Posts Tagged “france”

Piss Christ photograph by Andres Serrano (1987)It seems the US is not presently the only place where extreme, militant Christianists can be found. It’s true that, here in the States, militant Christianists are common enough that they can be found inhabiting the halls of power, in Washington DC and in state capitols around the country, while they constitute a “fringe element” in other countries, but they still exist nonetheless. And at times they can make their presence known … violently. Some enraged Christianists attacked the famous (or infamous) “Piss Christ” photograph in Avignon, France, as the (UK) Guardian reports (WebCite cached article):

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion.

Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon. …

For four months, [the Piss Christ photograph] has hung in the exhibition I Believe in Miracles, to mark 10 years of art-dealer Yvon Lambert’s personal collection in his 18th-century mansion gallery in Avignon. The show is due to end next month, but two weeks ago a concerted protest campaign began.

Civitas, a lobby group that says it aims to re-Christianize France, launched an online petition and mobilised other fundamentalist groups. The staunchly conservative archbishop of Vaucluse, Jean-Pierre Cattenoz, called Piss Christ “odious” and said he wanted this “trash” taken off the gallery walls. Last week the gallery complained of “extremist harassment” by fundamentalist Christian groups who wanted the work banned in France. …

But on Palm Sunday morning, four people in sunglasses aged between 18 and 25 entered the exhibition just after it opened at 11am. One took a hammer out of his sock and threatened the guards with it. A guard grabbed another man around the waist but within seconds the group managed to take a hammer to the plexiglass screen and slash the photograph with another sharp object, thought to be a screwdriver or ice-pick. They also smashed another work, which showed the hands of a meditating nun.

Photo from Ecce Homo exhibit by Elisabeth Ohlson WallinThe gallery plans to stay open with the damaged works on display:

The gallery director, Eric Mézil, said it would reopen with the destroyed works on show “so people can see what barbarians can do”. He said there had been a kind of “inquisition” against the art work.

This attack had a political trigger:

In a statement, [Mézil] said the movement against Piss Christ had started at the time of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party’s controversial debate on religion and secularism in France. At a record low in the polls before next year’s presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of using anti-Muslim and extreme-right rhetoric to appeal to voters and counter the rise of the Front National.

Asked by the daily Libération why the Piss Christ protest had happened now, Mézil pointed to Sarkozy’s speech in March lauding “the Christian heritage of France” at Puy-en-Velay, where the first Crusades were preached.

The French government waffled on the matter:

The French culture minister, Frédéric Mitterrand, condemned the vandalism as an attack on the fundamental freedoms of creation and expression, but recognised that the art work could shock audiences.

Promo for The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese.This “we condemn the vandalism but understand it” thing is not really a condemnation. A true condemnation is unconditional and offers the vandals no “out.” It’s is eerily similar to Religious Rightists and various pundits who — a couple years ago — said that, while they condemned the assassination of Dr George Tiller, they “understood” why someone might kill him. Mitterand’s statement, therefore, amounts to nothing more than a “wink-wink nudge-nudge knowwhatimean saynomore” sort of thing. Way to go, Minister. Way to go. Pat the Christianist vandals on their collective backs while at the same time you distance your government from what they did. I am just so fucking impressed by your abject cowardice!

Lastly, just as I do whenever Muslims violently react to the existence of the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad cartoons, I’ve put the “Piss Christ” photo in this post, as well as other images of art that Christians consider blasphemous. Thus I hope to teach them — too — the power of the Streisand effect. When they protest what they dislike, they actually call attention to it and scare up more interest in it than there would have been otherwise. By all means, guys, keep it up. Keep telling us what you think is “blasphemous,” so the rest of us can dig it up and put it out on display again, on the Internet, in thousands more venues than it had been previously.

Hat tip: About Atheism/Agnosticism.

Top photo credit: Andres Serrano via BoingBoing. Second photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin via Amagerica. Third photo: From The Last Temptation of Christ via Scorsesefilms.

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A UFO - It sort looks like an old style ceiling light fixtureAs though a divided, contentious Congress in a divided, contentious Washington has nothing better to do with its time than satisfy wingnuts, cranks and freaks, a University professor in Missouri thinks Congress should hold hearings looking into UFOs. AOL News reports on this demand (WebCite cached article):

Do you think the House or Senate will have any extra time to discuss UFOs? While it sometimes might seem as though our lawmakers are from outer space, this hasn’t stopped one college professor from urging Congress to take a serious look at unidentified flying objects.

Citing findings from a 12-year-old groundbreaking French UFO study, University of Missouri-Columbia psychologist and adjunct professor of peace studies Bill Wickersham has issued a call for congressional leaders to boldly go where their predecessors wouldn’t.

The report Wickersham cited is called COMETA, and it was released in 1999. Since then it’s proven a favorite “proof” of a US-government cover-up of extraterrestrial visits in the ufology community. Pretty much everyone else has ignored it as much-less-than-compelling “proof” of anything.

