Columbo facepalm, via ButterfunkThe line between ideological ferocity and childishness is a thin one. It might even be so thin as to be non-existent. Consider that the very reason a lot of people cling to arbitrarily-assembled packages of notions is that they’re desperate for easy, simple answers to problems they find incredibly vexing. They can’t emotionally handle that they’re vexed, so they latch onto whatever they think explains why they’re vexed and grants them the right to tell everyone what to do about it … and to rage and fume at whoever it is they decide is vexing them.

After having spent about a decade as a Republican activist, I can tell you that a lot of these folks are very immature. But for those who haven’t dealt with these people as much as I have, it can be hard to see just how pervasive this immaturity is. Well, here’s an example that turns out to be very public. Time magazine reports on what someone did in the urinals at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference this weekend (WebCite cached article):

President Barack Obama made a cameo at a conservative conference in Washington on Friday—in the restroom.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference, which draws some of the biggest conservative icons and presidential hopefuls looking to make inroads with the grassroots, was heavy on criticism of Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda. And small figurines of Obama’s head, first spotted by the Huffington Post‘s Igor Bobic, were placed inside the urinals in the mens’ restroom outside the conference hall where the likes of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were addressing a crowd of several hundred.

Here’s the photo Bobic tweeted (cached):

'Scene from a Faith & Freedom restroom #RTM2014' / posted by Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) of Huffington Post, via Twitter

‘Scene from a Faith & Freedom restroom #RTM2014′ / by Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) of Huffington Post, via Twitter

Well done, guys. Really. I mean that. Thanks for putting your childishness on display for all to see. Now we truly know what sort of character you have … which is to say, you have none. You must be so proud!

Note, this example and discussion of Rightist immaturity shouldn’t be taken as an assertion that Leftists can’t be juvenile. Of course they can! A lot of them are. I don’t deny that at all. It’s just that, in this case, it’s Rightist childishness we’re talking about. And we’re talking about it in the context of a conference run by a religious organization, where one would expect attendees to behave with far more maturity than one would find elsewhere … since we all know that religion automatically makes adherents upright and moral.

Or does it … ? Hmm.

Not to mention, the fact that there are some immature Leftists doesn’t grant Rightists license also to be childish. To believe so is to fall for the “two wrongs make a right” fallacy.

Photo credit, top: Butterfunk; middle: Igor Bobic of HuffPo, via Twitter.

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Mehmet Oz - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012I’ve blogged a time or two about Dr Mehmet Oz, aka “Dr Oz.” His friendship with Oprah Winfrey has given him his own TV show and small media empire. Some of his medical advice is fine, however, he occasionally waxes rhapsodic over spurious remedies which — as a physician who heads a program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and who’s on the faculty of Columbia University — he has to know have no meaningful scientific support.

What Dr Oz doesn’t seem to have been aware of previously, and which was the subject of a Senate hearing yesterday, is that his words are grist for the mills of scammers, liars, cheats and con artists. As NBC News reports, Sen. Claire McCaskill in particular confronted him about this problem (WebCite cached article):

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who frequently extols weight-loss products on his syndicated television show, got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.

Oz was held up as the power driving many of the fraudulent ads, even as he argued he was himself the victim of the scammers. The hearing is a follow-up to the Federal Trade Commission’s crackdown last January against fake diet products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

Dr Oz’s defense is that he’s giving people “hope”:

Oz, a frequent guest on NBC’s TODAY show, admitted he uses “flowery” language on his shows, and said he realizes that the moment he recommends a product, the scammers use his words to sell spurious products. “I concede to my colleagues at the FTC that I am making their job more difficult,” he said.

But he said he has to be “passionate” to engage his audience. “When we write a script, we need to generate enthusiasm and engage the viewer,” Oz said.…

Oz said the products give people hope to keep trying to lose weight — something almost all experts agree is a very difficult thing to do. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.

