Posts Tagged “devil”

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI’ve already blogged about the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, NC which was the subject of a series of Associated Press stories.

In addition to some North Carolina prosecutors (who were also members of the church, and one a relative of its leaders) being reviewed for having helped prevent Word of Faith from being fully investigated through the years, there’s been a little more fallout. As the Associated Press reports, a county social worker — also a member of the church who may have helped shield them from accountability — has resigned from her job (WebCite cached article):

A veteran social worker accused of coaching congregants and their children on what to say during a 2015 child abuse investigation of her secretive religious sect has resigned, an attorney for a child welfare agency said Friday.

Andrea Leslie-Fite said Lori Cornelius left her position at the Cleveland County Department of Social Services.…

[North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation] spokesman Patty McQuillan said Friday the agency isn’t currently investigating Cornelius or the Rutherford County Division of Social Services. But she said that could change.…

In its ongoing investigation, the AP has reported that the 2015 social services investigation included complaints that students at the church-run K-12 school were encouraged to beat classmates to cast out devils. Former members also said Cornelius coached children on what to tell investigators with the help of assistant prosecutors Frank Webster and Chris Back. Back is the son-in-law of sect leader Jane Whaley.

That DSS probe ended with no charges.

The abuse this church inflicted on people was all about devils:

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies — who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons, according to on-the-record interviews with 43 former members. Those interviewed said congregants also were subjected to a practice called “blasting” — an ear-piercing verbal onslaught often conducted in hours-long sessions meant to cast out devils.

Yes, let’s torture people in order to drive out devils (or demons or ghosts or poltergeists or whatever-the-fuck)! Why, of course it makes total sense that incorporeal beings can be harmed that way. Obviously!

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

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Rutherford Cty (NC) Court House / via North Carolina Court System Web siteIt seems officials in North Carolina finally awakened to the idea that maybe … just maybe! … there’s been a little corruption going on, surrounding abuses at the Word of Faith Fellowship Church in the town of Spindale. The Associated Press’s coverage of this story continues, with a report that there might be a corruption investigation (WebCite cached article):

A district attorney has asked the state to investigate two assistant prosecutors after an Associated Press story that quoted former congregants of a North Carolina church as saying the men derailed criminal probes into allegations of abuse by sect leaders.

David Learner said Wednesday that he wants the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the accusations against his employees, who are members of the evangelical Word of Faith Fellowship church.

The AP story, released Monday, cited nine former Word of Faith members who said Frank Webster and Chris Back provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member.

The ex-congregants also said that Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law, helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents.

As the AP reported and I’ve blogged, Word of Faith believes in beatings and other kinds of abuse as a way of exorcising demons and devils. Or at least, that’s their rationale for the abuse.

It’s nice, I suppose, that there might be a probe into Webster and Back, but really, I’m not confident it will go far. This is, after all, a Bible Belt (er, Bobble Bay-elt) state, where churches are sovereign, and no one questions them much. So this might die on the vine, just as past investigations into Word of Faith’s affairs did.

Photo credit: North Carolina Court System.

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Photo from Word of Faith FellowshipThe Associated Press continues to report on the vile shenanigans that have gone on at the Word of Faith Fellowship church in Spindale, NC, which I blogged about just a few days ago. I wondered, when I first posted on the subject, how and why this church was able to continue doing what it’s been doing for decades, unaffected by the North Carolina legal system. Well, this latest AP report explains why. The fix, it seems, was in (WebCite cached article):

At least a half-dozen times over two decades, authorities investigated reports that members of a secretive evangelical church were being beaten. And every time, according to former congregants, the orders came down from church leaders: They must lie to protect the sect.

Among the members of the Word of Faith Fellowship who coached congregants and their children on what to say to investigators were two assistant district attorneys and a veteran social worker, the ex-followers told The Associated Press.

