Posts Tagged “christians”

Ol' Crazy PatI’ve blogged a number of times about televangelist Marion “Pat” Robertson. Most of the time I’ve discussed his idiotic crankish notions. But the reality of the man is that he’s far worse than just some hyperreligious wingnut spewing foolish, irrational ideas, or for being a pitch man for diet shakes. And he’s worse than an advocate for a Christofascist America in which non-Christians have no place and in which even Christians who happen not to be evangelical Protestants would be treated like second-class citizens.

No, the reality of the man is that he’s a greedy, lying manipulator who’s been deeply involved in crooked and malevolent African regimes, and taken advantage of donors, solely in order to amass money, and that he’s lied about his “ministry” on that continent for decades.

This is something I’ve known for a while, and so have lots of others. But as the (UK) Guardian reports, a new documentary offers an exposé into his machinations and lies, to a new audience:

One of the stranger sights of the refugee crisis that followed the 1994 Rwandan genocide was of stretcher-bearers rushing the dying to medical tents, with men running alongside reciting Bible verses to the withering patients.

The bulk of the thousands of doctors and nurses struggling to save lives – as about 40,000 people died of cholera – were volunteers for the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The Bible readers were hired by the American televangelist and former religious right presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, and his aid organisation, Operation Blessing International.

But on Robertson’s US television station, the Christian Broadcasting Network, that reality was reversed, as he raised millions of dollars from loyal followers by claiming Operation Blessing was at the forefront of the international response to the biggest refugee crisis of the decade. It’s a claim he continues to make, even though an official investigation into Robertson’s operation in Virginia accused him of “fraudulent and deceptive” claims when he was running an almost non-existent aid operation.

Robertson’s so-called “ministry” was little more than a front for his diamond-mining operation and for bogus farming projects:

Mission Congo, by David Turner and Lara Zizic, opens at the Toronto film festival on Friday. It describes how claims about the scale of aid to Rwandan refugees were among a number of exaggerated or false assertions about the activities of Operation Blessing which pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in donations, much of it through Robertson’s televangelism. They include characterising a failed large-scale farming project as a huge success, and claims about providing schools and other infrastructure.

But some of the most damaging criticism of Robertson comes from former aid workers at Operation Blessing, who describe how mercy flights to save refugees were diverted hundreds of miles from the crisis to deliver equipment to a diamond mining concession run by the televangelist.

Throughout the Rwandan refugee crisis, when more than 1 million people fled into neighbouring Zaire and started dying en masse of cholera, Robertson told his viewers that Operation Blessing was at the forefront of saving lives.

Among the lies Robertson engineered was donation-appeal video footage of doctors he’d claimed his Operation Blessing had brought there … but in fact they were with MSF (aka Doctors Without Borders) and didn’t work for his ministry at all. Schools and farms he’d claimed Operation Blessing built and are still thriving, had failed.

Now, as I said before, most of this is really old news, as the Guardian explains:

Robertson’s activities in Congo were initially exposed by a Virginia newspaper, the Virginian Pilot, in the 1990s. The investigation by Bill Sizemore prompted the attorney general in Virginia, where Operation Blessing is registered, to order a probe by the state’s office of consumer affairs.

Its report concluded that Robertson made “fraudulent and deceptive” statements with claims to be ferrying doctors and medical aid to Goma when he was delivering diamond-mining equipment. It accused Operation Blessing of “misrepresenting” what its flights were doing, and of saying that the airstrip at Kamonia was part of the aid operation when it was “for the benefit of ADC’s mining operation”.

Not surprisingly, Robertson’s friends in the Virginia government chose not to prosecute him for fraud. As I’ve said so many times before … when one of their own comes under fire, other Christians circle the wagons to protect them, even when they’ve done wrong, because after all, they’re fellow Christians, right?

Update: There’s been a little news about this story, since I posted this a few hours ago. Right Wing Watch reports Marion “Pat” Robertson’s network, CBN, is threatening to sue the documentary’s makers over it. Wow. Looks like they’ve touched a nerve!

Hat tip: Rational Wiki.

Photo credit: Random Factor, via Flickr.

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Twelve Tribes Wedding 001By now this must seem like an old story: Devout Christians abusing kids for Jesus. Perhaps the most common version of this kind of story is clerical child abuse. That’s something I’ve blogged about numerous times over the years I’ve been at this. But there are other examples of it, such as parents letting their sick kids die because they refuse to take a chance on mortally offending their loving, merciful Jesus by getting them the medical care they need. And there are still other examples, such as the FLDS commune where young girls were married off to old men at too young an age.

