Posts Tagged “california”

From screen shot of 'Masonic Fraternal Police Department' Web site (original URL: story isn’t particularly religious or metaphysical in nature. I only bring it up because I’d studied medieval history and it piqued my interest. The Los Angeles Times reports that California officials have arrested several people who claimed to have run a “Masonic” police force (WebCite cached article):

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson thought it was odd when three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms he didn’t recognize — strolled into the Santa Clarita station in February.

One man introduced himself as chief of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and told Johnson this was a courtesy call to let him know the agency was setting up shop in the area.

They met for 45 minutes, Johnson said, but he was left confused and suspicious — so much so that he immediately ordered deputies to pull station surveillance video so they would have images of the visitors. He also assigned detectives to check them out.

“It was an odd meeting,” the captain recalled. “It just raised my suspicion level.”

This week, the three people were charged with impersonating police officers. They are David Henry, who told Johnson he was the police chief, Tonette Hayes and Brandon Kiel, an aide to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

It turns out Henry, Hayes and Kiel had allegedly introduced themselves to police agencies across the state, though it is unclear why. A website claiming to represent their force cites connections to the Knights Templars that they say go back 3,000 years. The site also said that the department had jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico.

“When asked what is the difference between the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other police departments, the answer is simple for us. We were here first!” the website said.

This story is incredible and bizarre. I’m not sure how these folks thought they were actually going to convince other police departments they were legitimate. As an aide to California’s Attorney General, Kiel certainly must have known they had zero legal basis for their claims. Perhaps this odd cadre figured they were well-connected enough to avoid any meaningful scrutiny? But if so, did they actually think other law enforcement jurisdictions would just allow them to move in and do whatever the hell they wanted? It seems unimaginably ludicrous.

In any event, this story brings up a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry. First — although there’s been some speculation to this effect — there is no documented historical link between the order of Knights Templars and Freemasonry. The former were disbanded in the early 14th century; the latter didn’t emerge in the historical record until the early 18th. That’s a span of about 400 years between them, with no demonstrable link to join them together. What historical evidence there is of their origin, points to the Freemasons as having emerged from medieval stonemason guilds, not from putative hidden survivors of the Templar purge.

Also, as the L.A. Times explains in an ancillary story (cached), the Templar order was not founded in 1,100 BCE; it was founded in 1,118 CE. Did someone misread the Templars’ actual founding date as BCE instead of CE … ? Woops!

Also, stories of the Templars being involved with the Holy Grail — i.e. the cup Jesus and his apostles supposedly drank from during the Last Supper — are likewise mere legends having no known historical basis (beginning with the fact that there’s no evidence the cup from the Last Supper was preserved by anyone). The Knights Templars have been the subject of legend since their heyday in the 12th and 13th centuries. They were both praised (for their military prowess, and their protection of pilgrims) and denigrated (for their secretive nature and tendency to go their own way). The order’s suppression, accompanied as it was by reams of vicious and fantastic propaganda by King Philip IV of France, only compounded the legends and tales that went around about the Templars. So it’s natural a lot of stories were told about them.

The appearance that they were a “secret society” certainly makes it possible to say pretty much anything one wants to about the Templars, and have it seem plausible (because their records are “secret,” you see, there’s no proof of anything about them). Unfortunately for this presumption, even “secret societies” tend to leave historical tracks, which can be followed.

I took a brief look at this outfit’s Web site; the mentions of “bloodlines” and the group’s claimed ancientness make it seem as though someone was reading too much Dan Brown. It’s just ridiculous, laughable bullshit. Every bit of it. I have no idea what angle these people were going after, but this is some truly weird shit. I plan to keep an eye on this case, as it develops.

Photo credit: Cropped from screen shot of Masonic Fraternal Police Department Web site.

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Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox NewsTodd Starnes at Fox News is furious. That, of course, is normal for him, as it as for every other militant Religious Rightist. They live in a perpetual state of sanctimonious rage over … well, something. Based on a tip from an equally-outraged California pastor, he condemned the Costco warehouse chain for insolently labeling the Holy Bible as “fiction” (WebCite cached article):

What do the Bible, “The Hunger Games” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have in common? All three are works of fiction, according to the booksellers at Costco.

Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach made that shocking discovery last Friday as he was shopping for a present for his wife at a Costco in Simi Valley, Calif.

“All the Bibles were labeled as fiction,” the pastor told me. “It seemed bizarre to me.”

While this may seem “bizarre” to the pastor and to Starnes, it doesn’t seem at all “bizarre” to me. Unlike the vast majority of Americans, I’ve actually read the Bible. From cover to cover. In several translations, and in Greek (which is the original language of the New Testament, and the form of the Old Testament as most of the earliest Christians knew it). It is most definitely “fiction,” no matter how fervently any Christianist thinks otherwise.

Starnes then narrates the tale of poor Pastor Kaltenbach traipsing through a Costco store and its corporate bureaucracy, demanding an explanation and removal of all those insolent stickers from all of their Bibles in stock. Starnes also quotes Kaltenbach lampshading his own martyr complex:

“On the one hand Christians should not yell out ‘persecution’,” he said. “We aren’t living in Iraq or Iran. But on the other hand, I believe that we do need to stand up for our faith and we need to be vocal about our concerns.”

This is a clever trick of propaganda. Ostensibly, Kaltenbach (and Starnes) are admitting this isn’t “persecution” of them as Christians … yet, nevertheless, by stating this, the clear implication is that it is “persecution.” How nice!

These guys really need to grow up and get over themselves. First, this isn’t Christian persecution. Christians in the U.S. aren’t being persecuted at all. It’s not happening … anywhere. And no amount of sanctimonious fury by Religious Rightists can ever change that.

Second, Starnes and Kaltenbach assume, in this case, that their Biblical-literalist view of the Bible is that of Christianity as a whole; thus, marking the Bible as “fiction” is an attack on all of Christianity. But this isn’t true. Not every Christian denomination takes the Bible literally. There really are Christians in the world willing to accept that some or all of their Bible is, in strict terms, “fiction.”

Lastly, I note that Starnes works for Fox News, which thinks businesses should be free to do whatever they want, whenever they want, free of regulation. Yet, here he’s presuming that he and Pastor Kaltenbach should have authority over how Costco labels its Bibles. In what universe is this consistent? I smell a whiff of hypocrisy here … the very sort of hypocrisy that their own Jesus ordered them never to engage in, and which is clearly and unambiguously condemned within the pages of those very same Bibles over which they’ve got their knickers in a knot. Boo fucking hoo, babies.

Photo credit: Caleb Kaltenbach, via Fox News.

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Crys-extThe drama surrounding the slow demise of the palatial “Crystal Cathedral” in Garden Grove, California continues to play out. The local Roman Catholic diocese purchased the “Cathedral” in a bankruptcy sale only a few months, ago, and I’d have thought things might have been resolved with creditors being paid off … but alas, it was not to be. The Los Angeles Times reports that founding pastor and televangelist Robert H. Schuller resigned from its rump board over money he thinks he’s owed (WebCite cached article):

Robert H. Schuller and his wife cited the “negative” environment at the church he founded when announcing their resignation from the Crystal Cathedral board.

“We cannot continue to serve on the board in what has become an adversarial and negative atmosphere especially since it now seems that it will not be ending any time soon,” Arvella Schuller said in a statement Saturday. …

The resignations are a result of a breakdown in negotiations over financial claims against the church that the Schullers filed in Bankruptcy Court.

Schuller; his wife, Arvella; their daughter Carol Schuller Milner; and her husband, Timothy Milner, allege that the church owes them money for copyright infringement, intellectual property violations and unpaid contracts.

Sorting through competing financial claims has delayed $12.5 million in payments to some church creditors and could threaten the church’s ability to continue its ministries, including the “Hour of Power” broadcasts.

That’s right folks. With tens of millions of dollars of debt owed to a large number of creditors — some of whom are small businesses who’ve gone unpaid for years already — the Schuller family is hovering over their church’s sad remains, fending them off and demanding to be paid first. That there isn’t any money left — and that the Schullers themselves caused their church’s pathetic financial condition in the first place — appears not to matter to them. They just want their money, and are willing to get in the way of everyone else’s interests, and storm out of the room, in order to get it.