Ufonauts love to trot out that the committee that produced COMETA was made up of fairly eminent French engineers and former high-ranking military officers. While this sounds impressive, it unfortunately does not grant them any veracity; to assume it does, is to stumble on the fallacy of the appeal to authority. That COMETA could not explain some 5% of UFO reports collected by the French government, does not mean that they can only be explained by extraterrestrials. That in itself is another fallacy, the argument from incredulity, aka “the divine fallacy” (since the agent called upon to explain any given mystery is often God). In addition, the assumption that there must be one — and only one! — explanation for those mysterious 5% of UFO reports, is itself invalid. In fact, we have no way to know how many explanations there may be for them! It’s possible there are 2 different explanations for them, or 20, or even that each and every one has its own, unique explanation. That the folks who drafted COMETA could not think of any, is — quite frankly — unimpressive. And it hardly proves anything.

Photo credit: dimland.

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Photographie de Carla Bruni nu pour le magazine Down TownThe robed denizens of the Vatican have, once again, provided a stark example of their undeniable moral bankruptcy. Still in the throes of evading responsibility for the scandal of decades of child-abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, which was systematically covered up by the Church’s hierarchy, the Vatican has chosen to make its stand … against an ex-model.

That’s right. An ex-model.

The person in question is Carla Bruni, wife of France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy. Time magazine’s NewsFeed blog reports on the Vatican’s objection to her presence (WebCite cached article):

Ahead of President Sarkozy’s 30-minute audience with the Pontiff earlier this month, Vatican officials sent the French ambassador a message saying: “Carla Sarkozy is not welcome in the Vatican [cached].” The message, which led her to stay in Paris, is said to be over the Pope’s fears that more racy photographs of her days as a catwalk model would emerge. Nude and semi-naked pictures from her days as a model are regularly published in the media. In one, she’s seen posing in just a pair of knee high boots and a diamond ring. (The U.S. didn’t seem to mind [cached].)

Benedict XVI clearly suffers from a raging case of Cranial-Rectal Inversion: While the Pope objects to an ex-model (GASP!) daring to walk around in his sacred city-state, His Holiness has no problem letting in priests who abuse children. Among the Vatican City’s more (in)famous residents is Cardinal Bernard Law, who — as Archbishop of Boston — not only permitted the abuse of children in his archdiocese, he moved priests around so as to prevent them from being discovered, and (for a while at least) attempted to shield priests in his archdiocese from being prosecuted.

If you need any other example of the Roman Catholic Church’s blatant lack of anything resembling values, well … here you have it.

Need I point out, also, that it’s not necessarily even the case that hanging around with ex-models is not permitted to priests? After all, Christian legend has it that one of Jesus’ own followers, Mary Magdalene, was a prostitute! If Jesus could have prostitutes around him, then surely an ex-model is not off limits!

Photo credit: Down Town via Hervé Corcia.

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Televangelist Pat Robertson has said a lot of terrible, even reprehensible things over the years. I’ve already covered a couple of them. At times I wonder if he could ever top some of the stuff he’s spewed. Well, he may have just outdone himself with his latest insulting, condescending, not to mention just plain erroneous remarks … about, of all things, the recent catastrophic earthquake in Haiti (as reported by Time magazine; WebCite cached article):

Why Is Pat Robertson Blaming Haiti?

The Rev. Pat Robertson turned heads with his appearance on The 700 Club on Wednesday when he blamed Haitian history for Tuesday’s devastating earthquake. In short, Robertson claimed that the quake was divine retribution for a pact with the devil that was sworn long ago, a statement he was audacious enough to make while the 800 number for disaster relief scrolled at the bottom of the broadcast.

Here is the video, courtesy of Youtube:

Time transcribed his bilge as follows:

“And you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the Third and whatever, and they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, ‘We will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French.’ True story. And so the devil said, ‘O.K., it’s a deal.’ “

I had never heard reference to Haiti having made a pact with the devil, but Time looked into it and discovered the following:

So what was Robertson referring to? The theory that Haiti is a nation built on a pact with the devil has circulated on a number of websites, each tracing back to an apocryphal tale of Haitian voodoo priests sacrificing a pig and drinking its blood in 1791 in order to secure Satan’s aid in expelling the French occupation. In return, the priests are said to have promised Haiti to Satan for the next 200 years. The French were soon beat back, and in 1804, Haiti became an independent nation. But even if you believe the story (something many historians doubt), Satan’s lease on the tiny island nation should have expired in 1991.

Update: More media outlets are reporting on Robertson’s disgusting spew, and pointing out it’s even worse than Time reported. In an interview reported by the Washington Post, he said — by cleverly posing it as a question — that the earthquake in Haiti was “a blessing in disguise” (WebCite cached article). In addition to most major media outlets, blogs of all kinds — including Religion Dispatches, Hot Air, Unreasonable Faith, and more — have picked up on Patty Robertson and his screaming ignorance. As of now (c. 1 am EST on 1/14/10), Patty hasn’t apologized or defended his remarks, and no one else has apologized for or defended them on his behalf, either. Pathetic.