But the most recent example of this deals with corporal punishment. The Guardian reports that German officials raided the compound of a Christian sect and removed its children (WebCite cached article):

Forty children have been taken from a Christian sect in Bavaria, southern Germany, following police raids at a monastery and a farm after accusations of child abuse.

The children, aged between seven months and 17 years old, are members of the Twelve Tribes sect, which has its roots in the US. They have been placed with foster families while the group is being investigated.

The group, whose teachings are based on the Old and New Testament, is known to believe in corporal punishment. It had been under observation by authorities for some time, particularly for its refusal to send its children to school.

The article explains the nature of their corporal punishment:

By their own admission, parents of the Twelve Tribes, which has around 100 members in two locations in Bavaria where it has had a base for 15 years, are instructed to beat their children “with a small reed-like rod which only inflicts pain and no damage”.

On its website, the group declares itself to be an “open and transparent community that does not tolerate any form of child abuse. Our children grow up in a loving environment and are educated in the spirit of charity.”

But Helmut Beyschlag, head of Noldingen district court, said: “We suspect that parents were exercising abuse.”

According to initial reports, the disciplinary rods used were soaked in oil to make them more pliable during a beating, when children were allegedly struck on their bare feet, arms and backs, inside the former Cistercian monastery.

Let’s be clear: The idea that you can hit children with something so as to cause only pain and never “damage” them, is a fiction. Any time you strike a child with something, you run a very real risk of “damaging” his/her body … with a bruise, or worse. (And yes, I consider a bruise to be “damage.” Bruises only appear when blood vessels are broken, and blood-vessel breakage is certainly a form of “damage.”)

The sect in question is reclusive, and originated in the US in the 1970s. While I’d heard of it before, I thought it had died out sometime in the 1990s. Instead, it seeped into Europe around that time. They’re considered a “cult” in most places they’ve ventured to. In Europe, because they refuse to send their children to school, they’ve run afoul of education laws — and in this case, that’s what put them in the sights of German authorities in the first place.

The Twelve Tribes sect’s reclusiveness stems, it seems, from their belief that they’re recreating the “original” Church as described in Acts of the Apostles. The problem with this is that Acts is not considered wholly reliable. It likely was composed in the late 1st century CE or early 2nd as something of a propaganda piece, sort of a “golden age” retrospective of the Church’s first generation, by its third or fourth. There are very real historical and critical reasons to conclude this, among them being that Acts conflicts, at points, with Paul’s genuine epistles, which were written right in the middle of the 1st century, during the Church’s first generation.

At any rate, along with their probably-invalid interpretation of Acts, the Twelve Tribes sect seems also to have an unhealthy obsession with the Old Testament, in particular the famous “spare the rod” verse:

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently. (Proverbs 13:24)

Over the years a lot of ink has been spilt over this verse, explaining how it doesn’t advocate child abuse; e.g. the “rod” mentioned is merely a pointing-stick that shepherds used to guide their sheep where they want them to go, and not a bludgeon to pound kids with; as well as other rationales. But I don’t buy any of these creative reinterpretations. It’s true that ancient fathers used rods to beat discipline into their children … which is why this verse and a few others like it (Prov 19:18 & 22:15, etc.) are present in the Bible … but we no longer do that, nor should we. In the 21st century, we understand that “discipline” means much more than just causing physical pain when a child breaks the rules s/he is supposed to abide by. And we understand that beatings don’t necessarily instill “discipline” in them. We realize there’s a big difference between “discipline” and “abuse”; while the former is just fine (and expected), the latter is unacceptable.

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

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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The Jupiter temple in DamascusThe Bible is a rather large collection of documents. There’s a lot of material there, and if one cares to do so, one can easily sift out of it things that, on the surface, might appear to have been ancient predictions of subsequent events, or “prophecies.” As I’ve explained before, though, this approach to the Bible is invalid, because it contains a number of predictions that have utterly failed and literally can never come true. Even so, fundamentalist Christians continue acting as though the Bible is full of “prophecy.”

Most recently, as Time reports, fundamentalists are viewing the US’s imminent attack on Syria as yet another example of Biblical prophecy coming true (WebCite cached article):

“See, Damascus will cease to be a city and will become a heap of ruins. Her towns will be deserted forever.”

