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Police arrive after the houses of a religious minority group were torched by a mob following accusations of blasphemy in Gujranwala, Pakistan, early on Monday. Muhammad Owais/EPA, via NBC NewsThis story is one which, sadly, isn’t surprising. I mean, this is Pakistan we’re talking abouta place which is second only to Afghanistan in its degree of hyperreligious immaturity. As NBC News reports, it seems a mob of sanctimoniously-enraged Pakistanis simply couldn’t help but murder three people over a supposedly blasphemous Facebook posting (WebCite cached article):

A mob attacked and killed a grandmother and two children over a “blasphemous” Facebook post allegedly published by a member of their minority religious sect in Pakistan on Sunday. Police allege that Aqib Salim, 25, uploaded an “obscene and objectionable picture of the Kaaba [Islam’s holiest site] and a scantily clad woman” on the site.

Rehmat Ali, head constable of Gujranwala police, told NBC News that the post “angered the local community” and several people asked for Salim to be arrested. “When we insisted on a formal complaint, they took the law into their own hands,” Ali said. “What followed was unabated mob violence.” Up to 600 people were involved as the mob set fire to five homes and several shops in Gujranwala belonging to membbrs of the Ahmadi sect — which Pakistan declared “non-Muslim” in 1984 due to its alternative belief system. An Ahmadi woman aged in her late 40s and her granddaughters aged eight and seven months were killed.

Making this childish mob of c. 600 enraged Pakistani Muslims throwing a violent tantrum even worse, was that local police watched with tacit approval:

Saleem ud-Din, spokesman of the Jaamat-e-Ahmadiya, which represents Pakistan’s 700,000 Ahmadis, said police stood by as Ahmadis’ property was burned and looted.

Also, no one who was killed had anything to do with the “offensive” Facebook posting … but hey, what does that have to do with anything, when you’re an angry, juvenile mob who’s out for blood?

I assume most of my readers won’t have heard of the Ahmadi; theirs is a Muslim sect that appeared around the turn of the 20th century. It’s sort of a messianic version of Sunni Islam … although that’s an oversimplification … with some added beliefs most other Muslims don’t adhere to (although they weren’t always considered objectionable).

There are two main facts about the notion of “blasphemy” which are undeniable:

  1. It’s entirely subjective: One believer’s “blasphemy” can be someone else’s “sincere belief.” For instance, while most Christians would consider the statement “Jesus is not God” offensive, there were, and are, some Christians who don’t see it that way. So what truly makes the statement “Jesus is not God” blasphemy? In short, it doesn’t … not objectively, anyway.
  2. Blasphemy harms no one and nothing: Honestly, no one can be hurt by someone saying or doing something blasphemous. Sure, a believer might be angered to hear something s/he’d rather not have heard … but that anger is not an injury. Nor can a religion be harmed by blasphemy; let’s face it, if a religion were true, nothing anyone says about it could take away its veracity. So it causes no damage.

This is the sort of mature, rational assessment that childish little Pakistanis appear incapable of, even if they’re old enough to know better. The police and the Pakistani government indulge these folks, because pushing back against this sort of murderous childishness is tough and requires a lot of courage — not to mention a shitload of rubber bullets, tear gas and stun guns.

The bottom line is that three people died because a mob refused to grow the fuck up already, and because those who knew better were to craven and cowardly to intervene. Has anyone had enough yet of this sort of thing? I know I have. Unfortunately, no one else seems to give a flying fuck. I guess life is just too damned cheap. After all, al-Lah wills it, does he not?

Photo credit: Muhammad Owais/EPA, via NBC News.

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Scary Ghost / naoshika, via Open Clip Art LibraryIt’s been a while since I last blogged about the phenomenon of “hauntings as news.” Of course, that’s not because media outlets have stopped reporting on “hauntings” and other “paranormal” events as though they were legitimate news stories. Oh no. In this age of so-called “reality” shows featuring ghost hunters, mediums, etc., it’s obviously something the media have decided they’re not going to let go of.

