Cocke-county-tennessee-courthouseSome parents have been known to give their kids really odd names. We hear about this mostly in the celebrity world; e.g. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West naming their daughter North (so she’ll be “North West”). There are, however, countless other stupid child names given to much-less-famous people, including some so bad that they end up becoming famous for them (e.g. neo-Nazi Heath Campbell naming his son Adolf Hitler).

Even so, I’ve never heard of family-court judges intervening and altering a child’s lousy name … until now. As WBIR-TV in Knoxville TN reports, a judge there took it upon herself to change a boy’s name from “Messiah” (WebCite cached article):

A Newport mother is appealing a court’s decision after a judge ordered her son’s name be changed from “Messiah.”

Jaleesa Martin and the father of Messiah could not agree on a last name, which is how they ended up at a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court on Thursday.

That is when the first name came into question.…

The name change was part of Judge Ballew’s case; however, the parents did not think the first name would be changed.

Judge Ballew ordered the 7-month-old’s name be “Martin DeShawn McCullough.” It includes both parent’s last names but leaves out Messiah.

Ballew explained her reason for making this unasked-for change, and it was solely religious:

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Judge Ballew said.

WBIR-TV’s video report is right here:

I can think of lots of people who would disagree with Ballew, including (and perhaps especially) Jews, who some two and a half millennia ago invented the notion and title of “messiah” and who think no one, not even Jesus Christ, has yet earned that moniker. (I admit it’s possible they might be offended by naming a child “Messiah,” but for their own reasons. But I don’t know that for sure.)

I don’t think it’s wise to name a child “Messiah,” myself, mostly because so many other people in his life are going to get their knickers in knots over it — just as Ballew clearly did. Which, of course, would only be the result of their own irrational metaphysics; but it’s still not something a boy ought to pay the price for, his whole life.

Note: See two salient comments below for clarification of Jewish views of the Messiah and on people with that name. It turns out my half-hearted conjecture was incorrect. My thanks to both commenters.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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People who got out of their cars form a line to get a look at the cross atop the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Sandor Bodo/The Providence Journal)Once again we have yet another example of a Virgin Mary sighting. And once again, people line up to gawk at this claimed apparition. This time, as reported by The Providence Journal, it’s atop a church in North Providence, RI (WebCite cached article):

A steady stream of people gathered Friday in the rain at the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to witness what some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.

“It’s her. It’s amazing,” said Zumma Canedo, of North Providence.

Canedo, a native of Bolivia, said she had prayed the rosary while standing in the rain outside the church on Mineral Spring Avenue. “She’s saying something,” Canedo said.

A darker profile, interpreted by believers as that of the Virgin Mary, can be seen against the gray copper cross atop the church. Bystanders remarked that the profile did not fade despite the pouring rain.

Imagine that! Stains in a metal cross don’t fade in the rain! How fucking impressive is that!? (Answer: It’s not!) Oh, and not only does the Virgin Mary deign to appear on this cross, she’s talking to people, too! I’d love to hear a recording of what she said … if one exists (and I suspect it doesn’t).

Here’s the cross in question, adorned with this presumed Virgin Mary:

Some people are claiming to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary in a cross outside the the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in North Providence. (Sandor Bodo/The Providence Journal)

Some people are claiming to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary in a cross outside the the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in North Providence. (Sandor Bodo / The Providence Journal)

I’m sorry to report, as with so many of the other Virgin Mary apparitions I’ve blogged about, I just don’t see it. Maybe that’s because I’m a cold-hearted, cynical, godless agnostic heathen and am just not capable of perceiving such important and other-worldly things.

Only at the very end of the article does the ProJo concede this might not be what people say it is:

Brian Dowling, associate director at The Steel Yard, a nonprofit community arts program in Providence, said the discoloration is probably a chemical reaction.

“Like patina,” Dowling said referring to the tarnish that forms on copper from oxidation and other chemical reactions. Copper, Dowling said, yields a wide spectrum of colors, from greens to browns to reds.

