crying babyIt’s become cliché: Every time there’s a massacre somewhere — especially in a school — Christofascists line up to blame it on people refusing to believe what they believe. The latest example of this tired act comes in the wake of the Arapahoe High School shooting, and was penned by Denver-area pastor R. Loren Sandford, for Charisma News (WebCite cached article):

Why? These things never happened a generation ago, when, whether or not we really lived it, our nation at least acknowledged God and our families for the most part remained whole. I want to scream, “America! Wake up!” I have unhappily prophesied in writing that we are witnessing the catastrophic collapse of a once-great culture and our children are paying the price. I warned in my annual prophetic word just a few weeks ago of the rising tide of hatred around us that will surface in many arenas of life. This shooting is a manifestation of that hatred which inevitably results when a nation forgets its rightful Lawgiver and turns from His principles that were given to ensure the well-being of all God’s creation.

Note that Sandford’s claim that “these things never happened a generation ago,” is a lie. School shootings have happened right through the nation’s history. In fact, one of the most infamous of them occurred before America’s independence, during the Pontiac’s Rebellion. And the single worst school massacre (a bombing, not a shooting) took place in 1927. There’s actually a long and sad tradition of such events, which took place both before and after Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), which Sandford may or may not be alluding to (although 1962-63 was a lot more than “a generation ago”).

The rest of Sandford’s screed includes more tired whines, such as that there can be no morality apart from his Jesus, which is just not the case, no matter how often Christianists like him keep repeating it. Unfortunately for them, no amount of repetition can ever make that assertion magically come true.

In any event, if Pastor Sandford is so convinced that non-belief is the culprit here — rather than sociopathy — and that the entire country is obligated to believe in his Jesus, then I invite him to begin with little old me. Track me down, Pastor, and force me to convert (back) to charismatic Christianity. Go ahead. I dare you. Give it your best shot! Given your stated thinking, you have no reason not to do so … not to mention, my explicit invitation to try … so get to it already! You won’t be able to convert me, but you can sure do your best! Why would you not, Pastor? Are you too cowardly to try?

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Photo credit: Ernesto JT, via Flickr.

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Between masses at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Archbishop John Nienstedt spoke directly to the media for the first time in months. / Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star-Tribune.Note: There’s been an update to this story; see below.

I’ve blogged already about Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul & Minneapolis, who may have been behind the destruction of a computer that had belonged to a pedophile priest, before police could get their hands on it. At the moment, though, rather than protecting a cleric who’s been accused of impropriety, as the Religion News Service reports, he’s the target of such an accusation himself (WebCite cached article):

Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, already under fire for failing to take action against priests suspected of abuse, announced Tuesday (Dec. 17) that he is stepping aside temporarily after a minor accused the outspoken archbishop of touching his buttocks during a group photo after a 2009 confirmation ceremony.

In what he called “a difficult letter for me to write,” Nienstedt says he learned of the allegation during the weekend. He said he does not know the young man and he presumes his accuser to be “sincere in believing what he claims.”

Nienstedt denies the allegation, and insists any contact during picture-taking was innocent … which may well be the case … but the fact that he stepped aside, at least temporarily, is significant.

The RNS article goes on to explain that, over the past weekend, Nienstedt had “apologized” for his weak handling of priestly pedophilia claims in his archdiocese. He claims he’d been assured things were well in hand, when he took office, so he blithely assumed they were — but in fact, they weren’t. I don’t buy that excuse, though, and neither should you: He became archbishop in 2008, some 5 years after the priestly-pedophilia scandal had blown up in the U.S., with new revelations still trickling out all over the place. Nienstedt cannot reasonably have been unaware that problems might have continued to lurk within his archdiocese. It just doesn’t make any sense for him to have assumed that, at that time.

Update: The Catholic News Service reports police have cleared Nienstedt and he’s returned to his job (cached).

Photo credit: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

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Imagine No ReligionIn news that’s sure to ignite the rage and fury of religionists throughout the country, a Harris poll shows that religious belief is declining in the U.S. (WebCite cached article):

A new Harris Poll finds that while a strong majority (74%) of U.S. adults do believe in God, this belief is in decline when compared to previous years as just over four in five (82%) expressed a belief in God in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Also, while majorities also believe in miracles (72%, down from 79% in 2005), heaven (68%, down from 75%), that Jesus is God or the Son of God (68%, down from 72%), the resurrection of Jesus Christ (65%, down from 70%), the survival of the soul after death (64%, down from 69%), the devil, hell (both at 58%, down from 62%) and the Virgin birth (57%, down from 60%), these are all down from previous Harris Polls.

