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Apocalypse vasnetsovThe Religious Right loves to use disaster theology to bludgeon other people into obeying their own dour metaphysics. They do it because they believe their God is a terrifying cosmic tyrant who will, in fact, happily use disasters in order to terrorize humanity … and because of their own fear of him, they view fear as something that will motivate others to believe as they do, also. They either don’t understand — or worse, they refuse to want to admit — that disasters happen from time to time, regardless of any outside factors, and it’s impossible to verifiably ascribe them to an almighty cosmic entity who’s trying to coerce humanity into doing his bidding.

The latest example of a Religious Rightist using disaster theology to make others cower into doing as she demands, is Congressional candidate in Illinois’s 9th district, Susanne Atanus. The Arlington Heights, IL Daily Herald reports on what she said on the subject (WebCite cached article):

“I am a conservative Republican and I believe in God first,” Atanus said. She said she believes God controls the weather and has put tornadoes and diseases such as autism and dementia on earth as in response to gay rights and legalized abortions.

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

Yes, of course, Ms Atanus. Everything bad that ever happened in this world, was caused solely by vile, insolent, God-hating mortals who dared reject your deity and his ways. Why, of course! How could it possibly have been otherwise?

</sarcasm>

What you see here is the childishness typical of the fervent religionist. They dislike something, so they claim their God also hates it, and they cast about looking for things they can cite which, as they see it anyway, demonstrate his displeasure. What they haven’t done, and can never do, is to actually show this relationship using objective, verifiable evidence.

They also can’t or won’t explain how it makes sense for an almighty cosmic deity to try to send a message to humanity in such a way. Consider: if he really wanted to make clear that he despises gays and abortion, wouldn’t it make more sense for him to be more explicit and direct about it? Putting such a message in the sky, in enormous letters that don’t move with the wind, would certainly do the trick. Making some kids autistic and some of the elderly senile, and dispatching tornadoes to flatten some towns, don’t constitute a clear message.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Cardinal-Francis-George 110516 photoby Adam-BielawskiYet another archdiocese has been forced to release documentation that it was complicit in the abuse of children by its clergy. This time it’s the Windy City, as the Chicago Tribune reports (WebCite cached article):

Thousands of pages of secret church documents [cached] released Tuesday as part of a court settlement provide an unprecedented and gut-wrenching look at how the Archdiocese of Chicago for years failed to protect children from abusive priests.

The documents provide new details and insights into how the nation’s third-largest archdiocese quietly shuttled accused priests from parish to parish and failed to notify police of child abuse allegations. The paper trail, going back decades, also portrays painfully slow progress toward reform, accountability and openness.

Most of the 30 clergymen tied to the documents were not prosecuted. They were shielded by Roman Catholic Church officials who thought the men could be cured with counseling or bishops blinded by a belief in second chances and forgiveness.

Some of the abuse and cover-ups in this document cache involves the current archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, as the Tribune explains. The most outrageous quote in the article comes from the good Cardinal himself, referring to the abuse and cover-ups:

“That’s in the past, we’re hoping,” Cardinal Francis George said in an interview Sunday.

He’s “hoping” it’s “in the past”? He merely “hopes” his archdiocese’s custom of protecting abusive clergy is “in the past”? Seriously!?

The man is the fucking archbishop! What he says in his archdiocese, goes. The man needs to pull up his big boy pants and make this not just a “hope,” but a “reality.” As archbishop it’s entirely within his power to make it so. He’s in charge, and needs to fucking act like it. Yet, he doesn’t seem to want to.

If anyone wondered how decades of child abuse could have occurred at the hands of Catholic clergy and under the watch of the Catholic hierarchy, now you know why. Because not even a powerful Catholic hierarch is willing to take ownership of his own archdiocese and run it the way he sees fit. No. He just “hopes” it will be run better from now on.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Comments by Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, who was named one of 19 new cardinals by Pope Francis last week, provoked an immediate backlash in Spain. Photo: EFE/EPAWhat is it about metaphysical beliefs that gives people the idea that they’re experts on things they know nothing about? I’ve frequently complained, for instance, about Christians pronouncing Jesus’ existence as a historical fact merely because they believe he lived, even though this is by no means certain. In that way, they’re claiming credentials … i.e. as historians … which in fact they do not possess.

But this phenomenon is hardly limited to just that. It reaches into many disciplines — including medicine — and causes people to make laughable pronouncements which are counter-factual and anti-scientific.

Well, one of Pope Francis’s newly-appointed cardinals (WebCite cached article) just tried playing doctor himself, and ended up looking like a hateful prick. The (UK) Telegraph reports on a Spanish hierarch who compared homosexuality with blood pressure (cached):

Spain’s newly appointed cardinal to Rome has insisted homosexuality can be cured with treatment and likened it to other “bodily deficiencies” such as high blood pressure.

