persecuted at all. It’s not happening … anywhere. And no amount of sanctimonious fury by Religious Rightists can ever change that.

Second, Starnes and Kaltenbach assume, in this case, that their Biblical-literalist view of the Bible is that of Christianity as a whole; thus, marking the Bible as “fiction” is an attack on all of Christianity. But this isn’t true. Not every Christian denomination takes the Bible literally. There really are Christians in the world willing to accept that some or all of their Bible is, in strict terms, “fiction.”

Lastly, I note that Starnes works for Fox News, which thinks businesses should be free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, free of regulation. Yet, here he’s presuming that he and Pastor Kaltenbach should have authority over how Costco labels its Bibles. In what universe is this consistent? I smell a whiff of hypocrisy here … the very sort of hypocrisy that their own Jesus ordered them never to engage in, and which is clearly and unambiguously condemned within the pages of those very same Bibles over which they’ve got their knickers in a knot. Boo fucking hoo, babies.

Photo credit: Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox News.

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Signorelli-Antichrist and the devilAt times I’ve mentioned the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, a philosophy held by a lot of evangelical Christians. These people militantly support the state of Israel, but not out of any love for that country, its people, or Jews generally. Rather, they’re agitating for the Battle of Armageddon, which they believe will usher in Jesus’ return and the End of the World. Evangelicals encourage Israel’s belligerence; the idea is to instigate an attack by “the kings from the east” as described in Revelation:

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (Revelation 16:12-16)

My position has always been that, while Christian Zionists profess respect for Jews and their place in God’s cosmic plan, the truth is that they’re actually anti-Semitic. But evidence for this can be hard to come by, and disappointingly so.

Recently, however, a prominent Christian Zionist exposed the anti-Semitism that lurks deep inside that philosophy. As Right Wing Watch reports, Pastor John Hagee let the cat out of the bag (WebCite cached article):

Trinity Broadcasting Network hosted a Praise The Lord prophecy special this month, featuring a number of speakers including televangelist John Hagee. The right-wing pastor explained that during the End Times, the Jewish people will not accept Jesus as the Messiah until he returns “because they have just — three-and-a-half years or seven-years before — made a deal with the Antichrist, who is the false messiah, and they are extremely skeptical of that.”

Here’s video of Hagee saying this, courtesy of RWW, via Youtube:

Hagee’s claim that Jews will collaborate with the Antichrist is offensive, revealing the villainy to which he thinks Jews will be willing to stoop. He’s saying Jews are going to betray humanity to the Antichrist. If that’s not distasteful, I don’t know what is!

Hagee goes on to say that Jews will only be convinced that Jesus is the Messiah once he returns and they’ve seen “the riven side.” I find his stated reasoning for this interesting; he claims the original Greek of Romans 11 states that Jews have been “judicially blinded” to the identity of the Messiah. He doesn’t say it, but the specific verse he’s referring to is Rom 11:7:

What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened …

In Greek, this is:

τι ουν επιζητει ισραηλ τουτο ουκ επετυχεν η δε εκλογη επετυχεν οι δε λοιποι επωρωθησαν

The verb in question is the final word in that verse, a form of the Greek verb πωροω (póroó), which doesn’t mean “judicially blinded” at all: Hagee just made that up. It actually means “to be made stubborn” or “to be made unfeeling.” Semantically, this isn’t too far off from what Hagee is saying, however, his claim is rather specific, and as such, clearly false; as someone who presents himself as an expert in Biblical languages, he has no excuse for this. He thus betrays his ignorance of Greek and his lack of expertise.

The RWW article adds Hagee’s claim September 11, 2001 attacks were an act of divine judgement against the U.S. because it had fallen away from him. This is pretty much the same sentiment as had been expressed by the late Jerry Falwell and his friend Marion “Pat” Robertson, just a few days after the attacks. Yeah, folks, this is the Religion of Love in action.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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