And frankly, why should they? “Haunting” stories are the sorts of things that literally drop themselves into reporters’ laps. Either people tip reporters off to “hauntings,” or else they overhear a “haunting” story and decide to relay it. They might have to talk with a couple of people familiar with the supposedly-haunted location, but most of those folks are willing interviews who have a lot of information to give (or so they think). It’s quick and easy to write a “haunting” story … whereas, by comparison, most other types of real news are much harder to develop. In this age of pared-down newsrooms, one can see the appeal of such stories.

As for “reality” shows, supposed ghost hunters (cached) and “paranormal investigators” are very good at ginning up drama and staging things to appear however they wish them to. The shows’ producers don’t have to work too hard at their jobs. It’s easy money!

The latest example of “paranormal journalism” caught my eye — and engendered this blog post — because the venerable Hartford Courant reported flat-out that a building is haunted. As though it were definite and confirmed. There are no caveats, qualifiers, “reportedlys” or anything of the kind. Reporter Dan Haar lays it out unequivocally and unreservedly (WebCite cached article):

In Canton, near the town green, the contrast between The Junk Shop and The Blue House a few doors away is striking.

Both sell antiques and vintage furnishings but The Junk Shop, owned and run by Eric Hathaway, has the feel of a chaotic workshop and is open to noise from Route 44. The Blue House, owned and run by Eric’s wife, Kimberly Hathaway, is quiet, orderly, filled with linens and lace, artwork and clothing.

Oh, and The Blue House is haunted.

Did you catch that? It’s a simple, clear, unqualified statement: “… The Blue House is haunted.” Nothing else.

This is not the first time Connecticut’s newspaper of record has declared a building definitively “haunted”; I caught them at it right around 5 years ago. The Courant is also part of the same group (within the larger Tribune media conglomerate) which thought exorcisms were genuine “news” a couple years ago and told us all about how a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified” … as though they’d somehow managed to verify that claim.

Anyone with a brain — and who can use it — knows there’s no such thing as a verified haunting. Lots of places are supposedly “haunted,” but that’s a far cry from being definitely known as “haunted.”

If Canton’s “The Blue House” has, in fact, been confirmed haunted, it ought to be trivial for its owners (or for reporter Haar or anyone else connected with the place) to provide verification of it. So let’s have it! Upon what objective evidence can anyone know this building is “haunted”? I dare someone to demonstrate it. (Oh, and when they’ve done so, they may as well turn around and apply for the million-dollar grant that the Randi Foundation will no doubt provide them.)

This is the kind the bullshit a paper like the Courant ought never to stoop to. It’s beneath their dignity, and their editors ought to have known better. And it’s a cheap way of grabbing eyeballs. As I said above, I get why they want to churn out stories like this. It’s easy writing and it’s dramatic. People like hearing this crap. Unfortunately, it remains crap, no matter how much readers might like it. And reporting affirmatively that a building is “haunted” without any verification that it actually is, is dishonest at best and lying at worst. It needs to fucking stop. It just does. No one is served by overly-credulous reporters repeating bullshit and lies as though it’s all true — no matter what excuse they come up with for having done so.

Photo credit: Naoshika, via Open Clip Art Library.

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Vatican flag (8583012024)It seems Pope Francis’s own handlers within the Vatican are having difficulty keeping him in line. He recently had another interview with Eugenio Scalfari, founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, and today they published an article on it (WebCite cached article). (A Google translation of this article is available (cached).

This interview covered a lot of ground, but among the topics covered were pedophiles within the priesthood, and celibacy for clergy. First, on pedophilia within the Church (both quotes from the interview below are automated Google translations into English, so pardon the poor language):

Many of my co-workers who struggle with me reassure me with reliable data that assess pedophilia within the Church at the level of two percent. This finding should reassure me but I must tell you that I do not reassuring at all. I consider it very serious indeed. Two percent of pedophiles are priests and even bishops and cardinals. And others, more numerous, they know but they keep silent, punish, but without saying why. I find this situation intolerable and I intend to tackle it with the seriousness it requires.