Frank Webster and Chris Back — church ministers who handle criminal cases as assistant DAs for three nearby counties — provided legal advice, helped at strategy sessions and participated in a mock trial for four congregants charged with harassing a former member, according to former congregants interviewed as part of an AP investigation of Word of Faith.

Back and Webster, who is sect leader Jane Whaley’s son-in-law and lives in her house, also helped derail a social services investigation into child abuse in 2015 and attended meetings where Whaley warned congregants to lie to investigators about abuse incidents, according to nine former members.

Yeah, that’s right. This church employed all its legal connections to derail prosecutions, for example:

According to nine former members interviewed by the AP, at least five other congregants who are lawyers participated in or were present during coaching sessions designed to circumvent investigators.

Back and Webster also helped sabotage a Rutherford County Department of Social Services investigation in 2015, according to Jeffrey Cooper’s brother, Chad Cooper, an attorney who said he attended a church meeting convened to undermine that probe.

Chad Cooper, who left the church last year, said also participating in the meeting was Word of Faith member Lori Cornelius, a longtime social services worker assigned to a nearby county.

Cooper said social services personnel were investigating complaints that students were beating classmates at the church-run K-12 school to cast out devils, and that teachers, including Whaley, encouraged the violence.

There’s more — a lot more! — to this story, which is much longer and more substantial than the AP’s earlier piece (cached). I urge you to read it … all of it. It shows how, as with the Roman Catholic Church and its “priestly pedophilia” scandal, this church used its status as a religion, and its deep connections to the region and the legal system, to ensure it was, effectively, above the law. But the interference went beyond just church members who were attorneys and social workers (which, by itself, is quite bad enough). Brad Greenway, for a time District Attorney of Rutherford County — and who is not a member of this church — was quick with excuses for why he couldn’t prosecute at least one case:

Asked why he didn’t do more — especially since he said he believed people were being beaten — Greenway said, “I don’t know what you’re expected to find if you went there. You’d find a building. … Are you going to find shackles? Handcuffs?”

Greenway said outsiders don’t understand what it’s like to try to make a case against the church.

Here’s my paraphrase of Greenway’s whine: “Boo hoo hoo! It’s just too hard to develop a case! There was nothing <sniff> I could do! It was all <snuffle> just so hopeless! We had no choice <sniff> but to let a church we knew was abusing people <sniff> continue doing so! Boo hoo hoo!” Any DA who can’t make a case when s/he knows there’s one, should just fucking resign and let his/her betters take over the job. (Which may be why he’s no longer in that position.)

But actually, it appears Greenway was much more sympathetic to Word of Faith Fellowship than just unable and unwilling to make a case. As the AP explains, he actually tipped them off to key developments:

One of the former congregants interviewed by AP, attorney Jeffrey Cooper, also said that … Greenway … leaked information to him and other church lawyers about a 2012-2013 grand jury investigation he was conducting into the church.

Greenway told the AP that he talked to Cooper and other church attorneys about the investigation, but couldn’t recall specifics of the conversations. But he denied supplying the church with “inside information.”

He acknowledged, however, that when asked by Cooper and church attorney Josh Farmer “something about ‘What are you going to do? What do you think is going to happen’…I might have said, ‘We’re going to the grand jury.'”

Look, I get it. This is the Bible Belt (er, the Bobble Bay-elt) where churches are sovereign … just as R.C. hierarchs were (and often still are) sovereigns. No one messes with a church, even when that church is messing up people really badly. They’re all godly outfits, you see, so it must be just fine. Right?

Photo credit: Word of Faith Fellowship Web site.

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Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAThe American South isn’t called “the Bible Belt” for nothing. Churches pervade the area, and range in size from megachurches with tens of thousands of congregants, to tiny little backyard shacks that host services for just a couple families. Some of those churches, especially those that call themselves “non-denominational,” can get pretty weird. And I’m not just referring to charismatic or “holy roller” churches … those are weird, too, to be sure, but in Bible Belt terms they’re almost mainstream. No, by “weird” I mean downright cult-like, in ways that most Southern churches aren’t.