Ah. So that makes it all better, I guess. Somehow. The Senator hit back on this point:

McCaskill asked why Oz didn’t use his show to promote what actually has been proven to help people lose weight — careful eating and exercise. “I want to see all that floweriness, all that passion, about the beauty of a walk at sunset,” she said.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of a few products that you have called miracles,” she added. “I just don’t understand why you need to go there … You are being made an example of today because of the power you have in this space.”

Of course, it’s not just green coffee bean extract which Dr Oz has touted. He’s pumped other things, too, such as magical pajamas. Yes, you read that right: Pajamas. Note, this recommendation wasn’t a general or generic one, like, “avoid salt” or “eat oranges.” It was a specific recommendation for a single, proprietary product known as “Goodnighties” (cached). Dr Oz also cooked up a weird, pseudo-scientific justification for believing in the claimed magical powers of Theresa Caputo, the so-called Long Island Medium. Pardon me while I laugh at the famed towering intellect of this academic-physician. I’m neither an academic nor a physician, yet I know there are no magical health-granting pajamas, and I also know that no one can talk with the dead.

Having said all of this, Dr Oz wasn’t the only one criticized at this Senate hearing, according to NBC News:

McCaskill also rebuked media companies that run the ads. “I find it troubling that broadcast and satellite radio witnesses who were asked to be here today were unwilling to appear. To me, this indicates that either there is something to hide or they don’t have a good story to tell,” she said.

The Senator has a good point. Media companies happily carry ads and promote shows that they, also, must know promote useless products. But they didn’t have the courage to appear before Congress and defend that practice. Hmm.

Although I’m gratified that the Senate held a hearing to expose this problem, I’d much rather they took meaningful action that would truly make things better. Perhaps the most important of those would be to repeal the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (aka the DSHEA). This act removed “dietary supplements” … which would include things like green coffee bean extract … from FDA oversight, thus creating a vast market for bogus products that are peddled behind cowardly little legalistic caveats like “not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” If any of these things actually did what their makers imply they do, it ought to be possible — if not trivial — to demonstrate it using the same sorts of studies which the FDA requires for pharmaceuticals. Sure, it’d cost money … but so what? We’re talking about people’s health here! Why is it so onerous or unreasonable to expect the makers of “herbal remedies” provide medical evidence for their claims, when we have no qualms about demanding the same in the case of pharmaceuticals? I don’t see how or why there should be any difference.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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When the Fail is so strong, one Facepalm is not enough / Picard & Riker / HaHaStop.ComNote: There’s been some news about this; please see below.

Once in a while some religious person or group does something in the name of his/her faith that’s simultaneously so ridiculous and surprising, that I’m rendered almost speechless by it. Today was one of these times. I read on the Friendly Atheist blog that Leadership Journal — a “sub-publication” (if you will) of Christianity Today — actually published a Christian youth pastor’s justification for having sexually abused one of his young charges (WebCite cached article). This confession/rationale is anonymous, of course … since, like most criminals of his kind, the creep is too much of a coward to take responsibility for anything and actually admit who he is. The crux of this creature’s admission is here:

A few years into my marriage and ministry I began to believe a lie. The realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home. From my perspective, I was excelling at work and at home—and this perceived lack of appreciation led me to believe I deserved more.

Meanwhile, there was someone else in my life that appreciated me very much—one my students. Seeking approval and appreciation, I gravitated toward her. Before long, we were texting each other and interacting through social media. Nothing scandalous or questionable—a Facebook “like” or comment here, a friendly text there. Things friends do.

But I knew what appeared innocent was, in reality, wrong and very dangerous. Red flags kept popping up. Why was I not talking about this “friendship” with my wife? Why was I being secretive and sneaky about it? Why didn’t I, in the earliest stages, when I knew the “friendship” was rapidly escalating beyond what it should be, slam on the brakes?