Belief in Darwin’s theory of evolution, however, while well below levels recorded for belief in God, miracles and heaven, is up in comparison to 2005 findings (47%, up from 42%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 by Harris Interactive.

I can hear Christianists’ bellicose, sanctimonious whining now: People are worshipping Darwin instead of our Gawd! they’ll shriek. I know I’ll be chuckling when I see/hear it!

The news isn’t entirely good, however. An awful lot of Americans cling to a wide range of other nutty metaphysical and/or irrational notions:

The survey also finds that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts, 36% each believe in creationism and UFOs, 29% believe in astrology, 26% believe in witches and 24% believe in reincarnation — that they were once another person.

42% believing in ghosts? That’s almost half the country believing in something that doesn’t exist!

I note that the Harris Poll story refers to “belief in UFOs” … but what they really mean is “belief in extraterrestrial visitors to earth,” because no one questions that “UFOs” (i.e. “unidentified flying objects”) exist. People do occasionally see flying things they can’t readily identify. What they don’t see, are extraterrestrial craft breezing through the atmosphere.

I note that Harris admits these results were drawn solely from online respondents. As such, they may well reflect the beliefs of Internet-connected Americans; but it can’t be safely assumed they reflect the beliefs of the entire population. So everyone — myself included! — must take this report with more than a grain of salt.

Photo credit: JasonTomm, via Flickr.

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Urban Outfitters' Ganesh Sock / screen shot via HuffPoNormally, if I blog about some religious group outraged over something a corporation did, you’d think the outrage would have come from Christians … as happened, for example, over Super Bowl ads or saying “Merry Christmas” in stores. It’s so common as to be cliché. And at this point, hardly noteworthy.

But the latest example of religious folks being infuriated by a company, has nothing to do with Christians or Christianity. Instead, it’s Hindus who’ve got their knickers in knots. Huff reports that Urban Outfitters is being targeted, over socks it sold bearing a Hindu deity’s image (WebCite cached article):

[Urban Outfitters] is in hot water over $8 socks featuring the Hindu deity Ganesh. The “UO Exclusive” has prompted President of the Universal Society of Hinduism Rajan Zed to release a statement decrying the use of the religious symbol and asking Urban Outfitters to remove the socks from its site.

“Lord Ganesh was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be wrapped around one’s foot,” the statement reads.

The article was updated to note the company’s response, which was to apologize and pull the product from their shelves and Web site.

Here, then, is an example of people expecting those who don’t adhere to their religion, to adhere to its strictures. And for once, it comes from outside the Abrahamic religious tradition. Even so, how reasonable an expectation is that? Do they really think marketing personnel at Urban Outfitters … who, odds are, aren’t Hindus … should know what Hindu beliefs are about putting their deities’ images on socks, and then proactively decide to obey them?

It would help if people would just lighten up, fercryinoutloud, and get over themselves already. This isn’t the first time UO has run into this sort of outrage, and given how sanctimonious people can be, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

For the record, as an Irish-American, I find the shirts they sold a year and a half ago around St Patrick’s Day, that said “Irish I Were Drunk,” hilarious and have no objection to them at all (cached). So yes, I can and do practice what I preach … !

Photo credit: Huffington Post.

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Pope Francis greets crowds during a papal mass marking the closing of the Year of Faith. Francesco Zizola—NOOR for TIME.Just a few months into his new job, Pope Francis has managed to piss off a lot of folks. A couple weeks ago, he touched off a shitstorm over his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (locally-saved PDF). Plutocratic Rightists like little Rushie Limbaugh rather famously went berserk over the “pure Marxism” contained within it (cached).

Well, all of that was just compounded by Time naming Francis 2013’s Person of the Year (cached).

As I type this, the Religious Right in the U.S. is still pitching apoplectic fits over Time‘s decision. They will, no doubt, be totally uninterested in the reasoning behind Time‘s decision, explained by managing editor Nancy Gibbs (cached). They already have a ready explanation — “media bias” — and will petulantly refuse to listen to anything else.

Among the bellicose whines I’ve already caught wind of, is this one from Glenn Beck (cached). Ah yes, Glennie. That’s the way. Hurl that “fascist” label at anyone who says anything you dislike … without regard for the fact that you are, yourself, a fascist (a Christofascist, to be exact).

I’m not sure yet what to make of Pope Francis. And I’m not sure if he truly merits the award Time gave him (like a lot of others, I lean in the direction of Edward Snowden). But I definitely find the R.R.’s meltdowns over the things he’s said and done since taking office, quite entertaining.

Photo credit: Francesco Zizola—NOOR for TIME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hat tip: Raw Story, via RationalWiki.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: louisepalanker, via Flickr.

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