That’s a prophetic passage from the Biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 17, and now some fundamentalist Christian blogs are buzzing with the belief that the escalating violence in Syria means the ancient text may soon be fulfilled. ”The long prophesied end days are here,” one blog announces [cached]. “With the terrorist groups that operate out of Damascus building up arms caches on the border of Israel in anticipation of another war in the near future, it may not be long before this prophecy from Isaiah 17 becomes history,” another group awaiting Jesus Christ’s return predicts [cached].

Nearly all Biblical scholars, however, argue that such a literalist interpretation of the text is highly problematic. The passage was written more than 2,500 years ago, and it condemns Jerusalem’s enemies around the time of the Assyrian invasion. The prophetic oracles, as that section of Isaiah is called, name not just Syria but numerous ancient nations, including Moab, Babylon, Egypt, and Tyre, that threatened the Jewish people at the time.

Isaiah 17 indeed refers to the apparent destruction of Damascus, and the district or country to which it belonged, Aram. But it also mentions lots of other places and things. For example, Aroer, whose location is unknown but which may have been any of several settlements or cities that have long been ruins. It mentions “Ephraim,” probably meaning the district in which the tribe of Ephraim lived, but they, too, are ancient history. Verse 4 says that “the glory of Jacob will fade,” but that probably means Israel which doesn’t appear to be going anywhere just now. It also mentions “the valley of Rephaim,” which refers to a valley outside ancient Jerusalem, now part of the modern city. I’m not sure what that, in particular, could have to do with an attack on Syria. It mentions humanity forsaking “Asherim,” most likely Asherah poles, but those haven’t been used since classical times. Incense stands, however, are mentioned as being forgotten along with the “Asherim,” but they are still used in Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The bottom line is that, while Isaiah 17 does literally mention the defeat of Damascus, it also mentions other places and things which can no longer be read literally, either because they don’t exist, or because if one does read them literally, there are conflicts (such as the Asherah poles that haven’t been used in centuries and incense which has been). The appearance of a “prophecy” works only if one reads some parts of this section literally and others metaphorically, and willfully mixes ancient and modern places and practices together as though they’re all present at the same moment.

When one does this, the only thing one can produce, is nonsense.

As I said, I’ve explained why all Biblical prophecy — and I do mean ALL of it! — is bullshit. You see, the Bible contains specific, explicit predictions, given by none other than Jesus himself, which have failed to come true and by now cannot ever come true (emphasis mine):

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Mt 16:28)

“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:27)

All of these first century people who were present to hear Jesus say these words, are dead, and have been for nearly 2,000 years. Yet, Jesus never returned during their lifetimes. Thus, Jesus’ prediction failed completely.

Fundamentalist Christians really need to grow up and get over their Bible-worship. Their ideas about the Bible force them to lie about it, which is simply unacceptable. It needs to fucking stop already.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Apostles on Pentecost dayThe phenomenon of “speaking in tongues,” technically known as glossolalia, is of a little interest to me. My tenure as a fundamentalist Christian was with a group of charismatic Christians, of the Pentecostal family of denominations. Like most of my fellow charismatics, I was “baptized with the Holy Spirit” and then I “spoke in tongues.” I also supposedly prophesied, healed by “laying on hands,” and had “discernment of spirits” (three of the several potential “gifts of the Spirit” described in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). I was also “slain in the Spirit,” and I caused others to be, as well.

Since “speaking in tongues” is the feature of this brand of Christianity that’s most noticeable … both by outside observers as well as those inside charismatic congregations … it tends to be the one that’s most talked about. But it also tends to be the one that most unnerves people. I know I had some apprehension, the first time I got involved in a charismatic service (although I had heard about the practice a few years before and wasn’t totally weirded out). I can see why some people can get repelled by it. And now, charismatic Christians themselves are seeing this as a problem. The Associated Press reports via the Washington Post that some congregations are rolling the practice back (WebCite cached version):

At Three Crosses Church, Pastor Ken Walters urges his parishioners to join him in song and scripture. The charismatic 58-year-old extends his arms skyward and belts out melodies praising God.

While the small Assemblies of God congregation goes through all the traditional trappings of a Pentecostal service, there is one notable absence: speaking in tongues, a defining trait of the faith.

The 40-member church is among many nationwide that are reducing or cutting out speaking in tongues as they become more popular and move to the mainstream. It’s a shift that has unsettled some more traditional Pentecostals who say the practice is at the heart of a movement that evolved out of an interracial revival and remains a spontaneous way for the poor and dispossessed to have a direct line to God.

They question the wisdom of placing less emphasis on a tenet that has defined Pentecostalism for more than a century.

“It’s different now,” Walters said. “People don’t like to stand out if they don’t have to.”