About clerical celibacy, the Pope said:

“Maybe she does not know that celibacy was established in the tenth century, that is, 900 years after the death of our Lord. The Eastern Catholic Church has the power right now that its priests to marry. The problem certainly exists but is not of great magnitude. It takes time but there are solutions and find it.

Now, almost anyone would consider both of these remarkable. For the Pope to say that even a low-sounding 2% proportion of priests being pedophiles is “intolerable,” is certainly strong language. Also, for him to say that there may be “problems” with clerical celibacy and that he’s willing to “find solutions,” is also unprecedented. To date the Church has consistently dismissed priestly pedophilia, at best acknowledging it as an unusual and marginal phenomenon — when they’re even willing to admit it exists (they frequently deny it outright). Also, the Church has repeatedly declared there is absolutely nothing wrong with clerical celibacy and that the practice dates to the beginning of the Church. That it might cause “problems” with it, is something the Church has never once conceded.

But no sooner did the ink dry on the pages of this morning’s La Repubblica, than the Vatican machinery cranked out objections to it. The paper’s own English-language blog goes over their complaints (cached):

But a few hours after the account of Scalfari’s conversation with the Pope was published, Father Federico Lombardi, official Vatican spokesman, issued a strongly worded statement calling Scalfari’s account of the conversation into question.

“One cannot and one must not speak in any way of an interview in the usual sense of the word… The conversation was cordial and very interesting and touched principally on the themes of the scourge of the sexual abuse of minors and the Church’s attitude towards the mafia. However… it is important to note that the words that Mr Scalfari attributes to the Pope, reporting his words in quotation marks, are from the memory of an experienced journalist, but not a precise transcription or recording, nor have they been approved by the person to whom the remarks are attributed.”

Father Lombardi was particularly keen to undermine Scalfari’s recollection of the remarks on paedophilia and those on celibacy, even hinting that the pontiff may have been deliberately misquoted.

“The individual remarks… cannot be confidently attributed to the Pope. For example and in particular… the fact that there are paedophile cardinals, and that “I will find a solution” to the problem of celibacy.

“In the article published in La Repubblica these two affirmations are clearly attributed to the Pope, but — curiously — the quotation marks were opened at the beginning but were not closed at the end… An oversight or explicit recognition that it is an attempt to manipulate some ingenuous readers?”

An oversight by Repubblica’s sub-editors, or a sign that Pope Francis’s willingness to tackle certain controversial issues head on frightens the conservatives within the Vatican?

That’s the way to go about it, Fr Lombardi! Quibble over possible typos (e.g. the missing/misplaced quotation marks) in an effort to suggest La Repubblica published fabricated quotations of your Pope. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

If the interview, as published this morning, does accurately reflect the Pope’s own thinking — and right now, no one has any reason to think it doesn’t, Fr Lombardi’s accusations notwithstanding — then Pope Francis clearly is at odds with his own bureaucracy in the Vatican. How long is that going to last? Is he going to bend to suit them, or is he going to crack down on them and whip them into line? It will be interesting to find out, although given the Catholic Church’s vast machinery and its almost crippling institutional inertia, I suspect it’s the Pope who will have to give in, before Vatican functionaries do.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Red Sox logo (upside down to show how terrible they are)Once again, Dear Reader, I feel compelled to take a break from the usual topic of this blog to go over the hapless boys of Beantown.

Yes, I’m aware the Red Sox won the World Series last year. One would think that had been a redemptive effort, a collective team apology for the asinine debacle which was the inexcusable September 2011 collapse and the memorably incompetent 2012 season. Clearly, though, given the team’s effort to date — sporting as they do a 41-51 record as I type this — that World Series win was an anomaly. Since the 2010 season, the Red Sox have appeared in the playoffs only once … in 2013, when they won it all. Other than that, they haven’t done a whole lot.