(Please note how the creature threw his wife under the bus … just like Dinesh D’Souza, another devout Christianist.) In his answer to this question, the creature attributes his fall to being consumed by “sin”:

The answer: I had failed to address the sin in my life. Sin that is not dealt with doesn’t fade away. It destroys us from the inside.

There is a huge difference, of course, between merely “sinning” — as awful as one might think that is — and “criminality.” According to Christian scripture, all human beings are “sinners” … but not all of us are “criminals” like this creature. Calling his crimes mere “sins” is the creature’s way of whitewashing what he did — not to mention, implying it’s something almost anyone else might have done in his place (since, of course, all human beings are subject to “sin”).

The Friendly Atheist article goes on to explain how an online activist (Becca Rose) tried to get the Journal‘s editor, Drew Dyck, to explain why he thought this article was appropriate, but he inexplicably replied, “I don’t answer rhetorical questions” (cached) There was nothing “rhetorical” about Ms Rose’s question (“What exactly was the editorial process in publishing a rapist’s justifications for being a child molester?”) so I’m baffled by his reply. It makes no sense!

Please note, though, that the Journal has apparently not missed the (very understandable) shitstorm they kicked up. The article I linked to above, and cached using WebCite, has been modified, both to include an editorial disclaimer, and apparently to alter some offensive language used by its author. But that disclaimer, too, makes little sense. Their intention had been to provide a warning to pastors and churches. And I suppose it might be good for them to know something about how pastoral child-molesters think. However, the Journal could have provided that sort of information either from third-party experts or by brief excerpts from an interview with a child-molesting pastor (or by both means). They didn’t need to give such a creature a full article-length pedestal to stand on. That creature didn’t need to be given that much of a voice. If anything, we as a society need to work harder to not grant people like this creature any voice; they don’t deserve to be heard or understood, and only deserve revulsion and condemnation.

I’d also like to note, this is yet another example of how clerical child abuse isn’t solely a Catholic problem — not that I’ve ever said it was, but lots of Catholic apologists love to trumpet that canard every time some priest or bishop gets his sorry ass hauled into court over it. So all you Catholics, go ahead and jump up for joy over a Protestant publication giving a voice to a Protestant pastoral child-molester. Go ahead. Have a blast!

Update: It looks as though the editors of Leadership Journal finally got the message; they pulled the offending article and replaced it with an apology (cached). I’m not sure what caused them to change their minds, but I’m glad they did it.

Photo credit: HaHaStop.Com.

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Robert J. Carlson is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RNS image by Jerry Naunheim Jr., courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning / via RNSFor the second time today, I find I must post about some news concerning the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal. It turns out to be an item that, while both sad and unaccceptable, is really not much of a surprise any more. The Religion News Service reports yet another Catholic hierarch admitted he hadn’t realized that child abuse was, like, illegal (WebCite cached article):

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday (June 9).

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it’s a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I’m not sure if I did or didn’t,” Carlson said.

However, it’s not entirely clear that Carlson was as fuzzy on the matter as he’d said in the deposition:

Yet according to documents released Monday (June 9) by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.

In a 1984 document, for example, Carlson wrote to the then-archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis — John R. Roach — about one victim of sexual abuse and mentioned that the statute of limitations for filing a claim would not expire for more than two years. He also wrote that the parents of the victim were considering reporting the incident to the police.

So maybe Carlson’s admission during the deposition … i.e. that he hadn’t known whether child abuse was a crime … is some kind of clever legal posturing. Who knows?

At any rate, as I remarked at the beginning of this post, this is definitely not the first time a Catholic hierarch has admitted being unaware that it’s illegal to harm children. Former archbishops Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles have said the same thing. (Mahony, please note, has even less of an excuse than the others to have thought so, since he’d been trained as a social worker, of all things.)

At times I’ve accused the Roman Catholic hierarchy of having something of a mafiosi mentality. They tend toward secrecy and don’t feel any shame about breaking laws to do so. But I’m not sure this comparison is really apt any more. The Church and the mafia definitely differ on at least one point: Most mobsters know they break laws. But at least some Catholic bishops aren’t even aware of that much.

Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr. & Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning, via Religion News Service.

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Seal of the Diocese of Trenton, via WikipediaNearly 2 and a half years ago, I compiled a list of the many evasions and excuses offered by the Roman Catholic Church for why it’s not responsible for the worldwide phenomenon of child abuse at the hands of its own clergy. At the time, I’d already compiled quite a list of whiny, sniveling excuses. But the Church has added to it since, and has done so in some rather astonishing ways.

The latest excuse of this sort, as reported by Religion News Service, was spewed by a diocesan attorney in front of the Delaware Supreme Court (WebCite cached article):

Chris Naples says something snapped inside him that January day.

The New Jersey resident sat in the gallery of the Delaware Supreme Court earlier this year watching as a lawyer for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton N.J., told the justices that the Rev. Terence McAlinden was not “on duty” — or serving in his capacity as a priest — when he allegedly molested Naples on trips to Delaware in the 1980s.

McAlinden, who once headed the diocese’s youth group, had introduced himself to Naples at a church-sponsored leadership retreat in Keyport, N.J.

Yet McAlinden wasn’t officially a priest when he took a teenage Naples on trips to Delaware, the lawyer argued.

“How do we determine when a priest is and is not on duty?” one of the justices asked, according to a video of the session on the court’s website.

“Well,” replied the diocese lawyer, “you can determine a priest is not on duty when he is molesting a child, for example. … A priest abusing a child is absolutely contrary to the pursuit of his master’s business, to the work of a diocese.”

There you have it, Gentle Reader. The absolute, final cop-out for the R.C. Church. The Church as an organization, its dioceses, and its clerical orders can never be responsible for any crime ever done by any of its clergy, because once one of them begins a crime, s/he is automatically “off the clock” because — by definition — no “on duty” cleric can commit any crime.

I’m not sure which is worse … that some poor excuse of an attorney actually offered this defense in open court, or that the court actually bought into it:

The lawsuit comes after the Delaware courts ruled Naples didn’t have jurisdiction to sue the diocese in that state because he couldn’t prove the trips were church-sanctioned.

The RNS story relates several other examples of the Trenton diocese’s behavior:

Naples said the diocese told him in 2007 that McAlinden would be removed from the priesthood altogether, or laicized. Yet five years later, at the time of the deposition, McAlinden said he remained a priest, albeit a retired one, and drew a pension from the diocese. He augmented that pay by working as a real estate agent, he said.

Having posted this, I expect a lot of the Catholic Church’s defenders will angrily respond by saying that child abuse isn’t just a “Catholic” thing, that it happens in other churches and even in non-religious venues. Well, no shit Sherlock. Of course it does! I’ve never said it didn’t, and have even been rather explicit in pointing that out. The problem is that the R.C. Church claims to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality on the planet, yet it refuses to hold its own clergy responsible for their actions; protects them from prosecution by secular authorities; fiercely blocks attempts by others to learn what happened; and when the truth finally comes out, they excuse themselves from their obligation of living up to their own claimed high moral standards. Sorry, but I’m not buying it. Not for a fucking second.

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

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Snake-handling-lejunior-pentecostal-ky2A little over 3 months ago, I blogged about a “Signs Following” (or snake-handling) Pentecostal preacher who was killed by one of his poisonous ritual charges. It appears his son, also a snake-handling pastor, didn’t get the memo about poisonous snakes being dangerous, and as NPR reports, was also bitten, himself (WebCite cached article):

Snake-handling is a tradition for the Coots family of Kentucky. But months after taking over for his father to lead a Pentecostal church, Cody Coots says he was bitten this week. His father, Jamie, died of a poisonous snakebite in February.