As the religion becomes more widely accepted, Walters said, there has been a tendency for large Pentecostal churches to downplay the differences between Pentecostalism and other well-known Christian denominations.

Having been a Pentecostalist myself, I find this trend remarkable. It is one of the defining features of the Pentecostal denominations. (Actually — technically — the defining feature is the aforementioned “baptism with the Holy Spirit”; “speaking in tongues” is merely the outward manifestation of that.) I can’t see there could be much difference between services held in any other kind of fundamentalist Christian church, without the “speaking in tongues.” Jettisoning that practice would tend to blur the lines among them.

As I said, ever since my time as a fundamentalist Christian, I’ve been interested in glossolalia, even though I no longer participate in it. It’s been studied scientifically … by linguists, psychologists, and others … and it turns out that it’s not language at all. It may sound like language, but the sounds uttered don’t display any of the patterns exhibited by true languages. As a polyglot myself, I can say that I never once personally heard an intelligible utterance during any session of “speaking in tongues” that I was party to (although I acknowledge that my own personal experience doesn’t constitute meaningful evidence). The studies which have been done, on the other hand, do constitute evidence that people who are “filled with the Spirit” and “speaking in tongues” are not speaking foreign languages otherwise unknown to them (aka xenoglossy); rather, they’re spewing gibberish. My own personal experience merely aligns with that.

Many charismatic Christians justify their continued belief in the validity of “speaking in tongues” in two ways: By asserting the language(s) spoken is/are not human, but angelic and/or divine; and by telling each other stories about someone — usually a foreigner attending a Pentecostal service for the first time — hearing a language s/he recognizes but which no one else present understands. The former is, basically, undemonstrable notion: Assuming angels and/or God exist, and speak in one or more non-human languages, there’s no way to be sure they could be analyzed and detected as such. The latter is just a retelling of the original Pentecost story found in Acts 2; and therefore it’s hard, if not impossible, to take them seriously.

At any rate, I find it amusing that some of these congregations find they have to “tone down” their services so as not to alienate people. It’s as though public relations is totally new to them.

One last point: While this AP story implies that “speaking in tongues” is a new innovation within Christianity in the first few years of the 20th century, it’s actually not. Historically there have been other charismatic sects. Among them were the Montanists. So long as the second chapter of Acts remains part of Christian scripture, even if the practice dies out in Pentecostal Christianity, “speaking in tongues” will no doubt rear its head again, at some point in the future. It’s inevitable.

Photo credit: Lawrence OP, via Flickr.

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Archbishop urges Church to ‘repent’ over ‘wicked’ attitude to homosexuality / Photo: Getty Images, via the TelegraphI just blogged about some pithy remarks made recently by the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, his successor, the incumbent head of the Anglican Church just made some comments that are even more remarkable. As the (UK) Telegraph reports, while addressing an evangelical organization, he had strong words for the terrible manner in which many Christians treat gays (WebCite cached article):

The Most Rev Justin Welby told an audience of traditional born-again Christians that they must “repent” over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past and said most young people viewed Christians as no better than racists on the issue.

These are noteworthy words, coming from a man who, as the Telegraph explains, had campaigned against permitting gay marriage in the UK and voted against in the House of Lords. He has a long way to go, himself, but he clearly has begun opening his mind to the concept that gays are human beings, too, and is telling other Christians so.

He further took note of the significance of the date on which he was speaking:

Noting the fact that it is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, he urged Christians to speak out about what they are in favour of rather than simply what they are against.

He praised the Alliance’s work tackling social problems by promoting food banks, working in social care or recruiting adopters and said that it was time for the Church to make “an alliance with the poor”.

But he went on: “One of things that I think is most noticeable where we make a bad impression in society at the moment is because we are seen as against things, and you talk to people and they say I don’t want to hear about a faith that is homophobic, that is this that that, that is the other.”

The Archbishop is correct in that Christians … and in fact, most religious people of whatever tradition … are much quicker to declare what they dislike and what they’re against, and to go after others, than to declare what they like and what they’re for, and to support others. The very nature of religionism is that it tends to define itself negatively rather than positively.

Oh, and I can see the whining now, before it’s even happened. “Welby called us ‘racist’ because we hate gays!” the more militant Christianists will scream. The trouble is, if they say that, they will have lied. Because Welby absolutely did not say that gay-hating is racism. Not at all! What he actually said is that “people under 35 … equate it to racism.” Which is not the same thing as saying gay-hating is, itself, racism.

In any event, let the screaming and crying from Christofascist quarters commence. I’ll be watching with glee as they show themselves, once again, to be sniveling little crybabies.

