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Moscow Kremlin from Kamenny bridgeLook, I get that the Religious Right doesn’t care much for President Obama. They despise the man (often calling him “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” as though his middle name is the most important thing about him), and they hate pretty much everything he says and does. He could comment innocuously on the weather sometime and the R.R. would cook up some rationale to condemn him for it and try to make it out to be some kind of constitutional crisis. All of that is par for the course, and expected.

But once in a while, one or another of the generals that leads the army of the R.R. goes off the rails in order to express his/her hatred for Obama. As the Religion News Service reports, the Christofascist Franklin Graham, son of the famous Billy Graham, recently did just that (WebCite cached article):

Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.

Graham, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association started by his famous father, praises Putin in the March issue of the group’s Decision magazine [cached] for signing a bill that imposes fines for adults who promote “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham writes. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”

“Our president and his attorney general have turned their backs on God and His standards, and many in the Congress are following the administration’s lead. This is shameful.”

So, because Putin hates gays and has orchestrated the passage of laws limiting their civil rights and freedoms, Graham thinks he’s better than Obama.

Graham knew how his words might be construed, and tried proactively to swerve around that:

With the caveat that “I am not endorsing President Putin,” Graham nonetheless praised Russia’s get-tough approach toward gay rights.

Graham can say all he wants that he’s “not endorsing President Putin,” but when he goes out of his way to praise the guy in this way, that is precisely what he has done. He cannot disown it, even if he’d like to.

In any event, Graham’s praise for Putin ostensibly centers around how the Russian president is protecting children from being exposed to homosexuality, as though this is legal in the United States. In fact, it’s not. Adults engaging in sexual activity of any kind with children, is very much illegal in every jurisdiction in the country. And I suspect it was illegal in Russia, prior to the passage of the anti-gay law there. So the law Putin rammed through his country, in all likelihood had absofuckinglutlely nothing to do with protecting children, since chances are, they were already protected.

So the Christofascist factually lied on two counts: First, that he wasn’t “endorsing” Putin when in truth he was; and that a Putin-style law is needed to protect children here in the U.S. when in truth it is not. I’ve remarked before on what a buffoon Franklin Graham is, but this makes him a double-lying buffoon who praises brutal tyrants in order to condemn an American president he personally dislikes. Fucking weasel.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Jesus with a gun / via Counterlight's PeculiarsQuite some time ago I blogged about the phenomenon of pastors embracing guns and gun ownership as an expression of Christianity. And a few days ago I blogged about Christofascist Jerry Boykin’s claim that Jesus is going to return soon, armed with an automatic weapon. (He actually “checked it out,” you see, and is absolutely certain of it.)

Well, many Christians continue viewing their Jesus as a “patriot” like themselves, even if he was nothing like them at all. Let’s be honest … it’s difficult, if not impossible, to see how angry, maniacal gun-toters like Ted Nugent or Wayne LaPierre possibly bear any resemblance to the man who’s reported to have said things like “turn the other cheek” and “those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

It seems Kentucky’ Baptists are no exception. As the Louisville Courier-Journal reports, they love arming themselves to the teeth for Jesus (locally-cached article):

In an effort its spokesman has described as “outreach to rednecks,” the Kentucky Baptist Convention is leading “Second Amendment Celebrations,” where churches around the state give away guns as door prizes to lure in nonbelievers in hopes of converting them to Christ.

As many as 1,000 people are expected at the next one, on Thursday at Lone Oak Baptist Church in Paducah, where they will be given a free steak dinner and the chance to win one of 25 handguns, long guns and shotguns.

The goal is to “point people to Christ,” the church says in a flier. Chuck McAlister, an ex-pastor, master storyteller and former Outdoor Channel hunting show host who presides at the events as the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s team leader for evangelism, said 1,678 men made “professions of faith” at about 50 such events last year, most of them in Kentucky.

In Louisville, he said, more than 500 people showed up on a snowy January day for a gun giveaway at Highview Baptist Church, and 61 made decisions to seek salvation.