What a wonderful brood, eh?

I still can’t figure what this kind of greed has to do with the man who founded Christianity and taught the virtue of humility and poverty … but hey, what could a cold-hearted, skeptical, godless agnostic heathen like myself possibly know about such things? If there are any Christians out there who can explain this to me, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Heaven's Gate® - How and When It May Be Entered - screen captureIn the vein of answering the question “Whats’ the harm in having crazy metaphysical beliefs?”, law enforcement in southern California are looking for a tiny sect whose members have disappeared in search of the apocalypse. CBS News provides this report on these folks and the search (WebCite cached article):

Deputies searched a wide swath of Southern California early Sunday for a break-off religious sect of 13 people that included children as young as three and left behind letters indicating they were awaiting an apocalyptic event and would soon see Jesus and their dead relatives in heaven, authorities said.

The group of El Salvadoran immigrants, described as “cult-like” by sheriff’s officials, was led by Reyna Marisol Chicas, a 32-year-old woman from Palmdale in northeast Los Angeles county, sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker said.

The group left behind cell phones, identifications, deeds to property, and letters indicating they were awaiting the Rapture.

“Essentially, the letters say they are all going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “Some of the letters were saying goodbye.”

The fear is that they’ve decided to commit collective suicide.

If a grown adult makes a decision to follow some delusional hyperreligious nutcase, that’s one thing. It’s a free country, and people are free to be stupid. Even psychotically and suicidally stupid. But to drag children down into one’s chosen psychosis, is something else entirely.

I can only hope these people are found and their children corralled to safety, before it’s too late to save them from the adults’ apocalypticism.

Update: The group has been found, and its members accounted for. See e.g. this AOL News report (cached):

Sheriff’s Capt. Mike Parker told the Los Angeles times the group members were cooperative with authorities. They told police they were praying to end school violence and sexual immorality.

I have no idea how “praying to end school violence and sexual immorality” relates with “going to heaven to meet Jesus and their deceased relatives,” but hey, what the hell do I know?

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Christian and Gay Equals OKIn a change from its usual dutiful, obedient, lock-step march behind the vast hosts of the Religious Right, the US Supreme Court dealt a blow to a Christian group at a law school in California. The AP via Google News reports on this decision (WebCite cached article):

An ideologically split Supreme Court ruled Monday that a law school can legally deny recognition to a Christian student group that won’t let gays join, with one justice saying that the First Amendment does not require a public university to validate or support the group’s “discriminatory practices.”

The court turned away an appeal from the Christian Legal Society, which sued to get funding and recognition from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. The CLS requires that voting members sign a statement of faith and regards “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle” as being inconsistent with that faith.

But Hastings, which is in San Francisco, said no recognized campus groups may exclude people due to religious belief or sexual orientation.

Isn’t it amazing that fundamentalist Christians believe themselves to be above the rules everyone else must obey? They get to do whatever they want, ’cause of Jesus … I guess. This group thought they could have it both ways … they could gain recognition by the school — and the funding that goes along with it — without actually having to abide by the rules required of recognized groups.

(I’m not sure that aspiring lawyers ought to be looking for ways to excuse themselves from having to obey rules … I mean, that kind of runs counter to the entire field of law … but hey, I’m just a cold-hearted, cynical, skeptical, God-hating agnostic heathen, so what do I know?)

The Court’s theocrat-in-chief made just the sort of doomsday prediction one would expect from any mindless religiofascist:

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a strong dissent for the court’s conservatives, saying the opinion was “a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country.”

What Alito doesn’t get is that a lack of school recognition doesn’t prevent the members of the Christian Legal Society from believing in whatever reprehensible notions they feel like … all it means is they can’t get any funding from the school. And isn’t that what this was all about … extracting money from the Hastings College of the Law? I wonder what Jesus would say about the Christian Legal Society’s obvious greed.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk.