With the All Star Game a few days away, it’s clear the Sox aren’t going to make the playoffs. Now that this is apparent, things are really starting to unravel. As perhaps the first manifestation of management giving up the season, catcher A.J. Pierzynski has been designated for assignment in favor of young prospect Christian Vasquez.

But that’s not all there is to this story. In truly classy fashion, the Sox chose to throw the guy under the bus as they shoved him out the door; in doing so they imply he was responsible for their dismal play.

But it’s not just about him. All right, it’s not news to anyone that Pierzynski is a malcontent and asshole. A couple years ago he was voted the most-hated player in the MLB — by his own colleagues! No one expected him to act like a choir boy. However, now that he’s gone, the Boston sports media are happily cranking out stories about how nasty the guy was. My question, now, is … if the guy was so intolerably awful, through spring training and half a season, why are we only just now hearing about it? Why weren’t the media reporting this shit while it was going on? Why were reporters dutifully toeing the Fenway line about how everything was just hunky-dory with the most-hated man in baseball? I’ve only been able to find one story about Pierzynski’s shortcomings, by John Tomase of the Herald, and that was in late May. But even then, the article made it seem Pierzynski was just clueless, not a “negative influence in the clubhouse.” Fans could have used this information weeks ago — but it wasn’t provided to them.

I’m guessing this October when the season’s over, we’ll be treated to another exposé providing a litany of the various goings-on that destroyed the team. As before, though, all of the information in this exposé will have been long known to the Boston sports media. They’ll have held it all back while the season was underway … and while fans are scratching their heads wondering how and why it could be this bad.

Of course, Pierzynski was hardly the only malcontent on the team. One of them remains, and there’s no evidence he’s going to be traded or DFA’d. That malcontent is David Ortiz, aka “the Big Papi.” At this point he qualifies for the title of “the biggest baby in baseball.” His nature as a malcontent has been well-known, at least for the 3 years since he stormed into a press conference being held by then-manager Terry Francona and spewed profanities at him over an RBI he thought he should have been granted. It’s not as though this was a one-time thing, though; he continues to pitch fits over scoring matters. He also whines and cries whenever someone implies he’d been juicing — which, the Mitchell report claims, he really did, at least before it was written in 2003. That too is not new for the Big Papi; he’s been sensitive to this talk for the last few years. Oh, and even those aren’t the limit of his crybaby antics: He’s griped about his contract and about the Red Sox schedule, too. Not to mention, a year ago he demolished a dugout phone over being thrown out of a game because he mouthed off at a home-plate umpire over what he thought was a bad call but which was actually correct.

Here’s a thought, Mr Ortiz: Maybe you should stop getting your knickers in knots over RBIs and PEDs and dollar signs, and instead, grow the hell up and start fucking hitting again. You make millions of dollars a year playing a game, fercryinoutloud! Try acting as though you’ve earned all that money, instead of spouting off like a petulant child all the time.

Oh, and the people in the Boston sports media should also start acting as though they’ve earned what they’re paid. Report on what’s happening with this team — while it’s happening, rather than weeks or months later. You know the people on the team, and you know what’s plaguing them. You know something’s rotten in Fenway, so report on it already. We can take it. If we’re going to be treated to another 2012 season, at least we should know why. Besides, revealing their juvenile antics to the world while there’s still nearly half a season left to play, might encourage the Red Sox to straighten out their acts and get them to play well again. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

The bottom line is that the team that went from last place in 2012 to first in 2013 has already gone to last again in 2014. Will they stay there? I’m guessing they will, unless something changes. Something really big.

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Pope Francis in IsraelThe current pope, Francis, has been in office for over a year. During that time he’s skirted the edges of a number of controversies, and even kicked up a few of his own (such as the astonishingly raw outrage engendered by his having washed the feet of — gasp! — women, of all people, during a Maundy Thursday rite). But so far he’s had little, if anything, to say about the worldwide “priestly pedophilia” scandal that’s swirled through and around his Church for many years now.

