Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

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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Ten Commandments, BaldockThe Religious Right has long waged a fierce, active campaign to get Ten Commandments idols in or around courthouses, public schools, town halls, public parks, etc. They’re obsessed with it, for some reason, viewing Decalogue monuments has having some kind of magical power to make their communities better places. About the only power they have is to provide emotional reassurance in the face of the personal insecurity inherent in clinging to a package of metaphysical beliefs that have no demonstrable basis. Beyond that, Decalogue idols accomplish nothing whatsoever … aside maybe from making it clear to any and all non-Abrahamic believers that they’re neither wanted nor welcome.

The latest battle in militant Christianists’ ongoing war to get Decalogue monuments put up everywhere comes from the home state of Judge Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser (WebCite cached article):

The House Judiciary Committee passed a constitutional amendment without discussion or debate that would allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in public buildings and schools.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Duwayne Bridges, R-Valley, stipulates that the commandments could be displayed unabridged or unrestrained on public property as long as it’s in compliance with constitutional requirements.

Text of HB 45 can be obtained here (cached).

The ACLU doesn’t understand the need for this law, but that doesn’t faze R.R. activists, who insist it’s necessary as a proactive measure against imagined persecutory “judicial activism”:

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said the reason for the bill is that courts, over and over again, are ruling that you can’t display the Ten Commandments. He said they’re the foundation to the laws of our nation and society and should be allowed to be on display.

There are lots of problems with this Christofascist movement to put up as many Decalogue monuments in as many government facilities as possible. Because this is ongoing Religious Right campaign, I created a static page on this blog that describes the many different problems with it. In brief, it’s unconstitutional; all such displays are by nature sectarian; they’re clear violations of the Abrahamic religions’ injunctions against idolatry (included within the Ten Commandments themselves); they’re also forms of public piety which Jesus clearly forbid to all his followers; and because Christians building them violates the very religion they claim to believe in, doing so is a kind of hypocrisy, which Jesus also explicitly forbid them ever to engage in. As such, this is actually an un-Christian effort.

Note, too, that Christians demanding that Decalogue idols be put up all over the place, is itself a kind of activism, whereas they intend this law to block judicial activism they disapprove of. In other words, they’re happy to engage in their own form of activism but condemn all other forms of activism. Hypocrisy, thy name is “Christianist”!

Photo credit: TheRevSteve, via Flickr.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Bob Jones University, Front Campus FountainThere are a number of evangelical Protestant colleges in the U.S., and Bob Jones University in South Carolina is one of the strangest and most controversial of them. It resisted admitting blacks until long after other major schools in that state had started admitting them, and even after that, it maintained a ban on interracial dating that lasted until 2000. In the 1970s the school fought a legal battle to retain its tax-exempt status, and ultimately lost. It’s also remarkably anti-Catholic (although this is in keeping with its Protestant evangelical origins). In spite of the controversy that swirled around it, BJU incubated more than a few Republican presidential campaigns.

But now BJU has found itself embroiled in yet another controversy. As the New York Times reports, this involves sexual-abuse reports on campus and the manner in which BJU dealt with them … or, rather, how it refused to deal with them (WebCite cached article):

For decades, students at Bob Jones University who sought counseling for sexual abuse were told not to report it because turning in an abuser from a fundamentalist Christian community would damage Jesus Christ. Administrators called victims liars and sinners.

All of this happened until recently inside the confines of this insular university, according to former students and staff members who said they had high hopes that the Bob Jones brand of counseling would be exposed and reformed after the university hired a Christian consulting group in 2012 to investigate its handling of sexual assaults, many of which occurred long before the students arrived at the university.

Last week, Bob Jones dealt a blow to those hopes, acknowledging that with the investigation more than a year old and nearing completion, the university had fired the consulting group, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment, or Grace, without warning or explanation. The dismissal has drawn intense criticism from some people with ties to Bob Jones, and prompted some victims and their allies — including many who were interviewed by Grace investigators — to tell their stories publicly for the first time, attracting more attention than ever to the university’s methods.

The management of BJU apparently had differences of opinion with Grace. They claim to have wanted to resolve these differences … but one wonders what that means, given how they chose to go about it:

[BJU president Stephen Jones] said the university had not told Grace what its concerns were and wanted to discuss them with the consultant but could do so only face to face and felt compelled to fire the firm first.

“We terminated our agreement with Grace so that we could sit down and get it back on track,” Mr. Jones said, vowing to complete the investigation, with or without Grace.

I honestly don’t understand how they were forced to fire their own chosen investigators in order to get the investigation going again. This is mind-boggling gibberish.

Also, rather strangely, it’s not just on-campus abuse that BJU tried to squash:

But at Bob Jones, most of the stories that have been made public do not involve assaults on campus. They are about people who were abused as children and then looked for help in college.