The fucking idiot proudly refused medical attention for his snake-bite:

He tells the Lexington Herald-Leader [cached] that after he was bitten by a rattlesnake Monday, his family sent an ambulance away.

I guess life must be pretty cheap down in Kentucky if people refuse to learn simple lessons like this one. I wonder why the Coots family is so serious about wanting to kill itself off? Is it to impress their deity or something? Or to impress their congregants? I have no idea.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Secular Web News Wire.

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Sacrifice of Isaac-Caravaggio (Uffizi)The co-called “Binding of Isaac” (which I think ought to be called “the near-murder of Isaac,” since that more clearly describes the event) is one of those pivotal Bible passages that carries a lot more meaning and significance than one would think a mere 18 or 19 verses would seem to. This story, which comprises the majority of Genesis 22, tells how Abraham nearly killed his own son Isaac because his deity, YHWH, had demanded he do so. Just as Abraham was about to plunge a knife into Isaac, YHWH — satisfied his minion had demonstrate a willingness to kill his own son for him — provided a ram as an alternative sacrifice, saving the boy at the very last minute.

This story exemplifies the sociopathy of the Old Testament deity and the murderous demands he made of his earthly followers … which would, later, go far beyond merely asking for one boy to be killed, extending to genocide orders (such as instructing King Saul to exterminate the Amalekites).

Most followers of the Abrahamic religions don’t consider this a serious problem. Their apologists have surmised — even though nothing to this effect can be found anywhere in Genesis — that Abraham knew, in advance, that YHWH would either intervene before he had a chance to kill Isaac, or that YHWH would resurrect Isaac afterward, had Abraham actually executed him. (This latter supposition, for instance, is mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19.)

Judeo-Christian-Islamic thinkers have pontificated endlessly over how wonderful it was that Abraham had so much faith in his deity that he was willing to kill his son on his orders (appearing not to realize that praising Abraham for this degree of faith contradicts the idea just mentioned that he’d merely been “going through the motions” of showing he was willing to kill his son, knowing the whole thing wasn’t serious). They seriously wonder if they ought to have that much faith themselves, and try to put themselves in Abraham’s shoes — and, one assumes, would do the same if they’d been asked.

Sadly, WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, FL reports that one devout Christian woman decided to take this “test of faith” herself (WebCite cached article). She appears to have passed it, at the expense of two children:

Right now police are investigating whether a bible verse drove a woman to allegedly kill her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter and attempt to kill the girl’s 10-year-old brother.…

A local pastor is nearly speechless Tuesday night as Kymberley Dawn Lucas, a member of her congregation, is spending her first night inside the Palm Beach county jail.

Lucas is accused of killing her ex-partner’s 2-year-old daughter Elliana and attempting to kill the girl’s brother 10-year-old Ethan.

According to a newly released police report, inside the Jupiter home, police found a computer left on with a message for whoever found it.

WPEC has a copy of this note on their Web site, if you can stomach reading it.

Perhaps the worst part about this, though, is the reaction of this murderously-religious woman’s friends and fellow congregants. The minister whose sermon on “the binding of Isaac” apparently triggered it, doesn’t seem to have a grasp of what happened, and is unapologetic:

The pastor at Metropolitan Community church stands with the heartbroken family, and she stands by that sermon talking about biblical sacrifice.

Pastor Dr. Lea Brown, “It’s what I was called to do, there’s no way anyone could have predicted this.”

For thousands of years, the Abrahamic God’s followers have raved fanatically about how magnificent it was of Abraham to have had so much faith in their deity that he’d nearly slaughtered his own son on the deity’s orders … yet now, they pretend not to know why one of their own wanted to try the same stunt, herself?

Seriously!? This surprises them? How and why would it? What surprises me is that this hasn’t happened more often. Instead of feigning befuddlement, maybe it’s time for Christians … both within Palm Beach’s Metropolitan Community Church and elsewhere … to rethink just how sanctified and virtuous they think the near-sacrifice of Isaac was.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

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