Archive for the “Christianity” Category

Christians and their religion

Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI just blogged about the case involving North Carolina’s “abuse church,” Word of Faith Fellowship in the little town of Spindale. But only a short time later, the trial of one of the abusive pastors imploded … and as CBS News reports, it happened in remarkable fashion (WebCite cached article):

A judge held a juror in contempt and declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a North Carolina church minister charged in the beating a congregant who says he was attacked to expel his “homosexual demons.”

Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus immediately sentenced the juror, Perry Shade Jr., to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Gavenus said the juror brought in three documents, including one related to North Carolina law, but it wasn’t the right law pertaining to the charges in the case.

Gavenus said he had warned the jurors not to bring in outside material.…

[Word of Faith minister Brooke] Covington was the first of five church members to face trial in the case. Each defendant will be tried separately. Covington’s trial began May 30.

And that’s not all, either:

Chad Metcalf, 35, was brought to Gavenus in handcuffs after he allegedly told the jury in a hallway to reach a verdict. Deliberations had begun Monday.

“I take this very seriously,” Gavenus told Metcalf.

The juror who was held in contempt was the same one who reported Metcalf’s comment to the judge.

Gavenus said Metcalf could face 39 months in prison and set a $100,000 bond.

This case was years in the making, given that indictments were first handed down in December 2014 (and likely had been the result of no short amount of proceedings) … so I expect it’ll take several years more for a retrial to take place — if they even have one. The fix really was in, where Word of Faith was concerned; as the Associated Press’s investigation showed, some area prosecutors were members of the church who actively helped shield them from prosecution. It also doesn’t take rocket science to understand that North Carolina is a Bible-belt Bobble Bayelt state, and I’m sure the good ol’ boys who run it aren’t any too happy about having to prosecute a fundamentalist church over its practices (in this case, literally beating the demons, devils, whatever out of people).

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

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Word of Faith Fellowship, Spindale, NC / Alex Sanz/AP, via (NY) Daily NewsI blogged a few times about the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC. A trial is underway there, as I type this, and as the Associated Press reports, one of the defendants suddenly turned state’s evidence and testified against the rest (WebCite cached article):

One of five people charged with trying to beat “homosexual demons” out of a fellow church member in North Carolina testified for prosecutors on Friday, saying she threw the first slap after their minister began the attack.

Sarah Anderson took the stand despite defense objections in the trial of Word of Faith minister Brooke Covington. Anderson accused her of starting the confrontation with Matthew Fenner after a January 2013 service at the Spindale church.

She testified that Covington started pushing Fenner’s chest and screaming “Open your heart!” Anderson said she then slapped Fenner in the face, and about 30 church members then joined in, beating, screaming and choking the man for about two hours.

Not only did Anderson testify about the beating, she also testified about the subsequent attempt to obstruct justice:

Anderson testified that church leaders, including two working prosecutors at the time, met with the people who participated in the attack after Fenner pressed charges. She said then-assistant District Attorneys Frank Webster and Chris Back coached them to tell investigators that nothing violent happened that night.

The case involving Fenner’s beating predates the AP’s multi-story exposé; of the abuse, this past February. indictments were handed down back in December 2014 (cached). It took 2.5 years for the case to grind its way through the North Cackolackian justice system and reach this point. I’m actually amazed it proceeded even that quickly, given it’s a Bible Belt Bobble Bayelt state, where churches are granted deference.

Photo credit: Alex Sanz/AP, via (NY) Daily News.

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'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaI’ve blogged a few times about Bible classes in public schools. The nation’s Christianists have long agitated against the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, which forbid the reading of Bible passages or reciting the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. Even decades later, militant Christianists throughout the country are still fighting back against that decision. They’ve consistently whined that Abington ripped the Bible out of public schools — which isn’t true — and have repeatedly pushed to get more Bible classes in more public schools throughout the country.

The reality is that lots of school systems have “Bible-as-secular-literature” courses. But many of them still run afoul of Abington. An example is the Mercer county, WV school system, which has a Bible course running through many grades, beginning in elementary school. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit to end Mercer county’s Bible classes this past January (WebCite cached article). The FFRF’s complaint shows how the program’s lessons are more like Sunday-school religious lessons than “Bible-as-secular-literature.” After some wringing of hands over the last few months, as the Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph reports, Mercer county schools have decided to suspend the program for a year while they review its content (cached):

Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program is being suspended for next year, providing time for a review of the optional class for elementary and middle school students.

Members of the board of education approved the suspension last night at their regular meeting.

“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”

The way the schools got around the law on this is, as I see it, moderately clever. Their “Bible in the Public Schools” program is administered by the school system, but funded by private donations, with those funds paying the program’s teachers. They also say it’s an “elective,” but virtually every student takes it, which is undeniable evidence that it’s not actually an “elective” at all.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph ran a second story to reassure readers this wasn’t necessarily the end of the program (cached). Rather pathetically, it lamented “the loss of jobs” due to the year suspension:

Although Mercer County schools administers the program, Pelts’ group raises money to pay the seven teachers, who will now be out of their jobs at least for next year.