But that changed this past weekend. As the New York Times reports, he delivered a rare (for Popes, anyway) apology and asked forgiveness from the scandal’s victims (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis on Monday used his first meeting with victims of clerical sex abuse to offer his strongest condemnation of a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church, comparing priests who abuse minors to “a sacrilegious cult,” while begging forgiveness from victims and pledging to crack down on bishops who fail to protect children.

By meeting with six victims from three countries, Francis was trying to show resolve — and personal empathy — to address an issue on which he has faced criticism in what has otherwise been a popular papacy. While some advocates for victims praised the meeting, others dismissed it as little more than a publicity stunt.

Francis first greeted the six victims — two people each from Ireland, Britain and Germany — on Sunday after they arrived at a Vatican guesthouse. On Monday morning, he led them in a private Mass at a Vatican chapel, where he offered a strongly worded homily condemning an abuse scandal that began to surface decades ago under John Paul II. Francis also met with each victim individually in sessions that, in total, lasted more than three hours.

For a pope … and considering he hadn’t yet addressed the scandal squarely … he was remarkably frank:

“Before God and his people, I express my sorrow for the sins and grave crimes of clerical sexual abuse committed against you,” Francis said during his homily, according to a text released by the Vatican. “And I humbly ask forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.”

In his homily, Francis also vowed “not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not,” and declared that bishops would be held accountable for protecting minors. He said the abuse scandals had had “a toxic effect on faith and hope in God.”

Since this admission and request for forgiveness is virtually unprecedented, I can see why a lot of the Church’s critics are unimpressed. It’s one thing for the Pope to say all of this; it’s another entirely to put those words into action. Just a few days ago, for example, the Pope’s own minions in the Holy See told the Australian commission investigating clerical child abuse in that country to go fuck itself (cached). That position directly and materially contradicts the Pope’s claims that his hierarchs are to “be held accountable for protecting minors.”

Given that — and given the Church’s consistent and many-years-long pattern of denying the scandal and blaming it on anything and everything but itself — I’m not really sure Francis means what he said. I’m really not. Only time will tell … but I don’t expect time will reveal any meaningful change within the Church.

P.S. Oh, and you Catholic apologists who always stamp and fume that child abuse is reported only in relation to your precious Church … take a look at the bottom of this Times article. Under “More In Europe,” you’ll see a link entitled to another Times article about the UK investigating decades-old government-related abuse allegations that reportedly had been hushed up by that same government (cached). So put away your laughable fucking martyr complex and just admit what you damned well know your Church did. That other institutions, religious and otherwise, pulled the same shit doesn’t make any of it right; using the whiney crybaby claim that the mass media is out to destroy your Church has gotten ridiculous. Quite obviously the media are not ignoring other groups’ similar transgressions so they can make it seem only your Church is guilty of systemic child sexual abuse. Grow up and get the hell over it already.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate (PsiCop original graphic)Given the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, released this morning, which exempts corporations from the ACA’s contraception mandate if they have religious objections to doing so (WebCite cached article), I expect corporations’ religious objections to just about everything to expand immensely.

Just think: If a corporation has a religious objection to paying minimum wages (for example), by the Court’s reasoning, they should be exempted from that. If they religiously object to having to provide a safe workplace, they can be exempted from OSHA regulations. If they religiously object to registering vehicles, they should be allowed to skip going to their state’s DMV. And so on.

“But wait!” you, Dear Reader, are no doubt objecting. “There’s no religion that objects to any of those things!” That may be so … but that problem can be easily fixed. All one needs to do is create a new religion which does object to them.

Let’s create a “Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate.” Its main tenet is that, since the Lord called his followers together to join as a Church, likewise people join together to form Corporations. As such, each and every Corporation is a reflection of the Lord God’s holiness. Each is inviolate and sacrosanct.