The comments by Fernando Sebastian Aguilar, who was named one of 19 new cardinals by Pope Francis last week, provoked an immediate backlash in Spain.

The 84-year-old Archbishop Emeritus of Pamplona said: “Homosexuality is a deficient way of manifesting sexuality because (sexuality) has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation.” “Homosexuality, which can’t achieve this purpose, is a failing,” he said in an interview with Malaga-based newspaper Diario Sur, published Sunday.

He went on to compare it to his own deficiency of high blood pressure. “Our bodies have many deficiencies. I have high blood pressure — a deficiency I have to correct as I can.”

Even as he said this, Aguilar must have realized the offensive implications of his words:

With this in mind he continued: “Saying homosexuals suffer a deficiency is not an insult. It’s a help because in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.” His comments brought swift criticism from some quarters.

I believe this is Diario Sur‘s original story on this interview (cached).

Note the old and tired refrain that sexuality is only for procreation. The truth is, it’s not … and the soon-to-be Cardinal knows it. If it were true, then infertile people would not be able to have sex.

I get that the cardinal-to-be doesn’t approve of homosexuality and doesn’t like gays. There are lots of Christians — and people of other faiths — who agree with him on that. In a free world, that sort of thing is going to happen. What shouldn’t happen, is for people to lie about homosexuality and gays in order to rationalize and justify their disapproval.

Ultimately it shouldn’t matter to Aguilar (or anyone else) that someone somewhere might be gay. Really, honestly, it doesn’t affect him (or them). It just doesn’t. Hating homosexuality and gays serves no useful purpose for anyone, but it does cause immense harm. It’s time for the world’s gay-haters to just fucking grow the hell up and get over their pitiful, whiney hang-ups already.

Photo credit: EFE/EPA, via the (UK) Telegraph.

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Cathédrale Catholic de Churchill au Manitoba (Cathédrale Saints-Martyrs-Canadiens-et-Reine-des-Martyrs), via Wikimedia CommonsAlthough I’ve condemned the Roman Catholic Church for the many decades it allowed its personnel to abuse children in its care, and protected those abusers by moving them around so they wouldn’t get caught, that’s not the entirety of the scandal. The Church couldn’t have pulled all this abuse off, without the willing assistance of other elements of the societies in which it operated, including secular officials who granted the Church a wide berth.

One example is that of Connecticut’s own Fr Stephen Foley, a Catholic priest and state police chaplain who, in the 1990s, had been accused of assaults; despite a criminal investigation that ended with Foley being fired as a chaplain by the state police and as a parish pastor by the Hartford archdiocese, he was never charged with anything (WebCite cached article). Foley went on to abuse more children afterward. The state police went so far as to allow him to drive a police cruiser, complete with lights, sirens and police-radio scanners, even though he was no longer a chaplain (cached) … and despite the fact that, had he remained a chaplain, he still wasn’t legally entitled to drive such a vehicle!

Another example of criminal-justice officials being complicit in a priest evading prosecution, came to light recently in Canada. The Canadian Press reports via the CBC about this cringe-worthy story that dates back to 1995 (cached):

A priest who this week is to face 76 sex charges involving Inuit children might have been tried years ago but for a quiet nod from Canada that allowed him to leave the country, says a church leader.

Georges Vervust is the top official with the Belgian Oblates, an order of Catholic priests that sent Eric Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut.

Vervust sheds light on questions that have troubled Dejaeger’s alleged victims for nearly a decade: How was a man facing child abuse charges allowed to leave the country days before his trial? And why did it take so long for him to be returned?

“What I have heard is that he got advice from people from the Justice Department, off the record, that he should leave,” Vervust said in a Belgian documentary. He confirmed his comments to The Canadian Press.

The CP goes on to tell the details of this story. It includes evasiveness and excuse-making by Justice officials at that time, including whines about being understaffed and the charges against Dejaeger not being a big deal. Ultimately, Dejaeger ended up on trial for his abuse many years after he fled the country, not because anyone in Canada bothered tracking him down, but quite accidentally:

In the end, it was an immigration violation, not an extradition order, that brought him back to face the charges he ran away from 18 years ago.

Dejaeger was eventually returned in January 2011 when a Belgian journalist realized that Dejaeger had lost his Belgian citizenship in 1977 when he became a naturalized Canadian. He had been living in Belgium since 1995 without a visa and was kicked out.

As I said, it’s not possible for the Church to have gotten away with child abuse, over the course of decades and in so many places around the world, if people around the Church weren’t willing to let them get away with it. At this point, societal collaboration with the Church appears much less of a problem than it once was, but it’s something we must always guard against.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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

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L. Leonard Ruben District CourthouseI can’t stress enough how counter-productive and even directly harmful metaphysics can be. Lots of people ask, “What’s the harm in metaphysical beliefs?” Most of the time the answer is, “Not much.” The problem is, that answer is, by itself, not enough. A proper answer would be, “Not much … except on occasions when it can injure or kill.” WJLA-TV in Washington DC reports on precisely one such occasion (WebCite cached article):

Police have now charged two women with murder in the deaths of two children in Germantown and say the defendants were attempting to perform an exorcism.