“Right now, the loss of jobs for our teachers is heartbreaking,” said Pelts. “Our primary and immediate emphasis is to honor and show appreciation to our Bible teachers.”

The group raises almost $500,000 a year to pay for the program.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a staggering sum of money for a private fund to raise, just to pay for Bible classes in one Appalachian county. As of 2015, Mercer county’s population is a mere 60,000 or so. I can’t imagine those residents can consistently raise half a million dollars a year, just among themselves. It doesn’t seem plausible. Outside groups must be paying for this program.

If I may crib from my earlier remarks on this topic: As someone who’s studied the Bible, both as sacred and secular literature, I don’t dispute that “Bible-as-literature” classes add value to public schools. There’s no doubt whatever about that! Biblical allusions are common in other literature and art, and some of the Old Testament books serve as tremendous examples of etiology. Kids can certainly use this as a foundation for understanding other works.

The problem I have with public-school Bible classes is, I don’t trust the people — generally, devout Christians — who create curricula for, and teach, them. Many are motivated by a desire to proselytize. Even if they set out with the intention of keeping these classes completely secular, will they be able to resist the temptation to turn them into religious instruction? The ardency with which some of them have pressed to get such classes into public schools makes me question how truly committed they are to a secular approach to the Bible. I particularly find it suspicious that half a million dollars is spent annually, in little Mercer county, WV on this effort. That kind of money makes the whole thing appear very suspicious.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About.Com; Original Poster: University of Georgia.

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Our Lady of Fátima and the Children - Igreja de São Domingos - LisbonIt’s the hundredth anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s famous appearance at Fátima, Portugal. Pope Francis celebrated it by going on a pilgrimage there, and as the Jesuit America magazine reports, he canonized two of the children who saw the apparition (WebCite cached article):

History was made at the shrine of Fatima at 10:30 a.m. on May 13 when Pope Francis declared that Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta are saints. Francisco and Jacinta are the first child saints who are not martyrs in the history of the church.

Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia are buried here side by side in the basilica. Before Mass, Francis prayed in silence at the tombs of the three shepherd children. When Jacinta’s body was exhumed before being brought here, 15 years after her death, it was found to be totally uncorrupted. Because of this, the local bishop asked Lucia, by then a contemplative nun, to write the memoirs of Jacinta and Francisco, detailing the extraordinary events that have so powerfully impacted the lives of believers ever since [cached].

The Fátima sighting, of course, was not just a single event: it was six of them. Today is the anniversary of the first of these appearances; the last was 5 months later in October of 1917. The now-famous “three secrets” were delivered during the third of the six appearances, in July.

These secrets — mainly, the third — are the subject of more than a little conspiratorial thinking. The third was withheld, and put in writing in the early 1940s by the surviving witness (at that time), Lúcia dos Santos (who had become a nun), sealed in an envelope by her. It was not to be opened until 1960, for some reason; Pope John XXIII read it at that time, but decided not to disclose it. John Paul II finally revealed the “third secret” in 2000, and the Church decided then that it had referred to the assassination attempt against him in 1981. It’s been published, and is even available on the Vatican’s Web site (cached).

The Church’s interpretation of the “third secret” is rather deficient, by any standard. Its vision of a bishop in white being killed by soldiers does not, in any way, reflect the shooting of John Paul II. This, plus the sketchy way the “third secret” was treated, fostered conspiracy theories. Many of these theories assume the Vatican’s published version of the “third secret” is either incomplete or fraudulent, and the actual “third secret” is being withheld for nefarious reasons (which they’ve spun out of thin air, having nothing else to base them on).

There’s just one problem with all of this: Sister Lúcia was alive in 2000, and published commentaries on the “secrets” as late as 2001, and died in 2005. She never contradicted the Vatican’s released version of the “third secret.” (This is why Lúcia wasn’t sainted along with her two friends today; they died long ago due to the Spanish flu pandemic and qualified for canonization already; Lúcia’s sainthood cause has yet to run its course.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'This is America ... Founded by White Christians seeking religious liberty. ... Where people know their place. This is YOUR America. Keep it White & Christian!' / Racism & White Supremacy in American Christianity America as a Christian Nation, America as a White Nation: Racism & White Supremacy in American Christianity. Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: National ArchivesThe recently-elected Groper-in-Chief, having run relatively quiet for a few days in the wake of yet another debacle of his own manufacture, gave the commencement address at one of the temples of American fundamentalist Christianity, that being Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. During what was, effectively, yet another of his rally speeches, as the Washington Post reports, one of his remarks betrayed a common, but fallacious, trope of Christianist thinking (WebCite cached article):

In his first commencement address as president, Donald Trump on Saturday drew a parallel between what he faces as a political outsider in Washington and what he said the Christian graduates of Liberty University can expect to encounter in a secular world.

“Be totally unafraid to challenge entrenched interests and failed power structures,” Trump said. “Does that sound familiar, by the way?”…

Trump’s address was short on scripture but cast the president as a defender of the Christian faith — a mantle he assumed throughout the campaign.

“In America, we don’t worship government,” Trump declared at one point. “We worship God.”