While this might seem a reasonable explanation that can satisfy rational people, ardent believers will, no doubt, reject it out-of-hand without admitting it even as a remote possibility. Absolutely nothing gets in the way of them arriving at the conclusion they’re determined to arrive it. Not even facts to the contrary … including the fact that all copper items left outdoors long enough will, inevitably, show stains and discolorations.

As I always do, I’ll remind my readers that this is nothing more or less than an example of pareidolia, or recognizing things in something that was otherwise randomly generated. It’s no different from seeing familiar people or objects in cloud formations, which many people — particularly kids — are wont to do, or seeing Richard Nixon in a potato. That’s all this is, folks. Really. Honest. Now go the hell home already and stop getting in the way of funeral processions, fercryinoutloud.

One more thing: This cross, stained to appear to some as though the Virgin Mary impressed her sacred image on it, is on top of a church. One called “the Church of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” no less! How do we know this image hadn’t been put there purposely by the church or its parishioners? We don’t, of course. Not at all! That said, I don’t believe this was purposeful, a hoax or a pious fraud. Had it been, a resemblance to the Virgin Mary would probably have been much clearer than this. All I’m doing is pointing out there are more than one fully non-supernatural explanations for this Marian apparition.

Photo credit (both): Sandor Bodo/The Providence Journal.

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Roma, sant'Anselmo all'Aventino, via Wikimedia CommonsI’ve blogged about the release of documents by the Catholic Church in Los Angeles. This was the result of a lawsuit settlement back in 2007. That’s right … 6 years ago, the Church agreed, presumably in good faith, to release these documents, but resisted doing so until this year. I admit I don’t really understand the logic of agreeing to release some documents, yet staunchly refusing to release them — but hey, I’m just a cynical, godless agnostic heathen, so what could I possibly know about such things?

At any rate, over 6 months after the archdiocese coughed up its records, some of the religious orders of L.A. released their own, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, they reveal how evasive and dodgy the Church hierarchy was (WebCite cached article):

Confidential personnel records from five Catholic religious orders were turned over to victims of sexual abuse Wednesday in the first wave of a court-ordered public disclosure expected to shed light on the role the groups, operating independently of the L.A. Archdiocese, played in the region’s clergy molestation scandal.

The documents pertain to a dozen priests, brothers and nuns accused of sexual misconduct in the landmark 2007 settlement with hundreds of people who filed abuse claims against the Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles. An additional 45 religious orders will release the personnel files of their accused clergy by this fall, completing what is believed to be the fullest accounting yet of the abuse crisis anywhere in the Catholic Church.

The orders’ officials used some rather novel strategies in order to avoid revealing anything or creating any sort of audit trail:

For the most part, the files have little or no reference to abuse allegations that surfaced in lawsuits a decade ago, suggesting the orders were either unaware of molestation claims or opted not to document them.

When matters of abuse were referenced, officials sometimes seemed reluctant to commit the ugly details to paper. In the case of Benedictine priest Mathias Faue, one supervisor wrote vaguely [cached] of “his problem” or “difficulty.” In the file of Oblate Father Ruben Martinez, an order official repeatedly switched to Japanese characters [cached] to note sensitive subjects, including his admissions of “homosexuality” and “relations with boys.”

This official must have thought he was really clever. As though no one could possibly have thought he was covering something up, or that no one who ever saw one of these documents might recognize Japanese characters.

Setting this revelation apart from many others, is that this one includes the records of abusive nuns:

Wednesday’s release also covers the Marianists, the Benedictines, the Oblates and two orders of nuns. The disclosures by the Cabrini Sisters and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet mark the first time in the L.A. litigation the files of women have been made public. The two nuns, who are deceased, were accused in lawsuits of sexually abusing students decades ago. Their files contained no information on misconduct allegations.