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Salvation CrossYes, it’s true. And there is no other explanation for their ruling. The United States Supreme Court has declared that the federal government can erect monuments to specific religions on federal property and refuse to build them for other religions. The effect is that they’re allowing the federal government to proselytize for Christianity. The New York Times reports on the decision they handed down (WebCite cached article):

A badly fractured Supreme Court, with six justices writing opinions, reopened the possibility on Wednesday that a large cross serving as a war memorial in a remote part of the Mojave Desert may be permitted to remain there.

The Court ranged far afield — both literally and metaphorically — in order to arrive at this conclusion:

“A Latin cross is not merely a reaffirmation of Christian beliefs,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a plurality opinion joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. “It evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles, battles whose tragedies would be compounded if the fallen are forgotten.”

I’m not quite sure how all those fallen Christian soldiers would have to end up “forgotten,” if the Mojave Cross were moved to private land instead of federal property, but that’s Justice Kennedy’s reasoning. Apparently he thinks that if that particular cross were taken down, all those soldiers would be “forgotten.” They will only be remembered, if the Mojave Cross is left standing on federal property. According to him.

No, I can’t explain it, I’m merely quoting it for you. Just goes to show that being appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court doesn’t mean you’re always rational.

Unfortunately the Times doesn’t provide the context of this lawsuit, but thankfully, ABC News does (cached version):

The cross stood peacefully for years until the Park Service was asked if a Buddhist Shrine could also be built near the cross.

When the Park Service declined the request, Frank Buono, a retired National Park Service employee, expressed his dismay that the government was showing favoritism of one religious symbol over another. He later filed suit in federal district court.

[On page 2, cached] While Buono, a Roman Catholic, did not find the cross itself objectionable, he was disturbed that it stood on government property when the government would not allow individuals to erect other permanent displays celebrating their religions.

Thus, what the Supreme Court has done, is to decide that, 1) the federal government can build monuments to single specific religions (the cross is a symbol of Christianity only — not of Islam, or Judaism, or Sikhism, or Wicca, or Hinduism, or any other religion); and 2) it can simultaneously refuse to build monuments to any other religion. Together those two sure look like “government pushing Christianity on people” to me.

Yes, I know, the cross was built by the VFW, not the federal government … but federal approval is required nonetheless, meaning the matter is completely up to them as to whether or not it’s built. And since they forbid a private party to build a Buddhist monument, that means the government has chosen sides and is favoring Christianity. Period.

Who said the separation of church and state was alive and well in the United States? It isn’t … not with the Supreme Court packed with theocratic religionists!

Hat tip: Skeptics & Heretics Forum on Delphi forums.

Photo credit: watch4u.

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This 1985 letter, written in Latin to the bishop of Oakland, Calif., was signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was head of the Vatican office that disciplined abusive priests.As the Catholic clerical child-abuse scandal has continued to rumble around Europe — most recently having made its appearance in Malta — the Vatican’s position has consistently been that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, who once headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which had been responsible for handling such allegations, had known nothing about it until the early 2000s, and since becoming Pope in 2005, he has taken command of the problem and dealt with abusers harshly. But the AP got its hands on a 1985 letter which suggests otherwise. As they report via Google News, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was actually reluctant to discipline or defrock a priest in the Oakland, California diocese who had already been convicted of abuse (WebCite cached article):

The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican’s insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog office.

The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.

The case against Rev Stephen Kiesle had already languished for four years by the time Cardinal Ratzinger wrote back to John Cummins, then bishop of Oakland:

In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Kiesle’s guilt by that time was not in question, and Kiesle himself had requested to be defrocked:

Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory.

As his probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood and the diocese submitted papers to Rome to defrock him.

So by the time of this 1985 letter, Ratzinger had been working to keep a man who wanted out of the priesthood, in his vestments for 4 full years! And it would take 2 more until he was finally tossed out!

The Vatican’s denials that Cardinal Ratzinger wasn’t aware of the problem of priests abusing children, decades ago, are quite obviously untrue. How many more lies will they tell in order to keep propping him up?

Photo credit: Kim Johnson / AP (via USA Today)

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