Lest anyone think this “packing heat for Jesus” movement is a localized phenomenon in Kentucky, it’s not. As CNN explains, a church in Troy, NY is giving away a gun for Jesus, too (WebCite cached article):

An upstate New York church is giving new meaning to the biblical passage, “My peace I give unto you.”

In this case, it’s a piece: an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Grace Baptist Church in Troy — about two and half hours north of Manhattan — is giving away the semi-automatic rifle as part of a special event honoring hunters and gun owners later this month. The church website entices gun lovers with the words “Win a Free AR-15″ followed by the New Testament line.

The holder of the winning ticket will receive an AR-15 modified for sale in New York state.…

In a letter to his congregation, Pastor John Koletas said: “Our country was built with the King James Bible and the gun.”

Sounds as though Koletas’s church is a member of the waning KJV-Only movement … which as I’ve explained previously, is based upon pure, unadulterated, 100% grade-A bullshit and lies. In any event, this giveaway has something of a political pedigree:

New York Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin, a Republican, will speak at the service.

The C-J article points out these (literally!) militant churches and their pastors have some critics within Christianity, but it doesn’t appear those critics are actually doing much of anything about it, other than to provide a few sound bites to the occasional reporter who happens to call looking for a comment. Not one of them is explaining to these pastors that Jesus was no warrior, that he didn’t want his followers brandishing firearms all over the place, and that what they’re doing is thoroughly and completely un-Christian. No, other Christians are quite happy to let their militant co-religionists run around, holding onto their dour, sanctimonious belligerence.

Photo credit: Counterlight’s Peculiars.

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'Homeless Jesus' by Timothy P. Schmalz / photo by WCNC-TVA statue of Jesus in Davidson, NC has some local folks upset. No, it’s not blasphemous, not even slightly; in fact, it’s in front of a church, one which willingly hosted it. The problem with it, is that it depicts Jesus as … <drumroll please> … a homeless man, of all things! WCNC-TV in Charlotte explains this “controversy,” if one can call it that (WebCite cached article):

A sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man installed outside a church in Davidson has neighbors and church leaders debating its message and appropriateness.

According to articles on sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz’s website, the same “Homeless Jesus” now at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church was rejected by cathedrals in New York and Canada. Schmalz’s site also includes articles claiming Pope Francis blessed and accepted “Homeless Jesus” into Vatican City.

From a distance, especially at dusk, you would swear the sculpture is a real-life homeless man sleeping on a bench in front of the church.…

Crucifixion marks in the feet offer the only clue to the man’s identity on the sculpture itself. A plaque next to it shows the “Homeless Jesus,” title and that the inspiration came from a passage in Matthew: 25.

A local woman — I assume, Christian — interviewed for this story had called police about the statue, fearing for her family’s safety.

Later in the story she complained about it:

[Cindy Castano] Swannack says it’s an inappropriate message and wrong for the neighborhood. She wishes it showed Jesus standing over the homeless protecting them.

“Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help,” she said, “We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.”

Actually, Ms Swannack, if you’d actually read your Bible (most Christians, sadly, have never done so) and noticed the mention of Matthew 25 at the site, you’d realize what this was about. It was about one of Jesus’ more notable teachings:

“Then the [Son of Man] will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)

Jesus’ message is a simple one, which is completely lost on Christians like Ms Swannack. And that simple message is this: Treat the lowly as though they were Jesus himself; whatever you do for them, you do for Jesus. Honestly, how much plainer could that be? How can it not, therefore, make sense to depict Jesus as homeless?

Artist Timothy P. Schmalz’s Web site is available here, and here is his page about this particular statue. After spending some time looking at the site and Mr Schmalz’s art, I can’t see how anyone could possibly conclude his work is anything but reverent, and (contrary to Ms Swannack’s assessment) appropriately Christian.

Photo credit: WCNC-TV photo of Timothy P. Schmalz sculpture.

Hat tip: CNN Belief blog.

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The Conservative Christ / Michael D'AntuonoThis is something that’s been making the rounds for a few days, but I’ve only just gotten around to blogging about it. I commented on it yesterday in a Delphi forum, and will use some of those remarks here.