One of those cult-like outfits is the Word of Faith Fellowship in rural Spindale, NC. The Associated Press spoke with former members and published a story outlining outrageous abuse that had been meted out to some congregants (WebCite cached article):

From all over the world, they flocked to this tiny town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror — waged in the name of the Lord.

Congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to “purify” sinners by beating out devils, 43 former members told The Associated Press in separate, exclusive interviews.

Victims of the violence included pre-teens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons.

As part of its investigation, the AP reviewed hundreds of pages of law enforcement, court and child welfare documents, along with hours of conversations with Jane Whaley, the evangelical church’s controlling leader, secretly recorded by followers.

The AP also spent more than a year tracking down dozens of former disciples who scattered after leaving the church.

Several former followers said some congregants were sexually abused, including minors.

This cultish church, of course, denies all of this:

But hours after the AP’s stories were released, the church posted a statement on its website calling the allegations false and contending they were made by “certain former members” out to target the church.

The problem with this is, the abuse was substantiated by sources independent of what people simply claimed had happened. They were backed up by recordings, law enforcement reports, etc. So it’s not just some people’s word against theirs.

A lot of these abusive practices appear to be predicated on the notion that people’s problems are caused by demons and/or devils, which can be driven out by the abuse. This is, of course, medieval thinking … but sadly, it’s still all too common in 21st century America.

Rather shamefully, though, as the Friendly Atheist points out, this isn’t the first time Word of Faith has been caught abusing its congregants. Its vile tactics were reported on as long ago as 1995. And in 2014, some Word of Faith operatives were charged with beating a man in an effort to drive the gayness out of him (cached). So none of this is really news. What I expect will happen, now, is what happened all those other times … i.e. Word of Faith will go back to being the abusive cult it’s always been, and local authorities in North Carolina will look the other way. After all, dey gotsta drive dem dere demons out!

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

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Antonin Scalia 2010By now most of my regular readers have heard about Antonin Scalia’s New York Magazine interview. The main news out of it has been that Scalia believes Satan is a “real person.” I hadn’t commented on it, since I don’t find it very remarkable that a famous Christianist believes the Devil is real. I mean, seriously … that’s news to anyone? Come on! I initially regarded that interview as a “water is wet” or “sky is blue” story, unworthy of attention.

With that said, I recently noticed something he said which, after consideration, I find noteworthy. At least, I think the significance of it needs to be pointed out, if for no other reason than that to show that almost anyone can fall into illogic, if s/he isn’t careful — and that large amounts of irrationality and illogic can be expressed within one short statement.

The important part comes in page 4 of the article (WebCite cached version):

[Interviewer Jennifer Senior:] Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?

[Justice Antonin Scalia:] You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil! Most of mankind has believed in the Devil, for all of history. Many more intelligent people than you or me have believed in the Devil.

First, note the sanctimony of Scalia’s response. Sanctimony is the religionist’s stock-in-trade. How dare Ms Senior question belief in the Devil? Scalia’s outrage is palpable. But it also doesn’t mean anything — to anyone.

Next, Scalia cites as evidence of Satan’s existence, that “most of [America] believes in the Devil.” This is a fallacy known formally as argumentum ad populum, and by other names, such as appeal to consensus, the bandwagon fallacy, appeal to popularity, the democratic fallacy, appeal to the masses, etc. The error here should be obvious and summed up in this short statement: Veracity is not up for a vote. People — even many of them! — can be, and often are, very wrong sometimes. Just because something is widely believed, doesn’t make it true. For most of history, nearly all of humanity was utterly convinced the earth was at the center of the universe, with the sun, moon, planets and stars all revolving around it. It turns out, that’s not true at all!