Saturday morning, the children’s mother, Zakieya Latrice Avery, 28, was charged then Saturday afternoon, Monifa Denise Sanford, age 21, was arrested and charged after she was released from the hospital.

On Friday, Montgomery County police officers responded to the 19000 block of Cherry Bend Drive where they discovered four children had been assaulted. Two of the children were pronounced dead on scene and the other two were transported to an area hospital.

Here’s video of the station’s report:

It’s a good thing this happened in Maryland and not Texas, because had this happened in the Lone Star State, these two women wouldn’t have been prosecuted; injuring, and presumably even killing, someone during an exorcism is perfectly legal there (cached).

If the defendants’ public defenders* are smart, they’ll reach out to the Rutherford Institute, Liberty Counsel, or the Thomas More Law Center to defend their religious-freedom rights to harm or kill in the name of their Jesus. Any or all of those groups could plug up this case in court for decades, if they work at it. And the state of Maryland will no doubt end up paying the hundreds of thousands of dollars this protracted legal process will cost.

Maybe it’s time for those who believe in various packages of metaphysics, to start reining in their co-believers. These sorts of excesses aren’t new; killing people, especially kids, for Jesus happens far more often than it ought to. How many more such cases are needed, before someone figures out there’s a problem here, that really needs to be fixed?

* I assume these women won’t be able to afford their own lawyers.

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Vatican flag (8583012024)A U.N. commission has been investigating how the Holy See handled child-abuse allegations within its ranks. This might sound as though something might actually be done about the worldwide priestly pedophilia scandal, but it won’t, because the U.N. is perhaps the single most ineffective institution on the planet. There really isn’t a whole lot the U.N. can do to the Vatican, even if it wished to, and odds are, it won’t wish to do anything. Even so, an investigation of any kind always has the potential to reveal something.

A hearing held today did just that. It shone a rather harsh and unflattering light on the Vatican’s evasiveness — which has been an ongoing problem for this U.N. commission (WebCite cached article). CNN reports on the proceedings (cached):

A senior Vatican official acknowledged Thursday there is “no excuse” for child sex abuse, as he and others were grilled by a U.N. committee about the Catholic Church’s handling of pedophile priests.

It’s the first time the Vatican has been forced to answer allegations so publicly that it enabled the sexual abuse of children by protecting such priests.

The committee questioned a handful of Vatican officials — including Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, and Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former chief sex-crimes prosecutor — for several hours Thursday in Switzerland.

The really interesting bit came from Scicluna, who hurled the problem of Catholic clerical child abuse right back at the governments of countries in which it operates:

Scicluna said he was there to say that “the Holy See ‘gets it’ ” with regard to the issue and that no one should stand in the way of the prosecution of abusive priests.

“Let’s not say too late or not,” he said. “But there are certain things that need to be done differently. I would talk about cover-up, for example, because this is a very important concern.”

States “need to take action against citizens of the country who obstruct justice in such an egregious crime as sexual abuse of minors, whoever these people are,” Scicluna said.

Scicluna is saying the problem lies not in anything the Church did or didn’t do, including covering up abuse, but rather, insinuates that it’s “states” which were the ones engaged in cover-ups. I’d say one could call this the definition of chutzpah, especially since the Church previously has been shown to have ordered its hierarchs not to cooperate with secular investigations.

Wow. I mean, just “wow.”

Scicluna went on to deny that priest shuffling — a frequent Church practice documented as having occurred around the world — ever happened:

As for priests who have committed sexual abuse of minors, the Holy See has made clear in a letter to bishops that it is “a no-go simply to move people from one place to another, from one diocese to another” without being open about their backgrounds, Scicluna said.

I can’t really say any of this surprises me. Although the Vatican has said that it “gets” the scandal, its officials’ words just keep reflecting the perpetually evasive tactics the hierarchs have always used in the past. Very little has changed, except for the fact that guys like Scicluna and Tomasi have been directly confronted and dressed down in a manner that’s never happened before. That much, at least, is quite welcome.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Jesus playing football, via The Biblical WorldNote: This post has been updated to mention comments made by UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

My alma mater‘s train-wreck of a football team just got its second total shake-up in 3 years, when Bob Diaco was hired as the new head coach (WebCite cached article), and the rest of the coaching staff was replaced. Among Diaco’s new staff is running backs coach Ernest Jones, who in a Hartford Courant profile on Sunday, explained that he’ll make Jesus the team’s focus (cached):

Many of the players on the team have a spiritual base.