All by itself, strategies like writing comments in Japanese characters reveal, conclusively, that Catholic officials knew they were dealing, at best, with unsavory characters doing things that weren’t allowed; or at worst, with criminals committing crimes; and that they didn’t want anyone else to know about them. Even so, I’m sure the Catholic Church’s defenders will continue blaming others and making ridiculous excuses for this behavior, just as they’ve been doing all along. The cold fact, though, is that there is no reasonable excuse for this. Not one.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Islamic Center of Murfreesboro with flagI’ve blogged quite a few times about the mosque that was recently built in Murfreesboro, TN. Despite militant Christians having done everything in their power — both legal and illegal — to destroy it, the Islamic Center opened up anyway. Yet, Neocrusaders haven’t gotten over it. They still can’t handle that a bunch of insolent, reprobate Saracens dared open a mosque deep in the heart of their precious Bible Belt. They’ve gone to court over it, and despite having lost at every step, as the Associate Baptist Press reports, they’re demanding the Tennessee Supreme Court do their bidding for them (WebCite cached article):

Mosque opponents in Murfreesboro, Tenn., want the county to seize a newly constructed Islamic Center and turn it over to someone else.

J. Thomas Smith, an attorney for citizens asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court decision that allowed occupancy of the new 12,000-square-foot Islamic Center of Murfreesboro last November, told The Tennessean [cached] there would be several acceptable remedies should his clients prevail.

“I think the county would step in and have someone else take it over,” Smith said.

In their appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court (cached), the Neocrusaders accuse the ICM of being terrorists (see page 5), as the ABP explains:

While the lawsuit’s main argument is that citizens were denied proper notice to voice their objections before the project’s approval, it also objects to Corlew’s refusal to allow the testimony by two expert witnesses called to testify about alleged “Sharia-Jihad” risks related to the Islamic congregation that had been meeting in a smaller facility within Murfreesboro for about 30 years.

“The issue of the risk to public safety from the Sharia/Jihad teaching and practices of a regional Islamic training center such as the ICM was the major factual issue dealt with by the Court in its November 2010 opinion,” the Supreme Court document says.

This is, of course, a lie. The only threat to public safety in Murfreesboro, where the Islamic Center is concerned, has come instead from the ICM’s Christianist opponents:

Even before construction someone vandalized a sign at the future mosque site by spray painting it with the phrase “Not Welcome.” A second sign vandalism occurred later, and finally somebody set fire to heavy construction equipment parked on the lot for site clearing.

In 2011, the Islamic Center received a bomb threat in a profanity-laced phone call threatening that a bomb would be placed in the facility on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Christians calling the ICM a “threat to public safety” are, therefore, being hypocritical, feeling free to use violence to attempt to destroy the ICM — while at the same time accusing the ICM of being violent! Well done, guys. Really well done. You’ve got a heaping helping of chutzpah there!

A little note to all you angry Neocrusading Christians: I know it’s news to you, but your own Jesus ordered you never to be hypocritical. That’s right, you are not permitted to vocally condemn in others actions that you happily undertake, yourselves. Not at any time, and not for any reason. You cannot do it. Have a look at what your own Jesus said to you:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:3-5)

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. (Lk 6:42)

Those are Jesus’ orders to you. They are clear. There is no question about them. You can either follow them, or not. It’s entirely your choice. Just remember, though … refusing to obey your Jesus puts your mortal souls in peril. So I’d be real careful about that, if I were you.

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ZEALOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JESUS OF NAZARETH, by Reza Aslan, via Reza Aslan Web siteYou’d think people in the United States in the 21st century would be clear about “freedom of speech.” You’d think they’ve read the First Amendment and understand that, barring slander, libel, or extremes (such as the proverbial “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater”), people can say and/or write whatever they want to. You’d think they understand there are no controls on who can write about what. Americans learn about this in school and they have no excuse for not being aware of it.

But when the people you’re talking about are the Religious Right, all of that goes out the window. They get their self-righteous knickers in knots when certain people write about certain topics, sanctimoniously presuming the authority to pronounce certain topics off-limits to certain people.

A sterling example of this religionistic outrage involves scholar Reza Aslan, who wrote Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. As Slate reports, the problem here is that Aslan is (curses!) a Muslim (WebCite cached article):

Fox News anchor Lauren Green had religious scholar Reza Aslan on her show Friday to talk about Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, his book that has been stirring up some online controversy recently. And right off the bat, Green gets to what is important: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” Aslan seemed a little flabbergasted: “Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim.”…

Aslan has become the target of anti-muslim rhetoric this past week as he’s made numerous media appearances to publicize his book. Author and pastor John Dickerson harshly criticized media outlets on FoxNews.com [cached], saying reporters “have failed to mention [Aslan] is a devout Muslim.” In a piece for WorldNetDaily [cached], Pamela Geller writes that “jihadist operatives like the vicious Reza Aslan are carried on the shoulders of the media and intelligentsia like a football hero at the end of an impossibly fought game.” Many who share these views have taken to Amazon to give the book one-star reviews. Aslan “is a Muslim and not a historian,” reads one of the one-star reviews.