A tendency of Christians is to project something of themselves onto Jesus Christ, the founder of their religion. This is understandable since projection is a common psychological phenomenon. Retired general, raging Neocrusader, and avowed Christofascist Jerry Boykin recently fell into this trap, when, as Right Wing Watch explains, he declared Jesus was a warrior, and had inspired the Second Amendment (WebCite cached article):

The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 is [sic] says when he comes back, he’s coming back as what? A warrior. A might [sic] warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe … I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies ’cause he’s coming back as a warrior carrying a sword.

And I believe now — I’ve checked this out — I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.

Now I want you to think about this: where did the Second Amendment come from? … From the Founding Fathers, it’s in the Constitution. Well, yeah, I know that. But where did the whole concept come from? It came from Jesus when he said to his disciples ‘now, if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’

RWW offers audio of his comments, if you need to hear them:

Given humanity’s predilection, as I noted already, for projection, it’s understandable that Boykin, a retired Army general, would envision Jesus as having been a warrior. But his desire to view Jesus as having been like himself, just isn’t valid. It certainly doesn’t mesh with other aspects of Jesus as reported elsewhere in the gospels (e.g. “turn the other cheek,” “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” “blessed are the peacemakers,” etc.).

Boykin is quoting Luke 22:36-38, which is:

And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

Taken at face value — without keeping the gospel’s ongoing narrative in mind — Jesus’ instruction to “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” certainly does appear to be his way of preparing his followers for military action. Why else would he ask all his followers to arm themselves? However, just a couple sentences later, he concedes that just two swords within his own company “is enough.” These two sentences conflict; he went from saying that “whoever has no sword” should acquire one, i.e. wanting all 12 of his apostles armed, to deciding that only two swords are sufficient. He cannot logically have meant to say both of these things. What’s more, this passage comes after the Last Supper and before his arrest, which presumably he knew would happen soon. It would have made no sense for him to plan for his group to take on a platoon of soldiers, armed with only two swords among them. That would never have worked out. Had Jesus been a soldier first and foremost as Boykin claims, he would never have settled for just two swords!

Many scholars believe this passage was injected into Luke (or into the pre-Lucan source) as a way of having Jesus fulfill prophecy (Lk 22:37 quotes Isaiah 53:12). It does also serve well as a plot device, providing the soldiers who would soon arrest Jesus an ostensible reason to do so (in other words, giving them cause to “number” Jesus “with the transgressors”). This makes sense within the terms of the story Luke is telling: the reader can easily presume the Romans wouldn’t have wanted a band of armed Jewish (potential) bandits lurking around in or around Jerusalem, around a Jewish holiday. Having just two swords among them might easily have justified an arrest within the terms of the story, but not enough that a pitched battle might take place.

Overall, the idea that Jesus was a warrior quite simply doesn’t make any sense. This is particularly true if one compares this section of Luke with its parallel in Matthew, where shortly after this point in the story (specifically in Mt 26:52), Jesus famously said, “all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Aside from Lk 22:36-38 the only other place Jesus was said to have expressed any kind of violent attitude was in the Cleansing of the Temple, especially as reported in John 2:13-16 which reports he actually made a weapon (a scourge of cords) and used it on people. While I concede this is an example of violence done by Jesus, I can’t see how this sort of thing stacks up with claims such as Boykin’s that Jesus was a “warrior.” The warriors of the time didn’t settle for just using cord-scourges on people. They certainly didn’t rob people with them, or take on soldiers with them, or cause anything other than minimal mayhem. No, warriors used blades (of whatever sort they could get their hands on), as well as clubs, spears, and other implements capable of causing much worse injury than any scourge ever could. A scourge is by no means the weapon of a “warrior” … not in the 1st century Levant, and not now.

Boykin also bases some of his thinking on Revelation 19, but if Christian legend about this book is correct, this is not a description of how Jesus was in the past; instead, it’s a prediction of what he will be in the future. In other words, after Armageddon (Rev 16), Jesus will arrive as a warrior. But, he wasn’t one during his first incarnation, and he isn’t one yet.