“Just because you come to the University of Connecticut doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to pursue your faith,” Jones said. “No, you’re going to be able to come here and love the God that you love. So we provide opportunities for them to grow spiritually in our community. So I’ll get out and meet some people in the community so when this young man, for example, says, ‘I’m a Seventh Day Adventist or I’m a Catholic or I’m a Baptist or I’m a Jehovah’s Witness,’ well, OK, here you go. And we’re going to do things in our building, fellowship, non-denominational type things, players, coaches. We’re going to make sure they understand that Jesus Christ should be in the center of our huddle, that that’s something that is important. If you want to be successful and you want to win, get championships then you better understand that this didn’t happen because of you. This happened because of our Lord and Savior. That’s going to be something said by Bob Diaco. That’s something that’s going to be said by Ernest Jones. That’s who we are.”

I really love how this guy concedes that members of his team can be Catholic, Baptist, or Jehovah’s Witnesses … any kind of Christian who acknowledges Jesus as “our Lord and Savior.” This pretty much leaves out Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. and non-believers too. Those guys, I guess, can’t sign up for UConn football — not with Jones on the coaching staff, anyway.

This caused a little bit of an uproar, I guess, because today, the Courant published a blog post “clarifying” what Jones said (locally-cached article):

In the end Jones just wants the players on the team to have a good sense of morals in addition to being solid football players.

We need to be clear on this though and here’s a clarification, what Jones meant: if a player has a need to be in touch spiritually, whichever direction that is, the player will be able to reach out to Jones and he will be able to point him — or them — in the right direction; that you don’t have to disconnect from your faith — if you’re faith-based — because you’re away from home.

That sounds all well and good, I suppose … except for three tiny little problems: First, this “clarification” doesn’t mesh with Jones’s original words. As reported, he specifically and explicitly mentioned that Jesus Christ, not some other deity, was required to “be in the center of [UConn's] huddle.” He didn’t say “Jesus Christ, or whoever or whatever the players worship, should be in the center of our huddle.” Second, Jones’s statement wasn’t predicated on whether or not a player has a wish for spirituality; he clearly said that the entire team had to focus on Jesus. That obviously means every player, not just those who are Christian, or even just those with a spiritual inclination. Third, this clarification didn’t come from Jones himself; beat writer Desmond Conner wrote it for him. The clarification is Conner’s, not Jones’s, so we have no idea whether or not Jones actually thought better of what he’d said during the interview, or for that matter whether or not Jones is even aware of the controversy he kicked up. It’s possible Jones has taken the cowardly route, hiding behind Conner, unwilling to go on the record as admitting he said anything inappropriate, and hoping a reporter can make this go away for him.

I note that the Courant also released UConn president Susan Herbst’s comments — this time, quoting her directly rather than writing for her (locally-cached):

But it should go without saying that our employees cannot appear to endorse or advocate for a particular religion or spiritual philosophy as part of their work at the university, or in their interactions with our students. This applies to work-related activity anywhere on or off campus, including on the football field. Our Athletic Director and Coach Diaco agree wholeheartedly with me, and have made this clear to their staff.

What a mess. It’s been made even more of a mess than it needed to be, by virtue of the total silence of Jones himself. Where has the Christianist weasel been, the last couple days? No one, aside maybe from Desmond Conner, knows.

Photo credit: The Biblical World.

P.S. The typos in some of the Courant articles linked above, such as an extraneous semicolon in one headline, are as published. Editing is given short shrift at the nation’s oldest continuously-published newspaper.

Update: The incredibly successful — not to mention sometimes-brutally-frank — Geno Auriemma, UConn’s women’s basketball coach, had a little to say about this controversy (cached):

“I don’t give a [expletive] about religion when it comes to sports,” Auriemma said. “In fact, I think it’s stupid [to involve it]. I get a kick out of those who go on national television and thank God [for giving them the strength to perform]. Like God gives a [expletive] that you made 18 jumpers. I have always had a problem with that [thinking]. I don’t think people should show their religious belief in public. I have a real problem with it. And I don’t care what religion it is.

The Courant provides video of his comments, which for some reason I can’t embed here (even though the site offers embed code … WTF?).

Auriemma makes an excellent point about whether God cares if “you made 18 jumpers.” Think about this for a moment: Why would the Almighty give a shit about a basketball game, or football game … or any other kind of athletic contest? Why would s/he/it care if a player scored 8 points, or 10, or 12? What could that possibly mean to an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal and infinite being? Wouldn’t s/he/it have better things with which to concern him/her/itself?

If you ask me, if Geno Auriemma — who’s arguably the most successful coach currently working in American college sports — doesn’t think religion should be linked to athletics and doesn’t care about his players’ religion(s), that ought to be tell you something. It might not prove anything all by itself, but it is a meaningful perspective by someone who truly knows the issue.

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