Honestly, this too is mind-boggling. Why would BJU object to its students seeking help for abuse that occurred years before? Why would they get in the way of it? How could they find that unacceptable?

At any rate, the firing of Grace has blown the lid off the situation at BJU, and people are now talking about how the university handles sexual abuse cases. The Times reports:

“They said not to go to the police because no one will believe you, to defer to authority like your father or especially someone in the church,” she said. “They said if you report it, you hurt the body of Christ.”

Now, maybe it’s just because I’m a cynical godless agnostic heathen, but I’m not quite sure how “the body of Christ” can be “hurt.” I mean, Christ is God, is he not? Can God be hurt at all? How, exactly, does that work?

I note that running interference for sexual abusers, and the pressure on victims not to report it, in the name of protecting “the body of Christ,” is nearly the same as what we find occurred in the priestly-pedophilia scandal. Yes, folks, it does happen in places other than the Roman Catholic Church. It really, truly, absolutely is not just a Catholic problem — and I’ve never once said it wasn’t (even if Catholicism’s apologists may claim otherwise). But that it happens elsewhere still doesn’t mean it should happen anywhere, especially at the hands of people who claim to be doing God’s work and promoting morality.

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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St. Peter's Basilica, VaticanI’ve blogged many times already about how the Roman Catholic Church blames the worldwide Catholic clerical abuse scandal on anyone and everyone other than itself or its own personnel. The blame-game is old and tired, but it seems the Church just won’t give up playing it. The latest example of this comes in the wake of a UN committee’s report on how the Vatican obstructed justice and aided abusive clergy around the world for decades. As the AP reports via CBC News, the Vatican denounced this report, blaming its content on “pro-gay ideologues” (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican “systematically” adopted policies that allowed priests to rape and molest tens of thousands of children over decades, a UN human rights committee said Wednesday, urging the Holy See to open its files on pedophiles and bishops who concealed their crimes.

In a devastating report hailed by abuse victims, the UN committee severely criticized the Holy See for its attitudes toward homosexuality, contraception and abortion and said it should change its own canon law to ensure children’s rights and their access to health care are guaranteed.

The Vatican promptly objected and its UN ambassador accused the committee of having betrayed the international body’s own objectives by allowing itself to be swayed by pro-gay ideologues. He said it appeared the committee simply hadn’t listened when the Holy See outlined all the measures it has taken to protect children.

The Vatican’s reasoning here is absurd: They’re saying they shouldn’t be held accountable for child abuse and obstruction of justice in the past, because they’re better about them, now. Applied elsewhere, this sort of thinking would promptly be dismissed as ridiculous. For example, take a guy arrested for a murder a couple years after it happened; should he be able to insist that he shouldn’t be prosecuted for it, because he hadn’t killed anyone since then?

As usual, the R.C. Church once again complains it’s being attacked; in this case by these “pro-gay ideologues” who, they think, are trying to destroy them. This latest whine is just one more example of the Church’s denials: They continue to insist their clergy never abused any kids and their hierarchs never protected them. It’s all fabricated. The Church, its spokesmen, and defenders have cited plenty of other bogeymen in the past, ranging from “masonic secularists” to the Jews to the Devil, and even to the abuse victims themselves.

Clearly the Church hierarchy is committed to its ongoing plan to repeatedly deny and blame, deny and blame, then deny and blame some more. They cannot and will not admit fault, nor will they willingly allow themselves to be held accountable for what they did. Nevertheless, they claim to be the world’s sole remaining arbiter of morality. That’s the sort of hypocrisy that their own Jesus explicitly condemned … but like most Christians, they happily engage in it anyway.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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

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This 2011 file photo shows the Cathedral of St. Helena in Helena, Mont. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 31 in advance of proposed settlements for two lawsuits that claim clergy members sexually abused 362 people over decades and the church covered it up. (Photo: Ron Zellar, AP)For what I believe is the tenth time over the last decade, yet another Roman Catholic diocese has been forced to declare bankruptcy, in the face of allegations it allowed its clergy to abuse children. As USA Today reports, this would be the Helena, MT diocese (WebCite cached article):

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena planned to file for bankruptcy protection Friday as part of a proposed settlement of $15 million for hundreds of victims who say clergy members sexually abused them over decades while the church covered it up.

Diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said the bankruptcy reorganization plan comes after confidential mediation sessions with the plaintiffs’ attorneys and insurers, resulting in the deals to resolve the abuse claims.

Those bastions of Christian charity managed to hand off most of the bill for this:

The church anticipates paying at least $2.5 million of the costs, with the rest paid by insurers, which were part of the settlement talks, he said. Bartleson said the diocese does not expect to have to liquidate any of its assets or close any programs because of the filing.

Gee, how convenient … no? In this case the Church managed, successfully, to prevent its personnel from being prosecuted, and avoided most of the payout to victims.

Photo credit: Ron Zellar/AP, via USA Today.

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

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