Now, I’ll grant the Abrahamic God — to whom Jesus is related — certainly was warlike. A number of times in the Old Testament, he’s called YHWH Tzevaot and similar names, which are usually rendered in English Bibles as “the Lord of Hosts.” In Exodus 15:3, he’s explicitly called a warrior. But as much as Christians would like to view Jesus as being the same as YHWH, the cold fact is that his portrayal in the gospels is very different. The Jesus described in the New Testament is nothing like YHWH, and if most Christian denominations are right, this was intentional.

Lastly, Boykin’s assurance that he’s “checked out” that Jesus will return armed with an AR-15, is just a fucking joke! What mechanism could he have used to “check out” this assertion? How did he confirm it?

Photo credit: Michael D’Antuono.

Hat tip: Peter at Skeptics & Heretics Forum, Friendly Atheist, Gawker, and others.

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Where Are the Children? / Schools: British Columbia / Lejac Indian Residential School (Fraser Lake, BC)Among the Catholic Church’s many faults is its presumption that it’s above the law and accountable to no one on the planet. If one looks back, for example, at how it handled the worldwide child-abuse scandal that’s plagued it for over a decade, one sees a familiar pattern of resistance by the Church and its hierarchs.

Theirs is a pattern of behavior that plays out with each incident that comes to light. First there are flat denials; then efforts to avoid subpoenas and depositions; then complaints of “persecution” once those have failed; then there are admissions that something untoward might possibly have happened somewhere in a diocese or order; then there are grudging apologies (or more like, non-apology apologies); then complaints that child abuse happens in other institutions, so why is the Church always a target; and on and on it goes.

A lot of the time the evidence is overwhelming and a diocese or order must consent to a legal remedy; but even then, it continues to resist. For example, back in 2007 the archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to release documents regarding abusive clergy, but then they turned around and resisted actually releasing them for a whopping 6 years.

The latest example of this comes from Canada and is part of the ongoing residential schools scandal. For those who may not be aware of it, this program began in the late 19th century and involved a large number of aboriginal children being sent to residential schools operated by Canada’s churches and paid for by the Canadian government. Children in this program, which lasted into the late 20th century, were often subjected to horrible abuse as well as neglect (mortality was quite high).

For most of the 2000s, the Canadian government has been working to investigate the abuse, and has been working with the churches that had operated residential schools (mainly, the Anglican and Catholic Churches) to compensate victims. The CBC, however, recently discovered that the Roman Catholic Church — which ostensibly had cooperated with this effort — has been holding back money that it had agreed to pay out (WebCite cached article):

Court documents obtained by CBC News allege that the Catholic Church is withholding millions from former students of Indian residential schools.

The church was part of the Indian residential school settlement reached in 2006. While the government paid the lion’s share of the billion-dollar settlement, the churches were also required to make reparations.

The Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches have met their obligations, but according to the federal government, the Catholic Church is shirking its responsibility.

The article provides details of this; the bottom line is that the R.C. Church has been keeping some of the settlement money it was supposed to have paid to victims’ foundations under the guise of “administrative expenses.” Seems to me, if they’d just paid out what they’d agree to pay, there wouldn’t be any ongoing expenses … but hey, what can this cold-hearted, cynical, godless agnostic heathen possibly know about such things?

Near the end of the CBC article is the whiney, paranoid Catholic response:

Pierre Baribeau, a lawyer in Montreal and director of the Catholic Entities corporation, says the Catholic Church will fight these allegations in court.

“The federal government has always adopted an aggressive attitude towards the Catholic Entities and we have offered reconciliation process to them and they firmly answered negatively, they don’t want to apply the agreement as negotiated in 2006, so we are going to present our arguments to the courts.”

Oh pity the poor, put-upon Canadian Catholic Church! The government there is just picking on them … or something. I guess. How dare the Canadian government and the First Nations foundations actually expect the Church to pay out money it had agreed, years ago, to pay out! Why, it’s intolerable!

</sarcasm>

At any rate, one can see, here, yet another manifestation of the Church’s perpetually-resistant attitude toward such allegations. They always have to be dragged kicking and screaming into settling up … and even after that, they must be dragged a whole lot more. I’m not surprised they’re pulling this kind of crap, and you shouldn’t be, either.