My question for any Christians who read this, is: At what point are you going to decide you’ve had enough of this putative spokesman for your religion? When are you going to finally decide to put a muzzle on him — figuratively if not actually — and get him to stop running off his insulting mouth? I mean this question seriously and sincerely; when, exactly, are you going to do something about this train-wreck of a preacher?

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I blogged a while back on a French court case in which the Church of Scientology was accused of organized fraud. Well, the verdict is in, and as the BBC reports, it’s not in Scientology’s favor:

A French court has convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud, but stopped short of banning the group from operating in France.

Two branches of the group’s operations and several of its leaders in France have been fined. …

Prosecutors had asked for the group’s French operations to be dissolved and more heavily fined, but a legal loophole prevented any ban.

Instead, a Paris judge ordered the Church’s Celebrity Centre and a bookshop to pay a 600,000-euro fine.

Alain Rosenberg, the group’s head in France, was handed a two-year suspended jail sentence and fined 30,000 euros.

Three other leading members of the group were also fined.

A ban is not possible as a direct result of this case, then, but it might still happen:

Ban ‘still possible’

Unlike the US, France has always refused to recognise Scientology as a religion, arguing that it is a purely commercial operation designed to make as much money as it can at the expense of often vulnerable victims, the BBC’s Emma Jane Kirby reports from Paris.

The BBC article does not, unfortunately, fully explain how a ban is possible. One can only hope that it happens nonetheless. It couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people. Of course, I mean that facetiously … for an explanation of what the Church of Scientology has done, see this recent three-part (with sidebar stories and videos added) exposé of the group, by the St Petersburg Times — the paper showed a lot of courage in taking on an organization which has been willing to do almost anything, including unethical or even illegal activities, to bring down its critics.

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A fraud trial is underway in France, against Scientology — specifically, its center in France and its Paris bookstore — which, depending on the outcome, and only after a long appeal process, could shut down this bogus religion in that country altogether. The Guardian (UK) reports on this case:

France’s Church of Scientology today went on trial on charges of organised fraud in a case that could lead to the nationwide dissolution of the controversial organisation. …

Six leading members, including the celebrity centre’s director, Alain Rosenberg, also face charges of illegally distributing pharmaceuticals.

The case is the second in six years to accuse the French church of fraud. It stems from the testimony of a French woman who filed an official complaint against the organisation in 1998. …

The investigating magistrate in charge of bringing the case against the church, Jean-Christophe Hullin, argues she was the victim of a deliberately manipulative system that exploits vulnerable people in order to make money.

In his indictment, Hullin said the church, which has been glamourised by Hollywood members such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, made a profit by placing individuals in a “state of subjection”. The organisation, he argued, is “first and foremost a commercial business” whose actions reveal “a real obsession for financial remuneration”.

Scientology has reacted with the same kind of sanctimonious outrage one might expect of a true religion:

The church denies any evidence of psychological manipulation, and decries what it has called a “carefully orchestrated campaign” by French anti-cult organisations to shut it down. “This is a sacrilegious trial,” said spokesman Danièle Gounord yesterday. Patrick Maisonneuve, a lawyer for the church, said he would fight every charge. …

This, of course, flies in the face of Scientology’s history in France:

While some countries, such as the US, consider Scientology a religion, France categorises it as a sect, and the country’s courts have convicted several individuals of fraud over the past decades — most notably its science fiction-writing creator, L Ron Hubbard, in 1978.

While the chance exists that Scientology could be banned from France if there’s a conviction, that would take some time:

However, commentators said yesterday such an outcome would be a long time coming as the church would undoubtedly appeal against a guilty verdict.

Scientology has historically had a lot of trouble getting itself accepted as a religion rather than as what it is — a complex, yet no less obvious, money-making scheme.

It was a collection of high-sounding and neologism-laced — yet trite and kooky — ideas when first written about by its founder, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard, in a book titled Dianetics. Shortly after it came out, Martin Gardner revealed it to be fraudulent in his seminal Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science, and all of Gardner’s critiques remain valid, more than 5 decades after that book’s last edition.

Since then, the late Lafayette Ronald and his followers have only continued to prove Gardner’s assessment correct. They’ve gone after critics using both legal and illegal tactics; have used lawsuits to silence or simply get revenge on detractors; their “treatment facilities” (I hesitate to call them “hospitals” or even “clinics”) have been host to mysterious deaths; they’ve trolled the Internet looking for criticism and gone after people and Web sites; and Lafayette Ronald himself had only marginal mental health.

In the decades since Gardner’s book was last updated, additional weirdness has been revealed about Scientology, including the business about some primeval cosmic warlord named Xenu. (This particular story would be hilarious, if not for the fact that there are people who actually believe it.)

One can only hope that as a result of this case, the French courts finally declare Scientology — with some legality and finality — the fraudulent organization we know it to be.

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