Another piece of evidence Scalia cites as proof that Satan is a real person, is that ‘Jesus Christ believed in the Devil.” Sorry, but this isn’t going to fly, because the reports we have of what Jesus did and didn’t believe come only from the gospels, which Scalia also cites, themselves, as evidence of Satan’s existence. The problem there, of course, is that this just means some late-first-century Christians who wrote those books, believed in the Devil. It’s not actually objective or verifiable evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.”

Third, Scalia lambastes his interviewer for being “so removed from mainstream America that” she’d dare imply belief in the Devil as “a real person” is a bad thing. This is his attempt to discredit his interviewer by saying she’s an elitist; and this, too, has been a common Religious Right tactic. Folks on the Right love to rage and fume about “the Elite” (aka “the Bicoastal Elite,” the “Mass Media Elite,” etc.) and how horrible they are for being insolent enough not to think, act and talk in ways unlike all the folks they call “normal Americans” (aka Flyover Country, the Deep South, the Bible Belt, etc.). The cold fact is that Justice Scalia is, himself, a bona fide card-carrying member of the country’s “elite:” He’s university-educated; a professional, no less (i.e. a lawyer and judge); and he’s one of just 9 people who comprise one of the most powerful bodies in the US. Scalia is one of the last people who ought ever to accuse anyone else of being out of touch with America!

After these little tidbits of illogic and irrationality, Scalia swerves back to the old argumentum ad populum, citing the beliefs of “most of mankind” and of people “more intelligent than” himself or his interviewer, as evidence of Satan’s existence as “a real person.” Unfortunately, as I’ve already explained, this is fallacious. What’s more, for Scalia to repeat a fallacy, in the (obvious) hope it will reinforce what he’s saying, is itself a fallacy, called argumentum ad nauseam, or argument by repetition. Saying something that’s not true more than once, can never make it suddenly, magically become true. Nonetheless, fierce religionists like Scalia love to think the universe works that way. They repeat tired old canards like, “Evolution is ‘just’ a theory,” and “It takes more faith to be an atheist than a believer,” and so on. They truly think that repeating these things without cessation will make them so. But it can never work, any more than saying “2 + 2 = 5” endlessly can never make that equation mathematically valid. It just can’t.

Once again, Justice Scalia has provided me with evidence that anyone, at any time, can engage in fallacious thinking, and probably not even be aware of it. It’s something we must all be on guard against, at all times.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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High resolution scan of engraving by Gustave Doré illustrating Canto XXXIV of Divine Comedy, Inferno, by Dante Alighieri. Caption: Lucifer, King of HellLike so many other media outlets, the folks at WTIC-TV in Hartford seem to have run out of material to fill their nightly news, to the point that they ran a story on exorcisms in my home state of Connecticut. I’ll grant the Nutmeg State has some history in that regard. It’s home to the famous ghost-hunters, the Warrens (Lorraine and her late husband Ed). The famous “demon murder trial” took place here in the 1980s. It was the setting of the 2009 movie The Haunting in Connecticut. Famously haunted places in Connecticut include the abandoned hamlet of Dudleytown, the defunct Norwich State Hospital, Union Cemetery in Easton, and Pettibone’s Tavern (now Abigail’s Grill) … just to name a few.

In their effort to pursue the “hauntings as news” motif I’ve blogged about so many times already, the folks at WTIC-TV ran this story on a paranormal-investigation group and one of their recent cases (WebCite cached version). Unfortunately this is a video report only, and there doesn’t seem to be any way for me to embed it here … so you’ll have to click on the link in order to see it.

They report — uncritically — that a “spiritual battle” is underway, and that “in recent years, it has intensified.” The group they follow is called Connecticut Spirit Investigators, and the reporter cites its claimed 40-year history as a way to grant the group credibility. The group’s high-tech equipment is also on display. What is never explained, is precisely how the group “knows” that a stray magnetic field or a cold spot in a room can only be caused by a ghost, spook, spirit, demon or devil, and can’t possibly have any mundane explanation. They also seem to think weird noises coming from their so-called “ghost box” are proof that supernatural entities lurk at a place; I think it’s proof only that these folks have deluded themselves.