The train-wreck Fox News interview mentioned in the Slate report is available via Youtube:

For any other Religious Rightists who’re furious over this horrific Muslim-&-Mass-Media conspiracy to dis your precious Jesus, allow me to explain a few facts that I’m sure you’re unaware of:

  1. As I explained above, “freedom of speech” entitles any American Muslim to write about Jesus if s/he wants to, and there’s not one fucking thing you can do to stop it.
  2. Aslan is a multi-degreed academic, with expertise in religions (contrary to what some Amazon reviewers have said). He has the credentials to discuss the topic of Jesus competently. In fact, he has more credentials than the average Christian, to do so: The average Christian has no education in ancient history and does not know any Biblical languages.
  3. Muslims do, as it turns out, have a religious interest in Jesus, because they view him as a prophet. They don’t believe the same things about him that Christians do, but that doesn’t mean they have no interest in him or his teachings.
  4. Christians themselves have no reservations about discussing Islam and/or Muslims. Franklin Graham, for instance, has pontificated about Islam. And here’s a report about a conference where a whole bunch of Christians went to blather on at length about Islam and Muslims (cached).

Seems to me that any Christians who’re sanctimoniously enraged that an insolent “jihadist” Muslim dared write about their Jesus … and worse, that the mass media have insidiously conspired with him to cover this up … are being hypocritical, if they also feel free to call Mohammad a pervert (cached), or a cross-dresser (cached), a moon-worshipper (cached) … or any number of other disparaging claims. Those Christians need to crack open their Bibles for the first time and read about how their own Jesus clearly and explicitly forbid them ever to engage in any hypocritical behavior, and then just fucking stop already. Their childish act is wearing pretty thin.

Oh, and one last thing: This cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen also hosts a Web site concerning the early history of Christianity. Yes, that’s right. An insolent non-believer has dared write about your precious Jesus and the origins of the religion he supposedly founded. How awful of me!

Photo credit: Reza Aslan Web site.

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Tony anthonyStories about vicious reprobates — the more villanous, the better — being “reformed” by their miraculous faith in the Almighty, is something that warms the cockles of Christians’ hearts. They just love hearing about how the worst sorts of people are magically transformed into devout, loving Christians, merely by virtue of their having “accepted Jesus Christ as their ‘Personal Lord and Savior’™.” It also happens to be an extremely profitable business. More than a few speakers and authors have amassed fortunes on this meme.

Given the massive accolades and profits involved, it’s not surprising that more than a few of these well-known and wealthy authors, have turned out to be liars and con-artists. Among the most famous of these was Mike Warnke, the “Christian comedian” who, during the 70s and 80s, was a wildly popular preacher with his own ministry. His fame had been built on his Christian-bookstore staple The Satan Seller, his autobiography of having been a Satanic high priest who miraculously turned to Jesus and changed his ways completely. But Warnke’s career crashed and burned when, in 1992, the Christian magazine Cornerstone exposed his book as a tissue of lies.

Others have followed similar tracks, including Ergun Caner, a theologian I’ve blogged about, who claimed to have been raised as an devout Islamist fundamentalist but magically converted to Christianity. He and his brother wrote their own book, Unveiling Islam, based on their supposed experience. Most of it, though, turns out to be untrue; after being exposed, Caner eventually lost his job as head of Liberty University’s theology school.

It turns out there’s yet another best-selling liar for Jesus out there. As the (UK) Guardian reports, a book by a claimed killer-turned-evangelical-Christian also turns out to be fraudulent (WebCite cached article):

It was the autobiography that gave hope to hundreds of thousands and warmed the hearts of Christians.