Photo credit: Where Are the Children?

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

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SnakehandlingAmong the oddest forms of Christianity practiced in the U.S. are the so-called “snake-handling churches.” Theirs is an odd wing of Pentostalism; many of them go by the hifalutin’ name of “Church of God with Signs Following.” The “signs” this name refers to, are the five listed by Jesus almost at the very end of the gospel according to Mark (emphasis mine):

“These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18)

Pentecostal churches tend to take the final 12 verses of Mark very seriously, even though most other Christian sects view them with skepticism, since the earliest manuscripts of that gospel end at 16:8.

That said, while Pentecostals are serious about the “five signs following,” the snake-handlers take it a step further: They actually hold services in which the officiant handles poisonous snakes. Most of the “signs following” churches are in Appalachia, and while a lot of those who attend them consider their practices to be age-old, this weird sect-within-a-sect has only been around since the early 20th century.

As one can imagine, theirs is a rather dangerous business. One “signs following” preacher — who was featured on a National Geographic channel “reality” show — found this out the hard way, as CNN reports, just a couple days ago (WebCite cached article):

A Kentucky pastor who starred in a reality show about snake-handling in church has died — of a snakebite.

Jamie Coots died Saturday evening after refusing to be treated, Middleborough police said.

On “Snake Salvation,” the ardent Pentecostal believer said that he believed that a passage in the Bible suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God. The practice is illegal in most states, but still goes on, primarily in the rural South.

Coots was a third-generation “serpent handler” and aspired to one day pass the practice and his church, Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name, on to his adult son, Little Cody.

Coots’s insistence on not getting medical treatment is not unusual for devout Pentecostals, especially of the “signs following” sort. They believe strongly in God’s healing power (as noted above, the last of the five signs is healing by laying on hands), and consider it profane to get medical treatment in place of that. What’s more, they often view a “snake handling” preacher getting bitten as a test of faith, so very often, getting medical treatment is the last thing they’ll want.

Oh, and … before you ask, yes, snake-handling is not the limit of the extremes these churches go to. Some of their adherents also ritually ingest poison.

I’m sure NatGeo will enjoy a ratings spike for Snake Salvation. Millions of Americans will, no doubt, tune in to see this oddball sect and its all-too-lethal rites. It’ll be a nationwide form of rubbernecking! But most Americans also will not learn the lesson here, which is that faith and metaphysics can, indeed, be taken too far. And while some southern states might decide to crack down on them (as CNN noted, these churches’ rites are illegal in some of them), the “signs following” churches will continue doing what they’ve been doing for a century … and more people will die needlessly. My guess is, Coots’s congregation will decide that he simply didn’t have “enough faith” and that his dying was justified because of that.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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GeocentrismThis is rather an unbelievable story … but it’s true. A whopping 26% of Americans actually think the sun goes around the earth. NPR reports on a study that explains how stupid they are (WebCite cached article):

A quarter of Americans surveyed could not correctly answer that the Earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around, according to a report out Friday from the National Science Foundation.…

To the question “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth,” 26 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly.

In the same survey, just 39 percent answered correctly (true) that “The universe began with a huge explosion” and only 48 percent said “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

Just over half understood that antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

You can read about this survey here, on page 48 (cached).

NPR goes on to explain that these results aren’t out of line with similar surveys in Europe and China. Even so, this is astounding. The current heliocentric model of the solar system is over five centuries old, and has been widely taught since the Enlightenment. No American has any valid excuse for not knowing any better. None.

No wonder such a big percentage of the country is consumed by religionism. They’re ignoramuses who just don’t fucking know any better! That they’ve grown to adulthood remaining this ignorant, doesn’t bode well for any possibility they might actually be informed otherwise. Once I grasped the horror of the situation, the following dialog from Babylon 5 leapt immediately to mind:

“Weep for the future, Na’toth. Weep for us all.… I have looked into the darkness, Na’toth. You cannot do that and ever be quite the same again.” (G’Kar to Na’toth, episode “Revelations”).

Weep for us all, indeed. Weep for us all. We’re fucking doomed.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Marty on Ex-Christian.Net Forums.

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