The Apricot Wonder alludes, here, to the common evangelical belief that secularists, progressives, Leftists, etc. (pretty much anyone who’s not in their own camp) “worships” government, in the same way they themselves worship their own religion and deity. This belief is predicated on the assumption that all human beings somehow must “worship” something. In their minds, this means people either worship their own religion and deity — i.e. they have the “right” faith — or they believe in a false religion (whether it’s Islam, or Buddhism, or Satanism, or “statism”).

This is fallacious thinking on their part, of course, because it’s possible for a person to not worship anyone or anything at all. (Yes, really! It is.)

Many have questioned the degree to which the GiC is really a Christian, let alone an evangelical like the faculty and students of Liberty University … but as WaPo explains, he has taken up the mantle of “champion of Christian fundamentalists” and consistently tries to speak as though he’s one of them and is their standard-bearer. Thus, in his remark about worshipping God rather than government, he’s continuing to appeal to their sentiments. Not to mention, he’s appealing to the teeming masses of “Christian nationers” out there, too, all clamoring to make their militant Christianism into the national religion.

Oh, and by the way … just to be clear on this … I’m an American who absolutely, truly, and unabashedly does not worship the Apricot Wonder’s God — but I also do not worship government. If he or any of his rabid fanbois thinks that, as an American, I’m obligated to worship his deity, I invite that person to give it their best shot. Lock and load. Do your worst! Rest assured, I will never do so, no matter what.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, About.Com based on original from National Archives.

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Yoga Journal Conference 1I’ve commented before on occasional Christianist hissy-fits and condemnations of yoga as a profane “pagan”/Hindu practice. As I’ve said on those occasions, it’s true that what we now call “yoga” did originate as part of Hindu practice and ritual. However, it has changed through the millennia, and as it’s practiced in the occidental world, has long since lost any connection to the Hindu religion. American yogis and yoginis are not worshiping Hindu gods in any of their exercises.

But that hasn’t stopped Christians from getting their panties in knots over it nonetheless. The Kansas City Star, for example, reports that a Catholic college has renamed its yoga classes (WebCite cached article):

Yoga is designed to help bring peace and wellness to body and mind.

But at Benedictine College — a small and strongly Catholic liberal arts school in Atchison, Kan. — yoga classes per se will soon be yo-gone, out of apparent concern that use of the word “yoga” suggests advocacy for Hindu mysticism.

College spokesman Stephen Johnson said that starting this fall, both recreational classes and for-credit exercise classes that once taught yoga will likely still be taught the same way, but instead will be rebranded as “lifestyle fitness.”

“We’re changing the name,” Johnson said.

Note, they haven’t stopped the yoga classes. They’ll still be held. They just won’t go by the name of “yoga” any more. Why the college dislikes the name “yoga” isn’t entirely clear, or why yoga classes haven’t been banned altogether, isn’t clear based on the objections they’ve offered:

Complaints, Johnson said, began to come in from alumni, students, faculty and some administrators who argued that as a Hindu practice, yoga was not in keeping with Catholic-based education.

I note that mysticism and meditation — which yoga is a form of — is most assuredly very Christian. It’s been part of the religion since its inception, especially within its monastic movements. So really, there shouldn’t be much objection to it, even at a conservative Catholic college.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Apathetic Agnostic Church.

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What part of 'When you pray, go into your inner room' did you not understand? (from Mt 6:6, NASB) / PsiCop original graphicAs I type this, tomorrow will be the National Day of Prayer, 2017. Around the country, politicians and all sorts of other folks will attend all kind of events, showing each other how much they like to pray. Most all of them will insist they’re doing it out of love for their deity — which, for most participants, is Jesus Christ. The problem with that is … it’s un-Christian of them to be involved in such a thing!

Yes, that’s what I said: Christians participating in the National Day of Prayer is decidedly and undeniably un-Christian.

A lot of folks will be amazed at this. “What are you talking about, you hateful, cynical, godless agnostic heathen? How dare you say that!” That people might find my statement surprising, is the real tragedy here. Any Christian who attends a National Day of Prayer event obviously hasn’t read his/her Bible and doesn’t realize that public piety — as I’ve blogged on numerous occasions — is something Jesus clearly, explicitly, and unambiguously forbid his followers ever to engage in!

Here, in case you missed it, is the most important scriptural passage which explains this:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” …

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)

Jesus didn’t want his followers using their righteousness for self-aggrandizement, and with that as the goal, ordered them never to express their piety in public (whether by praying or making an issue of it in any other way). He was clear about it. There are no caveats, no exceptions, no wiggle-room at all. Just a clear order to “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”

I really can’t understand why Christians are so militant about not obeying this teaching. I’ve discussed it with many of them, and they actually get very agitated when I show them that public piety is un-Christian. I can only assume that’s because, for them, one of the benefits of being a Christian in the first place is to be able to display their Christianity to others and to show they’re part of “the club.” An inability to express their piety publicly would rob them of that precious perk. I guess. I mean, what other explanation can there be for it?

At any rate, no Christian who actually wants to obey Jesus will attend any National Day of Prayer events. He made his wishes known, and they can be found in any Christian Bible. Time for Christians to open it up, read it, and just do as they’re fucking told, for once.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic, based on Mt 6:6.

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