Photo credit: Getty Images, via the Telegraph.

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

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'Help! I'm being oppressed!' / sublate, via FlickrFor many years now I’ve talked about how “persecuted” a lot of occidental Christians feel. The rationales they cook up for feeling this way, are as numerous as they are absurd. I just blogged about a Christian family that felt so oppressed that they foolishly took off across the Pacific Ocean in their own boat, only to have to be rescued. For as many years I’ve also talked about how childish devout religionists are, and how a lot of the things they say and do are motivated by their immaturity.

Well, the (UK) Telegraph reports that no less an authority on Christendom than the former head of the Anglican Church, Rowan Williams, has made similar remarks about his fellow Christians (WebCite cached article):

Lord Williams, who stood down from his role as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 and is now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, said his perspective had been drawn from meeting believers from all faiths suffering around the world.

“When you have any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word persecuted very chastely,” he said.

“Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable.

“I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers.

“I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought!

“But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.

“You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society.

“But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day.

“That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.”

The problem with a lot of believers, especially in the Religious Right here in the ‘States, is that they absolutely refuse to “earn” respect. No. They demand it … loudly. And when they aren’t given it, automatically and reflexively, merely because they demanded it, they become furious. They truly do think that the fact that they have certain metaphysical beliefs, all by itself entitles them to run the planet however they see fit and to be obeyed in every way possible without question … and anyone insolent enough to dare refuse to grant them this power, is an enemy whom they cannot tolerate for even a second.

As I’ve said before and will say again, of course there are Christians in the world who are persecuted for their faith. It’s absolutely happening, and it’s not acceptable. But … it’s not happening here in the West. Christians in the US are not persecuted because they follow Jesus. It never happens here. Period. End of discussion.

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

Photo credit: sublate, via Flickr.

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Help! Help! I'm being repressed! (Dennis the constitutional peasant, Monty Python & the Holy Grail)This is a seriously “WTF” story. Almost as if in support of the notion that religious people tend toward stupidity (something I’m not saying, although I just blogged about a meta-analysis that suggests so), we have this truly insane story. The Associated Press reports via ABC News that a devout Arizona family had to be rescued in the Pacific Ocean after they went adrift (WebCite cached article):

A northern Arizona family has survived being lost at sea for weeks after an ill-fated attempt to leave the U.S. over what they consider government interference in religion.

Hannah Gastonguay and her family will fly back home Sunday after taking their two small children and her father-in-law and setting sail from San Diego for the tiny island nation of Kiribati in May.

Weeks into their journey, the Gastonguays hit a series of storms that damaged their small boat, leaving them adrift for weeks, unable to make progress. They were eventually picked up by a Venezuelan fishing vessel, transferred to a Japanese cargo ship and taken to Chile.

The article explains how their little trip to Kiribati went awry. This family ended up adrift in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, far from any land and off of usual navigation routes. They were lucky they’d been discovered by a fishing vessel and didn’t perish at sea.

The reason they made this perilous trip? They were persecuted, you see:

Hannah Gastonguay said her family was fed up with government control in the U.S. As Christians they don’t believe in “abortion, homosexuality, in the state-controlled church,” she said.

U.S. “churches aren’t their own,” Gastonguay said, suggesting that government regulation interfered with religious independence.

Among other differences, she said they had a problem with being “forced to pay these taxes that pay for abortions we don’t agree with.” While federal law bars public funding for abortion, state attempts to block Medicaid funding for organizations that provide the procedure have met with legal hurdles. Opponents say that funding allows those groups to perform abortions.

The poor little things. They’re so oppressed!

I’ve blogged many times previously about many Christians’ claims that they’re being persecuted here in the ‘States. They aren’t, as anyone with half a brain knows. The reality of their status is summed up elegantly and succinctly in the following graphic:

'Help! I'm being oppressed!' / sublate, via Flickr

‘Help! I’m being oppressed!’ / sublate, via Flickr

That said, I do understand why they say this. It’s part and parcel of the psychopathology of Christianity. The founder of their religion was killed for his preaching, and his apostles were killed because of him, too. They largely can’t help themselves but wish to be persecuted for their faith just as Jesus and the apostles were. I really do get that.

But if you need any further evidence of how devastatingly harmful this kind of delusional thinking can be, consider that the Gastonguays barely survived their compulsion to flee “persecution” that’s not even going on.

Any more questions? I thought not. Glad to have cleared that up.

Photo credit, top: Based on Monty Python & the Holy Grail; middle: sublate, via Flickr.

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