This new corporatist church could easily teach that Corporations should never be constrained or limited in any way. Government regulations would not apply to any UCotLGI-following Corporation. They can’t be taxed — taxation reduces profits, you see, and because profits are the reason Corporations exist, forcing them to pay taxes would violate their sanctity. Even things like simple liability would go right out the window for a UCotLGI-following Corporation. Too bad for you, if you’re hurt or killed by some defect in a UCotLGI-following Corporation’s products!

So let’s get moving on this new Universal Church of the Lord God, Incorporate! Make all CEOs its clergy. Have them all get together (hey, those rotten little anti-trust laws that would normally prevent such conferences are an unacceptable limitation on Corporate behavior!) and figure out how best to exploit all the possibilities. And those possibilities might even include things like the restoration of slavery!

Of course, there’s just one little problem here: Does anyone know precisely how it is that a corporation can have religious beliefs? I’m still not clear on that. Just wondering. Anyone care to fill me in on that?

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.

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Archbishop Józef Wesolowski, papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic / Catholic News Agency / url: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-willing-to-hand-over-accused-nuncio-to-civil-authorities/This story has been brewing for almost a year. Last summer, the Vatican’s nuncio (aka ambassador) to the Dominican Republic, archbishop* Józef Wesołowski, resigned last summer while under investigation by DR authorities for child abuse and returned to the Vatican, where his conduct was also being investigated. At the time, I wasn’t sure the Church had actually been “investigating” him. But it turns out they had; as the Religion News Service reports, some sort of ecclesiastical trial just concluded, and as a result, Wesołowski was defrocked (WebCite cached article):

A former Vatican ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, has been defrocked and is likely to face criminal prosecution at the Vatican after a church inquiry convicted him of child sexual abuse.…

The 65-year-old envoy is the highest-ranking Vatican official to be investigated for sex abuse. He was found guilty after an inquiry conducted by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has jurisdiction over all sex abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.

In a brief statement released Friday (June 27), the Vatican said the verdict was issued “in the past few days” and the former diplomat was facing arrest due to the “gravity of the case.”

This rather quick — by Vatican standards — defrocking (aka “laicization”) is fairly remarkable, and on its surface, it might seem harsh. (I suppose, maybe, those within the Vatican actually view it as such.) But it’s not clear what all of this really means for the former archbishop; and it certainly doesn’t appear that Wesołowski is truly being “punished” at all:

A bishop from the Dominican Republic was recently reported to say that he was shocked to see Wesolowski walking freely on the streets of central Rome. Prosecutors in the Caribbean nation have said they have convincing evidence that the prelate molested young men.

To add to this non-punishment of their former nuncio, they’re actively protecting him from secular prosecution; they spirited him out of the DR, and are protecting him from extradition to his native Poland as well:

Wesołowski has also been accused of abuse in his native Poland. The Vatican rejected an extradition request from the Warsaw prosecutor’s office on the grounds he was “a citizen of the Vatican” and holds diplomatic immunity.

In Wesołowski’s case, specifically, the Vatican has been able to use his position as nuncio (with its attendant “diplomatic immunity”) as well as his putative Vatican City citizenship to prevent him from being prosecuted by secular authorities. But note that this is more or less the same approach they’ve taken in a other cases that don’t involve Church diplomats. The hierarchs really and truly believe their clergy should not be subject to secular courts and that only their own Curia has jurisdiction over them.

Photo credit: Catholic News Agency.

* Wesołowski never actually headed an archdiocese. His was a fake office, that of “Archbishop of Sléibhte.” Yes, there once had been a diocese of Sléibhte (in Ireland) … but it disappeared by the middle of the 9th century (if memory serves). The office of Archbishop of Sléibhte was resurrected as a titular (aka “in name only”) position by Pope Paul VI … probably because he’d wanted to stick a feather in the cap of some Vatican functionary whom he didn’t want to put in charge of a real diocese. (Yes, folks, that’s how popes operate. They quite literally just make shit up as they go along.)

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