The reporter also claims the group’s “investigation” (if one could call what they do “investigating”) led to an exorcism being performed by a “Bishop McKenna” who’d also exorcised demons in the famous Amityille Horror case. The reporter may have considered this impressive, but I don’t. The famous Amityville, NY haunting turned out to have been a hoax (cached)! Also, the “bishop” in question would have to be Robert McKenna, whose consecration as bishop is suspect, and who in any event is a schismatic (he claims the popes after Pius XII have all been illegitimate); it’s extremely unlikely that McKenna has ever received official approval to perform any exorcisms.

The reporter also brings in another evangelist for ghost-hunting, Fr Bob Bailey from Rhode Island (who’s also appeared on the show Paranormal State). Fr Bailey pontificates on the eternal “cosmic struggle” mentioned at the beginning of the piece, as though he’s an authority on the subject, and not a paid hack who makes money making such claims.

The reporter ends the piece by stating that none of the region’s diocesan offices would discuss the matter, and referred the station directly to the Vatican. That also didn’t go anywhere, apparently. And that’s no surprise … the Catholic Church doesn’t really talk about exorcism — at least, not officially.

At no time during this piece was there even the slightest hint that the interviewees’ claims were anything less than 100% true. At no time does the reporter point out that there is not one iota of objective evidence of the existence of ghosts, demons, poltergeists, devils, souls, Satan, haunted houses, possessions, or the slightest veracity for any of the “paranormal investigators'” antics. At no time does the viewer hear that there’s no objective evidence that any “spiritual battle” is going on at all, much less any evidence offered that it has “intensified in recent years.” At no time did the reporter ask any probing questions, such as “How does any of your equipment prove there’s a ghost or demon here?” There’s nothing about this story that suggests it’s anything other than a puff-piece on CT Spirit Investigators.

I guess this is what passes for 21st century journalism. Unfortunately.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Satan, as drawn by Gustave Doré, in John Milton's Paradise Lost.Rick Santorum is an agnostic blogger’s dream. Almost daily the guy trots out some insipid, moronic Christofascist comment or other. Among other things, he claims to be an expert on theology, and you may remember he once said the Crusades were not “aggression.” Well, he’s made news this week due to remarks he made — but four years ago, back in 2008. I’m not sure why they surfaced only just now (courtesy of the extreme Leftists at Right Wing Watch), but the mass media are now all abuzz about them, and that would include the folks at CBS News (WebCite cached version):

Santorum said in August 2008 that “Satan has his sights set” on the United States of America, adding that “the Father of Lies” is using vice to go after the nation’s great institutions.

“Satan [has been] attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition,” Santorum said at Ave Maria University in Florida in 2008. …

According to Santorum, academia was Satan’s first beachhead:

Santorum goes on to say that Satan has been “most successful and first successful” in attacking academia, saying Satan exploited the “pride of smart people.”

This, of course, is standard Religious Right anti-intellectual fare. Not too surprising — except for irony of him making this comment in the middle of a university. I expect a guy like Santorum to attack those evil communistic university-types, but he went on to attack a different target:

Then, he said, Satan went after the church, and now “we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”

What makes this unfortunate for Santorum is that the Religious Right which makes or breaks GOP presidential candidates is made up primarily of Protestant evangelicals. I’m not sure how amenable they’ll be to the assertion that “mainline Protestantism … is in shambles.” Of course, if they like Santorum enough, they might very well just ignore it, or perhaps rationalize it away as his effort to pander to a Catholic school audience.

As I said, this has caused quite a stir in the news over the last few days, as though it’s somehow incredible or remarkable; but most of the tropes in this 2008 speech — especially the assertion that Satan has conquered universities — are just standard Religious Rightist fare. I wonder if the fact that I graduated from a public university would make Santorum think I’m a tool of Satan … ?

I’ll close this post with the portion of the speech that Right Wing Watch has made available via Youtube:

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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