Chronicling how a convicted criminal and martial arts fighter found redemption through God, Taming the Tiger had more than 1.5m copies distributed around the world while its author, Tony Anthony, become a sought-after speaker in schools and churches.

In the book, which carries the strapline “From the Depths of Hell to the Heights of Glory”, Anthony explains how he was taken to China by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master, and trained to become a martial arts champion. He then moved to Cyprus, where he became a bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats. “In the line of duty as a bodyguard, I killed people,” Anthony would tell church audiences. “I have broken more arms and legs than I care to remember.” Later he recounted how he found God while in prison in Nicosia after being convicted of theft.

The book was a phenomenon. It was translated into 25 languages and won the Christian Booksellers’ Convention Award in 2005.

But now, following a sustained internet campaign by a group of Christians who doubted Anthony’s claims almost from the start, it appears that little of the book is true.

Anthony was undone by one of his own: Mike Hancock, a director of his ministry, asked for verification of Anthony’s claims; after being rebuffed, he resigned. That triggered a review, which found a number of problems with the book, including the following:

Anthony claimed to be a three times world kung fu champion and tried to deflect suspicions that he had embellished his past by claiming that the competitions were so specialised they were not known to outsiders. But it emerged that some of the material was copied from a martial arts website. One passage was lifted from a book about Bruce Lee.

Anthony himself has said nothing. His ministry is closing down, but his publisher stands behind him:

In a statement, Anthony’s publisher, Authentic Media, said that it was withdrawing Taming the Tiger, a follow-up book, Cry of the Tiger, and a related DVD.

It said: “Tony strongly defends his story — though he acknowledges that the recent information that he has received about his early life requires him to update and clarify his story.”

There’s Christian morality for you. The publisher that’s made millions selling his book is not about to admit it contains demonstrable lies.

I have to give credit to the Christians who exposed Anthony as a fraud. They had the scruples to take on “one of their own” and wanted to set the record straight. Even so, there are too many other Christians who won’t even think twice about the lies of people like Anthony — or Caner or Warnke. They aren’t bothered by fraud, if it brings other people to God. They have an example of this in their own Bibles: Rahab the Harlot, a native of Jericho who was honored by the Hebrews and their god YHWH because she’d lied for them.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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And the Lord said, 'Duck your head!' / 'Prophet' Cindy Jacobs / from RWW videoThe Supreme Court’s decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional is a few weeks old. Even so, lots of Christianists continue to rage and fume about it. I’ve already blogged about some of their reactions, but they keep pitching fits. The latest example of this, as reported by Right Wing Watch, is a “prophet” who uses disaster theology to call catastrophe down onto the country (WebCite cached article):

Self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs delivered an ominous warning to America while speaking with fellow televangelist Jim Bakker, describing a message she received from God that the country will face divine punishment over the Supreme Court’s rulings on marriage equality. “Recently in the United States we’ve had these Supreme Court decisions that are against biblical marriage, and the Lord said to me, ‘duck your head, duck your head.’ I said, ‘oh God, duck my head?’”

RWW provides video of her idiotic blather via Youtube:

Sounds like a nightmarish prediction, doesn’t it? But believers like the Prophet Ms Jacobs need not worry. Just as he did prior to the Exodus, the Almighty plans to “mark” all his faithful so his divine wrath won’t wipe them out:

Jacobs asserted that God plans to “put a mark upon” believers — “as long as you’re tithing” — and bless them because “there’s a whole lot of shaking getting ready to happen.”

(Gee, I love how being a believer is all about “the tithing.”)

The Prophet Ms Jacobs claims she’d predicted Hurricane Sandy as a sign of the Almighty’s fury, hence, she insists she’ll be right this time, too.

Well, she will be! I have no doubt a hurricane will hit somewhere in the US this year. I also have no doubt there will be wildfires in the coming months. There might even be an earthquake. Or a bombing. Or a school shooting. Terrible events absolutely will happen.

And you know how I know this? Because … quite obviously! … they just naturally happen! I’m sure the Prophet Ms Jacobs knows this just as well as I do. Which is why she makes pronouncements like this … it gives her the (false) appearance of being an accurate “prophet” foretelling future events!

Photo credit: PsiCop original, based on still from RWW video via Youtube.

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